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ther has many charms. The cold clear air gives a healthful glow to the blood, and sends it tingling through the frame. The unclouded sky is intensely blue, and the wide arch of heaven looks higher now than in the summer. The trees are covered with a beautiful hoar-frost, “scattered,” as the Psalmist says, “ like ashes;" while in another passage it is compared to “salt poured on the earth, which, being congealed, lieth on the top of sharp stakes.” I never look upon this wonderful silver frostwork without thinking of the feathery silver that hangs ruggedly upon the skirts of the clouds, the floating of the sky. The humble grass is decorated with it, and may be seen bending in the fields like threads of crystal : the small bushes appear as if cut from the whitest marble. The long hedges are mantled with it, as if May had put out her loveliest blossoms; and the wide woods glitter with the dancing light in which they are robed. Every grove seems illuminated in the sunshine with a dazzling splendour beautiful as the unsullied clouds; and the ruddy squirrel, as it leaps from bough to bough, scatters around a thousand pearls.
Freezing showers often come down with considerable violence at this season : they have not, however, been so prevalent lately as they were several years ago. They glaze everything on which they fall: I have seen birds with their wings so stiffened with ice, that you might take them up in the hand. Showers like these case the boughs of trees in glass, they incrust the walls of houses, and hang upon the manes of horses: they are thus beautifully described by Phillips :
“ For every shrub and every blade of grass,
And every pointed thorn, seem'd wrought in glass ;
The frighted birds the rattling branches shun,
January derives its name from the Latin word janua, a gate or door; and as Janus was considered by the Romans to preside over the gates of heaven, so we have in the coming in of this month a new era, a renewal of time, the portal or gate that opens upon another year.
Winter is called a oc dead season;" so it is to appearance, although Nature is now busily employed in preparing her gaudy garments for summer. Take but a brown hard bud from the hedges, dissect it, examine it well with the aid of a microscope, and there you will find the young leaf or tender blossom coiled up in its unsightly sheath, which, when unfolded, displays the green velvet richness which will ere long open its beauty. Look at the naked branch of a fruit-tree ; how barren it appears ! No leaf, no blossom, nothing that pleases the eye-it seems fit only for the fire ; yet beneath its rough rind there is a mighty Mechanic at work, forming the substances of leaf and bark, bloom and fruit-an unerring Hand guiding the juices through thousands of invisible channels—an unfailing Alchemist, who will hang the rugged bough with golden fruit before autumn. Who doeth these things ?
“ Who hath divided a water-course for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder ; to cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is ; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man; to satisfy the desolate and waste ground ; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth ? Hath the rain a father ? or who hath begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice ? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it ? The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.”*
* Job, chap. xxxviii.
The frost often lingers long with us at this period, making the earth hard as iron. Immense numbers of fish perish; and great care should be taken in breaking holes in the ice to give them air, and also to supply them with food, especially in ponds and reservoirs. The small birds are seen hopping about the stack-yards and before the door in quest of food; but there are many that never visit man for support even in the most rigorous season : we know not how they subsist. Some of them require insect food: the larks and wagtails forage among the stiff grass and furze-bushes, or by the sides of pools and ditches, where the winter-gnat is occasionally found sporting even now in the transient sunbeams. Other birds at this period find insects in a dormant state among mosses, in the decayed trunks of trees, and amid the thatch and crevices of buildings. Hares are also tracked through the snow, which, having fallen to any considerable depth, prevents their escaping. Partridges are easily discovered amongst snow, in which they generally nestle, -in stubble-fields, or the withered fern on heaths. Wild geese are difficult birds to destroy. In Lincolnshire they use stalkinghorses to approach them : these are generally made of straw. The birds usually rest upon a stile or gate, the lower branch of a tree, or straggling fence that encircles some pool in the marshes : when the person approaches near enough, he elevates himself suddenly and fires. They may be reached within a few yards by this method, if the stalker adopt the precaution of first showing himself at a distance, when their eyes become familiar with the object; but they are always considered “shy birds.”
Wild ducks are also caught at this season in the fens of Lincolnshire in the following manner :- In the most sequestered part of their haunts a ditch is at, which is about four yards across at the entrance, and decreases gradually in width from thence to the farther end, which is not more than two feet wide. The ditch is of a circular form, but does not bend much for the first ten yards. The banks of the lake on each side of
this ditch (or “pipe," as it is called) are kept clear from reeds, coarse herbage, &c. in order that the fowl may get on them to sit and dress themselves. Along the ditch poles are driven into the ground, close to its edge, on each side, and the tops are bent over the ditch and tied together. These poles, thus bent, form at the entrance of the ditch or pipe an arch, the top of which is ten feet distant from the surface of the water. This arch is made to decrease in height as the pipe decreases in width, so that the remote end is not more than eighteen inches in height. The poles are placed about six feet from each other, and connected by poles laid lengthwise across the arch and tied together. Over the whole is thrown a net, which is made fast to a reed-fence at the entrance and nine or ten yards up the ditch, and afterwards strongly pegged to the ground. At the end of the pipe farthest from the entrance is fixed a tunnelnet, about four yards in length, of a round form, and kept open by a number of hoops, about eighteen inches in diameter, placed at a small distance from each other to keep it distended. Supposing the circular bend of the pipe to be to the right when the fowler stands with his back to the lake, then on the left-hand side a number of reed-fences are constructed, called "shootings," for the purpose of screening the “decoy-man” from observation, and in such a manner that the fowl in the decoy may not be alarmed while he is driving those that are in the pipe. These shootings, which are ten in number, are about four yards in length, and about six feet high. From the end of the last shooting a person cannot see the lake, owing to the bend of the pipes, and there is then no further occasion for shelter. Were it not for these shootings, the fowl that remain about the mouth of the pipe would be alarmed if the person driving the fowl already under the net should be exposed, and would become so shy as entirely to forsake the place. The first thing the decoyman does when he approaches the pipe is to take a piece of lighted turf, or peat, and hold it near his mouth, to prevent the birds from smelling him. He is attended by a dog, trained
for the purpose of rendering him assistance. He walks very silently about half-way up the shootings, where a small piece of wood is thrust through the reed-fence, which makes an aperture just large enough to enable him to see if any fowl are in : if not, he walks forward to see if any are about the entrance of the pipe. If there are, he stops and makes a motion to his dog, and gives him something to eat; and having received this, the animal goes directly to a hole through the reed-fence, and the birds immediately fly off the bank into the water. The dog returns along the bank between the reed-fences, and comes out to his master at another hole. The man then rewards and encourages him, and the animal repeats his round until the birds are attracted by his motions, and follow him into the mouth of the pipe. This operation is called “working" them. The man now retreats farther back, working the dog at different holes until the ducks are sufficiently under the net. He then commands his dog to lie down behind the fence, and going himself forward to the end of the pipe next the lake, he takes off his hat and gives it a wave between the shootings. All the birds that are under the net can then see him ; but none that are in the lake can. The former fly forward, and the man then runs to the next shooting and waves his hat, and so on, driving them along until they come to the tunnel-net, into which they creep. When they are all in, the man gives the net a twist, so as to prevent them from getting back. He then takes the net off from the end of the pipe, and taking out, one by one, the ducks that are in it, breaks their necks. The net is afterwards hung on again for a repetition of the process; and in this manner five or six dozen have sometimes been taken at one drift. When the wind blows directly in or out of the pipes, the fowl seldom work well, especially when it blows into the pipe. The reason of this is, that the ducks always prefer swimming against the wind; otherwise the wind blowing from behind catches and ruffles their feathers. If many pipes are made in the same lake, they are so constructed as to suit different winds,