Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][subsumed]

VOLUME LXXXII

and

OUT WEST MAGAZINE

JANUARY, 1924

Hat Island-Home of Birds

EARLY in the center of the Great Salt Lake, America's Dead Sea, nestles a tiny desert isle, a dainty graygreen bit of mosaic sculptured out of the rimpled floor of the ancient Great Basin by Nature's master sculptors-Sunshine and Rain and Wind and Fire and Frost.

This is Hat Island-the most unique wild-life rookery on earth!

It is hovered by a desert sky of incomparable blue. Cradled by briny waters of strangely exquisite opalescence and fanned by a mirage-painting atmosphere of fantastic changeability, it modestly raises its soft green crest skyward, everywhere dotted with the gray and black and white of tens of thousands of wild birds.

Frequently during July and August this idyllic spot is beset by tempestuous storms of hurricane velocity. Deluged by the down-pour of rain co-existent with such typhoon-like displays, the birds flatten themselves upon the ground, behind rocks and underneath the greasewood and add a weird accompaniment of strident calls and screams to the thundering boom of the elements.

On other days the softly lapping brine croons lullabies of unimagined softness and sweetness to the baby birds. Swept by undulating waves of heat they doze contentedly in the shade of greasewood and shad-scale and dream of wingedargosies of plenty that are hurrying toward them from the distant fresh and alkali waters of this wonder region..

The people of Utah call this rookery "Bird Island," but geographers have formally named it Hat Island because of its close resemblance in shape to the hat of the western plains cowboy.

Three species of birds, the American white pelican, the great blue heron, and the California seagull, in all about 100,000 birds, breed here. No one knows how long they have occupied this spot, but probably ever since its first appearance above the waters.

The floor of the lake here is composed of a hard blue-gray lime-stone and the island is but a wrinkled and warped upthrust of this stratum-low, rugged and

By CHARLES GRIFFIN PLUMMER,

much broken, measuring about 22 acres in extent. Its highest point is scarcely 75 feet above the level of the water.

Unnumbered pages of the earth's history were laid down before the waters of the ancient Great Basin and the later Lake Bonneville subsided sufficiently to project this rock hummock out of the bed of what is now known as the Great Salt Lake, the geologic successor of all preceding bodies of water in this region. This present-day inland sea varies from 75 to 90 miles in length and is about 50 miles across at its greatest width.

Jim Bridger is said to have visited its shores in 1823. Colonel John C. Free

Mother gull and four chicks on their
lookout rock

mont stood spellbound beside its waters in 1843 while making explorations for the United States government. Freemont and his men killed and ate many seagulls while he was in the vicinity of the lake.

Occasionally this vast body of brine is swept by furious wind and dust storms. Such rioting gales cause much shifting of sands and alkali dust both on the islands and along the shores of the mainland. This sand is an odd mixture of silicious particles with great quantities of spherical granules of lime called "oolitic sand."

Many centuries passed into the abyss of incalculable time before there was sufficient soil for even desert vegetation to make its first stand on Hat Island. When the birds came to nest amid its

No. 1

rocks, their guano added rich fertility to the barren soil and plant-life delighted itself in fullest desert perfection.

Greasewood, Sarcobatus vermicularis; wild sage, Artemisia tridentata; shadscale, Atriplex confertifolia; rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus graveolens; saltgrass, Distichlis spicata; samphire, Salicornia mucronata and a few species of more common plants may be found in season upon this island, all affording more or less comfort and protection to the young bird life. The herons construct their broad platform-like nests out of the dead greasewood twigs and branches right in the tops of the tallest plants, while the gulls and pelicans content themselves with homes upon the ground.

How did the seeds of these plants ever get a location on this barren isle? I pondered for years upon this subject until one day I was swimming in the lake off the mainland and observed the interminably lengthened rows and areas of soapy foam that a strong wind had whipped into form and position on the surface of the water. This bubbly material I ascertained was occasioned by great quantities of sodium sulphate to be found in the brine. I examined this closely and found floating in it large numbers of the brine shrimp, Artemia fertilis (Talmadge), salt water flies, Ephydridae, and the tiny seeds of various kinds of plants. The gulls in making long flights to and from the rookery for food often stopped to feed upon these shrimps and flies and undoubtedly ate of the plant seeds. In due time these tiny creations came to earth, made ready a home for themselves and soon grew into full expression. Seeds are also carried in the sand and alkali dust storms, as well as in the foam which sweeps the shores of the island from all directions according to the wind's course.

Owing to the water's extreme salinity, varying from 14 per cent to 28 per cent crude salt, no plant life is able long to survive submersion of its root system in it. All vegetation on the island has behind it possible centuries of struggle in developing an adaptability to this saline soil, but when high water is main

[graphic]

tained for a few years these supposedly immunized plants finally cease to struggle to maintain growth. Samphire stands the variable brine treatment of its growth better than any other plant I have observed. On the higher levels of the island, above possible brine encroachment, greasewood, shadscale and rabbitbush make big, sturdy growths, some plants attaining a height of more than eight feet.

ANYONE who has ever approached

an island rookery, either upon the ocean or upon inland seas and lakes, observes the great wariness of the birds. As soon as man or any other unusual object comes in view they go into the air and give the intruder the "once over," Long continued and unceasing slaughter of these creatures has taught them to look upon man with suspicion.

Wherever one travels one will observe the flying wild folk taking to the air upon the first warning of danger. The creatures that creep and crawl upon the ground and amidst the plants hide. themselves or remain frozen into immovability in an exceedingly crafty manner. Both small and large mammals secrete themselves or break into the gait which soon carries them beyond possible harm-just as quickly as they become aware of man's presence!

The wild folk on Hat Island are no exceptions to this rule. If a craft of any kind appear upon the water in range of their vision, near or far from their island home, at once the air will be filled with hundreds, oftentimes thousands of gulls that fly out to inspect the newcomer. They pursue the same tactics at this rookery that they do at sea, circling above the boat or riding the waves at a distance. Scavengering is their continual occupation and always they maintain a sharp lookout for food of any kind which may be thrown to them. The ships' garbage is their special delight! Frequently they give voice. to the weird, mewing cry so often heard

at sea while they haunt the vicinity of the vessel.

The seagulls, more or less tamed by continuous contact with man here at their summer cottage in the mountains and at their winter bungalow by the sea, are not so greatly disturbed by island visitors. Of course they make a great fuss, scream, laugh and cry out their displeasure continuously while anyone walks about the rookery, and oftentimes they make a savage, darting attack at the head of the intruder.

The adult pelicans always leave the rookery when anyone lands upon the island, and alight in the water a half mile or more off shore. They remain on the water until all excursionists have left in their boat and until all excitement has abated. Mother and father heron are most disturbed by visitors because they are compelled to fly from six to 20 miles to the nearest landing place, either on another island or on the mainland. Herons are not water birds, so their plumage is not water-tight like that of the gull and pelican.

During the 40 days of my residence. on the island with the birds, most of the time alone, they became quite accustomed to my presence; yet I was unable to get close enough to an adult heron or pelican to get a good picture unless I stayed in my blinds. I could sit within three feet of adult gulls so long as I sat as immovable as the surrounding rocks. But my slightest movement sent them into flight scolding me in all kinds of tongues. Always on such occasions their wild alarm cry of "Help, help, help!" disturbed the entire rookery and in all directions I could see the heads of adults and chicks bob into view-all carefully scanning their horizon for danger.

The water is very shallow around the island. Only at the northwest corner may a boat drawing about three feet of water make a landing. All other landing places are made beside lightly built piers. On the south and south

Adult Pelicans feeding chicks

east shores are flat, sandy reaches upon which birds of all ages, except the herons, play and sun themselves throughout the long summer days. As soon as the pelican "herd" of chicks is old enough to make the trip to the water, off they tramp in dignified silence, single file, and remain disporting themselves in the warm brine until near meal time. Then these tiny toddlers stand around their home-sites and await the arrival of the good ships bearing toward them so rapidly, big, juicy loads of fish-always fish, every meal!

Gull chicks hatched far up amid the higher places in the rookery never get an all-over bath-unless a good rain storm drenches them-until they are about ten weeks old, when they reach the water's edge in short, easy flights undertaken while their parents are absent from the rookery. Their first attempt on the water is as easily accomplished as it would be had they been paddling about delightedly since the hour of their birth.

Pelicans eat nothing but fish. They catch great numbers of many different species, usually the inedible kinds, so far as man is concerned, and most frequently the little fellows. These big birds are the natural enemies of the carp in our inland waters. They never carry anything in their big yellow pouches-all food is swallowed at once into their stomachs.

Everything from soup to nuts is included in the daily fare of the California gulls. They are audacious scavengers, even entering back yards of the city in quest of garbage for themselves and their chicks.

Herons eat any of the smaller species of fish, small rodents, lizards, frogs, toads, snakes, crayfish and large and small insects of many kinds. All such food is largely composed of water so there is no need of these birds or their chicks drinking fresh water.

All three of the species at this rookery feed their young by regurgitation and sufficient gastric secretions accompanies the food to aid in allaying thirst. I never saw a pelican, heron or gull chick whose daily meal ever appeared to satisfy him. I have seen them so full they could scarcely stand erect-yet all the time they squawked for more, more! The distensibility of the gull's stomach often reminded me of the normal small boy's capacity. While this bird weighs only about one pound it can hold and carry a big quantity of food!

I have seen adult pelicans return to the rookery from an all-day tour of the swamps, filled to the brim with fish for the little ones, and when they landed (Continued on Page 44)

[graphic]

The Girl at the Tank House

[merged small][ocr errors]

The youthful pair sneaked back up town-silent instead of boastful. Neither of them ever referred to the matter afterward.

One rainy night not long after this episode Annette received an unexpected visit from another of the Hitchcock faction. He was middle-aged, married, and a pillar of the church.

'I thought you'd be lonesome, so I came over to keep you company," he said by way of explanation. His look and manner betrayed his real intention.

Concealing her surprise and annoyance Annette offered him a seat in the dining room. Then she went to the telephone, and called for his home number.

"Hey! what are you doing there?" demanded her visitor, concern dominating his voice.

"I am calling up your wife," answered Annette, sweetly. "Oh! is that you Mrs. Gray? Your husband is here, and I want you to come over and spend the evening. No; he has just come in. If you'll come, I'll ask him to stay."

The wife did not come; and the husband did not stay. Annette told of the visit, but pledged the hearer to profound secrecy. It was not long before everybody in town was laughing at an exaggerated version of the affair. Such stories never lose anything in the telling.

Annette was quite right in believing that this phase of masculine vanity and curiosity would soon subside. In reality it did her no harm.

The old Irish gardener who still lived in the rooms over the garage did his share of the gossiping.

"When any o' them old codgers come nose'n around to see what they can find out, the lass at the tank house hists the winder blinds clear up to the top. None o' them ever gets upstairs. From my place I can see everything goin' on, and I tell you it is all straight."

Spring brought a decided change in the entire situation. People remembered. that Annette's school was a model of its kind; that she, herself was modest and unassuming. It was said on all sides

By FRONA EUNICE WAIT COLBURN

that she was a kind and considerate neighbor. She loaned freely of her house stores, but never borrowed. She was a faithful attendant at church; she sewed for and did many other favors for the Minister's family.

Annette won the friendship of older women by following their advice in cooking. She tried every recipe given her, sharing the good results with her intimates. She took the keenest interest in solving all kinds of housekeeping problems, and listened gratefully to any helpful suggestion. She in turn trimmed many a hat, designed many a dress or put on the finishing touches.

Annette's actual leadership began with the making of a Hope Chest. All the girls she knew begged to be allowed to see it, and to be told how to start one for themselves. It was a happy inspiration to invite them all up on the tank house balcony one sunny afternoon for full explanations.

"Now, girls;" said Annette, unconsciously assuming the role of teacher, "Let's have an honest to goodness talk about our own futures." The girl in the hammock sat bolt upright; the others adjusted their cushions; all looked ex

pectant.

"I've never before told anybody why I built this tank house. It is because I believe that the homemaker of the highest class has an unassailable position. She does not have to get into society. She is society. It is she who lives in the elegant mansion, and has yachts, special trains, limousines, boxes at the opera, picture galleries, rare rugs, laces, diamonds, fur, and above all else, the say in all social matter. Every other grade and class of woman has to abide by her dictates. In fact, the whole world caters to her."

"That kind of woman lives an awful humdrum sort of life," ventured one of the girls.

"No, she don't," responded Annette, quickly.

"If you look over the lists of charitable institutions, or patronesses of all art and learning, you will find the names of the women I mean. They are in the know of everything worth while."

"Well, some of them are ugly and commonplace enough. Heaven knows," said another.

"But they all have character, and they have one trait in common. They all know how to make a home. To my way of

thinking, beauty is not the most valuable possession for a woman; neither is learning. I would rather be a first class housekeeper than anything else. That is why I built this tank house. I am going to prepare for my wedding by collecting a dower of needful things in a Hope Chest."

"Good for you, Annette. What are you going to put in first?" All the girls sat up expectantly.

"As I have quite a supply of linen already in use I'll make my wedding sheets first."

"Oh, Annette, do tell us. Is there somebody?"

"Yes; somewhere out yonder, but I haven't seen him yet. Do you know girls, we are all like Senta, spinning, and waiting for the Flying Dutchman-the archetype of restless man seeking his mate.'

[ocr errors]

"To see her dance with the boys and jolly them along, you would never dream she could talk like that, would you, girls?"

"I am ambitious to have an appreciative knowledge of all the fine things. made for or by women. The true test of living is not to acquire or to achieve, but to be. A gentlewoman never pertends; she simply is, and I want to be like her."

"You do beautiful needle work already, Annette.

"Mother began teaching me when I was ten years old. I groan in spirit as I remember pig-eye button holes I used to make. The first thing I ever dared get ready for my house, were bath towels and wash rags."

"We can begin our Hope Chests the same way!" exclaimed the girls in chorus. "Oh; Annette, this is such a relief. When one sees the exquisite embroideries of the professional workers or of the convent communities, or the wonderful pillow laces and peasant handicraft, to say nothing of Oriental skill one almost has heart failure.”

"It is some task to be a skilled needlewoman and that is only an ornamental phase of home making. The real work is done in the kitchen. There you must have science as well as art. When vacation comes I am going to Santa Barbara for a scientific course in the State College Cooking Department. Then I shall calmly await the great event."

It was inevitable that each girl should be asked if she was "Hope Chesting," and that Annette should come in for

some good natured quizzing. Finally the news reached Uncle Henry.

"Sis," he demanded, "What's this tomfoolery about a Hope Chest that Annette has started. What is a Hope Chest, anyhow?"

"It is another name for the old fashioned dower chest."

"You mean a cedar box with all sorts of things in it like grandmother had. Can I add something to the collection?" "Yes; if you care to."

"Well, I'll send Annette something that will surprise her."

lies and groups of guests together on the verandah of the old Hotel Potter. Many were still in the dining room; some strolled about the sloping green sward; others looked well out over the ocean, and listened to the swish of the waves beyond the farther edge of the closely cropped lawn.

"Mother, do you see that girl with the pink parasol standing down there on the walk?"

"Yes; what about her?"

"Don't you think she is pretty?"
"No; not exactly, but she has good

His gift was a silver mounted teeth- style. I heard some one say that she ing ring and a rattle!

Jerry, the gardener, gave Annette the kind of service which cannot be measured in terms of money. In return he had practically the freedom of the place. For his own use he had planted the back lot to a vegetable garden. When the berries. and fruit came to bearing he was allowed to dispose of these along with the other products. It was his pride and joy to keep the bay tree in perfect condition, and he spent much time trimming the weeping willow tree top block fashion into three distinct lengths. The garage and light tower were half hidden by Boston ivy, while the rose arbor on the front lawn near the bay tree was utilized by the bungalow tenant for a summer tea house.

The rustic placard "Bay Towers" swung in the pergola entrance where vines and blossoms ran in riotous profusion.

Annette refused to tolerate what she designated "the architecture of the false front." Houses of this type have a more or less ornate front of stucco imitation of stone with unblushing weather-board sides and rear finish. Annette's theory was that the backyard should be equally attractive and Jerry was delighted to humor her. The result was a series of brick-bordered pebble walks through the garden-with a patch of old fashioned flowers growing in profusion near the kitchen window of the tank house. A huge Indian wickiup of wire was completely overrun with morning glories of all colors and sizes. These caught the first rays of the rising sun and formed a glorified outer entrance to Annette's new home. A flowering rock pile near the windmill base gave a touch of color while a bed of lavender under the laundry window wafted a delicious perfume over the whole house.

The close of the fourth school year found Annette's building plans fully acaccomplished. She was not only free of debt, but had been given a substantial raise in salary.

It was midsummer at Santa Barbara, and the lunch hour had brought fami

makes all of her hats and dresses. Maybe she does but they don't look 'Home Sweet Home.' That combination of white voile with green taffeta is really smart. The corsage of pink sweet peas matches the parasol, the white hat with matches the parasol, the white hat with its pale coral buckle set with rhinestones, the smaller duplicate buckles on the white ties, and the long white silk gloves are quite correct."

"I'm glad you think she is a good looker. She is likely to be the future Mrs. Wallace Rathburn. At least, I've got my own consent."

"What kind of nonsense is this you are talking? You don't even know the girl's name."

"Yes, I do! I saw her register as Annette H. Weatherby. More than that I know that she is a student at the State College. I followed here there this morning. I saw her in class with a white cap and apron on, and she had a big cooking spoon in one hand and a pair of scales in the other. I stuck around and then trailed her back to the hotel." "Wallace Rathburn have you forgotten all of your bringing up?"

"No; mother, but I've seen a girl that interests me, and I didn't have any other way to find out about her. That lady sitting over there in the rocker is her mother. I want you to get acquainted with her, and then introduce me." "Are you really serious?"

"Never more so in my life."

It was like Wallace Rathburn to come to a decision quickly. Taking a short cut, and going straight to the heart of things had made him a successful business man in the early thirties. Since leaving school he had wasted little time on social matters, and had never tried to be popular with the girls. He and his elder brother had greatly enlarged the business left by their father's death. From a selling agency of canned and dried fruits the brothers now had a branch house in London, and a large packing plant in the southern part of the state. It was becoming necessary to add another plant to meet the ever increasing demands. This accounted for the presence of Wal

lace Rathburn at the Hotel Potter. He was spending the week ends with his mother, while looking about for a suitable location for a warehouse.

But how describe the dawn of love in a woman's heart! The delicacy and mystery of the awakening beggars language.

Annette could not have told just how the miracle was wrought. It was not in anything said or done. These were commonplace enough, but each knew that every word, every act, every glance even, was a part of the age old game of pursuit and retreat. The diffidence of the boy; the shyness of the girl made mountains of imaginary difficulties, and robbed both of sleep and appetite. They were too much in love to be really happy.

The young man lost no time in visiting Annette's home town. It was legitimately on his route of inspection, but he cut all intervening stops, and was soon in possession of the neighborhood gossip, kindly and otherwise.

"Mother," he said, appearing one Sunday night. "I don't think I've got a ghost of a chance. I've been to Miss Weatherby's home. It's the show place of the town. Everybody knows her, and they say she turned down a young chap because he had too much money. Some say she has been disappointed in love. Everybody told me she has terribly high ideals. I think the best thing I can do is to pack up and get out."

"No, son; I don't think that would be quite right. Poor boy! You don't know much about girls, do you?" The mother smiled indulgently and knowingly. The young man scanned her face eagerly.

"What do you mean by that?" he asked.

"Oh, nothing; only I don't see things. as you do."

"You've always been such a good pal, mother."

Sometimes on the heights of bliss, again in the depths of despair, the next six weeks slipped along the rosary of time.

Annette talked freely of her school and of her experiments in cooking, but her admirer was singularly reticent about his own affairs. He spoke vaguely of buying fruit, and of trips made to various orchard districts. He gave no hint of his intention of locating in Annette's own

town.

Upon leaving Santa Barbara Annette invited Mrs. Rathburn and her son to visit her and was not surprised when the mother named an early date, and said she would spend some time in that vicinity.

On the second Sunday after Mrs. Rathburn's arrival Annette asked mother and son to dine at the tank house. It

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »