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There is to be noted in vegetable life much activity apart from mere growth, — movements that look toward self-defense, self-sustenance, self-preservation, — movements that exhibit many of the characteristics of animal instinct. This is one of the things that forbid us to draw a sharp line between the two kingdoms. The observation of these movements will furnish material for very interesting descriptions.
Subjects : Butterflies.
The King of Beasts : Fabulous Animals. The Humming Bird. A Dispute between Intelligence of Brutes. Robin Redbreast. the Elephant, the Physical CharacterThe Brook Trout. Lion, and the istics of a Good My Pets. Horse.
Any Natural History will furnish a wealth of information on these subjects. And various works of such authors as John Burroughs, Olive Thorne Miller, Maurice Thompson, and John B. Grant, may be consulted both for matter and for good examples of the way in which the matter should be treated. But do not consult these books first if you wish to get the maximum of profit from this exercise. Here, as always, observe for yourself. Half an hour spent before a cage of monkeys or a tank of fish, will be more fruitful than the reading of a chapter from any book. Go to books
to settle points that you have no means of settling for yourself, and to verify the results of your observation. Do not be disappointed to find them verified: the young investigator is sometimes apt to feel that way. Be encouraged rather, for while the verification does not detract in the least from the merit of your own discovery, it increases your confidence in your own powers.
It is not intended here that you shall dissect an animal and describe it down to the minutest details of its organism, although that may be done. But an abundance of subject-matter may be found apart from this. If you are interested in birds, note the varieties that are to be found in your neighborhood ; the time of arrival and departure of the migratory ones; the respective sizes, and lengths of beaks, wings, legs, claws ; the extremes of color variation in the same species ; the notes or calls; the manner of running on the ground; the favorite resorts, food, etc. Speaking of bird-notes calls to mind a very interesting essay read before a class by a boy who had a good ear for music and a talent for whistling. He imitated so well the notes of half a dozen different birds that they were immediately recognized by his hearers. The same thing may be conveyed to readers, though in a more imperfect way, by the use of musical notation. See S. P. Cheney's Wood Notes Wild.
The numerous points just suggested would furnish too much matter for an ordinary composition. Either confine yourself to one species of animal, or to the comparison of different species in respect to some particular feature. For example, "Bird Beaks would
of itself be a very comprehensive subject. The following description of the genus Ursus and the species Ursus horribilis are taken from Cecil's Books of Natural History, by Selim H. Peabody:
All the species of bears have great size, large limbs, and heavy gait. They walk upon the flat soles of their feet, and are, therefore, with the raccoons, called plantigrades. The print of the foot of a black bear, left in the soft earth, resembles very much the impression of a man's hand — fingers, thumb, and palm being distinctly marked. This form of foot takes away much of the swiftness which beasts of prey usually possess. The dog and cat families move upon their toes, or digits, and are called digitigrades.
Bears' feet have five toes, armed with large, strong claws, fit for digging and climbing, rather than for holding prey or tearing flesh. They eat a variety of food, and, besides flesh, are fond of nuts, acorns, berries, growing corn, and young grain.
They seldom attack man, unless driven by severe hunger, or provoked ; but when angry, are very dangerous. They are not only savage, but solitary; making their lonely dens in the most secret and inaccessible places. In winter they sleep in their dens, in some cavern of the rocks, or in the hollow of some old tree. Here they pass months, without food, in a torpid state, breathing so gently and slowly that one would hardly suppose them alive. As the winter passes, their fat wastes away; until, when they crawl forth in the spring, they seem to have slept off all their flesh. ...
The Grizzly Bear, Ursus horribilis, is the most powerful and dangerous wild beast of America. He is from six to nine feet long, and sometimes weighs as much as eight hundred pounds. His hair is longer and finer than that of the black bear, and the color varies from a grizzly gray to a light brown. The hair on the legs and feet is darker and shorter than that on the body; on the face it is so short and pale as to make the creature seem bald ; on the neck it grows to a stiff, coarse mane.
The feet and claws are very large. The forefoot of a specimen measured by Lewis and Clarke, was ninę inches broad, and was armed with claws six inches long. These claws are not pointed, but are thin and wide, fitted to dig in the earth.
Notwithstanding his size, his unwieldy form, and his shambling gait, he runs with great speed, and his strength overcomes even that of the bison. The Indians regard him with superstitious awe, and make preparations to hunt him with many ceremonies. A necklace of bears' claws, which can be worn only by the brave who has himself killed the bear, is a mark of great valor, and entitles the wearer to 'peculiar honors. Since the Indian has learned to use the rifle, the risk is somewhat less than when he fought Bruin with arrows and spears; yet, with fire-arms, a steady hand and sure aim are necessary, for a wounded, angry bear is very dangerous. There can be no escape ; life is staked against life.
ANIMAL HABITS, ETC.
Kittens at Play.
Do not feel restricted to the subjects given in these lists; they are offered merely as examples. If no one of them suits you, select something else, provided only that it be in the line of the general subject. In the present exercise it should deal with some phase of animal habits or animal activity. This is an interesting and almost inexhaustible field.
Have you sometimes wished to visit a foreign land where new customs and laws obtain, where the food and dress of the inhabitants, the art and commerce, the implements of war and the regulations for peace, are all strange to you? It is easily done. . Visit an ant-hill, a bee-hive, a bear-pit. Go out into the garden and overturn a stone, and see if you do not find there a most cosmopolitan community.
The following is an example of a short essay written from observation of this kind :
While walking along a trail in the mountain one day, my attention was attracted by a community of red ants that were busily engaged about the little mound which arose above their underground dwelling. Evidently they had a difficult task before them, to judge from the way in which some of them kept running about, while a few others stood surveying a pebble the size of a small marble which lay dangerously close to the entrance in the top of the mound and which they seemed to want removed. Soon the engineers — for such I took' those to be that were examining the pebble — seemed to have solved the problem, since all set busily to work excavating a ditch just beyond the pebble. When this was almost completed the last grains of sand that held the pebble were carefully removed by two of them, and it gave a partial roll. The same operation was performed again and again, and they would surely have completed their task alone, had I not given them a helping hand.
My theory was that the intelligent little creatures feared lest the pebble might cave in on them when they should tunnel out their upper compartments.
F. G. K. Again we extract from Cecil's Books of Natural History :
HOW THE WASP MAKES HER NEST. When quite a little boy, the writer used to go away alone into a closet to learn his lesson. The blinds at the only window in the room were always closed, giving barely light enough to read