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Dallas Lore Sharp

A Chapter of Things To See This Spring

O UT of the multitude of sights, which twelve sights this spring shall I urge you to see? Why the twelve, of course, that I always look for most eagerly. And the first of these, I think, is the bluebird.


"Have you seen a bluebird yet?" some friend will ask me, as March comes on. Or it will be, "I have seen my first bluebird!" as if seeing a first bluebird were something very wonderful and important. And so it is; for the sight of the first March bluebird is the last sight of winter and the first sight of spring. The brown of the fertile earth is on its breast, the blue of the summer sky is on its back, and in its voice is the clearest, sweetest of all invitations to come out of doors.

Where has he spent the winter? Look it up. What has brought him back so early? Guess at it. What does he say as he calls to you? Listen. What has John Burroughs written about him? Look it up and read.


You must see the skunk-cabbage abloom in the swamp. You need not pick it and carry it home for the table—just see it. But be sure you see it. Get down and open the big purple-streaked spathe, as it spears the cold mud, and look at the "spadix" covered with its tiny but perfect flowers. Now wait a minute. The woods are still bare; ice may still be found on the northern slopes, while here before you, like a wedge splitting the frozen soil, like a spear cleaving through the earth from the other, the summer, side of the world, is this broad blade of life letting up almost the first cluster of the new spring's flowers. Wait a moment longer and you may hear your first bumblebee, as he comes humming at the door of the cabbage for a taste of new honey and pollen.


Among the other early signs of spring, you should see a flock of red-winged blackbirds! And what a sight they are upon a snow-covered field! For often after their return it will snow again, when the brilliant, shining birds in black with their red epaulets make one of the most striking sights of the season.


Another bird event that you should witness is the arrival of the migrating warblers. You will be out one of these early May days when there will be a stirring of small birds in the bushes at your side, in the tall trees over your head—everywhere! It is the warblers. You are in the tide of the tiny migrants—yellow warblers, pine warblers, myrtle warblers, black-throated green warblers—some of them on their way from South America to Labrador. You must be in the woods and see them as they come.


You should see the "spice-bush" (wild allspice or fever-bush or Benjamin-bush) in bloom in the damp March woods. And, besides that, you should see with your own eyes under some deep, dark forest trees the blue hepatica and on some bushy hillside the pink arbutus. (For fear I forget to tell you in the chapter of things to do, let me now say that you should take a day this spring and go "may-flowering.")


There are four nests that you should see this spring: a hummingbird's nest, saddled upon the horizontal limb of some fruit or forest tree, and looking more like a wart on the limb than a nest; secondly, the nest, eggs rather, of a turtle buried in the soft sand along the margin of a pond or out in some cultivated field; thirdly, the nest of a sunfish (pumpkin-seed) in the shallow water close up along the sandy shore of the pond; and fourthly, the nest of the red squirrel, made of fine stripped cedar bark, away up in the top of some tall pine tree!

I mean by this that there are many other interesting nest-builders besides the birds. Of all the difficult nests to find, the hummingbird's is the most difficult. When you find one, please write to me about it.


You should see a "spring peeper," the tiny Pickering's frog—if you can.  The marsh and the meadows will be vocal with them, but one of the hardest things that you will try to do this spring will be to see the shrill little piper, as he plays his bagpipe in the rushes at your very feet. But hunt until you do see him. It will sharpen your eyes and steady your patience for finding other things.


You should see the sun come up on a May morning. The dawn is always a wonderful sight, but never at other times attended with quite the glory, with quite the music, with quite the sweet fragrance, with quite the wonder of a morning in May. Don't fail to see it. Don't fail to rise with it. You will feel as if you had wings—something better even than wings.


You should see a farmer ploughing in a large field—the long straight furrows of brown earth; the blackbirds following behind after worms; the rip of the ploughshare; the roll of the soil from the smooth mould-board—the wealth of it all. For in just such fields is the wealth of the world, and the health of it, too. Don't miss the sight of the ploughing.


Go again to the field, three weeks later, and see it all green with sprouting corn, or oats, or one of a score of crops. Then—but in The Fall of the Year  I ask you to go once more and see that field all covered with shocks of ripened corn, shocks that are pitched up and down its long rows of corn-butts like a vast village of Indian tepees, each tepee full of golden corn.


You should see, hanging from a hole in some old apple tree, a long thin snake-skin! It is the latch-string of the great crested fly-catcher.

Now why does this bird always use a snake-skin in his nest? and why does he usually leave it hanging loose outside the hole? Questions, these, for you to think about. And if you will look sharp, you will see in even the commonest things questions enough to keep you thinking as long as you live.


You should see a dandelion. A dandelion? Yes, a dandelion, "fringing the dusty road with harmless gold." But that almost requires four eyes—two to see the dandelion and two more to see the gold—the two eyes in your head, and the two in your imagination. Do you really know how to see anything? Most persons have eyes, but only a few really see. This is because they cannot look hard and steadily at anything. The first great help to real seeing is to go into the woods knowing what you hope to see—seeing it in your eye, as we say, before you see it in the out-of-doors. No one would ever see a tree-toad on a mossy tree or a whip-poor-will among the fallen leaves who did not have tree-toads and whip-poor-wills in mind. Then, secondly, look at the thing hard  until you see in it something peculiar, something different from anything like it that you ever saw before. Don't dream in the woods; don't expect the flowers to tell you their names or the wild things to come up and ask you to wait while they perform for you.