Among the Forest People by Clara Dillingham Pierson
T had been a cold and windy winter.
Day after day the storm-clouds had piled up in the
northwest and spread slowly over the sky, dropping
great ragged flakes of snow down to the shivering
earth. Then the forest trees were clothed in fleecy
white garments, and the branches of the evergreens
drooped under their heavy cloak.
Then there had
been other days, when a strong wind stripped the trees
of their covering, and brought with it thousands of
small, hard flakes. These flakes were drier than the
ragged ones had been, and did not cling so lovingly to
everything they touched. They would rather frolic on
the ground, rising again and again from their
resting-places to dance around with the wind, and help
make great drifts and overhanging ledges of snow in the
edge of the Forest, where there was more open ground.
It is true that not all the winter had been cold and
stormy. There were times when the drifts melted slowly
into the earth, and the grass, which last summer had
been so tender and green, showed brown and matted on
the ground. Still the Great Horned Owl and his wife
could not find enough to eat. "We do not mean to
complain," said he with dignity, as he scratched one
ear with his feathered
right foot, "but neither
of us has had a meal hearty enough for a healthy Robin,
since the first heavy snow came."
This was when he was
talking to his cousin, the Screech Owl. "Hearty enough
for a Robin!" exclaimed Mrs. Great Horned Owl. "I
should say we
hadn't. I don't think I have had enough
for a Goldfinch, and that is pretty hard for a bird of
my size. I am so thin that my feathers feel loose."
"Have you been so hungry that you dreamed about food?"
asked the Screech Owl.
"N-no, I can't say that I
have," said the Great Horned Owl, while his wife shook
her head solemnly.
"Ah, that is dreadful," said the
Screech Owl. "I have done that several times. Only
yesterday, while I lay in my nest-hollow, I dreamed
that I was hunting. There was food everywhere, but
just as I flew down to eat, it turned into pieces of
ice. When I awakened I was almost starved and so
cold that my beak chattered."
It was only a few days
after the Screech Owl's call upon his cousins that he
awakened one night to find the weather milder, and the
ground covered with only a thin coating of soft snow.
The beautiful round moon was shining down upon him, and
in the western sky the clouds were still red from the
rays of the setting sun.
Somewhere, far beyond the
fields and forests of this part of the world, day-birds
were beginning to stir, and thousands of downy heads
were drawn from under sheltering wings, while in the
barnyards the Cocks were calling their welcome to the
sun. But the Screech Owl did not think of this. He
aroused his wife and they went hunting. When they came
back they did not dream about food. They had eaten all
that they could, and the Great Horned Owl and his wife
made a meal hearty enough for a dozen Robins,
and a whole flock of Goldfinches. It was a good thing
for the day-birds that this was so, for it is said that
sometimes, when food is very scarce, Owls have been
known to hunt by daylight.
When morning came and it
was the moon's turn to sink out of sight in the west,
the Owls went to bed in their hollow trees, and Crows,
Blue Jays, Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Grouse, Quail,
Squirrels, and Rabbits came out. The Goldfinches were
there too, but you would never have known the husbands
and fathers of the flock, unless you had seen them
before in their winter clothing, which is like that
worn by the wives and children. Here, too, were the
winter visitors, the Snow Buntings and the Juncos,
brimming over with happiness and news of their northern
homes. This warm day made them think of the coming
springtime, and they were already planning their
"I wish you would stay with us all
summer," said a friendly Goldfinch, as he flirted the
snow off from a tall brown weed and began to pick out
and eat the seeds.
"Stay all summer!" exclaimed a
jolly little Snow Bunting. "Why should we want to
stay? Perhaps if you would promise to keep the snow
and ice we might."
"Why not ask the Goldfinches to
come north with us?" suggested a Junco. "That would be
much more sensible, for they can stand the cold weather
as well as we, but we cannot stand warm days, such as I
hear they have in this part of the country after the
Then the older people of the group began
to talk of the cares of life and many other things
which did not interest their children, so the younger
ones wandered away from them.
"I say," called a young
Junco to a young Snow Bunting,
"wouldn't you like
to show some of these playmates of ours the
countries where we were born?"
"Yes indeed," answered
the Snow Bunting.
"Wouldn't they open their eyes,
I'd like to have them see the rocks up there."
"And the animals," said the Junco.
"Yes! Wouldn't they
stare at the Bears, though!"
"Humph," said a Blue Jay. "I wouldn't care
very much about seeing Bears,
would you?" And he turned to a Crow near by.
said the Crow. "I don't think very much of Bears
anyway." He said this as though he had seen them all
his life, but the Chickadees say that he never saw even
haven't any big animals here," said the
Junco to the Snow Bunting.
"Haven't we, though?"
replied the Blue Jay. "Guess you wouldn't say that if
you saw the Ground Hog. Would he say that?" he asked,
turning to the young
Grouse, Quail, Woodpeckers,
Goldfinches, Chickadees, Squirrels, and Rabbits who
stood around listening.
"No indeed!" they answered,
for they wanted their visitors to understand that the
Forest was a most wonderful place, and they really
thought the Ground Hog very large.
"I don't believe he
is as big as a Bear,"
said the Snow Bunting, with his
bill in the air.
"How big is he?" asked the Junco.
Now the Blue Jay was afraid that the birds from the
north were getting the better of him, and he felt very
sure that they would leave before the Ground Hog had
finished his winter sleep, so he did what no honest
bird would have even thought of doing. He held his
crested head very high and said, "He is bigger than
that rock, a great deal bigger."
The Crow looked at
the rock and gave a hoarse chuckle, for it was a
times larger than the Ground Hog. The
Grouse, Quail, Woodpeckers, Goldfinches, Chickadees,
Squirrels, and Rabbits looked at each other without
saying a word. They knew how the Blue Jay had lied,
and it made them ashamed. The Grouse pretended to fix
their snow-shoes. They did not
want to look at the birds from the north.
The Snow Buntings and Juncos
felt that it would not do to talk about Bears to people
who had such a great creature as the Ground Hog living
among them. "He must be wonderful," they said. "Where
does he sleep?"
"In the Bats' cave," answered the
Blue Jay, who having told one lie, now had to tell another
to cover it up. "He sleeps in the middle and there is
just room left around the edges for the Bats."
this very time the Ground Hog was awake in his burrow.
He could feel that it was warmer and he wanted room
to stretch. He thought it would seem good to
have an early spring after such a cold winter, so he
decided to take a walk and make the weather, as his
grandfather had done. When he came out of his burrow
he heard a great chattering and went to see what was
the matter. That was how it happened that soon after
the Blue Jay had told about the Bats' cave, one
wide-awake young Junco saw a
trotting over the grass toward them. "Who is that?" he
The Grouse, Quail, Woodpeckers, Goldfinches,
Chickadees, Squirrels, and Rabbits gave one look. "Oh,
there is the Ground Hog!" they cried. Then they
remembered and were ashamed again because of what the
Blue Jay had said.
"Oh!" said the Snow Buntings and
the Juncos. "So that is the Ground Hog! Big as that
rock, is he? And you don't think much of Bears?"
The Crow pointed one claw at the Blue Jay. "I
never said he was as big as that rock. He is the
fellow that said it."
"I don't care," said the Blue Jay;
"I was only fooling. I meant to tell you after a
It's a good joke on you." But he had a sneaky
look around the bill as he spoke, and nobody believed
him. Before long, he and the Crow were glad enough to
get away from the rest and go away together. Yet even
then they were not happy, for each began to blame the
other, and they had a most dreadful fight.
Ground Hog was told about it he said, "What foolishness
it is to want to tell the biggest story! My
grandfather told us once that a lie was always a lie,
and that calling it a joke
didn't make it any better. I think he was right."
And the Snow Buntings and
Juncos, who are bright and honest, nodded their dainty
little heads and said, "Nobody in our own
north country ever spoke a truer word than that." So
they became firm friends of the Ground Hog, even if he
were not so large as the rock.