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PinkMonkey.com Digital Library - PinkMonkey.com-Walden by Henry David Thoreau


last I held still a piece of cheese between my thumb and finger, it
came and nibbled it, sitting in my hand, and afterward cleaned its
face and paws, like a fly, and walked away.

A phoebe soon built in my shed, and a robin for protection in a pine
which grew against the house. In June the partridge (Tetrao
umbellus), which is so shy a bird, led her brood past my windows,
from the woods in the rear to the front of my house, clucking and
calling to them like a hen, and in all her behavior proving herself the
hen of the woods. The young suddenly disperse on your approach, at
a signal from the mother, as if a whirlwind had swept them away,
and they so exactly resemble the dried leaves and twigs that many a
traveler has placed his foot in the midst of a brood, and heard the
whir of the old bird as she flew off, and her anxious calls and
mewing, or seen her trail her mings to attract his attention, without
suspecting their neighborhood. The parent will sometimes roll and
spin round before you in such a dishabille, that you cannot, for a few
moments, detect what kind of creature it is. The young squat still and
flat, often running their heads under a leaf, and mind only their
motherís directions given from a distance, nor will your approach
make them run again and betray themselves. You may even tread on
them, or have your eyes on them for a minute, without discovering
them. I have held them in my open hand at such a time, and still their
only care, obedient to their mother and their instinct, was to squat
there without fear or trembling. So perfect is this instinct, that once,
when I had laid them on the leaves again, and one accidentally fell
on its side, it was found with the rest in exactly the same position ten
minutes afterward. They are not callow like the young of most birds,
but more perfectly developed and precocious even than chickens.
The remarkably adult yet innocent expression of their open and
serene eyes is very memorable. All intelligence seems reflected in
them. They suggest not merely the purity of infancy, but a wisdom
clarified by experience. Such an eye was not born when the bird was,
but is coeval with the sky it reflects. The woods do not yield another
such a gem. The traveller does not often look into such a limpid
well. The ignorant or reckless sportsman often shoots the parent at
such a time, and leaves these innocents to fall a prey to some
prowling beast or bird, or gradually mingle with the decaying leaves
which they so much resemble. It is said that when hatched by a hen
they will directly disperse on some alarm, and so are lost, for they
never hear the motherís call which gathers them again. These were
my hens and chickens.

It is remarkable how many creatures live wild and free though secret
in the woods, and still sustain themselves in the neighborhood of
towns, suspected by hunters only. How retired the otter manages to
live here! He grows to be four feet long, as big as a small boy,
perhaps without any human being getting a glimpse of him. I
formerly saw the raccoon in the woods behind where my house is
built, and probably still heard their whinnering at night. Commonly I
rested an hour or two in the shade at noon, after planting, and ate my
lunch, and read a little by a spring which was the source of a swamp
and of a brook, oozing from under Bristerís Hill, half a mile from
my field. The approach to this was through a succession of
descending grassy hollows, full of young pitch pines, into a larger
wood about the swamp. There, in a very secluded and shaded spot,
under a spreading white pine, there was yet a clean, firm sward to sit
on. I had dug out the spring and made a well of clear gray water,
where I could dip up a pailful without roiling it, and thither I went
for this purpose almost every day in midsummer, when the pond was
warmest. Thither, too, the woodcock led her brood, to probe the mud
for worms, flying but a foot above them down the bank, while they
ran in a troop beneath; but at last, spying me, she would leave her
young and circle round and round me, nearer and nearer till within
four or five feet, pretending broken wings and legs, to attract my
attention, and get off her young, who would already have taken up
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PinkMonkey.com Digital Library - PinkMonkey.com-Walden by Henry David Thoreau



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