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IN "THE SNUGGERY"
A YEAR or two later than the events recorded in the preceding chapters a nook on the opposite side of the Beloved Island was opened to me. A new cottage was put up I had almost said grew, so much a part of its surroundings did it seem; so naturally did it appear to nestle in among the frees without displacing anything.
The house was original in plan if it had a plan and unique in construction. Its six rooms possessed each an outside door, so that its three tenants, with their two rooms apiece, could come and go at pleasure, without disturbing either of the others. The vagaries of doors and windows were endless. One of my outside doors swung out into the universe, two of my windows lay on their side and opened like doors, one inward, the other outward, and the third window, of one sheet of plate glass, was permanently fastened shut.
It was a regular "sleepy hollow" of a place that summer. We went to bed when it grew too dark to see the ocean and sitting on the piazza ceased to be interesting, and we did not stir to take up the burden of life till the sun was far on his daily rounds. We trained the morning callers grocers and their ilk not to come to us on their early rounds, and sometimes not a sign of life was to be seen or heard about our "enchanted castle" before a very late hour indeed. If one of the trio did bestir herself earlier, she respected the quiet of her housemates, and having her own private exit, and making her own morning coffee in her own room, had no need to interfere with any one.
It was not always sleep that held us inactive. Never before in our busy lives I speak for one of the three had we been able to rest in the morning with no breakfast-call, postman, door-bell, or even reproachful looks to drag us up before the "spirit moved.' It was not laziness it was re-creative rest.
"Yes, I know," said an islander making a piazza-call one day, ostensibly to inquire about some work, but probably to see for himself what manner of creatures they were who had such eccentric ways. "Yes, I know; you come here for rest; everybody in the Row comes here for rest." He struggled to be polite, but he couldn't keep the sneer out of his voice. He himself always got up at four o'clock he went on, in the slow drawling way in which an island fisherman comes to talk. He should feel that he had wasted half the morning if he lay till eight o'clock.
"The Snuggery" seemed the obvious name for this cozy little home of independence and rest, and that it was always to me, though it had a far more pretentious title.
The views from my two doors open all the time, weather permitting had each its own charm. One looked into the heart of the spruce woods, the other offered a stretch of sea and sky framed in by two tall spruces. I could look at either by a turn of the head, but the woods with the woods-dwellers was most attractive. My chair was nearest that door, and when either picture must be shut out, it was the sea which was sacrificed.
The trees of this green paradise were of Nature's inimitable grouping, in appearance careless yet perfect, and they varied in height from one foot to perhaps fifty feet, all exquisitely fresh and green from the ground to their pointed tops.
Running back into the clump was a glade-like opening, which might have been but was not a path. In the centre of that space had planted itself the least of its race, an infant spruce a foot high, the darling of the group, standing up as pert as any patriarch of them all, spreading its tiny arms with the true spruce spirit to have elbow-room for itself, its fresh green twigs still wearing their droll yellow caps.
This beautiful solitude was sacred to wings, for no path was open to feet. Into and over it came about thirty species of birds; yellow warblers and redstarts flashed across its sombre depths like gems, a black-throated green warbler, weighted, it might almost seem, by his name, drawled out his drowsy song, and very wide-awake flickers contributed their various and peculiar cries. Barn- and tree-swallows flew over with lively chat, the olive-sided flycatcher shouted his plaintive "see-here!" an hour at a time, chipping-sparrows came about the door for crumbs, and the Coast of Maine bird the song-sparrow sang all day. So versatile, indeed, was this dear little gray-coated brother that one hardly needed other singers. In a few hours' study that I gave to him, I recorded twenty-six distinctly different songs, and I have no doubt he was capable of as many more.
To this grove came also an eccentric purple finch. After executing the ordinary song he would pause an instant and then add two notes slurred together, almost exactly like what is called the "pe-wee-song" of the chickadee. It was quaint, rather slow in delivery, and decidedly unique.
In this retreat I heard also strange flicker noises. I am coming to believe that the woodpeckers, especially the flicker and the sapsucker, are capable of the most peculiar bird-sounds. I am sure we do not know half their vocabulary. It is only when, as in this place, there are few birds that one can trace these vagaries to their source.
I did not appreciate the particular attractions of this small paradise until well into July, when the "rising generation" began to make itself obvious. Then I discovered, to my delight, that I had happened upon what seemed to be the private nursery of the tribes of the air. From morning till night the air was full of the low, tender notes of bird parents, and the various calls and cries of clamorous younglings. Many of them I did not recognize until a sudden lapse into an ordinary note revealed the author. Not always, alas! could I discover who uttered the sounds that puzzled me, for at the slightest movement every one quickly slipped behind his green curtain and was silent. I recognized the yearning whispers of the flicker baby, the sharp, insistent note of the song-sparrow, the emphatic demand of the young robin, even the comical "ma-a-a" of the infant crow on the outskirts. Most interesting of all were the notes of the olive-sided fly-catcher. His ordinary "tu! tu! tu!" prolonged into a quavering, gurgling sort of tremolo in very low tone, something like the "purring" of a screech-owl. It was an indescribable, but delicious little sound. Sometimes it was given independently of the "tu! tu!" but was always accompanied by this well-known call.
As the olive-sided youngsters who visited my grove progressed, I saw one day an interesting scene between an old and a young bird. It appeared to be a lesson in taking food on the wing. The elder bird came flying around the tops of the trees calling "tu! tu!" with the strange quavering addition I have tried to describe. Instantly another rose from a tree, uttering a similar cry, and flew directly to the first one with mouth open, plainly expecting food. The elder, as it seemed he must be, held himself bent over in a strange stooping attitude, as if reaching down to the young one, while the latter was almost perpendicular, with open beak held up. The two beaks were not far apart and both birds were calling. In this relative position they passed beyond the trees. There could be no doubt that it was an old and a young bird, the former with food which the latter desired, and if it were not an attempt to teach the youngster to take food on the wing, flycatcher fashion, what was it?
Another thing that puzzled me was the conduct of a yellow warbler who seemed to have assumed the manners of a hummingbird. I first saw him hovering along the edge of a cottage roof, I thought perhaps seeking small spiders, as a humming-bird will hover before an old fence or even a rock for the same purpose. Later, however, I saw him hovering before the tips of the spruce-twigs, and even the tall weeds. Then I bethought me that there is little fresh water on this Island accessible to birds, and none near this grove. Whenever I saw this performance it had been raining, and the conclusion seemed to be obvious that it was water he sought.
A sort of soft baby-talk about the trees had interested and baffled me for days, until one evening I was sitting quietly on the piazza, when suddenly I saw two tree-swallows flying around and uttering the very sound I was trying to locate. One alighted near the top of a spruce-tree and was fed, which proclaimed him a youngster, and after two or three feedings he was left alone. There he sat a long, long time, with a patience and repose remarkable in one of the restless swallow family. He might have been a wooden bird, and I began to suspect he was left there for the night. Meanwhile it grew darker, and a heavy fog came in from the sea, so that I could hardly see him, but I kept my glass on him for nearly an hour, and my arms ached well before a bird suddenly flew rapidly close past him without a sound or a touch, and instantly the young one followed.
All through the day I sat by my open door watching the little drama of bird-life till late afternoon, when I usually went to my rose-garden to replenish my bowl for the morrow.
This garden of delights was at some distance from The Snuggery. It was a tangle of bushes from two to three feet high and perhaps twenty feet in extent, which was loaded through the season with buds and blossoms of the wild rose in all stages. It was bewildering to look at. What can be more perfect than a wild rose from the time the pink petals begin to show between the green bands that restrain them till wide open to the sun!
I look at them in despair the sight is almost painfully lovely hundreds of them open invitingly, each flower more exquisite than the other. I long to fill my arms, especially as the garden is situated where few people ever see it. I can't bear to pick them I can't bear to leave them to waste their loveliness on the desert air. At last, in desperation, I gather my usual handful of buds ready to bloom, and the next morning I have a glorious bowl of open and half-open roses, sweet and fresh as if just created as indeed, are they not?
One of the interesting evolutions of that unconventional household was a salt-water bath-tub. Except in a few pretentious cottages on the Beloved Island the bath-tub is a memory and a hope, and the salt-water tub beyond even dreams. One of our trio longed for sea-bathing, but the sea at that point extends the coolest of invitations to the bather, and after a few shivery trials she gave it up, till she noticed in the rocky coast near the cottage a depression that was filled with every tide, and at low tide was out of the reach of the waves. A happy thought came to her, and henceforth on sunny days when the sea had filled it and retired, she betook herself to her rocky tub, which the warm rocks had made of just the right temperature. Warm salt-water baths must therefore be added to the comforts of The Snuggery.
Generally as the shore at that time was not much frequented the bather enjoyed her bath in solitude; but occasionally a stray wanderer would to his consternation discover a figure lying passively in the rocky pool, and be uncertain whether it was his duty to rush to the rescue.
One thing more I learned on this rocky shore it is possible to be too near the sea for comfort. It is so big, so overpowering, so irresistible, that it is depressing. It is better to be where one can walk a little way to enjoy it every day, but not have it thrust upon one in all its oppressiveness every hour of day and night. Especially is this true where, as at The Snuggery, it comes full force against the "stern and rock-bound coast" of Maine.
An imperative call from below brought the rest and peace of The Snuggery to a sudden end near the last of August.