weeping queens and the island valley of Avilion in the form of a crow; and hence it is said in ‘Don Quixote
’ that no Englishman will ever kill one.
The traces of the insect-world in winter are prophetic,—from the delicate cocoon of some infinitesimal feathery thing which hangs upon the dry, starry calyx of the aster, to the large brown-paper parcel which hides in peasant garb the costly beauty of some gorgeous moth.
But the hints of birds are retrospective.
In each tree of this pasture, the very pasture where last spring we looked for nests and found them not among the deceitful foliage, the fragile domiciles now stand revealed.
But where are the birds that filled them?
Could the airy creatures nurtured in those nests have left permanently traced upon the air behind them their own bright summer flight, the whole atmosphere would be filled with interlacing lines and curves of gorgeous coloring, the centre of all being this forsaken bird's-nest filled with snow.
Among the many birds which winter here, and the many insects which are called forth by a few days of thaw, not a few must die of cold or of fatigue amid the storms.
Yet how few traces one sees of this mortality!
Yonder a dead wasp has fallen on the snow, and the warmth of its body, or its power of reflecting a few small rays of light, is melting its little grave beneath it. With what a cleanly purity does Nature strive to withdraw all unsightly objects into her cemetery!
Their own weight and lingering warmth take them through air or water, snow or ice, to the level of the earth, and then with spring comes an army of burying-insects, Necrophagi
, in a livery of red
, to dig a grave beneath every one, and not a sparrow falleth to the ground without knowledge.
The tiny remains thus disappear from the surface, and the dry leaves are soon spread above these Children in the Wood
Thus varied and benignant are the aspects of winter on these sunny days.
But it is impossible to claim this weather as the only type of our winter climate.
There occasionally come days which, though perfectly still and serene, suggest more terror than any tempest,—terrible, clear, glaring days of pitiless cold,—when the sun seems powerless or only a brighter moon, when the windows remain ground-glass at high noontide; and when, on going out of doors, one is dazzled by the brightness, and fancies for a moment that it cannot be so cold as has been reported, but presently discovers that the severity is only more deadly for being so still.
Exercise on such days seems to produce no warmth; one's limbs appear ready to break on any sudden motion, like icy boughs.
Stage-drivers and draymen are transformed to mere human buffaloes by their fur coats; the patient oxen are frost-covered; the horse that goes racing by waves a wreath of steam from his tossing head.
On such days life becomes a battle to all householders, the ordinary apparatus for defence is insufficient, and the price of caloric is continual vigilance.
In innumerable armies the frost besieges the