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      An Online Edition

            edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers

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Wednesday, April 8, 1914

[The Wrens]

IV.

    Sometimes the Fireman has a visitor from out in the country--a wild bird from field or stream or orchard, or one overtired during the migratory flight, or even a singer from the green shadows of the mountain forest. These strangers are welcomed by the pigeons with grave and gentle courtesy. The Sparrows, too, greet them by offering, as courteously as they know how, to share the water of the three basins; but they always make it clear that all the best nest-building sites are Sparrow property, and not for rent. This being understood, they are quite ready to listen when, as usually happens, the visitor tells a story of things foreign to their experience.

    Today it was a pair of house wrens--bright-eyed optimists with chirky [sic] tails and a sunshiny warble for each hour of the day. They sat on the edge of the broad lower basin, now and again flying up to investigate every chink among the iron ram's heads and other ornaments, as if looking for a possible nesting place; but they disclaimed any intention of coming to the city to live.

    "Not for the world; it is too noisy. This endless rush of wheels and feet would reduce us to nervous wrecks before the end of the season."

    "Yet it is your preference to build near the homes of men," commented the White Pigeon.

    "Preference and custom," said the Wren. "The old country homes are such pleasant places at this time of year. We have for several years built under the porch eaves of a log house, dark-stained by a half century's wood smoke against the rosy blur of peach bloom and the green shrubbery that brightens long before the forest has a leaf. All the oldest houses are set in a lap of the hills where buds are coaxed open earliest. How pleasantly the sunshine sleeps on the porch in the afternoon!"

    "Where is this place?" asked the Sparrows.

    "The shoulders of Lookout are almost bowed over the clearing, which is spread like a green apron on the mountain's knees. That is the place for a nest: a peaceful spot, though too lonely to be quite homelike except to a wild bird or mountaineer."

    "The silence of the vast w[il]d land broods back of every least twinkle of sound. From our nest we can hear, at nightfall, the drop of a coal among the embers as the fire shines redder and redder on the faces of the two old people who sit beside it. They are kindly faces, seamed with the wrinkles got of outdoor living. When they have picked over their nightly stent of cotton, they read aloud a chapter from the Bible, in their part of the country reading is an accomplishment too rare to be wasted on any other book. Then the old man lays off the coat and vest that seem to have grown with him a part of the weather and the woods, and winds up the big clock on the fireboard; and in the silence they blow out the light and lie down to rest.

    "We will go back there to build. If the old couple are no longer living, no doubt their married daughter will have the house. A good woman, though she keeps two cats and hangs bright-colored quilts on her picket fence.

    "The bluebirds who live in the hollow of the apple tree near the kitchen door have probably laid their blue eggs already; and the phoebe will have another nest plastered with mud against the springhouse wall, where there are already the marks of six nests mud rings. Yes, that is the place to live."

    "But come and see us again," chirped the Sparrows.

    "And bring your friends," added the Pigeons.

    "The Phoebe would never get so far from a mountain stream," said the Wrens. "But we and the Bluebirds will visit you when household cares permit." They flew away, civilly thanking the Fireman as they rose in the air.

    "I can't see myself living in any such place," decided the little Hen Sparrow, watching the visitors out of sight.

    "How different must country people be from the crowds we know!" mused the Gray Pigeon.

    "I don't believe they are," declared the White Pigeon, who had been thinking hard. "It is their problems that are different. One set of problems is worked out in the crowded street, where men, herded together, must find a way of moving and working that allows all to live without constantly pitching against each other. Quite another is met out there, where individuals have plenty of room to develop and require other things than room--companionship, education."

    "Individual natures," she went on, in her soft voice, "often develop rare power and sweetness in solitude; but the spirit of brotherhood can only be attained by working all together. Men are laying the foundations in the great city, with sweat and tears and suffering, of a better understanding of how they are all bound in the bundle of life, and are all responsible for each other."

    From above their heads fell the voice of the Fireman, repeating a poem to himself as the feet of the crowd tramped by:

"At God's forges incandescent

Mighty hammers beat incessant:

These are but the flying sparks!"

    "Surely they are happier in contentment like that of which the Wrens tell us," said the Gray Pigeon.

    "That would be hard to prove," objected the Sparrow, skeptical to his cockney soul of any happiness existing more than five minutes' flight from a street."

    "It is not the individual happiness that is the point," said the White Pigeon. "The solitary Hunter Wasp or Leaf-Cutter Bee may be as happy as the worker in the hive; but the hive and its colony, considered as a collective mind, is a vastly higher organism, and its welfare is a hundred times more secure."

 


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