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Albert Lord Belden.

The fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea online

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dreams, and in due course be caught. The ptarmigan
and Arctic fox in their winter dress white as the pure
snow everywhere present in their habitat, are revealed
to each other by their necessary movements in quest of
food, otherwise both would have been extinct long since
— owing to cunning and caution both survive, but neith-
er flourishes.

FEET

Four flitting feet seemingly indifferent to fatigue,
ever responsive to the lure of hope or the spur of fear,
faithfully though not always successfully, serve fur-
bearers in pursuing and when being pursued, as hunters
and hunted.

Carnivorous animals are the pursuers; those that
feed upon grasses, fruits and cereals are the pursued;
when one of the latter is discovered and attacked it
dashes swiftly away, running for some time straight
ahead, but when too closely followed frequently di-
gresses to the right and left, darts around trees and boul-
ders, and speeds hither and thither in quest of a secure
hiding place ; the pursuer, which in turn is certain to be
pursued by other carnivora, trained dog, or human foe,
undoubtedly learns much from its experience as a hunter
that is of value to it when hunted, and not only learns
the tricks but practices them when necessary.

The little brown hare can outrun the great, strong



524 NATURE NOTES

lynx, but cannot tire it out; it is far more speedy than
the smaller weasel, but is incomparably less persistent;
the rabbit frequently evades the lynx by dashing into a
burrow, stone fence or thicket where the lynx cannot
follow, but it seldom escapes the patient plodding weasel
in any of these ways, as the smaller weasel can easily
penetrate any opening into which the rabbit may enter.
The rabbit would invariably elude lynx, weasel and other
ravenous pursuers if it maintained a straight-forward
course, but as this fact is not included in rabbit sense, the
career of the animal is marked by joyful successes, and
marred by final failure — and an essential balance in
animal life is maintained.

Some fur-bearers instead of seeking safety in
speedy flight on the ground, depend upon their agility in
climbing, their feet, provided with sharp claws, being
perfectly adapted to this mode of travel; the squirrel,
marten, raccoon, sable and opossum live in trees much of
the time, and when pursued run to their homes in great
trees, where foxes, wolves, dogs and other four-footed
foes are unable to follow them, but where they are not
wholly safe, as other enemies, noticeably the weasel, cat
and puma are expert climbers.

Fur-bearers catch their prey with their teeth, or
first disable their victims with blows of their heavy claw-
armed paws ; the eagle and hawks catch their prey with
their feet.

The race is not always to the swift, nor is the sur-
vival of the most fit to live the invariable rule; the ut-
most that we can consider assured in creative intent is
perpetuation within certain bounds.



NATURE NOTES 525

FURRY COATS AND TEMPERATURE

Fur constitutes a thoroughly protective "all the
year" covering for its original owner, the fur-bearing
animal hunted from valley to hilltop, and its casual rest-
ing place in a shallow den to a safe retreat in some rocky
cavern. Fur is quite generally considered protective
against cold because of the assumption that it supplies
warmth, which is incorrect; the protection consciously
enjoyed is due to the fact that fur is an inferior con-
ductor of heat, and therefore prevents the free radiation
of the vital heat of the body so essential to the comfort
and health of animals exposed to the severity of very
low temperatures during a considerable part of the year.
The fact that fur, in somewhat lesser amount, in exclud-
ing the heat is also effectively protective against the
much higher temperature of the remaining months, is
apparently not understood or realized. It may be ob-
served that even the larger creatures, noticeably the
bear, which pass the winter in calm repose, apparently
suffer no great inconvenience if any, on account of the
cold, it is noted that other furry creatures are as alert
throughout the season of frosts and ice as at any time
of the year ; it is plain therefore that the bear and other
animals do not slumber and sleep through the winter
because of an instinctive fear of the cold, which they
surely measurably experience whether waking or sleep-
ing, but solely on account of the impossibility of procur-
ing even a minimum supply of food suited to their needs.

It may also be confidently asserted that fur-bearers
are not really unpleasantly affected by the average or
exceptional warmth of summer, owing to the fact that



526 NATURE NOTES

fur is a poor conductor of heat; and secondarily on ac-
count of their invariable habit of moulting and passing
the sunny hours in caves and subterranean dens.

The Russian sable, Polar bear and Arctic fox may
exceptionally be classed as completely fur-clad in every
feature except the mere tip of the nose ; these creatures
pass many consecutive months in regions of ever pres-
ent snow and ice, and a temperature almost continuously
below zero, and in order that they may not perish as they
tramp their rounds in search of food, all parts of their
bodies, and noticeably the soles of their feet, are covered
with fur ; the fur on the soles of the feet, forever tread-
ing snow and ice, prevents the rapid radiation of inter-
nal heat, and excludes the external cold.

The opposite condition, a part of the body devoid of
fur or hair, may be observed in certain species, many of
which inhabit cold sections, but where ice is confined to
lakes and streams ; in all such instances nature has pro-
vided an effective covering for the parts thus seemingly
exposed ; these f urless portions of anatomy may be noted
in the scaly tails of the beaver, muskrat and opossum,
the flippers of seals, horns and hoofs of deer, sheep and
cattle, and the noses of furry and hairy animals
generally.

MEN AND FUR-BEARERS AKIN

The goat and cat are ubiquitous in China, greatly
exceeding in number all other species combined ; both are
home-keeping and contented animals in an exceptional
degree — or remarkably like their masters.

Spain takes its name from the care-free, light-foot-
ed rabbit, the animal outnumbering all others in the



NATURE NOTES 527

kingdom; whether the characteristics noted primarily
pertain to the rabbits or the people is immaterial — it is
noticeable that they pertain.

The smallest known representatives of certain spe-
cies of animals are found in Africa, and others in that
continent touch the opposite extreme in size — a fox only
eight inches in length, a pocket-size monkey, the mighty
elephant, and the huge gorilla, are examples.

Africa is the one country in which both human
and furry giants and pigmies abound.

Great Britain is the home of the majestic stag, and
— ^believe him — super man.

Deer of very small size abound in Japan, and some
of them are considered sacred. Japanese are noted as
being comparatively diminutive, and one of their num-
ber is regarded as a deity.

Nearly all animals rank as sacred in India, and none
may be killed because of the belief in the transmigration
of souls; no Indian is quite sure which witless ape, or
dog, or other brute is already animated by a former
human spirit, or waiting to receive his own; it is not
therefore strange that claimed kinship should find ex-
pression in similar characteristics.

Australia is the land of the topsy-turvy; plants,
shrubs and trees differ widely from those found any-
where else ; the fur-bearers ;are peculiar, one species com-
bines the physical features of bird and mammal, mem-
bers of the same family vary from a few inches to more
than six feet in height ; the dog is wild ; and in some ani-
mals primary colors prevail in fur and feather. Natives
of Australia differ not only from races on the continents,
but from those inhabiting adjacent islands; they are



528 NATURE NOTES

black, but their hair, which is short and curly, is not
harsh like that of the negro ; some of them continuously
wander from place to place, wear no clothing, eat raw
flesh, and in every particular are more nearly akin to
brutes than human beings.

Fur-bearers in America are notoriously nocturnal.
Fur-bearers in America are, as observed — the fox,
cunning; the skunk, obnoxious; the cat, indolent; the
beaver, industrious, and others otherwise characteristic-
ally human.

Fur-bearers are all nocturnal ; and man, who spends
the day in den-like offices and sub-cellars in a feverish
hustle to garner the world's tokens of exchange, roams
hither and thither through the night in successful ef-
forts to disperse his strenuously acquired coin, all too
often casting his pearls before swine, wholly unconscious
that the revel of the night is the inevitable reaction of
nature against the destructive struggle of the day, and
that sooner or later the "silver cord will break."

The Esquimaux strikingly displays the leading
traits of the furry animals with which he is in almost
constant association — noticeably, cunning of the fox, do-
cility of the seal, courage of the bear, contentment of the
reindeer, and endurance peculiar to all.

Natives of Alaska carve crude representations of
the fox, bear, wolf, whale and other animals with which
they are familiar upon their totem poles, and name them-
selves or their tribes after the creatures thus exalted.

Kings and nobles, and those who "follow in their
train," proudly display their coat of arms, as visible
signs of worth emblazoned not with glorious deeds but
with the common furry animal most expressive of the ■



NATURE NOTES 529

ancestral and inherited character of the haughty
possessor.

We go further in contentedly consenting to be
known by the names of fur-bearers, whether painfully
characteristic or conspicuously inappropriate ; bear them
through life, transmit them to our offspring, and write
them upon monuments of stone sacred to the memory of :

Peter Fox or Lucinda Bear ;

Willie Wolf or Harriet Hare;

Richard Lion, "Humanity's Defender";

Benny Rabbit, "Kind and Tender";

Clara Beaver and Thomas Catt, "Forever Blest";

Milton Coon, Sammy Mink, and all the rest.

BUILDERS

Wherever it has abounded the beaver is celebrated
in legend and story on account of its ingenuity and indus-
try as a builder; the animal is amphibious, and lives in
colonies of ten, fifty, and upwards of one hundred mem-
bers, all of them except a very few drones, being patient
and persistent workers — not builders merely, but archi-
tects, engineers, masons, carpenters, lumbermen and
hodcarriers.

The dam constructed across streams by the beaver,
designed to maintain a body of water essential to the
life and comfort of the animal, is composed of the trunks
and branches of small trees cut down, trimmed and oth-
erwise prepared by the chisel-like teeth of the animals,
and then floated to position and sunk to the bottom of the
stream where they are skillfully interwoven, and with
the addition of stones and clay are wrought into a strong
and permanent dam.



530 NATURE NOTES

In building its dam and lodge the beaver uses its
strong sharp teeth as an axe, its teeth and forefeet in
transporting stones, timber and clay to the sections of
the structure in which they are to be used, and its tail
as a trowel in packing the clay firmly in place.

Late in the autumn small trees are felled, cut into
portable lengths, taken out near the dam and sunk to
the bottom of the stream to furnish a fresh supply of
bark as the winter food of the colony.

In constructing its lodge the beaver displays the in-
genuity of a master builder; the dwelling comprises a
number of apartments perfectly adapted to the needs
and comfort of the occupants, ingeniously ventilated so
as to exclude the cold, and having the floors set well
above high water mark; a passage way leading down-
ward to an exit considerably below the surface of the
water enables the animals to pass in and out of the lodge
unobserved.

The clay covered roof of the lodge is hammered
smooth and hard by the tail of the beaver, and when
frozen is firm as a cement wall. All the work of the
beaver is due to instinct, and as viewed by the animal is
evidently perfect, as experience dictates no changes or
improvements in earliest known models.

The muskrat, which is also amphibious and gre-
garious, builds a house similar to that of the beaver,
though not so substantial or ingenious; it is made of
rushes, sticks and mud, rises from three to five feet
above the water, has several rooms and secret entrance
at the lowest under- water level ; the height of the build-
ing is gauged with reference to a probable rise in the
surrounding water due to winter rains and spring floods



NATURE NOTES 531

— the muskrat knows ; the house serves as a winter resi-
dence only ; no additional cold storage plant is required,
as the muskrat feeds from autumn to spring upon the
roots of living but dormant aquatic plants bordering
runs and ditches throughout the marshes in which it
makes its home.

Martens and squirrels build winter houses in trees,
using sticks and leaves for the purpose; the roofs are
constructed to perfectly shed the rain, but the structures
are otherwise simple and uninteresting.

While fur-bearers build houses for their protection
and comfort in winter only ; birds, which are expert and
painstaking builders, construct homes to serve their
needs merely for a few weeks in the spring.

COLOR

Fur-bearing animals of the field, and birds of the
air, show wonderful variations in color, including all
primary colors, countless combinations and shades,
metalic, bright and dull hues; failing to master the
mystery openly expressed but not definitely explained,
we content ourselves with the simple assumption, meas-
urably true, that this remarkable coloring is chiefly, if
not solely, purposeful as a protective covering in the
varied and changing environment of the creatures thus
endowed.

It is more manifestly a visible evidence of the lavish
grace of the Creator, seen in all His works, designed to
meet and satisfy the love of the beautiful universally
entertained by His creatures, and which all men, con-
sciously or unawares, constantly strive to realize, alter-
nately build, pull down and reconstruct in tireless efforts



532 NATURE NOTES

to achieve, conscious the while that attainments at the
best and utmost only approximate aspirations.

Certain monkeys show markings in very decided
red and green ; the kolinsky is bright yellow ; some mar-
tens are a deep orange in color; foxes are red, white,
black, blue, grey, yellow and variegated; bears and
wolves are black, brown, white, and all of these tones in
combination; cats and squirrels are of all colors; com-
binations in color abound, embracing black and white,
brown and white, red and yellow, and in instances three
or more colors in the same furry coat, set in dots, lines,
patches, and quite clearly defined figures.

That the peculiar and varied coloring noted in the
fur and feathers of many animals harmonizes with their
environment and is therefore protective, need not be
doubted; but to assume that protection against enemies
constitutes the sole purpose and design must be accepted
as a first thought, a plausible theory abounding in un-
wisdom.

Some birds, noticeably the partridge and quail, are
a hodge-podge of black and brown and white, and con-
sequently are not readily observable in their nests of
dead leaves and grasses indifferently constructed upon
the ground under bushes or bogs ; but the green branches
or drooping grass above them serve as their best pro-
tection against flying hawks, and the slightest movement
on their part would reveal them to a prowling fox or
weasel; partridge and quail, hearing the patter of ap-
proaching feet, undoubtedly see the fox first and
instinctively remain perfectly motionless, depending
equally for safety upon color and inaction. If either
bird should move its head, or wing, or in fear partially



NATURE NOTES 633

rise to its feet preparatory to flight, it would be instantly
discovered by the alert ears and eyes of the hungry fox ;
the birds would surely escape, but their eggs would be
devoured by their enemy, and the partridge and quail
would have to seek new nesting places.

The eggs of the partridge are dark and profusely
blotched with black and brown, and are, therefore, well
concealed by the general color of the nest while the hen
is absent in quest of food; it should also be noted that
eggs do not move of themselves. The eggs of the quail
are plain white, but the nest is nearly always placed in
open fields, often very near to dwellings, where wild
fur-bearers do not travel in daylight hours ; the grass in
which the nest is placed droops so closely over the nest
that the eggs, though white, cannot be seen by a hawk
passing only a few inches above them.

The nest of the marsh wren is rather loosely con-
structed of dead brown and whitish rushes interwoven
in the tall green grasses and reeds, and is therefore
easily visible by contrast, and doubtless is perceived by
the ever busy marsh hawk, but is never disturbed owing
to the fact that the opening to the nest instead of being
at the top, the usual place, is at the opposite extreme
and consequently invisible from above.

The cat bird and robin, which are unlike in color,
build their nests in identical surroundings in many in-
stances, though the latter often selects the more open
and exposed places; the blue jay makes its nest in a
cedar tree, which it does not remotely resemble in color ;
the house wren chooses a small opening leading to a
dark retreat under the eaves of country houses; the
phoebe bird builds its nest, when possible, on a beam on



684 NATURE NOTES

the under side of a bridge; owls, flickers and the blue
bird build in hollow trees; swallows make their mud
nests upon the rafters in barns, or within unused chim-
neys ; and the martin nests in rather deep holes in sheer
cliffs — as a rule nesting places are chosen with reference
to concealment to insure the preservation of the ex-
pected brood, rather than the protection of the old birds,
which manifestly place their dependence for safety
chiefly on immobility while on their nests.

If harmony in coloring of fur and feather and en-
vironment assure protection to creatures preyed upon,
then it must be of comparatively equal advantage to
those that prey and which are similarly endowed.

The weasel in winter wears a coat of white fur,
which we may assume obscures the animal as it dashes
hither and thither over the snow in quest of a field mouse
or grouse for its morning repast, and which instead of
being clothed in white are habited in the grey or brown
dress worn in summer ; it is an excellent theory for the
weasel, but a disastrous condition for the unsuspecting
mouse and grouse, and in its successful operation would
seem to indicate that the Creator graciously provides for
the blood-thirsty weasel, but is indifferent to His more
beautiful and lovable creatures.

The weasel, again, is white in winter whether the
ground is covered with snow, or bare and brown ; under
the latter condition the weasel becomes the conspicuous
one, and mouse and grouse perceiving it from afar read-
ily escape, and the murderous weasel failing to obtain
breakfast, dinner or supper must soon perish of hunger.

In the realm of abiding snow and ice the Polar or
white bear grows to an immense size upon a diet of seal



NATURE NOTES 685

meat ; the monster ice-bear has to catch the seal before it
can dine upon it, and to do so must slowly and very cau-
tiously approach the seal as it fitfully sleeps upon the ice
in close proximity to a "blow hole" through which it will
surely escape if it becomes alarmed ; the bear can scarce-
ly be discerned in its environment of ice hummocks and
snow mounds, and if skillful will remain unobserved un-
til discovery is of no avail to the seal — lucky bear; un-
happy seal.

In the region of abounding snow we find the fox
and its prey, the Ptarmigan, both of which are white in
winter; the fox and ptarmigan being identical in color
with their environment ought to be invisible to one an-
other ; but, theoretically, the fox enjoys an advantage in
being able to approach the birds unperceived, and should
therefore catch all of them; on the other hand it is the
ptarmigan that is favored because of the inability of
the fox to see it at all, and none should be caught — as a
matter of fact both may be found in their accustomed
haunts whenever we wish to study the lesson afield.

Theories, it may be remarked in passing, do not
have to be logical. The mouse and the grouse often fall
a prey, and many times evade the sinuous weasel; the
Polar bear sometimes catches the seal, and often fails
to do so; now and then the fox catches the ptarmigan,
and quite as often the beautiful bird wings its way to
safety. The weasel, bear and fox succeed in the hunt
only as the motion of their advancing bodies escape the
notice of their intended victims ; this knowledge is mani-
festly the heritage of both bird and beast, prey and
preyer. Unless hunter and hunted are extremely near
each other, within the compass of a bound, at the in-



636 NATURE NOTES

stant when the latter makes its dash or splash or flutter
toward safety, the hunter at once abandons the chase,
turns aside and begins anew its quest of a meal in some
field of fairer hope.

Black, red, and silvery foxes are found in the same
litter, an exceptional condition among wild animals,
though young muskrats in the same family sometimes
vary from light to much darker shades of brown. Fur
seals and sea otters are black when born, and gradually
change to greyish ; hair seals are at birth perfectly white,
and subsequently change, assuming the several distinct
hues and markings characterizing the different mem-
bers of the family.

Albinos, single specimens, are occasionally found
among all fur-bearers ; once in a while, but not of tener,
trappers have found in their traps a pure white beaver,
raccoon, skunk, or muskrat.

PROTECTIVE NATURE

Wise laws expressly enacted for the purpose un-
doubtedly operate to delay the extinction of our beauti-
ful, interesting and valuable fur-bearers, but nature af-
fords them a greater degree of protection than is accord-
ed by friendly statutes, however rigidly enforced.

Late in the autumn, when the radiant warmth of
the sun is reduced in intensity o'er the earth and sea, and
frost and ice and snow prevail, all fur-bearing animals
begin to develop a heavier growth of fur, which in-
creases in density until the creature possesses a coat
that is perfectly protective against the severest cold of
dreary winter.

Eiarly in the spring the order is reversed, the animals



NATURE NOTES 587

putting off, or shedding, a considerable portion of their
fur on account of the rise in temperature ; the remaining
fur while ample for the needs of the little beasts, is so
changed in quantity, texture and color as to be valueless
for manufacturing purposes. The laws of the land pro-
hibit the killing of fur-bearers in summer, but owing to
the greed of man such laws would prove only partially
protective except for the efficient co-operation of nature.

HIBERNATORS
The black bear hibernates, or spends the winter in
sleep in a den chosen by it for the purpose ; the bear does
this for the same reason that the dog barks and bites,
and all importantly because of its inability to procure
food in winter, none being available, the general diet of
the bear consisting of berries, fruits, honey and a few
other things. The bear has the warmest coat of all the
animals, and consequently its pleasant dreams are never
disturbed by the cold. When it issues from its hiberna-
cle in the spring its ordinary food supply is still minus in
quantity, and unless it is very successful in fishing ex-
periences many hungry moments while waiting for early
berries to mature.

The woodchuck, or ground hog, also hibernates for
the same reasons, but as it is a vegetarian it fares better
after awakening in the spring. The belief that the
woodchuck always awakens on February 2, need not be
entertained.

The skunk hibernates for several days or weeks at a
time from December to March, on account of inability
to procure its usual food, grubs, insects, frogs, fruits
and certain plants ; the animal is rather wantonly killed



588 NATURE NOTES

by farmers because it is sometimes found near hen



Online LibraryAlbert Lord BeldenThe fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea → online text (page 30 of 34)