« ÎnapoiContinuați »
SCARCITY OF FOOD.
Snipes, woodcocks, herons, wild ducks, and other waterfowl, are forced from the frozen marshes, and obliged to seek their food about the rapid currents of streams that are still open. As the cold grows more intense, various kinds
of sea-birds quit the bleak open shores, and come up the rivers in search of shelter and subsistence. The domestic cattle at this season require all the care and attention of the farmer. Sheep are often lost in the sudden storms, by which the snow is drifted in the hollows so as to bury them a great depth beneath it; yet in this situation they have been known to survive many days, passing the time probably, in a state of sleep approaching to torpor, and thus requiring little or no food, and but a scanty supply of air, the shelter of the surrounding snow, and the natural heat of their bodies, keeping them in a constant moderate temperature. Cows, with much ado, scratch up a few mouthfuls of grass; but for their chief subsistence they must depend on the hay and other stores of the farm-yard. Early lambs and calves are kept within doors, and tended with as much care as the farmer's own children.
The plants at this season are provided by nature with a sort of winter-quarters, which secure them from the effects of cold. Those called herbaceous, which die down to the root every autumn, are now safely concealed under-ground, preparing their new shoots to burst forth when the earth is softened in spring. Shrubs and trees, which are exposed to the open air, have all their soft and tender parts closely wrapt up in buds, which by their firmness resist all the power of frost; the larger kinds of buds, and those which are almost ready to expand, are further guarded by a covering of resin or gum, such as the horse-chesnut, the sycamore, and the lime. Their external covering, however, and the closeness of their internal texture, are of themselves by no means adequate to resist the intense cold of a winter's night; a bud detached from its stem, enclosed in glass, and thus protected from all access of external air, if suspended from a tree during a sharp frost, will be entirely penetrated, and its parts deranged by the cold, while the buds on the same tree will not have sustained the slightest injury; we must therefore attribute to the living principle in vegetables, as well as animals, the power of resisting cold to a very considerable degree: in animals, we know, this power is generated from the decomposition of air by means of the lungs, and disengagement of heat; how vegetables acquire this property remains for future observations to discover. If one of these buds be carefully opened, it is found to consist of young leaves rolled together, within which are even all the blossoms in miniature that are afterwards to adorn the spring. The leaves of the woodbine appear just ready to expand by the end of the month : the winter aconite and bear's-foot are generally by this time in flower, and under the shelter of southern hedge-banks, the red deadnettle, and groundsel. The flowers of the mezereon and snow-drop seem on the point of blowing, and the catkin, or male blossom of the hazel, begins to unfold. At the same time, also, the shell-less snail makes its appearance."
During the severity of the frost, little work can be done out of doors by the farmer. As soon as it sets in, he takes the opportunity of the hardness of the ground to draw manure to his fields. He lops and cuts timber, and mends thorn-hedges. When the roads become smooth from the frozen snow, he takes his team, and carries hay and corn to market, or draws coals for himself and his neighbours. The
* The shell-less mollusks, called slugs, are in motion all the winter in mild weather, and commit great depredations on garden plants and green wheat. The cause why these animals are so much better able to endure the cold, than snails, is that their bodies are protected by a covering of slime, as the whale is with blubber, which prevents the escape of their animal heat.
barn resounds with the flail, by the use of which the labourer is enabled to defy the cold weather. In towns the poor are pinched for fuel, and charity is peculiarly called for at this season of the year. Many trades are at a stand during the severity of the frost; rivers and canals being frozen up,
watermen and bargemen are out of employment. The harbours, however, in this island are never locked up by the ice, as they are in the more northern parts of Europe, and even on the opposite coast of Holland.
The amusements of shoot
ing, sliding, skating, and other pastimes, give life to this dreary season; but our frosts are not continued and steady enough to afford us such a share of these diversions as some other nations enjoy.
Where the Rhine
The great law of congregation during cold weather, which affects birds and several classes of quadrupeds, exerts its influence also on man. The Greenlanders and Samoiedes retire to their large under-ground habitations, each of which is occupied by five or six families; and in the more civilised parts of the north of Europe, plays, balls, visitings, and social amusements of various kinds, contribute to raise the spirits and cheer the heart, in spite of the dead, desolate scenes, which nature at every step presents to our view.
A winter such as when birds die
“And who does not remember, even with delight, the stern long winters of twenty or thirty years ago, when early in November the snows began to fall; when they came down first merrily dancing in minute flakes, then larger, heavier, more abundant, till the whole air was dark with them, and the earth was lost in the soft covering, and was shrouded in a wonderful stillness ? When, as the season advanced, day after day, the snowy deluge still descended; the streets were filled, the garden and shrubberies were several feet deep with snow, and it lay on the shrubs in vast masses, and covered all the roofs of houses with actual avalanches, and in the first gleam of sunshine came sweeping down, threatening to bury the passer-by beneath? When men with straw bands round their ankles were aloft on houses, shoveling down the dazzling burden, lest it should suddenly melt, and filling spout and gutter, penetrate under the tiles into the houses ; when, below, others were cutting pathways to your doors, and
you had to march between huge walls from your dwelling to the highway? When all cattle and sheep were congregated in the straw-yard, in warmly-sheltered paddocks, and in still warmer stalls and stables, lest they should be smothered in the plentiful snows? when there was a noise of straw-cutting and turnip-cutting in yards, mingled with the sound of flails? When, in fact, all domestic life was gathered round the house at noon, and was