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Secret of the Woods(Preface)

2006-09-08 20:06

  Preface

  TO CH'GEEGEE-LOKH-SIS, "Little Friend Ch'geegee," whose coming makes the winter glad.

  This little book is but another chapter in the shy 'wild life of the fields and woods' of which "Ways of Wood Folk" and "Wilderness Ways " were the beginning. It is given gladly in answer to the call for more from those who have read the previous volumes, and whose letters are full of the spirit of kindness and appreciation.

  Many questions have come of late with these same letters; chief of which is this: How shall one discover such things for himself? how shall we, too, read the secrets of the Wood Folk? There is no space here to answer, to describe the long training, even if one could explain perfectly what is more or less unconscious. I would only suggest that perhaps the real reason why we see so little in the woods is the way we go through them——talking, laughing, rustling, smashing twigs, disturbing the peace of the solitudes by what must seem strange and uncouth noises to the little wild creatures. They, on the other hand, slip with noiseless feet through their native coverts, shy, silent, listening, more concerned to hear than to be heard, loving the silence, hating noise and fearing it, as they fear and hate their natural enemies.

  We would not feel comfortable if a big barbarian came into our quiet home, broke the door down, whacked his war-club on the furniture, and whooped his battle yell. We could hardly be natural under the circumstances. Our true dispositions would hide themselves. We might even vacate the house bodily. Just so Wood Folk. Only as you copy their ways can you expect to share their life and their secrets. And it is astonishing how little the shyest of them fears you, if you but keep silence and avoid all excitement, even of feeling; for they understand your feeling quite as much as your action.

  A dog knows when you are afraid of him; when you are hostile; when friendly. So does a bear. Lose your nerve, and the horse you are riding goes to pieces instantly. Bubble over with suppressed excitement, and the deer yonder, stepping daintily down the bank to your canoe in the water grasses, will stamp and snort and bound away without ever knowing what startled him. But be quiet, friendly, peace-possessed in the same place, and the deer, even after discovering you, will draw near and show his curiosity in twenty pretty ways ere he trots away, looking back over his shoulder for your last message. Then be generous——show him the flash of a looking-glass, the flutter of a bright handkerchief, a tin whistle, or any other little kickshaw that the remembrance of a boy's pocket may suggest——and the chances are that he will come back again, finding curiosity so richly rewarded.

  That is another point to remember: all the Wood Folk are more curious about you than you are about them. Sit down quietly in the woods anywhere, and your coming will occasion the same stir that a stranger makes in a New England hill town. Control your curiosity, and soon their curiosity gets beyond control; they must come to find out who you are and what you are doing. Then you have the advantage; for, while their curiosity is being satisfied, they forget fear and show you many curious bits of their life that you will never discover otherwise.

  As to the source of these sketches, it is the same as that of the others years of quiet observation in the woods and fields, and some old notebooks which hold the records of summer and winter camps in the great wilderness.

  My kind publishers announced, some time ago, a table of contents, which included chapters on jay and fish-hawk, panther, and musquash, and a certain savage old bull moose that once took up his abode too near my camp for comfort. My only excuse for their non-appearance is that my little book was full before their turn came. They will find their place, I trust, in another volume presently.

  STAMFORD, CONN., June, 1901. Wm. J. LONG.

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