Art. LVII.—Bush Notes; or, Short Objective Jottings.
[Read before the Hawke's Bay Philosophical Institute, 14th November 1890.]
‘Tis in ourselves that we are thus and thus.
1.On a Clear Pool of Water in the Thick Forest.
It is a pretty and a pleasing sight to come suddenly on a deep pool of water in the dense still forest, especially on one formed in an excavation having steep sides, made by the side of the railway-line, with its pure smooth surface shining like a mirror, and clearly and faithfully reflecting the images of all branches and leaves and flowers of trees and shrubs, and of elegant drooping ferns overhanging its margins and growing around it. Early in the day, with the sun shining in the heavens, and its beams glinting down from the clear blue sky through the open spaces among the tall tree-tops, such a pool presents a ravishing spectacle, particularly when it possesses its natural delicate fringes of light-green floating fresh-water Algæ—Conferva and Oscillatoria—bespangled with glittering dew-
drops And even this is sometimes increased (though rarely) while one is quietly looking on pleasurably, and drinking in the scene, by the lighting-down of a dear little black-and-white forest bird* on one of the pendulous branches, so that its image is also reflected clearly in the watery mirror: perhaps it has come to quench its thirst, and will patiently wait until I retire ? And then, suddenly, on the falling of a leaf, or a flower, or a tiny twig into the pool, all is blurred and vanished as if by magic; but ere long, the day being calm, the pleasing scene returns, and affords a delightful object for contemplation. This is also further heightened by considering the foulness of the bottom of the said water, caused by thick deposits of rotten leaves, mud, &c, which, on being only slightly stirred, mar the whole. As Shakespeare quaintly and truly remarks,—
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud.
Just so it is with many of us. And, while thus contemplating and moralizing, his truthful and natural religious lines concerning the retired woodland life come rushing to the fore:—
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
Here I may mention that such a still pool of clear water was formerly used by the Maori chiefs as a kind of mirror, to show them the appearance of their own hair and heads when dressed with feathers, &c. And, of course, such a pool was sacred, and its water never used for any other purpose, unless it were to wash that one chief's head. Such pools have often served to remind me of the ancient poetical story of Narcissus.
I well remember in one of my early journeys at the north (in the “thirties”) stopping at a Maori village where I had never been before. I noticed a delightful little pool of clear cold water in a rock-basin in the side of a rivulet in a sequestered spot in a thicket near by, and, being thirsty, I drank from it. This was seen by one of the Maoris of the place, who soon informed the others, and my transgression formed the subject of a long public debate as to what was to be done to me by way of retaliation, and what was I to pay as a fine or recompense. The water of that pool had never been drunk before by any human being, as it was the head chief's mirror-water. I got off, however, partly through my knowing a little of their language and their ways, and partly through my plea of being a foreigner and ignorant of the great sanctity of that dell: but there was much said about it—particularly my temerity, and its desecration, while some of them also waited to see the expected results (as in Acts, xxviii., 6).
[Footnote] *Miro australis, wood-robin.
2. On some Very Small Flowering Indigenous Spring Plants.
I have often been struck with the neat and pleasing appearance of several of our very small flowering plants inhabiting the high, open, stony plains in the early spring. These, though mostly perennial, are low, and cannot be detected from a little distance, looking over and across those long and broad flats. To a visitor at that season, so looking at the plains, with their small, stunted, withered herbage, they appear prima facie very dreary, and look still more cheerless than they really are when the blustering cold winds occasionally sweep over them in fitful blasts, soughing through the dry and dead stems of the last year's grasses. To discover their hidden floral beauties is no easy matter, particularly at this season of the year; to do this one must wander into them, and sit or lie down, and peer closely about, even to the pushing-aside the slightly higher and coarser plants (small herbs and grasses not yet in flower) which. overtop and conceal and preserve them—the lowly vernal flowering ones. Some of those tiny flowering herbs form broad perennial patches or little beds, and sometimes, slightly-raised dwarf cushions; but they are generally very low and flat, seldom rising above ½in. from the ground; but all grow thickly intermixed, frequently revealing themselves, even when not in flower, or their flowers closed, as happens on a dull cloudy day, by the various colours and tints of their leaves, which range from very dark- to pale-green, bronze, brown, light-red, and dark-purple. A few of the more striking may be more particularly noticed.
One of them, which is sure on first seeing to attract the attention, is a minute and neat creeping species of Epilobium (the smallest of the many species of that genus found in New Zealand), with its numerous curiously-marked, close-set, regular, orbicular, yellowish-brown leaves, less than 1 line in diameter, and its small, erect, white, star-like flowers. Another is a thick-growing species of Oxalis, with its very small, almost crisped, compact leaves, and pretty yellow flowers. A minute, erect, tufted Asperula, with its curious bicuspidate leaves, and terminal white starry flowers always horizontal and gazing to the sky; of this genus I think there are two species to be found here, one being the A. perpusilla, of Hooker, which, he says, “is the smallest flowering plant in New Zealand. A little and peculiar half-rosulate species of Ranunculus, with its small spreading leaves forming a circle closely appressed to the ground, and its attractive, shining, yellow, star-like flowers, of 5–6 petals, rather large for the little plant; and when the flowers of a score or a dozen of them closely growing together are displayed to the sun they present a lovely galaxy of floral beauty in the desert wild sure to evoke a word of praise. In
some sheltered hollows or small depressions in the soil a small variety of the graceful New Zealand Daisy (“that unassuming commonplace of Nature”) will here and there be sparingly seen, fully expanding its day's-eye to the genial rays of the foster-parent sun. Here, too, may properly be placed a small and neat species of Geranium, which forms low, circular semitufted plants 3in.- 5in. diameter, their root-stocks very stout and branched, the branches very short, each with many small and neatly-cut leaves closely appressed to the soil; its few pale-coloured flowers, on very short scapes, modestly nestling in the centre. Another especial peculiarity of this plant (besides its very short flower-stalks) is the varying colours of its leaves—though all of one plant are of one colour—some being grass- others pale-green, others dark-brown, and others pale-fawn with reddish streaks. A minute Myosotis, scarcely exceeding lin. in height, and bearing yellowish terminal flowers, is sometimes to be met with, but it is rare. This little wee member of the blue-flowered “forget-me-not” family, with its strangely aberrant-coloured flowers, I first detected on the dry shelly banks by the sea-shore, near Farndon, forty years ago A small erect Cardamine, with minute pure-white flowers and dark-purple stalks, very likely identical with those of the Antarctic islets described by Hooker. A little spreading green and shining Colobanthus, with pale-green and white starry flowers. A highly graceful and curious little Leptinella (or Cotula), with neat and regular pinnate leaves, and tiny heads of yellow flowers, forming thick matted beds, its long stolons creeping underground. To obtain only a fair specimen of this pretty little plant one must cut out a pretty large turf. I have good reasons for believing there are two distinct species of Leptinella here on these plains, but they are very much alike at first sight. Another and a similar plant as to its manner of growth (but not as to its foliage and flower) is a small species of Nertera. This plant grows together so densely as rarely to allow of any other growing among its intermixed and rooting branches. Its small and simple, close and concave leaves are almost vertical. Its pale-yellow flowers are diœcious and highly curious, and are large for the humble plant; they grow singly, and are produced clear above its leaves, and are extremely delicate. Its flowers much resemble those of the larger shrubby Coprosma genus, to which this genus is very closely allied. And yet another very similar plant as to its densely compact and matted manner of growth, and also in the form of its closely-set leaves, which are small and very regular, is a species of creeping Gnaphalium, which often forms low, close-growing, and tolerably large patches; its slender flowering-stems, however, which are erect, and appear later in the season, are 2in.-3in. high.
The myriad flowers of all those little plants are all scentless, or nearly so; but not so these of the dwarf perennial Leucopogon that is found growing intermixed with them, but mostly in large, distinct, irregular patches, arising from its creeping underground roots. This is a dear little semi-shrubby plant, with needle-like tips to its small, neat, close, and regular leaves, which have also minutely-serrulate edges (a beautiful object under a magnifying-glass), each short erect stem, or branch, of 1in.-2in. bearing many sweet-smelling flowers that sometimes form a little whorl, diffusing a delightful odour extending to some distance, and serving to betray its source. Wordsworth truly says, “The flower of sweetest smell is shy and lowly.” This dwarf shrub also bears a small dark-orange globular fruit (like a little fairy-like cherry), which is edible, and contains one wee stone. Another scented plant is the elegant-leaved umbelliferous Oreomyrrhis, which displays its dark-purple stems and pinnated leaves in a small radiating circle closely appressed to the ground, or more commonly to the fawn-coloured moss which closely invests it; these are always easily detected by their pleasing dark colour. The whole of this pretty plant is equally scented, and the odour, though strong, is not unpleasant. It is not, however, common, though perennial, and is mostly found scattered, yet sometimes several plants are found growing together.
All those plants (with many others) are generally accompanied by several small, thick-growing, tufted, and creeping mosses of various species, and forms, and colours, mostly barren, yet sometimes found in fruit; with here and there, occasionally, a small specimen of that curiously-formed plant and fern ally, Ophioglossum, with its single leaf and curious erect spike: all which greatly enhance the beauty of the humble and lowly floral scene.
To me, the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that too often lie too deep for tears.
There is still another and deeper consideration that finds its way into the intelligent botanist's mind when pondering over those little plants—viz., that the same or very similar species of some of these small and peculiar genera are only found in far-off isolated spots, distant also from each other— as the Andes from Mexico to Chili, Cape Horn and Fuegia, certain mountains in Australia and Tasmania, and those speck-like islets (Campbell's Island and Lord Auckland's Islands) in the Antarctic Ocean. The due and fair consideration of these facts serves to raise up thoughts almost boundless in the mind —thoughts, questions, seekings which cannot at present be reasonably solved.
3.On Some of our Indigenous Forest Birds.
I have been much grieved of late in my visits to the forests to find scarcely any birds: in this respect so very different from what the woods formerly were, when they were gay with their company, and resounded to their melody and screams. Some species of the old familiar wood-denizens seem to have become quite extinct, as they are now never met with. During this extended visit of mine to the woods I have noticed only a few birds of three distinct kinds in the forests—viz., the tuuii, or parson-bird;* the kotare, or kingfisher;† and the piwakawake, or flycatcher‡ —and very few indeed of these. On some days, and during some hours spent in traversing the woods, I have not observed nor heard a single indigenous bird. It is however, very pleasing to hear the deep and rich loud notes of a parson-bird perched high on a topmost and exposed branch of a tall tree—his favourite position when singing—especially at sunset, when it is as a call to vespers. Very likely its song is now considered the more melodious from its rarity. I am of opinion that the cock-bird sings to its mate when she is sitting in her nest hatching her eggs. It is a very pleasing sight to see a pair of them together diligently occupied in extracting honey from the tree-flowers, especially when the sun is shining on their glossy, submetallic, dark plumage. I have in former years seen two and three pairs together so employed in one small tree. On such occasions, if unobserved by them, and one keeps quiet, they may be pleasingly watched for some time, as their whole attention seems to be given to their sweet and profitable labour.
The kingfisher, being a shy bird, and generally making its nest in steep cliffs by sides of streams, is rarely seen at this season away from its breeding-place. I have seen more of them in my garden and fields on the hill at Napier, in the winter season, than I have ever seen together in the woods. At Napier they catch crickets, mice, &c., and are very serviceable. Mr. S. G. Brandon, of Meanee, once sent me a king fisher that he had found very recently dead in his paddock. It had a large mouse in its beak, a little more than half swallowed. No doubt the living mouse had in its death struggles bitten and clawed and held on to the bird's throat, so that both had miserably perished together. Here, in the bush, I noticed a pair of them having their nest in a hole near the top of a tall dead tree denuded of its bark, that was at least 40ft. high, and which stood at the edge of a wood by a small stream. A large bushy tuft of the long-leaved epiphyte
[Footnote] * Prosthemadera noxæ-zealandiæ.
[Footnote] † Halcyon vagans.
[Footnote] ‡ Rhipidura flabellifera.
Astelia grew in the angle of a branch over the entrance. When their young were hatched it was quite a sight to see the parent birds continually flying down to the stream and returning with a small fish in their bills. On one or two occasions, when I timed them, each of the birds would go and return in about six minutes. I noticed they were not both absent together.
The interesting little flycatcher, with its monotonous sharp and short cry, which always seems to prefer making the acquaintance of man in the forest solitudes, I have seen but few of during this visit. By imitating its cry, or, rather, I think, the cry of its young, it will keep about one, gradually coming nearer and nearer, flitting from branch to branch, and incessantly displaying its tail-feathers. To me, when alone in the woods, this dear little bird is always welcome as a pleasing companion.
That which before us lies in daily life
Is the prime wisdom.
4. On the Great Beauty of a Spider's Web.
While standing in the doorway of a solitary outhouse here at Dannevirke, I noticed a large and perfect spider's web, which had been recently constructed by a species of spider commonly called “the geometrical spider,” from the extreme regularity of the concentric circles of its work. Smaller yet similar webs of the same kind I had often observed about the fences of my grounds at Napier; this one, however, was a very fine specimen, extending from the top corner of the open doorway to the eaves, and quite perfect, the part filled up with concentric circles or cross-lines being about 11in. in diameter. Half the width of the web contained forty-five equidistant crosslines, each being about 1 line apart. It was cunningly and well secured by both long and short guys, while around the central portion, for about 1½in., where the little architect was resting, was still unfinished. But the peculiar and attracting beauty of the structure arose from the manner of its appearance when the sun shone brightly and directly on it, every line displaying all the colours of the rainbow, glistening gloriously, which was also greatly increased by their slightly tremulous or minutely rippling motion. The sun's rays were prismatically divided and rendered, and their lovely microscopical refrangibility was very great—quite dazzling to the eyes. It was “a thing of beauty”—of natural beauty—to be seen, closely observed, admired, and never to be forgotten! I was so struck with it that I repeated my visits to the place to see it. I had before not unfrequently noticed a single line of spider's web briefly so acted upon by the rays of light,
but never on such a large and complete scale, neither so splendid nor so lasting as to colours. Something similar, though fainter and transient, may also be observed at times on filmy soap-bubbles, when blowing them. Truly the sight was a gorgeous one.
5. On a Bat.
On some fine evenings in August I was much pleased in watching the tortuous flittings of a bat, not having noticed one for many years. Here, at Dannevirke, in the township, in open spaces among the houses, the little creature seemed to enjoy itself. Yet, while it was quick in its flight, it repeatedly doubled, making only short zig-zag turns, with much irregular rising and falling—perhaps in its pursuit of insects flying, as its food. Formerly bats were not rare; indeed, they have been found in little flocks (or more properly, perhaps, a cluster) in our short winter season, securely hibernating in hollow trees in the woods. No doubt their present scarcity around our rural townships is owing to the extensive felling and burning of the neighbouring forests, in which they too were destroyed.
On two occasions about forty years ago I kept a bat in a cage in my dwellinghouse. One of them lived three or four weeks. It was a pretty little animal, with its velvet coat (reminding me of that of an English mole), bright black bead-like eyes, and very sharp and white teeth. It often amused us of an evening in the twilight, when it was taken out of its cage and allowed to fly about the sitting-room, which it fully explored, always dexterously avoiding coming into contact with the cross-beams or any article of furniture; now and then resting by clinging to the walls with its wings expanded. As these little creatures take their food (small living insects, on the wing) during their short irregular flights, and as there were none in the room, it was fed by hand with a few small flies, which it ate with avidity; but it was quite a task for it to master a small bluebottle fly, making, too, such a ludicrous fuss over it in its chewing and champing ! It always managed, them better when their wings were taken off.
6. On the Great Docility and apparent Want of Fear of Man in Young Lambs.
It is always a pleasing and interesting sight in the spring, in the lambing season, to see the young lambs “frisking about by the sides of their dams.” Youth and age without cavil must, equally take delight in witnessing this. When many ewes are together on the plains with their lambs, and all so very much alike, it seems as if it must be a difficult matter for each dam to know its own young ones, or for the young lambs
to know their own proper mother; yet they generally, if not invariably, manage very well on such occasions. Sometimes, however, in my going among them at this season (in my crossing the large level plain lying between Dannevirke and the woods on the Mangatera River), taking care to disturb them as little as possible, I have fallen in with a lonely pair of little lambs, twins (as is not unfrequently the case), who have somehow missed their dam, and then they are sure to make up to me, keeping step in their walking, and time in their little juvenile bleating. They follow at my heels, and come close up if I stand still, and look up and bleat so very affectingly, as if they said, “Where is our mother?” or “We want mother.” There was no mistake about it—no misunderstanding them. It has pained me more than once to have to drive them off from continuing to follow me like little dogs when I could not find their dam, fearing they might go further astray. Sometimes I have endeavoured to find their dam for them, and, I own, not always with success; but when I have done so, and got the little family together, their joy was great and very apparent. In placing them, however, with the wrong mother, though apparently without a lamb by her side, she would not adopt them nor allow them to come near her; and this I think, they also well understood, as they would soon leave her and again come after me, bleating plaintively and looking so desolate ! I have sometimes seen (but rarely) a ewe with three little lambs, triplets, at a birth. A very young lamb presents a rather curious appearance, for I have always noticed that the wool on its legs from the knees downwards was of a much lighter colour, perceivable also from a distance; its tail, too, being naturally long tends to alter its appearance, especially when frolicking. Another interesting feature is noticeable and striking in seeing the twin lambs lying down lovingly and close together sleeping in the sun, often in some grassy depression, or under a tuft of the common fern, their dam being some distance off grazing; and then, when disturbed in their nap by my approach, at first merely raising their little heads and looking around and stretching their legs, but afterwards rising and seeking their dam with noisy and quick bleats, and she, too, answering her children, their graduated cries no doubt being well understood between them.
Sheep have often been called silly stupid animals, and this from primitive times; hence we meet with such a descriptive line as this in the ancient comic Greek poet, Cratinus,—
And, like a stupid sheep; go crying, “Ba!”
Yet I have on different occasions noticed pleasing instances of their sagacity. One of them I will give: In those open plains already mentioned (as well as in many other similar
spots) stand a large number of cabbage-trees (Cordyline australis), the tii-tree of the Maori; but generally singly and scattered far apart. These often bear only a single head of long, narrow harsh leaves at the top of their tall slender stems, somewhat resembling a huge coarse mop; but sometimes they are slightly branched, their branches also only bearing a similar tuft of leaves at their tips: hence the amount of shade given by them when the sun is shining is but small, and of course the shadow moves around the tree according to the position of the sun in the sky. The sheep in the summer season—especially just before they are shorn, when their wool is thick, long, and heavy on them, and the sun is very hot on those plains—seek the scanty shade of the cabbage-trees; and I have often noticed a ewe and her lamb cuddled together in the small shaded spot, and by-and-by, as the shadow from the tree is moved, they also move with it around the tree. I have observed three such movements made in a few hours.
7. On the Dexterity and Industry displayed by Wood Rats or Mice in their extracting the Kernels of Small Nuts (Stones of Fruits) for Food.
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Wandering in the neighbouring forest, I have been amazed at seeing the great number of empty shells of the nuts or stones of the fruits (drupœ) of the black-pine tree, the miro of the Maoris (Podocarpus ferruginea), strewed about on the ground. All, too, had been completely cleaned from their fleshy exterior, which is by no means a pleasant or easy job (as I have found from experience), owing to its extreme stickiness, so closely adhering to one's fingers that soap will scarcely remove it. Those nut-shells had all been perforated at their hilum (their softer or thinner part where all alike was hard) in order to extract the small kernel, the little circular hole being about 1/10in. diameter. To gnaw away the hard shell sufficiently to get at, or to get out, the very small kernel must have been a work of incessant labour to the little animal —especially as it only works by night—increased from the small size and semi-orbicular shape of the nut itself (some-what resembling a small cherry-stone), which must also have been securely held between its fore-paws to enable it to do so.
In one part of this wood near the rivulet was a little raised, dry, clear-topped mossy spot, extending a few feet each way, such small hillocks being not unfrequent in the hilly and much-broken woods (and just such a spot as would serve nicely for a small picnic party, with the high and robust umbrageous trees around it); and here especially the shells were very thickly strewed—much more so than around about among the ferns and herbs and low shrubs in the damper parts of the wood, where, too, the earth was bare in many
places; so that it seemed as if the army of industrious workers had brought their spoils to that drier and softer spot, there to labour and feast at their ease in the cold nights. No doubt, to have seen and quietly observed them at work would have proved an interesting sight, and given us a good lesson in their natural animal economy. Thinking over this subject caused imagination to conceive some slight analogy between (or, shall I say, the origin or cause of?) the humorous old Maori legend of the night-adventures of the chief Te Kanawa and the elves or fairies (patupaiarehe) in the forest, and this real animal objective scene, in which quaint story those numerous little merry folks played with Te Kanawa, and used him, much as the manikins of Lilliput did Gulliver. And so that old legend might have originated from a dream of Te Kanawa (who was sleeping on a dry mossy hillock in the forest) after quietly witnessing the dexterous feats of the wood-rats.
And here I may mention that fifty years ago, before the introduction of mice into this colony (or into the woody interior), I had often noticed with astonishment in my travelling through the forests the heaps of very hard, small, and stony nuts (drupæ) of the hinau-tree (Elæocarpus dentatus) gnawed and perforated at their bases in a similar way, which the old Maoris said was done by the Maori rat, which animal we know once swarmed in those woods, and was fructivorous.
The black-pine, or miro, is the scarcest of all the several species of pines in our New Zealand woods, and its scarcity may arise from its fruits being so eagerly sought for and devoured by those little animals.
8. On the Rapidity with which the Largest New Zealand Trees are felled and converted into Timber for various Uses.
Probably few, if any, of my audience have had the opportunity of witnessing the whole operation of felling a large timber-tree and cutting it up into planks and boards, as is now being daily done in the timber-forests of New Zealand. To those who have not seen this great, this truly wonderful performance I would say, “Do so as early as convenient. It will give you new thoughts, exalted ideas of man's evergrowing powers over Nature when working in concert with her.” I will endeavour to give you in a few words an outline of what I have seen here at Dannevirke, though in this instance the best of words will prove wholly inadequate.
First, however, two things are necessary—that is, for quick work. The one is the erection, &c., of a steam saw-mill; the other, the formation of a tramway leading from the forest where the big trees grow to the mill. A tree (say, a fine,
robust, and tall totara pine, the glory of its forest) is selected, felled, its big and stately trunk is cross-hand-sawn into two or three lengths, as may be required. These logs are then rolled on to a kind of sleigh or tram-cart by the help of screw-jacks, and conveyed by horses to the mill. There they are soon placed (by screw-jacks, as before) under the central powerful vertical giant saw, and quickly cut up into clean squared timber of various large sizes, as beams, thick planks, &c. Smaller circular saws are also used, revolving very rapidly, and all working together at the same time and by the same steam-power, to reduce the beams and planks in size and thickness, to form them into boards, and to dress, and plane, and mould them as wanted. These are plain and smoothly planed, their edges “tongued-and-grooved,” bevelled, moulded, &c. And all these are finished so rapidly, though it may be in long lengths (14ft., 20ft., 25ft.), as to keep men constantly and briskly employed in taking them away from the benches, so that the operations may not be impeded. Other men are also kept diligently at work removing the strippings or outer casings of bark and sap-wood, and in clearing out the ever-accumulating sawdust from the pits below under the saws. A prominent and surprising feature is the immense size of those piles or hills of outer sawn strippings in long lengths that are thrown away as worthless; and also of the sawdust that surrounds the mill on every side, sometimes overtopping in height the mill itself, and serving to embarrass the workmen; besides which there is also great danger from fire, particularly in the hot and dry summer months.
A few days ago, while at the mill, I witnessed the placing of the lower trunk of a handsome robust totara-tree, about 15ft. long and 4ft. in diameter, solid, perfect, and symmetrical, under the big vertical saw. It was soon fixed in position, and I watched the progress. The first cut (as is usually the case) was mad down its centre longitudinally, and the immense log was carried steadily onwards at the rate of 10in. per minute, as timed by my watch. Another remarkable feature is the smoothness and regularity of the surface of the sawn green timber, especially when the largeness, the coarseness, and the distance apart of the teeth of the saws are considered.
I believe it to be quite possible to fell a stately tree—the giant monarch of the forest—to haul it to the mill, and to cut it up into thin boards, “tongued-and-grooved,” and ready for use, within two hours. But, of course, all timber requires more or less of seasoning before it is finally used by the carpenter and joiner. Here the sap is seen gushing out of the wood under the saws. At the same time, I do not think the timber-trees of the New Zealand forests, being evergreen,
require that particular attention as to the proper season of the year for felling them that our English timber-trees do, these latter—as the oak, ash, elm, &c.—being deciduous; for in the former the sap is always rising, while in the latter it is not so in the winter season.
I have intimated that some present may not have seen this timber work, and I may, I think, pretty nearly equally say that many of you have not seen or known the old, slow, and painful mode of proceeding with such work at Home or in this country. I, alas ! have not only seen it done, but have tried my hand at it in order to get some boards from trees, when none were to be had, by arduous manual labour—a slow and laborious process. It was dear-bought experience; the unpleasant remembrance of it I shall never lose. I have called it “such work;” but that is not correct, save that boards were obtained from trees by hand-sawing. One might with equal justice compare the speed of a lighter propelled by oars with that of another worked by steam; or the tedious old Maori mode of procuring fire by friction with the modern instantaneous one by a match.
9. On Working-oxen.
My lodging at Dannevirke is close to the railway-station, and my sitting-room window commands the main road leading to it. An especial object of interest to me is a dray with five or six yoke of oxen coming along with a load to the station or taking one from it, as these generally come from a long distance across the country, where in many places there are no made roads. And this incident serves forcibly to remind me of what once obtained (thirty or forty years ago) at Napier and the now settled districts of Hawke's Bay, with their present towns and boroughs, well-metalled roads, and bridges. Contemplating those oxen (generally twelve) in their ponderous dray, two things are highly prominent: (1.) The muddy state of the dray and its large high wheels, with the spaces between their spokes completely filled up level with the felloe with stiff hardened clay-mud securely fixed therein as if rammed, insomuch that it would be a difficult matter to dislodge any portion of it: This alone shows what kind of country they had some over or through, their tediously slow journey occupying in some cases several days. (2.) The calm and quiet demeanour and great docility of the oxen. There they patiently stand, alike in the hot sun, cold wind, or driving rain, one, two, or three hours, it may be, while the dray is being unloaded and reloaded with stores for the distant station. Sometimes, however, one of a yoked pair reclines on the ground, making it terribly disagreeable for its partner in the same unyielding and heavy yoke, now forcibly bowed down at
such a painful angle. But “all hands” alike are regularly “chewing the cud,” with half-closed, sleepy eyes, in a dreamy kind of way, which seems to alleviate their heavy lot, if not their toil, and often serves to remind me of the use of tobacco by civilized man, especially as formerly practised, and particularly by old sailors.
Moreover, in my writing this I am reminded of a Scandinavian settler here at Dannevirke who has adopted the novel mode of working two oxen in a light dray-like cart, completely harnessing them as if they were horses (the oxen yoked to their drays having no harness at all). Now, the having a bit in their mouths prevents the two poor animals from chewing the cud, and so these, being debarred from their natural habit, have no solace while standing still at loading or unloading, &c. I spoke more than once to the owner about it, pointing out the great natural difference between horses and cattle in the formation of their mouths, and their manner of eating, ruminating, &c.; but my doing so displeased him not a little. For my part, I cannot see that he gains anything by putting a bit into their mouths, as he does not use long reins—it can only serve for show. At the same time I should not omit to say that his two oxen look very well in condition, and are very docile. The harnessing of an ox or bullock within the shafts of a cart after the manner of a horse is not, however, wholly new in this colony, for I remember often seeing in the “forties” an ox so harnessed coming into Wellington with a settler and his family; but that had no cruel and irritating bit in its mouth.
But, of all the varied work and labour of oxen that I have ever seen, that of drawing out the large trunks of felled timber-trees through the thick, uncut, uncleared forest, without tracks, is to me the most astonishing. The incessant labour of both man (the driver) and beast is beyond all comparison—not to mention that of the faithful dog. At one time the pair of leaders, or the head or horn of an ox, at another the end of one of the yokes or the end of the log, gets jammed among the thick standing trees, and so “backing out” and clearing must take place before they can again move slowly on. Then, the multiplicity of words and of phrases used in all manner of tones (I don't mean swearing), and the discordant barking the dog, now on this side of the oxen and now on that—which somehow the patient animals seem to understand—at all events they mostly obey—is surprising. On one occasion, on witnessing a work of this kind in the dense forest, I asked the driver (a steady, hardworking, honest man, who was known to me) which he considered “required the most patience, the man or the ox.” He said he thought “both pretty nearly alike,” and I agreed with him.
I may here also mention that I have seen a curious lusus naturæ while in the bush district this year—indeed, two that were very similar: one was that of a black cow with a young white calf, and the other a white mare with a sucking foal wholly black, presenting such a remarkable contrast. Piebald horses, some of them most strangely coloured, are pretty common about Woodville.