Editor's Note: Celia Thaxter's poem "Sandpiper" is her most popular, but few people know the "Island Poet" also wrote short fiction for children, much of it about birds and the sea. Here is a story, also about a sandpiper, which shows Celia's nonfiction skills as well. For the first time on the Internet, we offer this rarely seen colorful piece from Thaxter's "Stories and Poems for Children" which appeared in 1878.
The Sandpiper's Nest
It was such a pretty nest, and in such a pretty place, that I must tell you about it.
One lovely afternoon in May I had been wandering up and down, through rocky gorges, by little swampy bits of ground, and on the tops of windy headlands, looking for flowers, and had found many: large blue violets, the like of which you never saw; white violets, too, creamy and fragrant; gentle little houstonias; gay and dancing erythroniums; and wind flowers delicately tinted, blue, straw-color, pink, and purple. I never found such in the mainland valleys. The salt air of the sea deepens the colors of all flowers. stopped by a swamp which the recent rains had filled and turned into a little lake. Light green iris-leaves cut the water like sharp and slender swords, and, in the low sunshine that streamed across, threw long shadows over the shining surface. Some blackbirds were calling sweetly in a clump of bushes, and song sparrows sung as if they had but one hour in which to crowd the whole rapture of the spring. As I pressed through the budding bayberry bushes to reach some milk-white sprays of shadbush which grew by the water side, I startled three curlews. They flew away, trailing their long legs, and whistling fine and clear. I stood still to watch them out of sight. How full the air was of pleasant sounds! The very waves made a glad noise about the rocks, and the whole sea seemed to roar afar off, as if half asleep and murmuring in a kind of gentle dream. The flock of sheep was scattered here and there, all washed as white as snow by the plenteous rains, and nibbling the new grass eagerly; and from near and far came the tender and plaintive cries of the young lambs.
Going on again, I came to the edge of a little beach, and presently I was startled by a sound of such terror and distress that it went to my heart at once. In a moment a poor little sandpiper emerged from the bushes, dragging itself along in such a way th, had you seen it, you would have believed that every bone in its body had been broken. Such a dilapidated bird! Its wings drooped, and its legs hung as if almost lifeless. It uttered continually a shrill cry of pain, and kept just out of the reach of my hand, fluttering hither and thither as if sore wounded and weary. At first I was amazed, and cried out, "Why, friend and gossip! what is the matter?" and then stood watching it in mute dismay. Suddenly it flashed across me that this was only my sandpiper's way of concealing from me a nest; and I remembered reading about this little trick of hers in a book of Natural History. The object was to make me follow her by pretending she could not fly, and so lead me away from her treasure. So I stood perfectly still, lest I should tread on the . precious habitation, and quietly observed my deceitful little friend. Her apparently desperate and hopeless condition grew so comical when I reflected that it was only affectation, that I could not help laughing loud and long. "Dear gossip," I called to her, "pray don't give yourself so much unnecessary trouble! You might know I wouldn't hurt you or your nest for the world, you most absurd of birds!" As if she understood me, and as if she could not brook being ridiculed, up she rose at once, strong and graceful, and flew off with a full, round, clear note, delicious to hear.
Then I cautiously looked for the nest, and found it quite close to my feet, near the stem of a stunted bayberry bush. Mrs. Sandpiper had only drawn together a few bayberry leaves, brown and glossy, a little pale green lichen, and a twig or two, and that was a pretty enough house for her. Four eggs about as large as robins' were within, all laid evenly with the small ends tgether, as is the tidy fashion of the Sandpiper family. No wonder I did not see them; for they were pale green like the lichen, with brown spots the color of the leaves and twigs, and they seemed a part of the ground, with its confusion of soft neutral tints. I could not admire them enough, but, to -relieve my little friend's anxiety, I came very soon away, and as I came I marveled much that so very small a head should contain such an amount of cunning.
Read another very different essay by Celia Thaxter:
A Memorable Murder
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