Imágenes de páginas

long distance traveler, however, is the Arctic tern, already mentioned.

There are few more amazing things in the life of birds than the ability of even tiny land birds to fly long distances without rest or food, with little or no physical exhaustion. Small insectivorous birds like the American wood warblers, when on mi. gration, regularly in a single flight cross the 600 or 700 miles of watery expanse of the Gulf of Mexico; while similarly the golden plover flies from Nova Scotia over the waters of the western Atlantic to the eastern West Indies, a distance of some 2400 miles.

In addition to their regular migration journeys, birds driven by storms or, we may imagine, seeking adventure, often wander far. To such must be attributed the appearance of the upland plover in Denmark, an American individual of the common tern on the Niger River in western Africa, the European black-headed gull in the West Indies and eastern Mexico, and many others that might be mentioned.

On their migration journeys the individual birds travel more or less independently, though often in loose straggling companies which have not the cohesion of a flock. Hawks, ducks, geese, swallows, and some other birds, however, migrate often in well-defined flocks, sometimes of considerable size.

In many instances, and particularly is this the case with song birds, the males are the first to put in their appearance in spring, as it were to look over the ground before the arrival of the birds that are to be their mates. In the autumn the adults in some cases start southward first, and the young birds of the year follow; sometimes the young are the first to leave, followed by their parents.

The speed at which birds travel is an interesting feature of migration. Most of the smaller song birds do not fly faster than 20 to 35 miles per hour, but certain ducks can make up to 60 or 80 miles, some falcons 100 miles, and some of the large swifts as much

as 200 miles per hour. The higher velocities, of course, can not be main. tained over an extended course. Since, however, most migrations consist of alternate periods of flight and rest or feeding, it follows that the actual average speed of the journeys might bear little or no relation to the maximum possible speed at which birds can fly.

Most birds migrate at an altitude between 150 and 3000 feet above the earth; some kinds up to 5000 feet, and a few up to 15,000; while geese have been seen crossing the Himalaya Mountains at an altitude of six and a half miles.

When migrating hosts of small land birds, like wood warblers, vireos, and thrushes, meet a severe unexpected storm in the spring they usually remain where the storm catches them until it has passed. This sometimes results in the crowding of birds into a relatively small area until they become extraordinarily abundant. At such times, often hard pressed for food, even the shy forest birds come familiarly into the trees and shrubbery of the busy streets of cities. A strik ing example of this "banking up" of migrant birds took place in the region about Washington, D. C., in May, 1882.

Among all the interesting features of bird migration none is more aston ishing and mysterious than the un erring instinct that leads these trav elers across thousands of miles o trackless ocean or unknown land to the winter abiding-place of their an cestors, and back again to the sam summer home from which they fare forth on their adventurous journey To this instinct we must likewis ascribe the ability of a domestic cal rier pigeon to find its way for 500 miles from Rio Janeiro, Brazil, bac to its home in Pennsylvania. want of a better name we may ca this faculty the sixth sense-the sens of direction. Having so named i however, we have left the migratic of birds still an alluring mystery.



The Decline of Conversation

Condensed from Harper's Magazine (May '26)

Albert J. Nock

HE more one thinks of it, the more one finds in Goethe's remark that the test of civilization is conversation. The civilization of a country consists in the quality of life that is lived there, and this quality shows plainest in the things that people choose to talk about.

Man has certain fundamental instincts which must find some kind of collective expression in the society in which he lives. The first and fundamental one is the instinct of expansion, the instinct for continuous improvement in material well-being and economic security. Then there is the instinct of religion and morals, of beauty, of social life and manners. Human society, to be permanently satisfactory, must not only express all these instincts, but must express them all in due balance, proportion, and harmony.

Ever since I stumbled on Goethe's observation-now more than 20 years ago I have studied conversation more closely than any other social phenomenon. The most significant thing that I have noticed about it in America is that there is so little of it, and as time goes on there seems less and less of it. The exercise of ideas and imagination has become unfashionable.

Years ago Brand Whitlock told me this story: Mr. Finkman, junior partner of Maisner and Finkman, turned up at the store one Monday morning, full of delight at the wonderful time he had had at his partner's house the evening before-excellent company, interesting conversation, a supreme occasion in every respect. After dinner, he said, "We go in the parlor and all the evening until midnight we sit and talk it business.'

Those whose interests are not pure

ly commercial also show this tendency. Musicians, writers, painters, and the like seem to be at their best and to enjoy themselves most when they "talk it business." For the most part, like Mr. Finkman, these people begin to be most interested at the moment when the instinct of expansion takes charge of conversation and gives it a directly practical turn.

One wonders why this should be so. Why should Mr. Finkman himself, after six days' steady service of the instinct of expansion, be happiest when he yet "talks it business" on the seventh? It is because he has managed to drive the whole current of his being through the relatively narrow channel set by the instinct of expansion. By this excessive simplification of existence Mr. Finkman has established the American formula of success. He makes money, but money is his incidental reward; his real reward is in the continuous exhilaration that he gets out of the processes of making it.

Conversation depends upon a copiousness of general ideas and an imagination to marshal them. When one "talks it business," one's ideas may be powerful, but they are special; one's imagination may be vigorous, but its range is small. Hence proceeds the habit of particularizing-usually, too, by way of finding the main conversational staple in personalities.

The other day a seasoned hostess of New York's society said that conversation at her dinner-table had about reached the disappearing-point. She had as much trouble about getting her guests into conversation as one has with youngsters at a children's party, and all the conversation she could prod out of them nowadays,

aside from personalities, came out in the monotonous minute-gun style of particular declaration and perfunctory assent.

We go into dinner talking person. alities. The theater-we talk about the leading lady's gowns and mannerisms, and her little ways with her first husband. Books-we hash over all the author's rotten press-agentry from the make of his pajamas to the way he does his hair. Personalities taper off. Silence. Then someone pulls himself together. "Isn't it splendid to see the great example that America is setting in the right use of wealth? Just think, for instance, of all the good that Mr. Rockefeller has done with his money."

Guests in unison, "Uh-huh."

There can be no conversation when everyone simply agrees.

One reads advertisements of enterprising people who engage to make you shine in conversation. They propose to do this by loading you up with a prodigious number of facts of all kinds. On this theory of conversation, a statistician with Macaulay's memory is the ideal practitioner of social amenities.

Mr. Finkman's excessive simplification of life has made anything like the free play of ideas utterly incomprehensible to him. He never deals with ideas except such limited and practical ones as may help get him something, and he cannot imagine anyone ever choosing to do differently. He is bored when someone tries to lead up into a general intellectual sparring for mere points.

One manifestation of this restraint is the eagerness with which we turn to substitutes for conversation. After a dinner it is at once necessary to "do something"-the theater, opera, cabaret, dancing, motoring, or what not-and to keep on doing something as long as the evening lasts. It is astonishing to see the amount of energy devoted to keeping out of conversation. Almost every informal in

vitation reads, "to dinner, and then we'll do something." Quite often one finds oneself going through this rou. tine with persons who would really rather converse, but who go through it apparently because it is the thing to go through.

In discussing this subject, a friend said to me: "I have sat at dinnertables in Europe with every shade of opinion, I should say, and in one way or another they all came out. Each one spoke his mind, and none of us felt any pressure towards agreement. That's what the dinner was got up for."

Το an observer passing through America it would be plain that Mr. Finkman had succeeded in living an exhilarating life from day to day without the aid of any power but concentration-without reflection, without ideas, and without ideals. He has got on without them to what he considers success, and hence he sees no need of them.

Unlike many observers, I do not deplore this situation. It seems to me important that Mr. Finkman should be unchecked in directing the develop. ment of American civilization to suit himself. I believe it will be a most salutary experiment for the richest and most powerful nation in the world to give a long, fair try-out to the policy of living by the instinct of expansion alone. If the United States cannot make a success of it, no nation ever can, and none, probably, will ever attempt it again. Besides, Mr. Finkman may prove himself right; he may prove that man can live a full and satisfying life without intellect, without beauty, without religion and morals, and with but the most rudi. mentary social life and manners, provided only he has unlimited exercise of the instinct of expansion. If Mr. Finkman proves this, he will have the laugh on many like myself who at present have the whole course of human history behind our belief that no such thing can be done.

[ocr errors]

Across Africa by Motor

Excerpts from The National Geographic (June '26)

Georges-Marie Haardt

IFTEEN thousand miles by motor


almost like a figment of Jules Verne's imagination, but it represents the actual accomplishment of Central African Expedition, which it was my privilege to lead from Algeria to Mozambique. Eight automobiles equipped with caterpillar tractors made the trip in nine months. Each of the cars could accommodate three persons and, with its trailer, was an independent unit, carrying its own tools, tents, and foodstuffs. If separated from the others, a one-car contingent could provide for its own needs for several days. . . . A detailed account of all our adventures must be reserved for several volumes, but I am including here the more interesting incidents of the journey.

Crossing the desert we traveled more than 330 miles without finding a drop of water. We saw the dried skeletons of several travelers who had died of thirst. The Arabs say that death in the desert from thirst is an indescribable sustained torture in which the whole body dries up. The contact of clothing becomes insufferable and it is discarded, but only to let the cruel rays of the scorching sun inflict additional torment.

The desert peoples exercise great care in dealing with those who are suffering severely from thirst, as it would be fatal to give them drink at once. First, their lips are moistened, then the body is rubbed gently with a wet cloth and bathed slowly for several hours. A small quantity of milk is administered after a while, and finally a swallow of water.

At Dosso we came across a hunter disguised as a bird. From a piece of Wood he had carved a bird's head and neck, feathered it, and supplied eyes

and an open beak. He placed this device around his forehead and went into the bush on all fours. Moving slowly and stopping at times to peck at the ground, just as a real bird might have done, he was able to approach close enough to birds and hares to kill them with a stick.

Under the escort of 3000 of Sultan Barmou's Hausa riders, we arrived at Tessawa amid the noise of tom-toms and trumpets. Barmou is one of the few living men who can claim the possession of 100 wives. His wives do nearly everything but breathe and eat for him, from the time of their earliest morning greeting, when they prostrate themselves in the dust, till the end of the day, when they dance for their lord before he retires.

At Zinder, we observed an interesting ceremony of the Peuhl tribe, known as flagellation. It is a ritual performed by youths who have reached the age of manhood and who wish to take unto themselves wives. Before a numerous gathering of women, who sing and clap their hands to the rhythm of tom-toms, the aspirants approach, naked to the waist. An old man carrying a branch strikes each youth a severe blow on his chest or back, while another venerable member of the tribe crouches at the feet of the candidates to watch their movements. Ten or a dozen blows are thus delivered on each boy's bare skin, but he must not move or exhibit any sign of pain, and during the whole of the ordeal must sing a pean of praise. If he passes successfully this test of fortiThe tude he is considered a man. scars of the flagellation are often carried through life.

The Mazzas have a hideous custom of mutilating the lips of their women by piercing holes in them and insert

ing wooden disks. These disks are gradually made larger and larger until the lips are stretched to incredible proportions, sometimes as big as breakfast plates. A woman who is not thus mutilated is not considered a desirable person for a wife. When one of these poor creatures eats she resembles a pelican. At each bite she must lift her upper lip with one hand and slip the food into her mouth with the other. The victims of this bizarre custom are often rendered practically speechless. So difficult is it for them to pronounce a word that their own people can seldom understand them.

Near Fort Archambault we first came across the Yondos, a secret sect. Clothes are quite unknown to them, their only attire consisting of a thin strip of cloth and a bead belt. They paint their bodies with a sort of ochre clay, and adorn themselves with glassbead necklaces, copper and iron bracelets, and an ostrich-plume headdress. Much of their time is spent seated upon small stools, which they always earry with them. They communicate with each other by means of prolonged guttural coughs, which have a meaning known only to them.

Before we left Fort Archambault the natives organized a beauty contest for our benefit. Five hundred maidensslender and supple-were lined up. The two town chiefs, wearing black spectacles as a token of high rank, acted as judges and subjected the entrants to a severe scrutiny. However, the deciding factor which proclaimed the fairest beauty was her fine feet.

A native funeral provided an interesting spectacle at Bangui. The deceased was adorned in his fullest attire a belt, a necklace, and a feathered hat and placed on a stool with his back resting against a stake. The whole population of the village gathered around him in a great circle, and musicians set up a bedlam of weird sounds. The old folks sang praises of the departed, while a group of hired women mourners cried out in an apparent abandon of grief. Finally, the great circle broke up and formed two

circles, one within the other, and each started a disorderly dance around the corpse to start him off on the right road into the Kingdom of the Shadows.

At Yalinga we saw an elephant hunt by fire, a barbarous practice yet com. monly employed. The natives cut a circular path around the places where the elephants forage, leaving nothing along this path which might burn. When the great beasts have entered this circle the villagers are noiseless. ly posted around the edge. They are provided with torches, and at a given signal fire the bush and grass within the circle. Frantic with terror, and defenseless and blinded by smoke, the elephants huddle together, while the natives kill them with their spears or wait until the fire has destroyed them.

In the Belgian Congo we traveled for more than 375 miles over a trail cut through the forest for us by our Belgian friends, who employed 40,000 natives in its construction and completed it in less than a month.

The native African of the Equatorial Forest has a sort of "radio" system that serves his purpose admirably. The instrument used is a huge signal drum of peculiar construction. By means of a code, the natives can relay messages over long distances in a very short time. The drum may be heard from six to ten miles.

We rather doubted the efficiency of this strange telegraph until we were forced to believe by personal experience. When passing through a certain village we asked its chief for four chickens to be brought to us a short distance ahead on the road we were to follow. As the drum player struck the message off on his instrument, we drove rapidly away, so that the chief could not cheat by sending runners off ahead of us. Three miles beyond the village a native stood by the roadside with the four chickens we had asked for. We were convinced.

« AnteriorContinuar »