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The Anxious Seat

Bige (Traveling Companion) had his nose down in the balsam and was snoring at the rate of about ten miles an hour when I awakened, and by the aid of a flash lamp, leaned that it was three-ten A.M.

I crawled out of the blankets, made a hasty and rather incomplete toilet, sneaked quietly down the trail through the woods about a half mile and climbed up into the anxious seat.

Bige and I had been camping for about a week in a log “lean-to” shack on the west slope of Buck Mountain, about ten miles back in the forest from Al Brown’s Hotel, which was the base of our supplies. Bige said there were lots of deer over there, and that we would surely see some. It is generally easy enough to “see deer” along the shore of a lake or on a river bank, in sections not to civilized, in the early morning or evening when they come down to feed of drink. It is quite another matter to see them in their forest home.

The white tailed deer of our northern mountains is a shy animal. He is provided with a keen sense of smell, ears about the size and shape of a very large “witch-hopple” leaf and eyes as large as an English walnut. He can travel on one of his run-ways or trails as noiselessly as a cat.

Adirondack White Tail Deer

When you go lumbering noisily through the woods, the deer will hear your approach a long way; if the wind is favorable he will smell the human scent and he can always “see your first.” He has the happy faculty of being able to sidestep and make himself invisible behind a clump of bushes or a fallen tree and will stand motionless and silent while you pass within a few feet.

Witch-hopple (Viburnum)

You might even look straight at a pair of “witch-hopple” leaves through an opening in the bush without a thought that those same leaves may hear every sound you make: or you may stop to admire a couple of odd shaped dried roots or branches would make an interesting trophy if mounted and hung over the mantel in your den.

Should you, however, by any chance, see a deer in the woods he is apt to be frightened and not acting naturally. You would most likely hear him run and turn just in time to see his white tail disappearing behind a boulder or over a knoll.

The nature student who wishes to learn what deer do and how they act when at home, observe their habits in their natural surroundings when undisturbed and unafraid, must, therefore, conceal himself. For this purpose was the anxious seat constructed.

Deer do not usually look for their hereditary enemy – man – anywhere except on the water or on the ground, so the anxious seat is placed in a tree. At least, in this case it was located between two large birch trees about twenty-five feet above the ground. It is reached by a sort of rustic ladder made by nailing saplings across from one tree to the other; the saplings forming the rungs of the ladder. There are also other saplings placed across above the seat both front and back to prevent the observer falling out. This observatory gives one an extended view and is also high enough to carry the human scent far above the keen nostrils of the deer.

The Anxious Seat

These particular birch trees were chosen because they were near the intersection of five separate run-ways. In going to and fro their various and favorite feeding grounds and drinking places deer, like sheep or cattle, will follow a beaten path. These deer paths are in many cases worn deep and hard by constant use through many generations, unless the deer are disturbed and driven away by lumber operations or otherwise.

Deer are very early risers, so my arrival at the anxious seat at about three-thirty o’clock on this August morning was none too soon. There was no moon, but a few stars were visible directly overhead through the tree tops. It was necessary, in picking my way along the trail, to occasionally use the flash lamp to prevent bruising shins over fallen trees and other obstacles. There was not a breath of air moving, and when I had settled myself in the seat there was not a sound. It is important, when watching for deer that one keep quiet. On this occasion the silence was intense, it was fairly audible.

The man who invented that old and familiar remark to the effect that “time flies” was all wrong in my opinion. In any case he never sat in the anxious seat at four o’clock on a silent August morning. That is a place where time “drags with leaden feet his weary way along,” while a nervous person sits on his nerves, endeavors to keep absolutely quiet and waits for something to happen.

Screech Owls – gray & rufous phases of plumage

After what seemed an interminable period of time; in reality, possibly I had been sitting silent for about fifteen minutes, when with the suddenness of a booming cannon and with a volume that could surely be heard more than a mile, came just behind my left ear, “Who- Wo- Wo- Wo- Wuh- Wah- Wa-a-a-a!!!! These remarks ended with a hideous insane cackle as I turned and saw his Owlship sitting on a limb of a tree just behind me and about thirty feet away. He had aeroplaned in and alighted there without disturbing a leaf or ruffling a feather and had probably been watching me some minutes. Having satisfied himself by my sudden jump when he spoke, that I was alive, he as quietly sailed away in the semi-darkness and silence reigned again. This faculty of the owl for moving on the wing noiselessly through the woods enables him to pounce upon his prey before this presence is suspected.

Another tedious wait and the stillness is broken by a scraping sound which slowly approaches and becomes more distinct till presently comes into view a porcupine having back humped up like an enraged cat, clumsily propelling himself with his short legs while dragging his heavy tail, loaded with barbed quills, over the dry leaves. As the quill-pig passes under my perch he emits several grunts of satisfaction. “Porky” is a night prowler. This fellow has spent the entire night down at an abandoned lumber camp at the bottom of the valley where he gnawed on an old empty port barrel until there was little left of it. He is now on the way to his home under a ledge of rocks on the hillside.

The porcupine is very fond of anything that has a salty flavor, and is very destructive about camp. He will eat up anything on which salt has been carelessly spilled. On one occasion he “chawed up” the entire top of our camp table, and we were obliged to carry boards several miles through the woods to repair the damage. At another time, Bige, who had been frying some bacon, turned the frying pan upside down on the roof of the camp, and later, while we were away, a porcupine ate a hole through the roof just the size of the frying pan.

A chattering, frisky individual presently appears in the grey half-light and runs up a nearby spruce tree, from the top of which he drops down one after another a lot of green spruce cones. Having picked enough for his present purposes, the red squirrel runs down the tree, hurriedly grabs one of the cones and climbs up on a stump directly in front of the anxious seat. Here, sitting upright and holding the cone in one paw, with the other he rapidly pulls the leaves out of the cone, bites out the fleshy portion at the inner end of each leaf and throws away the balance, leaving the heart of the cone for the last few bites.

The squirrel’s method of eating these cones was exactly the same that we employ in eating artichokes. The French people taught us how to bite out the meaty inner end of the artichoke leaf. Doubtless the first Frenchman learned this trick from the squirrel.

Having disposed of several cones this curious and inquiring person discovers me sitting above him; promptly drops his unfinished breakfast, makes one jump from the stump to the lower rung of the ladder, climbs up and sits on one of my shoes while he looks me over, scolding vigorously the while.

At this distance from any settlement it is likely that this squirrel’s acquaintance with man would be very limited: he had certainly not yet learned to fear humans. Having presently satisfied his curiosity, he ran down one of the ladder trees and scampered away through the woods, doubtless to inform his that he had discovered a new species of animal in his cone patch.

Snowshoe Rabbitt

Now follows the longest, most silent and tiresome watch of the morning. Finally my straining ears catch a faint sound of footfalls in the distance. The sound is intermittent and seems to be of some animal loping. Surely this must be a deer at last. Deer do travel by a succession of jumps sometimes, but generally when they run in that manner they are frightened. What can there be in the woods to frighten a deer at this early hour? Reasoning thus, while waiting the slow approach I presently discover that a long legged rabbit is responsible for this noise and disturbance of my meditations. He passes under the anxious seat and disappears in the thicket.

Another fifteen minutes, and there comes out of the brush a lively looking individual about the size of a large tom-cat, having a monkey like face and rings around his bushy tail. His name is Coon. He is headed directly for camp and talks to himself saying, “Huh-huh-huh” as he halts in front of the anxious seat.

Subsequent investigation proved, that the coon went up to steal our butter in the spring. His foot prints were around the edge; he found, however, that the butter was in a tin pail, and he could not remove the cover, so he drags the pail out of the spring and rolls it downhill. Then he goes down to a hole in the brook just below the spring and catches a pet trout that we have been feeding with crumbs from the table every day during the past week.

The next visitor to our neck of the woods says. “Quit-quit-quit-quit.” And the old hen partridge followed by her seven half-grown chickens, comes into view from under the bushes. They pass by on their way down to the log-road to get some blueberries for breakfast.


The partridges have hardly reached their feeding ground when a swiftly moving, sharp nosed, four footed creature comes down the hill, gracefully waving his red bushy plume behind him. The fox stops in our clearing about a rod away and “Yap’yap-yaps” a few times like a terrier dog, sniffs the ground, strikes the trail of the chickens and swiftly follows them down through the underbrush. The fox will get one of those tender young partridges for his morning meal. The owl got one last night. There were probably thirteen chickens in this brood when they were hatched, and others will be taken by their forest enemies until by the opening of the hunting season in October there may be only three left.

Gray Fox

Our wise lawmakers very properly limit the shooting season for this very interesting game bird, but take no account of, and put no restrictions upon the natural forest enemies of the partridge who kill ten of these birds to everyone that is shot. Possibly, if a small bounty were offered for the scalps of the hawk, the owl, the fox and a few other destructive neighbors, there might be more useful birds left in our forests.

Hawk Upper – Red Tailed Lower – Cooper’s

While musing thus on our futile game laws, the sun shot its first beams over the mountain through the tree t ops and just then a herm-thrush lit on a sapling near-by cocked her head sidewise, and with one eye on me sang. “Watch-ful wait-ing; watch –ful wait-ing.”

Hermit Thrush

Looking at my watch I found it was past seven o’clock. I had been watchfully waiting to see deer over three and a half hours, and no deer had passed by, so I climbed down out of the anxious seat and went back to camp where I found the coffee simmering over the fire and Bige frying bacon and eggs for breakfast.

By Henry Abbott – 1914 – from the Birch Bark Series in the Library Collection – A tribute to the 2017 Earth Day Celebration.

Unlike, as this story is told over 100 years ago or so, deer are not so scared of man today —  Easter Sunday, while eating our diner, several deer graced the lawn as they do each day.

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wgd – 4/22/17

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