Louie Strentzel Muir




1. A Fable of The Birds In the days of great wonders – no matter when- But when language was common to beasts, birds, and men, The birds of the air held a mammoth convention. The cause and the outcome are worthy of mention. It Happened in this wise: One bright summer day, When all of the world was uncommonly gay, Some blackbirds, while happily flitting around, A nest of strange shape and construction had found. It was hung on two limbs of a low-growing tree And was cosy and snug and as a nest could well be It had an arched cover, constructed no doubt To keep the birds in and to keep the rain out. Now blackbirds are chatterers, and everyone knows, And on seeing this nest, as you may suppose They raised a great hue-and-cry, calling together Wild birds of all sizes, conditions and feather. The nest was examined from low and from high And the beautiful arch attracted each eye; It seemed to be useful, in every way fitting To shelter the mother-bird while she was sitting. Then they cried in one voice, with infinite zest, “we must learn how to build for our young such a nest.” A committee was raised to seek out the bird Whose nest such a hullabaloo had bestirred. A committee instructed to beg and to pray That the builder would come and teach them the way To build an arched-nest, like that on the bough; Every bird in the meeting was crazed to know how. Now while the committee was gone on its quest An informal meeting was held by the rest: In this, as is usual, contentions arose, For each had a plan of his own to propose. A majority there were fully agreed That an arch on a nest was a very great need To protect the young birdlings from wind and from storm, And, besides, such a nest must of course be “good form.” 2. Per contra: - There came from the Burrowing Owl. Whose forehead towers over his eyes like a cowl. These words, in a voice discordant and rough, “I think that hole in the ground is enough.” When any one starts there are plenty to follow, And the same sage remarks came from the Bank Swallow. The woodpecker said, “The trunk of a tree With a hole I can dig, will answer for me.” The Barn Owl and Swallow cried, “Rafters and eaves Make far better shelter than arches and leaves.” Said the Cuckoo, “O, pshaw! That may do for the rest But the fact is I don’t have to build any nest: I watch for some bird that is willing to make it, And when it is ready, I quietly take it! So stupid the bird- so wonderously civil That she hatches my young, giving back good for evil. The Night Hawk created a visible shock By saying, “I hatch my young out on a rock.” Thus the chatter went on, but suddenly ended When from out of the blue sky there quickly descended The seeking-committee, and with them a guest – The Oriole, he who had helped build that nest. What a flutter of wings! The very air trembled! In a jiffy the whole feathered tribe had assembled; While at once the committee, the happy possessor Of the bright Oriole, introduced the Professor. His appearance created a striking sensation Which brought to his heart no end of elation. His dress was a dream, bright orange and black, And he flirted his head with a queer little knack As if he would say, "I am IT, don't you see, If you wish to learn wisdom, come listen to me." He made a low bow, adjusted his collar, And his voice has the ring of a new-minted dollar. 3. "My friends," he exclaimed, "I am glad of this meeting And extend to you all a brotherly greeting. I am told that you all want to learn how to build a nest like the one that is used by our Guild. But before I begin on the great work of teaching This motto I give, it is very far reaching; [ ] It is simple and plain, every bird can see through it-- 'To learn how to do a thing well—you must do it.'" And here it is fitting to make a remark Throwing light on some things heretofore in the dark. The records have all been examined with care And from them it seems very safe to declare That the first great Industrial School was held there While the Oriole sat in the President's chair! The truth he proclaimed is as vital to-day As it was in those years so far, far away, For knowing and doing should walk hand in hand, And those who can do shall inherit the land. But now to resume—the learned professor Proceeded, as still does his worthy successor, To give illustrations. He started the work In a way that was sure to detect any shirk. He claimed but one thing, in that was persistant, That little Tom Titmouse should be assistant,- A bright little chap with a shrill, piping voice, Who builds an arched-nest, this accounts for the choice. He said to the Pigeons, "Some twigs, if you please, You will find them abundant beneath the dry trees." To the Blue Jays and Blackbirds, "Some lichens and moss To work into the twigs as we lay them criss-cross." To the Robins ans [and] Waxwings, "Some very soft clay With any fine rootlets you find in the way;" To the Thrushes and Catbirds, "Some strips of soft grass And any thing fibrous you happen to pass." 4. To the Bluebirds and Goldfinches, "Fine thistle down With the long strings of cotton you see floating down From the Cottonwood trees; it's abundant, you know, You can gather easily, not far to go." To the Sparrows and wrens, "Some hairs, long and fins To weave trhough the nest, as though they were twine." Thus he set them to work in a masterful way, And most of the birds seemed to think it but play. He had other workers constructing the nest And all were quite ready to heed his behest. Sir Oriole stood there as Cock of the Walk, But soon they observed he did nothing but talk. Now this method of his attracted attention Sowing deeply the seeds of future dissension. As the birds came and went, fulfilling their task Each one of the other was ready to ask, "Why don't he do something, not stand there and gabble As though he considered us only the rabble?" The mutterings deepened, defying restraint, Every worker was anxious to enter complaint. The Pigeons said, "Coo, we'll stand none of his rigs! We have known all our lives how to gather up twigs; We will work here no longer," then flitted away. And their nests are made up of mere twigs to this day. But the nest grew apace, it was natty and trim And soon was completed well up to the brim. Then a "Delegate" came and sowed more dissension The usual result, I venture to mention. At last the storm burst! The birds came together, All shapes and all sizes, of every feather, And surrounding Sir Oriole, each felt inclined To give with much vigor "a piece of his mind." The Blue Jays complained that their toe-nails were sore The robins declared, "We knew all this before," And all cried with one voice, "We will labor no more." It is now quite in place that I should declare That the first Striker's meeting was held then and there. Sir Oriole bowed his imperial head And unto the strikers he quietly said, "Knew all this before! Then why send for me? But since with my methods you do not agree Let us "call the thing off". I bid you good day." Then he turned on his heel and fluttered away. Then the birds, one and all, started off on a hike You will recognize this as a genuine strike. And so the thing ended: and since that sad day Birds have builded their nests in thr [the] old-fashioned They struck, and so doing fell out of the march; But the Titmouse and Oriole know how to arch. Old Aesop, the father of fables, I'm sure From a story like this would a lesson secure. So now for a moral: Be never a shirt,- No thing worth the doing is learned without work; No skill will be gained by idly stand viewing, To learn how to do you must join in the doing. Fine feathers don't make a fine bird, it is true, But it is bird with fine feathers may know more than you. Despise not instruction from great nor from small, Remember you never will quite know it all. And last, though your part in the work you don't like, You'll not learn a new trade by joining a Strike.




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Resource Identifier

A Fable of the Birds

Copyright Statement

The unpublished works of John Muir are copyrighted by the Muir-Hanna Trust. To purchase copies of images and/or obtain permission to publish or exhibit them, see

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University of the Pacific Library Holt-Atherton Special Collections. Please contact this institution directly to obtain copies of the images or permission to publish or use them beyond educational purposes.


4 pages



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