W. H. Hudson’s father was a colonist in South America, engaged in raising cattle, running a store, and being so amiable to everyone that he finally lost almost all his possessions. The mother was a stanchly religious New Englander, known in the whole section south of Buenos Aires as a good woman and kind friend. Hudson’s parents loved people so well that their house became a regular stopping place for all travelers.
Even in childhood Hudson was interested in people of all sorts and in every kind of bird, animal, and insect. Though there were many children in the family, he himself was almost a solitary wanderer. At one time his mother, who shared his intense love of nature, was worried because he often stood alone and transfixed. Finally she followed him, only to find he was watching a bird on its nest; she was satisfied that he was not eccentric but that he merely wanted to be by himself.
Hudson believed that in little children the sense of smell was as important to their pleasure as sight and sound. To him, as far back as he could remember, the smells of the pampas grasses and flowers, of the cattle and horses, of the garlic and cumin-seed seasoning, of the Saladero or slaughtering grounds were as vivid as the coloring of the parakeets and flamingos, the feel of bristly thistleweed, or the lovely sounds of flocks of pipits.
The house in which he was born was called “The Twenty-five Ombu Trees” because that many huge, century-old Ombu trees around the house made the place a landmark on the open pampas. There was also one other tree on the place—an unnamed variety—which blossomed so freely and deliciously each November that neighbors, smelling the blossoms on the wind, would come to beg a branch to perfume their own houses.
When the family moved, Hudson found around his second home many other kinds of trees, black acacia, Lombardy poplar, red willow, peach, pear. These he came to love by smell, sight, and touch when he was still too small to wander far from the house.
There were birds—hawks, cowbirds, doves, pigeons, eagles, pipits—and animals, domestic and wild, to entertain him. There were thousands of rats nearby that had to be smoked out periodically. One day, while the men were pouring deadly fumes down the rat holes, Hudson was watching. Suddenly he saw a small armadillo trying to escape by furiously digging a new hole. He caught hold of its scaly tail and tried to pull the animal backwards. The armadillo paid no attention to him but kept on digging, kicking the dirt back into his face. Before long Hudson found himself pulled to the ground as he clung stubbornly to the animal’s tail. The contest was small-boy pride against animal desperation, and it was not until his arm had been pulled down into the hole that Hudson let go.
He found snakes fascinating, particularly a colony that lived under the flooring of the house. As he lay in bed, he could...
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