Jim Baker's Bluejay Yarn

by Mark Twain

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Last Updated June 14, 2024.


"Jim Baker's Blue Jay Yarn" is a short story by the American writer Mark Twain. It was first published in the author's 1880 semi-autobiographical travelogue, A Tramp Abroad. This book is considered a sequel to Twain's 1869 work, Innocents Abroad, which details Twain's journey across Europe with his good friend Harris. It is interspersed with humorous essays and tales loosely connected to the main storyline.

"Jim Baker's Blue Jay Yarn" is believed to be based on a story that Twain heard from his good friend Jim Gillis. The story is narrated in an elaborate, matter-of-fact tone, lending humor and wit to its capricious events.

Plot Summary

The story opens with an unnamed narrator declaring that animals can talk to each other; however, only one man he knows can understand them: a middle-aged miner in California named Jim Baker. Because he lives in a remote forest area in California, Baker has had the opportunity to study animals intently and pick up on their language. 

According to Baker, blue jays are the best talkers of all the animals he has observed. While many other beasts have a limited vocabulary and no use for figures of speech, blue jays have a strong command of language. For this reason, such birds are very talkative, as they enjoy showing off their skills. Baker contrasts blue jays with cats—while both have good grammar, cats are prone to excited fits and often devolve into swearing and improper language. 

Seven years ago, the only other man living in Baker's area relocated and left his house behind. The house is quaint, with a plank roof and a single room. One Sunday morning, a blue jay descends on the house while Baker lounges in front of his cabin with his cat. The bird then discovers a knot-hole in the roof and studies it excitedly. 

When the blue jay decides to drop the acorn he had been carrying inside the hole, he ends up puzzled when he doesn't hear it fall. Peering at the hole from every angle, he concludes it must be very deep. He starts dropping more and more acorns inside the hole but still cannot seem to fill it to the brim. Cussing, the bluejay resolves to fill the hole even if it takes him a century. 

After two and a half hours of dropping acorns inside the hole, the blue jay collapses from exhaustion. He peers inside the hole once more and is frustrated to see no sign of his labor. His swearing attracts the attention of another blue jay, who comes by to ask him what the matter is. After the first blue jay relays his problem, the second yells for help and three other birds join them on the roof.

Soon, more and more blue jays arrive to peer inside the hole and pitch their theories as to why it cannot be filled. Baker claims that five thousand birds were in the area at one point, cussing and quarreling with each other. Like the first blue jay, they are stumped by the problem of the hole. 

Finally, an old blue jay decides to enter the house, as the door is partially open. He finds acorns scattered about the floor and yells at his companions that the mystery has been solved. Upon seeing the folly of trying to fill a whole house with acorns, the first blue jay doubles up in laughter. Soon, all the other birds follow suit. 

Baker ends the story by claiming that, every three years, flocks of blue jays from all over the country would visit the house and peer inside the hole. While they all found humor in the situation, an owl from Nova Scotia once visited the site and found nothing funny about it.

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