CUCKOO OR GOWK?
If certain letters which have appeared in the newspapers can be accepted as recording facts, there is reason to fear that the cuckoo ip, after all only a gowk. In Scotland the word gowk means fool as well as cuckoo ; and, if the little brown prophet of the spring has already arrived, and been heard singing, he can hardly complain should he come to know that his appearance in January is looked upon as foolhardy, There is an old Lanarkshire saying that " The cuckoo comes wi' a haw-leaf, and gangs' awa' wi' a bear-head," which means a fourrowed head of barley. Some hedges are already showing those small red tips which lock so like fairy eyes, but the haw-leaf is still far off while nevertheless the cuckoo is here, according to correspondents. It is held in Wales to be unlucky to hear the cuckoo before the sth April, but to bring prosperity for the whole year to the person who hear* it on the 28 th. There used to be a belief in Scotland that "The advent of the cuckoo calls forth the season's spite" the consequence of which is " a gowk storm." If there is anything in that, the other silly birds who have begun to build nests and lay eggs, as some bave undoubtedly done may have reason to regret their unprophetic folly. There is hardly any hope indeed that they can escape disaster, if the southern story is correct that a certain old woman has charge of all the cuckoos, and fills her apron with them in the spring. If she is in a good' humour she allows a number to escape on 14 of April but only lets one or two to escape if anyone has ruffled her temper. The bearing of the legend upon the singing of the cuckoo a week ago near Kilsyth and his appearance last week at Campsie Q-len is not quite clear. The old woman may have let one or two over the Border to spite Scotland in which case we may prepare for " a gowk storm" of some sort. Those who doric believe that the cuckoo can have been heard, may fortify their scepticis a by appealing to the Swiss view that he cannot sing till he has eaten a bird s egg. But as, according to authentic reports, a number of birds have been building and laying it must have been quite possible for tht Twechar cuckoo to enjoy a breakfast of new-laid eggs. In some Continental countries it betokens evil when the cuckoo comes too soon and cries out of the leafless forest, and good luck when it sing 3 from the greenwood. In Britain this refers not so much to the early cuckoo as to the late spring. The cuckoo is famous as a fortune-teller, and is supposed to have the power to say when questioners will be married, how many children they will have, and how loDg they will live. In the West Highlands it is not considered lucky to hear the cuckoo when hungry, and in Norway it is looked upon as an evil omen should maidens hear the cuckoo before breakfast This is a reason for feeding early and well in Spring. Perhaps the'funnieat thing about it is mentioned by Pliny who attributes to the earth' on which the right foot stands when the cuckoo is firtt heard the virtue of keeping off flaas. We may therefore conclude that the cuckoo is among the earliest of sanitary reformers. The cuckoo was also a doctor and a botanist. At all events his flesh when properly applied, was held to be a cure for insomnia, the colic epilepsy, and the ague ; and he gave his name to many plants and flowers. There is one trait in the vernal prophet's character which has produced a goad deal of unnecsseary abuse. The f >ct is that the cuckoo is a bird of boundless faith —a sort of ornithological Calvinist It just lays its egg in another bird's nest, and leaves the rest to (Providence, taking no thought of to-morrow or the next dav. Some observers are not inclined to admit any particular merit in all this. They assert on the contrary that it is inspired by the wicked knowledge that
should hsr «>gg be hatched her youngling will take precious good care that it shall get an ample share of house-room and grab* though every other gaper in the nest should starve. Be that as it may, we may conclude that if the cuckoo has really come, and his early advent means an early spring, a beautiful summer and a bountiful autumn, we shall all have cause to rejoice. But the story is too good to be true, especially with the months of February and March raging and biting between thiß and April — the real cuckoo-bringer.
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