From Tideway to Tideway IX

Leaves from a Winter Notebook


(notes by Alastair Wilson, drawing on the work of the ORG Editors. We have also been grateful for some 21st Century comments from John Carnahan of the Brattleboro Historical Society)



This was not one of the original series of ‘Tideway’ letters, but it was included with them in Letters of Travel (1892-1913), datelined 1895. It was first published in Harper’s Magazine in May 1900, under the title “From a Winter Notebook”.

It is also collected in:

  • Scribner’s Edition, Volume XXVIII, p. 118.
  • Sussex Edition, Volume XXIV, p. 113.
  • Burwash Edition, Volume XIX.

The article in Harper’s had ten illustrations and a note, which read:

The photographs illustrating this article were made by Arthur R. Dugmore, who visited Brattleboro, Vermont (the home of Rudyard Kipling) and remained there to witness the climatic changes that are described in this article. All his photographs were made directly from nature and upon the scenes described.

As collected the article is dated 1895, though a revised typescript, dated 1894, came up for sale at Sotheby’s on 19 July 1994 [David A. Richards]. It may may therefore be assumed to have been written in ‘Naulakha’, which the Kiplings moved into in the Summer of 1893. They did not leave until September 1896.

The Letter

The article describes in great detail a New England winter, with snow on the ground from November to May.
John Carnahan of the Brattleboro Historical Society writes: Kipling certainly knew how to describe winter in Vermont! His description could serve just as well for the heavy snow
we have experienced this season (2010-2011). I also like his report on the
autumn colors. The autumn foliage season has become almost as important as winter for tourists here in Vermont. [J.C]

Notes on the Text

[Page 102, line 2] blood-root the puccoon, a low, perennial, North American herb, used by the Native Americans as a dye.

[Page 102. Line 9] lackeys of my Lord Baltimore Baltimore orioles, native American birds (see also p. 107, line 13), named after the English merchant venturer, Lord Baltimore, who founded the Colony of Maryland, and gave his name to its capital.

The bird received its name because the male’s colours resemble those on the coat-of-arms of Lord Baltimore. The title was originally based on the small town of Baltimore in Cork, in the south-west of Ireland.

[Page 103, line 12] creole in the American South, but particularly Louisiana, the word means a person of European descent, usually French, occasionally Spanish, who has been born locally and naturalised. Strictly, the word also applies in parts of the West Indies, Mauritius, etc., and is not confined to white Europeans. Creoles (for some reason) are supposed to have particularly passionate natures, and it is this characteristic which Kipling has assigned to this autumnal cyclone.

[Page 103, line 23] sumac (sumach) shrubs and small trees of the genus Rhus. Common in New York State and New England. They make a striking show of colour in the Fall.

[Page 104, line 4] Her sisters figuratively the four seasons are four sisters.

Kipling lists some of the flowers they saw by the roadside in Spring and Summer, by their country-names: Solomon’s-Seal, Dutchman’s-breeches, Quaker-ladies, Arbutus, Golden Rod, Asters.

[Page 105, line 7] he makes his own axe helve usually of hickory, which has a certain ‘spring’ in it.

[Page 105, line 12] the weapon of Umslopogaas A two-sided weapon. Umslopogaas was a Zulu warrior, a character in the books of Rider Haggard (1865-1925), Kipling’s contemporary with whom he later became very friendly.

His weapon was a battle-axe, the “Groan-maker” (Zulu: Inkosi-kaas), with a broad-blade, and on the other side a sharp gouge, the whole not unlike a halberd. (See Allan Quartermain and Nada the Lily).


[Page 105, line 13] lapped at the butt with leather to make a firm grip.

[Page 105, lines 14/15] a two-edged blade for splitting and chopping an axe is not just an axe to a woodsman: there are several types: a felling axe, with a broad, relatively thin blade, the same thickness from the helve to the blade; an undercutting axe, with a heavier head, and thicker where the helve enters the head, so that the back of the axe tends to fall when it is swung horizontally, and the cut is upwards; and a splitting axe, more wedge-shaped, for splitting a log.

(See “Friendly Brook” in A Diversity of Creatures.

[Page 105, line 24] four feet in the butt a tree having a diameter of four feet (1.2 metres) at the base of the trunk.


[Page 106, line 10] checker-berries from a plant known as wintergreen: the scarlet berries are edible. Oil of wintergreen was an old natural alleviator of joint aches, etc. Commercially, it is used for flavouring toothpaste, chewing gum, etc..

[Page 106, line 25] hickories the hickory tree is an indigenous American tree, not unlike a walnut.

[Page 106, lines 29/30] the wood-chuck a marmot which hibernates. Schoolchildren used to recite: ‘How much wood would a wood-chuck chuck, if a wood-chuck could chuck wood ?’

[Page 107, line 3] the coon the raccoon which is a nocturnal animal – a coon-skin coat was much favoured by the Scott Fitzgerald generation.- it went with your Stutz ‘Bearcat’ roadster.

[Page 107, line 4] Brer Coon in Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris (1845-1908), the animals are referred to as Br(oth)er Fox, or Br’er Rabbit, etc. Uncle Remus stories first appeared in 1880 when Kipling was at United Services College, and made a great impact. See “The United Idolaters”, in Debits and Credits.

[Page 107, line 5] Hunter’s Moon The Harvest Moon is the full moon nearest to the autumnal equinox (22/23 September)

The Hunter’s Moon follows it between 6th October and 3rd November. It is so named because it has plenty of moonlight for shooting nocturnal migrating birds.

[Page 107, line 16] French fashion the French used to kill a vast number of small birds for the pot, including such song-birds as the lark.

[Page 107, line 25] JOHNNY GET YOUR GUN! BEAR HUNT! this notice is a spoof by Kipling, though no doubt a fairly accurate one. The main mountains in Vermont are actually the Green Mountains, a north-eastern extension of the Appalachian mountain chain.


[Page 108, line 7] Twelve hours ‘ rail and a little marching you have travelled across into northern Maine to find the moose in the forests on the Canadian border.

[Page 108, line 10] virgin timber forests which have not been cut or planted in historical times.

[Page 108, line 11] a Lost Pond in the days before aerial mapping, and hand-held satnav, and—saints preserve us, ‘Google Earth’—and with an unreliable compass as your sole guide, it was no doubt possible for there to be a legendary pond, once visited, but never found again.

[Page 108, line 13] Men, who are of one blood with sheep Men tend to follow in the footsteps of a leader.

[Page 108, line 17] They withdraw from Society in November in winter they are cut off from normal intercourse by the harsh winter weather and, in particular, the snow.

It may have been fictional entertainment, but the American film musical, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, in which a farmer sets off to town to seek wives for himself and his brothers, was based on reality in this respect

[Page 108, line 25] it is among their tents not to be taken literally: Kipling is using Biblical language for ‘where they live’.

[Page 108, line 26] Biographies of Presidents the ORG notes: : ‘biographies of famous men were normal reading in country districts in those days’. Indeed they still are. This Editor has just counted 38 assorted biographies in his own study, and many more in other rooms—not to mention boxes in the attic!.

[Page 108, line 27] twenty-pound family Bibles These were huge volumes, often illustrated with steel engravings of biblical scenes. Family ‘trees’ (records of births and deaths) were often written in the end-papers as they were handed down through the generations. Twenty pounds is nine kilos in weight.

[Page 108, line 28] marriage-registers Kipling means marriage-certificates: the registers themselves were kept in the church safe.

[Page 108, line 31] quack an imposter in medicine

[Page 109, line 1] cattle-boluses large ball-like pills of medicaments for cattle.

[Page 109, lines 8/9] Pauper’s burial cart a hand-drawn trolley for a bier, instead of a horse-drawn hearse.

[Page 109, line 15] he was no King Lear he was a born wanderer, unlike King Lear (of Shakespeare’s play) who was destroyed by his own generosity and driven from his kingdom.

[Page 109, line 17] Wandering Jew mediaeval folk-lore told of a Jew who taunted Christ on the road to Calvary, and was condemned to wander the world forever, until the Second Coming.

[Page 109, line 17] giddy-gaddy in strict dictionary terms, ‘giddy-gaddy’ is an old game. Kipling has made the word up for his own meaning from ‘giddy’, in the sense of ‘uncertain on one’s feet’; and ‘gad-about’, a wanderer.

[Page 109, line 26] ‘Bad place to beg in – after dark – very – is Vermont’ Kipling is imitating the staccato speech of Charles Dickens’s character Mr. Jingle, from The Pickwick Papers; and correctly, too.The farm dogs, on a long chain, would have been very hostile to tramps.

[Page 109, line 28] and cooper horses in the manner of their trade Kipling probably means ‘buy and sell horses’, as in ‘horse-coper’—a horse-dealer—though the Oxford English Dictionary does not recognise the word as a verb. (A ‘cooper’ is strictly a barrel-maker.)

[Page 110, line 20] those big houses in the 1890s they would have been referred to as Asylums. In the latter half of the 20th century (in Britain, anyway) they were referred to as psychiatric hospitals: Now we are busy tearing them all down, and dispersing their patients to ‘Care in the Community’. John Carnahan of the Brattleboro Historical Society writes:

This refers to the hospital for the mentally
ill that was founded here in Brattleboro in 1834. The big
houses would be the patient dormitories. During the era
leading up to and including the 1890’s when the Kiplings
were here, Brattleboro Retreat housed upward of 400
or more patients at a time, and many lived out their
lives as patients.

It sought to follow the philosophy of Moral Treatment advocated by William Tuke who
pioneered this method at your York Retreat. The Brattleboro Retreat is still operating as a much smaller
private psychiatric hospital. The methods of treatment are very different of course with the use of modern
medications, and hospitalization now is seldom more than a few weeks. [J.C.]

[Page 110, line 27] revivals a re-awakening interest in religious matters: if you spend the winter indoors with nothing to read but the Bible, you may well be apt to dwell on religion: if you don’t do that, then Kipling is suggesting that you may have nothing else to dwell on but the short-comings, real or imaginary, of your neighbours; so that in the Spring you go out and murder them.

[Page 111, line 5] safeguards a sleigh is virtually silent: the bells are there to give warning of its approach.

[Page 111, line 13] still as the Egyptians see Isaiah 30.7: ‘Their strength is to sit still’.

[Page 112, line 13] a swizzle into which a man may be brewed the storm forms a vortex of snow, in the manner in which a drink may be stirred around with a swizzle-stick, and any man venturing out into such a storm may find himself brewed up in it; see p. 111, lines 16-17:

(It can) … kill man within sight of his own door-step or hearing of his cattle unfed.

[Page 112, lines 18/19] Then do the heavy-timbered barns talk like ships in a cross-sea The timbers creak and groan under the pressure of the wind (see the SS Dimbula, in “The Ship that Found Herself” in The Day’s Work

[Page 113, line 7] horsepondine the snow melts, and forms puddles in the hollows, like horse-ponds, the ponds which were dug deliberately to provide water for passing horses. Such ponds are still to be found in some villages in England, but most have been allowed to dry out.

In London local ponds were replaced by the troughs of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association.
It occurs to this Editor that Kipling may have intended a slightly esoteric play on words here. Two pages on, he refers to the “pontic shore”. King, his Latin master at USC, would have ensured that the Lower Fifth knew that the Black Sea was known to the Romans as the Pontine Sea, and the adjective ‘transpontine’ was used to refer to voyages across that sea. From ‘transpontine’ to ‘horsepondine’ is perhaps not a very long step.

[Page 113, line 11] white shagreen shagreen was originally a form of leather, made from the back or rump of a horse or a wild ass: today it is often made from the skin of a shark, and is referred to as shark-skin.

[Page 113, line 26] snail-slime snails leave a slightly shiny trail on the ground and paths from a mucus they exude in their passage: this shows up in the light, and Kipling is likening the effect of pale moonlight to this ‘slime’.

[Page 113, line 27] Northern Lights the Aurora Borealis.

[Page 114, final paragraph] In effect, when winter comes, there’s nothing you can do about it, so make the best you can of it: “What can’t be cured, must be endured”.

[Page 115, lines 3/4] Cities of the Plains see our notes on Letter VIII at p. 93.

[Page 115, line 13] in his stomach if his stomach says it’s dinner-time, then it’s dinner-time, no matter what his watch may say.

[Page 115, line 24] a foreign power—an alien sleigh on this Pontic shore to the Romans, the Pontine Sea—the Black Sea—named after Pontus, an area of the north-eastern coast of modern Turkey, was the end of the world.

Here, in rural Vermont in the 1890s, someone from three miles away was, effectively, a foreigner. So there was intense curiosity when a sleigh appeared which didn’t belong to anybody in Dummerston, the township just north of Brattleboro’ in which Bliss Cottage, and later Naulakha stood.

[Page 116, lines 6/7] turned into potted chicken veal can taste reasonably like chicken (potted chicken is another form of chicken paste). We are not sure why Buck Davis didn’t just sell the calf for veal—unless veal was not something which would normally feature on a Vermonter’s menu. Maybe the Boston Market paid more for potential “potted chicken” than for veal.

[Page 116, line 11] saeter a mountain farm (from the Norse).

[Page 116, line 12] scaurs ridges of a mountain. Orson Butler’s farm was high on the mountains, near the tops, where the wind whistles over the summit to meet the bare granite.

[Page 116, line 14] at the back of Black Mountain John Carnahan writes:

This is the name of the mountain, really no more than a large hill, against which
Naulakha, the Kipling home, backed to the west. Naulakha looks to the east out across the Connectcut River Valley.There used to be an active granite quarry on the east side
of Black Mountain overlooking the West River, a tributary which joins the Connecticut in Brattleboro. [J.C.]

©Alastair Wilson 2011 All rights reserved