Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/882

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860
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

scribed by Prejevalski, some of the Siberian steppes in spring appear like immense flower beds of various colors, with wood-clad hills of dark pines or dwarf birches rising from among them. Our prairies present this floral exuberance through most of the summer, but on the thinner soil of the steppes it usually dies out under the intense heat, while in winter the region is subject to the other extreme of excessive cold. Rain is more abundant in the steppes than in the northern tundras. It falls chiefly in summer, in violent showers, which do little permanent good to vegetation. In the north, the water, prevented by the perpetual ice in the subsoil from percolating through it, forms the marshes characteristic of the tundras. Another feature common to steppes and tundras is that of raging snow-storms or buranes (blizzards?), or high winds with or without snow. These winds, charged with sand, dust, and snow, sweep away or destroy everything they meet, and deposit in curious formations alternate strata of sand and snow. The animal life of the tundras includes animals that live in them constantly, and those that visit them from other regions. Of the former class are the lemming, the arctic fox, and the snow hare in the tundras, while the characteristic animals of the steppes are the arctomys, the jerboa, and the spermophilus. It was the discovery of numerous remains of these animals in central Europe that suggested to Nehring that all the prairie formations may have had a similar origin. The objections which have been brought against this theory, which are not without weight, are ingeniously answered by Prof. Nehring in his book.

 

A River's Work.—Regarding the varying phases of a river's work in its passage from the form of a mountain torrent to that of a broad estuary, Mr. Albert F. Brigham remarks that transportation begins at the head waters, and continues, always important, to the ocean. Corrasion (wearing away) is active in the torrential stage, and passes practically down to zero in the lower course of the stream. Deposition begins at the end of the torrential section, and prevails strongly to the ocean. In the middle or terrace section the forces approximate an equilibrium. The river lays up its waste in its banks, only to load it up again after months or years, and carry it a stage farther toward its destination. Somewhere in descending our stream we pass the critical point between land destruction and land building. Above this point materials are gathered up; below they are strewn down."

 

Surviving Superstitions.—The more sober and matter-of-fact the people, says an essayist in the London Spectator, the more curious are the superstitions that survive among them, in spite of their common sense. It is not only the ignorant sailor before the mast who regards Friday with superstitious dread. His captain and several other well-educated men share in the feeling. The superstition concerning thirteen at the table is perhaps more widespread than any other. A hostess who deliberately made up a party of thirteen would be a bold woman indeed, for two or three of her company would object to dining at her table. Many people will positively assert that they have actually known cases in which one of a party of thirteen at dinner has died in the course of the year—and with perfect truth, probably; for, taking the average age of the assembled guests to be thirty-five or over, the mathematical chances of death occurring among them within a year are rather more than one in thirteen. The chance of a death would be even greater if there were twenty, and would amount to almost a certainty in the case of a hundred—an excellent reason for abstaining from public dinners! The same writer gives as the origin of the superstition against passing under a ladder the circumstance that in the old days the man to be hanged had to pass under the ladder which stood against the gallows for the convenience of the executioner; "and he passed under that ladder with the fair certainty of being immediately hanged." The superstition concerning the spilling of salt dates from the most distant antiquity. "Salt, the incorruptible and the preserver from corruption, the holy substance that was used in sacrifice, could not be rudely spilt or wasted without incurring the anger of all good spirits and giving an opportunity to the evil ones. Now, the evil spirit lurks, as a rule, somewhere behind a man upon the left side, so that it is desirable, if one wishes to avoid the consequence of carelessness, to