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Title: Minstrel Weather
Author: Storm, Marian
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Minstrel Weather" ***

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                           Minstrel Weather

                                  BY
                             MARIAN STORM

                  _With Illustrations and Decorations
                          By Clinton Balmer_


                            [Illustration]


                  Knowledge, we are not foes.
                    Long hast thou toiled with me;
                  But the world with a great wind blows,
                    Crying, and not of thee!

                                        EURIPIDES


                     HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
                          NEW YORK AND LONDON



                            [Illustration]



                           MINSTREL WEATHER

                 Copyright, 1920, by Harper & Brothers
                Printed in the United States of America
                       Published November, 1920
                                 K—U



       _For_
    AMY LOVEMAN

    The Minstrel Made His Tune of Hours and Seasons


    Dewfall, moonrise, high sweet clover,
      Chimney swifts at their twilight play;
    Quail call, owl hoot, moth a-hover,
      Midnight pale at the step of day.

    Star wane, cobweb, brown-plumed bracken;
      Morning laughs, with the frost in flower;
    Duck flight, hound cry; wild grapes blacken.
      Day leaps up at the amber hour.

    Sun dark, snowcloud, eaves ice cumbered,
      Gray sand piled on a carmine West;
    Faint wing, flake dance; winds unnumbered
      Swing the cradles where leaf-buds rest.

    Wide light, bough flush, gold-fringed meadows,
      Berries red in the rippled grass;
    Stream song, nest note, dream deep shadows
      Drawn back slowly for noon to pass.



CONTENTS

CHAP.                                       PAGE

I.    Faces of Janus                           1

II.   A Woodland Valentine                     7

III.  Ways of the March Hare                  13

IV.   The April Moment                        19

V.    The Crest of Spring                     25

VI.   Hay Harvest Time                        31

VII.  The Month of Yellow Flowers             37

VIII. The Mood of August                      43

IX.   Summer Pauses                           48

X.    When the Oaks Wear Damson               54

XI.   November Traits                         60

XII.  The Christmas Woods                     66

XIII. Landscapes Seen in Dreams               72

XIV.  Hiding Places                           78

XV.   The Play of Leaves                      84

XVI.  The Brown Frontier                      90

XVII. Far Altars                              96



ILLUSTRATIONS


The Milky Way Revealed to Lonely Herdsmen       _Frontispiece_

The Comforting Symbolism of Firelight
  at Play upon Clean Hearths                   _Facing p._   4

The Powers of Light                                 "       10

On the Topmost Boughs the Fairies Sleep             "       26

The Rejoicing Shout of Coming Summer                "       28

The Swooping Bat Darts Noiselessly                  "       34

Now the Mountaineer’s Girl Hurries Indoors
  at Nightfall from the Hallooing Specter
  of the Wild Huntsman in the Clouds                "       54

Baldwins Mellow by Twelfth-night                    "       58

December Acknowledges an Unpitying
  Fate—Anything May Happen                          "       68



MINSTREL WEATHER



CHAPTER I.

FACES OF JANUS


[Illustration]

Though January has days that dress in saffron for their going, and noons
of yellow light, foretelling crocuses, the month is yet not altogether
friendly. The year is moving now toward its most unpitying season.
Nights that came on kindly may turn the meadows to iron, tear off the
last faithful leaves from oaks, drive thick clouds across the moon, to
end in a violent dawn. January holds gentle weather in one hand and
blizzards in the other, and what a blizzard can be only dwellers on
prairies or among the mountains know. Snow gone mad, its legions
rushing across the land with daggers drawn, furious, bearing no malice,
but certainly no compassion, and overwhelming all creatures abroad:
bewildered flocks, birds half frozen on their twigs, cattle unwisely
left on shelterless ranges, and people who lose the way long before
animals give up. Snow hardly seems made of fairy stars and flowers when
its full terror sweeps Northern valleys or the interminable solitudes of
the plains. The gale so armed for attack owns something of the wicked
intention which Conrad says that sailors often perceive in a storm at
sea. The rider pursued by a blizzard may feel, like the tossed mariner,
that “these elemental forces are coming at him with a purpose, with an
unbridled cruelty which means to sweep the whole precious world away by
the simple and appalling act of taking his life.” We do not smile at the
pathetic fallacy when we are alone with cold. The overtaken mountaineer
understands—it means to get him. These things happen in places where
weather is not obedient to wraps and furnaces, but where it must be
fought hand to hand and where the pretty snow tangles its victim’s feet
and slowly puts him to sleep in a delicious dream of warmth. Tropical
lightning has not the calm omnipotence of cold when it walks lonely
ways.

January knows days on which the haze of spring and the dim tenderness of
the sunshine tempt the rabbit to try another nap _al fresco_, indiscreet
though he knows it to be. Even the woodchuck must turn over and sniff in
his sleep as the thaw creeps downward; and the muskrat takes his safe
way by water once more, while the steel trap waits on the bank, to be
sprung humanely by a falling cone. The lithe red fox glides across the
upper pastures and weaves among the hardhack unchallenged, for this is
not hunting weather. A fleeting respite comes to the tormented mink.
Toward the last of the month, innocent of the February and March to
come, pussy willows, ingenuously deceived by the brief mildness, come
out inquisitively and stand in expectation beside the brook, convinced
that this ice is only left over—what can have delayed the garnet-veined
skunk’s cabbage, always on hand the first of all? So many willows are
needed by the florists that perhaps they do not pay heavily for their
premature debut. But they are all gray now. In March they show a cloudy
crimson and yellow not alone of the final blossom, but of their fur.
There are plenty of scarlet rose hips in uplifted clusters, for the
birds somehow neglect them while they pursue other delicacies of the
same color and contour. Nature has probably told the winter chippies
that rose hips are no good—spring decorations must not be pilfered by
the snow sprites. Puffballs have broken off from old logs, and in
walking through low woods you may step on one here and there, awakening
the fancy that the world is burning, under its sad cloak of sepia
leaves, and sending up small puffs of smoke to warn those who have
trodden it in love and comprehension.

When the winsome skies turn stony, and melancholy winter rain ends in
chill mist, January has days to breathe whose air is like breathing
under water, down in spring-cold lake, where the incredible,
pleasureless fishes move through their gray element, finding pallid
amusement perhaps in nudging frogs and turtles, well tucked up under a
blanket of mud. They are cold-blooded, of course, and not supposed to
mind the oppressiveness of the liquid atmosphere. But after ourselves
moving in such an environment it is marvelous to ponder that any
creatures prefer it, and good to foreknow that our own world will swim
out into a splendid frosty weather.

[Illustration]

For its days of quiet sparkle we would remember January, not for lashing
tempests, April delusions, or brooding fog. Unbroken snow with blazing
spangles shifting as the sun moves, and above it twittering sparrows
clinging by one claw to stalks of yarrow or mustard while they shake the
seeds loose with the other; old stone walls suddenly demonstrating that
they have color, when the foreground is white, and showing bluish,
brown, earthen red, and gray alight with mica; streams covered with
pearly ice that floods into brilliant orange at sunset; spruce and
hemlock imperiously outlined on even far-off hills; skating-time without
and kindled logs within—that is the midwinter we remember when the
sterner messengers sped from the Pole have gone again. Were it not for
the blizzard we might fail to know so well the comforting symbolism of
firelight at play upon clean hearths. Many go all their lives, aware
only of the coziness or inconvenience of winter, never facing the
daggered gale alone, nor struck by the terror of a hostile Nature or the
awe of cold that may not soon relent. What one perceives in the volcano,
tidal wave, or blizzard, another is spared; the lesson, perhaps, being
postponed until he is ready for it. Spring comes sweetly to the
milliners’ this month. To the wilderness with rapid and menacing step
comes full winter.



CHAPTER II.

A WOODLAND VALENTINE


[Illustration]

Forces astir in the deepest roots grow restless beneath the lock of
frost. Bulbs try the door. February’s stillness is charged with a faint
anxiety, as if the powers of light, pressing up from the earth’s center
and streaming down from the stronger sun, had troubled the buried seeds,
who strive to answer their liberator, so that the guarding mother must
whisper over and over, “Not yet, not yet!” Better to stay behind the
frozen gate than to come too early up into realms where the wolves of
cold are still aprowl. Wisely the snow places a white hand over
eager—life unseen, but perceived in February’s woods as a swimmer feels
the changing moods of water in a lake fed by springs. Only the thick
stars, closer and more companionable than in months of foliage, burn
alert and serene. In February the Milky Way is revealed divinely lucent
to lonely peoples—herdsmen, mountaineers, fishermen, trappers—who are
abroad in the starlight hours of this grave and silent time of year. It
is in the long, frozen nights that the sky has most red flowers.

February knows the beat of twilight wings. Drifting north again come
birds who only pretended to forsake us—adventurers, not so fond of
safety but that they dare risk finding how snow bunting and pine finch
have plundered the cones of the evergreens, while chickadees, sparrows,
and crows are supervising from established stations all the more
domestic supplies available; a sparrow often making it possible to annoy
even a duck out of her share of cracked corn. Ranged along a
brown-draped oak branch in the waxing light, crows show a lordly
glistening of feathers. (Sun on a sweeping wing in flight has the
quality of sun on a ripple.) Where hemlocks gather, deep in somber
woods, the great horned owl has thus soon, perhaps working amid snows at
her task, built a nest wherein March will find sturdy balls of fluff.
The thunderous love song of her mate sounds through the timber. By the
time the wren has nested these winter babies will be solemn with the
wisdom of their famous race.

There is no season like the end of February for cleaning out brooks.
Hastening yellow waters toss a dreary wreckage of torn or ashen leaves,
twigs, acorn cups, stranded rafts of bark, and buttonballs from the
sycamore, never to come to seed. Standing on one bank or both, according
to the sundering flood’s ambition, the knight with staff and bold
forefinger sets the water princess free. She goes then curtsying and
dimpling over the shining gravel, sliding from beneath the ice that
roofs her on the uplands down to the softer valleys, where her quickened
step will be heard by the frogs in their mansions of mud, and the fish,
recluses in rayless pools, will rise to the light she brings.

Down from the frozen mountains, in summer, birds and winds must bear
the seed of alpine flowers—lilies that lean against unmelting snows,
poppies, bright-colored herbs, and the palely gleaming, fringed beauties
that change names with countries. How just and reasonable it would seem
to be that flowers which edge the ice in July should consent to bloom in
lowlands no colder in February! The pageant of blue, magenta, and
scarlet on the austere upper slopes of the Rockies, where nights are
bitter to the summer wanderer—why should it not flourish to leeward of a
valley barn in months when icicles hang from the eaves in this tamer
setting? But no. Mountain tempests are endurable to the silken-petaled.
The treacherous lowland winter, with its coaxing suns followed by
roaring desolation, is for blooms bred in a different tradition.

[Illustration]

The light is clear but hesitant, a delicate wine, by no means the mighty
vintage of April. February has no intoxication; the vague eagerness that
gives the air a pulse where fields lie voiceless comes from the secret
stirring of imprisoned life. Spring and sunrise are forever miracles,
but the early hour of the wonder hardly hints the exuberance of its
fulfillment. Even the forest dwellers move gravely, thankful for any
promise of kindness from the lord of day as he hangs above a sea-gray
landscape, but knowing well that their long duress is not yet to end.
Deer pathetically haunt the outskirts of farms, gazing upon cattle
feeding in winter pasture from the stack, and often, after dark,
clearing the fences and robbing the same disheveled storehouse. Not a
chipmunk winks from the top rail. The woodchuck, after his single
expeditionary effort on Candlemas, which he is obliged to make for
mankind’s enlightenment, has retired without being seen, in sunshine or
shadow, and has not the slightest intention of disturbing himself just
yet. Though snowdrops may feel uneasy, he knows too much about the Ides
of March! Quietest of all Northern woods creatures, the otter slides
from one ice-hung waterfall to the next. The solitary scamperer left is
the cottontail, appealing because he is the most pursued and politest of
the furry; faithfully trying to give no offense, except when starvation
points to winter cabbage, he is none the less fey. So is the mink,
though he moves like a phantom.

Mosses, whereon March in coming treads first, show one hue brighter in
the swamps. Pussy willows have made a gray dawn in viny caverns where
the day’s own dawn looks in but faintly, and the flushing of the red
willow betrays reveries of a not impossible cowslip upon the bank
beneath. The blue jay has mentioned it in the course of his voluble
recollections. He is unwilling to prophesy arbutus, but he will just
hint that when the leaves in the wood lot show through snow as early as
this ... Once he found a hepatica bud the last day of February ...
Speaking with his old friend, the muskrat, last week ... And when you
can see red pebbles in the creek at five o’clock in the afternoon ...
But it is no use to expect yellow orchids on the west knoll this spring,
for some people found them there last year, and after that you might as
well ... Of course cowslips beside red willows are remarkably pretty,
just as blue jays in a cedar with blue berries.... He is interminable,
but then he has seen a great deal of life. And February needs her blue
jays’ unwearied and conquering faith.



CHAPTER III.

WAYS OF THE MARCH HARE


[Illustration]

Follow him to the woods and you know his fascination, but never give the
March hare a reference for sobriety. His reputation cannot be
rehabilitated, yet his intimates love him in spite of it. He is such an
accomplished tease! He wakens, playful and ingratiating, with the sun;
he skips cajolingly among the crocuses; and before an hour passes he is
rushing about the fields in a fury, scattering the worn-out, brown
grasses, scaring the first robins, and bouncing over the garden fence to
break the necks of any tulips deceived by his morning mood. Impossible
animal, he is an eccentric born, glorying in his queerness; and none the
less, there are some who think he knows the zest of life better than
April’s infatuated starling or the woodchuck drowsing in May clover. He
loves to kick the chilly brooks into foam and fluster them until they
run over their unthawed banks and tear downhill and through the swamp to
alarm the rivers, so that they, too, come out on land and the whole
world looks as though it had gone back to the watery beginning. He
chases north the snowy owl, ornament of our winter woods, and
fraternizes with the sinful sparrow. Shrike and grosbeak leave, saying
that really it is growing quite warm, and, glancing behind them, they
behold the March hare turning somersaults in snowdrifts. He freezes the
mud that the shore lark was enjoying. No one depends upon him. Yet, to
see swift and enchanting changes of sky, lake, and woodland, go forth
with the March hare and find with him, better than quiet, the earth
astir.

Trees lose the archaic outline as leaf buds swell. Reddened maples and
black ash twigs, yellow flowers on the willow, begin the coloring of a
landscape that will not fade to gray and dun again until December
comes. The lilacs are growing impatient, for already the sophisticated
city lilac bush is wearing costly bloom, careless that a debut made so
early early ends. The crocuses, spring’s opening ballet, dressed in
pastel tints, take their places on the lawn, standing delicately erect,
waiting for bird music. Unknown to March’s gales, the still swamp pools
are fringed with shooting green, full of hints of cowslips; and
arbutus—few know on what hillsides—is lifting the warm leaf blanket,
trusting that vandal admirers are far away. The March violet is sung
more than seen, visiting Northern slopes and woods hollows only by
caprice, but all the legends lingering over it, and the magic beauty it
gives to maidens who gather it at dawn, make the violet still, for
lyrical needs, the flower of March. Cuddled close to sun-warmed stones,
cloaked by quaint leaves lined with sapphire and maroon, sometimes now
the hepatica has come; and bloodroot nested under bowlders, and in fence
corners where the sun is faithful, lifts praying, exquisite petals that
open swiftly from the slim bud and are scattered by a touch. The dark
blue grape hyacinth stands calm in winds and bitter weather; waist-deep
in snow, it proudly holds its ground. Sap is visibly climbing to the
highest limbs. It seems even to be mounting in the ancient wild-grape
vines that swing from the roof of the wood, bearing no buds and looking
dead a hundred years, though there is life beneath the somber and shaggy
bark. Sap called back through the ducts of the winter-warped thorn,
solitary in the clearing where the cruel nor’easter raced, will cover
the sad branches, once the soft days are here, with shining blossoms.
The year turns when the sap runs. Little boys who have their sugar
maples picked out and under guard, being more forehanded about some
things than others, are whittling intensely.

Loneliest of all sounds, the “peepers” take up their forsaken song in
flooded meadows, silenced in ghostly fashion by a footstep that comes
near. Heartbroken chant, it is more elegy than spring song, hard to hear
at dusk, yet it is certain that those peepers are delighted that March
is here—as content with their fate, while they utter the poignant notes,
as the emphatic old frogs by the deeper water. Wander-birds, almost
unresting, are posting north again through the twilights. Bold wild
geese are awing for Canada. Quiet returning hawks cross the valleys, and
the pine grosbeak hastens past. Spring dowers the devoted but undesired
starling with a pleasant voice which will change by summer into an
exasperating croak, and so many of our birds suffer this unfair loss
that a feathered critic would have good reason to declare that poets
ought to be slain in youth. The terrifying little screech owl wails from
shadowy woods, and from the venerable timber sounds the horned owl’s
obscure threat. The chickadee repeats with natural pride his charming
repertoire of two notes—“Spring soon!” Nothing is refused this fortunate
one, born with a sweet disposition and a winsome song, while sparrows,
angrily conducting their courtships, remain on earth solely by dint of
original cleverness.

Meadow mole and turtle, woodchuck and chipmunk, are recovering from a
three months’ nap, waiting patiently in the sunshine for the season to
begin. Snakes come out with the rest of the yawning company. Fish
glitter again in the hurrying streams, building their nests and houses
like the others—often obeying a spring impulse to rush from lake to
outlet or from quiet water to streamhead, ending their journey suddenly
and forever amid wire meshes. The brooks are icy on the mildest days
with melted snow from the mountains, where hemlocks green as arctic
waters, shutting out the sun, keep a white floor long after the valley
wears grasses.

Whoever has a touch of madness to lend him sympathy with the March hare
likes the bewildering days through which he scampers to vanish at the
edge of April. Rebellious, whitening ponds and wind-bent trees; defiant
buds and all the kindled life of marsh, hill, and woodland, set free
once more from cold, but not from dread—hear at the coming of the mighty
month their promise of release. But only to comrades who will run with
him through muddy lanes and tangled brush does he show his treasures:
forest creatures sped like the couriers, petals lifted like the banners,
of life resurgent.



CHAPTER IV.

THE APRIL MOMENT


[Illustration]

Survivor of so much that her fear is gone, triumphant April answers the
dark powers as if they could never speak again. Spring after spring she
stands among flying petals and smiles at the last bitter winds. She will
not grant that the green earth was ever vanquished, fiercely alive as
now it is. Scornfully the new silver bloom on the clover sheds the
relentless rain. Undaunted, reaffirming, she summons all beauty of
color, music, and fragrance beneath her banners, with a vitality so
profound and impregnable that more than other months she is careless of
man’s sympathy. April, preoccupied, hastens from crumbling furrow to
meadows that shout the coming of the green. Intense and too eager for
tenderness, she craves no admiration. Quite without excuse, the song
sparrow sits on a wine-colored willow twig and sings frantically. Anyone
has as good a reason for ecstasy as he—merely that the dumb struggle is
ended and the long suns have returned in splendor.

Contemplative between their dark exotic leaves, dogtooth violets fill
the light-flecked hollows. Spring beauties open warily at daybreak to
show stamens of deep rose. Where imperious amber waters go foaming
through the swamp, spendthrift gold of cowslips is swept down to the
rivers, and budded branches that leaned too close above the ripple are
shut out from the sun world for a while. Mauve and canary slippers are
waiting for the fairy queen where our wild orchid of the North dangles
them on remote knolls, but they are usually found and borne off by some
one for whom they are in no way suitable. Translucent young leaves
glitter beside the stream’s path. Dandelion rosettes appear with serene
impartiality on guarded lawn and mountain pasture, where steal also the
polite but persistent “pussy tiptoes,” asserting the right to display
white leaves in spring, if so a plant should choose. The snail has
deserted his shell and gone forth to take the air at the risk of being
plowed under. None of April’s children remember or foresee. The vivid
present is enough.

The apple boughs are inlaid with coral. The peach is a cloud of dawn,
and petals of the forward cherry and pear are floating reluctantly down.
Wild-fruit trees, mysteriously planted, are misty white above the
woodland thicket—scented crabapple and twisted branch of plum. This is
the month of blossoms, as May is the month of shimmering leaves and June
of the fruitless flower.

The blackbird swings at the foamy crest of the haw, disturbed by a
thousand delights, and notes too few to tell them. The crow hoarsely
mentions his rapture as he flaps above the moving harrow, and the new
lambs look on in a tremulous, wounded manner while the famished
woodchuck makes away with the cloverheads they were just about to
endeavor to bite off. Uncertainly the wondering calves proceed about the
pasture, not yet at the stage in life where they will skip with touching
curiosity after every object that stirs. At dusk and glistening morning
there are bird songs such as only April hears—the outburst of welcome to
the light, and the sleepy fluting of the robins when the sky turns to a
soft prism in the west. Fainter, more melancholy even than in March, is
the twilight lament of the peepers. They are alien to the aria of April.

New England’s forget-me-nots are fleet turquoise in the grasses; New
England’s arbutus flowers lie flushed pearls among the ancient leaves;
but everywhere are the violets of three colors—yellow for the pool’s
edge, white among the bog lands, and blue as pervasive as the sunlight
on hill slope, road bank, and forest floor. And there are violets of an
unfathomable blue, sprinkled with white like wisps of cloud against far
mountains. Some grow close to earth, taught by past dismay; others,
long-stemmed and sweet, will live and suffer and mend their ways next
year. The windflower meets the breeze, a slim princess, incredibly
fragile, yet broken less easily than the strong tulip, vaguely touched
with rose or white as bloodroot. Tulips dwell not only on the ground;
they have parted great, opaque petals at the tops of trees, startling to
see in the leafless wood. Watercress glitters in the cold streams where
trout, winter-weary, are on patrol for those flies now magnificent in
their jeweled dress of spring. The first oak leaves are delicately
crimson at the end of the bough. Disregard, amid this pageantry of _la
vita nuova_, the outrageous satire of brown skeleton “fingers” that
point stiffly up through the shining blades of grass. If they seem to be
a chilling cynicism of Nature, who has not found an April dandelion
telling a braver story through winter snow?

Cedar and balsam twig are golden-tipped. Nothing is unchanged. Immortal
wings that beat through February gales to reach this land of their
tradition are fluttering now about the building of the nest. The smooth
chimney swift flashes above the barn and is gone. With drooping wings he
hangs poised against the daffodil sky in his evening play. Peaceably
among the lilacs the contented bluebird sits, though through bulb, root,
and chrysalis has passed the irresistible current that will let no
sharer of the earth be still—not stone nor seed nor man. Into this
forced march April steps with gladness, hailing the order, predestined
to change. Joining her unresisting, take for your own the moment of
escape which the singer in the blossoms freely claims. Life’s fullness
is measured by these salvaged April moments when suddenly joy becomes a
simple and close-dwelling thing, when for a merciful, lighted instant
the impersonal and endless beauty of the world seems enough.



CHAPTER V.

THE CREST OF SPRING


[Illustration]

Flickering soft leaves spangled with sunlit rain give May a robe
diamond-sown, as lighted spray may weave for the sea. Skimming wings
catch sunrise colors. The grass blade is borne down by the exquisite
burden of one translucent pearl. This is the luminous youth of the year,
and its splendor lies deeper than the glitter of dew-and-rain jewels,
for it is visible in the forbidding strongholds of hemlock and pine,
where a sunless world still shines with May. In one month only Nature
lights her unquenchable lamp. Look down upon the orchard from a hill:
the young leaves are lanterns of sheer green silk, not the richly
draped and shadowy foliage of full summer. Lustrous is the new red of
poison ivy and woodbine, of swamp maple and slowly budding oak. Where in
July the hard light will play as upon metal, lake and stream are faintly
shimmering gray. Rain cannot dim the radiant freshness, for trees thus
queenly clothed in blossoms never bend submissive to the pelting skies.
Let that fragment of creation which bears umbrellas prostrate its spirit
before the “blossom storm,” seven times renewed—the answer of the
flowered thorn is always exultant. Amid departing petals which have
played their role and gone, voyaging on raindrops, “the May month flaps
its glad green leaves like wings.”

[Illustration]

Wild shrubs upon the mountain slopes are in thronging bloom. Delicately
pink and nectar-laden, the prodigal azalea calls to the honeybees,
always bitterly industrious and severely intent upon duty amid a general
festival. It is a great satisfaction sometimes to find a bee overtaken
by intoxication and night within a water lily or hollyhock, his
obtrusive good example smothered sweetly. For once he was not at the
hive in time to murmur of his heavy day of posting from garden to
meadow! Dowered with a white simplicity beyond the pensive moonflower’s,
the bracts of the dogwood seem afloat among gray branches—misty, seen
far off; clear cut to nearer view; eloquent of spring; without fragrance
as without pretense. The mountain laurel holds above gleaming leaves its
marvelously carven cups, faint pink or white, amber-flecked. All winter
it has kept the green, when ground pine lay snowbound and spruces sagged
with sleet. The victor may find his wreath at any time of year, for our
laurel has it ready. High toward the stars in regal manner the tulip
trees lift their broader chalices. It is probably in these, on the
topmost boughs, that the fairies sleep where mortals never climb up to
look in. Bilberry, shadbush, and brier stand in May marriage robes of
white, quiet and beautiful, scented at dusk when the sun warmth begins
to leave the blossoms. The red haw wears a little fine golden lace.
Farther south the rhododendron is gorgeously displayed—magenta verging
on damson.

The air is precious with the plentiful sweetness of lilac and magnolia,
of the memorial lavender lilac that summons homesickness to city parks
on evenings of May. The carmine glow of the flowering quince is here,
brought from its tropic wilderness. The long flushed curve of the almond
spray bends meekly toward the sod. Opulent is every bush, though its
blossoming may be secret. In colors beloved of kings, the velvet,
minutely perfect iris commands the garden path. Beside it in despair the
old-time bleeding-heart laments, and the bells of the valley lily hang,
chiming fragrance. Impatient climb the red-stalked peonies. The currant
is in green but pleadingly sweet blossom.

High, thick grass and clover in May fields are only the setting for the
dazzling buttercup, who shakes the dews from her closed petals before
daybreak and folds them prayerfully at about the time the birds turn
home. First white daisies, supremely fresh and lucid as all May’s
glories are, show a few misleading foam flecks of the flood with which
they intend to overwhelm the crop of hay. Feathery yellow of the wild
mustard nods beside the road as if it were not anchored to immovable
roots. Already the sapphire star grass is hiding in the meadows. Gone
are the blossoms of the wild strawberry. The canary-colored five-finger
vine would lace itself over the world, given but half an opportunity. So
would the bramble of the fair white blossom and maroon-bordered leaf.

[Illustration]

Still are restless wings now upon the guarded nest. Some flash along the
turned furrow, circle near the eaves, dip sharply to the ripple. Willow
fronds are startled by the glinting blue of the kingfisher, scarlet of
the tanager. Once more the chimneys of old houses know the flickering
swallow. The oriole has come to the orchard again, the wren to the grape
arbor. Tiny rabbits, beholding for the first time what white clover can
be, twitch their noses in content. Tired children, returning from rifled
woodlands with too many posies, drop them in the path, like flower girls
intrusted to strew the way of summer. It is more comfortable not to
grant flowers the capacity for pain, but we demand, nevertheless, that
they enjoy giving pleasure to us, so doubtless they are glad to be of
service even in this thwarted fashion. Yet May’s store is manifold; her
waiting buds can replace the scattered ones.

The face of Nature wears in the shining month a beauty something less
than mature, but more than the mischief and troubling intensity of
April. The wonder of the hour—the adieu of spring and the rejoicing
shout of coming summer—dwells there, a subdued, impassioned note. The
crest of the year’s youth merges like all crests into the wave beyond,
renewed forever like the waves. To man alone has been given the
difficult task of keeping on without a spring. That singular adversity
is ours in common with inanimate things: May rose and lilac come back
each year to the forsaken house, but to the house May brings no change.
About it a world of snow becomes a world of blossoms, as for us, and the
sun creates. But the house needs aid of human hands, man of earth’s
quickened beauty in luminous May.



CHAPTER VI.

HAY HARVEST TIME


[Illustration]

By the manifold hayfields only, were her wild-rose token banished, a
traveler returning from another land to our June, not knowing the time
of year, might name the month. In days just before hay harvest the
glistening dance of meadow grasses is most splendid, their soft
obedience to the winds is readiest. Deep rose plumes of sorrel, the
wine-colored red-top, smoky heads of timothy, are forever aripple, and,
though overstrewn with flowers, they reveal when bent beneath the step
of the southwest breeze a thousand lowlier flowers near the roots. Here
the “wild morning-glory,” the tiny fields convolvulus, hides perilously
in the mowing; white clover and yellow five-finger are spread; the
grassflower holds up its single jewel. The swaying stems are trellises
to many a wandering vine; there are fairy arbors where a tired elf might
sleep guarded from the sun as well as in a jungle. Here, too, the wild
strawberries are ripening, not breathing yet the bouquet of July; but
the white wild strawberry, lover of the shades, has already reached its
pallid ripeness. Far beneath the moving surface of the grass ocean lies
a dim and mysterious world, lined with track and countertrack of the
beetle, caverns of the mole, and the unremaining castle of the ant. Here
the sleek woodchuck passes imperceptibly, the ingenuous cottontail finds
his brief paradise; small moths fold their wings and sleep.

Above are light, motion, and the clearest, strongest colors of the year,
untarnished by hot suns, unmixed with the later browns. The dark-eyed
yellow daisy, sun worshiper, rises amid the fresh brilliance of that
other starry-petaled weed which only sheep will eat. Celestial-blue
chicory wanders in from the roadside and will not thereafter be denied.
Yarrow with its balsam fragrance and fernlike leaf, the first delicate
wild carrot asway, goldfinch yellow of the moth mullein, cloverheads of
the Tyrian dye, sunny spray of mustard, lie scattered on the crests of
hayfield waves.

In the lowgrounds, on bowldered hillsides, far in the woods, wherever
the mowing machine will grant it a summer, spreads the exquisite wild
rose, dowered like other flowers of June—the water lily, the wild-grape
blossom, the syringa—with a perfume as wistfully sweet as the form and
hue of its chalice. That fragrance, unearthly, never fails to bring a
catch of the breath, a start of memory, when in whatever place it is
encountered again. You seldom find a wild rose withered; they cast their
petals down without a struggle, and a throng of ardent pink buds are
waiting on the bush. So it is with the water lily—when the hour strikes
she draws her green cloak once more about her and retires from the sun.

The meadow rue has shaken out veil upon floating veil in the woodlands.
The shaded knolls are sprinkled lavender with wild geraniums, willing
to be background for the May windflower or the buttercups of June. Among
the rocks, twinkling red and yellow in the sandy, sunny places, the
columbine swings her cups of honey impartially for glittering humming
bird and blunt-nosed, serious bee. Columbines are delicious—could anyone
regard them sensibly, and not as something animate and almost winged.
The claret-colored milkweed (a natural paradox) holds flowing nectar,
too, but there is a paler milkweed, so softly tinted of pink, yellow,
and white as to be no color at all, whereto the little yellow
butterflies drift to sip at dusk. The blossomed elder rests like white
fog in the hollows, scenting all the country ways and promising
elder-blossom wine, the dryad’s draught. In moist and dark
retreats—under hemlocks and at the doors of caves—the ghost lamp is
lighted. In the brightest spot it can find the small blackberry lily
paints against the ledge its speckled orange star.

It is the time of perfect ferns, uncurled quickly from the brown balls,
and making our Northern woods tropical with the sumptuous brake and
temperate imitations of the tree fern. They fill the glades and scale
the cliffs. They mingle enchantingly along creeks and at the edge of the
pond with the regal hosts of the blue flag—the lavishly sown iris of the
meadows. They are matted close in the swamps, plumy on the hilltops.
From mosses on old logs spring ferns almost as faery as the fronds of
the moss itself.

[Illustration]

Into the whispering twilight of June come many creatures to play strange
games and sing such songs as even the many-stringed orchestra of the
sunlit hayfield does not know. The swooping bat darts from thick-hung
woodbine and noiselessly crosses the garden, brushes the hollyhocks, and
speeds toward the moon. Moths, white and pallid green, wander like
spirits among the peonies. Sometimes the humming bird shakes the trumpet
vine in the dark, queerly restless, though he is Apollo’s acolyte. The
fireflies are lambently awing. The cricket’s pleading, interrupted song
is half silenced by the steady, hot throb of the locust’s. The tree
toad’s eerie note comes faint and sweet, but from what cranny of the
bark he only knows. The mother bird, guardian even in sleep, speaks
drowsily to her children. From the brooding timber the owl sends his
call of despair across acres of friendly fields placid in the dew. June
nights are wakeful. Then enchantment deepens, for there comes no pause
in darkness for the joy of earth.



CHAPTER VII.

THE MONTH OF YELLOW FLOWERS


[Illustration]

From valley after valley dies away the drowsy croon of the mowing
machine, leaving to the grasshoppers the fragrant drying hay. Now comes
July in many hues of yellow, spreading her gold beside dark, hidden
beaver backwaters and along the sun-warmed stubble, whose various,
singing life is loudest through these shimmering afternoons. Tawny
beauties are abroad in woodways and sea marshes. Where the hot air
shines and quivers over shallow pools yellow water lilies float sleepily
beneath curved canopies, while the lucent pallors of the white water
lily one by one are dimmed. Moving serenely toward its climax, the
season drinks the sun and takes the color of its slanting light.

The flame lily lifts a burnt-orange cup straight toward the sky. The
yellow meadow lily bends down over the damp mold it seeks. But both love
deep woods, and, blazing suddenly above a fern bed, the rich flowers
startle, like a butterfly of the Andes adrift in Canadian forests. They
are princesses of the tropics, incongruously banished to Northern
swamps, but scornfully at ease. The false Solomon’s-seal in proud
assemblies wears with an oddly holiday air its freckled coral beads,
always a lure to the errant cow; and jack-in-the-pulpit, having been
invested with some churchly rank which demands the red robe, is ready to
cast off his cassock of lustrous striped green for one of scarlet. The
pendent-flowered jewelweed, plant with temperament and therefore called,
too, touch-me-not, droops its dew-lined leaves along the traveled lanes,
for it is making ready small surprise packages of seed that snap
ferociously open at a touch; and thus intriguing every passer-by into
sowing its crop, it earns the name unfairly borne by the innocent yellow
toadflax—snapdragon, which snaps only at bumblebees.

Gayly in possession of the fields, black-eyed Susan, known to the farmer
as “that confounded yellow bull’s-eye,” is holding her own, prepared to
resist to the utmost the onslaught of the goldenrod, which presumes to
unfurl in summer the banners of fall. The clear yellow evening primrose,
scion of one of our very best old English families, associates
democratically with a peasant mullein stalk, canary-flecked, since they
both fancy sun and sand. Magnificent sometimes upon the sand banks rises
a clump of that copper-in-the-sunshine flower, the butterfly weed, soon
to become as fugitive as our fair, lost trailing arbutus, the cardinal,
and the fringed gentian, if its lovers do not woo it less selfishly. All
beauty refuses captivity. In upland meadows the orange hawkweed is
afoot, waving its delirious-colored “paint brush” wantonly amid the
pasture grass in the light hours, but folding it at sunset, no sipper of
the dews. Brook sunflowers have come to the edge of the stream, but not
to look into the waters; their sunward-gazing petals are delicately
scented, surpassing their sisters of the fenced garden. The half-tamed
tiger lily, haunter of deserted dooryards and faithful even to abandoned
mountain farms long since given over to the wildcat and the owl,
wanderer by dusty roadsides, offers each morning new buds, and by
twilight they have bloomed and withered. Like the May rose, this is an
elegiac flower, clinging to lost gardens when all the rest have
vanished, though patches of tansy, herb of witchlore, will show pungent
golden buttons for long years untended, let the forgotten gardener but
plant it once. How many a little cabin, built in eagerness and hope, is
remembered at last only by the tiger lily, May rose, and chimney swift!
Yellow sweet clover, catching a roothold anywhere, declaring the gravel
bed a garden, makes it happiness to breathe the entranced air. The
yellow butterflies, like leaves of autumn, tremble and flurry where the
sun-steeped field meets the sweet dark wood. Among the rocks gleam ebony
seeds of the blackberry lily, whose star of orange and umber is about
to set.

Who knows, besides the birds, that embroidered on the moss new scarlet
partridge berries are ripe, hung from the vagrant vine of pale-veined
leaf that does not fear the snow? Only a month ago in this fairy
greenery lay the furry white partridge blossom, almost invisible, but
with a fragrance like that of just-opened water lilies, and now the
green fruit colors to the Christmas hue. There are no flowers like
these. The wood fairies wear them with their gowns of spangled cobweb
trimmed with moonlight.

Bough apples, with a sweetness like that of flowers distilled by the
intense sun, show the first brown seeds. From the high-piled loads of
hay journeying slowly to the mow fall the dried buttercups and daisies
that danced in the mowing grass. Ceaseless are locusts; heavy is the air
above the garden, where phlox and strawberry shrub tinge it
Persian-sweet. Clustered blueberries are drooped upon the mountains, and
in the swamps, sometimes over quicksands, shows the darkling sheen of
the high-bush huckleberry. The odor of the balsam fir is drawn out and
spread far by the heat. Now the pursued brambles become the blackberry
patch. The waste lands shine yellow with the blooms of the marching
hardhack. It is the triumph of the sun, and his priest, the white day
lily of the cloistral leaf, worships in fragrance.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE MOOD OF AUGUST


[Illustration]

The wild cherries are no longer garnet; they have darkened to their
harvest and hang in somber ripeness from the twig. Drowsy lie the grain
fields and slowly purpling vineyards. The robin in the apple orchard is
hardly to be seen among the red-fruited boughs from which the first
Astrakhans are dropping. Days of uncertain suns and exultant growing are
over. A languorous pause has come to the year. Even the crows, flapping
away across the windy blue, caw in a sleepy fashion, not yet hoarse with
anxiety because the huskers are hurrying the corn to cover with that
penurious vigilance which a crow finds so objectionable. The rabbits,
scampering and wary in the new clover time, sit out in the hot sun a
good deal now, like convalescent patients; they will keep this up until
the faint noons of November, storing the warmth that lets them sleep,
come winter, through many a hunting party overhead. The woodpecker
knocks with less ferocity. Stately on his favorite dead branch at the
lake’s edge the blue-armored kingfisher sits to watch the ripple. Only
the grasshopper persists with tragical intensity in his futile rehearsal
for the role of humming bird. A satirical Italian compares man to the
grasshopper, but no man is capable of such devotion to baffled
aspirations. Practice in grace makes him more and more imperfect. Young
wood duck, with portentous dignity, follow their mother down the topaz
creek in single file, an attentive field class, observing the demented
lucky bugs, the red-lined lily pads of the coves, the turtles sound
asleep on the warm stones. For the wood’s feathered children this is no
month of play and slumber; it will soon be autumn, and they must attempt
the long flight.

The aspect of the buckwheat fields is August’s signet. From their
goldenrod borders reaches a world of happy whiteness, against sky the
color of the pickerelweed flower, waving softly, shadowed only by the
plumy clouds. The corn is out in topgallant, and if you look from a
mountain path into the planted valley, the écru tassels have hidden the
lustrous ribbon leaves. Cornfields are never silent. Always there is a
low swish, like that of little summer waves on a lake shore.

Lavender and purple thistles, brimmed with nectar, are besought by
imperious bees and the great blue-black butterfly, but already their
pale-lit ships drift, unreturning, under sealed orders, to some far
harbor in the port of spring. More silvery still, the milkweed is
adrift. Fleets of white butterflies rise and fall with the sunset
breeze, and slow, twilight moths come from under the brakes at the hour
of dew. White-flowered, the clematis and wild cucumber, the creamy
honeysuckle of the amorous fragrance, cover fence rail and stone wall,
give petals to the barren underbrush, twine fearlessly around barbed
wire, and festoon deserted barns. Healing herbs of long ago that once
were hung every fall from attic rafters—the “wild isep,” or mountain
mint, and the gray-blooming boneset—stand profuse but unregarded in the
lowgrounds. We buy our magic potions now. Once they were brewed above
the back log, as occasion came. In ferny shadows glimmers the ivory
Indian pipe. The wild carrot, with delicate insistence, takes the field.

Ironweed of royal purple, maroon-shot, mingles in illogical harmony with
the blue vervain and magenta trumpet-weeds. The note makers name over
for us a score of flowers that Shakespeare meant by “long purples”; but
surely he foresaw our Northern swamps in August, on fire with those
exuberant, torchlike weeds that rise tall above the bogs and earn, by
their arresting splendor against a crimson sky, the need of immortality
in song. They bloom before the katydids begin and survive the first
frost. A few violets—a seed crop, not intended for men’s gaze, and
hidden cautiously beneath the leaves, are timidly aflower. They will not
go unwed, but would crave to die obscure.

The last of the new-tasting bough apples lie in the orchard grass. The
later apple trees, like the sunning rabbit and the thought-worn crow,
wait for the harvest moon. Already the unresting twigs are preparing
their winter mail of cork and gum, which will not be unfastened by the
fiercest assaults of the sleet. Short-stemmed flowers have arisen to
clothe the sharp wheat stubble. Along the mountain road grow vagabond
peach trees, to whose fruit cling eager blue wasps, whose aromatic gum
traps many a climbing robber. Other wanderers from the tended
orchard—cruelly sour plums and rouge-cheeked pears—growing among the
cornel bushes, drop down for the field mouse and woodchuck their harvest
of the wilderness. Some of them, companioned by the faithful phlox and
sunflower, once grew in dooryards now desolate. The surpassing rose
mallow like sunrise lights the marshes.

It is not a month of growth. Fruit and grain are only expanding—weeks
ago the marvel of formation was complete. It is the time of warm,
untroubled slumber that ends with the reveille of frost.



CHAPTER IX.

SUMMER PAUSES


[Illustration]

Where the slow creek is putting out to sea, freighted with seed and wan
leaf, cardinal-flowers watch the waters reddened by their image. Old
gold and ocher, the ferns beneath move listlessly up and down with the
ripple. As spring walks first along the stream, autumn, too, comes early
to the waterside, to kindle swamp maples and give the alder colors of
onyx. The lustrous indigo of the silky cornel hangs there in profusion.
Scented white balls of the river bush have lost their golden haloes, and
even the red-grounded purple of the ironweed is turning umber. The
fruited sweetbrier shows rust. Fall’s ancient tapestry, the browns of
decay worked over with carmine, olive, maroon, and buff, is being hung,
but where the blue lobelia is clustered in the lowground summer pauses.
A parting sun catches the clear yellow of curtsying, transfigured birch
leaves, and looks back, waiting, to give September’s landscape a
hesitant farewell. It seems early to go. Pickerelweed is azure still.
Among the green bogs the fragrant lady’s-tresses wear the white timidity
of April, and the three petals of the enameled arrowhead flower are
dusty with gold. But seeds wrapped up in brown are scattering.
Remembrance yields to prophecy.

The harvesters of grain and grass have gone, and the tinted stubble is
full of crickets and monotonous cicadas. Now the crumbling furrow is
folded back behind the plow and corn knives are swinging close to the
solemn pumpkins, for in cornfield, vineyard, and orchard and in the
squirrel’s domain the last harvests of all are hastening to ripeness as
the sunset chill gives warning of a disaster foretold since August by
the katydid. The honey-colored pippins, cracked and mellow in the
brooding heat, encounter the windfalls of October’s trees—deepening red,
soft yellow, and polished green. Great, sheltering leaves are dropping
from the burdened vine. Every breath tells of fruits, drying herbs, and
the late flowers that in deserted gardens are most pungent in
September—marigolds, tansy, and the cinnamon pink. Pennyroyal and mint
are betrayed. Thorn apples, not near ripened, are knocked from the twig
by south-bound birds.

Still, among wine-colored and vermilion foliage, the acorn is green,
though flushed wintergreen berry and red-gemmed partridge vine proclaim
autumn along the forest floor. The auburn splendors are upon the sumac
and the burning-bush of old-fashioned dooryards, where, too, the smoke
tree holds its haze of seeds. Sometimes a gentian stands erect among
dead grasses—a slim señora with a fringed mantilla swirled close about
her shoulders in the chilly dusk. The closed gentian keeps its darkly
impenetrable blue beside the pink-tipped companion stalks of the
snake’s-head. Fair are the sheathed berries of the prickly ash—but
daggers to the taste. Often they grow among wild cherries, which,
juiceless now, are sweet as dried fruits from Persia. And there are the
black nannyberries with their watermelon flavor, and the first spicy
wild grapes.

Immortelles are bleached paper white on sandy hills. The nightshade
holds berries of three colors, passing from brilliant green to clouded
amber and deep crimson lake, and still upon it hangs the mysterious blue
blossom, shunned. Dogwood boughs are gorgeous as a sunset, and the thick
scarlet clusters droop from the mountain ash. The last humming birds
haunt tanned honeysuckles. Languid, but clinging yet to the sun world,
the yellow lily dies on weedy streams. If the all-conquering goldenrod
hangs the way for summer’s passing with the color of regret, it has made
every meadow El Dorado with its plumes, sprays, clumps, and spears.
Spray upon delicate spray, the fairy lavender aster has taken possession
of the roadsides and fields, and before it, far into the shade, goes the
white wood aster, mingling with the flamboyant leaves of dwarf oaks and
the glistening red seeds of the wild turnip. To make September’s pageant
the scented, pale petals of spring, the drowsy contentedness of summer’s
fulfillment and the Tyrian dyes of fall are joined.

The pallid clematis, in flower along rail fences, still hides the
blacksnake, chipmunk, and red squirrel—sometimes even the unsylphlike
woodchuck—but the marshes and the branches of the lakeside pines have
felt for days past the brief touch of many a strange bird’s feet as the
vanguard migrants seek regions of longer days. Finely dressed visitors
have come to the blue-berried juniper and the monstrous pokeweed of the
terra-cotta stem. The heron breaks his profound meditation to engulf a
meadow frog, for he will not leave until the wild geese “with mingled
sound of horn and bells” press south above the watercourses. Starling
and blue jay stay awhile to oblige with their clatter to the dawn. The
fur has thickened on the woods creatures.

The blind might hear September in the uproarious arguments of the crow,
the despondent cries of katydid, tree toad, and hoot owl. In the air is
reluctance, pause. Flaming festoons of woodbine and poison ivy begarland
the stone wall. Summer cannot wait. Elegiac purples of the aster beckon,
and the butterfly sleeps long upon the thistle, but she would not go
now, in the month of the first bittersweet and the last sweet pea.



CHAPTER X.

WHEN THE OAKS WEAR DAMSON


[Illustration]

The wild ducks are streaming south upon their journey of uncounted days.
Resting a little after sunset upon the cedar-bordered pond, they are
startled into flight again by some hound hunting in the night, and with
beating wing and eerie cry go on. The later flying geese rise clamorous
from among the cat-tails, and in silent haste the blue heron and the
pair of sad old cranes that had roosted in a dead elm alongshore take
the chill, invisible trail. When day comes in spreading fire the crows
will humorously watch these wander-birds from the forest edges. They
feel no southward impulse. Circling the clearing, they comment in uproar
upon the most advisable oak for their afternoon symposium, expand their
polished feathers, and, seated in a derisive row, caw a farewell to the
wader’s long, departing legs. Now the mountaineer’s girl, remembering
Old World peasant tales that never have been told her, hurries indoors
at nightfall from the hallooing specter of the Wild Huntsman in the
clouds, who is but the anxious leader of the flying wedge.

[Illustration]

Buckwheat stubble in October is such a crimson as no Fiesolan rose
garden ever unfurled. Gray hill slopes of the North are festal with its
color, insistent even through rains, glowing from rose madder to maroon.
Lower stretches out the pale yellow of oats stubble, which breaks into
flashing splinters under the noon sun. The wheat fields show ocher, and
darker—burnt sienna at the roots—lie the reaped fields of barley. Small
rash flowers, fancying that the ground between the grain stalks has been
cultivated especially for them, now that they see the sun freely again,
put on the petals of spring amid this fair desolation. Strawberry
blossoms, visibly fey, appear; long-stemmed and scanty-flowered fall
dandelions; an ill-timed display of April’s buttercups. The blackberry
vines go richly dyed—superb red-velvet settings for the jewels of frost.

Down in the valley, through the wood-smoke haze, move the slow apple
wagons through the lanes. This is appleland. Northern Spy and Lemon
Pippin are ripe to cracking; Baldwins will be mellow by Twelfth-night,
the russet at Easter. Gorgeous and ephemeral hangs the Maiden’s Blush.
The strawberry apples are like embers on the little trees, rubies of the
orchard. Lady Sweets and Dominies are respectfully being urged into the
cellar, and for those who will pay to learn the falseness of this
world’s shows the freight cars are receiving Ben Davises. Sheep-noses,
left often on the boughs, will hold cold nectar after the black frosts
have killed the last marigold. They lie, dull red, by the orchard fence
in the early snow, their blunt expression revealing no secrets. You have
to know about them. Nothing is more inscrutable than a sheep-nose.

Fast above the indigo crests stir the light clouds, harried by the west
wind whereon the hawk floats across the valley. In the afternoon
October’s lover takes the hill path, mica-gemmed, that leads between
birches of the translucent yellow leaf and maples still green but
wearing scarlet woodbine like a gypsy’s sash. For here the sunset
lingers till the stars, though from the valley’s goblet evening has
sipped the waning sunlight like a clear amber wine. But take at morning
the path through brown lowgrounds, or close along the wood where frost
sleeps late, for here that flower of desire, the fringed gentian, grows.
Its blue is less mysterious and deep than the closed gentian’s, and yet
how many name it the cup of autumn delight!

In the woods where leafless boughs give them blue sky at last are
revealed in quaint perfection the ferneries of the moss: palm trees
towering higher than a snail’s house, gallant green plumes with
cornelians at the tip, vast tropical forests spreading for long inches,
gray trailing rivers and orange cliffs of lichen, leagues of delicate
jungle lost under a fallen leaf. A beetle clad in shining mail presses
through the wilderness. A cobalt dragonfly lights on a shaken palm.
Pursuing a rolling hickory nut, the chipmunk brings a hurricane—but
these are elastic trees.

That same mischief maker, incurably curious, chases every stranger,
shooting along the stone wall and pausing to peer out from the crevices
with unregenerate eyes. The handsome but vain woodpecker pounds at the
grub-dowered tree he has chosen to persecute. Enormously ingenuous, the
wayside cow lumbers reproachfully out of the path, knocking the grains
of excellent make-believe coffee from the withered dock. The drumming of
a partridge in his solitary transport sounds where reddened dogwood
glorifies a clump of firs. Sometimes the kittle pheasant, hardly at
home in our woods, ducks her head and vanishes in the briers.

[Illustration]

Now the harvest moon, yellower than the hunter’s moon of ending autumn
or the strawberry moon that looks upon June’s roses, rises for husking
time. It is the last harvest; when the corn is in, winter comes. Piled,
tumbling ears, their grain set in many a curious pattern, go by to the
sorting floor and crib, with pumpkins, the satraps of New England,
perched in rickety fashion on the gleaming load. The mountain ash hangs
flamboyant clusters along the road from the field. Obedient to the
frost, the acorns are dropping, and the first chestnuts lie, polished
mahogany, in the whitened grass at sunrise. The shagbark has scattered
its largess, the butternut its dainties in their staining coats. Against
the slopes the tinted fern patches show bronze, russet, and pansy brown.
Speaking October and our own purple East, the tall asters, darkening
from lavender to the ultimate shadowy violet, join the goldenrod. Sumacs
are thronging, with their proudly blazoned crests; the haw is hung with
Chinese scarlet lanterns; sweetbrier, stem and leaf, is scented of
menthol and spices of the Orient. The oaks stand regal in umber and
damson. Who that has known October could ever forget? How quiet the
nights are after frost!



CHAPTER XI.

NOVEMBER TRAITS


[Illustration]

By the time November comes the year is used to the caprices of the sun
and no longer frantically brings out flowers for his gaze or hides them
in hurt surprise from his indifference. Now the year is resigned,
untroubled of hope, far off from impatient April with her craving and
effort. Experienced month, November waits ready to face the snows. She
wraps up the buds too warmly for sleet to pierce their overcoats,
comforts the roots in the woods with mats of wrecked leaves, spreads a
little jewelry of frost as a warning before the black frosts come, and
for all else lives in the moment. November has been through this before.
But sometimes, in a reverie, she delights the blue jays and persistent
wild asters by a day of Indian summer.

There has been a great deal of ill feeling about Indian summer, and the
kinder way is not to persecute those who have since youth believed and
will maintain forever that it comes in October. Victims of this
perverted fancy, they will go through life calling the first hot spell
after Labor Day Indian summer. Every fall one explains to them that this
brief season of perfection may come as late as Thanksgiving, but the
very next year they will be heard to murmur, under frostless skies,
“Well, we are having our Indian summer.” Let them go their indoors way,
or follow the deserting robins down to Paraguay! Indian summer could
just as well come when the oaks have turned forlorn if it wanted to. In
truth, it comes and goes, by no means exhausted in a solitary burst of
flaring sumacs, fringed gentians lighted by frost along the rims,
damson-colored alder leaves and old yellow pumpkins, perilously exposed
among forgotten furrows, now that the corn is being drawn in. It goes,
and comes again, which is its charm—the one time of year that cannot be
calendared.

There is in all the world a small, choice coterie of people who like
November and March best of the months, and it must be admitted that
these are often a bit arrogant about their refined perceptions. They
manage to look down upon the many of us who prefer the daisy fields to
the time “when hills take on the noble lines of death.” But whims of the
worshiper steal no splendor from the god. June has nothing to place
beside a moonlit November night, whose shadow dance of multiform boughs
is never seen through leaves, while shadows on the snow are hard of
outline, unlike the illusive phantoms running over autumn’s brown grass.
June has no flowers so quaint, pathetic, and austere as the trembling
weeds of November. What does the goldenrod, white with age, care for
frost? All winter it will shake out seeds unthriftily upon the snow,
standing with a calm brotherhood who have gone beyond dependence on the
day. June’s forests do not take a thousand colors under a low sun.
June’s gray dews have no magnificence of frost. June’s incorrigible
sparrows are not the brave, flitting “snowbirds” whose sins we forgive,
once we hear them chirping in a blizzard. June is a lyric, November a
hymn.

The squirrels have put away enough nuts to last through the holidays,
and after that they come out and get something else—no one ever knows
what. They have gone off with most of the acorns, leaving the fairies
their usual autumn supply of cupless saucers. No birds worth fighting
with are left, for the crows will not notice them, so they go for the
chipmunks. Sometimes at the wood’s edge a bird that came only with the
blossoms and that should long since have gone sits lost, half grotesque,
on a stark twig—spent and beautiful singer, belated by perversity or by
untimely faintness of wing! The muskrat’s winter house is ready, but no
happy quiet such as his good citizenship deserves is in store for him,
because soon the trappers will begin their patrol of the forest, and his
skin, called wild Patagonian ox, the exquisite new fur, will bring a
good price. Emotional wild geese still pass overhead in the dawns and
sunsets—the crows can scarcely conceal their amusement: “What nonsense,
to be always coming or going!” The crow does not remain in the pale
North simply out of devotion to us. He is above mortal vicissitudes;
behind his demoniac eye dwells a critique of humanity which he would not
be bothered to utter if he could. The soul of the satirist once abode in
a crow.

Forsaken nests and rattling reeds along the stream, pools in the hollows
edged with thin ice, ragged leaves clutched at by the winds, desperate
buds of hepatica and cowslip where a sloping bank catches warmth at
noon, fences stripped of vines and ghostly with dead clematis, a few
frozen apples swinging on the top boughs, trampled fields and pelting
rain—and with it all a grandeur more serene than melancholy. November’s
lovers are not perverse, declaring this. They see half-indicated colors
and hear low sounds. They love the mellow light better than the blaze of
rich July, and they are loyal to November because she speaks in quiet
tones not heard through the eagerness or snow silence of other months.
It is the sentimentalist who sees only gloom and the weariness of
departure now. November is ruddier than many a day of spring and the
sharp air forbids languor. Indian summer, her gift and our most fleeting
season, is like the autumn ecstasy of the partridge, passionate and
irresistible, but not ending in despondency because he knows it will
return, and it is like joy in that it cannot be foreseen nor detained.
The bacchanal may have dreaded November, not the dryad.



CHAPTER XII.

THE CHRISTMAS WOODS


[Illustration]

The Southern woods hang their Christmas trimmings high. Laurel and
rhododendron, mistletoe and holly, reach up against the walls of tinted
bark. Our Northern forests trail greens along the floor, and roped
ground pine, pricking through the prone leaves or a gentle snow, appears
as a procession of tiny palm trees, come North for the holiday,
surprised and lost, but determined to keep together. Under the haw
bushes and over spruce roots, wherever shade was thick last summer,
partridge vines twine red-berried wreaths and the little plants of
wintergreen flavor and of that wandering name hold their rubies low on
the mountain side. After the enduring snows have come, these glimmering
fruits will be requisitioned—dug out by the furry owners of such
plantations on days when even covered roots seem barren of sap, and nuts
should really be saved awhile longer. Clumps of sword fern, beaten down
by November rains, are round green mats; other ferns long ago were
brown. But seldom save in its sunsets and woodlands has December color.
Ponds, fanged with ice, lie sullen or stir resentfully into whitecaps.
The sky is stony and often vanishes in brooding fog. Uncloaked, but
courageous in their gray armor, the trees wait tensely for the
intolerable onslaught of the cold: the blizzard with knives of sleet.

Over the marshes at the hour of dusk when the bronze and topaz are
quenched passes the breath of foreboding. December acknowledges an
unpitying fate—anything may happen. It is not the fireside month, softly
white outdoors and candlelit within. Time of miracles, it stands
expectant, and the thronging stars of the Christmas midnight wear a
restless look. Rutted paths answer harshly to the step. Delayed snow is
a menace in the air, but lands beyond the cities would be grateful
should it hasten, bringing safety to the soil and winter peace. Yet snow
is a betrayer, a sheet of paper upon which the feet of rabbit, mink, and
fox write a guide to their dwellings and to the whole plan of their
days.

Snow for Christmas there must be—on the lighted trees indoors, on our
far-scattered, similar cards. But save as a convenience to the reindeer
and a compliment to their driver, who cannot create his stocking stock
unless he is snowbound, and who must feel sadly languid as he tears
through Florida heavens, city people would quite willingly manage with
alum. Early in school life, however, comes the dangerous knowledge that
nothing is so easy to draw as Christmas Eve: a white hillside, a path of
one unchanging curve, a steeple or a chimney with smoke, a fir tree or a
star. Thus snow eases art for the credulous who think it white.
Glittering under starlight, shadowed with purple, lemon, or deep blue
as sunset turns to evening, taking on daffodil hues at noon, snow is
harder to paint. Fretted with windy tracery and drawn out into streaming
lines where the gale races along by a fence, snow is not, on Christmas
greetings, permitted to be seen.

[Illustration]

The first snowstorm of the year should be sent from Labrador on
Christmas Eve and sprinkled impartially and ornamentally over all the
land. Then, the Yule atmosphere once provided, the distribution should
be confined to the rural clientele until the next December, for on
streets the hoar frost is indeed like ashes. But why, in somber justice,
should the far South pretend to holiday snow at all? Why not Christmas
cards pranked with live oaks, alligators, lagoons, and other beauties of
an Everglade scene—an inspiring escape from tradition and sentiment? For
the antlered steeds must prance above hibiscus flowers as well as round
the Pole. Yet it must seem dull to hang stockings by a fireplace that
needs fire merely as a decoration and never to have loved a sleigh!

Abandoned, but still no downcast company, slanting corn shocks not
honored with winter shelter stand patient sentinels in the field.
Abandoned they may seem, yet could you suddenly tip one over there would
be a startled scurrying, for these are the choice snow-time residences
of field mice, cottontails, weasels, and meadow moles—not, of course,
together in harmony, but in their separate establishments. Let the
blizzard come; it only makes warmer a house of cornstalks properly
built, which bears, nevertheless, some of the dangers of a gingerbread
home—passing cows may feel tempted.

Vermilion heraldry of the wild rose is waved undimmed. Witch-hazel with
her yellow blossoms, last flowers of the year, gazes upon the vanquished
shrubs about her with a smile. Why, she will not even sow her seed until
February! There is plenty of time for hardy petals.

Massed against the stern horizon, the forest stands an unresponsive
gray; entered, the twigs are seen sleek brown, dark red, and a fawn soft
as the tan orchid. In towns December shows the iron mood. But in the
open places, where pools of light and shadow lie, it is a water-color
month, made fine with no gorgeous velvets of autumn, but hung with
blending veils of dawn mist and of new snow, so that the subdued day
rises in flushed, drifting vapors, like April’s awakening, and when the
sun comes, pale, we wonder that there is no summons in his light.



CHAPTER XIII.

LANDSCAPES SEEN IN DREAMS


[Illustration]

The painter of landscapes seen in dreams must be a memory that knows
fantastic woods and faery seas all strange to the waking memory. Or else
the artist is only a weariness with the day just past that gives us in
sleep sight of the country which, so Mr. Maugham and other story-tellers
say, is the real home that men may go their whole lives long without
finding, because we are not always born at home, nor even brought up
there, and we might for years be homesick for a land unseen. Once
beheld, the recognition is instant, and in the foreign place begins a
_vita nuova_—relief and an intensity of living never known before the
new and familiar harbor came down to meet us at the shore. So sometimes
it is in dreams. Recurrent and vivid, a scene of sheerest unreality will
take on an earthly air, or landscapes flamboyantly exotic will hold the
peace denied by every country it has been our daily fortune to know.

Dream landscapes come back again and again, as if they waited there
forever, substantial, and we were the transient comers. Some, in ether
dreams, shrink always from the same green waves, the same black, open
mine, and two have now and then been found who saw on sleep journeys
places that words repictured curiously alike. The fantasies may be
patchwork of poems, plays, and paintings long forgotten, but when they
rise in their compelling fusion they owe no debt to the lumber attic of
the subconscious. The world they fashion is their own, and they do offer
by their ethereal pathway a compensation for the insufficiencies of
life.

There is a long, uncurving sea strand whose gray immensity of sands lies
smooth for miles along the upper beach, but is feathered near the water
by the stroking of little afterwaves, and draped unendingly with umber
bands of kelp. Here as in no place seen the seaweed laces are edged with
colors ground in unlighted depths, as if the tide cast carvings of lapis
lazuli and feldspar up with the argent pebbles, and all the drifting
algæ are incrusted with yellow shells. Shoreward the palms climb up
until they make a green horizon, and their unnatural fronds sink down
again like green chiffon that veils the entrance to the pensive forest.
Vines with scented flowers as intangible as fog creep over root and
trunk, and among them now and then with soundless foot and molten eye a
leopard winds. Perpetual sunset wanes and glows behind the palms. There
is never any wind. The violence of the ocean, the beasts, the tempest,
is held in languorous leash while the treader of the sands goes on with
unfelt steps toward rocks where the waters break importunate and sink
moaning back. They hang black above a cave, and waves come in to prowl
and snakes with scales like gems twine back and forth, glittering in the
half light, with narcotic and effortless motion, until they with the
rocks and all the scene fade.

A tiny stream, a pixy’s river, slips from beneath a bowlder in a wood
long known, and leads through thicket, glade, and clearing to a
terrifying land, desolated by ancient fires and strewn with blackened
stones and charred boughs. The place itself is athirst, and the dreamer
kneels to drink. The tiny stream is dark, like a deep water, and bitter
cold as if it flowed through ice. A staff thrust down cannot sound its
depths. A finger’s span across and bottomless! Nothing could dam its
flow. Old embers at its borders are suddenly scattered when a gleaming
hand parts the current and waves back toward the way just traced, but
the flame-blasted firs have closed behind into a forbidding wall. Other
pallid fingers rise from the portal of the abyss in warning gesture, but
the narrow gulf opens underfoot.

There is a town where gay people in white dress promenade in a plaza
shaded by orange trees, and they are always humming tunes. Little white
streets lead to shuttered houses. A glory of buginvillæa overflows
trellis and bower in splendid war with the hibiscus hedges and the
dropping yellow fruit. Down the hill and over cobblestones, pursued by
music and laughter, ministered to by odors of the lemon blossom, he whom
sleep leads here may go toward a lake of fluent amethyst. The way is
past the market place where brown women crouch by baskets of brilliant
wares and venders of glistening lizards sit drowsily bent, and then at a
step the forest dense and brooding is above him and its low boughs sweep
the ripple of the lake. Immense leaves hang like curtains, and among
them men with unquiet eyes move and hold monotoned speech while they hew
sparkling rock into monstrous shapes. They are circling round a pit.
They cast in ornaments of opal and dark gold and garlands of venomous
forest growths, gray and blood-red, tied with withered vines. Cries come
from the pit, but the chant never stops.

Marching from a stronghold far up on a mountain of cedars, men in mail
come at dusk with standards flickering crimson, fringed with gold, down
to a valley full of blossomed iris where there is a wide pool with
torches at its rim. Their flare streams out toward the circling cliffs.
Each marcher dips his silken flag into the quiet waters, and lights rise
upon the battlements above as one by one all the black plumes are lost
in the meadow’s darkness and the torches burn low and fall into the
pool.

A garden planted only with dark-red nasturtiums that lift for the
dreamer’s touch a flower’s velvet cheek lies filmed with dew and
fragrant as a noon breath from Ceylon spice groves. The miracle of color
is spread along a hillside up to a high wall of great gray stones, and
inside the gate is a house grown all over with grapevines, some borne
down by blue clusters with shadowy bloom, some by clusters of topaz and
ripe green. There is a pond among the grasses, where broad, wan lilies
float, and purple pansies border all the walks. Very slowly the paneled
door opens and the sun floods the central hall. It is hung with silver
draperies, and an old woman stands there with a candle, mumbling and
peering in a cataract of light.



CHAPTER XIV.

HIDING PLACES


[Illustration]

Childhood remembers a secret place—refuge, confessional, and couch of
dreams—where through the years that bring the first bewildering hints of
creation’s loneliness he goes to hide and to rebuild the joyous world
that every now and then is laid in flowery ruins beneath the trampling
necessities of growing up. These little nooks where we confronted so
many puzzles, wondered over incomprehension, and looked into the hard
eyes of derision, abide caressingly for memory, who flies to them still
from cities of dreadful light. The need for those small havens is
lifelong. They are rarely at hand in later days, but no locked door and
no walled chamber of the mind can take their place.

The suns of midsummer, tempered by spruce boughs, flicker and play upon
a broad-backed rock where fairy pools made by the late rain in its
crannies are frequented by waxwing and woodpecker, even though an
intruder sleeps upon that dryad’s couch. Brakes and sweet fern crowd
around it. Tasseled alders are its curtains. Here one might be forever
at rest. It is to such a place that rebel wishes turn when the early
grass and clover thicken in the pastures or when the summer birds begin
their slow recessional. The longing to lie upon a sun-warmed rock in the
woods comes back desperately in April and October to them who once have
known that place of healing and stillness.

Yellow bells from the wands of circling forsythia bushes drop into a
deep hollow lined with velvet grass. Pale butterflies of new-come May
flutter among the dandelions that bejewel this emerald cup of Gæa, and
sometimes drowsy wings are folded sleepily upon a gold rosette. Light
beams pass and repass in jubilance over the grass blades. The sun is
enchanted in the clear yellow of the flowers. Glints, movement, gayety,
and withal peace and silence were in that place of exultant color and
radiant life. It was a rare spot, and unvisited save by birds in quest
of screening branches for their nests and perhaps by some one who hid
there and always had to laugh before he left.

A round space of soft sward is guarded by strawberry shrub and by the
bridal-wreath spiræa that droops white branches lowly to the ground.
Here you could lie on a moonlit summer night, with arms outstretched and
face pressed into the soft grass, and beneath your fingers you could
feel the world turn on and on, immensely, soothingly, and everlastingly,
the only sound the bats’ wings above, or a baby robin protesting
musically at the slowness of the night’s divine pace. Here the smell of
the sod is keen and sweet. Here dew would cool a throbbing brow. Here
the undertones of earth vibrate through the body, and all its nerves,
strung to intense perception, yet would be wrapped in persuasive peace.

An old balm-o’-Gilead tree, growing on a hillside, kindly lets down one
mighty limb as pathway to a leafy hiding place incomparably remote and
dimly lighted even at noon. The branches make an armchair far back
against the trunk, and that glossy foliage, always cool, swishes like
waves at low tide. The tree has much to tell, but never an intrusive
word. You may sit there with a book or in the distracting company of
secret happiness or tears, and it will ignore you courteously, going on
about its daylong task of gathering greenness from the sun, and only
from time to time touching your hand with an inquiring leaf. Sometimes a
red squirrel looks in and departs in shocked fashion through the air.
Sometimes the sheep pass far below on their way home. But the refuge is
secure, and the balm-o’-Gilead’s cradling arms wait peacefully to hold
an asking child.

A foamy brown brook that flashes and dallies, is captured and breaks
free again, down along the mountain has been coaxed by some wood nymph
to furnish sparkling water for her round rock bath. Dutifully it pours
in every moment its curveting freshness, bringing now and then the
tribute of a laurel leaf or a petal from some flower that bent too
close. This bath is gemmed with glittering quartz and floored with red
and white pebbles. Gray mosses broider it where the sun lies, and dark
green where the water drips. The nymph has been at some pains to train
the five-finger ivy and nightshade heavily all about, and the great
brakes carpet the path her gleaming feet must tread at sunrise. Now at
noon you may come there, troubling no living drapery, and dangle your
feet over the moss into the dimpling coolness of that mountain pool. A
trout might dart in, a red lizard appear upon a ledge, but nothing else.
The wild-cherry clusters hang within reach.

In the corner of a meadow where dispassionate cows graze and snort
scornfully at the collie who comes to get them in the late afternoon
stands a great red oak that has somehow inspired the grass underneath it
to grow to tropic heights. But between two of its wandering ancient
roots is short grass, woven with canary-flowered cinquefoil vines, and
into this nook you may creep, screened by wind-ruffled blades beyond,
and taste of the white wild strawberries that reach their eerie ripeness
in the shade. A woodchuck may sit up and gaze at you across the barrier,
or a bright-eyed chipmunk scuttle out on a limb for a better view. They
leave you alone soon, and at twilight even the cow bell is quiet.

A balsam fir that grows on a bowlder leaning out halfway down a ravine
hospitably spreads its aromatic boughs flat upon the rock, after the
inviting manner of this slumber-giving Northern tree. The very breath of
the hills is shed here. It is almost dark by day, and at night the stars
show yellow above the upper firs. The wind goes murmuring between gray
walls, and the sound of the stream, far down, comes vaguely save in the
freshet month. This is the farthest hiding place of all. Only the daring
would find the perilous way to its solitude.



CHAPTER XV.

THE PLAY OF LEAVES


[Illustration]

For fox and partridge, fawn and squirrel—all the wood dwellers that run
or fly—youth, like the rest of life, is a time of stress and effort.
They have a short babyhood and little childhood. Once they begin to move
they must take up for themselves the burden of those that prey and are
preyed upon. They step from nest or den into a world in arms against
them, and while they sensibly fail to worry over this, undoubtedly it
complicates their fun. Baby foxes playing are winsome innocents, but
they have become sly and wary while lambs, colts, and calves are still
making themselves admirably ridiculous in fenced meadows. And neither
hunter, hawk, nor wildcat makes allowances for the youth and
inexperience of debutante game.

It is different with little leaves. They are as playful as kittens, with
their dances, poses, flutters, their delicate bursts of glee. Unless
involved with flowers, or with timber or real estate, they are safe, not
alone in winter babyhood, but through spring and summer, that minister
to them with baths of dew and rain and with the somnolent wine of the
sun. Only when old age has brought weariness with winds and heat, and
even with the drawing of sap, are they confronted by their enemy, frost.
You will say, caterpillars, forest fires, but they are the fault of man
and an unanticipated flaw in nature’s plan for letting the leaves off
easily. We brought foreign trees that had their own mysterious
protection at home into lands where that immunity vanished, and so the
chestnut has left us, and apple and rose are threatened by foes whom
their mother had not foreseen. Were it not for man’s mistakes the leaves
would have had an outrageously gay time by comparison with the darkling
lives of the creatures that move among them and beneath them.

All winter long in its leaf bud the baby tulip leaf drowses, curled up
tight. It is completely ready to spring full formed into the light as
soon as the frost line has been driven back by the triumphant lances of
the sun, and there it dips and laughs and nods, and sometimes goes quite
wild when a running breeze comes by at the hour wherein morning makes
opals of July’s heavy dew. The poplars, the maidenhair trees, shake out
spangles then. The maples show their silver sides. Always the forest
lives and breathes, but when the new leaves come it draws long,
shuddering breaths of delight. Whoever has dwelt with trees knows how
differently the small leaves of May talk from the draped and weighted
boughs of August.

Stepping along the rustling wood road, you can hear the reveries of the
leaves around you. They whisper and sigh in youth; they reach out to
touch the friendly stranger’s cheek. In summer they hang their patterned
curtains tenderly about him, in a silence made vocal only by a teasing
gale. In autumn they are loud beneath his tread. Snow alone can hush
them. When they are voiceless they are dead at last, but already their
successors, snugly cradled and blanketed with cotton, are being rocked
to sleep upon the twigs.

The rippling, shimmering birch upon a wind-stroked hill talks with
falling cadence, like a chant. The naiad willow, arching lowland brooks,
speaks as water, very secretly. The oak could not be silent, with his
story of many days to tell, and keeping his leaves throughout the snow
time, his speech is perpetual. Only the pines and kindred evergreens are
now and then melancholy, as if the new needles and leaves looked down
upon the carpet below, forever thickened, of those whose hold grew
faint. Leaves of cherry and apple, born into a world of tinted blossoms,
are gay to the last. The sprays of locust leaves that keep their
yellow-green until the sober tree flowers into clustered fragrance of
white, arboreal sweet peas whisper by night and day of the bats and tree
toads that dwell in their channeled and vine-loved bark. The sycamore’s
voice is cool-toned and light, but the mountain ash murmurs low, and
low the beech.

Watching leaves adrift on November winds, there comes the memory of
Stevenson’s song of another ended life—of days they “lived the better
part. April came to bloom and never dim December breathed its killing
chill.” But the tree that wore them, standing in stripped starkness that
month—if stark means strong—shall enter dazzling splendors when the days
of ice storms come. That miracle of lucent grayness, an elm in the
morning sun, when every branch and every smallest twig is cased in ice
outdoes its green enchantments of June. It is more beautiful than a tree
of coral. It is the color of pussy willows made to shine. It is as gray
as sunrise cobwebs on the grass, as starlight on dew. Its branches,
tossed by January, clash sword on delicate sword, or, left quiet, the
elm stands like a pensive dancer and swings against one another long
strands of crystal beads. And in the city little ice-sheathed maples
along an avenue, glistening under white arc lights, surpass the changing
lusters of gray enamel. Trees robed in ice are the very home of light,
of fire frozen fast in water and turned pale.

Between the going and coming of the leaves the sky is background for the
cunning lacework of twigs. Were it always May, we should never see how
finely wrought is the loom upon which those leafy embroideries are
woven. In autumn the design is more austere, the colors show more
somber, but when the March branches flush with sap, and the buds,
waking, put forth hesitant green fingers, that infinitely complex
tracery of the twigs is a spring charm as moving as the perfume of the
thorn. Outlined against a sunset, it foretells in beauty the months when
the leaf chorus will sound with the birds’.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE BROWN FRONTIER


[Illustration]

One warm March noon a hushing wing is lifted from the piping nest of
earth. Voices of forest floor, tree trunk, and lowground break forth,
never to be silent again until Thanksgiving weather finds a muted world.
Croon and murmur from the swaying grasses, brief lyrics from the top of
the thorn, a sunrise chant from the bee tree, rise and fall through all
the hours of dew and light, intense in the sun-rusted fields, climbing
to an ecstatic swan song when frosts hover close. Whoever walks through
middle realms of the woods, never lying on the mosses nor winning to
skyward branches of the trees, has not shared the earth’s most ardent
life—the pensive songs a bird sings merely for himself; his impulsive,
goalless flights; and rarer still the industry and traffic at the roots
of growth: the epic of the ground.

Cricket follows pickering frog and cicada cricket. That earliest
invisible singer asks only a little warmth in the waters of the pond to
melt the springs of frozen song. He comes with lady’s-tresses, pussy
willows, and unfurling lily pads. The cricket, sleepy-voiced in the
August afternoon, grows gay at twilight, and does his best when the
firefly and bat are abroad, darting out from the creeper-veiled bark and
setting sail upon the placid air. Locusts play persistently a G string
out of tune until, when the first goldenrod peers above the yarrow, the
overwhelming night chorus of the katydids is heard, lifted bravely again
and again within the domains of autumn, not quenched before the
bittersweet berry and the chestnut fling open portals and surrender to
the cold.

Little they know of trees who have not seen spruce and larches against
the deep October sky, looking straight up from a yielding club-moss
pillow. The outlines and colors of the quiet branches are shown most
memorably upon the vault of that arching lapis-lazuli roof, draped with
floating chiffon of the clouds. Climb up among the boughs, and the
carven quality is gone. They are dim and soft. You must go close to
earth to behold tree-top forms. The supine view is magical.

Revealed in uncanny splendor by the death of verdure, brilliant and evil
fungi come from the dark mold in fall, orange and copper, vermilion and
cinnabar, dwelling as vampires upon trees brought low. Some wear the
terra-cotta of the alert little lizards that, inquisitive as squirrels,
will lift their heads from bark or stone and give back gaze for gaze. As
leaves that came from the sap of roots go back to the roots in ashes, so
ants take care that fallen oaks shall be transformed into the soil from
which young oaks will spring, and brown dust, when they have ended, is
all that abides of the tallest tree. Among them pass the bobbing,
glistening beetles. This immortal and thronging activity of the loam
can be heard, if you bend low enough and listen long.

When the air is frost-clear fairy landscapes, hidden since spring came
with mists and masking leaves, rise with an effect of unbeheld creation.
Small pools appear, and avenues among the bracken that still wave
banners of chestnut and old gold. The lonely homes of ground-nesting
birds grow visible. Trinkets are scattered as the forest makes ready for
night—tiny cones, abandoned snail shells, and feathers which the
woodpecker and oriole dropped when they took leave. The sun dapples with
yellow the partridge haunts where once drooped films of maidenhair fern.

The home that the squirrel built for his summer idyl is shattered by the
winds aloft and falls to earth with other finished things. The feathery
wrack of cat-tails sails the waters and is hung upon the grasses of the
marsh. Fallow fields spread a tangle of livid stems, but jewels lie in
the wood road, for berries, the last harvest, are shaken down by bird
gleaners from vine and shrub, where they hang in festal plenty, so that
all hardy creatures that do not fly from winter to the South or to an
underground Nirvana may here find reward. Dark blue beads drop from the
woodbine. The rose keeps her carmine caskets, full of other roses; but
the bayberry is generous with dove-gray pebble seeds. Witch-hazel,
reversing seasons like the eccentric trout—who, after all, probably
enjoys the solitude at the stream-heads after the other fish have
gone—sends wide her mysterious fusillade, and that, too, finds its aim
in the floor of the forest.

Life more remote than that of snowfield or jungle, beneath our tread,
guarded from our glances and our hearing unless we seek it out, the
subtle cycles of the soil go on everlastingly, alien even to those who
know in intimacy the meadows and the woods. Vigorously though it toils,
there is a peace in the vision of continuity delicately given. Most of
the singers in the mowing grass live for a day, yet next morning the
song ascends unbroken. Here on the frontier between the world of the air
and that within the earth passports are granted back and forth—the red
lily is summoned from the depths; the topmost acorn, lifting its cup
toward the sky, obediently falls and passes through the dark barrier, to
return when the life-call bids. Steadily go on arrival and departure.
The gorgeous lichen is hung upon the rotting log. White rue rises and
white snows sink. Fire demons split the rocks, and after them in a
thousand years comes bloodroot. Floods rush down, and windflowers and
cities follow; and leisurely, another spring, the gates that received
them part, and a legion of new cowslips marches out.



CHAPTER XVII.

FAR ALTARS


[Illustration]

Guarded by treacherous green marshes whose murmuring rushes will close
without a change of cadence over the despair of the unwarned, in August
there lives a scene of tender and appealing beauty. The languid creek,
turned the color of iron rust with its plunder—spoil of the wild and
impractical fertility of the roots of bog and bracken—pauses in a pool
that shows now brown, now sorrel, now satiny green as the clouds wait or
hasten above and the supple rushes lean back and forth. This is the
tourney field of gorgeous dragonflies. Emerald, gold, and amethyst, they
hold resplendent play, sparkling above the water like magnets of light,
causing the placid depths to shimmer, and drawing the minnows from their
sunlit rest. Even the bird-dog does not know this pool. No messenger
more personal than a prowling shot comes there from man.

It is a sturdy conceit that wonders why Nature should spend her freshest
art on treasure scenes she decrees invisible, as if the mother of
mountains, tempests, deserts, toiled anxiously for the approval of a
particular generation, keeping one eye on Mr. Gray and the other on Mr.
Emerson in the hope that they will justify her flower blushing unseen
and her excusable rhodora. Nature is far too unmoral to bother about
rendering economists an account for her spendthrift loveliness. She
willfully deserts the imitation Sicilian garden, though she would be
well paid to stay, and rollicks in the jungle, clothing magnificently
the useless snake and leopard, dressing their breakfast in paradise
plumes, puzzling Victorian poets, and badly scaring the urban
manicurist, who returns after her first country vacation with decided
views concerning the cheerful humanity of streets compared with lodges
in the wilderness.

Were Nature careworn and personal, where should we turn for consolation
or rest? Hers is the tonic gift of a strength that, underlying all life,
does not pity or praise. As in the Cave of the Winds the most restless
spirit surely might find peace, so in the eternal changefulness of the
forest under the touch of forces fierce or serene we find the soul of
quiet because the powers at work are beyond our control, control us
utterly, hold us in an immense and soothing grasp where thought and
energy are fused and contend no more. So those who live upon the ocean
come to possess that which they will not barter for ease, and so the
timber cruiser shortens his visit to town. They would not tell what they
gain who relinquish readily the things for which others pour out their
years upon the ground that commerce may grow. It is because words are
not fashioned to speak what shapes the wind takes, the motion whereby
mists climb after the sun out of ravines, or how the tropic orchids lift
at daybreak among their fragrant shadows wings of ivory and fawn that
drooped against ferny trunks.

Many days must bloom and fade between you and the sound of human voices
before, in the wilderness, there can be surrender to the giant arms that
forever hold the body, and to the spirit, supreme and unemotional, that
has sped beyond the utmost outposts the mind ever reached. But after the
homecoming—when the confused echoes of a swarming, blind humanity are
lost in the exalted quiet of wide spaces—the vast impersonality of woods
and plains, swamps, hills, and sea, takes on a tenderness more deep than
lies in human gift and a glorious hostility that calls to combat without
grudge or motive, ennobling because it gives no mercy; challenges alike
the craft of man and the strength of the hills.

The exuberant fancy of a less earnest day made air and fire the
dwellings of creatures formed like ourselves, and, though immortal, shod
with lightning, guarded from common sight, they were afflicted with our
own vexations, our loves and hates. Nymph and naiad, faun and satyr,
were always plotting and gossiping, and little better were the
subsequent gnomes and fairies—more personal and cantankerous than
persons; resorting upon occasion to divorce; tangling skeins, and
teasing kind old horses. These were not the earth deities.

Earth deities wear no human shape. No one has looked upon the sky fire’s
face, the pinions of the gale. Enormously they have wrought, without
regard for man and sharing no passion, yet yielding sometimes their
limitless force to the mind that soared with them. In the age of winged
serpents, in the days when Assyria was mistress, they were the same,
holding an equal welcome for the boy and sage, unchanging and unresting,
free from mortal attributes of good and evil, mighty and healing as no
half-human god could be. Therefore that lavish scattering of beauty
without regard to man. Therefore the wonder given to all who dare call
to them when far from other men.

The disrepute of the pathetic fallacy has come from making the forest
sentimental. Sentient beyond all doubt its lovers know it is. Even as
water visibly rebels, warring with headlands and leaping after the wind,
and as it slumbers dimpling and caresses the swimmer, so the woodlands
are solemn and aloof, or breathe to give the open-hearted their vast
serenity. The nymph or fairy rises at the bidding of imagination, but
the everlasting deities of the elements, past our reckoning elder than
they, need no fiction. They are presences, and accord communion. They
can be gentle as the twilight call of quail. They can be indifferent and
gigantic as the prairie fire and typhoon. But they brood to-day as
yesterday over cities that they will not enter, but which sometimes they
destroy. They march above mountain ridges and loiter among flowered
laurel, impartial as nothing else is, and in their dispassionate
companionship supremely consoling, offering for playthings the ripple
and the gleam.


THE END





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