"Summer." by Susan Fenimore Cooper (1813-1894)
FRIDAY, June 1st.–Beautiful day. Pleasant walk. The whole country is green at this moment, more so than at any other period of the year. The earth is completely decked in delicate verdure of varied shades; the fruit-trees have dropped their blossoms, and the orchards and gardens are green; the forest has just put on its fresh foliage, the meadows are yet uncolored by the flowers, and the young grain-fields look grassy still. This fresh green hue of the country is very charming, and with us it is very fugitive, soon passing away into the warmer coloring of midsummer.
The cedar-birds have been very troublesome among the fruit blossoms, and they are still haunting the gardens. As they always move in flocks, except for a very short period when busy with their young, they leave their mark on every tree they attack, whether in fruit or flower. We saw them last week scattering the petals in showers, to get at the heart of the blossom, which of course destroys the young fruit. They are very much their own enemies, in this way, for no birds are greater fruit-eaters than themselves; they are even voracious feeders when they find a berry to their taste, actually destroying themselves, at times, by the numbers they swallow.
There are two closely-allied varieties of this bird, very similar in general appearance and character, one coming from the extreme north, while the other is found within the tropics. Both, however, meet on common ground in the temperate regions of our own country. The larger sort–the Bohemian wax-wing–is well known in Europe, though so irregular in its flights, that in former times its visits were looked upon by superstitious people as the forerunner of some public calamity. Until lately, this bird was supposed to be unknown in the Western Continent; but closer observation has shown that it is found here, within our own State, where it is said to be increasing. It bears a strong general resemblance to the cedar-bird, though decidedly larger, and differently marked in some points. It is supposed to breed very far north, in arctic countries. Both birds are crested, and both have a singular appendage to their wings, little red, wax-like tips at the extremity of the secondary wing-feathers. These vary in number, and are not found on all individuals, but they are quite peculiar to themselves. The habits of the two varieties are in many respects similar: they are both berry-eaters, very gregarious in their habits, and particularly affectionate in their dispositions toward one another; they crowd as near together as possible, half a dozen often sitting side by side on the same branch, caressing one another, and even feeding one another out of pure friendliness. They have been called chatterers in the Old World, but in fact they are very silent birds, though fussy and active, which perhaps made people fancy they were chatty creatures also.
The Bohemian wax-wing is rather rare, even in Europe; yet it is believed that a small flock were in our own neighborhood this spring. On two different occasions we remarked what seemed very large cedar-birds without the white line about the eye, and with a white stripe on the wings; but they were in a thicket both times, and not being at liberty to stay and watch them, it would not do to assert positively that these were the Bohemian wax-wing.
As for the cedar-birds, everybody knows them; they are common enough throughout the country, and are also abundant in Mexico. They are sold in the markets of our large towns, in the autumn and spring, for two or three cents apiece.
Saturday, 2d.–Cloudy morning, followed by a charming afternoon. Took a by-road, which led us over the hills to a wild spot, where in a distance of two or three miles there is only one inhabited house, and that stands on the border of a gloomy swamp, from which the wood has been cut away, while two or three deserted log-cabins along the road only make things look more desolate. We enjoyed the walk all the more, however, for its wild, rude character, so different from our every-day rambles. Passed several beautiful springs, in the borders of the unfenced woods, and saw several interesting birds. A handsome Clape, or golden-winged woodpecker, a pretty wood-pewee, and a very delicate little black-poll warbler, this last rare, and entirely confined to the forest; it was hopping very leisurely among the flowery branches of a wild cherry, and we had an excellent opportunity of observing it, for on that wild spot it was not on the lookout for human enemies, and we approached, unobserved, placing ourselves behind a bush. These three birds are all peculiar to our part of the world.
The rude fences about several fields in these new lands were prettily bordered with the Canadian violet, white and lilac; the chinks and hollows of several old stumps were also well garnished with these flowers; one does not often see so many together.
Upon one of these violets we found a handsome colored spider, one of the kind that live on flowers and take their color from them; but this was unusually large. Its body was of the size of a well-grown pea, and of a bright lemon color; its legs were also yellow, and altogether it was one of the most showy colored spiders we have seen in a long time. Scarlet or red ones still larger are found, however, near New York. But, in their gayest aspect, these creatures are repulsive. It gives one a chilling idea of the gloomy solitude of a prison, when we remember that spiders have actually been petted by men shut out from better companionship. They are a very common insect with us, and on that account more annoying than any other that is found here. Some of them, with great black bodies, are of a formidable size. These haunt cellars, and barns, and churches, and appear occasionally in inhabited rooms. There is a black spider of this kind, with a body said to be an inch long, and legs double that length, found in the palace of Hampton Court, in England, which, it will be remembered, belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, and these great creatures are called "Cardinals" there, being considered by some people as peculiar to that building. A huge spider, by-the-bye, with her intricate web and snares, would form no bad emblem of a courtier and diplomatist of the stamp of Cardinal Wolsey. He certainly took "hold with his hands, in kings' palaces," and did his share of mischief there.
Some two or three centuries since, when people came to this continent from the Old World in search of gold, oddly enough, it was considered a good sign of success when they met with spiders! It would be difficult to say why they cherished this fancy; but according to that old worthy, Hakluyt, when Martin Frobisher and his party landed on Cumberland Island, in quest of gold, their expectations were much increased by finding there numbers of spiders, "which, as many affirm, are signes of great store of gold." They fancied that springs also were abundant near minerals, so that we may, in this county, cherish great hopes of a mine–if we choose.
Monday, 4th.–Very warm yesterday and to-day. Thermometer 83 in the shade at noon. Walked in the evening. The corn-fields are now well garnished with scare-crows, and it is amusing to see the different devices employed for the purpose. Bits of tin hung upon upright sticks are very general; lines of white twine, crossing the field at intervals near the soil, are also much in favor, and the crows are said to be particularly shy of this sort of network; other fields are guarded by a number of little whirligig windmills. One large field that we passed evidently belonged to a man of great resources in the way of expedients; for, among a number of contrivances, no two were alike; in one spot, large as life, stood the usual man of straw, here was a tin pan on a pole, there a sheet was flapping its full breadth in the breeze, here was a straw hat on a stick, there an old flail, in one corner a broken tin Dutch oven glittered in the sunshine, and at right angles with it was a tambourine! It must needs be a bold crow that will venture to attack such a camp! 1 It is strange how soon these creatures find out where maize has been planted. For two or three weeks, at this season, they are very troublesome until the grain has outgrown its seed character, and taken root. They do not seem to attack other grains much;–at least, scare-crows are never seen in other fields.
The chipmucks, or ground squirrels, are also very mischievous in the maize-fields; and the blue-jay follows the same bad example occasionally. In autumn, the king-birds, in addition to the others, attack the ripe grain also, so that the maize has many enemies.
A thunder-shower passed over the village in the afternoon, and in the course of an hour the thermometer fell 20 degrees.
Tuesday, 5th.–Charming, cloudless day; fresh air from the west rustling among the new leaves. Stroll in the woods; flowers are blooming abundantly. The wood betony, with its yellow heads, makes quite a show this season; there is more of it than usual, and it is quite ornamental on that account.
The different varieties of Solomon's seal–all elegant plants–are now in bloom. The wise King of Israel must have set his stamp upon many roots in these western forests; for the flowers of the tribe are very numerous here, especially the false spikenard, the delicate two-leaved Solomon's seal, or bead-ruby, and the Clintonia, with yellow lily-like flowers and large blue berries. The tufted convallaria bifolia, or bead-ruby, is one of our most common wood plants, very much like that of Europe, although the flowerets are larger. It is singularly slow in the progress of its fruit. The cluster of berries forms early in June, but requires all summer to ripen; at first they are green and opaque, like wax; then, in July, they become speckled with red; in August the spots spread, and the whole berry is red; and, later still, in September, it takes a beautiful ruby color, and is nearly transparent; in which condition we have seen them as late as the first of December. The false spikenard goes through much the same process, but its fruit is more frequently blasted, and the name of bead-ruby is here confined to the smaller two-leaved plant. The pretty little lily of the valley, that charming flower of the gardens, grows wild in the Southern Alleghanies, but it is not found among the plants of these northernmost ridges of the chain.
We were walking in a beautiful grove where the wood had been only partially cleared, leaving many fine trees standing, mingled with the stumps of others long since felled. The mossy roots of these mouldering old stumps are choice places for the early flowers; one often finds the remains of an old oak, or pine, or chestnut, encircled by a beautiful border of this kind, mosses and flowers blended together in a way which art can never equal. During many successive springs, we have been in the habit of watching the flowers as they unfold upon these mossy hillocks. As usual, they are now daintily sprinkled with blossoms, for the soil is rich as possible in such spots. We amused ourselves with counting the different kinds of flowers growing on several of these little knolls. In one instance, we found fifteen different plants, besides the grasses, in a narrow circle about the swelling roots, six or eight feet in breadth; around another we counted eighteen varieties; another showed twenty-two; and a fourth had six-and-twenty kinds. The groundwork is usually made up of mosses of three or four varieties and shades, all very beautiful, and blended with these are the silvery leaves of the pearly everlastings. Violets, blue, white, and yellow, grow there, with rosy gay-wings, 1 cool-wort, fairy-cup, or mitella, low-cornel, May-star, strawberry, dew-drop, bead-ruby, squaw-vine, partridge-plant, pipsissiwa, pyrolas, loose-strife, ground-laurel, innocence, Michaelmas-daisies, of several kinds, perhaps the coptis, or gold-thread, and three or four ferns. Such are the plants often found in these wild, posy patches, about old stumps, in half-cleared woods. Of course, they are not all in flower together; but toward the prime of the spring, one may at times find nearly a dozen kinds in blossom at the same moment. These are all native plants, gathering, as if out of affection, about the roots of the fallen forest trees.
Wednesday, 6th.–Coolish this morning. Chilly people have lighted their parlor fires. Last year we had strawberries the 6th of June, but the present season is more backward. Good walking weather to-day.
It is a pleasing part of the elegance of May in a temperate climate, that few of the coarser weeds show themselves during that month; or, rather, at that early day, they do not appear in their true character. They are, of course, very troublesome to gardeners from the first, but they do not then obtrude themselves upon general attention. The season advances with great rapidity, however, and already these rude plants are beginning to show themselves in the forms by which we know them. The burdock and nettle and thistle, etc., etc., are growing too plentifully under fences, and in waste spots; chickweed and purslane, etc., spring up in the paths and beds so freely and so boldly, that it is the chief labor of the month to wage war upon their tribe.
It is remarkable that these troublesome plants have come very generally from the Old World; they do not belong here, but following the steps of the white man, they have crossed the ocean with him. A very large proportion of the most common weeds in our fields and gardens, and about our buildings, are strangers to the soil. Some of these have come from a great distance, travelling around the world. The shepherd's-purse, with others, is common in China, on the most eastern coast of Asia. One kind of mallows belongs to the East Indies; another to the coast of the Mediterranean. The Jimson weed, or Datura, is an Abyssinian plant, and the Nicandra came from Peru.
On our own soil, the amount of native weeds is small when compared with the throngs brought from the Old World. The wild cucumber, a very troublesome plant, the great white convolvulus, the dodder, the field sorrel, the pokeweed, the silkweed, with one or two plantains and thistles, of the rarer kinds, are among the most important of those whose origin is clearly settled as belonging to this continent. It is also singular that among those tribes which are of a divided nature, some being natives, others introduced, the last are generally the most numerous; for instance, the native chickweeds, and plantains, and thistles, are less common here than the European varieties.
Thursday, 7th.–Walked on Hannah's Height; gathered azaleas in abundance; they are in their prime now, and very beautiful; we have known them, however, to blossom three weeks earlier. Our Dutch ancestors used to call these flowers Pinxter Blumejies, from their being usually in bloom about Whit-Sunday; under this name, they figured annually at the great holyday of the negroes, held in old colonial times at Albany and New Amsterdam. The blacks were allowed full liberty to frolic, for several days in Whitsun-week, and they used to hold a fair, building booths, which they never failed to ornament with the Pinxter Blumejies. The flowers are very abundant this year, and their deep rose-colored clusters seem to light up the shady woods.
We were in good luck, for we found also a little troop of moccasin plants in flower; frequently, the season has passed without our seeing one, but this afternoon we gathered no less than eighteen of the purple kind, the Cypripedium acaule of botanists. The small yellow, the large yellow, and the showy lady-slipper have also been found here, but they are all becoming more rare.
Friday, 8th.–Rainy morning. It appears that yesterday we missed a fine sight: about dawn it was foggy; a large flock of wild pigeons passing over the valley, became bewildered in the mist, and actually alighted in the heart of the village, which we have never known them to do before. The trees in the churchyard, those in our own grounds, and several other gardens, were loaded with them; unfortunately, no one in the house was aware of their visit at the time. At that early hour, the whole village was quiet, and only a few persons saw them. They were not molested, and remained some little time, fluttering about the trees, or settling on them in large parties. When the fog rose, they took flight again. What a pity to have missed so unusual a sight!
Saturday, 9th.–Charming day. Pleasant row on the lake, which looks very inviting this warm weather; the views are always pleasing: hills and forest, farms and groves, encircling a beautiful sheet of water.
There is certainly no natural object, among all those which make up a landscape, winning so much upon our affection as water. It is an essential part of prospects entirely different in character. Mountains form a more striking and imposing feature, and they give to a country a character of majesty which cannot exist without them; but not even the mountains, with all their sublime prerogative, can wholly satisfy the mind, when stripped of torrent, cascade, or lake; while, on the other hand, if there be only a quiet brook running through a meadow in some familiar spot, the eye will often turn, unconsciously, in that direction, and linger with interest upon the humble stream. Observe, also, that the waters in themselves are capable of the highest degree of beauty, without the aid of any foreign element to enhance their dignity; give them full sway, let them spread themselves into their wildest expanse, let them roll into boundless seas, enfolding the earth in their embrace, with half the heavens for their canopy, and assuredly they have no need to borrow from the mountain or the forest.
Our own highland lake can lay no claim to grandeur; it has no broad expanse, and the hills about cannot boast of any great height, yet there is a harmony in the different parts of the picture which gives it much merit, and which must always excite a lively feeling of pleasure. The hills are a charming setting for the lake at their feet, neither so lofty as to belittle the sheet of water, nor so low as to be tame and commonplace; there is abundance of wood on their swelling ridges to give the charm of forest scenery, enough of tillage to add the varied interest of cultivation; the lake, with its clear, placid waters, lies gracefully beneath the mountains, flowing here into a quiet little bay, there skirting a wooded point, filling its ample basin, without encroaching on its banks by a rood of marsh or bog.
And then the village, with its buildings and gardens covering the level bank to the southward, is charmingly placed, the waters spreading before it, a ridge of hills rising on either side, this almost wholly wooded, that partly tilled, while beyond lies a background, varied by nearer and farther heights. The little town, though an important feature in the prospect, is not an obtrusive one, but quite in proportion with surrounding objects. It has a cheerful, flourishing aspect, yet rural and unambitious, not aping the bustle and ferment of cities; and certainly one may travel many a mile without finding a village more prettily set down by the water-side.
A collection of buildings always shows well rising immediately from the water; the liquid plain, in its mobile play of expression, and the massive piles of building, with the intricate medley of outline which make up the perspective of a town, when brought naturally into one view, form an admirable contrast, the mind unconsciously delighting in the opposite characters of these chief objects of the scene, each heightening, and yet relieving, the beauty of the other.
Monday, 11th.–Warm day, with soft, hazy sunshine; this sort of atmosphere is always especially fine in a hilly country, shading all the distances so beautifully, from the nearest wooded knoll, to the farthest height. Walked to the Cliffs; found the views very fine. The woods are in great beauty, the foliage very rich, without having lost, as yet, anything of its spring freshness. The hemlocks are still clearly marked with their light and darker greens of different years' growth. The old cones are hanging on the pines; many of these remain on the trees all summer. There are very few flowers in the wood where we walked, though I do not know why this should be so; it was composed of fine chestnut and beech, of primitive growth, mingled, as usual, with evergreens. The young seedling forest trees are now springing up everywhere, taking the place of the fading violets. On some of the little beeches and aspens, the growth of one or two seasons, we found the new leaves colored in tender pink, or a shade of red, which is remarkable in trees which do not show any traces of this coloring at other times; even in autumn their brightest tint is usually yellow.
The fire-flies are gleaming about the village gardens this evening–the first we have seen this year.
Tuesday, 12th.–Fine day. The roses are opening at length; they are a fortnight later than last year. This morning we were delighted to find a few May-roses in full bloom; by evening, others will have unfolded–to-morrow, many more will have opened–and in a few days, the village gardens will be thronged with thousands of these noble flowers.
How lavishly are the flowers scattered over the face of the earth! One of the most perfect and delightful works of the Creation, there is yet no other form of beauty so very common. Abounding in different climates, upon varying soils–not a few here to cheer the sad, a few there to reward the good–but countless in their throngs, infinite in their variety, the gift of measureless beneficence–wherever man may live, there grow the flowers.
Thursday, 14th.–The whip-poor-wills are now heard every evening, from some particular points on the skirts of the village. They arrive here about the first week in May, and continue their peculiar nocturnal note until towards the last of June: "most musical, most melancholy" of night-sounds known in our region. From some houses on the bank of the lake and near the river, they are heard every night; probably the sound comes over the water from the wooded hills beyond, for they are said to prefer high and dry situations. Once in a while, but not very frequently, they come into the village, and we have heard them when they must have been in our own grounds. It is only natural, perhaps, that some lingering shade of superstition should be connected with this singular bird–so often heard, so seldom seen; thousands of men and women in this part of the world have listened to the soft wailing whistle, from childhood to old age, through every summer of a long life, without having once laid their eyes on the bird. Until quite lately, almost every one believed the night-hawk and the whip-poor-will to be the same, merely because the first is often seen by daylight, while the last, which much resembles it, is wholly nocturnal, and only known to those who search for him in the shady woods by day, or meet him by moonlight at night. These birds will soon cease serenading; after the third week in June, they are rarely heard, in which respect they resemble the nightingale, who sings only for a few weeks in May and June; early in September, they go to the southward. Forty years since, they are said to have been much more numerous here than they are to-day.
Friday, 15th.–Very warm; various sorts of weather in the course of the day. Cloudy morning, brilliant mid-day, and in the afternoon a sudden shower. It rained heavily, with thunder and lightning, for an hour, then cleared again, and we had a charming evening.
Saw a number of humming-birds–they are particularly partial to the evening hours. One is sure to find them now towards sunset, fluttering about their favorite plants; often there are several together among the flowers of the same bush, betraying themselves, though unseen, by the trembling of the leaves and blossoms. They are extremely fond of the Missouri currant–of all the early flowers, it is the greatest favorite with them; they are fond of the lilacs also, but do not care much for the syringa; to the columbine they are partial, to the bee larkspur also, with the wild bergamot or Oswego tea, the speckled jewels, scarlet trumpet-flower, red-clover, honeysuckle, and the lychnis tribe. There is something in the form of these tube-shape blossoms, whether small or great, which suits their long, slender bills, and possibly, for the same reason, the bees cannot find such easy access to the honey, and leave more in these than in open flowers. To the lily the humming-bird only pays a passing compliment, and seems to prefer the great tiger-lily to the other varieties; the rose he seldom visits; he will leave these stately blossoms any day for a head of the common red clover, in which he especially delights. Often of a summer's evening have we watched the humming-birds flitting about the meadows, passing from one tuft of clover to another, then resting a moment on a tall spear of timothy grass, then off again to fresh clover, scarcely touching the other flowers, and continuing frequently in the same field until the very latest twilight.
It is often supposed that our little friend seeks only the most fragrant flowers; the blossoms on the Western Prairies, those of Wisconsin at least, and probably others also, are said to have but little perfume, and it is observed that the humming-bird is a stranger there, albeit those wilds are a perfect sea of flowers during the spring and summer months. But the amount of honey in a plant has nothing to do with its perfume, for we daily see the humming-birds neglecting the rose and the white lily, while many of their most favorite flowers, such as the scarlet honeysuckle, the columbine, the trumpet flower, and speckled jewels, have no perfume at all. Other pet blossoms of theirs, however, are very fragrant, as the highly-scented Missouri currant, for instance, and the red clover, but their object seems to be quite independent of this particular quality in a plant.
The fancy these little creatures have for perching on a dead twig is very marked; you seldom see them alight elsewhere, and the fact that a leafless branch projects from a bush, seems enough to invite them to rest; it was but yesterday we saw two males sitting upon the same dead branch of a honeysuckle beneath the window. And last summer, there chanced to be a little dead twig, at the highest point of a locust-tree, in sight from the house, which was a favorite perching spot of theirs for some weeks; possibly it was the same bird, or the same pair, who frequented it, but scarcely a day passed without a tiny little creature of the tribe being frequently seen there. Perhaps there may have been a nest close at hand, but they build so cunningly, making their nests look so much like a common bunch of moss or lichen, that they are seldom discovered, although they often build about gardens, and usually at no great height; we have known a nest found in a lilac-bush, and sometimes they are even satisfied with a tall, coarse weed; in the woods, they are said to prefer a white oak sapling, seldom building, however, more than ten feet from the ground.
Though so diminutive, they are bold and fearless, making very good battle when necessary, and going about generally in a very careless, confident way. They fly into houses more frequently than any other bird, sometimes attracted by plants or flowers within, often apparently by accident, or for the purpose of exploring. The country people have a saying that when a humming-bird flies in at a window he brings a love message for some one in the house; a pretty fancy, certainly, for Cupid himself could not have desired a daintier avant courier. Unfortunately, this trick of flying in at the windows is often a very serious and fatal one to the poor little creatures themselves, whatever felicity it may bring to the Romeo and Juliet of the neighborhood; for they usually quiver about against the ceiling until quite stunned and exhausted, and unless they are caught and set at liberty, soon destroy themselves in this way. We have repeatedly known them found dead in rooms little used, that had been opened to air, and which they had entered unperceived.
They are not so very delicate in constitution as one might suppose. Mr. Wilson remarks that they are much more numerous in this country than the common wren is in England. It is well known that we have but one variety in this part of the continent; there is another in Florida, and there are several more on the Pacific coast, one reaching as far north as Nootka Sound. They frequently appear, with us, before the chimney-swallows, and I have seen one about our own flower-borders, during a mild autumn, as late as the first of December; they usually disappear, however, much earlier, remaining, perhaps, a month or six weeks later than the swallows. They winter in the tropics, and are said to make their long journeys in pairs, which looks as though they mated for life, like some other birds.
Saturday, 16th.–Warm; thermometer 79 in the shade at five o'clock. Long drive down the valley toward evening. The farms are looking very pleasant: the young grain waving in the breeze is headed, but not yet colored; the meadows are becoming tinged with their own proper blossoms, the red sorrel flowers, golden buttercups, daisies, and clover appearing successively, until the whole field is gay. The crops generally look very well, promising a good return to the husbandman for his labor. In low grounds, about the brooks, the purple flags are now blooming in profusion, and the thorn-trees are still in flower on many banks.
There is a tradition that during the war of the Revolution the long spines of the thorn were occasionally used by the American women for pins, none of which were manufactured in the country; probably it was the cockspur variety, which bears the longest and most slender spines, and is now in flower. The peculiar condition of the colonies rendered privations of this kind a great additional evil of that memorable struggle; almost everything in the shape of the necessaries and luxuries of life came then from the Old World. Several native plants were prepared at that time to take the place of the prohibited souchong and bohea; the "New Jersey tea," for instance, a pretty shrub, and the "Labrador tea," a low evergreen with handsome white flowers. Certainly it was only fair that the women should have their share of privations in the shape of pins and tea, when Washington and his brave army were half clad, half armed, half starved, and never paid; the soldiers of that remarkable war, both officers and men, if not literally using the spines of the thorn-tree, like their wives, often went about looking something like Spenser's picture of Despair:
"His garments naught but many ragged clouts,
With thorns together pinned, and patched was."
In some farm-houses where much knitting and spinning is going on, one occasionally sees a leafless branch of a thorn-bush hanging in a corner, with a ball of yarn on each spine: quite a pretty rustic device. We saw one the other day which we admired very much.
Monday, 18th.–Lovely day; thermometer 82 in the shade at dinner-time. The wild roses are in flower. We have them of three varieties: the early rose, with reddish branches, which seldom blooms here until the first week in June; the low rose, with a few large flowers; and the tall, many-flowered swamp rose, blooming late in the summer. They are quite common about us, and although the humblest of their tribe, they have a grace all their own; there is, indeed, a peculiar modesty about the wild rose which that of the gardens does not always possess.
We are very fortunate in having the wild roses about our own haunts; they are not found everywhere. M. de Humboldt mentions that in his travels in South America he never saw one, even in the higher and cooler regions, where other brambles and plants of a temperate climate were common.
Tuesday, 19th.–Fine strawberries from the fields this evening for tea. Warm, bright weather; thermometer 85–lovely evening, but too warm for much exercise. Strolled in the lane, enjoying the fragrant meadows, and the waving corn-fields on the skirts of the village.
A meadow near at hand would seem to give more pleasure than a corn-field. Grain, to appear to full advantage, should be seen at a little distance, where one may note the changes in its coloring with the advancing season, where one may enjoy the play of light when the summer clouds throw their shadows there, or the breezes chase one another over the waving lawn. It is like a piece of shaded silk which the salesman throws off a little, that you may better appreciate the effect. But a meadow is a delicate embroidery in colors, which you must examine closely to understand all its merits; the nearer you are, the better. One must bend over the grass to find the blue violet in May, the red strawberry in June; one should be close at hand to mark the first appearance of the simple field-blossoms, clover, red and white, buttercup and daisy, with the later lily, and primrose, and meadow-tuft; one should be nigh to breathe the sweet and fresh perfume, which increases daily until the mowers come with their scythes.
Of some hundred and fifty grasses, about one-fifth of the number seem of foreign origin; but if we consider their importance to the farmer, and the extent of cultivated soil they now cover, we must take a different view of them; probably in this sense the native grasses scarcely rank more than as one to four in our meadows and cultivated lands.
The clovers, though thoroughly naturalized, are most of them imported plants: the downy "rabbit-foot," or "stone-clover," the common red variety; the "zig-zag," and the "hop clovers" are all introduced. The question regarding the white clover has not been clearly settled, but it is usually considered, I believe, as indigenous, though some botanists mark the point as doubtful. The buffalo clover found in the western part of this State, and common still farther westward, is the only undoubtedly native variety we possess.
Wednesday, 20th.–Very warm day; thermometer 93 in the shade at three o'clock. The locust flowers are perfuming the village; one perceives their fragrance within doors, throughout the house.
Thursday, 21th.–Extremely warm; thermometer 92. Happily, there have been pleasant western breezes through these warm days. Strolled about the village in the evening; saw an old neighbor of threescore and fifteen at work in his garden, hoeing his dozen corn-hills, and weeding his cucumber vines.
One always loves a garden; labor wears its pleasantest aspect there. From the first days of spring, to latest autumn, we move about among growing plants, gay flowers, and cheerful fruits; and there is some pretty change to note by the light of every sun. Even the narrowest cottage patch looks pleasant to those who come and go along the highway; it is well to stop now and then when walking, and look over the paling of such little gardens, and note what is going on there.
Flowers are seldom forgotten in the cottage garden; the widest walk is lined with them, and there are others beneath the low windows of the house. You have rosebushes, sun-flowers, and holly-hocks, as a matter of course; generally a cluster of pinks, bachelor's buttons, also, and a sweet pea, which is a great favorite; plenty of marigolds, a few poppies, large purple china asters, and a tuft of the lilac phlox. Such are the blossoms to be seen before most doors; and each is pretty in its own time and place; one has a long-standing regard for them all, including the homely sunflower, which we should be sorry to miss from its old haunts. Then the scarlet flowering bean, so intimately connected with childish recollections of the hero Jack and his wonderful adventure, may still be seen flourishing in the cottage garden, and it would seem to have fallen from a pod of the identical plant celebrated in nursery rhyme, for it has a great inclination for climbing, which is generally encouraged by training it over a window.
The ambitious bean seldom reaches higher than a low roof, nor is its growth always sufficiently luxuriant to shade the window, for it often shares that task with a morning-glory. The plan of these leafy blinds is a pretty one, but they are too often trained in stiff and straight lines; a poetical idea, tirée à quatre épingles. Frequently we see a cottage with a door in the centre, and one window on each side, and vines trained over the sashes in this way, which gives it an odd look, like a house in green spectacles, as it were. When hop-vines are used for screening the windows, which is often the case, the plant is not so easily restrained; and throwing out its luxuriant branches right and left, it takes care of itself.
Currants are almost the only fruit seen in the smaller gardens of our neighborhood; even gooseberries are not general; both raspberries and strawberries grow wild here in such profusion that few persons cultivate them. Currants, by-the-bye, both black and red, are also native plants; the black currant is by no means rare in this State, and very much resembles the varieties cultivated in gardens; the wild red currant is chiefly confined to the northern parts of the country, and it is precisely like that which we cultivate. Both purple and green gooseberries are also found wild in our woods.
Friday, 22d.–Still very warm; thermometer 90 in the shade. Although the heat has been greater and more prolonged in this part of the country, still there is a sort of corrective in our highland air which is a great relief; the same degree of the thermometer produces much more suffering in the lower counties, particularly in the towns. Extreme lassitude from the heat is seldom felt here; and our nights are almost always comparatively cool, which is a very great advantage.
Saturday, 23d.–Bright, warm day; thermometer 89. Fine air from the west.
Pleasant walk in the evening. Met a party of children coming from the woods with wild flowers. In May or June, one often meets little people bringing home flowers or berries from the hills; and if you stop to chat with them, they generally offer you a share of their nosegay or their partridge-berries; they are as fond of these last as the birds, and they eat the young aromatic leaves also. The first trip to the woods, after the snow has gone, is generally in quest of these berries; a week or two later, they go upon the hills for our earliest flowers–ground-laurel and squirrel-cups; a little later, they gather violets, and then again, the azalea, or "wild honeysuckle," as they call it, to which they are very partial.
But, though pleased with the flowers, the little creatures seldom know their names. This seems a pity; but we have often asked them what they called this or that blossom in their hands, and they seldom could give an answer, unless it happened to be a rose, perhaps, or a violet, or something of that sort, familiar to every one. But their elders are generally quite as ignorant as themselves in this way; frequently, when we first made acquaintance with the flowers of the neighborhood, we asked grown persons–learned, perhaps, in many matters–the common names of plants they must have seen all their lives, and we found they were no wiser than the children or ourselves. It is really surprising how little the country people know on such subjects. Farmers, and their wives, who have lived a long life in the fields, can tell you nothing on these matters. The men are even at fault among the trees on their own farms, if these are at all out of the common way; and as for the smaller native plants, they know less about them than Buck and Brindle, their own oxen. Like the children, they sometimes pick a pretty flower to bring home, but they have no name for it. The women have some little acquaintance with herbs and simples, but even in such cases they frequently make strange mistakes; they also are attracted by the wild flowers; they gather them perhaps, but they cannot name them.
It is true, the common names of our wild flowers are at best in a very unsatisfactory state. Some are miscalled after European plants of very different characters. Very many have one name here, another a few miles off, and others again have actually, as yet, no English names whatever. They are all found in botanical works under long, clumsy, Latin appellations, very little fitted for every-day uses, just like the plants of our gardens, half of which are only known by long-winded Latin polysyllables, which timid people are afraid to pronounce. But, annoying as this is in the garden, it is still worse in the fields. What has a dead language to do on every-day occasions with the living blossoms of the hour? Why should a strange tongue sputter its uncouth, compound syllables upon the simple weeds by the wayside? If these hard words were confined to science and big books, one would not quarrel with the roughest and most pompous of them all; but this is so far from being the case, that the evil is spreading all over the woods and meadows, until it actually perverts our common speech, and libels the helpless blossoms, turning them into so many précieuses ridicules. Happy is it for the rose that she was named so long ago; if she had chanced to live until our day, by some prairie stream, or on some remote ocean island, she would most assuredly have been called Tom, Dick, or Harry, in Greek or Latin.
Before people were overflowing with science, at a time when there was simplicity left in the world, the flowers received much better treatment in this way. Pretty, natural names were given them in olden times, as though they had been called over by some rural party–cherry-cheeked maidens, and merry-hearted lads–gone a-Maying, of a pleasant spring morning. Many of these old names were thoroughly homely and rustic, such as the ox-eye, crowfoot, cowslip, buttercup, pudding-grass, which grew in every meadow; then there was the harebell, which loved to hang its light blue bells about the haunts of the timid hare; the larkspur; the bind-weed winding about shrubs and bushes; the honeysuckle, which every child has stolen many a time from the bees; spicy gilliflowers, a corruption of July-flowers, from the month in which they blossomed; daffadowndillies, a puzzle for etymologists; pennyroyal; holly-hock, or holy-oak, as it was sometimes written; paigle, another name for cowslips; primrose, from the early season when the flower blooms; carnation, or "coronation," from the custom of wearing them in wreaths. These last were also called sops-in-wine, from their being thrown into wine to improve its flavor, a custom which seems to have formerly prevailed in England; the old Greeks had a practice of the same kind, for l'Abbé Barthelemi tells us that they threw roses and violets into their wine-casks, for the purpose of flavoring their wines. May not this ancient custom prove the origin of the common French phrase–le bouquet du vin?
There were other names, again, given to the plants in those good old times, showing a touch of quaint humor–like Bouncing-Bet, Ragged-Robin, bachelor's-button, snap-dragon, foxglove, monks-hood. Others bore names which showed there had been lovers in the fields–like Sweet-Cicely, Sweet-William, heart's-ease, pansies, true-love. Even mere personal names, such as are so often given to-day, were far better managed then; as for instance, Herb-Robert, Good King-Henry, Marietts, Bartram, Angelica. Others, again, were imaginative or fanciful–as morning-glory, night-shade, flag, loose-strife, wake-robin, simpler's-joy, thrift, speedwell, traveller's-joy, snow-drop winter's pale foundling, wayfaring-tree, eye-bright, shepherd's-purse, pink meaning eye, in Dutch, like the French oeillet; marigold, lady's-smock,–from the white leaves of these flowers blooming in the grass, like bleaching linen; the wall-flower, which loved the shade of knightly banners and pennons, and still clings faithfully to falling ruins; king's-spears, flower-gentle, goldilocks, yellow-golds, the flower de luce, flower of light, which great painters have placed in the hands of saintly personages in many a noble work of art; the sweet-daisy or day's-eye, the "eye of day," as Chaucer has called it.
After such names as these, ought we not to be thoroughly ashamed of appellations like Batschia, Schoberia, Buchnera, Goodyera, Brugmannsia, Heuchera, Scheuzeria, Schizanthus, and as many more to match as you please? Names remarkably well adapted to crocodiles, and rattlesnakes, and scorpions, but little suited, one would think, to the flowers gentle of the field.
There is a modest little blossom known to all the world as having been highly honored in different countries. La Marguerite was probably first named in the chansons of some lover troubadour, some noble brother-in-arms, perhaps, of him who sang Blanche of Castile so sweetly:–
"Las! si j'avais pouvoir d'oublier
Sa beauté, son bien-dire
Et son très-doux regarder,
Finirait mon martyre!"
We may well believe it to have been some such knightly poet who first felt the charm of that simple flower, and blending its name and image with that of his lady-love, sang: "Si douce est la Marguerite! " So long as knights wore arms, and couched lances in behalf of ladies fair, so long was la Marguerite a favored flower of chivalry, honored by all preux chevaliers; knight and squire bore its fame over the sea to merry England, over Alps and Pyrenees also; in Spain it is still la Margarita; in Italy, la Margherettina. The Italians, by-the-bye, have also a pretty rustic name of their own for it, la pratellina, the little fielding. And now, when the old towers of feudal castles are falling to the ground, when even the monumental statues of knight and dame are crumbling into dust where they lie in the churches, now at this very day, you may still find the name of la Marguerite upon the lips of the peasant girls of France; you may see them measuring the love of their swains by the petals of these flowers, pulling them, one after another, and repeating, as each falls, un peu, beaucoup, passionément, pas du tout; the last leaflet deciding the all-important question by the word that accompanies it; alas! that it must sometimes prove pas du tout! Oddly enough, in Germany, the land of sentiment and Vergiessmeinnicht, this flower of love and chivalry has been degraded into–shall we say it,–Gänseblume,–Goose-blossom! Such, at least, is one of its names; we hasten, however, to call it, with others, Masliebe, or love-measure: probably from the same fancy of pulling the petals to try lovers' hearts by. In England, the Saxon daisy has always been a great favorite with rural poets and country-folk, independently of its knightly honors, as la Marguerite. Chaucer, as we all know, delighted in it; he rose before the sun, he went afield, he threw himself on the ground to watch the daisy–
"To seen this flour so yong, so fresh of hew,
— — till it unclosed was
Upon the smal, soft, swete gras."
Now can one believe that if the daisy, or the Marguerite, had been called Caractacussia, or Chlodovigia, it would have been sung by knightly troubadours and minstrels, in every corner of feudal Europe? Can you fancy this flower, "so yong, so fresh of hew," to have delighted Chaucer, under the title of Sirhumphreydavya, or Sirwilliamherschellia, or Doctorjohnsonia ? Can you imagine the gentle Emilie, in the garden gathering flowers–
"To make a sotel garland for her hed,
While as an angel, hevonlich, she song:"
Can you imagine this gentle creature, or any other, of whom it might be said–
"Her cheare was simple as bird in bower,Can you picture to yourself such maidens, weaving in their golden tresses Symphoricarpus vulgaris, Tricochloa, Tradescantia, Calopogon ? Or conceive for a moment some Perdita of the present day, singing in her sweetest tones–
As white as lily, or rose in rise:"
"Here's flowers for you–Fancy her calling for fragrant blossoms to bestow on her young maiden friends: "Spargonophorus, Rhododendron, Sabbatia, Schizea, Schollera, Schistidium, Waldsteinia, and the tall Vernonia Noveborences," &c., &c. Do you suppose that if she had gone on in that style, Florizel would have whispered: "When you speak, sweet, I'd have you do it ever?" No, indeed! he would have stopped his ears, and turned to Mopsa and Dorcas. Fancy poor Ophelia prattling to Laertes about the wreath she had woven; instead of her "rosemary," and "pansies," and "herb-o'grace," hear her discourse about "Plantanthera Blepharoglottis, or Psycodes, Ageratum, Syntheris, Houghtoniana, Banksia, and Jeffersonia." Could her brother in that case have possibly called her "O rose of May, dear maid, kind sister, sweet Ophelia?" No, indeed! And we may rest assured, that if the daisy, the douce Marguerite, had borne any one of these names, Chaucer would have snapped his fingers at it. We may feel confident that Shakespeare would then have showed it no mercy; all his fairies would have hooted at it; he would have tossed it to Sycorax and Caliban; he would not have let either Perdita or Ophelia touch it, nor Miranda, with her très doux regarder, look at it once.
Pyxidanthera, Rudbeckia, Sclerolepsis,
Escholtzia that goes to bed with the sun"?
Neither daisy, nor cowslip, nor snow-drop is found among the fields of the New World, but blossoms just as sweet and pretty are not wanting here, and it is really a crying shame to misname them. Unhappily, a large number of our plants are new discoveries–new, at least, when compared with Chaucer's daisy, Spenser's coronation flower, or Shakspeare's "pansies and herb-o'grace"–and having been first gathered since the days of Linnæus, as specimens, their names tell far more of the musty hortus siccus, than of the gay and fragrant May-pole. But if we wish those who come after us to take a natural, unaffected pleasure in flowers, we should have names for the blossoms that mothers and nurses can teach children before they are "in Botany;" if we wish that American poets should sing our native flowers as sweetly and as simply as the daisy, and violets, and celandine have been sung from the time of Chaucer or Herrick to that of Burns and Wordsworth, we must look to it that they have natural, pleasing names.
Tuesday, 26th.–Fine day; soft breeze from the north, the wind much warmer than usual from that quarter. Thermometer 78. Walked in the woods. The dogmackie is in flower, and being so common, its white blossoms look very cheerful in the woods. These flowering shrubs, which live and bloom in shady groves, are scarcely ever touched by the sunbeams; but they are none the less beautiful for the subdued light which plays about them. The dogmackie, like others of the same family, is also called arrow-wood; probably their branches and stems have been employed, at some period or other in the history of arms, for making arrows. We have never heard whether the Indians used the wood in this way.
It was a pretty sight, coming home, to see the women and children scattered about the meadows, gathering wild strawberries. This delightful fruit is very abundant here, growing everywhere, in the woods, along the roadsides, and in every meadow. Happily for us, the wild strawberries rather increase than diminish in cultivated lands; they are even more common among the foreign grasses of the meadows than within the woods. The two varieties marked by botanists are both found about our lake.
Wednesday, 27th.–Charming day; thermometer 80. Toward sunset strolled in the lane.
The fields which border this quiet bit of road are among the oldest in our neighborhood, belonging to one of the first farms cleared near the village; they are in fine order, and to look at them, one might readily believe these lands had been under cultivation for ages. But such is already very much the character of the whole valley; a stranger moving along the highway looks in vain for any striking signs of a new country; as he passes from farm to farm in unbroken succession, the aspect of the whole region is smiling and fruitful. Probably there is no part of the earth, within the limits of a temperate climate, which has taken the aspect of an old country so soon as our native land; very much is due, in this respect, to the advanced state of civilization in the present age, much to the active, intelligent character of the people, and something, also, to the natural features of the country itself. There are no barren tracts in our midst, no deserts which defy cultivation; even our mountains are easily tilled–arable, many of them, to their very summits–while the most sterile among them are more or less clothed with vegetation in their natural state. Altogether, circumstances have been very much in our favor.
While observing, this afternoon, the smooth fields about us, it was easy, within the few miles of country in sight at the moment, to pick out parcels of land in widely different conditions, and we amused ourselves by following upon the hillsides the steps of the husbandman, from the first rude clearing, through every successive stage of tillage, all within range of the eye at the same instant. Yonder, for instance, appeared an opening in the forest, marking a new clearing still in the rudest state, black with charred stumps and rubbish; it was only last winter that the timber was felled on that spot, and the soil was first opened to the sunshine, after having been shaded by the old woods for more ages than one can tell. Here, again, on a nearer ridge, lay a spot not only cleared, but fenced, preparatory to being tilled; the decayed trunks and scattered rubbish having been collected in heaps and burnt. Probably that spot will soon be ploughed, but it frequently happens that land is cleared of the wood, and then left in a rude state, as wild pasture ground; an indifferent sort of husbandry this, in which neither the soil nor the wood receives any attention; but there is more land about us in this condition than one would suppose. The broad hillside facing the lane in which we were walking, though cleared perhaps thirty years since, has continued untilled to the present hour. In another direction, again, lies a field of new land, ploughed and seeded for the first time within the last few weeks; the young maize plants, just shooting out their glossy leaves, are the first crop ever raised there, and when harvested, the grain will prove the first fruits the earth has ever yielded to man from that soil, after lying fallow for thousands of seasons. Many other fields in sight have just gone through the usual rotation of crops, showing what the soil can do in various ways; while the farm before us has been under cultivation from the earliest history of the village, yielding every season, for the last half century, its share of grass and grain. To one familiar with the country, there is a certain pleasure in thus beholding the agricultural history of the neighborhood unfolding before one, following upon the farms in sight these progressive steps in cultivation.
The pine stumps are probably the only mark of a new country which would be observed by a stranger. With us, they take the place of rocks, which are not common; they keep possession of the ground a long while; some of those about us are known to have stood more than sixty years, or from the first settlement of the country, and how much longer they will last, time alone can tell. In the first years of cultivation, they are a very great blemish, but after a while, when most of them have been burnt or uprooted, a gray stump here and there, among the grass of a smooth field, does not look so very much amiss, reminding one, as it does, of the brief history of the country. Possibly there may be something of partiality in this opinion, just as some lovers have been found to admire a freckled face, because the rosy cheek of their sweetheart was mottled with brown freckles; people generally may not take the same view of the matter. When uprooted, the stumps are drawn together in heaps and burnt, or frequently they are turned to account as fences, being placed on end, side by side, their roots interlocking, and a more wild and formidable barrier about a quiet field cannot well be imagined. These rude fences are quite common in our neighborhood, and being peculiar one rather likes them; it is said that they last much longer than other wooden fences, remaining in good condition for sixty years.
But there are softer touches also, telling the same story of recent cultivation. It frequently happens, that walking about our farms, among rich fields, smooth and well worked, one comes to a low bank, or some little nook, a strip of land never yet cultivated, though surrounded on all sides by ripening crops of eastern grains and grasses. One always knows such places by the pretty native plants growing there. It was but the other day we paused to observe a spot of this kind in a fine meadow, near the village, neat and smooth, as though worked from the days of Adam. A path made by the workmen and cattle crosses the field, and one treads at every step upon plantain, that regular path-weed of the Old World; following this track, we come to a little runnel, which is dry and grassy now, though doubtless at one time the bed of a considerable spring; the banks are several feet high, and it is filled with native plants; on one side stands a thorn-tree, whose morning shadow falls upon grasses and clovers brought from beyond the seas, while in the afternoon, it lies on gyromias and moose-flowers, sarsaparillas and cahoshes, which bloomed here for ages, when the eye of the red man alone beheld them. Even within the limits of the village spots may still be found on the bank of the river, which are yet unbroken by the plough, where the trailing arbutus, and squirrel-cups, and May-wings tell us so every spring; in older regions, these children of the forest would long since have vanished from all the meadows and villages, for the plough would have passed a thousand times over every rood of such ground.
Thursday, 28th.–Thunder shower about sunrise; it continued raining until the afternoon. The shower was much needed, and every one is rejoicing over the plentiful supply.
Walked in the afternoon, though the sky was still cloudy and threatening. Obliged to follow the highway, for the woods are damp and dripping, and the grass matted after the heavy rain. But our walk proved very pleasant. It is not always those who climb in search of a commanding position, nor those who diverge from the beaten track at the beck of truant fancy, who meet with the most enjoyment. The views beneath a sober sky were still beautiful. The village lay reflected in the clear, gray waters, as though it had nothing else to do this idle afternoon but to smile upon its own image in the lake; while the valley beyond, the upland farms of Highborough, opposite, and the wooded hills above us, were all rich in the luxuriant greens and showery freshness of June. Many crows were stirring; some passing over us with their heavy flight, while others were perched on the blasted hemlocks just within the verge of the wood. They are very partial to this eastern hill; it is a favorite haunt of theirs at all seasons. Many of the lesser birds were also flitting about, very busy, and very musical after the rainy morning; they make great havoc among the worms and insects at such times, and one fancies that they sing more sweetly of a still evening, after a showery day, than at other moments. Some of the goldfinches, wrens, song-sparrows, and blue-birds, seemed to surpass themselves as they sat perched on the rails of the fences, or upon the weeds by the roadside.
There was scarcely a breath of air stirring. The woods lay in calm repose after the grateful shower, and large rain-drops were gathered in clusters on the plants. The leaves of various kinds receive the water very differently: some are completely bathed, showing a smooth surface of varnished green from stem to point, like the lilac of the garden, for instance; on others, like the syringa, the fluid lies in flattened transparent drops, taking an emerald color from the leaf on which they rest; while the rose and the honeysuckle wear those spherical diamond-like drops, sung by poets and sipped by fairies. The clover also, rose among the grasses, wears her crystals as prettily as the queen of the garden. Of course, it is the different texture of the leaves which produces this very pleasing effect.
Friday, 29th.–Very pleasant. Sunshine, with a warm mist on the hills; most beautiful effects of light and shade playing about the valley.
The sweet-briar is now in full blossom. It is one of the pleasantest shrubs in the whole wide world. With us it is not so very common as in most of the older counties, growing chiefly at intervals along the roadside, and in fields which border the highways. One never sees it in the woods, with the wild roses, and other brambles. The question as to its origin is considered as settled, I believe, by botanists, and, although thoroughly naturalized in most parts of the country, we cannot claim it as a native.
That old worthy, Captain Gosnold, the first Englishman who set foot in New England, landed on Cape Cod, as far back as 1602; he then proceeded to Buzzard Bay, and took up his quarters, for a time, in the largest of the Elizabeth Islands, where the first building, raised by English hands in that part of the continent, was put together. The object of his voyage was to procure a cargo of the sassafras root, which, at that time, was in high repute for medicinal purposes, and a valuable article of commerce. In relating his voyage, besides the sassafras which he found there in abundance, he mentions other plants which he had observed: the thorn, honeysuckle, wild pea, strawberries, raspberries, and grape-vines, all undoubtedly natives; but he also names the eglantine, or sweet-briar, and the tansy, both of which are generally looked upon as naturalized on this continent. Perhaps the worthy captain had his head so full of sassafras as to care little for the rest of the vegetation, and he may have mistaken the wild rose for the eglantine, and some other plant for tansy. His wild pea was probably one of our common vetches.
Some of the most beautiful sweet-briars in the world are found growing wild along the roadsides about Fishkill, on the Hudson. They are partial to the neighborhood of the cedars which are common there, and clinging to those trees, they climb over them, untrained, to the height of twenty feet or more. When in flower the effect is very beautiful, their star-like blossoms resting on the foliage of the cedars, which is usually so dark and grave.
Saturday, 30th.–Charming weather. Came home from our walk with the village cows, this evening. Some fifteen or twenty of them were straggling along the road, going home of their own accord to be milked. Many of these good creatures have no regular pasture the summer through, but are left to forage for themselves along the roadsides, and in the unfenced woods. They go out in the morning, without any one to look after them, and soon find the best feeding ground, generally following this particular road, which has a long reach of open woods on either side. We seldom meet them in any number on the other roads. They like to pasture in the forest, where they doubtless injure the young trees, being especially fond of the tender maple shoots. Sometimes we see them feeding on the grass by the wayside, as soon as they have crossed the village bridge; other days they all walk off in a body, for a mile or more, before they begin to graze. Towards evening, they turn their heads homeward, without being sent for; occasionally walking at a steady pace without stopping; at other times, loitering and nibbling by the way. Among those we followed, this evening, were several old acquaintances, and probably they all belonged to different houses; only two of them had bells. As they came into the village, they all walked off to their owner's doors, some turning in one direction, some in another.
Monday, July, 2d.–Clear and cooler. Pleasant drive in the afternoon, on the lake shore. The midsummer flowers are beginning to open. Yellow evening primrose, purple rose-raspberry; the showy willow-herb, with its pyramid of lilac flowers; the red and the yellow lilies. We observed, also, a handsome strawberry blite, with its singular fruit-like crimson heads; this flower is not uncommon in new lands, in the western part of the State, and is probably a native, though precisely similar to that of Europe. The track over which we passed this afternoon, and where we found the blite, has been recently opened through the forest.
Observed many birds. The goldfinches were in little flocks as usual, and purple-finches flew across our road more than once; quarrelsome king-birds were sitting on the shrubs and plants along the bank, watching the wild bees, perhaps; for they are said to devour these as greedily as those of the hive. Some of them were skimming over the lake in pursuit of other game, being very partial also to the tribe of water insects. Saw another bird not often met with, a red-start; unlike the European red-start, which often builds about houses, the American bird of the same tribe is very shy, and only seen in the forest. The one we observed this evening was flitting about in a young grove upon the borders of a brook; his red and black plumage, and flirting tail, showing here and there among the foliage.
Tuesday, 3d.–.... We had, for several weeks, been planning a visit to Farmer B—'s; our good friend, his step-mother, having given us a very warm invitation to spend the day with her. Accordingly, we set off in the morning, after breakfast, and drove to the little village of B— Green, where we arrived about noon. Here the coachman stopped to water his horses, and make some inquiries about the road.
"Do you know where B—'s folks live?" he asked of a man in the yard.
"Yes, sir; B—'s folks live three miles from here."
"Which road must I take?"
"Straight ahead. Turn to the left when you come to the brick school-house; then take the right when you get to the gunsmith's shop, and any of the neighbors about will tell you which is B—'s house."
The directions proved correct. We soon reached the school-house; then came the gunsmith's shop, and a few more turnings brought us in front of the low, gray farm-house, the object of our morning's drive. Here a very cordial and simple greeting awaited us, and we passed the day most agreeably.
. . . . .
How pleasant things look about a farm-house! There is always much that is interesting and respectable connected with every better labor, every useful or harmless occupation of man. We esteem some trades for their usefulness, we admire others for their ingenuity, but it seems natural to like a farm, or a garden, beyond most workshops.
From the window of the room in which we were sitting, we looked over the whole of Mr. B—'s farm; the wheat-field, corn-field, orchard, potato-patch, and buckwheat-field. The farmer himself, with his wagon and horses, a boy and a man, were busy in a hay-field, just below the house; several cows were feeding in the meadow, and about fifty sheep were nibbling on the hill-side. A piece of woodland was pointed out on the height above, which supplied the house with fuel. We saw no evergreens there; the trees were chiefly maple, birch, oak, and chestnut; with us, about the lake, every wood contains hemlock and pine.
Finding we were interested in rural matters, our good friend offered to show us whatever we wished to see, answering all our many questions with the sweet, old smile peculiar to herself. She took us to the little garden; it contained potatoes, cabbages, onions, cucumbers, and beans; and a row of currant-bushes was the only fruit; a patch of catnip, and another of mint, grew in one corner. Our farmers, as a general rule, are proverbially indifferent about their gardens. There was no fruit on the place besides the apple-trees of the orchard; one is surprised that cherries, and pears, and plums, all suited to our hilly climate in this county, should not receive more attention; they yield a desirable return for the cost and labor required to plant and look after them.
Passing the barn, we looked in there also; a load of sweet hay had just been thrown into the loft, and another was coming up the road at the moment. Mr. B— worked his farm with a pair of horses only, keeping no oxen. Half a dozen hens and some geese were the only poultry in the yard; the eggs and feathers were carried, in the fall, to the store at B— Green, or sometimes as far as our own village.
They kept four cows; formerly they had a much larger dairy; but our hostess had counted her threescore and ten, and being the only woman in the house the dairy-work of four cows, she said, was as much as she could well attend to. One would think so; for she also did all the cooking, baking, washing, ironing, and cleaning for the family, consisting of three persons; besides a share of the sewing, knitting, and spinning. We went into her little buttery; here the bright tin pans were standing full of rich milk; everything was thoroughly scoured, beautifully fresh, and neat. A stone jar of fine yellow butter, whose flavor we knew of old, stood on one side, and several cheeses were in press. The wood-work was all painted red.
While our kind hostess, on hospitable thought intent, was preparing something nice for tea, we were invited to look about the little sitting-room, and see "farm ways" in that shape. It was both parlor and guest-chamber at the same time. In one corner stood a maple bedstead, with a large, plump feather bed on it, and two tiny pillows in well-bleached cases at the head. The walls of the room were whitewashed, the wood-work was unpainted, but so thoroughly scoured, that it had acquired a sort of polish and oak color. Before the window hung colored paper blinds. Between the windows stood a table, and over it hung a small looking-glass, and a green and yellow drawing in water colors, the gift of a friend. On one side stood a cherry bureau; upon this lay the Holy Bible, and that its sacred pages had been well studied, our friend's daily life could testify. Near the Bible lay a volume of religious character from the Methodist press, and the Life of General Marion. The mantel-piece was ornamented with peacocks' feathers, and brass candlesticks bright as gold; in the fireplace were fresh sprigs of asparagus. An open cupboard stood on one side, containing the cups and saucers, in neat array, a pretty salt-cellar, with several pieces of cracked and broken crockery, of a superior quality, preserved for ornament more than use.
As our dear hostess was coming and going, dividing her time between her biscuits and her guests, very impartially, we asked permission to follow her, and sit by her while she was at work, admiring the kitchen quite as much as we did the rest of her neat dwelling. The largest room in the house, and the one most used, it was just as neat as every other corner under the roof. The chimney was very large, according to the approved old custom, and it was garnished all about with flat-irons, brooms, brushes, holders, and cooking utensils, each in its proper place. In winter, they used a stove for cooking, and in the very coldest weather, they keep two fires burning, one in the chimney, another in the stove. The walls were whitewashed. There was a great deal of wood-work about the room–wainscoting, dressers, and even the ceiling being of wood–and all was painted dark red. The ceiling of a farm-kitchen, especially if it be unplastered, as this was, is often a pretty rustic sight, a sort of store-place, all kinds of things hanging there on hooks or nails driven into the beams; bundles of dried herbs, strings of red peppers and of dried apples hanging in festoons, tools of various kinds, bags of different sorts and sizes, golden ears of seed-corn ripening, vials of physic and nostrums for man and beast, bits of cord and twine, skeins of yarn and brown thread just spun, and lastly, a file of newspapers. The low red ceiling of Farmer B—'s kitchen was not quite so well garnished in July as we have seen it at other times, still, it was by no means bare, the festoons of apples, red peppers, and Indian corn being the only objects wanting. By the window hung an ink bottle and a well-fingered almanac, witty and wise, as usual. A year or two since, an edition of the almanac was printed without the usual prognostics regarding the winds and sunshine, but it proved a complete failure; an almanac that told nothing about next year's weather nobody cared to buy, and it was found expedient to restore these important predictions concerning the future snow, hail and sunshine of the county. Public opinion demanded it.
A great spinning-wheel, with a basket of carded wool, stood in a corner, where it had been set aside when we arrived. There was a good deal of spinning done in the family; all the yarn for stockings, for flannels, for the cloth worn by the men, for the colored woolen dresses of the women, and all the thread for their coarse toweling, was spun in the house by our hostess, or her grand-daughter, or some neighbor hired for the purpose. Formerly, there had been six step-daughters in the family, and then, not only all the spinning, but the weaving and dyeing also, were done at home. They must have been notable women, those six step-daughters; we heard some great accounts of day's spinning and weaving done by them. The presses and cupboards of the house were still full to overflowing with blankets, white and colored flannels, colored twill coverlets for bedding, besides sheets, tablecloths, and patched bed-quilts, all their own work. In fact, almost all the clothing of the family, for both men and women, and everything in the shape of bedding and toweling used by the household, was home-made. Very few dry-goods were purchased by them; hats and shoes, some light materials for caps and collars, a little ribbon, and a printed calico now and then, seemed to be all they bought. Nor was this considered at all remarkable; such is the common way of living in many farmers' families. It has been calculated that a young woman who knows how to spin and weave can dress herself with ease and comfort, as regards everything necessary, for twelve dollars a year, including the cost of the raw materials; the actual allowance for clothing made by the authorities of this county, to farmers' daughters, while the property remained undivided, has been fifteen dollars, and the estimate is said to have included everything necessary for comfort, both winter and summer clothing. The wives and daughters of our farmers are very often notable, frugal women–perhaps one may say that they are usually so until they go from home. With the young girls about our villages, the case is very different; these are often wildly extravagant in their dress, and just as restless in following the fashions as the richest fine lady in the land. They often spend all they earn in finery.
Very pretty woolen shawls were shown us, made by our friend's step-daughters, after Scotch patterns; several families of Scotch emigrants had settled in the neighborhood some thirty years since, and had furnished their friends with the patterns of different plaids; whether these were Highland or Lowland, we could not say. Some of their twilled flannels were also remarkably good in quality and color, but these are apt to shrink in washing. They are quite skilful dyers in scarlet, orange, green, blue, and lilac. With the maple leaves, they dye a very neat gray for stockings, but most of their coloring materials were purchased in the villages, dyestuffs being an important part of the stock in trade of all our country druggists. Most of the spinning and weaving was in cotton or wool; the clothing and bedding was wholly of cotton or woolen materials. A certain amount of tow was used for toweling, bagging, smock frocks and pantaloons, for summer working clothes for the men. From time to time, a little flax was raised, especially to make linen, chiefly for a few finer towels and tablecloths, the luxuries of the household.
The food of the family, as well as their clothing, was almost wholly the produce of their own farm; they dealt but little with either grocer or butcher. In the spring, a calf was killed; in the fall, a sheep and a couple of hogs; once in a while, at other seasons, they got a piece of fresh meat from some neighbor who had killed a beef or a mutton. They rarely ate their poultry; the hens were kept chiefly for eggs, and their geese for feathers. The common piece of meat, day after day, was corned pork from their pork-barrel; they usually kept, also, some corned beef in brine, either from their own herd, or a piece procured by some bargain with a neighbor. The bread was made from their own wheat, and so were the hoe-cakes and griddle-cakes from the Indian meal and buckwheat of their growth. Butter and cheese from their dairy were on table at every meal, three times a day. Pies were eaten very frequently, either of apples, pumpkins, dried fruits, or coarse minced-meat; occasionally they had pie without any meat for their dinner; puddings were rare; Yankee farmers generally eating much more pastry than pudding. Mush and milk was a common dish. They ate but few eggs, reserving them for sale. Their vegetables were almost wholly potatoes, cabbage, and onions, with fresh corn and beans, when in season, and baked beans with pork in winter. Pickles were put on table at every meal. Their sugar and molasses were made from maple, only keeping a little white sugar for company or sickness. They drank cider from their own orchard. The chief luxuries of the household were tea and coffee, both procured from the "stores," although it may be doubted if the tea ever saw China; if like much of that drunk about the country, it was probably of farm growth also.
While we were talking over these matters, and others of a more personal nature, with our gentle old hostess, several visitors arrived;–probably, on this occasion, they came less to see the mistress of the house than her carriage-load of strange company. Be that as it may, we had the pleasure of making several new acquaintances, and of admiring some very handsome strings of gold beads about their necks; a piece of finery we had not seen in a long while. Another fashion was less pleasing. We observed that a number of the women in that neighborhood had their hair cropped short like men, a custom which seems all but unnatural. Despite her seventy years and the rheumatism, our hostess had her dark hair smoothly combed and neatly rolled up under a nice muslin cap, made after the Methodist pattern. She was not one to do anything unwomanly, though all B— Green set the fashion.
As we had a long drive before us, we were obliged to say good-by early in the afternoon, taking leave of our venerable friend with those feelings of unfeigned regard and respect which the good and upright alone excite.
After such a pleasant day, we had a charming drive home, including even the long and slow ascent of Briar Hill. The birds, perched on the rails and bushes, sung us cheerfully on our way. As we stopped at the tavern, at the little hamlet of Old Oaks, to water the horses, we found a long row of empty wagons and buggies, drawn up before the house, betokening a rustic merry-making in honor of the eve of the "Fourth." A fiddle was heard from an upper room, and we had scarcely stopped before a couple of youths, in holiday attire, stepped to the carriage, offering to help us alight, "presuming the ladies had come to the dance." Being informed of their mistake, they were very civil, apologized, and expressed their regrets. "They had hoped the ladies were coming to the ball." We thanked them, but were on our way to —. They bowed and withdrew, apparently rather disappointed at the loss of a whole carriage full of merry-makers, whom they had come out to receive with so much alacrity. Dancing was going on vigorously within; the dry, ear-piercing scrape of a miserable violin was heard playing Zip Coon, accompanied by a shrill boyish voice, half screaming, half singing out his orders: "Gents, forward!"–"Ladies, same!"–"Alla-maine left!"–"Sachay all!"–"Swing to your partners!"–"Fling your ladies opposyte!"–"Prummena-a-de awl!" The directions were obeyed with great energy and alacrity; for the scraping on the floor equalled the scraping on the violin, and the house fairly shook with the general movement.
Half an hour more, over a familiar road, brought us to the village, which we entered just as the sun set.
Wednesday, 4th.–Warm and pleasant. The sun, as usual on this day, ushered in by great firing of cannon, and ringing of bells, and hoisting of flags. Many people in the village from the country, all in holiday trim. Public holidays, once in a while, are very pleasant; it does one good to see everybody looking their cleanest and gayest. It is really a cheerful spectacle to watch the family parties in wagon-loads coming into the village at such times; old and young, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and babies. Certainly we Americans are very partial to gatherings of all sorts; such an occasion is never thrown away upon our good folk.
There was the usual procession at noon: a prayer, reading the Declaration of Independence, a speech, and dinner. The children of the Sunday-school had also a little entertainment of their own. Frequently there is a large picnic party on the lake, with dancing, in honor of the day, but this year there was nothing of the kind. In the afternoon matters seemed to drag a little; we met some of the country people walking about the village, looking in a rather doubtful state of enjoyment; they reminded us of the inquiry of a pretty little French child at a party of pleasure, where things were not going off very briskly; fixing her large blue eyes earnestly on an elder sister's face, she asked anxiously, "Eugénie, dis moi donc, est ce que je m'amuse? " About dusk, however, we were enlivened by the ascent of a paper balloon, and fire-works, rockets, serpents, fire-balls, and though not very remarkable, everybody went to see them.
Thursday, 5th.–Fine day. The locust-trees are in great beauty. Their foliage never attains its full size until the flowers have fallen; it then has an after-growth, the leaves become larger and richer, taking their own peculiar bluish-green. The lower branches of a group of young locusts before the door are now sweeping the grass very beautifully. These trees have never been trimmed; is not the common practice of trimming our locusts a mistake, unless one wishes for a tall tree at some particular point? Few of our trees throw out their branches so near the ground as to sweep the turf in this way, and wherever the habit is natural, the effect is very pleasing.
Friday, 6th.–Warm, half-cloudy day; light, fitful airs, which set the leaves dancing here and there without swaying the branches. Of a still, summer's day, when the foliage generally is quiet, the eye is at times attracted by a solitary leaf, or a small twig dancing merrily, as though bitten by a tarantula, to say nothing of aspen leaves, which are never at rest. The leaves of the maples, on their long stalks, are much given to this trick; so are the white birches, and the scarlet oaks, and so is the fern also. This fluttering is no doubt caused by some light puff of air setting the leaf in motion, and then dying away without any regular current to follow its course; the capricious movement continues until the force of the impulse is exhausted, and the giddy leaf has tired itself out. At times the effect is quite singular, a single leaf or two in rapid movement, all else still and calm; and one might fancy Puck, or some other mischievous elf, sitting astride the stem, shaking his sides with laughter at the expense of the bewildered spectator.
Monday, 9th.–Brilliant, warm weather. Thermometer 80 in the shade.
Walked in the woods; went in search of the large two-leaved orchis, a particular plant, which we have watched for several years, as it is something of a rarity, having been seen only in two places in the neighborhood. We found the large, shining leaves lying flat on the ground, in the well-known spot, but some one had been there before us and broken off the flower-stalk. The leaves of this orchid are among the largest and roundest in our woods.
The handsome, large purple-fringed orchis is also found here. The country people call it soldier's plume; it is one of our most showy flowers.
This afternoon we rowed across Black-bird Bay, and followed the shady western bank some distance. Landed and gathered wild flowers, meadow-sweet, white silk-weed, clematis, and Alleghany vine, adlumia. This is the season for the climbing plants to flower; they are usually later than their neighbors. The Alleghany vine, with its pale pink clusters and very delicate foliage, is very common in some places, and so is the clematis. Observed, also, several vines of the glycine, Apios tuberosa, though its handsome purple flowers have not yet appeared.
Wednesday, 11th.–Very warm. Thermometer 89 in the coolest position. Bright sunshine, with much air. Long drive in the evening. The chestnuts are in flower, and look beautiful. They are one of our richest trees when in blossom, and being common about the lake, are very ornamental to the country, at this season; they look as though they wore a double crown of sunshine about their flowery heads. The sumachs are also in bloom, their regular yellowish spikes showing from every thicket.
The hay-makers were busy on many farms after sunset this evening. There are fewer mowers in the hayfields with us than in the Old World. Four men will often clear a field where, perhaps, a dozen men and women would be employed in France or England. This evening we passed a man with a horse-rake gathering his hay together by himself. As we went down the valley, he had just begun his task; when we returned, an hour and a half later, with the aid of this contrivance, he had nearly done his job.
Friday, 13th.–Very warm. Thermometer 92 in the shade, with much air from the southwest. Though very warm, and the power of the sun great, yet the weather has not been close. We have had fine airs constantly; often quite a breeze.
Drive down the valley in the evening. The new-shorn meadows look beautiful, bordered as they are in many places by the later elder-bushes, now loaded with white flowers. The earlier kind, which blooms in May, more common in the woods, is already ripening its red berries.
About eight o'clock there was a singular appearance in the heavens: a dark bow, very clearly marked, spanned the valley from east to west, commencing at the point where the sun had just set, the sky, at the same time, being apparently cloudless. At one moment two other fainter bows were seen; the principal arch was visible, perhaps, half an hour, fading slowly away with the twilight. Neither of our party remembered to have seen anything like it. In superstitious times it would doubtless have been connected with some public calamity.
Saturday, 14th.–A light shower this morning. Just enough to lay the dust and refresh the air, which now blows cool and moist from the northward. Shaded, vapory sky; most grateful relief after the hot sun and dry air of the last ten days. No thunder or lightning.
Monday, 16th.–Rather cooler; thermometer 79. Fine day. Walked in the woods.
Found many of the Philadelphia, or orange lilies, scattered about singly, as usual. They like to grow in woods and groves, and are often found among the fern. The Canadian, or yellow lily, is also in flower, growing in lower and more open grounds; a bit of meadow-land on the border of one of our brooks is now brilliantly colored with these handsome flowers. The very showy Martagon, or Turk's-cap lily, also belongs to our neighborhood. Last summer a noble plant–a pyramid of twenty red blossoms on one stalk–was found growing in a marshy spot on the hill, at the Cliffs.
Brought home a beautiful bunch of these orange lilies, with the leaves of the sweet-fern, and the white flowers of the fragrant early wintergreen.
Tuesday, 17th.–Rambled about Mill Island and the woods beyond.
We are told that for some years after the village was commenced, Mill Island was a favorite resort of the Indians, who, at that time, came frequently in parties to the new settlement, remaining here for months together. The island was then covered with wood, and they seem to have chosen it for their camp, in preference to other situations. Possibly it may have been a place of resort to their fishing and hunting parties when the country was a wilderness. Now they come very seldom, and singly, or in families, craving permission to build a shanty of boughs or boards, in order to ply their trade of basket-makers. They no longer encamp on the island itself, for the oak by the bridge is almost the only tree standing on it, and they still love the woods; but three out of four families who have been here during the last ten years, have chosen the neighboring groves for their halting-place.
There are already many parts of this country where an Indian is never seen. There are thousands and hundreds of thousands of the white population who have never laid eyes upon a red man. But this ground lies within the former bounds of the Six Nations, and a remnant of the great tribes of the Iroquois still linger about their old haunts, and occasionally cross our path. The first group that we chance to see strike us strangely, appearing as they do in the midst of a civilized community with the characteristics of their wild race still clinging to them; and when it is remembered that the land over which they now wander as strangers, in the midst of an alien race, was so lately their own–the heritage of their fathers–it is impossible to behold them without a feeling of peculiar interest.
Standing at the window, one summer's afternoon, our attention was suddenly fixed by three singular figures approaching the house. More than one member of our household had never yet seen an Indian, and unaware that any were in the neighborhood, a second glance was necessary to convince us that these visitors must belong to the red race, whom we had long been so anxious to see. They came slowly towards the door, walking singly and silently, wrapped in blankets, bareheaded and barefooted. Without knocking or speaking, they entered the house with a noiseless step, and stood silently near the open door. We gave them a friendly greeting, and they proved to be women of the Oneida tribe, belonging to a family who had encamped in the woods the day before, with the purpose of selling their baskets in the village. Meek in countenance, with delicate forms and low voices, they had far more of the peculiarities of the red race about them than one would look for in a tribe long accustomed to intercourse with the whites, and a portion of whom have become more than half civilized. Only one of the three could speak English, and she seemed to do so with effort and reluctance. They were dressed in gowns of blue calico, rudely cut, coarsely stitched together, and so short as to show their broadcloth leggings worked with beads. Their heads were entirely bare, their straight, black hair hanging loose about their shoulders, and although it was midsummer at the time, they were closely wrapped in coarse white blankets. We asked their names. "Wallee"–"Awa"–"Cootlee"–was the answer. Of what tribe? "Oneida," was the reply, in a voice low and melancholy as the note of the whip-poor-will, giving the soft Italian sound to the vowels, and four syllables to the word. They were delicately made, of the usual height of American women, and their features were good, without being pretty. About their necks, arms, and ankles, they wore strings of cheap ornaments, pewter medals, and coarse glass beads, with the addition of a few scraps of tin, the refuse of some tin-shop passed on their way. One, the grandmother, was a Christian; the other two were Pagans. There was something startling and very painful in hearing these poor creatures within our own community, and under our own roof, declaring themselves heathens! They paid very little attention to the objects about them, until the youngest of the three observed a small Chinese basket on a table near her. She rose silently, took the basket in her hand, examined it carefully, made a single exclamation of pleasure, and then exchanged a few words with her companions in their own wild but musical tongue. They all seemed struck with this specimen of Chinese ingenuity. They asked, as usual, for bread and cold meat, and a supply was cheerfully given them, with the addition of some cake, about which they appeared to care very little. In the mean time a messenger had been sent to one of the shops of the village, where toys and knicknacks for children were sold, and he returned with a handful of copper rings and brooches, pewter medals, and bits of bright ribbons, which were presented to our guests; the simple creatures looking much gratified, as well as surprised, although their thanks were brief, and they still kept up the true Indian etiquette of mastering all emotion. They were, indeed, very silent and unwilling to talk, so that it was not easy to gather much information from them; but their whole appearance was so much more Indian than we had been prepared for, while their manners were so gentle and womanly, so free from anything coarse or rude in the midst of their untutored ignorance, that we were much pleased with the visit. Later in the day we went to their camp, as they always call their halting-place; here we found several children and two men of the family. These last were evidently full-blooded Indians, with every mark of their race stamped upon them; but, alas! not a trace of the "brave" about either. Both had that heavy, sensual, spiritless expression, the stamp of vice, so painful to behold on the human countenance. They had thrown off the blanket and were equipped in ragged coats, pantaloons, and beavers, from the cast-off clothing of their white neighbors, with the striking addition, however, of bits of tin to match those of the squaws. Some of these scraps were fastened round their hats, others were secured on their breasts and in the button-holes, where the great men of the Old World wear diamond stars and badges of honor. They were cutting bows and arrows for the boys of the village, of ash-wood, and neither of them spoke to us; they either did not, or would not understand our companion, when addressed in English. The women and children were sitting on the ground, busy with their baskets, which they make very neatly, although their patterns are all simple. They generally dye the strips of ash with colors purchased in the villages from the druggists, using only now and then, for the same purpose, the juices of leaves and berries, when these are in season, and easily procured.
Since the visit of the Oneida squaws, several other parties have been in the village. The very next season a family of three generations made their appearance at the door, claiming an hereditary acquaintance with the master of the house. They were much less wild than our first visitors, having discarded the blanket entirely, and speaking English very well. The leader and patriarch of the party bore a Dutch name, given him, probably, by some of his friends on the Mohawk Flats; and he was, moreover, entitled to write Reverend before it, being a Methodist minister–the Rev. Mr. Kunkerpott. He was notwithstanding a full-blooded Indian, with the regular copper-colored complexion and high cheekbones; the outline of his face was decidedly Roman, and his long, gray hair had a wave which is rare among his people; the mouth, where the savage expression is usually most strongly marked, was small, with a kindly expression about it. Altogether he was a strange mixture of the Methodist preacher and the Indian patriarch. His son was much more savage than himself in appearance–a silent, cold-looking man; and the grandson, a boy of ten or twelve, was one of the most uncouth, impish-looking creatures we ever beheld. He wore a long-tailed coat twice too large for him, with boots of the same size, and he seemed particularly proud of these last, looking at them from time to time with great satisfaction , as he went tottering along. The child's face was very wild, and he was bareheaded, with an unusual quantity of long, black hair streaming about his head and shoulders. While the grandfather was conversing about old times, the boy diverted himself by twirling around on one leg, a feat which would have seemed almost impossible, booted as he was, but which he nevertheless accomplished with remarkable dexterity, spinning round and round, his arms extended, his large black eyes staring stupidly before him, his mouth open, and his long hair flying in every direction, as wild a looking creature as one could wish to see. We expected every moment that he would fall breathless and exhausted, like a dancing dervish, supposing that the child had been taught this accomplishment as a means of pleasing his civilized friends; but no, he was only amusing himself, and kept his footing to the last.
Civilization, in its earliest approaches, seems to produce a different effect upon the men and the women, the former losing, and the latter gaining by it. In the savage state, the women appear inferior to the men, but in a half-civilized condition, they have much the advantage over the stronger sex. They are rarely beautiful, but often very pleasing; their gentle expression, meek and subdued manner, low, musical voices, and mild, dark eyes, excite an interest in their favor, while one turns with pain and disgust from the brutal, stupid, drunken countenances too often seen among the men. Many a young girl might be found to-day among the half-civilized tribes, whose manner and appearance would accord with one's idea of the gentle Pocahontas; but it is rare, indeed, that a man is seen among them who would make a Powhattan, a Philip, or an Uncas. And yet, unfavorable as their appearance is, there are few even of the most degraded who, when aroused, will not use the poetical, figurative speech, and the dignified, impressive gesture of their race. The contrast between the degraded aspect they bear every day, and these sudden instinctive flashes, is very striking. Instances are not wanting, however, in which men of purely Indian blood have conquered the many obstacles in their path, and now command the sympathy and respect of their white brethren by the energy and perseverance they have shown in mastering a new position among civilized men.
The women either dislike to speak English, or they are unable to do so, for they are very laconic indeed in conversation; many of them, although understanding what is said, will only answer you by smiles and signs; but as they do not aim as much as the men at keeping up the cold dignity of their race, this mute language is often kindly and pleasing. Many of those who carry about their simple wares for sale in the neighborhood of their own villages would be remarked for their amiable expression, gentle manner, and low, musical voices. They still carry their children tied up in a blanket at their backs, supporting them by a band passing round the forehead, which brings the weight chiefly upon the head.
It is easy to wish these poor people well; but surely something more may justly be required of us–of those who have taken their country and their place on the earth. The time seems at last to have come when their own eyes are opening to the real good of civilization, the advantages of knowledge, the blessings of Christianity. Let us acknowledge the strong claim they have upon us, not in word only, but in deed also. The native intellect of the red men who peopled this part of America surpassed that of many other races laboring under the curses of savage life; they have shown bravery, fortitude, religious feeling, eloquence, imagination, quickness of intellect, with much dignity of manner; and if we are true to our duty, now at the moment when they are making of their own accord a movement in the path of improvement, perhaps the day may not be distant when men of Indian blood may be numbered among the wise and the good, laboring in behalf of our common country.
It is painful, indeed, to remember how little has yet been done for the Indian during the three centuries since he and the white man first met on the Atlantic coast. But such is only the common course of things; a savage race is almost invariable corrupted rather than improved by its earliest contact with a civilized people; they suffer from the vices of civilization before they learn justly to comprehend its merits. It is with nations as with individuals–amelioration is a slow process, corruption a rapid one.
Wednesday, 18th.–Warm, brilliant weather. Thermometer 89, with much dry air. Walked in the woods.
That ghost-like plant, the Indian-pipe, is in flower, and quite common here–sometimes growing singly, more frequently several together. The whole plant, about a span high, is entirely colorless, looking very much as if it were cut out of Derbyshire spar; the leaves are replaced by white scales, but the flower is large and perfect, and from the root upward, it is wholly of untarnished white. One meets with it from June until late in September; at first, the flower is nodding, when it really looks something like the cup of a pipe; gradually, however, it erects itself as the seed ripens, and turns black when it decays. I have seen a whole cluster of them bordered with black–in half-mourning, as it were–though of a healthy white within this line. It was probably some blight which had affected them in this way.
The pretty little dew-drop, Dalibarda repens of botanists, is also in blossom–a delicate, modest little flower, opening singly among dark green leaves, which look much like those of the violet; it is one of our most common wood-plants; the leaves frequently remain green through the winter. The name of the dew-drop has probably been given to this flower from its blooming about the time when the summer dews are the heaviest.
The one-sided wintergreen is also in blossom, with its little greenish-white flowers all turned in the same direction; it is one of the commonest plants we tread under foot in the forest. This is a wintergreen region, all the varieties being found in this county. Both the glossy pipsissima and the pretty spotted wintergreen, with its variegated leaves, are common here; so is the fragrant shin-leaf; and the one-flowered pyrola, rare in most parts of the country, is also found in our woods.
Observed the yellow diervilla or bush-honeysuckle still in flower. The hemlocks still show the light green of their young shoots, which grow dark very slowly.
Thursday, 19th.–Warm, clear day; thermometer 88.
It happens that the few humble antiquities of our neighborhood are all found lying together near the outlet of the lake; they consist of a noted rock, the ruins of a bridge, and the remains of a military work.
The rock lies in the lake, a stone's throw from the shore; it is a smooth, rounded fragment, about four feet high; the waters sometimes, in very warm seasons, leave it nearly dry, but they have never, I believe, overflowed it. There is nothing remarkable in the rock itself, though it is perhaps the largest of the few that show themselves above the surface of our lake; but this stone is said to have been a noted rallying-point with the Indians, who were in the habit of appointing meetings between different parties at this spot. From the Mohawk country, from the southern hunting-grounds on the banks of Susquehannah, and from the Oneida region, they came through the wilderness to this common rendezvous at the gray rock, near the outlet of the lake. Such is the tradition; probably it is founded in truth, for it has prevailed here since the settlement of the country, and it is of a nature not likely to have been thought of by a white man, who, if given to inventing anything of the kind, would have attempted something more ambitious. Its very simplicity gives it weight, and it is quite consistent with the habits of the Indians, and their nice observation; for the rock, though unimportant, is yet the largest in sight, and its position near the outlet would make it a very natural waymark to them. Such as it is, this, moreover, is the only tradition, in a positive form, connected with the Indians preserved among us; with this single exception, the red man has left no mark here, on hill or dale, lake or stream.
From tradition we step to something more positive; from the dark ages we come to the dawn of history. On the bank of the river are found the ruins of a bridge, the first made at this point by the white man. Among the mountain streams of the Old World are many high, narrow arches of stone, built more than a thousand years since, still standing to-day in different stages of picturesque decay. Our ruins are more rude than these. In the summer of 1786, a couple of emigrants, father and son, arrived on the eastern bank of the river, intending to cross it; there was no village here then–a single log-cabin and a deserted block-house stood on the spot, however, and they hoped to find at least the shelter of walls and a roof. But there was no bridge over the river, nor boat to ferry them across: some persons, under such circumstances, would have forded the stream; others might have swum across; our emigrants took a shorter course–they made a bridge. Each carried his axe, as usual, and choosing one of the tall pines standing on the bank, one of the old race which then filled the whole valley, they soon felled the tree, giving it such an inclination as threw it across the channel, and their bridge was built–they crossed on the trunk. The stump of that tree is still standing on the bank among the few ruins we have to boast of; it is fast mouldering away, but it has outlasted the lives of both the men who felled the tree–the younger of the two, the son, having died in advanced old age, a year or two since.
The military work alluded to was on a greater scale, and connected with an expedition of some importance. In 1779, when General Sullivan was ordered against the Indians in the western part of the State, to punish them for the massacres of Wyoming and Cherry Valley, a detachment of his forces, under General Clinton, was sent through this valley. Ascending the Mohawk to what was sometimes called the "portage" over the hills to this lake, they cut a road through the forest, and transporting their boats to our waters, launched them at the head of the lake, and rowed down to the site of the present village. Here they lay encamped some little time, finding the river too much encumbered with flood-wood to allow their boats to pass. To remove this difficulty, General Clinton ordered a dam to be built at the outlet, thus raising the lake so much, that when the work was suddenly opened, the waters rushed through with such power, that they swept the channel clear; by this means, the troops were enabled to pass in their boats from these very sources of the stream to the rendezvous at Tioga Point, a distance of more than two hundred miles, by the course of this winding river. This is the only incident which has connected our secluded lake with historical events, and it is believed that upon no other occasion have troops, on a warlike errand, passed through the valley. Probably in no other instance have so large a number of boats ever floated on our quiet lake, and we can scarcely suppose that a fleet of this warlike character will ever again, to the end of time, be collected here.
Friday, 20th.–Warm; thermometer 85, with high wind from southward. Light sprinkling showers through the day, barely enough to lay the dust. No thunder or lightning.
The fire-flies flitting about this evening in the rain; they do not mind a showery evening much; we have often seen them of a rainy night, carrying their little lanterns about much unconcerned; it is only a hard and driving shower which sends them home. These little creatures seem to have favorite grounds; there is a pretty valley in the county, about twenty miles from us, where they are very numerous; one sees them dancing over those meadows in larger parties than about our own.
Saturday, 21st.–Fine weather; heat not so great; thermometer 77.
The northern lights are brilliant this evening; for some months they have been less frequent than usual. We have them, at intervals, during all seasons.
Monday, 23d.–Just at the point where the village street becomes a road and turns to climb the hillside, there stands a group of pines, a remnant of the old forest. There are many trees like these among the woods; far and near such may be seen rising from the hills, now tossing their arms in the stormy winds, now drawn in still and dark relief against the glowing evening sky. Their gaunt, upright forms standing about the hill-tops, and the ragged gray stumps of those which have fallen, dotting the smooth fields, make up the sterner touches in a scene whose general aspect is smiling. But although these old trees are common upon the wooded heights, yet the group on the skirts of the valley stands alone among the fields of the valley; their nearer brethren have all been swept away, and these are left in isolated company, differing in character from all about them, a monument of the past.
It is upon a narrow belt of land, a highway and a corn-field on one side, a brook and an orchard on the other, that these trees are rooted; a strip of woodland connected with the forest on the hills above, and suddenly cut off where it approaches the first buildings of the village. There they stand, silent spectators of the wonderful changes that have come over the valley. Hundreds of winters have passed since the cones which contained the seed of that grove fell from the parent tree; centuries have elapsed since their heads emerged from the topmost wave of the sea of verdure to meet the sunshine, and yet it is but yesterday that their shadows first fell, in full length, upon the sod at their feet.
Sixty years since, those trees belonged to a wilderness; the bear, the wolf, and the panther brushed their trunks; the ungainly moose and the agile deer browsed at their feet; the savage hunter crept stealthily about their roots, and painted braves passed noiselessly on the war-path beneath their shade. How many successive generations of the red man have trod the soil they overshadowed, and then sat down in their narrow graves–how many herds of wild creatures have chased each other through that wood, and left their bones to bleach among the fern and moss, there is no human voice can tell. We only know that the summer winds, when they filled the canvas of Columbus and Cabot, three hundred years ago, came sweeping over these forest pines, murmuring then as we hear them murmur to-day.
There is no record to teach us even the name of the first white man who saw this sequestered valley, with its limpid lake; it was probably some bold hunter from the Mohawk, chasing the deer, or in quest of the beaver. But while towns were rising on the St. Lawrence and upon the sea-board, this inland region lay still unexplored; long after trading-houses had been opened, and fields had been tilled, and battles had been fought to the north, south, east, ay, and even at many points westward, those pines stood in the heart of a silent wilderness. This, little lake lay embedded in a forest until after the great struggle of the Revolution was over. A few months after the war was brought to an honorable close, Washington made a journey of observation among the inland waters of this part of the country; writing to a friend in France, he names this little lake, the source of a river, which, four degrees farther south, flows into the Chesapeake in near neighborhood with his own Potomac. As he passed along through a half-wild region, where the few marks of civilization then existing bore the blight of war, he conceived the outline of many of those improvements which have since been carried out by others, and have yielded so rich a revenue of prosperity. It is a pleasing reflection to those who live here, that while many important places in the country were never honored by his presence, Washington has trod the soil about our lake. But even at that late day, when the great and good man came, the mountains were still clothed in wood to the water's edge, and mingled with giant oaks and ashes, those tall pines waved above the valley.
At length, nearly three long centuries after the Genoese had crossed the ocean, the white man came to plant a home on this spot, and it was then the great change began; the axe and the saw, the forge and the wheel, were busy from dawn to dusk, cows and swine fed in thickets whence the wild beasts had fled, while the ox and the horse drew away in chains the fallen trunks of the forest. The tenants of the wilderness shrunk deeper within its bounds with every changing moon; the wild creatures fled away within the receding shades of the forest, and the red man followed on their track; his day of power was gone, his hour of pitiless revenge had passed, and the last echoes of the war-whoop were dying away forever among these hills, when the pale-faces laid their hearth-stones by the lake shore. The red man, who for thousands of years had been lord of the land, no longer treads the soil; he exists here only in uncertain memories, and in forgotten graves.
Such has been the change of the last half century. Those who from childhood have known the cheerful dwellings of the village, the broad and fertile farms, the well beaten roads, such as they are to-day, can hardly credit that this has all been done so recently by a band of men, some of whom, white-headed and leaning on their staves, are still among us. Yet such is the simple truth. This village lies just on the borders of the tract of country which was opened and peopled immediately after the Revolution; it was among the earliest of those little colonies from the sea-board which struck into the wilderness at that favorable moment, and whose rapid growth and progress in civilization have become a byword. Other places, indeed, have far surpassed this quiet borough; Rochester, Buffalo, and others of a later date, have become great cities, while this remains a rural village; still, whenever we pause to recall what has been done in this secluded valley during the lifetime of one generation, we must needs be struck with new astonishment. And throughout every act of the work, those old pines were there. Unchanged themselves, they stand surrounded by objects over all of which a great change has passed. The open valley, the half-shorn hills, the paths, the flocks, the buildings, the woods in their second growth, even the waters in the different images they reflect on their bosom, the very race of men who come and go, all are different from what they were; and those calm old trees seem to heave the sigh of companionless age, as their coned heads rock slowly in the winds.
The aspect of the wood tells its own history, so widely does it differ in character from the younger groves waving in gay luxuriance over the valley. In the midst of smooth fields it speaks so clearly of the wilderness, that it is not the young orchard of yesterday's planting, but the aged native pines which seem the strangers on the ground. The pine of forest growth never fails to have a very marked character of its own; the gray shaft rises clear and unbroken by bend or bough, to more than half its great elevation, thence short horizontal limbs in successive fan-like growth surround the trunk to its summit, which is often crowned with a low crest of upright branches. The shaft is very fine from its great height and the noble simplicity of its lines; in coloring, it is a pure clear gray, having the lightest and the smoothest bark of all its tribe, and only occasionally mottled with patches of lichens. The white pine of this climate gathers but few mosses, unless in very moist situations; the very oldest trees are often quite free from them. Indeed, this is a tree seldom seen with the symptoms of a half-dead and decaying condition about it, like so many others; the gray line of a naked branch may be observed here and there, perhaps, a sign of age, but it generally preserves to the very last an appearance of vigor, as though keeping death at bay until struck to the heart, or laid low from the roots. It is true, this appearance may often prove deceptive; still, it is a peculiarity of our pine, that it preserves its verdure until the very last, unlike many other trees which are seen in the forest, half green, half gray, and lifeless.
The pine of the lawns or open groves and the pine of the forest differ very strikingly in outline; the usual pyramidal or conical form of the evergreen is very faintly traced on the short, irregular limbs of the forest tree; but what is lost in luxuriance and elegance is more than replaced by a peculiar character of wild dignity, as it raises its stern head high above the lesser wood, far over-topping the proudest rank of oaks. And yet, in their rudest shapes, they are never harsh; as we approach them, we shall always find something of the calm of age and the sweetness of nature to soften their aspect; there is a grace in the slow waving of their limbs in the higher air, which never fails; there is a mysterious melody in their breezy murmurs; there is an emerald light in their beautiful verdure, which lies in unfading wreaths, fresh and clear, about the heads of those old trees. The effect of light and shade on the foliage of those older forest pines is indeed much finer than what we see among their younger neighbors; the tufted branches, in their horizontal growth, are beautifully touched with circlets of a clear light, which is broken up and lost amid the confused medley of branches in trees of more upright growth. The long brown cones are chiefly pendulous, in clusters, from the upper branches; some seasons they are so numerous on the younger trees as to give their heads a decided brown coloring.
The grove upon the skirts of the village numbers, perhaps, some forty trees, varying in their girth from five or six to twelve feet; and in height, from a hundred and twenty to a hundred and sixty feet. Owing to their unscreened position and their height, these trees may be clearly distinguished for miles, whether from the lake, the hills, or the roads about the country–a landmark overtopping the humble church-spires, and every object raised by man within the bounds of the valley. Their rude simplicity of outline, the erect, unbending trunks, their stern, changeless character, and their scanty drapery of foliage, unconsciously lead one to fancy them an image of some band of savage chiefs, emerging in a long, dark line from the glen in their rear, and gazing in wonder upon their former hunting-ground in its altered aspect.
It needs but a few short minutes to bring one of these trees to the ground; the rudest boor passing along the highway may easily do the deed; but how many years must pass ere its equal stand on the same spot! Let us pause to count the days, the months, the years; let us number the generations that must come and go, the centuries that must roll onward, ere the seed sown from this year's cones shall produce a wood like that before us. The stout arm so ready to raise the axe to-day, must grow weak with age, it must drop into the grave; its bone and sinew must crumble into dust long before another tree, tall and great as those, shall have grown from the cone in our hand. Nay, more, all the united strength of sinew, added to all the powers of mind, and all the force of will, of millions of men, can do no more toward the work than the poor ability of a single arm; these are of the deeds which time alone can perform. But allowing even that hundreds of years hence other trees were at length to succeed these with the same dignity of height and age, no other younger wood can ever claim the same connection as this, with a state of things now passed away forever; they cannot have that wild, stern character of the aged forest pines. This little town itself must fall to decay and ruin; its streets must become choked with bushes and brambles; the farms of the valley must be anew buried within the shades of a wilderness; the wild deer and the wolf and the bear must return from beyond the great lakes; the bones of the savage men buried under our feet must arise and move again in the chase, ere trees like those, with the spirit of the forest in every line, can stand on the same ground in wild dignity of form like those old pines now looking down upon our homes.
Tuesday, 24th.–Thermometer 84 in the shade at three o'clock. Still, clear, and dry; the farmers very anxious for rain.
Pleasant row in the afternoon; went down the river. One cannot go far, as the mill-dam blocks the way, but it is a pretty little bit of stream for an evening row. So near its source, the river is quite narrow, only sixty or eighty feet in breadth. The water is generally very clear, and of greenish gray; after the spring thaws it sometimes has a blueish tint, and late in autumn, after heavy rains, it takes a more decided shade of dark green. It is rarely turbid, and never positively muddy. It has no great depth, except in spots; there are some deep places, however, well known to the boys of the village for feats of diving performed there, certain lads priding themselves upon walking across the bed of the river through those deep spots, while others still more daring are said to have actually played a game of "lap-stone," sitting in what they call the "Deep Hole." In general, the bottom is stony or muddy, but there are reaches of sand also. The growth of aquatic plants is thick in many places, and near the bridge there is a fine patch of water-grasses, which have a beautiful effect seen from above, their long tufts floating gracefully in the slow current of the stream, like the locks of a troop of Mermaids. One of these plants, by-the-bye, bears the name of the "Canadian Water-Nymph;" but it is one of the homeliest of its tribe; there are others much more graceful to which the name would be better adapted.
The older trees on the bank have long since been cut away; but many young elms, maples, ashes, amelanchiers, stand with their roots washed by the water, while grape-vines and Virginia creepers are climbing over them. Wild cherries and plums also line the course of our little river. Sallows and alders form close thickets lower than the forest trees. All our native willows on this continent are small; the largest is the black willow, with a dark bark, about five-and-twenty feet high. It grows some miles farther down the stream. Our alders also are mere bushes, while the European alder is a full-sized tree, tall as their elms or beeches.
Thursday, 6th.–Most of the weeds which infest our wheat-fields, come from the Old World,–the deceitful chess, the corn-cockle, the Canada-thistle, tares, the voracious red-root, the blue-weed, or bugloss, with others of the same kind. There is, however, one brilliant but noxious plant found among the corn-fields of Europe which is not seen in our own, and that is the gaudy red poppy. Our farmers are no doubt very well pleased to dispense with it; they are quite satisfied with the weeds already naturalized. But so common is the poppy in the Old World that it is found everywhere in the corn-fields, along the luxuriant shores of the Mediterranean, upon the open, chequered plains of France and Germany, and among the hedged fields of England. The first wild poppies ever seen by the writer were gathered by a party of American children, about the ruins of Netley Abbey, near Southampton, in England.
So common is this brilliant weed among the European grain-fields, that there is a little insect, an ingenious, industrious little creature, who invariably employs it in building her cell. This wild bee, called the upholsterer bee, from its habits, leads a solitary life, but she takes a vast deal of pains in behalf of her young. About the time when the wild poppy begins to blossom, this little insect flies into a corn-field, looks out for a dry spot of ground, usually near some path-way; here she bores a hole about three inches in depth, the lower portion being wider than the mouth; and quite a toil it must be to so small a creature to make the excavation; it is very much as if a man were to clear out the cellars for a large house with his hands only. But this is only the beginning of her task; when the cell is completed, she then flies away to the nearest poppy, which, as she very well knows, cannot be very far off in a corn-field; she cuts out a bit of the scarlet flower, carries it to the nest, and spreads it out on the floor like a carpet; again she returns to the blossom and brings home another piece, which she lays over the first; when the floor is covered with several layers of this soft scarlet carpeting, she proceeds to line the sides throughout in the same way, until the whole is well surrounded with these handsome hangings. This brilliant cradle she makes for one little bee, laying only a single egg amid the flower-leaves. Honey and bee-bread are then collected and piled up to the height of an inch; and when this store is completed, the scarlet curtains are drawn close over the whole, and the cell is closed, the careful mother replacing the earth as neatly as possible, so that after she has finally smoothed the spot over, it is difficult to discover a cell you may have seen open the day before.
This constant association with the wheat, which even the insects have learned by instinct, has not remained unheeded by man. Owing to this connection with the precious grain, the poppy of the Old World received, ages ago, all the honors of a classical flower, and became blended with the fables of ancient mythology; not only was it given to the impersonation of Sleep, as one of its emblems, from the well-known narcotic influences of the plant, but it was also considered as sacred to one of the most ancient and most important deities of the system; the very oldest statues of Ceres represent her with poppies in her garlands, blended with ears of wheat, either carried in her hand, or worn on her head. The ancient poets mingled the ears of wheat and poppy in their verses:
"The meanest cottagersays Cowley, in his translation of Virgil; and in our own day Mr. Hood, in his pleasing picture of Ruth, introduces both plants, when describing her beautiful color:
His poppy grows among the corn,"
"And on her cheek an autumn flush,
Like poppies grown with corn."
In short, so well established is this association of the poppy and wheat, by the long course of observation from time immemorial to the present season, that the very modistes of Paris, when they wish to trim a straw bonnet with field plants, are careful to mingle the poppy with heads of wheat in their artificial flowers. Fickle Fashion herself is content to leave these plants, year after year, entwined together in her wreaths.
But in spite of this general prevalence of the poppy throughout the grain-fields of the Old World, and its acknowledged claim to a place beside the wheat, it is quite unknown here as a weed. With us this constant association is broken up. Never having seen it ourselves, we have frequently asked farmers from different parts of the country if they had ever found it among their wheat, and thus far the answer has always been the same; they had never seen the flower out of gardens. Among our cottage gardens it is very common.
It must be the comparative severity of the winters which has broken up this very ancient connection in our part of the world; and yet they have at times very severe seasons in France and Germany, without destroying the field poppies.
Friday, 27th.–Cooler; a refreshing shower last evening; no thunder or lightning.
The butterflies are very numerous now; tortoise-shell, black, and yellow, with here and there a blue; large parties of the little white kind, and the tiny tortoise-shell, also, are fluttering about the weeds. The yellow butterflies with their pink markings are the most common here; they are regular roadsters, constantly seen on the highway. Last summer about this time, while driving between Penn-Yan and Seneca Lake, we found these little creatures more numerous than we had ever yet seen them; there had been a heavy rain the day before, and there were many half-dried, muddy pools along the road, which seemed to attract these butterflies more than the flowers in the meadows; they are always found hovering over such a spot in summer; but on that occasion we saw so many that we attempted to count them, and in half a mile we passed seventy, so that in the course of a drive of a couple of hours we probably saw more than a thousand of these pretty creatures strung along the highway in little flocks.
There is a singular insect of this tribe, a kind of moth, seen about the flower-beds in the summer months. They are so much like humming-birds in their movements, that many of the country people consider them as a sort of cousin-german of our common rubythroat. We have been repeatedly asked if we had seen these "small humming-birds." Their size, the bird-like form of their body and tail, the rapid quivering motion of their wings, their habit of feeding on the wing instead of alighting on the flowers, are indeed strangely like the humming-bird. Nevertheless, these are true moths, and there are, I believe, several species of them flitting about our meadows and gardens. The common green potato, or tobacco-worm, is said to become a moth of this kind; and the whole tribe of hawk-moths are now sometimes called humming-bird moths, from these same insects. They are not peculiar to this country, but are well-known also in Europe, though not very common there. Altogether, they are singular little creatures; their tongues, with which they extract the honey from the flowers, just as the humming-bird does, are in some cases remarkably long, even longer than their bodies. One of the tribe is said to have a tongue six inches in length, and it coils it up like a watch-spring, when not using it.
Saturday, 28th.–Passed the afternoon in the woods.
What a noble gift to man are the forests! What a debt of gratitude and admiration we owe for their utility and their beauty!
How pleasantly the shadows of the wood fall upon our heads, when we turn from the glitter and turmoil of the world of man! The winds of heaven seem to linger amid these balmy branches, and the sunshine falls like a blessing upon the green leaves; the wild breath of the forest, fragrant with bark and berry, fans the brow with grateful freshness; and the beautiful wood-light, neither garish nor gloomy, full of calm and peaceful influences, sheds repose over the spirit. The view is limited, and the objects about us are uniform in character; yet within the bosom of the woods the mind readily lays aside its daily littleness, and opens to higher thoughts, in silent consciousness that it stands alone with the works of God. The humble moss beneath our feet, the sweet flowers, the varied shrubs, the great trees, and the sky gleaming above in sacred blue, are each the handiwork of God. They were all called into being by the will of the Creator, as we now behold them, full of wisdom and goodness. Every object here has a deeper merit than our wonder can fathom; each has a beauty beyond our full perception; the dullest insect crawling about these roots lives by the power of the Almighty; and the discolored shreds of last year's leaves wither away upon the lowly herbs in a blessing of fertility. But it is the great trees, stretching their arms above us in a thousand forms of grace and strength, it is more especially the trees which fill the mind with wonder and praise.
Of the infinite variety of fruits which spring from the bosom of the earth, the trees of the wood are the greatest in dignity. Of all the works of the creation which know the changes of life and death, the trees of the forest have the longest existence. Of all the objects which crown the gray earth, the woods preserve unchanged, throughout the greatest reach of time, their native character: the works of man are every varying their aspect; his towns and his fields alike reflect the unstable opinions, the fickle wills and fancies of each passing generation; but the forests on his borders remain to-day the same they were ages of years since. Old as the everlasting hills, during thousands of seasons they have put forth and laid down their verdure in calm obedience to the decree which first bade them cover the ruins of the Deluge.
But, although the forests are great and old, yet the ancient trees within their bounds must each bend individually beneath the doom of every earthly existence; they have their allotted period when the mosses of Time gather upon their branches; when, touched by decay, they break and crumble to dust. Like man, they are decked in living beauty; like man, they fall a prey to death; and while we admire their duration, so far beyond our own brief years, we also acknowledge that especial interest which can only belong to the graces of life and to the desolation of death. We raise our eyes, and we see collected in one company vigorous trunks, the oak, the ash, the pine, firm in the strength of maturity; by their side stand a young group, elm, and birch, and maple, their supple branches playing in the breezes, gay and fresh as youth itself; and yonder, rising in unheeded gloom, we behold a skeleton trunk, an old fir, every branch broken, every leaf fallen,–dull, still, sad, like the finger of Death.
It is the peculiar nature of the forest, that life and death may ever be found within its bounds, in immediate presence of each other; both with ceaseless, noiseless advances, aiming at the mastery; and if the influences of the first be most general, those of the last are the most striking. Spring, with all her wealth of life and joy, finds within the forest many a tree unconscious of her approach; a thousand young plants springing up about the fallen trunk, the shaggy roots, seek to soften the gloomy wreck with a semblance of the verdure it bore of old; but ere they have thrown their fresh and graceful wreaths over the mouldering wood, half their own tribe wither and die with the year. We owe to this perpetual presence of death an impression, calm, solemn, almost religious in character, a chastening influence, beyond what we find in the open fields. But this subdued spirit is far from gloomy or oppressive, since it never fails to be relieved by the cheerful animation of living beauty. Sweet flowers grow beside the fallen trees, among the shattered branches, the season through; and the freedom of the woods, the unchecked growth, the careless position of every tree, are favorable to a thousand wild beauties, and fantastic forms, opening to the mind a play of fancy which is in itself cheering and enlivening, like the bright sunbeams which checker with golden light the shadowy groves. That character of rich variety also, stamped on all the works of the creation, is developed in the forest in clear and noble forms; we are told that in the field we shall not find two blades of grass exactly alike, that in the garden we shall not gather two flowers precisely similar, but in those cases the lines are minute, and we do not seize the truth at once; in the woods, however, the same fact stands recorded in bolder lines; we cannot fail to mark this great variety of detail among the trees; we see it in their trunks, their branches, their foliage; in the rude knots, the gnarled roots; in the mosses and lichens which feed upon their bark; in their forms, their coloring, their shadows. And within all this luxuriance of varied beauty, there dwells a sweet quiet, a noble harmony, a calm repose, which we seek in vain elsewhere, in so full a measure.
These hills, and the valleys at their feet, lay for untold centuries one vast forest; unnumbered seasons, ages of unrecorded time passed away while they made part of the boundless wilderness of woods. The trees waved over the valleys, they rose upon the swelling knolls, they filled the hollows, they crowded the narrow glens, they shaded the brooks and springs, they washed their roots in the lakes and rivers, they stood upon the islands, they swept over the broad hills, they crowned the heads of all the mountains. The whole land lay slumbering in the twilight of the forest. Wild dreams made up its half-conscious existence. The hungry cry of the beast of prey, or the fierce deed of savage man, whoop and dance, triumph and torture, broke in fitful bursts upon the deep silence, and then died away, leaving the breath of life to rise and fall with the passing winds.
Every rocky cliff on the hillside, every marshy spot on the lowlands, was veiled in living, rustling folds of green. Here a dark wave of pine, hemlock, and balsam ran through a ravine, on yonder knoll shone the rich glossy verdure of oak, and maple, and chestnut; upon the breast of the mountain stood the birch, the elm, and the aspen, in light and airy tufts. Leaves of every tint of green played in the summer sunshine, leaves fluttered in the moonlight, and the showers of heaven fell everywhere upon the green leaves of the unbroken forest.
Sixty years have worked a wonderful change; the forest has fallen upon the lowlands, and there is not a valley about us which has not been opened. Another half century may find the country bleak and bare; but as yet the woods have not all been felled, and within the circle which bounds our view, there is no mountain which has been wholly shorn, none presents a bald front to the sky; upon the lake shore, there are several hills still wrapped in wood from the summit to the base. He who takes pleasure in the forest, by picking his way, and following a winding course, may yet travel many a long mile over a shady path, such as the red man loved.
The forest lands of America preserve to the present hour something that is characteristic of their wild condition, undisturbed for ages. They abound in ruins of their own. Old trees, dead and dying, are left standing for years, until at length they are shivered and broken by the winds, or they crumble slowly away to a shapeless stump. There was no forester at hand to cut them down when the first signs of decay appeared; they had no uses then, now they have no value. Broken limbs and dead bodies of great trees lie scattered through the forests; there are spots where the winds seem to have battled with the woods–at every step one treads on fallen trunks, stretched in giant length upon the earth, this still clad in its armor of bark, that bare and mouldering, stained by green mildew, one a crumbling mass of fragments, while others, again, lie shrouded in beautiful mosses, long green hillocks marking the grave of trees slowly turning to dust. Young trees are frequently found growing upon these forest ruins; if a giant pine or oak has been levelled by some storm, the mass of matted roots and earth will stand upright for years in the same position into which it was raised by the falling trunk, and occasionally a good-sized hemlock, or pine, or beech, is seen growing from the summit of the mass, which in itself is perhaps ten or twelve feet high. We have found a stout tree of perhaps twenty years' growth, which has sprung from a chance seed, sown by the winds on the prostrate trunk of a fallen pine or chestnut, growing until its roots have stretched down the side of the mouldering log, and reached the earth on both sides, thus holding the crumbling skeleton firmly in its young embrace. The decay of these dead trees is strangely slow; prostrate pines have been known to last fifty years, undecayed, still preserving their sap; and upright gray shafts often remain standing for years, until one comes to know them as familiarly as the living trees. Instances are on record where they have thus remained erect in death for a space of forty years. 1 Amid this wild confusion, we note here and there some mark left by civilized man; the track of wheels, a rude road sprinkled over by withered leaves, or the mark of the axe, sharp and clean, upon a stump close at hand, reminding us how freely and how richly the forest contributes to the wants of our race.
Perhaps two-fifths of the woods in our neighborhood are evergreens, chiefly pine and hemlock; the proportion varies, however, in different spots; occasionally you see a whole mountain-side dark with hemlock and pine, while other hills, again, are almost entirely covered with deciduous trees; more frequently, they are pleasingly mingled in the same wood. Both hemlock and pine grow in all positions, upon the hills, in the valleys, in dry soils, and upon the banks of the streams. The balsam is less common, generally found in marshy spots, in company with its kinsman, the tamarack, which in summer, at least, has all the appearance of an evergreen. The balsam is a beautiful tree; though not aspiring to the dignity of the pine and hemlock, it shoots up in the most perfect and gradual spire-like form, to a height of thirty or forty feet, remarkable for its elegance; the foliage is very rich in color and quantity. It seems to delight in throwing its image into the pools and tarns about our hills, often standing on their banks, tinging the waters with its own dark green. There is no cedar very near us; the white cedar, or cypress, is found about eight or nine miles to the northward, and still farther in that direction it is very abundant, but along the course of the river, southward from the lake, to a distance of more than a hundred miles, we do not remember to have seen it. We have also but one pine, though that one is the chief of its family; the noble white pine, the pride of the Alleghanies; neither the yellow, the pitch, nor the red pine is known here, so far as one can discover. It has been thought by some of our neighbors that the evergreens diminish in numbers as the old woods are cut away, the deciduous trees gaining upon them; but looking about at the young thrifty groves of pine seen in every direction, there does not seem much reason to fear that they will disappear. They shoot up even in the cleared fields, here and there, and we have observed in several instances that in spots where old pine woods had been cut down, close thickets of young trees of the same kind have succeeded them.
The oak of several varieties, white, black, the scarlet, and the red; the beech, the chestnut; black and white ashes, the lime or bass-wood; the white and the slippery elms; the common aspen, the large-leaved aspen; the downy-leaved poplar, and the balm of Gilead poplar; the white, the yellow, and the black birches, are all very common. The sumach and the alder abound everywhere. But the glossy leaves of the maple are more numerous than any others, if we include the whole family, and with the exception of the western or ash-leaved maple, they all grow here, from the fine sugar maple to the dwarf mountain maple: including them all, then, perhaps they number two for one of any other deciduous tree found here. They sow themselves very freely; in the spring one finds the little seedling maples coming up everywhere. With the exception of the chestnut, the nut trees are not so very common; yet the hickory is not rare, and both the black walnut and the butternut are met with. The sycamore, very abundant to the north of us, on the Mohawk, is rare here; it is found on the banks of a little stream two or three miles to the southward, and that is the only spot in the neighborhood where it has been observed. The pepperidge or sour-gum is found here and there only. The tulip-tree, abundant in most parts of the country, has not been seen within fifteen miles of the lake. The sweet-gum, or liquid-amber, is unknown here. The sassafras also, is a stranger with us. That beautiful shrub, the laurel, so very common on the Hudson, is missed here; it grows in the county, but sparingly. The handsome flowering dog-wood, so ornamental to the forests in other parts of the State, is also rare in this neighborhood.
The finest trees about the banks of our lake are remarkable rather for their height than their girth. Belonging to the old forest race, they have been closely pressed on all sides by their fellows, and the trunks rise in a branchless shaft to a commanding height; their foliage crowns the summit in full masses, and if never devoid of the native graces of each species, still it has not all the beauty developed by the free growth of the open fields. The older ashes, elms, and oaks are striking trees, much more stern and simple than their brethren of the lawns and meadows, all bearing the peculiar character of forest growth. The younger tribe of the woods, from the same cause which gives a stern simplicity to their elders, become, on the other hand, even more light and airy than their fellows in the open ground; shaded by the patriarchs of the forest, they shoot up toward the light in slender gracile stems, throwing out their branches in light and airy spray. So slight and supple are the stems of this younger race, that trees of thirty and forty, ay, even fifty feet in height, often bend low beneath the weight of the winter's snow upon their naked branches; some of them never regain their upright position, others gradually resume it as their trunks gain strength. Upon a wild wood-road near the lake shore there is a natural green archway, formed in this manner by two tall young trees accidentally bending towards each other from opposite sides of the road, until their branches meet over the track; the effect is very pretty, one of those caprices of the forest world which in older times might have passed for the work of some elfin wood-man.
It is to be feared that few among the younger generation now springing up will ever attain to the dignity of the old forest trees. Very large portions of these woods are already of a second growth, and trees of the greatest size are becoming every year more rare. It quite often happens that you come upon old stumps of much larger dimensions than any living trees about them; some of these are four, and a few five feet or more in diameter. Occasionally, we still find a pine erect of this size; one was felled the other day, which measured five feet in diameter. There is an elm about a mile from the village seventeen feet in girth, and not long since we heard of a bass-wood or linden twenty-eight feet in circumference. But among the trees now standing, even those which are sixty or eighty feet in height, many are not more than four, or five, or six feet in girth. The pines, especially, reach a surprising elevation for their bulk.
As regards the ages of the larger trees, one frequently finds stumps about two hundred years old; those of three hundred are not rare, and occasionally we have seen one which we believed to claim upward of four hundred rings. But as a rule, the largest trees are singled out very early in the history of a settlement, and many of these older stumps of the largest size have now become so worn and ragged, that it is seldom one can count the circles accurately. They are often injured by fire immediately after the tree has been felled, and in many other instances decay has been at work at the heart, and one cannot, perhaps, count more than half the rings; measuring will help, in such cases, to give some idea; by taking fifty rings of the sound part, and allowing the same distance of the decayed portion for another fifty. But this is by no means a sure way, since the rings vary much in the same tree, some being so broad that they must have sensibly increased the circumference of the tree in one year, to the extant, perhaps, of an inch, while in other parts of the same shaft you will find a dozen circles crowded into that space. In short, it is seldom one has the satisfaction of meeting with a stump in which one may count every ring with perfect accuracy. It is said that some of the pines on the Pacific coast, those of Oregon and California, have numbered nine hundred rings; these were the noble Lambert pines of that region. Probably very few of our own white pines can show more than half that number of circles.
It is often said, as an excuse for leaving none standing, that these old trees of forest growth will not live after their companions have been felled; they miss the protection which one gives to another, and exposed to the winds, soon fall to the ground. As a general rule, this may be true; but one is inclined to believe that if the experiment of leaving a few were more frequently tried, it would often prove successful. There is an elm of great size now standing entirely alone in a pretty field of the valley, its girth, its age, and whole appearance declaring it a chieftain of the ancient race–the "Sagamore elm," as it is called–and in spite of complete exposure to the winds from all quarters of the heavens, it maintains its place firmly. The trunk measures seventeen feet in circumference, and it is thought to be a hundred feet in height; but this is only from the eye, never having been accurately ascertained. The shaft rises perhaps fifty feet without a branch, before it divides, according to the usual growth of old forest trees. Unfortunately, gray branches are beginning to show among its summer foliage, and it is to be feared that it will not outlast many winters more.
In these times, the hewers of wood are an unsparing race. The first colonists looked upon a tree as an enemy, and to judge from appearances, one would think that something of the same spirit prevails among their descendants at the present hour. It is not surprising, perhaps, that a man whose chief object in life is to make money should turn his timber into bank-notes with all possible speed; but it is remarkable that any one at all aware of the value of wood, should act so wastefully as most men do in this part of the world. Mature trees, young saplings, and last year's seedlings, are all destroyed at one blow by the axe or by fire; the spot where they have stood is left, perhaps, for a lifetime without any attempt at cultivation, or any endeavor to foster new wood. One would think that by this time, when the forest has fallen in all the valleys–when the hills are becoming more bare every day–when timber and fuel are rising in prices, and new uses are found for even indifferent woods–some forethought and care in this respect would be natural in people laying claim to common sense. The rapid consumption of the large pine timber among us should be enough to teach a lesson of prudence and economy on this subject. It has been calculated that 60,000 acres of pine woods are cut every year in our own State alone. But unaccountable as it may appear, few American farmers are aware of the full value and importance of wood. They seem to forget the relative value of the forests. It has been reported in the State of New York, that the produce of tilled lands carried to tide-water by the Erie Canal, in one year, amounted to $8,170,000 dollars worth of property; that of animals, or farm-stock, for the same year, is given at $3,230,000; that of the forests, lumber, staves, etc., at $4,770,000. Thus the forest yielded more than the stock, and more than half as much as the farm lands; and when the comparative expense of the two is considered, their value will be brought still nearer together. Peltries were not included in this account. Our people seldom remember that the forests, while they provide food and shelter for the wildest savage tribes, make up a large amount of the wealth of the most civilized nations. The first rude devices of the barbarian are shaped in wood, and the cedar of Lebanon ranks with the gold of Ophir within the walls of palaces.
But independently of their market price in dollars and cents, the trees have other values: they are connected in many ways with the civilization of a country; they have their importance in an intellectual and in a moral sense. After the first rude stage of progress is past in a new country–when shelter and food have been provided–people begin to collect the conveniences and pleasures of a permanent home about their dwellings, and then the farmer generally sets out a few trees before his door. This is very desirable, but it is only the first step in the track; something more is needed; the preservation of fine trees, already standing, marks a farther progress, and this point we have not yet reached. It frequently happens that the same man who yesterday planted some half dozen branchless saplings before his door, will to-day cut down a noble elm, or oak, only a few rods from his house, an object which was in itself a hundred-fold more beautiful than any other in his possession. In very truth, a fine tree near a house is a much greater embellishment than the thickest coat of paint that could be put on its walls, or a whole row of wooden columns to adorn its front; nay, a large shady tree in a door-yard is much more desirable than the most expensive mahogany and velvet sofa in the parlor. Unhappily, our people generally do not yet see things in this light. But time is a very essential element, absolutely indispensable, indeed, in true civilization; and in the course of years we shall, it is to be hoped, learn further lessons of this kind.
How easy it would be to improve most of the farms in the country by a little attention to the woods and trees, improving their appearance, and adding to their market value at the same time! Thinning woods and not blasting them; clearing only such ground as is marked for immediate tillage; preserving the wood on the hill-tops and rough side-hills; encouraging a coppice on this or that knoll; permitting bushes and young trees to grow at will along the brooks and water-courses; sowing, if need be, a grove on the bank of the pool, such as are found on many of our farms; sparing an elm or two about the spring, with a willow also to overhang the well; planting one or two chestnuts, or oaks, or beeches, near the gates or bars; leaving a few others scattered about every field to shield the cattle in summer, as is frequently done, and setting out others in groups, or singly, to shade the house–how little would be the labor or expense required to accomplish all this, and how desirable would be the result! Assuredly, the pleasing character thus given to a farm and a neighborhood is far from being beneath the consideration of a sensible man.
Quite recently, two instances of an opposite character connected with this subject have accidentally fallen under our notice. At a particular point in the wilds of Oregon, near the bank of the Columbia River, there stood a single tree of great size, one of the majestic pines of that region, and long known as a landmark to the hunters and emigrants passing over those solitary wastes. One of the expeditions sent out to explore that country by the government, arriving near the point, were on the watch for that pine to guide their course; they looked for it some time, but in vain; at length, reaching the spot where they supposed it ought to have stood–a way-mark in the wilderness–they found the tree lying on the earth. It had been felled, and left there to rot, by some man claiming, no doubt, to be a civilized being. The man who could do such an act would have been worthy to make one of the horde of Attila, barbarians who delighted to level to the ground every object over which their own horses could not leap.
Opposed to this is an instance less striking, but more pleasing, and happily much nearer to our own neighborhood. Upon the banks of the Susquehanna, not far from the little village of Bainbridge, the traveller, as he follows the road, observes a very fine tree before him, and as he approaches he will find it to be a luxuriant elm standing actually in the midst of the highway; its branches completely cover the broad track, sweeping over the fences on either side. The tree stands in the very position where a thorough-going utilitarian would doubtless quarrel with it, for the road is turned a little out of its true course to sweep round the trunk; but in the opinion of most people, it is not only a very beautiful object in itself, but highly creditable to the neighborhood; for, not only has it been left standing in its singular position, but as far as we could see, there was not a single mark of abuse upon its trunk or branches.
Monday, 30th.–Very warm. Thermometer 80 in the house; 89 in the shade without.
Walking in the lane toward evening, saw a couple of meadow-larks in great agitation; perhaps some disaster had befallen their young; it seems rather late for them to have little ones, but they raise two broods in the summer. They were flying from one bush to another, and back again over the same ground, crying as they went quite piteously. These birds build on the ground; their nest is made of different grassy plants, quite cleverly contrived, and almost always placed in a meadow. They are decidedly larger and handsomer than the European skylark, but their simple note is not at all remarkable; the female sings a little as she rises and falls, like the wife of the red-wing black-bird. Their flight is very different from that of their European kinsman, being heavy and laborious; they like, however, to perch on the very highest branches of trees, which is singular in birds living so much on the ground, and moving apparently with some effort. Climate seems to affect them but little, for they reach from the tropics to 53' north latitude, and they are resident birds in the lower counties of our own State, though never remaining, I believe, among these hills.
It is to be regretted that neither of the two great singing-birds of the Old World is found in American; that both the sky-lark and the nightingale should be strangers on this side the Atlantic. In some respects the nightingale differs from the common notions regarding it in this country. We have read so much of "plaintive Philomel," that most of us fancy a solitary bird, in the deep recesses of the grove, chanting by moonlight an air "most musical, most melancholy." But this is far from being always the case; the birds sing by daylight at least as often as they do at night, and of a pleasant morning or evening, one may hear a whole choir of them singing cheerfully together. It is said that they never move about in flocks; this may be so, but they certainly live in close neighborhood–a number in the same wood. In the months of May and June at early dawn, just about the time when the market people and chimney-sweeps are moving about the streets of Paris, the nightingales are heard singing gayly enough, a dozen at a time, perhaps, in the very heart of that great city. They live in the maronniers, and lindens, and elms, among the noble gardens of the town, whether public or private, and seem to mind the neighborhood of man as little as the greenlets which flit about the plane-trees of Philadelphia. It is true, that at the same season you may, if you choose, take a moonlight walk in the country,
"And the mute silence hist along,And probably this solitary song, owing partly to the moonlight, and partly to the stillness of night, will produce a much deeper effect than the choir you heard in the morning, or at sunset.
Lest Philomel will deign a song
In her sweetest, saddest plight."
The sky-lark is more hardy than the nightingale. Of the two, we should perhaps prefer the lark. In the first place, he sings more or less the whole year round, and never deserts his native fields, while the nightingale is only in voice for a few weeks in May and June. And then the habits of the lark are peculiar to himself. There is no act of the eagle so noble in character as the uprising of the lark to greet the sun; it is the very sublime of action. We know nothing within the whole range of nature more eloquent. If we may believe Lafontaine, this bird likes to build his lowly nest in a grain-field–
"Les alouettes font leur nidThe lark of the fable sings wittily, rather than lyrically; but all that the bonhomme does with the creatures which people his world of fancy is so exquisite in its way, that we are entirely satisfied with his bird in the homely, motherly character. It is her husband who is the poet; it is he who sings those noble sunrise odes; she herself is the clever, notable mère de famille, who knows the world, though Lafontaine did not. When the farmer talks of collecting first his neighbors, and then his relations, to cut the grain, she gives herself no concern whatever–why should she? But when the good-man comes with his son, and they decide to begin the work themselves, the point is settled, the lark family must take flight:–
Dans les blès, quand ils sont en herbe."
"C'est à ce coup, qu'il faut décamper, mes enfants,
Et les petits en même temps
Voletants, se culebutants
Délogèrent tous, sans trompette."
In this part of the world, Lafontaine would have been compelled to choose some more humble bird, to teach us so cleverly the useful lesson of self-dependence; but if he had chanced to make acquaintance with the meadow-lark, the grass-bird, the bobolink, or even the modest little song-sparrow, he would have taught either of them, in a trice, to sing with more than all "l'esprit des Mortemars."
Tuesday, 31st.–Refreshing shower in the morning; gentle rain, no thunder or lightning; it is remarkable how little electricity we have had this summer. We have often, in common seasons, heavy showers, with very sharp lightning, and thunder which echoes grandly among our hills. We have known the lightning to strike seven times in the course of an hour, in the village and the immediate neighborhood, twice in the lake, and five times on the land; but very happily no serious accident occurred on that occasion, though one or two persons were stunned. This summer we have hardly seen a flash.
Wednesday, August 1st.–Pleasant; walked over Mill Bridge in the afternoon. Gathered a fine bunch of the crimson lobelia by the river-side. What an exquisite shade of red lies on the petals of this brilliant plant! It reminds one that the Russian word for beauty and for red is said to be the same–krasnoi, as M. de Ségur gives it; most of us would probably consider rose-color or blue as more beautiful, but certainly the inimitable, vivid, and yet delicate tint of the lobelia, may claim to be identical with krasnoi, or beauty. The blue lobelia, also very handsome in its way, is not found here, though very common on the Mohawk.
Walking through a wood, found hawk-wort and asters in bloom, also a handsome rattlesnake plantain, or Goodyera, with its veined leaves and fragrant spike of white flowers; this is one of the plants formerly thought to cure the bite of the rattlesnake, though little credit is given to the notion nowadays.
Thursday, 2d.–Long drive down the valley.
There is not a single town of any size within a distance of forty miles, yet already the rural population of this county is quite large. The whole country, within a wide circuit north, south, east and west, partakes of the same general character; mountain ridges, half tilled, half wood, screening cultivated valleys, sprinkled with farms and hamlets, among which some pretty stream generally winds its way. The waters in our immediate neighborhood all flow to the southward, though only a few miles to the north of our village, the brooks are found running in an opposite course, this valley lying just within the borders of the dividing ridge. The river itself, though farther south it becomes one of the great streams of the country, cannot boast of much breadth so near its source, and running quietly among the meadows, half screened by the groves and thickets, scarcely shows in the general view.
The whole surface of the country is arable; very little marsh or bog is found in the lower lands, and there are no barren tracts upon the hills. Rocks rarely break through the surface, except here and there where a low cliff runs along the hillsides, and these are usually shaded by the forest. This general fertility, this blending of the fields of man and his tillage with the woods, the great husbandry of Providence, gives a fine character to the country, which it could not claim when the lonely savage roamed through wooded valleys, and which it must lose if ever cupidity and the haste to grow rich shall destroy the forest entirely, and leave these hills to posterity, bald and bare, as those of many older lands. No perfection of tillage, no luxuriance of produce can make up to a country for the loss of its forests; you may turn the soil into a very garden crowded with the richest crops, if shorn of wood, like Samson shorn of his locks, it may wear a florid aspect, but the noblest fruit of the earth, that which is the greatest proof of her strength, will be wanting.
Cross-roads occur frequently, and many more are seen in the distance, winding over the hills toward other valleys and other villages. Indeed, the number of roads by which the country is cut up in every direction, crossing each other at short intervals, hither and thither, might alone lead a foreigner to suppose it much older in civilization; and when the great extent of the country and the date of its settlement are remembered, these roads bear very striking testimony to the spirit and activity of the people.
During the summer months, the cattle of these valleys have generally good cause to be satisfied with their lot; the grass seldom fails, and those excessive heats, accompanied by long parching droughts–almost a matter of course in the lower counties–are seldom felt here; the continued warm weather of this last summer has been something uncommon. But though dryer than usual, our meadows are still greener than those in other parts of the State; we have just heard that two hundred head of cattle, and two thousand head of sheep, have been driven into our county from St. Lawrence, to be pastured here during the drought. Generally, our grass and foliage are refreshed by passing showers, during the warmest weather, and the beauty of the verdure is a source of great pleasure to those who come from the brown fields about New York and Philadelphia.
Friday, 3d.–Walked in the woods. Our sweet-fern is a pleasant plant; there is always something very agreeable in a shrub or tree with fragrant foliage; the perfume is rarely sickly, as occasionally happens with flowers; it is almost always grateful and refreshing. These aromatic leaves of the sweet-fern are frequently used in rustic practice to stop bleeding; we have never seen the remedy tried, but have often heard it recommended. Some of our good-wives also make a tea of the leaves, which they say is very strengthening, and good for hemorrhage of the lungs. The plant is also used in home-made beer.
Strictly speaking, the botanists do not call this a fern, but it looks very much as if Adam may have called it so. It is the only plant of the kind, in temperate climates, with a woody stem. The botanical name of Comptonia was given it, after a bishop of London, of the last century, who was a great botanist.
In some of the northern counties of New York, Herkimer and Warren, for instance, acres of wild lands, whole mountain-sides, are covered with this plant, even to the exclusion, in many places, of the whortleberry; in that part of the country it also grows as a weed by the roadside, like the thistles and mulleins. In our own neighborhood it is chiefly confined to the woods.
Saturday, 4th.–Pleasant day. At nine o'clock in the evening set out for a moonlight walk on Mount —. Beautiful night; the rising moon shone through the branches, filling the woods, as it were, with wild fantastic forms never seen by day; one seems at such moments to be moving in a new world, among trees and plants of another creation. The brake had a very peculiar aspect, a faint silvery light lay upon its fronds, even in the shade, giving the idea that in the sunshine they must be much paler in color than their neighbors, which is not the case; the same sort of pale, phosphorescent light gleamed about other plants, and upon the chips and stones in the path.
The views, after leaving the woods, were beautifully clear and distinct. The reflections in the lake below were strangely perfect for a night scene; village, woods, and hills lay softly repeated on the bosom of the flood, as though it were dreaming by night of objects dear and familiar by day. One might have counted the trees and the fields; even the yellow coloring of the grain-fields beside the green meadows was distinctly given.
As the night winds rose and fell with a gentle murmuring sough, the deep bass of the frogs and the higher notes of the insect throng continued in one unbroken chant. What myriads of those little creatures must be awake and stirring of a fine summer night! But there is a larger portion of the great family on earth in movement at night than we are apt to remember; because we sleep ourselves, we fancy that other creatures are inactive also. A number of birds fly at night besides the owls, and night hawks, and whip-poor-wills; very many of those who come and go between our cooler climate and the tropics make their long journeys lighted by the moon or the stars. The beasts of prey, as is well known, generally move at night. Of the larger quadrupeds belonging to this continent, the bears, and wolves, and foxes are often in motion by starlight; the moose and the deer frequently feed under a dark sky; the panther is almost wholly nocturnal; the wary and industrious beaver also works at night; that singular creature, the opossum, sleeps in his tree by day and comes down at night. The pretty little flying-squirrel wakes up as twilight draws on; our American rabbit also shuns the day; that pest of the farm-yard, the skunk, with the weasels, rove about on their mischievous errands at night. Some of those animals whose furs are most valued, as the ermine and sable, are nocturnal; so is the black-cat, and the rare wolverine also. Even our domestic cattle, the cows and horses, may frequently be seen grazing in the pleasant summer nights.
Tuesday, 7th.–Walked in the Great Meadow. The old trees which bordered this fine field in past years are fast falling before the axe. A few summers back, this was one of the most beautiful meadows in the valley; a broad, grassy lawn of some twenty acres, shut out from the world by a belt of wood sweeping round it in a wide circle; it was favorite ground with some of us, one of those spots where the sweet quiet of the fields and the deeper calm of the forest are brought together. On one hand, the trees were of a younger growth, luxuriant and grove-like in aspect, but beyond, the wood rose from the bank of the river in tall, grand columns, of lighter and darker shades of gray. Nothing can be more different than the leafy, bowery border of a common wood, where one scarcely sees the trunks, and the bounds which mark a breach in the ancient forest. The branchless shafts of those aged oaks, pines, chestnuts, hemlocks, and ashes are very impressive objects, forming in such positions a noble forest portal. We have frequently stood upon the highway, perhaps half a mile off, to admire those great trunks lighted up by the sunshine, with which they had so lately made acquaintance; there are few such forest colonnades left in our neighborhood, and this is now falling rapidly before the axemen.
The hoary trunks of the ashes are particularly fine in such situations; they are the lightest in coloring among our larger trees, as the shaft of the hemlocks is the darkest. The ashes of this country very frequently grow in low grounds on the banks of rivers. We have many varieties of this fine tree in the United States: the white, the red, the green or yellow, the blue, and the black, besides the small and very rare flowering ash, only twenty feet high. Of these different kinds, only the white and the black are understood to belong to our highland county; both these are common here, and both are handsome and valuable trees, used for very many mechanical purposes. The white ash, indeed, is said to be as desirable as the hickory–our American tree being considered superior for timber to that of Europe, which it much resembles. When used for fuel, it has the peculiarity of burning nearly as well in a green state as when dry, and the timber also scarcely requires any seasoning. The black ash, more especially a northern tree, is abundant here; it is smaller than the white, and is much used by the Indian basket-makers, being thought rather preferable to the white for their purposes. It is amusing to remember that the small bows and arrows made to-day by the roving Indians as playthings for our boys are manufactured out of the same wood used for the arms of heroes in the ancient world; many a great warrior besides Achilles has received his death wound from an ashen spear; ashen lances were shivered in the tournaments of chivalrous days, by the stout knights of the middle ages, the Richards and Bertrands, Oliviers and Edwards. At the present day the ash is still used, with the beech, to arm the regiments of modern lancers.
Thursday, 9th.–Very warm; thermometer 90. Passed the afternoon and evening on the lake. Land and water were both in great beauty; the lake was in that sweet mood when it seems to take pleasure in reflecting every beautiful object; all the different fields, and buildings, and trees, were repeated with fidelity, while the few white clouds floating above were also clearly given below. The waters of our narrow lake are more frequently seen reflecting the village, the hills, and the woods, than the clouds; in still weather they receive much of their coloring from the shores. But this afternoon was noticed several of these visionary islands lying on its bosom, and whenever seen here, they are the more pleasing from our having nothing more substantial in this way; our islands are all of this shadowy character.
On the larger lakes further westward, and in still weather, these cloud islands are often very beautiful; in that more level region the broad expanse of Cayuga and Seneca is very much colored by the skies. Some people find fault with the great size of these islandless lakes; but assuredly, living water is never to be quarreled with in a landscape; smaller basins with higher banks are no doubt more picturesque, but those ample, limpid lakes are very fine in their way. There is a noble simplicity in their every-day aspect which, on so great a scale, is in itself imposing. The high winds, so frequent in that part of the country, having full scope over their broad bosoms, often work out fine storm views, while on the other hand the beautiful sunsets of that level region color the waters exquisitely.
Landed at Signal-Oak Point; the noble spring here was quite full, though so many others have failed; while standing near the little fountain, one of our party had the good luck to discover an Indian relic in the gravel, a flint arrow-head. It was very neatly cut, though not of the largest size. One would like to know its little history; it may have been dropped by some hunter who had come to the spring, or been shot from the wood at some wild creature drinking there at the moment. Another of these arrow-heads was found a while since in the gravel of our own walks; they are occasionally turned up in the village, but are already more rare than one would suppose.
Gathered several August flowers on the banks of the brook; the yellow knot-root, or Collinsonia, with its horned blossom; yellow speckled-jewels, more rare with us than the orange kind; purple asters, and a handsome bunch of red berries of the cranberry-tree. We have frequently found the blue gentian growing here, but it is not yet in flower, and the plants have been so much gathered that comparatively few are left.
There is the skeleton of an old oak lying on the gravelly beach of this point, which was well known in the early years of the little colony. Deer were very common here at that time, and of course they were much hunted; these poor creatures, when pursued, always take refuge in the water, if there be a lake or river at hand; and when a party was out hunting in the hills it was a common practice to station some one in the old oak at this spot, which overhung the water, and commanded a view of the lake in its whole length; a set of signals having been agreed on beforehand, the scout in the tree pointed out to the hunters, by this means, the direction taken by the game. Some few years since this signal-oak fell to the ground, and a fragment of it now lies on the shore. This whole grove was formerly very beautiful, composed chiefly of noble oaks of primeval growth, many of them hung with grape-vines, while a pretty clump of wild roses grew at their feet; some of the vines and many of the rose-bushes are still left, but the trees are falling rapidly. They have been recklessly abused by kindling fires against their trunks, using them as chimney shafts, which of course must destroy them. In this way, oaks that might have stood yet for centuries, with increasing beauty, have been wantonly destroyed. Not a season passes that one does not fall, and within the last few years their number has very sensibly diminished.
It is a long time since the signal-oak was needed by the hunters, the deer having disappeared from these woods with wonderful rapidity. Within twenty years from the foundation of the village, they had already become rare, and in a brief period later they had fled from the country. One of the last of these beautiful creatures seen in the waters of our lake occasioned a chase of much interest, though under very different circumstances from those of a regular hunt. A pretty little fawn had been brought in very young from the woods, and nursed and petted by a lady in the village until it had become as tame as possible. It was graceful, as those little creatures always are, and so gentle and playful that it became a great favorite, following the different members of the family about, caressed by the neighbors, and welcome everywhere. One morning, after gambolling about as usual until weary, it threw itself down in the sunshine, at the feet of one of its friends, upon the steps of a store. There came along a countryman, who for several years had been a hunter by pursuit, and who still kept several dogs; one of his hounds came to the village with him on this occasion. The dog, as it approached the spot where the fawn lay, suddenly stopped; the little animal saw him, and started to its feet. It had lived more than half its life among the dogs of the village, and had apparently lost all fear of them; but it seemed now to know instinctively that an enemy was at hand. In an instant a change came over it, and the gentleman who related the incident, and who was standing by at the moment, observed that he had never in his life seen a finer sight than the sudden arousing of instinct in that beautiful creature. In a second its whole character and appearance seemed changed, all its past habits were forgotten, every wild impulse was awake; its head erect, its nostrils dilated, its eye flashing. In another instant, before the spectators had thought of the danger, before its friends could secure it, the fawn was leaping wildly through the street, and the hound in full pursuit. The bystanders were eager to save it; several persons instantly followed its track, the friends who had long fed and fondled it, calling the name it had hitherto known, but in vain. The hunter endeavored to whistle back his dog, but with no better success. In half a minute the fawn had turned the first corner, dashed onward toward the lake, and thrown itself into the water. But if for a moment the startled creature believed itself safe in the cool bosom of the lake, it was soon undeceived; the hound followed in hot and eager chase, while a dozen of the village dogs joined blindly in the pursuit. Quite a crowd collected on the bank, men, women, and children, anxious for the fate of the little animal known to them all; some threw themselves into boats, hoping to intercept the hound before he reached his prey; but the splashing of the oars, the eager voices of the men and boys, and the barking of the dogs, must have filled the beating heart of the poor fawn with terror and anguish, as though every creature on the spot where it had once been caressed and fondled had suddenly turned into a deadly foe. It was soon seen that the little animal was directing its course across a bay towards the nearest borders of the forest, and immediately the owner of the hound crossed the bridge, running at full speed in the same direction, hoping to stop his dog as he landed. On the fawn swam, as it never swam before, its delicate head scarcely seen above the water, but leaving a disturbed track, which betrayed its course alike to anxious friends and fierce enemies. As it approached the land, the exciting interest became intense. The hunter was already on the same line of shore, calling loudly and angrily to his dog, but the animal seemed to have quite forgotten his master's voice in the pitiless pursuit. The fawn touched the land–in one leap it had crossed the narrow line of beach, and in another instant it would reach the cover of the woods. The hound followed, true to the scent, aiming at the same spot on the shore; his master, anxious to meet him, had run at full speed, and was now coming up at the most critical moment; would the dog hearken to his voice, or could the hunter reach him in time to seize and control him? A shout from the village bank proclaimed that the fawn had passed out of sight into the forest; at the same instant, the hound, as he touched the land, felt the hunter's strong arm clutching his neck. The worst was believed to be over; the fawn was leaping up the mountain-side, and its enemy under restraint. The other dogs, seeing their leader cowed, were easily managed. A number of persons, men and boys, dispersed themselves through the woods in search of the little creature, but without success; they all returned to the village, reporting that the animal had not been seen by them. Some persons thought that after its fright had passed over it would return of its own accord. It had worn a pretty collar, with its owner's name engraved upon it, so that it could easily be known from any other fawn that might be straying about the woods. Before many hours had passed a hunter presented himself to the lady whose pet the little creature had been, and showing a collar with her name on it, said that he had been out in the woods, and saw a fawn in the distance; the little animal, instead of bounding away as he had expected, moved toward him; he took aim, fired, and shot it to the heart. When he found the collar about its neck he was very sorry that he had killed it. And so the poor little thing died; one would have thought the terrible chase would have made it afraid of man; but no, it forgot the evil and remembered the kindness only, and it came to meet as a friend the hunter who shot it. It was long mourned by its best friend.
This, if not the last chase in our waters, was certainly one of the very latest. The bay crossed by the frightened creature has been called "Fawn Bay," and the fine spring in the field above also bears the name of "Fawn Spring."
Monday, 21st.–Very pleasant again. Walked some distance. The grain harvest is now over, very generally, and cattle are seen feeding among the stubble on many farms.
In this part of the world, although we have once seen a woman ploughing, once found a party of girls making hay with the men of the family, and occasionally observed women hoeing potatoes or corn, we have never yet seen a sight very common in the fields of the Old World: we have never yet met a single gleaner. Probably this is not entirely owing to the prosperous state of the country, for there are many poor among us. "The poor ye have with you always, and whensoever ye will, ye may do them good." In the large towns, who has not seen the wretched creatures who pick up the filthy rags from the rubbish and mud of the streets? Where human beings can earn a livelihood in this way in the cities, gleaning in the fields of the country ought not to surprise one. Even about our villages there are not only many persons in want, a number supported by the public, but there are usually others, also, who may be called regular beggars; men, and women, and children, who had rather beg than work. Let not the accusation be thought a harsh one. There are, even in our small rural communities, fathers and mothers who teach their children to beg, alas! who deliberately encourage their children in thieving and lying, and vice of the foulest kinds. Where such things exist, it cannot be the great prosperity of the country which keeps the gleaner from following in the reaper's steps. Probably there are several reasons why gleaning is not practiced here. Food is comparatively cheap; our paupers are well fed, and those who ask for food are freely supplied by private charity. Wheat bread, and meat, and butter, and sugar, and tea, and coffee, are looked upon as necessaries, openly asked for by the applicant, and freely bestowed by the giver. This comparative abundance of food in the early days of the different colonies, and the full demand for labor, were probably the reasons why the custom of gleaning was broken up on this side the Atlantic; and the fact that it is not customary, is one reason why it is never thought of to-day. Then, again, our people, generally, are not patient and contented with a little; gleaning would not suit their habits. Many of them, probably, had rather beg than glean.
But although the practice is entirely abandoned on this side the ocean–in our part of the continent, at least–it prevails very generally in the Old World. In some countries it has been regulated by law; in others it is governed by long-established usage. In some villages of France and Germany, a certain day is fixed in the commune, when the gleaning is to begin; sometimes the church-bell rings, in other villages the beat of the drum calls the gleaners to the fields; peasant mothers, with their little children, boys and girls, old and infirm men and women, are seen in little parties moving toward the unfenced fields, and spreading themselves through the yellow stubble. In Switzerland, parties of the very poor, the old and the little ones who cannot earn much, come down from the mountain villages, where grain is not raised, into the more level farms of the lower country, expressly to glean. One never sees these poor creatures without much interest; mothers, children, and the aged make up the greater number of their bands, and humble as the occupation may be, it is yet thoroughly honest, and, indeed, creditable, so far as it shows a willingness to undertake the lowliest task for a livelihood, rather than stand by wholly idle.
There is no country in Europe, I believe, where gleaning is not a general custom, from the most northern grain-growing valleys, to the luxuriant plains of Sicily. Even in fertile Asia, and in the most ancient times, gleaning was a common practice. The sign of the Zodiac, called the Virgin, is said to represent a gleaner, and that carries one back very far. The Mosaic laws contain minute directions for gleaning. While the children of Israel were yet in the wilderness, before they had conquered one field of the Promised Land, they received the following injunctions:
"And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field; neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God."–Lev. xix.
"When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and thou hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not turn again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands."–Deut. xxiv.
Tuesday, 22d.–Pleasant; walked in the woods. Gathered a fine bunch of ferns. All the plants of this kind growing in our neighborhood belong, I believe, to the common sorts. We have none of the handsome climbing-fern here, with its palmate leaves; it is found as far north as this, but nearer the coast, and on lower ground. The walking-fern, another singular variety, rooting itself like the banyan, from the ends of its long entire leaves, is found near the village. The maiden-hair, with its very delicate foliage, and polished brown stem, is the prettiest variety we have, and very common.
Wednesday, 23d.–The swallows have left the chimneys. This evening they were flying over the grounds in parties, as though preparing to take leave. There was something peculiar in their movement; they were flying quite low, through the foliage of the trees, and over the roof of the house, returning again and again, upon their former track. We watched them for more than an hour, while they kept up the same evolutions with much more regularity than usual; perhaps they were trying their wings for the journey southward.
It is amusing to look back to the discussions of naturalists during the last century, upon the subject of the migration of swallows: a number of them maintained that these active birds lay torpid, during the cold weather, in caves and hollow trees; while others, still more wild in their theories, supposed that swallows went under water and passed the winter in the mud, at the bottom of rivers and pools! Grave and learned were the men who took sides in this question, for and against the torpid theory. One might suppose that it would have required a great amount of the clearest evidence to support a notion so opposed to the general habits of these active birds; but the facts that among the myriads of swallows flitting about Europe, one was occasionally found chilled and torpid, that swallows were frequently seen near the water, and that during the mild days of autumn a few stragglers appeared again, when they were supposed to revive, made up the chief part of what was urged in favor of these notions. It would be difficult to understand how sensible people could be led to maintain such opinions, were it not that men, both learned and unlearned, often show a sort of antipathy to simple truths. Thomson, in the Seasons, alludes to this strange notion; speaking of the swallows, he says:
"Warn'd of approaching winter, gathered, playHe seems rather to have inclined himself to the better opinion. 1
The swallow people; and toss'd wide around
O'er the calm sky, in convolution swift,
The feather'd eddy floats; rejoicing once
Ere to their wintry slumbers they retire;
In clusters clung, beneath the mould'ring bank,
And where, unpierc'd by frost, the cavern sweats.
Or rather into warmer climes convey'd
With other kindred birds of season,
There they twitter cheerful."
In ancient times the swallows were very naturally included among other migratory birds; there is said to be an old Greek ode in which the return of the swallow is mentioned. The Prophet Jeremiah has an allusion to the wandering of the swallow, which he includes among other migratory birds: "Yea, the stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed times, and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the Lord." (Jer. viii. 7.) Indeed, it is but just to the common sense of man to say that the obvious fact of the migration of those swift-winged birds seems only to have been doubted during a century or so; and among the achievements of our own age may be numbered that of a return to the simple truth of this point of ornithology. We hear nothing nowadays of the mud or cave theories.
Thursday, 24th.–Brilliant day. Passed the afternoon on the lake. The views were very beautiful. Downy seeds of various kinds, thistle, dandelion, etc., etc., were thickly strewed over the bosom of the lake; we had never before observed such numbers of them lying on the water.
Saw a crane of the largest size flying over the lake, a mile or two to the northward of our boat. A pair of them have been about the lake all summer; they are said to be the large brown crane. We found one of their young this afternoon lying dead upon the bank of a brook, to which we gave the name of Crane Brook on this occasion. It was a good-sized bird, and seemed to have seen killed in a fight with some winged enemy, for it had not been shot. As for the boldness of calling the brook after it, the pretty little stream had no name before; why not give it one?
Last summer a pair of eagles built their nest on one of the western hills, which we ventured to call Eagle Hill, on the same principle. These noble birds are occasionally seen hovering over the valley, though not often.
Measured an old grape-vine in the glen, near Crane Brook; it proved to be seven inches in circumference.
Friday, 25th.–Observed the chimney swallows again this evening, wheeling in a low flight over the roof, and through the foliage of the trees. It looked as though they were taking leave of us. Mr. Wilson says, it frequently happens that these birds make their general rendezvous when they first come, and just before they leave, in the chimneys of the Court-House, if there be one in the place; they seem to find out that such chimneys are little used. But we have never heard of the swallows honoring our own Court-House in this way.
Saturday, 26th.–Again we observed the chimney swallows, flying over the house and through the trees, just as they have done these four or five evenings. Perhaps there is some particular insect among the leaves which attracts them just now.
Saw a few barn-swallows also, this afternoon; but most of these seem to have left us already.
Monday, 28th.–About sunset this evening observed many night-hawks flying over the village.
We happened once to see a large flight of these birds. We were travelling a short distance north of the Mohawk, at this very date, the 28th of August, when, about an hour before sunset, a number of large birds were seen rising from a wood to the eastward, all moving slowly in a loose, straggling flock, toward the southwest. They proved to be night-hawks; and they continued passing at intervals until an hour after sunset. They seemed to heed each other very little, being seldom near together, but all were aiming in the same direction. We must have seen several hundreds of them, in the course of the two hours they were in sight.
Tuesday, 29th.–The swallows have moved their parade-ground this evening. We missed them about the house, but found them wheeling over the highway, near the bridge, the very spot where we first saw them in the spring.
Friday, 30th.–Walked in the woods. Observing an old branchless trunk of the largest size, in a striking position, where it looked like a broken column, we walked up to examine it. The shaft rose, without a curve or a branch, to the height of perhaps forty feet, where it had been abruptly shivered, probably in some storm. The tree was a chestnut, and the bark of a clear, unsullied gray; walking round it, we saw an opening near the ground, and to our surprise found the trunk hollow and entirely charred within, black as a chimney, from the root to the point where it was broken off. It frequently happens that fire steals into the heart of an old tree, in this way, by some opening near the roots, and burns away the inside, leaving merely a gray outer shell. One would not expect the bark to be left in such cases, but the wood at the heart seems more inflammable than the outer growth. Whatever be the cause, such shafts are not uncommon about our hills, gray without, charred within.
There is, indeed, much charred wood in our forest; fires which sweep over the hills are of frequent occurrence here, and at times they do much mischief. If the flames are once fairly kindled in dry weather, they will spread in all directions as the wind varies, burning sometimes for weeks altogether, until they have swept over miles of woodland, withering the verdure, destroying the wood already cut, and greatly injuring many trees which they do not consume. Several years since, in the month of June, there was quite an extensive fire on the eastern range of hills; it lasted for ten days or a fortnight, spreading several miles in different directions. It was the first important fire of the kind we had ever seen, and of course we watched its progress with much interest; but the spectacle was a very different one from what we had supposed. It was much less terrible than the conflagration of buildings in a town; there was less of power and fierce grandeur, and more of treacherous beauty about the flames as they ran hither and thither along the mountain-side. The first night after it broke out we looked on with admiration; one might have thought it a general illumination of the forest, as the flames spread in long winding lines, gaining upon the dark wood every moment, up and down, and across the hill, collecting here and there with greater brilliancy about some tall old tree, which they hung with fire like a giant lustre. But the next day the sight was a sad one indeed: the deceitful brilliancy of the flames no longer pleased the eye; wreaths of dull smoke and hot vapors hung over the blighted trees, and wherever the fire had wandered, there the fresh June foliage was utterly blasted. That night we could no longer take pleasure in the spectacle; we could no longer fancy a joyous illumination. We seemed rather to behold the winding coils of some fiery serpent gliding farther and farther on its path of evil; a rattling, hissing sound accompanying its movement, the young trees trembling and quivering with agitation in the heated current which proclaimed its approach. The fresh flowers were all blighted by its scorching breath, and with its forked tongue it fed upon the pride of the forest, drying up the life of great trees, and without waiting to consume them, hurrying onward to blight other groves, leaving a blackened track of ruin wherever it passed.
Some eighty years since, a fire of this kind is said to have spread until it enclosed within its lines the lake and the valley, as far as one could see, surrounding the village with a network of flame, which at night was quite appalling in its aspect. The danger, however, was not so great as it appeared, as there was everywhere a cleared space between the burning forest and the little town. At times, however, very serious accidents result from these fires; within a few days we have heard of a small village, in the northern part of the State, in St. Lawrence County, entirely destroyed in this way, the flames gaining so rapidly upon the poor people that they were obliged to collect their families and cattle in boats and upon rafts, in the nearest pools and streams.
Of course, more or less mischief is always done; the wood and timber already cut are destroyed, fences are burnt, many trees are killed, others are much injured, the foliage is more or less blighted for the season; the young plants are killed, and the earth looks black and gloomy. Upon the whole, however, it is surprising that no more harm is done. On the occasion of the fire referred to in these woods, we found the traces of the flames to disappear much sooner than we had supposed possible. The next season the smaller plants were all replaced by others; many of the younger trees seemed to revive, and a stranger passing over the ground to-day would scarcely believe that fire had been feeding on those woods for a fortnight only a few seasons back. A group of tall, blasted hemlocks, on the verge of the wood, is the most striking monument of the event. The evergreens generally suffer more than other trees, and for some cause or other the fire continued busy as that point for several days. We repeatedly passed along the highway at the time, with the flames at work on either side. Of course, there was no danger, but it looked oddly to be driving quietly along through the fire. The crackling of the flames was heard in the village, and the smell of smoke was occasionally quite unpleasant.
A timely rain generally puts a stop to the mischief; but parties of men are also sent out into the woods to "fight the fire." They tread out the flames among the dry leaves by trampling them down, and they rake away the combustible materials, to confine the enemy to its old grounds, when it soon exhausts itself. The flames spread more frequently along the earth, than from tree to tree.
Thursday, 31th.–The water-lilies are still in blossom; opening quite early in the season, they continue to flower until the frost cuts them off. We found numbers of them in Black-bird Bay this evening.
The roots of the yellow lily were a favorite repast with the moose, and no doubt those great, unwieldy animals have often stood in the shallow water of the little bay we now call after the black-birds, feeding on the lilies, which must have always grown there. The beaver, also, was very partial to these plants, and as he was no stranger here in Indian times, probably he may often have been at this spot taking his share of the lilies. But it is now more than fifty years since these plants have bloomed only for man, and the bees, and the black-birds. The last, probably, heed them little, although they are near neighbors, generally haunting the low point which forms the bay, whenever they visit our neighborhood.
One of the noblest plants of our country belongs to this tribe of the water lilies: the Nelumbo, or sacred bean, or water-chinquapin, as it is sometimes called. Its great leaves are from one to two feet broad, and its pale yellow blossom about half a foot in diameter. It is chiefly in our western waters that the Nelumbo is found; in this part of the country it is much more rare. There is, however, one locality in our own State where it grows, and that is on the northern frontier, Sodus Bay, Lake Ontario. It is also found at one point in the Connecticut, and in the Delaware, below Philadelphia. Wherever it is seen, it attracts attention, from the great size of the leaves and the blossom.
This noble flower belongs to a very celebrated family; it calls cousin with the famous Hindoo and Egyptian Lotus, being one of the varieties of that tribe. In Hindoo and Egyptian fable, these plants were held very sacred, as emblems of the creation. In Hindostan, the lotus was an attribute of Ganga, the goddess of the Ganges, and was supposed to have been produced by Vishnu, before the earth was created, and when its first petals unfolded, they discovered the deity Bramah lying within. In Egypt, the flower was sacred to Isis, believed to have been given her by Osiris, and was associated with their own sacred river, the Nile; it was also the emblem of Upper Egypt, as the papyrus was of Lower Egypt. Many traces of these ancient superstitions are still seen blended with the architecture, bas-reliefs, paintings, and whatever remains to us of those nations. There appear to have been several kinds of lotus represented on the ancient Egyptian monuments. One was white, with a fruit like that of the poppy; another bore blue flowers, with the same fruit; the third, and the most celebrated, is mentioned by Herodotus as the lily rose, and was also called the flower of Antinous; the blossom was of a beautiful red, and the fruit like the rose of a watering-pot, with large seeds like filberts. These are all said to be found at present in India, but what is singular, the finest, the lily-rose, has now disappeared from Egypt, where it was formerly in such high consideration. The blue variety is still found there.
At the present day, the lotus is more honored in Asia than in Egypt. The Hindoos still consider it a sacred flower. In Ceylon, they have a variety which they call Nelumbo, whence our own name. A number of varieties are said to be found in China, where it is also sacred; this does not prevent the Chinese from eating it, however, and it is much cultivated by them as an article of food. The seeds of the Lien Wha, as they call it, are of the form and size of an acorn, and are considered more delicate than almonds; the root, also, is boiled; or sliced raw, and served with ice in summer; or laid up in salt and vinegar for winter use.
These fine plants seem to have an aversion to the soil or climate of Europe; it is said that the ancient Romans attempted to cultivate them in Italy, without success, and that modern European horticulturists have also failed in their efforts to cultivate them in hot-houses. And yet, in this part of the world, the Nelumbo grows in the icy waters of Lake Ontario. Both the large seeds, and the root of our American variety, are said to be very pleasant to the taste; the latter is not unlike the sweet potato.
1 This field yielded ninety-three bushels of maize to the acre the following autumn.
1 Gay-wings, Polygala paucifolia; Cool-wort, Tiarella cordifolia; Fairy-cup, Mitella dyphylla; May-star, Trientalis Americana; Bead-ruby, Convollaria bifolia; Squaw-vine, Mitchella repens; Partridge plant, Gualtheria; Dew-drop, Dalibarda.
1 The trees destroyed on the Mississippi by the earthquake of 1811 are standing to-day. And many similar instances might, no doubt, be found, if people had watched these dead inhabitants of our forests.
1 It is said that Linnæus firmly believed that the swallows went under water during the winter; and even M. Cuvier declared that the bank swallows had this habit. At present the idea is quite abandoned for want of proof.