The ages have wrought for concentration and have sought to bring all diffusion to a focus and to centralize all that was outlying. See all nebulae brought to revolve about a center and to contract; shapeless chaotic mass by the law of sphericity made to rotate upon some axis—turned in the cosmic lathe—and forth comes a beautiful luminous sphere. Out of the formless proceed beautiful forms; out of mass—individuals. A stifling, seething, gaseous envelope gives place to pure air. The elements are concentrated in rock and soil, in oxide and chloride, nitrate and sulfate, in their progress to the ultimate physical state, and a grain of wheat is the summary of immense preparation and deep-laid plans. The diffused carbonic acid is collected in plants; vast reaches of the atmosphere are gleaned and sifted to form a cubic foot of coal. The land and the sea are pressed into service; countless ages, a myriad fauna and a vast flora are called into requisition to yield phosphates, silicates and carbonates—and to produce gas and oil. The flame of this lamp is the voice of time and speaks in accents of fire of the prehistoric legions that have left this token of their existence. The gold in solution throughout the seas is deposited in primeval slates to be later united in quartz veins, freed by glaciers, sorted and collected by mountain streams and left in glittering grains in gravel beds. The scattered iron of the soil is gathered in bogs, and various ores and minerals are collected in veins. Everywhere the unavailable is made available, the inaccessible made accessible.
Written on the face of rocks and in the color of the soil, inscribed boldly on mountains and gently in the valleys, written plainest in the fossil letters of the sandstones, of the slates and limestones, is the record of creation. First, a long dark night—Archean abysmal. Then long ages with primordial lands and seas: a world tenanted only by Protozoa. A struggling upwards through radiates, and mollusks, square shouldered and antique; through crustaceans to the reign of trilobites, and on to the early race of ganoid fishes, clothed in scaly armor. An age of amphibians—of vast swamps and marshes choked with ferns and simple plants; insects now flying here and there, but a world still flowerless—songless. An age of reptiles, of huge ichthyosaurs and dinosaurs: a slow progression to the toothed and reptile ancestor of the birds; a gradual evolution to the marsupials; at last the advent of true mammals, and the encroachment of the arctic snows—a great ice age. A day of mammoths and mastodons and giant sloths; a present day of song-birds, of bony fishes, of true mammals, having possession of the air, the sea and the land; and man, the arch potentate having dominion over all, who through wisdom shall cause them to serve his advancement, who in ignorance may remain with them an animal. Genus has followed genus, type succeeded type—a series of ever progressing forms appearing and departing to make room for those more worthy. Working ever from lower to higher, evolving always a larger brain cavity, tending toward cephalization, reaching the ideal of cephalization and in man passing eventually to spiritualization: this is the ultimate, this the goal of evolution. As the more highly cephalized types are the fittest among animals, so the more spiritualized types are the fittest among men. Huge saurians with small brains have given way before small mammals with larger brains, in the progressive expression of intelligence; and the more spiritual races shall supplant the animal races of men, for in man that only which is in accordance with truth is fittest and shall survive.
The earth is a storehouse for the products of the sun. In its laboratories are myriad essences, perfumes, pigments—in its workshops myriad types and patterns with which the Spirit is ever working; kingdoms, classes, and sub-classes, a host of orders, genera, species, and yet for each a place; each plays a part and is worthy of a name. A hundred thousand species of phenogamous plants, and as many flowerless species; ninety thousand species of beetles alone, and legions of ants, bees and wasps, of moths and butterflies, and all the rest; to say nothing of worms, mollusks, crustaceans, and the great class of vertebrates. All this perhaps but a bagatelle to the hosts that have become extinct. This vast multiplicity, this infinite diversity, referable to one source—the conception of one mind. The earth may be likened to an ark in which this great concourse takes its journey through the celestial spaces: turned right about every twenty-four hours and not in the least disturbed by it; covering thirty thousand meters every second and unconscious of it; traversing unawares an immensity in the sublime orbit and resting unperturbed in the security of that One. In the course of one brief season of three-score years and ten we are hurled seventy times with enormous velocity around the sun, clinging like infinitesimal specks to the cooling surface of a white-hot projectile, rushing through swarms of meteors, traversing the far regions of space, and yet flying never remote from the love of God.
The rough stone has been cut and polished and before us lies the gem in all its matchless splendor—every facet the expression of a different beauty. Along the shore where in long broken lines the breakers roll in three deep, the loose dry sand is piled high and held in place by the marram-grass, the sturdy faithful friend of man. Resister of the encroaching sea, defiant alike of wind and wave, it is content upon barren sands where little else can live, and thrives where others perish. Growing amidst the hard glittering grains of quartz, destitute of phosphate and nitrate, destitute of the luxuries dear to plant life, it takes from the earth a little moisture, from the air a little carbon. Content with these necessities it leads a rugged life, the bulwark of the sandy coasts; and like the toilers of the sea and of the fields it has the simplest fare and the fewest wants.
Beside the country roads dwell the humble people of the wayside, and the immigrants from beyond the sea: ground ivy and bouncing-bet, and tansy > pigweed and thistles. And there, too, grow the wind fertilized, the lowly ones—grasses and plantains—the plain and homely, to whom was given no fragrance, no gay colors; these the children of the wind, the beloved of the south wind and the west wind. They are the solitary ones to whom come no bees, to whom no butterfly ever pays a friendly visit; who never hear the pleasant hum of insects, who secret no treasure but live thus unnoticed by the roadside, remembered only by the wind. Here also the vagabonds, burdock and sticktight, and all the despised who with a perseverance born of the virile force of nature, and with hooks and claws, hang their prickly fruit on the spaniel's ears and the collie's tail.
In the hillside pastures where boulders lie scattered as they were left by the retreating ice sheet, the mullein puts forth its great flannel leaves, and yarrow, and wild carrot, and stone-crop lead their hardy lives. Here where running cinquefoil and strawberry vines sparsely cover the rocky soil, meadow ants make their nests and pursue their routine of work amidst colonies of esculent puff balls. Concealed in the beard-grass at the foot of a straggling barberry, the field sparrow sits on her second batch of eggs, while field crickets take their way in inconsequent leaps under the dwarf sumacs and around stunted junipers, which perhaps serve them as vast and towering landmarks in their excursions abroad—they who perceive the expanse of blue through distant openings in the sweet-fern overhead.
In the bogs the rich confusion of forms, the luxuriant aspect, makes real and contemporary the carboniferous age, where now is the home of orchids and the haunt of the blacksnake and the bittern, where now the call of the catbird comes up from the alders. On the soft seal-brown wood of fallen hemlocks that have lain for years, on the rotting stumps of the first growth of the forest, are crowded mosses, lichens and mushrooms. The polyporus projects from leaning white birches, tier upon tier of buff and ashen-tinted shelves. Under hemlocks grows the chanterelle, and in the rich black earth the orange-milk mushroom, bright hued as some tropic blossom. The tangle of peat-moss is the home of myriad hunting spiders; a garden graced by the rose purple adder's-mouth, and sometimes a white fringed orchids. Liverworts grow like green scales at the water's edge; horse tails stand erect like quills. The osmunda circles round its fertile fronds, towering above creeping gold-thread and patches of wood fern. There are water-arams and turtle-heads, loving well the water; there are sundew and pitcher-plants, skunk-cabbage and false hellebore, all dwellers in this woodland quiet. Such loveliness is there in the despised bog, such promise in decay, that from the ruins of a hemlock a garden of orchids springs.
So fair is the face of Nature, so winning is her smile, so expressive her grace and beauty, that it is not strange men would be content with this passing loveliness; should write sonnets to the moods, the smiles and frowns, but seldom an ode to the Soul of Nature. It is significant that men once believed in divinities of the woods and streams; saw them vanishing o'er the meadows; heard them whispering in the forest and laughing in the waters; that they once believed in Naiad and in Dryad. And it is still a gentle custom in Japan when the land is bright with the cherry blossom and wisteria to write petitions and tie them to the flowering branches of the plum tree.
We no longer make offering to Ceres and to Neptune, no longer hear the pipes of Pan nor the lute of Orpheus, no longer pour libations of wine on the roots of the tulip tree; and all our nymphs are water lilies. But none the less the Soul has not gone out of Nature; it is still the source of her perennial youth. Divinity within us makes solemn reverence to divinity in Nature; turns to the forest tree and there meets itself; sees itself in the squirrel nimbly climbing in its branches, in the saw-fly ovipositing in its leaves, in the larva worming its way beneath the bark; beholds itself in the violet at its foot, in the fish-hawk sailing overhead, in the cloud, in the sunshine and the rainbow.
The inspired votary admiring all beauty yet sees it is but the symbol. He reads the stars, learns history from the rock, love from the flower, and wisdom of the owl. Always he inquires, and nothing in nature is to him trivial or without meaning. Where did the ant acquire its language, the bee learn its geometry; how came the sand-wasp to lay up food for the offspring it may never see, the ichneumon to place its eggs in the living body of a larval moth? Who taught the insect to simulate a leaf, the partridge and the sandpiper to employ such artifice and dissimulation in the protection of their young? Whence came the faith of the gall-fly to trust the scrub oak to become the foster-parent of its progeny, or the cow-bird to rely upon oven-bird and vireo to hatch her eggs and feed her young; and whence the foresight of the caterpillar that fastens to the tree the leaf on which it would pass the winter?
On the passes of the Himalayas turning in the hands of Bhutans and Thibetans, and revolving in the porticos of the temples among the clouds, there the prayer wheels proclaim with every revolution the jewel in the lotus. Where crawl the copper-head and moccasin, where roam the red fox and the deer, where live the caribou and beaver, where breed the brant and wild goose; in the cane-brake and the ash swamp, among the maples and the chestnuts, among the tamarack and balsams, here sparkles still this jewel in the lotus—the self within the self, the Soul within all things, the all-pervading Spirit. And the naturalist that correlates all facts and perceives this underlying unity, while seeking in the bogs for orchids, and by the ponds for algae, or traversing in exultation the crests of high sierras, may wander perchance to those Elysian fields where are the solemn tokens of the Word, and shall behold the fauna and the flora of a higher life. Then shall he see nature as the expression of divinity, as the Divine in him made manifest, and learn that the bluebird and the wood-thrush, the violet and the lady's-slipper is each a particular phase of the Divine Mind, its life history a glimpse of the process whereby God works.
It is essential to regard animals with kindly interest rather than with curiosity, to covet their good-will and not their bones and skin if we would have an insight into the nature of things. It is recorded as evidence of the power of the mandibles of a species of staghorn beetle, that an individual confined in an iron canister, gnawed a hole in its prison and made its escape; so often does science emphasize the minutiae while failing of a broad comprehension of nature as a whole; so prone is she to lay stress upon what is trivial, and to overlook that which is essential. But that a beetle should so love freedom, that a beetle should have the courage, the will, the determination, to overcome apparently insurmountable obstacles and gain its liberty, is a fact of no less than divine import, a fact so significant as to place the whole animal kingdom before us in a new light.
There is one thread of life ramifying in all forms, and it follows that all sentient life experiences certain emotions in common. The recognition of this identity throughout is the first step to a higher comprehension of nature and should be the fundamental axiom of scientific research; for it is the real province of science to investigate phenomena only in relation to principle, form as the embodiment of spirit, and life as the expression of love. It is not the academic but the spiritual mind which receives the true impression of nature, and which shall reveal the more significant truths, for it sees in bird and flowers not an aggregate of cells, nor a wonderful mechanism, but a friend the mystery of whose life is one with that of its own. Love is the key to the universe which unlocks all doors. It rests with the little child to gainsay the most eminent of vivisectionists. There is to the lover of nature, then, a certain obtuseness, not to say barbarity, in that not uncommon treatment of the biographies of animals, especially of game-birds and water-fowls, wherein such undue stress is laid upon their conduct in dire emergencies. It betrays a callousness to those sufferings and emotions which are no less than human; how they act when wounded, whether diving or running, and what manner of defense they make; of songbirds, how they endure the loss of the eggs, how one will survive the loss of its mate taken as a specimen, and whether or not they pine in captivity. That such recountals should find any place in the life histories of birds and mammals is as incongruous as if in writing of the genus Homo we were to record as pertinent facts, that man when confined in a dungeon no longer sings and is dejected, that when his children are taken from him he is subject to uncontrollable grief and despair, that when wounded, if defenseless he uses all stratagem to escape, but if brought to bay will use tooth and nail in his poor hope of life, and is then dangerous to encounter.
It has been said that the tonic of nature is F Major. When the wind speaks through the forest, when the ocean resounds along the granite shore, it is thus they speak; and the hum of great cities and the manifold sounds of nature blend in this dominant major chord. There is then one key to which Nature is attuned; one keynote whose overtones range upward through the spheres of insight and of sympathy; and who dwells there must vibrate in unison. Strike the keynote of a bridge and the tone of a violin may set the structure in oscillation; strike the fundamental of the Soul and there shall ensue a rhythmical vibration. There is one keynote for Nature and for the Soul, and when it is sounded for one the other shall respond, and node coincide with node, and wave with wave, in the sublime monotone.
We march to the music of the spheres and are lighted by the radiance of a million suns; we live always on the eve of great discoveries and are the witnesses of unceasing wonders. Every man is born in an age of miracles and is the inheritor of immense beauty. Had the earth made but one rotation upon its axis, that spectacle of the rising and setting sun would be the marvel of the ages. Did but one rose bloom upon the earth we would build for it a temple; had but one bird been seen to spread its wings and sail into the sky, or but one butterfly to expand its gold and azure splendor upon the blossoms of the milkweed, we would long retain the memory of so fair a sight. He is happy who amidst the care and turmoil of the world cherishes in all perfection the innate love of the beautiful: who regards with joy and wonder and reverence the procession of infinite beauty which flows perpetually from the Great Soul of the universe.
Nature exacts more than passing admiration; she would have worship. To this end she importunes, with persistence and unremitting patience besieges us, and undertakes with every crude semblance of a man the culture of that germ of true life—the perception of the beautiful. Year by year she revolves for him her seasons; appeals to him with the springtime—the Primavera; brings thick and fast in sweet confusion all the flowers, columbines and bellworts—medeola and twisted-stalk and trilliums; spreads a carpet of houstonia and yellow cinquefoil, and stars the grass with dandelions; leads him by still waters and smooths for him a couch of violets. She withholds no charm but lavishes a wealth of beauty in common things: in fresh-ploughed fields and April skies, in apple blossoms and buttercups, and country lanes in lilac time, in the rosy breasts of grosbeaks and the indigo blue of buntings, in the ruby throats of humming-birds and the pensile nests of vireos, in the blue of robins' eggs and the mottled eggs of sparrows; in the languid fluttering of cabbage-butterflies, the marvelous flight of swallows and the easy poise of buzzards, in the peeping of frogs and the hum of bees, in pattering rain-drops and lapping waves. She writes a prayer in every flower and incites the thrush to singing hymns; is eloquent of her purpose in star and cloud and tree, that men may at last look up, may rise to the heights of worship and be lead "through Nature to Nature's God."
Have you found the closed and hidden flowers of violets, or seen high upon the spruce the crimson beauty of its fertile blossom? Have you seen the yellow warbler lay a floor over the cowbird's eggs—the carpenter-bee take nectar from the pinxter flower; heard the jubilant song of oven-bird, so different from its call, or the plaintive, noonday note of the chickadee? Do you know why among the birds the females are so plainly dressed; and have you sought the reason and purpose of songs and insect sounds, of the nectar and perfume of blossoms? Natural and sexual selection do not explain all; there remains yet the economy of beauty which must be served. Creation is not the sole end of creation; not the mere renewal of types, but the perpetuation of a scheme of harmony. Science would have it that beauty exists to serve the ends of reproduction, but it is rather reproduction which but subserves the beautiful.
The seasons mark the rhythmic expansion and contraction of .life—the outbreathing and inbreathing of the Infinite. Spring is Nature's darling—the fair one; her gentle admonition to the jaded world to renew, forever to renew; to cast off dry custom and tradition and the sear and lifeless habits of thought, as the tree its withered leaves, and to renew the mind that it may be transformed as by a newer and a fresher verdure.
While memories of falling snows and blustering winds are fresh there comes a gentle south wind and scatters flakes from the lap of Flora—brings the bloodroot and the shadbush, and the drifts of wood anemones. Red cherry and dogwood and viburnums come in quick succession; unbounded freshness, unbounded verdure—emerald and olive and apple. There is the green of alder and willow, the green of cherry and birch—of upland and lowland, meadow and swamp. The pollen of the pitch pine rises like incense and the air is heavy with its fragrance. The bursting buds of beech and hickory, the new glory of the red and white oaks, and in the swamps the red haze of flowering maples—all apprize us of solemn and joyful rites; the fete for which the year is a preparation, for which there are canopies of apple blossoms, and carpets of violets laid.
Now should we go into the woods and fields and listen to the glad song of love. Great is the sun's love for the earth; sweet and inspiring the epithalamium of spring, which is written in the language of flowers in verses of myriad blossoms; which is sung and chirped and croaked from every meadow and every fence-post, from the roadside and the frog pond; in the guttural croak of cuckoos and the sputter and creak of the grackle, in the hoarse clatter of kingfishers and the cheery call of the bob-white, in the sweet wild music of the purple finch and the tender lay of warbling vireo, and in the bobolink's joyous and irrepressible jingle; which is evidenced in every mode and rate of vibration throughout the mystic gamut of sound and perfume and color; carried on beyond the highest note we hear, beyond the violet of the spectrum and all actinic rays. From the first bluebird's warble and the opening chorus of green frogs, from the coming of the arbutus and the first blossom of hepatica, one theme divine there is.
Yesterday the woods were silent; today they are merry with the sound of many voices, and bright with the gleam of the green and gold, the orange and blue of migrating warblers. It is a wonderful invasion this, with its advance line spanning continents; black-throated and orange-crowned, blue winged and bay-breasted—they come, flitting from tree to tree; wanderers from afar that travel over land and sea, from the Orinoco to the St. Lawrence, and take no thought but trust in the Infinite Love.
The sylvan voice of the kinglet, subdued and liquid as the sound of water running underground, recalls faun and satyr. The clear whistle of the oriole and the brave sweet notes of the cardinal rise from locust and sycamore and are carried over the mill pond. It is bold and free this reverie; fraught with memories of some Provencal of birdland, and with suggestions of the oleander and the orange, and of the Cherokee rose. There is a darting flame among the elms; there is a flash of scarlet in the apple trees, and a glance of redwings wheeling in the sunlight.
From myriad throats ascends the morning hymn of the birds—the measured and rhythmical chant of the children of the air. The great chorus rises and falls, rises and falls, as it comes forth from the heart and throat of Nature—her Pilgrims' chorus. Softly it opens with the note of the pewee, and is taken up by song-sparrows and robin, growing louder and stronger with voices of catbird and oriole, until swelled to majestic volume it ascends in superb hymn of praise, led by the devotional song of the wood-thrush, rising clear and sweet and instinct with the spirit of worship.
There are pattering rain-drops on the leaves and shining drops upon the grass; there is the sweet low cadence of its ceaseless falling. From sparrow and catbird comes a twittering and the sound of ruffling plumage as they stroke and oil their feathers. There is a tenderness, a great friendliness in these gentle showers that conveys a certain note of well-being and assurance to the listening ear. Here, again, is Nature's suggestion of renewal appealing to that conviction common to most men, that sometime, somehow, it shall be expedient to efface from memory the unsightly scrawls and wash the mind clean; to renounce all foregone conclusions, begin life again, and sow a new crop in a virgin soil; to arise on some admirable morning from a transforming slumber to the realization of a new day—a new world. And this is the possibility the hours carry with them.
What if the spring is backward, the sun has none the less reached his accustomed place. In due time shall the Spirit illumine the bog of daily thought, and in its midst may appear the white-fringed orchis of the Soul. Our faith, like the aurora in this latitude, is fitful and uncertain; but we may reach higher latitudes and dwell in purer regions of thought where perchance it shall be constant. Welcome these gleams of thought that play upon the horizon that they may kindle to a steady glow. The Spirit is ever ready with its communications. In the flash of insight the Soul reveals the path of light; the vision is clarified and the whole being infused with the glory and sanity of the moment. Then only are we awake. Every question is answered, every doubt is dispelled in one gleam of the Soul. We shall count our hours of life from one such moment to another. They are epochs; they are the rings of growth whereby we may see how long we have truly lived.
The twig grows and buds, supported by the whole great system of root and branch—earth and sun; but cut off, it withers; and it is for us to draw from that source which is infinite. The heart beats and the lungs expand without conscious effort; why, then, this painful exertion to regulate and to map out life? We have but to live in close communion with the source of love and wisdom and our lives shall be beautifully ordered. The glare of sunlight is dear to the saxifrage, and the goldthread loves the twilight of the hemlocks and the society of moss and fern. A moist and sheltered spot is the haunt of groundnut and adder's-tongue; a rocky cleft is graced by the regal columbine, and the wild pink loves a sand bank. All goes to show that there is a place for each, a sphere of action, a particular beauty; and to all come influences beneficent. The clover waits for the bee and the orchid for the moth. Not he that runs but he that stands and lowly listens shall hear the oracle. Unto every soul would Nature give her balm. To the lonely she whispers, "Trust"; to the timid, "Courage." To one she says, "Act!," and to another, "Wait"; while to each and every one she whispers, "Love."
Why this distinction between Art and Nature? Wherein can Art improve on Nature, who is herself foremost of sculptors and painters? We are accustomed to consider Nature as the actual, Art the ideal, where in fact Art is but the recognition—the grasping and picturing of the ideal in Nature. Are there sunsets on canvas such as we have witnessed from our windows; faces more majestic than we have encountered on the street? But Art is clear-eyed and discerning and grasps that which Utility fails to see. We see in Nature the compass of our minds; we shall measure her and sound her that we may determine our own depth and breadth. He who has discovered little beauty within finds but little without; and he who has realized great beauty within, sees it overflowing in Nature. And so Art looks at Nature and perceives the ideal, and Utility looks and sees only that which will lift and carry, which will produce and multiply—earn and increase. If a man loves the woods there is in him something of their sincerity and straightforwardness, and if he love the mountains, he retains somewhat of their grandeur and simplicity; for we ever seek in the world of form what best expresses the idea within us, and by our tastes and pursuits divulge what manner of man we are. When the mellow sunshine has warmed the earth and it blossoms forth in beauty, when the air is redolent with bayberry and sweet-fern and the wild rose is in its glory, he who sits in rapt devotion and ponders all this mystery, perceives that the Soul is the cause ineffable—all beauty but the effect. For the sublimity of snowy range, the delicacy of an orchid, the soft radiance of an afternoon in spring—all the delicacy and the wonder and the harmony of Nature are but the shadows of that inner life; within, within—rests the sublimity of which these are the radiant symbols.
The dog-star has faded from the evening sky and the dogwood from the hillside and the wood-lot. Far into the night have the Pleiades gone; into the night too have departed starflower and anemone. Orion's splendor is now a memory—a memory the hum of bees in the apple blossoms, and berry and fruit recall a host of gentle flowers. Out of the twilight comes Lyra the beautiful, and Cygnus lies over the Milky Way.
Wood roads are gay with foxgloves and starry campions, and lanes are fringed with wild carrot as with a border of lace worked in flaming patterns of Black-eyed Susan and vivid hue of milkweeds. In deep shades the black cohosh raises tall and ghostlike its white racemes, and the lovely meadow lily hangs its head—fitting cap for elf and sprite. The salt marsh is brightening with the roseate flowers of swamp mallow—a flower garden in a wilderness of cord-grass and cat-tails. Where blue flags not long since were blooming, there sparkles now the silvery leaf of jewelweed. On the ponds are floating yellow pond-lilies, and nymphaea, the queenly water-lily, reigns supreme. Sundew and adder's-mouth are flowering side by side in the cranberry bogs, and pools are fringed with pickerel-weed and arrowhead. Look for meadow-sweet and hardback in the pastures, where clover and mullein are interspersed with grasses now ripe and brown, and wood lilies lift their petals above the huckleberry patch. Gentle signs of midsummer these, of the season of fullness and completion, of repose and contemplation; and the white pine invites us to sit beneath its shade that it may be to us the bo-tree of our meditations.
The dandelions have become balls of down—clusters of silken parachutes attached to as many brown seeds. Each parachute shall carry its seed out into the world; impelled by the purpose of an infinite mind it shall sail dreamily away, over fence and hedge, over road and ditch—now sailing high, now skimming low. Strong winds shall blow it, gentle breezes waft it, until it floats quietly down into some cool green pasture where amid the red-top and the sorrel the seed shall end its travels. There the summer sun shall beat upon it; it shall be covered by the brown October leaves of beech and chestnut, or perchance a maple leaf shall be its canopy of red and gold. Deep beneath the snows of winter shall it lie, unknown, forgotten save by that One whose pulse within it beats. But when the frost leaves the ground and the warm rains of spring bring again the message of life, the Eternal One shall manifest itself; the seed shall perish but the Spirit of Life shall arise in leaf and stem and blossom, and the smiling faces of the dandelions grace anew the redtop and the sorrel. Such is the resurrection of a flower. Then comes the young bumble-bee trying for the first time his wings and glad in his new existence; burly, noisy and impetuous, he bends low the shining flowers, and deep within the nectar tubes intrudes his tongue. Dusty with pollen he speeds away on his two-fold mission—the portentous buzzing little match-maker. So are there always dandelions for little hands to pick, and brown seeds for goldfinches and blue buntings to eat, and little silken parachutes to sail away on the summer breeze; and the One manifests eternally—He whose name is Love. In the early summer the wild geranium blossoms in the recesses of the woods, seeking the shade of chestnut and black birch and tulip tree; there in the haunts of the oven-bird little companies dwell together, living in sweet serenity their peaceful wood life and hearing only distantly of the world without from the vireo or the gray squirrel overhead. Subdued is the light in these woodland haunts; subdued and gentle is the life of these flowers. Sheltered are they from sun and wind, and so they live and pray; for their lives are their prayers—silent as are all true prayers—but expressed in petal and sepal, in stamen and pistil, and answered in pod and seed and capsule. Thus do prayers ascend from the sequestered glens; and as we watch the rose-purple petals gently falling to the leaf-mould we shall know they have been answered.
Yet another company worships in the depths of the white-pine forest. In Nature's own cathedral where the straight trunks and arching branches are as the vault and pillars of a Gothic nave and choir, the pale tribe of the Indian pipes live in silence and devotion, lighted by the slanting rays of sunlight, and hearing—like an organ sweet and low—the distant chanting of the west wind.
The end of enchantments is not yet. There is a spell cast over every pasture where chirps a cricket, and who walks there and does not feel it is a prince of the uninspired and his realm the commonplace. There is a witchery in the twilight, and nodding harebell is an incantation—the sweetbrier a potent charm. There is a mind in vegetable and mineral and in the humblest creeping thing—and interrelation between all. Question the oak and it will answer; deny it speech and to you it is silent.
Let us not mow and shear and prune until the landscape has become a mush of propriety, and the eye of character finds nowhere a dear rugged spot on which to rest. Let a man preserve his love of the wild; let him cherish the savage and solitary aspects—tamarack swamp, and rushing stream, the granite dome rising above forest of spruce. Society will never restore the lost virtues of the savage. When we can stand and watch the black bear disconsolate in his pitiless cage, or the eagle fierce and defiant in his solitary confinement, and feel no kinship, no regret—a virtue has surely gone from us. Let us seek the stern companionship of the stars which fails not, and grapple with hooks of steel the solemn friendship of mountain range and encircling ocean. There is poetry in the sky—rich, varied and endless, the immeasurable Soul projected before us and made visible; there is sweet solace in the clouds and jovial good-fellowship in the tried and trusty sun.
The perpetual miracle of the fields shames the unnecessary and interpolated miracle of tradition. Little Science stands hat in hand before a cherry pit—wondering, puzzled! Peer into a seed—the magician's outfit is simple; consider this granite—only feldspar and the rest. But bring the one to the other and a mighty witchery is let loose. Rain and frost conspire together that clay shall be transmuted into hue of poppy and the bloom of plum. Miracles? Shut in the seedsman's box are waiting the squire's lawn and my lady's bower, the rich farm and the stately avenue; a pansy bed in an envelope, a clover field in a quart measure—and a pot of honey to boot. Pass round the measure—the trick will ne'er be revealed. Spade or hoe is the magician's wand. Such is the order of the practical thaumaturgy, the wholesome witchery which operates for the children of men. A fakir and a mango seed, a rishi and a rope—water turned to wine—what are these to the honest miracles of a peck of corn made glistening fields; a seedlet, blown by the wind, become the welcome shade of village elm; a dainty egg become fire-bird's mellow note?
Nature offers a liberal bonus in the furtherance of her creative work: nectar for bee and moth and butterfly, and she tempts man and bird with fruit and berry. She wraps the seed in the luscious covering of cherry and apple that it may be scattered abroad and new trees planted. But we are not to mistake for extravagance that which is indeed a safety factor in her calculation and incident to the general scheme of economy—an economy that is all-pervading. Plant and insect serve each other: every peculiarity in the structure of a flower is adapted to some insect visitor—it shall fit the head of a bee or the tongue of a moth. Devices and contrivances there are without number and of passing ingenuity to insure cross-fertilization to the ends of perfection and beauty: nectar, and color, and fragrance all for the self-same ends, and all lacking in wind-fertilized blossoms—for the wind is indifferent to such charms. And see how sumac and oak and blackberry obey the summons of the gall-fly and build for its egg a house so cunningly contrived as to expand and keep pace with the maturing grub, and to provide it food and shelter all in one; and the spider will lay her cocoon of eggs in the abandoned gall, when cracked and empty it hangs on a branch of the scrub oak. The horsehair from the road will line chipping sparrow's nest; the deserted hole of woodpecker will serve chickadee or nuthatch; and the crumbling branch of the apple tree contents the house-wren which from its withered twigs pours out its wealth of song, and in its decaying recesses rears a family and enacts a history which in common with greater ones knows joys and sorrow, knows tenderness and care—aye, and love and faith. Not a grain of dust but shall be molded and fashioned to forms of beauty! Nature will have no loss and no waste; superbly she maintains her balance. An excess of thistles brings a flock of goldfinches to devour the seeds and restore the equilibrium; kingbird will look out for grasshoppers, and oriole for canker worms. Vultures, and beetles, and ants will be her scavengers.
On the stern and rugged coast where the waves forever meet the resistance of the slowly yielding granite, where once were ancient dykes—solid walls of diabase running far into the sea—are sometimes left in places but deep and narrow chasms into which the incoming sea rushes with the sound of far-off thunder. There the walls are hung with rockweed and with countless numbers of the rich-hued sea anemones, and the floors are covered with Irish moss, and kelp, and branching sertularia. Between tide marks, barnacles and mussels crowd the surface of the brown and weathered granite, and in the clefts and crannies of the rock dwell in endless reverie the starfish and sea-urchins. There unnumbered whelk and limpets live their nomadic dream-life, sometimes slipping down from rock to rock and again carried upward by the tide; the sport of wind and wave, they live as do those men who believe in fate and are the trembling victims of a tyrant circumstance—nor yet have learned to trust and pray.
O for the sound of the waves and the smell of the sea—for a sight of the trackless, glittering, open sea, which makes the heart of youth beat faster and the lungs expand their utmost with its bold suggestion of a life of freedom and adventure; which casts its potent spell upon the hardy mariner that has thrown aside his charts and steered for parts unknown in his search for the golden fleece of truth! To him it is a calm and restful presence which dispels all fractious thought and lulls to sleep the senses with its subtle and dreamy cadence, leaving the mind quiescent but uplifted and receptive to the visions of a higher life; it strikes from the mind its shackles that it may go roving, fearless, free to the land of pure and shining thought, of transcendent aspirations, of great promise and fulfillment: that land beyond the waters which is hidden to the fuddled dreams we call our waking hours, but may be seen in high relief by the mind in dreamless sleep—to be recalled in deepest meditation.
When for the first time we exclaim at some radiant constellation which has nightly shone upon us, or at the delicacy of some flower once trodden underfoot, then is the first step taken in the economy of spiritual things. On the birth of a thought the eye discloses the heretofore unseen, and we come to reason that seen and unseen may be distinctions without a difference—may be but the extremes of an infinite series; that the unseen is but the measure of the defects of our present vision, as the so-called supernatural is but the natural not yet comprehended. The beauty of the heavens and of the flowers belongs to us only as we develop the capacity to enjoy and understand them; and in the development of spiritual capacity all things gravitate to us—and so shall be reclaimed the unseen.
In the darkness of the summer night the fireflies gleam and glitter as they flit across the background of the forest; and they dance upon the meadows to the music of the tree-toads and the crickets—the weird and mystic elf-dance of the fireflies. Like ships that we pass in the night, we see only their lights, as by means invisible carried, as they flash upon us and are gone to an unknown destination. Out of the night come the fireflies—points of light that glimmer and vanish; out of the night of the unknown has come our life to be seen but for a moment and to disappear. Where is the mystery in this? The beetle continues its flight beyond our ken and wheels again into the field of vision. And souls traversing the highways of the universe—may they not pass and repass and wheel in and out of the spiritual field of vision?
With the power of the Spirit almost untried and the possibilities of prayer as little known, with the inheritance of love still unclaimed and the ocean of truth yet unexplored, life is full of an immensity of purpose. When we live in harmony with the soul of Nature, seeing what wealth of light and air, of life and love are ours, we shall learn that all efforts to embellish life were futile; that life—real life—is complete in its just measure of happiness, and the sense of want and incompleteness but an indication that we do not yet truly live—the goad of the Spirit to a nobler, diviner life.
October days! October days! These are the idyllic days—the richest, ripest, mellowest days of all the year; when the tupelo and dogwood are arrayed in autumn colors; when the chestnuts and the wild grape are waiting for the frost, and the yellow pumpkins glisten in the fields where the corn is stacked for husking; when the windfalls of winter apples lie rotting in the grass, and the buckwheat is ready for the cradle and the flail. The young brown snakes are basking in the sandy roads, and mud-daubers swarm about the south windows in search for winter quarters. The bee-hunter liberates from his box the captive bee and follows its flight with keen eye, as it circles first above his head and then takes its way straight to the hollow black ash or maple where is hid its store of honey, gleaned early from the clover and the basswood and later from buckwheat and goldenrod.
Hark to the music of the locust and the cricket, the song of halcyon days, the song of the triumph of creation: a sound that proceeds from the hidden springs of being—causative, elemental in its significance. Now shall we sit in the golden light, the gentle effulgence of the autumn day; feeling the spell of that wondrous light which irradiates the inner recesses of the mind and starts a train of ecstatic thought, which holds the attention to what is real; now pass through the gateway of the seeming out into the sublime and enduring real. All nature is full of the suggestion of that somewhat finer higher life which is not distant in time nor space, nor separate from this present seeming life, but inherent in it as its essential and highest quality—as cream is distributed sometime to rise and become the best value of the milk.
A vast complexity of relationship devolves upon creation through the necessity for food; there is no form, high nor low, but is food for some other—worm for bird, bird for man, man for worm. Creation moves in cycles, and the progress of life seems a vast phantasmagoria. But the light of the Spirit dissolves all this mystery as the sun dispels the mist, for it is in the Spirit that all creatures have their life. There is no death and no decay, only ceaseless mutation of one form into another; and back of name and form, back of all that is apparent to the senses is the One—formless, changeless, eternal!
Into this world of form has descended the soul of man: man the epitome of evolution, the acme of concentration, the summary of creation—himself a creator. Behold that which was once reptile, rodent, insect; which was once four-footed and ate grass, or crouched in the jungle and sprang upon its prey, now walking erect and looking to the heavens—a soul incarnate, yet clothed in the form of a thousand, thousand savage progenitors, and holding still a relation to all creatures that is intimate and vital. It has been said that every animal represents some quality in human nature or rather that human nature embodies all of these; and it would seem that the disappearance of the lower and the dominion of the higher types is coincident with the evolution of the mind from its lower and baser qualities. There are hawks and doves, there are lions and lambs—and apes, among men; more than this, a man shall find the wolf and the sheep, the fox and the crow in his own nature. Man, who has evolved from language, literatures—from thought, philosophies; the historian of his fellow creatures and the biographer of races that perished before he was known upon the earth; he who has intuition where they have instinct, free-will where they observe necessity—shall he not elect a higher course than is prescribed for his humble brethren? Shall his ethics stop short of the cow and the sheep, that he should slaughter the one which gives him milk, the other which provides him clothes?
This ant which we crush underfoot—in that minute thorax works a marvelous mechanism, in those tiny limbs is a strength Herculean; that Lilliputian brain is the seat of an intelligence differing from man's only in degree. There it crawls—the atom: one of a community living according to a system and performing with tireless persistence its appointed duties; wise enough to work with reference to a plan, to build its domicile, to communicate with its fellows; unwise enough to hold slaves, and suffering the inevitable consequences: a black speck—the living repository of a mystery that lies beyond all science—an atom capable of some .thought—a miracle of miracles.
Because we have loved the wolf's brother, from a snarling, howling, savage beast lurking in caves and in the forest, he has come to be our companion—faithful, noble, gentle, true; ready to serve us; lavishing his affection upon us; giving his life for us; pining and refusing consolation when separated from us. Look into the beautiful eyes of a noble dog and you will feel that there too do you perceive the intimations of the Soul; and this which is true of the dog is true in a degree of all creatures—if they could have but half a chance. This collie, sensitive as a child, of unerring and delicate instinct, superior in intelligence to many illiterate men, superior in kindness to some scholarly men, capable of communicating important things in his own peculiar language—what would he be had he been hunted like the fox?
O the downtrodden people of the forests and the prairies! O the hunted people of the mountains and the streams! Farewell to the buffalo and the moose; farewell to the wild pigeon and the heron! There is left a great array of foes where might be friends; and this the commentary on man's ruthlessness. But see the fine working of the law: not with impunity shall he thus devastate; an eye for an eye. Unto the destroyer passes the burden of fear. He that destroys what he cannot replace, destroys therewith the finer workings of his own nature, and benumbs those sensibilities which alone made him susceptible of a higher development. He trembles who caused the innocent to tremble; he is fearful who made the defenseless to fear.
The host of the innocent cry aloud; they petition us incessantly. To lie in ambush and shoot a defenseless creature is a dastard's deed. O hunter, the tongue that might have licked your hand hangs from the mouth; the eyes that would have looked affection from their clear depths have appealed in vain for mercy—despite their superb eloquence; the heart that once felt the pulsations of a strong life, that cherished affections similar to your own—but which knew not the strife and hate of your own—has ceased! The gentle life has gone, whither you fear to go—taking with it what was noble, bequeathing to you what was brutish. You have seen Nature through the sights of a rifle and she in turn has taken your peace of mind with the phantoms of the air. The giant of the forest has quailed before you, and you, manikin, tremble at the pigmies of the microscope. You have given your measure of anguish to the denizen of the woods, and it is meted to you again; you have taken her cubs from the bear, and your children are taken from you; you have denied the oneness of all life, and you are riding the nightmare of death. You have played the tyrant, and you are confronted by the inscrutable.
Though the birds are silent, yet is their silence eloquent; though they do not sing, still they are imploring. Up from the marshes and the fens, from the salt marshes and the bayous, from the woodland and the pasture, from the clearing and the coppice comes the plaint of these little martyrs—the martyrs whose woes are all but unrecorded, whose sufferings are almost unnoticed; who die innocent of all but beauty.
The little ones, the frail ones, the spirits of the air appeal to the women; to whatsoever in them is womanly, to whatsoever in them is motherly, to all gentleness, to all tenderness, to all that is human, to all that is divine; beseeching that they may live in peace and be unmolested. Imploring pity! Imploring mercy! Imploring justice! We serve you and you spurn us; we cheer you and you deny us; we love you and you kill us. You who profess a religion that is based on love, is there in your hearts no love for us? You who ask favors of Him who made us all, will you not grant us then our lives? You who love, you who suffer, can you not feel for us who do the same? You who bring forth children, cherish them, work for them; is it nothing that we too make our homes and tenderly care for our little ones? When you bend beneath the burden of some fresh sorrow, then think of us who suffer at your hands. When you are elated with some new joy and would express your gratitude, then say a word for us. You who have but loving tenderness for your husbands and your brothers, remember us—your little brothers.
We see you upon the streets and in the churches; we see you praying for the dying, and upon your hats we see the corpses of our nestlings and our mates. Long have you been insensible to us; now listen to the truth. We are the messengers of peace and the symbols of the Spirit. Whenever you sacrifice us you surrender your nobleness to your vanity; whenever you deny us freedom you thereby enslave yourselves. For the cruelty you show us you suffer the tyranny of your unconquered selves; for your thoughtlessness toward us you remain unthinking to your own higher interests; for the proffered love which you reject you shall one day pray in sorrow. You have been deaf to our plea but you must hear us; we are calling—ever calling to you to awaken from your dream; we exhort you to be true to what is best within you, true to what is merciful and what is just, true to what is womanly and what is noble.
The intelligence which is around and within us inspires us to speak the truth to you, to tell you that without love there can be no true art; for what does not spring from love is not art but gross deformity. If we are beautiful it is because of the spirit of life which animates us; and when you sever that thread there is naught left to you of beauty, but only the deserted temple, the token of your desecration. When you would decorate yourselves with the bodies of your victims you revert to what is barbarous; you become as the untutored savage with his crude and horrid ornaments. The clothes bespeak the woman and her degree of cultivation; we would have you stand for culture and what is refined in art and life; we would have you dress as becomes the mothers of a noble race.
We look to you for the courage of right conviction to defy an ignoble fashion and express simplicity and truth in dress—to stand for us the oppressed, the hunted children of the air. And we would have you impress upon your children how noble a thing is love, how grand a thing it is to be kind to all that live.
Thus do we speak in mournful yet trusting accents to the loving hearts of all true women, asking that we be kept no longer without the pale of your ethics and religion, asking that in your hearts you make a place for us—your little brothers.
For once may we throw appearance and deceits to the winds and learn the worth of simplicity, the solemn joy, the relief of being natural; stand erect under the pines and thank God for a breath of mountain air; stoop by the brook and be grateful for a drink of cold water—cold water for which were it taken away we would sell everything, give years, money, jewels for a cupful, when Hock and Burgundy would be as gall and wormwood—cold water which is priceless and which is free. For one brief season may we forget what we have and what we've bought—we the lotus-eaters lost to the memory of a false environment; be free of the encumbrance of luxuries and possessions and go into the October woods there to be seated in amity with our kinsmen, the partridge and the quail, the gray squirrel and the blue jay, and be even as they—without pretense. There shall we sit in the wise company of the chipmunk and the woodchuck and with them partake of what is free. The table shall be garnished with berries, red, white, black and mottled—dwarf cornel and baneberry, maianthemum and false Solomon's-seal; and hung round with garlands of woodbine and bittersweet. The cloth shall be worked in rare designs with the gray-green fronds of sticta and parmelia and the bright green of hairy cap, and feathery mosses, interspersed with cladonias' scarlet fruiting cups, and through all a delicate tracery of partridge vine and fronds of polypodia. We shall feast on green russula, shaggymane and oyster mushrooms, and shall be regaled with butternuts and hazel, chestnut and hickory; there shall be wild grapes and wild red raspberries more delicate than ever hothouse knew. There shall be wafted to us odors more than savory, aye, exhilarating; odors of sweetbrier and myrtle, the spicy aroma of green butternuts and the wholesome resinous fragrance of balsam, of spruce and hemlock. There shall be flavors and seasoning fit for any woodman's palate: sassafras and wintergreen, wild ginger and cherry birch. We shall listen to the tapping of the downy woodpecker and the cry of the red-shouldered hawk; be soothed by the rustling of the leaves and the voices of the woods.
Along the rocky shores and all the country roadsides gleams the purple and the gold of goldenrod and asters. It is the fringe of the autumn mantle, the garment of brilliant colors; on the oaks it lies in brown and scarlet, on the beeches glistens yellow, from the maples flashes crimson. It is the work of the Great Colorist who now works in emerald, azure, Tyrian, and again transforms all verdure with a sweep of his magic brush and clothes with a great beauty the lowly shrub and vine, and makes glorious the hobble-bush and huckleberry. It is no fable that the Lord speaks from the burning-bush.
This is the old age of the leaves; venerable, majestic, reflecting the dignity of a life of beauty and of usefulness, they prepare for the return to the mother world. In obedience to a silent command they appeared and spread over the earth—a tide of green setting to the north; and now they as silently retire—a sea of gold. In a scarlet and crimson and golden glory is written the classic of autumn, the requiem of the leaves. It is written in the burning notes of color—color which plays upon the emotions like music; color which is as psychical as the harmonies of sound. They have performed their Herculean labors; they have fed the forest; they have clothed the earth. Behold them resplendent in their age, clothed with the majesty of the sun—transfigured! And we, when our retreat is sounded, shall not we reflect the glory of a noble departure; shall not we likewise become radiant—be transfigured?
Like some of her children, Nature hibernates; no sooner asleep than she dreams a dream, and they who watch her asleep and dreaming say it is now the Indian summer. Perhaps the essence of the tobacco plant pervades her slumbers; perchance there are poppies in her dream. The brilliant company of the sumacs are to her a band of warriors, gaily decked in paint and feathers. Around the sagamore sit the old men and in silence smoke the peace-pipe. From the wigwams the smoke ascends in the soft and balmy air—curling upward in thin blue lines. She dreams of youth, of bees and flowers, and hears again the love-songs of the birds; listens to the trilling of the wren and kinglet; listens to the warbling vireo and the drumming of the partridge; listens to the love-notes of the wood-thrush and the robin. Obedient to the spell of this fair dream the little breeze comes joyfully back; looks for youth and finds but age; looks for its playmates, the columbines and bellworts, and finds but yellow blossoms of witch-hazel and here and there a gentian. It wonders at the silent bands of myrtle birds and juncos, and the flocks of white-throat sparrows; sees how the white oaks have drawn around them their mantles of brown and withered leaves, and shrinks away abashed; whispers to the gray squirrel as he throws aside the rustling leaves, but he heeds not, for he is busy planting forests.
It comes! The snow! The invasion of a dazzling host; the silent onslaught of the children of cold! Whirling, driving, twisting, it descends upon us from the upper regions of the air—charging in a sinuous wavy advance. Rushing forward, careering onward, comes the gay, mad, swirling charge of the mimic fairy foemen. Maneuvering in battalions, massing in phalanx—gyrating, impetuous, resistless—the array of crystal beauty is launched upon us; and who would not invite this superb charge, this shining foray of the beautiful? Out from the glittering hordes now and again is one detached; bereft of the frenzied impetus of the swirling masses and left to settle gently down upon the coat sleeve, the fairest, purest crystal midget, an infinitesimal jot of the vast elemental invested for the moment with divine form, a tiny marvel claiming our admiration. It lingers for an instant, and there is left but a trace of moisture; the investiture of graceful form, the chef d'oeuvre of miniature loveliness, eludes us and is gone.
Lo, the soft enchantment of the snow; a world in white, a fairy scene of bending boughs and gleaming bowers. Every twig of birch and alder is incrusted with the clinging snow, and it lies heavy on drooping branches of white pine and spruce. Silently and wonderfully is the earth transformed; she has donned her radiant garments of light. The hemlock assumes the ermine and is majestic in its robes, and oak and maple acquire a new dignity. The snow-fleas come to leap upon the snow, arising like fabled warriors from dragon's teeth, and whirling flocks of snowbirds drive free before the wind.
Blessed be the stillness of the winter day, where silence reigns supreme. Frozen are the ponds and rivers, and the fields lie hidden beneath the drifted snow. A fall of temperature works miracles; congeals what was fluid; petrifies soil and loam, and traces on window panes its cherished arboreal designs, spreading with lavish hand in graceful inflorescence, panicles and racemes of glittering frostwork. It spreads over country roads a polished layer of ice, galvanizing into life the frozen particles and investing them with the pitch and timbre peculiar to intense cold so that they respond in shrill and resonant protest to the runners of swift-passing sleighs.
As summer is the season of contemplation so is winter the time of brisk thought, brisk action. No longer are we to stroll by the wayside, no more to sit in rapt meditation; but to leave the cheer and comfort of the hearth and plunge into the gelid world without—meeting with joy the bleak and bitter north winds; to run nimbly over the frozen crust rejoicing in the possession of an immense and buoyant vigor, of an energy that stops at nothing—a will that dares bid the timid sun stand in his course; to leave the outskirts of the town and stride into the solitude of the winter woods and fields. The earth is muffled, mute in its mantle of snow and ice, and traverses in sublime silence its wintry way; carrying faint suggestions of that long glacial winter which covered hill and valley beneath a polar ice-cap until forced by a more genial sun to its arctic lair. But today the uncovered ledges tell their story—tell it like old men with whom the past is ever present; who walk with tottering footsteps the ground they once trod so firmly, and pause with bending head where once they skipped so lightly; old men who stop one on the highroad to tell of scenes long past, of children long since departed. So speak the ledges to all who heed them; telling of the great ice sheet, how it shaped and hewed the roches moutonnees, how it scored and grooved their faces, how it carried boulders and spread them upon the land and heaped in vast confusion terminal moraines and drumlins; telling of the crevasses and the torrents, of the whirling stones and pot-holes.
A little eccentricity in the earth's orbit, a little wobbling on its axis, and the wall of ice crept southward, slowly following the retreating sun, driving before it mammoth and sequoia and burying forest and woodland furlongs deep under a limitless expanse of ice. A little irregularity in the orbit of human life, a slight wobbling on the axis of the will, and an aphelion winter brings a glacial climate upon man's life and buries the heart beneath the drifts of frigid thought. There are glacial periods in the lives of men when they are cheerless and desolate to look upon. But there shall come perihelion winters, and the earth shall resume its verdure and life its love. The genial warmth of the human heart shall defy the ice-barriers of the frozen north, bid an ice sheet retreat, and command the boreal winds that they blow gently; for not all the ice-floes of the human mind can withstand the benign influence of a loving heart.
A hush and stillness has settled over all; the woods are silent but for the faint crackling sound of opening cones as a flock of crossbills extract their seeds, or the music of the axe, exulting as it cleaves its way to the heart of a noble forest tree, until the giant quivers throughout its length, leans a little, then leaps to meet its death and falls with one reverberating crash. Then die the echoes, and silence reigns again.
In the somber sky looms a pallid sun but feebly lighting the brief winter day, and suffusing with pale yellow and rose and violet the snowy landscape. The leafless branches of the elms form delicate traceries against the wintry sky, waving their skeleton fingers to and fro in the chilly wind, and the oriole's nest filled with snow looks disconsolate as any deserted house. Stone walls lie half buried, and bayberries just protrude above the drifts, where the taller grasses scatter their remaining seeds to be gleaned by industrious redpolls. In the revealing snow, mink's track follows partridge, and fox pursues the rabbit. Here the fox loped easily, keeping well to leeward; here a mink took his circuitous route, a skunk his leisurely way, or a crow alighted in the snow leaving sharp tracks of claws and drooping wings or tail. The snow reveals the presence of a community at our very elbows; prowlers in the night and lovers of the early dawn; holders of midnight revels in the snow, and like childhood's fairies vanishing at the approach of day.
Nature will have none of your faint-hearted wooers; she has little respect for the wearers of mufflers and blue goggles. She likes well to be taken by storm and is meekness itself to the rugged and uncompromising. She loves those who face the storm from preference and accords them a rude joy in it; welcomes the bold swimmer and the hardy mountaineer and gives them endurance and hardihood. She would have eye of hawk, sinew of antelope, endurance of wild goose and speed of darting trout. To be able to lie in the snow and sleep, to break the ice on the pond and bathe—these are rugged virtues well esteemed. She exacts of her votaries deep chests, keen eyes, supple and sinewy limbs; likes them sure-footed, tan-faced and ruddy. Always she rejoices at the advent of an observant mind—receptive, alert, intuitive, to which she may reveal her secrets; the imaginative and sympathetic mind that will "hole up" with the woodchuck and swim under ice with muskrat, or with the field-mouse traverse its runways in the snow, or hanging head downward, there with the chickadees cheerfully glean the eggs of insects. You shall be for the nonce woodchuck, muskrat and chickadee, you shall prowl with the red fox, and return unerringly to buried acorns with the gray squirrel if you would penetrate the arcana of nature. Upon some barren rock in the desolate expanse of ocean, there shall you sit in solitary grandeur with the albatross, calm and self-reliant; there to unfold the mighty wings and without preparation, without possessions—with only courage, to launch out into limitless solitudes, superior to cold and fatigue, superior to wind and wave, contemptuous of all exterior forces—dauntless! Where maddened waves are lashed to fury by the gale and the hissing spray is blown in sheets over the seething waters, there with kittiwake and petrel shall you sail with airy grace. To range back of the winds, to be present at the birth of a snowflake, and to perform its cyclic journey with a rain-drop—passing from the visible to the invisible, and returning—to proceed with the hibernating bear to where it dwells in thought while the shaggy body lies dormant and well enclosed in rock and ice; to enter the winter buds of shellbark and pignut and there await with the spirit of life the appointed time to act; or within the acorn beneath the snow, to be present when the fiat comes to put out root and stem, to behold the elements rushing to support the new tree and to overhear the sun's first greeting to the young leaves; to preside cheerily over the bogs with the red winter berries, and to have a hand in all that takes place, observing the pitcher-plant, each well-turned pitcher filled to the brim and frozen solid—and the spears of skunk cabbage already up and waiting beneath the snow; to enter the vast round of life with an elementary atom and to be built up successively in the forms of mineral, vegetable and animal, subject to endless transmutations: to be thus intimate with Nature is to perceive that life, energy, power are infinite; that the vast elemental lies at the command of the Spirit—shall obey the spirit in man and ever awaits his recognition, and at its fiat oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, phosphorus are forthcoming and fall into place, building according to the divine pattern.
Nature repays richly this sympathy. You shall have no fear of air or water, ice or snow, heat or cold, and all her aspects shall be friendly to you. January thaw and March winds shall be rich for you in thought; and the gale music to your ears, and the stinging sleet a caress, and leaden skies an inspiration. For there is never a dreary day, but dreary minds only; never a dull one, but dull perception and dull eyes merely that can thus stigmatize the joyous day. No fog can obscure the sunshine of a cheerful mind; no rains dampen the ardor of a brave soul. To the sane mind all weather is good, all days are bright. Health! immortal health, she confers upon her favorites, that they may be sturdy as the pitch pine and the scrub oak, and self-contained as the chickadee which knows not repining nor what is dejection. Go with Nature and all winds shall blow you fair, and gneiss and granite shall be soft to lie upon, and the snow warm, and the skies a sufficient covering for your head. You shall run exulting on the beach, swim the river like an otter, and swing at ease in the tree tops, at home with the flying squirrel. The immeasurable health and vitality of nature shall flow in your veins, and you shall reflect that infinitude of repose which makes action tireless and thought endless; for it is not in Nature to fret nor fume, nor does she know stress nor strain, but bides her time, enacting with measured and conscious power. But to the unsympathetic she seems a cold mother, refusing to nurse her own child; and they shiver with the blast and live fearful of wind and water who cross her purpose.
We malign Nature with our saws and our laws. How often do we write Beware, and Caution, and with what constancy tiptoe the earth and dodge the danger signals of our fertile imagining! Will our good mother devour us then; does she fatten us with dainties, pamper us with sunshine, gladden us with flowers that we may be the more tender? Fie upon us that we can think so meanly. If we are so ungracious that we must inquire if the order of nature be beneficent, let us ask, then, why is the earth not enveloped in fetid gases rather than pure air; why does it not rain frogs; why do not monstrous things grow on trees, rather than fair fruit, or the sun play truant and leave us in darkness to pursue our abysmal wanderings? It would doubtless have been as easy to have ordered it so. No, but if we lack trust let us admit the fault lies with us and not with God. By what a thread hangs the life of a foolish man that he deems it in a fair way to be snapped by every trivial occurrence.
He who takes his tonic from the air of mountains and of the sea where it is always on draught laughs at pills and lotions. The drug shop is Nature's standing joke. Put a plaster on a weasel and give a gargle to the woodchuck and you shall see its absurdity. They have credulity to spare who think to buy their health at the shops by the ounce or grain. Bottle the air and sell it for a tonic if you would reap untold fortunes. He is the great benefactor who can distil the essence of pure thought, for that is the panacea. Open your mind and heart to the divine currents of life and love that would surge into your being and you will throw physic—not to the dogs, but into the limbo of superstitions—for health is neither bought nor sold but is free to healthy minds, as free as air and water and sunshine; and it is in the mortar of the mind with the pestle of thought that we shall compound the elixir of trust, of kindness and cheerfulness.
When our harp of thought is out of tune we have but to go into the woods and pastures, to climb a hill or follow a stream to have Nature give us the key, and in a twinkling we are brought into accord with her sanity and made sensible of the divine harmonies within us. It is a common illustration of the power of suggestion. Our moods, our vexations and discontent are all mild forms of dementia. But Nature is eminently sane; she will have none of our moping and complaining, but sends a red squirrel to scold and chatter at us, or a chickadee to express his poise and complacency. She utters to us such harmonious tinklings and murmurings in the brook flowing under ice, and reveals such charms in tapering icicles glistening cheerily in the sunshine, that we become suddenly ashamed of our weakness, and our lunacy vanishes before the potent spell of example. Nature has tactfully diverted us from our whims and infused her sanity and health into our receptive minds, while up from the river comes the faint and muffled booming of the ice with its assurance of the spring.