Fragrance in Literature-Mabel Osgood Wright




Mabel Osgood Wright was an American author, born in New York City. In 1884 she was married to James Osborne Wright, an Englishman. She became president of the Audubon Society of the State of Connecticut on its organization in 1898. Beginning as a writer about children, nature, and outdoor life, she received a cordial reception from the public, but concealed her identity as the author of later books, novels, until they had won recognition independently. Much of the material to which she gave attractive literary expression she found in the large garden at her home in Fairfield, Conn.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mabel_Osgood_Wright


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Backyard Nature


The friendship of nature; a New England chronicle of birds and flowers (1894)

The woods and lanes are astir with
the mysterious whispering of the open-
ing buds; the grass has grown deep in
the fields, and hides the fading violets,
saying as it closes over them : "Sleep
softly, I will protect you." Ceres,
who has been a laggard for weeks, has
suddenly awakened to her duty, as if
Pomona, anxious for her harvest, had
roughly shaken her. The garden is
blazing with a flame of late tulips;
bizarres, byblooms, flakes, and parrots,
with fringed and twisted petals. The
primulas show many hues, from gold
to deepest crimson with a yellow
centre, and mingle their perfume with
the various Narcissi, the double, whose
blooms rival the Gardenia, the trumpet
major, and the pheasant's eye, — the
poet's Narcissus. Masses of lilies-of-
the-valley are straggling into the full
sunlight, in spite of the tradition which
makes them hermits of the shade.
Branches of amethyst lilacs hang over
the gray stone wall, and as they sway
to and fro, the bees, laden too deeply
with honey, fall drowsily to the ground.
Pear and cherry and plum blossomed
together this year, and the ground is
still powdered with a wealth of their
corollas.


Small pointed cedars and young
oaks mix with the undergrowth, and
the tall staghorn-sumach, broken away
to make a path, hedges it, offering
delicious greens to our bouquet, — the
dull green, red-stemmed leaves and the
lighter panicled flowers, the whole
blending with slender vines of the
frost • grape. The ground becomes
moister, tall lady-ferns and cinnamon
Osmundas wave with the heavy sway
of palms, and a perfume unlike wood-
odours, dense, tropical, suggestive of
Gardenias or bridal stephanotis, steals
on the questioning sense. A few steps
further and a mass of white conceals
the bushes, and we find the swamp-
azalea, called viscosa, from the viscid
honey of the flower. In runnels by the
roadside you may often meet this bush,
broken by cattle or by the careless
passer, with the blossoms browned by
heat; but here in the rich muck,
screened from the fierce noon sun, it
grows unscathed and opens flower by
flower in all perfection.


The breeze revives, and the shad-
ows, drawn in by noontide, drop to
eastward; a fragrance wafts from the
moss tufts and guides us to its giver,
— the dainty pipsissewa, — growing in
bunches and masses, sprouting from
creeping rootstalks, with a stem of
madder-lined dark leaves with creamy
veinings, crowned by waxy white
flowers, their petals reflexed, having
flesh-coloured stamens and a willow-
green centre. This is the last of the
spring tinted and scented flowers that
carpet the woods, thriving in its shad-
ows. Who can describe its perfume ?
It is a combination of all the wild,
spicy wood-essences, refined and dis-
tilled by the various chemical changes
from the autumn-dyed leaves to their
mould, that rears the flower in its
bosom. From a heap of slowly crum-
bling brown leaves, the Indian pipe pro-
trudes its ice-white, scentless flowers,
that blacken at the gentlest touch, and
though of the pipsissewa's clan, they
are a parasitic growth.

As darkness limits the range of the
eye, the senses of ear and nose grow
keener, and the denser night air in-
tensifies both sound and perfume. If
you should start in quest of the little
screech-owl, that seems to call from
the cedars near by, you will need
magic boots to take you across the wet
meadows before you will find him; and
the cloying fragrance that envelops
the porch in reality comes from the
beds of hyacinths down in the garden.

The autumn night has few voices,
and fewer perfumes. There are no
pond frogs, and the hylode*s peep is
exchanged for the dryer chirp of
crickets. The whip-poor-will is gone
and the night-hawk also; the owl re-
mains persistently and mingles his
infrequent hooting with the cries of
wild ducks and geese signalling the
way to salt water; while the essence
of decaying vegetation is the only
perfume.


You saw the garden when on May-
day, bleak and chilly, the bulb-growths
wrapped it in colour; then when the
quaint border beauties followed, and
when the roses rioted, and after their
brief festival left the earth strewn with
the perfumed tatters of their leaves.
Now those rose trees yield a pleasant
aftermath to mingle with the scentless
autumn flowers.


When October comes, the farmer
promptly takes out his air-tight stove
and plants it in his sitting-room, put-
ting therein a fire of coals to stifle out
what life remains in him after the
summer toil. When early twilights,
more than the cold, draw the house-
hold around its hearth-heart, the logs
piece out the scant day with their
treasured surplus of sunlight. Nature
draws out and gratifies each sense with
colour, perfume, heat, and all the while
the wood juices whistle a little tune,
learned long ago in sapling days, from
the peeping marsh frogs. When pine
cones add their incense to the flames,
with it returns the forest perfume, and
if we close the eyes, the thoughts go
springward to pink-pouched cypripedes
and hermit thrushes.

To sleep, dear flowers, go to sleep;
your light must be blown out, but your
work is well done. Many messages
you have carried from the garden in
your persuasive language, many frail
humming-birds your hearts have held
and nourished, and you have drawn sun-
shine earthward to the sorrowful. Chil-
dren have kissed you, and you have
filled lonely hearts with bright mem-
ories. And you, dear roses, you have
veiled a silent breast in its earth sleep
and your fragrance followed the spirit
through the morning gates. By root
and bulb and seed, your forms are all
perpetuate.

A woodchuck
lifts its head above the grass and sniffs,
then, half suspicious, it slinks flatly
down the pathway to the brook and
drinks with little conscious sips. Chip-
munks and red squirrels scold and
spring from branch to branch, seizing
the blossoms to eat the succulent cores,
and, if they can, to loot an unwatched
nest. And over all the melody and
fragrance, distinctly comes the droning
fugue of bees, and, in a lower key, the
cropping of the rich grass by eager
cows, — a pledge of golden butter in
the churn.

The hawk has gone and the birds are
singing once more, the water thrush,
and the warbling vireo, and down the
road the cattle saunter homeward from
the pasture, and the orchard fragrance
comes retrospectively, like a refrain
that lingers in the memory.

Here are the roses, here and every-
where; they will almost leap into your
arms. Fill your basket, your h|it, your
upturned gown, and still there will
be enough to strew the ground with
fragrance. They are not prim, set,
standard trees, pruned like parasols,
but honest bushes, hanging branch over
branch, with clean leaves and lavish
bloom.

The great stone chimney had a hearty
breath which needed no aid from
chimney pots or tiles, and sheltered a
tribe of swallows, who, poising high,
dropped to their nests, then whirled
aloft again like wind spirits* The
well, with its long sweep, stood close to
the back porch, a corner screened by
hop and grape vines, where women sat
and sewed of afternoons and talked
with neighbours who stood leaning on
the fence. Here the young people
came from the garden with rose leaves
in their aprons, and their mother took
down the big blue jar, that " grandfather
brought from China " and caged in it
the sweets in fragrant potpourri, read-
ing the rule, meanwhile, from her
grandmother's book: "Take of June
roses just about to fall, two parts.
Shake them well free from dew, and
add of new-blown buds two parts; of
rosemary and lavender flowers and
leaves take one part. Place in a jar
with layer for layer of salt, and cover
until the salt has drawn the juice (three
days will do), then add some fresh rose
leaves every day, and stir and mix them
well. When you have filled the jar
with well-steeped leaves, add amber-
gris, gum benzoin, allspice and cassia
buds, a grain or two of musk, and four
vanilla beans broken in bits. Of oil
of jasmine, violet, and rose, add each
an ounce to a full gallon jar."


The straight road lies past low cot-
tages and onion fields; on either side
of it the land is treeless; there are no
birds but crows, that pry and sneak
behind the mullein stalks, watching
until some cottage woman comes to
give her chickens com. The road
halts before a pair of bars, and with a
sudden angle takes an inland turn, and
at these bars the tillage stops, and all



48 THE FRIENDSHIP OF NATURE

the other scars of toil. Stretching
beyond, you see a cool, close lane, with
lines of grass between the tracks of
hoofs and wheel, and it invites, yes,
quite compels, the tread of willing feet.
There are no fences here ; where they
were once a living barrier has sprung
from their decay, and willows luxuriate.
Tall sumach bushes follow up the line,
then hickory saplings, silver birches,
and choke-cherry trees, with here and
there a group of sassafras or young
maples, while wild grape vines bind
the whole into a leafy wall, and freight
the air with the fragrance of their
blossoms. Meadow-rue sends up its
foamy-tipped stalks above the pink
milkweed whose globes are food for
butterflies, and glowing wild roses,
crimson more than pink, from the deep,
strong soil, powder the blundering
bumblebees with gold pollen. On
every side, broad cymes of white elder
flowers reflect the light, and rough-
fronded brakes line the path.

The ferns and brakes that border the
low woods thin into groups and mingle
with the swamp rose and blueberry. A
streak of lovely mauve on a closer view
reveals masses of calopogon, a flower
of the orchid's tribe, clustered on
slender stems; its hinging lips are
bearded with hairs, yellow, white, and
purple, while near by, where the grass
is shorter, blooms the fragrant rose
pogonia, both fringed and crested,
also an orchid. Over all the flowers
and grasses, the swallows skirt and dip,
and high above some vagrant clouds
cast dazzling shadows, and the breeze,
full of sea-moisture, leaves salt upon
the lips. This is to-day, but yesterday
the beauty was as great; last month the
soft new greens were brighter still, and
as the year wears on the colours bum
and deepen, and the herbage grows
richer and more luxuriant.

Back of the rye field, a round knoll
is topped by blooming chestnut trees.
All the light and fragrance of the day
is meshed by their feathery stamened
spikes, and sifting through the mass of
restless leaves, it refracts and breaks
in countless tints. Romping all down
the hill like jolly Indian babes, are
troops of black-eyed-Susans, gay in
warm yellow gowns. Perched on the
road bank, nod blue campanulas, one
of a tribe of half-wild things that
escaped from gardens to beautify the
roads and fields; only they strayed
away so many years ago, that they
seem completely merged in their sur-
roundings and quite to the manor
born.

And the old tree murmurs: "Rest is
the summer song of noonday."
The breeze revives, and the shad-
ows, drawn in by noontide, drop to
eastward; a fragrance wafts from the
moss tufts and guides us to its giver,
— the dainty pipsissewa, — growing in
bunches and masses, sprouting from
creeping rootstalks, with a stem of
madder-lined dark leaves with creamy
veinings, crowned by waxy white
flowers, their petals reflexed, having
flesh-coloured stamens and a willow-
green centre. This is the last of the
spring tinted and scented flowers that
carpet the woods, thriving in its shad-
ows. Who can describe its perfume ?
It is a combination of all the wild,
spicy wood-essences, refined and dis-
tilled by the various chemical changes
from the autumn-dyed leaves to their
mould, that rears the flower in its
bosom. From a heap of slowly crum-
bling brown leaves, the Indian pipe pro-
trudes its ice-white, scentless flowers,
that blacken at the gentlest touch, and
though of the pipsissewa's clan, they
are a parasitic growth.


What wonderful pictures the moon
sketches in black and white! she is
the universal artist. In winter she
etches on a plate of snow, biting
deeply the branch shadows, retouching
with twig dry-point all the bones of
things. Nature's anatomy. In spring,
she broadens her work to a soft mezzo-
tint, and then on to india-ink washes
and sepia groundings. First, the out-
lined catkin, then leaf forms; next,
simply draped branches, and th^n to
complete, though rapid, compositions.
The May-fly then hums every night
among the wood-fragrant flowers of
the lindens, the grass has grown high,
the wind-flower hangs its closed jpetals,
and the scouring-rush, strung with
dewdrops, equals the diamond aigrette
of an empress. The moon-pictures
deepen and expand as the shadows
grow more dense, until they become
intelligible, impressionistic, and truth-
telling.

The fragrance of the Virgin's lilies
pierces you through and through ; the
honeysuckle odour clings and over-
whelms the heliotrope until the mign-
onette seems almost a stimulant by
contrast. The rose-bed scatters scented
petals, and the buds of yesterday relax
the grip of the green calyx, only wait-
ing for the sun's expanding touch.

The hedges now are at their best.
We have no trim thorn hedgerows,
leashed by ivy and "lush woodbine";
ours are the patient growths that follow
old walls, claiming the rough stone's
protection from the stubble scythe.
Out of ploughed fields step back the
sumachs, the fragrant clethra, meadow-
sweet, shad-bush, white thorn, cornel,
dwarf willow, flowering raspberry and
wild rose. Up from the roadside climb
bayberry, sunflowers, elecampane, and
hazels hang their fringed-podded nuts,
all clasping hands to make New Eng-
land's waysides the fascinating things
they are. And how we love these
hedges! They yield surprises, from
pussy-willow time until the snow, and
even then above it the witch-hazel
waves its boughs. The autumn hedges
are the colour-bearers for the sombre
fields, and as the wind puffs, birds and
leaves whirl aloft.

On the land the trees, now in full
summer leaf, bend low, and the drench-
ing dews distil the scent of the mown
fields. Between the sea and land lie
the marshes; here and there men
have essayed to build a dike to keep
them from the sea, or pile a road to
traverse them. Always the sea tran-
scends their work, and pushing, swal-
lowing, has kept its gardens to be a
thing of dreams, a picture in twelve
panels like the year.