Fragrance in Literature-Some Spring Days in Iowa, by Frederick John Lazell

Some Spring Days in Iowa, by Frederick John Lazell

By-the-way, the list of March blooming plants for 1908, is probably one of the longest for years: March 20, aspen; twenty-first, hazel and silver maple; twenty-third, pussy willow, prairie willow and white elm; twenty-fourth, dwarf white trillium and hepatica (also known as liverleaf, squirrelcup, and blue anemone); twenty-fifth, slippery elm, cottonwood; twenty-ninth, box elder and fragrant sumac; thirtieth, dandelion; thirty-first, Dutchman’s breeches.

After bringing us the trilliums and hepaticas in numbers, Nature pauses. She means to give us time to inhale the fragrance of some of the hepaticas, and to learn that other hepaticas of the same species have no fragrance at all; that there is a variety of delicate colors, white, pink,[21] purple, lavender, and blue; that the colored parts, which look like petals are really sepals; that they usually number six, but may be as many as twelve; that there are three small sessile leaves forming an involucre directly under the flower; that if we search we shall find some with four, more rare than four-leaved clovers; that the plant which was fragrant last year will also be fragrant this year; that the furry stems are slightly pungent,—enough to give spice to a sandwich; these preliminary observations fit us for more intricate problems later on.

In later May, the season “betwixt May and June,” beauty and fragrance and melody comes in a rich flood. The flaming breast of the oriole and the wondrous mingling of colors in the multiplied warblers glint like jewels among the ever enlarging leaves. The light in the woodlands becomes more subdued and the carpet of ferns and flowers grows richer and more beautiful. The vireos, the cardinal and the tanager add to the brilliancy and the ovenbird and veery to the[50] melody. As good old John Milton once wrote: “In these vernal seasons of the year, when the air is clear and pleasant, it were an injury and a sullenness against nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake of her rejoicing with heaven and earth.”

There comes an outbreak of melody from the top of a tall black willow, much like the tones of the robin and yet suggestive of the warbling vireo, but finer than the former, clearer, louder and richer than the latter. We lift our eyes and see the pointed carmine shield of the rose-breasted grosbeak, one of the most beautiful, useful and music-full birds in the forest or the garden. Many mornings and evenings during the month of May one of these handsome fellows was busy in my garden, diligently picking the potato bugs from the young vines, stopping now and[56] then, especially in his morning visits, to pour out a happy, ringing lyric and to show his handsome plumage. On one occasion he took a couple of potato bugs in his “gros” beak as he flew to the nearby woodland, probably a tempting morsel for his spouse’s breakfast. A bird that can sing better than a warbling vireo, whose carmine breast is comparable only to the rich, red rose of June, who picks bugs from potato vines, singing chansons meanwhile and who is so good to his wife that he does a large share of the incubation, and takes largely upon himself the care of their children is surely a “rara avis” and worth having for a friend. He is a typical bird of June. His color matches the June roses, his songs are full and sweet and rich as the June days, and the eggs of his soberly dressed spouse are usually laid and hatched in June. There is a nest in a hawthorn bush where the wild grape twines her crimson-green clusters and by the time the blossoms break and fill the air with fragrance, no accidents coming meanwhile, four young grosbeaks will be the pride of as warm a paternal heart as ever beat in bird or human breast.

It is worth while on a walk in June to sit and look at the grass. How tame and dreary would be the landscape without it! How soul starved would have been mankind, condemned to live without the restfulness of its unobtrusive beauty! That is why the first command, after the waters had been gathered into one place and the dry land appeared, was, “Let the earth bring forth grass.” The grasses cover the earth like a beautiful garment from Kerguelen land in the Antarctic regions to the extreme limit of vegetation beyond the Polar circle. They climb the Andes, the Rockies, and the Himalayas to the very line of eternal snow, and they creep to the bottom of every valley where man dares set his foot. They come up fresh and green from the melting snows of earliest spring and linger in sunny autumn glens when all else is dead and drear. They give intense interest to the botanist as he remembers that there are thirty-five hundred different spe[66]cies, a thousand of which are in North America and a fourth of that number in our own state. They give him delightful studies as he patiently compares their infinite variations of culms and glumes, spikes, racemes, and panicles. They give joy to the farmer with their wealth of protein and fat and albuminoid, the material to do the work and make the wealth of the world bulging from their succulent stems. And they are fascinating most of all to the nature-lover as he sees them gently wave in the June sunshine or flow like a swift river across the field before a quick gust of wind. Such variety of color! Here an emerald streak and there a soft blue shadow, yonder a matchless olive green, and still farther a cool gray: spreading like an enamel over the hillside where the cattle have cropped them, and waving tall and fine above the crimsoning blossoms of the clover; glittering with countless gems in the morning dews and musicful with the happy songs and call notes of the quail and prairie chicken, the meadow lark, the bob-o-link, and the dickcissel whose young are safe among the protection of the myriad stems. Tall wild rice and[67] wild rye grow on the flood-plain and by the streams where the tall buttercups shine like bits of gold and the blackbirds have their home; bushy blue stem on the prairies and in the open woods where the golden squaw weed and the wild geranium make charming patterns of yellow and pink and purple and some of the painted cup left over from May still glows like spots of scarlet rain; tall grama grass on the dry prairies and gravelly knolls, whitened by the small spurge and yellowed by the creeping cinquefoil; nodding fescue in the sterile soils where the robin’s plantain and the sheep sorrel have succeeded the early everlasting; satin grasses in the moist soil of the open woodlands where the fine white flowers of the Canada anemone blow, and slough grass in the marshy meadows where the white-crossed flowers of the sharp spring are fading, and the woolly stem of the bitter boneset is lengthening; reed grass and floating manna grass in the swamps where the broad arrow leaves of the sagittaria fringe the shore and the floating leaves and fragrant blossoms of the water lilies adorn the pond. The three days’ rain beginning with a[68] soft drizzle and increasing into a steady storm which drives against the face with cutting force and shakes in sheets like waving banners across the wind-swept prairie only adds more variety to the beauties of the grass; and when the still, sweet morning comes, the pure green prairies make us feel that all stain of sin and shame has been washed from the world.

Where the grasses grow the best, there Providence has provided most abundantly for the wealth and the comfort of mankind. The rich verdure of the meadows is the visible sign of the fruitful soil beneath the fattening clouds above. The clover and the early hay fill the June fields with fragrance and the grass in the parks and lawns invite toil-worn bodies to rest and comfort. What wonder Bryant wished to die in June, the month when the grasses tenderly creep over the mounds above tired dust and gently soothe the grief of the loved ones left behind.

Notwithstanding the high wind there is a heavy haze through which the sun casts but faint shadows. Across the white-flecked river the emerald meadow rises in a mile long slope until it meets the sky in a mist of silver blue. To the right a big tract of woodland is haloed by a denser cloud of vivid violet as if the pillar of cloud which led the Israelites by day had rested there; or as if mingled smoke and incense were rising from Druid altars around the sacred grove. As a matter of fact, it is a mingling of the ever increasing humidity, the dust particles in the air and the smoke from many April grass fires. To the left of the meadow there is a sweep of arable land where disc harrows, seeders, and[11] ploughs are at work. The unsightly corn stalks of the winter have been laid low, the brown fields are as neat and tidy as if they had been newly swept; and this is Iowa in April.

We follow the scarlet tanager up a wide glen where wholesome smelling brake grows almost shoulder high. Suddenly there comes from our feet a sharp, painful cry, as of a human being in distress, and the ruffed grouse, commonly called pheasant, leaves her brood of tiny, ginger-yellow chicks—eight, ten, twelve—more than we can count,—little active bits of down about the size of a golf ball, scattering here, there, and everywhere to seek the shelter of bush, bracken,[61] or dried leaves, while their mother repeats that plaintive whine, again and again, as she tries to lead us up the hillside away from them. When we look for them again they are all safely hidden; not one can be seen. The mother desperately repeats her whining cry to entice us away and we walk on up to the top of the hill and away to relieve her anxiety. Anon we hear her softly clucking as she gathers her scattered brood.

Some Summer Days in Iowa, by Frederick John Lazell


Springing from a log lying by the fence a dozen plants of the glistening coprinus have reared themselves since morning, fresh from the[Pg 38] rain and flavored as sweet as a nut. Narrow furrows and sharp ridges adorn their drooping caps; these in turn are decorated with tiny shining scales. Nibbling at the nut-like flesh, I am touched with the nicety, the universality of nature's appeal to the finer senses and sentiments. Here is form and color and sparkle to please the eye, flesh tender to the touch, aroma that tests the subtlest sense of smell, taste that recalls stories of Epicurean feasts, millions of life-germs among the purple-black gills, ready to float in the streams of the atmosphere to distant realms and other cycles of life. No dead log and toadstools are here, but dainty shapes with billions of possibilities for new life, new beauties, new thoughts.

In these last days of the summer there comes a grateful sense of the ripeness which crowns the year. Nothing in nature has hid its talent in a napkin. Every tree and shrub and herb has something to show in return for the privilege of having lived and worked in a world of beauty. Catbirds on the eve of their departure for the southland are feasting on the red and yellow wild plums, and the crab apples are beginning to give forth a faint fragrance which will grow more pronounced from now until October. The amber[Pg 125] clusters of the hop are poured in profusion over the reddening fruit of the hawthorn. Farther on is the brook Eschol where the purple grapes are hanging. The snowy clusters of the sweet elder, which were so beautiful in July and early August, have developed into ample clusters of juicy berries which bring memories of the wine that grandmother used to make. Flocks of robins are feeding greedily on the abundant wild cherries. Thickets of panicled dogwood are feeding stations for other migrants; already the crimson fruit-stalks have been stripped of half their white berries. These native fruits are so many and so varied, they make the walk a constant delight. Each plant is a revelation. Who ever saw for the first time the huge clusters of fruit hanging from the wild spikenard on the face of the cliff and did not thrill with the charm of a great discovery? Each cluster of ruby, winey berries is as large as a hickory-nut and the clusters are aggregated upon stalks so as to resemble huge bunches of grapes. For contrast there are the little bunches of whitish berries on the low-growing false spikenard; they are speckled[Pg 126] with reddish and gray dots as if they might be cowbird's eggs in miniature. Jack-in-the-pulpits show club-shaped bunches of scarlet berries here and there among the grasses. On the wooded slopes there are the white fruits of the baneberry on its quaintly-shaped red stalks, the pretty fruit clusters of the moonseed and the smilax. The scattered berries of the green-brier will be black in winter, but their September hue is a bronze green of a delicate shade which artists might envy. It will take another month to ripen the drupes of the black-haw into their blue-black beauty; now they are green on one side and red on the other, like a ripening apple. It's a fine education to know just which fruits you may nibble and which you must not eat. Red-stalked clusters of black berries hang from the vines of the Virginia creeper among leaves just touched with the hectic flame that tells of their passing, all too soon. At the sign of the sumac, tall torches of garnet berries rise. Down the bank, the bittersweet sends trailing arms jeweled with orange-colored pods just opening to display the scarlet arils within. Crimsoning capsules[Pg 127] give the burning bush its name; this may well have been the bush at which Moses was directed to take off his sandals because he was treading on holy ground. Large, triangular membranaceous pods hang thickly from the white-lined branches of the bladdernut. Cup-like leaves of the honeysuckle hold bunches of scarlet berries. So on and on the creek leads to new beauties of color and form, new delights for taste and smell. Every plant has some excuse for its being, something of the loveliness and fragrance of the summer stored in its fruits. There is a lesson for the mind and the soul to be gathered with the fruit of these shrubs and vines. Summer still works with tireless energy. She has done with the leaf and the bud and the blossom; all her remaining strength is being spent in filling the fruits before the night of the white death comes.

Farther out, where the old road leaves the woods, the landscape is like a vast park, more beautiful than many a park which the world calls famous. From the crest of the ridge the fields roll away in graceful curves, dotted with comfortable homes and groves and skirted by heavy timber down in the valley where the sweet water of the river moves quietly over the white sand. Still responding to the freshening impulse[Pg 22] of the June rains, fields and woods are all a-quiver with growth. By master magic soil-water and sunshine are being changed into color and form to delight the eye and food to do the world's work. Every tree is a picture, each leaf is as fresh and clean as the rain-washed air of the morning. From the low meadows the perfume of the hay is brought up by the languid breeze. Amber oat-fields are ripening in the sun and in the corn-fields there is a sense of the gathering force of life as the sturdy plants lift themselves higher and higher during-
"The long blue solemn hours, serenely flowing
Whence earth, we feel, gets steady help and good."


When evening comes the sun's last smiles reach far into the timber and linger lovingly on the boles of the trees with a tender beauty. Wood-flowers face the vanishing light and hold it until the scalloped edges of the oak leaves etched against the sky have been blurred by the gathering darkness. Long streams of cinnabar and orange flare up in the western sky. Salmon-colored clouds float into sight, grow gray and gradually melt away. In the dusky depths of the woods the thrush sings his thrilling, largo appassionato, requiem to the dying day. In this part of the thicket the catbirds congregate, but over yonder the brown thrashers are calling to each other. The "skirl" of the nighthawk ceases; but away through the woods, down at the creek, the whippoorwill begins her oft-repeated trinity of notes. A hoot owl calls from a near-by tree. The pungent smoke of the wood-fire is sweeter than incense. Venus hangs like a silver lamp in the northwest. She, too, disappears, but to the[Pg 48] east Mars—it is the time of his opposition—shines in splendor straight down the old road, seemingly brought very near by the telescopic effect of the dark trees on either side. Sister stars look down in limpid beauty from a cloudless sky. All sounds have ceased. A fortnight hence the air will be vibrant with the calls of the katydids and the grasshoppers, but now the silence is supreme. It is good for man sometimes to be alone in the silence of the night—to pass out from the world of little things, temporary affairs, conditional duties, into the larger life of nature. There may be some feeling of chagrin at the thought how easily man passes out of the world and how readily and quickly he is forgotten; but this is of small moment compared with the sense of self reliance, of sturdy independence, which belongs to the out-of-doors. By the light of the stars the non-essentials of life are seen in their true proportions. There are so many things which have only a commercial value, and even that is uncertain. Why strive for them or worry about them? In nature there is a noble indifference to everything save the attainment[Pg 49] of the ideal. Flattery aids not an inch to the growth of a tendril, blame does not take one tint from the sky. In nature is the joy of living, of infinite, eternal life. Her eternity is now, today, this hour. Each of her creatures seeks the largest, fullest, best life possible under given conditions. The wild raspberries on which the catbirds were feeding today would have been just as fine had there been no catbird to eat them or human eye to admire them. Had there been no human ear to delight, the song of the woodthrush would have been just as sweet. The choke-cherries crimsoning in the summer sun, the clusters of the nuts swelling among the leaves of the hickory will strive to attain perfection, whether or no there are human hands to gather them. They live in beauty, simplicity and serenity, all-sufficient in themselves to achieve their ends.

Let me live by the old road among the flowers and the trees, the same old road year after year, yet new with the light of each morning. Shirking not my share of the world's work, let me gather comfort from the cool grasses and the[Pg 50] restful shade of the old road, hope and courage from the ever-recurring miracle of the morning and the springtime, inspiration to strive nobly toward a high ideal of perfection. They are talking of improving the old road. They will build pavements on either side, and a trim park in the middle, where strange shrubs from other states will fight for life with the tall, rank weeds which always tag the heels of civilization. Then let me live farther out,—always just beyond the last lamp on the outbound road, like Omar Khayyam in his strip of herbage, where there are no improvements, no conventionalities, where life is as large as the world and where the sweet sanities and intimacies of nature are as fresh and abundant as the dew of the morning. Rather than the pavements, let me see the holes of the tiger-beetles in the dirt of the road, the funnels of the spiders leading down to the roots of the grass and their cobwebs spread like ladies' veils, each holding dozens of round raindrops from the morning shower, as a veil might hold a handful of gleaming jewels. Let me still take note of the coming of the months by the new flower faces[Pg 53] which greet me, each taking their proper place in the pageant of the year. Old memories of friends and faces, old joys and hopes and loves flash and fade among the shrubs and the flowers—here we found the orchis, there we gathered the gentians, under this oak the friend now sleeping spoke simply of his faith and hope in a future, sweeter summer, when budding thoughts and aspirations should blossom into fadeless beauty and highest ideals be attained. Let me watch the same birds building the same shapely homes in the old familiar bushes and listen to the old sweet songs, changeless through the years. If the big thistle is rooted out, where shall the lark sparrow build her nest? If the dirt road is paved, how shall the yellow-hammers have their sand-baths in the evening, while the half grown rabbits frisk around them? Sweet the hours spent in living along the old road—let my life be simpler, that I may spend more time in living and less in getting a living. There are so many things deemed essential that really are not necessary at all. One hour of new thought is better than them all. Let the days be long enough for[Pg 54] the zest and joy of work, for the companionship of loved ones and friends, for a little time loafing along the old road when the day's work is done. Let me hear the sibilant sounds of the thrashers as they settle to sleep in the thicket. Give me the fragrance of the milkweed at evening. Let me see the sunset glow on the trunks of the trees, the ruby tints lingering on the boulder brought down by the glaciers long ago; the little bats that weave their way beneath the darkening arches of the leafy roof, while the fire-flies are lighting their lamps in the nave of the sylvan sanctuary. When the afterglow has faded and the blur of night has come, give me the old, childlike faith and assurance that tomorrow's sun shall rise again, and that by-and-by, in the same sweet way, there shall break the first bright beams of Earth's Eternal Easter morning.

When the summer shower patters down among the leaves the music of the insect orchestra ceases and the performers shield their instruments with their wings. It passes and gleams of sunshine make jewels of the raindrops. Then a little breeze brings the aroma of the blossoming bergamot, wild mint, basil and catnip, filling the air with a spicy fragrance. The insects tune up; soon the orchestra is at it again. White cumulus clouds appear, floating lazily in the azure, reflected by the river below. They chase the sunlight across the amber stubble of the oat-fields and weave huge pictures which flash and fade among the swaying tassels of the corn.

Great fluffy masses of pink purple at the top of large-leaved stems are the blossoms of the Joe Pye Weed, and smaller clusters of royal purple in the grassy places are the efflorescence of the iron weed. A stretch of grassy ground, which slopes down to the river's brink, is gemmed with the thick purple clusters of the milkwort, which shines among the grass as the early blossoms of the clover used to do when the summer was young. Here and there the little bag-like blossoms of the gerardia, or foxglove, are opening among the stems of the fading grass, and the white blossoms of the marsh bellflower, the midget member of the campanula family, are apparently as fresh and numerous as they were in early July. Water horehound has whitish whorls of tiny blossoms and prettily cut leaves, which are as interesting as the flowers. And still the river beckons onward, murmuring that the quest of the flower-lover is not yet done and that the prize awaits the victor who presses on to the swamp around the bend where the birches hang drooping branches over quiet, fish-full pools. The prize is worth the extra half-mile. It is the[Pg 94] gorgeous flower of late summer, a fit symbol of August, the queen blossom of a queenly month, the brilliant red lobelia, or cardinal flower. There is no flower in the year so full of vivid color. Sometimes, but only very rarely, the purple torches of the exquisite little fringed orchis (habenaria psychodes) lights up a swampy place beneath the trees and sheds its delicate fragrance as a welcome to the bees.

When morning broke, little wisps of mist, like curls of white smoke, were drifting on the surface of the river as it journeyed through the canyon of cliffs and trees, dark as the walls of night, toward the valley where the widening sea of day was slowly changing from gray to rosy gold. Caught in a cove where the water was still these little wisps gathered together and crept in folds up the face of the cliff, as if they fain would climb to the very top where the red cedars ran like a row of battlements, twisting their stunted trunks over the brink and hanging their dark foliage in a fringe eighty feet above the water. But the cliff had for centuries defied all climbers, though it gave footing here and there to a few friendly plants. At its base the starry-rayed leaf-cup shed a heavyscent in the stillness of the moist morning. Higher, at the entrance to a little cave, the aromatic spikenard, with purple[Pg 58] stems and big leaves, stood like a sentinel. From crannies in the limestone wall the harebell hung, its last flowers faded, but its foliage still delicately beautiful, like the tresses of some wraith of the river, clinging to the grim old cliff, and waiting, like Andromeda, for a Perseus. Tiny blue-green leaves of the cliff-brake, strung on slender, shining stems, contrasted their delicate grace with the ruggedness of the old cliff. Still higher, where a little more moisture trickled down from the wooded ridge above, the walking fern climbed step by step, patiently pausing to take new footings by sending out roots from the end of each long, pointed leaf. Near the top of the cliff, where the red cedars gave some shade, little communities of bulb-bearing ferns and of polypody displayed their exquisite fronds, as welcome in a world of beauty as smiles on a mother's face. Mosses and lichens grew here and there, staining the face of the old cliff gray, green and yellow. These tiny ferns and mosses, each drawing the sort of sustenance it needed from the layers of the limestone, seemed greater than the mountain of rock. Imposing and spectacular,[Pg 59] yet the rock was dead,—the mausoleum for countless forms of the old life that ceased to be in ages long forgotten. These fairy forms that sprang from it were the beginnings of the new life, the better era, the cycle of the future, living, breathing, almost sentient things, transforming the stubborn stone into beauty of color and form, into faith that moves mountains and hope that makes this hour the center of all eternity. For them the river had been patiently working through the centuries, scoring its channel just a little deeper, cutting down ever so little each year the face of the cliff. Eternity stretched backward to the time when the little stream running between the thin edges of the melting ice sheets at the top of the high plateau first began to cut the channel and scarp this mighty cliff; still backward through untold ages to the time when the lowest layer of limestone in the cliff was only soft sediment on the shore of a summer sea. Eternity stretched forward, also, to the time when this perpendicular wall shall have been worn to a gentle slope, clad with luxuriant verdure, and adorned, perchance, with fairer flowers[Pg 60] than any which earth now knows; still forward through other untold ages to the time when all earth's fires shall have cooled; when wind, rain, storm and flood, shall have carried even the slope to the sea and made this planet a plain like Mars. Now is the golden age; this hour is the center of eternity.

Comforting and soothing as the touch of a loved hand on a fevered brow come the first cooling breezes of September after the fierce white heat of August. Sweeter than music is the sound of the wind, as it passes through the woods, welcomed by millions of waving branches and dancing[Pg 104] leaves. It brings the call of the quail, the scream of the jay, the bark of the squirrel, the crack of the hunter's gun, the first notes of the returning bluebirds, the clean, keen scent of the earth after rain, the courage and joy of life, motion, action. Seen from the top of a cliff the acres of foliage spread out in the creek valley beneath has a motion suggesting the waves of the sea, now flowing in green billows before the wind, now whipped into spray at the shore of the creek where the willows show the white sides of their leaves.

In the old woods road a soft haze hung, too subtle to see save where its delicate colorings were contrasted against the dark green leaves of the oaks beyond the fence. Not the tangible, vapory haze of early morning, but a tinted, ethereal haze, the visible effluence of the summer, the nimbus of its power and glory. From tall cord grasses arching over the side of the road, drawing water from the ditch in which their feet were bathed and breathing it into the air with the scent of their own greenness; from the transpiration of the trees, shrubs and vines, flowers and mosses and ferns, from billions of pores in acres of leaves it came streaming into the sunlight, vanishing quickly, yet ever renewed, as surely as the little brook where the grasses drank and the grackles fished for tadpoles and young frogs, was replenished by the hidden spring. Mingled with it and floating in it was another stream of life, the innumerable living[Pg 12] organisms that make up the dust of the sunshine. Pink and white, black and yellow spores from the mushrooms over the fence in the pasture; pollen pushed from the glumes of the red top grasses and the lilac spires of the hedge nettle and germander by the roadside; shoals of spores from the mosses and ferns by the trees and in the swamp; all these life particles rose and floated in the haze, giving it tints and meanings strangely sweet. When a farmer's buggy passed along the old road the haze became a warm pink, like some western sky in the evening, slowly clearing again to turquoise as the dust settled. Viewed in this way, the haze became a mighty, broad-mouthed river of life, fed by billions of tiny streams and moving ever toward the vast ocean of the sunlight. Faintly visible to the discerning eye, it was also audible to the attentive ear, listening as one listens at the edge of a field in the night time to hear the growing of the corn. If all the millions of leaves had ceased their transpiration, if this flow of life had been shut off, as the organist pushes in the tremolo stop, the sound of the summer would not have[Pg 13] been the same. Something of the strength and joy of the summer was in it. Drinking deeply of it the body was invigorated and the heart grew glad. In it the faith of the winter's buds and the hope of the spring's tender leaves found rich fulfillment. Theirs was a life of hope and promise that the resurrection should come; this was the glorious life after the resurrection, faith lost in sight and patient hope crowned.

There is a pleasant constancy in the companionship of a creek. It is always at home when I call, always seems to wear a smile of welcome, always has something new to offer in the way of entertainment. And it is changeless through the years. If I were to return some September afternoon after an absence of half a lifetime I should expect to see a green heron fly up the creek when I reached this particular bend and to find the kingfisher in his accustomed place on the bare branch of this patriarchal oak. At the next bend, where the current has cut the bank straight down I should look for the rows of holes made by the little colony of bank swallows. I should steal around the sharp bend by the old[Pg 116] willow to see a little sandpiper on the boulder in mid-stream as of old. On a certain high grassy knoll I should find the woodchuck sunning himself and he would run towards his same old hole beneath the basswood tree, just as he does today. On the swampy edge of the stream I should find the perennial blossoms of this same corymbed rattle-snake root and its interesting spear-shaped leaves reflected in the water. From the dry bank just at the end of this ledge of rock my nostrils would catch the resinous odor of the creamy-flowered kuhnia and a more subtle aroma from the pearly-blossomed everlasting. The horse in the pasture would again come up and rub his nose in my hand and the cattle beneath the trees would make the same picture as in the days of long ago. Civilization can hardly spoil the creek. The spring freshets obliterate attempts at road-making and the steep hills protect it from encroachment and preserve its independence and wild beauty.


Some Winter Days in Iowa, by Frederick John Lazell


The yielding odorous soil is promiseful after its stubborn hardness of winter months and we watch it eagerly for the first herbaceous growth. Often this is one of the fern allies, the field horsetail.[Pg 82] The appearance of its warm, mushroom-colored, fertile stems is one of the first signs of returning spring, and its earliest stems are found in dry sandy places. The buds containing its fruiting cones have long been all complete, waiting for the first warm day, and when the start is finally made the tubered rootstocks, full of nutriment, send up the slender stem at the rate of two inches a day.

Humanity has always turned to nature for relief from toil and strife. This was true of the old world; it is much more true of the new, especially in recent years. There is a growing interest in wild things and wild places. The benedicite of the Druid woods, always appreciated by the few, like Lowell, is coming to be understood by the many. There is an increasing desire to get away from the roar and rattle of the streets, away from even the prim formality of suburban avenues and artificial bits of landscape gardening into the panorama of woodland, field, and stream. Men with means are disposing of their palatial residences in the cities and moving to real homes in the country, where they can see the sunrise and the death of day, hear the rhythm of the rain and the murmur of the wind, and watch the unfolding of the first flowers of spring. Cities are purchasing large parks where the beauties of nature are merely accentuated, not[Pg 10] marred. States and the nation are setting aside big tracts of wilderness where rock and rill, waterfall and caƱon, mountain and marsh, shell-strewn beach and starry-blossomed brae, flowerful islets and wondrous wooded hills welcome the populace, soothe tired nerves and mend the mind and the morals. These are encouraging signs of the times. At last we are beginning to understand, with Emerson, that he who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man. It is as if some new prophet had arisen in the land, crying, "Ho, every one that is worn and weary, come ye to the woodlands; and he that hath no money let him feast upon those things which are really rich and abiding." While we are making New Year resolves let us resolve to spend less time with shams, more with realities; less with dogma, more with sermons in stones; less with erotic novels and baneful journals, more with the books in the running brooks; listening less readily to gossip and malice, more willingly to the tongues in trees; spending more pleasureful[Pg 11] hours with the music of bird and breeze, rippling rivers, and laughing leaves; less time with cues and cards and colored comics, more with cloud and star, fish and field, and forest. "The cares that infest the day" shall fall like the burden from Christian's back as we watch the fleecy clouds or the silver stars mirrored in the waveless waters. We shall call the constellations by their names and become on speaking terms with the luring voices of the forest fairyland. We shall "thrill with the resurrection called spring," and steep our senses in the fragrance of its flowers; glory in the gushing life of summer, sigh at the sweet sorrows of autumn, and wax virile in winter's strength of storm and snow.

During the last week in the month, when the dark maroon flowers of the elm and the crimson blossom of the red maples are giving a ruddy glow to the woods with the catkins of the cotton-woods, the aspens and the red birches adding to the color harmony, we shall look for the fuzzy scape of the hepatica, bringing up through the leaf carpet of the woods its single blue, white or pinkish flower, closely wrapped in warm gray furs. At the same time, perhaps a day or two earlier, the white oblong petals of the dwarf trillium, or wake-robin, will gleam in the rich woods. And some sunny day in the same period we shall see a gleam of gold in a sheltered nook, the first flower of the dandelion. A few days later and the light purple pasque-flower will unfold and gem the flush of new life on the northern prairies.[Pg 83] Even should the last week of the month be unseasonably cold we shall not have long to wait. Yet
"——a little while
And air, soil, wave, suffused shall be in softness, bloom and growth; a thousand forms shall rise
From these dead clods and chills, as from low burial graves,
Thine eyes, ears,—all thy best attributes,—all that takes cognizance of natural beauty,
Shall wake and fill. Thou shalt perceive the simple shows, the delicate miracles of earth
Dandelions, clover, the emerald grass, the early scents and flowers;
With these the robin, lark and thrush, singing their songs—the flitting bluebird;
For such scenes the annual play brings on."

Why did Bryant dwell so often on the theme of death in Nature? The reminders of death[Pg 46] are very few compared with the signs of life. Break off a twig from the aspen and taste the bark. The strong quinine flavor is like a spring tonic. Cut a branch of the black cherry, peel back the bark, and smell the pungent, bitter almond aroma, which of itself is enough to identify this tree. Every sense tells of life; the smell of the cherry, the taste of the aspen, the touch of the velvety mosses and the gummy buds on the poplars, the color of the twigs and buds, the music of the birds, all these say, "There is no death."

But all this is digression. The best time to begin keeping that New Year's nature resolution is now, when the oaks are seen in all their rugged majesty, when the elms display their lofty, graceful, vase-like forms, and when every other tree of the forest exhibits its peculiar beauty of trunk, and branch, and twig. Often January is a most propitious month for the tenderfoot nature-lover. Such was the year which has just passed. During the first part of the month the weather was almost springlike; so bright and balmy that a robin was seen in an apple-tree, and the brilliant plumage of the cardinal was observed in this latitude. Green leaves, such as wild geranium, strawberry and speedwell, were to be found in abundance beneath their covering of fallen forest leaves. Scouring rushes vied with evergreen ferns in arresting the attention of the rambler. In one sheltered spot a clump of catnip was[Pg 16] found, fresh, green, and aromatic, as if it were July instead of January.

The short winter day draws rapidly to a close and there is time for only a brief survey of the beauty of the upland trees. The fairy-like delicacy of the hop hornbeam, with its hop clusters and pointing catkins; the slender gracefulness of the chestnut oak; the Etruscan vase-like form of the white elm; the flaky bark and pungent, aromatic twigs of the black cherry; the massive, noble, silver-gray trunk of the white-oak; the lofty stateliness, filagree bark, and berry-like fruit of the hackberry; the black twigs of the black oaks, ashes, hickories and walnuts etched against the sky,—all these arrest your attention and retard your steps until the sun is near the horizon and you look over the tangled undergrowth of hazel, sumac, and briers, far through the trunks of the trees to the western sky which is bathed in flame color, as if from a forest fire.

Some Autumn Days in Iowa


Shakespeare makes Juliet say
"What's in a name That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet, "
But the lady was pleading for a lover and it is to
be feared there were loop-holes in her logic. Cer-
tainly the name basswood does not suggest any
poesy or beauty ; we think only of wood-fibre plas-
ter, wooden-ware, cheap furniture, or wood-carv-
ings. But mention lime or linden, which are other
names for the same tree, and we think of all the
poets and nature-lovers, Homer, Horace, Virgil,
and Pliny, to Tennyson, Lowell, Longfellow, and
Riley, who have sung about the lime and the lin-
den. The very name brings the fragrance of the
nectar-laden blossoms and the murmuring of the
honey-bees. Ovid's story of Baucis and Phile-
mon was once familiar to every schoolboy. When
the time came for that good couple to die Baucis
was changed to a linden while Philemon was
changed to an oak. Linneus was named from a
linden tree which stood near his father's home.
Herodotus mentions the linden tree, but its earl-
iest story is written in the tertiary rocks of the
far-away arctic circle. It belongs to one of the fine old families ' ' and it has never yet disgraced
the family name. Tilia Americana as the
scientists call it, is known in winter by its fat,
dark red buds. In the winter they shine like
rubies and in the spring they break into a vivid
green. As Tennyson says :
"A million emeralds break from the ruby-budded lime."