Fragrance in Nature Literature-The Freedom of the Fields by Charles Conrad Abbott

Wikipedia Article on Charles Conrad Abbott

The Freedom of the Fields by Charles Conrad Abbott

The almanac gives me no concern when I
flourish yarrow-blooms about me. My nose
is on duty, not my eyes, to-day, and why
have this much-neglected sense of smell if
we put it to no better use than as a guide to
lead us from unpleasant places ? How few
people detect the subtle odors distilled by
nature in every field and forest, by the wide
river or its skirting meadows ! Yet these
odors are full of significance the student can-
not afford to overlook. They are many and
marked and full of meaning. If I were
blind, I think I could make many a clever
guess as to the date and, perhaps, the time
of day. Much is lost if we are sensitive
only to the malodorous waves of tainted air
that at times cross our paths as fleeting
shadows dim the bright light of day.
I take my fill again of the fragrance of
yarrow, and in doing so anticipate the coming
autumn. Much of the prosy side of life is
given over to anticipation. Why not some
of its pleasanter phases ? There is little real
attractiveness in an August day. It is the
old age of summer, and not a very vigorous,
cheerful old age either. Did I look straight
before me and see nothing but a green land-
scape bathed in dreamy sunshine, I should
grow as stolid as these huge trunks about me
are sturdy and unmoved. The yarrow sug-
gests the changes that are coming; as if
Autumn in advance had stored her sweetness
in this wayside weed, and so it is autumn to
all my senses.

Curled at the foot of a beech, where only
greenest moss and silky grasses grow, I held
the yarrow blossoms to my nose until my
lungs were filled with the subtle odor that
revived all my waning energies. It is not a
summer scent that recalls June roses or the
blossoms of fruit-trees. It is heavy, rich,
penetrating; a nut-like, oily, autumn odor
that charges the landscape ; a transporting
perfume that blots out the present and pic~l-
ures the future without its blemishes ; gives
us the spirit of autumn and veils its frost-
scarred body. The bloom of the yarrow is
as potent as the fruit of the fabled lotus.

Every spot, however limited, has its own
atmosphere. The air of the meadow and
of the upland, of the mountains and sea-
shore, are the same, yet how unlike ! Within
the range of my rambles the sand all sum-
mer drinks in the sunshine and gives it back
in generous volume during the coldest win-
ter days. Here we have what my neigh-
bors call a " soft" air, one tempered by the
wealth of odors from a varied vegetation.
The trailing arbutus, sweet-scented vernal-
grass, June roses, the magnolia of the
swamps, new-mown hay, blooming grape,
yarrow and the many mints, and the rich
aroma of the ripened nuts, all these and
many more leave a trace behind them, and
I fancy that I recognize each, in turn, when
the first frosty winds of winter rattle the
loose shingles overhead and whistle through
the seamy walls of my neighbor's wood-
shed.

Every spot, however limited, has its own
atmosphere. The air of the meadow and
of the upland, of the mountains and sea-
shore, are the same, yet how unlike ! Within
the range of my rambles the sand all sum-
mer drinks in the sunshine and gives it back
in generous volume during the coldest win-
ter days. Here we have what my neigh-
bors call a " soft" air, one tempered by the
wealth of odors from a varied vegetation.
The trailing arbutus, sweet-scented vernal-
grass, June roses, the magnolia of the
swamps, new-mown hay, blooming grape,
yarrow and the many mints, and the rich
aroma of the ripened nuts, all these and
many more leave a trace behind them, and
I fancy that I recognize each, in turn, when
the first frosty winds of winter rattle the
loose shingles overhead and whistle through
the seamy walls of my neighbor's wood-
shed.

But I was not on a color hunt, nor yet de-
sirous of much bird music ; neither did the
shade of sturdy oaks woo me. Nothing that
suggested even active thoughts could induce
me to turn from my pathless, aimless wan-
dering. August now, and the fittest time for
day-dreams, for chasing idle nothings in a
languid way, for loitering where my last step
led me, and, turning to the object nearest at
hand, I plucked the bloom from a bush yar-
row, and revelled in its pungent, fancy-stir-
ring odor.

When early summer's
tuneful host fills the warm air with melody,
we are all too apt to forget the brave winter
birds ; but, happily, they do not forget them-
selves. It was so to-day. The wren found
the world too quiet for its fancy and awoke
the sleepy echoes. It sounded a challenge to
all drowsiness and banished noontide naps
from the hill-side. Like the odor of the
yarrow, it called up other days, another sea-
son with its wealth of fruits, and how the
nuts and apples of Odlober fell about me as
I listened to its wonderful song, the same
that I have heard these many years, when
the thrushes have departed and not a warbler
is left of the nesting host that thronged the
blossoming orchard.

What the
world is, what life is, can only be judged by
me through my senses. What you tell me
really means nothing. I see with my eyes,
hear with my ears, touch with my hands, and
distinguish odors with my nose. Your ex-
periences can be nothing to me, except as I
compare your report of them with my own
impressions. As you may say of yourself,
I say of mine : wherever I am, there is the
centre of the world ; and when I am alone, I
am the only man in existence. If another's
proximity is not made known to my senses,
how may I know that you are still on the
earth ? Your world may pass away and mine
remain. What your world is it does not
concern me to know; but my world does
fill all my thought, and, projecting myself
therein, am filled with its direft impressions
upon my senses, myself, that entity which
is most forcibly expressed by a simple let-
ter, I.


But let us to more cheerful matters. The
wind is gently stirring the topmost leaves,
but all the under branches are at rest. The
faint rustling of these favored leaves is a
pleasant sound, for wind is a great deal more
than mere atmosphere in motion. That is
quite enough when the motion kills and
destroys, but I have naught to do with the
pranks of a tempest or devilishness of a tor-
nado. I am thankful to have lived beyond
their reach, or to have lived, thus far, where
mischief is the least that any wind has ac-
complished. All else that it can do it has
done abundantly. I recall one sunny early
autumn day, when with balm, boneset, pen-
nyroyal, and spicewood distilling odors that
told of every phase of the youth of the
year's old age, I listened to the steady hum
of unseen crickets that did not intermit;
a steady, unbroken sound, as if earth was
winding herself up for another year's aftiv-
ity. Then, suddenly, there was neither
scent nor sound. A noisy silence filled the
air, the wind was blowing. Wind is the
great silencer, and yet is itself impotent
when unheard. That morning it was the
first blast of the autumn wind that plucks
the dying leaf, but brings a singing bird to
take its place. Leaves now will soon be a
feature of the past, shadowy figures that
memory but dreamily recalls, but in their
place are hundreds of cheerful sparrows from
the northern woods.

THE good old-fashioned folk of the last
century built for their children as
well as for themselves, and framed their
buildings, as they did their lives, in such
manner as should withstand the ordinary
buffetings of relentless time. This applies
to other stru&ures than their houses, and
the oak of many a wood-shed is as firm to-
day as the rafters and joists of the colonial
dwelling on the same premises. It is so at
my neighbor's. There still stands the old
wood-shed that his great-grandfather built,
and I am envious. The idiotic demands for
improvement and modernization caused mine
to be demolished, and now, when longing for
a lungful of old-time atmosphere, I take me
to this neighbor's shed and breathe in the
subtle odors of the scattered chips, breathe
in strength with the oak and, in fancy, the
music of many birds with the odor of birch
and sassafras chips of the trees that came
from the meadows where, in April, the
spring arrivals of our many birds are sure to
congregate.

The large yellow swallow-
tailed butterfly is a frequent visitor, and also
a big blue-black fellow that makes a grand
display when the sun shines on his wings ;
but these come and go as if by mere chance.
It is the smaller species that find the place
fitted to their needs and stay while the sun
shines dire&ly in the shed. In midwinter
the dingy mourning-cloak butterfly finds the
place as attractive as its native woods, and
remains there for many minutes at a time.
In other words, they are not so restless.
Are they attracted by the odor of the chips ?
for some of them are fresh and sappy. It
seems strange that they should leave the wild
woods for civilization, a display of bad taste
on their part ; but I always greet them with
a hearty welcome. There is positive nov-
elty about butterflies in winter, and this is
even more marked when the insect comes
dancing down a winter sunbeam and enters a
prosy wood-shed.

There was no lack of bird-music this
morning. A warm sun after a snow-storm
always brings the minstrels to the front, and
they practise, if not elaborately perform, at
such a time. It is a strange impression, that
has been crystallized by print, that birds do
not sing except at nesting-time. As well
say they do not eat. I defy any one to in-
dicate a note missing from a robin's song
that I heard yesterday. It was snowing at
the time, but not even this disturbed the
bird. Its throat was full of sound that
trickled out with as much sweetness on the
bare twigs as though the air was heavy with
the odor of apple-blossoms.