Fragrance in Nature Literature-My Winter Garden by Maurice Thompson

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My Winter Garden by Maurice Thompson

Speaking of mensal attractions, a part
of our garden, lying far in the rear, is
given over to an Italian master who knows
all the secrets of vegetable-growing. With
a short-handled hoe he goes about, digging
industriously around the roots of things,
his back arched like a furious cat's, his nose
almost touching the ground. It is he who
brings in the great heads of cauliflower,
the young red radishes, the silver-tipped
onion-shoots, the spinach, the crisp lettuce,
the bur-artichokes, and the strawberries.
Everything, indeed, which can be coaxed
or forced to grow into edible bulb, leaf,
stalk, flower, or fruit he wrestles with.
All sorts of phosphates, cotton-seed
meal, bone-dust, leaf-mold, and swamp-
muck are lavished to fertilize the sand
withal. He feeds his plants as if they
were his children, talking to them in a queer
monotone while pruning, weeding, and
watering them. It is from his area of
cultivation that comes all this pungency
which now and again loads the air. A
whiff of garlic even strays into the flower-
plats, and makes an inartistic foil for the
perfume of rose and the aroma of acacia.
Our neighbors, scattered hither and yon
in the vast pine wood, come and go along
the white sand-paths leading from house
to house amid well-kept pear-orchards and
dusky fig-clumps.

During recent years the Gulf-coast has
attracted the attention of fruit-growers.
Pear-trees especially have been extensively
planted, and many orchards are now bear-
ing fruit. In the early spring, when these
trees are in full leaf and bloom, the mock-
ing-birds revel in them, swinging on their
highest sprays, and blowing their fairy
flutes from daybreak till evening dusk. In-
deed, when the moon shines you may hear
them dreamily piping at all times of the
night, and it is an experience never to be
forgotten when, as has often happened to
me, the camper-out is half wakened from
his deep sleep, to catch the tremulous,
drowsy phrases of a nocturne, all but un-
earthly in its sweetness, blown through the
perfumed stillness of the Southern wood.
Sometimes the birds hold a sort of idyllic
contest, a number of them fluting here,
there, yonder, till one might fancy that
the spirits of the tuneful shepherds known
to Theocritus and his friends were ham-
mocking in the boscage round about.

Night had fallen when the train slowly
curved into the little mountain village. A
rickety trap bore me and my tackle to a
forlorn hotel, which was perfumed with
kerosene not unmixed with jowl and cab-
bage ; but the room they gave me was airy,
and the bed had sheets as clean and white
as a water-lily's petals.

Breaking away from a fascinating ques-
tion hke this of bird immortality — a ques-
tion to which I am bound sometime to
return with plenty of facts to uphold my
theory — reminds me that the time for
northward migration is at hand. This
morning there was a redoubled clamor of
voices circulating through the garden tree-
tops, and a fresh rustle of wings round
about, I awoke with a longing softly astir
in my blood, while in my nostrils the far-off
spring fragrance of the Wabash country
and of the banks of Rock River made me
understand that winter was no more. A
tide of migrating birds had overlapped my
garden at sunrise, and was flowing on,
tumultuously vocal, toward the land of
blue-grass, vast fertile farms, and blooming
apple-orchards.

A greenlet came to eye me curiously
from a tuft of young leaves, while it did
some gymnastics, swinging back-down-
ward, balancing its lithe body cleverly in
various poses, curving its neck around a
twig and peeping sharply under the hidden
parts of sprays. Other little insect-hunters
were on high in the greater trees, going
back and forth through the foliage like
shuttles from the hand of an unsteady
weaver. And then a flash of vivid red— it
was as if a smith had swung a bit of ruby-
hot metal from bush to bush — introduced
a cardinal grosbeak in full plumage. I
started as one does who feels a shock of
sudden and unexpected delight. Here
was a torch for memory, a flash from
home— that other home in the far North,
where soon the maples would be in leaf,
the apple-trees abloom, and where all the
woods and fields, fragrant as a thyme-bed,
would be ringing with bird-song. The car-
dinal grosbeak lives there the year round;
but there are migrants who swing back
and forth with the sun. Why do some
remain in the frozen North while their
companions flit away into the lands of
perpetual summer? But then, why does
the same problem of migration constantly
arise in human history? Many of my
friends laugh at me for shrinking down the
southern slope of the world while they go
blithely about to furbish up their sleighs
and skates.

If there is anything more dreamily
romantic than swinging in a hammock on
a breezy bluff of our Creole Gulf-coast
when the spring weather is fine, it would
be worth a good deal to experience it.
The wind from the Caribbean region has
nothing chilly in it ; but it fondles you
with a cooling touch, and passes on into
the woods of oak and pine, to send back a
half-wintry moan from the dusky foliage.
The Gulf-tides are but slight, and the surf
is a mere ripple, for there are outlying
islands all along, seeming to hang between
sea and sky a protecting curtain against
outside forces. If the breeze turns about
and blows from the land, it comes filtered
and purified through leagues of resinous
forest. At such a time the fragrances are
many, running through all shades from
the evanescent balm of liquid amber to
the acicular pungence of tar.

In the east the sun wavered amid a
drifting purphsh film, like a huge cherry-
red bubble shot with iridescent fire. It
seemed slowly to wax hot and refulgent
as I left the town behind me, and when
presently the tilled fields opened on either
hand, great beams flashed across them,
the meadow-larks twinkling here and there
like sparks flung up from the kindling
ground. Some crows occupied fence-
stakes in the distance, or walked in the
newly opened corn-furrows with a peculiar
wagging gait. It was poor soil the farm-
ers were plowing; but it looked fresh, and
sent forth a pungent fragrance of broken
sassafras roots mixed with that subtle
effluence which goes by the name of
*' outdoors air."

When presently I began to swoop down
the fell, there came up to meet me a flick-
er's merry call and the voice of a Balti-
more oriole. The breeze, too, seemed
puffing fragrantly slantwise toward the sky
from out the depth of the valley. Soon
enough I was under superb arches of oak,
hickory, and pine, through which blue
patches of sky gleamed brilliantly. Going
down-hill proved tiring, however, and I
was glad to rest on an old log near the
verge of a cliff, which dropped almost ver-
tically fifty or more feet, so that I could
look with level gaze into tree-tops of im-
mense size. Far below I saw my path
sinking like an irregular stairway along
the steep. It was a good place for loung-
ing — just breezy enough to soothe, and
yet not chill, a place given over to such
solitude as the poets rhapsodize about.

Spring went apace with me; the
dogwood clumps began to flash their white
blossoms; fragrance varied and strength-
ened each morning; new wild-flowers
sparkled beside the boulders and between
the rusty roots of the wayside trees ; while
even on the highest cliff-fanged mountain-
peaks spread a tender film of green.

Yesterday I had an armful of books
beside me in a fragrant woodland nook
under a dogwood-tree. Overhead the
white flowers and green leaves made a
tent-roof of comforting quality, while I
read and considered, the birds meantime
dashing down upon me a desultory shower
of chirps, twitters, squeaks, and song-frag-
ments. Whenever I lifted my eyes a
wing sparkled near or far. Sand-lilies
shook their delicate bells between the
tufts of wood-grass.

But the sun went down low in the west ;
the shadows coalesced; a mocking-bird's
vesper sweetness rang far, and its tender-
ness spread apace with a hint of twilight.
The dogwood-blossoms flickered strangely,
while on the air a woodsy scent — a dewy
mold-fragrance — increased until there was
a hint of danger in it.

But down the airy slope I featly trod,
soon reaching a genuine public highway,
smooth and broad, with beautiful fields
rolling off on either side in gentle billows
of rich brown soil, over which the plows
and harrows were trailing their sketchy
lines, loosing an opulence of earthy odors
sweet as blossom-breath to my nostrils.
Meadow-larks sang, in clear, lonesome
tones, a haunting snatch which might have
been blown, as " sweet sleep " was blown,
from the " lonesome-sounding reeds "
of the unknown Greek
poet. Then a long railway-train, with
great billows of black smoke above it, hove
in sight, coming around a mountain's knee
to rush howling across the river into the
village beyond a wooded ridge.