Fragrance in Nature Literature-Where Town and Country Meet by James Buckham

Where Town and Country Meet by James Buckham

SOME one has said that expectation is to
realization what flower is to fruit; the first
yields a finer fragrance, the second a more
satisfying sustenance. If this be true and
to whom does it not commend itself? how
thankful we should be that we receive, with
most of our blessings, the possibility of both
enjoyments! The coming event casts, not
its shadow, but its brightness, before. (How
many of our proverbs ought to be amended
by restating them from the optimistic
standpoint!)

The expectation of spring is one of the
most delicate and truly fragrant delights
possible to a healthy mind and body. The
genius of the season is itself anticipatory;
its atmosphere is elate, prophetic, suggest
ive, inviting. More than that of any other
season, the charm of spring is elusive and
alluring. It has that fine, spiritual, ungrasp-
able quality that belongs to the best music
and poetry. Spring is the beckoner among
the seasons. We never quite get hold of her
hand, as we do of Summer's, and Autumn's,
and particularly Winter's. Our wooing of
her is ever the delight of pursuit. All her
kisses are blown to us.


I picked some of the most vividly pink
arbutus blossoms, on this same afternoon,
along the edge of the woods. None so fra
grant and so richly tinted will be found
later. The pure white blossoms predomi
nate as the season advances, larger and
creamier and more cloyingly sweet in per
fume than the pink firstlings, but not so
delicate, so blushingly beautiful, and so
spicily fragrant. I found also a few tiny
golden saucers of cinquefoil, timid and
pinched, as if regretful of having opened
so soon.

A RED-LETTER day May 2Oth. I rode
out to the mouth of the river, and opened
the little green camphouse for the season.
Not that I expect to take up my abode
there though I have had wild thoughts of
it or spend under its tarred roof a tenth
part of the busy days yet to come before
midsummer vacation. But the prospect of
a day off now and then, or a night, out on
the edge of those wide, peaceful marshes,
with their vibrant lullabies how it re
freshes me ! The spin beyond the car-tracks
into the gathering dusk, leaving the garish
lights of the city far behind ; the cool even
ing breeze in one's face; the first fragrant
whiff of the marshes ; the faint glimmer of
the distant lighthouse; the drowsy croak
ing of frogs what immediate restfulness
in all these things for the lover of nature,
wearied by the strain of city life ! The very
thought of my little green camphouse
brings rest to me in the midst of toil; and
when I can slip away and visit it for a few
hours, during the outdoor season, the respite
is like a dip in the fountain of perpetual
youth.


Then what a pleasant place to sit, in the
lingering, delicious evenings of May and
June, is my study window, overlooking a
paradise of birds ! I lean back, as the soft,
fragrant breeze steals into the room, and
the feathered choir sings its vesper hymn,
and give myself up to the joy of the love of
nature. What a holy thing it is, this na
ture-love, what a pure, sweet, religious
thing ! You can not put it into a creed, or
even into a psalm; but it lifts you, some-
how, until you feel that you are very near
to God, and near to the heart of that which
gives joy to immortal beings. I believe we
shall never know, until it is revealed to us
in the other life, how much the birds the
innocent, pure singers of the air have done
to lift humanity above its baser instincts,
and make men more worthy to be called the
sons of God.

The Baltimore oriole has a fine, clear note,
but his song is of little variety. He sits in
an elm-tree, near his pendent nest, where
the hidden female broods her eggs, and re
peats, "Chuckie, chuckle, chuckle" all the
beautiful June day. One wishes those ex
quisite notes could be prolonged into a song
of greater extent and variety. Yet, even in
their persistent monotony they add an in
expressible charm to the soft, fragrant air
and blue skies of early summer.


THE birds and the brooks are the singers
in God's outdoor temple. Other things
praise God in other ways, the flowers by
their beauty and fragrance, the trees by their
strength and shelter, the showers by their
refreshing and fructifying power, the winds
by their purifying and seed-scattering min
istries. But the birds and the brooks are
God's singers. This is their special service
and delight.


WHY is it that one who goes to the woods
in summer almost invariably seeks out the
pines, if there be any in the vicinity, and
enjoys his stroll or his siesta under their
shade, rather than beneath the canopy of
the deciduous trees? There are several ex
cellent reasons for this preference, I think.
The first is, that the pine woods are un
doubtedly cooler in summer than other
woods. Their shade is more profound and
unbroken. The air has a freer circulation
through their lofty and open aisles. Then,
too, the pine is an upland tree, growing by
preference on high or rising ground where
there is naturally more air stirring. Inci
dental to .the greater coolness and better
circulation of the pine woods is their com
parative freedom from insect pests. This is
no slight advantage from the rambler's
standpoint. Again, there is that delicious
aromatic fragrance of the pines, so espe
cially noticeable in hot weather, when the
resinous juices of the tree ooze out and
trickle down the bark in threads as pellucid
as amber a fragrance not only grateful to
the sense and full of pleasant associations,
but wholesome and medicinal in the highest
degree. Furthermore, the open character
of the ground in a pine woods is a constant
delight to the rambler. His feet tread upon
a smooth, springy carpet of pine needles,
free from undergrowth, and his eye takes
in wide perspectives of woodland beauty,
ranging down the solemn and stately aisles
of tree-trunks. And who is insensible to
the charm of that exquisite seolian music
of the wind in the pine-branches ? a music
unequaled by any other forest sound, save,
perhaps, the noble hymn of falling water.
Last, but not least, the pine groves are the
favorite haunts of our woodland songsters
during the summer, and there we may con
fidently expect to see and hear most of the
rarer varieties of wild birds in any vicinity
during a day of quiet observation.

Ah! the spell of the deep pine woods
those etherealized bird songs, never so sweet
and spiritual, it would seem, elsewhere;
the inexpressible, soft, moving music of the
pine-needles themselves in the passing
breeze; the silence that sometimes falls, so
deep and sacred and solemn ; the holy gloom
like that of some vast cathedral; the resin
ous fragrance rich as incense; the smooth,
odorous couch and carpet of brown needles ;
the far-reaching vistas down a hundred
aisles of stately columns! Beautiful and
holy are the pine woods in summer verily
a temple fit for the presence of God and for
the soul's communion with him. Let the
nature-lover tread these silent aisles with
reverence, believing that if his heart and
soul are open to the voices of the wilder
ness, they shall bring him some whisper of
that Beneficent Presence who is over all and
in all and throughout all his marvelous cre
ation.

How fresh and cool and fragrant is this
country air in the early morning, while still
saturated with moisture and loaded with the
earthy and vegetable odors which it has
absorbed during the night! Whenever I
feel that I am growing old, I bestir myself
early of a summer morning, and tramp out
along some woods-edge, where the dew ; is
glistening on the leaves and the brakes hang
heavy and damp over black loam. Then
comes up that magical, entrancing morning
odor of the woods into my nostrils, and,
presto ! I am a boy again, with alder pole in
hand, starting forth to fish the trout-brook
in yonder hollow. That delicious matutinal
woods-odor is the same the world over ; and
you may sate your soul and sense with it,
if you are early enough, along any country
road in August. There is something about
it, I am convinced even for those in whom
it does not rouse old memories that is
tonic, rejuvenating, freshening. It is a fluid
elixir of life. You feel, as you breathe it,
good for a hundred-mile tramp, and you
vaguely fear lest the country road shall
dwindle into a squirrel track and run up a
tree long before you are ready to turn
around and come back.


There is an indescribable charm about
winding in and out, to and fro, with the sin-
uous meanderings of such a stream; the
scenery constantly changing, and yet pre
serving a sort of panoramic unity and con
tinuity ; sunlight alternating with shadow on
the still-flowing waters; the song of some
hidden veery or sparrow coming to us out
of the cool gloom as we drift along the
woods; and in the broad sunlight beyond,
the silence of shimmering meadows and the
grateful touch of the breeze that brings to
us the fragrance of new-mown hay.

To me, the most ethereal and delicious
moment of this pursuit of spring is the
time when, as we say, spring is first "in
the air." The expectation of the new, bud
ding year is never quite so thrilling, so
transporting Thoreau calls it "exciting"
as then. That first changing of the air, in
late February and early March, from the
winter quality to the spring quality have
you not remarked it with all your senses,
and been mysteriously and irresistibly elated
and exalted thereby, as if body and soul
were suddenly set in perfect tune with the
music of the spheres? And that earliest
whiff of the soil is there any perfume to
compare with it in delicious suggestiveness ?
How it recalls all the sweet youthfulness
of life and nature! As Henry Van Dyke
so charmingly says : "Of all the faculties
of the human mind, memory is the one
that is most easily led by the nose." I
know of nothing like the smell of the soil
to bring back the zestful, care-free days of
boyhood, and to thrill the soul with intimations
and prophecies of its own and nature's
eternal youth.

Late in the afternoon I caught sight once
more of the steeples of the town, rosy with
the setting sun. The glow seemed a part
of my own being, so full of physical exal
tation was my whole body, after fifteen miles
of glorious tramping on the roof of the
snow. I was not the least bit tired not
perceptibly so, at any rate and my blood
coursed in my veins with full, warm cur-
rents. It was an outdoor's experience to
be remembered with delight and gratitude
a red-letter day, such as goes into the jour
nal of a nature-lover with something like
a heavenly aroma clinging about it, a fore
taste of the rapture possible for us when
spirit and body shall at last be in perfect
and eternal accord.

After walking about a mile, I came to a
warm, southward-facing bank, where the
roots of a pine-tree were thrusting up above
the brown earth, like withered limbs that
had thrown off the bedclothing. Glad of
a chance to rest, I sat down on one of the
knees of the old tree, and gratefully in
haled the aromatic, resinous odor that filled
the air. This pine smell is the most dis
tinctive and appealing of wood odors. It
lingers longest in the memory, and is re
vived with the keenest and most affecting
pleasure. How strongly the resinous fra
grance pours forth on a day like this, when
the sun opens wide the pores of the lusty
tree! Roots, trunk, and foliage all exhale
the wholesome odor, and it streams away
on the air, greeting your quickened sense
afar off. Nothing like a whiff of pines to
call up out-door memories! It is the most
distinctive aroma of the woods, a divine
exhalation penetrating through the senses
to the inmost soul.

But to enjoy a pine woods fully you
must get away from the suburban sec
tions, from the vicinity of cities, to the
real country, where you can find woods
that lie deep and extensive forests rather
than groves. You must get into the heart
of the aromatic pine wilderness, and spend
a day with its ancient and rightful propri
etorsthe birds and squirrels. The best
point of observation will be a knoll or bank,
where you can recline at ease, somewhat
above the general level, with the branches
of the trees below you nearly on the same
plane with your eyes.

There is nothing more beautiful in the
dark, deep woods than a clear, pure, ivory-
white berry, like the creeping snowberry.
I found an abundance of these shy creepers
in a swampy spot overshadowed by tama
racks. The snowberry is not a common
plant, because it requires certain conditions
of soil, shade, moisture, etc., that are not
often found in combination. But where it
does grow it grows plentifully, and in the
autumn scatters its ivory berries over the
ground like little snowballs. Very pleasing
to the palate, also, are these pretty berries,
with a taste somewhat like that of the win-
tergreen berry, though less aromatic. I
gathered a good sized bunch of the vines, for
one does not find many white berries in a
ramble, and they add a delicate beauty to
one's collection that is very desirable.

AT noon, yesterday, April 7th, as I was
crossing the town common, I got the first
smell of the soil that indescribably fresh,
damp odor that thrills all one's nerves as
with the very touch of spring. Here and
there huge snow-banks were still lying, dirty
and ragged, like mammoth cattle that had
"wintered out;" and the light breeze blow
ing from the north had the tang of frost
in it yet. But I could not resist that intox
icating odor of the earth. It waked some
thing in my heart as restless and wild and
undaunted as the sprout of the frost-break
ing crocus, and I perforce dedicated the rest
of the day to the fields and wood-edges.

Every sight and sound and odor of the
early spring seems to possess a peculiar
significance and charm, such as is revealed
to the lover of nature at no other season of
the year. All reports of the senses teem
with freshness, newness, pungency, promise.

When I released the brass padlock, and
flung open the door of my little camphouse,
this morning, the whiff of old associations
and delights almost unmanned me in the
sense, I mean, of setting me back to boy
hood's days, with their rapture and buoy
ancy and light-heartedness. To one who
has never had any associations of the kind,
I suppose, the odor of that tightly-closed
cabin would have seemed offensively musty
and compounded of innumerable rank and
disagreeable smells. But to my discerning
nostrils it was more grateful than the spicy
gales of the Orient. The impact of each
separate odor upon my olfactory nerves
brought a shock of delightful remembrance.
Every tiniest particle of that impalpable
dust, which, scientists tell us, emanates from
things smellable, had some exquisite report
to make to my brain. Ah! the first whiff
of the old camp, when you open it in the
spring! Who can describe it? You must
be a camper, born and bred, to appreciate
it. Some one has aptly said that the nose
is memory's handle. Surely, nothing brings
back old sensations, feelings, experiences,
with such vividness and poignancy as a lin
gering odor.

In this procession, or rather by its side,
I also love to march during the warm, redo
lent August days, when you can fairly taste
the innocent wild wines in odors of ripen
ing berries, and feel nature's exultation and
delight in emanations from bourgeoning
fruit and pod. Verily, I believe that many
of our most beautiful and familiar native
growths of field and meadow would stand
a fair chance of being exterminated, were
it not for the refuge they find in the coun
try road. Golden-rod, the gentians, elder
berries, tansy, milkweed, primroses, cara-
way how they are harried out by the
farmer and driven to cover, as it were, along
the sheltering banks of the roadside! It
pleases me to see how well they are en
abled to hold their own in these strong
holds of the nomads, spite of scythe and
hoe and fire. Something must be left for
beauty's sake, O ye utilitarians! Let us
not sacrifice all to the prose of gain.

How fresh and cool and fragrant is this
country air in the early morning, while still
saturated with moisture and loaded with the
earthy and vegetable odors which it has
absorbed during the night! Whenever I
feel that I am growing old, I bestir myself
early of a summer morning, and tramp out
along some woods-edge, where the dew ; is
glistening on the leaves and the brakes hang
heavy and damp over black loam. Then
comes up that magical, entrancing morning
odor of the woods into my nostrils, and,
presto ! I am a boy again, with alder pole in
hand, starting forth to fish the trout-brook
in yonder hollow. That delicious matutinal
woods-odor is the same the world over ; and
you may sate your soul and sense with it,
if you are early enough, along any country
road in August. There is something about
it, I am convinced even for those in whom
it does not rouse old memories that is
tonic, rejuvenating, freshening. It is a fluid
elixir of life. You feel, as you breathe it,
good for a hundred-mile tramp, and you
vaguely fear lest the country road shall
dwindle into a squirrel track and run up a
tree long before you are ready to turn
around and come back.


There
is a certain gipsy charm about this daily
going to the woods and living under the
tent of the trees, in touch with the mys
teries and the secrets of nature. The farmer
becomes, for the time, a woodsman, a pio
neer, an adventurer, and the wild life in
him revives, as if it had been merely
drugged by more prosaic toil, and now
starts up at the breath of the woods, keen,
eager, zestful, and quick to all the sights
and sounds and odors and feelings that
moved his ancestors in primitive and ad
venturous days. The man of the fields and
the barns and the fireside is now a man
of the woods once more, Indian-like in
thought and action and habit. His step
seems lighter and more stealthy, in the twi
light of the trees, and his eye glances about
him, more alert, suspicious, and penetrat
ing.