Wild Muscadine Grape


When the adventurous Northmen approached our coasts, long before Columbus navigated the seas, they found a country covered with the luxuriant wild grape, and they called it Vinland. The wild grape of Vinland is still wild, and though driven from many parts of the country by cultivation, it still maintains itself in quiet nooks and corners.

It is not the grape Bacchus brought from India, with the juice of which he intoxicated the world, but a homely American product, native to the soil. It cannot be named as an enlivener of feasts, and bacchanals have never been celebrated in its honor. It does not even furnish the innocuous grape juice, and its highest mission is to serve as jelly or "sauce," the indispensable sweetener of rural life.

And yet to me it furnishes the best symbol of midsummer—a mystic plant that steals into a thickly embowered world, absorbing from the earth the quintessence of the fervid, passionate, full-grown season. It is a little plain flower the lady of the woods and fields wears upon her breast, but it enchants her senses with its rich and peculiar odor. There are not so many wild flowers when the world has the greatest breadth and amplitude of shade.

If you search in a dell of pines and firs that have made the ground barren, save for their own sheddings, you may find the Indian-pipe, that curious fungus organized in form of a flower, or, if you are wondrous lucky, may chance upon the lady's-slipper, perhaps more than one variety, as a reminder of the richness and glory of floral bloom that once filled our woods, but has now nearly disappeared. The Clethra, on high and dry ground, will send you its fruity odor, and in the marshy places or along river-banks the cardinal may blaze out like a gleam of fire. Solomon'sseal, too, may hold up its spiky white blossom, and the marsh-mallow, the American variety, will, perchance, unfold its broad pink bosom to the sun. The wild rose is growing in fence corners and along hilly roadsides, and the meadow lily hangs its scarlet and yellow bells among the grasses. The Rudbeckia has begun to open its yellow star with purple center, and the very first sprays of goldenrod are balancing in the wind.

But none of these sum up for me the whole mystery and wonder of fully developed summer like the little, pale, insignificant wild grape bloom, for it seems to have a soul diffused through its breath, a lovely treasure of perfume that has been denied to richer blossoms. The senses minister to us each in its own way, but it is in the power of an odor to evoke memory with the greatest vividness. The scent of burning leaves in autumn, the rich ground smell of the newly plowed field, the first fresh breath of the new grass, can recreate scenes of the past with marvelous vividness. So the scent of the wild grape biossom is not a passing breath of fragrance, it seems to be some intimate portion of life once lived; wherever the wild grape is hidden in the green bowers of summer, it reveals itself by what may be called its inherent virtue. It reminds one of the rarest people and the most genuine, who make no display, are destitute of all showy graces, whose modest flower of life is pale and insignificant apparently, and yet how pure, how true, how fragrant of goodness, love, and fidelity!

Hidden virtue is the very essence of goodness that redeems the world and keeps it sweet and wholesome. It is the breath of innocence and purity, symbolized in the loveliest things of nature, that come not, we may be sure, by chance out of the dark recesses of the earth, but are special benefactions corresponding in their being to the spiritual gifts that render human nature sacred.

The great mystical philosopher who created the doctrine of correspondences looked with a revealing eye on the external world, seeing there a unity that threw not out from the soul history of man the largest sun blazing in the heavens, or the smallest leaf or flower growing upon the earth. We are forever feeling the significance of things by hints and intimations that leave us enchanted but bewildered, that flit by like birds upon the wing, in the half dusk of evening; so it is in the power of an odor to evoke sentiments that seem to hark back to some preexistent state of being.

Two months or more ago, in our late spring, how bare was the old world, how weary and worn it looked after the winter's buffeting, yet down in its chemical laboratories it was preparing wonders, all the essences and odors, the colors and flavors and marvelous diversity of beautiful things, each distinct and separate down to the tint of the least little flower that hides in the grass....But this is wandering far away from the wild grapevine bowers along hilly roadsides, where it creeps entwined with the bindweed, goldenrod, sumach, milkweed, motherwort, and the starry blossoms of pennyroyal. Such charming tangles growing in freedom seem dearer to us than the splendid blooms of great gardens about rich men's houses.

These are the vagrants of the open country, the floral tramps that cannot be cultivated, or, were it possible, would lose their charm. They ask no favors of the world, only to be allowed to beautify places where nothing else will grow, which with childlike eagerness they proceed to decorate and adorn in their own delightful way.

The humble things please us best when they have a touch of ideal loveliness like the wild grape blossom. Then we feel an impulse of gratitude for these uncovenanted blessings when they meet us like a friend with hand out-stretched and smiling face on the dusty roads of life.

God seems to have been thinking good thoughts toward His creatures when He put so many rare, delightful gifts within reach of us all. These things are not aristocratic, they are not exclusive, they live not behind stone walls, but like sparrows and robins in the hedge, part of their charm is their freedom. They have a welcome for beggar and child and vagrant. They give a draught of pure water from the spring, a handful of berries from the bush, delicious scents from the gadding vines. "Come feast, take your ease," they seem to say. "This is God's country, where all His children are at home."