Treasures of Aromatic Literature-Around an old homestead: a book of memories By Paul Griswold Huston

Treasures of Aromatic Literature-Around an old homestead: a book of memories By Paul Griswold Huston

Each variety of wood, too, like each flower, has its own delicate and separate scent when burning, as the freshly cut logs have also when lying in the woods. It is no wonder that the perfume of the smoke is so delightful, formed, as it is, from all the influences of the woods, and the air, and the flowers and grass, absorbed and floated away now in beautiful wreaths. The aroma of the vapor from a wood fire is filled with all sorts of romance and poetic suggestion. When I see smoke issuing from a chimney, and can smell the fragrance from a wood fire, I always feel that I really am once more in the country. It is a perfume which one finds only there. It has the genuine flavor of the woods and meadows.

The house—like "Clovernook," and not far from it—was built of bricks made from clay dug on grandfather's own land, a stone's throw from the site of the building. Oxen turned the great poles and wheels in the mixing. They were large bricks, of the old-fashioned kind; and the foundation walls, too, came from the farm, and the lumber for the woodwork, and the big rough stones that flag the porches' entrances. Grandfather had his own lime kiln, and burnt the stones from the brook for the lime for his mortar. The date of the erection, 1834, was graven on the lintel, above the doorway—not so very ancient, it is true, but still far enough back to leave an atmosphere of romance and old-time ways lingering about the place and curling up in the fragrant wood-smoke from the chimneys. Threads of poetry twine about it with the woodbine which clambers over the walls and waves its sprays across the windows. Within its ivy-mantled sides one may get a glimpse of the older generations and their life, now almost passed away. The old homestead itself seems almost a thing of the past, so linked are all its associations with the times of sixty years ago. There is an atmosphere of age about it which makes it exceedingly restful in these rushing times of to-day. It is like a cool, mossy spring beside a dusty road.

THERE is nothing like a wood fire. The blaze crackles out good cheer in truly royal fashion. It is one of the real privileges of country life, a rightly venerated luxury. How clean the wood fire is, and how fragrant and suggestive the perfume of the smoke! There is practically no soot, and the ashes are easily taken away. It's like having a regular outdoor fire in the house, and gives us a chance to live as we ought to, in an atmosphere of mingled coziness and native enjoyment.

Homer tells us, in a realistic picture, in the "Odyssey," that, when Hermes reached Calypso's cave, "on the hearth was a great fire burning, and from afar through the isles was smelt the fragrance of cleft cedar blazing, and of sandal wood." Theocritus, too, that old Greek lover of the open air and the best things life has for us, loved the charm of the wood fire. It was beside such a hearth that Menalcas, the shepherd, reclined, in his song in the ninth idyl, with fleeces from his ewes and goats beneath him, in his cave:

"In the fire of oak-faggots puddings are hissing-hot, and dry beech-nuts roast therein, in the wintry weather, and, truly, for the winter season I care not even so much as a toothless man does for walnuts, when rich pottage is beside him."

I like to watch the cows in winter crunching the succulent, fragrant millet, or feeding upon clover hay, or eating their corn fodder. Sometimes snow gets mingled with it from the stacks. But how they love it! How they toss it, and put their noses down into the wisps and stalks, and slash the great corn leaves about!

Old Spot is part Holstein, and so, in her streaked, spotted appearance, she sometimes reminds me of what Thoreau said, in a beautiful random passage in his journal, of a heifer that he fed with an apple:1

"One more confiding heifer, the fairest of the herd, did by degrees approach as if to take some morsel from our hands, while our hearts leaped to our mouths with expectation and

'See "Thoreau: the Poet-Naturalist," by William Ellery Charming; pp. 65, 66.

delight. She by degrees drew near with her fair limbs (progressive), making pretense of browsing; nearer and nearer, till there was wafted to us the bovine fragrance,—cream of all the dairies that ever were or ever will be: and then she raised her gentle muzzle towards us, and snuffed an honest recognition within hand's reach. I saw it was possible for his herd to inspire with love the herdsman. She was as delicately featured as a hind. Her hide was mingled white and fawn color, and on her muzzle's tip there was a white spot not bigger than a daisy; and on her side turned toward me, the map of Asia plain to see.

Entering beneath the low-hanging, drooping branches of a beech, we find ourselves at once in the vast cathedral of God's trees—long reaches of leafy solitude, airy vistas, beautiful depths of shade, all odorous with the scent of blossoms, of decaying forest litter, and of the many other perfumes of the woods. The floor is carpeted with wild flowers, ferns, grasses, and innumerable leaves, with downy couches of moldering veterans as our resting places; the ceiling is of leaf sprays, composing a living, interlacing greenery, softened in the days by dappled flecks and broad bands of mellowing sunlight falling as through stained glass windows among the shadows, and at night mingling with the pale stars and the subdued, gray light of the moon; the walls are of the rough bark of trees, manycolored, differing in hue as the trees are separately tinted, mottled with exquisite lichens, and variegated with equally delicate and beautiful vines coiling about the trunks, all combining thus into the rare old tapestries and mural paintings of the woods; the aged boles themselves being the pillars, the supports for this roofcanopy of Nature's architecture, and, springing from them, many tough, strong arches spanning the heavens, upholding in their outspread arms a fine fretwork of twigs; the aisles, the old wood roads, strewn with leaves. What a delightful place it is! We are ushered in by the praise of many wood voices and the lisping of leaves. Afar off, as in some sylvan cloister, in the dim recesses, one can hear the faintly modulated song of a bird, like a thin, attenuated shred of a human soul, in the forest—as it were the voice of a priest deep in the distance chanting the litany.

Toward the autumn? Color, and the instinct for the chase. The old wood roads and fence corners are fringed with a maze of yellow golden-rod and purple iron weed. Then, too, closing the summer, come the long racemes of wild black cherries; and, later, or along with them, the pendent clusters of wild grapes; and the papaws yellow with the year, and fall and tumble and roll to their secret hiding places among the weeds, there to await the culminating touch of a hard black frost before their final rich flavor can be appreciated. The many kinds of nuts, maturing and enlarging in their green hulls during the long hot months of summer, now, in these cool days, in the fall of the leaf, are filling the old woods with a rare, exquisite fragrance, while squirrels frisk among them in the branches and send their shucks pattering to the earth as they gnaw and munch the sweet kernels. What wonderful little pieces of architecture the acorns are—miniature mosques in themselves! They strew the ground everywhere beneath the oaks, and bits of nibbled shells, too, almost a snowstorm of them, where the squirrels have been eating. What a delight to work beneath the many-colored trees in their autumn glory! The great leafy tents and the stray branches beneath them are a wonderful harmony of color—golden, golden !—one of those artistic effects in Nature which men have always attempted to copy, but have only succeeded in suggesting—the yellow of the leaves casting a beautiful glow through the woods in this season of the year, a subdued, mellow light, as of the reflected splendor of a sunset—the twilight of the dying year.

Papaws have a taste something like that of a banana, or like a musk-melon, egg-plant, pumpkin, and squash combined, and yet with a distinct, musty, tangy flavor all their own. They are very fragrant, and a dish full of them will scent a whole house with a rich odor, as from an old wine cellar, like a bunch of arbutus in spring. The big, soft, mottled fellows are the best, and are really delicious. Indeed, I know of a distinguished journalist who is reported to have said that the banana simply is not to be compared in the same breath with the papaw.

What a sweet smell comes from the bins of apples in the cellar, the blending of many odors, as we open the door to descend! Many a basketful is eaten by the firelight, with nuts and cake; and many a fine dish of fruit for dessert is formed during the autumn months of apples, and pears, and grapes from the vineyard. Apple pies, of every description, are a staple part of the pantry of every well-ordered household; apple sauce is a daily relish in its season; and the rich apple butter reminds us of the year that has gone all through the long winter.

We see wisps of hay hanging from the gateposts where the wagons have passed through, and strands cast along the roadside and in the barnyard. Out on the hillside, in the orchard, they are still cutting. There will be a good load or two more of it. The sweet scent of new-mown hay is wafted to us as we lie in the shade. We can see the mowers bending and swaying at their work. At times one will rest, and then the musical whetting of his scythe soon reaches our ears. Let us go down among them. The erect grasses, with their slender stems and nodding tops, fall one by one before the steady slash of the blade, and at each stroke are bunched by the mower with the heel of his scythe and laid in a windrow along the swath. Perhaps, later on, these same long lines of damp green grass will be tossed and scattered to dry in the wind and the sun, and then afterwards raked together again or forked into haycocks to shed the rain. There are few more interesting things to watch or to do on a farm than the cutting of grass with a scythe.

In summer? The great trees canopied with their green coronals, the long, droning hum of the forest, the rich scent of mint and pennyroyal. The greenbrier and climbing sarsaparilla, wild morning-glories, the poison three-leafed ivy, and the true five-pointed woodbine all form bowers of shade above some bending saplings, or impede our path by their intrepid growth. And the blackberries, big ebony fellows, looking sweet and delicious there beneath some vines; while mulberries hang from the trees, and the ground is dotted with them as they have fallen and silted among the leaves and grasses.