Early Morning Walk by Anne Pratt

Early Morning Walk by Anne Pratt

I Hope you are fond of early rising. I believe all Nature's children will allow that never are her scenes more beautiful than at the period of "reviving day," though all may not possess sufficient strength of body or energy of mind to induce them to relinquish their slumbers and wander abroad to behold her charms. How freshly the wind fans the cheek in an early morning walk, seeming to bear health on its breezes! How beautiful are the dew-drops scattered like pearls upon the leaves and flowers! How melodious the song of the up-rising lark, and how cheerful the active step of the countryman who is bending his way to the field 1 "Man goeth forth to his labour and to his work till the evening."

When we see the pale artisan of the crowded city enter beneath the roof where his daily occupation is to be pursued, we feel much of pity, as we think that in a close and confined room he is destined to be shut out from the bright sunshine and the exhilarating air of heaven; but the sight of the peasant at his cheerful employment awakens no such feeling. Labour such as his seems to be a blessing to him who is engaged in it; placing him in scenes where all that is fair is around him, and affording him that exercise so conducive to health and cheerfulness.

In early morning many of the flowers are yet sleeping, but some there are which expand then, and then only. Nor can we any more ascertain why some blossoms should revel in the sun-beams and others shrink from them, than we can explain the circumstance of their flowering in their respective seasons of the year. Why does the wood-anemone wait for the warm day of spring before it opens its delicate blossoms, and the lily of the valley flourish only in the warmer air of summer; while the snow-drop, equally fair and delicate in appearance, blooms amid the cold of winter or very early spring? You may have beheld the fragile snowdrop blossoming on some elevated spot which was quite unsheltered, and daily watched it, fearing that some of the rough blasts which blew over it would break its stem, and scatter its petals upon the wind; yet it lasted far longer than many of the flowers of the summer. So I have seen a friendship formed in early life, which he who gazed upon might deem too frail a thing to survive trials that shortly must assail it, outlast the friendship whose commencement in later season and more vigorous form gave greater promise of endurance.

But perhaps one of the greatest charms of an early country walk is derived from the pleasant scent of the air. The honey-suckle, the field convolvulus, and the violet, diffuse a fragrance so soft and grateful that the most delicate nerves are refreshed. The ground newly turned up by the plough has a very pleasant smell in the morning; even the grass and the green leaves have the fresh spring-like scent, which though it scarcely amounts to perfume, yet has a very pleasing influence. Surely the sweet scents of spring and summer, and the elastic bounding of our untired spirits on a fine morning, speak of the kindness of God, and ought to inspire that cheerful'.and grateful emotion which is a welcome tribute of love and admiration to Him who designed them for our enjoyment.

Have you, when gathering the summer nosegay, ever bound among it a branch of the sweet woodruff (Asperula odordla)? If you are yet unacquainted with it, I would bid you seek it among the pleasant woods where it blooms very plentifully during the summer months, bearing on its stem crowns of leaves which in spring are of the most tender green. They grow all round the stalk in what is called a whorl, each whorl having eight leaflets; and they are thickly set with small hairs, both on their surfaces and round their edges. It is from its roughness that the plant derived its botanical name, the word asper signifying rough.

The whorled position of the leaves of this plant renders it very similar to the common cleavers (gdlium aparine); but its sweet scent sufficiently distinguishes it. It does not emit this fragrance while growing; and I remember once when, never having seen a specimen of this plant, I set out to search for it in the woods. I several times gathered it, but finding it to afford no odour I threw it away in disappointment, concluding that I had not rightly understood the description I had previously received. I fortunately carried one piece of it away with me, intending, upon reaching home, to examine it more minutely. The warmth of the hand soon brought forth its sweet properties, and in the course of a few hours the room in which it was placed was quite perfumed by it. The scent is very powerful, and will retain its strength for some years, imparting its sweetness to any object near it. The sweet woodruff especially prefers the neighbourhood of trees, and you will find it most readily rising up around the trunks of old oaks, in such a manner as to need but little imagination to enable you to fancy it a ruff about them. The mould on which it grows is sometimes formed almost entirely of the fallen and decayed foliage of these trees. The flowers are of a
brilliant white, clustering in little stars in shape like the garden jessamine, at the top of a long stalk. The whole plant is about six inches high and extremely pretty, especially if seen through a magnifying glass. The plant is said to impart its flavour to vinous liquors; and its smell is reported to have the effect of driving away insects. There are two other species of woodruff, both very pretty little flowers, and similar to this in appearance, but both destitute of that peculiar fragrance which gives it its greatest charm.

Another plant diffusing a delightful odour while drying is the common melilot (Melildtus officinalis). This may be met with chiefly among bushes, and often flowers in the hedges at the sides of lanes and roads. The leaves are broader at the top than at the part nearest the stalk, and their edges slightly serrated (notched like a rose-leaf). The fragrance of this plant, though not quite so powerful as that of the sweet woodruff, is equally lasting; and when the sun, by absorbing its moisture, has withered its freshness, and it appears almost dead, this quality is in perfection.

But the most common instance of the sweet smell of dried plants is afforded by the hay-field. We walk into the pleasant meadows in spring, and are greeted by no perfume, except that smell of freshness which the green earth at all times yields; or, if there be a more powerful sweetness, it arises from some of the many-coloured flowers that are springing up around us, or from the blue violet or the fair hawthorn of the meadow-bank. But when the mower has cut down the grass, and the summer sun has dried its juices, then we experience that odour so grateful to the senses, which renders the hay-field peculiarly delightful, associated too, as it is in our minds, with the health and cheerfulness that so generally accompany the rustic labour of which it is the scene. The fragrance has been long supposed to arise solely from one species of grass, the vernal grass (anthoxdnthum odordtum) ; and it has been long proved to exist especially in the joints of the stem, and not in the flower of this grass. The scent of the vernal grass is certainly, when dried, more powerful than that of any other; yet it is now generally believed that other grasses assist in composing the scent of the hay; since even when gathered and dried separately, many others yield a degree of perfume.