Autumn River Landscape
“The melancholy days are come,
The saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds and naked woods
And meadows brown and sere.”
THESE oft-quoted lines I repeat here only to take issue with them. To the true nature-lover no outdoor days are melancholy. It is rather the time spent face to the desk, immured in the concerns of business, when the call of the season is strong in the veins, that is depressing and devitalizing. And of all the year, the glorious days of late autumn, when one may breathe deeply of the crisp air, wade through the soft carpet of fallen leaves—woven loosely of nature's richest fabric– and come with delight upon the flowers and berries that claim the season for their own, are anything but melancholy. There is abroad a warmth and subdued richness of color, a fullness of effect, a satisfying completeness, following upon the summer's effort and growth, that tunes one's whole being to joy, not sadness. The work is done; the result is WITCH-HAZEL spread out before us. The landscape is mature, rich, mysterious—the clouds seem to cover in the distance other scenes of finished work and growth, and the atmosphere is soft and hazy with the season's feeling, in strong contrast with the sharp clearness of spring and the wavering heat-currents of midsummer. The leaves of the trees are no longer only cool green, to temper the summer sun. They range now into indescribable shades of red and yellow, and as they change and fall and fade, the soft browns and neutral tints only emphasize more strongly, in combination with sky and earth and tree-trunk, the wonderful chromatic balance of the seasons, the marvelous compensation of color for temperature, which seems not to have been revealed to Bryant. The shocked corn is not of summer's green—it is now dressed in warm tones, hiding the deep gold of the matured ear. The frost dyes the chestnut burr from green and yellow to tan, as it opens to disclose the plump brown nuts warmly cushioned in velvet. The tropical sumac leaves take splendid color, and as they lose brilliance they fall in company with the deep purple blackberry foliage, revealing in graceful lines the peculiar whitish briery stems of the familiar fruit plant. In early spring the spice-bush disclosed upon search its delicate and inconspicuous flowers of greenish yellow; now it flaunts in the wind its glowing red berries. The chaste white dogwood was the glory of the woods in June, and the less noticeable flowers of the sassafras followed after. As we walk afield these autumn days, the brilliant scarlet and black fruits of both challenge the eye and invite the birds. Is this a sad time, when nature warms with glowing color the wood and the hillside, showing forth the richness and completeness of her work? As one spies amid the roadside tangle, or hanging from its tightly twined twigs among the tree-tops, the bright orange and scarlet berries of the bittersweet, reaching their full beauty only as the leaves fall, is there in anything outdoors a reason for melancholy? Ask the romping school-boy as he shakes the chestnut-tree—inquire of the chattering squirrel laying in store of beechnuts! “The naked woods" —how beautiful thy are! What a rare and delicate tracery is revealed to the eye, against the sky of autumn softness, as the “wailing winds” bring down a protecting covering of matured leaves upon the earth from which next season shall spring again exuberant lifel And as we look closely at the plump buds set along the bare twigs, we see there a fulfillment of the season’s promise, a guarantee for the bursting joy of next spring. In each little solid, wellprotected bud is packed the potential leaf, the evidence of summer well spent, in entire readiness for the ordeal of winter’s rain and snow and frost. If there is a truly sad winter, I think it must be the tropical rainy season, with no naked woods— but I am a Northerner ! In those “meadows brown and sere ” we may find, even in December, hidden in a south-pointing nook, a lingering spray of goldenrod, or maybe a bright dandelion, or a hardy, cheerful aster. Look sharp, and a pink clover-blossom will reward you, as fragrant as in June; and there may be here and there the final flowers of the “butter-and-eggs” of early summer. And if Jack Frost has breathed on these last of the flowers, they yet hold a singular attractiveness. I have found in midwinter great clumps of goldenrod only changed from chrome to fawn, and reflecting even more light as the sun shone on their winter cheerfulness than in their days of full color. The milkweed, humble flower of summer roadsides, has long since exchanged its dull red blooms, which the bees love, for oddly shaped green seed-pods; and these spring into white silky adornment of glistening down with the first hint of chill in the air. Who shall say that this new elegance is anything but bright and cheery? The bloom of the clematis passed in September, but the feathery seeds give us now a second effect of delicate beauty as they shine in the sun's rays. All the seasons have their flowers of special import. The bewildering rush of spring bloom —let him realize it fully who begins to keep a photographic record— gives us much to seek and find. The summer brings its own, and as the heat waxes and the early profusion of flowers wanes, the ferns in the cool depths of wood or bog appeal to us most strongly. Long before there is evidence that summer is ending, the early goldenrods begin to shake their yellow heads in the passing breeze, and all along the fall months other members of the same family bloom in a bewildering succession of forms. It has been said that a proper punishment for an offending botanist would be to set him to describing all the species of the genus Solidago–
otherwise goldenrod. The differences between
some are minute, and to be detected only by mi-
croscopic examination. But as we go afield in
autumn days, with expanding lungs and seeking
eyes, we need no microscope and but little botany
to fully enjoy the family.
Perhaps, as we look about, we shall find a wand
of the curious silver-rod, but a pale reflection of
its more brilliant sister, or we may chance on the
scented form. But always, everywhere, golden-
rod is beautiful, whether growing back of the
barbed-wire fence in the old orchard, clustered
with a delicate purple aster, or close around a
sturdy tree-stem in company with a white kuhnia.
I have a pleasing memory of one rare plant of the
Canada goldenrod growing along a steep railroad
embankment in northern Pennsylvania, and light-
ing up the rocks with its warm glow. It would
not be photographed, however, for it shook its
stately head at me for a long half-hour in the gentle
breeze before exhausting entirely the camera's
patience. -
At the very edge of the “meadow brown and
sere,” what is this glorious blue flower with its
golden center? It is the noble New England
aster, the queen of all the fall flowers, adorning
with elegance the fence-corners and the edges of
the little brook. New England has no monopoly
of this royal flower—it is nowhere more luxuriant
than in the Middle States.
It is not only this conspicuous member of the
family which the English call “Michaelmas
daisies’’ that is attractive. A form with very
small white flowers, produced so abundantly as
to give an effect of mist, is the redeeming feature
of many a dusty roadside and waste place. A
starry lilac variety—cordifolius—makes shady 
spots and fence-corners bright, and it resists the frost for many successive attacks. In swampy places we may find early in autumn a tall species with delicate lavender flowers—Aster puniceus. The whole family of asters is a delight, and I could wish the flower-lover who has expended much money and effort on tender geraniums and the like, nothing better than a collection of these star flowers that will become more and more lovely under care and attention, enjoying removal from the less favorable surroundings they have beautified. At the edge of the wood, just out from the steady green of hemlock and pine, one may find a stately pokeweed, with its deep purple fruit, like clusters of glossy little grapes, shining in the afternoon sun. The leaves are dropping, but they only give more prominence to the glowing wine-red stems. I dislike “pokeweed ” as a name, for it surely discounts a beautiful plant. Phytolacca, the true name, seems just right. Only in these days of late autumn may we hope to see the last flower to bloom—the delicate witchhazel. Inconspicuous, but beautiful and very sweet, it is worth a long tramp to find and remember. Let us go abroad again, after hard freezing has still more fully warmed the colors of the aftermath and cleared away the last of the leaves. Now the cat-tail flags are turning to silky down, the asters still have a silvery calyx to show where the flowers were, the varied hues of tree twig and branch are revealed, and there is nothing but brightness and interest for the lover of every season, every flower and tree. When snow covers the earth, there will develop more brilliancies of color, new delicacies of twig tracery, new reasons to seek to know more and more of nature's secrets. October, 190l