Walk on An Indian Summer Day


Zolotaja osen (lit. "Indian summer") by Vasiliy Polenov.
So it was we took a walk on an Indian Summer day. The day was perfect. A trace of frost was in the air, just enough to make it bracing and an overcoat superfluous. Much of the glory of the early Fall was gone. The maples had lost their wealth of rainbow tints, and the dogwoods their glory, but the sumac was still scarlet and the oak leaves richly red. The yellow, which is such a cheery feature of the leaves in early Autumn, was rapidly changing to dead russet, but enough of it remained to give the forest and undergrowth a varied beauty. Under foot the dead leaves rustled, while above the fitful breezes of the mid-afternoon whispered through the boughs not yet entirely bare. In one place long rows of cherry trees, with their green leaves edged with yellow, stood looking as sturdy and full of content as if Winter were months instead of weeks away. They formed a striking contrast with some of the apple trees near by, whose leaves were already dry and brown.
Autumn is usually looked upon as a dreary part of the year. Poets have sung of the sear and yellow leaf and the death of the leaves and like topics until not a few persons have come to look upon the Autumn as the saddest season of the year. To them the rustle of falling leaves is full of suggestions of death and decay and the cawing of departing crows mournful. Even so good a student as Bryant sung of "the melancholy days, the saddest of the year." Yet there is a much more beautiful suggestion, a much richer delight to be gained from Autumn fields and forest, if we approach them with another and truer idea in mind. Not that there are not "melancholy days" in Autumn, just as there are dreary days in Spring and cheerless ones in Winter, but it is entirely wrong to feel, or try to feel, that all are so, or that the season as a whole is melancholy. Why should any one feel melancholy with the fullness of the year about him? The air is laden with scents of ripening apples and grapes, the fields are yellow with corn and sprinkled with pumpkins, or green with.winter wheat, and forests are rich and warm in Autumn foliage. Everything combines to give the senses the choicest evidences of completeness.
The year's mission is complete. The acorns rattle on the leaves and the nuts are dropping and the leaves sift down. All nature tells plain as words the story of a work done, and well done, in every one of such there is the i idlest joy. It is nature's harvest home. Mother earth is wrapping about her children the mantle of leaves and preparing for the revivifying sleep of Winter. On these late Autumn days the haze that hangs over all seems like the period of delicious, dreamy dozing into which the mind drifts just before the curtains of slumber shut off consciousness. It has much the same effect on the meditative mind as that.
But I have almost forgotten the walk we were taking. The sunlight glinted through the leaves over our path, and made mosaics on the crisp leaves under foot. From the orchards came the odor of ripening apples, and rich cider, and the old farm days come back in mind with them. Strange, is it not, that nothing should so quickly recall the simple joys of youth as the suggestions of appetite. In one place, the whole family were in the orchard under the apple trees gathering apples; the stalwart farmer and his healthy-looking wife, bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked as her children almost—a happy picture of contented toil, of the homes which make men and Americans.
In another place there had been Fall plowing, and the scent which came from the upturned soil was particularly rare and pleasing. It suggested days of bare-footed boyhood and evenings of youth when the odor of fresh soil drifted through the air to make twilight sweeter, and the boys and girls happier. Doubtless none but one who has spent many happy days in the country would notice this rare odor of fresh plowed earth. There is nothing else with which the writer is familiar that is quite like it, and to his thinking there are few of the commoner odors of nature that are sweeter. It is not the rich fragrance of the flowers, it is like none of them, and yet it can not be called gross or coarse. It has rather a plain, rare freshness about it that reminds one at once that there is something in common between him and the soil and that something nothing to be ashamed of. No wonder that plowing gives a man, or boy either, a healthy appetite of large proportions when the fresh fragrance of the soil is in his nostrils all day long! It seems to tell of the sweet, clean earth turning a new face to the sun for new work and giving up to his bidding some suggestion of the riches which the soil down there ten or twelve inches below the surface has been gathering. After breathing in that fragrance one can not but feel some little satisfaction in the fact that that is mother earth, and a renewed sense of how kindly she is to us in many things, after all.
The gravel crunched under foot as we walked briskly on with the rays of the setting sun in our faces. We saw him shine, red like a conflagration, through the russet and brown of the woods. A moment later and we reached a long colonnade of trees. On one side was a row of stately pines, green, and with a gathering somberuess of shadow in the sunset light; on the other, noble maples stood, a few leaves still clinging to the branches. Overhead the boughs of pine and maple almost touch each other. It was a delightful place to drive through on a moonlight Summer night. We came out of this shady lane, dark with the sunset shadows of the pines, about whose roots the needles formed a soft, springy carpet, just in time to see the last edge of the sun hang for a moment on the rim of the horizon, and then drop out of sight. To our right, and a mile or so, lay a lake, grayish blue, with the haze rolling down along the horizon like a deep indigo bank of cloud, and the whole as peaceful as if it never knew a storm.
We were now on the bluff above the river. Below us lay the ampitlieatrc-like valey, around three sides of which the river winds. On one side were the great banks of shale, gray and blackish, with their terrace-like water lines. On the other the wooded blufFs were losing the last traces of their autumn grandeur in the gathering twilight. What color that could be seen was in those deep, subdued tints that, while hardly distinguishable, are very pleasing and restful to the eye and Blind. A thin mist was rising from the
valley, making a curtain more delicate than gossamer. In the west the last traces of day were painted in delicate lemon tints above the horizon. To the east the violet of night was stealing over the sky, telling that the sable mistress of half our lives was drawing near. The beauty of the valley was becoming indistinct, and with regret we turned away. H.
Locomotive Engineers Journal, Volume 23