autumn scents

THE fall now rapidly descends into that season of "wailing winds and naked woods" which preludes the winter snows. The fogs that have crept nightly from the river meadows up the hillsides, and folded the forests in moisture, have loosened the joints of the ripened leaves, and the faint rain of their dropping all through the nights has been a part of the inarticulate utterance of Nature. The querulous western winds have swept in buffeting gusts through the trees and hastened their dispossession, bearing "the gold of the ruined woodlands" in luminous showers to earth, there to rustle and hurry and heap themselves by the roadsides, along the forest edges, around the roots of the bushes in the meadow, or in the brook whose murmuring they smother as they clog its current. This is the end of the splendid pageant of the autumn hills, although there are many single trees as richly dyed as ever, and many that are still green. When the frost comes, these will be stripped also; and not much longer will last the peculiar wild flavor which pervades the forest air at this season, — the woodsy fragrance that is even more delicious than in the scent of spring.
The Saunterer
 By Charles Goodrich Whiting

The next day after " tapping," those of us large enough to wear the neck-yoke donned this badge of servitude and with its help brought pails of sap to the kettle, and the "boiling" began. As the evening shades gathered, how delicious was the odor of the sap steam permeating the woods farther than the shafts of firelight pierced the gloom! How weird and delightful was this night experience in the woods! and how cheerfully we swallowed the smoke which the contrary wind seemed ever to turn toward us! We poked the fire to send the sparks upward and now and then we added more sap from the barrel and removed the scum from the boiling liquid with a skimmer which was thrust into the cleft end of a stick to provide it with a sufficiently long handle. As the evening wore on we drew closer to each other as we told the stories of the Indians and the bears and panthers that had roamed these woods when our father was a little boy; and there came to each of us a disquieting suspicion that perhaps they were not all gone yet, for everything seemed possible in those nightshrouded woods; and our hearts suddenly jumped into our throats when nearby there sounded the tremulous, blood-curdling cry of the screech owl.
It was the most fun to gather the sap in the warmer mornings, when on the mounds the red squaw-berries were glistening through a frosty veil; then we looked critically at the tracks in the snow to see what visitors had come sniffing around our buckets. We felt nothing but scorn for him who could not translate correctly those hieroglyphics on the film of soft snow that made white again the soiled drifts. Rabbit, skunk, squirrel, mouse, muskrat, fox: we knew them all by their tracks.
After about three days of gathering and boiling the sap, came the "syruping down." During all that afternoon we added no more sap, and we watched carefully the tawny steaming mass in the kettle; and when it threatened to boil over we threw in a thin slice of fat pork which seemed to have some mysterious, calming influence. The odor grew more and more delicious, and finally the syrup was pronounced sufficiently thick. The kettle was swung off the logs and the syrup dripped through a cloth strainer into the carrying pail. Oh! the blackness of the material left on that strainer! but it was "clean woods-dirt" and never destroyed our faith in the maple sugar any more than did the belief that our friends were made of "dirt" destroy our friendship for them.
Cornell Nature-study Leaflets: Being a Selection, with Revision, from the ...
 By New York State College of Agriculture

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! The milking is generally attended to while they eat, and that, too, is always an interesting process—that is, to outsiders. Swish, swosh! swish, swosh! swish, swosh! goes the milk into the buckets, in a kind of rough purring rhythm.
Around an Old Homestead: A Book of Memories
 By Paul Griswold Huston

A townsman gets little joy from the scent of wood smoke, for he does not know how many varieties of smoke there are. But woodsmen know that there are many fragrances in the burning of wood. Dead wood is not like green, and pine is not like maple to our noses. Smoke in frosty air smells sweeter than smoke in summer. But whether it be the spicy perfume of chaparral, crackling sage and mesquite twigs from a Southern mesa, the rich odor of kindled pine, or the milder fragrance of oak logs, it is a symbol of all honorable things to the camper. Watching it rise in strands or puffs of blue and gray is like watching the whole history of the race. In the fading tissue of color I have seen altars and forges and hearths and pyres for the dead. I have seen Prometheus, dearest of Titans, and his children of this later age, still busy stealing for us holier flames than any that can be wedded with wood.
The Dingbat of Arcady
By Marguerite Ogden Bigelow Wilkinson


November
NATURE'S Indian summer richness and pageantry have made their exit. The blazing torches of the sumach smoulder and char in the frosty air, and the luminous leaves that gleamed like red coals but a few weeks ago crackle under our feet. A few sturdy oaks are yet full-clad, and their dark rich leaves seem to have toughened to leather in their obstinate resistance. Occasionally a beech bedecked in orange and amber leafery has defied the chill of November. The perfume of summer flowers is gone, and instead we have the rich aromatic fragrance of the pines and spruces and of the balsam fir with its resinous pungent sweetness, and the rich vigorous green of its spire-like tops towering over the spruces in the cathedral-like woods. A purple haze envelops the distant hills, and the air is ominous. The feathered songsters have left us, and the "caw" of the crow, the screech of the owl, the cry of wild geese, and the moaning of the wind are the music of November. It is the month of discords and of unresolved harmonies,— the swan-song of the year.
The New England Magazine, Volume 48


It is very sudden, this gray of dawn. It is as if some one turned a switch, paused for a moment only to see that the first turn had taken effect, then turned another which released the spring beneath the sun, after which it is all over. Daybreak I am convinced is a word coined between the tropics. No man born north of latitude forty would speak of day as breaking. There the dawn comes as leisurely as a matinee girl to breakfast; here it pops like popcorn. With the coming of day on this bank of the St. Johns the pungent odor of wood smoke cuts off the scent of the November blooming loquats. The smoke of a Southern pine fire is an aroma decorated with perfume. To me the smell of wood smoke of any kind is always delightful. It sniffs of campfires and the open road, of blankets beneath boughs and the long peace of the stars. The fire whence it comes may be guiltless of any outdoor hearth. It may be half-smothered among brick chimneys, built to cook porridge for life prisoners in a city jail, for all I know, but the smoke is free. It was born of the woods, where it gathered all spices to its bosom, and though the log crumbles to ashes in durance, the smoke is the spirit of freedom and can mean nothing else to him who has once smelled it in the wild. If I am ever a life prisoner, I hope they will not let me get scent of wood smoke. If they do, on that day I shall break jail or die in the attempt.
The wood burned here for breakfast fires is the Southern pitch pine, whose smoke seems to carry in its free pungency a finer spiciness than comes with the smoke of other woods. One born to it ought to be sure he is home again by the first whiff. It differs from that of white pine, fir or spruce, this long-leaf pine smoke, and I am sure that if you brought me magically from the Adirondacks or the Aroostook in my sleep and landed me in the barrens I should know my location, however dark the night, the very moment the wind blew the campfire smoke my way.
Every Southern backyard seems to hold the big, black, three-legged iron pot for boiling clothes, and I know not what other incantatory purposes. Beneath this, too, they burn an open fire of pitch wood, so often I may walk all day long with this subtle essence of freedom in my nostrils, a tonic to neutralize the languor that comes down river with the breeze out of the tropic heart of the peninsula. I walked south to meet this breeze this morning, with the morning sun on my left shoulder, the blue sea of the broad river stretching five or six miles beneath it to the haze of the distant bank. On my right was the ten-foot sand bluff of the bank and I waded with the aquatic cows, now knee-deep in shallows on a sandy bottom, now following their paths through margins of close-cropped water hyacinths, over mangrove roots and through the mud of marsh edges, and again along a dry bank of clean white sand. To know a river takes many expeditions, and one of these should surely be afoot along its shallows.
Florida Trails as Seen from Jacksonville to Key West and from November to ...
By Winthrop Packard

All along the borders of the swamp the witch-hazel is working out its peculiar and mysterious destiny. It is not this belated summer day, however, that has brought out its fragrant yellow blossoms. They unfolded just as cheerfully in the killing frost of three nights ago. Witchhazel nuts are ripe now, the witch-faced husks splitting open and showing the glossy black kernels within, about as big as an apple seed, shaped like the enticing black eyes of the witch herself.
All among these nuts grow the scrawny blooms, sending out a delicate fragrance which is as soft and fragile as that of
early spring flowers, — a refined and pleasing scent that brings a thought of far-away apple blossoms. Yet on this sunny day you may not catch this odor unless you put your face close to the flowers, for the vigor of the sun draws up the smell of tannin from all the dry leaves underfoot till the whole world seems a tea factory. Should the rustle of these leaves in the light autumn breeze be the silken swish of trailing Oriental garments, and slant-eyed people appear under pyramid hats and begin to gather them and pack them in chests marked with strange pencilings like those on the end of a red-winged blackbird's egg, I for one would not be surprised.

The blackbird himself is an Oriental mystic in disguise, and he marks the names of his children in Chinese characters round the big end of each egg. The next time you look into a blackbird's nest
you notice if this is not so.
If you wish the odor of the witchhazel blooms you must go to the swamp a morning after a showery night. Then the odor of the dead leaves will have been all washed out of the air, and the faint, fine fragrance of the latest flowers of the season flits daintily out to greet you as you fare down the path.
Yet, though flowers are rare on the third week in October and the pungency of dead leaves pervades the swamp, the upland pastures have a fine fragrance of their own, — a perfume so dainty and alluring that you look for its source in bewilderment, knowing that at this time of year no flowering shrub, no slenderblossoming vine, remains to float it down the wind.
Wood Wanderings
By Winthrop Packard

WITCH-HAZEL.
THE last lone aster in the wood has died,
And taken wings, and flown;
The sighing oaks, the evergreens' dark pride,
And shivering beeches, keep their leaves alone.

From the chill breath of late October's blast
That all the foliage seared,
Even the loyal gentian shrank at last,
And, gathering up her fringes, disappeared.
The wood is silent as an unswept lute;
Color and song have fled;
Only the brave black-alder's brilliant fruit Lights the sear deadness with its living red.
But what is this wild fragrance that pervades
The air like incense-smoke?
Pungent as spices blown in tropic shades,
Subtle as some enchanter might evoke.
Not like the scent of flower, nor drug, nor balm,
Nor resins from the East,
Yet trancing soul and sense in such a charm
As holds us when the thrush's song has ceased.
Mysterious, gradual, like the gathering dews,
And damp, sweet scents of night,
Whence is this strange aroma that imbues
The lone and leafless wood with new delight?
And while the questioner drinks, with parted lips,
The mystical draught — behold!
A wondrous bush, beplumed from root to tips
With crimped and curling bloom of shredded gold!
Not even the smallest leaf or hint of green
Is mingled with its sprays,
But every slender stem and twig is seen
Haloed with flickerings of yellow blaze.
What wizard, wise in spells of drugs and
gums,
With weird divining-rod
Conjures this luminous loveliness that comes
As if by magic from the frozen sod?
Fearless witch-hazel! braver than the oak
That dares not bloom till spring,
Thus to defy the frost's benumbing stroke
With challenge of November blossoming!
And yet it has an airy, delicate grace
Denied all other flowers,
And lights the gloom as some beloved face
Dawns on the dark of melancholy hours.
Miraculous shrub, that thus in frost and blight
Smilest all undismayed,
And scatterest from thy wands of golden light
A sudden sunshine in the chilly glade.
Sprite of New England forests, he was wise
Who gave thee thy quaint name,
As, threading wind-stripped woods, with
awed surprise
He first beheld thy waving fan of flame.
Elizabeth Akers-1895

Where is there a grander sight than a long moorland covered with bracken at the close of autumn ?—the foliage of the trees is not to be compared with that outspread land of crimson and gold. And there is such a forest smell about it too—that real country aroma, which we get a sniff of in villages where they have only wood-fires—for there is nothing else to compare with the smell of fern where it covers long leagues of wild moorland.
The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in ..., Volume 2
 edited by Robert Chambers