Treasures of Aromatic Literature(Authors)-Writings of Willis Bletchley

Willis Blatchley - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The odor of the field thistle is not an especially pleasing one, but the beauty of the purple head with its subtending involucral scales of green, each tipped with a whitish spine, more than makes amends for its lack of fragrance. Rich in pollen, too, and visited each day by many a butterfly and bumble-bee. From out of the depths of the one in hand there crawls a slender staphylinid beetle, which is dedicated to science by consignment to the depths of a cyanide bottle. The first thistle blossom of the year, opening from the apex of the central stalk is, to an eye which appreciates solid beauty, one of the most attractive of our wild-wood flowers.
Boulder reveries

From somewhere the odor of red clover, ever welcome to my nostrils, is borne. It is, to me, the most pleasing fragrance of the month of June. It always brings to mind ripening wheat and the firefly's glim—a world of green and a bright sun shedding its glory thereon. It causes me to draw long inhalations, to inflate the nostrils and gather in greater volumes of the scented air.
Wherever it abounds the red clover is the sign of progressive farming. It enriches the soil more than any other known plant. It causes the country fields to literally "blossom as the rose." It bears its burden well, furnishing pasture for summer's stock, hay for winter's feeding and, above all, beauty and fragrance for the true lover of nature.
More than any one thing a clover field, in the heart of June-time, begets in me a longing to be a farmer, or at least to be the owner of a farm. The odors of clover which I have gathered in the years gone by have all belonged to other men. I have stolen them, but they missed them not. As long as a man steals only that which is impalpable and which is never missed he can not be called a thief. 1, perchance, during the summer months, gather more real wealth from this old woods-pasture, with its maples and oaks, its prickly ash and iron weeds, its blue-grass and boulders, its song of bird and odor of clover, than does the lawful owner; yet the wealth which I get is not to be measured by the money of man.
Boulder reveries

The bloom of elder, of trailing arbutus, of pond lilies—how their sight and odor, especially the latter, recall the past! When I see and scent the elder blossoms I am a boy again, gathering wild raspberries around old stumps and in the angles of Virginia rail fences; gathering wild berries with a heart full of hope, of longing for a nobler, higher calling.
When I see and smell arbutus blossoms I am a youth, with hope still strong, but its twin brother, ambition, stronger; impelling me ever "onward and upward"—a college youth, opening day by day some new leaf of the great book of nature—conning its pages with renewing interest and a growing love for its varied objects.
When I pluck the white pond lilies and scent their fragrance I am a man in years, if not in deeds—a man teaching or trying to teach childish minds somewhat of nature's secrets. I am wading once again the ponds and sloughs of the Wabash valley, with hope still reigning in my heart—ambition still stirring in my soul. Such is the trend of thought—of revery—which the scent of a cyme of elder blossoms begets in the brain of a midle-aged man on a morning in June.
Boulder reveries

Along the lowlands of this rippling stream and often springing from the shallow water are the stems of that lowly, aromatic, semi-aquatic herb, the peppermint. In the centuries that have gone by how many stomach aches, both of babes and mature humans, have the juices of this homely plant relieved! At the base of these damp shady banks is its favorite abiding place. Here its pungent fragrance permeates, unheeded, the surrounding air. I sometimes wonder if browsing cattle ever suffer from the stomach ache and find relief in the juices of its stems and leaves.

Boulder reveries

st Thursday I saw, for the first time, the lilac petals of the purple fringed orchis, in the borders of a bog in Steuben County. I bowed the knee in reverence before its entrancing beauty. How can the mud and slime of these northern bogs be transformed into such a flower as this? How can the spotless white and the fragrance of our water lilies come from the black, ill-smelling ooze of our ponds and lakes? Only the science of chemistry and the God of Nature can answer.

Boulder reveries

"I've bartered my sheets for a star lit bed;
I've traded my meat for a crust of bread;
I've changed my book for a sapling cane,
And I'm off to the end of the world again.''
The odor of crushed prickly-ash leaves is with me—pleasing, penetrating—unlike that of any other plant. As I drive or walk along streams or through low ground woodlands in early autumn, two odors often come to me—two which are always welcome. The one, that of the great ragweed or horseweed, is exhaled readily, bounteously, and to all comers. To some persons it is doubtless disagreeable, but to me it is rich, strong, powerful; fit odor for the gods.8 The plant itself is one of the largest of our annuals, often reaching, in rich alluvial soil—the kind in which it delights—a height of 14 feet in a single season.
The other odor, that of prickly-ash, is known only to the saunterer who has time to pause and crush the leaves or fruit—as I, this morn, have done—thus setting free from their glands a charming oily fragrance, which perfumes the skin for hours.
Boulder reveries
The odor of earth, earthy, how it attracts me, rising as it does from the mold in these oak and maple woods. The rain of the morning has set it free. It takes me back to the first warm days of March and April—days of the great awakening—when the thawing soil with its cover of mold yields its penetrating odor. O earth mold, what entrancing odors canst thou emit when the frost king first leaves thy mellowed surface! It is that of earth divine. Pent up for years that aroma has been, but on such days it rises free and subtile to the nostrils of man. It is no wonder that the fragrance of many a flower is distilled by nature from the odors of such mold.
That lowly, ill-smelling Composite, the Mayweed or dog-fennel,27 flourishes in waste places along the pathways and about the country barnyards where men and hogs and cattle are wont to travel or congregate. Elsewhere it will not grow. I never see it or scent it without calling up from memory's cells the streets of a little country town where the May-weed held full sway a third of a century and more ago; a town of less than a hundred population, far removed from railways, whose citizens knew each other's every act and move, and were content to live and let live, sniffing the foetid odor of the dogweed from mid-June until mid-October. A "dog-fennel village" it was, in truth, where cows and hogs roamed freely at will, where the wishes of man were few and contentment ruled unbroken. And yet, to my boyish imagination, it was the center of the universe, the hub of the wheel of my existence. "Cow-weed" would, to my mind, be a more appropriate name for the plant than dog-weed or dog-fennel, for it grows best about those spots where kine are wont to congregate and ruminate.
Peace, quiet, what will a man not give for these two after he is forty? All else is little in comparison. At twenty one wishes for clang and clatter—for rush and turmoil. At thirty he is often in the midst of them. By the time another decade is passed he has had enough, and longs for green pastures and running waters, far from the artificial sounds of man.

Boulder reveries

The aroma of ripening grain greets my nostrils—the sound of the reaper my ears. The wild raspberries are turning purple in the June sunshine. The elder blossoms are fair and white in the full beauty of their bloom. To-day I wish the free air of heaven to blow unhindered against my brow. Let it be undammed by any device of man. Let it surge and roll about me, bringing new energy into my being.

Boulder reveries


The first odor of the sweet white everlasting86 this day greeted my nostrils from the grassy slope of the pasture which I crossed when returning from my berry picking. As I travel along the country roads or wander through the woodlands from mid-July to October, I inhale many an odor, but none more pleasing than that which comes to me from this Compositse. There is nothing like it in my category of smells. Once known it is never forgotten and each season I greet it with ever growing delight. If there is any other odor which it recalls, it is that of the earth, earthy on the first days of the great awakening. Then the moistened leaves and mold give up from many a woodland surface the quintessence of herbs and grass and flowers long since dead and forgotten. But the odor of the everlasting is that of a living thing which I can gather and put into my pocket where for months it will exhale its fragrance. 
A plant twelve to eighteen inches in height, it flourishes best in poor soil on the sunny slopes of old fields and pastures. There through the months of summer is its odor distilled, reaching perfection only in autumn after the hoar frost has lent its leaven for a perfect ripeness. Not especially showy or attractive is the plant, but loose branching, growing in small clumps, with alternate linear sessile leaves and a corymb of cone-shaped whitish heads. The stems and under side of leaves are clothed with a dense hoarywhite appressed pubescence and this, together with the odor, should make it easily known. Where the plant is plentiful this odor penetrates the air for rods around, and is often borne  to the traveler, by whom it is welcomed though its source be to him unknown. What a combination of chemical atoms, what perfect union of C. and H. and O. and other elements, must there be for its production! What a hidden secret must this herb possess that it is enabled to produce and exhale such a unique, pleasing and life inspiring fragrance!
Woodland Idylls

The odors arising from the valley on these cool moist August morns are almost as sweet as those given forth from the earth mold when before the breath of the south wind its shroud of snow melts in March or early April. Up they come, that of peppermint, of everlasting, of pennyroyal, of fully ripened blue-grass stems, of half decayed oaken bark, of a double score of other things, all meeting, mingling and forming a potpourri of fragrance which my nostrils feast upon. Of the five senses the naturalist while in the open gains through sight most pleasure; then through hearing, smelling, tasting and touching in the order named. Thanks to the fates which rule over my destiny my sense of smell is yet as good as ever, however dimmed my eye or dulled my sense of hearing.
Woodland Idylls

Sunday, August 9.—One week ago, this very hour, it was an experiment. This morn it is an  accomplished fact. One week, O Nature, have I been all the time a devotee to thee! It has not been a week lost, but a week gained—a week of my own in which I did that which my mind listed to do—only that and nothing more. I have not grown as did Thoreau, while he watched the sumac leaves along the borders of his unfenced wilderness, but I have been—content. Odors royal, medleys of the fragrance of the fields, have catered unto me, pennyroyal and peppermint, prickly ash and everlasting, earth odors also of the dewy August morns. Music of many birds has come unto my soul. Sunrises and sunsets, morning stars and clouds in all their varied splendor have I looked upon. The moon each night hath bathed me in the glory of her resplendent beams. Unto mother earth have I also tried to do full homage. On her bosom, close to her sod and her mold have I reclined for many a happy hour. Of her have I written. To her is due full honor for the meed of content I have had.
Woodland Idylls

Although I know that soon she will tire of me, my love for her each day doth grow. Closer would I get to her yet remain upon her surface. Into my ears would I have her whisper her inmost secrets. Her winds would I have play for me their sweetest music. I would see her fairest sights, taste her most delicious savors, sense her most fragrant odors.
And so again I stretch myself out and look— not upward into the blue vault of heaven but downward amongst the roots of her grasses and her mosses. Lying thus I hear the gentle dronings and buzzings of her crawling creatures, smell the concentrated odors of her blanket of mold and feel the great heart-throb of the mother in unison with that of mine. Lying thus there also falls upon me from above the smile and blessing of her progenitor and paramour, father to me and all to which she ever has or ever will give birth—master of her and many others of her kind—the sun.
Woodland Idylls

After dinner I started down the west side of the large stream, down past many a riffle almost filled with great masses of the water-willow,25 now just beginning to show its pretty heads of purplish-white flowers; down with the odor of the wild fox grape in my nostrils. Distilled in one of his happiest moods by the God of scent, it is worth a mile's tramp any June day to whiff its perfume.
Woodland Idylls

For nearly a fortnight have I been lolling my life away, yet I have lived as did my old fathers, the cave-dwellers, lived as did the noble red man, lived and let nature for the most part feed me. This lolling may add months or even years unto my term of life, for the earth smiles longest upon those who try to get closest to her crust, there to scent its perfumes, to know that they represent the quintessence of myriads of plants long dead, yet yielding up an inkling of their past. Each sprig of moss, each culm of grass, each stem of herb or bole of shrub or tree has had a history of its days or months or years to whisper unto me. For like myself life have they had, the tingling of the sap through vein and cell and the joy of labor. Unto each hath come the pleasure of healthy growth and of work well done. Thus are they and I related. Back through the ages to the days of stone dust and of planet atom can be traced our kinship.

Woodland Idylls

Monday, August 3.—Up at 4:20. The eastern sky resplendent with the glow of the coming sun; the morning star, a diamond shining with slowly fading brilliancy before the advancing splendor of the orb of day; the distant pastoral sounds of crowing cocks, barking dogs, lowing cattle and ba-aing sheep; the clear ringing call of a cardinal; the scolding notes of jay and woodpecker—these my morning greetings.
A thin mist rises from the valley. A cool moist atmosphere with heavy dewfall has followed the shower of yester-eve. I light my breakfast fire and the smoke, with pleasing aroma, rises heavenward, an incense to greet the coming of the first rays of the sun. The hot air rises with such force that it causes the o'erhanging boughs of oak to sway up and down as though a stiff breeze were blowing.
Woodland Idylls

This afternoon I lounge about camp and read. Picking up Maeterlinck's "Old Fashioned Prowers" I ran across this sentence: "The science of simples is dying out in the housewife's memory." This same thought I expressed on yesterday when I wrote "The simplers and herbalists of a century ago have vanished as a race." Again he says, speaking of the common wayside flowers; "They represent in short an essential smile, an invariable thought, an obstinate desire of the earth," while my words were: "Their true use is to decorate the crust of this old earth of ours." I had never read Maeterlinck's work until this afternoon, yet therein I thus found two of my thoughts of yesterday. They were* original with each of us.
Flowers, birds and butterflies are the three things which more than all else go to make charming and interesting this old woods pasture. To the eye all are attractive, to the ear the birds do cater, while to the sense of smell many of the flowers are best known. Even as I write a little brown wood-nymph48doth flutter by. Earth lover like myself it journeys ever close to her crust, moving with a queer jerky flight and often alighting on the grass or on a log or chip, seldom on a flower or shrub.
Woodland Idylls