There comes a day in the first advent of Spring when a perverse thermometer, which has been plunging nightly below frost line and creeping too briefly up at noon, suddenly takes a jump. The air is balmy, the sun is bright, there has been no frost the night before to make a glistening mud-skin on the walks; the dead leaves, which have apparently rotted down during the winter, are dry, at least on the surface, and rustle about in a caressing wind. Though snowdrifts yet linger under the evergreens and in northward shelters, the footing is firm over the lawn, and the woods call. You cross fields that are bare of snow, the brown and palest straw colour of dead weeds and grasses, and enter the woods on the first slope of the mountain. What an exquisite world it is! The birches shine white, as if new-washed by Winter. The chestnuts are gray, the poplars have a yellow tinge. The forest floor, lying plain to view now with no shadowing foliage, is a brown and gray carpet, almost silvery in texture here and there, for dead leaves under a recently melted snowdrift often seem to bear a film of gray mould. The interlacing branches overhead make an exquisite tracery against the sky and dapple the ground with delicate shadows. Many plants, too, especially the perennial ferns, have come through the Winter green and fresh, so that it almost appears as if some gardener had been here already, getting his first spring planting done. But the greatest charm of the woods on this bright morning is the water. Just on this day, perhaps, can you see it. Yesterday the melting process was too slow. To-morrow the run will be over. But, for this once, those lingering white drifts you see up the slope, under a protecting bowlder or in the shadow of the evergreens, are pouring down little brooks of dancing quicksilver over the forest floor. They follow no worn channels; they flow not to rule or boundary. Over the brown leaves they come, by any little hollow, irresponsible, twinkling, with the softest of plashing sounds as one of them jumps over a fern-covered rock or the root of an aged chestnut, and sinks into the moss or the mould.
And the smell of the forest that day! It is the smell of sweet, black humus, just exposed. It is the smell of dead Winter. It is the indescribable smell of pure ice water running over leaves. If you know it, you know it. If not, no description can bring the odour to your nostrils. It is the first and sweetest smell of Spring.
Green Trails and Upland Pastures
By Walter Prichard Eaton
This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.