Wild pastures By Winthrop Packard
A blind man who knows the pasture should know what part of it he is in and the pasture people that are about him of a June morning simply by the use of his other senses. The birds he would know by sound, the shrubs and trees by smell. Each has its distinctive set of odors differing with differing circumstances, but never varying under the same conditions. The barberry fruit when fully ripe, especially if the frost has mellowed it, has a faint, pleasant, vinous smell which, with the crimson beauty of the clustered berries, might well tempt our grandmothers to make barberry sauce, however much the men folk might declare that it was but shoe-pegs and molasses.
The blossoms are equally beautiful in their pendant yellow racemes which seem to flood the bush with golden light, but the odor of the blossoms, though the first sniff is sweet, has an after touch which is not pleasant. Crush the leaves as you pass and you shall get a smell as of cheap vinegar with something of the back kick of a table d'hote claret. Crush the leaves of the swamp azalea and get a strawberry musk flavor that is faint but delightful.
Sniff as you shoulder your way through the high blueberry bushes and you may note that the crushed leaves have a certain vinous odor like one of the flavors of a good salad. The blossoms of the high-bush blackberry, whose thorns tear your hands, have a faint and endearing smell as of June roses that are so far away that you get just a whiff of them in a dream. The azalea that a month later will make the moist air swoon with sticky sweetness now gives out from its leaves something that reminds you of wild strawberries that you tasted years ago. It is as delicate and as reminiscent as that.
Under your foot the sweet-fern breathes a resin that is "like pious incense from a censer old," the bayberry sniffs of the wax of altar candles lighted at high mass in fairy land, and over by the brook the sweet-gale gives a finer fragrance even than these. There are but three members of this family, — the Myrica or Sweet-Gale family, — yet it is one that the pasture could least afford to miss. The fragrance of their spirits descends like a benediction on all about them, and I have a fancy that it is steadily influencing the lives of the other pasture folk. I know that the low-bush black huckleberry, the kind of the sweet, glossy black fruit that crisps under your teeth because of the seeds in it, grows right amongst sweet-fern whenever it can. Now if you crush the leaves of the lowbush black huckleberry you shall get from them a faint ghost of resinous aroma which is very like that of the sweet-fern. Thus do sweet lives pass their fragrance on to those about them.
Many of these familiar odors had come to me during the night as I half slept and half listened to the vocal duel between the thrush and the whip-poorwill, but as I sprang to my feet at sunrise from my dent in the pasture moss I got a whiff of another which seemed more subtly elusive, more faintly fine than these, perhaps because, though I seemed to recognize it, I could not name it.
Many things I could name as I have named them here, but this escaped me. It had in it some of that real fragrance, a joy without alloy, which you get in late July or August from the clethra, the white alder which lines the brook and the pond shore with its beautiful clusters of odoriferous white spikes.
But by no stretch of the imagination could I bring the white alder to bloom in early June. Moreover, it had only a suggestion of that in its purity of fragrance. There was more to this. There was a spicy, teasing titillation that made me think of bubbles in a tall glass, and it is a wonder that that thought did not name it for me, but it did n't.
The sun was tipping the dew-wet bush tops with opal scintillations that soak you to the skin as you shoulder through them, but that did not matter; I was dressed for it, and so on I went, taking continual shower-baths cheerfully, but always with that teasing, alluring scent in my nostrils. Now and then I lost it; often it was confused and overridden by other stronger odors. Once I forgot it.