Treasures of Aromatic Literature-The birds and seasons of New England By Wilson Flagg

Treasures of Aromatic Literature-The birds and seasons of New England By Wilson Flagg

We will picture to ourselves a craggy precipice, rising
thirty or forty feet out of a wet meadow, and forming
in its irregular ascent many oblique and perpendicular
sides, which have collected upon their upper surface several
inches of soil. A grove of pines and birches covers
the summit, with an undergrowth of various shrubs, such
as the whortleberry, the wood-pyrus, the spiraea, and
the mountain andromeda. Here, too, the bayberry and
sweet fern mingle their fragrance with the odors of the
pines. The rocks, in the driest places, are covered with a
bedding of gray lichen, which is a perfect hygrometer,
breaking like glass under our footsteps when the atmosphere
is dry, but yielding like velvet when it contains the
least moisture. The cup-moss grows abundantly along
with it, and in moist situations the green, delicate hair-
moss, the same that covers the roofs of very old buildings.
The rain has washed down from the summit constant deposits
from trees and shrubs, birds and quadrupeds, and
formed a superficies of good soil on all parts of the rock
where it could be retained. On the almost bare surface
grows the beautiful feather-grass, supported only by the
soil that has accumulated about its roots.

A river, especially of moderate width, is in many respects
more beautiful than a lake ; and, more than any
other collection of water, suggests the idea of infinity
and of continued progression. I never look upon a clear
stream of narrow dimensions, without thinking of the
thousand beautiful scenes it must visit, in its blue course
through the hills and plains. What a life of perpetual
delight must be led by the gentle river goddess, as she is
wafted up and down the stream in her shallop of reeds !
Now coursing along under banks sprinkled over with
honeysuckles, while their fragrance follows the current
of the stream, to entice the bees and other insects to their
fragrant flower-cups ; then passing through a pleasant
forest, where she is regaled by the terebinthine odor of
pines mingled with that of flowering lindens, whose
branches resound all day with the hum of insects and the
warbling of birds. Every green bank offers to her hand a
profusion of wild strawberries, and every rocky declivity
hangs its brambles over the stream, and tempts her with
delicate clusters of raspberries, and other delicious fruits.
How, if she takes pleasure in the happiness of human
beings, must she be charmed by witnessing the plenty
which is everywhere diffused by the crystal waters of her
own stream ; the countless farms rendered fertile and
productive through its agency ; the numerous mill-seats
that derive their power from its falls and rapids, and
gather the industrious inhabitants in smiling hamlets
upon its banks ! A river, when pursuing its winding
course along the plain, alternately appearing and disappearing
among the hills and woods, suggests the idea
of a pleasant journey, and is peculiarly emblematical of
human progress. It always seems to me that it must
conduct one to some happier region, and that if I traced
it to its source, I should be led into the very temple of
the Naiads !

The odors that perfume the air in the latter part of this
month are chiefly exhaled from the unfolding buds of the
flowering trees and shrubs, and from pine woods. The
balm of Gilead and other poplars, while the scales are
dropping from their hibernacles, to loose the young leaves
and flowers from their confinement, afford the most grateful
of odors, and are a part of the peculiar incense of spring.
But there are exhalations from the soil in April, when
the ploughman is turning his furrows, that afford an
agreeable sensation of freshness, almost like fragrance,
resembling the scent of the cool breezes, which, wafted
over beds of dulses and sea-weeds, when the tide is low,
often rise up suddenly in the lieat of summer.

Now let the dweller in the city who, though abounding
in riches, sighs for that contentment which his wealth
has not procured, come forth from the dust and confine-
ment of the town and pay a short visit to Nature in the
country. Let him come in the afternoon, when the declining
sun casts a beautiful sheen upon the tender leaves
of the forest, and while thousands of birds are chanting,
in full chorus, from an overflow of those delightful sensations
that fill the hearts of all creatures who worship
Nature in her own temples and do obedience to her beneficent
laws. I would lead him to a commanding view
of this lovely prospect, that he may gaze awhile upon
those scenes which he has so often admired on the
canvas of the painter, displayed here in all their living
beauty. While the gales are wafting to his senses the
fragrance of the surrounding groves and orchards, and the
notes of the birds are echoing all around in harmonious
confusion, I would point out to him the neat little cottages
which are dotted about like palaces of content in
all parts of the landscape. I would direct his attention
to the happy laborers in the field, and the neatly dressed,
smiling, ruddy, and playful children in their green and
flowery enclosures and before the open doors of the cottages.
I would then ask him if he is still ignorant of the
cause of his own unhappiness, or of the abundant sources
of enjoyment which Nature freely offers for the participation
of all her creatures.

But Nature, who set light in heaven to beam with
every imaginable hue, has not made us sensitive to beauty
without bestowing upon the earth those forms which
like the letters of a book, convey to the mind an infinity
of delightful thoughts and conceptions. Hence flowers
are made to spring up in wood and dell, by solitary
streams, in moss-grown recesses, near every path that
glides through the meadow, and in every green lane that
wanders through the forest; and Nature has given them
an endless variety of forms, colors, and deportment, that
by their different expressions they may awaken every
agreeable passion of the soul. There is no place where
their light is not to be seen. The inhabitant of the South
beholds them in trees looking down upon him like the
birds ; the man of the North sees them embossed in ver-
dure, under the protection of trees and rocks. Insects
sip from their honey-cups the nectar of their subsistence,
during a life as ephemeral as that of the blossom they
plunder ; and the summer gales rejoice in their sweets,
with which they have laden their wings. Morning greets
them when she wakes, and sees them spread out their
petals to the light of the sun, all glowing with beauty
when the dews that sleep nightly in their bosoms steal
silently back to heaven ; and every day is relieved of its
weariness by the myriads that brighten when it approach-
es, and sweeten with their fragrance the transitory visits
of each fleeting hour.

The evenings are now so delightful that it seems like
imprisonment to remain within doors. Odors, sights, and
sounds are at present so grateful and tranquillizing in their
effects upon the mind, and so suggestive of all the bright
period of youth, that they cannot be regarded as the mere
pleasures of sense. The sweet emanations from beds of
ripening strawberries, from plats of pinks and violets,
from groves of flowering linden-trees, full of myriads of
humming insects, from meadows odoriferous with clover
and sweet-scented grasses, all wafted in succession with
every little shifting of the w4nd, breathe upon us an
endless variety of fragrance. Then the perfect velvety
softness of the evening air ; the various melodies that come
from every nook, tree, rock, dell, and fountain ; the notes
of birds, the chirping of insects, the hum of bees, the
rustling of aspen leaves, the bubbling of fountains, the
dashing of waves and waterfalls, and the many beautiful
things that greet our vision from earth, sea, and sky, — •
all unite, as it were, to yield to mortals who hope for
immortality a foretaste of the unspeakable joys of paradise.

As June was the month of music and flowers, July is
the harvest month of the early fruits; and, though the
poet might prefer the former, the present offers the most
attractions to the epicure. Strawberries, that gem the
meads, and raspberry-bushes that embroider the stone-
walls and fences, hang out their ripe, red clusters of berries
where the wild-rose and the elder-flower scent the air with
their fragrance. The rocks and precipices, so highly crowned
with flowers, are festooned with thimble berries, that spring
out in tufts from the mossy crevices half covered with
green, umbrageous ferns. There is no spot so barren that
it is not covered with something that is beautiful to the
sight or grateful to the sense. The little pearly flowers
that hung in profusion from the low blueberry-bushes,
whose beauty and fragrance we so lately admired, are
transformed into azure fruits, that rival the flowers in
elegance. Nature would convert us all into epicures by
changing into agreeable fruits those beautiful things we
contemplated so lately with a tender sentiment allied to
that of love. Summer is surely the season of epicurism,
as spring is that of the luxury of sentiment. Nature has
now bountifully provided for every sense. The trees that
afford a pleasant shade are surrounded with an under-
growth of fruitful shrubs, and the winds that fan the brow
are laden with odors gathered from beds of roses, azaleas,
and honeysuckles. Goldfinches and humming-birds peep
down upon us, as they flit among the branches of the
trees, and butterflies settle upon the flowers and charm
our eyes with their gorgeous colors. In the pastures the
red lilies have appeared, and young children who go out
into the fields to gather these simple luxuries, after filling
their baskets with fruit, crown their arms with bouquets
of lilies, laurels, and honeysuckles, rejoicing over their
beauty during the happiest, as it is the most simple and
natural, period of their lives.

The season of haymaking has arrived, the mowers are
busy in their occupation, and the whetting of the scythe
blends harmoniously with the sounds of animated nature.
The air is filled with the fragrance of new-mown hay,
the dying incense-offering of the troops of flowers that
perish beneath the fatal scythe. Many are the delightful
remembrances connected with haymaking to those who
have spent their youth in the country. In moderate summer weather there is no more delightful occupation. Every
toil is pleasant that leads us into green fields and fills the
mind with the cheerfulness of all living tilings.

But summer, with all its delightful occasions of joy and
rejoicing, is in one respect the most melancholy season of
the year. We are now the constant witnesses of some
regretful change in the aspect of nature, reminding us of
the fate of all things and the transitoriness of existence.
Every morning sun looks down upon the graves of whole
tribes of flowers that were but yesterday the pride and
glory of the fields. Day by day as I pursue my walks,
while rejoicing at the discovery of some new and beauti-
ful visitant of the meads, I am suddenly affected with
sorrow upon looking around in vain for the little com-
panion of my former excursions, now drooping and faded
and breathing its last breath of fragrance into the air.

A savor of romance still adheres to many of the holy
plants, derived from the incidents that led to their conse-
cration. The costmary, an Italian plant not uncommon
in our gardens, having a very agreeable aromatic odor and
some peculiar balsamic properties, was, on account of the
purity of its fragrance, dedicated to the Virgin. In its
sensible qualities it unites the balm and the tansy. The
blessed thistle, another of the holy herbs, is one of those
plants that may be compared to certain good people whose
virtues are all of a passive sort, and who are chiefly re-
markable for the odor of sanctity that distinguishes them.
Some other herbs have won their reputation from their
supposed identity with certain plants mentioned in Scrip-
ture, There are likewise holy shrubs, as the way bread and
the wayfaring-tree, — names highly suggestive and roman-
tic. Others, like the witch-elm and the witch-hazel, are
associated with divination and mauic. In Great Britain,
where the habits of the people are still under traditional
influences in a much greater degree than those of the
same classes in this country, a profound respect is still
paid to the holy herbs ; and bands of simplers — believ-
ers in the panaceas of tlie field and garden — still con-
tinue their avocation and are in popular repute in many
old English towns.

It is my delight to seek these last-born of the roses,
and to my sight they are more beautiful than any that
preceded them, as if Nature, like a partial mother, had
lavished her best gifts upon these her youngest children.
The bushes that support them are overtopped by other
plants, that seem to leel an envious delight in concealing
them from observation, but they cannot blot them from
our memory, nor be admired as we admire them. The
clethra with its white odoriferous flowers, and the button-
bush with its elegant globular heads, strive vainly to equal
them in fragrance or beauty. The proud and scornful
thistle rears its head close by their side, and seems to
mock at the fragility of these lovely flowers ; but the wild
briar, thougli its roses have faded, still gives out its undy-
ing perfume, as if the essence of the withered flowers
lingered about their former leafy habitation, like spirits
about the places they loved in their lifetime.

The student of Nature, who is accustomed to general
observation, cannot fail to have noticed the different
character of the flowers of spring, summer, and autumn.
Each season, as well as climate, has a description of
vegetation peculiar to itself; for as spring is not desti-
tute of fruits, neither is autumn of flowers, though they
have in General but little resemblance to one another.
Those of spring, as I have already remarked, are deli-
cate and herbaceous, pale in their tints, and fragrant in
their odors. The summer flowers are larger, more bril-
liant in their colors, and not so highly perfumed as those
of spring. Lastly, the flowers of autumn appear in un-
limited profusion, neither so brilliant as the former, nor
so delicate as the latter. They are produced on woody
stalks, often in crowded clusters, and nearly destitute of
fragrance. The clift'erences in the general characteristics
of the flowers of different seasons are an interesting
theme of speculation ; and they represent, somewhat im-
perfectly, the flowers of the different latitudes.

We have hardly become familiar with summer ere
autumn arrives with its cool nights, its foggy mornings,
and its clear brilliant days. Yet the close of summer is
but the commencement of a variety of pleasant rural
occupations, of reaping and fruit-gathering, and the still
more exciting sports of the field. After this time we are
comparatively exempt from the extremes of temperature,
and we are free to ramble at any distance, without ex-
posure to sudden showers, that so often spring up in sum-
mer without warning us of their approach. Though the
spicy odors of June are no longer wafted upon the gales,
there is a clearness and freshness in the atmosphere more
agreeable than fragrance, giving buoyancy to the mind
and elasticity to the frame.

In our latitude, at the present era January is usually
the month of the greatest cold ; and in severe weather
there is a general stillness that is favorable to musing.
The little streamlets are frozen and silent, and there is
hardly any motion except of the winds, and of the trees
that bend to their force. But the works of Nature are
still carried on beneath the frost and snow. Though the
flowers are buried in their hyemal sleep, thousands of
unseen elements are present, all waiting to prepare their
hues and fragrance, when the spring returns and wakes
the flowers and calls the bees out from their hives.
Nature is always active in her operations ; and during
winter are the embryos nursed of myriad hosts, that will
soon spread beauty over the plains and give animation to
the field and forest.