OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS
BY WINTHROP PACKARD
Author of "White Mountain Trails," "Literary Pilgrimages of a Naturalist," etc.
BOSTON SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
[Frontispiece: The Mayflower at Plymouth]
Copyright, 1920, BY WINTHROP PACKARD
PRESS OF GEO. H. ELLIS CO., BOSTON
The author wishes to express his thanks to the editors of the Boston Evening Transcript and the Atlantic Monthly for permission to reprint in this volume matter originally contributed to the columns of that paper and magazine; and to A. S. Burbank of Plymouth, I. Chester Horton, and Howard S. Adams for permission to reproduce various illustrations.
I OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS II PLYMOUTH MAYFLOWERS III UNBUILDING A BUILDING IV FOREFATHERS' DAY V THE SINGING PINES VI NANTUCKET IN APRIL VII FOOTING IT ACROSS THE CAPE VIII WILD APPLE TREES IX MIDSUMMER MOONLIGHT X TURTLE-HEAD AND JEWEL-WEED XI THE WAY OF A WOODCHUCK XII ALONG THE SALT MARSHES XIII FISHING "DOWN OUTSIDE" XIV VOICES OF THE BROOKSIDE XV GHOSTS OF THE NORTHEASTER XVI JOTHAM STORIES XVII GOOD-BYE TO SUMMER XVIII MYSTICAL PASTURES XIX WHITE PINE GROVES XX THE PASTURE IN NOVEMBER XXI RED CEDAR LORE XXII AUNT SUE'S SNOWBANK XXIII SPORTS OF THE WINTER WOODS XXIV COASTING ON PONKAPOAG XXV PICKEREL FISHING XXVI YULE FIRES
THE MAYFLOWER AT PLYMOUTH THE FIRST PILGRIM TRAIL PLYMOUTH AS THE PILGRIMS MADE IT LEYDEN STREET TO-DAY FROM BURIAL HILL BIRDS OF THE PLYMOUTH WOODS, WISE AND OTHERWISE BILLINGTON PATH ALONG THE BORDER OF "BILLINGTON SEA" THE STERN AND ROCK-BOUND COAST WHICH GREETED THE PILGRIMS BAYBERRY AND PITCH PINE ALONG A NANTUCKET TRAIL A NANTUCKET LANE ALONG A BYWAY OF THE CAPE DUSTY MILLER BLOSSOMING AMONG THE CAPE DUNES THE SUN SIFTING AND WINNOWING HIS GOLD FOR SUNSET SUNRISE OVER THE POND ROUNDING THE BREAKWATER AT NANTUCKET WITHIN CALL OF THE OLD LISBON BELL CAPTAIN'S HILL FROM MARSH MARGIN ALONG THE SALT MARSHES OUTWARD BOUND IN PLYMOUTH HARBOR GEESE ON THE SAND SPIT AT PLYMOUTH WILD GEESE IN FLIGHT OVER THE POND THE FOX THAT SLIPS ALONG THE WINDING PATHS AT DAWN A CAPE COD CEDAR CENTURIES OLD THE PINES IN WINTER DEER IN THE WINTER WOODS PICKEREL FROM AN OLD COLONY POND
OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS
"The breaking waves dashed high On a stern and rock-bound coast And the woods against a stormy sky Their giant branches tossed."
So sang Felicia D. Hemans in the early years of the last century and she has been much derided by the thoughtless and irreverent who have said that the landing of the Pilgrims was not on a stern and rock-bound coast. Such scoffers evidently never sailed in by White Horse beach and "Hither Manomet" when a winter northeaster was shouldering the deep sea tides up against the cliff and a surly gale snatched the foam from high-crested waves and sent it singing and stinging inland. Could they have done this it would have been easy to understand that the coast here is stern and rock-bound in very truth. The rocks are not those of solid granite ledges, continuous portions of the great earth's lithosphere of which the coast is built farther north, at Scituate, Nahant, Rockport and farther on; but it is rock-bound with massed granite boulders, glacier rounded, water-worn, but inexpressibly stern.
All Plymouth is made up of the results of pilgrimage. How many scores of fathoms deep the real Plymouth shore lies I do not know. It is down there somewhere where it cooled into bathylithic crust back in the gray dawn of time when the earth was made. There it is part of the same ledge of which Scituate and Cohasset are built. All above that is terminal moraine, rock detritus piled upon rock foundation by the glacier. Plymouth Rock itself thus came joy riding from some ledge up Boston way, alighting from this first and greatest New England Transportation System only a few hundred thousand years before Mary Chilton arrived to set foot upon it.
Tide and tempest grind pebbles to shifting sand and give and take away beach and bar yearly, but they do not move the boulders very fast. Manomet shore and even Plymouth beach are rock-bound with these, large and small, today as they were when the Pilgrims fought their desperate, sea-beset way by them through the dusk of a winter northeaster and froze in safety under the lee of Clark's Island.
He who would see Plymouth and the Pilgrim land about it as the Pilgrims saw it may do so. Nature holds grimly onto her own and sedulously heals the scars that man makes. Beat to windward in the December twilight following that first trail of the Pilgrim pinnace, listen to the sullen boom of the breakers on the cliff, hear the growl of the surf-mauled pebbles on Plymouth beach, feel the sting of the freezing spray and the bitter grip of the north wind and you shall find this first Pilgrim trail the same today as it was three hundred years ago.
Plymouth is a manufacturing city, a residence town, a resort and a thriving business centre all in one. Except in its carefully preserved shrines you shall find little suggestion of the Pilgrims themselves, but you have only to step out of town to find their very land all about you, traces of their occupancy, the very marks of their feet, worn in the earth itself. A trail cuts easily into the forest mould. Once well worn there centuries fail to remove it. The paths the Pilgrims trod radiate from Plymouth to a score of places far and near. They tramped to Sandwich and the canal region, to Middleboro, Bridgewater and Duxbury as we know them now, to Boston; sooner or later to all the world. Some of the trails they trod may be forgotten, some of them are main-travelled highways, others remain narrow footpath ways through a country beautiful and often as unsophisticated as it was when the feet of the first Pilgrims pressed them. Therein lies for all the world the chief charm of the Old Colony region. Along the old Pilgrim trails you may step from modern culture and its acme of civilization through the pasture lands of the Pilgrims into glimpses of the forest primeval. The Pilgrims' boulders, their kettle-hole ponds, mossy swamps and ferny hillsides, here and there their very forest trees, await you still. For Indian and panther you need not look; wolf or bear you will hardly see; the wild turkeys are gone; otherwise the wild life of the forest remains.
The first Pilgrim land trail is today Leyden street, leading from the water's edge to their fort on Burial Hill. You may follow it, though the marks of Pilgrim feet are buried beneath city pavement, save perhaps on the crest of the hill itself, and though bluebird and robin flutter shyly to its upper end in spring as did their pilgrim fathers before them, the arbutus, from earliest days to this the Plymouth flower, no longer grows on its margin. He who has not longed to pick a mayflower in Plymouth on Mayday is not a New Englander. That is perhaps why the arbutus no longer grows along byways of the old town as once it did. Instead you must seek the Pilgrim paths out of town to find it.
One of these leads down along shore, over Manomet and on through Plymouth woods toward the old trysting place with the Dutch traders. The men of New Amsterdam, journeying in boats along Long Island Sound and up Buzzards Bay met the Plymouth men yearly and held a most decorous carnival of barter. Tradition has it that the Plymouth men made the trip by sea to the nearest point on the Bay shore. I do not know if the meeting place is known, but I know a moss-grown and gnarled red cedar on the margin of Buttermilk Bay, as we now call it, which I am sure was growing there when the first swapping of commodities took place and in the shade of whose branches the grave and sturdy traders may have sat.
Here and there in Pilgrim land you find a tree like that, one that by some chance the axe of the woodman has spared as one generation of wood cutters followed another, that still stands where the seed fell, no man knows how many centuries ago. We have trees in eastern Massachusetts to whom a thousand years is but as yesterday when it is passed, many on which the centuries have rested lightly. I think this Onset cedar one of these.
The road that leads from Plymouth to it is vexed daily by innumerable wheels; of a summer holiday the wayside watcher may count the motors by the thousand; yet you have but to step a rod or two off its tarred, tire-beaten surface to find wild woodland as primitive as it was three hundred years ago. The spring seeking motorist finds his first mayflowers there as the grade leads up Manomet heights and may expect them by the roadside anywhere, after that. The old trail to Sandwich saunters along here, but those who built for modern traffic took little heed of old-time footpath ways. They gouged the hills, they filled the hollows and drew their long black scar behind for mile after mile.
Like the deer and the wild fowl the old trails care little for this. They wander on their own gentle, untrammelled way, hither and yon, here beset by heavy forest growth, there a tangle of greenbrier and scrub oaks, losing you often, picking you up again when you least expect it, but always leading you off the humdrum highway of today into the gentle wildernesses of old time romance. You find them margined with marks of the pioneer. It may be just a hollow which was once his tiny cellar-hole or a rectangular mound where the logs of his cabin tumbled into the mould, perhaps a moss-grown, weather-beaten house itself with its barberry bush or its lilac still holding firmly where the pioneer householder set it. These old trails of the Plymouth woods may be just of one family's making, leading from house to pasture and woodlot, or they may be bits of an old-time footpath way first worked out by the Indians themselves no one knows how many centuries ago. Find me an eskar in Plymouth county, a "hogback ridge" as our forbears were wont to call it, and the chances are fair that along its narrow summit edge I'll show you an Indian trail. Sometimes the Pilgrim paths adopted these and later made them roadways.
As you go southward in this region you find traces of an ancient type of fencing that I have not seen elsewhere. It may have been a hedgemaker's trick, brought from the old country. The Cape pioneers slashed young white oaks growing along the road margin, bent them, say two feet above the ground, without severing, and laid them level, the tops bound tight with withes to the next trunk. Thus they had a fence that would restrain cattle and that grew stouter as the years went by. You find these trees growing thus today, their trunks a foot or two in diameter, bending at right angles just above ground and stretching horizontally, while what were once limbs now grow trunks from the grotesque butt. A remnant of fence like this along an almost obliterated trail in an ancient wood gives a hobgoblin character to the place.
The heath family, all the way from clethra which begins it to cranberry which ends it, dwells in beauty and diversity all about in the Plymouth woods, making them fragrant the year round. Some of them help feed the world, notably the cranberries and the huckleberries of a score of varieties from the pale, inch high, earliest sweet blueberries growing on the dry hillsides to the giants of the deep swamp, hanging out of reach above your head sometimes and as big as a thumb end. These provide manna for all who will gather it, from late June till early September, when the checkerberries ripen, to hang on all winter. Others make the world better for their beauty and fragrance and of these the ground laurel, the trailing arbutus, the mayflower, is best known and loved.
It is easy to fancy some sombre Pilgrim, weary with the woes of that first winter, his heart hungry for "the may" of English hedgerows, stepping forth some raw April morning which as yet showed no sign of opening spring buds, stopping as his feet rustled in brown oak leaves up Town Brook way, puzzled by the endearing, enticing fragrance on the wings of the raw wind. I always think of him as stopping for a moment to dream of home, looking about in a discouraged way for hawthorn which he knows is not there, then spying the little cluster of evergreen leaves with their pink and white blossoms nestling among the oak leaves at his very feet and kneeling to pluck and sniff them in some thing like adoration. It may not have been that way at all, but someone found that first mayflower and loved and named it.
The world at large, hurtling through Plymouth in its high-powered motor cars, stops along the road over Manomet and finds its arbutus there each May. I like to look for mine along the path that Billington took to his "sea," a way that leads out of Leyden street and up along Town Brook. I think the second oldest of the Plymouth land trails lies up that way. If the first was to and from the fort the second surely lay up along the brook, and I have an idea the Indians had preceded them in the making of this.
A great terminal moraine once blocked off Billington sea from the ocean, but Town Brook released it. Long before the Pilgrims came it had cut its valley through the great wall of gravel and occupied it in peace till latter day highways and factories came to vex it. In spite of these, unhampered bits of the original brook show in Plymouth itself and you are not far out of town before you see more of it.
It flows out of the "sea" unhindered now save by pickerel weed and sagittaria, rush and meadow grasses, and in woodsy places by brook alder, clethra, huckleberry and spice-bush that lean into it as they wrestle with greenbrier and clematis. The mayflower snuggles into the leaves along its drier upper margins, here and there, and is to be found on the borders of the "sea" more plentifully. Plymouth has done well in making of this region a park, beautifying it mainly by letting it alone, merely cutting new Pilgrim trails through it. Billington's path along the pond shore is thus made easy for your feet and is marked with his name that you may not miss it. But if you would see the real Billington path, made for him by generations of Indians before his day but the one that I believe he trod, you will look nearer the water's edge. There, tangled amidst undergrowth now, buried deep in brown autumn leaves, it is yet visible enough, cut into the soft sand of the pond bank. In places it is cut deep. In places it is all but obliterated or vanishes altogether for a little way, perhaps divides into two or three as the local needs of moccasined travellers called for, but all along the pond margin it goes. This is an old Plymouth trail indeed, linking the Plymouth of today with that of the time of the Pilgrims, and long before. There are many such that lead out of Plymouth, glimpsing for us the world of three hundred years ago mirrored in the eyes, the ideas, the ideals of today. Let us search them out.
The first day on which one might hope for mayflowers came to Plymouth in late April. The day before a bitter northeaster had swept through the town, a gale like the December one in which the Pilgrim's shallop first weathered Manomet head and with broken mast limped in under the lee of Clark's Island. No promise of May had been in this wild storm that keened the dead on Burial Hill, yet this day that followed was to be better than a promise. It was May itself, come a few days ahead of the calendar, so changeful is April in Pilgrim land. This gale, ashamed of itself, ceased its outcry in the darkness of full night and the chill of a white frost followed on all the land.
In the darkest hour of this night, I saw a thin point of light rise out of the mystery of the sea far to the eastward, the tiny sail of the shallop of the old moon, blown landward by little winds of dawn, making port on the shore of "hither Manomet." In the velvety blackness of this ultimate hour of night the slender sail curved sweetly backward toward the sea, and the shallop seemed drawn to the land by a lodestone, as was the ship of Sindbad the Sailor, and when it magically climbed the dark headland and sailed away into the sky above, it drew out of the sea behind it the first light of glorious morning. From Manomet head to the Gurnet the horizon showed a level sea line of palest garnet that deepened, moment by moment, till the coming sun arched it with rose and bounded from it, a flattened globule of ruby fire. I like to think that the path of gold with which the sun glorified the stippled steel of the sea was the very one by which the first Mayflower came in from Provincetown, the sails nobly set and the ship pressing onward to that memorable anchorage within the protecting white arm of the sandspit.
I like to think that the sweet curve of the old moon's slender sail sways in by Manomet each month in loving remembrance of that other shallop that so magically won by the roar of the breakers on the dark point and brought the simple record of faith and courage for our loving remembrance. But whether these things are so or not I know that the very first rays of the morning sun pass in level neglect over the bay and the town to lay a wreath of light on the brow of Burial Hill and touch with celestial gold the simple granite shaft that stands over the grave of William Bradford, historian of Plymouth Colony and writer of the first American book. Such is the unfailing ceremony of sunrise in Plymouth, and such it has been since the first Pilgrim was laid to rest on the hill which lifts its head above the roofs and spires to the free winds of the world.
Plymouth is fortunate in this hill. It bears the very presence of its founders above the enterprise and ferment of a modern town which grows rapidly toward city conditions, a hill which is set upon a city and cannot be hid. Factories and city blocks and all the wonders of steam and electrical contrivance which would have astounded and amazed Bradford and his fellows are common in Plymouth today as they are common to all cities and towns of a vast country, yet the graves of the simple pioneers rise above them as the story of their lives transcends in interest that of all others that have come after them. The book that Bradford wrote, as the tales that Homer told, will last as long as books are read. Plymouth may pass, as Troy did, but the story of its heroes will remain. Bradford's book, which was our first, may well, at the end of time, be rated our greatest.
The trailing arbutus is peculiarly the flower of Plymouth. Not that it grows there alone, indeed within easy reach of the landing place of the Pilgrims it is not easy now to find it. Once, no doubt, it blossomed about the feet of the pioneers, sending up its fragrance to them as they trod sturdily along their first street and through their new found fields that first spring after their arrival. My, but their hearts must have been homesick for the English May they had left behind! and in memory of the pink and white of the hawthorn hedges they called this pink and white flower which peered from the oval-leaved vines trailed about their feet, mayflower. It surely must have grown on the slopes of Burial Hill, down toward Town Brook, but now one will look in vain for it there. I found my first blossom of the year by following the brook up to its headwaters in Billington Sea. The brook itself is greatly changed since Bradford's day. Its waters are now held back by dams where it winds through the sand hills and one mill after another sits by the side of the ponds thus formed. Yet the "sea" itself must be much the same in itself and its surroundings as it was in Billington's time. Nor do I wholly believe the legend which has it that Billington thought it was a sea in very truth. It is too obviously a pond to have deceived even this unsophisticated wanderer. It covers but little over three hundred acres including its islands and winding coves.
I think, rather, its name was given in good natured derision of Billington and his idea of the importance of his discovery, a form of quaint humor not unknown in the descendants to the Pilgrims of this day. Yet the waters of the little winding pond are as clear as those of the sea which breaks on the rocks of Manomet or the Gurnet, and the hilly shores, close set with deciduous growth, are almost as wild as they were then. The robins that greeted the dawn on Burial Hill sang here at midday, blackbirds chorused, and song sparrows sent forth their tinkling songs from the shrubby growths. Plymouth woods, here at least, are a monotony of oaks. Yet here and there in the low places a maple has become a burning bush of ruby flame, and along the bog edges the willows are in the full glory of their yellow plumes. The richest massed coloring one can see in the region today, though, is that of the cranberry bogs. Looking away from the sun the thick-set vines are a level floor of rich maroon, not a level color but a background showing the brush marks of a master painter's hand. Toward the sun this color lightens and silvers to tiny jewel points where the light glances from glossy leaf tips. The later spring growth will fleck the bogs with greens, but the maroon background will still be there.
The arbutus does not trail in all spots beneath the oaks, even in this secluded wilderness. Sometimes one thinks he sees broad stretches green with its rounded leaves only to find last year's checkerberries grinning coral red at him, instead of the soft pink tints and spicy odor of the Epigaea blooms. Sometimes the pyrola simulates it and cracks the gloss on its leaves with a wan wintergreen smile at the success of the deception. But after a little the eye learns to discriminate in winter greens and to know the outline of the arbutus leaf and its grouping from that of the others. Then success in the hunt should come rapidly. After all Epigaea and Gaultheria are vines closely allied, and it is no wonder that there is a family resemblance. The checkerberry's spicy flavor permeates leaves, stem and fruit. That of the arbutus seems more volatile and ethereal. It concentrates in the blossom and lifts from that to course the air invisibly an aromatic fragrance that the little winds of the woods sometimes carry far to those who love it, over hill and dale. Given a day of bright sun and slow moving soft air and one may easily hunt the Plymouth mayflower by scent. Even after the grouped leaves are surely sighted the flowers are still to be found. The winds of winter have strewn the ground deep with oak leaves and half buried the vines in them for safety from the cold. Out from among these the blossoms seem to peer shyly, like sweet little Pilgrim children, ready to draw back behind their mother's aprons if they do not like the appearance of the coming stranger. Perhaps they do withdraw at discretion, and this is very likely why some people who come from far to hunt find many mayflowers, while others get few or none.
Just as the Mayflower in which the Pilgrims sailed to Plymouth seems to have been but one of many English ships of that name, so the trailing arbutus is not the only flower to be called mayflower in New England. The mayflower of the English fields and hedgerows was preeminently the hawthorn, known often just as "the may." But there is a species of bitter cress in England with showy flowers, Cardamine pratensis, which is also called mayflower and the name is given to the yellow bloom of the marsh marigold, Caltha palustria, often known, less lovingly, as "blobs." The Caltha is common to both Europe and America and, though it is often hereabout known by the nickname of "cowslip" which the early English settlers seem to have given it, I do not hear it called mayflower. In localities where the arbutus is not common the name mayflower is here most commonly given to the pink and white Anemone nemorosa, the wind flower of the meadow margins and low woods, and to the rock saxifrage, Saxifraga virginiensis, both of which are among the earliest blossoms of the month.
None can visit Plymouth without wishing to climb the bold promontory of "hither Manomet." The legend has it that Eric the Red, the Viking who explored New England shores centuries before the first Englishman heard of them, made this his burial hill and that somewhere beneath its forests his bones lie to this day. I sought long for mayflowers on the seaward slopes and in the rough gullies of these "highlands of Plymouth," I did not find them there.
On the landward slopes, gentler and less windswept, down toward the "sweet waters" that flow from inland to the sea, you may with patient search find many. But the heights shall reward you, if not with mayflowers with greater and more lasting joys. The woods of Manomet were full of butterflies. Splendid specimens of Vanessa antiopa danced together by twos and threes in every sunny glade, the gold edging of bright raiment showing beneath their "mourning cloaks" of rich seal brown. Here in the rich sunshine Launcelot might well have said:
Myself beheld three spirits, mad with joy, Come dashing down on a tall wayside flower.
Here Grapta interrogationis carried his ever present question mark from one dry leaf to another asking always that unanswerable "why?" Here Pyrameis huntera, well named the hunter's butterfly, flashed red through the woodland, scouting silently and becoming invisible in ambush as a hunter should. Here a tiny fleck of sky, the spirit bluebird of the spring which the entomologists have woefully named Lycaema pseudargiolus, fluttered along the ground as if a new born flower tried quivering flight, and brown Hesperiidae, "bedouins of the pathless air," buzzed in vanishing eccentricity. But it was not for these that I lingered long on the seaward crest. There below me lay the bay that the exploring Pilgrims entered at such hazard, that but the day before had been blotted out with a freezing storm and gray with snow, now smiling in unforgettable beauty at my feet, bringing irresistibly to mind the one who sang,
My soul today is far away, Sailing the blue Vesuvian bay.
At Naples indeed could be no softer, fairer skies than this June day of late April brought to Plymouth Bay and spread over the waters that nestled within the curve of that splendid young moon of white sand that sweeps from Manomet to the tip of the sandspit, with the Gurnet far to the right and Plymouth's white houses rising in the middle distance. It lacked only the cone of Vesuvius smoking beyond to make the memory complete.
Nor has the Bay of Naples bluer waters than those that danced below me. Some stray current of the Gulf Stream must have curled about the tip of Cape Cod and spread its wonder bloom over them. Here were the same exquisite soft blues, shoaling into tender green, that I have seen among the Florida keys. Surely it was like a transformation scene. The day before the torn sea wild with wind and the dun clouds of a northeast gale hiding the distance with a mystery of dread, a wind that beat the forest with snow and chilled to the marrow; and this day the warmth of an Italian spring and the blue Vesuvian Bay.
The Pilgrims had their seasons of storm and stress, but there came to them too halcyon days like this when the mayflower bloomed in all the woodland about them, the mourning cloak butterflies danced with joy down the sunny glades, and the bay spread its wonderful blue beneath their feet in the delicious promise of June. Nor is it any wonder that in spite of hardships and disaster manifold they yet found heart to write home that it was a fayere lande and bountiful.
But for all the lure of Plymouth woods with their fragrance of trailing arbutus, from all the grandeur of the wide outlook from Manomet Heights, the hearts of all who come to Plymouth must lead them back to the resting place of the fathers on the brow of the little hill in the midst of the town. There where the grass was not yet green and the buttercups that will later shine in gold have put forth but the tiniest beginnings of their fuzzy, three-parted leaves, I watched the sun sink, big and red in a golden mist, over a land of whose coming material greatness Bradford and his fellow Pilgrims could have had no inkling. Seaward the tropic bloom of the water was all gone, and there as the sun passed I saw the cool steel of the bay catch the last rays in little dimples of silver light. Manomet withdrew, blue and mysterious in the haze of nightfall. Out over the Gurnet, beyond, the sky caught purples from the colors in the west, and there, dropping below the horizon line, east northeast toward England, I saw a sail vanish in the soft haze as if it might be the first Mayflower, sailing away from the heavy-hearted Pilgrims, toward England and home. The sun's last ray touched it with a fleck of rose as it passed, a rose-like that which tipped the petals of the mayflowers that I held in my hand, mayflowers that sent tip to me in the coolness of the gathering April night a fragrance as aromatic and beloved as is the memory of the lives of the Pilgrims that slept all about me on the brow of Burial Hill. Bradford wrote gravely and simply the chronicles of these, and no more, yet the fervent faith and sturdy love for fair play, unquenchable in the hearts of these men, breathes from every page, a fragrance that shall go forth on the winds of the world forevermore.
UNBUILDING A BUILDING
I tore down an old house recently, rent it part from part with my own hands and a crowbar, piling it in its constituents, bricks with bricks, timber on timber, boards with boards.
Any of us who dare love the iconoclast would be one if we dared sufficiently, and in this work I surely was an image-breaker, for the old house was more than it seemed. To the careless passer, it was a gray, bald, doddering old structure that seemed trying to shrink into the ground, untenanted, unsightly, and forlorn. I know, having analyzed it, that it was an image of New England village life of the two centuries just gone, a life even the images of which are passing, never to return.
As I knocked the old place down, it seemed to grow up, more vivid as it passed from the roadside of the visible to the realm of the remembered. You may think you know a house by living in it, but you do not; you need to unbuild it to get more than a passing acquaintance. And to unbuild a building you need to be strong of limb, heavy of hand, and sure of eye, lest the structure upon which you have fallen fall upon you; nor do business mottoes count, for you begin not at the bottom, but at the top, or near it.
Up in the attic among the cobwebs, stooping beneath the ancient rafters, dodging crumbly bunches of pennyroyal and hyssop, hung there by hands that have been dust these fifty years, you poise and swing a forty-pound crowbar with a strong uplift against the roof-board, near where one of the old-time hand-made, hammer-pointed, wrought-iron nails enters the oak timber. The board lifts an inch and snaps back into place. You hear a handful of the time-and-weatherworn shingles jump and go sputtering down the roof. You hear a stealthy rustling and scurrying all about you. Numerous tenants who pay no rent have heard eviction notice, for the house in which no men live is the abode of many races. Another blow near another nail, and more shingles jump and flee, and this time a clammy hand slaps your face. It is only the wing of a bat, fluttering in dismay from his crevice. Blow after blow you drive upon this board from beneath, till all the nails are loose, its shingle-fetters outside snap, and with a surge it rises, to fall grating down the roof, and land with a crash on the grass by the old door-stone.
The morning sun shines in at the opening, setting golden motes dancing, and caressing rafters that have not felt its touch for a hundred and fifty years, and you feel a little sob of sorrow swell in your heart, for the old house is dead, beyond hope of resurrection. With your crowbar you have knocked it in the head.
Other boards follow more easily, for now you may use a rafter for the fulcrum of your iron lever and pry where the long nails grip the oak too tenaciously, and it is not long before you have the roof unboarded. And here you may have a surprise and be taught a lesson in wariness which you will need if you would survive your unbuilding. The bare rafters, solid oak, six inches square, hewn from the tree, as adze-marks prove, are halved together at the top and pinned with an oak pin. At the lower end, where they stand upon the plates, they are not fastened, but rest simply on a V-shaped cut, and when the last board is off they tumble over like a row of ninepins and you may be bowled out with them if you are not clever enough to foresee this.
As with the roof-boards, so with the floors and walls. Blows with the great bar, or its patient use as a lever, separate part from part, board from joist, and joist from timber, and do the work, and you learn much of the wisdom and foolishness of the old-time builder as you go on. Here he dovetailed and pinned the framework so firmly and cleverly that nothing but human patience and ingenuity could ever get it apart; there he cut under the ends of splendid strong floor joists and dropped them into shallow mortises, so that but an inch or two of the wood really took the strain, and the joist seemed likely to split and drop out, of its own weight. You see the work of the man who knew his business and used only necessary nails, and those in the right places; and the work of that other, who was five times as good a carpenter because he used five times as many nails!
You learn, too, how the old house grew from a very humble beginning to an eleven-room structure that covered a surprising amount of ground, as one generation after another passed and one owner succeeded another. In this the counsel of the local historian helps you much, for he comes daily and sits by as you work, and daily tells you the story of the old place, usually beginning in the middle and working both ways; for the unbuilding of a building is a great promoter of sociability. Fellow townsmen whom you feel that you hardly know beyond a rather stiff bowing acquaintance hold up their horses and hail you jovially, even getting out to chat a while or lend a hand, each having opinions according to his lights. Strickland, whose prosperity lies in swine, sees but one use for the old timbers. "My!" he says, "what a hog-pen this would make!" Downes is divided in his mind between hen-houses and green-houses, and thinks there will be enough lumber and sashes for both. Lynde suspects that you are going to establish gypsy camps wholesale, while Estey, carpenter and builder, and wise in the working of wood, knows that you are lucky if the remains are good enough for fire-wood.
Little for these material aspects cares the historian, however, as he skips gayly from one past generation to another, waving his phantoms off the stage of memory with a sweep of his cane, and poking others on to make their bow to the man with the crowbar, who thus, piecing the narrative out with his own detective work in wood, rebuilds the story. It was but a little house which began with two rooms on the ground floor and two attic chambers, built for Stoddard who married the daughter of the pioneer landowner of the vicinity, and it nestled up within a stone's throw of the big house, sharing its prosperity and its history. No doubt the Stoddards were present at the funeral in the big house, when stern old Parson Dunbar stood above the deceased, in the presence of the assembled relatives, and said with Puritanical severity, "My friends, there lies the body, but the soul is in hell!"
The dead man had failed to attend the parson's sermons at the old First Congregational Church, near by, a church that with successive pastors has slipped from the Orthodoxy of Parson Dunbar to the most modern type of present-day Unitarianism.
A later dweller in the old house lives in local tradition as publishing on the bulletin board in the church vestibule his intention of marriage with a fair lady of the parish, as was the custom of the day. Another fair lady entering the church on Sunday morning pointed dramatically at the notice, saying to the sexton, "Take that notice down, and don't you dare to put it up again till I give the word."
The sexton, seeming to know who was in charge of things, took it down and it was not again posted for two years. The marriage then took place. A few years later the wife died, and after a brief period of mourning another notice was posted announcing the marriage of the widower and the lady who had forbidden the banns of his first marriage. The second marriage took place without interference, and they lived happily ever after, leaving posterity in doubt whether the incident in the church vestibule was the climax in a battle royal between the two ladies for the hand of the man who dwelt in the old house, or whether the man himself had loved not wisely but too many.
Another dweller in the old house was a locally celebrated singer who for years led the choir and the music in the old church, having one son whom a wealthy Bostonian educated abroad, "becoming," said the historian sagely, "a great tenor singer, but very little of a man." These were days of growing importance for the old house.
Two new rooms were added to the ground-floor back by the simple expedient of tacking long spruce rafters to the roof, making a second roof over the old one, leaving the old roof with boards and shingles still on it. Thus there grew a roof above a roof,—a shapeless void of a dark attic,—and below, the two rooms.
The use of the spruce rafters and hemlock boarding marks a period in building little more than a half-century gone. About this time the house acquired a joint owner, for a local lawyer of considerable importance joined his fortunes and his house to it, bringing both with him. This section, two more rooms and an attic, was moved in from another part of the town and attached very gingerly, by one corner, to one corner. It was as if the lawyer had had doubts as to how the two houses might like each other, and had arranged things so that the bond might be broken with as small a fracture as possible. This "new" part may well have been a hundred years old at the time, for, whereas the original house was boarded with oak on oak, this was boarded with splendid clear pine on oak, marking the transition from the pioneer days when all the timber for a house was obtained from the neighboring wood, through the time when the splendid pumpkin pines of the Maine forests were the commonest and cheapest sources of lumber, to our own, when even poor spruce and shaky hemlock are scarce and costly. In the same way you note in these three stages of building three types of nails. First is the crude nail hammered out by the local blacksmith, varying in size and shape, but always with a head formed by splitting the nail at the top and tending the parts to the right and left. These parts are sometimes quite long, and clinch back into the board like the top of a capital T. Then came a better nail of wrought iron, clumsy but effective; and, later still, the cut nail in sole use a generation ago. That modern abomination, the wire nail, appears only in repairs.
Thus the old house rose from four rooms to eight, with several attics, and the singer and lawyers pass off the scene, to be followed by the Baptist deacon who later seceded and became a Millerite, holding meetings of great fervor in the front room, where one wall used to be covered with figures which proved beyond a doubt that the end of the world was at hand, and where later he and his fellow believers appeared in their ascension robes. He too added a wing to the old house, three rooms and another attic, and when I had laid bare the timbers of this the historian rose, holding both hands and his cane towards heaven, and orated fluently.
"There!" he said, "that's Wheeler! I knew it was, for the old deeds couldn't be read in any other way. They told me it was built on by the Millerite, but I knew better. This was moved up from the Wheeler farm, and it was a hundred years old and more when it came up, sixty years ago. I knew it. Look at those old cap-posts!" I dodged the cane as it waved, and took another look, for it was worth while. There were the corner posts, only seven feet high, but ten inches square at the bottom, solid oak, swelling to fourteen inches at the top, with double tenants on which sat the great square oak-plates, dovetailed and pinned together, and pinned again to the cap. A hundred and fifty years old and more was this addition, which the Millerite had moved up from the Wheeler farm and built on for his boot-shop; yet these great oak cap-posts marked a period far more remote. They were second-hand when they went into the Wheeler building, for there were in them the marks of mortising that had no reference to the present structure. Some building, old a century and a half ago, had been torn down and its timbers used for the part that "had been Wheeler."
Thus the old house grew again as it fell, and the old-time owners and inhabitants stepped forth into life once more. Yet I found traces of other tenants that paid neither rent nor taxes, yet occupied apartments that to them were commodious and comfortable. In the attic were the bats, but not they alone. Snuggled up against the chimney in the southern angle, right under the ridge-pole, was a whole colony of squash bugs which had wintered safely there and were only waiting for the farmer's squash vines to become properly succulent. A bluebottle fly slipped out of a crevice and buzzed in the sun by the attic window. Under every ridge-board and corner-board, almost under every shingle, were the cocoons and chrysalids of insects, thousands of silent lives waiting but the touch of the summer sun to make them vocal.
On the ground floor, within walls, were the apartments of the rats, their empty larders choked with corn-cobs showing where once had been feasting, their bed chambers curiously upholstered with rags laboriously dragged in to senseless confusion. The field mice had the floor above. Here and there on the plates, between joists, and over every window and door, were their nests, carefully made of wool, chewed from old garments and made fine, soft, and cosy. Their larders were full of cherry-stones, literally bushels on bushels of them, each with a little round hole gnawed in it and the kernel extracted. As the toil of the human inhabitants year after year had left its mark on the floors of the house, worn thin everywhere, in places worn through with the passing and repassing of busy feet, so had the generations of field mice left behind them mute witnesses of patient, enormous labor. From the two cherry trees in the neighboring yard how many miles had these shy little people traveled, unseen of men, with one cherry at a time, to lay in this enormous supply!
Within the chimneys were the wooden nests of chimney swifts, glued firmly to the bricks; under the cornice was the paper home of a community of yellow hornets; and under the floor where was no cellar, right next the base of the warm chimney, were apartments that had been occupied by generations of skunks. Each space between floor joists and timber was a room. In one was a huge clean nest of dried grass, much like that which red squirrels build of cedar bark. Another space had been the larder, for it was full of dry bones and feathers; others were for other uses, all showing plainly the careful housekeeping of the family in the basement.
I looked long and carefully, as the work of destruction went on, for the pot of gold beneath the floor, or the secret hoard which fancy assigns to all old houses; but not even a stray penny turned up. Yet I got several souvenirs. One of these is a nail in my foot whereby I shall remember my iconoclasm for some time. Another is a curiously wrought wooden scoop, a sort of butter-worker, the historian tells me, carved, seemingly, with a jackknife from a pine plank. A third is a quaint, lumbering, heavy, hand-wrought fire shovel which appeared somewhat curiously. Reentering a room which I had cleared of everything movable, I found it standing against the door-jamb. Fire-shovels have no legs, so I suppose it was brought in. However, none of the neighbors has confessed, and I am content to think it belonged in the old house and was brought back, perhaps by the Baptist deacon who "backslided" and became a Millerite. It has been rusted by water and burned by fire, and I don't believe even Sherlock Holmes could make a wiser deduction.
As I write, a section of one of the old "Wheeler" cap-posts is crumbling to ashes in my fireplace. It was of solid oak, of a texture as firm and grainless almost as soapstone. No water had touched this wood, I know, for a hundred and fifty years, perhaps for almost a hundred added to that. For hours it retained its shape, glowing like a huge block of anthracite, and sending forth a heat as great but infinitely more kindly and comforting. Toward the last the flames which came from it lost their yellow opaqueness and slipped fluttering upward in a transparent opalescence which I never before saw in fire. It was as if the soul of the old house, made out of all that was beautiful and kindly in the hopes and longings of those who built it and lived in it, stood revealed a monument in its shining beauty before it passed on.
One does not need to seek the brow of Cole's Hill very early on Forefathers' Day to see the star of morning rise and shine upon Plymouth. It marks the passing of one of the four longest nights of the year, those of the four days before Christmas, a memorable period for all Americans, for during it the Pilgrim Fathers came to Plymouth. According to the best authorities the exploring party set foot on the famous rock on Monday, Dec. 21 (new style). But the ship herself did not enter the harbor for five days. Friday, the 18th, the explorers reached Clark's Island after dark and spent the night most miserably, though it was next door to a miracle that they got there alive and no doubt they were thankful for that. How they battled by Manomet Point in the half gale and high sea, the night already upon them and the harbor unknown to any aboard, their rudder gone and their mast "broken in three places," we know from Bradford's graphic description. On Saturday they rested on their island and dried their clothes and their gunpowder. On Sunday they prayed and otherwise kept the Sabbath as was their want. On Monday they went ashore on the mainland, found the situation desirable, and struck boldly across the bay to the Mayflower inside the hook of the Cape, to tell the news.
So the first of the Forefathers set foot on Plymouth soil on the 21st of December, according to the revised calendar. But the Mayflower herself did not enter the harbor till five days later.
"On the 15th of December," says Bradford (on the 25th as we now reckon it, though ten days before the England they had left behind would celebrate Christmas), "they weighed anchor to go to the place they had discovered, and came within two leagues of it, but were fain to bear up again, but the 16th day the wind became fair and they arrived safely in the harbor and afterward took a better view of the place and resolved where to pitch their dwellings and the 25th day began to erect the first house for common use, to receive them and their goods.
Forefathers' Day is rightly set, then, on the 21st, though we have really an all-winter landing of the Pilgrims, the ship remaining in the harbor and being more or less their refuge until the 5th of April, 1621. In some respects the place of their landing has vastly changed. The waterfront is ugly with rough wharves and coal pockets, store-houses and factories. The famous rock itself reposes beneath a monstrous granite canopy and seems to have so little connection with the sea that one at first sight is inclined to levity, wondering where the landing party got the gang plank which bridged such a distance. Yet it was in all reverence that I sought Plymouth, hoping to in some measure bridge the three centuries that lie between that day and this, and see the New World in some measure as they saw it, at the same season.
For at least the seasons have not changed. The storms and the calms, the snow and the sunshine, come now, as then, in cycles that may not match day by day in all instances, but, taking year by year, come surprisingly near it. There is more in the Old Farmer's Almanack's serene forecast of the weather for an entire year ahead than most of us are willing to admit. There are people who back its oracle against the Weather Bureau and claim that they travel warmer and drier by so doing. Yet if one makes a study of Farmers' Almanack weather he finds that it wins by predicting the same storms and the same cold snaps, the same drought and the same rain for just about the same seasons, year after year, spreading the prophecy over days enough to give it considerable leeway. "About this time expect a storm," it says, and in the ten days of the aforesaid time the storm is pretty apt to come.
So, to my joy, I found in Plymouth on my few days there on Forefathers' Day week just about the weather Bradford reports for that first voyage of the Mayflower's shallop to its harbor. "After some hour's sailing," says Bradford, "it began to snow and rain, and about the middle of the afternoon the wind increased and the sea became very rough and they broke their rudder and it was as much as two men could do to steer her with a couple of oars. But their pilot bade them be of good cheer as he saw the harbor, but the storm increased and night coming on they bore what sail they could to get in while they could see. But herewith they broke their mast in three pieces and their sail fell overboard in a very grown sea, so that they were like to have been cast away."
Anyone who knows that Massachusetts coast in December will recognize the weather, a wind from the northeast bringing mingled rain and snow, not a gale, but a squally wind, with a "very grown sea" such as beat upon the coast at the beginning of this week, sending the white horses racing up the beach below Manomet Head, which has been named for them, and smashing in continuous thunder on the stern and rockbound cliffs between White Horse Beach and Plymouth harbor.
To see Manomet in stormy December is to know how grim it is. The wooded headland which the little shallop so desperately won by in the gloom of that December twilight and storm has changed little if any since that time. Stern and rock-bound it certainly is. The sea of centuries has beaten against the great drumlins of boulder-till and has not moved the boulders that bind them together. At the most it has but washed out the smaller ones, leaving the sea front surfaced with great white granite rocks that gleam like marble in the sundown to the limits of the washing tide, then shine olive green with the froth of the waves. From the sands of White Horse Beach to those of the Spit in Plymouth harbor there is no place where that storm-tossed shallop might have made a landing with any hope of safety. To have turned toward the shore as the pilot bade them when the mast broke would have been to drown the whole company in the surf, in which case Plymouth would never have been. No one knows the name of the "lustie seaman" who then usurped the command and bade the rowers "if they were men, about with her, or else they were all cast away." On the words of this courageous unknown hung the lives of the company and perhaps the fate of the expedition itself. It is a stern and rock-bound coast in very truth, and if it seemed as dark and forbidding on that December nightfall in 1620 as it did on one of the same date this year, I for one would not have blamed them had they sailed away, never to come back. For a quarter of a mile off shore scattered boulders curried the surf and fluffed it into white foam. Its deafening roar was filled with menace. Salt spray and sleet mingled cut one's face rods back from the shore, and high up the dark hill behind rose the gnarled woodland, wailing and tossing its giant branches. With the fall of night no light was visible from sea or shore. All was as primal, as chaotic, as menacing as it had been on that Friday night three centuries before when the Pilgrims' shallop beat in by the point, its tiny white sail drowned like the wing of a seagull in the dusky welter of the sea.
That night, as on the night that the Pilgrims came, the wind changed to the westward and blew the storm to sea. Yet all night from Cole's Hill I saw the dark clouds to seaward, lingering there and refusing to be driven completely away, and in the gray of dawn the morning star rose out of them, overmatching with its clear light that of the Gurnet which shone from the murk of their depths below. The frozen ground rang beneath the heel and the cold had bitten deep. Out of the northwest a few flakes of snow came and it was long before the sun shone through the clouds and touched the top of Manomet Hill. Yet when it did it came with a burst of golden glory and filled the sky with such rosy and benign colors that one half expected to see a flight of Raphael's cherubs through it to earth. And all the land beneath was softened with a blue haze from east to south, making of it a country of romance through which pricked towers of Aladdin palaces and in which one knew at sight that he might find all his dearest dreams coming true: Thus the Pilgrims saw it that first morning from Clark's Island and the sight must have warmed the hearts of them and dried the tears out as it dried the garments wet with salt spray and cold rain.
The wind from the west was keen for the next few days, but it blew all the forebodings out of the sky and to find the south side of a hill or even a thicket was to find perfect comfort. The sea off Manomet was no longer chaotic and menacing, but was stippled with dancing light on a soft, rich blue that was as soothing to the sense as the other had been disquieting. Along the south of White Horse Beach the lapidary surf had strewn quartz pebbles that gleamed in the clear sun like precious stones. It took little effort of the imagination to find pocketfuls of rubies, pearls, sapphires, and amethysts among these, and had it indeed been "bright jewels of the mine" which the voyagers sought they might have been pardoned for thinking they had found them there. And all ashore under this alluring blue haze lay a country that was superlatively lovely even under frozen skies and on the shortest day of the year. Southerly toward it the shallop sailed in 1620, under flocks of whirling white gulls, through flocks of black and white Labrador ducks that then wintered in numbers along our shores, from Clark's Island to the mouth of Town Brook.
Factories and dwellings line Town Brook, now in place of the primeval forests of pine and oak. Its waters leap one dam after another, but cannot escape pollution till their dark tide mingles with that of the clear sea. But for all that the contour of the chasms in the big sand hills through which it flows to the sea is changed but little. The low sun leaves it in shadow most of the day and one can fancy the Pilgrim children and perhaps their elders glancing often up its shadowy canon under black growth, a mysterious gulch down which at any time might stride the savages they so feared, or other, worse terrors of the unknown wilderness. The little knowledge of their day was but a tiny oasis in the vast desert of unknown things, and in that country to the south and west that was so alluring under the golden glow of the sun through its soft blue haze might dwell both gorgons and chimeras dire. For though the children were not with the explorers when they landed from the shallop on Forefathers' Day, they came five days later in the Mayflower itself.
There were twenty-eight of these children, varying in age from the babe in arms to well-grown, lusty youths and maidens. Christmas was at hand, and one fancies that all knew much about it, and spoke little, perhaps not at all. So far as record goes they had broken absolutely from all that they believed the follies of the fatherland. Yet in the hearts of many, one can but think, must have remained warm memories of Yule logs, of the boar's head, piping hot and decked out with holly berries, and of the low-ceiled, oak-wainscotted dining halls of Old World houses all alight with candles and green with Christmas decorations. It is a pity that in repudiating the folly they had to repudiate also the fun. For just ashore in this land of mystery to which they had come were opportunities for Christmas greenery and Christmas feasting which they would have done well to take. The English holly they had left behind, yet along Town Brook grew the black alder with its red berries that are so pretty a substitute for the others, a holly itself, or at least an Ilex. All about Plymouth in the low grounds may be found these cheery, bright red berries, even over on the seaward slope of Manomet Head I found them, snuggling in hollows where tiny rivulets trickle down to the sea, though on the ridge above them the oaks were dwarfed and storm-beaten till one has difficulty in recognizing them for the variety of tree that they are.
It is easy to believe that down to the very rack on which they landed crept the club-moss which the descendants of the Pilgrims so soon learned to call "evergreen." Tons of it we use today in our Christmas decorations, nor does the supply from the Massachusetts woods seem to diminish, ground-pine, common, and "coral" evergreen, all varieties of the club-moss, that are commonest out of the dozen that we have in all. Just up those dark gullies Town Brook would have led them, as it will lead anyone today, to a country that now, as it was then, is rich in winter beauties of the woodland with which the exiles might well have decorated the cabin of the Mayflower. And just within the woods in any direction waited for them, had they had the will and the wisdom to seek them, all kinds of Christmas cheer. Deer were there, wild turkeys in great flocks and two varieties of grouse as tame as chickens on a farm, and more delicious than any Christmas goose which might have been served them in Holland or England. There were no savages about Plymouth at the time and they might have travelled the woods boldly, instead of taking prudent council of their fears. But they need not have gone so far as that for their Christmas feast. The sandy flats of nearby creeks were full of clams and the sea of fish. The boar's head they might not have, but there were splendid substitutes for it if they had cared to make their Christmas feast of products of the new land to which they had come.
Against all this, no doubt, they sternly set their faces, and indeed, instead of feasting and good cheer on their December 25th, they set soberly to work to build their first common house, cutting greenery indeed, but not for decoration, and dining abstemiously on the stores that they had shipped months before in England. One can but believe that had they for a few bright holidays put their fears behind them with their solemnity and celebrated their own safe landing with a few roasted turkeys, a few boiled cod and some clam soup, eaten in an evergreen-decorated cabin of their good ship, or about a barbecue fire on shore, they might have taken a step toward warding off the sickness which was even then fastening itself upon them. But they certainly did not, and in visiting their landing-place on their landing-day and trying to see the world here as they then saw it, one must put such riotous thoughts out of mind, as he must put the great present-day town out of it.
Those two things aside on any before Christmas week it is possible to see the landing-place of the Pilgrims much as they saw it, to feel the same stormy weather sweep across the same sea and to see landward the same hills clad with dark forests tossing their giant branches and seeming to hold much of mystery and dread. To know just a little of what they saw and felt one need but to stand on the brow of Manomet Head when a December night lowers and the northeast wind is hurling the surf on the rocks out of "a very grown sea."
THE SINGING PINES
The pines were asleep in the noonday heat That shimmered down the lea, But they waked with the roar of a wave-swept shore When the wind came in from the sea.
They sang of ships, and the bosun piped, The hoarse watch roared a tune, The taut sheets whined in the twanging wind, You heard the breakers croon.
For their brothers, masts on a thousand keels, Had sent a greeting free, And the answering song swelled clear and strong When the wind came in from the sea.
Last night I heard the pines sing again. A winter midnight was on the woods, while a northeaster smote the coast, a dozen miles away, with the million sledges of the surf. So mighty was the story of this smiting that for long I thought the pines sang of nothing else. In places and at times they told it with astonishing fidelity. A forty-mile gale muttered and grumbled to itself high in air above. Its voice was that of the gale anywhere when unobstructed. You may hear it at sea or ashore, a hubbub of tones indistinguishable as gust shoulders against gust and grumbles about it. In the quiet at the bottom of the wood I could hear this, too, especially at times when the wind lifted above the pine tops, leaving them in hushed expectancy of the story to come, a telling oratorical pause. For a little the voice of the gale itself would come burbling down into the momentary stillness, then with a gasp at the awesomeness of the tale the pines would take up the story again. In it there was none of the dainty romance the boughs will weave for the listener who cares to know their language of a sunny summer afternoon, little stories of tropic seas, of nodding sails and of flying fish that spring from the foam beneath the forefoot and skim the purple waves. This song was an epic of the age-long battle between the sea and the shore, a song without words, but told so well in tone that it was easy, seeing nothing there in the black shadow of the wood, yet to see it all; the jagged horizon against the sullen sky, the streaks of mottled foam sliding landward along the weltering backs of black waves, spinning into sea drift at every wind-sheared crest, and blowing, soft as wool, in rolling masses far inland. It was easy to see the greatest crests rear and draw back, showing the roots of the ledges among boulders brown with weed and sea wrack, then swing forward with seemingly irresistible might, to be shattered as if their crystal was that of glass and to fly skyward a hundred feet, scintillant white star drift of comminuted sea. The crash of such waves on such rocks, the hollow diapason of their like on sands, and the shrill roar of a pebbly beach torn and tossed by the waves, all sprang from nothingness into vibrant being there in the black woods as the gale shouldered by the pine tops.
There is a point where the pines group on the pond shore and look expectantly east, wistful of the sea. Here they caught the full force of the gale and sang mightily, a wild, deep-toned, marching symphony of crashing forces. Now and then a lull came, as comes in the fiercest gales, and in the vast silence which ensued I heard the pines across the pond singing antiphonally. Black as it was under the trees, there was a moon behind the night. No suggestion of it showed through the clouds, yet from the pond surface itself came a weird twilight, filtered no doubt through a mile of flying scud a mile above, reflected from the wind-swept surface and showing these distant pines lifting heads of murk against the murky sky. But their antiphonal shout was no pine-voiced song of the sea, it was the sea itself. Again and again I listened in successive lulls. I could not believe it the pines. I heard so surely the rush of waves, the deep boom of beating surges, all the mingled clangor of the on-shore gale, that I thought through some atmospheric trick I was listening to the thing itself; the uproar swept over the hills a dozen miles inland. Only by marching up the pond shore until the pines across were south instead of east of me did I prove to myself that it was they and not the sea in very truth that I heard.
Back again in the Stygian darkness of the grove it was easy to note how the pines protect their own. On the beach the smothering onrush of the gale beat me down, drove me before it. Yet I had but to walk inland a dozen yards to find a calm. The outermost trees shunted the gale and half the time it did not touch even the tops of those a hundred feet in. Walking out into the midnight storm, I had wondered how it fared with the small folk of the forest. So fierce was the onslaught of the wind that it seemed as if the birds might be blown from their roosts, the squirrels shaken from their nests. Under the shelter of the trees themselves I knew they were as safe as I from any harm from the wind. There was not enough of it below the tree-tops to ruffle a feather.
To lay one's ear closely and firmly against the trunk of one of these pines was to curiously get an inkling of what was going on far up among the branches. It is quite like listening at a telephone receiver, the wood like the wire bringing to the ear sound of many things going on within touch of it. Thus placed, I was conscious that the seemingly immobile tree swayed rhythmically, just the very slightest swaying in the world, and this I seemed to hear. It was as if the slight readjustment of the woody fibre gave me a faint thrumming sound, a tiny music of motion that was a delight to the ear after the beat and bellow of the gale beyond.
Twigs rapped one upon another, making little crisp sounds. Most surprising of all, however, was a tinkling tattoo of musical notes as if a dryad within were tapping out woodland melodies on a xylophone. I listened long to this. It was not exactly a comfortable position. To hear I must press, and the tree bark was hard and the rain ran down the trunk and into my ear. Yet the music was exquisite, a little runic rhyme, repeated over and over again with quaint variations but with neither beginning nor end. It was wonderfully wild and fairylike. Who would stop for water in his ear or a pain in the lobe of it? Midnight, the middle of the gale, the middle of the woods; perhaps here was that very opening into the realm of the unseen woodland folk that we all in our inmost hearts hope for and expect some day to find.
So did he feel who pulled the boughs aside, That we might look into the forest wide.
Telling us how fair trembling Syrinx fled Arcadian Pan, with such a fearful dread. Poor nymph—poor Pan—how he did weep to find Naught but a lovely sighing of the wind Along the reedy stream; a half heard strain, Full of sweet desolation, balmy pain.
It may have been the dryad, playing the xylophone for a dance unseen by my gross mortal eyes, but if my water-logged ear did not deceive me—and I hope it did—it was only the beat of the big drops of rain on the twigs above, clarified and made resonant by its passage through the vibrant wood to my ear. At any rate, it was a most delightful musical entertainment of which I fancy myself the discoverer, and I hope it was the dryad. He who reads may believe as he will.
Beyond the pines I found the wind in the woods. Among the bare limbs of the deciduous growth the storm wailed and clattered its way on about my head as I felt out the path with my feet for a half mile to a pine-crowned hilltop. Again I was in sanctuary. The hilltop carried us up—the pines and me—into the full sweep of the gale, yet under their spreading, beneficent arms I felt no breath of wind. Overhead I noted its own wild voice as, very near and right with it in chorus, the pines sang, swaying in time to their music as I have seen a rapt singer do. Strangely enough, in their tones up here I could hear no cry of the sea. They sang instead the tumult of the sky, the vast loneliness of distant spaces, something of the deep-toned threnody of the ancient universe, mourning for worlds now dark.
Something of this the gale drew from the pines as it crowded by, but never once did its fiercest gusts disturb the serenity of the sanctuary beneath. A foot or two down from their topmost boughs was shelter for the crows, snugged down on a lee limb, close to the trunk, their feathers set to shed such rain as might strike them, their long black beaks thrust beneath their wings, rocked in the cradle of the deep woods, sung to sleep by their lullaby of the primal universe. There was little need to waste sympathy on them or on any other little folk of the forest who had for their shelter the brooding arms of these beneficent trees stretched above them.
Pines are the great, deep-breasted mothers of the woods, giving food and shelter from sun and storm to all who will come to them. Prolific mothers they are, too, and if man with his axe and his fire would but spare them they would in a generation or two reclothe our Massachusetts waste lands with their kind once more. Recklessly as the generations have destroyed them, sweeping often great tracts bare of every noble trunk, leaving the slash piled high for the fire to complete the destruction of the axe, they still persist, pushing the greenwood with its fluffy plumes right to our dooryards. Let the ploughed field lie fallow for a decade and see them come, loyal little folk preparing the way for them, as the trolls of ancient tales worked for those they loved. Into the brown furrows troop the goldenrod and asters, the wild grasses and brambles making a first shelter for the seeds of gray birch and wild cherry that magically come and plant themselves. A thousand other forms of life, beast and bird and insect, make the place their home; all preparing it for the nursing of the young pines to came. However rough has been the work of the wood cutters, however persistent the forest fires, somewhere is a seed pine standing, ready to spear the turf a mile away with brawn javelins out of whose wounds shall spring trees, just as out of the Cadmus-sown dragon's teeth of old sprang armed men. The tree may be a century-old gnarled trunk, too crooked and knotty to be worthy the woodman's axe, or a verdant sprout of a score of years' standing, green and lusty—the result will be the same. When the seeding year comes the brown cones will open and the winds will bear the germs of the new growth forth, spinning down the gale, whichever way they list to blow. The tiny pines that result may live for three or four years amongst the brambles unnoticed, then suddenly they take heart and grow and we find a lusty forest coming along. At three years they will not be over ten inches high, but they will make ten inches in height the next year, and after the fifth they stride forward like lusty youths, glorifying in their increase. It is not uncommon for them to stretch up three feet a year, more than doubling their height in that sixth year in which they strike their stride. They do not cease this upward striving as long as they live.
After the age of sixty or so the pine may be said to have passed the heyday of its youth, no longer increasing so rapidly in height and girth, yet the increase goes on, if more sedately. The tree rarely reaches a height of more than 160 feet and a diameter of more than forty inches. The largest ever measured by the Forestry Department of the United States was forty-eight inches in diameter at breast high and 170 feet in height, containing 738 cubic feet of wood in its mighty trunk. It will be some time before seedlings in the bramble patch here in Massachusetts reach that size, however, for this tree was 460 years old. It grew among trees of similar age in a pine forest in Michigan.
Yet New England pines have matched it, and more. Writing in 1846, Emerson tells of trees here 250 feet in height and six feet in diameter. One in Lancaster, New Hampshire, measured 264 feet. Fifty years before that trees in Blandford measured when they were felled 223 feet in length. The upper waters of the Penobscot were long the home of mighty pine trees where it was no uncommon thing to hew masts 70 to 90 feet in length. In 1841 one was hewed there 90 feet in length, 36 inches in diameter at the butt and 28 inches at the top. Such trees have passed, now, almost from the memory of living man. Could we have them here in our State they would be worshipped as were the druidical trees of ancient European countries and the place of their standing would be made a park that they might be visited by all, rich or poor. It seems a pity that our ancestors could not have thought of this. It would have been so easy for them to let clumps of these wonderful old pines stand, here and there. It is so impossible for us to bring one of them back, with all our wealth and all our learning.
If we may believe the geologists the pines were the original tree inhabitants of our land, massing it in their dark green from mountain top to sea shore. Suddenly no one knows whence, the oaks and other deciduous trees appeared among them and in part drove them out of the richer soils. "The oak," says Gray, "has driven the pine to the sands." Yet the pines grow equally well among the rough rocks of mountain slopes where the winter gales that wreck the hardwood trees leave them untouched. This is the more strange as pines rarely root deeply. The roots, even of old trees seventy to one hundred feet in height, rarely go into the earth more than two or three feet, taper rapidly and extend not usually over twenty feet on every side. In young trees twenty or twenty-five feet tall the roots do not penetrate more than fifteen or eighteen inches, yet great old trees stand alone in pasture and on hilltop, exposed to all the fury of the fiercest gales, rarely if ever blown down. The structure of yielding limbs that swing so that the gusts glance on their plumes, and the needle-like leaves that let the torrents of air slip through them, is no doubt the reason for this. The outermost pines of the grove shoulder the gale away from the others, yet let it slip by themselves, giving it no grip whereby to tear them up. The resinous roots of the tree not only suffice to hold it upright against the storm, but they last long after the trunk has been cut away. Our forefathers in clear land used to set the uprooted stumps of the pine up in rows for fencing, unsightly barricades that would persist for a century with little sign of decay. On the other hand, wood from the trunk set in the ground soon decays.
Of the great trees centuries old that once clothed our land from Newfoundland to the Dakotas, from northern New Brunswick to southern Pennsylvania, few if any remain. Nor shall anyone see their like here again for centuries. But the pines are coming back again to New England. We know their values now as never before and we are encouraging them to reclothe our solitudes both for their commercial and their sentimental value. This last is great and grows greater, nor need one necessarily go into the storm at midnight to appreciate it. One may get some phases of it there, though, that are not to be found elsewhere. My way home through the storm was rough and wet, but it was not lonely. The songs of the pines went with me, especially the tinkling xylophone dance music of the dryad, deep within the ancient trunk.
NANTUCKET IN APRIL
It is fabled that nine hundred years ago the Norsemen riding the white horses of the shoals, dismounted upon Nantucket, its original European discoverers. But this is hardly to be believed, for they did not stay there. Conditions the world over have changed much since the day of the Vikings, but still today he who comes to Nantucket must emulate them, and ride the same white horses of the shoals, for they surround the island and prance for the modern steamer as they did for the long Norse ships with the weird figure-heads and the bulwarks of shields. Blown down from New Bedford by a rough nor'wester we plunged through the green rollers south of Hedge Fence shoals, wallowed among the white surges of Cross Rip, and found level water only between the black jetties of Nantucket harbor, where in the roar of bursting waves the white spindrift fluffed and drifted across like dry snow on a January day.
Within lies the old town, more sedately and unconsciously its very self in April than at any other time of year. The scalloping is done, prohibited by law after the first and the dredges no longer vex the sandy shallows of the land-locked harbor behind gray Coatue. The summer visitor has not yet come and the town is its very, peaceful, indeed slumbrous self. The bustle of the day comes with the arrival of the steamer at four o'clock. From then until darkness falls Main street is busy. The curfew, falling in sweet tones from the old watch tower, voiced by the silver-tongued "Lisbon bell," lulls all to sleep, and indeed long before that only an occasional footfall resounds from the flagging. At seven the same bell rouses all to the morning's leisurely bustle, and again at twelve it rings a noon somnolence in upon Main street that is even more startling to the stranger than the evening quiet.
For the full length of the noon hour one may stand at the door of the Pacific Bank and look down the broad cobble-paved, elm-shaded stretch of Main street to the door of the Pacific Club and be quite deafened by a step on the brick sidewalk and fairly shy at the shadow of a passer, so lone is the place. If it were not for the travelling salesmen, a score or so of whom come in with every boat, flood with their tiny tide the two hotels that are open and ebb again the next morning with the outgoing boat, there were even less visible life at this season. Yet Nantucket has today a permanent population of about three thousand, which is swelled to thrice that number when the summer hegira is at its height. That means, including the island, which is at once all one town and with a few tiny off-shoot islands along its shore, all one county, the only instance in Massachusetts where county and town have the same boundaries.
Geologically Nantucket is a terminal moraine, a great hill of till which the once all-prevalent glacier scraped from the mainland and dropped where it now lifts clay cliffs and stretches sandy shoals to the warm waves of the Gulf Stream. Bostonians who know their geology should feel at home in Nantucket, for, while it is superficially allied to Cape Cod, the pebbles of the stratified gravel on the north being in a large part derived from the group of granite rocks known on the neighboring mainland, perhaps half of the mass being of that nature, the remainder is of the felsite and felsite-porphyries so common in the region about Boston. Here and there are a few big boulders, believed by geologists to have been dropped by stranding icebergs and without doubt natives of Greenland.
The island holds vegetation also imported from far distant areas and established long before man, civilized man at least, came to it.
On favored uplands one finds the Scotch heather and he might think it had been brought by the loving hand of some Scotchman were it not for the fact that the earliest settlers found it here. They came, these earliest settlers, in 1659, Thomas Macy and his wife, Edward Starbuck, James Coffin and Isaac Coleman, a boy of twelve, storm-tossed about Cape Cod and over the shoals, all the way from Salisbury. For them the merrymen breakers on the shoals danced as they do for the incomers of today. They were not sailors, not even the master of the ship. Perhaps that is why they kept on to the end of the two hundred-mile voyage. At any rate, they did, and they found the Scotch heather here. Here, too, one finds another strange plant, plentiful over on the sandy peninsula of Coatue, the Opuntia or prickly pear, a variety of cactus common enough in Mexico and portions of our Southwest, but surprising on this island.
In these two plants at least east and west stand face to face across Nantucket harbor, the cactus holding the sandspit to the north, the heather on the main island to the south. In April the prickly pear is as ugly as sin to the eye with its lobster-claw growth, uglier still to the hand with its steel-pointed thorns, but later it will put forth wonderful yellow, wild-rose like blooms in rich profusion, making up for all its dourness. Professor Asa Gray, the distinguished botanist of a half century ago, used to say that nothing in the way of plant life could surprise him on Nantucket. Probably this juxtaposition of cactus and heather prompted the feeling.
Nantucket town straggles from beach to hilltop and along shore at its own sweet will, gradually merging into wind-swept moreland on the south and east and west. Here, again, Bostonians should be at home, for the streets grew no doubt from cow-paths winding leisurely from house to pasture, and down them at night, even now, some of them, the cows stray and nibble on the homeward way. I fancy no town so individual in its characteristics still remains in the State. The very pavements smack of it. Here is an old-time cobblestone, then long, smooth stretches of asphalt. Again, just dirt, and the three meet and mingle in stretches long and short, in whose variations one seeks in vain for a reason. So with side-walks, brick passes to flagging, to asphalt, to dirt and back again in the distance of half a block. And even the brick changesoften and suddenly. Here it lies flat, ten feet along it is on edge, perhaps ten feet further on end. A blind man could know his exact location in any part of the town simply by the sound of his own footfall on the sidewalk surface beneath him.
So it is with the houses, and I fancy in this lies one great charm of the town to the city-bored summer visitor. No doubt every old sea dog was his own architect, and the houses show it from main truck to keelson. Yet hardly in a single instance is the result displeasing, within or without, above decks or below. Instead, there is a fine harmony of contrasts that delights while it rests. As for location, it would seem as if each shipmaster, once he had the structure launched, brought her up at full tide and let her lie just where she stranded when the ebb began. So they rest today, jumbled together in friendly neighborliness or slipping down the tide toward the harbor on the one hand and toward the wide high seas of the downs on the other. The town melts into the open either way and belongs to it, merging gently with no possibility of shock or rudeness. So it is with the people, the real Nantucketers. Each intensely individual they yet blend in a wholesome harmonious whole that joins the outside world with little friction. The sailor instinct is strong in them, and they bring their barks alongside the dock or the stranger with a pleasant hail and without a jar.
As the silver-toned Lisbon bell of the Unitarian church tower dominates the sounds of the town so the gilt dome of this church tower dominates the town to the eye of the inbound mariner, as he swings round Brant Point. So, too, in more than one way, since its building in 1810, this strong tower has dominated the home life of the city. Its glassed-in crow's nest has been the city's watch tower for a century and more. And so in a measure it is today. The fire alarm system, now modern and electric, warns of fire by its means, summoning the firemen to boxes by numbers rung. Yet only a few years ago the old tower was literally a watch-tower, occupied always by one of three superannuated seamen who watched for fires, and seeing one rang the bell and shouted the location to the fire department. One stood watch in the glassed-in octagon above. Two sat by the fire and smoked in a room in the belfry below. If the wind was in the east they put the stove pipe out of a hole in the west side of the tower. If it blew from the west the stove pipe was readily changed to a windowpane on the east side. These watchmen were paid $350 a year, practically a dollar a day, and they seemed to have been as efficient as the lately installed electrical appliance.
From the crow's nest to the church roof this old tower is pencilled and carved with the names of Nantucketers, written in for the last hundred years and many an otherwise forgotten man and event is thus recorded for the use of future historians. Yet it is safe to say that no man of all the island dwellers ever did or ever will tread the stairs or look from the octagonal windows with a more intense individuality than that of Billy Clark, Nantucket's town crier, now lamentably dead since 1907. Each afternoon he climbed to the crow's nest with horn under his arm to watch for the daily incoming steamer. He could sight it about an hour before it would dock and as soon as he did the horn blew grandly and his voice rang out over the town in a rhyme, doubtless of his own composing.
Hark, hark, hear Billy Clark, He's tooting from the tower, He sees the boat, she is afloat, She'll be here, in an hour.
And so she would, and before she touched the dock Billy deftly caught a bundle of Boston papers and racing uptown sold them all before the passengers were off the boat, unless they moved quickly. But these were but a few of Billy's multitudinous activities. He cried auctions and sales, entertainments of all sorts and if for any reason a public affair must be suddenly postponed the quickest way to get the news about was to slip a half dollar to Billy who forthwith cried the matter with amazing celerity and vehemence from all the street corners, tooting his horn between whiles to get the attention of all. Weekly or oftener Billy used to cry meat auctions in the lower square, which have always been a Nantucket institution; at these one bids for his first choice of cuts and having bid highest is allowed such portions and such amounts of the "critter" as he pleases.
Billy Clark made much money, as money was reckoned in his day on the island but he had no faculty for keeping it or even keeping account of it. For thirty years his returns for his newspapers sold were made from time to time to the Boston office in, seemingly, such sums as struck his fancy as being appropriate. These were more than adequate for by and by the office sent down word, "Tell Billy Clark for heaven's sake to quit sending us money: He is too far ahead of us."
As might have been expected Nantucket's town crier died poor and would have been in want had not a subscription paper been started for him by the local paper. This, made up in large part by summer visitors and off-islanders, amounted to several hundred dollars, and at the end there were forty dollars left with which to buy him a tombstone. I have not seen this tombstone. It ought to have a horn neatly graven, but I suppose it has not. The town misses him, needs him, more than one citizen says that, but so individualistic a place makes no attempt to get another. There is something of the Quaker idea in that, for though the island was once a great Quaker stronghold few if any of the old sect remain. But it is the Quaker idea. A new town crier will arrive when the spirit moves. Till then the horn is silent. An off-islander might suppose that the town crier was appointed in town meeting as is the fence-viewer, the sealer of weights and measures, the pound-keeper and the hog-reeve. But that is not so. Billy Clark evolved himself, so to speak, and the town patiently waits a second coming.