THE WRITINGS OF JOHN BURROUGHS WITH PORTRAITS AND MANY ILLUSTRATIONS
I HAVE all the more pleasure in calling my book after the title of the first chapter, "Pepacton," because this is the Indian name of my native stream. In its watershed I was born and passed my youth, and here on its banks my kindred sleep. Here, also, I have gathered much of the harvest, poor though it be, that I have put in this and in previous volumes of my writings.
The term "Pepacton" is said to mean "marriage of the waters;" and with this significance it suits my purpose well, as this book is also a union of many currents.
The Pepacton rises in a deep cleft or gorge in the mountains, the scenery of which is of the wildest and ruggedest character. For a mile or more there is barely room for the road and the creek at the bottom of the chasm. On either hand the mountains, interrupted by shelving, overhanging precipices, rise abruptly to a great height. About half a century ago a pious Scotch family, just arrived in this country, came through this gorge. One of the little boys, gazing upon the terrible desolation of the scene, so unlike in its savage and inhuman aspects anything he had ever seen at home, nestled close to his mother, and asked with bated breath, "Mither, is there a God here?"
Yet the Pepacton is a placid current, especially in its upper portions, where my youth fell; but all its tributaries are swift mountain brooks fed by springs the best in the world. It drains a high pastoral country lifted into long, round-backed hills and rugged, wooded ranges by the subsiding impulse of the Catskill range of mountains, and famous for its superior dairy and other farm products. It is many long years since, with the restlessness of youth, I broke away from the old ties amid those hills; but my heart has always been there, and why should I not come back and name one of my books for the old stream?
I. PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE II. SPRINGS III. AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE IV. NATURE AND THE POETS. V. NOTES BY THE WAY VI. FOOTPATHS.... VII. A BUNCH OF HERBS VIII. WINTER PICTURES INDEX
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
FRINGED GENTIAN From a photograph by Herbert W. Gleason THE ASA GRAY SPRING. From a photograph by Herbert W. Gleason KINGBIRD From a drawing by L. A. Fuertes RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD From a photograph by Herbert W. Gleason IN THE ORCHARD From a drawing by Charles H. Woodbury A MUSKRAT'S NEST From a photograph by Herbert W. Gleason A FIELD PATH From a photograph by Clifton Johnson
A SUMMER VOYAGE
WHEN one summer day I bethought me of a voyage down the east or Pepacton branch of the Delaware, I seemed to want some excuse for the start, some send-off, some preparation, to give the enterprise genesis and head. This I found in building my own boat. It was a happy thought. How else should I have got under way, how else should I have raised the breeze? The boat-building warmed the blood; it made the germ take; it whetted my appetite for the voyage. There is nothing like serving an apprenticeship to fortune, like earning the right to your tools. In most enterprises the temptation is always to begin too far along; we want to start where somebody else leaves off. Go back to the stump, and see what an impetus you get. Those fishermen who wind their own flies before they go a-fishing,—how they bring in the trout; and those hunters who run their own bullets or make their own cartridges,— the game is already mortgaged to them.
When my boat was finished—and it was a very simple affair—I was as eager as a boy to be off; I feared the river would all run by before I could wet her bottom in it. This enthusiasm begat great expectations of the trip. I should surely surprise Nature and win some new secrets from her. I should glide down noiselessly upon her and see what all those willow screens and baffling curves concealed. As a fisherman and pedestrian I had been able to come at the stream only at certain points: now the most private and secluded retreats of the nymph would be opened to me; every bend and eddy, every cove hedged in by swamps or passage walled in by high alders, would be at the beck of my paddle.
Whom shall one take with him when he goes a-courting Nature? This is always a vital question. There are persons who will stand between you and that which you seek: they obtrude themselves; they monopolize your attention; they blunt your sense of the shy, half- revealed intelligences about you. I want for companion a dog or a boy, or a person who has the virtues of dogs and boys,— transparency, good-nature, curiosity, open sense, and a nameless quality that is akin to trees and growths and the inarticulate forces of nature. With him you are alone, and yet have company; you are free; you feel no disturbing element; the influences of nature stream through him and around him; he is a good conductor of the subtle fluid. The quality or qualification I refer to belongs to most persons who spend their lives in the open air,—to soldiers, hunters, fishers, laborers, and to artists and poets of the right sort. How full of it, to choose an illustrious example, was such a man as Walter Scott!
But no such person came in answer to my prayer, so I set out alone.
It was fit that I put my boat into the water at Arkville, but it may seem a little incongruous that I should launch her into Dry Brook; yet Dry Brook is here a fine large trout stream, and I soon found its waters were wet enough for all practical purposes. The Delaware is only one mile distant, and I chose this as the easiest road from the station to it. A young farmer helped me carry the boat to the water, but did not stay to see me off; only some calves feeding alongshore witnessed my embarkation. It would have been a godsend to boys, but there were no boys about. I stuck on a rift before I had gone ten yards, and saw with misgiving the paint transferred from the bottom of my little scow to the tops of the stones thus early in the journey. But I was soon making fair headway, and taking trout for my dinner as I floated along. My first mishap was when I broke the second joint of my rod on a bass, and the first serious impediment to my progress was when I encountered the trunk of a prostrate elm bridging the stream within a few inches of the surface. My rod mended and the elm cleared, I anticipated better sailing when I should reach the Delaware itself; but I found on this day and on subsequent days that the Delaware has a way of dividing up that is very embarrassing to the navigator. It is a stream of many minds: its waters cannot long agree to go all in the same channel, and whichever branch I took I was pretty sure to wish I had taken one of the others. I was constantly sticking on rifts, where I would have to dismount, or running full tilt into willow banks, where I would lose my hat or endanger my fishing-tackle. On the whole, the result of my first day's voyaging was not encouraging. I made barely eight miles, and my ardor was a good deal dampened, to say nothing about my clothing. In mid-afternoon I went to a well-to-do-looking farmhouse and got some milk, which I am certain the thrifty housewife skimmed, for its blueness infected my spirits, and I went into camp that night more than half persuaded to abandon the enterprise in the morning. The loneliness of the river, too, unlike that of the fields and woods, to which I was more accustomed, oppressed me. In the woods, things are close to you, and you touch them and seem to interchange something with them; but upon the river, even though it be a narrow and shallow one like this, you are more isolated, farther removed from the soil and its attractions, and an easier prey to the unsocial demons. The long, unpeopled vistas ahead; the still, dark eddies; the endless monotone and soliloquy of the stream; the unheeding rocks basking like monsters along the shore, half out of the water, half in; a solitary heron starting up here and there, as you rounded some point, and flapping disconsolately ahead till lost to view, or standing like a gaunt spectre on the umbrageous side of the mountain, his motionless form revealed against the dark green as you passed; the trees and willows and alders that hemmed you in on either side, and hid the fields and the farmhouses and the road that ran near by,—these things and others aided the skimmed milk to cast a gloom over my spirits that argued ill for the success of my undertaking. Those rubber boots, too, that parboiled my feet and were clogs of lead about them,—whose spirits are elastic enough to endure them? A malediction upon the head of him who invented them! Take your old shoes, that will let the water in and let it out again, rather than stand knee-deep all day in these extinguishers.
I escaped from the river, that first night, and took to the woods, and profited by the change. In the woods I was at home again, and the bed of hemlock boughs salved my spirits. A cold spring run came down off the mountain, and beside it, underneath birches and hemlocks, I improvised my hearthstone. In sleeping on the ground it is a great advantage to have a back-log; it braces and supports you, and it is a bedfellow that will not grumble when, in the middle of the night, you crowd sharply up against it. It serves to keep in the warmth, also. A heavy stone or other point DE RÉSISTANCE at your feet is also a help. Or, better still, scoop out a little place in the earth, a few inches deep, so as to admit your body from your hips to your shoulders; you thus get an equal bearing the whole length of you. I am told the Western hunters and guides do this. On the same principle, the sand makes a good bed, and the snow. You make a mould in which you fit nicely. My berth that night was between two logs that the bark-peelers had stripped ten or more years before. As they had left the bark there, and as hemlock bark makes excellent fuel, I had more reasons than one to be grateful to them.
In the morning I felt much refreshed, and as if the night had tided me over the bar that threatened to stay my progress. If I can steer clear of skimmed milk, I said, I shall now finish the voyage of fifty miles to Hancock with increasing pleasure.
When one breaks camp in the morning, he turns back again and again to see what he has left. Surely, he feels, he has forgotten something; what is it? But it is only his own sad thoughts and musings he has left, the fragment of his life he has lived there. Where he hung his coat on the tree, where he slept on the boughs, where he made his coffee or broiled his trout over the coals, where he drank again and again at the little brown pool in the spring run, where he looked long and long up into the whispering branches overhead, he has left what he cannot bring away with him,—the flame and the ashes of himself.
Of certain game-birds it is thought that at times they have the power of withholding their scent; no hint or particle of themselves goes out upon the air. I think there are persons whose spiritual pores are always sealed up, and I presume they have the best time of it. Their hearts never radiate into the void; they do not yearn and sympathize without return; they do not leave themselves by the wayside as the sheep leaves her wool upon the brambles and thorns.
This branch of the Delaware, so far as I could learn, had never before been descended by a white man in a boat. Rafts of pine and hemlock timber are run down on the spring and fall freshets, but of pleasure-seekers in boats I appeared to be the first. Hence my advent was a surprise to most creatures in the water and out. I surprised the cattle in the field, and those ruminating leg-deep in the water turned their heads at my approach, swallowed their unfinished cuds, and scampered off as if they had seen a spectre. I surprised the fish on their spawning-beds and feeding-grounds; they scattered, as my shadow glided down upon them, like chickens when a hawk appears. I surprised an ancient fisherman seated on a spit of gravelly beach, with his back upstream, and leisurely angling in a deep, still eddy, and mumbling to himself. As I slid into the circle of his vision his grip on the pole relaxed, his jaw dropped, and he was too bewildered to reply to my salutation for some moments. As I turned a bend in the river I looked back, and saw him hastening away with great precipitation. I presume he had angled there for forty years without having his privacy thus intruded upon. I surprised hawks and herons and kingfishers. I came suddenly upon muskrats, and raced with them down the rifts, they having no time to take to their holes. At one point, as I rounded an elbow in the stream, a black eagle sprang from the top of a dead tree, and flapped hurriedly away. A kingbird gave chase, and disappeared for some moments in the gulf between the great wings of the eagle, and I imagined him seated upon his back delivering his puny blows upon the royal bird. I interrupted two or three minks fishing and hunting alongshore. They would dart under the bank when they saw me, then presently thrust out their sharp, weasel-like noses, to see if the danger was imminent. At one point, in a little cove behind the willows, I surprised some schoolgirls, with skirts amazingly abbreviated, wading and playing in the water. And as much surprised as any, I am sure, was that hard-worked-looking housewife, when I came up from under the bank in front of her house, and with pail in hand appeared at her door and asked for milk, taking the precaution to intimate that I had no objection to the yellow scum that is supposed to rise on a fresh article of that kind.
"What kind of milk do you want?"
"The best you have. Give me two quarts of it," I replied.
"What do you want to do with it?" with an anxious tone, as if I might want to blow up something or burn her barns with it.
"Oh, drink it," I answered, as if I frequently put milk to that use.
"Well, I suppose I can get you some;" and she presently reappeared with swimming pail, with those little yellow flakes floating about upon it that one likes to see.
I passed several low dams the second day, but had no trouble. I dismounted and stood upon the apron, and the boat, with plenty of line, came over as lightly as a chip, and swung around in the eddy below like a steed that knows its master. In the afternoon, while slowly drifting down a long eddy, the moist southwest wind brought me the welcome odor of strawberries, and running ashore by a meadow, a short distance below, I was soon parting the daisies and filling my cup with the dead-ripe fruit. Berries, be they red, blue, or black, seem like a special providence to the camper-out; they are luxuries he has not counted on, and I prized these accordingly. Later in the day it threatened rain, and I drew up to shore under the shelter of some thick overhanging hemlocks, and proceeded to eat my berries and milk, glad of an excuse not to delay my lunch longer. While tarrying here I heard young voices upstream, and looking in that direction saw two boys coming down the rapids on rude floats. They were racing along at a lively pace, each with a pole in his hand, dexterously avoiding the rocks and the breakers, and schooling themselves thus early in the duties and perils of the raftsmen. As they saw me one observed to the other, —
"There is the man we saw go by when we were building our floats. If we had known he was coming so far, maybe we could have got him to give us a ride."
They drew near, guided their crafts to shore beside me, and tied up, their poles answering for hawsers. They proved to be Johnny and Denny Dwire, aged ten and twelve. They were friendly boys, and though not a bit bashful were not a bit impertinent. And Johnny, who did the most of the talking, had such a sweet, musical voice; it was like a bird's. It seems Denny had run away, a day or two before, to his uncle's, five miles above, and Johnny had been after him, and was bringing his prisoner home on a float; and it was hard to tell which was enjoying the fun most, the captor or the captured.
"Why did you run away?" said I to Denny.
"Oh, 'cause," replied he, with an air which said plainly, "The reasons are too numerous to mention."
"Boys, you know, will do so, sometimes," said Johnny, and he smiled upon his brother in a way that made me think they had a very good understanding upon the subject.
They could both swim, yet their floats looked very perilous,—three pieces of old plank or slabs, with two cross-pieces and a fragment of a board for a rider, and made without nails or withes.
"In some places," said Johnny, "one plank was here and another off there, but we managed, somehow, to keep atop of them."
"Let's leave our floats here, and ride with him the rest of the way," said one to the other.
"All right; may we, mister? "
I assented, and we were soon afloat again. How they enjoyed the passage; how smooth it was; how the boat glided along; how quickly she felt the paddle! They admired her much; they praised my steersmanship; they praised my fish-pole and all my fixings down to my hateful rubber boots. When we stuck on the rifts, as we did several times, they leaped out quickly, with their bare feet and legs, and pushed us off.
"I think," said Johnny, "if you keep her straight and let her have her own way, she will find the deepest water. Don't you, Denny?"
"I think she will," replied Denny; and I found the boys were pretty nearly right.
I tried them on a point of natural history. I had observed, coming along, a great many dead eels lying on the bottom of the river, that I supposed had died from spear wounds. "No," said Johnny, "they are lamper eels. They die as soon as they have built their nests and laid their eggs."
"Are you sure?"
"That's what they all say, and I know they are lampers."
So I fished one up out of the deep water with my paddle-blade and examined it; and sure enough it was a lamprey. There was the row of holes along its head, and its ugly suction mouth. I had noticed their nests, too, all along, where the water in the pools shallowed to a few feet and began to hurry toward the rifts: they were low mounds of small stones, as if a bushel or more of large pebbles had been dumped upon the river bottom; occasionally they were so near the surface as to make a big ripple. The eel attaches itself to the stones by its mouth, and thus moves them at will. An old fisherman told me that a strong man could not pull a large lamprey loose from a rock to which it had attached itself. It fastens to its prey in this way, and sucks the life out. A friend of mine says he once saw in the St. Lawrence a pike as long as his arm with a lamprey eel attached to him. The fish was nearly dead and was quite white, the eel had so sucked out his blood and substance. The fish, when seized, darts against rocks and stones, and tries in vain to rub the eel off, then succumbs to the sucker.
"The lampers do not all die," said Denny, "because they do not all spawn;" and I observed that the dead ones were all of one size and doubtless of the same age.
The lamprey is the octopus, the devil-fish, of these waters, and there is, perhaps, no tragedy enacted here that equals that of one of these vampires slowly sucking the life out of a bass or a trout.
My boys went to school part of the time. Did they have a good teacher?
"Good enough for me," said Johnny.
"Good enough for me," echoed Denny.
Just below Bark-a-boom—the name is worth keeping—they left me. I was loath to part with them; their musical voices and their thorough good-fellowship had been very acceptable. With a little persuasion, I think they would have left their home and humble fortunes, and gone a-roving with me.
About four o'clock the warm, vapor-laden southwest wind brought forth the expected thunder-shower. I saw the storm rapidly developing behind the mountains in my front. Presently I came in sight of a long covered wooden bridge that spanned the river about a mile ahead, and I put my paddle into the water with all my force to reach this cover before the storm. It was neck and neck most of the way. The storm had the wind, and I had it—in my teeth. The bridge was at Shavertown, and it was by a close shave that I got under it before the rain was upon me. How it poured and rattled and whipped in around the abutment of the bridge to reach me! I looked out well satisfied upon the foaming water, upon the wet, unpainted houses and barns of the Shavertowners, and upon the trees,
"Caught and cuffed by the gale."
Another traveler—the spotted-winged nighthawk—was also roughly used by the storm. He faced it bravely, and beat and beat, but was unable to stem it, or even hold his own; gradually he drifted back, till he was lost to sight in the wet obscurity. The water in the river rose an inch while I waited, about three quarters of an hour. Only one man, I reckon, saw me in Shavertown, and he came and gossiped with me from the bank above when the storm had abated.
The second night I stopped at the sign of the elm-tree. The woods were too wet, and I concluded to make my boat my bed. A superb elm, on a smooth grassy plain a few feet from the water's edge, looked hospitable in the twilight, and I drew my boat up beneath it. I hung my clothes on the jagged edges of its rough bark, and went to bed with the moon, "in her third quarter," peeping under the branches upon me. I had been reading Stevenson's amusing "Travels with a Donkey," and the lines he pretends to quote from an old play kept running in my head:—
'The bed was made, the room was fit, By punctual eve the stars were lit; The air was sweet, the water ran; No need was there for maid or man, When we put up, my ass and I, At God's green caravanserai."
But the stately elm played me a trick: it slyly and at long intervals let great drops of water down upon me, now with a sharp smack upon my rubber coat; then with a heavy thud upon the seat in the bow or stern of my boat; then plump into my upturned ear, or upon my uncovered arm, or with a ring into my tin cup, or with a splash into my coffee-pail that stood at my side full of water from a spring I had just passed. After two hours' trial I found dropping off to sleep, under such circumstances, was out of the question; so I sprang up, in no very amiable mood toward my host, and drew my boat clean from under the elm. I had refreshing slumber thenceforth, and the birds were astir in the morning long before I was.
There is one way, at least, in which the denuding the country of its forests has lessened the rainfall: in certain conditions of the atmosphere every tree is a great condenser of moisture, as I had just observed in the case of the old elm; little showers are generated in their branches, and in the aggregate the amount of water precipitated in this way is considerable. Of a foggy summer morning one may see little puddles of water standing on the stones beneath maple-trees, along the street; and in winter, when there is a sudden change from cold to warm, with fog, the water fairly runs down the trunks of the trees, and streams from their naked branches. The temperature of the tree is so much below that of the atmosphere in such cases that the condensation is very rapid. In lieu of these arboreal rains we have the dew upon the grass, but it is doubtful if the grass ever drips as does a tree.
The birds, I say, were astir in the morning before I was, and some of them were more wakeful through the night, unless they sing in their dreams. At this season one may hear at intervals numerous bird voices during the night. The whip-poor-will was piping when I lay down, and I still heard one when I woke up after midnight. I heard the song sparrow and the kingbird also, like watchers calling the hour, and several times I heard the cuckoo. Indeed, I am convinced that our cuckoo is to a considerable extent a night bird, and that he moves about freely from tree to tree. His peculiar guttural note, now here, now there, may be heard almost any summer night, in any part of the country, and occasionally his better known cuckoo call. He is a great recluse by day, but seems to wander abroad freely by night.
The birds do indeed begin with the day. The farmer who is in the field at work while he can yet see stars catches their first matin hymns. In the longest June days the robin strikes up about half- past three o'clock, and is quickly followed by the song sparrow, the oriole, the catbird, the wren, the wood thrush, and all the rest of the tuneful choir. Along the Potomac I have heard the Virginia cardinal whistle so loudly and persistently in the tree- tops above, that sleeping after four o'clock was out of the question. Just before the sun is up, there is a marked lull, during which, I imagine, the birds are at breakfast. While building their nest, it is very early in the morning that they put in their big strokes; the back of their day's work is broken before you have begun yours.
A lady once asked me if there was any individuality among the birds, or if those of the same kind were as near alike as two peas. I was obliged to answer that to the eye those of the same species were as near alike as two peas, but that in their songs there were often marks of originality. Caged or domesticated birds develop notes and traits of their own, and among the more familiar orchard and garden birds one may notice the same tendency. I observe a great variety of songs, and even qualities of voice, among the orioles and among the song sparrows. On this trip my ear was especially attracted to some striking and original sparrow songs. At one point I was half afraid I had let pass an opportunity to identify a new warbler, but finally concluded it was a song sparrow. On another occasion I used to hear day after day a sparrow that appeared to have some organic defect in its voice: part of its song was scarcely above a whisper, as if the bird was suffering from a very bad cold. I have heard a bobolink and a hermit thrush with similar defects of voice. I have heard a robin with a part of the whistle of the quail in his song. It was out of time and out of tune, but the robin seemed insensible of the incongruity, and sang as loudly and as joyously as any of his mates. A catbird will sometimes show a special genius for mimicry, and I have known one to suggest very plainly some notes of the bobolink.
There are numerous long covered bridges spanning the Delaware, and under some of these I saw the cliff swallow at home, the nests being fastened to the under sides of the timbers,—as it were, suspended from the ceiling instead of being planted upon the shelving or perpendicular side, as is usual with them. To have laid the foundation, indeed, to have sprung the vault downward and finished it successfully, must have required special engineering skill. I had never before seen or heard of these nests being so placed. But birds are quick to adjust their needs to the exigencies of any case. Not long before, I had seen in a deserted house, on the head of the Rondout, the chimney swallows entering the chamber through a stove-pipe hole in the roof, and gluing their nests to the sides of the rafters, like the barn swallows.
I was now, on the third day, well down in the wilds of Colchester, with a current that made between two and three miles an hour,—just a summer idler's pace. The atmosphere of the river had improved much since the first day,—was, indeed, without taint,—and the water was sweet and good. There were farmhouses at intervals of a mile or so; but the amount of tillable land in the river valley or on the adjacent mountains was very small. Occasionally there would be forty or fifty acres of flat, usually in grass or corn, with a thrifty-looking farmhouse. One could see how surely the land made the house and its surrounding; good land bearing good buildings, and poor land poor
In mid-forenoon I reached the long placid eddy at Downsville, and here again fell in with two boys. They were out paddling about in a boat when I drew near, and they evidently regarded me in the light of a rare prize which fortune had wafted them.
"Ain't you glad we come, Benny?" I heard one of them observe to the other, as they were conducting me to the best place to land. They were bright, good boys, off the same piece as my acquaintances of the day before, and about the same ages,— differing only in being village boys. With what curiosity they looked me over! Where had I come from; where was I going; how long had I been on the way; who built my boat; was I a carpenter, to build such a neat craft, etc.? They never had seen such a traveler before. Had I had no mishaps? And then they bethought them of the dangerous passes that awaited me, and in good faith began to warn and advise me. They had heard the tales of raftsmen, and had conceived a vivid idea of the perils of the river below, gauging their notions of it from the spring and fall freshets tossing about the heavy and cumbrous rafts. There was a whirlpool, a rock eddy, and a binocle within a mile. I might be caught in the binocle, or engulfed in the whirlpool, or smashed up in the eddy. But I felt much reassured when they told me I had already passed several whirlpools and rock eddies; but that terrible binocle,—what was that? I had never heard of such a monster. Oh, it was a still, miry place at the head of a big eddy. The current might carry me up there, but I could easily get out again; the rafts did. But there was another place I must beware of, where two eddies faced each other; raftsmen were sometimes swept off there by the oars and drowned. And when I came to rock eddy, which I would know, because the river divided there (a part of the water being afraid to risk the eddy, I suppose), I must go ashore and survey the pass; but in any case it would be prudent to keep to the left. I might stick on the rift, but that was nothing to being wrecked upon those rocks. The boys were quite in earnest, and I told them I would walk up to the village and post some letters to my friends before I braved all these dangers. So they marched me up the street, pointing out to their chums what they had found.
"Going way to Phil— What place is that near where the river goes into the sea?"
"Yes; thinks he may go way there. Won't he have fun?"
The boys escorted me about the town, then back to the river, and got in their boat and came down to the bend, where they could see me go through the whirlpool and pass the binocle (I am not sure about the orthography of the word, but I suppose it means a double, or a sort of mock eddy). I looked back as I shot over the rough current beside a gentle vortex, and saw them watching me with great interest. Rock eddy, also, was quite harmless, and I passed it without any preliminary survey.
I nooned at Sodom, and found good milk in a humble cottage. In the afternoon I was amused by a great blue heron that kept flying up in advance of me. Every mile or so, as I rounded some point, I would come unexpectedly upon him, till finally he grew disgusted with my silent pursuit, and took a long turn to the left up along the side of the mountain, and passed back up the river, uttering a hoarse, low note.
The wind still boded rain, and about four o'clock, announced by deep-toned thunder and portentous clouds, it began to charge down the mountain-side in front of me. I ran ashore, covered my traps, and took my way up through an orchard to a quaint little farmhouse. But there was not a soul about, outside or in, that I could find, though the door was unfastened; so I went into an open shed with the hens, and lounged upon some straw, while the unloosed floods came down. It was better than boating or fishing. Indeed, there are few summer pleasures to be placed before that of reclining at ease directly under a sloping roof, after toil or travel in the hot sun, and looking out into the rain-drenched air and fields. It is such a vital yet soothing spectacle. We sympathize with the earth. We know how good a bath is, and the unspeakable deliciousness of water to a parched tongue. The office of the sunshine is slow, subtle, occult, unsuspected; but when the clouds do their work, the benefaction is so palpable and copious, so direct and wholesale, that all creatures take note of it, and for the most part rejoice in it. It is a completion, a consummation, a paying of a debt with a royal hand; the measure is heaped and overflowing. It was the simple vapor of water that the clouds borrowed of the earth; now they pay back more than water: the drops are charged with electricity and with the gases of the air, and have new solvent powers. Then, how the slate is sponged off, and left all clean and new again!
In the shed where I was sheltered were many relics and odds and ends of the farm. In juxtaposition with two of the most stalwart wagon or truck wheels I ever looked upon was a cradle of ancient and peculiar make,—an aristocratic cradle, with high-turned posts and an elaborately carved and moulded body, that was suspended upon rods and swung from the top. How I should have liked to hear its history and the story of the lives it had rocked, as the rain sang and the boughs tossed without! Above it was the cradle of a phbe- bird saddled upon a stick that ran behind the rafter; its occupants had not flown, and its story was easy to read.
Soon after the first shock of the storm was over, and before I could see breaking sky, the birds tuned up with new ardor,—the robin, the indigo-bird, the purple finch, the song sparrow, and in the meadow below the bobolink. The cockerel near me followed suit, and repeated his refrain till my meditations were so disturbed that I was compelled to eject him from the cover, albeit he had the best right there. But he crowed his defiance with drooping tail from the yard in front. I, too, had mentally crowed over the good fortune of the shower; but before I closed my eyes that night my crest was a good deal fallen, and I could have wished the friendly elements had not squared their accounts quite so readily and uproariously.
The one shower did not exhaust the supply a bit; Nature's hand was full of trumps yet,—yea, and her sleeve too. I stopped at a trout brook, which came down out of the mountains on the right, and took a few trout for my supper; but its current was too roily from the shower for fly-fishing. Another farmhouse attracted me, but there was no one at home; so I picked a quart of strawberries in the meadow in front, not minding the wet grass, and about six o'clock, thinking another storm that had been threatening on my right had miscarried, I pushed off, and went floating down into the deepening gloom of the river valley. The mountains, densely wooded from base to summit, shut in the view on every hand. They cut in from the right and from the left, one ahead of the other, matching like the teeth of an enormous trap; the river was caught and bent, but not long detained, by them. Presently I saw the rain creeping slowly over them in my rear, for the wind had changed; but I apprehended nothing but a moderate sundown drizzle, such as we often get from the tail end of a shower, and drew up in the eddy of a big rock under an overhanging tree till it should have passed. But it did not pass; it thickened and deepened, and reached a steady pour by the time I had calculated the sun would be gilding the mountain-tops. I had wrapped my rubber coat about my blankets and groceries, and bared my back to the storm. In sullen silence I saw the night settling down and the rain increasing; my roof-tree gave way, and every leaf poured its accumulated drops upon me. There were streams and splashes where before there had been little more than a mist. I was getting well soaked and uncomplimentary in my remarks on the weather. A saucy catbird, near by, flirted and squealed very plainly, "There! there! What did I tell you! what did I tell you! Pretty pickle! pretty pickle! pretty pickle to be in!" But I had been in worse pickles, though if the water had been salt, my pickling had been pretty thorough. Seeing the wind was in the northeast, and that the weather had fairly stolen a march on me, I let go my hold of the tree, and paddled rapidly to the opposite shore, which was low and pebbly, drew my boat up on a little peninsula, turned her over upon a spot which I cleared of its coarser stone, propped up one end with the seat, and crept beneath. I would now test the virtues of my craft as a roof, and I found she was without flaw, though she was pretty narrow. The tension of her timber was such that the rain upon her bottom made a low, musical hum.
Crouched on my blankets and boughs,—for I had gathered a good supply of the latter before the rain overtook me,—and dry only about my middle, I placidly took life as it came. A great blue heron flew by, and let off something like ironical horse laughter. Before it became dark I proceeded to eat my supper,—my berries, but not my trout. What a fuss we make about the "hulls" upon strawberries! We are hypercritical; we may yet be glad to dine off the hulls alone. Some people see something to pick and carp at in every good that comes to them; I was thankful that I had the berries, and resolutely ignored their little scalloped ruffles, which I found pleased the eye and did not disturb the palate.
When bedtime arrived, I found undressing a little awkward, my berth was so low; there was plenty of room in the aisle, and the other passengers were nowhere to be seen, but I did not venture out. It rained nearly all night, but the train made good speed, and reached the land of daybreak nearly on time. The water in the river had crept up during the night to within a few inches of my boat, but I rolled over and took another nap, all the same. Then I arose, had a delicious bath in the sweet, swift-running current, and turned my thoughts toward breakfast. The making of the coffee was the only serious problem. With everything soaked and a fine rain still falling, how shall one build a fire? I made my way to a little island above in quest of driftwood. Before I had found the wood I chanced upon another patch of delicious wild strawberries, and took an appetizer of them out of hand. Presently I picked up a yellow birch stick the size of my arm. The wood was decayed, but the bark was perfect. I broke it in two, punched out the rotten wood, and had the bark intact. The fatty or resinous substance in this bark preserves it, and makes it excellent kindling. With some seasoned twigs and a scrap of paper I soon had a fire going that answered my every purpose. More berries were picked while the coffee was brewing, and the breakfast was a success.
The camper-out often finds himself in what seems a distressing predicament to people seated in their snug, well-ordered houses; but there is often a real satisfaction when things come to their worst,—a satisfaction in seeing what a small matter it is, after all; that one is really neither sugar nor salt, to be afraid of the wet; and that life is just as well worth living beneath a scow or a dug-out as beneath the highest and broadest roof in Christendom.
By ten o'clock it became necessary to move, on account of the rise of the water, and as the rain had abated, I picked up and continued my journey. Before long, however, the rain increased again, and I took refuge in a barn. The snug, tree-embowered farmhouse looked very inviting, just across the road from the barn; but as no one was about, and no faces appeared at the window that I might judge of the inmates, I contented myself with the hospitality the barn offered, filling my pockets with some dry birch shavings I found there where the farmer had made an ox-yoke, against the needs of the next kindling.
After an hour's detention I was off again. I stopped at Baxter's Brook, which flows hard by the classic hamlet of Harvard, and tried for trout, but with poor success, as I did not think it worth while to go far upstream.
At several points I saw rafts of hemlock lumber tied to the shore, ready to take advantage of the first freshet. Rafting is an important industry for a hundred miles or more along the Delaware. The lumbermen sometimes take their families or friends, and have a jollification all the way to Trenton or to Philadelphia. In some places the speed is very great, almost equaling that of an express train. The passage of such places as Cochecton Falls and "Foul Rift" is attended with no little danger. The raft is guided by two immense oars, one before and one behind. I frequently saw these huge implements in the driftwood alongshore, suggesting some colossal race of men. The raftsmen have names of their own. From the upper Delaware, where I had set in, small rafts are run down which they call "colts." They come frisking down at a lively pace. At Hancock they usually couple two rafts together, when I suppose they have a span of colts; or do two colts make one horse? Some parts of the framework of the raft they call "grubs;" much depends upon these grubs. The lumbermen were and are a hardy, virile race. The Hon. Charles Knapp, of Deposit, now eighty-three years of age, but with the look and step of a man of sixty, told me he had stood nearly all one December day in the water to his waist, reconstructing his raft, which had gone to pieces on the head of an island. Mr. Knapp had passed the first half of his life in Colchester and Hancock, and, although no sportsman, had once taken part in a great bear hunt there. The bear was an enormous one, and was hard pressed by a gang of men and dogs. Their muskets and assaults upon the beast with clubs had made no impression. Mr. Knapp saw where the bear was coming, and he thought he would show them how easy it was to dispatch a bear with a club, if you only knew where to strike. He had seen how quickly the largest hog would wilt beneath a slight blow across the "small of the back." So, armed with an immense handspike, he took up a position by a large rock that the bear must pass. On she came, panting and nearly exhausted, and at the right moment down came the club with great force upon the small of her back. "If a fly had alighted upon her," said Mr. Knapp, "I think she would have paid just as much attention to it as she did to me."
Early in the afternoon I encountered another boy, Henry Ingersoll, who was so surprised by my sudden and unwonted appearance that he did not know east from west. "Which way is west?" I inquired, to see if my own head was straight on the subject.
"That way," he said, indicating east within a few degrees.
"You are wrong," I replied. "Where does the sun rise?"
"There," he said, pointing almost in the direction he had pointed before.
"But does not the sun rise in the east here as well as elsewhere?" I rejoined.
"Well, they call that west, anyhow."
But Henry's needle was subjected to a disturbing influence just then. His house was near the river, and he was its sole guardian and keeper for the time; his father had gone up to the next neighbor's (it was Sunday), and his sister had gone with the schoolmistress down the road to get black birch. He came out in the road, with wide eyes, to view me as I passed, when I drew rein, and demanded the points of the compass, as above. Then I shook my sooty pail at him and asked for milk. Yes, I could have some milk, but I would have to wait till his sister came back; after he had recovered a little, he concluded he could get it. He came for my pail, and then his boyish curiosity appeared. My story interested him immensely. He had seen twelve summers, but he had been only four miles from home up and down the river : he had been down to the East Branch, and he had been up to Trout Brook. He took a pecuniary interest in me. What did my pole cost? What my rubber coat, and what my revolver? The latter he must take in his hand; he had never seen such a thing to shoot with before in HIS life, etc. He thought I might make the trip cheaper and easier by stage and by the cars. He went to school: there were six scholars in summer, one or two more in winter. The population is not crowded in the town of Hancock, certainly, and never will be. The people live close to the bone, as Thoreau would say, or rather close to the stump. Many years ago the young men there resolved upon having a ball. They concluded not to go to a hotel, on account of the expense, and so chose a private house. There was a man in the neighborhood who could play the fife; he offered to furnish the music for seventy-five cents. But this was deemed too much, so one of the party agreed to whistle. History does not tell how many beaux there were bent upon this reckless enterprise, but there were three girls. For refreshments they bought a couple of gallons of whiskey and a few pounds of sugar. When the spree was over, and the expenses were reckoned up, there was a shilling—a York shilling— apiece to pay. Some of the revelers were dissatisfied with this charge, and intimated that the managers had not counted themselves in, but taxed the whole expense upon the rest of the party.
As I moved on, I saw Henry's sister and the schoolmistress picking their way along the muddy road near the river's bank. One of them saw me, and, dropping her skirts, said to the other (I could read the motions), "See that man!" The other lowered her flounces, and looked up and down the road, then glanced over into the field, and lastly out upon the river. They paused and had a good look at me, though I could see that their impulse to run away, like that of a frightened deer, was strong.
At the East Branch the Big Beaver Kill joins the Delaware, almost doubling its volume. Here I struck the railroad, the forlorn Midland, and here another set of men and manners cropped out,—what may be called the railroad conglomerate overlying this mountain freestone.
"Where did you steal that boat?" and "What you running away for?" greeted me from a handcar that went by.
I paused for some time and watched the fish hawks, or ospreys, of which there were nearly a dozen sailing about above the junction of the two streams, squealing and diving, and occasionally striking a fish on the rifts. I am convinced that the fish hawk sometimes feeds on the wing. I saw him do it on this and on another occasion. He raises himself by a peculiar motion, and brings his head and his talons together, and apparently takes a bite of a fish. While doing this his flight presents a sharply undulating line; at the crest of each rise the morsel is taken.
In a long, deep eddy under the west shore I came upon a brood of wild ducks, the hooded merganser. The young were about half grown, but of course entirely destitute of plumage. They started off at great speed, kicking the water into foam behind them, the mother duck keeping upon their flank and rear. Near the outlet of the pool I saw them go ashore, and I expected they would conceal themselves in the woods; but as I drew near the place they came out, and I saw by their motions they were going to make a rush by me upstream. At a signal from the old one, on they came, and passed within a few feet of me. It was almost incredible, the speed they made. Their pink feet were like swiftly revolving wheels placed a little to the rear; their breasts just skimmed the surface, and the water was beaten into spray behind them. They had no need of wings; even the mother bird did not use hers; a steamboat could hardly have kept up with them. I dropped my paddle and cheered. They kept the race up for a long distance, and I saw them making a fresh spirt as I entered upon the rift and dropped quickly out of sight. I next disturbed an eagle in his meditations upon a dead treetop, and a cat sprang out of some weeds near the foot of the tree. Was he watching for puss, while she was watching for some smaller prey?
I passed Partridge Island—which is or used to be the name of a post-office—unwittingly, and encamped for the night on an island near Hawk's Point. I slept in my boat on the beach, and in the morning my locks were literally wet with the dews of the night, and my blankets too; so I waited for the sun to dry them. As I was gathering driftwood for a fire, a voice came over from the shadows of the east shore: "Seems to me you lay abed pretty late!"
"I call this early," I rejoined, glancing at the sun.
"Wall, it may be airly in the forenoon, but it ain't very airly in the mornin';" a distinction I was forced to admit. Before I had reëmbarked some cows came down to the shore, and I watched them ford the river to the island. They did it with great ease and precision. I was told they will sometimes, during high water, swim over to the islands, striking in well upstream, and swimming diagonally across. At one point some cattle had crossed the river, and evidently got into mischief, for a large dog rushed them down the bank into the current, and worried them all the way over, part of the time swimming and part of the time leaping very high, as a dog will in deep snow, coming down with a great splash. The cattle were shrouded with spray as they ran, and altogether it was a novel picture.
My voyage ended that forenoon at Hancock, and was crowned by a few idyllic days with some friends in their cottage in the woods by Lake Oquaga, a body of crystal water on the hills near Deposit, and a haven as peaceful and perfect as voyager ever came to port in.
"I'll show thee the best springs." —TEMPEST.
A MAN who came back to the place of his birth in the East, after an absence of a quarter of a century in the West, said the one thing he most desired to see about the old homestead was the spring. This, at least, he would find unchanged. Here his lost youth would come back to him. The faces of his father and mother he might not look upon; but the face of the spring, that had mirrored theirs and his own so oft, he fondly imagined would beam on him as of old. I can well believe that, in that all but springless country in which he had cast his lot, the vision, the remembrance, of the fountain that flowed by his father's doorway, so prodigal of its precious gifts, had awakened in him the keenest longings and regrets.
Did he not remember the path, also? for next to the spring itself is the path that leads to it. Indeed, of all foot-paths, the spring-path is the most suggestive.
This is a path with something at the end of it, and the best of good fortune awaits him who walks therein. It is a well-worn path, and, though generally up or down a hill, it is the easiest of all paths to travel: we forget our fatigue when going to the spring, and we have lost it when we turn to come away. See with what alacrity the laborer hastens along it, all sweaty from the fields; see the boy or girl running with pitcher or pail; see the welcome shade of the spreading tree that presides over its marvelous birth!
In the woods or on the mountain-side, follow the path and you are pretty sure to find a spring; all creatures are going that way night and day, and they make a path.
A spring is always a vital point in the landscape; it is indeed the eye of the fields, and how often, too, it has a noble eyebrow in the shape of an overhanging bank or ledge! Or else its site is marked by some tree which the pioneer has wisely left standing, and which sheds a coolness and freshness that make the water more sweet. In the shade of this tree the harvesters sit and eat their lunch, and look out upon the quivering air of the fields. Here the Sunday saunterer stops and lounges with his book, and bathes his hands and face in the cool fountain. Hither the strawberry-girl comes with her basket and pauses a moment in the green shade. The plowman leaves his plow, and in long strides approaches the life- renewing spot, while his team, that cannot follow, look wistfully after him. Here the cattle love to pass the heat of the day, and hither come the birds to wash themselves and make their toilets.
Indeed, a spring is always an oasis in the desert of the fields. It is a creative and generative centre. It attracts all things to itself,—the grasses, the mosses, the flowers, the wild plants, the great trees. The walker finds it out, the camping party seek it, the pioneer builds his hut or his house near it. When the settler or squatter has found a good spring, he has found a good place to begin life; he has found the fountain-head of much that he is seeking in this world. The chances are that he has found a southern and eastern exposure, for it is a fact that water does not readily flow north; the valleys mostly open the other way; and it is quite certain he has found a measure of salubrity, for where water flows fever abideth not. The spring, too, keeps him to the right belt, out of the low valley, and off the top of the hill.
When John Winthrop decided upon the site where now stands the city of Boston, as a proper place for a settlement, he was chiefly attracted by a large and excellent spring of water that flowed there. The infant city was born of this fountain.
There seems a kind of perpetual springtime about the place where water issues from the ground,—a freshness and a greenness that are ever renewed. The grass never fades, the ground is never parched or frozen. There is warmth there in winter and coolness in summer. The temperature is equalized. In March or April the spring runs are a bright emerald while the surrounding fields are yet brown and sere, and in fall they are yet green when the first snow covers them. Thus every fountain by the roadside is a fountain of youth and of life. This is what the old fables finally mean.
An intermittent spring is shallow; it has no deep root, and is like an inconstant friend. But a perennial spring, one whose ways are appointed, whose foundation is established, what a profound and beautiful symbol! In fact, there is no more large and universal symbol in nature than the spring, if there is any other capable of such wide and various applications.
What preparation seems to have been made for it in the conformation of the ground, even in the deep underlying geological strata! Vast rocks and ledges are piled for it, or cleft asunder that it may find a way. Sometimes it is a trickling thread of silver down the sides of a seamed and scarred precipice. Then again the stratified rock is like a just-lifted lid, from beneath which the water issues. Or it slips noiselessly out of a deep dimple in the fields. Occasionally it bubbles up in the valley, as if forced up by the surrounding hills. Many springs, no doubt, find an outlet in the beds of the large rivers and lakes, and are unknown to all but the fishes. They probably find them out and make much of them. The trout certainly do. Find a place in the creek where a spring issues, or where it flows into it from a near bank, and you have found a most likely place for trout. They deposit their spawn there in the fall, warm their noses there in winter, and cool themselves there in summer. I have seen the patriarchs of the tribe of an old and much-fished stream, seven or eight enormous fellows, congregated in such a place. The boys found it out, and went with a bag and bagged them all. In another place a trio of large trout, that knew and despised all the arts of the fishermen, took up their abode in a deep, dark hole in the edge of the wood, that had a spring flowing into a shallow part of it. In midsummer they were wont to come out from their safe retreat and bask in the spring, their immense bodies but a few inches under water. A youth, who had many times vainly sounded their dark hiding-place with his hook, happening to come along with his rifle one day, shot the three, one after another, killing them by the concussion of the bullet on the water immediately over them.
The ocean itself is known to possess springs, copious ones, in many places the fresh water rising up through the heavier salt as through a rock, and affording supplies to vessels at the surface. Off the coast of Florida many of these submarine springs have been discovered, the outlet, probably, of the streams and rivers that disappear in the "sinks" of that State.
It is a pleasant conception, that of the unscientific folk, that the springs are fed directly by the sea, or that the earth is full of veins or arteries that connect with the great reservoir of waters. But when science turns the conception over and makes the connection in the air,—disclosing the great water-main in the clouds, and that the mighty engine of the hydraulic system of nature is the sun,—the fact becomes even more poetical, does it not? This is one of the many cases where science, instead of curtailing the imagination, makes new and large demands upon it.
The hills are great sponges that do not and cannot hold the water that is precipitated upon them, but let it filter through at the bottom. This is the way the sea has robbed the earth of its various salts, its potash, its lime, its magnesia, and many other mineral elements. It is found that the oldest upheavals, those sections of the country that have been longest exposed to the leeching and washing of the rains, are poorest in those substances that go to the making of the osseous framework of man and of the animals. Wheat does not grow well there, and the men born and reared there are apt to have brittle bones. An important part of those men went downstream ages before they were born. The water of such sections is now soft and free from mineral substances, but not more wholesome on that account.
The gigantic springs of the country that have not been caught in any of the great natural basins are mostly confined to the limestone region of the Middle and Southern States,—the valley of Virginia and its continuation and deflections into Kentucky, Tennessee, northern Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Through this belt are found the great caves and the subterranean rivers. The waters have here worked like enormous moles, and have honeycombed the foundations of the earth. They have great highways beneath the hills. Water charged with carbonic acid gas has a very sharp tooth and a powerful digestion, and no limestone rock can long resist it. Sherman's soldiers tell of a monster spring in northern Alabama,—a river leaping full-grown from the bosom of the earth; and of another at the bottom of a large, deep pit in the rocks, that continues its way under ground.
There are many springs in Florida of this character, large underground streams that have breathing-holes, as it were, here and there. In some places the water rises and fills the bottoms of deep bowl-shaped depressions; in other localities it is reached through round natural well-holes; a bucket is let down by a rope, and if it becomes detached is quickly swept away by the current. Some of the Florida springs are perhaps the largest in the world, affording room and depth enough for steamboats to move and turn in them. Green Cove Spring is said to be like a waterfall reversed; a cataract rushing upward through a transparent liquid instead of leaping downward through the air. There are one or two of these enormous springs also in northern Mississippi,—springs so large that it seems as if the whole continent must nurse them.
The Valley of the Shenandoah is remarkable for its large springs. The town of Winchester, a town of several thousand inhabitants, is abundantly supplied with water from a single spring that issues on higher ground near by. Several other springs in the vicinity afford rare mill-power. At Harrisonburg, a county town farther up the valley, I was attracted by a low ornamental dome resting upon a circle of columns, on the edge of the square that contained the court-house, and was surprised to find that it gave shelter to an immense spring. This spring was also capable of watering the town or several towns; stone steps led down to it at the bottom of a large stone basin. There was a pretty constant string of pails to and from it. Aristotle called certain springs of his country "cements of society," because the young people so frequently met there and sang and conversed; and I have little doubt this spring is of like social importance. There is a famous spring at San Antonio, Texas, which is described by that excellent traveler, Frederick Law Olmsted. "The whole river," he says, "gushes up in one sparkling burst from the earth, with all the accessories of smaller springs,—moss, pebbles, foliage, seclusion, etc. Its effect is overpowering. It is beyond your possible conception of a spring."
Of like copiousness and splendor is the Caledonia spring, or springs, in western New York. They give birth to a white-pebbled, transparent stream, several rods wide and two or three feet deep, that flows eighty barrels of water per second, and is alive with trout. The trout are fat and gamy even in winter.
The largest spring in England, called the Well of St. Winifred, at Holywell, flows less than three barrels per second. I recently went many miles out of my way to see the famous trout spring in Warren County, New Jersey. This spring flows about one thousand gallons of water per minute, which has a uniform temperature of fifty degrees winter and summer. It is near the Musconetcong Creek, which looks as if it were made up of similar springs. On the parched and sultry summer day upon which my visit fell, it was well worth walking many miles just to see such a volume of water issue from the ground. I felt with the boy Petrarch, when he first beheld a famous spring, that "were I master of such a fountain I would prefer it to the finest of cities." A large oak leans down over the spring and affords an abundance of shade. The water does not bubble up, but comes straight out with great speed, like a courier with important news, and as if its course underground had been a direct and an easy one for a long distance. Springs that issue in this way have a sort of vertebra, a ridgy and spine-like centre that suggests the gripe and push there is in this element.
What would one not give for such a spring in his back yard, or front yard, or anywhere near his house, or in any of his fields? One would be tempted to move his house to it, if the spring could not be brought to the house. Its mere poetic value and suggestion would be worth all the art and ornament to be had. It would irrigate one's heart and character as well as his acres. Then one might have a Naiad Queen to do his churning and to saw his wood; then one might "see his chore done by the gods themselves," as Emerson says, or by the nymphs, which is just as well.
I know a homestead, situated on one of the picturesque branch valleys of the Housatonic, that has such a spring flowing by the foundation walls of the house, and not a little of the strong overmastering local attachment that holds the owner there is born of that, his native spring. He could not, if he would, break from it. He says that when he looks down into it he has a feeling that he is an amphibious animal that has somehow got stranded. A long, gentle flight of stone steps leads from the back porch down to it under the branches of a lofty elm. It wells up through the white sand and gravel as through a sieve, and fills the broad space that has been arranged for it so gently and imperceptibly that one does not suspect its copiousness until he has seen the overflow. It turns no wheel, yet it lends a pliant hand to many of the affairs of that household. It is a refrigerator in summer and a frost-proof envelope in winter, and a fountain of delights the year round. Trout come up from the Weebutook River and dwell there and become domesticated, and take lumps of butter from your hand, or rake the ends of your fingers if you tempt them. It is a kind of sparkling and ever-washed larder. Where are the berries? where is the butter, the milk, the steak, the melon? In the spring. It preserves, it ventilates, it cleanses. It is a board of health and a general purveyor. It is equally for use and for pleasure. Nothing degrades it, and nothing can enhance its beauty. It is picture and parable, and an instrument of music. It is servant and divinity in one. The milk of forty cows is cooled in it, and never a drop gets into the cans, though they are plunged to the brim. It is as insensible to drought and rain as to heat and cold. It is planted upon the sand, and yet it abideth like a house upon a rock. It evidently has some relation to a little brook that flows down through a deep notch in the hills half a mile distant, because on one occasion, when the brook was being ditched or dammed, the spring showed great perturbation. Every nymph in it was filled with sudden alarm and kicked up a commotion.
In some sections of the country, when there is no spring near the house, the farmer, with much labor and pains, brings one from some uplying field or wood. Pine and poplar logs are bored and laid in a trench, and the spring practically moved to the desired spot. The ancient Persians had a law that whoever thus conveyed the water of a spring to a spot not watered before should enjoy many immunities under the state, not granted to others.
Hilly and mountainous countries do not always abound in good springs. When the stratum is vertical, or has too great a dip, the water is not collected in large veins, but is rather held as it falls, and oozes out slowly at the surface over the top of the rock. On this account one of the most famous grass and dairy sections of New York is poorly supplied with springs. Every creek starts in a bog or marsh, and good water can be had only by excavating.
What a charm lurks about those springs that are found near the tops of mountains, so small that they get lost amid the rocks and debris and never reach the valley, and so cold that they make the throat ache! Every hunter and mountain-climber can tell you of such, usually on the last rise before the summit is cleared. It is eminently the hunter's spring. I do not know whether or not the foxes and other wild creatures lap at it, but their pursuers are quite apt to pause there to take breath or to eat their lunch. The mountain-climbers in summer hail it with a shout. It is always a surprise, and raises the spirits of the dullest. Then it seems to be born of wildness and remoteness, and to savor of some special benefit or good fortune. A spring in the valley is an idyl, but a spring on the mountain is a genuine lyrical touch. It imparts a mild thrill; and if one were to call any springs "miracles," as the natives of Cashmere are said to regard their fountains, it would be such as these.
What secret attraction draws one in his summer walk to touch at all the springs on his route, and to pause a moment at each, as if what he was in quest of would be likely to turn up there? I can seldom pass a spring without doing homage to it. It is the shrine at which I oftenest worship. If I find one fouled with leaves or trodden full by cattle, I take as much pleasure in cleaning it out as a devotee in setting up the broken image of his saint. Though I chance not to want to drink there, I like to behold a clear fountain, and I may want to drink next time I pass, or some traveler, or heifer, or milch cow may. Leaves have a strange fatality for the spring. They come from afar to get into it. In a grove or in the woods they drift into it and cover it up like snow. Late in November, in clearing one out, I brought forth a frog from his hibernacle in the leaves at the bottom. He was very black, and he rushed about in a bewildered manner like one suddenly aroused from his sleep.
There is no place more suitable for statuary than about a spring or fountain, especially in parks or improved fields. Here one seems to expect to see figures and bending forms. "Where a spring rises or a river flows," says Seneca, "there should we build altars and offer sacrifices."
I have spoken of the hunter's spring. The traveler's spring is a little cup or saucer shaped fountain set in the bank by the roadside. The harvester's spring is beneath a widespreading tree in the fields. The lover's spring is down a lane under a hill. There is a good screen of rocks and bushes. The hermit's spring is on the margin of a lake in the woods. The fisherman's spring is by the river. The miner finds his spring in the bowels of the mountain. The soldier's spring is wherever he can fill his canteen. The spring where schoolboys go to fill the pail is a long way up or down a hill, and has just been roiled by a frog or muskrat, and the boys have to wait till it settles. There is yet the milkman's spring that never dries, the water of which is milky and opaque. Sometimes it flows out of a chalk cliff. This last is a hard spring: all the others are soft.
There is another side to this subject,— the marvelous, not to say the miraculous; and if I were to advert to all the curious or infernal springs that are described by travelers or others,—the sulphur springs, the mud springs, the sour springs, the soap springs, the soda springs, the blowing springs, the spouting springs, the boiling springs not one mile from Tophet, the springs that rise and fall with the tide; the spring spoken of by Vitruvius, that gave unwonted loudness to the voice; the spring that Plutarch tells about, that had something of the flavor of wine, because it was supposed that Bacchus had been washed in it immediately after his birth; the spring that Herodotus describes,— wise man and credulous boy that he was,—called the "Fountain of the Sun," which was warm at dawn, cold at noon, and hot at midnight; the springs at San Filippo, Italy, that have built up a calcareous wall over a mile long and several hundred feet thick; the renowned springs of Cashmere, that are believed by the people to be the source of the comeliness of their women,—if I were to follow up my subject in this direction, I say, it would lead me into deeper and more troubled waters than I am in quest of at present.
Pliny, in a letter to one of his friends, gives the following account of a spring that flowed near his Laurentine villa:—
"There is a spring which rises in a neighboring mountain, and running among the rocks is received into a little banqueting-room, artificially formed for that purpose, from whence, after being detained a short time, it falls into the Larian Lake. The nature of this spring is extremely curious: it ebbs and flows regularly three times a day. The increase and decrease are plainly visible, and exceedingly interesting to observe. You sit down by the side of the fountain, and while you are taking a repast and drinking its water, which is exceedingly cool, you see it gradually rise and fall. If you place a ring or anything else at the bottom when it is dry, the water creeps gradually up, first gently washing, finally covering it entirely, and then, little by little, subsides again. If you wait long enough, you may see it thus alternately advance and recede three successive times."
Pliny suggests four or five explanations of this phenomenon, but is probably wide of the mark in all but the fourth one:—
"Or is there rather a certain reservoir that contains these waters in the bowels of the earth, and, while it is recruiting its discharges, the stream in consequence flows more slowly and in less quantity, but, when it has collected its due measure, runs on again in its usual strength and fullness."
There are several of these intermitting springs in different parts of the world, and they are perhaps all to be explained on the principle of the siphon.
In the Idyls of Theocritus there are frequent allusions to springs. It was at a spring—and a mountain spring at that—that Castor and Pollux encountered the plug-ugly Amycus:—
"And spying on a mountain a wild wood of vast size, they found under a smooth cliff an ever-flowing spring, filled with pure water, and the pebbles beneath seemed like crystal or silver from the depths; and near there had grown tall pines, and poplars, and plane-trees, and cypresses with leafy tops, and fragrant flowers, pleasant work for hairy bees," etc.
Or the story of Hylas, the auburn-haired boy, who went to the spring to fetch water for supper for Hercules and stanch Telamon, and was seized by the enamored nymphs and drawn in. The spring was evidently a marsh or meadow spring: it was in a "low-lying spot, and around it grew many rushes, and the pale blue swallow-wort, and green maidenhair, and blooming parsley, and couch grass stretching through the marshes." As Hercules was tramping through the bog, club in hand, and shouting "Hylas!" to the full depth of his throat, he heard a thin voice come from the water,—it was Hylas responding, and Hylas, in the shape of the little frog, has been calling from our marsh springs ever since.
The characteristic flavor and suggestion of these Idyls is like pure spring-water. This is, perhaps, why the modern reader is apt to be disappointed in them when he takes them up for the first time. They appear minor and literal and tasteless, as does most ancient poetry; but it is mainly because we have got to the fountain-head; and have come in contact with a mind that has been but little shaped by artificial indoor influences. The stream of literature is now much fuller and broader than it was in ancient times, with currents and counter-currents, and diverse and curious phases; but the primitive sources seem far behind us, and for the refreshment of simple spring-water in art we must still go back to Greek poetry.
AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE
THERE is no creature with which man has surrounded himself that seems so much like a product of civilization, so much like the result of development on special lines and in special fields, as the honey-bee. Indeed, a colony of bees, with their neatness and love of order, their division of labor, their public-spiritedness, their thrift, their complex economies, and their inordinate love of gain, seems as far removed from a condition of rude nature as does a walled city or a cathedral town. Our native bee, on the other hand, the "burly, dozing bumblebee," affects one more like the rude, untutored savage. He has learned nothing from experience. He lives from hand to mouth. He luxuriates in time of plenty, and he starves in time of scarcity. He lives in a rude nest, or in a hole in the ground, and in small communities; he builds a few deep cells or sacks in which he stores a little honey and bee-bread for his young, but as a worker in wax he is of the most primitive and awkward. The Indian regarded the honey-bee as an ill omen. She was the white man's fly. In fact, she was the epitome of the white man himself. She has the white man's craftiness, his industry, his architectural skill, his neatness and love of system, his foresight; and, above all, his eager, miserly habits. The honey- bee's great ambition is to be rich, to lay up great stores, to possess the sweet of every flower that blooms. She is more than provident. Enough will not satisfy her; she must have all she can get by hook or by crook. She comes from the oldest country, Asia, and thrives best in the most fertile and long-settled lands.
Yet the fact remains that the honey-bee is essentially a wild creature, and never has been and cannot be thoroughly domesticated. Its proper home is the woods, and thither every new swarm counts on going; and thither many do go in spite of the care and watchfulness of the bee-keeper. If the woods in any given locality are deficient in trees with suitable cavities, the bees resort to all sorts of makeshifts; they go into chimneys, into barns and outhouses, under stones, into rocks, etc. Several chimneys in my locality with disused flues are taken possession of by colonies of bees nearly every season. One day, while bee-hunting, I developed a line that went toward a farmhouse where I had reason to believe no bees were kept. I followed it up and questioned the farmer about his bees. He said he kept no bees, but that a swarm had taken possession of his chimney, and another had gone under the clapboards in the gable end of his house. He had taken a large lot of honey out of both places the year before. Another farmer told me that one day his family had seen a number of bees examining a knothole in the side of his house; the next day, as they were sitting down to dinner, their attention was attracted by a loud humming noise, when they discovered a swarm of bees settling upon the side of the house and pouring into the knothole. In subsequent years other swarms came to the same place.
Apparently, every swarm of bees, before it leaves the parent hive, sends out exploring parties to look up the future home. The woods and groves are searched through and through, and no doubt the privacy of many a squirrel and many a wood-mouse is intruded upon. What cozy nooks and retreats they do spy out, so much more attractive than the painted hive in the garden, so much cooler in summer and so much warmer in winter!
The bee is in the main an honest citizen: she prefers legitimate to illegitimate business; she is never an outlaw until her proper sources of supply fail; she will not touch honey as long as honey- yielding flowers can be found; she always prefers to go to the fountain-head, and dislikes to take her sweets at second hand. But in the fall, after the flowers have failed, she can be tempted. The bee-hunter takes advantage of this fact; he betrays her with a little honey. He wants to steal her stores, and he first encourages her to steal his, then follows the thief home with her booty. This is the whole trick of the bee-hunter. The bees never suspect his game, else by taking a circuitous route they could easily baffle him. But the honey-bee has absolutely no wit or cunning outside of her special gifts as a gatherer and storer of honey. She is a simple-minded creature, and can be imposed upon by any novice. Yet it is not every novice that can find a bee-tree. The sportsman may track his game to its retreat by the aid of his dog, but in hunting the honey-bee one must be his own dog, and track his game through an element in which it leaves no trail. It is a task for a sharp, quick eye, and may test the resources of the best woodcraft. One autumn, when I devoted much time to this pursuit, as the best means of getting at nature and the open-air exhilaration, my eye became so trained that bees were nearly as easy to it as birds. I saw and heard bees wherever I went. One day, standing on a street corner in a great city, I saw above the trucks and the traffic a line of bees carrying off sweets from some grocery or confectionery shop.
One looks upon the woods with a new interest when he suspects they hold a colony of bees. What a pleasing secret it is,—a tree with a heart of comb honey, a decayed oak or maple with a bit of Sicily or Mount Hymettus stowed away in its trunk or branches; secret chambers where lies hidden the wealth of ten thousand little freebooters, great nuggets and wedges of precious ore gathered with risk and labor from every field and wood about!
But if you would know the delights of bee-hunting, and how many sweets such a trip yields besides honey, come with me some bright, warm, late September or early October day. It is the golden season of the year, and any errand or pursuit that takes us abroad upon the hills or by the painted woods and along the amber-colored streams at such a time is enough. So, with haversacks filled with grapes and peaches and apples and a bottle of milk,—for we shall not be home to dinner,—and armed with a compass, a hatchet, a pail, and a box with a piece of comb honey neatly fitted into it,— any box the size of your hand with a lid will do nearly as well as the elaborate and ingenious contrivance of the regular bee-hunter,— we sally forth. Our course at first lies along the highway under great chestnut-trees whose nuts are just dropping, then through an orchard and across a little creek, thence gently rising through a long series of cultivated fields toward some high uplying land behind which rises a rugged wooded ridge or mountain, the most sightly point in all this section. Behind this ridge for several miles the country is wild, wooded, and rocky, and is no doubt the home of many swarms of wild bees. What a gleeful uproar the robins, cedar-birds, high-holes, and cow blackbirds make amid the black cherry-trees as we pass along! The raccoons, too, have been here after black cherries, and we see their marks at various points. Several crows are walking about a newly sowed wheat-field we pass through, and we pause to note their graceful movements and glossy coats. I have seen no bird walk the ground with just the same air the crow does. It is not exactly pride; there is no strut or swagger in it, though perhaps just a little condescension; it is the contented, complaisant, and self-possessed gait of a lord over his domains. All these acres are mine, he says, and all these crops; men plow and sow for me, and I stay here or go there, and find life sweet and good wherever I am. The hawk looks awkward and out of place on the ground; the game-birds hurry and skulk; but the crow is at home, and treads the earth as if there were none to molest or make him afraid.
The crows we have always with us, but it is not every day or every season that one sees an eagle. Hence I must preserve the memory of one I saw the last day I went bee-hunting. As I was laboring up the side of a mountain at the head of a valley, the noble bird sprang from the top of a dry tree above me and came sailing directly over my head. I saw him bend his eye down upon me, and I could hear the low hum of his plumage as if the web of every quill in his great wings vibrated in his strong, level flight. I watched him as long as my eye could hold him. When he was fairly clear of the mountain, he began that sweeping spiral movement in which he climbs the sky. Up and up he went, without once breaking his majestic poise, till he appeared to sight some far-off alien geography, when he bent his course thitherward and gradually vanished in the blue depths. The eagle is a bird of large ideas; he embraces long distances; the continent is his home. I never look upon one without emotion; I follow him with my eye as long as I can. I think of Canada, of the Great Lakes, of the Rocky Mountains, of the wild and sounding seacoast. The waters are his, and the woods and the inaccessible cliffs. He pierces behind the veil of the storm, and his joy is height and depth and vast spaces.
We go out of our way to touch at a spring run in the edge of the woods, and are lucky to find a single scarlet lobelia lingering there. It seems almost to light up the gloom with its intense bit of color. Beside a ditch in a field beyond, we find the great blue lobelia, and near it, amid the weeds and wild grasses and purple asters, the most beautiful of our fall flowers, the fringed gentian. What a rare and delicate, almost aristocratic look the gentian has amid its coarse, unkempt surroundings!- It does not lure the bee, but it lures and holds every passing human eye. If we strike through the corner of yonder woods, where the ground is moistened by hidden springs, and where there is a little opening amid the trees, we shall find the closed gentian, a rare flower in this locality. I had walked this way many times before I chanced upon its retreat, and then I was following a line of bees. I lost the bees, but I got the gentians. How curious this flower looks with its deep blue petals folded together so tightly,—a bud and yet a blossom! It is the nun among our wild flowers,—a form closely veiled and cloaked. The buccaneer bumblebee sometimes tries to rifle it of its sweets. I have seen the blossom with the bee entombed in it. He had forced his way into the virgin corolla as if determined to know its secret, but he had never returned with the knowledge he had gained.
After a refreshing walk of a couple of miles we reach a point where we will make our first trial,—a high stone wall that runs parallel with the wooded ridge referred to, and separated from it by a broad field. There are bees at work there on that golden-rod, and it requires but little manuvring to sweep one into our box. Almost any other creature rudely and suddenly arrested in its career, and clapped into a cage in this way, would show great confusion and alarm. The bee is alarmed for a moment, but the bee has a passion stronger than its love of life or fear of death, namely, desire for honey, not simply to eat, but to carry home as booty. "Such rage of honey in their bosom beats," says Virgil. It is quick to catch the scent of honey in the box, and as quick to fall to filling itself. We now set the box down upon the wall and gently remove the cover. The bee is head and shoulders in one of the half-filled cells, and is oblivious to everything else about it. Come rack, come ruin, it will die at work. We step back a few paces, and sit down upon the ground so as to bring the box against the blue sky as a background. In two or three minutes the bee is seen rising slowly and heavily from the box. It seems loath to leave so much honey behind, and it marks the place well. It mounts aloft in a rapidly increasing spiral, surveying the near and minute objects first, then the larger and more distant, till, having circled above the spot five or six times and taken all its bearings, it darts away for home. It is a good eye that holds fast to the bee till it is fairly off. Sometimes one's head will swim following it, and often one's eyes are put out by the sun. This bee gradually drifts down the hill, then strikes off toward a farmhouse half a mile away where I know bees are kept. Then we try another and another, and the third bee, much to our satisfaction, goes straight toward the woods. We can see the brown speck against the darker background for many yards. The regular bee-hunter professes to be able to tell a wild bee from a tame one by the color, the former, he says, being lighter. But there is no difference; they are alike in color and in manner. Young bees are lighter than old, and that is all there is of it. If a bee lived many years in the woods, it would doubtless come to have some distinguishing marks, but the life of a bee is only a few months at the farthest, and no change is wrought in this brief time.
Our bees are all soon back, and more with them, for we have touched the box here and there with the cork of a bottle of anise oil, and this fragrant and pungent oil will attract bees half a mile or more. When no flowers can be found, this is the quickest way to obtain a bee.
It is a singular fact that when the bee first finds the hunter's box, its first feeling is one of anger; it is as mad as a hornet; its tone changes, it sounds its shrill war trumpet and darts to and fro, and gives vent to its rage and indignation in no uncertain manner. It seems to scent foul play at once. It says, "Here is robbery; here is the spoil of some hive, maybe my own," and its blood is up. But its ruling passion soon comes to the surface, its avarice gets the better of its indignation, and it seems to say, "Well, I had better take possession of this and carry it home." So after many feints and approaches and dartings off with a loud angry hum as if it would none of it, the bee settles down and fills itself.
It does not entirely cool off and get soberly to work till it has made two or three trips home with its booty. When other bees come, even if all from the same swarm, they quarrel and dispute over the box, and clip and dart at each other like bantam cocks. Apparently the ill feeling which the sight of the honey awakens is not one of jealousy or rivalry, but wrath.
A bee will usually make three or four trips from the hunter's box before it brings back a companion. I suspect the bee does not tell its fellows what it has found, but that they smell out the secret; it doubtless bears some evidence with it upon its feet or proboscis that it has been upon honeycomb and not upon flowers, and its companions take the hint and follow, arriving always many seconds behind. Then the quantity and quality of the booty would also betray it. No doubt, also, there are plenty of gossips about a hive that note and tell everything. "Oh, did you see that? Peggy Mel came in a few moments ago in great haste, and one of the upstairs packers says she was loaded till she groaned with apple- blossom honey, which she deposited, and then rushed off again like mad. Apple-blossom honey in October! Fee, fi, fo, fum! I smell something! Let's after."
In about half an hour we have three well-defined lines of bees established,—two to farmhouses and one to the woods, and our box is being rapidly depleted of its honey. About every fourth bee goes to the woods, and now that they have learned the way thoroughly, they do not make the long preliminary whirl above the box, but start directly from it. The woods are rough and dense and the hill steep, and we do not like to follow the line of bees until we have tried at least to settle the problem as to the distance they go into the woods,—whether the tree is on this side of the ridge or into the depth of the forest on the other side. So we shut up the box when it is full of bees and carry it about three hundred yards along the wall from which we are operating. When liberated, the bees, as they always will in such cases, go off in the same directions they have been going; they do not seem to know that they have been moved. But other bees have followed our scent, and it is not many minutes before a second line to the woods is established. This is called cross-lining the bees. The new line makes a sharp angle with the other line, and we know at once that the tree is only a few rods in the woods. The two lines we have established form two sides of a triangle, of which the wall is the base; at the apex of the triangle, or where the two lines meet in the woods, we are sure to find the tree. We quickly follow up these lines, and where they cross each other on the side of the hill we scan every tree closely. I pause at the foot of an oak and examine a hole near the root; now the bees are in this tree and their entrance is on the upper side near the ground not two feet from the hole I peer into, and yet so quiet and secret is their going and coming that I fail to discover them and pass on up the hill. Failing in this direction, I return to the oak again, and then perceive the bees going but in a small crack in the tree. The bees do not know they are found out and that the game is in our hands, and are as oblivious of our presence as if we were ants or crickets. The indications are that the swarm is a small one, and the store of honey trifling. In "taking up" a bee-tree it is usual first to kill or stupefy the bees with the fumes of burning sulphur or with tobacco smoke. But this course is impracticable on the present occasion, so we boldly and ruthlessly assault the tree with an axe we have procured. At the first blow the bees set up a loud buzzing, but we have no mercy, and the side of the cavity is soon cut away and the interior with its white-yellow mass of comb honey is exposed, and not a bee strikes a blow in defense of its all. This may seem singular, but it has nearly always been my experience. When a swarm of bees are thus rudely assaulted with an axe, they evidently think the end of the world has come, and, like true misers as they are, each one seizes as much of the treasure as it can hold; in other words, they all fall to and gorge themselves with honey, and calmly await the issue. While in this condition they make no defense, and will not sting unless taken hold of. In fact, they are as harmless as flies. Bees are always to be managed with boldness and decision. Any halfway measures, any timid poking about, any feeble attempts to reach their honey, are sure to be quickly resented. The popular notion that bees have a special antipathy toward certain persons and a liking for certain others has only this fact at the bottom of it: they will sting a person who is afraid of them and goes skulking and dodging about, and they will not sting a person who faces them boldly and has no dread of them. They are like dogs. The way to disarm a vicious dog is to show him you do not fear him; it is his turn to be afraid then. I never had any dread of bees, and am seldom stung by them. I have climbed up into a large chestnut that contained a swarm in one of its cavities and chopped them out with an axe, being obliged at times to pause and brush the bewildered bees from my hands and face, and not been stung once. I have chopped a swarm out of an apple-tree in June, and taken out the cards of honey and arranged them in a hive, and then dipped out the bees with a dipper, and taken the whole home with me in pretty good condition, with scarcely any opposition on the part of the bees. In reaching your hand into the cavity to detach and remove the comb you are pretty sure to get stung, for when you touch the "business end" of a bee, it will sting even though its head be off. But the bee carries the antidote to its own poison. The best remedy for bee sting is honey, and when your hands are besmeared with honey, as they are sure to be on such occasions, the wound is scarcely more painful than the prick of a pin. Assault your bee-tree, then, boldly with your axe, and you will find that when the honey is exposed every bee has surrendered, and the whole swarm is cowering in helpless bewilderment and terror. Our tree yields only a few pounds of honey, not enough to have lasted the swarm till January, but no matter: we have the less burden to carry.