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Full text of "Old Plymouth trails"

OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 




Presented to the 

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO 
LIBRARY 

by the 

ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE 
LIBRARY 



1980 



OLD PLYMOUTH 
TRAILS 



BY 

WINTHROP PACKARD 

Author of "White Mountain Trails," "Literary 
Pilgrimages of a Naturalist,'* etc. 



ILLUSTRATED 




BOSTON 

SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY 

PUBLISHERS 







Copyright, 1920, 
By WINTHROP PACKARD 



PBES8 OF a£0. H. ELLIS CO., BOSTOK 



FOREWORD 

The author wishes to express his thanks to the 
editors of the Boston Evening Transcript and the 
Atlantic Monthly for permission to reprint in this 
volume matter originally contributed to the columns 
of that paper and magazine; and to A. S. Burbank 
of Plymouth, I. Chester Horton, and Howard S. 
Adams for permission to reproduce various illus- 
trations. 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER PAGE 

I Old Plymouth Trails i 

II • Plymouth Mayflowers 12 

III Unbuilding a Building 25 

IV Forefathers' Day 39 

V The Singing Pines 52 

VI Nantucket in April 65 

VII Footing It Across the Cape .... 81 

VIII Wild Apple Trees 94 

IX Midsummer Moonlight 108 

X Turtle-Head and Jewel- Weed . . .122 

XI The Way of a Woodchuck .... 136 

XII Along the Salt Marshes 149 

XIII Fishing "Down Outside" 163 

XIV Voices of the Brookside 177 

XV Ghosts of the Northeaster .... 187 

XVI JoTHAM Stories 201 

XVII Good-Bye to Summer 214 

XVIII Mystical Pastures 228 

XIX White Pine Groves 242 

XX The Pasture in November 256 

XXI Red Cedar Lx)re 270 

XXII Aunt Sue's Snowbank 283 

XXIII Sports of the Winter Woods .... 297 

XXIV Coasting on Ponkapoag 310 

XXV Pickerel Fishing 324 

XXVI Yule Fires 339 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

PAGE 

The Mayflower at Plymouth . . . Frontispiece 

The First Pilgrim Trail 0pp. 8 

Plymouth as the Pilgrims made it . . . lo 

Leyden Street to-day from Burial Hill . i6 
Birds of the Plymouth Woods, Wise and 

Otherwise 20 

BiLLiNGTON Path along the Border of 

*'BiLLiNGTON Sea" 42 

The Stern and Rock- bound Coast which 

greeted the pilgrims 44 

Bayberry and Pitch Pine along a Nan- 
tucket Trail 70 

A Nantucket Lane 78 

Along a Byway of the Cape 84 

Dusty Miller blossoming among the Cape 

Dunes 2>6 

The Sun sifting and winnowing his Gold 

for Sunset . no 

Sunrise over the Pond 112 

Rounding the Breakwater at Nantucket 

WITHIN CALL OF THE OLD LiSBON BeLL . . Il6 

Captain's Hill from Marsh Margin . . . 130 

Along the Salt Marshes 156 

Outward bound in Plymouth Harbor . . 166 

Geese on the Sand Spit at Plymouth . . 180 

Wild Geese in Flight over the Pond . . 204 
The Fox that slips along the Winding 

Paths at Dawn 260 

A Cape Cod Cedar Centuries Old ... 274 

The Pines in Winter 286 

Deer in the Winter Woods 300 

Pickerel from an Old Colony Pond . , . 326 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

CHAPTER I 

OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

**The breaking waves dashed high 
On a stern and rock-bound coast 
And the woods against a stormy sky 
Their giant branches tossed." 

So sang Felicia D. Hemans in the early years 
of the last century and she has been much derided 
by the thoughtless and irreverent who have said 
that the landing of the Pilgrims was not on a 
stern and rock-bound coast. Such scoffers evi- 
dently never sailed in by White Horse beach and 
^'Hither Manomet'' when a winter northeaster 
was shouldering the deep sea tides up against the 
cliif and a surly gale snatched the foam from 
high-crested waves and sent it singing and sting- 
ing inland. Could they have done this it would 
have been easy to understand that the coast here 
is stern and rock-bound in very truth. The rocks 
are not those of solid granite ledges, continuous 



2 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

portions of the great earth's lithosphere of which 
the coast is built farther north, at Scituate, Na- 
hant, Rockport and farther on; but it is rock- 
bound with massed granite boulders, glacier 
rounded, water-worn, but inexpressibly stern. 

All Plymouth is made up of the results of pil- 
grimage. How many scores of fathoms deep the 
real Plymouth shore lies I do not know. It is 
down there somewhere where it cooled into 
bathylithic crust back in the gray dawn of time 
when the earth was made. There it is part of 
the same ledge of which Scituate and Cohasset 
are built. All above that is terminal moraine, 
rock detritus piled upon rock foundation by the 
glacier. Plymouth Rock itself thus came joy 
riding from some ledge up Boston way, alighting 
from this first and greatest New England Trans- 
portation System only a few hundred thousand 
years before Mary Chilton arrived to set foot 
upon it. 

Tide and tempest grind pebbles to shifting 
sand and give and take away beach and bar 
yearly, but they do not move the boulders very 
fast. Manomet shore and even Plymouth beach 
are rock-bound with these, large and small, today 
as they were when the Pilgrims fought their des- 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 3 

perate, sea-beset way by them through the dusk 
of a winter northeaster and froze in safety under 
the lee of Clark's Island. 

He who would see Plymouth and the Pilgrim 
land about it as the Pilgrims saw it may do so. 
Nature holds grimly onto her own and sedulously 
heals the scars that man makes. Beat to wind- 
ward in the December twilight following that first 
trail of the Pilgrim pinnace, listen to the sullen 
boom of the breakers on the cliff, hear the growl 
of the surf-mauled pebbles on Plymouth beach, 
feel the sting of the freezing spray and the bitter 
grip of the north wind and you shall find this first 
Pilgrim trail the same today as it was three hun- 
dred years ago. 

Plymouth is a manufacturing city, a residence 
town, a resort and a thriving business centre all 
in one. Except in its carefully preserved shrines 
you shall find little suggestion of the Pilgrims 
themselves, but you have only to step out of town 
to find their very land all about you, traces of 
their occupancy, the very marks of their feet, 
worn in the earth itself. A trail cuts easily into 
the forest mould. Once well worn there cen- 
turies fail to remove it. The paths the Pilgrims 
trod radiate from Plymouth to a score of places 



4 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

far and near. They tramped to Sandwich and 
the canal region, to Middlebor.o, Bridgewater and 
Duxbury as we know them now, to Boston; 
sooner or later to all the world. Some of the 
trails they trod may be forgotten, some of them 
are main-travelled highways, others remain nar- 
row footpath ways through a country beautiful 
and often as unsophisticated as it was when the 
feet of the first Pilgrims pressed them. Therein 
lies for all the world the chief charm of the Old 
Colony region. Along the old Pilgrim trails you 
may step from modern culture and its acme of 
civilization through the pasture lands of the Pil- 
grims into glimpses of the forest primeval. The 
Pilgrims' boulders, their kettle-hole ponds, mossy 
swamps and ferny hillsides, here and there their 
very forest trees, await you still. For Indian 
and panther you need not look; wolf or bear you 
will hardly see ; the wild turkeys are gone ; other- 
wise the wild life of the forest remains. 

The first Pilgrim land trail is today Leyden 
street, leading from the water's edge to their 
fort on Burial Hill. You may follow it, though 
the marks of Pilgrim feet are buried beneath city 
pavement, save perhaps on the crest of the hill 
itself, and though bluebird and robin flutter shyly 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 5 

to its upper end in spring as did their pilgrim 
fathers before them, the arbutus, from earliest 
days to this the Plymouth flower, no longer 
grows on its margin. He who has not longed to 
pick a mayflower in Plymouth on Mayday is not 
a New Englander. That is perhaps why the ar- 
butus no longer grows along byways of the old 
town as once it did. Instead you must seek the 
Pilgrim paths out of town to find it. 

One of these leads down along shore, over 
Manomet and on through Plym'outh woods to- 
ward the old trysting place with the Dutch trad- 
ers. The men of New Amsterdam, journeying 
in boats along Long Island Sound and up Buz- 
zards Bay met the Plymouth men yearly and held 
a mcfst decorous carnival o'f barter. Tradition 
has it that the Plymouth men made the trip by 
sea to the nearest point on the Bay shore. I do 
not know if the meeting place is known, but I 
know a moss-grown and gnarled red cedar on the 
margin of Buttermilk Bay, as we now call it, 
which I am sure was growing there when the 
first swapping of commodities took place and in 
the shade of whose branches the grave and sturdy 
traders may have sat. 

Here and there in Pilgrim land you find a tree 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



like that, one that by some chance the axe df the 
woodman has spared as one generation of wood 
cutters followed another, that still stands where 
the seed fell, no man knows how many centuries 
ago. We have trees in eastern Massachusetts to 
whom a thousand years is but as yesterday when 
it is passed, many on which the centuries have 
rested lightly. I think this Onset cedar one of 
these. 

The road that leads from Plymouth to it is 
vexed daily by innumerable wheels ; of a summer 
holiday the wayside watcher may count the mo- 
tors by the thousand; yet you have but to step 
a rod or two off its tarred, tire-beaten surface 
to find wild woodland as primitive as it was three 
hundred years ago. The spring seeking motor- 
ist finds his first mayflowers there as the grade 
leads up Manomet heights and may expect them 
by the roadside anywhere, after that. The old 
trail to Sandwich saunters along here, but those 
who built for modern traffic took little heed of 
old-time footpath ways. They gouged the hills, 
they filled the hollows and drew their long black 
scar behind for mile after mile. 

Like the deer and the wild fowl the old trails 
care little for this. They wander on their own 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 7 

gentle, untrammelled way, hither and yon, here 
beset by heavy forest growth, there a tangle of 
greenbrier and scrub oaks, losing you often, pick- 
ing you up again when you least expect it, but 
always leading you off the humdrum highway of 
today into the gentle wildernesses of old time ro- 
mance. You find them margined with marks of 
the pioneer. It may be just a hollow which was 
once his tiny cellar-hole or a rectangular mound 
where the logs of his cabin tumbled into the 
mould, perhaps a moss-grown, weatherbeaten 
house itself with its barberry bush or its lilac 
still holding firmly where the pioneer house- 
holder set it. These old trails of the Plymouth 
woods may be just of one family's making, lead- 
ing from house to pasture and woodlot, or 
they may be bits of an old-time footpath way 
first worked out by the Indians themselves 
no one knows how many centuries ago. Find 
me an eskar in Plymouth county, a ^'hog- 
back ridge" as our forbears were wont to 
call it, and the chances are fair that along its 
narrow summit edge I'll show you an Indian 
trail. Sometimes the Pilgrim paths adopted 
these and later made them roadways. 

As you go southward in this region you find 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



traces of an ancient type of fencing that I have 
not seen elsewhere. It may have been a hedge- 
maker's trick, brought from the old country. 
The Cape pioneers slashed young w^hite oaks 
growing along the road margin, bent them, say 
two feet above the ground, without severing, and 
laid them level, the tops bound tight with withes 
to the next trunk. Thus they had a fence that 
would restrain cattle and that grew stouter as the 
years went by. You find these trees growing 
thus today, their trunks a foot or two in diame- 
ter, bending at right angles just above ground 
and stretching horizontally, while what were once 
limbs now grow trunks from the grotesque butt. 
A remnant of fence like this along an almost ob- 
literated trail in an ancient wood gives a hob- 
goblin character to the place. 

The heath family, all the way from clethra 
which begins it to cranberry which ends it, dwells 
in beauty and diversity all about in the Plymouth 
woods, making them fragrant the year round. 
Some of them help feed the world, notably the 
cranberries and the huckleberries of a score of 
varieties from the pale, inch high, earliest sweet 
blueberries growing on the dry hillsides to the 
giants of the deep swamp, hanging out of reach 







^ 

"^ 

s 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 9 

above your head sometimes and as big as a thumb 
end. These provide manna for all who will 
gather it, from late June till early September, 
when the checkerberries ripen, to hang on all 
winter. Others make the world better for their 
beauty and fragrance and of these the ground 
laurel, the trailing arbutus, the mayflower, is best 
known and loved. 

It is easy to fancy some sombre Pilgrim, 
weary with the woes of that first winter, his 
heart hungry for ''the may" of English hedge- 
rows, stepping forth some raw April morning 
which as yet showed no sign of opening spring 
buds, stopping as his feet rustled in brown oak 
leaves up Town Brook way, puzzled by the en- 
dearing, enticing fragrance on the wings of the 
raw wind. I always think of him as stopping for 
a moment to dream of home, looking about in a 
discouraged way for hawthorn which he knows 
is not there, then spying the little cluster of ever- 
green leaves with their pink and white blossons 
nestling among the oak leaves at his very feet 
and kneeling to pluck and sniif them in some- 
thing like adoration. It may not have been that 
way at all, but someone found that first may- 
flower and loved and named it. 



lO 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



The world at large, hurtling through Plymouth 
in its high-powered motor cars, stops along the 
road over Manomet and finds its arbutus there 
each May. I like to look for mine along the path 
that Billington took to his ''sea," a way that leads 
out of Leyden street and up along Town Brook. 
I think the second oldest of the Plymouth land 
trails lies up that way. If the first was to and 
from the fort the second surely lay up along the 
brook, and I have an idea the Indians had pre- 
ceded them in the making of this. 

A great terminal moraine once blocked off Bil- 
lington sea from the ocean, but Town Brook re- 
leased it. Long before the Pilgrims came it had 
cut its valley through the great wall of gravel and 
occupied it in peace till latter day highways and 
factories came to vex it. In spite of these, un- 
hampered bits of the original brook show in 
Plymouth itself and you are not far out of town 
before you see more of it. 

It flows out of the "sea" unhindered now save 
by pickerel weed and sagittaria, rush and 
meadow grasses, and in woodsy places by brook 
alder, clethra, huckleberry and spice-bush that 
lean into it as they wrestle with greenbrier and 
clematis. The mayflower snuggles into the 







a. 

o 



CI. 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS ii 

leaves along its drier upper margins, here and 
there, and is to be found on the borders of the 
**sea" more plentifully. Plymouth has done well 
in making of this region a park, beautifying it 
mainly by letting it alone, merely cutting new 
Pilgrim trails through it. Billington's path 
along the pond shore is thus made easy for your 
feet and is marked with his name that you may 
not miss it. But if you would see the real Bil- 
lington path, made for him by generations of In- 
dians before his day but the one that I believe he 
trod, you will look nearer the water's edge. 
There, tangled amidst undergrowth now, buried 
deep in brown autumn leaves, it is yet visible 
enough, cut into the soft sand of the pond bank. 
In places it is cut deep. In places it is all but ob- 
literated or vanishes altogether for a little way, 
perhaps divides into two or three as the local 
needs of moccasined travellers called for, but all 
along the pond margin it goes. This is an old 
Plymouth trail indeed, linking the Plymouth of 
today with that of the time of the Pilgrims, and 
long before. There are many such that lead out 
of Plymouth, glimpsing for us-the world of three 
hundred years ago mirrored in the eyes, the ideas, 
the ideals of today. Let us search them out. 



CHAPTER II 

PLYMOUTH MAYFLOWERS 

The first day on which one might hope for 
mayflowers came to Plymouth in late April. The 
day before a bitter northeaster had swept through 
the town, a gale like the December one in which 
the Pilgrim's shallop first weathered Manomet 
head and with broken mast limped in under the 
lee of Clark's Island. No promise of May had 
been in this wild storm that keened the dead on 
Burial Hill, yet this day that followed was to be 
better than a promise. It was May itself, come 
a few days ahead of the calendar, so changeful is 
April in Pilgrim land. This gale, ashamed of it- 
self, ceased its outcry in the darkness of full 
night and the chill of a white frost followed on all 
the land. 

In the darkest hour of this night, I saw a thin 
point of light rise out of the mystery of the sea 
far to the eastward, the tiny sail of the shallop 
of the old moon, blown landward by little winds 
of dawn, making port on the shore of "hither 

12 



PLYMOUTH MAYFLOWERS 13 

Manomet." In the velvety blackness of this ul- 
timate hour of night the slender sail curved 
sweetly backward toward the sea, and the shallop 
seemed drawn to the land by a lodestone, as was 
the ship of Sindbad the Sailor, and when it mag- 
ically climbed the dark headland and sailed away 
into the sky above, it drew out of the sea behind 
it the first light of glorious morning. From 
Manomet head to the Gurnet the horizon showed 
a level sea line of palest garnet that deepened, 
moment by moment, till the coming sun arched it 
with rose and bounded from it, a flattened glob- 
ule of ruby fire. I like to think that the path 
of gold with which the sun glorified the stippled 
steel of the sea was the very one by which the 
first Mayflower came in from Provincetown, the 
sails nobly set and the ship pressing onward to 
that memorable anchorage within the protecting 
white arm of the sandspit. 

I like to think that the sweet curve of the old 
moon's slender sail sways in by Manomet each 
month in loving remembrance of that other shal- 
lop that so magically won by the roar of the 
breakers on the dark point and brought the 
simple record of faith and courage for our loving 
remembrance. But whether these things are so 



14 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

or not I know that the very first rays of the morn- 
ing sun pass in level neglect over the bay and the 
town to lay a wreath of light on the brow of 
Burial Hill and touch with celestial gold the 
simple granite shaft that stands over the grave of 
William Bradford, historian of Plymouth Colony 
and writer of the first American book. Such 
is the unfailing ceremony of sunrise in Plymouth, 
and such it has been since the first Pilgrim was 
laid to rest on the hill which lifts its head above 
the roofs and spires to the free winds of the 
world. 

Plymouth is fortunate in this hill. It bears 
the very presence of its founders above the en- 
terprise and ferment of a modern town which 
grows rapidly toward city conditions, a hill which 
is set upon a city and cannot be hid. Factories 
and city blocks and all the wonders of steam 
and electrical contrivance which would have 
astounded and amazed Bradford and his fellows 
are common in Plymouth today as they are com- 
mon to all cities and towns of a vast country, 
yet the graves of the simple pioneers rise above 
them as the story of their lives transcends in in- 
terest that of all others that have come after 
them. The book that Bradford wrote, as the 



PLYMOUTH MAYFLOWERS 15 

tales that Homer told, will last as long as books 
are read. Plymouth may pass, as Troy did, but 
the story of its heroes will remain. Bradford's 
book, which was our first, may well, at the end of 
time, be rated our greatest. 

The trailing arbutus is peculiarly the flower of 
Plymouth. Not that it grows there alone, indeed 
within easy reach of the landing place of the 
Pilgrims it is not easy now to find it. Once, no 
doubt, it blossomed about the feet of the pioneers, 
sending up its fragrance to them as they trod 
sturdily along their first street and through their 
new found fields that first spring after their ar- 
rival. My, but their hearts must have been 
homesick for the English May they had left be- 
hind! and in memory of the pink and white of 
the hawthorn hedges they called this pink and 
white flower which peered from the oval-leaved 
vines trailed about their feet, mayflower. It 
surely must have grown on the slopes of Burial 
Hill, down toward Town Brook, but now one will 
look in vain for it there. I found my first blos- 
som of the year by following the brook up to its 
headwaters in Billington Sea. The brook itself 
is greatly changed since Bradford's day. Its 
waters are now held back by dams where it winds 



i6 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

through the sand hills and one mill after another 
sits by the side of the ponds thus formed. Yet 
the ^'sea" itself must be much the same in itself 
and its surroundings as it was in Billington's 
time. Nor do I wholly believe the legend which 
has it that Billington thought it was a sea in very 
truth. It is too obviously a pond to have de- 
ceived even this unsophisticated wanderer. It 
covers but little over three hundred acres includ- 
ing its islands and winding coves. 

I think, rather, its name was given in good 
natured derision of Billington and his idea of the 
importance of his discovery, a form of quaint hu- 
mor not unknown in the descendants to the Pil- 
grims of this day. Yet the waters of the little 
winding pond are as clear as those of the sea 
which breaks on the rocks of Manomet or the 
Gurnet, and the hilly shores, close set with de- 
ciduous growth, are almost as wild as they were 
then. The robins that greeted the dawn on 
Burial Hill sang here at midday, blackbirds chor- 
used, and song sparrows sent forth their tinkling 
songs from the shrubby growths. Plymouth 
woods, here at least, are a monotony of oaks. 
Yet here and there in the low places a maple has 




Leyden Street To-day from Burial Hill 



PLYMOUTH MAYFLOWERS 17 

become a burning bush of ruby flame, and along 
the bog edges the willows are in the full glory of 
their yellow plumes. The richest massed color- 
ing one can see in the region today, though, is 
that of the cranberry bogs. Looking away from 
the sun the thick-set vines are a level floor of rich 
maroon, not a level color but a background show- 
ing the brush marks of a master painter's hand. 
Toward the sun this color lightens and silvers to 
tiny jewel points where the light glances from 
glossy leaf tips. The later spring growth will 
fleck the bogs with greens, but the maroon back- 
ground will still be there. 

The arbutus does not trail in all spots beneath 
the oaks, even in this secluded wilderness. 
Sometimes one thinks he sees broad stretches 
green with its rounded leaves only to find last 
year's checkerberries grinning coral red at him, 
instead of the soft pink tints and spicy odor of 
the Epiga^a blooms. Sometimes the pyrola simu- 
lates it and cracks the gloss on its leaves with a 
wan wintergreen smile at the success of the de- 
ception. But after a little the eye learns to dis- 
criminate in winter greens and to know the out- 
line of the arbutus leaf and its grouping from 
that of the others. Then success in the hunt 



1 8 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

should come rapidly. After all Epigsea and 
Gaultheria are vines closely allied, and it is no 
wonder that there is a family resemblance. The 
checkerberry's spicy flavor permeates leaves, stem 
and fruit. That of the arbutus seems more vola- 
tile and ethereal. It concentrates in the blossom 
and Hfts from that to course the air invisibly an 
aromatic fragrance that the little winds of the 
woods sometimes carry far to those who love it, 
over hill and dale. Given a day of bright sun 
and slow moving soft air and one may easily hunt 
the Plymouth mayflower by scent. Even after 
the grouped leaves are surely sighted the flowers 
are still to be found. The winds of winter have 
strewn the ground deep with oak leaves and half 
buried the vines in them for safety from the cold. 
Out from among these the blossoms seem to peer 
shyly, like sweet little Pilgrim children, ready to 
draw back behind their mother's aprons if they 
do not like the appearance of the coming 
stranger. Perhaps they do withdraw at discre- 
tion, and this is very likely why some people who 
come from far to hunt find many mayflowers, 
while others get few or none. 

Just as the Mayflower in which the Pilgrims 
sailed to Plymouth seems to have been but one 



PLYMOUTH MAYFLOWERS 19 

of many English ships of that name, so the trail- 
ing arbutus is not the only flower to be called 
mayflower in New England. The mayflower of 
the English fields and hedgerows was preemi- 
nently the hawthorn, known often just as "the 
may." But there is a species of bitter cress in 
England with showy flowers, Cardamine praten- 
sis, which is also called mayflower and the name 
is given to the yellow bloom of the marsh 
marigold, Caltha palustria, often known, less 
lovingly, as ''blobs." The Caltha is common 
to both Europe and America and, though it 
is often hereabout known by the nickname of 
"cowslip" which the early English settlers seem 
to have given it, I do not hear it called mayflower. 
In localities where the arbutus is not common 
the name mayflower is here most commonly given 
to the pink and white Anemone nemorosa, the 
wind flower of the meadow margins and low 
woods, and to the rock saxifrage, Saxifraga vir- 
giniensis, both of which are among the earliest 
blossoms of the month. 

None can visit Plymouth without wishing to 
climb the bold promontory of "hither Manomet." 
The legend has it that Eric the Red, the Viking 
who explored New England shores centuries be- 



20 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

fore the first Englishman heard of them, made 
this his burial hill and that somewhere beneath 
its forests his bones lie to this day. I sought 
long for mayflowers on the seaward slopes and 
in the rough gullies of these "highlands of 
Plymouth," I did not find them there. 

On the landward slopes, gentler and less wind- 
swept, down toward the "sweet waters" that flow 
from inland to the sea, you may with patient 
search find many. But the heights shall reward 
you, if not with mayflowers with greater and 
more lasting joys. The woods of Manomet were 
full of butterflies. Splendid specimens of Van- 
essa antiopa danced together by twos and threes 
in every sunny glade, the gold edging of bright 
rai-ment showing beneath their "mourning 
cloaks" of rich seal brown. Here in the rich 
sunshine Launcelot might well have said : 

Myself "beheld three spirits, mad with joy, 
Come dashing down on a tall wayside flower. 

Here Grapta interrogationis carried his ever 
present question mark from one dry leaf to an- 
other asking always that unanswerable "why?" 
Here Pyrameis huntera, well named the hunter*s 
butterfly, flashed red through the woodland. 




Birds of the Plymouth Woods, Wise and Otherwise 



PLYMOUTH MAYFLOWERS 21 

scouting silently and becoming invisible in am- 
bush as a hunter should. Here a tiny fleck of 
sky, the spirit bluebird of the spring which the 
entomologists have woefully named Lycaema 
pseudargiolus, fluttered along the ground as if a 
new born flower tried quivering flight, and brown 
Hesperiidse, ^'bedouins of the pathless air,'' 
buzzed in vanishing eccentricity. But it was not 
for these that I lingered long on the seaward 
crest. There below me lay the bay that the ex- 
ploring Pilgrims entered at such hazard, that but 
the day before had been blotted out with a freez- 
ing storm and gray with snow, now smiling in 
unforgettable beauty at my feet, bringing irre- 
sistibly to mind the one who sang. 

My soul today is far away, 
Sailing the blue Vesuvian bay. 

At Naples indeed could be no softer, fairer 
skies than this June day of late April brought 
to Plymouth Bay and spread over the waters 
that nestled within the curve of that splendid 
young moon of white sand that sweeps from 
Manomet to the tip of the sandspit, with the Gur- 
net far to the right and Plymouth's white houses 
rising in the middle distance. It lacked only the 



22 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

cone of Vesuvius smoking beyond to make the 
memory complete. 

Nor has the Bay of Naples bluer waters than 
those that danced below me. Some stray cur- 
rent of the Gulf Stream must have curled about 
the tip of Cape Cod and spread its wonder bloom 
over them. Here were the same exquisite soft 
blues, shoaling into tender green, that I have seen 
among the Florida keys. Surely it was like a 
transformation scene. The day before the torn 
sea wild with wind and the dun clouds of a north- 
east gale hiding the distance with a mystery of 
dread, a wind that beat the forest with snow and 
chilled to the marrow; and this day the warmth 
of an Italian spring and the blue Vesuvian Bay. 

The Pilgrims had their seasons of storm and 
stress, but there came to them too halcyon days 
like this when the mayflower bloomed in all the 
woodland about them, the mourning cloak but- 
terflies danced with joy down the sunny glades, 
and the bay spread its wonderful blue beneath 
their feet in the delicious promise of June. Nor 
is it any wonder that in spite of hardships and 
disaster manifold they yet found heart to write 
home that it was a f ayere lande and bountiful. 



PLYMOUTH MAYFLOWERS 23 

But for all the lure of Plymouth woods with 
their fragrance of trailing arbutus, from all the 
grandeur of the wide outlook from Manomet 
Heights, the hearts of all who come to Plymouth 
must lead them back to the resting place of the 
fathers on the brow of the little hill in 'the midst 
of the town. There where the grass was not yet 
green and the buttercups that will later shine in 
gold have put forth but the tiniest beginnings of 
their fuzzy, three-parted leaves, I watched the 
sun sink, big and red in a golden mist, over a 
land of whose coming material greatness Brad- 
ford and his fellow Pilgrims could have had no 
inkling. Seaward the tropic bloom of the water 
was all gone, and there as the sun passed I saw 
the cool steel of the bay catch the last rays in 
little dimples of silver light. Manomet with- 
drew, blue and mysterious in the haze of night- 
fall. Out over the Gurnet, beyond, the sky 
caught purples from the colors in the west, and 
there, dropping below the horizon line, east 
northeast toward England, I saw a sail vanish in 
the soft haze as if it might be the first Mayflower, 
sailing away from the heavy-hearted Pilgrims, 
toward England and home. The sun^s last ray 
touched it with a fleck of rose as it passed, a rose 



24 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

like that Which tipped the petals of the mayflow- 
ers that I held in my hand, mayflowers that sent 
up to me in the coolness of the gathering April 
night a fragrance as aromatic and beloved as is 
the memory of the lives of the Pilgrims that 
slept all about me on the brow of Burial Hill. 
Bradford v^rote gravely and simply the chronicles 
of these, and no more, yet the fervent faith and 
sturdy love for fair play, unquenchable, in the 
hearts of these men, breathes from every page, a 
fragrance that shall go forth on the winds of the 
world forevermore. 



CHAPTER III 

UNBUILDING A BUILDING 

I tore down an old house recently, rent it part 
from part with my own hands and a crowbar, 
piling it in its constituents, bricks with bricks, 
timber on timber, boards with boards. 

Any of us who dare love the iconoclast would 
be one if we dared sufficiently, and in this work 
I surely was an image-breaker, for the old house 
was more than it seemed. To the careless passer, 
it was a gray, bald, doddering old structure that 
seemed trying to shrink into the ground, unten- 
anted, unsightly, and forlorn. I know, having 
analyzed it, that it was an image of New Eng- 
land village life of the two centuries just gone, 
a life even the images of which are passing, never 
to return. 

As I knocked the old place down, it seemed 
to grow up, more vivid as it passed from the 
roadside of the visible to the realm of the remem- 
bered. You may think you know a house by 
living in it, but you do not ; you need to unbuild 

25 



26 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

it to get more than a passing acquaintance. And 
to unbuild a building you need to be strong of 
limb, heavy of hand, and sure of eye, lest the 
structure upon which you have fallen fall upon 
you; nor do business mottoes count, for you be- 
gin not at the bottom, but at the top, or near it. 

Up in the attic among the cobwebs, stooping 
beneath the ancient rafters, dodging crumbly 
bunches of pennyroyal and hyssop, hung there by 
hands that have been dust these fifty years, you 
poise and swing a forty-pound crowbar with a 
strong uplift against the roof -board, near where 
one of the old-time hand-made, hammer-pointed, 
wrought-iron nails enters the oak timber. The 
board lifts an inch and snaps back into place. 
You hear a handful of the time-and-weather- 
worn shingles jump and go sputtering down the 
roof. You hear a stealthy rustling and scurrying 
all about you. Numerous tenants who pay no 
rent have heard eviction notice, for the house in 
which no men live is the abode of many races. 
Another blow near another nail, and more 
shingles jump and flee, and this time a clammy 
hand slaps your face. It is only the wing of a 
bat, fluttering in dismay from his crevice. Blow 



UNBUILDING A BUILDING 27 

after blow you drive upon this board from be- 
neath, till all the nails are loose, its shingle-fet- 
ters outside snap, and with a surge it rises, to 
fall grating down the roof, and land with a crash 
on the grass by the old door-stone. 

The morning sun shines in at the opening, set- 
ting golden motes dancing, and caressing rafters 
that have not felt its touch for a hundred and 
fifty years, and you feel a little sob of sorrow 
swell in your heart, for the old house is dead, be- 
yond hope of resurrection. With your crowbar 
you have knocked it in the head. 

Other boards follow more easily, for now you 
may use a rafter for the fulcrum of your iron 
lever and pry where the long nails grip the oak 
too tenaciously, and it is not long before you have 
the roof unboarded. And here you may have a 
surprise and be taught a lesson in wariness 
which you will need if you would survive your 
unbuilding. The bare rafters, solid oak, six 
inches square, hewn from the tree, as adze-marks 
prove, are halved together at the top and pinned 
with an oak pin. At the lower end, where they 
stand upon the plates, they are not fastened, but 
rest simply on a V-shaped cut, and when the last 



28 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

board is off they tumble over like a row of nine- 
pins and you may be bowled out with them if you 
are not clever enough to foresee this. 

As with the roof-boards, so with the floors and 
walls. Blows with the great bar, or its patient 
use as a lever, separate part from part, board 
from joist, and joist from timber, and do the 
work, and you learn much of the wisdom and 
foolishness of the old-time builder as you go on. 
Here he dovetailed and pinned the framework so 
firmly and cleverly that nothing but human pa- 
tience and ingenuity could ever get it apart; 
there he cut under the ends of splendid strong 
floor joists and dropped them into shallow mor- 
tises, so that but an inch or two of the wood 
really took the strain, and the joist seemed likely 
to split and drop out, of its own weight. You 
see the work of the man who knew his business 
and used only necessary nails, and those in the 
right places; and the work of that other, who 
was five times as good a carpenter because he 
used five times as many nails ! 

You learn, too, how the old house grew from 
a very humble beginning to an eleven-room 
structure that covered a surprising amount of 
ground, as one generation after another passed 



UNBUILDING A BUILDING 29 

and one owner succeeded another. In this the 
counsel of the local historian helps you much, for 
he comes daily and sits by as you work, and 
daily tells you the story of the old place, usually 
beginning in the middle and working both ways ; 
for the unbuilding of a building is a great pro- 
moter of sociability. Fellow townsmen whom 
you feel that you hardly know beyond a rather 
stiff bowing acquaintance hold up their horses 
and hail you jovially, even getting out to chat a 
while or lend a hand, each having opinions ac- 
cording to his lights. Strickland, whose pros- 
perity lies in swine, sees but one use for the old 
timbers. ''My!" he says, "what a hog-pen this 
would make !" Downes is divided in his mind be- 
tween hen-houses and green-houses, and thinks 
there will be enough lumber and sashes for both. 
Lynde suspects that you are going to establish 
gypsy camps wholesale, while Estey, carpenter 
and builder, and wise in the working of wood, 
knows that you are lucky if the remains are good 
enough for fire-wood. 

Little for these material aspects cares the his- 
torian, however, as he skips gayly from one past 
generation to another, waving his phantoms off 
the stage of memory with a sweep of his cane, 



30 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

and poking others on to make their bow to the 
man with the crowbar, who thus, piecing the 
narrative out with his own detective work in 
wood, rebuilds the story. It was but a little 
house which began with two rooms on the ground 
floor and two attic chambers, built for Stoddard 
who married the daughter of the pioneer land- 
owner of the vicinity, and it nestled up within a 
stone's throw of the big house, sharing its pros- 
perity and its history. No doubt the Stoddards 
were present at the funeral in the big house, when 
stern old Parson Dunbar stood above the de- 
ceased, in the presence of the assembled relatives, 
and said with Puritanical severity, ''My friends, 
there lies the body, but the soul is in hell !" 

The dead man had failed to attend the par- 
son's sermons at the old First Congregational 
Church, near by, a church that with successive 
pastors has slipped from the Orthodoxy of Par- 
son Dunbar to the most modern type of present- 
day Unitarianism. 

A later dweller in the old house lives in local 
tradition as publishing on the bulletin board in 
the church vestibule his intention of marriage 
with a fair lady of the parish, as was the cus- 
tom of the day. Another fair lady entering the 



UNBUILDING A BUILDING 31 

church on Sunday morning pointed dramatically 
at the notice, saying to the sexton, "Take that 
notice down, and don't you dare to put it up 
again till I give the word/' 

The sexton, seeming to know who was in 
charge of things, took it down and it was not 
again posted for two years. The marriage then 
took place. A few years later the wife died, and 
after a brief period of mourning another notice 
was posted announcing the marriage of the 
widower and the lady who had forbidden the 
banns of his first marriage. The second mar- 
riage took place without interference, and they 
lived happily ever after, leaving posterity in 
doubt whether the incident in the church vesti- 
bule was the climax in a battle royal between the 
two ladies for the hand of the man who dwelt in 
the old house, or whether the man himself had 
loved not wisely tut too many. 

Another dweller in the old house was a locally 
celebrated singer who for years led the choir and 
the music in the old church, having one son whom 
a wealthy Bostonian educated abroad, "becom- 
ing,'' said the historian sagely, "a great tenor 
singer, but very little of a man." These were 
days of growing importance for the old house. 



32 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



Two new rooms were added to the ground-floor- 
back by the simple expedient of tacking long 
spruce rafters to the roof, making a second roof 
over the old one, leaving the old roof with boards 
and shingles still on it. Thus there grew a roof 
above a roof, — a shapeless void of a dark attic, 
— and below, the two rooms. 

The use of the spruce rafters and hemlock 
boarding marks a period in building little more 
than a half-century gone. About this time the 
house acquired a joint owner, for a local lawyer 
of considerable importance joined his fortunes 
and his house to it, bringing both with him. 
This section, two more rooms and an attic, was 
moved in from another part of the town and at- 
tached very gingerly, by one corner, to one cor- 
ner. It was as if the lawyer had had doubts as 
to how the two houses might like each other, and 
had arranged things so that the bond might be 
broken with as small a fracture as possible. This 
"new" part may well have been a hundred years 
old at the time, for, whereas the original house 
was boarded with oak on oak, this was boarded 
with splendid clear pine on oak, marking the 
transition from the pioneer days when all the tim- 
ber for a house was obtained from the neighbor- 



UNBUILDING A BUILDING 33 

ing wood, through the time when the splendid 
pumpkin pines of the Maine forests were the 
commonest and cheapest sources of lumber, to 
our own, when even poor spruce and shaky hem- 
lock are scarce and costly. In the same way you 
note in these three stages of building three types 
of nails. First is the crude nail hammered out 
by the local blacksmith, varying in size and shape, 
but always with a head formed by splitting the 
nail at the top and tending the parts to the right 
and left. These parts are sometimes quite long, 
and clinch back into the board like the top of a 
capital T. Then came a better nail of wrought 
iron, culmsy but effective; and, later still, the 
cut nail in sole use a generation ago. That mod- 
ern abomination, the wire nail, appears only in 
repairs. 

Thus the old house rose from four rooms to 
eight, with several attics, and the singer and 
lawyers pass off the scene, to be followed by the 
Baptist deacon who later seceded and became a 
Millerite, holding meetings of great fervor in the 
front room, where one wall used to be covered 
with figures which proved beyond a doubt that 
the end of the world was at hand, and where 
later he and his fellow believers appeared in their 



34 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

ascension robes. He too added a wing to the old 
house, three rooms and another attic, and when I 
had laid bare the timbers of this the historian 
rose, holding both hands and his cane towards 
heaven, and orated fluently. 

^There!" he said, "that's Wheeler! I knew it 
was, for the old deeds couldn't be read in any 
other way. They told me it was built on by the 
Millerite, but I knew better. This was moved 
up from the Wheeler farm, and it was a hundred 
years old and more when it came up, sixty years 
ago. I knew it. Look at those old cap-posts!" 

I doged the cane as it waved, and took another 
look, for it was worth while. There were the 
corner posts, only seven feet high, but ten inches 
square at the bottom, solid oak, swelling to four- 
teen inches at the top, with double tenants on 
which sat the great square oak-plates, dovetailed 
and pinned together, and pinned again to the cap. 
A hundred and fifty years old and more was this 
addition, which the Millerite had moved up from 
the Wheeler farm and built on for his boot-shop ; 
yet these great oak cap-posts marked a period 
far more remote. They were second-hand when 
they went into the Wheeler building, for there 
were in them the marks of mortising that had no 



UNBUILDING A BUILDING 35 

reference to the present structure. Some build- 
ing, old a century and a half ago, had been torn 
down and its timbers used for the part that ''had 
been Wheeler." 

Thus the old house grew again as it fell, and 
the old-time owners and inhabitants stepped 
forth into life once more. Yet I found traces 
of other tenants that paid neither rent nor taxes, 
yet occupied apartments that to them were com- 
modious and comfortable. In the attic were the 
bats, but not they alone. Snuggled up against 
the chimney in the southern angle, right under 
the ridge-pole, was a whole colony of squash- 
bugs which had wintered safely there and were 
only waiting for the farmer's squash vines to be- 
come properly succulent. A bluebottle fly slipped 
out of a crevice and buzzed in the sun by the attic 
window. Under every ridge-board and corner- 
board, almost under every shingle, were the co- 
coons and chrysalids of insects, thousands of si- 
lent lives waiting but the touch of the summer 
sun to make them vocal. 

On the ground floor, within walls, were the 
apartments of the rats, their empty larders 
choked with corn-cobs showing where once had 
been feasting, their bed chambers curiously up- 



36 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



bolstered with rags laboriously dragged in to 
senseless confusion. Tbe field mice bad tbe floor 
above. Here and tbere on tbe plates, between 
joists, and over every window and door, were 
tbeir nests, carefully made of wool, cbewed from 
old garments and made fine, soft, and cosy. 
Tbeir larders were full of cberry-stones, literally 
busbels on busbels of tbem, eacb witb a little 
round bole gnawed in it and tbe kernel extracted. 
As tbe toil of tbe buman inbabitants year after 
year bad left its mark on tbe floors of tbe bouse, 
worn tbin everywbere, in places worn tbrougb 
witb tbe passing and repassing of busy feet, so 
bad tbe generations of field mice left bebind tbem 
mute witnesses of patient, enormous labor. 
From tbe two cberry trees in tbe neigbboring 
yard bow many miles bad tbese sby little people 
traveled, unseen of men, witb one cberry at a 
time, to lay in tbis enormous supply ! 

Witbin tbe cbimneys were tbe wooden nests of 
cbimney swifts, glued firmly to tbe bricks ; under 
tbe cornice was tbe paper bome of a community 
of yellow bornets ; and under tbe floor wbere was 
no cellar, rigbt next tbe base of tbe warm cbim- 
ney, were apartments tbat bad been occupied by 
generations of skunks. Eacb space between floor 



UNBUILDING A BUILDING 37 

joists and timber was a room. In one was a 
huge clean nest of dried grass, much Hke that 
which red squirrels build of cedar bark. An- 
other space had been the larder, for it was full 
of dry bones and feathers ; others were for other 
uses, all showing plainly the careful housekeep- 
ing of the family in the basement. 

I looked long and carefully, as the work of de- 
struction went on, for the pot of gold beneath the 
floor, or the secret hoard which fancy assigns to 
all old houses ; but not even a stray penny turned 
up. Yet I got several souvenirs. One of these 
is a nail in my foot whereby I shall remember 
my iconoclasm for some time. Another is a cu- 
riously wrought wooden scoop, a sort of butter- 
worker, the historian tells me, carved, seemingly, 
with a jackknife from a pine plank. A third is a 
quaint, lumbering, heavy, hand-wrought fire- 
shovel which appeared somewhat curiously. Re- 
entering a room which I had cleared of every- 
thing movable, I found it standing against the 
door-jamb. Fire-shovels have no legs, so I sup- 
pose it was brought in. However, none of the 
neighbors has confessed, and I am content to 
think it belonged in the old house and was 
brought back, perhaps by the Baptist deacon who 



38 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



*'backslided" and became a Millerite. It has 
been rusted by water and burned by fire, and I 
don't believe even Sherlock Holmes could make 
a wiser deduction. 

As I write, a section of one of the old 
"Wheeler'^ cap-posts is crumbling to ashes in my 
fireplace. It was of solid oak, of a texture as 
firm and grainless almost as soapstone. No 
water had touched this wood, I know, for a hun- 
dred and fifty years, perhaps for almost a hundred 
added to that. For hours it retained its shape, 
glowing like a huge block of anthracite, and send- 
ing forth a heat as great but infinitely more 
kindly and comforting. Toward the last the 
flames which came from it lost their yellow 
opaqueness and slipped fluttering upward in a 
transparent opalescence which I never before saw 
in fire. It was as if the soul of the old house, 
made out of all that was beautiful and kindly in 
the hopes and longings of those who built it and 
lived in it, stood revealed a monument in its 
shining beauty before it passed on. 



N 



CHAPTER IV 



forefathers' day 



One does not need to seek the brow of Cole's 
Hill very early on Forefathers' Day to see the 
star of morning rise and shine upon Plymouth. 
It marks the passing of one of the four longest 
nights of the year, those of the four days before 
Christmas, a memorable period for all Ameri- 
cans, for during it the Pilgrim Fathers came to 
Plymouth. According to the best authorities the 
exploring party set foot on the famous rock on 
Monday, Dec. 21 (new style). But the ship her- 
self did not enter the harbor for five days. Fri- 
day, the 1 8th, the explorers reached Clark's 
Island after dark and spent the night most mis- 
erably, though it was next door to a miracle that 
they got there alive and no doubt they were 
thankful for that. How they battled by Mano- 
met Point in the half gale and high sea, the night 
already upon them and the harbor unknown to 
any aboard, their rudder gone and their mast 
"broken in three places," we know from Brad- 

39 



40 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



ford's graphic description. On Saturday they 
rested on their island and dried their clothes and 
their gunpowder. On Sunday they prayed and 
otherwise kept the Sabbath as was their want. 
On Monday they went ashore on the mainland, 
found the situation desirable, and struck boldly 
across the bay to the Mayflower inside the hook 
of the Cape, to tell the news. 

So the first of the Forefathers set foot on Ply- 
mouth soil on the 21st of December, according 
to the revised calendar. But the Mayflower her- 
self did not enter the harbor till five days later. 

"On the 15th of December,'' says Bradford 
(on the 25th as we now reckon it, though ten 
days before the England they had left behind 
would celebrate Christmas), ''they weighed an- 
chor to go to the place they had discovered,, and 
came within two leagues of it, but were fain to 
bear up again, but the i6th day the wind became 
fair and they arrived safely in the harbor and 
afterward took a better view of the place and re- 
solved where to pitch their dwellings and the 
25th day began to erect the first house for com- 
mon use, to receive them and their goods. 



Forefathers' Day is rightly set, then, on the 



FOREFATHERS' DAY 41 

2 1 St, though we 'have really an all-winter land- 
ing of the Pilgrims, the ship remaining in the 
harbor and being more or less their refuge until 
the 5th of April, 1621. In some respects the 
place of their landing has vastly changed. The 
waterfront is ugly with rough wharves and coal 
pockets, store-houses and factories. The famous 
rock itself reposes beneath a monstrous granite 
canopy and seems to have so little connection with 
the sea that one at first sight is inclined to levity, 
wondering where the landing party got the gang 
plank which bridged such a distance. Yet it was 
in all reverence that I sought Plymouth, hoping 
to in some measure bridge the three centuries 
that lie between that day and this, and see the 
New World in some measure as they saw it, at 
the same season. 

For at least the seasons have not changed. 
The storms and the calms, the snow and the sun- 
shine, come now, as then, in cycles that may not 
match day by day in all instances, but, taking 
year by year, come surprisingly near it. There 
is more in the Old Farmer's Almanack's serene 
forecast of the weather for an entire year ahead 
than most of us are willing to admit. There are 
people who back its oracle against the Weather 



42 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

Bureau and claim that they travel warmer and 
drier by so doing. Yet if one makes a study of 
Farmers' Almanack weather he finds that it wins 
by predicting the same storms and the same cold 
snaps, the same drought and the same rain for 
just about the same seasons, year after year, 
spreading the prophecy over days enough to give 
it considerable leeway. "About this time expect 
a storm,'' it says, and in the ten days of the 
aforesaid time the storm is pretty apt to come. 

So, to my joy, I found in Plymouth on my few 
days there on Forefathers' Day week just about 
the weather Bradford reports for that first voy- 
age of the Mayflower's shallop to its harbor. 
"After some hour's sailing," says Bradford, "it 
began to snow and rain, and about the middle of 
the afternoon the wind increased and the sea be- 
came very rough and they broke their rudder and 
it was as much as two men could do to steer her 
with a couple of oars. But their pilot bade them 
be of good cheer as he saw the harbor, but the 
storm increased and night coming on they bore 
what sail they could to get in while they could see. 
But herewith they broke their mast in three pieces 
and their sail fell overboard in a v^ry grown sea, 
so that they were like to have been cast away." 










tt^ 



o 
o 



fee 



0:5 



FOREFATHERS' DAY 43 

Anyone who knows that Massachusetts coast in 
December will recognize the weather, a wind 
from the northeast bringing mingled rain and 
snow, not a gale, but -a squally wind, with a "very 
grown sea" such as beat upon the coast at the 
beginning of this week, sending the white horses 
racing up the beach below Manomet Head, which 
has been named for them, and smashing in con- 
tinuous thunder on the stern and rockbound cliffs 
between White Horse Beach and Plymouth har- 
bor. 

To see Manomet in stormy December is to 
know how grim it is. The wooded headland 
which the little shallop so desperately won by in 
the gloom of that December twilight and storm 
has changed little if any since that time. Stern 
and rock-bound it certainly is. The sea of cen- 
turies has beaten against the great drumlins of 
boulder-till and has not moved the boulders that 
bind them together. At the most it has but 
washed out the smaller .ones, leaving the sea front 
surfaced with great white granite rocks that 
gleam like marble in the sundown to the limits of 
the washing tide, then shine olive green with the 
froth of the waves. From the sands of White 
Horse Beach to those of the Spit in Plymouth 



44 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



harbor there is no place where that storm-tossed 
shallop might have made a landing with any hope 
of safety. To have turned toward the shore as 
the pilot bade them when the mast broke would 
have been to drown the whole company in the 
surf, in which case Plymouth would never have 
been. No one knows the name of the *'lustie 
seaman" who then usurped the command and 
bade the rowers "if they were men, about with 
her, or else they were all cast away.'' On the 
words of this courageous unknown hung the lives 
of the company and perhaps the fate of the ex- 
pedition itself. It is a stern and rock-bound 
coast in very truth, and if it seemed as dark and 
forbidding on that December nightfall in 1620 as 
it did on one of the same date this year, I for 
one would not have blamed them had they sailed 
away, never to come back. For a quarter of a 
mile off shore scattered boulders curried the surf 
and fluffed it into white foam. Its deafening 
roar was filled with menace. Salt spray and sleet 
mingled cut one's face rods back from the shore, 
and high up the dark hill behind rose the gnarled 
woodland, wailing and tossing its giant branches. 
With the fall of night no light was visible from 
sea or shore. All was as primal, as chaotic, as 




; — i 



o 

o 
I 

O 



FOREFATHERS' DAY 45 

menacing as it had been on that Friday night 
three centuries before when the Pilgrims' shallop 
beat in by the point, its tiny white sail drowned 
like the wing of a seagull in the dusky welter of 
the sea. 

That night, as on the night that the Pilgrims 
came, the wind changed to the westward and 
blew the storm to sea. Yet all night from Cole's 
Hill I saw the dark clouds to seaward, lingering 
there and refusing to be driven completely away, 
and in the gray of dawn the morning star rose 
out of them, overmatching with its clear light that 
of the Gurnet which shone from the murk of 
their depths below. The frozen ground rang 
beneath the heel and the cold had bitten deep. 
Out of the northwest a few flakes of snow came 
and it was long before the sun shone through the 
clouds and touched the top of Manomet Hill. 
Yet when it did it came with a burst of golden 
glory and filled the sky with such rosy and be- 
nign colors that one half expected to see a flight 
of Raphael's cherubs through it to earth. And 
all the land beneath was softened with a blue haze 
from east to south, making of it a country of ro- 
mance through which pricked towers of Aladdin 



46 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



palaces and in which one knew at sight that he 
might find all his dearest dreams coming true. 
Thus the Pilgrims saw it that first morning from 
Clark's Island and the sight must have warmed 
the hearts of them and dried the tears out as it 
dried the garments wet with salt spray and cold 
rain. 

The wind from the west was keen for the next 
few days, but it blew all the forebodings out of 
the sky and to find the south side of a hill or even 
a thicket was to find perfect comfort. The sea 
ofif Manomet was no longer chaotic and menacing, 
but was stippled with dancing light on a soft, 
rich blue that was as soothing to the sense as the 
other had been disquieting. Along the south of 
White Horse Beach the lapidary surf had strewn 
quartz pebbles that gleamed in the clear sun like 
precious stones. It took little effort of the imag- 
ination to find pocketfuls of rubies, pearls, sap- 
phires, and amethysts among these, and had it 
indeed been "bright jewels of the mine" which 
the voyagers sought they might have been par- 
doned for thinking they had found them there. 
And all ashore under this alluring blue haze lay a 
country that was superlatively lovely even under 
frozen skies and on the shortest day of the year. 



FOREFATHERS' DAY 47 

Southerly toward it the shallop sailed in 1620, 
under flocks of whirling white gulls, through 
flocks of black and white Labrador ducks that 
then wintered in numbers along our shores, from 
Clark's Island to the mouth of Town Brook. 

Factories and dwellings line Town Brook, now 
in place of the primeval forests of pine and oak. 
Its waters leap one dam after another, but can- 
not escape pollution till their dark tide mingles 
with that of the clear sea. But for all that the 
contour of the chasms in the big sand hills 
through which it flows to the sea is changed but 
little. The low sun leaves it in shadow most of 
the day and one can fancy the Pilgrim children 
and perhaps their elders glancing often up its 
shadowy canon under black growth, a mysterious 
gulch down which at any time might stride the 
savages they so feared, or other, worse terrors of 
the unknown wilderness. The little knowledge 
of their day was but a tiny oasis in the vast desert 
of unknown things, and in that country to the 
south and west that was so alluring under the 
golden glow of the sun through its soft blue haze 
might dwell both gorgons and chimeras dire. 
For though the children were not with the ex- 
plorers when they landed from the shallop on 



48 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

Forefathers' Day, they came five days later in 
the Mayflower itself. 

There were twenty-eight of these children, 
varying in age from the babe in arms to well- 
grown, lusty youths and maidens. Christmas 
was at hand, and one fancies that all knew much 
about it, and spoke little, perhaps not at all. So 
far as record goes they had broken absolutely 
from all that they believed the follies of the 
fatherland. Yet in the hearts of many, one can 
but think, must have remained warm memories 
of Yule logs, of the boar's head, piping hot and 
decked out with holly berries, and of the low- 
ceiled, oak-wainscotted dining halls of Old World 
houses all alight with candles and green with 
Christmas decorations. It is a pity that in re- 
pudiating the folly they had to repudiate also the 
fun. For just ashore in this land of mystery to 
which they had come were opportunities for 
Christmas greenery and Christmas feasting 
which they would have done well to take. The 
English holly they had left behind, yet along 
Town Brook grew the black alder with its red 
berries that are so pretty a substitute for the oth- 
ers, a holly itself, or at least an Ilex. All about 
Plymouth in the low grounds may be found these 



FOREFATHERS* DAY 49 

cheery, bright red berries, even over on the sea- 
ward slope of Manomet Head I found them, 
snuggling in hollows where tiny rivulets trickle 
down to the sea, though on the ridge above them 
the oaks were dwarfed and storm-beaten till one 
has difficulty in recognizing them for the variety 
of tree that they are. 

It is easy to believe that down to the very rock 
on which they landed crept the club-moss which 
the descendants of the Pilgrims so soon learned 
to call "evergreen." Tons of it we use today in 
our Christmas decorations, nor does the supply 
from the Massachusetts woods seem to diminish, 
ground-pine, common, and "coral'* evergreen, all 
varieties of the club-moss, that are commonest 
out of the dozen that we have in all. Just up 
those dark gullies Town Brook would have led 
them, as it will lead anyone today, to a country 
that now, as it was then, is rich in winter beauties 
of the woodland with which the exiles might well 
have decorated the cabin of the Mayflower, 
And just within the woods in any direction 
waited for them, had they had the will and the 
wisdom to seek them, all kinds of Christmas 
cheer. Deer were there, wild turkeys in great 
flocks and two varieties of grouse as tame as 



50 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



chickens on a farm, and more delicious than any 
Christmas goose which might have been served 
them in Holland or England. There were no 
savages about Plymouth at the time and they 
might have travelled the woods boldly, instead 
of taking prudent council of their fears. But 
they need not have gone so far as that for their 
Christmas feast. The sandy flats of nearby 
creeks were full of clams and the sea of fish. 
The boar's head they might not have, but there 
were splendid substitutes for it if they had cared 
to make their Christmas feast of products of the 
new land to which they had come. 

Against all this, no doubt, they sternly set 
their faces, and indeed, instead of feasting and 
good cheer on their December 25th, they set 
soberly to work to build their first common house, 
cutting greenery indeed, but not for decoration, 
and dining abstemiously on the stores that they 
had shipped months before in England. One can 
but believe that had they for a few bright holi- 
days put their fears behind them with their 
solemnity and celebrated their own safe landing 
with a few roasted turkeys, a few boiled cod and 
some clam soup, eaten in an evergreen-decorated 
cabin of their good ship, or about a barbecue 



FOREFATHERS' DAY 51 

fire on shore, they might have taken a step 
toward warding off the sickness which was even 
then fastening itself upon them. But they cer- 
tainly did not, and in visiting their landing-place 
on their landing-day and trying to see the world 
here as they then saw it, one must put such riot- 
ous thoughts out of mind, as he must put the 
great present-day town out of it. 

Those two things aside on any before-Christ- 
mas week it is possible to see the landing-place of 
the Pilgrims much as they saw it, to feel the same 
stormy weather sweep across the same sea and 
to see landward the same hills clad with dark 
forests tossing their giant branches and seeming 
to hold much of mystery and dread. To know 
just a little of what they saw and felt one need 
but to stand on the brow of Manomet Head when 
a December night lowers and the northeast wind 
is hurling the surf on the rocks out of ''a very 
grown sea/' 



CHAPTER V 

THE SINGING PINES 

The pines were asleep in the noonday heat 

That shimmered down the lea, 
But they waked with the roar of a wave-swept shore 

When the wind came in from the sea. 

They sang of ships, and the bosun piped, 

The hoarse watch roared a tune, 
The taut sheets whined in the twanging wind. 

You heard the breakers croon. 

For their brothers, masts on a thousand keels, 

Had sent a greeting free, 
And the answering song swelled clear and strong 

When the wind came in from the sea. 

Last night I heard the pines sing again. A 
winter midnight was on the woods, while a north- 
easter smote the coast, a dozen miles away, with 
the million sledges of the surf. So mighty was 
the story of this smiting that for long I thought 
the pines sang of nothing else. In places and at 
times they told it with astonishing fidelity. A 
forty-mile gale muttered and grumbled to itself 

52 



THE SINGING PINES 53 

high in air above. Its voice was that of the gale 
anywhere when unobstructed. You may hear it 
at sea or ashore, a hubbub of tones indistinguish- 
able as gust shoulders against gust and grumbles 
about it. In the quiet at the bottom of the wood 
I could hear this, too, especially at times when 
the wind lifted above the pine tops, leaving them 
in hushed expectancy of the story to come, a tell- 
ing oratorical pause. For a little the voice of 
the gale itself would come burbling down into the 
momentary stillness, then with a gasp at the awe- 
someness of the tale the pines would take up the 
story again. In it there was none of the dainty 
romance the boughs will weave for the listener 
who cares to know their language of a sunny 
summer afternoon, little stories of tropic seas, of 
nodding sails and of flying fish that spring from 
the foam beneath the forefoot and skim the 
purple waves. This song was an epic of the age- 
long battle between the sea and the shore, a song 
without words, but told so well in tone that it 
was easy, seeing nothing there in the black 
shadow of the wood, yet to see it all; the jagged 
horizon against the sullen sky, the streaks of 
mottled foam sliding landward along the welter- 
ing backs of black waves, spinning into sea drift 



54 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



at every wind-sheared crest, and blowing, soft 
as wool, in rolling masses far inland. It was 
easy to see the greatest crests rear and draw 
back, showing the roots of the ledges among 
boulders brown with weed and sea wrack, then 
swing forward with seemingly irresistible might, 
to be shattered as if their crystal was that of 
glass and to fly skyward a hundred feet, scintil- 
lant white star drift of comminuted sea. The 
crash of such waves on such rocks, the hollow 
diapason of their like on sands, and the shrill 
roar of a pebbly beach torn and tossed by the 
waves, all sprang from nothingness into vibrant 
being there in the black woods as the gale 
shouldered by the pine tops. 

There is a point where the pines group on the 
pond shore and look expectantly east, wistful of 
the sea. Here they caught the full force of the 
gale and sang mightily, a wild, deep-toned, 
marching symphony of crashing forces. Now 
and then a lull came, as comes in the fiercest 
gales, and in the vast silence which ensued I 
heard the pines across the pond singing antiphon- 
ally. Black as it was under the trees, there was 
a moon behind the night. No suggestion of it 
showed through the clouds, yet from the pond 



THE SINGING PINES 55 

surface itself came a weird twilight, filtered no 
doubt through a mile of flying scud a mile above, 
reflected from the wind-swept surface and show- 
ing these distant pines lifting heads of murk 
against the murky sky. But their antiphonal 
shout was no pine-voiced song of the sea, it was 
the sea itself. Again and again I listened in 
successive lulls. I could not believe it the pines. 
I heard so surely the rush of waves, the deep 
boom of beating surges, all the mingled clangor 
of the on-shore gale, that I thought through some 
atmospheric trick I was listening to the thing 
itself; the uproar swept over the hills a dozen 
miles inland. Only by marching up the pond 
shore until the pines across were south instead 
of east of me did I prove to myself that it was 
they and not the sea in very truth that I heard. 
Back again in the Stygian darkness of the 
grove it was easy to note how the pines protect 
their own. On the beach the smothering onrush 
of the gale beat me down, drove me before it. 
Yet I had but to walk inland a dozen yards to 
find a calm. The outermost trees shunted the 
gale and half the time it did not touch even the 
tops of those a hundred feet in. Walking out 
into the midnight storm, I had wondered how it 



56 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

fared with the small folk of the forest. So fierce 
was the onslaught of the wind that it seemed as 
if the birds might be blown from their roosts, the 
squirrels shaken from their nests. Under the 
shelter of the trees themselves I knew they were 
as safe as I from any harm from the wind. 
There was not enough of it below the tree-tops 
to ruffle a feather. 

To lay one's ear closely and firmly against the 
trunk of one of these pines was to curiously get 
an inkling of what was going on far up among 
the branches. It is quite like listening at a tele- 
phone receiver, the wood like the wire bringing 
to the ear sound of many things going on within 
touch of it. Thus placed, I was conscious that 
the seemingly immobile tree swayed rhythmic- 
ally, just the very slightest swaying in the world, 
and this I seemed to hear. It was as if the slight 
readjustment of the woody fibre gave me a faint 
thrumming sound, a tiny music of motion that 
was a delight to the ear after the beat and bellow 
of the gale beyond. 

Twigs rapped one upon another, making little 
crisp sounds. Most surprising of all, however, 
was a tinkling tattoo of musical notes as if a 
dryad within were tapping out woodland mel- 



THE SINGING PINES 57 

odies on a xylophone. I listened long to this. 
It was not exactly a comfortable position. To 
hear I must press, and the tree bark was hard 
and the rain ran down the trunk and into my ear. 
Yet the music was exquisite, a little runic rhyme, 
repeated over and over again with quaint varia- 
tions but with neither beginning nor end. It was 
wonderfully wild and fairylike. Who would 
stop for water in his ear or a pain in the lobe 
of it? Midnight, the middle of the gale, the mid- 
dle of the woods; perhaps here was that very 
opening into the realm of the unseen woodland 
folk that we all in our inmost hearts hope for 
and expect some day to find. 

So did he feel who pulled the boughs aside, 
That we might look into the forest wide. 

TelHng us how fair trembling Syrinx fled 
Arcadian Pan, with such a fearful dread. 
Poor nymph — poor Pan — how he did weep to find 
Naught but a lovely sighing of the wind 
Along the reedy stream; a half heard strain, 
Full of sweet desolation, balmy pain. 

It may have been the dryad, playing the xylo- 
phone for a dance unseen by my gross mortal 
eyes, but if my water-logged ear did not deceive 



58 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



me — and I hope it did — it was only the beat of 
the big drops of rain on the twigs above, clarified 
and made resonant by its passage through the 
vibrant wood to my ear. At any rate, it was a 
most delightful musical entertainment of which I 
fancy myself the discoverer, and I hope it was the 
dryad. He who reads may believe as he will. 

Beyond the pines I found the wind in the 
woods. Among the bare limbs of the deciduous 
growth the storm wailed and clattered its way 
on a'bout my head as I felt out the path with my 
feet for a half mile to a pine-crowned hilltop. 
Again I was in sanctuary. The hilltop car- 
ried us up — the pines and me — into the full 
sweep of the gale, yet under their spreading, 
beneficent arms I felt no breath of wind. Over- 
head I noted its own wild voice as, very near 
and right with it in chorus, the pines sang, sway- 
ing in time to their music as I have seen a rapt 
singer do. Strangely enough, in their tones up 
here I could hear no cry of the sea. They sang 
instead the tumult of the sky, the vast lonliness 
of distant spaces, something of the deep-toned 
threnody of the ancient universe, mourning for 
worlds now dark. 

Something of this the gale drew from the pines 



THE SINGING PINES 59 

as it crowded by, but never once did its fiercest 
gusts disturb the serenity of the sanctuary be- 
neath. A foot or two down from their topmost 
boughs was shelter for the crows, snugged down 
on a lee limb, close to the trunk, their feathers 
set to shed such rain as might strike them, their 
long black beaks thrust beneath their wings, 
rocked in the cradle of the deep woods, sung to 
sleep by their lullaby of the primal universe. 
There was little need to waste sympathy on them 
or on any other little folk of the forest who had 
for their shelter the brooding arms of these bene- 
ficent trees stretched above them. 

Pines are the great, deep-breasted mothers of 
the woods, giving food and shelter from sun and 
storm to all who will come to them. Prolific 
mothers they are, too, and if man with his axe 
and his fire would but spare them they would 
in a generation or two reclothe our Massachu- 
setts waste lands with their kind once more. 
Recklessly as the generations have destroyed 
them, sweeping often great tracts bare of every 
noble trunk, leaving the slash piled high for the 
fire to complete the destruction of the axe, they 
still persist, pushing the greenwood with its fluffy 
plumes right to our dooryards. Let the ploughed 



6o 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



field Jie fallow for a decade and see them come, 
loyal little folk preparing the way for them, as 
the trolls of ancient tales worked for those they 
loved. Into the brown furrows troop the 
goldenrod and asters, the wild grasses and 
brambles making a first shelter for the seeds of 
gray birch and wild cherry that magically come 
and plant themselves. A thousand other forms 
of life, beast and bird and insect, make the place 
their home, all preparing it for the nursing of the 
young pines to come. However rough has been 
the work of the wood cutters, however persistent 
the forest fires, somewhere is a seed pine stand- 
ing, ready to spear the turf a mile away with 
brown javelins out of whose wounds shall spring 
trees, just as out of the Cadmus-sown dragon's 
teeth of old sprang armed men. The tree may be 
a century-old gnarled trunk, too crooked and 
knotty txD be worthy the woodman's axe, or a ver- 
dant sprout of a score of years' standing, green 
and lusty — the result will be the same. When 
the seeding year comes the brown cones will open 
and the winds will bear the germs of the new 
growth forth, spinning down the gale, whichever 
way they list to blow. The tiny pines that result 
may live far three or four years amongst the 



THE SINGING PINES 6i 

brambles unnoticed, then suddenly they take 
heart and grow and we find a lusty forest com- 
ing along. At three years they will not be over 
ten inches high, but they will make ten inches in 
height the next year, and after the fifth they 
stride forward like lusty youths, glorifying in 
their increase. It is not uncommon for them to 
stretch up three feet a year, more than doubling 
their height in that sixth year in which they 
strike their stride. They do not cease this up- 
ward striving as long as they live. 

After the age of sixty or so the pine may be 
said to have passed the heyday of its youth, no 
longer increasing so rapidly in height and girth, 
yet the increase goes on, if more sedately. The 
tree rarely reaches a height of more than i6o 
feet and -a diameter of more than forty inches. 
The largest ever measured by the Forestry De- 
partment of the United States was forty-eight 
inches in diameter at breast high and 170 feet 
in height, containing 738 cubic feet of wood in its 
mighty trunk. It will be some time before seed- 
lings in the bramble patch here in Massachusetts 
reach that size, however, for this tree was 460 
years old. It grew among trees of similar age 
in a pine forest in Michigan. 



62 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

Yet New England pines have matched it, and 
more. Writing in 1846, Emerson tells of trees 
here 250 feet in height and six feet in diameter. 
One in Lancaster, New Hampshire, measured 
264 feet. Fifty years before that trees in Bland- 
ford measured when they were felled 223 feet in 
length. The upper waters of the Penobscot were 
long the home of mighty pine trees where it was 
no uncommon thing to hew masts 70 to 90 feet 
in length. In 1841 one was hewed there 90 feet 
in length, 36 inches in diameter at the butt and 
28 inches at the top. Such trees have passed, 
now, almost from- the memory of living man. 
Could we have them here in our State they would 
be worshipped as were the druidical trees of 
ancient European countries and the place of their 
standing would be made a park that they might 
be visited by all, rich or poor. It seems a pity 
that our ancestors could not have thought of this. 
It would have heen so easy for them to let clumps 
of these wonderful old pines stand, here and 
there. It is so impossible for us to bring one of 
them back, with all our wealth and all our learn- 
ing. 

If we may believe the geologists the pines were 
the original tree inhabitants of our land, massing 



THE SINGING PINES 63 

it in their dark green from mountain top to sea 
shore. Suddenly no one knows whence, the oaks 
and other deciduous trees appeared among them 
and in part drove them out of the richer soils. 
"The oak," says Gray, ''has driven the pine to 
the sands." Yet the pines grow equally well 
among the rough rocks of mountain slopes where 
the winter gales that wreck the hardwood trees 
leave them untouched. This is the more strange 
as pines rarely root deeply. The roots, even of 
old trees seventy to one hundred feet in height, 
rarely go into the earth more than two or three 
feet, taper rapidly and extend not usually over 
twenty feet on every side. In young trees 
twenty or twenty-five feet tall the roots do not 
penetrate more than fifteen or eighteen inches, 
yet great old trees stand alone in pasture and on 
hilltop, exposed to all the fury of the fiercest 
gales, rarely if ever blown down. The structure 
of yielding limbs that swing so that the gusts 
glance on their plumes, and the needle-like leaves 
that let the torrents of air slip through them, is 
no doubt the reason for this. The outermost 
pines of the grove shoulder the gale away from 
the others, yet let it slip by themselves, giving it 
no grip whereby to tear them up. The resinous 



64 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

roots of the tree not only suffice to hold it up- 
right against the storm, but they last long after 
the trunk has been cut away. Our forefathers 
in clear land used to set the uprooted stumps of 
the pine up in rows for fencing, unsightly barri- 
cades that would persist for a century with little 
sign of decay. On the other hand, wood from 
the trunk set in the ground soon decays. 

Of the great trees centuries old that once 
clothed our land from Newfoundland to the Da- 
kotas, from northern New Brunswick to south- 
ern Pennsylvania, few if any remain. Nor shall 
anyone see their like here again for centuries. 
But the pines are coming back again to New Eng- 
land. We know their values now as never be- 
fore and we are encouraging them to reclothe our 
solitudes both for their commercial and their 
sentimental value. This last is great and grows 
greater, nor need one necessarily go into the 
storm at midnight to appreciate it. One may 
get some phases of it there, though, that are not 
to be found elsewhere. My way home through 
the storm was rough and wet, but it was not 
lonely. The songs of the pines went with me, 
especially the tinkling xylophone dance music of 
the dryad, deep within the ancient trunk. 



CHAPTER VI 

NANTUCKET IN APRIL 

It is fabled that nine hundred years ago the 
Norsemen riding the white horses of the shoals, 
dismounted upon Nantucket, its original Euro- 
pean discoverers. But this is hardly to be be- 
lieved, for they did not stay there. Conditions 
the world over have changed much since the day 
of the Vikings, but still today he who comes to 
Nantucket must emulate them, and ride the same 
white horses of the shoals, for they surround the 
island and prance for the modern steamer as they 
did for the long Norse ships with the weird 
figure-heads and the bulwarks of shields. Blown 
down from New Bedford by a rough nor'wester 
we plunged through the green rollers south of 
Hedge Fence shoals, wallowed among the white 
surges of Cross Rip, and found level water only 
between the black jetties of Nantucket harbor, 
where in the roar of bursting waves the white 
spindrift fluffed and drifted across like dry snow 
on a January day. 

65 



66 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

Within lies the old town, more sedately and 
unconsciously its very self in April than at any 
other time of year. The scalloping is done, pro- 
hibited by law after the first and the dredges no 
longer vex the sandy shallows of the land-locked 
harbor behind gray Coatue. The summer 
visitor has not yet come and the town is its very, 
peaceful, indeed slumbrous self. The bustle of 
the day comes with the arrival of the steamer at 
four o'clock. From then until darkness falls 
Main street is busy. The curfew, falling in 
sweet tones from the old watch tower, voiced by 
the silver-tongued ''Lisbon bell," lulls all to sleep, 
and indeed long before that only an occasional 
footfall resounds from the flagging. At seven 
the same bell rouses all to the morning's leisurely 
bustle, and again at twelve it rings a noon somno- 
lence in upon Main street that is even more 
startling to the stranger than the evening quiet. 

For the full length of the noon hour one may 
stand at the door of the Pacific Bank and look 
down the broad cobblepaved, elm-shaded stretch 
of Main street to the door of the Pacific Club 
and be quite deafened by a step on the brick 
sidewalk and fairly shy at the shadow of a passer, 



NANTUCKET IN APRIL 67 

so lone is the place. If it were not for the travel- 
ling salesmen, a score or so of whom come in 
with every boat, flood with their tiny tide the two 
hotels that are open and ebb again the next 
morning with the outgoing boat, there were even 
less visible life at this season. Yet Nantucket 
has today a permanent population of about three 
thousand, which is swelled to thrice that number 
when the summer hegira is at its height. That 
means, including the island, which is at once all 
one town and with a few tiny off-shoot islands 
along its shore, all one county, the only instance 
in Massachusetts where county and town have 
the same boundaries. 

Geologically Nantucket is a terminal moraine, 
a great hill of till which the once all-prevalent 
glacier scraped from the mainland and dropped 
where it now lifts clay cliffs and stretches sandy 
shoals to the warm waves of the Gulf Stream. 
Bostonians who know their geology should feel 
at home in Nantucket, for, while it is superficially 
allied to Cape Cod, the pebbles of the stratified 
gravel on the north being in a large part derived 
from the group of granite rocks known on the 
neighboring mainland, perhaps half of the mass 
being of that nature, the remainder is of the fel- 



68 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



site and felsite-porphyries so common in the 
region about Boston. Here and there are a few 
big boulders, beheved by geologists to have been 
dropped by stranding icebergs and without 
doubt natives of Greenland. 

The island holds vegetation also imported from 
far distant areas and established long before 
man, civilized man at least, came to it. 



On favored uplands one finds the Scotch 
heather and he might think it had been brought 
by the loving hand of some Scotchman were it 
not for the fact that the earliest settlers found it 
here. They came, these earliest settlers, in 1659, 
Thomas Macy and his wife, Edward Starbuck, 
James Coffin and Isaac Coleman, a boy of twelve, 
storm-tossed about Cape Cod and over the shoals, 
all the way from Salisbury. For them the merry- 
men breakers on the shoals danced as they do 
for the incomers of today. They were not 
sailors, not even the master of the ship. Per- 
haps that is why they kept on to the end of the 
two hundred-mile voyage. At any rate, they 
did, and they found the Scotch heather here. 
Here, too, one finds another strange plant, plenti- 
ful over on the sandy peninsula of Coatue, the 



NANTUCKET IN APRIL 69 

Opuntia or prickly pear, a variety of cactus 
common enough in Mexico and portions of our 
Southwest, but surprising on this island. 

In these two plants at least east and west stand 
face to face across Nantucket harbor, the cactus 
holding the sandspit to the north, the heather 
on the main island to the south. In April the 
prickly pear is as ugly as sin to the eye with its 
lobster-claw growth, uglier still to the hand with 
its steel-pointed thorns, but later it will put forth 
wonderful yellow, wild-rose like blooms in rich 
profusion, making up for all its dourness. Pro- 
fessor Asa Gray, the distinguished botanist of a 
half century ago, used to say that nothing in the 
way of plant life could surprise him on Nan- 
tucket. Probably this juxtaposition of cactus 
and heather prompted the feeling. 

Nantucket town straggles from beach to hill- 
top and along shore at its own sweet will, gradu- 
ally merging into wind-swept moreland on the 
south and east and west. Here, again, Bos- 
tonians should be at home, for the streets grew 
no doubt from cow-paths winding leisurely from 
house to pasture, and down them at night, even 
now, some of them, the cows stray and nibble on 
the homeward way. I fancy no town so indivi- 



70 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

dual in its characteristics still remains in the 
State. The very pavements smack of it. Here 
is an old-time cobblestone, then long, smooth 
stretches of asphalt. Again, just dirt, and the 
three meet and mingle in stretches long and 
short, in whose variations one seeks in vain for 
a reason. So with sidewalks, brick passes to 
flagging, to asphalt, to dirt and back again in 
the distance of half a block. And even the brick 
changes often and suddenly. Here it lies flat, 
ten feet along it is on edge, perhaps ten feet 
further on end. A blind man could know his 
exact location in any part of the town simply 
by the sound of his own footfall on the sidewalk 
surface beneath him. 

So it is with the houses, and I fancy in this 
lies one great charm- of the town to the city- 
bored summer visitor. No doubt every old sea 
dog was his own architect, and the houses show 
it from main truck to keelson. Yet hardly in a 
single instance is the result displeasing, within 
or without, above decks or below. Instead, there 
is a fine harmony of contrasts that delights while 
it rests. As for location, it would seem as if 
each shipmaster, once he had the structure 
launched, brought her up at full tide and let her 



NANTUCKET IN APRIL 71 

lie just where she stranded when the ebb began. 
So they rest today, jumbled together in friendly 
neighborliness or slipping down the tide toward 
the harbor on the one hand and toward the wide 
high seas of the downs on the other. The town 
melts into the open either way and belongs to it, 
merging gently with no possibility of shock or 
rudeness. So it is with the people, the real Nan- 
tucketers. Each intensely individual they yet 
blend in a wholesome harmonious whole that 
joins the outside world with little friction. The 
sailor instinct is strong in them, and they bring 
their barks alongside the dock or the stranger 
with a pleasant hail and without a jar. 

As the silver-toned Lisbon bell of the Unitarian 
church tower dominates the sounds of the town 
so the gilt dome of this church tower dominates 
the town to the eye of the inbound mariner, as 
he swings round Brant Point. So, too, in more 
than one way, since its building in 18 10, this 
strong tower has dominated the home life of the 
city. Its glassed-in crow's nest has been the 
city's watch tower for a century and more. 
And so in a measure it is today. The fire alarm 
system, now modern and electric, warns of fire 



72 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



by its means, summoning the firemen to boxes by 
numbers rung. Yet only a few years ago the 
old tower was literally a watch-tower, occupied 
always by one of three superannuated seamen 
who watched for fires, and seeing one rang the 
bell and shouted the location to the fire depart- 
ment. One stood watch in the glassed-in oc- 
tagon above. Two sat by the fire and smoked 
in a room in the belfry below. If the wind was 
in the east they put the stove pipe out of a hole 
in the west side of the tower. If it blew from 
the west the stove pipe was readily changed to a 
windowpane on the east side. These watchmen 
were paid $350 a year, practically a dollar a day, 
and they seemed to have been as efficient as the 
lately installed electrical appliance. 

From the crow's nest to the church roof this 
old tower is pencilled and carved with the names 
of Nantucketers, written in for the last hundred 
years and many an otherwise forgotten man and 
event is thus recorded for the use of future his- 
torians. Yet it is safe to say that no man of all 
the island dwellers ever did or ever will tread the 
stairs or look from the octagonal windows with 
a more intense individuality than that of Billy 
Clark, Nantucket's towncrier, now lamentably 



NANTUCKET IN APRIL yz 

dead since 1907. Each afternoon he climbed to 
the crow's nest with horn under his arm to watch 
for the daily incoming steamer. lie could sight 
it about an hour before it would dock and as soon 
as he did the horn blew grandly and his voice 
rang out over the town in a rhyme, doubtless of 
his own composing. 

Hark, hark, hear Billy Clark, 
He's tooting from the tower. 

He sees the boat, she is afloat. 
She'll be here in an hour. 

And so she would, and before she touched the 
dock Billy deftly caught a bundle of Boston 
papers and racing uptown sold them all before 
the passengers were off the boat, unless they 
moved quickly. But these were but a few of 
Billy's multitudinous activities. He cried auc- 
tions and sales, entertainments of all sorts and if 
for any reason a public affair must be suddenly 
postponed the quickest way to get the news about 
was to slip a half dollar to Billy who forthwith 
cried the matter with amazing celerity and ve- 
hemence from all the street corners, tooting his 
horn between whiles to get the attention of all. 
Weekly or oftener Billy used to cry meat auc- 
tions in the lower square, which have always 



74 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

been a Nantucket institution; at these one bids 
for his first choice of cuts and having bid high- 
est is allowed such portions and such amounts 
of the ''critter" as he pleases. 

Billy Clark made much money, as money was 
reckoned in his day on the island but he had no 
faculty for keeping it or even keeping account 
of it. For thirty years his returns for his news- 
papers sold were made from time to time to the 
Boston office in, seemingly, such sums as struck 
his fancy as being appropriate. These were 
more than adequate for by and by the office sent 
down word, "Tell Billy Clark for heaven's sake 
to quit sending us money. He is too far ahead 
of us.'' 

As might have been expected Nantucket's town 
crier died poor and would have been in want had 
not a subscription paper been started for him by 
the local paper. This, made up in large part by 
summer visitors and off-islanders,, amounted to 
several hundred dollars, and at the end there 
were forty dollars left with which to buy him a 
tombstone. I have not seen this tombstone. It 
ought to have a horn neatly graven, but I sup- 
pose it has not. The town misses him, needs 



NANTUCKET IN APRIL 75 

him, more than one citizen says that, but so in- 
dividuaHstic a place makes no attempt to get an- 
other. There is something of the Quaker idea 
in that, for though the island was once a great 
Quaker stronghold few if any of the old sect re- 
main. But it is the Quaker idea. A new town 
crier will arrive when the spirit moves. Till then 
the horn is silent. An off-islander might sup- 
pose that the town crier was appointed in town 
meeting as is the fence-viewer, the sealer of 
weights and measures, the pound-keeper and the 
hog-reeve. But that is not so. Billy Clark 
evolved himself, so to speak, and the town 
patiently waits a second coming. 

From the watch tower one looks down many- 
flued chimneys and sees a score or so of railed-in 
platforms on the very housetops, often surround- 
ing the chimney. These are the "shipmaster's 
walks," often known as the "wives' walks.'' 
From these one gets a good look off to sea and 
can readily fancy wives and sweethearts climb- 
ing to them to watch for some whaleship that left 
port perhaps three years before. I fancy them 
too high, too breezy and too conspicuous for 
much walking by these. Thence one may see the 



76 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

island round, and get a broad view of the open 
downs to southward that tempt one to tramp, 
seeking the edge of the Gulf Stream, led by the 
steady roar of its breakers pulsing against the 
clay cliffs. On the downs one gets a sense of 
the whole of the island as nowhere else. Here it 
is a ship at sea, unsinkable and steady, blown 
upon by the free winds of all the world. In the 
half -gale out of the west I note the smell of the 
shoals, a suggestion of bilge in the brine, not al- 
together pleasant. I fancy a heavy sea stirs the 
slimy depths and brings their ooze uppermost. 
I had noticed this from an incoming liner's deck 
when off the lightship before, but charged it to 
the ship. Now I know it for a strange odor of 
the sea. It makes me half believe the humorous, 
oft-told tale of skipper Hackett, who knew his 
location by tasting the ooze on the tip of the lead. 
He who 

roared to Marden 
Nantucket's sunk and here we are 
Right over old Marm Hackett's garden. 

In a northwest gale the Nantucketer, though 
far to the southeast, should be able to locate the 
shoals and steer home by the smell of the wind. 

On less uproarious days one gets all along the 



I 










-Si 



NANTUCKET IN. APRIL ^7 

downs the rich, ozonic odor of the deep sea for 
a fundamental delight. And always with it are 
the perfumes of the blossoming land. There is 
tradition of heavy oak timbers once growing on 
Nantucket, but only the tradition remains. Here 
now are low forests of stunted pitch pines, send- 
ing their rich resinous aroma on all winds. And 
in late April with these comes the spicy smell of 
the trailing arbutus, which hides all along the 
ground among poverty weed, gray cladium moss, 
and Indian wood grass, sometimes starring the 
mossy mats of mealy-plum with the pinky-white 
of its blooms. The mealy-plum itself shows faint 
coral edging of pink young buds, and here and 
there a thistle plant, stemless as yet, looks like a 
green and bristly starfish in the grass. Isolated 
red cedars on this wind-swept down grow round 
balls of dense green foliage four or five feet in 
diameter, looking as if it needed but a blow of 
an axe at the butt to send them rolling down wind 
like big tumble weeds. Scrub oaks curiously 
take the same form, and clumps of bayberry, 
black huckleberries and sweet fern are often 
rounded off to hemispheres. 

Four silver-toned strokes from the old Lisbon 



78 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

bell in the watch tower warn of dawn in Nan- 
tucket in late April. This bell was one of six 
cast in a Lisbon, Portugal, foundry, intended for 
a Portugal convent of much renown. In j8i2, 
Captain Charles Clasby of Nantucket visited this 
foundry, bought the bell, which had not yet been 
dedicated, sending it to the island in the whale- 
ship William and Nancy, Captain Thomas Cary, 
and in 1815 it was hung in the tower. Soon 
after the stroke of four the sparrows begin to 
chatter, but before long one hears through their 
uproar the clear whistle of meadow larks. 
These flit familiarly about the lower levels of the 
town singing from gate-post or shed-roof all day 
long and on the downs they vie with the song 
sparrows in breaking the lone silence of the place. 
Save for these, a crow or two and the shadow of 
a sailing hawk, the uplands lack bird life in April. 
He who would see birds in plenty, as well as 
much other wild life, should go over Maddeket 
way and sit on the shore of Long Pond. There 
I found the bushy swales alive with marsh birds. 
Blackbirds gurgled all about. The reedy shal- 
lows held many bitterns whose sepulchral ''Ca- 
hugancagunk, cahungancagunk" sounded ventril- 
oqually from the reeds. Coot, sea duck, loons. 



NANTUCKET IN APRIL 79 

black duck, grebes, dotted the surface of the pond 
and in all the sandy shallows spawning alewives 
splashed and played — ^thousands of them. I had 
thought spawning a serious business with fish, 
not to be entered upon lightly or without due con- 
sideration. Yet these made a veritaWe romp of 
it. And in the crystal clear air overhead, swept 
clean of all city soot, soared a marsh hawk or 
two and an osprey. There was more than clarity 
to this atmosphere. It had an elusive, mirage- 
creating quality that made the osprey look start- 
lingly large as he soared near. It was enough 
to make one remember the roc that Sindbad saw 
and get under cover. But he took an alewive in- 
stead of me. All along the island in the steep 
of the sun the air had this magnifying quality. 
It loomed the white headstones in the cemetery 
on the hill back of the town till they seemed 
bigger than the town itself, symbolic perhaps of 
how large a proportion of its former glory lies 
here. 

Nantucket's one boat out at this time of year 
leaves at seven in the morning. From its deck 
across its churning wake the most conspicuous 
building is the old watch tower whose gikled 



8o OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

dome gleams f riendlily. And as the beams of the 
morning sun strikes this, like the tower of Mem- 
non, it gives forth music, the silver-tongued call 
of the old Lisbon bell. ''Come back, come back," 
it cadences to all who pass, the melody clinking 
clear far over the level sea. It seems the spirit 
of Nantucket born of its warm spring sun, its 
soft winds and the friendly lives of the islanders 
themselves, a pleading that echoes long in the 
memory and that few can resist. 



CHAPTER VII 

FOOTING IT ACROSS THE CAPE 

The Pilgrims might have been envied their dis- 
covery of Cape Cod if they had come in the 
spring of the year. As it was, though they 
hailed it with joy, it being land anyway, yet they 
must have found it inexpressibly lonesome and 
spooky. To the newcomer it is apt to be a 
ghostly sort of place at any time of year, unless 
mayhap he be from some similar strand, for its 
rolling sand hills are swept by winds that wail, 
and beaten by a sea that grumbles when it does 
not cry aloud. At the time of year when Stand- 
ish and his men patrolled its beaches, it is no 
wonder they saw savages behind every liliputian 
pitch pine and heard them shouting in the wind 
and sea. So far as the records go the Icelanders 
came first of all and Thorfinn Karlsefne, who set 
sail about looo a. d._, called the place 'Turdur- 
standir," or wonderstrands, perhaps because of 
the immense stretches of sea beach along the out- 
side, but quite as likely on account of the mirage 

8i 



82 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



which so often greets one in the region there- 
abouts. A much later explorer tells how the 
curious atmospheric effects made the land seem 
to tip up in front of him in whichever direction 
he walked, making level land and even downhill 
look like uphill, so uplifting is the Cape air. 

Gosnold was perhaps the first Englishman to 
set foot there, doing it first in 1602 and coming 
again, as we all must, once we know the region.' 
Gosnold and his men got the eerie feel of the 
place too when the winter approached. They 
colonized Cuttyhunk and did very well through 
the summer, digging sassafras by day and re- 
treating to their fort on the little island in the 
pond on the bigger island every time the goblins 
chased them. But the shouting of warlocks in 
the autumn gales was too much for them and 
they reembarked for England, glad to get away 
from the land which was so beautiful and so 
strange. 

A dozen years later came Captain John Smith, 
who feared neither man nor devil, and who saw 
nothing unprosaic about the place. As mariner 
and cartographer to him it was a cape, and noth- 
ing more. ''Cape Cod,'* he writes, "which next 



FOOTING IT ACROSS THE CAPE 83 

presents itself, is only a headland of hills of sand, 
overgrown with scrubby pines, hurts and such 
trash, but an excellent harbor in all weathers. 
The Cape is made of the main sea on one side, 
and a great bay on the other in the form of a 
sickle. On it doth inhabit the people of Paw- 
met, and in the bottom of the Bay those of 
Chawum." 

The bottom of the bay means the region of 
Barnstable and west, and the people of "Cha- 
wum" were the Indians of that region. The 
word sounds dangerous and suggests cannibals, 
which I do not believe the Indians were, even in 
those days. Perhaps it refers to their chief, who 
may well have been an aboriginal Dr. Fletcher. 
The word ''hurts" is more difficult to dispose of 
but I find it was just his way — and indeed the 
way of the English of his time — of saying huckle- 
berry. That delectable fruit w^hich is so com- 
mon on the Cape ought to have a name more sig- 
nificant of its delectability, but perhaps the orig- 
inal sponsors ate it before it was ripe, or too 
much. Hurts is short for hurtleberry, which is 
another way of writing whortleberry, the correct 
old English form which we have since corrupted 



84 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

into huckleberry. That Smith should have 
classed the Cape huckleberries as ''such trash" is 
proper cause for a riot. 

Two and a half centuries later came Thoreau, 
the very prince of explorers, for he can take one 
over well trodden ways and through familiar 
fields and show him India and the Arctic regions. 
Patagonia and Panama in one sweeping glance 
along a sand hill. Cape Cod was as full of ro- 
mance of remote regions as was Concord. He, 
too, notes the mirage. "Objects on the beach," 
he says, ''whether men or inanimate things, look 
not only exceedingly grotesque, but much larger 
and more wonderful than they actually are. 
Later, when approaching the seashore several de- 
grees south of this, I saw before me, seemingly 
half a mile distant, what appeared like bold and 
rugged cliffs on the beach fifteen feet high and 
whitened by the sun and waves ; but after a few 
steps it proved to be low heaps of rags — part of 
the cargo of a wrecked vessel — scarcely more 
than a foot in height." Thoreau felt the eerie 
strangeness of beach and sand dunes as all ex- 
plorers have, and 'he noted, too, the characteristics 
of the sand and its vegetation and of the inhabi- 
tants with a humorous minuteness. Writing of 



FOOTING IT ACROSS THE CAPE 85 

the dunes, which seem always about to overwhelm 
Provincetown, he says, "Some say that while the 
Government is planting beach grass behind the 
town for the protection of the harbor, the in- 
habitants are rolling the sand into the harbor in 
wheel-barrows, in order to make houselots," 
which seems characteristic of the beach grass, the 
harbor and the Cape Cod spirit of making the 
most of real estate opportunities to this day. 

'Thus Cape Cod is anchored to the heavens, 
as it were," he goes on, ''by a myriad little cables 
of beach grass, and, if they should fail would 
become a total wreck, and ere long go to the bot- 
tom. Formerly the cows were permitted to go at 
large, and they ate many strands of the cable by 
which the Cape is moored, and well-nigh set it 
adrift, as the bull did the boat that was moored 
by a grass rope, but now they are not permitted 
to wander." 

All of which would seem to prove that Thor- 
eau liked to crack a sly joke at the region he 
loved, as well as do the rest of us. The other 
day I too crossed the Cape, not exactly in Thor- 
eau's footsteps but through the region of the 
"Chawums," which, I take it, are the Mashpees 
of later days. The trail began at East Sand- 



86 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



wich where the sandy road crosses the State 
highway and goes on up the sandhills, always 
with the blue of the sea teasing from behind the 
keen javelin of the north wind pushing me on 
southward. It was wonderful, that blue of the 
cold, wind-beaten sea. It shone through the 
maze of mingled twigs for miles till I finally 
lost it in topping the plateau, passing from loose 
sand to clayey bottom and fairer growth in 
moister and more fertile soil. One fascination 
of the region comes in the fact that in a few rods 
one leaves all trace of civilization behind, unless 
one may call the narrow road a trace, and trav- 
erses the Cape Cod wilderness for mile on mile, 
just such a wilderness as Thorfinn Karlsef ne may 
have tramped in armor with spear and crossbow 
of his day, such as Myles Standish and his men 
shivered through or Verrazani and Captain 
John Smith marched over and mapped. Pitch 
pines, small oaks of many varieties with an un- 
dergrowth ''trash'' of ''hurts'' and scrub oaks 
make up the forest which presses narrow cart 
paths and hangs over them. All the way up the 
slope the persistent chill of the north wind filled 
the air with the tonic tang of brine and held back 
the gray-green mist of leaves that strained at 










o 

"So 






FOOTING IT ACROSS THE CAPE 87 

the buds, eager to be out. In hollows the spring 
had come. On ridges it delayed, finding the aug- 
uries unfavorable and waiting a new voice from 
the altar. But wherever the sun shone in and 
the wind was stayed it had loosed the butterflies 
that soared or flitted or flipped about in joy of 
long awaited warmth. Broad wings of gold- 
margined, brown Vanessa antiopa soared se- 
renely along under overarching white oaks. 
''Little Miss Lavender" folded her gray-blue 
wings in demure beauty on the gray cladium- 
mossed stumps by the roadside, and dusky- 
winged species of the skipper brood were agile 
with new-born life, yet glad to fold wings and 
sleep in the sun on the road. These were sprites 
of the deep forest. None were visible in the 
town margin, though perhaps it was the sweep of 
the north wind that kept them away. Bird re- 
gions, too, showed a definite demarcation. In 
the orchards and open fields of the town were 
the home-loving birds, bluebirds, robins, song and 
other sparrows, swallows, and in the marshes the 
red-wing blackbirds. Not one of these did I see 
after leaving the open spaces behind. The avi- 
fauna of the scrub-oak underbrush and of the 
white oak and pitch-pine trees overhead was as 



88 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



distinct as that of a new continent. A flight of 
pine warblers was on and the oaks and pitch pines 
were alive with them. The j uncos had gone 
north to nest in flocks of thousands, in a wonder 
of full song, all eagerly pressing on towards the 
hills but they left their songs behind them, as 
it were, to be sung by the other birds. In the 
pastures and cultivated fields the chipping spar- 
rows, newly arrived from the South, took up 
the trill with an accent of their own, and all the 
pine warblers sang it, each with an individuality 
that slightly but clearly marked him from his fel- 
low. I think all birds show this slight but defi- 
nite individuality in manner and voice and are 
probably known to their neighbors of the same 
clan, as we are, each by his voice. And even so 
simple and definite a thing as the pine warbler's 
song may be varied by the individual singer from 
time to time. I heard one fine bird singing in 
the stereotyped form. As he sang a flicker 
flicked in the distance. Whereupon the pine 
warbler sang again, the same trill but with a tit- 
tering twang about it that just jocosely imitated 
the flicker. I saw no other warbler or other 
bird near enough to be the beneficiary of this 



FOOTING IT ACROSS THE CAPE 89 

joke. He did it just for himself, and his motions 
as he flew over to the next tree seemed a visible 
chuckle that ended in a saucy flirt of the two 
white tall feathers which are one distinguishing 
mark of the bird in flight. 

Other warblers I noted none. The woods 
seemed given up for the occasion to Dendroica 
vigorsi. 

The wood warblers disappeared at the border 
line of the open fields at Wakeby and the home- 
loving birds appeared again in numbers, robins, 
bluebirds, swallows and the sparrow kind. The 
downy woodpeckers and flickers, to be sure, 
passed to and from both zones, though they, too, 
seemed to love the trees of the open rather than 
those of the deeper wood, but in the main the 
boundary line, as usual, was quite distinctly 
marked. The noon sun was high and the north 
wind's chill had been fairly combed out of it by 
the bristly harrows of a thousand pine tops. In 
its place was a warm, resinous fragrance, an in- 
cense to the season. The heart of the Cape for- 
est is passed at Wakeby and the blue waters of a 
great lake lap in crystal clearness on the clean 
sands. The Cape sands are a vast water filter 



90 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

and strain out of the streams all sediment. The 
ponds are Hquid crystals in narrow settings of 
pale gold. 

Someone told me it was only eight miles across 
the Cape from East Sandwich to Cotuit. Per- 
haps it is as the crow flies, but I could not clear 
the scrub as they do and I found the roads 
adapted to delightful leisure. No wonder the 
Cape folk do not hurry. How could they ? The 
narrow, gray ribbon of road strolled with me 
through what seemed eight miles of forest be- 
fore we reached Wakeby. 

Somewhere along there the holly stood green 
and statuesque in occasional clumps. And thus 
we fared on to Mashpee. The Mashpees, very 
mild and genial descendants of the ''Chawums," 
if descendants they are, live quietly in little yel- 
low houses that do not look prosperous, though 
the children are fat and the elders contented. 
Modern civilization has reached them in phono- 
graphs, bicycles and folding baby-carriages, if 
the shingles are vanishing from the roof. In 
1620 Mashpee was their chief and they lived in 
wigwams. But the last pure blood died in 1804. 

Nauhaut, one of the deacons of the Cape In- 
dian church, which seems to have thrived a cen- 



FOOTING IT ACROSS THE CAPE 91 

tury or two ago, was the hero of a wonderous 
snake story which, if it were not about a deacon, 
one might think apocryphal. I did not see a 
black snake on the whole journey, but they are 
common enough even now and were once per- 
haps much more so. At any rate Nauhaut was 
attacked by a whole ring of them — so the story 
runs — which approached him from all sides, 
the snakes with black heads raised and hissing 
venomously. Nauhaut with true Indian strategy 
stool still as they approached, and even when the 
largest of them twined about his legs and 
climbed to his neck he made no move other than 
to open his mouth wide. The chieftain snake 
thrust his head into this mouth with its glisten- 
ing white teeth, and Nauhaut immediately bit 
the head off. Thereupon panic fear seized the 
other snakes and they fled, leaving the deacon 
master of the battleground. The Cape grows 
some big black snakes to this day, but none like 
those, nor have any later stories appeared to 
match. 

The Cape has informative guide boards, 
though whether the facts match the information 
I am not quite so sure. Perhaps, sailor-like, I 
was circumnavigating Cotuit, beating in, as one 



92 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



might say, instead of sailing directly to port, for 
I found three guideboards at intervals of a mile 
or two and each announced with monotonous 
regularity that it was two and a half miles to 
Cotuit. When it comes to making statements 
the Cape guideboards stand loyally by one an- 
other. But the little town hove above the ho- 
rizon at last with its lovely blue bay of warm 
Gulf-stream water, set in a sweet curve of white 
sand and backed by neat cottages bowered in 
green trees. It is worth walking across the Cape 
to reach Cotuit at the journey's end, but I doubt 
the eight miles. If it is not fifteen by way of 
Wakeby, Mashpee, Santuit and the rest I am 
mightily mistaken. 

Thoreau with his usual clear gift of prophecy 
said of the Cape: ^'The time must come when 
this coast will be a place of resort for those New 
Englanders who really wish to visit the seaside. 
At present it is wholly unknown to the fashion- 
able world and probably it will never be agree- 
able to them. If it is merely a ten-pin alley, or 
a circular railway or an ocean of mint julep, that 
the visitor is in search of — if he thinks more of 
the wine than the brine, as I suspect some do at 
Newport — I trust that for a long time he will be 



FOOTING IT ACROSS THE CAPE 93 

disappointed here. But this shore will never be 
more attractive than it is now. Such beaches as 
are fashionable are here made and unmade in a 
day, I may almost say, by the sea shifting the 
sands. Lynn and Nantucket! this bare and 
bended arm it is that makes the bay in which 
they lie so snugly. What are springs and water- 
falls ? Here is the spring of springs, the water- 
fall of waterfalls. A storm in the winter is the 
time to visit it — a lighthouse or a fisherman's 
hut the true hotel. A man may stand there and 
put all America behind him." 

This was all true in Thoreau's day and long 
after. But the fashionable world has since 
found the Cape, and brought its palatial hotels 
and its million-dollar cottages to sit down in 
friendly fashion among the villagers and share 
their summer life with them. Thereby both are 
benefited. But after all the chief charm of the 
Cape is still that vast stretches of it are as free 
from fashion as Thoreau said they always would 
be, and the forests like those Captain John Smith 
and Myles Standish, Karlsefne and Verrizana 
traversed still grow there in wide stretches. 



CHAPTER VIII 

WILD APPLE TREES 

Coming back to my pastures after long ab- 
sence I am always surprised and often otherwise 
moved at the changes which I can then clearly see 
have taken place in them. Had I frequented 
them day by day these would never have ap- 
peared to me. Just as in the countenances of 
one's best friends, seen often, there seem to be 
no mutations and we need to think definitely of 
some past period and then to compare the im- 
pression with the present one to see that the child 
is growing up or the old man growing older, so 
it is with the face of the earth in familiar spots. 
Young growth comes little by little, shoulders 
bow day by day in the aged, yet we do not see it 
when we dwell constantly with them. It is only 
after long absence that these things suddenly pre- 
sented shock us with grief in the one case or 
touch us with pleasure in the other. After a 
summer's absence, you find baby shrubs grown 
to youth and youthful trees putting on a greater 

94 



WILD APPLE TREES 95 

air of maturity than they had before. Coming 
back in spring you are apt to sorrow over the 
wrecks which the winter has wrought. Last 
winter's gales and deep snows, and more than 
all the ice storms, have left havoc behind them 
whereby you may trace their durance and their 
intensity. Tall birches whose resiliency never 
before failed them were so bowed beneath these 
storm burdens that they still remain with upper 
branches sweeping the ground, like white slaves 
sculptured in graceful but profound obeisance 
before a storm king that has long since swept on 
with all his retinue. It is strange to see cedars 
that have always seemed unbendable models of 
primness and rectitude bowed and distorted in 
groups by the same resistless force. Very heavy 
and long continuing must have been the ice on 
these to thus permanently crook their red heart- 
wood. The heavy brand of the Northern win- 
ter yet marks them for his own. 

Yet the pastures are so glad with May that it 
is easy to forget sorrow for the passing old in 
joy over the surgent beauty of new life. It is 
easy now to believe what the botanists tell us — 
that flower and leaf are but slightly differentiated 
forms of the same impulse of growth, grading 



96 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

almost imperceptibly one into the other. With 
new leaves half-grown, with blossoms bursting, it 
is hard to tell without close inspection which is 
which, so tender and rich are the colors which 
unfold from all buds. The yellow of the dande- 
lion, the blue of wood violets, and the purple of 
the wild cranesbill are not more delicate, nor are 
they so rich as the red of the young leaves of the 
white oaks, now as large as a mouse's ear, which 
is the Indian sign for the time to plant corn. 
The blossoms of the berry bushes are no more 
flower-like than the young leaves among which 
they grow. The green-yellow of barberry 
blooms is not more fervent than the yellow-green 
of the tender foliage, and the two colors blend 
into one burning bush of cool flame. I do not 
wonder the summer yellow-bird loves to build his 
nest in the barberry bush. Its colors at this 
season are his own. 

Other surprises meet men in the pasture this 
spring. There is a particularly beautiful corner 
which many city people have come to share with 
me. On holidays and Sundays they troop to 
their bungalow on the pond shore by the hundred. 
Yet they must love barberry bushes and sweet- 
fern, red cedar and white pine, as I do, for they 



i 



WILD APPLE TREES 97 

have not intruded upon them, but have let their 
own presence slip quietly into the vacant places, 
leaving the original proprietors of the spot un- 
vexed. In this I see a new variety of city man 
and woman growing up. A score of years ago 
the advent of such a horde would have meant 
more disaster than the winter's ice storms could 
have wrought. Between these more kindly ad- 
venturers and the pasture folk have grown up a 
friendly intimacy which is beginning to teach 
city ways to the pasture denizens. Therein lies 
the cause of my surprise. Under the soft mists 
of a cool May day I brushed the dew from the 
wood grasses and unrolling croziers of cinnamon 
fern to pause in admiration at shrubs and trees 
bearing calling cards. Here is a red cedar an- 
nouncing on a Dennison tag, ^*I am Juniperus vir- 
giniana, known to my intimates as savin." Out 
of its nimbus of pale yellow flame "Berberis vul- 
garis" hands me a bit of pasteboard, and dangling 
from a resinous bough is the statement that it 
is 'Tinus strobus" that welcomes me to fragrant 
shade. Like many city manners which are new 
to country folk these seem to be a bit obtrusive 
at first. Yet on second thought I find it an ex- 
cellent custom which ought to be enlarged upon 



98 



OLD 



TRAILS 



in various ways. I can fancy people coming to 
the bungalow for a day's intercourse with the 
pasture shrubs that have never before met them, 
and feeling awkward and disconcerted at not be- 
ing able to recall names after a wholesale intro- 
duction. I have felt that way myself after un- 
dergoing a rapid-fire presentation to a room full 
of people. If, like the pasture shrubs in this par- 
ticular corner of the pasture world, all these could 
have worn a name and address on coat-lapel or 
corsage, I had come up to the second round able 
to call each fearlessly by name and oftentimes 
save mutual embarrassment. 

But there are minor considerations, after all. 
I have an idea that the pasture shrubs may never 
take kindly to thus carrying conventional calling 
cards, and that shyer still and more nimble-footed 
friends will finally relieve them of what wind 
and rain have left. In a year or two I shall find 
the cards nameless and built in as foundations of 
nests of jay birds and white-footed mice, or 
worked up more skillfully yet by white-faced 
hornets into the gray paper of their nests. This 
is a carefully adjusted world and the instinctive 
movements of all creatures go to the keeping of 
the perfect balance. The normal attacks the 



WILD APPLE TREES 99 

abnormal immediately and all along the line. 
With shrub or bird or beast to exceed the world- 
old conventions is to be firmly thrust back into 
the adjustment or wiped out. 

Yet, now and then the balance is not exactly 
disturbed, but rather readjusted by some alien 
that seems to find a foothold through all opposi- 
tion and establishes a place through pure vigor 
and sweetness of character. Of such is the ap- 
ple tree that came out of the East with other be- 
ginnings of civilization, reaching the shores of 
Western Europe by way of Greece and Rome. 
Thence it passed with the early Puritans to New 
England. A pampered denizen of the orchard 
and garden for a century or two the tree, so far 
as New England is concerned, seems to be stead- 
ily passing to the wild state. Old orchards grow 
up to pasture and woodland and the trees of a 
century ago hold on, if at all, in spite of the en- 
croachments of their surroundings. Thus the 
best of grafted trees pass to the wild state 
through decay and regrowth, the strength and 
sweetness of the wood seeming to bear up against 
all adversity. The old-time trunk rots away, but 
sprouts from below the graft spring up and the 
tree reverts to the primitive in habit as well as 



lOO OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

surroundings. Or seeds, planted by bird or 
squirrel grow up in rich, modest humus among 
rough rocks where never a plough could pass and 
we have some new variety, a veritable wild apple 
with no semblance of the original fruit about it 
but often a delectable, wild tang, a flavor and 
perfume such as no cultivated variety ever had. 
No tree gives more beauty to the wildest of New 
England woods and pastures today than this. 
Innocent of pruning knife or fertilizer its growth 
has a rugged picturesqueness about it that makes 
the well trained tree look pusillanimously conven- 
tional beside it. I think the perfume of its blos- 
soms is richer and carries farther and I know 
the pink of the petals is fairer. The wild apple 
is the queen of all pasture trees today and does 
not need to bear a tag for the most cityfied man, 
the most boudoir-encysted woman to know it. 
To get beneath an apple tree, even in the wildest 
and most unfrequented portion of the pasture or 
woodland, is to all of us like finding one's roof- 
tree once more. The race seems to have been 
brought up beneath it and I take it for a sign of 
decadence in the New England character that we 
no longer plant orchards. It is fortunate for us 
all that the wild creatures are doing what man 



WILD APPLE TREES loi 

will not and it may be that their planting will 
some day give us so beautiful and well flavored a 
wild apple that we too shall be moved to plant 
and the country blossom with orchards once 
more. All the best varieties were thus seedlings 
originally and have been perpetuated by trans- 
ferring their buds to the limbs of less valued 
stock. 

Just as in man bone and sinew count really 
for little and it is only the subtle essence of be- 
ing, the spirit behind and within, that matters, 
so it is the sweet and kindly soul within the apple 
tree that radiates love to all comers. In apple- 
blossom time the bees will desert all other flowers 
for them, not because the honey is sweeter or 
more plentiful within them but because the woo- 
ing fragrance has more of a pull on their heart 
strings than any other. Again in the late au- 
tumn they come to the ripe fruit for final winter 
stores, drawn by the same subtle essence, distilled 
from disintegrating, pulpy cells. I believe the 
first cider making was a rude attempt to imprison 
and perpetuate this charm, rather than to simply 
make a spirituous liquor. So richly does the 
apple tree give forth this spirit of generous de- 
light that to all of us the trees seem to brood and 



I02 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



radiate a feeling of parental protection. Man 
often voices this, and in ancient times there 
were ceremonies which recognized the tree as 
a kindly deity to whom reverence was done and 
thanks given. To "wassail" the trees was more 
than a jovial excuse for cider and song, it had 
roots in a deeper feeling of reverence and grati- 
tude. But those humbler than men have the 
same feeling. In the pastures I often find the 
apple trees literally brooding seedling cedars 
which seem to flock beneath the outstretched and 
low-hanging boughs as chickens huddle beneath 
the mother hen for protection and warmth. 
Where tender nurslings of this sort are scattered 
wide in other portions of the pastures to find 
them grouped here by the score means that some 
selective thought has brought it all about. I can- 
not, of course, say that the seedlings consciously 
choose. Nevertheless, somehow, that spirit of 
protecting love of which I am, myself, definitely 
conscious when I come near an apple tree has 
somehow drawn beneath it these plants of other 
fibre that need its shelter. 

To more sentient beings we may accord a 
more conscious purpose, and that the wild apple 
tree is more beloved of bird and beast than any 



WILD APPLE TREES 103 

other proves that they, too, feel the brooding 
charm which radiates from it. Verily, a tree is 
known by its nests. It seems as if the apple tree 
.took loving thought and prepared especially for 
certain varieties while welcoming all. The robin 
loves a solid foundation for the mud bottom and 
sides of his substantial home. On the level- 
growing apple tree limb he finds this, and the 
kindly tree throws out little curved, finger-like 
fruiting twigs from the sides of its big limbs that 
help anchor the structure against all winds. 
Farther up on the limb and near the slenderer 
tip these curved fruiting twigs multiply and sug- 
gest the very shape of his nest to the chipping 
sparrow who loves to twine tiny roots and 
grasses, and especially horsehair, among them till 
his own light, wee structure is as securely placed 
as the cement bungalow of the bigger bird. So, 
too, the tyrant flycatcher loves to build his larger 
nest, often interwoven with waste string till it 
looks as if he had tied it on. He seeks the very 
tip of the level limb and the blunt, sturdy, spread- 
ing twigs invite his confidence as they do that of 
the chipping sparrow. This bold exposure of 
eggs and nestlings invites thieving jays and mur- 
derous crows, hawks and owls, but the king- 



I04 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

bird's dinner flies by while he waits, and he does 
police duty while he watches for it. He is 
rightly named and no marauder dares approach 
while he sits dominant on the topmost bough. 
He is guardian thus of his less belligerent neigh- 
bors. 

The oriole, trained in tropic woodlands to 
avoid climbers, instinctively finds the pendulous 
tips of slender elm boughs the best place for his 
nest, yet often in apple-blossom time he becomes 
so enamored of them that the white snow of their 
falling petals leaves him building on the twigs 
from which they scatter. In July the incessant, 
cry-baby twittering of the young orioles is thus 
as common a sound of the orchard and pasture 
as it is of the elm-shaded street. Other apple 
tree nest-hangers are the vireos, yellow throated, 
red-eyed and white-eyed, all of whom love to 
build on the low-swinging tips of the benedictory 
limbs. It seems to me that no other tree attracts 
such a variety of beautiful birds out of what one 
might think to be their usual environment. Of 
these I may cite the scarlet tanager and the rose- 
breasted grosbeak, both rather shy woodland 
dwellers, the tanager the friend of the tall tim- 
ber, the grosbeak partial to sprout land and sec- 



WILD APPLE TREES 105 

ond growth, but both often found building their 
nests on the inviting boughs of apple trees not 
far from their favorite haunts. 

It seems, too, as if the tree made especial 
preparation for the housing of other less shy folk. 
I know no other tree so nobly hollow-hearted. 
At little excuse, if it be not good will toward 
woodpeckers, bluebirds and their like, the ma- 
hogany-like dense heart-wood rots, leaving hol- 
low passages in the trunk and larger limbs, and 
often in the smaller ones, too. Here are homes 
for all who seek complete seclusion from storms 
and enemies. The little screech owl loves these 
hollows more than those of any other tree, and 
sings his little quavering night song from the 
dusky tops, while his mate and her eggs are safely 
hidden in the blackness of the hollow below. 
The downy woodpecker bores his nest hole in the 
softened heart-wood of upright limbs and pays 
for his lodging by devouring all grubs and borers 
that otherwise might make his house fall too 
soon. The bluebird finds his dwelling ready 
made, lower down, often in a horizontal limb, 
having neither strength nor inclination to bore 
for himself. The flicker, too, loves the apple 
tree and bores his own hole in upright limbs, as 



io6 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

does the downy woodpecker, often with much 
noise and obtrusion of vigorous chips. 

Nor need the list stop here. The red squirrel 
and the gray, the bat, the field mouse and the 
white-footed mouse all feel this welcoming 
charm, this endearing hospitality of the wild 
apple tree, whether born wild or grown wild 
through neglect, and go to it for protection, for 
food, for a home, or just because, like man, they 
love it and feel sweetened and heartened in its 
presence. 

Soon now the snow of falling petals will whiten 
the ground beneath all wild apple trees, carrying 
an inexpressible purity and fragrance to the rich 
wild earth beneath. Whither these melt it is 
hard to say. They whiten the ground for a few 
brief hours and are gone. I can fancy the wee 
sprites of earth in whatever form they happen 
to dwell at the moment, beetle or bumblebee, eft 
or elve, gathering these eagerly by scent and by 
sight, to store them away below ground for slow 
transmutations of their own. If wrapped in bed- 
clothing like this it is no miracle that rough 
grubs should come forth gauzy winged and beau- 
tiful insects that flit by and delight the eye of the 
naturalist. If fed upon these it is no wonder 



WILD APPLE TREES 107 

that summer wild flowers of the deep woods can 
show us delicate tints and woo us with dainty 
perfumes, the very memory of which is happi- 
ness for long after. Thus the tree makes kindly 
messengers of even the rough winds of March 
that sometimes charge back upon us for a day, 
obliging them to carry the very essence of the 
gentle good will and fondness of the spring 
farther than it might otherwise reach and finally 
bidding them faint and die for very love of the 
perfume and beauty they bear. Thus the wild 
apple tree, still the brooding mother of all wood- 
land things, sends fragrant love and kindness 
questing far through the rougher woodland till 
its gentle spirit seems to imbue all things. In 
all the pastures there is none like it. 



CHAPTER IX 

MIDSUMMER MOONLIGHT 

All through the afternoon of the fervent July 
day I could see the sun sifting and winnowing 
his gold for the sunset. All the morning his al- 
chemic forces had been quietly transmuting gray 
mists of midnight, vapors from damp humus, 
moisture from lush leaves and I know not what 
other pure though common elements into the 
precious glow that began to haze the west soon 
after noon. The old belief that the alchemist at 
his utmost cunning could recreate rose blooms 
from their own ashes had sure foundation. I 
have seen the sun do it every June in countless 
gardens where, out of this same humus and soft 
rains, his potency works the transmutation as if 
in a night. So on July days this father of trans- 
muters melts in his crucible, of which the earth 
under our feet seems always the very bottom of 
the bowl, many ingredients, and distils from them 
this pure gold. Soon after he passes the merid- 
ian you may see it sprinkled lavishly from zenith 

io8 



MIDSUMMER MOONLIGHT 109 

to horizon, and as the day wanes it gilds all sor- 
did things with the glow of romance. By it we 
get the clearer vision and have thoughts of the 
unseen things which are eternal. The trouble 
with sordid souls, if such there be, is that they 
have never seen enough sunsets. People who 
live in places or palaces where these are never 
seen have need to be born of noble fathers and 
sweet mothers, to be carefully nurtured in hope 
and aspiration and belief, or the world is the 
worse for them. 

Long after the sun had gone and the evening 
was cool with unclotted dew, the fires of the melt- 
ing burned high in the upper air and the gold 
that had been thin vapor seemed to condense into 
clouds that glowed copper-red with the molten 
metal and cooled and dropped into the distant 
hills. No wonder the miners go ever westward 
for the precious gold, to Colorado and Nevada 
and California, to Sitka and the Copper River, to 
Anvil City and the Nome beach and across the 
straits to Siberia. Never a clear night falls but 
they see the alchemy at work and the precious 
element going down in dust and nuggets and 
wide lodes behind the peaks and into the canons 
just beyond. 



no OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

Usually it is not until the gold begins to pass 
that I notice the nighthawk, though he may have 
been circling and crying ''peent, peent" all the 
afternoon. If you can catch sight of him before 
the light fades too much you will see the white 
bar which crosses each wing beneath and looks 
exactly like a hole, as if the bird had transparen- 
cies in his pinions as has the polyphemus moth. 
Many a summer afternoon I have seen night- 
hawks circling erratically above Boston Common, 
and there their cry has sounded like a plaint. 
No doubt these birds fly there by choice and bring 
up their young on the tops of Back Bay buildings 
because they prefer the place, but this has not 
prevented a tinge of melancholy in their voices. 
Like many another city dweller they may take 
habit for preference, but the longing for the free- 
dom of the woods, though unconscious, will voice 
itself some way. The nighthawk's cry, falling 
from the high gold of the waning sunset to dusky 
pasture glades, has no note of melancholy but a 
soothing sleepiness about it that makes it a lul- 
laby of contentment. I rarely hear him after 
dark. I fancy he goes higher and higher to keep 
in the soft radiance of the fading glow. Only 
once have I ever seen one sky-coasting, falling 






CO 



o 



to/) 






CO 



MIDSUMMER MOONLIGHT in 

like a dark star from a height where he seemed 
but a mote in the gold, a smaller, point that the 
green glint of a real star that had just come 
through. It was as if his wings had lost their 
hold on the thinner air of this remote height. 
He half shut them to his body and dived head 
foremost on a perilous slant. Then, just as he 
must be dashed to pieces on the gray rock of the 
ledge on which I sat, he spread them wide, 
caught the air that sang through the wide-spread 
primaries with a clear, deep-toned note, and rose 
again; and in his ''peent, peent" was a quaint 
note of self-satisfaction and self-praise. 

It is customary to ascribe actions of this sort 
on the part of a bird to a desire to please and 
astound the mate who is supposed to look on with 
fervent admiration. Sometimes this may be the 
case, but I think more often the bird, like my 
nighthawk, does it to please himself. There was 
no mate in sight when this nighthawk did his 
sky coasting, nor did any appear afterward. It 
was after the mating season and I think the bird 
did it in just pure joy in his own dare-deviltry. 
He liked to see how near he could come to 
breaking his neck without actually doing it. In 
the same way a male woodcock will keep up his 



112 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

shadow-dancing antics long after the nesting 
season is over, and the partridge drums more or 
less the year around. The other bird may have 
much admiration for these actions if she sees 
them, but never half so much as the bird who 
performs. Nothing could equal that. 

The most beautiful moonlight nights we have 
are those on which the moon is an hour or two 
late. Then we see the day merge into real dark- 
ness as velvety shadows slip quietly up out of the 
earth and dance together. These congregated 
under the pines at first, last night, and waited a 
bit before they dared the shelter of deciduous 
trees. Long after that they huddled on the mar- 
gins of the open pasture as bathers do on the 
pond shore when the water is cold, seeming to 
put dark toes into the clear light and then with- 
draw with a shudder. When they all went in I 
do not know, for I was watching the sky. By 
and by I looked back at the pasture and the open 
places in the wood, and all alike were filled with a 
wavering crowd that seemed to trip lightly and 
noiselessly as if in a minuet. Little by little 
they blotted out familiar outlines till only the 
tallest of pines looming dark against the lighter 



I 




o 
o 



MIDSUMMER MOONLIGHT 113 

horizon had form. All else was a void, not that 
of chaos but a soft cosmos of completion. 

It is singular how long one may look at this 
complete darkness and not note the dancing 
lights in it. After you see them, the glint of the 
fireflies flitting hither and thither, starring the 
meadows as thickly as distant suns star the sky, 
making a milky way of the brookside and flash- 
ing comet-like along the dry upland, is singularly 
vivid. They sparkle, these northern fireflies of 
ours, with a dainty glint that merely emphasizes 
the darkness. Now and then you may see the 
larva of one of these, which is the glow-worm be- 
side the path. You may get a very faint real 
illumination from him, lighting perhaps the space 
of your fingernail as he crawls along. He, too, 
merely serves to make the darkness visible. The 
firefly of the tropics is more spectacular. He 
blazes forth like a meteor, setting all the thicket 
aglow for a moment. The lights of our fireflies 
are more like a frosting of the darkness, as when 
the moon shines in winter and the light glints 
from ice crystals hung on the frozen grass. I 
like ours best. 

The herald of the moon is the whippoor-will 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



I do not recall hearing him sing on pitch black 
nights. Starshine is enough for him, but I am 
convinced that he is only half nocturnal and that 
he watches for signs of moonlight as eagerly as 
I do. Last night I saw the glint of it in the 
upper sky an hour before the moon rose, a silvery 
shine which did not touch the lower atmosphere, 
but shot athwart the higher stars like a ghost of 
aurora. The whippoor-will saw it, too, and be- 
gan his call, which I do not find a melancholy 
plaint, but rather an eager asking. It was a voice 
of shrill longing, sounding out of luminous lone- 
liness after the moon began to silver all things. 
Slowly, like a benediction, this silvery luminosity 
descended till it touched the tops of eastward hills 
with the softest imaginable glow and filled all the 
sky above them with light. The glow of the sun 
drives the darkness before it and then appears. 
The glow of the moon is so much the more gentle 
in that it fills the world with radiance and leaves 
the darkness, which it permeates, but does not 
destroy. It is a newer evangel, which does not 
seek to rebuild the world, but simply takes it as 
it is and fills it with clear fire, adding to its rough 
vigor purity of motive. I do not see how any- 
one who loves moonlight can be bad, or even 



MIDSUMMER MOONLIGHT 115 

morose and melancholy. Its light drowns all 
these in a deep sea of peace. 

As the moon came up, gibbous and glowing, its 
beams seemed to skim into the darkness under the 
pines as a swallow flies, scaling along beneath 
the blackness of close-set plumes above, to light 
long aisles between the naked boles below. 
These that had been so invisible before that I had 
to find my way among them by the friendly lead- 
ing of the path beneath my feet, now took on a 
radiance of their own. Green and brown no 
longer, they glowed with the witchery of the level 
light, their real colors only shining faintly 
through this transparent frosting, this veneer of 
cool fire, till the place was like those European 
salt caverns of which one reads where the dark 
roof is upheld by crystalline pillars that give 
ghostly reflections of the lights that the miners 
carry. Here, groping in the grotesque glow of 
their own lanterns might well come the gnomes 
of German tales although, so sweetly gentle is the 
light, I can think of them only as kindly goblins 
bent on quaint deeds of goodness. 

Beyond the pines the path led me moonward 
through glades among deciduous trees, no doubt 
the abodes of elves. That may have been but a 



ii6 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

sphinx moth that flew down the path before me, 
his fat gray body silvered by the moonHght, his 
short, narrow wings beating so fast that they be- 
came but a gauzy nimbus about him, or it may 
have been Puck, training to put that girdle round 
about the earth in forty minutes. Here invisible 
creatures scurried away from a fairy ring whose 
flagging is of round pyrola leaves, lighted 
by ghostly white candelabras of the waxy blooms, 
field mice, very likely, or black beetles, or elves 
dancing in the moonlight about their queen. 
How am I to know which ? Surely if elves dance 
anywhere it is on midsummer nights like this 
when the dew has clotted on all the leaves till 
they are pearled with a soft green fire as if from 
caverns under sea and I walk down the path 
through such caves and among such kelp and 
corals as a merman might. All about me I hear 
the stirring of the little people and now and then 
soft airs fanned from invisible wings touch my 
cheek. It may be moth, or bat, or tricksy Ariel 
for all I know or care, such glamour does the 
haunted air throw about him who will leave the 
brown earth behind and plunge in its silvery 
depths. 

Pushing aside tapestries woven of such figures 




o 

-Si 

o 



<3 






■to 

0< 



MIDSUMMER MOONLIGHT 117 

as these on a cloth of white silver, I stepped out 
of the wood on to the shore of the unruffled 
pond. Here a man might well pause and take 
no further step lest he fall into the blue depths 
of space. The moon hangs like a great shield in 
a sky of soft sapphire, piled with luminous fig- 
ures. Within the wood are fairy and elf, goblin 
and gnome, half seen in the filmy light. Here 
giant genie stand revealed, passing in the dim 
perspective of mighty distances or leaning por- 
tentously from the radiant sky. In the mirror- 
like pond I see all these things repeated in an un- 
derworld that is as distinct and clear, yet 
strangely distorted. The miles of soft blue dis- 
tance that stretch invitingly upward to the with- 
drawn stars of the zenith, stretch as soft and 
blue, but fearsomely deep beneath my feet to the 
nadir. Standing at the water's rim I am on the 
verge of a vast, deep gulf that no plummet might 
fathom, into which at another step I shall begin 
to fall, and once falling fall forever, for there is 
no bottom. It is all very well to say to one's self 
that an inch below the mirroring surface lies ihe 
good gray sand which was there by daylight. 
The midsummer moon is past the full and things 
are as they seem. 



II. 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



By midnight the white genie of the sky had 
stalked off beyond the horizon out of sight. The 
moon that had been so great among them with its 
rim touching the eastern hills that it was like a 
great map of itself hung on the margining sky, 
had concentrated to a ball of white light near the 
zenith. Back in the wood I found the invisible 
little people out in full force, rustling, flitting and 
calling. But the white light had gone and under 
thick foliage of deciduous trees the real night had 
come again, dappled, indeed, by flecks of filtered 
moonlight which dazzled and made the shadows 
more obscure. In the depths of the pines the ver- 
itable darkness of Egypt smothered all sight. 
Here the path must be found by the feet alone, 
and it is singular what potency of understanding 
thrills up from the good brown earth through the 
boot-soles when it is needed. Every footpath is 
a shallow canal through which you flow as does 
water if you will but let it lead you. If the foot 
fall but a little to the right or left of the wonted 
spot some slight inequality of the earth that in 
the full daylight would never reach your senses, 
now sends definite messages to you. By it you 
swing with certainty to the right or the left and 
find the next footfall near enough within the nar- 



MIDSUMMER MOONLIGHT 119 

row way to continue the guidance. No matter 
how winding the path, it will keep you within its 
borders if you will but give up your will to it. 

Stepping from this Egyptian shadow of the 
pines to the full glare of midnight on the brow of 
the hill was like having a searchlight thrown on 
you. All things gleamed in a white radiance 
which had rainbow margins where the dew hung 
heaviest on nearby objects. 

By day in this spot the eye is photographic and 
records every detail, by night you have the same 
story told again by the brush of an impressionist. 
It is the reverse with sounds. In the full glare 
of the sun the myriad voices of the world mingle 
in a clear roar that is a steady musical note, and 
soon you forget to hear it. By night each noise 
is individual, and leaves its impress on the mind. 
Whoever remembers the quality of noises he 
hears by day in the city, however great the up- 
roar? Who can forget the soothing chirp of 
crickets in the grass at his feet by night ? 

Standing on a hilltop on such a midnight a man 
may map the watercourses, large and small, for 
miles around, though by day he can see from the 
same place no glint of water. Here is a deep 
lake of white fog which marks a marsh, and into 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



it flow winding streams that are level with the 
treetops on the margin. Here the moon by night 
is distilling and vatting mountain dew from 
which all wild creatures may drink deep without 
fear of deleterious effects. It is the cup that 
cheers and does not inebriate. The waking rob- 
ins tipple on it and sing the more joyously, nor 
is there in their midday any of the moroseness of 
reaction. 

Three hours later the moon had slipped down 
from the zenith into cushions of velvety, violet 
black, low in the western sky. Its bright white 
glow was lost in part and it was haloed with a 
yellow nimbus of its own fog distillation. Over 
on the margin of the pines the little screech owl, 
now full of field mice and having time to worry, 
voiced his trouble about it in little sorrowful 
whinnies. Down in the pasture a fox barked 
distinctly and a coon answered the plaint of the 
screech owl in a voice not unlike his. It always 
seems to me that the night hunters of pasture 
and woodland bewail the passing of such a night 
as much as I do. The whippoor-will began to 
voice his petulant wistfulness again. He had 
been silent for hours, feasting I dare say on 
myriad moths and unable to call with his mouth 



MIDSUMMER MOONLIGHT 121 

full. The whippoor-will chants matins as quer- 
ulously as he does vespers. Far in the east the 
stars that had been gleaming brighter as the moon 
descended paled again. The night in all its per- 
fect beauty was over, for into the shrill eager- 
ness of the whippoor-wilFs call cut the joyous 
carol of a dawn-worshipping robin. 



CHAPTER X 



TURTLE-HEAD AND JEWEL-WEED 

In my town, summer, whom the almanack 
calmly orders out on August 31st, refuses to be 
evicted in person and lingers serenely while the 
furniture is being removed, often until late Sep- 
tember. In these September days I think we 
love her best, perhaps because we know that soon 
we shall lose her, and already the parting has 
begun. It is not that certain flowers that came 
joyously in June are now but dry bracts and seed 
pods. She has given us other beauties and fra- 
grance to take their places. It is rather that 
summer herself is gently breaking with us, giv- 
ing us the full joy of her warmth through the 
day, but discreetly withdrawing at nightfall and 
lingering late in her own apartments of crisp 
mornings when there is a tonic as of frost in the 
air, whereby October woos us. 

The garnishings of her house are hardly fewer 

while the moving van people are so busy, and I 

am apt to delight in them all up to the very mo- 

122 



TURTLE-HEAD AND JEWEL-WEED 123 

ment when the sweepers, the autumn winds, come 
and brusquely brush them out. Old man Bar- 
berry is very happy at this time too. Since he 
hung out his queer smelling pale gold pendants 
in late May he has shown no touch of color, but 
has wrapped himself stoically in sober green and 
waited, as old men know how to do. Now his day 
has come again and he is very brave in rubies 
that fringe his dull attire and make him flash 
lire in the sun from head to foot. Slender gold- 
enrod girls and blue-eyed aster children, troop- 
ing along the fields and over the hills, holding up 
the train of summer as she walks so sedately, 
think him adorable. If summer stops but for a 
moment I see them slipping slyly into his arms, 
laying golden heads on his drab waistcoat and 
gazing with wonder-blue eyes at his coruscating 
gems. I think well of old man Barberry, too; 
better I fancy than he does of me. I admire his 
stocky growth which has a sturdy grace of its 
own, and I love him for the birds that he shelters, 
the yellow warblers that love to build their cot- 
tony nests in his arms. But he was born in the 
pasture long before I was and he usually resents 
my advances. His trident spines have a sarcas- 
tic touch that tingles, and with them he bids me 



124 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

keep my distance. But he is a wise old man in 
his love for gentle beauty and he makes a fine pic- 
ture of gold and green, ruby fire and tender blue 
as he folds all these youngsters in his embrace. 
Those spines he must fold very close, even to 
the withdrawing of them into his orange colored 
cambium layers, for there is never an ouch from 
the group. 

These are summer's flowers for remembrance, 
the goldenrod and asters. She gives them to us 
and goes, making all early autumn glow with her 
memory thereby. But old man Barberry may 
have these if he will. I like best to remember 
her by others less common and less permanent, 
flowers of shy dignity that begin to think of de- 
parture when summer does, and vanish with the 
flash of her trailing garments. Two of these, 
the turtle-head and the jewel-weed, are little 
known to careless passers, and elderly pasture 
shrubs have no chance to lure them with Attle- 
boro jewelry. They have their abode in cool 
springs in seclusion behind the pine-clad hillside, 
and would, I fancy, be ashamed to be seen wand- 
ering wantonly about the open fields. I have to 
make pilgrimage to their home in the middle of 
the fountain head marsh to meet them, nor are 



TURTLE-HEAD AND JEWEL- WEED 125 

their real beauties revealed to one who carelessly 
splashes in. Instead, he is liable to be mired in 
black mud and see nothing so good as his way out 
again, nor will he even notice the elfin laughter of 
black crickets and green grasshoppers who rub 
their preposterously long hind legs together in 
glee at the joke, so eager will he be for dry land. 

The right of way leads over a level, firm trunk 
of a fallen tree, one that has been so long down 
that only a mossy ridge indicates its existence, to 
a sphagnum mound which tops a stump as old 
as the causeway. A swamp maple grows at this 
stump as a back for my seat in this reception 
room of the jewel-weeds. I think it is the &way 
of the slender maple that puts me in rhythm with 
the mood of the place and gives me eyes to see 
things as they are, for after a little the rough 
swamp snarl of straggling growth unravels it- 
self, and things stand revealed. 

There is the rough bedstraw. Somebody who 
saw it first shall burn for calling such a sweet 
little plant such a mischancy name. I protest 
that the bedstraw is worthy a better. To be 
sure it is rough. The prickles that line the edges 
of its stems all point back, and while they do not 
wound they hold you tenaciously when you touch 



126 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



them. Thus the plant clings to other woodier 
stems and climbs vicariously. But why bed- 
straw ?' I trust that none of the people who came 
out of the ark and set about naming things as 
they followed had to make bedding of these 
rough stems. With the whorls of slim green 
leaves that climb with the slender stalks the 
plants make lace and a green mist all about, un- 
derfoot in the marsh, lace that drapes tall plants 
to which it clings, a green mist out of which shine 
constellations of tiny star blooms. Picking these 
constellations to pieces one might place a hun- 
dred of the tiny, four-pointed stars on a copper 
cent and never overlap the petals, yet they shine 
above the green as Orion and Cassiopsea do over 
the frost fog of a winter night, they are so vividly 
white. 

I never see this at first. It is only after the 
tranquillity of the place has shrunk my unwieldy 
bulk to the patient potency of the tiny herbs 
themselves that I have the sight. It is admir- 
able, this potent patience of these wee things that 
are born in bogs yet in their own world grow 
stars the memory of which lasts as long in the 
consciousness of man as does that of the Pleiades. 
If you pluck them you will see by turning them 



TURTLE-HEAD AND JEWEL-WEED 127 

over that these constellations are as whitely 
bright to small eyes that look from below, from 
the ooze of the bog or the roots of marsh grass, 
as they are to our great eyes that look from 
above. Of an early September morning in the 
clear stillness I feel that they loom like varnished 
planets of the sky in their own lowly heaven of 
coruscating dew that coats all things with a 
milky way of white fire drops, a dew that has 
risen all night from the warmth below and, 
chilled by the cold blue void of space, has hesi- 
tated on every leaf and twig, frightened into im- 
mobility; infinitesimal drops as shining white and 
as close together as the stars in a winter night 
sky. At dawn all the bog world is crusted with 
this dew. 

A great gravelly hill rises abruptly from the 
southern edge of this boggy home of shy plants, 
clothed with century old pines. These are so 
high and so dense that the sun's rays cannot come 
through with any directness, instead they are so 
filtered and reflected from gloss of leaf and gray 
of trunk that they have no power to dry up this 
dew, they simply light it up, nor can the little 
morning winds that play at surf bathing in the 
pine tops, dancing hand in hand, ducking with 



128 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



little shouts of laughter and singing songs 
learned from the roar of breakers on gray rocks, 
come down to drink them up ; so the stars of this 
under-forest heaven remain to keep the bedstraw 
constellations company until nearly noon. By 
way of the lower heaven of bedstraw blooms the 
eye rises easily to the forest of jewel-weeds. 
These at least are rightly, if unconsciously, 
named. It is not only the bloom but the whole 
weed that is a jewel when the morning sun is low 
and the reflected light slides level into the forest 
among purple stems that shoal into transparent 
green as they slender toward the leaves. These, 
too, seem transluscent and glow, and then some 
sprite seems to have suddenly turned on the jew- 
els. Strange that they did not flash to my eyes 
even before I came to the place, on my way down 
the hill. Perhaps it is some trick of light and 
shade that makes them flash on at a certain time 
and glow like transparent gold shot through with 
light. No jeweller could make these: they are 
such as a fairy prince might hang on the pale 
green breast of a dryad, a nuptial gift of surpass- 
ing value out of fairy coffers. 

At the thought I see more clearly still and each 
plant becomes a slender personality of the forest, 



TURTLE-HEAD AND JEWEL-WEED 129 

a nymph whose purple life-blood runs clear in 
delicate veins under a skin of transluscent green. 
Out of what trees they stepped seems not difficult 
to tell. Surely this one came down out of a 
pasture elm to b'athe slim feet in the cool spring 
water. Here are smaller, more slender creatures 
that came from white birches, and that group of 
stately 'ones stepped out of the tall white pines 
that stand on the slope nearby. No wonder the 
other creatures of the glade adore these slim 
green dryads of the swamp. The misty green 
bedstraw fawns about their feet and makes lace 
for their gowns. The polygonum blushes pink 
and stretclies long arms toward them. The 
white alders, to whose tips beauty and fragrance 
still cling bend over them and toss white petals 
and perfume their way, while even the homely 
bur-marigold seems to glow a little better yel- 
low in fondness, though it very properly keeps 
its distance. Rough rushes nod three-cornered 
approval and I am sure the spinulose wood ferns 
crowd down into wetter spots than anywhere else, 
just to get sight of them. In fact they stand in 
such wet ground that you might think them 
Nephrodium cristatum instead of Nephrodium 
spinulosum were it not for the delicate fringing 



I30 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

of their fronds which no other fern can equal. 

While these things happen I think I can see 
the dryads quiver with delight and their jewels 
dance and flash, living creatures rather than 
gems. Surely if anyone may wear living jewels 
it should be dryads. They have a trick of facing 
you, these jewels, and looking like golden butter- 
flies just spreading petal wings for a flight. At 
such times I am minded not to move suddenly 
lest they go oft* over the treetops like a flock of 
goldfinches. If they should I should not be sur- 
prised. With a change of light or position they 
change appearance again and become tiny gold 
dragons, winged dragons with gaping mouths 
and little keen brown eyes that size you up. 
Again each is but an ear-pendant, beaten of thin 
gold hanging beneath the shell-green ear of the 
dryad. 

All these are early morning fancies, born, I 
dare say, of the fine flavor of the place, drunk in 
dew. At noon, when the sun shines direct into 
the marshy glade, the dryads have gone back into 
their trees for a noonday nap and the jewel- 
weeds are but weeds after all, though beautiful 
ones. Bees come sailing along and plunge at the 
open cornucopia of the lower petal, which was 




i^O 



<3 



TURTLE-HEAD AND JEWEL-WEED 131 

the very dragon's mouth, after the honey in its 
tip. Honey bees would find ready entrance, but 
the burly bumblebees are far too fat. These 
light on the lip, through inherited habit, no doubt, 
but immediately turn to the recurved honey- 
holding tip and plunge the proboscis through its 
slender texture, stealing the honey from flower 
after flower. In a day's watching I have seen 
only bumblebees gathering honey from these 
flowers, and I wonder about the fertilization 
which certainly requires that insects should go in 
and out at that open dragon mouth, not little 
chaps, but buzzy, fuzzy creatures that will brush 
off the pollen and carry it. 

I have no doubt about the bumblebees and the 
turtle-heads. Each vivid white corolla of the 
groups that stand so stiffly on the ends of the long 
stalks seems especially made for a bumblebee. 
He goes into it as a hand into a glove, flattening 
himself amazingly for the entrance, but finding 
room to work in the interior, though not enough 
to turn about in. On his way in, what pollen he 
already may have collected on his furry back 
slips easily off on the very lip of the stigma 
which waits at the strategic point with the ant- 
lers crowding well forward, but firmly held a 



132 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



hair's breadth behind it. Thus each bloom is f er- 
tihzed with the pollen from some other, insuring 
cross-fertilization. The bumblebee takes his toll 
in honey, but when he comes to back out he has 
trouble. If you will listen close by you will hear 
him buzzing and burbling like an overheated tea- 
kettle as he struggles. The arching filaments of 
those fuzzy stamins have tangled his short legs 
and he is shaking the pollen out of the antlers all 
into the fur of his yellow overcoat. Before he 
gets out he is right mad and loaded with pollen 
for the fertilization of the next bloom. He 
comes squeezing out, as flat as a pancake, sharp 
end first, and though I watch close by I am very 
respectfully motionless. But he gets all over it 
by the time he has flown to the next bloom and 
his hum as he prods his way in has the tone of 
a cheerful "Good morning." 

The turtle-heads have none of the frail loveli- 
ness of the jewel-weeds that suggest half -visible 
dryads, but they have a stanch beauty of their 
own which I think makes them seem very comely. 
Each corolla is a smooth, opaque white through 
which no light may pass. It is easy to know 
how it looks inside a jewel of the jewel-weed. 
From without the imagination can appreciate 



TURTLE-HEAD AND JEWEL-WEED 133 

that glow of pale gold which must there suffuse 
all things. To such tiny midges and beetles, 
spiders and moths as may enter it must be like 
walking about in the heart of the Tiffany yellow 
diamond. The bumblebee might tell how it 
seems in the turtlehead petal, if he knows. I 
fancy, however, he is so everlastingly busy and 
so mad with the filaments when he is inside that 
he has no time to think of atmosphere. Often 
the pure white of this flower is tinged with a soft 
shading of delicate rose near the tip of the petal. 
It is an unobtrusive shading, as shy as the bloom 
itself. Ashes of roses might describe the tint 
better, for it is as gentle as the fading pink of 
a sunset sky, a shade that has dropped thence to 
the lips of these blossoms hiding in the dusk of 
the swamp. You see it best by looking close into 
the very face of the flower as the bumblebee does 
when about to alight on it, and I think it is set 
there to show him the way. By the time he has 
seen that, he is near enough to be drawn by the 
faint but ravishing perfume which is breathed 
out by the flower. It is so faint that you must 
come like the bee to the very lip of the corolla be- 
fore you will find it. It is so tender and of such 
refinement that when once you get it you will 



134 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

think no blossom has its equal. The white alder 
at this time of year is prodigal of rich and delect- 
able odors. The jewel-weed with all its beauty 
has none that my sense can perceive. But that 
of Chelone glabra, as modest and withdrawn as 
the flower itself, seems hardly to belong in the 
swamp for all the beauty of the place. It should 
rather be that of some delicately nurtured plant, 
some rare orchid of sheltered conservatories, it 
is so delicate and delightful. 

The jewel-weed is as frail as a dream for all 
its vigorous growth which reaches sometimes six 
feet. If you pluck it it withers before you can 
get it home to put in water and its jewels shrivel 
to nothing on the way. Turtle-head is far dif- 
ferent and I like it for its sturdiness, but most 
of all I like it because it is the hast of a small 
friend of mine, the Baltimore butterfly. In 
summer you may see this little fellow, a plaid of 
yellow and orange on black, the Baltimore colors, 
whence his name, flitting about, never far from 
the place where the turtle-head grows. If you 
see one you may be almost sure that the other is 
nearby. I have not seen the butterfly for many 
weeks, but among the stalks of Chelone I find the 
webs which shelter its children. These tiny 



TURTLE-HEAD AND JEWEL-WEED 135 

caterpillars will feed on the leaves till winter, 
then by some witchery of nature survive the frost 
and snow and zero weather, sheltered only by 
this filmy, flimsy home, finish their growth in the 
spring, waxing fat on the young leaves and by 
late May be floating about, more Baltimore 
butterflies. 

There can be no better evidence of the witchery 
and romance of the place than this, that these 
frail pulpy creatures should with no covering 
worth the name withstand cold that under similar 
conditions would kill me before Christmas time. 
When I think of this dreams of dryads that troop 
down from the hillsides and stand, slender and 
adorable jewel-weeds, where the cool springs 
ooze from beneath the gravelly hill, do not seem 
in the least absurd or improbable. 



CHAPTER XI 



THE WAY OF A WOODCHUCK 



The memory of my first glimpse of a wood- 
chuck always reminds me of an old story which 
needs to be retold that it may point my moral 
even though it does not adorn my tale. 

A minister, supplying for a time in a country 
parish, took a pleasant path through the fields to 
the church of a Sunday morning just before the 
service. There he found a boy digging most 
furiously in the sandy ground. 

"My lad," said the minister, in kindly reproof, 
"you ought not to do this on Sunday morning un- 
less it is a labor of necessity.'' 

'T don't know nuthin' aboiit necessity," replied 
the boy without stopping for a moment, "but I've 
got to gtt this woodchuck. The minister's 
comin' to dinner." 

Nobody has ever told whether the boy — and 

after him the minister — ^^got the woodchuck or 

not, but there is at least an even chance that he did 

not, for a woodchuck in saridy ground will move 

136 



THE WAY OF A WOODCHUCK 137 

on into it, taking his hole with him, at a rate 
that has defied more than one industrious pur- 
suer. Just how he breathes while this is going 
on is more than I know, for he fills the passage 
behind him with the debris of his digging, but he 
evidently does find air enough, for after tiring 
out the excavating hunter and waiting a reason- 
able time he digs up and out and proceeds to the 
deglutition of kitchen gardens with an artistic 
thoroughness that has been his since days of the 
Pilgrim Fathers, and I will not undertake to say 
how long before that. I do not doubt that the 
first Indian that ever planted corn and beans and 
''iskooter-squashes" said the same things about 
the woodchuck that I do, in his own language; 
and I believe that the woodchuck then, as he does 
now, just wrinkled his stubby black nose and re- 
tired to his burrow to sleep upon it while the 
garden digested. 

No one to look casually at the woodchuck 
would think he was hard to get, but he is. The 
first time I ever glimpsed one I learned that. 
The woodchuck was eating second-crop clover in 
a hayfield that had been mown about three weeks 
before. A little cocker spaniel and I were stroll- 
ing in the field when suddenly we heard a squeal 



138 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

that was shrill enough to be a whistle and a fuzzy 
brown blur streaked for the stone wall, followed 
by another. The cocker spaniel had decided, like 
that boy, that he had got to get the woodchuck. 
I fancy he thought he had him when they came 
together about five feet outside the crevice in the 
wall for which the woodchuck had made his 
fuzzy bee line, but as a matter of fact the wood- 
chuck got the first grip. His long yellow in- 
cisors met in the cocker's shoulder and that 
worthy gave forth a yelp of pain and indignation 
as the battle began with that strange hold. 

I wish I might describe the Homeric conflict 
that followed, but it was too full of action for 
anyone to grasp the details. A furry pinwheel 
revolved in varying planes, smearing the stubble 
with gore and filling the air with cries of mingled 
pain and defiance, for what seemed to an 
astounded and perturbed small boy a good part 
of the afternoon. Most of the gore and all the 
cries came from the dog, for the woodchuck 
fought in grim silence, though no whit more 
pluckily than his opponent. In the end the dog 
won, but he was the most devastated small dog 
that I have ever seen, before or since, and had it 
not been for prompt surgical aid at his home 



THE WAY OF A WOODCHUCK 139 

nearby I dare say Charon might have ferried 
both shades over the Styx together. No, the 
woodchuck is not so easy to get. He is quite 
Hkely to whip his own weight in most anything 
that forces him to do battle. 

But I have never known a woodchuck to do 
battle that was not forced upon him. In point 
of fact he is one of the most home-loving, peace- 
ful animals I have known. He is the original 
home-body and if the market where he is forced 
to seek supplies is not near enough to his home 
he moves the home nearer the market. In that 
often lies his undoing. His safety is in the 
woodland border or in the far pasture stone wall. 
There if he would content himself with aromatic 
barks and wild pasture herbs he might dwell un- 
harmed of man, who is his chief enemy. But he 
loves the clover field, and often his first move 
toward disaster is coming up from the pasture 
wall and digging a burrow in the midst of the 
clover where he soon has regular paths which 
take him from one rich clump to another. After 
that he sniffs the kitchen garden, and the descent 
to Avernus is easy. He moves in to the borders, 
finds a crevice or digs a hole, and revels. Nor 
does he recognize the place as Avernus — which it 



I40 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

is bound to be sooner or later — but spells it 
Olympus in very truth. Man may be the de- 
vastator of the earth, and he certainly is so far 
as its wild life is concerned, but as a producer of 
succulence in the kitchen garden he is a deity 
before whom any woodchuck must fall down and 
worship. 

For the woodchuck besides being the original 
home-body is without doubt one of the founders 
of vegetarianism. Born in the desert places, 
feeding on locust bark and wild honeysuckle, he 
added inches to his girth when he learned that red 
clover which the early settlers kindly brought 
with them had a nourishing quality that defies 
competition. A woodchuck can get so fat on 
clover that by November, when he retires for the 
year, he is as near a complete globe as anything 
with feet and a face can ever be. The convexity 
begins at his eyebrows above, at his chin beneath, 
and though he has feet, they have the effect of 
being merely pinned on to the lower hem of his 
garment, as those of a proper young lady in our 
grandmother's day were supposed to be. The 
woodchuck can get no fatter than that on garden 
truck, but he likes it better. I doubt if Charles 
Dickens ever saw the animal, but when he created 



THE WAY OF A WOODCHUCK 141 

Mr. Wardle's fat boy he might well have taken 
him for a model. ''D— n that boy/' says Mr. 
Wardle, "he's asleep again.'' That was when 
he had ceased eating, and so it is with the wood- 
chuck. In the early dawn when the dew is on 
the lettuce, he takes his toll of the bed, seasoning 
it with a radish and a snip at a leaf or two from 
the herb bed. But such are mere appetizers for 
the feast. The next course is the peas. He can 
go down a row of peas that are about to set their 
flat pods swelling to become fat pods and elimi- 
nate everything but a stubble of tough butts that 
have been shorn of their ladylike and smiling 
greenness. Pea vines in the garden always seem 
such gentle ladies, clad in a fabric of soft, semi- 
transparent green, nodding and smiling, slender, 
tall and sweet. But when the woodchuck romps 
back up the row nothing is to be seen but the 
smile. 

They returned from the ride 

With the lady inside, 

And the smile on the face of the tiger. 

I once heard a vigorous discussion amongst 
men who know the woods and the ways of wild 
creatures, as to whether or not a woodchuck 
can climb a tree. The discussion ended rather 



142 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

abruptly when one of the party produced a pho- 
tograph of a woodchuck a dozen feet up a big 
pine sitting on a small stub of a limb, looking 
somewhat exultant but also as if he wondered 
not only how he got so high but how on earth he 
was ever to get down again. I myself would not 
have believed a woodchuck could climb a tree of 
that size if I had not seen the photograph, and r 
fear there are some doubters in the party to this 
day. But whether or not a woodchuck can climb 
a big pine he can go up a bean pole as far as a 
bean vine can climb, and return with the bean 
vine inside. It takes but a few mornings for a 
woodchuck who means to keep fat enough not to 
shame his tribe to send a fleet of beans, that but 
now had everything set in living green from 
main truck to keelson, scudding down the garden 
under bare poles, a melancholy sight to the ama- 
teur truck farm navigator. On peas and beans 
the woodchuck holds his own, and he reckons as 
his own all that the garden contains. For all 
that you find frequently one that has a special 
taste. My last year's most intimate woodchuck 
climbed the bean poles and romped the rows of 
early peas as I have described. These were his 
occupation, his day's work, so to speak, and he 



THE WAY OF A WOODCHUCK 143 

went at them at the first bHnk of dawn and got 
them off his mind. Then he retired to his bur- 
row just on the corner of the garden before 
either the sun or I got up, and slept the dream- 
less sleep of one who has labored righteously and 
fed well. I suspect him of letting out his belt a 
hole a day on this plethora of protein that I had 
been coaxing up the bean poles all the spring. 

After that for the balance of the day Mr. 
Woodchuck was a dilettante, sitting at his door 
in the sun and dreaming dreams of artistic ele- 
gance in horticulture. I used to see him there 
about 10 A. M., wrinkling his forehead in the 
perplexity of artistic temperament, batting a 
speculative eye at me meanwhile, but not in any 
spirit of resentment. In fact, he had nothing to 
resent. He had absorbed the unearned incre- 
ment and I had my original capital, the bean 
poles, intact — and that's more than most of us 
realize on small investments, nowadays. So I 
dare say he thought I had nothing to feel grieved 
about. Later he would sally forth and carry out 
his artistic dreams on my Hubbard squashes. I 
have never had Hubbard squashes pruned into 
such artistic shapes as that year. The squash 
vine is a great stragger if left to its own devices. 



144 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

It will start from the corn hill where it is pro- 
duced and go down the row fifteen feet, then 
climb a corn stalk, leap to the fence six feet away 
and eventually hang a row of Hubbard squashes 
around a neighbor's pet pear tree. The wood- 
chuck stopped all that. He began early in the 
summer on the vine tips and worked inward 
well up to the stump at each meal. The vines 
were husky and had more latent buds than I had 
believed possible. Every time the woodchuck 
cut them back they started something in a new 
place for his incisive pruning shears. Some 
people trim evergreens on their lawns into gro- 
tesque shapes. My woodchuck invented that 
sort of thing all over again on Hubbard squash 
vines. After some weeks I had a new and 
strange race of decorative plants that, like Ka- 
tisha's left elbow, people came miles to see. But 
they did not produx:e squashes. Dilettantism 
doesn't. 

In the end, of course, like the small boy at 
whose house the minister was to take dinner, I 
had to get the woodchuck, after which the garden 
was more productive if not so picturesque and 
romantic. 



THE WAY OF A WOODCHUCK 145 

The full-grown woodchuck rarely leaves the 
burrow except to forage. That done he spends 
some time usually just at the entrance sunning 
himself. But most of the time, day and night, 
he is within, presumably asleep half the summer 
long. The young woodchucks at this time of 
year are more often seen abroad, for the parents 
send them forth upon the world to earn their 
own living at a rather tender age. They roam 
the fields and thickets and do not seem especially 
afraid of man, scuttling into the underbrush per- 
haps with their whistling squeal, but just as likely 
to sit back on their haunches and offer to fight. 
The mortality among them at this time must be 
great. Foxes pick them up and feed them to 
their own young. Hawks and owls do the same 
and dogs find them an easy prey. But enough 
get by such dangers to dig burrows in the fall 
and next spring move up to somebody's garden 
patch, there to absorb feasts and defy fates until 
the outraged householder stalks forth and deals 
death amid the ruins of his hopes. The wood- 
chuck sitting by his burrow in the far pasture is a 
friendly little chap, whom I wish well. I would 
not harm a hair of him. But the woodchuck that 



146 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

has adopted suburban life is a menace of whom 
I am forced to say in the words of Cato of old 
^'Delenda est Carthago." 

The forefathers found the woodchuck here, 
probably in the first spring garden which they 
planted over the graves of the dead in Plymouth, 
saw how much he had eaten and promptly named 
him, his name meaning ''little pig of the woods." 
Chuck or chuckle is a word of their time, and I 
dare say now, meaning 'little pig.'* The idea is 
again expressed in the rather less polite form of 
"ground hog" and the hereabouts at least, little 
known "Maryland marmot" is a third. Scien- 
tifically he is known as Arctomys monax, being a 
rodent and classed with the marmots, very close 
relatives of the squirrels. Perhaps it is through 
this family affinity that he is able to climb my 
bean poles. 

The woodchuck has one other distinguishing 
characteristic which deserves reference, that is 
his ability as a sleeper. As a home body he is 
great. As an absorber of garden truck he is 
greater. But when the sun of October swings 
low in the south and he has become so fat that 
he seems to roll to and from his burrow on cast- 
ors is when he shows his m.ost surprising char- 



THE WAY OF A WOODCHUCK 147 

acteristic. Mr. Wardle's fat boy with all his 
fame never slept as the woodchuck then prepares 
to sleep, however well he matched his eating. 
The first chill wind sets him to dragging dry 
leaves and grass down into the snuggest chamber 
of his burrow and there a little later he tucks his 
nose in between his little black-gloved forepaws 
and goes to sleep. When the woodchuck is 
leaner he goes to sleep by drowsily sitting up- 
right, his head drooping lower and lower until 
he finally rolls into a round ball and falls on his 
side. But in late October the woodchuck is so 
nearly round with obesity that he cannot roll up 
and I fancy him just withdrawing his nose and 
his toes a little farther into himself, an4 going 
to sleep in that attitude with a sigh of content. 
The woodchuck's chief fame seems to rest on this 
trait, his ability to go to sleep before cold weather 
and not wake up again until the spring has again 
brought out the green things for his delectation. 
To be sure tradition has it that the ground hog 
comes to the mouth of his burrow on Candlemas 
Day and looks for his shadow that he may figure 
out how much longer he may sleep. But that I 
take to be a mere literary furnishing, like the 
chuck part of the animal's name, brought from 



148 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



England with the pioneers and adapted to use in 
this country. Probably it is said in England of 
the dormouse, which also sleeps winters, as does 
the woodchuck, though I believe lightly compared 
with our animal. The woodchuck is far too 
sound a sleeper to wake up on a February day, 
whatever the inducements. 

That matter is no more to be taken seriously 
than is the old-time Yankee query — 

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, 
If a woodchuck would chuck wood? 

which seems to me to emphasize the whole popu- 
lar conception of the animal. Of all the common 
New England animals he is the one taken least 
seriously. Even if he does eat up all our sum- 
mer garden we are apt to grin as we bear it; or 
if we do go out and "get" him, we do it with a 
forgiving, pitying smile. 



CHAPTER XII 

ALONG THE SALT MARSHES 

When the wind is east Sumner's Islands seems 
to tug at its moorings Hke a cruiser swinging at 
a short hawser in the shelter of Stony beach. If 
you will stand on the tip of its gray rock prow 
and face the sea it is hard not to feel the rise and 
fall of surges under you, and in fancy you have 
one ear cocked for the boatswain's whistle and 
the call to the watch to bear a hand and get the 
anchor aboard. Just a moment and you will feel 
the pulse of the screw, hear the clink-clank of 
shovels and slice-bars tinkling faintly up the ven- 
tilator; one bell will sound in the engine room 
and under slowest speed she will fall away from 
the sheltering beach, round the fragrant greenery 
of the Glades rocks and, free from their buttress- 
ing, prance exultantly to four bells and a jingle 
out into the surgent tumult of the roaring sea. 
Wow! but the fancy sets your blood to bubbling 
and your pulse to swinging in rhythm with the 

long surges that leap about Minot's and froth 

149 



I50 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

white over Chest ledge and the WilHes, that come 
on to drown the inner Osher rocks in exultant 
whirlpools and fluff the loose stones of the beach 
into a foam that ripples over the breakwater into 
the road that snuggles behind it. 

But that is when the wind is east and really 
blows, when November has stripped the oak and 
hickory upper works of the cruiser bare of leaves 
and she stands grim in her gray war-paint, ready 
for the winter's battles. Now she is gay in sum- 
mer greenery and many a string of flower signals 
flutters from mast head and signal yard. You 
must go astern to get the wind in your face, for 
now it sings gently in from the west across a mile 
of salt marsh, pools of imprisoned tide where 
night-herons feed and tiny crabs and cobblers 
scurry to shelter beneath the mud at the j'ar of 
your footfall, winding creeks that twice a day 
brim with silver water, and levels of quivering 
marsh grass, to Cohasset harbor and the green 
hillsides of the Jerusalem road. 

The island is an island by courtesy only at this 
time of year, aground in the green marsh. The 
bashful tides of summer yearn shyly toward it, 
and twice every twenty-four hours stretch soft 
white arms up the creeks from Cohasset harbor 



ALONG THE SALT MARSHES 751 

to the east and the west and fondle it. They hold 
it close at the hour of flood, but hand does not 
clasp hand about it, and the dry sand that links 
it to the beach and the breakwater is not wet. 
When the autumn winds shall come and the sea 
shakes itself out of its summer lethargy and as- 
serts its power and will not be denied, it is differ- 
ent. At such times it roars over the beach and 
the breakwater and drowns the white sands that 
have kept the hands of its summer tides apart. 
It marches deep green up Cohasset harbor and 
brims the slender creeks. It passes their limits 
at a leap, and swirls in defiant, dogged depths 
over the drowned marshes. Then the island is 
an island in very truth, and the sea takes his 
love upon his broad bosom and rocks it, not al- 
ways so tenderly. No man can guess the power 
of the floods and the deep sea currents herded by 
an easterly gale till he has seen the leaping of the 
flood tide at such a time. 

Now it is a time of July gentleness and frip- 
peries of color. The salt marsh, to be sure, 
never lacks these, even in the dead of winter, 
when high tides continually load it with sea ice, 
and then receding leave it piled with fantastic 
hummocks and pressure ridges like the Arctic 



152 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

sea. It has gleams of emerald and azure welling 
from its hummocks under gray skies. The tat- 
tered crimson of windy sunsets gets tangled in 
its floes and flutters in ragged beauty, and it 
treasures the sun's gold in the dusk of still even- 
ings. Spring tints it with soft graygreens and 
autumn seems to use it for a mixing pot for the 
coloring of the October woods. All their flame 
and gold are there, toned to soft warm browns 
and tender olives just flecked with crimson and 
with yellow flame. 

Looking westward from the island at high tide 
this morning you could see already deep hints of 
this coming autumn coloring, swelling out of the 
deep green of grasses that make up the main car- 
peting of the marsh, touches of brown and olive 
that are singularly pleasing to the eye under the 
summer blue of the sky and its fleecy flecking of 
white clouds. Amid these, scattered here and 
there, round eye-like pools reflect this summer 
blue and fleecy whiteness and all along the 
island's verge and that of other islands and the 
borders of the Glades was the pink of wild roses 
and morning glories, both of which seem to thrive 
better and bloom later in the season here than 
inland. But the softest and loveliest coloring 



ALONG THE SALT MARSHES 153 

that the marsh will ever get is that which the 
gray mists of early morning seem to have 
brought in and left like a fragrant memory of 
themselves, the lavender gray of the marsh-rose- 
mary. "There's rosemary; that's for remem- 
brance," said Ophelia, and many a lover of sea 
and marsh-side will carry longest in memory the 
gentle sadness that the tint of the sea-lavender 
gives the marsh when all' its other colors are still 
those of the flush joy of summer. Remember- 
ing Ophelia, marsh-rosemary seems its best 
name, though you have a right to sea-lavender if 
you wish. If the sea fogs did not bring it as an 
essence of the first glimpse of dawn in gray ocean 
spaces, then I am convinced that the loving tides 
bear it as a gift to the island and scatter it shyly 
at its feet, after dark. 

You have but to wander about the shores of 
the island at the marsh line to find strange evi- 
dence of this gift-bearing propensity of the shy 
tides. Trinkets of all sorts that they gather in 
travels in distant seas the tides bring and lay lov- 
ingly at the roots of black oak and sweet gum, 
hickory and stag-horn sumac. Here is bamboo 
that for all I know grew near the head waters of 
the Orinoco, though it may have sprouted in the 



154 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

Bahamas, floated north by the Gulf Stream, 
shunted from its warm edge into the chill of the 
Labrador current and drawn thence by the Co- 
hasset tides. Beside this lies a cask ripped from 
the deck of a Gloucester fishing schooner that 
sought the halibut even on the chill banks that lie 
just south of the point of Greenland. And so 
they come, chips from a Maine shipyard, wreck- 
age from a Bermuda reef, and a thousand tiny 
things picked up at points between. 

But the tides bring to the marsh and the island 
in it, to all shores that they touch here on our 
Atlantic seaboard, more than this. They bear 
deep in their emerald hearts, generated in their 
cool, clear depths, a rich vivific principle that 
bears vigor to all that they touch and sends rich 
emanations forth on the air beyond. Today on 
the inland hills and landbound pastures the sun 
beat in sullen insolence and the wind from the 
west scorched and wilted the life in all things. 
The same wind, coming to me across two miles 
of salt marsh, had in its cool, salty aroma a life- 
giving principle that set the pulse to bounding 
and renewed vigor. It had gathered up from the 
marsh this tonic of the tides, this elixir vitae 
which all the doctors of the world have sought 



ALONG THE SALT MARSHES 155 

in vain. Some day some one of them, wiser than 
the rest, will distil its potency from the cool salt 
of sea tides, and humanity, poor hitherto, will 
find itself rich in possibilities of physical immor- 
tality. Sea captains have a foolish custom of 
settling down at eighty to enjoy life on shore, 
else there is no knowing how long they would 
live. They have breathed the aroma of this life- 
giving essence all their lives. 

Yet the sea itself is dead; it is a vast accumula- 
tion of the product of complete combustion, hy- 
drogen burnt out. But just as dead worlds, 
which are the molecules of infinite space, shock- 
ing together, burst into spiral nebulae of flame 
which are the beginnings of live suns and planets 
and all luxuriant life thereon, so it seems as if 
the atoms of sea water, ever rushing to restless 
collision, burst continually into renewed life. 
All forms are in it, from the mightiest mammals 
to the protozoa which the microscope suspects 
rather than surely discovers. Every time mole- 
cule touches molecule in the depths, a new spark 
of tiny life must flare up, else never so many 
could inhabit the water. The coarser aggrega- 
tions of these we see in bewildering profusion 
and variety every time the tides fall back and 



156 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

leave the rocks bare. At the bottom of the ebb 
I like to climb perilously down the rough Glades 
cliffs to life-brooding pools and inlets, where lazy 
waves swirl or are for a brief hour cut off. At 
the half -tide line the rock that is a reddish gran- 
ite becomes chalky white with the shells of barn- 
acles 'that cover every inch of space from there 
down. Acorn-like, they cluster closer than ever 
acorns did on the most prolific oak. After the 
tides reach them as they rise, the whole surface 
of the rock must be fuzzy with their curved cirri 
of tongues which protrude and lap the rising 
waves. Their number is legion, yet how infinite 
must be the fine floating life, so fine that we can- 
not note that it clouds the limpid water, on which 
these sessile gray creatures feed. 

Below a certain level these are crowded out by 
the mussels which grow in such dense accumula- 
tions that they cling not only to the rock but to 
one another and to stubby brown seaweed till 
they are like nothing so much as pods of bees 
swarming about their queen. So dense is this 
grouping of living creatures that the inner ones 
are smothered by their crowding fellows and 
serve merely as a foundation on which these 
build. Even among these swarm starfishes and 










b^ 



>: 



ALONG THE SALT MARSHES 157 

limpets and other crustaceans, and streamers of 
kelp squirm out from the rock where they keep 
slender hold, to sway in the restless water, just 
as all the rocks above a certain depth and below a 
certain height are olive black with dense hang- 
ings of rockweed while in depths that arfe just 
awash at low tide they are olive brown with 
unending mats of Irish moss. These are but the 
forms of overwhelming life that meet the eye 
on first descending into the cool depths. To 
name all that may be noted in just the pause of 
a single ebb would be to become a catalogue. 

Yet howsoever vivid the life or astounding by 
its multiplicity it is not impressions of these that 
linger long after one has come up from the bot- 
tom of the ebb. It is rather that here one has 
breathed the air of the deep life laboratory of 
the world, that into his lungs and pores and all 
through his marrow has thrilled a breath of that 
subtle essence, that life renewing principle which 
Fernando de Soto sought in the fountain of youth 
which he thought bubbled from Florida sands but 
which in reality foamed beneath his furrowing 
keel as he ploughed the sea in search of it. It 
is the same thrill which the wilting west wind 
steeps from the salt marsh as it comes across, 



158 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

some baffling and alluring ether distilled from 
under-sea caverns where cool green mermen tend 
emerald fires. The scent of it levitates from the 
wash of every wave and if you will watch with 
pure eyes and clear sight you may of moonlight 
nights see white-bodied mermaids flashing 
through the combers to drink of it. No wonder 
these are immortal. 

Nor can you take from the things of the sea 
this life-giving essence, once they have attained 
it through growth during immersion in its depths, 
though perchance, as Emerson sang, "they left 
their beauty on the shore, with the sun and the 
sand and the wild uproar." The shell on the 
mantel shelf of the mariner's inland home may 
be unsightly and out of place. But put your ear 
to it. Out of the common noises of the day, it 
weaves for you the song of the deep tides, the 
murmur of ocean caves and the croon of the 
breakers on the outer reef, and dull indeed is 
your inner ear if you cannot hear these things, 
and at the sound see the perfect curl of green 
waves and smell that cool fragrance which comes 
only from their breaking. 

To the marshes in summer come the farmers 
from far inland, making holiday for themselves 



ALONG THE SALT MARSHES 159 

while they work. They cut the short salt hay 
that seems so stiff and tough, that is so soft and 
velvety, in fact, and pile it on their wains and 
take it home to the cattle that like it better than 
any English hay that they can cut from the care- 
fully tilled home fields. Indeed the cattle ought 
to like this hay. It is soft as the autumn rowen, 
and mixed with all the delicate, fragrant herbs 
of the marsh. The tang of the sea salt is in it, 
and no man knows what delicate essence borne 
far on the wandering tides to the flavoring of its 
fibre. No matter how long you may leave this 
hay in the mow you have but to stir it to get the 
soft rich flavor of the sea and breathe a little of 
that salty vigor which seems to go to the season- 
ing of the best of life. I have an idea the cat- 
tle love it for this too, and as they chew its cud 
inherited memory stirs within them, and they 
roam the marshes with the aurochs and tingle 
with the savage joy of freedom. 

Out along the rocks to seaward at low tide go 
the mossers and with long rakes rip the carra- 
gheen from its hold and load their dories with 
its golden-brown masses. Then they bring it 
ashore and spread it out in the sun as the farmers 
do their hay, that it may dry and bleach. Just 



i6o OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

as the salt hay, touched for a brief happy hour at 
each tide with the cool strength of the sea, re- J 
tains the flavor of it always, so the Irish moss 
that grows in the depths and is hardly awash at ] 
the lowest of the ebb, overflows with it and is so 
bursting with this fragrance of the unknown 
that no change that comes to it can drive it out. 
When the wind is off-shore and you may not 
scent the sea, when the sun bakes the hot sand 
and dries the blood so that it seems as if the only 
way to prolong life is to wade out neck deep in, 
the surges and there stay until the wind comes' 
from the east again, you have but to go to the 
leeward of these piles of bleaching carragheen to 
find it giving forth the same cooling fragrance 
which the tides have made a part of its structure. 
You may take this moss home with you and cook 
it, but the heat of your fire will no more destroy 
its essence than did the heat of the sun, and in 
your first mouthful of the produce, which may 
in appearance give no hint of its origin, you 
taste the cool sea depths and feel yourself nour- 
ished as if with some vital principle. 

It is no wonder that under the glare of the 
midsummer sun people forsake the arid uplands 



ALONG THE SALT MARSHES i6i 

and the vast, heat scorched plains of the interior 
and find renewed life and vitality on the borders 
of the Atlantic seaboard. The sea in the begin- 
ning was the mother of all life and we do not 
know what forms of future perfection she is now 
nourishing as filmy protoplasm in her depths. 
She gives us cool fogs to the reopening of our 
shrivelled pores and just by walking along shore 
we are touched by this vivific principle which 
gives such riotous life to all things. There is a 
saying among Eastern Massachusetts farmer 
folk that if you will bathe three times in the salt 
water during the summer you will not feel the 
cold of the coming winter. Thus is the old myth 
revived and the modern Achilles may find in- 
vulnerability beneath the Styx, nor need his heel 
be left above the tide for his undoing. And the 
sea has more than that to give us, more than 
physical well-being and invulnerability to the ar- 
rows of the winter winds. Out of the green 
depths come still the mysterious and the unknown 
and up over the blue rim sail day by day argosies 
laden with romance. Thus it has always been 
nor can the peopling of many lands and the find- 
ing and exploring of all continents and islands 



1 62 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



check this. However it may be with the cattle 
It is this which gives tang to our salt hay and 
touches the reviving coolness of the spray and 
the east wind with the rainbow magic of dreams. 



CHAPTER XIII 

FISHING ''down outside" 

In the beginning of things were the cunners, 
known along Massachusetts Bay mainly as perch. 
Names are good only in certain localities. If 
you ask a Hingham boy how the cunners are bit- 
ing he will be likely to throw rounded beach 
stones at you, thinking he is being made game of. 
Down at Newport, R. I., they catch cunners and 
if you talk salt-water perch to them it is at your 
peril. Elsewhere they are chogsett, or perad- 
venture burgall, but everywhere they are nippers 
and baitstealers, and the trait which makes these 
names universal is the reason why in the begin- 
ning of things were the cunners. For the first 
bait of the first fisherman that ever threw hook 
into the North Atlantic was taken by a cunner. 
There are today forty million, more or less, 
North Atlantic fishermen who will corroborate 
this testimony with personal experience. It may 
be that the first hook was taken by some other 

fish, but the cunner got in ahead on the bait. 

163 



1 64 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

The cunner is not very large. He rarely tips the 
scales at a pound, but he will eat his own weight 
in bait in a day and he is numerous and pretty 
nearly omnipresent. 

Wherever the salt tides flow, whether it be 
up the sandy stretches of a clean bottomed cove, 
along the mud bottom of the creek, or amid the 
red-brown tangle of kelp on some ledge awash a 
mile off shore, there comes the cunner, suiting his 
color chameleon-like to that of the bottom. 

On the mud he is brown, on the sand gray, 
but if you wish to see handsome creatures you 
must pull them from some bottom where the red 
kelp grows. Then their rich bronzy reds will 
make you forget their bait thievery and love them 
for their beauty. 

If you will go back to Dombey and Son and 
read the description of Mr. Carker you will re- 
alize that Dickens must have been fishing off the 
ledges of some English headland when he 
planned that gentleman and his characteristics. 
In whatever mood or from whatever side Mr. 
Carker approaches you it is his teeth which dom- 
inate the situation. I am convinced that every 
time Dickens tried to make him otherwise he 
found another cunner tugging and drew him up. 



I 



FISHING "DOWN OUTSIDE" 165 

Judging by Carker it must have been good fishing 
for cunners. Like Carker this fish comes to you 
teeth first. His mouth is so full of them that 
they stick out like quills on the fretful porcupine. 
Nature, which gives each tools for the trade 
which he most loves, made him a bait-stealer 
extraordinary with these. 

The beginner who fishes in the salt sea does it 
almost invariably with a pole, whether from clifif 
or 'dock of from a boat. Experience brings the 
desire for the hand line. The farmer's boy who 
comes down for the salt hay tucks his long birch 
pole into the bottom of the wagon and the trolley 
tripper comes to the beach with his split bamboo. 
Down in Maine years ago the pinkies used to sail 
equipped with numerous short poles whereby to 
trail for mackerel. In the day of your grand- 
father and mine it must have been a sight to see 
the crew of a pink-sterned chebacco boat dancing 
from pole to pole flipping the number ones aboard 
when a good school-struck in. Of course, all 
that is a waste of energy and of wood. A hand 
line is the more intimate and serves the purpose 
better. A man is not really a salt water fisher- 
man till he has learned the use of one. Then let 
him go forth. Through that line shall flow to 



i66 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

his nerve ganglia deep sea knowledge galore. 
By it shall come to him in time all creatures of 
the vast deep. 

Lovers of deep sea fishing grow best from 
small beginnings. They yearn from tide flats to 
the spar buoy in the harbor channel, thence 
through Hull Gut to the rocky bottoms about the 
Brewsters. After that the sirens sing to them 
from every wash of white waves over ledges far 
out to sea, caution drowns in the temptation of 
blue water, and they fish no more except it is 
''down outside." They who dwell on the very 
rim of this deep sea, at Marblehead or Nahant, 
at Cohasset or at Duxbury never know the full 
depth of its lure as do those who must win to it 
from the Dorchester flats or the winding reaches 
of the Fore River. To these latter only is the 
perfection of desire and the full joy of fulfilment. 
You can leave the shallow bays inland only when 
the tide serves, hence gropings for a tender on 
the beach of starlit mornings, the chuckle of hal- 
liard blocks in the rose of dawn and a long drift 
in the pink glow of morning fog while the boom 
swings idly and the turn of the flood drifts you 




O 
-Si 

o 



o 



FISHING "DOWN OUTSIDE" 167 

eastward. Little wayward winds, too lazy to 
make a ripple on the glassy surface of the water 
or stir the sail, play strange tricks with this morn- 
ing fog. They carve chasms in it and open tun- 
nels down which you see far for a moment, then 
they wind it like a wet sheet about you and you 
may not see the bobstay from your post at the 
tiller. 

They bring you sounds and scents from afar. 
You know you are abreast Grape Island now for 
you scent the wild roses on the point. Another 
breeze brings faint odors of the charnel house 
from Bradley's. A stronger chases it away and 
you have a whiff of an early breakfast, brown 
toast, fried fish and coffee, at Rose Cliff. The 
chuckle of oars in rowlocks tells you that the old 
fisherman is astir at Fort Point and the man 
with the new motor boat over at Hough's Neck 
is giving it a little run before breakfast, with the 
muffler off, as usual. A gull goes over, flying 
low. You do not see but you hear the soft swish 
of the wings. By and by the sun shows through 
a rift in the fog and you begin to move before a 
faint air from the southwest. A half hour more 
and the shreds of fog are melting upward into the 



i68 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

blue of a clear day, the wind fills your sail and you 
are sweeping eastward with wind and tide round 
the Sheep Island bar. 

The Argo, bound eastward for the golden 
fleece, bearing Jason, Hercules, Theseus and the 
other Greek heroes, carried no higher hopes and 
no greater joy in the dangers arid mysteries of the 
sea than does many a keen-bowed sloop or broad- 
beamed cat bound "outside" on a fishing trip. 
It is neither the goal nor the gain that counts. 
It is the spirit of the quest. The golden fleece 
looms eastward over all such prows. In the tide 
rip of Hull Gut, where current meets current at 
certain turns of the tide in such fashion that "the 
merry men" dance gleefully, is a dash of adven- 
ture, and if you come through with a cockpit half 
full of water and your clam bait afloat so much 
the merrier. Thus you are baptized into the 
sect of the deep sea rovers and the leap of the 
mysterious green dancers into your boat is the 
coming of Neptune himself. Henceforth his 
trident is at your mast head, a broom wherewith 
to sweep the seas as Van Tromp did. The con- 
querors are abroad. 

You may bother about the skerries that skirt 
Boston Light if you will. There are cunners 



FISHING "DOWN OUTSIDE" 169 

big and ravenous at the base of Shag Rocks or 
along Boston or Martin's ledges. I dare say 
there are flounders skimming the sand to the east 
of Hull, but you will hardly care for these if you 
have Neptune aboard. His spirit will bid you 
jibe your sail to that freshening west wind off 
Allerton and bowl down the coast parellel with 
the long stretch of Nantasket sands. Again at 
the spindle on Harding's Ledge you may catch 
cunners; perhaps a stray cod. A cod! There 
you speak a magic word to the fisherman from 
the tide flats far inland. There is the golden 
fleece for which the Argonauts o'f the land-locked 
harbor set their prows to the eastward in the star- 
light. A pull on the sheet and it is full-and-by 
to the southeast, with Minot's Light looming 
gray dead ahead in the gray wash of breakers. 
Black-headed gulls swing across your wake, and 
in their laughter rings a wild note of sea free- 
dom. Thus the Vikings laughed as their boats 
won to seaward outside the black cliffs. 

The cod is the solid citizen of the sea. In some 
localities they call him the ground keeper, and 
he seems to be that — a sort of land owner of 
the sea bottom. Just as ashore most substantial 



I70 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



success comes from land-holding, and those who 
own the earth are almost invariably financial 
magnates also, so the cod is a banker. Some 
people, not financial magnates themselves in all 
probability, have given this substantial dweller 
of the under-water plateaus undignified names. 
They call him pilker, scrod, groper, etc. This is 
pure envy. When he bites it means business. 
There is none of the bait-stealing tomfoolery of 
the cunner, none of the dancing hilarity of the 
pollock. It is just a steady down tug that makes 
the line cut your fingers and likely takes your 
hand under water. If he is a good one you will 
need to sit back and snub the line over the gun- 
wale in that first plunge which follows the stab of 
the hook. Then it is a steady, muscle-grinding 
pull to get him up. It is a stogy, heavy resistance 
which he offers. To lift him out of his depths 
is a good deal like explaining to a middle-class 
Englishman something that he does not wish to 
comprehend, but by and by, leaning perilously 
over the rail, you see his tawny bulk coming up 
through a well of chrysophrase lined with the 
scintillant gold of the imprisoned sun. A lift 
and a swing, and he is aboard. He may weigh 
anything from a few pounds up to a score. Cod 



i 



FISHING ''DOWN OUTSIDE" 171 

have been caught weighing 150 pounds, but not 
in Massachusetts Bay of late years. 

A half-mile to the east of Minot's and south- 
ward to beyond Scituate harbor runs an irregular 
ridge along the sea bottom at a depth of six to 
ten fathoms, while to the east and west is deeper 
water. Something like a half-mile farther east- 
ward again you will find another, both probably 
moraines of sand and gravel on tlie sea bottom 
like those one finds ashore. These ridges the fish 
seem to frequent rather than the valleys between, 
and if you will ease your sheets and, setting your 
boat's prow a little off the wind, drift slowly 
along these ridges, you will be able to cast your 
lines among the best of the summer society. The 
cod go into things only on the ground flood. It 
is a way substantial citizens have. You will need 
to let your sinker strike bottom and then lift it a 
little, but not too far. A greased lead dropped 
will show you a variety of bottom. Here are 
rocks, about which especially the cod congregate 
and where sometimes giant cunners dwell, there 
is a sandy stretch which is beloved of the big 
flounders, which when hooked make a gallant 
though unsteady fight before you get them up. 

I am always sorry for the flounder. He looks 



1 

172 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS ^ 

as if he might have once been a fish of re- 
spectable, perhaps even beautiful shape and pro- 
portions, that had met with an accident. He is 
a shore frequenter, especially when young, and 
I cannot help thinking that in antediluvian days 
when mastodons were plentiful and went wading 
they stepped on the flounders. A flounder is 
shaped just as if he had been run over by an 
Atlantic avenue truck. His eyes moved over 
onto one side of his head, fleeing hand in hand to 
escape the wheel. His mouth was mashed fairly 
and seems to be perpetually ejaculating ''Help, 
murder!'' and one side of him is still white as 
snow with the fear of the affair. He ought to 
be in a cripples' home, but he is not. Listead he 
is as jolly as a sand man and amply able to take 
care of his wreck of a body, which is flat indeed 
but fat. Necessity is the mother of invention. 
When the flounder sees food that he wants he 
falls upon it and holds it down with ease while 
he devours it. A slender fish would have no such 
chance. 

At this time of year come roving northward 
from unknown feeding grounds outside the Cape 
the haddock. There are people who call the had- 
dock ''scoodled skull-joe," probably in derision 



FISHING "DOWN OUTSIDE" 173 

because he is such a dapper fish. He is so silvery 
and neat that the black stripe down his side seems 
to give him the effect of being clad in the very 
latest thing in summer trousers. The Banks 
fishermen who sail from Gloucester and are prob- 
ably more intimately acquainted with the per- 
sonal affairs of fishes than anyone else, say that 
the haddock, though now reformed, has not al- 
ways been v^hat he should be. The haddock, 
they say, was once such a young sport and con- 
ducted himself in such unseemly fashion that he 
was in danger of hell fire. In fact, the devil, 
searching the Grand Banks for whom he might 
devour, took the shameless youngster between his 
finger and thumb and held him aloft in glee, say- 
ing, ''You for the gridiron.'' But the agile had- 
dock, skilled in getting out of scrapes, squirmed 
loose and fled in the depths of the sea. In proof 
of this adventure if you examine a haddock's 
body just behind the gills you will see the marks 
where the Old Boy's fingers scorched him, the 
scars remaining to this day. I am not sure 
whether this fable teaches us to be good or to be 
agile. 

With the cod, as often most intimately with 
him in the boneless codfish box, come the hake 



174 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

and the cusk, both rated as inferior fish, though ij 
is hard to see why. The cusk in particular is es- 
teemed by the fishermen for their own use above 
any other fish that is taken from the trawls on 
the banks. Go down into the forepeak of any 
Gloucesterman and ask the crew, while they 
''mug up," if they like baked cusk. You will see 
their mouths water and their eyes shine in ap- 
preciation of the suggestion. Yet the cusk is 
hardly a beauty. In fact, the first man who sug- 
gested eating him must have been hungry or else 
adventurous beyond the common run of men. If 
you will take a bilious looking eel and compress 
him lengthwise till the becomes a stubby bunch, 
put on him a pair of yellow goggle eyes that stare 
madly as if at ghosts, and seem, withal to be 
sadly afflicted with strabismus, you will have the 
beginnings of a cusk. Then he must have a 
broad fin that begins at the back of his neck, 
promenades his spine to and including his tail and 
returns beneath him to the spot where some 
people wear neckties. That is a part of the para- 
phernalia of this denizen of the deep sea. Often 
when brought to the surface this peculiar fish will 
swell up with imprisoned air until he is enor- 
mously fat and covered with blisters. 



FISHING "DOWN OUTSIDE" 175 

The cod and the flounders, cunners and pol- 
lock will make up the bulk of your catch as you 
drift along these under-sea moraines, though 
now and then a freak may come to your hook in 
the shape of a dogfish or a skate. These are to 
be looked for and welcomed. Once the horse 
mackerel struck into Massachusetts Bay. These 
weigh a thousand pounds apiece and take live fish 
of considerable size on the fly. In those days a 
deep-sea fisherman, hauling in a respectable cod, 
was likely to find adventure enough with the situ- 
ation suddenly reversed and a horse mackerel 
hauling in the line with the fisherman on the end 
of it. 

It is leviathans of the deep like these that Jason 
Theseus and their companion Greeks bear in 
mind as the Argo drifts and the catch steadily 
grows. By and by the low sun flares red through 
surly clouds of nightfall. The sea is getting up 
and it is a long sail up the coast to the lee of the 
outer light. Then with darkness gathering and 
a head wind and tide the real glory of the day 
comes. Out of the black west blows half a gale. 
The waves curl in ghostly phosphorescence -and 
the merry men dance wildly in Hull Gut. It is 
a long and dogged fight to win through these 



176 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



against the swift tide to the comparative safety 
of the shelter of Peddocks, where you catch the 
back wash that helps you well along the lee of 
Prince's Head. 

And so the Argonauts sail westward again in 
the pitch blackness of the gathering storm. 
They know the harbor floor as they know the 
floors of their homes and can as well feel their 
way. What if the falling tide leaves the flats 
bare and they may not win to the mooring, but 
must lie at anchor off the channel edge until 
morning shows gray through the rain? They 
have won the golden fleece of adventure from 
the blue sea to eastward and sailed home with it. 



CHAPTER XIV 

VOICES OF THE BROOKSIDE 

For two hundred years the water has rippled 
over the sill on which once firmly set the gate to 
the old milldam. Of the mill, save this, no sliver 
of wood remains, and even the tradition of the 
miller and his work is gone. We merely know 
that here stood one of the grist mills of the early 
pioneers, a mill to which the neighbors brought 
their corn in sacks, perchance upon their shoul- 
ders, and after the wheel had turned and the grist 
was ground, carried the meal off in the same way. 
Thus rapidly does the smoothing hand of time 
wipe out man and his works. 

But still th^ water ripples over the old, brown 
oak sill, and he who listens may hear the brook 
telling a story all day long in purling undertones. 
I fancy its language a simple one, too, but its 
words of one syllable tumble so swiftly over one 
another that, in spite of their liquid purity of 
tone, I never quite catch them. It is the brook's 
rapidity of utterance that troubles me. I am 

177 



178 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

quite sure, always, that if I really got the syllables 
and wrote them down I should, with study, be 
able to translate it all. It ought not to be half so 
difficult as these hieroglyphic and cuneiform in- 
scriptions on stone and brick buried in Assyrian 
ruins for ten thousand years, more or less, and 
now blithely put into modern sipeech by the 
Egyptologists. 

The brook writes for me, too. On every placid 
pool at the foot of some race of ripples it mixes 
Morse-code dots and dashes with stenographic 
curves, all written in white foam on the smooth 
black mirror of the surface. Nor does it end 
there, so eager it is to call its message to my no- 
tice. Through the quiver of sun and shade it 
sends heliograph flashes to me on the bank, mak- 
ing again the dots and dashes of the Morse-code 
alphabet, yet still with such lightning-like rapidity 
that my dull eye fails to read. Only the foam 
writing gives brief opportunity for one to study 
the characters and decide what they mean. 
Sometimes there it is not difficult to find words in 
the Morse-code and phrases in the stenographic 
curves though I have no more than a word or a 
brief phrase before the current rearranges the 
puzzle and I must begin all over again. I doubt 



VOICES OF THE BROOKSIDE 179 

not many brookside idlers have done as much 
as that. I fancy many a summer couple, say a 
brave telegraph clerk and a fair stenographer, 
have worked out as much as "I love you" and 
''God bless our home" long before this. 

After all, the brook is shallow and it is prob- 
able that it prattles merely the gossip of today 
and yesterday and the days gone by. Yet even 
so it might give me the story of this mill that so 
long ago stood upon its bank, something of the 
talk of the miller and his customer and the events 
of their time, matter I can get from no printed 
book nor from the tongue of man now living. 
Could I but get this I should have a rare book 
indeed, for nothing is so vivid to the reader as 
the true story of the plain life, the words and 
deeds of folk who lived a hundred or more years 
ago. The plain tales of Boswell, Pepys, Samuel 
Sewall, will live when all the series of six best 
sellers that have ever been are drifting dust. 

The brook tells me more of nature than it does 
of man, perhaps because it has known man for so 
short a time, though I should say shows rather 
than tells. A hundred forms of life live in it 
and on it, while through the air above float a 
thousand more, or the evidences of them. Down 



i8o OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

stream come the scents of the flowers in bloom 
above. Just a week or two ago the dominant 
odor among these was the sticky sweetness of the 
azalea. It is an odor that breathes of laziness. 
Only the hot, damp breath of the swamp carries 
it and lulls to languor and to sensuous dreams. 
Mid- August is near and though here and there a 
belated azalea bloom still glows white in the dusk 
of the swamp its odor seems to have no power to 
ride the wind. Instead a cleaner, finer perfume 
dances in rhythmic motion down the dell, sway- 
ing in sprightly time to the under rhythm of the 
brook's tone, a scent that seems to laugh as it 
greets you, yet in no wise losing its inherent, 
gentle dignity. The wild clematis is the fairest 
maiden of the woodland. She, I am convinced, 
knows all the brook says and loves to listen to it, 
twining her arms about the alder shrubs, bending 
low till her starry eyes are mirrored in the 
dimpled surface beneath her, and always sending 
this teasing, dainty perfume out upon the breeze 
that it may call to her new friends. Long ago 
the Greeks named the Clematis Virgin's Bower, 
but our wild variety is more than that. It is the 
virgin. 

To smell the perfume of the clematis on the 







CO 



O 



VOICES OF THE BROOKSIDE i8i 

lazy wind and to watch the myriad people of the 
brook is joy enough for an August afternoon. 
Bird songs come to me from the trees overhead, 
far and near, some of them melodious, others 
songs only by courtesy. Down stream a red- 
eyed vireo preaches persistently in an elm top. 
Across the pasture I hear the rich voice of an 
oriole stopping his caterpillar hunting long 
enough to trill a round phrase or two from the 
apple-tree bough. A flock of chickadees, old and 
young, comes through, nervously active in their 
hunting and with voices in which there is a tang 
of the coming autumn. Up in the pines a blue jay 
clamors with the same clarion ring in his tones. 
I do not know whether the different quality is in 
the air, or in the birds, but I am sure that after 
the first of August is past I could tell it by the 
notes of these two even if I had lost all track of 
the calendair. A black and white creeping 
warbler comes head first down a nearby tree, and 
then sits right side up a moment to squeak the 
half-dozen squeaks which are his best in the way 
of melody. Like a fine accompaniment the 
brook's voice blends with all these, mellows and 
supplements them till in the woodland symphony 
there is no jarring note. Nature has this won- 



1 82 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

derful faculty for soothing and harmonizing in 
all things. She will take colors that placed side 
by side in silks would cry to heaven for a separa- 
tion, and combine them in a flower group, or 
sometimes indeed in a single flower, so skilfully 
that we accept the whole as beautiful without a 
question. 

While I enjoy these things an eddy of wind 
brings from down the stream the fresh, moist 
smell of the water itself, and running through 
this I note just a suggestion of musk. All the 
other scents and sounds have been of a soothing 
quality, especially in combination with each 
other. In this suggestion of musk is something 
which bids one sit up and watch out. By and by 
I see the beast, a muskrat, steamboating his way 
up the rapids like a furry Maid-of-the-Mist, or 
perhaps I should say a submarine, that navigates 
the surface with but little bulk exposed. Pres- 
ently he proves himself a submarine by diving in 
a shallow. I see his paws stirring up mud and 
presently again he comes to the surface with a 
fresh-water clam. Clams in August are good, 
though I confess I have never tried the fresh- 
water variety. The muskrat knows, however, 
that these are good. He sits up on a rock, 



VOICES OF THE BROOKSIDE 183 

washes the mud carefully from his catch, opens 
it as readily as if his incisors were a knife, 
smacks his lips over the last of its contents, peers 
into the empty shell as if he hoped to find a pearl, 
drops them and bustles on his way. I do not 
know his errand and I doubt if he does, but I 
know it was an important one by the way he goes 
on it. 

The passing of the beast, however, upset the 
life of the shallow, amber pool. The mud of his 
digging had no more than cleared away before 
the under-water creatures of the place, jackals on 
the lion's spoor, came forward, eager to feast on 
the remnants of his meal. Bream, sunning 
themselves on the shallow margins of the other 
side, give a sinuous swish to their tails and dart 
up. A yellow perch poises, slips forward a yard, 
poises again and then thinking the place safe, 
comes forward for his share. In beauty and in- 
telligence the yellow perch is easily the king of 
the brook waters and I can but admire his color- 
ing, not only for its beauty but for its protective 
value. His dark back makes him almost invis- 
ible from directly above. Should you get a 
glimpse of his side you might well think it but 
the ripple of sunlight and shadow in the water, 



i84 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

so well is this simulated by the broad bands of 
green and yellow which run from the dark back 
down the sides. It is only when he turns far on 
his side and gives you a glimpse of red fin and 
white belly that he is plainly visible, and only 
desperate need will make him thus turn. 

After perch and bream have left, satisfied, 
a little group of thumbling hornpouts come and 
grub and dabble in the muddy hole whence the 
unio came, feeding upon I know not what ; prob- 
ably tiny infusorise of the fresh water. These 
little black cats are the busiest folk of the brook 
at this time of the year, and just whence they 
come or whither they go I cannot say. If you 
fish the waters with angle worms you will not 
pull out one of these little fellows till the summer 
is fairly on. Then, dog days having arrived, 
you will get a chance to catch nothing else, so 
long as one of them remains in the pool you 
choose. They are great angle-worm chasers and 
will get across a pool and grab a bait before any 
other denizen of the place can possibly get to it. 
Their agility is the more surprising when one 
remembers that the grown hornpout is but a slug- 
gish chap and that they are not built on lines that 
presage swiftness. You may catch the big horn- 



VOICES OF THE BROOKSIDE 185 

pouts at any season, but these little chaps are 
peculiar to the dog days. I have an idea they 
hibernate in the mud at bottom until warm 
weather calls them forth, and that by next spring, 
so voracious is their appetite and such their agil- 
ity in satisfying it, they are as big as the others of 
their kind. So eager are these gourmands for 
bait that if but one is in a pool you may catch 
him, throw him back and catch him again times 
without number, provided the hook does not hap- 
pen to injure his tough jaw. 

Such a glimpse of the submarine life of the 
brook the muskrat has given me with the musky 
odor of his passing. After a little all is quiet 
down there and I have a chance to admire the 
life which flits above the surface. The hawking 
dragonflies weave gossamer fabrics of dreams in 
their unending flight to and fro and the lull of 
the forest symphony bids one yield to these as 
the waning afternoon builds up its shadows from 
all hollows and glens. In the open pastures the 
heat still quivers, but here the woodland deities 
are building night, block on block, for the cooling 
and soothing of the world. The heliographing 
ceases. The foam writing blurs in the shadows. 
Down long aisles of perfumed green the voice of 



i86 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

the wood thrush rings mellow and serene. Here 
is a woodland chorister who sings of peace and 
calls to holy thoughts, voicing the evening prayer 
of the woodland world. As his angelus rings 
out I fancy all wild heads. bowed in adoration. 
Certainly the wood thrush's call touches that 
chord in the human breast. To listen to it with 
open heart is to know all things are for good and 
that a peace from mystic spaces far above the 
woodland is descending upon it. Heard through 
this song the tone of the brook's voice changes 
and instead of swift-syllabled gossip I seem to 
hear it softly crooning a hymn. 



CHAPTER XV 

GHOSTS OF THE NORTHEASTER 

'The Fourth of July is past; the summer is 
gone/' says a New England proverb. In this as 
in many a quaint saying of our weather-wise, hill- 
tramping ancestors, there is more than a half 
truth hidden in what seems a humorous distor- 
tion. In mid-August we look about us and know 
this, for we see ourselves slipping -more and more 
rapidly down the long slope that leads from flow- 
er-crowned hilltop to frozen lake. Some day a 
snowstorm will get under the runners and the 
balance of the descent will be but a single shish. 
Meanwhile we may note the passage by certain 
landmarks. In the seven weeks that come be- 
tween the longest day and the fifteenth of Au- 
gust, thunderstorms may bring local relief to the 
parched earth, but otherwise it is our dry season, 
and by the first week in August the farmers are 
holding their hands to heaven in vain prayers for 
rain, vowing that never was so dry a time and 
that if the seasons thus continue to change Mas- 
sachusetts will be a desert. 

187 



i88 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

Always during August Jupiter Pluvius is wont 
to change all this. He sends us not showers, 
but a rain that wets us for a day and a night and 
perhaps longer, and, however greedily the 
parched earth may suck it up, finally irrigates all 
the waste places and covers all the sore earth 
with 'a soothing, healing salve of mud. Such 
rains come in to us riding on the broad back of 
the east wind, as rode the prince in Andersen's 
fairy tale, and as the big drops fall upon us we 
catch intoxicating scents borne to us from far 
Cathay. On the east wind's back the prince rode 
into paradise itself, which still lies hidden be- 
neath hills to the eastward of the Himalayas. 
We should not blame him for kissing the fairy 
princess and being banished, for if he had not 
done so he had not brought back the tale and 
we should not know Whence came the soothing 
odors that drip with the rain from the wings of 
the east wind. Fragrance of spice and of flow- 
ers, bloom of ripe fruit, of grape and fig and 
pom-egranate and quaint odor of olive, scents that 
have ripened long in the purple dusk of paradise, 
the east wind caught in his garments and bore 
back to the cold forests of Northern Germany 
that night that the prince rode with him. Nor 



GHOSTS OF THE NORTHEASTER 189 

has he since lost them altogether in crossing the 
storm-tossed Atlantic to our shores. Instead the 
rich vigor of the brine subtends them and bears 
them, tanged with salt, to our deeper delectation. 
In long carriage they have lost potency, one needs 
keen scent to find them, but all the subtle essence 
of dreams is in them still, and as the rain brings 
down early twilight you know that the prince 
saw true. 

So likely is this storm to come to us in mid- 
August that the Old Farmer's Almanack, less 
oracularly and more bluntly by far than in 
its usual weather predictions, bids us look 
for it each year. Not only does its yearly re- 
currence make it a landmark of the passing of 
seasons, but the cold northwest breeze which al- 
most invariably follows it, sucked in from Sas- 
katchewan, breathing of snow flurries on the 
frost-touched tundra of the Arctic barrens, car- 
ries a threat of winter that all the world knows. 
The summer is over, it says to outdoor creatures, 
and it is time to put in fall stores. It is time to 
hurry all plans that need warm weather for their 
completion. Particularly do the late summer 
and early autumn blooming plants heed this. 
Monday saw* my favorite meadow dallying still 



I90 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

with the languor of midsummer. Even the 
tender pink orchid blooms of arethusa lingered 
among the glasses, in shadowy, cool-rooted spots, 
though the arethusa begins to bloom there in late 
May. Hardly have hardback and meadow- 
sweet, which are mid-summer plants, reached the 
fulness of mature bloom, so softly does the spring 
linger in this sheltered spot, so gently does the 
summer press her fervor on spring-watered 
sphagnum. 

Crowding up among these have come green 
sprigs from perennial roots which are to bear on 
their tops yellow heads of goldenrod and loose 
panicles of purple asters. Yet on the day before 
the rain hardly had the green of the goldenrod 
tips become sun-glinted with yellow, scarcely an 
aster had lifted long lashes far enough so that 
you could see the iris beneath. After the rain 
the heads which had drooped so low in rev- 
erence before it rose in the clear sun and the 
whole meadow was cloth of gold where before it 
had been olive green with ripe grass tips, while 
all among the gold the blue asters came out like 
stars on a frosty evening, pricking through the 
pale glow of sunset. The meadow has lacked 
vivid color masses since June. Now it is a veri- 



3 



GHOSTS OF THE NORTHEASTER 191 

table mixing pot for the autumn colors to come, 
yellow with goldenrod, blue with asters, purple 
with Joe-Pye weed, rosy because of the hard- 
hack, and rimmed with delicate gray-white of 
thoroughwort. These colors it will hold until 
the maples take fire and the green of birches pales 
to softest yellow at the expectation of October. 
So the flash of coolness in the air after rain set 
all the woodf oik busy. The squirrels seemed to 
scold more shrilly and dance along the boughs 
inspecting the swelling chestnut burrs with a 
livelier kick than before. About this time, too, 
the bluejays begin to be prophetic of autumn. 
Hardly through July and early August has a loud 
note been heard from these birds. Often the re- 
cesses of the pines have been full of a gentle 
tinkling whicker as of muted tin pans that prac- 
tised in the hope of some day becoming real 
phonographs, voices of young and old bluejays 
holding family councils interspersed with quiet 
joviality, but there has been none of the strident 
clamor which is the autumn voice of the bird. 
Today, however, in the cool, refreshing breeze 
out of the northwest it rang through the wood 
with familiar vigor, a herald, blowing trumpets 
in advance of autumn. It is really all settled; 



192 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

the bluejay has announced it and summer is over. 

As the rain brings down early twiHght it 
brings not only dreams of faint odors of far 
Cathay, it brings also clinging in the gray gar- 
ments of the east wind films of its mystery and 
romance.. As the prince in his brief outlook 
through the window of paradise saw on the panes 
moving pictures of life which Time had set there, 
so through the dusk of the fields and into the 
tangle of the forest it is easy to see this wind 
from far Cathay moving pictures of Oriental 
magic and mystery. Gray djinns stalk across the 
open spaces in the gathering dusk and what ma- 
gician from Samarcand or what prince or prin- 
cess of India may float to earth on these billow- 
ing praying-carpets of rain gusts it is impossible 
to tell. In the open fields and on the forest edges 
the effect of ghostly mystery is enhanced by the 
strange personality which all things take on. 
The most familiar path becomes new to us and 
each shrub and stump stands forth, pressing upon 
our attention, a newly arrived being out of the 
realms of space. 

Monday afternoon when there was just the 
promise of rain in the air the pine woods were so 
friendly a place that all the birds flocked in and 



GHOSTS OF THE NORTHEASTER 193 

seemed to be full of soft and gentle jubilation be- 
cause of this promise. The spaces that have 
been so quiet of late were full of feathers as 
they had been in June. Here were robins in- 
numerable, flitting jerkily about and crying "tut, 
tut" in a subdued and genial way that was pos- 
itively ladylike. Partridge woodpeckers flocked 
in, drolly jollying each other and making much 
talk, sotto voce. Not one of them cried aloud 
and though in their humorous antics more than 
one cried, "flicker, flicker, flicker," there was in it 
none of the usual horse-laugh tone of the high- 
hole when he is on a rampage. It was reduced 
to a gentle whinny that seemed to vie with the 
boudoir-built notes of the robins. Bluejays were 
there too, but there was no clamor, just a gentle 
murmur of sub.dued tones in the soft, resin- 
scented twilight. 

In the twilight of twenty-four hours after, 
all my wood-rimmed world of pasture and 
meadow was filled with the eerie presence of the 
rain. It was not like a gentle shower of summer 
when the patter of falling drops is like a tinkle of 
fairy music and showers spell laughter. The 
coming of a local shower at nightfall is as gentle 
and seems as homelike as the gathering of the 



194 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

birds in the grove. In this east storm brought 
from far spaces on the wings of the east wind 
there was something of wild unrest. The cool, 
salt flavor of the air spoke of wild stretches of 
the North Atlantic where sea-fogs have touched 
the eerie loneliness of Greenland bergs and 
passed it on to the wind. In this ghostly dusk 
of driving mist the smear of the rain across the 
face is like a touch of phantom hands coming out 
of unfathomed spaces, gentle but uncanny. All 
the soft perfumes of wood and field seem beaten 
to the ground by this rain which brings with its 
salt tang faint breathings of some distant 
spiciness. 

The gray light of the lower spaces goes up into 
the clouds and in the dusk below shadowless 
shrubs take on strange shapes. The pasture 
edge is familiar no longer. Gray groups grow 
where surely was but clear space and all across 
the long meadow and up the slope mist horizons 
jostle one another one moment and are blotted 
out the next. The road entrance to the wood 
is a black cavern out of which lean grotesque 
goblins that wave a disquieting welcome. Here 
to the right and left as I enter stand black figures 
where in daylight I am sure nothing stood, nor 



GHOSTS OF THE NORTHEASTER 195 

does it help to lay the hand on them and know 
they are stumps. It is damp and draughty as it 
was in the cavern where the prince first found the 
east wind, and I look about half expecting to see 
the strong old woman who tended the fire and put 
the winds in bags when they did not behave. 
There she stands in the dusk nearby and only 
by putting m}^ hand on the prickly needles and 
the rough trunk do I recognize a familiar pitch 
pine. The trees near this entrance to the en- 
chanted wood sigh as the east wind touches them, 
seeming to draw deep breaths as living creatures 
might and thus add verisimilitude to the terror 
that stands on either hand to reach for me. 
Thus ancient hermits depicted the soul on the 
walls of their caverns, a shrinking shape that fled 
among goblins that clutched at it from all sides. 
The primal instinct of fear of things half seen 
still lurks in each man's bones. On a pitch dark 
night I had made the entrance to the wood with- 
out thought of ghosts. It is the half known that 
frightens us. 

Once within the wood in the deepening dusk 
I seemed to leave the bogies behind. Not fai 
through the pines the path brought me to a half 
cleared hollow where three-year sprouts mingle 



196 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

their lush aspirations with scattered growth 
seeded half a century ago. A lone deer seems to 
make this spot a sanctuary. Often in daylight 
we meet here almost face to face and look at one 
another curiously, neither much afraid. In the 
deepening darkness, just freed from the primal 
terrors of the wood edge, I seemed to know why 
the deer finds the place a refuge. Here in the 
little sheltered hollow no goblins gibbered, no 
banshee wailed in the wet wood. Instead the 
sprout clumps seemed to rustle cheery assurance 
and the taller trees to bend in oozy friendliness 
over them. The soft fingers of the rain had a 
soothing touch and wind and darkness were 
kindly. I do not know why some spots in the 
woods seem thus to shelter and protect whether 
by night or day while others repel or fill with 
distrust, but I know it is so. On a wood- 
cock haunted slope or in a thicket beloved 
of rufifed grouse I almost always feel as if my 
camp had been pitched in some previous existence 
and I had just got home again, though the place, 
perhaps, ought to be new to me. I fancy the 
deer feels that way and I hope he was snuggled 
down in the shelter of some of those big-leaved 
sprouts, warm and dry, as I passed by. 



GHOSTS OF THE NORTHEASTER 197 

Down the glade and along the swamp edge I 
passed with the night falling fast. Twilight 
lingers long in our latitude and the gray sky 
still lighted the path dimly, though the woods 
were black on either side. The tranquillity of 
the home-like hollow was with me yet, but I was 
in for another panic shudder. A fitful gleam of 
pale light showed just ahead of me through the 
black thicket and I rounded a familiar curve in 
the path to stand face to face with a most por- 
tentous presence. A veritable ghost stood just 
within the wood, seven feet tall, stretching out a 
rattling bone of an arm and glowing from shape- 
less head to formless foot with pale gleaming gar- 
ments of bluish white. 

More years ago than I like to count up there 
used to come to my town an old man with a 
magic lantern. He would hire the audience 
room in the ancient town hall for an evening, 
hang up a sheet, charge ten cents admission and 
show to a crowd of wondering and delighted 
urchins pictures wonderful, humorous and start- 
ling. He always wound up with one for which 
he apologized, then showed it with much gusto, 
saying that he did not believe in such things him- 
self, but that some people liked to see them. 



198 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

This was ^'death on the pale horse," and boys 
used to band together and see one another home 
through the darkness after looking at it. The 
creature that pointed his fleshless arm at me from 
the thicket was not that of the old time magic 
lantern exhibit, but it reminded me of that im- 
mediately, probably because it struck the same 
formless shudder through my bones. Yet it was 
only for a moment. I had seen such phosphor- 
escent ghosts before and I had but to step boldly 
forward and give the stub a kick to send the 
spectre flying in fragments that dropped like huge 
glowworms in chunks to the sodden ground. 
Often in a northeast rain after long drought a 
rotten birch stump will thus glow with phos- 
phorescent fire producing a most formidable and 
tradition-satisfying ghost. 

There is nothing to be feared in a phosphor- 
escent birch stub, even with the drip of rain from 
the leaves making stealthy, ghostly footfalls all 
through the wood and the voice of the east wind 
in the trees overhead beginning to take up a 
querulous, wordless complaint that moved back 
and forth with the footfalls. Foxfire is a com- 
mon enough phenomenon. It is easy to explain 
it all a's I do now. The strange part of such 



GHOSTS OF THE NORTHEASTER 199 

things is always that, at the time, no matter what 
a man's training and experience, he feels creep- 
ing back and forth in his bones the old, pale 
terror of primitive man in the presence of such 
things. Science has veneered us with knowledge 
of phosphorus and the chemic action of fungi and 
the effects of darkness and of light, but a half 
hour's tramp into the wet woods while a north- 
easter blows through the darkness takes all the 
gloss off that. We may go boldly on our way 
with undiminished front, but something always 
stirs uneasily within us and looks out at the back 
of the neck to see if that scattered glow has not 
reassembled and followed us. 

Soon the path led me up out of the swamp, the 
sooner perhaps for the glowing eyes of foxfire 
now far behind, and I caught the beckoning 
gleam of electric light through the quiver of the 
rain. From the brow of cemetery hill the coun- 
try below rose from velvety blackness of com- 
plete night to a gray sky that was somehow com- 
forting and friendly. Through it, far down the 
road toward Blue Hill, the street lamps glowed 
yellow through the gloom, showing the route to 
the invisible hill. The wind crooned in the pines, 
and the swish of sheeted rain seemed a lullaby. 



200 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

Here again, like the deer-frequented hollow, was 
a homelike and friendly spot. Even when I 
faced the street I found nothing disquieting in 
the sudden gleams of reflected light on the wet 
headstones. These should have been far more 
terrifying than any foxfire. Recent traditions 
of the race make the cemetery a place of ghosts, 
and here within its bounds were gnome lights that 
sprang into being, flared brightly for a second, 
then flashed out of sight as I walked. The long 
row of lights seemed to give almost every stone 
its turn, and the dancing gnome lanterns flared 
and vanished behind and before. As I neared 
the street puddles in the path caught up the 
flashes fitfully till all the quiet acre of the dead 
seemed full of goblins bobbing up from below 
with lanterns, taking a hasty look about, then 
pulling the lid down upon themselves with an un- 
heard slam. It should have been disquieting, but 
it was not. We easily discount the petty super- 
stitions that tradition and the frills of literature 
have made for us. That that grows out of the 
foxfire in the swamp has its roots too far back 
in the inheritance of the race to be discounted. 
The cemetery ghosts made only a friendly illumi- 
nation for the last stages of a pleasant trip. 



CHAPTER XVI 

JOTHAM STORIES 

Almost daily in our hottest season the east 
wind brings coolness and refreshment to the 
dwellers at the sea beach. Nor does it stop at 
the seacoast. Often hills a dozen miles inland 
feel its cool caress. 

The inland, simmering beneath the sun, with 
the thermometer in the eighties or worse, sends 
heavenward great columns of heated air. To 
take the place of this the lower strata draws in 
from the sea, filled with the coolness and sparkle 
of the brine and informed with that mysterious 
tonic which seems born of wind-tossed salt water. 
At such times the east wind brings the breath 
of life to our nostrils and sets the jaded motor 
centres of our nerves atingle with new power. 

Often we dwellers far inland get more than a 
cool breath of the sea. Then for a day or two a 
northeaster comes pelting over the seaward range 
of hills, murking the sky with dun clouds, whin- 
ing about the eaves and roaring down the chim- 

201 



202 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

ney, bringing deluges of rain to the heat-browned 
pastures and draping them in obscurity of gray 
mists, blotting out the roar of cities and the flurry 
of modern life, making us belileve for a little that 
we are children of the farm once more. On 
sunny days we do not quite get this. Even in 
the east wind we smell the soot as well as the sea, 
but the genuine northeaster shuts all that out. 

On such days the work of the farm ceases. 
What hay is out is cocked and capped, snugged 
down to wait for fair weather. The weeds in the 
graden drink and drink again and forget the hoe 
which idles in the tool-house corner, and Jotham 
putters about the barn, making pretence of in- 
door work but really luxuriating in idleness. 
The place is redolent of the rich, sweet odor of 
the new hay and mingled with this comes that 
salt tang of the east wind bearing scent also of 
all the hills and pastures over which it has blown. 
You may if you will tell what gust touched the 
elders in white bloom down by the brook, which 
one lingered in the swamp a moment to caress the 
azaleas, and which stopped only long enough to 
snatch a kiss from the sweet fern on the pasture 
hill-top. 



JOTHAM STORIES 203 

It is pleasant then to sit sheltered from the 
rain just within the wide barn doors, to hear the 
twittering of the swallows as they comfort their 
young on the beams, and to listen to the wind 
and to Jotham. The old-time New^ England 
farm hand — he who wore the smock frock as 
did his master while they both worked about the 
barn and then, the chores done, stood for half an 
hour in the dusk, either side of the barn door 
like caryatids, drinking in the pleasures of rest in 
the twilight — has passed, but Jotham remains. 
He has told the tales of his grandfather's ex- 
ploits as a hunter so many times that he not only 
believes them himself but is equally sure that 
everyone else believes them. 

Yet Jotham is in the main taciturn. It is only 
when the northeaster soughs in the eaves and 
brings him leisure that he drops into narrative. 
His tales are grotesque fancies, simple yarns 
withal, such as fluttered from the homely life of 
pasture and woodland in early days of enforced 
idleness to light on the threshing floor of some 
great old barn, or to warm themselves at the big 
kitchen fireplace on winter nights when the wind 
guifawed down the throat of the big chimney and 



204 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



sprinkled the hearth with an attic salt of snow 
for the seasoning of them for the country palate. 
I do not doubt Jotham's grandfather told them of 
his grandfather and that they belong to neither 
but are local folk lore, pasture sagas, changelings 
born of the queer union of east wind and blue- 
berry blooms, brought up by hand — farm hand. 
*'My grandfather,'' says Jotham, "was a great 
hunter. On stormy days like this he would take 
down his old long, singlebarrelled gun and go out 
and bring home all kinds of game, mostly ducks 
and geese. In his day the ducks and geese bred 
around here and you could get 'em any time, but 
the best shooting was in the early fall on a north- 
easter. The heavy waves down on the coast 
drive the birds out of their feeding grounds and 
they come up to the fresh-water ponds inland to 
drink and get a change of feed. It is the same 
way with the shore birds, yellow-legs and plover 
and the like, though in my grandfather's day they 
didn't care much about such small game. Bigger 
birds were plenty enough. Grandfather used to 
hate yellow-legs, though, for they are telltales. 

''Once he went over to Muddy Pond loaded 
for duck. It is a great place for ducks. In 



1 







be 






JOTHAM STORIES 205 

those days they used to come in there and some- 
times pack it solid full. You could hardly see 
the pond for the ducks in it. Grandfather al- 
ways knew just the right day to go, and this time 
when 'he looked down on the pond from the hill 
he saw hardly any water at all, nothing much 
but ducks. It was the chance of his life. He 
slipped down the hill among the scrubs to the 
cedars and then began to creep carefully up. 
You know what the pond is like, perfectly round 
and only a couple of acres or so, with a rim of 
marsh and then another big rim of swam.p 
cedars, then the hills all about, neither inlet nor 
outlet; a queer pond anyway and queer things 
happen on it, same as they did that day. Grand- 
father had got half way through the swamp 
cedars when he came to a little opening which he 
had to cross. Just then there came up on the 
east wind a big flock of telltales, 762 of them, 
whirling over the hills without a sound till they 
saw him. Then they began to yelp." 

"Look here, Jotham,'' I am always careful to 
say at this point, "How could he tell that there 
were just 762 of them? He couldn't count so 
many as they flew." 

"Didn't have to count 'em as they flew," 



2o6 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

answers Totham. "He counted 'em after he had 
shot *em. 

"Well, they began to 3^elp 'Look out for him! 
Look out for him !' and the ducks knew what that 
meant. All that great blanket of ducks uncov- 
ered the pond with one motion. Grandfather 
said it was just like a curtain rising straight up, 
for they were all black ducks. There is no other 
duck can go straight up in the air. Other ducks 
slide off on a slant against the wind.'' 

How Jotham manages to put the lonely quaver 
of the yellow-leg's call into that phrase "Look 
out for him ! Look out for him !" with its four- 
note repetition is more than I know, but he al- 
ways does, and you can see the big flock swing 
through the mist as he says it. 

"Grandfather was pretty mad to lose that 
chance at good game and he made up his mind 
that he'd take it out of the telltales, so he began 
to w^histle 'em back. He was a master hand at 
any wild call and pretty soon he lit the flock. 
There they were, a rim of yellow-legs all around 
the pond, a perfect circle except in one place, 
where some dogwood bushes made down to the 



JOTHAM STORIES 207 

water's edge. Then granddad had a great idea. 
He saw his chance to kill every one of those 
infernal telltales where they sat. He studied on 
the size of that circle for a minute. Then he put 
the long barrel of that old gun between two 
swamp cedar stumps and bent on it carefully. He 
kept doing this, looking at the circle, then bend- 
ing the gun barrel till he had the gun bent just 
on the curve of the circle of yellow-legs sitting 
round the pond. Then he smiled for he knew 
he had 'em. He crept carefully into the dogwood 
bushes till he was in just the right place, took a 
good aim round that circle, and then he onlatched 
on 'em. 

"Well, he'd figured that circle just right. The 
shot swung round it and killed every one of them 
seven hundred and sixty-two yellow-legs right 
where they stood. But tarnation! He'd for- 
gotten all about himself, he was so interested in 
the science of it. The back of his neck was right 
in that circle and the shot came round true as 
could be and hit him right there. The force of 
it was pretty well spent going so far and killing 
so many yellow-legs, but it dented some bits of 
dogwood leaves right into his system and he had 



2o8 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

dogwood poisoning pretty bad. He used to have 
it every year after that, about the time the first 
northeaster set in." 

Anybody who knows Muddy Pond will know 
that Jotham's story ought to be true, for the pond 
is there to prove it, just as he describes it. 

"Of course,'' says Jotham at this point, "that 
was skill. Not one hunter in a hundred would 
have thought to bend his gun so as to throw the 
shot in a circle or would have been able to esti- 
mate the amount of the curve so exactly right. 
Another thing happened to my grandfather over 
at that pond that was part skill and part luck. 
He was on his way home from partridge shooting 
one day just before Thanksgiving. He found he 
was out of shot just before he got to the pond. 
His flask had leaked and let every bit of the shot 
out, and when he came to load up after shooting 
his last partridge he stopped with the powder, for 
there was no shot to put in. Just then he came 
in sight of the pond and there were seven gte^e 
swimming round in it; and that the day before 
Thanksgiving ! 

"It was a tough time to be without any shot, 
but grandfather was equal to the emergency. 



JOTHAM STORIES 209 

He simply left his ramrod right in the gun, put on 
a cap, and began to worm his way through the 
cedars to the shore, where he could get a good, 
close shot at the geese. Just as he did this an- 
other hunter who was no kind of a shot, came to 
the other side of the pond and saw the birds. 
He was one of the kind that have the buck fever 
at the sight of game, and he put up his gun and 
shot slam at the flock, too far away to do any 
execution, then he let out a yell and began to 
run down to the shore as fast as he could go. 

"Of course he scared the geese and they lit out, 
swinging right by grandfather. Grandfather 
was a nervy hunter. He held his fire till he got 
the heads of those seven geese right in line, and 
then he shot and strung 'em all right through the 
eyes with the ramrod. Granddad couldn't quite 
see where he had hit 'em, but when the smoke 
cleared away he saw the seven geese still flying 
and his ramrod going off with 'em, and he was 
some considerable astonished and a good deal 
put about at losing his ramrod. 

"Now here's the queer part of it: Those 
seven geese were blinded, of course, with a ram- 
rod strung right through their eyes, but the life 



2IO OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

in a wild goose is powerful strong and they kept 
flying on just the same, until they went out of 
sight, right in the direction of granddad's home. 
But he got home and had hung up his gun with- 
out seeing anything more of them and he thought 
his ramrod was sure gone for good. Then 
grandmother came to him, kind of scared, saying 
she heard spirit rappings on the pantry wall. 
Granddad heard the noise, a sort of tapping, but 
he couldn't see anything until he looked out the 
pantry window. 

'^Yes, there they were seven of 'em, hung on 
the ramrod and the ramrod hung on a blind-hook, 
just outside Granddad's pantry window, their 
wings still flapping a little and making that rap- 
ping sound, just as if they were knocking to be 
let in at the pantry of the man that had shot 
'em. All the relations used to come to grand- 
father's for Thanksgiving, and thirty-five of 'em 
sat down to dinner that year and every one of 
'em had all the roast goose they could eat." 

Frightened or injured game birds do perform 
strange feats as many an honest huntsman will 
tell you. I myself have a neighbor, no relative 
of Jotham's, who shot at a partridge in the woods 
a quarter of a mile from his house and saw the 



JOTHAM STORIES 211 

bird fly away. When he got home a half-hour 
later he found his pantry window broken and a 
partridge lying dead on the pantry floor, either 
the one he had shot at or another just as good — 
and as the proverb has it, one story is good until 
another ohe is told. Jotham usually caps his list 
with the following : 

"I guess the greatest wild goose hunting 
grandfather ever did was the time the big flock 
got caught in the ice storm. It came in Novem- 
ber, a foot of soft snow and then one of those 
rainstorms that freeze as soon as the rain touches 
anything. Every twig on the trees that storm 
was as big as your wrist with ice and there was 
an inch or two of clear ice on everything and 
more coming all the time, when grandfather 
heard a big flock of wild geese honking. They 
didn't seem to be going over, but their voices 
hung in the air right over the big steep hill from 
the barn up into the back pasture. After they'd 
been honking up there for some time grandfather 
went up to see what it was all about, but he didn't 
take his gun. As he climbed the hill through the 
wet snow he heard 'em plainer and plainer, and 
when he got to the top he saw a most 'strodinary 
sight. There was a good-sized flock, ninety- 



212 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

seven geese, to be exact, that had got so iced up 
that they had to settle on the top of the hill. 

"The ice had formed on their feathers as they 
flew and they were so weighted down they 
couldn't fly and they were getting more and more 
iced up every minute. Granddad didn't care to 
go back for his gun for fear some of the other 
nimrods in the neighborhood would come on the 
scene and bag the game first, but there wasn't any 
need of a gun. All he had to 'do was to drive 
'em home. They were terribly iced up, but their 
legs were still free and he chased 'em about for 
some time before he got 'em started down hill. 
But once over the edge of the hill the weight of 
ice on 'em turned 'em right over and over, and 
so they rolled on down. It was a wet snow and 
as they rolled they took up more and more of it 
till by the time they came slap up against the 
side of the barn every single goose was sealed up 
in the middle of a hard, round snowball. They 
all stopped there and all that grandfather had 
to do was to pile them up, and there they were, 
in cold storage for the winter. Every time the 
family wanted roast goose they went out and 
split open a snowball. The folks in granddad's 
time used often to freeze their fresh meat and 



JOTHAM STORIES 213 

keep it t)ut in the snow all winter, but he was the 
only one that I ever heard of that stored wild 
geese in that way/' 

There are worse tales and more of them, but 
I fear that cold type chills out the subtle aroma 
of probability with which Jotham always man- 
ages to invest them. One needs to hear them 
told with the fragrance of a barn full of new- 
made hay in the nostrils, the swish of the north- 
easter to accompany the voice in his ears, and 
with his eye on the distant hillside pastures all 
hung with mysterious draperies of mist to make 
a proper background of quaint shadows of ro- 
mance. Then he can really appreciate the folk 
lore that goes with us by the familiar title of 
"Jotham stories." 



CHAPTER XVII 

GOOD-BYE TO SUMMER 

I think the daintiest scent that can be found in 
the woodland in these last days of September is 
that of the coral-root flower, which looks like a 
wan, tan ghost of a blossom, but nevertheless is 
sweet and succulent. The plant is by no means 
common in my world. Many a year goes by 
without my seeing it at all. In autumn it grows 
from among dry pine leaves, a slender spike that 
has neither root leaves nor stem leaves, but looks 
like the dried flower scape of some spring bloom- 
ing plant. So protective is its coloration that I 
stand among its blooms and look long before I see 
them at all. It is only by getting very close that 
one can see that the tiny forests scattered along 
the pale brown scape are themselves beautifully 
colored with purple and white on the same soft 
tan foundation as the scape. They have, too, the 
quaintly mysterious formation of all orchid 
blooms and that alluring, elusive odor which 

must be sought intimately to be known. You 

214 



GOOD-BYE TO SUMMER 215 

must get this dainty perfume where it grows. 
If you pluck the blooms and take them home 
they will hold their beauty and color for days, 
but the scent will have strangely slipped from 
them and trembled along the still, soft air back to 
the woodland haunts whence it came. You 
might find it there, wandering disconsolate in the 
lonely brown spaces seeking for its own heart 
of bloom, but from under your roof it has de- 
parted. 

The flower is a strange one, anyway, in all its 
growth. Fibrous roots it has none, just a bunch 
of coral-like tubercles which draw nourishment 
by their own subtle processes from the roots of 
trees that shade them. Leaves it has none, just 
a scarious brown bract that encloses a part of the 
stem. Living upon canned food, so to speak, it 
has lost its ability to win sustenance from earth 
and air. It seems to live, not upon the sap of 
these trees, but upon the dead roots and decayed 
wood, a specially prepared humus without which 
it may not thrive, even in its own limited, elusive 
way. Among our wild flowers doomed to ulti- 
mate extinction I fancy this will be one of the first 
to disappear. In the days of great stretches of 
moist, deep woodland it may well have flourished. 



2l6 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



In my town it is rare and any year I may find it 
for the last time. On many counts I would not 
miss it, and yet that faint, refined odor which 
somehow always reminds me of ghosts of mi- 
gnonette, of tender, almost forgotten memories 
once more stirred, gives a gentle melancholy to 
the woodland that all the glories of October will 
not be able to assuage. 



It is by such subtle hints as this that autumn 
announces her presence among us. The prevail- 
ing tone of the upland wood is yet that of sum- 
mer. Hardly will you see a splash of color in all 
the miles of green. It is in shady woods where 
no frost has yet penetrated, spots like that in 
which the coral-root is sheltered and befriended 
that nevertheless you read the open tale of what 
is to come. In low-lying open meadows the frost 
has spoken. In these on one night the chill of 
frozen space weighed down and turned the dew 
to ice and wrecked some tender herbage, leaving 
it brown as if touched by fire instead of frost. 
But it is only here and there in places peculiarly 
subject to this warning that this has happened. 
In shielding forest depths the coverlets of mul- 



GOOD-BYE TO SUMMER 217 

tiple green leaves have kept the tender things of 
the wood wrapped warm through the nights and 
the frost has said no word. Yet there too the 
message has penetrated, by what means I cannot 
say. The ferns have heard it and have turned 
pale. The tender, slender fronds of the hay- 
scented Dicksonia are very wan and the odor 
from them now as you tramp through is not so 
much that of new-mown hay, as it was in June, 
but rather that of the stack or the mow, always 
with their own inimitable woodsy flavor added. 
The brake whose woody stems have held its ter- 
nate, palm-like fronds bravely aloft all summer 
is now a sallow yellow, and the lovely Osmundas 
and stately Struthiopteris are bowing their heads 
in brown acquiescence with the inevitable. I 
doubt if it is a message from the air. It is rather 
a command from the nerve centres at the base 
of the stalk, a message from the brain of the 
heart-roots that gives the fronds warning that 
their day is over. If it were in the air the poly- 
podys, the Christmas ferns and the spinulose 
wood ferns would have lost their color also. It 
is different with these. There is a hardier qual- 
ity in their nature and they seem to revel in the 



2i8 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

killing frosts of late autumn and the ice and snow 
of winter ; I find them as green and as hearty in 
December as I do now. 

Next to the tender ferns it is the woo(iy un- 
dergrowth that recognizes the season first. 
Long ago some limb of a red maple growing in 
the shade has been seen to flare up with a sudden 
flame while else all the wood was green. But 
this in itself is no sign. This happens here and 
there in low ground even in very early summer. 
Now, however, it is not only here and there but 
everywhere that you will find this occasional limb 
adding scarlet beauty to the sombre shade of the 
deep wood, and as your glance passes from the 
cool pale ferns to this it slips on and finds color 
growing on many things in the woodland shadow. 
Here is the cornel, whose lovely blooms filled the 
forest with butterfly beauty, it seems no longer 
ago than yesterday. Today I find the cornel foli- 
age green still as to midrib and veining, but with 
the woof of the leaf gone such a fine apple red 
•that it is surely good enough to eat. If color 
counts the deer should find rich browse in the 
shrubbery these days. The hazels that were so 
green are suddenly a ripe brown that is all warm 
with red tones, and where the summac grows 



GOOD-BYE TO SUMMER 219 

there is forest fire without smoke burning in the 
scarlet flame-tongues of the pointed leaflets of 
this modern burning bush. And all this is be- 
neath the shelter of the still green forest into 
which we must go to find it. From without the 
full green of summer ripeness prevails, and we 
must seek other signs of the autumn season. 

But must we, after all ? Yesterday or the day 
before it was true and we were saying that the 
summer held on well. Today, so suddenly does 
the change seem to become visible, I saw them 
blaze up out of a cool swamp at the foot of the 
hill on which I stood. The smoke of autumn's 
peace pipe was blue on all the distant hills, and 
he must have dropped his match in my swamp, 
where it smouldered and flared and caught the 
maple even as I looked in the full expectancy of 
seeing nothing but green. The red fire of greet- 
ing seemed to run from tree to tree, and all the 
lowlands for a mile were ablaze, as if some sub- 
dominant political party had won an unexpected 
victory and could not wait for night to light its 
fires of celebration. All the little swamp maples 
were red with this fire, and though I suppose they 
have been days in turning the effect was that of 
their flashing up as I looked. Then I saw that 



220 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

the birches among them were all set with candles, 
whose pale yellow flames lighted them with a 
most chaste fire, just as in the old days of torch- 
light enthusiasm over political campaigns we used 
to put rows of them in the windows on the night 
that the parade was to pass. Seeing all that I 
felt as if autumn were again triumphantly 
elected, and we all ought to take off our hats and 
"give three cheers for the illumination on the 
right/' 

Surely autumn is the finest season of the year. 
I always know that as soon as it gets here. Yes- 
terday I revelled in the summer that had stayed 
with us so long and still seemed to show few 
signs of going. Today the fall coloring is burn- 
ing, like a wood fire on a still day, slowly up 
from the swamps into the upland woods. Now 
that I have begun to notice it I see that the color- 
ing is touching the underleaves of the hillside 
birches, those nearest the stem, and that perhaps 
one in five has the same cool, pale yellow fire 
alight. Thus rapidly does the conflagration 
spread from swamp to hillside, from the shade of 
the grove to its topmost boughs and before we 



GOOD-BYE TO SUMMER 221 

know it the year will have once more set the 
world on fire. 

As for those other signs, there is a whole cal- 
endar of bird voices and bird movements that 
might well give us the dates, day by day. To 
me the first warning of the passing of smnmer 
comes in the tin-trumpet notes of the blue jays. 
While the nesting season is on the blue jay is as 
dumb as an oyster. The woods may be full of 
him and his tribe, but never an old bird says a 
word. After the young can fly you may hear 
them if you slip quietly along in the pine woods. 
You have to be pretty near though, to do it. 
They sit in a family group in the treetops and 
complain, under the breath, hungrily. It is not 
until the young are well grown, the moulting sea- 
son is over and the summer pretty nearly the 
same that any blue jay gets his voice. Then, al- 
most as suddenly as the coming of autumn color- 
ing in the trees the racket begins. You may not 
have seen a blue jay in the woods for months. 
Suddenly they appear in flocks, swooping down 
on the orchard in brand new uniforms of con- 
spicuous blue, white and black, yelling tooting 
and chattering. They have been shy and care- 



222 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

ful. They are now tame and reckless. They 
troop into the pasture after the wild cherries 
which they eat with chattering and scolding. On 
vibrant limbs they give spirit rappings in imita- 
tion of a woodpecker. Then they laugh and 
scream about it. Hearing them we always say, 
''How fallish it sounds.'* 

The blue jay has not only a whole vocabulary 
of his own, both in conversation, from twittering 
to oratory, and in calls from assembly cries and 
notes of warning to screams of derision and de- 
fiance, but he is an imitator in certain lines. He 
will imitate the red-shouldered hawk and the 
sparrow hawk and I suspect him of mixing it in 
conversation with the flicker. Often at this time 
of year I hear a subdued, rather sweet-voiced 
murmur in the wood as if a ladies' sewing so- 
ciety was just beginning to get busy pulling out 
the bastings. I know very well it is a convention 
composed of blue jays or flickers, but it is not so 
easy to tell which until I slip up and surprise 
them at it. The subdued tones of both birds in 
such conventions assembled are very much alike 
and I suspect that their polite conversation is 
in a common language. But I never can prove 
this, for they do not fraternize. The convention 



GOOD-BYE TO SUMMER 223 

is sure to be of one feather or the other. They 
do not flock together. That is no doubt just as 
well, for I have great respect for the flicker. He 
is a whimsical old codger, very prone to talk to 
himself and go through strange gymnastics in a 
rather ridiculous way, but the flicker is honest. 
He brings up a large family in the strictest 
probity and I have never known a flicker to do a 
wrong thing. On the other hand, the blue jay 
is a thief, a mocker and a murderer. Just now 
he is living honestly on nuts and wild fruit, tak- 
ing almost as many acorns as the squirrels and 
making a geat deal of talk about it. You would 
think him the most open-hearted chap in the 
world, but if you will watch him carefully in the 
spring you will learn things which are to his dis- 
advantage. You will likely find him taking a 
raw egg or two with his breakfast, to the sorrow 
of some small bird. Later, the fledglings are not 
safe from him, and if you shake a blue jay up in 
a bag with a crow and then open the bag, two ar- 
rant rogues will fly out, and it is hard telling 
which will have the other's tail feathers. For all 
that, I rather like the blue jay. If we are going 
strictly to condemn all who have a liking for an 
occasional small hot bird, there will be but few 



224 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

of us left. At this season he is the town crier 
of the wood, clanging his bell loudly at every 
wood-road corner and announcing in strident 
monotones that straw hats are called in and there 
is an exhibition sale of fall garments at Wood & 
Field's. 

Even in August we get the first spray on the 
great wave of southward migrating warblers, 
and all through early September the woods are 
again full of their slender, flitting forms and 
their gentle voices. If you know your locality 
well you may mark the very dates of the month 
by their coming and going. So with equal defi- 
niteness the earlier departing of our summer res- 
idents leaves gaps in our hearts and the wood- 
land on pretty definite September days. The 
cry-baby young of the orioles have hardly ceased 
to complain about the house, making the mid- 
summer peevish, before the birds are flocking. 
They take August off the calendar with them. 
On the date that I miss them and the kingbirds 
September first is very near if not among those 
present. The redwing blackbird may linger a 
*day or two after these, but he does not wait to any 
more than see September arrive before he, too, 
is off. The bobolinks, perfectly unrecognizable 



GOOD-BYE TO SUMMER 225 

in plain brawn coats, continue to flock sparrow- 
wise about the meadows until say, the tenth. 
Then they go chink-chinking down the marshes 
southward by way of Florida to Central America. 
Yucatan and the delta of the Orinoco may be 
lonely places in summer, but I do not think one 
need to be homesick there in mid-winter with all 
these intimate friends sitting about on the palm 
trees and chatting about the way things went in 
my meadows and woods a few months before. 

As our summer residents go and the passing 
migrants arrive and depart we may begin to ex- 
pect the winter visitants. I am looking for 
myrtle warblers now. Their usual date of ar- 
rival is the twentieth, and if I do not find them 
here it is probably my fault. The pastures are 
blue now with bayberries, which seem to be their 
favorite food. Feeding on these the myrtle 
warblers should be spicy, sprightly creatures, full 
of quaint romance, as indeed they are. The 
junco may come as early as this, according to the 
best authorities, though I confess I never have 
any luck in finding him much before November. 
The junco is a snowbird, anyway, his colors 
match leaden skies, and he seems to me out of 
place without a fellow flock of snow flakes. 



226 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

The golden crowned kinglet and the winter 
wren, the white-throated sparrow and the brown 
creeper, all may be looked for between the 20th 
of September and the passing of the month, 
though as for the brown creeper those two ardent 
bird students, Frederic H. Kennard and Fred 
McKechnie have demonstrated that it is not a 
winter visitant only but an occasional all-the- 
year resident, they having found nests and eggs 
in the Ponkapoag swamp. So the list might be 
enlarged vastly till we found a new comer or a 
new goer or both for every day in this month 
of transition, September. 

To me, though, the most potent signs of the 
presence of autumn are neither the migrants nor 
the changing foliage. They are the mysterious 
voices of the woodland which change at about 
this time often to an eerier and lonelier note. 
The voice of late September winds in the trees 
has a wild call of melancholy in it. There is a 
spot in my wood where an ancient pine, dead and 
stark long ago, lies in the arms of a sturdy scarlet 
oak. All summer the leaning trunk has shed 
bark and small limbs, silently, patiently waiting, 
final dissolution. With the coming of cool au- 



GOOD-BYE TO SUMMER 227 

tumn winds it has begun to complain. On rainy 
days especially I have heard this low lonesome 
voice crying softly to itself through the dusk and 
been at a loss to know what creature made it. 
Foxes in the mating season along about St. Val- 
entine's day make strange outcry in the wood, 
but at this time of year the fox if he speaks at all 
simply barks. A raccoon might whimper thus 
but there were some cries that no coon ever made. 
Once I stalked it for a lost child and I was long 
in locating the exact spot whence it came. After 
all it was only the complaining of the old tree 
as it rubbed on its support in the swaying wind, 
but it voiced all the loneliness of the good-byes 
which a thousand bright creatures have been say- 
ing to the wood these pleasant September days. 



/ 



CHAPTER XVIII 

MYSTICAL PASTURES 

Two century-old pasture pines shelter my fav- 
orite sleeping spot in the pasture, and croon sol- 
emn, mystical tunes all night long. If I could but, 
with my dull ear grown finer, some day learn to 
interpret these I might grow wise with the yet 
unfathomed wisdom of the universe. Their 
runes are not of the gentle, vivid life that thrills 
below them. Before the little creatures of the 
pasture world were created, before pines grew 
upon earth, the words they sing were set to the 
sagas of vast space, rhythmic runes of unremem- 
bered ages taught by the great winds of the world 
to these patriarchs that seem to tell them over 
and over lest they forget. They tower virid and 
virile. They stretch wide arms over the pasture 
people in benediction and sheltering love, but they 
are not of them. The reading of the deep riddle 
of the universe has made them prophets and seers 
and they dwell alone in their dignity. I may 

make my home beneath their sheltering shade, 

228 



MYSTICAL PASTURES 229 

caress their rugged gray trunks and fall asleep to 
the mystical murmur of their voices, but I can 
never be intimate with them. 

There is nothing of this aloofness about the 
other pasture people. The younger pines do not 
whisper solemn riddles, but are gently friendly 
without mystery, and so are many of the myriad 
creatures that crowd the spaces boldly or dwell 
quietly in unsuspected seclusion. Of all the out- 
door world the pasture is the most friendly place, 
yet it is not obtrusively so and you must dwell in it 
long before you know many of even your elbow 
neighbors by sight. If you know them very well 
you will be able to detect their nearness by sound, 
oftentimes, long before sight of them is vouch- 
safed you. When they do appear it is usually a 
sort of embodiment. They materialize as if out 
of thin air and disintegrate by the same route. 
This is not because they fear you. It is simply 
because it has been the habit of pasture people 
for untold generations. 

Thus it is that a lovely white moth flits often 
in the veriest gray of dawn just to the eastward 
of where I lie. It always seems as if he were a 
condensation out of the white mists that are born 
in that darkest hour when the night winds cease 



230 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

and that runic rhyme of the pines is lulled for a 
time. He seems as transparent as they and is 
nothing but the ghost of a moth as he passes from 
one head of goldenrod bloom to another. Some 
mornings he vanishes in the amber glow that 
ushers in the daylight and then I think I have 
merely been dreaming of lepidoptera. This 
morning he did not appear, either in the early 
gray or the amber glow, and I went out to look 
for him. The waning moon hung wan and white 
in the west, a white paper ghost of a moon that 
had no light left in her. All the east had the 
clear translucent yellow radiance of the yellow 
birch leaves, a cool, pale gold, and between lay 
dead the morning mists, chilled to white frost on 
all the pasture shrubs and the level reaches of 
brown grass. Along the hedgerow of barberry, 
wild cherry, raspberry, hardback, meadow sweet, 
sweet fern and goldenrod that deck the ancient 
wall I looked for the white radiance of my moth's 
wings in vain, and I pictured him as dead among 
the frozen grasses, and mourned him thus. 

The day grew with all the wonderful still 
radiance which so often follows a frosty morn- 
ing in October. The pine trees could not sing; 



MYSTICAL PASTURES 231 

there was no wind to give them voice. The still 
flood of golden sunshine warmed to the marrow., 
yet did not wilt as in summer. Instead, it in- 
formed all things with a glow like an elixir of 
life. To feel it well within one's flesh is to have 
a forecasting of immortality, to know that one is 
to be born again and again. I did not wonder 
that as I once more scanned the hedgero^v along 
the ancient wall I saw my white moth clamber 
bravely up a goldenrod stem and begin a half- 
scrambling, half-fluttering pilgrimage from one 
to another of the hardy blooms that had survived 
the frost as well as he. Most of the goldenrod 
and meadow sweet blooms are well past their 
prime and are showing gray with age and ripen- 
ing pappus, but here and there you find belated 
specimens that hold color and honey still, and 
on these he paused to breakfast. Then, as his 
wings rested for a moment, I could see that his 
pure white was touched with tiny chain patterns 
of black spots and I knew him for Cingalia cate- 
naria, the chain-streak moth. Somehow I am 
half-sorry to have found him out. I am not sure 
but I would rather have remembered him as one 
of the mystical fancies of the early daw^n, some 
pure white dream materialized out of the tenuous 



232 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

mists by the incantations of the Druid pines. 

Neighborly and simple as are all the pasture 
people when we sit quiet long enough to see them 
and gain, their confidence by making them feel 
that we are an integral portion of the place, as 
they are, they all have something of the mys- 
tical about them. There are four chipmunks, 
sleek and beautiful striped children of a this 
year's late litter. These frolic about on the 
stones and among the bushes at my very feet. 
They eat crusts almost from my hand. Yet they 
might as well be mahatmas, for in their going and 
coming they are as mysterious. I hear a scratch- 
ing on a stone, and there sits a chipmunk. With 
a swish he is gone, and unless I hear the skitter- 
ing of tiny feet a rod away I may not tell in what 
direction or how. Then, too, the skittering may 
be that of some entirely different creature. I 
prefer to think of them thus, as furry bogles that 
bob up out of fairy tales and bob back again to 
the making of a mythology that sniffs of sweet 
fern and bayberry and has the flavor of bar- 
berry sauce. 

The tender glow of still October, days seems 
to fill the pasture with such mysteries as this. 
Commonplace things are touched with the soften- 



MYSTICAL PASTURES 233 

ing haze of roman'ce, and in the crystal stillness, 
the happy aloofness of the place, the conscious- 
ness goes groping for the unseen. It may be 
that by digging and grubbing I might unearth the 
veritable home of my chipmunks, trace their cun- 
ning runways under stone and through fog and 
brush and prove that there is nothing of the theo- 
sophist about them. But not for worlds would 
I do it, nor would I believe it if I found them. 
Therein lies th-e inscrutability of faith. 

In the golden morning glow the sounds of the 
far and near world seem to come without inter- 
ference from intervening space and the roar of 
the steam whistle on the liner at sea, eighteen 
miles away over rough hilltops, is as intimate as 
the drumming of the partridge in the swamp, 
scarcely more than a stone's throw away. In- 
deed it is less aloof, far less mysterious. Its 
raucous bellow is soothed to a deep musical tone 
by distance. It speaks of the human touch and 
the man-made whistle. I may measure, define, 
place it; know the steamer that it speaks for and 
the man that pulls the throttle cord. I may find 
the pitch, touch the identical note on guitar or 
cornet. I have neither wind nor stringed instru- 



234 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

ment that will record so low a note as that of the 
drumming of the partridge. I count the vibra- 
tions of the first of it with ease. They speed up 
toward the end, but they do not raise the pitch. 
I know nothing in our human musical notation 
that will touch its depth. Yet it is a musical 
tone and a most goblinlike and eerie one. The 
partridge may be commonplace enough and his 
drumming but a strut of complacency and self- 
satisfaction. With patience and good luck I may 
see him doing it and follow him from his roost 
in the morning till he returns to it at night. But 
I cannot fathom the mystery which haunts the 
pasture in the genial melancholy of these sunny 
October days, to which his drum seems to sound 
the marching note. 

In the midday stillness when the blue sky 
arches over the place like a crystal bell which 
no winds may penetrate it seems as if the witch- 
ery grew. The warmth of the sun is like that of 
summer though without languor. The world is 
in a breathless swoon in the midst of which I 
wonder dreamily how this soft brown grass on 
which I lie could have been crisp and white with 
frost six hours ago. The morning waked all the 
hardier forest creatures who seemed to revel in 



MYSTICAL PASTURES 235 

the crisp exhilarating air. Red and gray squir- 
rels crashed about in the tree tops making noisy 
merriment in their indescribable squirrel jargon. 
Their thrashing and chattering in the trees was 
almost equal to a crowd of schoolboys nutting. 
With them the blue jays blew trumpets and 
clanged bells, the woodpeckers drummed and 
shrieked and crows and chewinks added to the 
clamor. Even my chipmunks blew squeaky shrill 
whistles in staccato notes. The pasture was full 
of picnic. 

The drowse of noon seemed to put them all to 
sleep. The pond was like glass and the black 
duck flock which had quacked noisily there at 
daybreak and drawn white lines of ripples across 
its black surface had gone south. Everywhere 
was silence. 

Everywhere silence, indeed, but it was the si- 
lence only of the slumbering, deeper voiced deni- 
zens. The swoon of heat in which they lay had 
served to rouse other lives that the frost of the 
morning had silenced. There are people who 
never can hear a partridge drum. The vibra- 
tions are pitched below the register of their ear. 
There are others, far more in number who never 
hear the shrilling of the pasture insects. Their 



236 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

voices are so thin and shrill that they are above 
the common register. Indeed they are apt to 
pass the average person as unnoticed as the tick 
of a clock in a room where one is accustomed to 
its presence. I do not know how long they had 
been at it, the black night chirping crickets which 
now make up for frozen nights by singing all the 
warm part of the day, the green day crickets 
whose note is pitched far higher, and a dozen 
other chirping, shrilling things that one never 
sees and rarely hears, however numerous and in- 
sistent their voices, unless something forces his 
attention in that direction and bids him listen. I 
think it was the zoon of a cicada which waked 
my attention, and once I heard them they seemed 
to fill the air with shrieking. If the drum of the 
partridge is the lowest piched note of which the 
pasture people are capable, surely the piping of 
some of these tiny creatures is the highest. It 
is very difficult to determine the spot whence 
comes the pulsing of the partridge's wings. It 
is born out of nowhere and reaches your ear from 
no particular direction. The shrilling of the pas- 
ture insects is everywhere and it is equally im- 
possible to locate it. They are veritable spirit 
voices, these, and fill the spaces among the red 



MYSTICAL PASTURES 237 

cedars and barberry bushes, the forests of sweet 
fern and the fox paths that wind among the berry 
bushes, with invisible fays and sprites. Only the 
tiniest of these could have such shrill tenuous 
voices. Having heard them in all their uproar 
it is even then difficult to hold your attention on 
them, more difficult than with any other pasture 
or woodland creatures I know. There will be 
times when the ear refuses them and it seems as 
if blank silence had settled on the whole field, 
then after a little it will all come pulsing back to 
you. 

How dependent these disembodied voices are 
upon the sun is seen toward nightfall, when the 
shadows beg^n to grow long. Where these fall 
across the grasses there grow triangles of silence 
which travd fast. Oftentimes as the point of 
one of these progresses you may locate a chirper 
by the sudden ceasing of his chirp and find him 
in the tip of shadow, already numb. The black 
crickets keep up their tune longest, singing from 
beneath sheltering stones and bark or fallen 
, leaves. With the direct sun vanish also other 
summer pasture people who have made the 
warmth of the day beautiful. Under an old ap- 



238 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

pie tree the ground is yellow with the apples that 
it has shed and here all through the sunny hours 
two Vanessa butterflies have alternately floated 
and feasted, one a mourning cloak, the other a 
Compton tortoise, Vanessa antiopa and Vanessa 
j-album. These are late arrivals that have come 
from the cocoon upon a cold world and are doing 
their best to make good in it Both are of a 
species that are hardy beyond belief and both 
may well winter in the crevice within the gnarled 
trunk of the old tree into which they creep be- 
numbed when the chill of night begins to fall. 
The pasture at midday was bright with the yel- 
low of colias butterflies which dashed madly 
about from one fall dandelion bloom to another, 
eager to eat enough while the warmth should 
linger. I saw many of the American copper with 
them, these with a more conspicuous white mar- 
gin to the tiny wings than I have ever seen be- 
fore, a fall form I fancy rather than anything 
permanently new in this rather variable insect. 

All these the first chill of nightfall sends to 
crevices and with them go the black wasps which 
have been feeding desperately in the sun on gold- 
enrod and aster. The hornets are dead. Not 



MYSTICAL PASTURES 239 

one was about even in the middle of the day fly 
hunting though house flies are still plentiful. 
The hornets seem to be almost the first insects 
to succumb to the cold. The black wasps are far 
hardier. With their passing goes that tiny shrill 
uproar of the pasture and in the amber quiet of 
sunset the place becomes a vast whispering gal- 
lery. Tiny sounds seem to be entangled here 
and made audible f r.om very far. The quack of 
incoming ducks a mile away across the pond 
sounds as if on the nearer shore. The laughter 
of children comes as far, nor can you readily 
locate the direction. At such times the mystical 
quality of the place deepens with the peace of it. 
I notice then, as I did not notice in midday, the 
fairy rings in the grass on the little rise of ground 
and am half -willing to believe I stand by a fairy 
rath and call the childish shouts and laughter 
that seem to rise from it the glee of fairies over 
the coming- of night. After dark any one of 
these fairy rings now growing beneath my eyes 
may open and let out the troop. Their comings 
and goings need be only a little more mysterious 
than those of the chipmunks in the old wall or 
the Cingalia catenaria that is again flitting forth 



240 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

in the chill of gray dusk to seek what honey the 
coleuses and the coppers, the vanessas and the 
wasp have left behind. 

The pale yellow glow of autumn twilight set- 
tles in deep peace upon the place. You seem to 
be at once in a vast silence and yet able to note 
all that goes on in the world for many miles about 
by unobtrusive sounds. To stand here in the 
open with the night descending in blessing upon 
you is to be in touch with the universe. In town 
night shuts you away from the rest of the world, 
wraps you in your own tiny seclusion. Out here 
it makes you one with the deep secrets of com- 
mon life. The mystical quality for the time van- 
ishes and the radiance which long holds the sky 
seems but the light of home, a light which is no 
longer within a room or shut off by the walls of 
a house, but the real home of all the world's 
creatures to which you have come at last. 

As the glow fades and the darkness deepens 
it seems good to lie down beneath the silent pines 
that stretch their great arms over you in pro- 
tecting fatherliness and become an integral part 
of the peace of the place. Sleep that comes thus 
is deep and refreshing. Yet always with it there 



MYSTICAL PASTURES 241 

goes a subtle sub-consciousness which makes you 
alert to what goes on about you. Thus with the 
piping up of the night wind you hear once more 
the rapt voices of the great pines, the chanting of 
those weird sages of the unknown. All the mys- 
tical comes back to the pasture with the sound 
and the deep song of the elder trees comes nearer 
to finding words for you than, it can at any other 
time. I fancy that all the wee lives that sleep 
and wake beneath it are part of its mystery, its 
longing and its unfathomable promise. 



CHAPTER XIX 

WHITE PINE GROVES 

A tiny brown wing brushed my cheek this 
morning, flitting madly southeastward on the 
wings of the November gale. It was a belated 
one of many that have scattered from the pine 
tops this autumn, for it was the single wing of a 
white pine seed and the cone harvest has been 
good. Ever since August the squirrels have 
known this and the stripped spindles lie by the 
score under the big pasture pines where these 
have left them after eating the seeds. It seems 
much work for small pay for the squirrel. He 
must climb venturesomely to the very tip of the 
slippery limb, gnaw the cone from its hold, then 
run down the tree and gnaw it to pieces for the 
tiny seeds within. So light are these seeds, wing 
and all, that it takes twenty to thirty thousand of 
them to weigh a pound and it is probably for- 
tunate that squirrels do not live by pine seed 
alone. However, the gnawing means as much to 

the squirrel as the eating, for the squirrel's teeth 

242 



WHITE PINE GROVES 243 

grow constantly and he must continually wear 
them off or he dies, stabbed by his own incisors 
which grow in the arc of a circle. Yet the squir- 
rel is an adept at getting at the tiny, toothsome 
seed and he can strip a cone of its scales far faster 
than I can, even if I use my knife. He holds 
the cone stem end upward in his fore paws which 
are so like hands, severs the base of the scale 
with his ivory shears and has munched the two 
little seeds that cling under the very bottom of 
the scale, almost before you can see him do it. 

Certain wise naturalists assure us that the 
squirrel does not use reason in this handling of 
the cone, merely acting automatically by blind in- 
stinct. Yet he gets his results in the shortest 
time and with the least effort. The highest rea- 
soning could teach him no more and if instinct 
is such a splendid short cut to the solution of 
problems it is a pity that it is not added to our 
common school course. The squirrel, they say, 
does it because he and his ancestors have done 
it in the sarhe way for untold generations, the au- 
tomatic impulse being born in him and bound to 
appear at the right moment, just as his teeth 
grow without his own volition. Yet there must 
have been a time when the first squirrel sat up on 



244 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

a limb with his first pine cone in his paws. Did 
he reason out the way to get those seeds or did 
he know instinctively? And if so what is in- 
stinct in his case? 

For all the squirrels got so many cones that in 
some places in tlie woods the ground is fairly 
carpeted with the brown scales which they sev- 
ered, prompted by this clever whatever-it-is that 
is such an excellent substitute for wisdom, there 
are plenty still left on the trees where they dangle 
from the branch tips, their scales gaping and the 
seeds for the most part gone. Left to themselves 
they have been flying away ever since Septem- 
ber, a few at a time on dry, windy days when 
their single wings would scull them farthest. 
One might impute instinct or whatever it is to 
the pine tree too, she works so methodically for 
the preservation of her species. A year ago last 
spring the mother pine put forth the beginnings 
of those pine cones that now dangle brown and 
pitchy, or drop to the ground, useless except as 
kindlings for my campfire. Then they were wee 
golden-green buds of pistillate flowers, set high 
on the uppermost branch tips that the pollen from 
the tree's own staminate blooms might miss them 
in its flight down the wind and thus avoid in- 



WHITE PINE GROVES 245 

breeding. If they miss fertilization altogether 
they fall off. It is commonly s-aid that the pines 
produce a crop of cones once in five or seven 
years, which is true in part, just as the statement 
that every seventh wave at sea is larger than any 
of its preceding six is occasionally borne out by 
the facts. I do not recall years in which the 
pines have failed to put forth both staminate and 
pistillate blossoms. Sometimes frost gets these 
and they fail to reproduce. Sometimes a long 
rain will prevent the pollen from being dissemin- 
ated by the wind until its time is passed and again 
there is a failure in cones. Onlv once in a while 
is the season perfectly favorable, and then we get 
that seventh wave in pine cones and the squirrels 
rejoice that they can file their teeth and fill their 
cheek pouches at the same time. The years when 
there are no cones at all sending forth their seeds 
in September are few indeed. This year the 
harvest in my neighborhood has been an excellent 
one. 

The fertilized bloom soon ceases to be a little 
Christmas candle on the tree top, closes its tiny 
scales over its growing seeds and becomes a little 
green cone, still sitting upright on the upper 
branch tip where it grew. By autumn it is an 



246 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

inch and a half long, the short peduncle which 
attaches it to the branch has lengthened and 
thickened, but is not able to hold it wholly erect, 
so much has it gained in weight. At that season 
the young cone and its fellows have tipped over 
horizontal or even becomes slightly pendulous. 
Thus it remains through the winter, its scales 
pressed close to its core and to one another, de- 
fending the tender seeds from all cold and mak- 
ing a seemingly solid chunk of the whole. To- 
ward spring I have known squirrels to attack 
these young cones, but rarely, and I am not sure 
whether it was because of the pressure of hunger 
or whether some young squirrel's instinct to 
sharpen his teeth on them made him a bit pre- 
cocious. These adolescent cones begin growing 
again very early in the spring. Youth will have 
its way, and in this case it seems to seize on the 
first sap that gets as far as the topmost branch 
tips, compelling it to the nourishing of the young 
cones before it can go to the making of new 
leaves or even of the crop of staminate and pis- 
tillate blossoms for the ensuing summer. The 
cones add a quarter of an inch to their length 
before the blossoms of that year appear, and 
their weight sags them still more on the stem. 



WHITE PINE GROVES 247 

making them distinctly pendulous. By the last 
of August these greedy feeders have not only 
ripened the seeds within the still close-pressed 
scales, but have multiplied their own length by 
four, being four to six inches long and hanging 
pretty nearly straight down by their weight. 

Their work is done then. Fifty or more scales 
has each cone, a hundred or more seeds, if the 
fertilization has been perfect, are ripe and ready 
to go forth and produce other pine trees. In 
early September the sap begins to recede from 
these ripe cones, the scales lose their green plump- 
ness and begin to dry and curl back toward the 
base of the cone. This gives the seed eating 
birds, the siskins, the pine grosbeaks and especi- 
ally the crossbills their best opportunity and they 
eagerly pluck out such seeds as the narrow open- 
ings will give them a chance at. Between these 
and the squirrels the pine forests of the future 
are decimated before their seeds have been 
planted. Nature provides bountifully for the 
reproduction of all her favorites, yet far more 
bountifully in some instances than in others. A 
thousand young birches spring from seed, to one 
pine in our Massachusetts woods, and no wonder. 
Each birch tree ripens a thousand seeds to one 



248 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

that comes to maturity in the great cones of the 
pine. Yet there are compensations for the pine 
tree. Barring axes and accidents it may Hve out 
its third century and yearly give more and more 
comfort and inspiration to mankind as it in- 
creases in dignity and beauty. The birch may 
give comfort and inspiration too through its 
grace and beauty, but it is lucky if it lasts out 
a score of years. 

It is often a surprise to me to see how far a 
seed will fly with but one wing. The air cur- 
rents set it spinning the moment it leaves its 
parent tree making of it at once a tiny gyroscope 
with a single blade of a propeller. Its gyro- 
scopic quality steadies it and the whirl of its pro- 
peller tends always to lift its weight. Hence 
with a downward current it falls with a less ve- 
locity than the wind which whirls it, in a level 
breeze it often holds its own, while in the upward 
slanting streams of air which flow so often along 
and away from the earth's surface it rises easily. 
The stronger the wind the more the whirl of 
that tiny propeller tends to keep it in air and 
with a good September gale thrashing seed out 
of its cones a pine tree may be planting its kind 
for miles to leeward. The seed that brushed my 



WHITE PINE GROVES 249 

cheek this morning made no such offing. Caught 
in a back eddy it whirled round a sunny glade for 
a moment, then in a sudden lull spun directly 
downward to the grass. There again its shape 
favored it. The first grass spear stopped its 
spinning and it dived plummet-like out of sight, 
the thin propeller becoming a tail that kept it 
head downward while it slipped most cannily to 
the very mould. There I found it, still in such 
a position that every movement, every pressure, 
would carry it down out of sight of all seed eat- 
ing creatures where it might rest and ripen till 
spring when it would be ready to germinate. 

Searching the pine grove and the scrubby 
country that outlies it, I found all stages of pine 
growth, from the gnarled patriarch four feet in 
diameter at the butt to the germinating seedling. 
The patriarch is nearly a hundred feet tall, and 
though I know many pines of his height, I have 
found none of quite his diameter, and I am very 
sure none of his age, hereabouts. His age I can 
but guess, yet I know that fifty years ago he was 
as large as he is now. Indeed, he had more wood 
in him, for his lower limbs that then were green 
and flourishing and six to eight inches in di- 
ameter have since decayed and fallen away. Re- 



250 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

cently a pine was felled in Pennsylvania which 
was 155 feet tall and 42 inches through at 4 feet 
6 inches from the ground. This tree was 351 
years old. I have reason to believe my patriarch 
is as old as that one. His height is not so great, 
but he has three trunks instead of one, springing 
from that gnarled butt at a number of feet above 
the ground. There are occasional trees like this 
one still standing in eastern Massachusetts. 
They have seen their children and grandchildren 
grow to marketable size and fall before the wood- 
chopper's axe. They have seen one or two gen- 
erations of hardwood grow between these cut- 
tings, yet they still are allowed to remain. In 
cutting off wood it used to be the custom of our 
forefathers to leave here and there a particularly 
gnarled and difficult pine that the seed might fur- 
nish a growth for succeeding generations. 
Hence these occasional trees. I may be wrong, 
but I have an idea that my patriarch was growing 
right where he stands, a young and vigorous 
sapling, when quaint old Josselyn wrote about 
those two voyages to New England in the early 
years of the seventeenth century. 

Josselyn gives us to understand that the wood 
of the white pine is that mentioned in the Scrip- 



WHITE PINE GROVES 251 

tures as gopher wood out of which Noah built 
the ark. Certainly if the white pine of Josselyn's 
day was abundant in the neighborhood of Ararat 
in Noah's time he could have done no better. 
The wood is light, soft, close and straight 
grained. You may search the world for one 
more easily worked or more generally satisfac- 
tory. Indeed the last half-century has seen the 
good white pine of the world pretty nearly used 
up, certainly all the best of it, for woodworking 
purposes. Fifty years ago it was the cheapest 
New England wood, today it is the highest- 
priced, and the old-time clear pine, free from 
knots and sapwood is almost impossible to obtain 
at any price. For all the forestry we can bring 
into play it will take more than three centuries 
to grow for us such trees as were common in 
Maine and New Hampshire a century ago. In 
1832 white pines were not rare in Maine six feet 
in diameter and 240 feet high. In 1736 near 
the Merrimac River above Dunstable in New 
Hampshire a pine was cut, straight and sound 
and having a diameter at the butt of 7 feet 8 
inches. Half a thousand years were none too 
many in which to grow such a pine as that. 
Could a man have a few of these on his farm 



252 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

anywhere in New England today they would be 
worth more than any other crop the centuries 
could have raised for him. 

The youngest pine seedlings hide so securely 
in the pasture grass and under the low bushes 
that rarely does one notice them during the first 
summer's growth. By the end of that time they 
are singularly, to my mind, like fairy palm trees, 
planted in the gardens where the little folk stroll 
on midsummer nights. Their single stem and 
the spreading whorl of leaves at the summit of it 
are in about the same proportion as those of a 
palmetto whose great leaves have been tossed and 
shredded by the trade winds. That so tiny a 
twig could become, in the passage of centuries 
even, a 200-foot tree seems difficult to believe. 
It looks no more likely than that the "ground- 
pine" which is taller than the seedling and fully 
as sturdy should some day be 200 feet tall. Yet 
the ground-pine may grow from its creeping 
rootstock for a thousand years in the shade of 
one grove and never be over a foot tall. Thus 
easily may we be deceived by small beginnings. 
No palm ever rivalled a full-grown pine in height 
and girth, yet a palm comes out of the ground 



WHITE PINE GROVES 253 

as great in diameter of trunk and with as abun- 
dant a leafage as it will ever have. 

Watching seedling pines grow year by year it 
is difficult to see how the great, clean trunked, 
old-time pines that towered over two hundred 
feet tall and were from four to six feet in di~ 
ameter came about. The free growing pasture 
pine makes a round headed shrub, for the first 
ten years or so of its life, with abundant long 
limbs, and is clad in profuse foliage from top to 
bottom. Even as decades pass its limbs still re- 
main numerous and though there is abundant 
wdod in the half century old pasture pine it is 
of little use for lumber, for the limbs, young and 
old, have filled its trunk with knots. Where our 
present day trees have seeded in thickly and uni- 
formly over considerable space it is different. 
Then as the trees grow old they grow taller, each 
struggling to outdo its neighbors and get more 
light and air. Lower limbs decay in time and in 
the progress of forty or fifty years we get a 
"second growth" pine which is fairly limbless for 
a height of forty or fifty feet. Give the trees 
another half century if you will. I know many 
groves that have had that and still their trunks. 



254 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

thoug'h fairly bare, show the knots where the 
limbs have been and produce anything but clear 
lumber. It may be that by giving these century- 
old groves another century or two we should have 
something like the old perfect boles that our 
great grandfathers got out of the Maine woods, 
but I am not sure about it. I see no promise of 
it in the conditions under which pines grow to- 
day. Even my patriarch, though he has, I am 
very sure, sufficient years to his credit would cut 
up into only a medium quality of box boards; 
there is no clear lumber in him. 

To produce the wonder trees of the early half 
of the nineteenth century the tiny seeds must 
have rooted plentifully in rich soil, the trees must 
have grown so close together as to steadily and 
persistently crowd out the weaker and shorter, 
and in the passing of two, three or four centuries 
we had remaining the magnificent specimens, 
towering two hundred or more feet in the air, 
their trunks without limb or knot for more than 
half that distance. Such conditions may account 
for these enormous 'trees, yet I am inclined to 
think that they do not. I am inclined to the be- 
lief that in these giant pines we had a variety of 
Pinus strobus which was very closely allied to 



WHITE PINE GROVES 255 

our smaller trees, but which was not the same, 
just as the Sequoia gigantea of the higher Sierras 
is a gigantic variety of redwood, closely allied to 
but not the same as the Sequoia sempervirens, 
which flourishes nearer the coast and in the lower 
levels. That would easily explain why our pines, 
which we call ''second growth,'' show little ten- 
dency to become such majestic or so long lived 
trees as the giants of a century and more in age. 
It is doubtful if any of the old time mighty ones 
remain in any remotest corner of our forests. 
It is a pity, too, for it is probable that in destroy- 
ing the last one we destroyed a variety of pine 
that was far nobler than any left. 



y 



CHAPTER XX 

THE PASTURE IN NOVEMBER 

In late autumn the pasture is a place of ghosts, 
yet ghosts so friendly withal that one walks 
among them unafraid. November is the month 
of transition when many of the pasture folk pass 
on to another, perhaps a better life. The blue- 
jays stop their harsh teasing screams now and 
then to toll a clear, musical passing bell for these, 
and the nuthatches are goblin gabriels blowing 
eerie trumps of resurrection to which the spirits 
of the bee people drone a second as they wing 
their way onward. The great white town of the 
white-faced hornets is conspicuous on the blue- 
berry bush down in the far corner and within it 
are the husks of a few of its once roaringly busy 
inhabitants. But it is very quiet and only a few 
of the husks remain. The others are scattered 
the pasture over and on them the shrubs drop red 
fruit and wreathed beauty or autumn leaves, in 
memoriam. The bumblebees, the yellowjackets 

and many another variety of scintillant, fairy- 

256 



THE PASTURE IN NOVEMBER 257 

winged wild bee are with them. Their summer, 
Hke ours, is gone, and they with it, though a few 
of the young queen mothers are safely tucked 
away in warm crevices, to sleep secure until May 
wakes them for the peopling of the place once 
more. 

I had thought May with its tender pastels of 
young color and its bubbling joy of spring song 
the most beautiful month in this gentle world of 
out-of-doors, but that was in May. Now I am 
convinced that November in its ethereal serenity 
is loveliest. May held but the vivid joy of 
ecstatic expectation; November speaks with the 
peace of fulfilment and the calm understanding of 
those who look with clear eyes into another 
world. 

Between midnight and dawn I fancy the pas- 
ture folk who are still this side the pale get their 
farthest glimpse into the world which lies beyond. 
The pasture on whose bosom they dwell sleeps 
deeply then, its breathing not even faintly rust- 
ling the frost-browned leaves of the white oaks, 
not even sighing those ancient, druidical hymns 
through the pine tops. Sometimes as I stand 
with them I try to feel this bosom rise and fall in 
the slow rhythm of deep slumber, but even on 



258 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

such nights with the senses aqulver with expecta- 
tion of the unknown I fail. I dare say the fox 
that slips along the winding paths at dawn and 
the little screech owl that calls lonelily to his 
mate note without noticing these and many other 
things in which our human perception fails. 
Man cultivates his brains to the dulling of his 
senses and builds a wall of useless possessions, 
attainments and entertainment about him till he 
hears only a few things and sees but through 
tiny chinks like the prisoner in a dungeon. Yet 
we are not altogether endungeoned. We are be- 
ginning to know our danger and cry ''back to 
the woods/' which may yet be the slogan of our 
next emancipation. It is a long path back for 
some of us and to cover it at a bound has its 
dangers. The earthworm shrivels in the sudden 
sun and to leap from the city block to the depths 
of the woods is to suffer from the "growing 
pains" of awakening, atrophied senses. The 
half-way ground is the pasture which once was 
the forest, which later was man's, and where now 
nature and human-nature mingle in friendly 
truce. In the depths of the woods the town 
draws me toward itself. In the city I long for 
the woods. In the pasture is the smiling truce 



THE PASTURE IN NOVEMBER 259 

of the two forces. In the one I know best, as in 
most of our New England pastures, the cattle 
have long ceased to browse and men come only 
because nature draws them thither. The wild 
creatures seem to sense this and to lose much of 
their woodland fear of me. Last night, in the 
first promise of the gray of dawn a fox barked 
at my camp door, scratching at the threshold as 
if he were the house dog, asking to be let in out 
of the cold and lie at the fire. I heard the barn- 
yard roosters faintly crowing in the distance, but 
a little screech owl called clearly on a limb just 
beyond the ridge-pole. The roosters' cry had in 
it nothing but self-gratulatory bombast. I kno.w 
town-dwarfed men that talk like that. The owl's 
call was to his mate, as was the roosters', but 
there was no bombast in its plaint, just a mourn- 
fulness of endearment, a touch of tears at the 
silence and delay. After a little the other came 
and all the mournfulness went out of the tone. 
Instead there was 'cooing in its quality as the 
two talked reassuringly a moment. The first call 
is of six or eight notes that start high and tremulo 
down the owl's diatonic scale to a low one that has 
a round, flute-like quality though the whole 
sounds as if it were made somewhere else and 



26o OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

were merely echoing from the wood. The bird 
is as hard to locate by sound as an echo would be 
and is usually much nearer than it seems when I 
hear him. The second call is the last note of the 
first one, three or four times repeated with such 
rapidity that it has a flute-like reverberation that 
is almost like a round and very musical purr. 
The cry of this bird has been called eerie and dis- 
quieting, but I do not think it so, even in the 
loneliness of the question call. The satisfied one 
is as gentle and cuddley as one can find among 
birds. 

The pasture ghosts of still November nights 
are apt to be most portentous between the hours 
of midnight and dawn. The giants of eld stalk 
noiselessly about them, figures of gray mist out 
of a world of silence. Sometimes they rise like 
simukcrums of ancient forest trees out of grassy 
spots that by day were cosey with sunshine and 
enclosed by barberry bushes hung with coral fruit 
and prim cedars, spots where no tree has stood 
these hundred years. Anon they change to dim 
figures of preposterous beasts, called back to 
earth for a brief hour while the old moon, worn 
and thin, rises through them, a nebulous red cres- 




^ 

Q 






o 









THE PASTURE IN NOVEMBER 261 

cent, and the stars fade, yet show dimly through 
like the moon, proving that these are but disem- 
bodied monsters. Sometimes they wait till dawn 
bids them dematerialize before it. More often 
winter, which is most apt to steal in upon us late 
at night in November, breaks their backs with 
the weight of his cold and spreads them as hoar 
frost upon all things below, showing us how thin 
and of little substance they really are. Some- 
times this breakage comes with the first gleams 
of morning light and I feel the chill "of their 
passing as they sink slowly to the grass. 
They are beautiful in their eerie suggestions as 
they flout my three o'clock in the morning cour- 
age, but lovelier far when they sparkle on the 
grass and shrubs under the sudden flare of the 
rising sun. I fancy that with clearer light all 
our gorgons and chimeras dire will become but 
sparkling fairies, for these certainly do. Twig 
and leaf and grass spear bend with the clusters 
of them. I see the fluff of their ermine gar- 
ments, their tossing white plumes, and get the 
glint of their jewels, breaking up the white light 
into multiple rainbows that flash all the pasture 
world with a dainty glamour of romance. Just 
as the touch of winter, slipping down from the 



262 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

far north under cover of darkness, first raises 
these spectres, then lays them, so the sun makes 
their cheery, frostwork beauty a marvel of de- 
light for a brief time, then sends it back to the 
earth whence it sprang and wipes away ail tears 
from the eyes of the shrubs and grasses that weep 
at losing such delicate beauty. 

In those crisp morning hours of early sunlight 
all the ghosts are laid. The winter chill which 
made them has frozen them all out of the air. 
The twigs and leaves that gave them refuge have 
wept and kissed them good-by at the shout of the 
oncoming sun and no suggestion from the world 
beyond meets the eye. The ghost chill is frozen 
out of the sky with the ghosts; the wine of the 
morning is so poured through the dry air that 
you must drink it to the lees whether you will or 
not. Such mornings as you have had in April 
you may get in November, nor hardly can you 
tell without the assistance of the almanac w^hich 
season it is. The bare twigs have the flush of 
expectancy on them, the blushing hope of new 
buds, as soon as the leaves of the year are off 
them. It may not be so bright and winning, but 
you will not note the difference, for it is there, 
painted during the ripening of this year's leaves. 



THE PASTURE IN NOVEMBER 263 

If it were not that some of these still cling the 
illusion might be complete. 

There too, to be sure, are the brown stems of 
the pasture goldenrod standing stiffly as if to 
state with grim definiteness that all rainbow 
hopes are folly and there will be no more blossom- 
ing for them. Their leaves are dun and sere 
where they have not already fallen and their tops 
that in early September were such soft cumulus 
clouds of golden yellow are but scrawny clots of 
brown, draggled by the tears in which the sud- 
den sun has drowned the pasture. Yet these 
least of all should be pessimistic in November, 
for as the sun dries their tears another summer 
comes back to them and to us, Indian summer, 
which is the finest season of the year. The 
Indian winter of the dark hours before dawn 
steals down with all spears pointed for the mas- 
sacre of the summer flowers that still linger un- 
protected, and the white magic of its own cold 
changes the spears to delicate, tiny frost fronds 
and blooms on all the outdoor world. Then, with 
the full day, comes Indian summer, slipping 
along all the pasture paths and lingering in the 
sheltered hollows among the evergreens. In her 
presence all the sorrowing plants seem to lift 



264 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

their heads and a new blossom time comes back 
to the brown, despondent goldenrod. A warmth 
glows in its pith which is as dear as that of its 
prime yet has in it some of the stir of autumn 
crispness. Under its power the draggled clots 
that once were flowers lift, fluff out, bud and 
bloom as does the magic plant under the potent 
spell of the sorcerer of the Far East. You may- 
see on such Indian summer mornings the florets 
of these dead goldenrod stems lifting and spread- 
ing and before your very eyes the plant bursts 
into bloom once more. These blooms are the 
day-time ghosts with which the November pas- 
tures are full, misty gray flow^ers that stand on 
the same receptacles that held the yellow blooms 
of late summer, but are lovelier far than the first 
blossoms were. Each dewy night, each rainy 
day, they shrivel and seem to pass but the warmth 
of the sun and the drying wind need but a brief 
hour in which to bring them all out again. After 
Indian summer has gone for good and the De- 
cember snows are deep the stiff stems will still 
hold these renewing gray blooms above the drifts 
and make all the pasture beautiful with the 
ghosts of summer flowers. Nor, lovely as they 
are to my eye, will they be less beautiful to the 



THE PASTURE IN NOVEMBER 265 

winter chippies, the goldfinches, juncos and a 
host of other seed-eating birds who will find them 
bountifully spread for their delectation all the 
winter through. On rainy days I like to bring 
these brown stems into camp and, setting them by 
the glow of the open fire, see them bloom as they 
dry out. It is a most magical flowering and to 
be one's own wizard is one of the delightful 
privileges of being a November sojourner in the 
pasture. 

For all the Indian winter which some nights 
ago brought us a temperature of twenty degrees 
and left ice a half-inch thick on shallow pools 
many of the pasture folk hold their summer attire 
well. The wild apple trees have hardly made a 
change, holding plentiful leaves whose green is 
dulled by a little, and otherwise defies the season. 
The bayberry has leaves as glossy green and 
unmarked by any sign of approaching winter as 
it held in August, and though the taller wild 
cherry trees show autumnal tints the younger 
ones are still in fresh green. This tendency of 
the young sprouts to hold on and deny the winter 
I note on many young trees. The birches are in 
the main bare but the young wood at the very 



266 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



tops, and the tips of sprouts from the stumps o; 
trees that have been cut, still hold leaves whose 
pale yellow simulates flowers, as if the trees, like 
the witch-hazel, had decided to bloom only at the 
very last moment, preferring the Indian summer 
to that which came to us in the full flush of June. 
So it is with the blueberry shrubs. The pinky- 
red top twigs hold their foliage still but they 
have sent some of thei'r own flush up into these 
leaves and they hang there like pasture poinset- 
tias, waiting to be part of the red of Christmas 
decorations. The meadow-sweet is in the bloom 
again, but instead of pinky white racemes top- 
ping the whorled green on its brown stalk the 
leaves themselves bloom in pale yellow with pinky 
flushes that make it as truly a sweet thing of the 
meadow as when it called the bees in July. The 
red alders add the coral of their berries and the 
barberries give the deep rich red of their fruit 
through which the sun shines with the ruby ef- 
fect of stained glass windows. The November 
pasture is less profuse in its colors than it is in 
earlier autumn but one sees farther in it, and 
clearer. There are times when the gray walls 
of its maples and hickories stand illumined by the 
sunlight slanting through the vivid colors of its 



THE PASTURE IN NOVEMBER 267 

remaining foliage till the place glows with rich 
lights and seems a cathedral in which one ought 
to be able to hear the roll of anthems and the 
chant of bowed worshippers. 

Such are its changing moods on November 
nights and days. The constant features are the 
pines and cedars. Summer and winter alike 
these stand unchanged, types of constancy and 
vigor. Yet, though there is no change, one who 
loves them both can at a time of year see a cer- 
tain variation. This comes with the spire-like 
cedars, that stand so erect and point ever heaven- 
ward in closedrawn robes of priestly solemnity, 
in early May. Then for a few brief days the 
glow of spring sunshine gets into their blood and 
they gleam with hidden bloom through the olive 
green of their gowns, lighting up like sombre 
faces that unexpectedly smile and are flooded 
with sunlight. The pines, too, bloom in spring, 
but conspicuously on their branch tips. The 
candles they light then serve only to accentuate 
the sober, dark green of their gowns. But in 
September the pines shed their last year's leaves 
that have grown a little dull and rusty with long 
service, and now stand forth dean and more 
vividly green than at any other time of year. 



268 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

The deciduous trees follow the fashions and 
change their suits for the prevailing mode three 
or four times a year, yet it is true of them that 
nature unadorned is adorned the most. There 
is a beauty m the bare wood standing revealed 
in November that they never had in the flush of 
June or the glory of early October. There is 
nothing in flower -or leaf that can match the ex- 
quisite harmony of the bark tints, nor can the 
foliage in mass so please the eye as the delicate 
tracery of twigs and the matchless contour of 
tapering limbs. In the November birch or 
maple the dryad herself stands revealed. 

It is not so with the pines. They change 
gowns so decorously and the new one is so like the 
old in its simple lines and perfect good taste that 
we are unaware of the transition. There is a 
perfection of dignity and serenity about a free- 
grown pasture pine that I find equalled in no other 
tree. These are druids of eld, if you will, harp- 
ers hoar, plucking wild symphonies from the 
tense wires of the storm wind's three-stringed 
harp. Yet the dryad dwells within them as well, 
and on gentler days they show her in many phases 
of queenly womanhood. They mother the romp- 



THE PASTURE IN NOVEMBER 269 

ing shrubs, the slender, maidenly birches, the ma- 
ples, vainglorious in their dainty spring colors, 
their voluminous summer robes, their gorgeous 
autumn gowns, and they do it all with a kindly 
dignity that endears, while they stand high above 
all these in their perfection of simplicity. They 
can be tender without unbending, and in their 
soothing shadow is balm for all wounds. To- 
night the sky is black with rain that tramps with 
its thousand feet on the camp roof and marches 
endlessly on. The wind is from the east and the 
pines sing its song of wild and lonely spaces. 
Yet one great tree that was old with the wisdom 
of the world before I was born stretches a limb 
to the camp window, and in the flicker of the fire- 
light I see it stroke it caressingly with soft leaf 
fingers and twigs that bend back at the stroke. 
It is like the hand of a child reaching to its moth- 
er's breast with wordless love and tenderness in- 
expressible. The caress makes a lullaby of the 
weird song above, and in it I hear no longer the 
lonely cry of ghostly space, but only one more 
expression of the homely peace and mother love 
that seems to dw^ll always in the sheltered nooks 
of the pasture. 



CHAPTER XXI 

RED CEDAR LORE 

The rough November winds which roar 
through the bare branches of the tall trees ride 
over spaces of sun-steeped calm in the sheltered 
pastures. Here often summer sHps back and 
dances for a day, arrayed in all the jewels of the 
year. The older birches toss amber-brown beads 
upon her as she sways by, but the little ones dance 
with her, their temples bound with gold bangles 
which autumn gave them. The lad}^ birches are 
in fashion this year most surely. Now that they 
have doffed summer draperies it is easy to note 
their scant, close-hobbled skirts and the gleam of 
white ankles through the most diaphanous of 
hose. Perhaps the birches have never worn 
things any other way but I do not seem to re- 
member them so in past years. I always suspect 
them of being devoted to the mode of the moment 
and likely to appear next year in crinoline, or 
whatever else Paris dictates. But that is true 

only of the grown-ups. The birch children are 

270 



RED CEDAR LORE 271 

the same always, slender sweet little folk, than 
whom summer could have no more lovely com- 
panions for her farewdl romps in the pasture. 

But the most virile of all the pasture's person- 
alities is that of the red cedar. When the keen 
autumn winds blow and toss the plumes of these 
Indian chieftains they wrap their olive green 
blankets but the closer about them and seem to 
stalk the mossy levels in dignity or gather in 
erect, silent groups to discuss weighty affairs of 
the tribe. Thus for the larger ones, tall war- 
riors that in their time have travelled far, have 
met many warriors and learned wisdom from the 
meeting. There is no solemnity about these, but 
there is dignity and a vivid personality which it 
is hard to match in any other tree. It is hard to 
think of these as of- the vegetable world. I sus- 
pect them of standing immobile only at their will 
and of being capable of trooping up hill and over 
into some other pasture should they see fit, as 
readily as the woodchucks would, or any other 
four-footed denizens of the place. 

The greater trees of the pasture do not seem to 
carry such personality. Many of them are like 
structures rather than people. The pine that 



2^2 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

spires high is like a church. From it as the 
winds pass I hear the sound of organ tones and 
the singing of hymns in a language that is older 
than man, a music whose legend is that of a world 
before man was. Perhaps the first pines caught 
the music of the morning stars when first they 
sang hymns together and have -made it a part of 
the ritual of their worship ever since. No nota- 
tion that man has devised can express this music 
nor can any instrument which man has yet made 
reproduce it. Its hymnal is mesozoic. On the 
soft brown carpet of nave and transept of this 
cathedral tree one's foot falls in hushed silence 
and he who passes without his head bowed in 
reverence for the solemnity of the place goes 
with soul dulled to the higher spiritual influences 
of the woods. 

On the other hand the white oaks always seem 
dwelling houses for the pasture folk. Beneath 
their wide-spreading horizontal branches I see 
the little folks of the neighborhood at play. Tiny 
pines sprout there, playing sedately as if already 
touched with the thought of their coming solem- 
nity. Little brown cedars, just a few inches high, 
gambol on the green turf, and the barberry 
bushes that are still too young to wear the gold 



RED CEDAR LORE 273 

pendants that will come to them in future springs 
and the rubies of coming autumns, open their 
leaves there like the wide starry eyes of wonder- 
ing baby girls. The kindergarten of the pasture 
is taught under the big white oaks and all the 
babies of the pasture folk attend. 

The cedars make up much of the picturesque: 
beauty of the pastures and it is pleasant to know 
that these beautiful trees whose personality is so 
marked as they group in the golden sunshine, 
their 'bronze garments beaded with the blue of 
their fruit, are of excellent family, they and their 
relatives greatly esteemed for their value and 
beauty the world over. The first explorers of 
the country spoke enthusiastically of our red 
cedar as one of the finest woods of the New 
World, praising its quality and especially its dur- 
ability. Indeed the heart w^ood of red cedar 
seems to hold an oil which makes it proof against 
vermin and fungi. Every housewife knows the 
value of red cedar chips or red cedar chests in 
keeping garments safe from moths. Every old- 
time farmer knows the value of red cedar as 
fence-posts. The heart wood seems practically 
indestructible by rot. Posts set in the ground 



274 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

for a hundred years, in which the sap-wood has 
entirely disappeared beneath the surface, still re- 
tain the red heart-wood intact, I dare say good 
for another hundred, or maybe many more. 

As the tree is sturdy in its defiance of moth 
and mould, so it is bold in its endurance of all 
weathers and adaptable to all soils. It grows 
from Nova Scotia to northern Florida and west- 
ward to the Rocky Mountains, being replaced 
farther west by another species so much like it 
that only the expert can tell the difference. In 
Florida, along the Gulf coast and the Bahamas 
again, experts say, it is replaced by another spe- 
cies, but there too only the experts can tell the 
difference. In the beautiful province of On- 
tario, between the three great lakes Ontario, 
Erie and Huron, is a region where it grows 
well and is universally prevalent, and it grows 
alike in the limestone flats of the South and on 
the bleak sandy prairies and ridges of our great 
central plain. In the Tennessee mountains and 
southward into Alabama is, however, the greatest 
red-cedar region and the place where the trees 
reach their finest growth. In northern Alabama 
fallen trees have been found lOO feet in height, 
three feet and more in thickness at a height of 




"^ 









RED CEDAR LORE 275 

four and a half feet from the ground, and with- 
out limbs for two-thirds their height. These 
were, of course, trees of the virgin forests, long 
since removed that we and all the world might 
have lead-pencils. The world has tried many 
things for pencils, and some of them have had a 
fugitive popularity, but still the millions of pen- 
cils daily used are made from the diminishing 
supply of red cedar. 

To us in New England to whom a cedar tree 
thirty feet high is no common sight the stories of 
these hundred-foot high trees seem strange in- 
deed, and I know of but one red cedar whose 
diameter is as much as twelve inches. This tree 
is much less than thirty feet in height, however. 
It grows by itself on rocky ground in a pasture 
where it has no close neighbors of any variety. 
Its trunk divides at eight feet from the ground 
into many branches which make a round head 
whose ancient twigs are hoary with lichens and 
seem to be in the last stages of senile debility. 
Yet every year the old tree puts forth a crop of 
new leaves and defies the decay of centuries. 
How many years old this tree is I cannot say, 
but I think it very many. We readily tell the age 



276 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

of many trees by counting the rings of growth 
after they are cut. Cedars have been known to 
show an annual increase of half to three-quarters 
of an inch thus measured. Others have grown 
so slowly that only with a microscope can the an- 
nual rings be counted. I fancy my patriarch as 
belonging to their lodge, nor would I be sur- 
prised to learn that when its first plume appeared 
above the ledges Indian tepees were the only 
human habitations of the region. 

The red cedar seems to have a power to fix 
itself on a rough ledge and grow there year after 
year and indeed century after century, that is far 
greater than that of any other tree. You will 
find them on the rocks looking seaward along 
much of our New England coast, some of them 
the same trees known in the same spots since the 
days of the earliest settlers, gnarled, stunted and 
storm-beaten, but evergreen, and glowing with a 
little of the gold of spring each year just the 
same, typical, it always seems to me, of all that is 
hardy and defiant in the New England character. 
I know such cedars on the ledges which jut 
southerly from the edge of the tiny plateau which 
is the top of Blue Hill and you may find them on 
many other ledges of the range. I believe these 



RED CEDAR LORE 277 

same trees were there when Captain John Smith 
first sighted the ''Cheviot Hills" from the ship 
which brought him into Massachusetts Bay. 

Far different from these are the trees which 
grow in the sheltered pastures where the soil is 
good. None of these get the round head of my 
ancient friend of the ledgy hill. Instead they 
grow a single, straight shaft, ten, twenty, or even 
thirty feet tall, with many small limbs curving 
upward and close pressed toward the trunk, mak- 
ing a round, tapering column of living green 
trees of singular dignity and beauty that look. as 
if carefully smoothed up with the gardener's 
shears. All the year the pasture cedars are beau- 
tiful, and it is hard to say whether they are at 
their best in the spring glow of staminate delig'ht 
or now when their bronze robes bear the round, 
exquisitely blue berries which are really cones. 
I have an idea the birds like them best now. 
The robins, the cedar-birds, and a host of others 
eat these berries gladly, and fly far with them, 
planting the seeds as they go. They find shelter 
in the close drawn blanket of evergreen foliage 
which the trees seem to wrap about them to keep 
out the cold and they fill the pasture with flitting 
wings all the month. If the season is mild and 



278 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

the blue fruit of the cedars very plentiful the 
birds are likely to stay by all winter, not minding 
the cold so there be plenty of food. 

It is worthy of note that the robin and the red 
cedar have the same range. 

I do not blame the red men for holding the 
cedar sacred and ascribing to it certain mystic 
powers. They burned cedar twigs as incense in 
some of their sacred ceremonies, and surely they 
could have found no finer aroma. Some of 
tribes always set a cedar pole for the centre of 
their ghost dance, and they gave the tree an un- 
translatable name which referred to power, mys- 
tery and immortality. The Dakotas burned ce- 
dar to drive away ghosts, and in the lodge at 
night when anyone lay sick there was always a 
fire of cedar wood to protect from evil spirits. 
Often a cedar bough lay across the door of the 
lodge. It is thus that we ourselves hang up 
horseshoes. 

On the continent of Europe, I am told, the 
juniper, which is a very close relative of our red 
cedar, is held in great veneration. Tradition 
has it that it saved the life of the Madonna and 
the infant Jesus when they fled into Egypt. In 



RED CEDAR LORE 279 

order to screen her son from the assassins em- 
ployed by Herod, Mary is said to have hidden 
him under certain plants and trees which re- 
ceived her blessing in return for the shelter they 
afforded. Among the plants thus blessed the 
juniper has been peculiarly invested with the 
power and privilege of putting to flight the spirits 
of evil and destroying the charms of the ma- 
gician. Thus, even to this day, the stables in 
Italy are preserved from demons and thunder- 
bolts by means of a sprig of juniper. 

But the lowly juniper is not the only famous 
relative of our red cedar at home or abroad. 
Closely allied to it are the biggest trees in the 
world, famous as descendants from a far-distant 
age, yet still living and green. These are the 
''big trees" of the Pacific Coast, the Sequoia gi- 
gantea, which are indeed trees vastly to be mar- 
velled at for their size and to be venerated for 
their age and virility, but never to be loved so 
well as our dignified and beautiful friend of the 
hillside pastures. 

Abroad, the cedar of Lebanon, Cedrus libani, 
which Solomon glorified in his song, is an allied 
species, and so is the cypress, celebrated in song 
and story since the beginnings of time. The 



28o OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

gopher wood of which Noah is said to have built 
his ark is believed by many to have been cypress, 
and, like the red cedar, Cupressus sempervirens 
is known to live to a very great age. Many in- 
stances might be cited of this, one of the most 
famous being the cypresses planted about the Mt. 
Sinai Monastery by the monks more than a 
thousand years ago and still standing there tall 
and green in the arid region of southwestern 
Arabia. The shape of these cypresses is singu- 
larly like that of many a cedar in our New Eng- 
land pastures, though their height is far greater. 

And as the cedar and cypress are closely re- 
lated in longevity, so they are in the durability 
of their wood. The former gates of St. Peter's 
at Rome were made of cypress in the time of 
Constantine. When they were removed and 
brass ones substituted by Pope Eugenius IV. they 
were still sound, though it was iioo years since 
they were first placed in position. Brass itself 
could hardly have lasted better. 

While the whole Appalachian Mountain region 
is dotted with localities where the red cedar 
grows plentifully, it is only in the southern por- 



RED CEDAR LORE 281 

tion that the best pencil wood is obtained. The 
demand long ago outstripped the supply and the 
great old trees that were peculiarly prized for the 
work have in the main passed. These trees seem 
to ripen and mellow after passing maturity and 
the wood from their red hearts has a peculiar 
texture which makes it highly desirable for pencil 
wood. Only the higher priced pencils now cut 
in that smooth, cheesy, delightful fashion when 
being sharpened. The cheaper ones have the 
knots and inequalities in the wood which show 
them to have been taken from younger and im- 
mature trees. Half a million cubic feet of the 
best quality of red cedar was once used annually 
from these wSouthern forests in this country, and 
nearly a hundred thousand feet of it was ex- 
ported. A generation ago one of the world's 
great pencil manufacturers, L. von Faber, estab- 
lished a red cedar forest in Germany to see what 
could be done to artificially supply the demand 
for the vanishing wood. In 1875 ^^ set young 
trees a foot and a half in height over an extensive 
^rea. At the end of the century these trees had 
attained a height of twelve feet and were grow- 
ing thriftily. But as the trees have to be nearly 



282 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

fifty years old before they will furnish pencil 
wood, the value of the experiment is still un- 
proven. 

But all this is by the way and is not to be 
compared with the joy the red cedars give to the 
pasture world just by being there and sending 
forth the beneficence of their personality upon 
all who come. They make the finest nesting 
places for the birds in summer. They feed them 
in autumn and in the winter's fiercest cold they 
wrap the warm blanket of their bronze foliage 
about them. Nor do I blame the Indians for 
investing them with strange powers. In the sun- 
shine of midday they may seem merely friendly 
little trees of the pasture. If you will walk 
among them as dusk deepens you may feel their 
commonplace characteristics slip from them and 
the deep mystery of being begin to express itself. 
Then they seem like tribes of the elder world, a 
connecting link perhaps between the forest and 
the red men who but a few centuries ago in- 
habited it, far more real at such a time than the 
shadowy memories of these vanished inhabitants. 



CHAPTER XXII 

AUNT SUE's snowbank 

For weeks the country folk, wise in weather 
lore, have been shaking their heads of a morning 
or an evening and saying, "The air is full of 
snow!'' No one of them can tell you how he 
knows it, but he knows. "It feels like snow," 
and that does not mean that the air is of a certain 
coldness or chilliness, dampness or dryness, 
though there is definite balance of these condi- 
tions when we say it. It means that there is in 
it another quality, too subtle to be defined, that 
touches some equally subtle sixth sense which life 
in the open begets in most of us. Fulminate is 
full of fire, but it needs a shock or sudden pres- 
sure to liberate it. So as the northerly wind 
drifted steadily down from the Arctic with no op- 
position in the air currents that would give the 
requisite counter pressure, the sky held up its 
store and we all continued to go forth, sniff, shake 
our heads and prophesy. The cold drifted far- 
ther and farther south till Jacksonville recorded, 

283 



284 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

shamefacedly and reluctantly, the same freezing 
temperature that New York had. All this while 
"Aunt Sue's snowbank'' lifted in dun clouds a 
degree or two above the horizon in the southeast 
of a morning or a night and disappeared again. 
Who Aunt Sue was or why the snowbank should 
be hers is more than I know, but her snowbank 
thus appears in the sky before a coming winter 
storm, and has been known as such to the coun- 
try folk of my neighborhood for many genera- 
tions. The early English settlers of "the Dor- 
chester back woods" brought with them many a 
quaint proverb and local saying. Some of these 
you can trace back to Shakspeare's day, and be- 
yond. Others, like the sturdy men that brought 
them, have no record in the Domesday Book, but 
no doubt as long a lineage for all that. One of 
these proverbs that is probably as old as weather 
wisdom says: 

"Long foretold, long last; 
Short notice, soon past." 

So as the air and Aunt Sue both prophesied for 
weeks without fulfilment, all the weatherwise 
world knew the storm would be a good one when 
it did come. Meanwhile the steady, increasing 



AUNT SUE'S SNOWBANK 285 

cold put all the woodland into winter quarters. 
The ground froze, as we say, meaning that the 
moisture in it became ice to a depth of several 
inches, making an almost impenetrable ice blanket 
through which the most severe winter weather 
will work but slowly. Beneath this, or even in it, 
all burrowing roots, animals and insects are safe 
from freezing. Where the ground is packed 
hard, the flinty combination of ice and grit goes 
deepest, though even in exposed situations only 
to a depth of three feet or so. The woodchucks 
asleep in their burrows, the snakes, torpid in their 
holes, are as safe from frost-bite as if they had 
migrated to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. 
The rootlets of small, perennial herbs may be en- 
cased in ice to their tips, but they do not freeze. 
The heat which the surrounding moisture gives 
up in changing to ice, combined with their own 
self-generated warmth, keeps them just above the 
freezing temperature and they live through it in 
safety. The same rootlets laid bare to the frost 
of a single October night die. The ice which 
seems to menace them is in fact their armor. So 
it is with countless numbers of burrowing in- 
sects. The frozen ground which seems so dead 
is full of waiting life which the very frost that 



286 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

threatens to kill instead protects. Last Septem- 
ber I watched two larvae of the rather common 
moth, Protoparce sexta, the tomato sphinx. 
Great fat green fellows as large as one's thumb, 
they were, each with a spinelike thorn cocked 
jauntily on his rear segment. They had fattened 
on my tomato vines until they had reached their 
full growth and were ready to go into the cocoon 
stage, in winter quarters. They dropped from 
the vines and began to wander hastily, but seem- 
ingly aimlessly, on the ground beneath. But 
careful watching showed that each was poking at 
the ground every few lengths as he crawled, seek- 
ing a situation that suited him. Before long each 
had started to burrow, going into the earth slowly 
and laboriously, but steadily worming a way in. 
Each went out of sight, leaving a hole just his 
own size behind him, such a hole as I might have 
made by pressure with a round stick. A week 
later I dug them up. They had gone down five 
or six inches, turned head upward, and there they 
were, each a conical brown pupa that bore little 
resemblance to the naked green caterpillars that 
had gone down into the earth a week before. 
Barring the accident of my spade, which neither 
could foresee, they were safe from cold and 



''^ 



f ■, 










it 







■-Si 



AUNT SUE'S SNOWBANK 287 

enemies. The ground would freeze solid around 
them, but that instead of harming them would 
simply put the seal of safety on their abode. Nor 
were they dead things to be resurrected by the 
Gabriel horn of spring. When I poked them 
they wriggled with quite surprising vigor, show- 
ing that they were very much alive and keenly 
conscious. They were not even asleep, else their 
jump at a touch would not have been so prompt. 

The frost goes deepest in the densely com- 
pacted earth, probably because of the density; 
the fewer the air cells the better the conductor. 
In fluffy soil, especially in the peaty margins of 
the pond where the earth granules are large and 
loose and there is much moisture, freezing pro- 
duces a singular and beautiful result. The ice 
seems to crystallize away from the peat in which 
the water was ensponged, not in a compact body 
nor yet in feathery crystals, either of which 
one might expect, but in closely parallel,' 
upright cylinders from the size of a knitting 
needle to that of a slim lead pencil. These are 
often several inches long and stand erect at the 
surface by the thousand, touching but not coher- 
ing, ready to crumble to fragments at the pres- 



288 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

sure of the foot but shielding the peat below from 
the cold. The ice on the pond may be solid 
enough to bear you, but when you step on this 
peaty edge you go down into the liquid mud be- 
neath. Here you have reproduced in fragile 
miniature the same result as happened at the 
Giant's Causeway on the sea margin at the north- 
east corner of Ireland. There a long vein of 
once liquid basalt, freezing suddenly ages ago, 
left a great ridge of close-packed, vertical rock 
crystals running out an unknown distance into 
the sea. 

With the good old rock-ribbed New England 
earth in winter quarters and the surface vocal 
with Jeremiahs clamoring for snow, it had to 
come. The incantations of these raised a witch 
whirl in that mysterious source of all our storms, 
the region along the tropic of Capricorn, in the 
Gulf of Mexico. Up the coast it came, with the 
weather bureau flying storm flags in its honor 
from Palm Beach to the Penobscot, boring into 
the freezing temperature and clear air that the 
North wind had spread around us, obscuring all 
the sky in the dun clouds of conflict. The young 
moon threw her clasped hands to a point of 



AUNT SUE'S SNOWBANK 289 

slender flame above her head and drowned in it. 
Aunt Sue's snowbank had circled the horizon and 
was rising steadily toward the zenith. 

The sky does not give up its moisture readily 
this year, else the snow prophets had had their 
way weeks ago. The morning after that night 
on which the young moon drowned should have 
seen the air whirling with white flakes, but only 
in mid- forenoon did the clouds give up, and then 
grudgingly. All it had for us was a few gran- 
ules, first-form crystals consisting of the tiniest 
crossed ice needles ground out of shape by the 
pressure between the opposing forces of the air. 
In the woodland the eye caught a glint of one of 
these now and then, but I had to go to the lee 
shore of the pond to know that the storm was 
really beginning. There the northeast wind 
swept the ice for a half-mile, collected these tiny 
snow nodules and sent them whirling along the 
smooth black surface to bank them in miniature 
drifts against the southern shore. They did not 
seem to come from the air, instead the ice seemed 
to give them up under the pressure of the keen 
wind. It was as if the edge of it scraped them 
off. The winding streams of them were very 
like the spindrift I have seen swept in tortuous, 



290 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

level flight from the black waves of the mid- 
Atlantic by a wild sea gale. Very white they 
looked as they flew along the black ice, yet when 
I picked a handful of them from the pond margin 
I saw that they were anything but white. In- 
stead they were dirty, in places fairly black. The 
air had seemed crystal clear for weeks, yet the 
snow had found in it the soot of a thousand 
factory chimneys and brought it to earth. 

The air seems full of a magical new life always 
after it has been snowing for an hour or two. 
People who are out in it may have cold feet and 
tingling ears and fingers, yet they feel the intoxi- 
cation of this renewed vitality till the very team- 
sters, half-frozen though they may be, shout 
cheerily to one another and laugh with the de- 
light of it all. I fancy it is because the cleansing 
snow has swept all the impurities out of it in its 
fall, and all breathe its oxygen disentangled from 
soot and dust. 

An hour or two more and visible snowflakes 
were falling in increasing numbers. The grind 
of winds in the upper air must have lessened a 
little, for the crystals came down no longer 
crushed into grains but with their primary, six- 



AUNT SUE'S SNOWBANK 291 

pointed star form intact. These swirled over the 
treetops, but straight to earth behind all wind 
breaks, and hung a film of flowing lace between 
the eye and all distances of the nearby woods. 
Such a curtain the makers of stage scenery imi- 
tate when they wish to let the audience see 
through the veil into fairyland and through it 
we see all beautiful things become more dainty 
and we know in our hearts that all wonder-tales 
are true, so long as we see them made real 
through the magic of this illusory veil. So 
through this floating, fairy film of snowflakes it is 
easy to see gnomes and sprites dancing and all 
the people of northland legends grow and vanish. 
The children may believe in Santa Claus in bright 
weather with the ground bare, and good luck to 
them. It is only when the snow falls in the 
woodland that we elders hear the jingle of his 
bells in the tinkle of ice-crystal on twig and see 
his reindeer lift through the air of the woodland 
glade and prance to vanishment over the treetops 
in a whirl of the storm. For a little the world is 
young again and Santa Claus no myth, even to 
graybeards in the Dorchester backwoods, when 
Aunt Sue's snowbank comes tumbling home 
through the pine tops. On such days weather- 



292 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

wisdom IS justified of her children and prophets 
of storm have honor, even in their own country. 

Most of all woodland trees, the young pines 
seemed to love this dry, light snow, holding up 
every limb and every cluster of green needles 
to receive it, stretching them upward as if in 
yearning for it. I think it is quite true that in 
the December cold, when there is a feel of snow 
in the air, the limbs of young pines do bend a 
little more toward the vertical. I know that the 
upward pointing needles do press a little closer 
to the stems on which they grow and thus more 
readily tangle and hold the ice crystals that fall 
upon them. The tender young shoots of this 
year's growth are clothed with these close-set 
needles for a space of a foot or more, averaging 
ten groups of five needles to the inch, all pointing 
upward to the very tip, where they press around 
the buds for next year's growth in a close-in- 
verted cone. They themselves keep the cold 
winds in a good measure from this young bark 
and these prized buds. But they do better than 
that. When the snow begins to fall they catch 
and hold every flake that touches them, skewering 
the interstices of the crystals on their needle 



AUNT SUE'S SNOWBANK 293 

points. The first real flakes of this storm showed 
as soon on the top tassels of these young pines as 
they did in the bare fields. 

As the storm progressed, the lower needles of 
the spike caught such as got by the filled tops and 
soon all the needles of the young trees were filled 
with flufify white snow, until the trees from tip to 
butt were no longer green but white, most royally 
robed in spotless purity. There was no soot in 
this whiteness, all that the air held had been 
swept from it by the very first of the storm. No 
cherry tree in the full fragrance of May bloom 
could show such dainty beauty, such endearing 
florescence as these young pines on the borders 
of the deep wood. Nor could the pines do better 
for their own protection than this. Ice which 
encases their tender rootlet's in the frozen ground 
and holds them warm and safe through the most 
severe cold, came out of the sky with the storm 
for the safety of tender twigs and young buds. 
Snow crystals hold entangled within their mass 
eight or ten times their own bulk of air. It is 
this entangled air, whether in the fluff of a woolen 
blanket or in a snowfall, that fends from the 
cold. The first clear night after a snowfall is al- 
most sure to be a bitter one. Calm follows the 



294 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

storm, the sky is clear and the radiation from the 
snow-clad surface of the earth is great. This 
radiation lowers the temperature, and as we look 
at our frost-bitten thermometers in the early 
morning after, we do not wonder that the mer- 
cury has shrunken to the zero mark or below. 
But what do the young pines care ? This radia- 
tion is only from the very surface of the evap- 
orating snow crystals. Robed in this regal er- 
mine fluff from top to toe, they hold their life 
warmth secure behind the entangled mass of non- 
conducting air and are safe from all disaster. 

Our pines have suffered much from a mys- 
terious "disease" for the last few years, and the 
most careful study has failed to find any fungus 
blight or insect at the bottom of this. We have 
had summer after summer of severe and long 
continued drought. It is now believed that this 
has weakened the trees so that they could not 
withstand the winter cold and have been "winter 
killed.'' With the drought we had several win- 
ters of infrequent snowfall. We did better last 
winter and the disease seems to be on the wane. 
Next to plenty of rain in summer, a winter in 
which we have frequent falls of light snow will 



AUNT SUE'S SNOWBANK 295 

be the best medicine for the pines that we could 
have. 

It is the air entangled among the snow crystals, 
then, which makes the snow blanket, as we often 
call it, so sure a protection from cold. The 
ground may have frozen to a considerable depth 
before the snow comes, but if it stays throughout 
the winter there is no frost in the earth beneath 
it when the spring melts it away. No sooner is 
the ground protected from further freezing from 
above than the greater warmth below begins to 
melt the frost and change it to life-giving mois- 
ture. Because of this warmth from below the 
sap stirs in the trees long before the temperature 
in the air above the snow blanket has given it 
any warrant for such action. It pushes up until 
the frost-bound trunk denies it further passage 
and there waits the first brief respite in the air 
above. Hence in March, though the snow may 
be still deep on the surface and the mercury in 
the glass fall well toward zero at night, the fires 
are started in the maple sugar camps and the 
pails hung to the trees. We know that no sooner 
will the sun warm their trunks than the sap will 
begin to tinkle in the pails, dripping with the 



296 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

sweet promise of the spring which is already 
pulsing in the subsoil. 

It was not a big storm, in my woods, after all. 
It lasted less than twenty-four hours and hardly 
six inches of light snow fell. Proverbs are half- 
truths, anyway, and ^'long foretold, long last" has 
proved less than half of itself this time. But 
though the day is clear and the sun bright, Aunt 
Sue's snowbank is lifting its purple mass in the 
southeast again and, with the other Dorchester 
backwoodsmen, I am wagging my head solemnly 
and joining in a jeremiad concerning a big one 
next time. I should like to have known Aunt 
Sue. I picture her as a stout, keen-eyed, wise- 
headed house-mother of the old English stock. 
Surely she is the patron saint of the young pines 
and of all others who know how to enjoy a good 
old-fashioned winter. As such I hope someone 
will paint her, seated on a good big snowbank, 
attended by cupid pines robed in such ermine as 
they now wear, and with the soft radiance of 
a snow rainbow around her head for an aureole. 



CHAPTER XXIII 

SPORTS OF THE WINTER WOODS 

The time to go into the winter woods for love 
of them is in the still chill of dawn when the blue- 
black of the west is hardly yet touched with the 
purple that heralds the day, when the high sky 
in the east begins to warm from gray to gold and 
below black twigs make lace against an amber 
glow that draws one as does the flame the moth. 
At such a time the cold of the night may lie bitter 
on the open fields and the snow crystals there 
whine beneath the tread, but in the deep heart 
of the woods the warmth of the day before is still 
held entangled, an afterglow of the sun that waits 
his golden coming once more. At that hour I 
like to set my course eastward. The wind, if 
there be one, will be at my back and half its keen- 
ness dulled thereby, and the ever visible, growing 
promise of the sun warms almost as much as his 
later presence. 

Our coldest midwinter nights are still and the 

tangle of the trees enmeshes a protecting warmth 

297 



298 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

that the outside cold cannot penetrate altogether. 
This is the outer winter overcoat of the woods. 
Even deciduous trees provide it and the level 
boughs of evergreens give layer after layer of 
air that fends from the cold. Even without the 
snow, the frost penetrates but a little way in the 
earth of the woods. No matter how low the 
temperature above the tree-tops and in the open 
spaces, the ground beneath the trees hardly 
freezes, and, if the snow comes, the moment its 
blanket is spread the temperature beneath it 
warms to above freezing and the frost comes out. 
Deep snows are hard on certain winter birds, 
but they are the salvation of many of the smaller 
winter animals and they provide man with one 
of the chief joys of the winter woods. 

Going forth at dawn one has the full joy of the 
day before him and need leave no pleasure un- 
tasted. It is something worth while to meet the 
sun on such a morning. No wonder the ancient 
Persians worshipped him. Even his first rays 
enfold you with a warmth that the thermometer 
might not notice but which is none the less real 
for all that. They set the fires of the spirit burn- 
ing more brightly, warming the cockles of the 
heart and raising the temperature of the man if 



SPORTS OF THE WINTER WOODS 299 

not that of the air about him. The pleasure of 
the pathless woods which is to be yours for all 
day is sweetest in the first encounter. Toward 
the sun your goal glows with red fire and the 
woods seem in its burning to celebrate your ad- 
vent. You move eastward the chief figure in 
the procession. 

For it always seems to me as if at winter sun- 
rise all things of the wood move forward in this 
matutinal procession of welcome to the coming 
warmth of the new day. As a matter of fact, of 
course, they do. The whole round earth is 
swinging toward the east at a wondrous pace. 
But it is more than that. The little winds of 
dawn are drawn toward the rising column of 
heated air beneath his glow. They come out of 
the nether cold of the night and it is the chill of 
their passing which often brings the temperature 
a little lower as the sun shows above the horizon, 
but they go to him to get warm just as the rest 
of us do. It may be fancy, but it always seems 
to me that the morning birds on their first hunt 
for breakfast work eastward. The first flight of 
the crows is apt to be in that direction and the 
chickadees hunt from the south side of one tree 
to that of the next, making the sunward side of 



300 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

the grove their rallying place. The trees in 
growth reach always toward the sun, stretching 
their limbs longest on the sunny side, and it al- 
ways seems to me as if in winter they could be 
seen to yearn in the same direction with the fond 
fingers of bare twigs. I have an idea that meas- 
urements made at leaf-fall of one year and again 
at bud-time of the next would show this. But 
there is really no need. We have but to go forth 
in the woods of a clear, still winter morning to 
feel the impulse ourselves and to know that it is 
universal. 

Out of this protecting snow at dawn come the 
srrfall folk of the winter woods and to be with 
them there is to be at the meeting place of elves. 
He who is very wise as to their ways may see 
them, once in a while some one of them, or, if 
he be very fortunate, more than one. Without 
doubt to live in the woods always would be to see 
them all, to acquire to the full the elfin quality 
one's self and be one of the clan. But they be- 
come visible only rarely to the occasional visitor, 
these real elves and hobgoblins, and often at the 
best we must note their presence by the trail they 
have left behind. Here has passed the rabbit. 
Since earliest light he has been tracking up the 




"X3 
o 
o 









SPORTS OF THE WINTER WOODS 301 

woods in his hunt for breakfast, but who sees him 
do it? There the white-footed mouse has made 
a curious pattern of foot-dots from his hom^ 
stump to some other entrance to a w^ay beneath 
the snow, the straight trail of his tail showing 
between the tiny foot tracks. In another place 
the fox has left his curious one-two-three, one- 
two-three footsteps. 

It is sufficient sport for the morning to take the 
early rabbit trails and see what has become of 
their maker. Some woodsman may have seen 
the rabbit making these tracks unconscious of 
supervision, but I will confess that I never have. 
Up North I have often watched the varying hare 
about his business when he had no idea that I 
was one of the party, but the sophisticated Mas- 
sachusetts rabbit has always been too clever for 
me. But it is not so difficult to follow the tracks, 
confusing as they sometimes are in their labyrin- 
thine route, to their end for the forenoon. This 
is usually a snuggery under some brush or in a 
tangle of dried grasses and ferns. Here I fancy 
the rabbit backing in and crowding out a sitting- 
room and then sitting in it. He will stay in this 
"form" until you fairly kick him out, and when I 
have done this, as politely as possible under the 



302 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



circumstances, I for a moment see the rabbit 
making tracks. Ten to one he makes them down 
hill, for in that direction lies the cedar swamp in 
whose almost impassable tangle he finds safety. 
Great tracks these are, too, his short forelegs 
just serving to catch and balance his plunge for 
a second, then the long hind ones coming wide 
of these, outside, and landing far in advance. 
They really look as if the animal might have 
made them by turning handsprings as he went. 

I never see a fox by trailing him. He goes 
much too rapidly and ranges too far. Yet the 
fox has an interesting habit of following a more 
or less regular route. Even when the dogs are 
after him he often sticks to his known trail and 
the hunters take advantage of this, waiting along 
his knov^n route and shooting him as he lopes by, 
easily outrunning the dogs and as likely as not 
grinning over his shoulder at their lumbering 
eagerness. It is all a game to him and if man 
would keep out of it the fox would always win. 
The way to see a fox in the woods is to figure 
out his accustomed route and sit cosily by it. He 
likes best to hunt in the dim beginnings of dawn 
and again at the evening twilight or by the light 
of the moon. But often a fox may be seen jog- 



SPORTS OF THE WINTER WOODS 303 

ging along in the full daylight. The very keen- 
ness of the animal seems sometimes to work his 
undoing. He knows well that the dogs cannot 
catch him so he jollies along just in front of them 
over his accustomed route where he knows every 
possible pitfall of the way. And the hunter wait- 
ing to leeward shoots him. Had the fox had 
fewer brains and simply bolted in a panic as soon 
as the dogs got on his trail he might have lived 
to bolt again the next time. Once in a while you 
find a panicky fox that does this. When the dogs 
get after 'him he makes a straight streak for king- 
dom-come and the hunter with the gun waits in 
vain. 

But on days when there is no gunning going 
on the fox will sometimes walk right onto a man. 
Recently my next-door neighbor, tramping his 
oak woods with no thought of stealth, rustling 
through fallen leaves and snapping twigs, walked 
round a corner of a woodpile and met a fox trot- 
ting along in the opposite direction. The animal 
gazed at him in astonishment for a second and 
then fled. My neighbor accounts for it in this 
way: The fox has brains. Consequently he 
gets into a brown study as a man will, planning 
affairs and studying out situations. Woodland 



304 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

creatures whose living is conducted largely auto- 
matically are automatically alert and do not walk 
straight up to danger which rustles and thuds 
warnings of its presence. It takes a thinker to 
get so immersed in his own affairs of the brain 
as to get caught that way. 

The potency of the sun on clear mid-winter 
days in the woods is wonderful. His rays seem 
to put a reviving, warming quality into the air 
which has little relation to the actual temperature 
as recorded by the thermometer. The forest 
catches this unrecorded warmth and with it en- 
velops all creatures. It holds back the wind 
which seeks to chill, and by the time the sun is 
high and one is weary of swinging along the 
levels on snowshoes he may rest in comfort in 
the radiance. The recorded temperature may be 
far below freezing. The actual feel of the air 
in a cozy, snow-mantled nook is so genial and 
comforting that one wonders that the buds do 
not start. To go to the southward of a clump of 
dense evergreens is as good as a trip to Bermuda. 
On such a day the noon fire is a pastime rather 
than a necessity, though the makin'g of a lux- 
urious lunch may require heat. To tramp a spot 
on the snow with the snowshoes and then start a 



SPORTS OF THE WINTER WOODS 305 

fire on it is to demonstrate the non-conductivity 
of this ermine mantle of the woods. The fire will 
burn long before it melts a hole through to the 
ground beneath, and if the snow is fairly deep it 
will remain unmelted beneath a gray mantle of 
ashes after the fire is out. There is unquestion- 
ably a primal joy in a fire thus built in the snow 
of the deep woods. Wherever man sets up the 
hearth there is home, and the first flare, the first 
pungent whifT of wood smoke, touch a deep sense 
of comfort and make the wayfarer at peace with 
all the world. To toast bread upon a pointed 
stick and to broil a bit of meat in the blaze is to 
add a zest to the appetite that the wholesome 
exercise in the keen air has stimulated. Except 
as a zest one's luncheon does not need the heat at 
such times. So potent is the oxygen of the keen 
air and so deeply does it reach to the springs of 
life that one may eat his food cold and raw as the 
crows do and be satisfied and nourished. 

Sitting in the silence and the sun as the fire 
smoulders to gray ashes one may take stock of 
the birds of the woods by ear and eye. In the 
still air all sounds carry far. The cawing of the 
crows rings a mile across the tree tops, but these 
are the only winter birds one may hear far in the 



3o6 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

full sunshine. The blue jays, so noisy in the au- 
tumn, are silent in midwinter. Rarely, indeed, 
at the depth of winter do you hear one of them 
utter the clear, clanging call of his race. But 
the wood holds them still, and as the campfire 
burns low they are apt to come about it, knowing 
well that beside deserted campfires scraps of food 
may be found. On such expeditions they come 
on noiseless wing, whinnying one to another in 
voices inaudible a few rods away. If one sees 
you he may utter a single loud note of warning, 
but that will be all, and the flock will scuttle 
away on noiseless wings as they came. 

A nuthatch may come to perch upside down on 
a tree nearby, blowing his elfin penny-4:rumpet 
note, a brown creeper may screep tinily or a 
downy woodpecker knock gently at the doors of 
insects shut within the rotten wood, but onlv the 
chickadees are noisy. Their volubility is proof 
against the hush laid upon the forest by the west- 
ering sun, and you can hear them sputtering their 
way through the underbrush from afar. Birds 
in the wood mostly leave a trail for the ear rather 
than the eye. On such a day, even in the coW of 
January, you may hear a ruffed grouse drum. 
The seeping sun warms the cockles of his heart 



SPORTS OF THE WINTER WOODS 307 

and reminds him of the brown mates of last 
spring, and he needs must hop up on the old 
log and drum for them, though there is little 
chance that they will heed his amorous call. The 
ruffed grouse has much brain even for a bird, as 
his ability to live in our Massachusetts woods in 
spite of the omnipresent huntsmen shows, but like 
the fox, he, too, sometimes gets in a brown study 
and may allow you to meet him at a corner. 

When this happens to me I am always sur- 
prised to see what a fine dignity the bird has in 
the woods, unconscious of observation. His car- 
riage is that of a lord of the thicket, and he seems 
far larger and taller than his bulk and length 
when put to the yardstick would show. I always 
think his tracks in the snow show something of 
the same characteristics, as if he unwittingly 
wrote his character into his signature, as most 
of us do. 

All in all it is a fine sport, this hunting of the 
wild creatures of the wood without harming 
them. To bag them in one's memory or one's 
notebook is to accomplish that feat long desired 
of mankind, to keep one's cake and eat it too, 
while he who shoots kills his joy in the acquiring 
of it. 



% 



3o8 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

At dusk of the still winter day the cold of in- 
terstellar space drops down among the treetops 
and seems to reflect back toward one's marrow 
from the snow beneath. Then I like to preface 
the homeward trip by one more campfire. A 
grove of young white pines provides the best ma- 
terial for a quick fire. The upper boughs of 
such trees so shade the lower ones that they die, 
but remain dry and brittle on the trees, full of 
pitch, making the finest kindling material in the 
woods. It takes but a strong pull to break such 
limbs oi¥ near the trunk and they may be broken 
into stove length over the knee or in the hands. 
Even in a rain the tiny twigs of these limbs will 
light at the touch of a match and no snow can 
be so deep in the winter woods but they are im- 
mediately available. They make a smokeless fire 
that gives off a fine aroma and much heat. In its 
ruddy glow is home, its flickering flames weaving 
an ever-changing tapestry on the gathering dusk, 
the black pines standing like beneficient genii 
watching over the altar flame in the snow. 

Many a woodland thing will stand at gaze just 
beyond the circle of this campfire whose flare may 
shine back from the eyes of a wandering deer. 
More likely it will shine from the eyes of the only 



SPORTS OF THE WINTER WOODS 309 

night bird of the* winter woods, an owl. Per- 
haps the last greeting from the woods which 
the wayfarer will get as he leaves the diminish- 
ing red glow of the falling embers behind him 
and fares on under the keen, cold twinkle of 
the stars will be the questioning "who-who- 
whoo?" of the one of the big species of 
these birds, a barred owl or a great horned 
owl. More likely in our neighborhood it will 
be the gentle, quavering call of the little 
screech owl, a voice of friendliness out of the 
silence, dear to every true lover of the woods. 
With this voice and perhaps a gleam of the 
friendly eyes in the purple dusk the chronicle of 
the day's sport may well end. 



CHAPTER XXIV 

COASTING ON PONKAPOAG 

Looking backward from these days of sloth- 
ful ease in getting about it seems as if the golden 
days of Ponkapoag were those of a generation 
and more ago. Then it was an isolated hamlet. 
To be sure, there was a railroad a mile and a half 
away and the venturous traveller might go north 
or south on it twice a day, though few Ponka- 
poag people were that sort of venturesome trav- 
ellers. The days of the stage coaches had passed 
and the place was more thrown upon its own re- 
sources, especially for excitement, than it had 
been since they had made it a stopping point on 
a main thoroughfare. The railroad brought 
bustle to many hamlets, but it took it away from 
Ponkapoag and left it a sleepy hollow. Even 
the days of the Cherry Tavern and the Ponka- 
poag Inn were past and the poet Aldrich and 
other people of latter-day renown had not ap- 
peared to make it famous. 

Now the trolley car buzzes up and down the 

310 



COASTING ON PONKAPOAG 311 

long steep slopes of Ponkapoag Hill and the au- 
tomobiles honk in endless procession both ways. 
The old houses stand, but a new generation oc- 
cupies them and the cosey, self-centered life of 
the old village has completely passed. Even the 
people who knew its traditions of a half-century 
ago are gone, too, and though the Christmas 
snow brought good coasting I doubt if it brought 
many coasters to the old hill. Yet Ponkapoag 
Hill was once famous in the region all about for 
its coasting and the enthusiasm and ingenuity 
of the Ponkapoag coasters. On days and nights 
in the oldf ashioned winters, when the sledding of 
big logs to the sawmill on Ponkapoag brook had 
made the course down the hill one glare of ad- 
amantine snow between deep rifts, the population 
of the village used to turn out; not the big and 
little boys and girls only, but the grown-ups even 
to the venerable gaffers of those days who could 
remember how they used to coast there before 
the Civil War was thought of, when the Cherry 
Tavern still fed scores of pleasure-seeking Bos- 
tonians on big, luscious black-heart cherries each 
June, and in winter the Ponkapoag Inn had its 
patrons from the big city not only for coasting 
but for pickerel fishing on the pond. 



312 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

Modern easy methods of transportation an< 
communication have put the typical New Eng- 
land village, with its manly, self-reliant, self- 
centered life, out of existence, and with it have 
passed or become decadent many of its commun- 
ity sports. I doubt if Ponkapoag will ever again 
see such coasting as it has seen, and I fancy the 
same may be truly said of hundreds of big hills in 
other towns. The sport still holds in one form 
or another, but it has changed. Coasting in the 
streets is rightly forbidden now in many com- 
munities. The chances of meeting dangerous 
obstructions in these days of multitudinous au- 
tomobiles and omnipresent trolley cars are too 
great. In the old Ponkapoag days such things 
were unknown, and the rarely occasional sleigh 
or wood-sled was little to be feared. The driv- 
ers who were not coasting themselves knew the 
coasters had the right of way and ''cleared the 
lulla" to let them by. 

There came nights like that of the Christmas 
just passed when the still, dry air intoxicated the 
coasters and carried their shouts far under the 
golden moon. Then there would be a constant 
procession of swiftly flying forms from the brow 
of the hill where Blue Hill loomed clear-cut 



COASTING ON PONKAPOAG 313 

against the velvet sky behind, to George B/s 
blacksmith shop, at least. Certain flyers were 
fabled to go farther and, on perfect sledding, to 
make the gentle declivity clear to Potash Meadow 
and brook. Such as did this were famous the 
region through. 

It is probable that the coasting on Ponkapoag 
Hill began with the coming of white settlers to 
the region, "the Dorchester Back Woods." The 
Indian invented the toboggan, but he seems to 
have used it for a sled of burden and not as a 
pleasure chariot. Coasting is essentially a white 
man's joy. No white man could have a tobog- 
gan at the top of a snow-clad hill and not im- 
mediately use it to coast down on. It is in the 
blood. Tradition has it that the legions of Caesar 
came over the Alps, and finding the snowy slopes 
in front of them, immediately sat down on their 
shields and slid down upon the Northern races 
they had come to conquer. Many a New Eng- 
land youngster in days gone-by learned to come 
down a hill on a barrel stave in much the same 
way; he, too, with blood of the conqueror in his 
veins. The toboggan wasn't really invented ; it 
grew. From that invention has worked out 
many devices specially fitted to the sport under 



314 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

special conditions. Switzerland has seen coast- 
ing come up from the utilitarian exuberance of 
the Roman legions to a sport which is interna- 
tional and which draws coasting experts from all 
over the world. They call it tobogganing, which, 
of course, it is not and in modern days at least 
never was, for it is all done on a sled with run- 
ners. "Schlittli" the Swiss call it, and though it 
seems a far cry it may be that our word sled has 
been developed from it. At least both begin with 
S. 

Elaborate books have been written about ^'to- 
bogganing'' as it has developed at Davos and St. 
Moritz, in the Alps. The Swiss Schlittli seems 
to be much like what the Yankee boys call a "girl's 
sled,'' a board seat set high on skeleton runners, 
that I fancy were at first of the plain wood but 
later came to be shod with flat iron. On this 
the coaster sits and goes down the hill sedately, 
feet foremost. Thus the early Swiss toboggan- 
ing was done, the rider steering by putting out a 
foot to the right or left, after the fashion of the 
small girl today on her similar sled. Such coast- 
ing is done by careful elderly people in St. Moritz 
or Davos today, only they use wooden pegs held 



COASTING ON PONKAPOAG 315 

in either hand to steer by. The courses on which 
they coast are short and straight, modest Httle 
coasts such as befit their condition. Then Amer- 
ican sports brought to Switzerland the clipper 
sled. It easily outdistanced the Schlittli, and for 
the swift, winding courses on which the races 
were held became the favorite. The clipper sled 
was born in America, and millions of boys here 
have them today. They are swift, sturdy, and 
well fitted for the sport. Their solid wooden 
runners were long ago shod with flat steel, but 
for a generation that 'has been superseded by 
spring steel, round runner-shoes that add to the 
swiftness most materially. 

In 1877 the first of this coasting was done by 
the English at St. Moritz, and ever since the 
courses there have been steadily improving, and 
'^toboggans" as well. The final word has be- 
come a skeleton frame of steel, the wooden run- 
ners being entirely removed from within the shoe 
and the rider occupying a thin board hung be- 
tween the upper frames. The under part of the 
heavy steel runner is grooved so as to grip the 
ice, and the whole "rocks" after the style of the 
oldfashioned "rocker'' skate. Thus on a curve 



3i6 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

the rider, putting his weight aft is able to turn 
more rapidly without the sled losing its grip on 
the ice beneath. On these the Swiss coasters 
negotiate S curves at surprising speed, and are 
estimated to reach sixty or even seventy miles 
an hour on the straight stretches of the world- 
famous course. As might be supposed by any 
one who coasts, this speed is not made with the 
rider sitting on his sled girl fashion. Long ago 
the American visitors taught the St. Moritz coast- 
ers that the way to ride a clipper sled on a swift 
coast was to go *'belly-bump," prone on one's 
belly, with a foot ready to steer at the right or 
left as the case might be. The stability is surer 
because the centre of gravity is lower, the wind 
resistance is less, and the method is safer and 
better, if it is not so dignified. The records 
made thus converted the most phlegmatic Eng- 
lishmen at St. Moritz, and since then this has 
been the approved fashion. 

But we have gone coasting a long way from 
Ponkapoag Hill. There, long before the Swiss 
course was thought of the evolution in sleds was 
going on, and though Ponkapoag did not evolve 
the steel-frame skeleton coaster it got up some 
tasty rigs of its own. Similar things were 



COASTING ON PONKAPOAG 317 

brought out all over New England, I fancy, on 
all big hills where Yankee boys coasted. One of 
these was the double-runner, or double-ripper as 
it was sometimes called, rather ominously. I 
meet double-runners on the hills sometimes now- 
a-days, but not the leviathans of old. The begin- 
ning of this community coaster is simple. It is 
two clipper sleds fastened together so that the 
rear one runs in the tracks of the front one. 
Then came a board placed lengthwise across the 
two and the double-runner was fairly begun. 
Later this board came to be a long plank that 
would hold a dozen. With that the capacity of 
the common clipper sled was reached. But they 
did not stop at that at Ponkapoag. They built 
two big sleds specially, shod them with proper 
steel runners at the local blacksmith shop, and 
stt high above them an enormous, stout plank 
with foot rests and all sorts of modern con- 
veniences. 

The men who told of this enormous rig, a 
"double-ripper'' in very truth, are dead and I 
can't prove it by them, so I hesitate to state the 
length of this mammoth coasting device and the 
number of people it would carry lest aspersions 
be cast on their veracity — and mine — but it was 



3i8 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

very long and would carry a surprisingly large 
number. All Ponkapoag was wont to come out 
of moonlight nights and ride upon it, and its fame 
carried that of the little village very far. To 
have coasted on the big Ponkapoag double-runner 
was as much a thing to be mentioned boastfully 
in certain sections as it was in others to have 
been presented at court. 

Bob-sled is a proper, dictionary name for the 
ordinary form of this device and it is used at 
Davos and St. Moritz for jolly family parties on 
the straight courses. There they equip it with a 
bugle to herald its approach with joyous tootings, 
a bridle of steel wire by which it is steered in 
combination with pressure on a lever by means 
of the feet of the steersman, and also with a 
curious brake which consists of a nail studded 
board so rigged to the rear sled that the last man 
can drop it down to the ice and anchor it by the 
grip of the nails, thereby retarding its speed. 
The steersman on the mammoth Ponkapoag 
bob-sled steered by a rope bridle and the use 
of his feet on a stout wooden cross-bar, and 
his position was no sinecure. He had at 
least a ton of. people on board and he had no 
brake. 



COASTING ON PONKAPOAG 319 

After the leviathan slid over the brow of the 
hill and began its downward course there could 
be no slowing up, no backward sled tracks, till the 
end of the course was reached. He must nego- 
tiate the curve at Captain Bill Tucker's corner 
at lightning speed and must rightly manage the 
mass in mighty momentum after that, if he would 
not spill them all in Ponkapoag brook. The big 
Ponkapoag bob-sled needed no bugle to herald 
its coming. When it started off and especially 
when it swung the curve at Captain Bill's the 
mingled melody of delight and dismay, masculine 
and feminine, could easily be heard a mile, and 
throughout the course the chant of the coasters 
carried runic warning well ahead of the ap- 
proaching thunderbolt. In the legend of it all I 
find no mention of anyone being hurt. 

A great if not famous inventor once lived in 
Ponkapoag. James Basin came from one of the 
Channel Islands, a French Huguenot, with his 
family, and settled in the little village; it would 
be hard to tell why. He invented the "Basin 
trumpet," a curious kind of cornet with which 
one gets change of pitch by turning a crank with 
one hand while holding the instrument to the 
mouth with the other. This was played in the 



320 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

choir in the Congregational church of those early 
days. He invented many other musical instru- 
ments, one the forerunner of the cabinet organ 
which made a fortune for certain New England- 
ers. He invented a braiding machine which has 
since his -day made millions for Rhode Island 
factories. It may be that he invented the strang- 
est form of double-runner that I have heard of, 
and which was used on Ponkapoag Hill, but I 
fancy not. That I guess was an inspiration 
worked out on the spot by some hardy Yankee. 
It consisted of a great wood-sled on which half 
the village could be accommodated. This was 
hauled by horses to the top of the hill, a boy of 
more than ordinary courage, strength, and — it 
seems to me — skill, sitting on that diminutive 
sled in front of the great on-rushing mass and 
guiding it in safety to the bottom of the hill, time 
after time. 

That a boy should have been found that would 
turn this trick after he had once successfully done 
it is not so difficult to believe as that one should 
have the hardihood to undertake it for the first 
time to find out whether he could do it or not. 



COASTING ON PONKAPOAG 321 

This Yankee Casablanca, or whatever he ought 
to be called, I myself knew after he had reached 
years of middle life and I dare say discretion. I 
remember well his breadth of back and depth of 
chest, and I think it quite true that he once lifted 
a barrel of flour in his teeth, but whether he got 
his start in physical strength steering that Pon- 
kapoag-invented double-runner down the long 
hill, or whether he had to have the strength in- 
born in the first place to be able to do it, I cannot 
say. 

They have a wonderful curve over at St. 
Moritz known as the "Cresta Run,'' 1320 yards 
long and abounding in hair-raising thrills from 
start to finish. Hardly has the rider, lying prone 
on his steel-skeleton flyer, got under good head- 
way before he comes to the "church leap." Here 
a swinging descent shoots him into a double 
compound curve where he must flash to the 
left and again to the right in letter S fashion, 
helped to be sure, by raised banks on either side 
as he needs them. The banks help, but it takes 
lightning combinations of wisdom, skill and 
strength to make the turns in safety for all that, 
nor does he have a chance for a long breath be- 



322 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

fore he shoots at ever increasing speed into the 
''battledore" where the course turns almost at a 
right angle and shoots him on into the "shuttle- 
cock'' where he must negotiate another right 
angle. Then he must immediately take "stream 
corner" and be ready for his plunge into "the 
straight." From this again he has to take "Bul- 
pett's corner." By this time he may be going 
seventy miles an hour, but "cresta leap" is before 
him, after which he has only to go up the steep 
hill which is supposed to arrest his speed at the 
finish. Yet even here his skill must be in full 
play, as riders have been known to go forty feet 
in air over the crest of the hill and take a fine 
plunge into the soft snow beyond. Indeed, the 
soft snow waits the venturesome rider at every 
turn of the famous St. Moritz course, and many 
there be who go to it before "church leap" is 
fairly negotiated, thus early in the game. The 
whole course, nearly a mile, is frequently made 
in a little over a minute and a quarter. 

All this is fine to see, without doubt, and finer 
still to do, but do you know, if I could have my 
choice and could see but one, I would choose to 
see that leviathan double-runner of a half-cen- 
tury ago swinging the curve at Captain Bill Tuck- 



COASTING ON PONKAPOAG 323 

er*s corner, followed by that big wood-sled with 
the half of Ponkapoag's population on it, and 
hear the joyous Yankee shouts as they resounded 
all the way from the crest of the hill to George 
B.'s blacksmith shop. 



CHAPTER XXV 

PICKEREL FISHING 

I rarely know where the pickerel fishermen 
come from. They seem to be a race apart and 
their talk is not of towns or politics, of business 
or religion. Neither love nor war is their theme, 
but ice and fishing through it, and what happens 
to a man while so doing. If I suggest Randolph, 
or Framingham, Wellesley or Weymouth, they 
know them, perchance, as places where such and 
such ponds have a depth that is known to them 
and ice on which they have had adventures which 
they can detail. Those things for which the 
towns stand characterized in the minds of most 
men are nothing to them, but rather what bait 
may be found in their streams or what fish may 
be drawn through the ice in their territory. On 
days when I talk with them Boston centres about 
the Quincy Market, where bait is sold and pick- 
erel are displayed, and the sporting goods stores, 
the merits of whose tackle are known to a nicety. 
Thus are worlds multiplied to infinity, each one 

324 



PICKEREL FISHING 325 

of us having his own. But to step into that of 
the pickerel fishermen of a midwinter day adds 
zest to the excursion. 

They are quite Hke the juncos, to me, these 
genial men of the frozen day. They suddenly 
appear from I know not where, share the joys 
of the day and place for a brief time, then walk 
off the ice again with their traps, going I know 
not whither. The next day in all probability, if 
it be a good one for fishing, others will come to 
fish in the same places and in the same way, but 
not usually the same men. Thus the winter wan- 
dering birds appear, take their toll of the day 
and the earth on which it shines, give the joy of 
their presence to all who seek it understandingly, 
then vanish. It would seem as if the pickerel 
fishermen were a distinct species, like the tree 
sparrows and the pine grosbeaks, winter visitors 
not to be looked for in warm weather, folk who 
pass from pond to pond, taking toll of all and 
thus learning their characteristics so definitely, 
though this seems hardly probable. Probably 
my pickerel fishermen of yesterday are artisans 
today, bookkeepers perhaps or salesmen, so dif- 
ferently dressed and occupied, their talk of such 
different things that I would not know them, for 



326 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

of all animals man alone is able to put on or take 
off an individuality at will, changing his counten- 
ance with his garment and his mind with his oc- 
cupation. The Natty Bumpo of today may be 
the natty dry goods clerk of tomorrow, assuming 
the Bumpo with his fishing togs and making his 
talk of many ponds fit the clothes. 

The fishermen add a touch of picturesque 
geniality, of excitement even to the pond, being 
as occasional in its daily life as the crossing of a 
deer or an otter or the circling of an osprey in 
summer. Any one of these causes a momentary 
stir, a local disturbance down in the depths among 
the regular occupants of the place, but after all 
it is but a momentary and local one, and the great 
business of the place goes on just the same near 
by the spots where the hand of the grim reaper 
is busy removing prominent citizens. For in my 
pond the pickerel are surely the prominent cit- 
izens, the aristocracy, for they are the largest 
and strongest and they live directly off their fel- 
low fishes, which constitutes an aristocracy in 
any community. Minnows, perch, bream and 
mullet alike are busy assimilating vegetable mat- 
ter, mussels, worms, insects and small crustacse, 
merely to form themselves either directly or in 




Pickerel from art Old Colony Pond 



PICKEREL FISHING 327 

their children ultimately into titbits for the nour- 
ishing of pickerel. All the pond world knows 
that and its denizens tremble in the presence of 
these great-jawed, hook-toothed gobblers of small 
fry; and that constitutes a proletariat the world 
over. 

In fishing time the loneliness of the empty lev- 
els of the ice is broken at dawn by the coming 
of the crows, especially if there have been fisher- 
men the day before. Remnants of the fisher- 
men's noon meal are quite likely to be scattered 
about the spot where they had their fire, and al- 
ways the minnows which they took from the 
hooks at leaving are there, frozen upon the frozen 
surface. It seems a cold breakfast to us fire- 
worshipping mortals, but the crows take it eag- 
erly. Often, too, before it is fairly swallowed 
fishermen appear, whereupon the crows flap 
silently but swiftly away. One knows by this 
action that the fishermen are just men, after all, 
and not a woodland variety of Peter Pan, though 
they merely bob up on the pond margin, or per- 
haps well out on the ice, loaded with their traps 
and tools. One never sees them coming through 
the wood or down the street, or getting off trolley 
cars or out of carryalls, these fishermen, they 



328 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

just bob up, which would seem to prove a mystic 
origin; though of course they are just folks and 
somebody knows them, as I have said. 

Soon the air resounds with the xylophone 
music of their chopping, the solid surface vibrat- 
ing beneath the blows of the axe and giving forth 
a clear tintinnabulation which is most delightful 
to the ear. It is not all xylophonic, but there is 
in it, too, the clink of musical glasses and also 
a certain weirdness, a goblin withal that seems to 
belong with the mystery surrounding the origin 
of pickerel fishermen. It is a sound to delight 
the ear and linger pleasantly in the memory like 
the sleighbell tinkling of ice crystals in a frozen 
wood. Stirred by this, or perhaps by the beat of 
the risen sun on its surface, the pond itself be- 
gins to caper a bit, musically, roaring in basso 
profundo a morning song of its own. The re- 
sult is grotesque in the extreme. I once heard 
a big-chested man sing ''Rocked in the Cradle of 
the Deep," while his accompanist jigged out an 
accompaniment on the highest octave to be found 
on the keyboard of the piano. The pond and the 
fishermen seem to be doing something like this. 

To such quaint music the traps are set, bits 



PICKEREL FISHING 329 

of lath standing on the edge of the hole and bear- 
ing attached to the line a red flannel flag which 
the biting fish will strike and carry into the depths 
with him when he goes off to swallow the bait. 
The fishermen understand well the ways of the 
aristocrat pickerel when he swallows a proletariat 
minnow. No lordly capitalist ever took in a 
plebeian inventor with more grace — and finality. 
Often the flag just drops from the support and 
lies on the surface of the water while the two get 
acquainted. The pickerel has the minnow, but 
his grip is not what he wants. He is particular 
about the way he swallows a little one, as if he 
feared some impending Sherman act. So, hav- 
ing got his fish, he waits to turn him so that the 
victi-m may head down and seem to go of his own 
volition into the interior department. Not until 
then does he run out the rest of the line. If the 
attorney general fisherman attempts to take him 
before that he simply lets go the bait and swims 
off, secure in his immunity bath. After he has 
started to really go away with his prize a steady 
pull is quite sure to result in his capture. 

Two varieties of pickerel commonly inhabit our 
ponds. One, technically known as Esox reticu- 
latus, is the Eastern pickerel, known sometimes 



330 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



as green pike or jack, but more often as pond 
pickerel. He is a big green fish, a golden lustre 
on his reticulated sides and in colonial times he 
was known as chain pickerel from this dark link- 
ing on his golden green surface. I do not hear 
the name now and I doubt if it is much, if any, 
used. The pond pickerel waxes fat on minnows 
and other small fry and in the course of a long 
life grows to be two feet or more in length and 
specimens have been caught weighing seven 
pounds, perhaps more. It is rather interesting to 
learn from the fishermen that certain ponds are 
apt to contain pickerel of a certain size, in the 
main, as if the conditions of food supply and the 
freshness of the water or the amount of sunshine 
were only sufficient to bring the most of them to 
a definite period of maturity, where they stopped. 
But this is, of course, only a general rule, with 
many exceptions. One of these is the big fish. 
Every pond contains him and every pickerel fish- 
erman who aspires to dignity in his class has 
hooked this big fellow and lost him and is able 
to tell you circumstantially at much length just 
how. Most of them know the exact location in 
each pond where he lurks and are confident that 
this winter they will win in the encounter with 



PICKEREL FISHING 331 

him to which they confidently look forward. 
Usually the fisherman hauls this monster up to 
the hole in the ice but is unable to get him through 
because the hole is too small. Tales like this, 
heard now and then about the fire while we watch 
the traps, give assurance that the fishermen are 
really very human after all and not of the Peter 
Pan species. 

The other variety of pickerel is Esox ameri- 
canus, the banded pickerel, known hereabouts 
mainly as brook pickerel, because he loves grassy 
streams. But the brook pickerel frequents the 
ponds as well, loving best those of weedy bottoms 
and shores and slight depth. He is a slim, little 
green fellow, usually not over a foot long and 
his dark banded sides easily distinguish him 
from the smaller specimens of his reticulated 
neighbor. The brook pickerel is found only east 
of the Allegheny Mountains, from Massachusetts 
to Florida while the pond pickerel is found from 
middle Maine to Florida, and west to Louisana 
and' Arkansas. In spring the pond pickerel goes 
up into the ready margins as far even as the 
brook pickerel will and often I see him in water 
so shallow that his back fin sticks up, looking like 



332 



OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



the sail of a miniature Chinese junk. There he 
seeks the lovely little coppery swamp tree-frogs 
that are but an inch long and look like tailsmans 
carved from metal. These are his tidbits, but 
he will take most anything alive that is small 
enough for him to swallow, and when in winter 
he retires to the warmer layers of water next the 
pond bottom, his omnivorous appetite in a large 
measure goes with him. Hence the fishermen 
use many varieties of small fish for bait, all with 
some success. 

In the spring nothing else is quite so good as 
this tiny, swamp tree-frog. In the winter in the 
majority of cases the little silvery minnow known 
as "shiner" is best of all. Yet, the fishermen will 
tell you, on some ponds the mummy-chogs which, 
I take it, is the still surviving Indian name for 
the killi-fish, are to be most esteemed as bait, and 
I have found fishermen fishing with young perch 
and dace and other hard-scaled fish, though I 
believe with indifferent success, nor did the fish- 
ermen themselves look to be the real thing. I 
fancy that people had seen these folk that fished 
with young perch come to the pond, perhaps even 
knew them by name and where they lived, and 
that the bait had been bought in a city market 



PICKEREL FISHING 333 

where they even keep young mud-fish for sale as 
bait to the unsuspecting, and will assure them 
that these are the young of dog-fish and are par- 
ticularly alluring. But the fishermen, the real 
fishermen, know better. 

The mud-fish, more properly the bowfin, is a 
small, dark-colored, ganoid fish which is so tough 
and will live under such discouraging circum- 
stances that it would make ideal pickerel bait if 
the pickerel would have anything to do with it, 
but they will not. So in some ponds it is with 
the mummy-chogs which are admirably tough 
and live long and are lively when impaled. On 
the other hook the shiner is a little, silvery, soft- 
scaled fellow so gentle that he will come up to the 
pond side and eat cracker crumbs out of your 
hand. I have had shiners so tame from fre- 
quently feeding them in this way that I could 
handle them, though not to their own good, for 
the shiner is as tender as he is beautiful and just 
a few hard knocks, that a mummy-chog would 
pass with a flip of his tail, will wreck him. Yet 
for pickerel fishing through the ice the shiner is 
the king of bait and fortunate indeed are those 
fishermen who can obtain enough shiners to af- 
ford to use them lavishly. Properly hooked, just 



334 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

under the after back fin, they survive fairly well 
and their silver wrigglings are hard for a pick- 
erel to resist. 

Though I have said that I never see the fisher- 
men off the pond I do see them sometimes fishing 
for bait. They cut a big hole in the ice for this, 
one big enough to let that monster pickerel that 
^is never caught come through, and through this 
they drop to the bottom a big hoop net. This 
they bait with cracker crumbs and now and then 
pull it eagerly to the surface, often with many 
shiners in it. There are small ponds that are 
famous for being rich in bait alone and from 
these the wiser fishermen draw their supply. 
Though the fisherman about his fire up under the 
lee of the pines on shore loves to tell tales of the 
fish of other days and other ponds he is far from 
garrulous when on the ice and hard at it. And 
usually he is too busy to talk. If the fish are bit- 
ing well he tears from one end to the other of his 
long rows of traps, playing a fish here, hauling 
one out there, setting a trap that has been sprung 
by the wind or the too eager wriggling of the 
bait, and on most fishing days, whether the fish 
bite well or ill, he has to constantly make the 



PICKEREL FISHING 335 

rounds of his holes, inspecting his hooks to see 
if the bait has escaped or been stolen, handling 
new ones in the icy water and skimming the 
young ice from the holes across his fishing. 
Miles a day he runs in the keen air with his bait 
pail and skimmer and however many fish he 
catches I am quite sure he eats them all at the 
next meal. 

And not all his catch are sure to be pickerel. 
Down below there in the twilight of the warmest 
water next the bottom are perch and dace, bass 
and eel, and all these are likely to hunger for 
shiner. The largest eel I ever saw caught came 
up through the ice in this way and I have even 
known the clumsy and stupid sucker to come out 
of the hole on the hook, making the fisherman 
think for a moment that he had hold of the one 
big pickerel of that particular pond. I cannot 
conceive of a sucker actually attempting to eat 
a shiner, even when impaled, impeded and wrig- 
gling, so such must have come by the hook in 
some other way, probably accidentally caught as 
they came by. 

As for that monster fish, there are times, even 
when the fishermen are not telling me about him, 
that I believe he exists. Besides the two vari- 



336 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

eties of Esox mentioned there is another whicl 
is common to all suitable waters of North 
America, Europe and Asia. That is Esox Lu- 
cius, as Linnaeus named him, the common pike. 
This fish is very like the pond pickerel in appear- 
ance and he sometimes grows to weigh forty 
pounds or more and to a length of four feet. 
Such a one might well be too large to come up 
through the hole which the fishermen have cut 
for his little cousins, the brook pickerel. It is 
quite possible that one of these Jonah-swallowing 
leviathans rules the pickerel in each pond king- 
dom, like a Morgan among millionaires. Of the 
pike, which he loved well, Isaac Walton has much 
to say and I cannot refrain from quoting a few 
of his most loving phrases, which are those which 
tell how he should be cooked. 

"Keep his liver,'' he says, ''which you are to 
shred very small with thyme, sweet marjoram 
and a little winter savory; to these put some 
pickled oysters and some anchovies, two or three ; 
both these last whole, for the anchovies will melt, 
and the oysters should not; to these you must 
add also a pound of sweet butter which you are 
to mix with the herbs that are shred, and let them 



PICKEREL FISHING 337 

all be well salted. If the pike be more than a 
yard long then you may put into these herbs 
more than a pound, or if he be less, then less 
butter will suffice. These being thus mixed, with 
a blade or two of mace, must be put into the 
pike's belly, and then his belly sewed up so as to 
keep all the butter in his belly if it be possible; 
if not, then as much of it as you possibly can ; but 
do not take off the scales. Then you are to 
thrust the spit through his mouth and out at his 
tail ; and then take four or five or six split sticks 
or very thin laths and convenient quantity of 
tape or filleting; these laths are to be tied around 
the pike's body from his head to his tail, and the 
tape tied somewhat thick to prevent his breaking 
or falling from the spit. Let him be roasted 
very leisurely and often basted with claret wine 
and anchovies and butter mixed together, and 
also with what moisture falls from him into the 
pan. When you have roasted him sufficiently 
you are to hold under him, when you unwind or 
cut the tape that ties him, such a dish as you 
purpose to eat him out of, and let him fall into 
it with the sauce that is roasted in his belly; and 
by this means the pike will be kept unbroken and 
complete. Then to the sauce which was within 



338 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

and also that sauce in the pan you are to add a 
fit quantity of the best butter and to squeeze the 
juice of three or four oranges; lastly you may 
either put into the pike with the oysters two 
cloves of garlic and take it whole out when the 
pike is cut off the spit; or to give the sauce a 
haut-gout, let the dish into which you let fall the 
pike be rubbed with it. The using or not of this 
garlic is left to your discretion." 

Surely the pike is the king of fishes when he 
is cooked in that fashion, and I doilbt not a pond 
pickerel thus served becomes at least a prince. 
'This dish of meat," says Walton, ''is too good 
for any but anglers or very honest men." I am 
sure it is none too good for pickerel fishermen, 
and when I think of it I do not wonder that they 
are fat. 



CHAPTER XXVI 

YULE FIRES 

The Peace of the Gods which our Aryan for- 
bears knew descended at Yuletide hovers near al- 
ways as we watch the Yule log, whether in the 
keen air under the stars, or in the tapestried 
shelter about the carefully fended hearth. Man 
loves warmth, but he worships flame, as he al- 
ways has since he first saw it fall from heaven, 
though few of us now make our prayer to it. 
Its flicker in the night will draw us far ; nor are 
we alone in this, for all the wild things of the 
wood come as well and toss back its flare from 
eyes wide with wonder. As they stand at gaze 
before it, unwinking, so do we, letting its word- 
less message touch the primal fonts of peace. 
Around the camp-fire, whether without or within, 
all men are brothers and the breaking of bread 
and the tasting of salt are but the more formal 
symbols of fellowship. Man has made God in 
many images besides his own, but none has found 
a finer symbolism than the ancient Persians, who 

339 



340 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

saw in flame the most ethereal expression of 
beneficence and purity. The race has grown 
older now and we strive to outgrow what we call 
childish things, yet we get new strength for 
dwelling in our higher levels of mature thought 
by dropping back now and then to the primitive 
customs and touching with smiling reverence the 
ancient forms of expression. Here in America 
is the smelting pot of nations and we are uniting 
once more in one race the scattered children of 
the Aryan stock. Each child brings as play 
what was once worship — Saxon, Celtic, Greek or 
Latin, all uniting again in the Christmas celebra- 
tion and each bringing his fagot for the lighting 
of the Yule log, which burns on Christmas Eve. 
Nor does it matter to us now from what tree 
that log is cut, though once it did. The ancient 
Aryans who were forefathers of us all lived very 
near to nature and all their thought was built 
upon her moods. Our Christmas tree with its 
lighted candles and its glow of tinsel ornaments 
is but a tiny image of their sun tree, which began 
to grow with the first lengthening of the days. 
They imaged in this dawning light a pillar of 
fire like a tree trunk that grew and spread over 
the heavens, bringing through spring all the 



YULE FIRES 341 

beneficient gifts of summer. The rays were 
twigs, the glowing clouds foliage, and the sun, 
moon and stars golden fruit that hung from these 
celestial branches. Out of this as the race grew 
came also many another romantic symbolism of 
cherished belief. Among the glowing sunset 
clouds was hung the golden fleece of the Cholchis. 
The golden apples of the Hesperides grew there. 
The very lightning flash was but a celestial mis- 
tletoe growing mysteriously upon the limbs of 
this flame tree as it grows on the oaks in the 
forests beneath which they hunted. Secure in 
our better beliefs, we call their worship supersti- 
tion, but it is well that they had it. It was the 
groping expression of imagination without which 
we are no better than the beasts and would never 
find the really spiritual for which we still seek. 
The most perfect descendant of this sun tree 
was the world-ash of the Scandinavian myth- 
ology, the "Yggsdrasil" of the Edda, in which 
it is described, with the many mystic rites which 
grew up about its worship. Hence in Western 
Europe the proper Yule log was the trunk of an 
ash tree bound with as many green hazel withes 
as possible, the hazel being also a sacred tree with 
these people. As late as thirty years ago, and I 



342 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

doubt not still, the Yule log was thus put to burn 
on Christmas Eve in many an English fireplace. 
There some part of it was to be kept smouldering, 
however low the fire might get, and the blaze of 
the next day was to be relighted from it for the 
twelve days of Christmas. Moreover, from a 
portion of this log should be relighted the Yule 
fire of the next year, that its magic might be per- 
petual and thus all evil spirits be w^arded from 
the house. Not a bad superstition this, the brand 
standing as a constant reminder of the spirit of 
peace and good will lighted in the Christmas fire, 
not to be forgotten till it is kindled anew by the 
relighting of the blaze on the hearth a year hence. 
Here in New England we come, little by little, 
back to these kindly old customs that mean so 
much when the outward observance is informed 
with the thought which it represents. The old 
fireplaces which were once ignominiously built up 
with bricks to give free draft to the air-tight 
stove in its hollow materialism are being re- 
opened, and in them again we light our Yule 
fires. Nor is the spirit banished with the season. 
The blaze from the burning log on the open 
hearth is the kindliest welcome that a room can 
give to him who enters it. In it the rough rind 



YULE FIRES 343. 

of our Puritanism burns away and the glow 
within shines forth as we sit about this primal 
altar of our race, fire^worshipping. 

It was the olden custom for host and guests to 
watch the first burning of this ashen fagot, and 
as the hazel withes one by one burned away the 
severing of the bond was the signal for the pass- 
ing of the flagon, the loosing of the genial hos- 
pitality pent within the breasts of all and set free 
with the flames. Perhaps many who took part 
in these rollicking ceremonials thought they cared 
merely for the cakes and ale, but even they were 
self deceived. It was the genial freeing of the 
spirit of Christmas good-will to all, the fellow- 
ship that touched deepest, though they may not 
have formulated the fact even in their thoughts. 
No wonder that the children, whose clear sight is 
unblurred by too much learning of things which 
are not so, knew that to this fond fire on Christ- 
mas eve must come that patron saint of gifts, 
Santa Claus, even though, the house being locked, 
he must climb down the wide chimney to reach it. 
We have forgotten the shoe, which in the folk 
tales of our earliest forbears of the North Euro- 
pean forests was the symbol of mutually helpful 
deeds of love. The children of these days placed 



344 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

it "by the Yule fire, that Santa Claus might load it 
with gifts. Nowadays we hang the stocking in 
its stead, perhaps because it holds more. 

I do not take it kindly of old Ben Franklin that 
he, almost an hundred years ago, with his Poor 
Richard wisdom taught us to economize our fuel 
by shutting up our fire in stoves, for what we 
gained in the flesh we lost in the spirit, and it is 
good that in the modern house, however mechani- 
cally complicated the heating apparatus, we build 
fireplaces once again that our souls may be 
warmed with the sight of the flame. The im- 
pulse to worship fire still lingers within us and 
though we have better creeds than that of 
Zoroaster and truer spiritual ideals than the 
Parsees we can have no more appealing symbol of 
the purely spiritual than flame. Phlogiston 
might well be another word for soul and we are 
unkind to the old philosophers to take them too 
literally. The alchemists were dreamers rather 
than doers after all, and though it is the fashion 
to laud the doers it is often the dreamers that 
see most clearly. As the flame leapt upward 
from the burning wood they saw in it a rare, pure, 
ethereal substance which they called Phlogiston. 



YULE FIRES 345 

Nor did they yield their theory when Lavoisier 
claimed to disprove it by burning phosphorus in 
oxygen and weighing the result, which was 
heavier than the phosphorus had been. There- 
upon the world derided the alchemists and lauded 
Lavoisier whose experiments laid the founda- 
tion for the intricate science of modern chem- 
istry. For all that, science gives us the truth 
only from one angle and the science of one age 
is often disproved by the science of the next. 
Modern chemists may agree on what happens 
when phosphorus burns, but many a theory of 
Lavoisier's day has been disproved in its turn. 
A thousand scientists have declared flying im- 
possible to man, yet today men fly. Lavoisier 
was right, no doubt. Combustion is the com- 
bination of an element with oxygen. He proved 
that with his chemist's balance. Yet how did he 
prove that some imponderable element does not 
leap from wood in flame ? As well say that when 
a man dies the spirit has not left the body be- 
cause he weighs the same. Watching the falling 
em*bers of the Yule log leap into flames before 
they turn gray, I am apt to think that the in- 
tuition of the alchemists touched a truth that the 
chemical apparatus missed. You cannot meas- 



346 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

ure its reaction on the mind of man or weigl 
the results, but they are there. 

Wood was the sole fuel of the New England 
pioneers for two centuries. In fact in many a 
remote farmhouse it is today, and the fathers 
soon found by use which kind lighted quickest 
and which burned longest and with the most 
steady heat, facts which the subtle analysis of 
the chemists only confirmed. The conifers light 
most readily and burn rapidly with the greatest 
heat in a given time. The hard woods burn long- 
est, some of them retaining fire for a surpris- 
ing length of time under just the right conditions. 
The woodsmen will tell you that the pines light 
easily and burn fiercely because of the pitch they 
contain. This is true but the chemists have 
added another reason. Pine gives off much hy- 
drogen when heated and this light and inflamma- 
ble gas gives much flame. Even in pine wood 
which does not seem resinous to the touch there is 
much of this volatile inflammable material and a 
good store of pine kindlings is a first requisite in 
every well ordered country household. Of the 
hard woods hickory is easily king as a fire holder. 
Yet the oaks, white and red, and the sugar and 



YULE FIRES 347 

black maples are not far behind in value. Our 
American white ash and elm rank well up with 
the oaks, so does beech, while the softer woods 
fall behind. Moreover, trees grown on high, 
droughty, barren soil show greater heating power 
than those of the same variety which happen to 
stand in rich, but moister soil. 

Long ago an American chemist confirmed what 
the practical experience of the woodman had al- 
ready decided. Marcus Bull's table of the heat- 
ing value of American woods is as follows: 
Shagbark hickory, lOO; white oak. Si; red oak, 
68; sugar maple, 60; red maple, 54; white ash, 
yy; chestnut, 52 ; white beech, 65 ; black birch, 63 ; 
white birch, 48; pitch pine, 43; white pine, 42. 

Wood, according to the chemists, is a carbo- 
hydrate and the greater the proportion of carbon 
which it contains the greater is its heat-giving 
value, the greater the proportion of hydrogen 
the greater the output of ruddy flames. ' Yet 
chemists, who are so sure the alchemists had no 
ground for their beliefs, do not always agree 
among themselves. Professor Bull's table of the 
heat-giving properties of the various woods has 
been declared inaccurate by other chemists, in 
spite of the fact that experience in actual use 



348 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 



I 



bears it out in many particulars. Again, either 
the chemists of Europe are at variance with ours 
or else their trees are, for Gottlieb's table of the 
heat-giving properties of European trees of 
similar varieties turns ours upside down. Gott- 
lieb's table of calorics puts oak at the bottom of 
the list and pine at the top. It is as follows: 
Oak, 46.20; ash, 47.11 ; elm, 47.28; beech, 47.74; 
birch, 47.71 ; fir, 50.35 ; pine, 50.85. 

There is a certain interest in all this, but to 
him who lights the Yule log on Chrismas Eve it 
probably matters little. He knows that pine will 
kindle his fire readily and that one of the hard 
woods will hold it longest. He knows that out 
of the leaping flames, whether they be composed 
of phlogiston or incandescent hydrogen, loved 
fancies flashed into the minds of the elder race, 
born of the flicker of flame on the imagination 
of a primitive people, backed by dark forests, 
night and wind-riding storms. If he have the 
hardihood let him light his Yule log in the 
winter twilight of the snowy woods. He will 
do well to pick a spot where a dense growth of 
pines shelters him from the wind and a steep 
ledge makes for him fireplace and chimney at 
once, Then it does not matter if the snow is 



YULE FIRES 349 

deep on the ground and the air filled with flying 
flakes; his hearth may soon glow with comfort. 
Even from a materialistic point of view the an- 
cients did well to worship fire. Out of it was to 
come more or less directly all the material 
progress of the race toward civilization. 

The pines, whose presence in the woods is al- 
ways a benediction, stand ready with the best 
fire kindlings in the world. Their twigs light at 
the flare of a match. The larger limbs will fire 
from these and send flames leaping high. On a 
fire well started thus between backlog and fore- 
stick he may pile such dry, hard wood as he has at 
hand. The forest will give him plenty if he is on 
friendly terms with it. The forest will give him 
more, too. Out of its mysterious darkness will 
slip easily into his mind the old-time loved and 
half-forgotten legends that grew out of the 
winter night in the twilight of the early days of 
the Aryan race. At the time of the winter sol- 
stice it was the custom of the gods to leave their 
dwellings in heaven and come down to earth. In 
the shout of the wind in the pines he may well 
hear Wotan riding overhead in his gray cloak 
and broad-brimmed hat pressed low over his face. 



350 OLD PLYMOUTH TRAILS 

He may glimpse his white steed whirling by and 
see plainly in the upflaring light of his fire the 
army of white souls that scurries behind the 
winter-god as he rides on his way. Black eagles 
fly with him and the wolves of the air gallop on 
before. The world-ash was a gigantic evergreen 
in whose branches were the abodes of giants and 
dwarfs as well as men and gods. Screened by 
night within the forest this tree may well be near 
with the springs of being and non-being within 
its roots and the Nornen sitting by, silent and 
grave. He may catch the gleam of the eyes of 
Loki as the firelight glints on the frost crystals 
among the snow-laden branches. Thus easily 
does a thousand years of civilization slip f rorfi us 
when face to face with night and the forest. 

Yet if night and the winter ghosts of old ride 
just beyond the circle of his firelight, within it he 
is in the magic ring of comfort and safety. 
Around the Yule logs of centuries the race has 
warmed its heart as well as its hands, its soul 
as well as its body, and the old gods of terror 
have become the saints of good will. Out of the 
winter night Wotan steps into the light of the 
Yule fire, transformed into St. Nicholas, the very 
spirit of genial generosity. If we will go from 



YULE FIRES 351 

our forest vigil to the hearth in any home we will 
find the world-ash, no longer weird and awesome 
with the fates sitting silent at its foot, but trans- 
formed into the very symbol of light and happi- 
ness and cheer, the Christmas tree. In the light 
of twenty centuries around the Yule log we have 
forgotten to be afraid and have made out of our 
weird dreams friendly fancies. Where once the 
'fearsome dragon twined about the sun-tree we 
simulate his folds with strings of pop-corn. The 
unquenchable lights that flamed upon its twigs 
are now twinkling candles. The sun, moon and 
stars that once were the symbolic fruit grow 
again in tinsel ornament and, where we follow 
the legend closely, Eikthyner the stag, Heidrun 
the goat, Freyer's boar and Wotan's ravens and 
wolves, are hung in tiny effigy as confectioner's 
sweets. Thus with the Christmas tree alight and 
with the Yule log on the hearth we symbolize the 
old worship of the sun-tree and of fire through 
which we have grown to the better faith of which 
Christmas is one great commemorative festival. 



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