Page images
PDF
EPUB

grasses in May. The water-cresses may be seen growing freshly at the bottom of their channels, and the ferns are beautiful among the shelving rocks, through which the waters make their gurgling tour. When the sun, at noonday, penetrates into these green and sheltered recesses, before the snow has come upon the earth, when the pines are waving overhead, the laurels clustering with the undergrowth, and the dewberry (evergreen-blackberry) trailing at our feet, we can easily imagine ourselves surrounded by the green luxuriance of summer. Nature seems to have prepared these pleasant evergreen retreats, that they might afford to her pious votaries a shelter during their winter walks, and a prospect to gladden their eyes, when they go out to admire her works, and pay the homage of a humble heart to the great Architect of the universe.

Nor is the season without its harvest. The bayberry, or false myrtle, in dry places gleams with dense clusters of greenish-white berries, that almost conceal the branches by their profusion; the pale azure berries of the juniper are sparkling brightly in the midst of their sombre evergreen foliage; and the prinos or black-alder bushes, glowing with the brightest scarlet fruit, and resembling at a distance pyramids of flame, are irregularly distributed over the wooded swamps.

While the barberries hang in wilted and blackened clusters from their bushes in the uplands, the cranberries in the peat-meadows shine out like glistening rubies, from their masses of delicate and tangled vinery. In the open places of the woods the earth is mantled with the dark glossy green leaves of the gaultheria, half concealing its drooping crimson berries; and the mitchella, of a more curious habit, each berry being formed by the united germs of two flowers, (twins upon the same stem,) adorns similar places with fairer foliage and brighter fruit.

There is a sort of perpetual spring in these protected arbors and recesses, where we may at all times behold the springing herbs and sprouting shrubbery, when they are not hidden under the snow-drift. The American hare feeds upon the foliage of these tender herbs, when she exposes herself at this season to the aim of the gunner. She cannot so well provide for her winter wants as the squirrel, whose food, contained in a husk or a nutshell, may be abundantly hoarded in her subterranean granaries. The hare in her garment of fur, protected from the cold, feels no dread of the climate; and man is almost the only enemy who threatens her, when she comes out timidly to browse upon the scant leaves of the white clover, or the heath-like foliage of the hypericum.

But the charm of a winter's walk is derived chiefly from the flowerless plants, — the ferns and lichens of the rocks, the mosses of the dells and meres, and the trailing wintergreens of the pastoral hills. Many species of these plants seem to revel in cold weather, as if it were congenial to their health and wants. To them has Nature intrusted the care of dressing all her barren places in verdure, and of preserving a grateful remnant of summer beauty in the dreary places of winter's abode. And it is not to be wondered that, to the fanciful minds of every nation, the woods have always seemed to be peopled with fairy spirits, by whose unseen hands the earth is garlanded with lovely wreaths of verdure at a time when not a flower is to be found upon the hills or in the meadow.

Whether we are adapted to nature, or nature to us, it is not to be denied that on the face of the earth those objects that appear to be natural are more congenial to our feelings than others strictly artificial. The lichencovered rocks, that form so remarkable a feature of the hills surrounding our coast, are far more pleasing to every man's sight than similar rocks without this garniture. All this may be partly attributed to the different associations connected with the two, in our habitual trains of thought; the one presenting to us the evidence of antiquity, the other only the disagreeable idea of that defacement so generally attendant on the progress of pioneer settlements. Hence the lichens and mosses, upon the surface of the rocks, have an expression which has always been eagerly copied by the painter, and is associated with many romantic images, like the clambering ivy upon the walls of an ancient ruined tower.

At this season, when the greater part of the landscape is either covered with snow, or with the seared and brown herbage of winter, this vegetation of the rocks has a singular interest. In summer the rocks are bald in their appearance, while all around them is fresh and lively. In winter, on the other hand, they are covered with a pale verdure, interspersed with many brilliant colors, while the surrounding surface is a comparative blank. Some objects are intrinsically beautiful, others are beautiful by suggestion, others again by contrast. This latter principle causes many things to appear delightful to the eye at one period, which at other times would, by comparison with brighter objects, seem dull and lifeless. Hence on a winter's ramble, when there is no upon the ground, our attention is fixed, not only upon the lichens and evergreens, but likewise on the bright purple glow that proceeds from every plat of living shrubbery which is spread out in the wild. This appearance is beautiful by contrast with the dull sombre hues of the surrounding faded herbage, and it is likewise strongly suggestive of the life and vigor of Nature.

snow

BIRDS OF THE SEA AND THE SHORE.

In my preceding essays I have treated of birds chiefly as they are endowed with song, or have some particularly interesting trait of character. But I must not omit those birds which may be especially regarded as picturesque objects in landscape. A large proportion of these are the birds of the sea and the shore. They are not singing-birds. Nature has not provided them with the gift of song, the music of which would be lost amidst the roaring and dashing of waves. Neither do I make them the subject of my remarks as objects of Natural History, but rather as actors in the romance of Nature. I treat of them as they affect the pleasant solitudes they frequent, and increase their impressiveness chiefly by their graceful or singular flight. To the motions of birds, no less than to their beauty of plumage and to the sounds of their voices, are we indebted for a great part of the interest we feel in our native land. The more we study them, the more shall we feel that in whatever direction we turn our observations, we may extend them to infinity. There is no limit to the study of Nature. Even a subject so apparently insignificant as the flight of birds may open the eyes to new beauties in the aspects of Nature and new sources of rational delight.

Nothing can exceed the gracefulness we observe in the flight of many birds of the sea, from the Osprey, that vaults in the upper region of the clouds, down to the little Sandpiper, that charms the youthful sportsman by its merry movements and circuitous flights. These little birds

[graphic][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »