My Out-Door Study
THE noontide of the summer-day is past, when all Nature slumbers, and when the ancients feared to sing, lest the great god Pan should be awakened. Soft changes, the gradual shifting of every shadow on every leaf, begin to show the waning hours. Ineffectual thunder-storms have gathered and gone by, hopelessly defeated. The floating-bridge is trembling and resounding beneath the pressure of one heavy wagon, and the quiet fishermen change their places to avoid the tiny ripple that glides stealthily to their feet above the half-submerged planks. Down the glimmering lake there are miles of silence and still waters and green shores, overhung with a multitudinous and scattered fleet of purp'e and golden clouds, now furling their idle sails and drifting away into the vast harbor of the South. Voices of birds, hushed first by noon and then by possibilities of tempest, cautiously begin once more, leading on the infinite melodies of the June afternoon. As the freshened air invites them forth, so the smooth and stainless water summons us. “ Put your hand upon the oar,” says Charon in the old play to Bacchus, “and you shall hear the sweetest songs.” The doors of the boathouse swing softly open, and the slender wherry, like a water-snake, steals silently in the wake of the dispersing clouds.
The woods are hazy, as if the warm sunbeams had melted in among the interstices of the foliage and spread a soft film throughout the whole. The sky seems to reflect the water, and the water the sky ; both are roseate with color, both are darkened with clouds, and between them both, as the boat recedes, the floating-bridge hangs suspended, with its motionless fishermen and its moving team. The wooded islands are poised upon the lake, each belted with a paler tint of softer wave. The air seems fine and palpitating ; the drop of an oar in a distant row-lock, the sound of a hammer on a dismantled boat, pass into some region of mist and shadows, and form a metronome for delicious dreams.
Every summer I launch my boat to seek some realm of enchantment beyond all the sordidness and sorrow of earth, and never yet did I fail to ripple with my prow at least the outskirts of those magic waters. What spell has fame or wealth to enrich this midday blessedness with a joy the more? Yonder barefoot boy, as he drifts silently in his punt beneath the drooping branches of yonder vine-clad bank, has a bliss which no Astor can buy with money, no Seward conquer with votes,— which yet is no monopoly of his, and to which time and experience only add a more subtile and conscious charm. The rich years were given us to increase, not to impair, these cheap felicities. Sad or sinful is the life of that man who finds not the heavens bluer and the waves more musical in maturity than in childhood. Time is a severe alembic of youthful joys, no doubt; we exhaust book after book and leave Shakspeare unopened; we grow fastidious in men and women; all the rhetoric, all the logic, we fancy we have heard before; we have seen the pictures, we have listened to the symphonies; but what has been done by all the art and literature of the world towards describing one summer day ? The most exhausting effort brings us no nearer to it. than to the blue sky which is its dome; our words are shot up against it like arrows, and fall back helpless. Literary amateurs go the tour of the globe to renew their stock of materials, when they do not yet know a bird or a bee or a blossom beside their homestead-door; and in the hour of their greatest success they have not an horizon to their life so large as that of yon boy in his punt. All that is purchasable in the capitals of the world is not to be weighed in comparison with the simple enjoyment that may be crowded into one hour of sunshine. What can place or power do here ? “ Who could be before me, though the palate of Cæsar cracked and split with emperors, while I, sitting in silence on a cliff of Rhodes, watched the sun as he swung his golden censer athwart the heavens?"
It is pleasant to observe a sort of confused and latent recognition of all this in the instinctive sympathy which is alwavs rendered to any indication of out-door pursuits. How cordially one sees the eyes of all travellers turn to the man who enters the railroad-station with a fowling-piece in hand, or the boy with water-lilies ! There is a momentary sensation of the freedom of the woods, a whiff of oxygen for the anxious moneychangers. How agreeably sounds the news— to all but his creditors —-that the lawyer or the merchant has locked his office-door and gone fishing ! The American temperament needs at this moment nothing so much as that wholesome training of semi-rural life which reared Hampden and Cromwell to assume at one grasp the sovereignty of England, and which has ever since served as the foundation of England’s greatest ability. The best thoughts and purposes seem ordained to come to human beings beneath the open sky, as the ancients fabled that Pan found the goddess Ceres when he was engaged in the chase, whom no other of the gods could find when seeking seriously. The little I have gained from colleges and libraries has certainly not worn so well as the little I learned in childhood of the habits of plant, bird, and insect. That “ weight and sanity of thought,” which Coleridge so finely makes the crowning attribute of Wordsworth, is in no way so well matured and cultivated as in the society of Nature.
There may be extremes and affectations, and Mary Lamb declared that Wordsworth held it doubtful if a dweller in towns had a soul to be saved. During the various phases of transcendental idealism among ourselves, in the last twenty years, the love of Nature has at times assumed an exaggerated and even a pathetic aspect, in the morbid attempts of youths and maidens to make it a substitute for vigorous thought and action, — a lion endeavoring to dine on grass and green leaves. In some cases this mental chlorosis reached such a height as almost to nauseate one with Nature, when in the society of the victims ; and surfeited companions felt inclined to rush to the treadmill immediately, or get chosen on the Board of Selectmen, or plunge into any conceivable drudgery, in order to feel that there was still work enough in the universe to keep it sound and healthy. But this, after all, was exceptional and transitory, and our American life still needs, beyond all things else, the more habitual cultivation of out-door habits.
Probably the direct ethical influence of natural objects may be overrated. Nature is not didactic, but simply healthy. She helps everything to its legitimate development, but applies no goads, and forces on us no sharp distinctions. Her wonderful calmness, refreshing the whole soul, must aid both conscience and intellect in the end, but sometimes lulls both temporarily, when immediate issues are pending. The waterfall cheers and purifies infinitely, but it marks no moments, has no reproaches for indolence, forces to no immediate decision, offers unbounded to-morrows, and the man of action must tear himself away, when the time comes, since the work will not be done for him. “ The natural day is very calm, and will hardly reprove our indolence.”
And yet the more bent any man is upon action, the more profoundly he needs the calm lessons of Nature to preserve his equilibrium. The radical himself needs nothing so much as fresh air. The world is called conservative ; but it is far easier to impress a plausible thought on the complaisance of others than to retain an unfaltering faith in it for ourselves. The most dogged reformer distrusts himself every little while, and says inwardly, like Luther, “ Art thou alone wise ? ” So he is compelled to exaggerate, in the effort to hold his own. The community is bored by the conceit and egotism of the innovators ; so it is by that of poets and artists, orators and statesmen ; but if we knew how heavily ballasted all these poor fellows need to be, to keep an even keel amid so many conflicting tempests of blame and praise, we should hardly reproach them. But the simple enjoyments of out-door life, costing next to nothing, tend to equalize all vexations. What matter, if the Governor removes you from office? he cannot remove you from the lake; and if readers or customers will not bite, the pickerel will. We must keep busy, of course; yet we cannot transform the world except very slowly, and we can best preserve our patience in the society of Nature, who does her work almost as imperceptibly as we.
And for literary training, especially, the influence of natural beauty is simply priceless. Under the present educational systems, we need grammars and languages far less than a more thorough outdoor experience. On this flowery bank, on this ripple-marked shore, are the true literary models. How many living authors have ever attained to writing a single page which could be for one moment compared, for the simplicity and grace of its structure, with this green spray of wild woodbine or yonder white wreath of blossoming clematis ? A finely organized sentence should throb and palpitate like the most delicate vibrations of the summer air. We talk of literature as if it were a mere matter of rule and measurement, a series of processes long since brought to mechanical perfection : but it would be less incorrect to say that it all lies in the future; tried by the outdoor standard, there is as yet no literature, but only glimpses and guideboards ; no writer has yet succeeded in sustaining, through more than some single occasional sentence, that fresh and perfect charm. If by the training of a lifetime one could succeed in producing one continuous page of perfect cadence, it would be a life well spent, and such a literary artist would fall short of Nature’s standard in quantity only, not in quality.
It is one sign of our weakness, also, that we commonly assume Nature to be a rather fragile and merely ornamental thing, and suited for a model of the graces only. But her seductive softness is the last climax of magnificent strength. The same mathematical law winds the leaves around the stem and the planets round the sun. The same law of crystallization rules the slight-knit snow-flake and the hard foundations of the earth. The thistle-down floats secure upon the same summer zephyrs that are woven into the tornado. The dew-drop holds within its transparent cell the same electric fire which charges the thunder-cloud. In the softest tree or the airiest waterfall, the fundamental lines are as lithe and muscular as the crouching haunches of a leopard ; and without a pencil vigorous enough to render these, no mere mass of foam or foliage, however exquisitely finished, can tell the story. Lightness of touch is the crowning test of power.
Yet Nature does not work by single spasms only. That chestnut spray is not an isolated and exhaustive effort of creative beauty : look upward and see its sisters rise with pile above pile of fresh and stately verdure, till tree meets sky in a dome of glorious blossom, the whole as perfect as the parts, the least part as perfect as the whole. Studying the details, it seems as if Nature were a scries of costly fragments with no coherency,— as if she would never encourage us to do anything systematically,—would tolerate no method but her own, and yet had none of her own,—were as abrupt in her transitions from oak to maple as the heroine who went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf to make an apple-pie; while yet there is no conceivable human logic so close and inexorable as her connections. How rigid, how flexible are, for instance, the laws of perspective ! If one could learn to make his statements as firm and unswerving as the horizon-line, — his continuity of thought as marked, yet as unbroken, as yonder soft gradations by which the eye is lured upward from lake to wood, from wood to hill, from bill to heavens, — what more bracing tonic could literary culture demand ? As it is, Art misses the parts, yet does not grasp the whole.
Literature also learns from Nature the use of materials: either to select only the choicest and rarest, or to transmute coarse to fine by skill in using. How perfect is the delicacy with which the woods and fields are kept, throughout the year ! All these millions of living creatures born every season, and born to die ; yet where are the dead bodies ? We never see them. Buried beneath the earth by tiny nightly sextons, sunk beneath the waters, dissolved into the air, or distilled again and again as food for other organizations, — all have had their swift resurrection. Their existence blooms again in these violet-petals, glitters in the burnished beauty of these golden beetles, or enriches the veery's song. It, is only out of doors that even death and decay become beautiful. The model farm, the most luxurious house, have their regions of unsightliness; but the fine chemistry of Nature is constantly clearing away all its impurities before our eyes, and yet so delicately that we never suspect the process. The most exquisite work of literary art exhibits a certain crudeness and coarseness, when we turn to it from Nature,— as the smallest cambric needle appears rough and jagged, when compared through the magnifier with the tapering fineness of the insect’s sting.
Once separated from Nature, literature recedes into metaphysics, or dwindles into novels. How ignoble seems the current material of London literary life, for instance, compared with the noble simplicity which, a half-century ago, made the Lake Country an enchanted land forever ! Is it worth a voyage to England to sup with Thackeray in the Pot Tavern ? Compare the “ enormity of pleasure ” which De Quincey says Wordsworth derived from the simplest natural object with the serious protest of Wilkie Collins against the affectation of caring about Nature at all. “ Is it not strange, says this most unhappy man, " to see how little real hold the objects of the natural world amidst which we live can gain on our hearts and minds ? We go to Nature for comfort in joy and sympathy in trouble, only in books ..... What share have the attractions of Nature ever had in the pleasurable or painful interests and emotions of ourselves or our friends ? .... There is surely a reason for this want of inborn sympathy between the creature and the creation around it,”
Leslie says of “the most original landscape-painter he knew,” meaning Constable, that, whenever he sat down in the fields to sketch, he endeavored to forget that he had ever seen a picture. In literature this is easy, the descriptions are so few and so faint. When Wordsworth was fourteen, he stopped one day by the wayside to observe the dark outline of an oak against the western sky; and he says that he was at that moment struck with “the infinite variety of natural appearances which had been unnoticed by the poets of any age or country,” so far as he was acquainted with them, and “ made a resolution to supply in some degree the deficiency.” He spent a long life in studying and telling these beautiful wonders; and yet, so vast is the sum of them, they seem almost as undescribed as before, and men to be still as content with vague or conventional representations. On this continent, especially, people fancied that all must be tame and second-hand, everything long since duly analysed and distributed and put up in appropriate quotations, and nothing left for us poor American children but a preoccupied universe. And yet Thoreau camps down by Walden Pond and shows us that absolutely nothing in Nature has ever yet been described,— not a bird nor a berry of the woods, nor a drop of water, nor a spicula of ice, nor summer, nor winter, nor sun, nor star.
Indeed, no person can portray Nature from any slight or transient acquaintance. A reporter cannot step out between the sessions of a caucus and give a racy abstract of the landscape. It may consume the best hours of many days to certify for one’s self the simplest out-door fact, but every such piece of knowledge is intellectually worth the time. Even the driest and barest book of Natural History is good and nutritious, so far as it goes, if it represents genuine acquaintance ; one can find summer in January by poring over the Latin catalogues of Massachusetts plants and animals in Hitchcock’s Report. The most commonplace out-door society has the same attraction. Every one of those old outlaws who haunt our New England ponds and marshes, watersoaked and soakers of something else,— intimate with the pure fluid in that familiarity which breeds contempt, — has yet a wholesome side when you explore his knowledge of frost and freshet, pickerel and musk-rat, and is exceedingly good company while you can keep him beyond scent of the tavern. Any intelligent farmer’s boy can give you some narrative of out-door observation which, so far as it goes, fulfils Milton’s definition of poetry, “ simple, sensuous, passionate.” He may not write sonnets to the lake, but he will walk miles to bathe in it ; he may not notice the sunsets, but he knows where to search for the black-bird’s nest. How surprised the school-children looked, to be sure, when the Doctor of Divinity from the city tried to sentimentalize, in addressing them, about “ the bobolink in the woods ” ! They knew that the darling of the meadow had no more personal acquaintance with the woods than was exhibited by the preacher.
But the preachers are not much worse than the authors. The prosaic Buckle, to be sure, admits that the poets have in all time been consummate observers, and that their observations have been as valuable as those of the men of science ; and yet we look even to the poets for very casual and occasional glimpses of Nature only, not for any continuous reflection of her glory. Thus, Chaucer is perfumed with early spring; Homer resounds like the sea; in the Greek Anthology the sun always shines on the fisherman’s cottage by the beach ; we associate the Vishnu Purana with lakes and lotuses, Keats with nightingales in forest dim, while the long grass waving on the lonely heath is the last memorial of the fading fame of Ossian. Of course Shakspeare’s omniscience included all natural phenomena ; but the rest, great or small, associate themselves with some special aspects, and not with the daily atmosphere. Coming to our own times, one must quarrel with Ruskin as taking rather the artist’s view of Nature, selecting the available bits and dealing rather patronizingly with the whole; and one is tempted to charge even Emerson, as he somewhere charges Wordsworth, with not being of a temperament quite liquid and musical enough to admit the lull vibration of the great harmonies. The three human foster-children who have been taken nearest into Nature’s bosom, perhaps, — an odd triad, surely, for the whimsical nursing mother to select, — are Wordsworth, Bettine Brentano, and Thoreau. Is it yielding to an individual preference too far, to say, that there seems almost a generic difference between these three and any' others, — however wide be the specific differences among themselves, — to say, that, after all, they in their several pȧths have attained to an habitual intimacy with Nature, and the rest have not ?
Yet what wonderful achievements have some of the fragmentary artists performed ! Some of Tennyson’s word-pictures, for instance, bear almost as much study as the landscape. One afternoon, last spring, I had been walking through a copse of young white birches,—their leaves scarce yet apparent, — over a ground delicate with wood-anemones, moist and mottled with dog’s-tooth-violet leaves, and spangled with the delicate clusters of that shy creature, the Claytonia or Spring Beauty. All this was floored with last year’s faded foliage, giving a singular bareness and whiteness to the foreground. Suddenly, as if entering a cavern, I stepped through the edge of all this, into a dark little amphitheatre beneath a hemlockgrove, where the afternoon sunlight struck broadly through the trees upon a tiny stream and a miniature swamp,—this last being intensely and luridly green, yet overlaid with the pale gray of last year’s reeds, and absolutely flaming with the gayest yellow light from great clumps of cowslips. The illumination seemed perfectly weird and dazzling; the spirit of the place appeared live, wild, fantastic, almost human. Now open your Tennyson : —
in sioamps and hollows gray.''’
Our cowslip is the English marsh-marigold.
History is a grander poetry, and it is often urged that the features of Nature in America must seem tame because they have no legendary wreaths to decorate them. It is perhaps hard for those of us who are untravelled to appreciate how densely even the ruralities of Europe are overgrown with this ivy of associations. Thus, it is fascinating to hear that the great French forests of Fontainebleau and St. Germain are full of historic trees, — the oak of Charlemagne, the oak of Clovis, of Queen Blanche, of Henri Quatre, of Sully,— the alley of Richelieu,— the rendezvous of St. Hérem, — the star of Lamballe and of the Princesses, a star being a point where several paths or roads converge. It is said that every topographical work upon these forests has turned out a history of the French monarchy. Yet surely we lose nearly as much as we gain by this subordination of imperishable beauty to the perishable memories of man. It may not be wholly unfortunate, that, in the absence of those influences which come to older nations from ruins and traditions, we must go more directly to Nature. Art may either rest upon other Art, or it may rest directly upon the original foundation ; the one is easier, the other more valuable. Direct dependence on Nature leads to deeper thought and affords the promise of far fresher results. Why should I wish to fix my study in Heidelberg Castle, when I possess the unexhausted treasures of this out-door study here ?
The walls of my study are of everchanging verdure, and its roof and floor of ever-varying blue. I never enter it without a new heaven above and new thoughts below. The lake has no lofty shores and no level ones, but a series of undulating hills, fringed with woods from end to end. The profaning axe may sometimes come near the margin, and one may hear the whetting of the scythe; but no cultivated land abuts upon the main lake, though beyond the narrow woods there are here and there glimpses of rye-fields that wave like rolling mist. Graceful islands rise from the quiet waters,— Grape Island, Grass Island, Sharp Pine Island, and the rest, baptized with simple names by departed generations of farmers,— all wooded and bushy and trailing with festoonery of vines. Here and there the banks are indented, and one may pass beneath drooping chestnutleaves and among alder-branches into some secret sanctuary of stillness. The emerald edges of these silent tarns are starred with dandelions which have strayed here, one scarce knows how, from their foreign home; the buck-bean perchance grows in the water, or the Rhodora fixes here one of its shy campingplaces, or there are whole skies of lupine on the sloping banks; — the cat-bird builds its nest beside us, the yellow-bird above, the wood-thrush sings late and the whippoorwill later, and sometimes the scarlet tanager and his golden-haired bride send a gleam of the tropics through these leafy aisles.
Sometimes I rest in a yet more secluded place amid the waters, where a little wooded island holds a small lagoon in the centre, just wide enough for the wherry to turn round. The entrance lies between two hornbeam trees, which stand close to the brink, spreading over it their thorn-like branches and their shining leaves. Within there is perfect shelter; the island forms a high circular bank, like a coral reef, and shuts out the wind and the passing boats; the surface is paved with leaves of lily and pondweed, and the boughs above are full of song. No matter what white caps may crest the blue waters of the pond, which here widens out to its broadest reach, there is always quiet here. A few oar-strokes distant lies a dam or water-break, where the whole lake is held under control by certain distant mills, towards which a sluggish stream goes winding on through miles of waterlilies. The old gray timbers of the dam are the natural resort of every boy or boatman within their reach ; some come in pursuit of pickerel, some of turtles, some of bull-frogs, some of lilies, some of bathing. It is a good place for the last desideratum, and it is well to leave here the boat tethered to the vines which overhang the cove, and perform a sacred and Oriental ablution beneath the sunny afternoon.
Oh, radiant and divine afternoon! The poets profusely celebrate silver evenings and golden mornings; but what floods on floods of beauty steep the earth and gladden it in the first hours of day's decline ! The exuberant rays reflect and multiply themselves from every leaf and blade; the cows lie upon the hill-side, with their broad peaceful backs painted into the landscape; the hum of insects, “ tiniest bells on the garment of silence,” fills the air; the gorgeous butterflies doze upon the thistle-blooms till they almost fall from the petals; the air is full of warm fragrance from the wild-grape clusters; the grass is burning hot beneath the naked feet in sunshine, and cool as water in the shade. Diving from this overhanging beam, — for Ovid evidently meant that Midas to be cured must dive,—
one finds as kindly a reception from the water as in childish days, and as safe a shelter in the green dressing-room afterwards ; and the patient wherry floats near by, in readiness for a reëmbarkation.
Here a word seems needed, unprofossionally and non-technically, upon boats, — these being the sole seats provided for occupant or visitor in my out-door study. When wherries first appeared in this peaceful inland community, the novel proportions occasioned remark. Facetious bystanders inquired sarcastically whether that thing were expected to carry more than one, — plainly implying by labored emphasis that it would occasionally be seen tenanted by even less than that number. Transcendental friends inquired, with more refined severity, if the proprietor expected to meditate in that thing? This doubt at least seemed legitimate. Meditation seems to belong to sailing rather than rowing; there is something so gentle and unintrusive in gliding effortless beneath overhanging branches and along the trailing edges of clematis thickets; — what a privilege of fairy-land is this noiseless prow, looking in and out of one flowery cove after another, scarcely stirring the turtle from his log, and leaving no wake behind ! It seemed as if all the process of rowing had too much noise and bluster, and as if the sharp slender wherry, in particular, were rather too pert and dapper to win the confidence of the woods and waters. Time has dispelled the fear. As I rest poised upon the oars above some submerged shallow, diamonded with ripple-broken sunbeams, the fantastic Notonecta or water-boatman rests upon his oars below, and I see that his proportions anticipated the wherry, as honeycombs antedated the problem of the hexagonal cell. While one of us rests, so does the other; and when one shoots away rapidly above the water, the other does the same beneath. For the time, as our motions seem the same, so with our motives, — my enjoyment certainly not less, with the conveniences of humanity thrown in.
But the sun is declining low. The club-boats are out, and from island to island in the distance these shafts of youthful life shoot swiftly across. There races some swift Atalanta, with no apple to fall in her path but some soft and spotted oak-apple from an overhanging tree; there the Phantom, with a crew white and ghostlike in the distance, glimmers in and out behind the headlands, while yonder wherry glides lonely across the smooth expanse. The voices of all these oarsmen are dim and almost inaudible, being so far away; but one would scarcely wish that distance should annihilate the ringing laughter of these joyous girls, who come gliding, in a safe and heavy boat, they and some blue dragon-flies together, around yonder wooded point.
Many a summer afternoon have I rowed joyously with these same maidens beneath these steep and garlanded shores; many a time have they pulled the heavy four-oar, with me as coxswain at the helm, — the said patient steersman being ofttimes insulted by classical allusions from rival boats, satirically comparing him to an indolent Venus drawn by doves, while the oarswomcn in turn were likened to Minerva with her feet upon a tortoise. Many were the disasters in the earlier days of feminine training ; — first of toilet, straw hats blowing away, hair coming down, hair-pins strewing the floor of the boat, gloves commonly happening to be off at the precise moment of starting, and trials of speed impaired by somebody’s oar catching in somebody’s dress-pocket. Then the actual difficulties of handling the long and heavy oars, — the first essays at feathering, with a complicated splash of air and water, as when a wild-duck in rising swims and flies together, and uses neither element handsomely,—the occasional pulling of a particularly vigorous stroke through the atmosphere alone, and at other times the compensating disappearance of nearly the whole oar beneath the liquid surface, as if some Uncle Kühleborn had grasped it, while our Undine by main strength tugged it from the beguiling wave. But with what triumphant abundance of merriment were these preliminary disasters repaid, and how soon outgrown ! What “ time ” we sometimes made, when nobody happened to be near with a watch, and how successfully we tossed oars in saluting, when the world looked on from a pic-nic ! We had our applauses, too. To be sure, owing to the age and dimensions of the original barge, we could not command such a burst of enthusiasm as when the young men shot by us in their race-boat;— but then, as one of the girls justly remarked, we remained longer in sight.
And many a day, since promotion to a swifter craft, have they rowed with patient stroke down the lovely lake, still attended by their guide, philosopher, and coxswain, — along banks where herds of young birch-trees overspread the sloping valley and ran down in a blaze of sunshine to the rippling water, — or through the Narrows, where some breeze rocked the boat till trailing shawls and ribbons were water-soaked, and the bold little foam would even send a daring drop over the gunwale, to play at ocean, — or to Davis’s Cottage, where a whole parterre of lupines bloomed to the water’s edge, as if relics of some ancient gardenbower of a forgotten race, — or to the dam by Lily Pond, there to hunt among the stones for snakes’ eggs, each empty shell cut crosswise, where the young creatures had made their first fierce bite into the universe outside, — or to some island, where white violets bloomed fragrant and lonely, separated by relentless breadths of water from their shore-born sisters, until mingled in their visitors’ bouquets, — then up the lake homeward again at nightfall, the boat all decked with clematis, clethra, laurel, azalea, or water-lilies, while purple sunset clouds turned forth their golden linings for drapery above our heads, and then unrolling sent northward long roseate wreaths to outstrip our loitering speed, and reach the floating-bridge before us.
It is nightfall now. One by one the birds grow silent, and the soft dragonflies, children of the day, are fluttering noiselessly to their rest beneath the under sides of drooping leaves. From shadowy coves the evening air is thrusting forth a thin film of mist to spread a white floor above the waters. The gathering darkness deepens the quiet of the lake, and bids us, at least for this time, to forsake it. “ De soir fontaines, de matin montaignes,” says the old French proverb,— Morning for labor, evening for repose.