The Red Leaves on the Snow


THE years monotonous ? The same old seasons, and weathers, and aspects of nature ? Never anything new to admire or wonder at ? The monotony is in our eyesight, which goes on seeing nothing but the common and invariable things ; simply because, from long familiarity, these are the easy things to see. But these are only the frame of the picture; the picture itself is never twice alike.

Suppose, to test it, we should open a ledger account with Nature. It should be headed, The Face of Nature in Account with an Exacting Mind. On the left-hand page should be entered the Dr. side of the account; namely, to all the phenomena of the year that we could fairly stigmatize as the “ same everlasting old thing.” On the right-hand page should go the Cr. ; namely, by all the aspects of land, or sea, or sky, that in any candor we must confess never before to have been noticed by us.

For example, “ February 3d. Dr. To a pale sunrise, going into a low-spirited forenoon of leaden cloud. Have seen this hundreds of times before.” Or, “ August 20th. Dr. To a hot afternoon. Sleepy. Palm-leaf fans. Shower at five o’clock. Bumbles and boombles of approaching thunder. Scalding water. One sharp flash and crack. Three rolling peals, going r, r, r, bang ; r, r, r, boong ; br, r, bong, BANG, br, r, m, m, m. Same old thunder-shower.”

Of the Cr. side of the account, the items which led me to begin this paper, and which I am about to mention, will furnish a good example.

It is the 7th of November. The first snow came in the night, and this morn ing we had that annual experience of drawing the curtain, and looking out a little shiveringly, and saying, “ A white world! Winter has come, sure enough.”

Ten inches of snow ; and, all day, more powdered down in successive puffs and squalls. One minute, all blue sky, and the sun flashing on everything; the next, you see the northwest obscured, and the dun cloud rapidly covering the whole heavens, its upper edge fringed with light snow-scud brushed out before it in wisps and flying locks. Suddenly the air is thick with the falling and whirling flakes. It is like the glass toy box we had when children, which we turned upside down, and scattered a thick white shower on the wooden trees and the whittled chalet and herdsmen.

These gusty squalls have brought down the last “ flying gold” of the autumn trees. Yesterday the maples, and oaks, and the great round-topped linden on the lawn were still full of their wealth of color. There it lies now on the snow, — smouldering reds and yellows, burning with dusky blushes on (not in, as ordinarily) the level floor of the white cold. This is what I meant I had not seen before : the autumn lying in this literal fashion on the winter’s breast. Commonly the carpet of the fallen leaves is all down before the cold white feet of the snowstorms come to dance upon it. (If these metaphors seem to tread on each other’s heels a little, a squall or two may be supposed to have intervened.)

The prettiest thing, however, in this particular case of the first snow, is the way its softness, early in the night, caused it to stick fast, silvering the windward side of every object. Not only are the firs deep loaded, the lower boughs weighted and banked till each tree is, from the ground up, a continuous tent of snow, but the trunks and every round limb and forking twig of the elms and oaks are puffed with fleckless white. It makes of them a vivid kind of crayon sketch : every bough has its dark shadow away from the sun, and its white highlight toward the wind. The gate-posts are capped high with the rounded ermine. In the side of one of these snowraps I carefully scooped out a little cave ; then, removing my glove, I cautiously (so as not to dismantle the fluffy entrance) thrust in my bare hand and held it there. Almost instantly I could feel the warmth reflected from the translucent walls. For the first time (another item on the Cr. side of our accountbook), I not only could understand, but sense, how the prairie-hens and overtaken travelers can, like cunning children with their mothers, escape the castigation of the snow by fleeing to the snow’s own bosom.

The little wren-house on the stub of the dead pear-tree is piled thick to windward, and fringed with icicles on the eaves to leeward, like the abodes of all the rest of us. Across the river, on the crown of the slope, stands a straight high wall of woods. It is a reversed drawing in charcoal; all the tops, the soft mass of bare boughs and twigs, being shaded dark, while the stems of the tall hickories and oaks stand forth white as marble columns.

On the smooth snow of the lawn stands a slender upright wand, left solitary in the deserted tennis-court, where it supported the net in the middle. The adhering fleece has made of it only a delicate rapier-blade of snow. Shining there in the sun, scarcely more tangible than its faint blue shadow, a slim white line, pure, cold, still, — what a beautiful bâton for conducting some symphony of Mendelssohn ; or a stylus for tracing the icy music of -’s poetry ; or a gnomon for some frosty moon-dial, whereon to mark the saintly hours of ——’s life.