In the Heart of the Summer: A Continued Calendar

THERE is still a lingering blossom on the quince bush, its breath as sweet as narcissus’ own ; indeed, the two odors are strangely alike, considering that there is no family tie between the two flowers. The quince blossom perhaps waited, a-tiptoe on the highest branch, until it could see its far-away cousin, the rose, which blooms to-day. It is an unwise love that gathers in this first harbinger of the full-hearted summer, whereas the last token seems to invite fate at our hands.

You thought to possess the first rose ?
Ah, but possession was brief ;
So fresh as it was, so frail!
At a look, you beheld it turn pale ;
At a touch, it. recoiled;
At a kiss, from the lip of the leaf
(Consumed with anger and grief)
The glow and the perfume fail!
You thought to possess the first rose, —
See how you are foiled!

Enter Summer, on the seed wings of the maple. All day these pairs of yellow keys have been falling with an indolent twirling motion ; the wings, being set at an angle with each other, simulate the butterfly with parted fans. Falling, they soon wither, and then suggest dead insects of the grasshopper family, with frayed deciduous wing tissues. The position invariably taken by the seed on reaching the earth is as though it would hug the ground. The part containing the embryo, being heavier, alights first; however the wind may move the seed about, this part is still directed downward, acting almost like a magical entering-wedge, if chance send it to any smallest crevice in the mellow and welcoming ground. So, I remember, did the “ cups ” of the acorn disappear into the earth, in an incredibly brief time; while the unconsidered “ saucers ” remained scattered around beneath the tree. “Nature’s germins” descend, as if impatient to have done with the dark sleep that leads up to the resurrection and the life.

What are the conditions required that the dew should be beaded, as this morning, at the tip of every grass blade ? What conditions of temperature, of moisture, or of the blade itself secure this result ? It is of the spring and the early summer rather than the later time. Here ’s your true dewberry, fruit of a night, of flowerage ripened by morning light ; round or oval; white or gray, or sometimes flecked with the colors of the prism, as though belonging to a species that had “escaped from cultivation,”— say from the gardens of the rainbow. Contemplation of the dew alone, among the marvels of nature, might suffice as food for a day’s wonder.

Hast seen the constellations of the morn,
That sparkle in the meadow grass unshorn ?
Hast seen, in liquid guise, the model small
Of the great crystal sphere that circles all

It was only yesterday that I lived in a world of sweet wayward promise, of tantalizing betokening and suggestion, to be fulfilled or not, as the genius of the year might list. The season was a babe in arms but yesterday. A thousand infantile pinkish little hands were reached out tentatively and helplessly as the old branches put forth their young foliage. Then I was impressed with the subtlety and delicacy of the shadows which this scant foliage cast upon the ground; they were infused with light, as it seemed to me, as though the leaves were not yet opaque, but allowed the sunshine to be strained through them and fall upon the earth beneath, — beneficently tempered by their medium. Then, too, I noticed how the little cottonwood leaves, on the very first day of their enlargement, while yet short of stem and moistly tender, began quivering and flickering, — the characteristic thing for them to do, just as young ducks, on emerging from the shell, run for the water. And how beautiful were the oaks with their soft, rosy-gray young leaves and tassel-like blossoms ! I have seen no unfolding leaf-buds so delicate and evanescent in appearance. They seemed designed to last scarcely beyond a flower’s term of existence, much less to grow into the tough and vigorous green of the civic spi-ay. Of the grapevine that clambers about the porch and eaves I may say, —

All the young leaves of the vine
Ruby are, —as if good wine,
Coursing through the woody stem,
Rose to warm and gladden them.

Among these flower-like masqueraders, the leaf-buds of the black walnut and hickory strike me with special delight and wonder. With the colors of the Turk, more pertinently the colors of the tulip, they well suggest bow flowers may be but “ modified leaves,” as the botanists tell us. Or, truce to Science and her truths, these party-colored leaves show us what the poets have always tried to teach us, in their own divine faith: that there is a transcendent premium put upon the spring of the year; that then mere leaves have the beauty of flowers, while flowers undergo a translation that juggles our human senses, as though, for the time being, we sojourned

“ Where the daisy is rose-scented,
And the rose herself has got
Perfume which on earth is not.”

So many leaves ! At. first I had a half impression that I must count them (in order to keep up with my notations and numerations of the untarrying season !) ; but we soon come to think of these myriads not as so many leaves Individualized, but as foliage in the mass. They still appear somewhat tender, somewhat drooping, as though the stems were draped with them. A few days more of this June sun, and the tension and firmness of the leaf will be so increased that it will then have assumed its permanent summer habit.

What at first sight appeared to he a bit of amber honeycomb, hung among some weeds, turned out a nursery of young spiders. When I disturbed this yellow agglomeration, it underwent a strong centrifugal shock : immediately a myriad little globular bodies scattered themselves along radiating webs in every direction, like a shower of gold in miniature ; each individual facing towards the circumference of the webby tissue. Repeated disturbance induced additional retreatings from the centre, until the entire nursery was pretty well dispersed through its ancestral halls of gray filmwork.

Clover begins to show the blush, the wind to bring fragrant advices from its territory ; and the bees know their Mecca, by the pilgrim hum that makes thither.

Where is the poet’s Mount. Parnassus
’Mid cloudland heights sublime ?
Where now his fountain Helicon,
His Hyblan bees and thyme ?
Any green summer-mantled hilltop
His happy feet may climb
Shall be the poet’s Mount Parnassus
’Mid cloudland heights sublime !
Any leaf-hidden river-birth
His Heliconian spring,
Around whose brink, disguised as wood birds,
The Muses flit and sing !
Any unsickled, waving meadow,
In June scented and warm,
Shall bo to him the slopes of Hybla
With Hybla’s murmuring swarm !

Water, earth, sky, these are the prime elements in all Nature’s pictures. Why, then, exact that the earth shall be thrown up in certain forms of hill and mountain, or spread out plain-wise, or that such and such antitheses of land and water shall be presented ? Can we never be contented unless certain chosen configurations lie before us? It is great Nature everywhere, whether her wearing apparel he trees, rocks, or liquid woof of changeable waters. the creek I know so well proceeds from these so well-known pastures on into more open country, thus aiding the imagination. But all the elements are present in my perspective. If here they seem deficient in beauty and variety, it is my fault, and not theirs. Let me quicken my appreciation.

Some children brought in a young crow to-day. It had less of callow innocence than any other feathered bantling I had ever seen. It might already have been a hundred years old ! Big head; long bill; in its eye, of which the iris is blue, a strange mixture of melancholy and sinister speculation. The crow seems to me the Hebraic type among birds.

The bobolink, in his black robes trimmed with patches of soiled ermine, with his yellow-white head (as if powdered), parades as a bigwig, whose judicial bench is the rail fence. There he turns himself about and about, with an absurd, ruffling gravity and stiff deportment that are most amusing to observe. But as I went through the meadow I thought that the best concerted music to be heard there came from the bobolink’s efforts, consisting, as it seemed to me. of solos, quartettes, semi-choruses and full choruses, in delightful alternation. A small flock of these birds will often rise into the air together ; and when they have reached the utmost crescendo of their flight, they all at once break into a chime of silvery, tinkling notes, sounding much farther off than the real distance would justify. I hear the syllables “ tolink ! to-link ! ” rather than “ bobolink ! ”

A few moments ago, a humming-bird was resting on the branch of a flowering shrub under the window. He wiped his bill, and deported himself with the deliberation and dignity of the largest bird. His fine shimmering color, an iridescent green, almost makes him pass for a fleck of colored light shot from a prism. As he sat resting his little body, suddenly Swooped down an oriole, taking possession of the flowering shrub and all the demesne, and routing my Ariel. A shabby trick in a bird that swings his palatial home aloft in the proud elm.

We have a very select summer boarder, namely, the catbird that came today and helped herself to a plate of sweet-cake on the table by the window. Ten times she repeated her visit, with many an assertive “ chuck ! chuck ! ” and demonstrative flirt of her long tail. Feeding greedily herself, she was off with other sweet morsels, presumably for young ones at home. While she was away, I placed a dish of strawberries beside the dish of cake, to see if fruit would not offer a superior inducement. But no; this winged Sybarite would have nothing but cake, — perhaps with the provident notion that she could procure fruit anywhere out of doors, but not culinary tidbits, which latter were best seized upon when an opportunity presented itself. Be sure such cates and “ diets daint ” shall not be wanting, dear melodist and droll humorist, whom Grimalkin hears perplexed, not guessing who is the satirist thus mimicking his own mode of expression !

A child by the roadside stringing strawberries upon a culm of grass. What fragrant, flavorous, dewy, and sunny memories the picture induced ! I seemed to know better what was the true quintessence of that wild fruitage than in the days when I was its small purveyor.

How strange that we must in a measure lose our youth in order to possess it ! In actual adolescence we are hoodwinked with the idea that age gathers upon us. We are afflicted with the burden of our years and an exaggerated sense of responsibility. We may understand that literal first youth is past — were there no other betokenings — by the fact that we are no longer so weighted with this impression of age and responsibility. By and by we begin to disregard years, to know that we affect very little the progress of mundane affairs, and to account ourselves almost as “ quits ” with Time and his reckonings. But this feeling of agelessness does not come, unfortunately, till the years have taken toll of us. We must be older in order to be young. “ Similia similibus curantur.”

Not till to-day have I heard the chirr of the cricket ; it sounded wondrously familiar, like a small but distinct telephonic message from old summers gone. It might have said, “ I am the piper that dances the gay season away ere you know it! ”

Passing a sluggish black pool in the woods, I was startled by a sudden rushing and splashing, as of the water itself without other agency. Upon looking again, I saw that the pool was alive with young tadpoles, whose scuttling at my approach had caused the noise. Can that justly be designated stagnant water which is the living element of so many organic creatures ?

The chewink hopping about among the charred débris of burnt stumps and rotting chestnut logs had blended in his plumage the charcoal and burnt sienna tints of both. He resented loudly our presence, but we did not follow up the clues which his indiscreet expostulations gave of a nest near by. Perhaps we were rewarded for our forbearance by being permitted to discover a brooding thrush on a branch of the tree just over our heads. She suffered our near approach philosophically, remaining as motionless as a bird carved in wood, except for the miraculously quick winking of her round eye; watching us very steadily, however, and no doubt with a palpitating heart. We were almost directly beneath her, and so could see well her smooth white throat with its freckle-markings of brown. It was a little odd that to both of us her appearance suggested that some frog had acquired the beak of a bird and arboreal habits ! This fancy-fact led us to comment on the imputed relationship, in palæozoic time, between bird and reptile. (I hope the thrush did n’t understand what we said !)

A needle in a haymow has its analogue,— a wren in a brush heap. How did I chance to see the brown sprite among the brown twigs ? Perhaps there was a drawing magnetism in that cunning bright eye. The wren’s behavior at first was crisp and disputatious ; then there was a trill so sweetly affable, I felt it like an adroit flattery ; then, as if having communicated himself too far to a stranger, and growing cautious, he kept his opinions to himself, while he nimbly thridded the meshes of the brush heap.

At this time, the plenitude and festivity of life in the world of nature are everywhere beheld, felt, and heard. The sweet census of existence is every moment swelled, and new participants of the universal joy seem hurrying upon the stage, to play over again the drama, a thousand thousand times played, though by other individuals, in the long evolution of nature. I think of those delicious lines of Keats on the waking of Adonis : —

“ Then there was a hum
Of sudden voices, echoing, ‘ Come ! Come !
Arise, awake! Clear summer has forth walk’d
Unto the clover-sward, and she has talk’d
Full soothingly to every nested finch.
. . . Once more, sweet life, begin ! ”

A breezy day. Phœbe, from the top of the great maple by the bridge, suits her call to the airy gayety of the time, for it is, “ breezy ! breezy ! breezy ! ” ever and anon, while in the interval I know that she darts some yard’s length from her perch, then back again, and that in consequence there is one less ephemeral, gauzy-winged creature to celebrate Midsummer Day.

How thrilling are the alternations of sunshine and shadow, as they pass in rapid succession over the country ! They move from west to east. A belt of woodland against the western sky suddenly darkens as the sailing clouds come over, and draws a purple hood over its fresh summer green. The shadow flows on to the brim of the full meadow next the woods, then moves forward ; the wonderful undulations of golden-green and purple-green fleeting over the landscape are like the stratified hues I have noticed in the perspective of the Lake. By the time the moving shadow has reached my standpoint the distant woodland flashes into clear sunlight, here and there flinging out its live banners.

The dandelion’s hoary globe of pappus might be taken as a symbol of wisdom, of gray hairs and severe musing, in the midst of the boon season. At some distance a company of these gray heads glitter in the sunshine, as though in that spot were a garden of flowers. A ball of dandelion down raised just above the level of the grass seems about to go bounding over its velvety surface, like soap bubbles that children toss in a shawl. It glitters in the sunshine, but at evening shines as if with a pale light of its own, a humble student lamp in the grass.

The dandelion shows no more
The sunny disk she sometime bore,
Wherein Apolio might behold
His imaged face in finest gold ;
But on the grass she bows her down,
And stoops, to gain a silver crown,
An astral circlet gleaming bright,
Yet soft as snow, as airy-light!
And now her head she slowly lifts,
And by the wind spreads subtile gifts.
Still lack we wit to mark, or heed,
How, cabined in the drifting seed,
Through the wide ways of heaven flee
The light hopes of the year to he.

Among the sweets of the season should be counted the grapevine in blossom. Talk of the perfume of the ripe cluster! It scarcely approaches the deliciousness of the blossom, whose odor resembles that of the lily of the valley. Very curious is the structure of the flower itself. The green corolla, at first tightly fitted around the stamens, is next borne upon their tops, whence it is finally thrust off, like a cap doffed upon a spear, from which it is dropped to the ground.

The flower of the timothy, or herd’s grass, is very beautiful, in these fresh mornings lavish of dew. The solid spike set with misty rays held out on all sides at perfect poise is, as it were, a rude stock or holder wherein are thrust so many gradient, sprite-haunted blossoms. But how soon departing! Whether from the increasing heat of the day, or because their allotted time is brief, when I looked for them at noon yesterday, I found in their place only drooping yellow chaff clinging to the spike. This change affected me more than might the disappearance of a more obvious beauty of florescence, seeming in some special way to emphasize the fugaciousness of the season. But this morning there was a fresh relay of blossoms balancing their precious panniers of pollen dust around the sturdy spike, as their predecessors of yesterday had done.


I ‘ll pluck a tablet from the slaty ledge,
A pen I ‘ll carve me of the straight esl sedge,
Then dip it in the bright loquacious brook;
And so I’ll write a brief riparian book.
Beyond that grove of reeds the sunbeams sink
Into the polished stream, and make it wink
With dazzling eyebeams ; and just here it burns
An hundred sunglasses ; and yonder earns
Pactolean honors, — a pure golden stream
That up its bank reflects a wealthy gleam.
Still further on, what silvery lightnings glance
Where the spent ripples fall into a trance,
As though a sultrier air upon them rested!
Those silvery flashes are the fish white-breasted;
There do they leap in wavy tournament, —
A moment seen, then with the water blent.
A willow by the curving stream I see,
About to leave the habit of a tree,
And to assume (true Ovid, wert thou here!)
The water-nymph in raiment thin and clear.
Her naked foot the lovely changeling dips
Ere down the smooth inclinèd bank she slips,
To lose herself within the wavering stream,
That weaves for her a tunic without seam.
Here walks the peetweet, pied as autumn leaf
Or mildewed ribbon from November’s sheaf;
This way a killdeer wings, with startling cry;
A halcyon skims along the imaged sky,
And Scares the minnows into deeper coves ;
And hither finches come in chattering droves;
The tanager alights and dips his wing,
Once, twice, and thrice, and then, with sudden spring,
He shakes the moisture from his scarlet plumes,.
And carries fire into the willow glooms.
Here hum the gauze-winged children of the day,
And waifs unknown from realms of sylph and fay;
And silently the ghostly dragon-fly
Sips the still water, and flits swiftly by.
So, on and on I wrote. The book complete,
I lay it at the winsome naiad’s feet:
She smiles her pardon, and the waters lave it;
I leave my pen among the reeds that gave it.

A good firefly night, warm, still, and dark. I think the firefly must resent brilliancy in the heavens that puts out its own luminary. Gleaming and darkling, coming and going, this least of the wandering stars or planets has its dark side, which at times is turned towards us. The butterfly to the day, the firefly to the night; the one in the livery of the sun and the Orient, the other clothed upon with the lustre of the stars ! In some degree, like the maid from the south of Ireland who serves my friends, I too am afraid of the “ loights in the grass.” Any time, I think, they may become “brave translunary things,” and sail away beyond the range of the fly that sips nectar from the cup of the gods, in yonder constellated field.

The other evening, bringing home a handful of flowers from S—’s garden (O lavendered memory of how many such cullings in the dewy dusk, for me!), I was followed, and the flowers were purloined of their sweets, by a great nightmoth, — a true sphinx with a riddle, provoking us to ask if it he not the longsought connecting link between bird and insect! This elfin creature hovered about the flowers with a humming-bird’s poise, motion, and musical accompaniment, using its siphon-like proboscis to sound the honey depths of the flowers. I noticed that, although it occasionally stopped to consider the roses, it invariably returned to its favorite honeysuckle. The long proboscis, or feeder, coiled like a watchspring, when not in use, perhaps three inches in length, and bent in the middle at a right angle, is scarcely to be seen in the dusk of evening; hence the insect appears to hover quite aloof from the flower, and to woo it delicately rather than to rifle its treasure. The eyes of the insect are two rubies, and the whirring wings must be strong to bear up the weight of its gross body. It was this tidbit which a late robin was anxious to secure, the other evening; but the morsel proved unmanageable or distasteful, for the bird soon dropped it, and went up to his sleeping-chamber in the old maple.


TO —.

I am the night-moth Memory.
I sleep all through the day ;
At evening, to the Garden
I take my murmuring way.
Of old, above the Garden
Hung Ariadne’s Crown;
And, filtered by the starlight,
The gradual dew came down.
The white flowers, in the darkness,
With pale star-lustre shone ;
The dark flowers by the fragrance
And soft flower-touch were known.
There no new flower shall open,
No blooming flower decline.
I am the night-moth Memory ;
The Garden, it is thine !
But art thou in the Garden ?
A spirit fills the place;
Its mute voice — is it thy voice ?
Its veilèd face, thy face?

A long time I lay in the dry grass, looking at the world above me, until the sky seemed like a slow, deep stream with countless submerged gems, — a diamond river, in which I lay fathoms deep. Two brilliant meteors glanced through the zenith, like veritable starbeams shot by an invisible archer.

The country and the city are antipodal in this : that as we very fitly speak of the “ dead of winter ” in the country, we might with equal propriety of description speak of the " dead of summer” in the city. In this season, urban aridity and desolateness everywhere stamp themselves upon the mind of the late delayer within walled-town limits. The very houses that befriended us in the winter are now closed, blinded, — barricaded by the spirit of inhospitality, seeming to say as we pass by, “I know you not.” In the meshes of the wistaria, that one flower of romance peculiar to the metropolis, — like the moonlighted face of a Juliet leaning in expectance from her leafy balcony, — there now remains but an occasional withering cluster of blossoms, pale indeed from the heat, but more from the dust. The infrequent trees that in spring evinced a pathetic cheerfulness, striving, like true philanthropists of nature, to make an oasis of greenness for dwellers in the waste places of brick and stone, have lost all hope and purpose ; and, as if desirous of autumn, the very leaves seem to droop and cling about their stems. The sole of the foot aches from concussion with the heated pavement. That curiously distancing effect produced to the eye by hot air in motion, which in the country makes the far harvest fields seem yet farther, is even more distinctly experienced in the town. It is a Sahara distance from one side of the square to the other, — an eye-narrowing, shimmering perspective of sunshine, dust, and drought. How is it to be crossed ?

And still my thoughts turn back to a certain waste of quarried stone where but lately I sojourned.

Amid this shade of leaning pines
That on the sunlit ocean gaze,
I dream how fierce the same sun shines
Upon the city’s paven ways.
From breezy choirs far overhead
The pewee’s note comes smooth and sweet:
I dream of the unnumbered tread,
The shock, the echo, of the street.
Within this solitude that longs
For speech and sight of friendly guest,
I dream of weary, jostling throngs
Whose mutual glances read unrest.
Beneath the darkness and the dews
Shot through with tender, starry light,
I dream how Fear her flight pursues
Amid the city’s checkered night;
While sleepers hear, by care oppressed,
The great heart of the city knock
Unsoothed within her troubled breast.
And shadows from the morrow flock !

This afternoon I have my chair and book under the apple-tree, — a book of travels. Meanwhile, whenever I look up. or rather down, from its pages, I note other Excursions : those of a discontented beetle, a gorgeous creature, with bronze breastplate and peacock - green surtout. He has traveled I know not how many parasangs (I take him to be a Persian), — perhaps a yard ; and now back again he comes, apparently dissatisfied, toiling painfully over small sticks and rough grains of earth. He has now to mount a hill some three inches high. Ah, tedious effort! Now he disappears on the other side ; now reappears, and starts on another fruitless vagabondage.

The dropping of the early-ripe apple marks a distinct stage in the summer’s advancement. As I look up into the heavily laden tree, it is easy to fancy that the apples are actually crowding one another on the thickset branch, silently persevering as if with some mutual idea of decimation. They are like an overcrowded population, or like school urchins on a bench, who push one another until some one falls off.

Early this morning, looking out at the eastern heavens, it was a surprise to see our old acquaintances of the winter evening, — the Pleiades, Orion, Taurus. But no coltl sparkle of the jewels in Orion’s belt, no gleam from the eyes of Taurus. Instead, the air being smoky and obscure, the stars of these constellations, forever associated with the frosts of winter as they are, seemed now more like hot coals, or the “ seeds of fire ” seen in a bed of ashes or through a cloud of sultry smoke.

The Earth slept well at this hour, — slept as though she had been sleeping from old time. I heard the chirping of the crickets, regular, monotonous, as though it were the pulse-beat of the air itself. The comfortable sleepy dark, like some feline sleeper, seemed to be purring with the muffled sonorous vibrations that pervaded the dim world. The few actually waking sounds in nature, the occasional cockcrow or lowing of cattle, were either absorbed by the dull air, or so modified as to seem like distant strains of music.

Nothing could be finer than the great domes of ethereal marble and agate that, during these hot days, are built up from the southern horizon. I don’t, know how this village below is affected, generally, by the sight of that city yonder ; but, for me, the heavens have been haunted, full of presences, — Olympian deities, Parthenon sculptures, friezes illustrating Homer, When an occasional heat-lightning is sent across these thunderheads, the flash reveals what to the fancy might be the crimson-hung interior of a palace or the glow of red lamps in a shrine. Sometimes the entire mass of such cloudstructures rises halfway to the zenith, glittering like a true sun-kissed mountain; a great white beacon, the pillar of cloud by day, for a sign and guidance. Sometimes the sun shining behind the cumulus gives it a flashing border of light so intense as to be almost intolerable to the eye; suggesting that a bolt of lightning has been arrested on its passage through the billowy gulf, and there made permanent. These are the tantalizing clouds of other people’s rain, — specious and magnificent, but fruitless to our parched fields; and yet the favored land toward the south, where it has been raining, cannot keep all nature’s bounty to itself. The moist rumor flies, and the air is temporarily sweetened and freshened for us by reason of the showers that have fallen elsewhere.

The summer begins to crisp and shrivel up. The earth itself seems about to be destroyed and sifted, as fine dust, into the empyrean. A wagon on the country road, half seen in clouds of dust, reproduces, in monochrome, the child’s memory of Biblical pictures portraying Elijah in his chariot enveloped in swathings of flame. Everywhere in nature there is a painful sense of oppression, — the oppression of unshed tears.

What thing, most bitter in a bitter world,
Is also sweetest ? Child of Sorrow, speak !
“ It is the sea-salt drop that lies-impended,—
Dew on the heart, the tear upon the cheek ! ”
And in a bitter world, what bitterest thing
Itself exceedeth ? Child of Sorrow, tell!
“ In arid lands, the scalding geyser spring,
And tears, the bated tears, that never fell! ”

And always, nowadays, we hear the harsh whir of the harvest-fly in strained crescendo. The ear-drum vibrates painedly to this exacerbating sound. As the performance climbs to its highest note and greatest volume, the hot air seems fanned to a correspondingly greater degree of caloric.

At last the long-wished-for rain. It came in the early morning; at first desultorily, doubtfully, as though it had nearly forgotten its own methods. It culminated in a brisk, rattling shower, falling away in a most delicious diminuendo, single threads of its weft of sound being broken one by one, and one by one, till not even a raveling remained. Then were heard the voices of the chief rain-lovers among the birds, the robin, the wren, and the summer yellowbird. And so the fresh day was ushered in, and so looked upon a world from which all tan and dust freckles had been washed away.

Edith M. Thomas.