A Nook in the Alleghanies


I LEFT Boston at nine o’clock on the morning of April 23, and reached PuIaski, in southwestern Virginia, at ten o’clock the next forenoon, exactly on schedule time, — or within five minutes of it, to give the railroad no more than its due. It was a journey to meet the spring, — which for a Massachusetts man is always a month tardy, — and as such it was speedily rewarded. Even in Connecticut there were vernal signs, a dash of greenness here and there in the meadows, and generous sproutings of skunk cabbage about the edges of the swamps ; and once out of Jersey City we were almost in a green world. At Bound Brook, I think it was, the train stopped where a Norway maple opposite my window stood all in yellow mist of blossoms, and chimhey-swifts were shooting hither and thither athwart the bright afternoon sky. By the time Philadelphia was reached, or by the time we were done with running in and out of its several stations, the night had commenced falling, and I saw nothing more of the world, with all that famous valley of the Shenandoah, till I left my berth at Roanoke. There the orchards — apple-trees and peach-trees together — were in full bloom, and on the slopes of the hills, as we pushed in among them, rounding curve after curve, shone gorgeous red patches of the Judas-tree, with sprinklings of columbines, violets, marshmarigolds, and dandelions, and splashes of deep orange - yellow, — clusters of some flower then unknown to me, but pretty certainly the Indian puccoon ; not the daintiest of blossoms, perhaps, but among the most effective under such fugitive, arm’s - length conditions. A plaguing kind of pleasure it is to ride past such things at a speed which makes a good look at them impossible, as once, for the better part of a long forenoon, in the flatwoods of Florida and southern Georgia, I rode through swampy places bright with splendid pitcher-plants, of a species I had never seen and knew nothing about; straining my eyes to make out the yellow blossoms, cursing the speed of the train, — which, nevertheless, brought me into Macon several hours after I should have been in Atlanta, — wishing for my Chapman’s Flora (packed away in my trunk, of course), and bewailing the certainty that I was losing the only opportunity I should ever have to see so interesting a novelty. And still, — I can say it now, — half a look is better than no vision.

For fifty miles beyond Roanoke we traveled southward; but an ascent of a thousand feet offset, and more than offset, the change of latitude, so that at Pulaski we found the apple-trees not yet in flower, but showing the pink of the buds. The venerable, pleasingly unsymmetrical sugar maples in the yard of the inn (the reputed, and real, comforts of which had drawn me to this particular spot) were hung full of pale yellow tassels, and vocal with honey-bees. Spring was here, and I felt myself welcome.

Till luncheon should be ready, I strayed into the border of the wood behind the town, and, wandering quite at a venture, came by good luck upon a path which followed the tortuous, deeply worn bed of a brook through a narrow pass between steep, sparsely wooded, rocky hills. Along the bank grew plenty of the common rhododendron, now in early bud, and on either side of the path were trailing arbutus and other early flowers. Yes, I had found the spring, not summer. The birds bore the same testimony : thrashers, chippers, field sparrows, black - and - white creepers, and a Carolina chickadee. Summer birds, like summer flowers, were yet to come. A brief song, repeated at intervals from the ragged, half-cleared hillside near a house, as I returned to the village, puzzled me agreeably. It should be the voice of a Bewick’s wren, I thought, but the notes seemed not to tally exactly with my recollections of a year ago, on Missionary Ridge. However, I made only a half-hearted attempt to decide the point. There would be time enough for such investigations by and by. Meanwhile, it would be a poor beginning to take a first walk in a new country without bringing back at least one uncertainty for expectation to feed upon. It is always part of to-day’s wisdom to leave something for to-morrow’s search. So I seem to remember reasoning with myself ; but perhaps a thought of the noonday luncheon had something to do with my temporizing mood.

In any case no harm came of it. The singer was at home for the season, and the very next morning I went up the hill and made sure of him : a Bewick’s wren, as I had guessed. I heard him there on sundry occasions afterward. Sometimes he sang one tune, sometimes another. The song heard on the first day, and most frequently, perhaps, at other times, consisted of a prolonged indrawn whistle, followed by a trill or jumble of notes (not many birds trill, I suppose, in the technical sense of that word), as if the fellow had picked up his music from two masters, — a Bachman finch and a song sparrow. It soon transpired, greatly to my satisfaction, that this was one of the characteristic songsters of the town. One bird sang daily not far from my window (the first time I heard him I ran out in haste, looking for some new sparrow, and only came to my senses when halfway across the lawn), and I never walked far in the town (the city, I ought in civility to say) without passing at least two or three. Sometimes as many as that would be within hearing at once. They preferred the town to the woods and fields, it was evident, and for a singing-perch chose indifferentlya fence picket, the roof of a hen-coop, a chimney-top, or the ridgepole of one of the churches, —which latter,by the bye, were most unchristianly numerous. The people are to be congratulated upon having so jolly and pretty a singer playing hideand-seek— the wren’s game always — in their house-yards and caroling under their windows. As a musician he far outshines the more widely known house wren, though that bird, too, is excellent company, with his pert ways, at once furtive and familiar, and his merry gurgle of a tune. If he would only come back to our sparrow-cursed Massachusetts gardens and orchards, as I still hope he will some time do, I for one would never twit him upon his inferiority to his Bewickian cousin or to anybody else.

The city itself would have repaid study, if only for its unlikeness to cities in general. It had not “ descended out of heaven,” so much was plain, though this is not what I mean by its unlikeness to other places ; neither did it seem to have grown up after the old-fashioned method, a “ slow result of time,” —first a hamlet, then a village, then a town, and last of all a city. On the contrary, it bore all the marks of something built to order ; in the strictest sense, a city made with hands. And so, in fact, it is; one of the more fortunate survivals of what the people of southwestern Virginia are accustomed to speak of significantly as “ the boom,” — a grand attempt, now a thing of the past, but still bitterly remembered, to make everybody rich by a concerted and enthusiastic multiplication of nothing by nothing.

Such a community, I repeat, would have been an interesting and very “ proper study ; ” but I had not come southward in a studious mood. I meant to be idle, having a gift in that direction which I am seldom able to cultivate as it deserves. It is one of the best of gifts. I could never fall in with what the poet Gray says of it in one of his letters. “ Take my word and experience upon it,” he writes, “ doing nothing is a most amusing business, and yet neither something nor nothing gives me any pleasure.” He begins bravely, although the trivial word 舠 amusing ” wakens a distrust of his sincerity; but what a pitiful conclusion ! How quickly the boom collapses ! It is to be said for him, however, that he was only twenty years old at the time, and a relish for sentiment and reverie — that is to say, for the pleasures of idleness — is apt to be little developed at that immature age. I had passed that point by some years ; I was sure I could enjoy a week of dreaming ; and, unlike Bewick’s wren, I took to the woods.

To that end I returned again and again to the brookside path, on which I had so fortunately stumbled. A man on my errand could have asked nothing better, unless, perchance, there had been a mile or two more of it. Following it past two or three tumble-down cabins, the stroller was at once out of the world ; a single bend in the course of the brook, and the hills closed in behind him, and the town might have been a thousand miles away. Life itself is such a path as this, I reflected. The forest shuts behind us, and is open only at our feet, with here and there a flower or a butterfly or a strain of music to take up our thoughts, as we travel on toward the clearing at the end.

For the first day or two the deciduous woods still showed no signs of leafage, but tall, treelike shadbushes were in flower, — fair brides, veiled as no princess ever was, — and a solitary red maple stood blushing at its own premature fruitfulness. Here a man walked between acres of hepatica and trailing arbutus, — the brook dividing them, — while the path was strewn with violets, anemones, buttercups, bloodroot, and houstonia. In one place was a patch of some new yellow flowers, like fivefingers, but more upright, and growing on bracted scapes ; barren strawberries (Waldsteinia) Dr. Gray told me they were called, and one more Latin name had blossomed into a picture. A manual of botany, annotated with place-names and dates, gets after a time to be truly excellent reading, a refreshment to the soul, in winter especially, as name after name calls up the living plant and all the wild beauty that goes with it. And with the thought of the barren strawberry I can see, what I had all but forgotten, though it was one of the first things I noticed, the sloping ground covered with large, round, shiny, purplishgreen (evergreen) leaves, all exquisitely crinkled and toothed. With nothing but the leaves to depend upon, I could only conjecture the plant to be galax, a name which caught my eye by the sheerest accident, as I turned the pages of the Manual looking for something else ; but the conjecture turned out to be a sound one, as the sagacious reader will have already inferred from the fact of its mention.

In such a place there was no taking many steps without a halt. My gait was rather a progressive standing still than an actual progress ; so that it mattered little whither or how far the path might carry me. I was not going somewhere, — I was already there ; or rather, I was both at once. Every stroller will know what I mean. Fruition and expectation were on my tongue together ; to risk an unscriptural paradox, what I saw I yet hoped for. The brook, tumbling noisily downward, — in some places over almost regular flights of stone steps, — now in broad sunshine, now in the shade of pines and hemlocks and rhododendrons, was of itself a cheerful companionship, its inarticulate speech chiming in well with thoughts that were not so much thoughts as dumb sensations.

Here and there my footsteps disturbed a tiny blue butterfly, a bumblebee, or an emerald beetle, — lovers of the sun all of them, and therefore haunters of the path. Once a grouse sprang up just before me, and at another time I stopped to gain sight of a winter wren, whose querulous little song-sparrow-like note betrayed his presence under the overhanging sod of the bank, where he dodged in and out, pausing between whiles upon a projecting root, to emphasize his displeasure by nervous gesticulatory bobbings. He meant I should know what he thought of me ; and I would gladly have returned the compliment, but saw no way of doing so. It is a fault in the constitution of the world that we receive so much pleasure from innocent wild creatures, and can never thank them in return. Black-and-white creepers were singing at short intervals, and several pairs of hooded warblers seemed already to have made themselves at home among the rhododendron bushes. Just a year before I had taken my fill of their music on Walden’s Ridge, in Tennessee. Then it became almost an old story; now, if the truth must be told, I mistook the voice for a stranger’s. It was much better than I remembered it; fuller, sweeter, less wiry. Perhaps the birds sang better here in Virginia, I tried to think ; but that comfortable explanation had nothing else in its favor. It was more probable, I was bound to conclude, that the superior quality of the Kentucky warbler’s music, which was all the time in my ears on Walden’s Ridge, had put me unjustly out of conceit with the performance of its less taking neighbor. At all events, I now voted the latter a singer of decided merit, and was ready to unsay pretty much all that I had formerly said against it. I went so far, indeed, as to grow sarcastic at my own expense, for in my field memoranda I find this entry: “ The hooded warbler’s song is very little like the redstart’s, in spite of what Torrey has written.” Verily the pencil is mightier than the pen, and a note in the field is worth two in the study. Yet that, after all, is an unfair way of putting the matter, since the Tennessee note also was made in the field. Let one note correct the other ; or, better still, let each stand for whatever of truth it expresses. Happily, there is no final judgment on such themes. One thing I remarked with equal surprise and pleasure : the song reminded me again and again of the singing of Swainson’s thrush ; not by any resemblance between the two voices, it need hardly be said, but by a similarity in form. Oven-birds were here, speaking their pieces in earnest schoolroom fashion ; a few chippering snowbirds excited my curiosity (common Junco hyemalis, for aught I could discover, but I profess no certainty on so nice a point) ; and here and there a flock of migrating white-throated sparrows bestirred themselves lazily, as I brushed too near their browsing-places.

So I dallied along, accompanied by a staid, good-natured, woodchuck - loving collie (he had joined me on the hotel piazza, with a friendly look in his face, as much as to say, “ The top of the morning to you, stranger. If you are out for a walk, I’m your dog ”), till presently I came to a clearing. Here the path all at once disappeared, and I made no serious effort to pick it up again. Why should I go farther ? I could never be farther from the world, nor was I likely to find anywhere a more inviting spot; and so, climbing the stony hillside, over beds of trailing arbutus bloom and past bunches of birdfoot violets, I sat down in the sun, on a cushion of long, dry grass.

The gentlest of zephyrs was stirring, the very breath of spring, soft and of a delicious temperature. My New England cheeks, winter-crusted and still half benumbed, felt it only in intermittent puffs, but the pine leaves, more sensitive, kept up a continuous murmur. Close about me — close enough, but not too close — stood the hills. At my back, filling the horizon in that direction, stretched an unbroken ridge, some hundreds of feet loftier than my own position, and several miles in length, up the almost perpendicular slope of which, a very rampart for steepness, ranks of evergreen-trees were pushing in narrow file. Elsewhere the land rose in separate elevations ; some of them, pale with distance, showing through a gap, or peeping over the shoulder of a less remote neighbor. Nothing else was in sight; and there I sat alone, under the blue sky, — alone, yet with no lack of unobtrusive society.

At brief intervals a field sparrow somewhere down the hillside gave out a sweet and artless strain, clear as running water and soft as the breath of springtime. How gently it caressed the ear! The place and the day had found a voice. Once a grouse drummed, — one of the most restful of all natural sounds, to me at least, 舠 drumming ” though it be, speaking always of fair weather and woodsy quietness and peace ; and once, to my surprise, I heard a clatter of crossbill notes, though I saw nothing of the birds, — restless souls, wanderers up and down the earth, and, after the habit of restless souls in general, gregarious to the last. A buzzard drifted across the sky. Like the swan on still St. Mary’s Lake, he floated double, bird and shadow. A flicker shouted, and a chewink, under the sweet-fern and laurel bushes, stopped his scratching once in a while to address by name a mate or fellow traveler. A Canadian nuthatch, calling softly, hung back downward from a pine cone ; and, nearer by, a solitary vireo sat preening his feathers, with sweet soliloquistic chattering, “ the very sound of happy thoughts.’‘ I was with him in feeling, though no match for him in the expression of it.

Again and again I took the brookside path, and spent an hour of dreams in this sunny clearing among the hills. Day by day the sun’s heat did its work, melting the snow of the shadbushes and the bloodroot, and bringing out the first scattered flushes of yellowish - green on the lofty tulip - trees, while splashes of lively purple soon made me aware that the ground in some places was as thick with fringed polygala as it was in other places with hepatica and arbutus. No doubt, the fair procession, beauty following beauty, would last the season through. A white violet, new to me (Viola striata), was sprinkled along the path, and on the second day, as I went up the hill to my usual seat, I dropped upon my knees before a perfect vision of loveliness, — a dwarf iris, only two or three inches above the ground, of an exquisite, truly heavenly shade, bluish-purple or violetblue. standing alone in the midst of the brown last year’s grass. Unless it may have been by the cloudberry on Mount Clinton, I was never so taken captive by a blossom. I worshiped it in silence, — the grass a natural prayer-rug, — feeling all the while as if I were looking upon a flower just created. It would not be found in Gray, I told myself. But it was; and before many days, almost to my sorrow, it grew to be fairly common. Once I happened upon a white specimen, as to which, likewise, the Manual had been before me. New flowers are almost as rare as new thoughts.

It was amid the dead grass and rustcolored stones of this same hillside that I found, also, the velvety, pansy-like variety of the birdfoot violet, here and there a plant surrounded by its relatives of the more every-day sort. This was my first sight of it; but I saw it afterward at Natural Bridge, and again at Afton, from which I infer that it must be rather common in the mountain region of Virginia, notwithstanding Dr. Gray, who, as I now notice, speaks as if Maryland were its southern limit. Indeed, to judge from my hasty experience, Alleghanian Virginia is a thriving-place of the violet family in general. In my very brief visit, I was too busy (or too idle, but my idleness was really of a busy complexion) to give the point as much attention as I now wish I had given to it, else I am sure I could furnish the particulars to bear out my statement. At Pulaski, without any thought of making a list, I remarked abundance of Viola pedata, V. palmata, and V. sagittata, with V. pubescens, V. canina Muhlenbergii, and four forms new to my eyes, — V. pedata bicolor and V. striata, just mentioned, V. hastata and V. pubescens scabriuscula. If to these be added V. Canadensis and V. rostrata, both of them common at Natural Bridge, we have at least a pretty good assortment to be picked up by a transient visitor, whose eyes, moreover, were oftener in the trees than on the ground.

My single white novelty, V. striata, grew in numbers under the maples in the grounds of the inn. The two yellow ones were found farther away, and were the means of more excitement. I had gone down the creek, one afternoon, to the neighborhood of the second furnace (two smelting-furnaces being, as far as a stranger could judge, the main reason of the town’s existence), and thence had taken a side-road that runs up among the hills in the direction of Peak Knob, the highest point near Pulaski. A lucky misdirection, or misunderstanding, sent me too far to the right, and there my eye rested suddenly upon a bank covered with strange-looking yellow violets ; like pubescens in their manner of growth, but noticeably different in the shape of the leaves, and noticeably not pubescent. A reference to the Manual, on my return to the hotel, showed them to be V. hastata, — “ rare ; ” and that magic word, so inspiriting to all collectors, made it indispensable that I should visit the place again, with a view to additional specimens. The next morning it rained heavily, and the road, true to its Virginian character, was a discouragement to travel, a diabolical miseonjunction of slipperiness and supreme adhesiveness ; but I had come prepared for such difficulties, and anyhow, in vacation time and in a strange country, there was no staying all day within doors. I had gathered my specimens, of which, happily, there was no lack, and was wandering about under an umbrella among the dripping bushes, seeing what I could see, thinking more of birds than of blossoms, when behold! I stumbled upon a second novelty, still another yellow violet, suggestive neither of V. pubescens nor of anything else that I had ever seen. It went into the box (I could find but two or three plants), and then I felt that it might rain never so hard, the day was saved.

A hurried reference to the Manual brought me no satisfaction, and I dispatched one of the plants forthwith to a friendly authority, for whom a comparison with herbarium specimens would supply any conceivable gaps in his own knowledge. “ Here is something not described in Gray’s Manual,” I wrote to him, “ unless,” I added (not to be caught napping, if I could help it), “ it be V. pubescens scabriuscula.” And I made bold to say further, in my unscientific enthusiasm, that whatever the plant might or might not turn out to be, I did not believe it was properly to be considered as a variety of V. pubescens. In appearance and habit it was too unlike that familiar Massachusetts species. If he could see it growing, I was persuaded he would be of the same opinion, though I was well enough aware of my entire unfitness for meddling with such high questions,

He replied at once, knowing the symptoms of collector’s fever, it is to be presumed, and the value of a prompt treatment. The violet was V. pubescens scabriuscula, he said, — at least, it was the plant so designated by the Manual ; but he went on to tell me, for my comfort, that some botanists accepted it as of specific rank, and that my own impression about it would very likely prove to be correct. Since then I have been glad to find this view of the question supported by Messrs. Britton and Brown in their new Illustrated Flora, where the plant is listed as V. scabriuscula. As to all of which it may be subjoined that the less a man knows, the prouder he feels at having made a good guess. It would be too bad if so common an evil as ignorance were not attended by some slight compensations.

These novelties in violets, so interesting to the finder, if to nobody else (though since the time here spoken of he has seen the “rare ” hastata growing broadcast, literally by the acre, in the woodlands of southwestern North Carolina), were gathered, as before said, not far from the foot of Peak Knob. From the moment of my arrival in Pulaski I had had my eye upon that eminence, the highest of the hills round about, looking to be, as I was told it was, a thousand feet above the valley level, or some three thousand feet above tide-water. I call it Peak Knob, but that was not the name I first heard for it. On the second afternoon of my stay I had gone through the town and over some shadeless fields beyond, following a crooked, hard-baked, deeply rutted road, till I found myself in a fine piece of old woods, — oaks, tulip-trees (poplars, the Southern people call them), black walnuts, and the like; leafless now, all of them, and silent as the grave, but certain a few days hence to be alive with wings and vocal with spring music. In imagination I was already beholding them populous with chats, indigo-birds, wood pewees, wood thrushes, and warblers (it is one of our ornithological pleasures to make such anticipatory catalogues in unfamiliar places), when my prophetic vision was interrupted by the approach of a cart, in which sat a man driving a pair of oxen by means of a single rope line. He stopped at once on being accosted, and we talked of this and that; the inquisitive traveler asking such questions as came into his head, and the wood-carter answering them one by one in a neighborly, unhurried spirit. Along with the rest of my interrogatories I inquired the name of the high mountain yonder, beyond the valley. “ That is Peach Knob,” he replied, — or so I understood him. “ Peach Knob ?” said I. “ Why is that ? Because of the peaches raised there ? ” “ No, they just call it that,” he answered ; but he added, as an afterthought, that there were some peach orchards, he believed, on the southern slope. Perhaps he had said “ Peak Knob,” and was too polite to correct a stranger’s hardness of hearing. At all events, the mountain appeared to be generally known by that more reasonable - sounding if somewhat tautological appellation.

By whatever name it should be called, I was on my way to scale it when I found the roadside bright with hastateleaved violets, as before described. My mistaken course, and some ill-considered attempts I made to correct the same by striking across lots, took me so far out of the way, and so much increased the labor of the ascent, that the afternoon was already growing short when I reached the crest of the ridge below the actual peak, or knob ; and as my mood was not of the most ambitious, and the clouds had begun threatening rain, I gave over the climb at that point, and sat down on the edge of the ridge, having the wood behind me, to regain my breath and enjoy the landscape.

A little below, on the knolls halfway up the mountain, was a settlement of colored mountaineers, a dozen or so of scattered houses, each surrounded by a garden and orchard patch, — apple-trees, cherry-trees, and a few peach-trees, with currant and gooseberry bushes ; a really thrifty-seeming alpine hamlet, with a maze of winding by-paths and half-worn carriage-roads making down from it to the highway below. With or without reason, it struck me as a thing to be surprised at, this colony of black highlanders.

The distance was all a grand confusion of mountains, one crowding another on the horizon ; some nearer, some farther away, and one lofty and massive peak in the northeast lording it over the rest. Close at hand in the valley, at my left, lay the city of Pulaski, with its furnaces, — a mile or two apart, having a stretch of open country between, — its lazy creek, and its multitudinous churches. A Pulaskian would find it hard to miss of heaven, it seemed to me. Everywhere else the foreground was a grassy, pastoral country, broken by occasional patches of leafless woods, and showing here and there a solitary house, — a scene widely unlike that from any Massachusetts mountain of anything near the same altitude. Hereabout (and one reads the same story in traveling over the state) men do not huddle together in towns, and get their bread by making things in factories, but are still mostly tillers of the soil, planters and graziers, with elbowroom and breathing-space. The more cities and villages, the more woods, — such appears to be the law. In Massachusetts there are six or seven times as many inhabitants to the square mile as there are in Virginia; yet Massachusetts seen from its hilltops is all a forest, and Virginia a cleared country.

Rain began falling by the time the valley was reached, on my return, and coming to a store in the vicinity of the lower furnace,—the one store of that suburb, so far as I could discover, — I stepped inside, partly for shelter, partly to see the people at their Saturday shopping. A glance at the walls and the show-cases made it plain that one store was enough. You had only to ask for what you wanted : a shotgun, a revolver, a violin case, a shovel, a plug of tobacco, a pound of sugar, a coffee-pot, a dress pattern, a ribbon, a necktie, a pair of trousers, or what not. The merchant might have written over his door, “ Humani nihil alienum ; ” if he had been a city shopkeeper, he might even have called his establishment a department store, and filled the Sunday newspapers with the wonders of it. Then it would have been but a step to the governor’s chair, or possibly to a seat in the national council.

The place was like a beehive ; customers of both sexes and both colors going and coming with a ceaseless buzz of gossip and bargaining, while the proprietor and his clerks — two of them smoking cigarettes — bustled to and fro behind the counters, improving the shining hour. One strapping young colored man standing near me inquired for suspenders, and, on having an assortment placed before him, selected without hesitation (it is a good customer who knows his own mind) a brilliant yellow pair embroidered or edged with equally brilliant red. Having bought them, at an outlay of only twelve cents, he proceeded to the piazza, where he took off his coat and put them on. That was what he had bought them for. His taste was impressionistic, I thought. He believed in the primary colors. And why quarrel with him ? “ Dear child of Nature, let them rail,” I was ready to say. It is not Mother Nature, but Dame Fashion, another person altogether, and a most ridiculous old body, who prescribes that masculine humanity shall never consider itself “ dressed ” except in funereal black and white.

What Nature herself thinks of colors, and what freedom she uses in mixing them, was to be newly impressed upon me this very afternoon, on my walk homeward. In a wet place near the edge of the woods, at some distance from the road, — so sticky after the rain that I was thankful to keep away from it, — I came suddenly upon a truly magnificent display of Virginia lungwort, a flower that I half remembered to have seen at one time and another in gardens, but here growing in a garden of its own, and after a manner to put cultivation to the blush. The homely place, nothing but the muddy border of a pool, was glorified by it; the flowers a vivid blue or bluish-purple, and the buds bright pink. The plants are of a weedy sort, little to my fancy, and the blossoms, taken by themselves, are not to be compared for an instant with such modest woodland beauties as were spoken of a few pages back, trailing arbutus, fringed polygala, and the vernal fleur-de-lis ; but the color, seen thus in the mass, and come upon thus unexpectedly, was a memorable piece of splendor. Such pictures, humble as they may seem, and little as they may be regarded at the time, are often among the best rewards of travel. Memory has ways of her own, and treasures what trifles she will.

And with another of her trifles let me be done with this part of my story. There was still the end of the afternoon to spare, and, the rain being over, I skirted the woods, walking and standing still by turns, till all at once out of a thicket just before me came the voice of a bird, — a brown thrasher, I took it to be, — running over his song in the very smallest of undertones ; phrase after phrase, each with its natural emphasis and cadence, but all barely audible, though the singer could be only a few feet away. It was wonderful, the beauty of the muted voice and the fluency and perfection of the tune. The music ceased; and then, after a moment, I heard, several times repeated, still only a breath of sound, the mew of a catbird. With that I drew a step or two nearer, and there the bird sat, motionless and demure, as if music and a listener were things equally remote from his consciousness. What was in his thoughts I know not. He may have been tuning up, simply, making sure of his technic, rehearsing upon a dumb keyboard. Possibly, as men and women do, he had sung without knowing it, — dreaming of a last year’s mate or of summer days coming, — or out of mere comfortable vacancy of mind. Catbirds are not among my dearest favorites; a little too fussy, somewhat too well aware of themselves, I generally think ; more than a little too fragmentary in their effusions, beginning and beginning, and never getting under way, like an improviser who cannot find his theme ; but this bird in the Alleghanies sang as bewitching a song as my ears ever listened to.

Bradford Torrey.