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Two century-old pasture pines shelter my favorite sleeping spot in the pasture, and croon solemn, mystical tunes all night long. If I could but, with my dull ear grown finer, some day learn to interpret these I might grow wise with the yet unfathomed wisdom of the universe. Their runes are not of the gentle, vivid life that thrills below them. Before the little creatures of the pasture world were created, before pines grew upon earth, the words they sing were set to the sagas of vast space, rhythmic runes of unremembered ages taught by the great winds of the world to these patriarchs that seem to tell them over and over lest they forget. They tower virid and virile. They stretch wide arms over the pasture people in benediction and sheltering love, but they are not of them. The reading of the deep riddle of the universe has made them prophets and seers and they dwell alone in their dignity. I may make my home beneath their sheltering shade, caress their rugged gray trunks and fall asleep to the mystical murmur of their voices, but I can never be intimate with them.
There is nothing of this aloofness about the other pasture people. The younger pines do not whisper solemn riddles, but are gently friendly without mystery, and so are many of the myriad creatures that crowd the spaces boldly or dwell quietly in unsuspected seclusion. Of all the outdoor world the pasture is the most friendly place, yet it is not obtrusively so and you must dwell in it long before you know many of even your elbow neighbors by sight. If you know them very well you will be able to detect their nearness by sound, oftentimes, long before sight of them is vouchsafed you. When they do appear it is usually a sort of embodiment. They materialize as if out of thin air and disintegrate by the same route. This is not because they fear you. It is simply because it has been the habit of pasture people for untold generations.
Thus it is that a lovely white moth flits often in the veriest gray of dawn just to the eastward of where I lie. It always seems as if he were a condensation out of the white mists that are born in that darkest hour when the night winds cease and that runic rhyme of the pines is lulled for a time. He seems as transparent as they and is nothing but the ghost of a moth as he passes from one head of goldenrod bloom to another. Some mornings he vanishes in the amber glow that ushers in the daylight and then I think I have merely been dreaming of lepidoptera. This morning he did not appear, either in the early gray or the amber glow, and I went out to look for him. The waning moon hung wan and white in the west, a white paper ghost of a moon that had no light left in her. All the east had the clear translucent yellow radiance of the yellow birch leaves, a cool, pale gold, and between lay dead the morning mists, chilled to white frost on all the pasture shrubs and the level reaches of brown grass. Along the hedgerow of barberry, wild cherry, raspberry, hardhack, meadow sweet, sweet fern and goldenrod that deck the ancient wall I looked for the white radiance of my moth's wings in vain, and I pictured him as dead among the frozen grasses, and mourned him thus.
The day grew with all the wonderful still radiance which so often follows a frosty morning in October. The pine trees could not sing; there was no wind to give them voice. The still flood of golden sunshine warmed to the marrow, yet did not wilt as in summer. Instead, it informed all things with a glow like an elixir of life. To feel it well within one's flesh is to have a forecasting of immortality, to know that one is to be born again and again. I did not wonder that as I once more scanned the hedgerow along the ancient wall I saw my white moth clamber bravely up a goldenrod stem and begin a half-scrambling, half-fluttering pilgrimage from one to another of the hardy blooms that had survived the frost as well as he. Most of the goldenrod and meadow sweet blooms are well past their prime and are showing gray with age and ripening pappus, but here and there you find belated specimens that hold color and honey still, and on these he paused to breakfast. Then, as his wings rested for a moment, I could see that his pure white was touched with tiny chain patterns of black spots and I knew him for Cingalia catenaria, the chain-streak moth. Somehow I am half-sorry to have found him out. I am not sure but I would rather have remembered him as one of the mystical fancies of the early dawn, some pure white dream materialized out of the tenuous mists by the incantations of the Druid pines. Neighborly and simple as are all the pasture people when we sit quiet long enough to see them and gain their confidence by making them feel that we are an integral portion of the place, as they are, they all have something of the mystical about them. There are four chipmunks, sleek and beautiful striped children of a this year's late litter. These frolic about on the stones and among the bushes at my very feet. They eat crusts almost from my hand. Yet they might as well be mahatmas, for in their going and coming they are as mysterious. I hear a scratching on a stone, and there sits a chipmunk. With a swish he is gone, and unless I hear the skittering of tiny feet a rod away I may not tell in what direction or how. Then, too, the skittering may be that of some entirely different creature. I prefer to think of them thus, as furry bogles that bob up out of fairy tales and bob back again to the making of a mythology that sniffs of sweet fern and bayberry and has the flavor of barberry sauce.
The tender glow of still October days seems to fill the pasture with such mysteries as this. Commonplace things are touched with the softening haze of romance, and in the crystal stillness, the happy aloofness of the place, the consciousness goes groping for the unseen. It may be that by digging and grubbing I might unearth the veritable home of my chipmunks, trace their cunning runways under stone and through fog and brush and prove that there is nothing of the theosophist about them. But not for worlds would I do it, nor would I believe it if I found them. Therein lies the inscrutability of faith.
In the golden morning glow the sounds of the far and near world seem to come without interference from intervening space and the roar of the steam whistle on the liner at sea, eighteen miles away over rough hilltops, is as intimate as the drumming of the partridge in the swamp, scarcely more than a stone's throw away. Indeed it is less aloof, far less mysterious. Its raucous bellow is soothed to a deep musical tone by distance. It speaks of the human touch and the man-made whistle. I may measure, define, place it; know the steamer that it speaks far and the man that pulls the throttle cord. I may find the pitch, touch the identical note on guitar or cornet. I have neither wind nor stringed instrument that will record so low a note as that of the drumming of the partridge. I count the vibrations of the first of it with ease. They speed up toward the end, but they do not raise the pitch. I know nothing in our human musical notation that will touch its depth. Yet it is a musical tone and a most goblin-like and eerie one. The partridge may be commonplace enough and his drumming but a strut of complacency and self-satisfaction. With patience and good luck I may see him doing it and follow him from his roost in the morning till he returns to it at night. But I cannot fathom the mystery which haunts the pasture in the genial melancholy of these sunny October days, to which his drum seems to sound the marching note.
In the midday stillness when the blue sky arches over the place like a crystal bell which no winds may penetrate it seems as if the witchery grew. The warmth of the sun is like that of summer though without languor. The world is in a breathless swoon in the midst of which I wonder dreamily how this soft brown grass on which I lie could have been crisp and white with frost six hours ago. The morning waked all the hardier forest creatures who seemed to revel in the crisp exhilarating air. Red and gray squirrels crashed about in the tree tops making noisy merriment in their indescribable squirrel jargon. Their thrashing and chattering in the trees was almost equal to a crowd of schoolboys nutting. With them the blue jays blew trumpets and clanged bells, the woodpeckers drummed and shrieked and crows and chewinks added to the clamor. Even my chipmunks blew squeaky shrill whistles in staccato notes. The pasture was full of picnic.
The drowse of noon seemed to put them all to sleep. The pond was like glass and the black duck flock which had quacked noisily there at daybreak and drawn white lines of ripples across its black surface had gone south. Everywhere was silence.
Everywhere silence, indeed, but it was the silence only of the slumbering, deeper voiced denizens. The swoon of heat in which they lay had served to rouse other lives that the frost of the morning had silenced. There are people who never can hear a partridge drum. The vibrations are pitched below the register of their ear. There are others, far more in number who never hear the shrilling of the pasture insects. Their voices are so thin and shrill that they are above the common register. Indeed they are apt to pass the average person as unnoticed as the tick of a clock in a room where one is accustomed to its presence. I do not know how long they had been at it, the black night chirping crickets which now make up for frozen nights by singing all the warm part of the day, the green day crickets whose note is pitched far higher, and a dozen other chirping, shrilling things that one never sees and rarely hears, however numerous and insistent their voices, unless something forces his attention in that direction and bids him listen. I think it was the zoon of a cicada which waked my attention, and once I heard them they seemed to fill the air with shrieking. If the drum of the partridge is the lowest pitched note of which the pasture people are capable, surely the piping of same of these tiny creatures is the highest. It is very difficult to determine the spot whence comes the pulsing of the partridge's wings. It is born out of nowhere and reaches your ear from no particular direction. The shrilling of the pasture insects is everywhere and it is equally impossible to locate it. They are veritable spirit voices, these, and fill the spaces among the red cedars and barberry bushes, the forests of sweet fern and the fox paths that wind among the berry bushes, with invisible fays and sprites. Only the tiniest of these could have such shrill tenuous voices. Having heard them in all their uproar it is even then difficult to hold your attention on them, more difficult than with any other pasture or woodland creatures I know. There will be times when the ear refuses them and it seems as if blank silence had settled on the whole field, then after a little it will all come pulsing back to you.
How dependent these disembodied voices are upon the sun is seen toward nightfall, when the shadows begin to grow long. Where these fall across the grasses there grow triangles of silence which travel fast. Oftentimes as the point of one of these progresses you may locate a chirper by the sudden ceasing of his chirp and find him in the tip of shadow, already numb. The black crickets keep up their tune longest, singing from beneath sheltering stones and bark or fallen leaves. With the direct sun vanish also other summer pasture people who have made the warmth of the day beautiful. Under an old apple tree the ground is yellow with the apples that it has shed and here all through the sunny hours two vanessa butterflies have alternately floated and feasted, one a mourning cloak, the other a Compton tortoise, Vanessa antiopa and Vanessa j-album. These are late arrivals that have come from the cocoon upon a cold world and are doing their best to make good in it. Both are of a species that are hardy beyond belief and both may well winter in the crevice within the gnarled trunk of the old tree into which they creep benumbed when the chill of night begins to fall. The pasture at midday was bright with the yellow of colias butterflies which dashed madly about from one fall dandelion bloom to another, eager to eat enough while the warmth should linger. I saw many of the American copper with them, these with a more conspicuous white margin to the tiny wings than I have ever seen before, a fall form I fancy rather than anything permanently new in this rather variable insect.
All these the first chill of nightfall sends to crevices and with them go the black wasps which have been feeding desperately in the sun on goldenrod and aster. The hornets are dead. Not one was about even in the middle of the day fly hunting though house flies are still plentiful. The hornets seem to be almost the first insects to succumb to the cold. The black wasps are far hardier. With their passing goes that tiny shrill uproar of the pasture and in the amber quiet of sunset the place becomes a vast whispering gallery. Tiny sounds seem to be entangled here and made audible -from very far. The quack of incoming ducks a mile away across the pond sounds as if on the nearer shore. The laughter of children comes as far, nor can you readily locate the direction. At such times the mystical quality of the place deepens with the peace of it. I notice then, as I did not notice in midday, the fairy rings in the grass on the little rise of ground and am half-willing to believe I stand by a fairy rath and call the childish shouts and laughter that seem to rise from it the glee of fairies over the coming of night. After dark any one of these fairy rings now growing beneath my eyes may open and let out the troop. Their comings and goings need be only a little more mysterious than those of the chipmunks in the old wall or the Cingalia catenaria that is again flitting forth in the chill of gray dusk to seek what honey the coleuses and the coppers, the vanessas and the wasp have left behind.
The pale yellow glow of autumn twilight settles in deep peace upon the place. You seem to be at once in a vast silence and yet able to note all that goes on in the world for many miles about by unobtrusive sounds. To stand here in the open -with the night descending in blessing upon you is to be in touch with the universe: In town night shuts you away from the rest of the world, wraps you in your own tiny seclusion. Out here it makes you one with the deep secrets of common life. The mystical quality for the time vanishes and the radiance which long holds the sky seems but the light of home, a light which is no longer within a room or shut off by the walls of a house, but the real home of all the world's creatures to which you have come at last.
As the glow fades and the darkness deepens it seems good to lie down beneath the silent pines that stretch their great' arms over you in protecting fatherliness and become an integral part of the peace of the place. Sleep that comes thus is deep and refreshing. Yet always with it there goes a subtle sub-consciousness which makes you alert to what goes on about you. Thus with the piping up of the night wind you hear once more the rapt voices of the great pines, the chanting of those weird sages of the unknown. All the mystical comes back to the pasture with the sound and the deep song of the elder trees comes nearer to finding words for you than, it can at any other time. I fancy that all the wee lives that sleep and wake beneath it are part of its mystery, its longing and its unfathomable promise.