Here to return to
A DAY IN FRANCONIA
IT is the most delightful of autumn days, too delightful, it seemed to me this morning, to have been designed for anything like work. Even a walking vacationer, on pedestrian pleasures bent, would accept the weather's suggestion, if he were wise. Long hours and short distances would be his programme; a sparing use of the legs, with a frequent resort to convenient fence-rails and other seasonable invitations. There are times, said I, when idleness itself should be taken on its softer side; and to-day is one of them.
Thus minded, I turned into the Landaff Valley shortly after breakfast, and at the old grist-mill crossed the river and took my favorite road along the hillside. As I passed the sugar grove I remembered that it was almost exactly four months since I had spent a delicious Sunday forenoon there, seated upon a prostrate maple trunk. Then it was spring, the trees in fresh leaf, the grass newly sprung, the world full of music. Bobolinks were rollicking in the meadow below, and swallows twittered overhead. Then I sat in the shade. Now there was neither bobolink nor swallow, and when I looked about for a seat I chose the sunny side of the wall.
Only four months, and the year was already old. But the mountains seemed not to know it. Washington, Jefferson, and Adams; Lafayette, Haystack, and Moosilauke; — not a cloud was upon one of them. And between me and them lay the greenest of valleys.
So for the forenoon hours I sat and walked by turns; stopping beside a house to enjoy a flock of farm-loving birds, — bluebirds especially, with voices as sweet in autumn as in spring, — loitering under the long arch of willows, taking a turn in the valley woods, where a drumming grouse was almost the only musician, and thence by easy stages sauntering homeward for dinner.
For the afternoon I have chosen a road that might have been made on purpose for the man and the day. It is short (two miles, or a little more, will bring me to the end of it), it starts directly from the door, with no preliminary plodding through dusty village streets, and it is not a thoroughfare, so that I am sure to meet nobody, or next to nobody, the whole afternoon long. At any rate, no wagon loads of staring “excursionists” will disturb my meditations. It is substantially level, also; and once more (for a man cannot think of everything at once) it is wooded on one side and open to the afternoon sun on the other. For the present occasion, furthermore, it is perhaps a point in its favor that it does not distract me with mountain prospects. Mountains are not for all moods; there are many other things worth looking at. Here, at this minute, as I come up a slope, I face hallway about to admire a stretch of Gale River, a hundred feet below, flowing straight toward me, the water of a steely blue, so far away that it appears to be motionless, and so little in volume that even the smaller boulders are no more than half covered. Beyond it the hillside woods are gorgeously arrayed — pale green, with reds and yellows of all degrees of brilliancy. The glory of autumn is nearly at the full, and at every step the panorama shifts. As for the day, it continues perfect, deliciously cool in the shade, deliciously warm in the sun, with the wind northwesterly and light. Many yellow butterflies are flitting about, and once a bright red angle-wing alights in the road and spreads itself carefully to the sun. While I am looking at it, sympathizing with its comfort, I notice also a shining dark blue beetle — an oil-beetle, I believe it is called — as handsome as a jewel, traveling slowly over the sand.
I have been up this way so frequently of late that the individual trees are beginning to seem like old friends. It would not take much to make me believe that the acquaintance is mutual. “Here he is again,” I fancy them saying one to another as I round a turn. Some of them are true philosophers, or their looks belie them. Just now they are all silent. Even the poplars cannot talk, it appears (a most worthy example), without a breath of inspiration to set them going. The stillness is eloquent. A day like this is the crown of the year. It is worth a year's life to enjoy it. There is much to see, but best of all is the comfort that wraps us round and the peace that seems to brood over the world. If the first day was of this quality, we need not wonder that the maker of it took an artist's pride in his work and pronounced it good.
As for the road, there is still another thing to be said in its praise. While it follows a straight course, it is never straight itself for more than a few rods together. If you look ahead a little space you are sure to see it running out of sight round a corner, beckoning you after it. A man would be a poor stick who would not follow. Every rod brings a new picture. How splendid the maple leaves are, red and yellow, with the white boles of the birches, as white as milk, or, truer still, as white as chalk, to set off their brightness. I could walk to the world's end on such an invitation.
But the road, as I said, is a short one. Its errand is only to three farms, and I am now on the edge of the first of them. Here the wood moves farther away, and mountains come into view, — Lafayette, Haystack, and the Twins, with the tips of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. Then, when the second of the houses is passed, the prospect narrows again. An extremely pretty wood of tall, straight trees, many fine poplars among them (and now they are all talking), is close at my side. The sunlight favors me, falling squarely on the shapely, light-colored trunks (some of the poplars are almost as white as the birches), and filling the whole place with splendor. I go on, absorbed in the lovely spectacle, and behold, it is as if a veil were suddenly removed. The wood is gone, and the horizon is full of mountain-tops. I have come to the last of the farms, and in another minute or two am at the door.
There is nobody at home, to my regret, and I sit down upon the doorstep. Moosilauke, Kinsman, Cannon, Lafayette, Haystack, the Twins, Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison — these are enough, though there are others, too, if a man were trying to make a story. All are clear of clouds, and, like the trees of the wood, have the western light full on them. Even without the help of a glass I see a train ascending Mt. Washington. Happy passengers, say I. Would that I were one of them? The season is ending in glory at the summit, for this is almost or quite its last day, and there cannot have been many to match it, the whole summer through.
I loiter about the fields for an hour or more, looking at the blue mountains and the nearer, gayer-colored hills, but the occupant of the house is nowhere to be found. I was hoping for a chat with him. A seeing man, who lives by himself in such a place as this, is sure to have something to talk about. The last time I was here he told me a pretty story of a hummingbird. He was in the house, as I remember it, when he heard the familiar, squeaking notes of a hummer, and thinking that their persistency must be occasioned by some unusual trouble, went out to investigate. Sure enough, there hung the bird in a spider's web attached to a rosebush, while the owner of the web, a big yellow-and-brown, pot-bellied, bloodthirsty rascal, was turning its victim over and over, winding the web about it. Wings and legs were already fast, so that all the bird could do was to cry for help. And help had come. The man at once killed the spider, and then, little by little, for it was an operation of no small delicacy, unwound the mesh in which the bird was entangled. The lovely creature lay still in his open hand till it had recovered its breath, and then flew away. Who would not be glad to play the good Samaritan in such guise? As I intimated just now, you may talk with a hundred smartly dressed, smoothly spoken city men without hearing a piece of news half so important or interesting.
It is five o'clock when I leave the farms and am again skirting the woods. Now I face the sun, the level rays of which transfigure the road before me till its beauty is beyond all attempt at description. I look at it as for a very few times in my life I have looked at a painted landscape, with unspeakable enjoyment. The subject is of the simplest: a few rods of common grassy road, arched with bright leaves and drenched in sunshine; but the suggestion is infinite. After this the way brings me into sight of the fairest of level green meadows, with pools of smooth water — “water stilled at even” — and scattered farmhouses. The day is ending right; and when I reach the hotel piazza and look back, there in the east is the full moon rising in all her splendor, attended by rosy clouds.