Some Spring Days in Iowa
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Some Spring Days in Iowa
Frederick John Lazell
CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA
THE TORCH PRESS
NINETEEN HUNDRED EIGHT
Fred J. Lazell
|IV. APRIL—BUDS AND BIRD SONGS||9|
|V. MAY—PERFECTION OF BEAUTY||35|
|VI. WALKS IN JUNE WOODS AND FIELDS.||53|
It is indeed a pleasure thus to open the gate while my friend leads usaway from the din and rush of the city into “God’s great out-of-doors.”Having walked with him on “Some Winter Days,” one is all the more eagerto follow him in the gentler months of Spring—that mother-season, withits brooding pathos, and its seeds stirring in their sleep as if theydreamed of flowers.
Our guide is at once an expert and a friend, a man of science and a poet.If he should sleep a year, like dear old Rip, he would know, by thecalendar of the flowers, what day of the month he awoke. He knows thestory of trees, the arts of insects, the habits of birds and their partsof speech. His wealth of detail is amazing, but never wearying, and he ishappily allusive to the nature-lore of the poets, and to the legends andmyths of the woodland. He has the insight of Thoreau, the patience ofBurroughs, and a nameless quality of his own—a blend of joyous love andwonder. His style is as lucid as sunlight, investing his pages withsomething of the simplicity and calm of Nature herself. The fine sanityand health of the man are in the book, as of one to whom the beauty ofthe world is reason enough for life, and an invitation to live well. Hedoes not preach—though he sometimes stops to point to a forest vista, ora sunset, where the colors are melted into a beauty too fair and frailfor this earth.
Let us hope that the author will complete his history of the seasons, andtell of us of Summer with its riot of life and loveliness, and of theAutumn-time with its pensive, dreamy beauty that is akin to death. He isa teacher of truth and good-will, of health and wisdom, of thebrotherhood of all breathing things. Having opened the gate, I leave itopen for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
December 1, 1908
APRIL—BUDS AND BIRD SONGS
“Has she not shown us all?
From the clear space of ether, to the small
Breath of new buds unfolding? From the meaning
Of Jove’s large eyebrow, to the tender greening
Of April meadows?”
“And whiles Zeus gives the sunshine, whiles the rain.”
A strong southeast wind is blowing straight up the broad river, drivingbig undulations up the stream, counter to the current which, in turn,pushes at the base of the waves and causes their wind-driven crests tofall forward and break into spray. The whole surface of the river isflecked with these whitecaps, a rare sight on an inland stream butcharacteristic of April. We sit on a ledge of rock high up the slope ofthe cañon and listen as they break, break, break. We may close our eyesand fancy we are with Edmund Danton in his sea-girt dungeon, or withTennyson and his “cold, gray stones,” or with King Canute and hisflattering courtiers on the sandy shore. But a song sparrow with hisrecitative “Oleet, oleet, oleet,” followed by the well-known cadenza,dispels the fancies and calls our attention to himself as he sits on ahop hornbeam and sings at half-minute intervals. The wind ruffles hissober coat of brown and gray and he looks like a careless artist,thrilling with the soul of song.
Notwithstanding the high wind there is a heavy haze through which the suncasts but faint shadows. Across the white-flecked river the emeraldmeadow rises in a mile long slope until it meets the sky in a mist ofsilver blue. To the right a big tract of woodland is haloed by a densercloud of vivid violet as if the pillar of cloud which led the Israelitesby day had rested there; or as if mingled smoke and incense were risingfrom Druid altars around the sacred grove. As a matter of fact, it is amingling of the ever increasing humidity, the dust particles in the airand the smoke from many April grass fires. To the left of the meadowthere is a sweep of arable land where disc harrows, seeders, and ploughsare at work. The unsightly corn stalks of the winter have been laid low,the brown fields are as neat and tidy as if they had been newly swept;and this is Iowa in April.
Up and down the river the willow leaves are just unfolding, bordering thestream with tender green. The tassels of the pussy willows, which werewhite in March, are now rosy and gold, due to the development of theanthers. The aspens at the front of the wood are thickly hung with thelong yellowish-white tassels and look like masses of floss silk among thetops of the darker trees. A big cottonwood is at its most picturesqueperiod in the whole year. The dark red anthers make the myriads ofcatkins look like elongated strawberries. Tomorrow, or the next day,these red anthers will break and discharge their yellow pollen and thenthe tassels will be golden instead of strawberry-colored. Spring seems tounfold her beauties slowly but she has something new each day for thefaithful.
The ash, the hackberry, the oaks, the linden, the locusts on the hill andthe solitary old honey-locust down by the river’s brink are as yetunresponsive to the smiles of spring. The plum, the crab apple, thehawthorn and the wild cherry are but just beginning to push green pointsbetween their bud scales. But the elms are a glory of dull gold; everytwig is fringed with blossoms. The maples have lost their fleecy whitesoftness, for the staminate flowers which were so beautiful in March havewithered now. But the fruit blossoms remind us of Lowell’s line, “Themaple puts her corals on in May.” In Iowa he might have made it Aprilinstead of May. But that would have spoiled his verse.
For long we sit and drink in the beauty of the scene. Meanwhile the birdson this wooded slope are asking us to use our ears as well as our eyes.Such a mingling of bird voices! The “spring o’ th’ year” of the meadowlarks and the mingled squeaks and music of the robins are brought up bythe wind from the river bottom, and the shrill clear “phe-be” of thechickadee is one of the prettiest sounds now, just as it was in February.Pretty soon a bevy of them come flitting and talking along, like a girlbotany class on the search. Before they have passed out of sight theloud and prolonged “O-wick-o-wick-o-wick-o-wick” of the flicker makes uslift our eyes to the top of a scarlet oak and anon three or four of thehandsome fellows alight nearer by so that we may the better admire theirwhite-tailed coats, brown shoulders, scarlet napes and the beautifulblack crescent on their breasts. When we hear the call of the flicker wemay know that spring is here to stay. They are as infallible as theyellow-breasted larks in the meadows.
“Chip-chip-chip-chip,”—yes, of course that’s the chipping sparrow;another of the engaging creatures which almost has been driven from thehabitations of his human friends by the miserable English sparrows. Oftenhave we seen the little fellow set upon and brutally hurt by thesepirates. Now he stays around rural homes, and his chestnut crown, browncoat mixed with black and gray, his whitish vest and black bill arealways a welcome sight. He takes up the chant of the year where thedeparting junco left it off, throws back his tiny head and his littlethroat flutters with the oft-repeated syllable, continued rapidly forabout four seconds. A while longer we wait and are rewarded by a few barsof the musicful song of the brown thrasher who has just arrived with Mrs.Thrasher for two weeks of courtship and song, after which they will builda new home in the hazel thicket and go to housekeeping.
Just as we are rising to leave there is the glimmer of the blue-bird’swing and the brilliant fellow and his pretty mate appear at the top ofthe bank, where the staghorn sumac still bears its berries. None of thebirds of the winter seems to care much for these berries but thebluebirds evidently love them. As another instance of their tastes inthis direction may be mentioned the fact that for the past three weeks apair of blue birds have made many visits every day to a Chinese matrimonyvine, by the dining room window of the writer’s home. This vine, aseveryone knows, has a wreath of juicy red berries in the fall, which hangthrough the winter and are dried, but still red, in the spring. It wasthe first week of March when the family first heard the pleasing notes ofthe blue bird outside the window at breakfast time, and saw thebrilliant male sitting on a post on the back lawn and his lessbrilliant, but equally attractive mate sitting on the clothesline. Alittle later and he flew to the vine, picked off one berry and ate it,took another one in his mouth and then returned to his post, while shefollowed his example. Both chirped and pronounced the berries good,though up to that time the members of the household had supposed theywere poisonous. After a few more bites of the morning meal the birds wentall around the house, inspecting every nook and crevice. But they foundevery place fully occupied by the pestiferous English sparrows, whodarted at them maliciously. For two whole days the blue birds stayedaround the lawn and garden, but the sparrows made their lives miserableand finally they went to the timber an eighth of a mile away and selectedan abiding place in the cavity of a basswood. But every morning andevening, sometimes many times during the day, they came for their meal ofberries from the vine. Usually they were on hand as soon as the sun wasup, and a more devoted and well behaved couple was never seen either inthe bird or the human world.
We rise at length and walk along the wooded slope admiring new beautiesat every step. Here is a thicket of wild gooseberry filled with darkgreen leaves and the tinkling notes of tree sparrows, and we hardly knowwhich is the more beautiful. A little farther and we are in a tangle ofpink and magenta raspberry vines from which the green leaves are justpushing out. The elder has made a great start; the yellowish-green shootsfrom the stems and from the roots are already more than six inches long.The panicled dogwood and the red-osier dogwood (no, not the floweringdogwood) as yet show no signs of foliage, but the fine white lines in thebark of the bladdernut, which have been so attractive all winter, are nowenhanced by the soft myrtle green of the