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Little Rivers Henry van Dyke

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How much better it would have been if the farmer had left a few of the noble forest-trees to shade his house. But then, when the farmer came into the wilderness he was not a farmer, he was first of all a wood-chopper. He regarded the forest as a stubborn enemy in possession of his land. He attacked it with fire and axe and exterminated it, instead of keeping a few captives to hold their green umbrellas over his head when at last his grain fields should be smiling around him and he should sit down on his doorstep to smoke a pipe of home-grown tobacco.

In the time of adversity one should prepare for prosperity. I fancy there are a good many people unconsciously repeating the mistake of the Canadian farmer--chopping down all the native growths of life, clearing the ground of all the useless pretty things that seem to cumber it, sacrificing everything to utility and success. We fell the last green tree for the sake of raising an extra hill of potatoes; and never stop to think what an ugly, barren place we may have to sit in while we eat them. The ideals, the attachments--yes, even the dreams of youth are worth saving. For the artificial tastes with which age tries to make good their loss grow very slowly and cast but a slender shade.

Most of the Canadian farmhouses have their ovens out-of-doors. We saw them everywhere; rounded edifices of clay, raised on a foundation of logs, and usually covered with a pointed roof of boards. They looked like little family chapels--and so they were; shrines where the ritual of the good housewife was celebrated, and the gift of daily bread, having been honestly earned, was thankfully received.

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At one house we noticed a curious fragment of domestic economy. Half a pig was suspended over the chimney, and the smoke of the summer fire was turned to account in curing the winter's meat. I guess the children of that family had a peculiar fondness for the parental roof-tree. We saw them making mud-pies in the road, and imagined that they looked lovingly up at the pendent porker, outlined against the sky,--a sign of promise, prophetic of bacon.

About noon the road passed beyond the region of habitation into a barren land, where blueberries were the only crop, and partridges took the place of chickens. Through this rolling gravelly plain, sparsely wooded and glowing with the tall magenta bloom of the fireweed, we drove toward the mountains, until the road went to seed and we could follow it no longer. Then we took to the water and began to pole our canoes up the River of the Bear. It was a clear, amber-coloured stream, not more than ten or fifteen yards wide, running swift and strong, over beds of sand and rounded pebbles. The canoes went wallowing and plunging up the narrow channel, between thick banks of alders, like clumsy sea-monsters. All the grace with which they move under the strokes of the paddle, in large waters, was gone. They looked uncouth and predatory, like a pair of seals that I once saw swimming far up the river Ristigouche in chase of fish. From the bow of each canoe the landing-net stuck out as a symbol of destruction--after the fashion of the Dutch admiral who nailed a broom to his masthead. But it would have been impossible to sweep the trout out of that little river by any fair method of angling, for there were millions of them; not large, but lively, and brilliant, and fat; they leaped in every bend of the stream. We trailed our flies, and made quick casts here and there, as we went along. It was fishing on the wing. And when we pitched our tents in a hurry at nightfall on the low shore of Lac Sale, among the bushes where firewood was scarce and there were no sapins for the beds, we were comforted for the poorness of the camp-ground by the excellence of the trout supper.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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