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A Lazy, Idle Brook Henry van Dyke

A Casual Introduction

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"Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things. And it is not by any means certain that a man's business is the most important thing he has to do."--ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON: An Apology for Idlers.

On the South Shore of Long Island, all things incline to a natural somnolence. There are no ambitious mountains, no braggart cliffs, no hasty torrents, no hustling waterfalls in that land,

"In which it seemeth always afternoon."

The salt meadows sleep in the summer sun; the farms and market-gardens yield a placid harvest to a race of singularly unhurried tillers of the soil; the low hills rise with gentle slopes, not caring to get too high in the world, only far enough to catch a pleasant glimpse of the sea and a breath of fresh air; the very trees grow leisurely, as if they felt that they had "all the time there is." And from this dreamy land, close as it lies to the unresting ocean, the tumult of the breakers and the foam of ever-turning tides are shut off by the languid lagoons of the Great South Bay and a long range of dunes, crested with wire-grass, bay-bushes, and wild-roses.

In such a country you could not expect a little brook to be noisy, fussy, energetic. If it were not lazy, it would be out of keeping.

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But the actual and undisguised idleness of this particular brook was another affair, and one in which it was distinguished among its fellows. For almost all the other little rivers of the South Shore, lazy as they may be by nature, yet manage to do some kind of work before they finish the journey from their crystal-clear springs into the brackish waters of the bay. They turn the wheels of sleepy gristmills, while the miller sits with his hands in his pockets underneath the willow-trees. They fill reservoirs out of which great steam-engines pump the water to quench the thirst of Brooklyn. Even the smaller streams tarry long enough in their seaward sauntering to irrigate a few cranberry-bogs and so provide that savoury sauce which makes the Long Island turkey a fitter subject for Thanksgiving.

But this brook of which I speak did none of these useful things. It was absolutely out of business. There was not a mill, nor a reservoir, nor a cranberry-bog, on all its course of a short mile. The only profitable affair it ever undertook was to fill a small ice-pond near its entrance into the Great South Bay. You could hardly call this a very energetic enterprise. It amounted to little more than a good-natured consent to allow itself to be used by the winter for the making of ice, if the winter happened to be cold enough. Even this passive industry came to nothing; for the water, being separated from the bay only by a short tideway under a wooden bridge on the south country road, was too brackish to freeze easily; and the ice, being pervaded with weeds, was not much relished by the public. So the wooden ice-house, innocent of paint, and toned by the weather to a soft, sad-coloured gray, stood like an improvised ruin among the pine-trees beside the pond.

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Fisherman's Luck
Henry van Dyke

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