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X. At the Sign of the Balsam Bough Henry van Dyke

The Island Pool.

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One of our days on the island was Sunday--a day of rest in a week of idleness. We had a few books; for there are some in existence which will stand the test of being brought into close contact with nature. Are not John Burroughs' cheerful, kindly essays full of woodland truth and companionship? Can you not carry a whole library of musical philosophy in your pocket in Matthew Arnold's volume of selections from Wordsworth? And could there be a better sermon for a Sabbath in the wilderness than Mrs. Slosson's immortal story of Fishin' Jimmy?

But to be very frank about the matter, the camp is not stimulating to the studious side of my mind. Charles Lamb, as usual, has said what I feel: "I am not much a friend to out-of-doors reading. I cannot settle my spirits to it."

There are blueberries growing abundantly among the rocks--huge clusters of them, bloomy and luscious as the grapes of Eshcol. The blueberry is nature's compensation for the ruin of forest fires. It grows best where the woods have been burned away and the soil is too poor to raise another crop of trees. Surely it is an innocent and harmless pleasure to wander along the hillsides gathering these wild fruits, as the Master and His disciples once walked through the fields and plucked the ears of corn, never caring what the Pharisees thought of that new way of keeping the Sabbath.

And here is a bed of moss beside a dashing rivulet, inviting us to rest and be thankful. Hark! There is a white-throated sparrow, on a little tree across the river, whistling his afternoon song

"In linked sweetness long drawn out."

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Down in Maine they call him the Peabody-bird, because his notes sound to them like Old man--Peabody, peabody, peabody. In New Brunswick the Scotch settlers say that he sings Lost--lost-- Kennedy, kennedy, kennedy. But here in his northern home I think we can understand him better. He is singing again and again, with a cadence that never wearies, "Sweet--sweet--Canada, canada, canada!" The Canadians, when they came across the sea, remembering the nightingale of southern France, baptised this little gray minstrel their rossignol, and the country ballads are full of his praise. Every land has its nightingale, if we only have the heart to hear him. How distinct his voice is--how personal, how confidential, as if he had a message for us!

There is a breath of fragrance on the cool shady air beside our little stream, that seems familiar. It is the first week of September. Can it be that the twin-flower of June, the delicate Linnaea borealis, is blooming again? Yes, here is the threadlike stem lifting its two frail pink bells above the bed of shining leaves. How dear an early flower seems when it comes back again and unfolds its beauty in a St. Martin's summer! How delicate and suggestive is the faint, magical odour! It is like a renewal of the dreams of youth.

"And need we ever grow old?" asked my lady Greygown, as she sat that evening with the twin-flower on her breast, watching the stars come out along the edge of the cliffs, and tremble on the hurrying tide of the river. "Must we grow old as well as gray? Is the time coming when all life will be commonplace and practical, and governed by a dull 'of course'? Shall we not always find adventures and romances, and a few blossoms returning, even when the season grows late?"

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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