Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

S NO W.

All through the long hours of the wintry day the , creaking of country vanes, the sweet jangle of low clouds hung close above our heads, to pour team-bells. The snow has fallen under a cold with more unswerving aim their constant storm temperature, and the flakes are perfectly crys. of sleet and snow-sometimes working in soft tallized; every shrub we pass bears wreaths silence, sometimes with impatient gusty breaths, which glitter as gorgeously as the nebula in the but always busily at work. Darkness brought constellation Perseus; but in another hour of no rest to these laborious warriors of the air, sunshine every one of those fragile outlines will but only fiercer strife; the wild winds rose disappear, and the white surface glitter no longer noisy recruits, they howled beneath the eaves, with stars, but with star-dust. On such a day, or swept around the walls, like hungry wolves, | the universe seems to hold but three pure tints now here, now there, howling at opposite doors. -blue, white, and green. The loveliness of Thus, through the anxious and wakeful night, the universe seems simplified to its last extreme the storm went on. The household lay vexed of refined delicacy. That sensation we poor by broken dreams, with changing fancies of lost mortals often have, of being just on the edge of children on solitary moors, of stage coaches infinite beauty, yet with always a lingering film hopelessly overturned in drifted and pathless between, never presses down more closely than gorges, or of icy cordage upon disabled vessels on days like this. Everything seems perfectly in Arctic seas ; until a softer warmth, as of prepared to satiate the soul with inexpressible sbeltering snow-wreaths, lulled all into deeper felicity if we could only, by one infinitesimal step Test till morning.

farther, reach the mood to dwell in it. And what a morning! The sun, a young Leaving behind us the snow-shovels of the conqueror, sends in his glorious rays, like street, we turn noiselessly toward the radiant heralds, to rouse us for the inspection of his margin of the sunlit woods. The loftier trees trophies. The baffled foe, retiring, has left far have already shaken the snow from their sumand near the bigh-heaped spoils behind. The mits, but it still clothes the lower ones with a glittering plains own the new victor. Over all white covering that looks solid as marble. Yet the level and wide-swept meadows, over all the see how lightly it escapes !--a slight gust shakes drifted, spotless slopes, he is proclaimed undis- a single tree, there is a Staub-bach for a moment, puted monarch. On the wooded hill-sides the and the branches stand free as in summer, a startled shadows are in motion; they flee like pyramid of green amid the whiteness of the yet young fawns, bounding upward and downward imprisoned wood. Each branch raises itself over rock and dell, as through the long, gleam- when emancipated, thus changing the whole ing arches the king comes marching to his outline of the growth; and the snow beneath throne, But shade yet lingers undisturbed in is punctured with a thousand little depressions, the valleys, mingled with timid smoke from where the petty avalanches have just buried household chimneys; blue as the smoke, a themselves and disappeared. gauzy haze is twined around the brow of every Looking back upon our track, it proves to be distant hill; and the same soft azure confuses like all other human paths-straight in intenthe outlines of the nearer trees, to whose tion, but slightly devious in deed. We have branches snowy wreaths are clinging, far up gay companions on our way, for a breeze overamong the boughs, like strange new flowers. takes us, and a hundred little simooms of drift Everywhere the unstained surface glistens in whirl along beside us, and whelm in miniature the sunbeams. In the curves and wreaths of burial whole caravans of dry leaves. Here, too, the drifts a blue tinge nestles. The fresh pure our track intersects with that of some previous sky answers to it; every cloud has vanished, passer; he has but just gone on, judging by save one or two, which linger near the horizon, the freshness of the trail, and we can study his pardoned offenders, seeming far too innocent character and purposes. The large boots befor mischief, although their dark and sullen token a woodman or iceman; yet such a one brothers, banished ignominiously below the would hardly have stepped so irresolutely where horizon's verge, may be plotting nameless a little film of water has spread between the ice treachery there. The brook still flows visibly and snow and given a look of insecurity; and through the valley, and the rocks that check here again he has stopped to observe the wreaths its course are all rounded with fleecy surfaces, on this pendent bough, and this snow-filled till they seem like tranquil sheep drinking the bird's-nest. And there the footsteps of the shallow flood.

| lover of beauty turn abruptly to the road again, The day is one of moderate cold, but clear and he vanishes from us for ever. and bracing; the air sparkles like the snow; As we wander on through the wood, all the everything seems dry and resonant, like the labyrinths of summer are buried beneath one wood of a violin. All sounds are musical-the white inviting pathway, and the pledge of pervoices of children, the cooing of doves, the fect loneliness is given by the unbroken surcrowing of cocks, the chopping of wood, the face of the all-revealing snow. There appears

nothing living except a downy woodpecker, preacher has said that “the frost is God's whirling round and round upon a young beech- plough, which He drives through every inch of stem, and a few sparrows, plump with grass- ground in the world, opening each clod, and seed, and hurrying with jerking flight down the pulverising the whole." supny glade. But the trees furnish society Coming out upon a hill-side, more exposed enough. What a congress of ermined kings is to the direct fury of the sleet, we find Nature this circle of hawthorns, which stand, white in wearing a wilder look. Every white-birch their soft raiment, around the daïs of this wood- clump around us is bent divergingly to the land pond! Are they held here, like the sove ground, each white form prostrated in mute reigns in the palace of the Sleeping Beauty, tills despair upon the whiter bank. The bare,

ome mortal breaks their spell? What sage writhing branches of yonder sombre oak-grove counsels must be theirs, as they nod their are steeped in snow, and in the misty air they weary heads, and whisper ghostly memories look so remote and foreign that there is not a and old men's tales to each other, while the red wild creature of the Norse mythology who leaves dance on the snowy sward below, or a might not stalk from beneath their haunted fox or squirrel steals hurriedly through the branches. Buried races, Teuton and Cimbri, wild and wintry night! Here and there is some might tramp solemnly forth from those weird discrowned Lear, who has thrown off his regal | arcades. The soft pines on this nearer knoll mantle, and stands in faded russet, misplaced | seem separated from them by ages and geneamong the monarchs.

rations. On the farther hills spread woods of The shadows thrown by the trees upon the smaller growth, like forests of spun glass, snow are blue and soft, sharply defined, and so jewellery by the acre provided for this coronation contrasted with the gleaming white as to appear of winter. We descend a steep bank, little pelnarrower than the boughs which cast them. / lets of snow rolling hastily beside us, and There is something subtle and fantastic about leaving enamelled furrows behind. Entering these shadows. Here is a leafless larch-sapling, the sheltered and sunny glade, we are assailed by a eight feet high. The image of the lower boughs sudden warmth whose languor is almost oppresis traced upon the snow, distinct and firm assive. Wherever the sun strikes upon the cordage, while the higher ones grow dimmer by pines, there is a household gleam which fine gradations, until the slender topmost twig | gives a more vivid sensation than the diffused is blurred and almost effaced. But the denser | brilliancy of summer. The sunbeains maintain upper spire of the young spruce by its side a thousand secondary fires in the reflection of throws almost as distinct a shadow as its base, light from every tree and stalk, for the preserand the whole figure looks of a more solid tex vation of animal life and the ultimate melting ture, as if you could feel it with your hand. of these accumulated drifts. Around each More beautiful than either is the fine image of trunk or stone the snow has melted and fallen this baby birch: each delicate spray droops back. It is a singular fact, established beyond above as delicate a copy, and here and there the doubt by science, that the snow is absolutely shadow and the substance kiss and frolic with less influenced by the direct rays of the sun each other in the downy snow.

than by these reflections. “If a blackened The larger larches bave a different plaything: card is placed upon the snow or ice, in the sunon the bare branches, thickly studded with buds, shine, the frozen mass underneath it will be cling airily the small light cones of last year's gradually thawed, while that by which it is growth, each crowned with a little ball of soft surrounded, though exposed to the full power snow, four times taller than itself---save where of solar heat, is but little disturbed. If, howsome have drooped sideways-so that each car- ever, we reflect the sun's rays from a metal surries, poor weary Atlas, a sphere upon its back. | face, an exactly contrary result takes place : the Thus the coy creatures play cup and ball, and uncovered parts are the first to melt, and the one has lost its plaything yonder, as the branch blackened card stands high above the surroundslightly stirs, and the whole vanishes in a whirl ing portion." Look round upon the low-lying of snow. Meanwhile a fragment of low arbor. meadows, and you will see emerging through vitæ hedge, poor out-post of a neighbouring the white surface a thousand stalks of grass, plantation, is so covered and packed with solid sedge, the common butter-bur, autumnal hawkdrift, inside and out, that it seems as if no power bit, plantain, and meadow-saxifrage-an allied of sunshine could ever steal in among its twigs army, keeping up a perpetual volley of innuand disentangle it.

merable rays upon the yielding snow. In winter each separate object interests us ; . It is their last dying service. We misplace in summer, the mass. Natural beauty in win- our tenderness in winter, and look with pity ter is a poor man's luxury, infinitely enhanced upon the leafless trees. But there is no tragedy in quality by the diminution in quantity. Win in the trees : each is not dead, but sleepeth; ter, with fewer and simpler methods, yet seems and each bears a future summer of buds safe to give all her works a finish even more deli nestled on its bosom, as a mother reposes with cate than that of summer, working, as Emerson her baby at her breast. The same security of says of our English agriculture, with a pencil life peryades every woody shrub: the alder and instead of a plough. Or rather, the plough- , the birch have their catkins all ready for the share is but concealed; since a pithy old | first day of spring.

Winter is no such solid bar between season and feet keeps its stores of life chiefly below its level season as we fancy, but only a slight check and platform, yet the scattered tracks of the water. interruption; one may at any time produce rat beside the banks, of meadow mice around these March blossoms by bringing the buds in- ! the haystacks, of squirrels under the trees, of to the warm house; and the petals of the may- rabbits and partridges in the wood, show the flower sometimes show their pink and white warm life that is beating unseen, beneath fur or edges in autnmn. But every grass blade and feathers, close beside us; the jays scream in the flower stalk is a mausoleum of vanished sum- wood, the robin contrasts with the snow his mer, itself crumbling to dust, never to rise still ruddy breast. The weird and impenetrable again. Each cbild of June, scarce distinguish- crows, most talkative of birds and most uncomable in December against the background of municative, their very food at this season a inysmoss and rocks and bushes, is brought into tery, are almost as numerous now as in sum. final prominence in January by the white mer. They always seem like some race of snow which embeds it. The delicate flakes banished goblins, doing penance for some pricollapse and fall back around it, but they retain meval and inscrutable transgression; and if any their inexorable hold. Thus delicate is the ac- bird have a history, it is they. In the Spanish tion of Nature--a finger of air, and a grasp of version of the tradition of King Arthur it is iron. We pass an old red foundry, banked in said that he fled from the weeping queens and with snow, and its low eaves draped with the island valley of Avilion in the form of a icicles, and come to the brook which turns its crow; and hence it is said in “Don Quixote" resounding wheel. The musical motion of the that no Englishman will ever kill one. water seems almost unnatural amidst the gene- The traces of the insects in the winter are ral stiilness : brooks, like men, must keep prophetic--from the delicate cocoon of some themselves warm by exercise. The overhang- infinitesimal feathery thing which hangs upon iog rushes and alder-sprays, weary of winter's the dry calyx of a weed, to the brown-paper sameness, have made for themselves playthings / parcel which hides in peasant garb the beauty -each dangling a crystal knob of ice, which of some painted moth. But the hints of birds sways gently in the water and gleams ruddy are retrospective. In each tree of this pasture, in the sunlight. As we approach the foaming the very pasture where last spring we looked cascade, the toys become larger and more glit- for nests, and found them not among the deceittering, movable stalactites, which the water ful foliage, the fragile domiciles now stand retosses merrily upon their flexible stems. The vealed. But where are the birds that filled torrent pours down beneath an enamelled mask them ? Could the airy creatures nurtured in of ice, wreathed and convoluted like a brain, those nests have left permanently traced upon and sparkling with gorgeous glow. Tremulous the air behind them their own bright summer motions and glimmerings go through the trans- flight, the whole atmosphere would be filled lucent veil, as if it throbbed with the throbbing with interlacing Jines and curves of gorgeous wave beneath. It holds in its mazes stray bits colouring, the centre of all being this forsaken of colour-scarlet berries, evergreen sprigs, and bird's-nest filled with snow. sprays of yellow willow; glittering necklaces Among the many birds which winter here, and wreaths and tiaras of brilliant ice-work and the many insects which are called forth by cling and trail around its edges, and no regal a few days' thaw, not a few must die of cold, or palace shines with such carcanets of jewels as of fatigue amid the storms. Yet how few this winter ball-room of the dancing drops. traces one sees of this mortality! Provision is

Above, the brook becomes a smooth black made for it. Yonder a dead wasp has fallen on canal, between two steep white banks; and the the snow, and the warmth of its body, or its glassy water seems momentarily stiffening into power of reflecting a few small rays of light, the solider blackness of ice. Here and there is melting its little grave beneath it. With thin films are already formed over it, and are what a cleanly purity does Nature strive to being constantly broken apart by the treacherous with raw all unsightly objects into her cemecurrent; a flake a foot square is jerked away tery! Their own weight and lingering warmth and goes sliding beneath the slight transparent take them through air or water, snow or ice, to surface till it reappears below. The same thing, the level of the earth; and there with spring on a larger scale, helps to form the mighty ice- comes an army of burying-insects, Necrophagi, pack of the northern seas. Nothing except ice in a livery of bronze and black, to dig a grave is capable of combining, on the largest scale, beneath every one, and not a sparrow falleth to bulk with mobility, and this imparts a dignity | the ground without knowledge. The tiny reto its motions even on the smallest scale. I do mains thus disappear from the surface, and the not believe that anything in Behring's Straits dry leaves are soon spread above these Children could impress me with a grander sense of deso- in the Wood. lation or of power than when in boyhood I! Thus varied and benignant are the aspects of watched the ice break up in the winding chan- winter on sunny days. But it is impossible to nel of the Severn.

i claim this weather as the only type of our winter Amidst so much that seems like death, let us climate. There occasionally come days which, turn and study the life. There is much more though perfectly still and serene, suggest more to be seen in winter than most of us have terror than any tempest-terrible, clear, glaring ever noticed. Though the pond beneath our days of pitiless cold-when the sun seems power less, or only a brighter moon, when the windows , In neither case was there extreme suffering remain ground-glass at high noontide, and wben, from cold, and it is unquestionable that the inon going out of doors, one is dazzled by the terior of a drift is far warmer than the surface. brightness, and fancies for a moment that it On the 23rd of December, 1860, at 9 p.m., I cannot be so cold as has been reported, but was surprised to observe drops falling from the presently discovers that the severity is only under side of a heavy bank of snow at the more deadly for being so still. Exercise on eaves, at a distance from any chimney, while such days seems to produce no warmth; one's the mercury on the same side was only fifteen limbs appear ready to break on any sudden degrees above zero, not having indeed risen motion, like icy boughs. Stage-drivers and above the point of freezing during the whole draymen are transformed to mere human bun- day. dles of capes and coats; the patient oxen are Dr. Kane pays ample tribute to these kindly frost-covered; the horse that goes trotting by properties :-“ Few of us at home can recog waves a wreath of steam from his head. On the protecting value of this warm coverlet of such days life becomes a battle to all house- snow. No eider-down in the cradle of an holders, the ordinary apparatus for defence is infant is tucked in more kindly than the sleep. insufficient, and the price of caloric is continual ing dress of winter about this feeble flower-life. vigilance. In innumerable armies the frost The first warm snows of August and September, besieges the portal, creeps in beneath it and falling on a thickly pleached carpet of grasses, above it, and on every latch and key-handle heaths, and willows, enshrine the flowery lodges an advanced guard of white rime. Leave growths which nestle round them in a nonthe door ajar never so slightly, and a chill conducting air-chamber; and as each successive creeps in cat-like; we are conscious by the snow increases the thickness of the cover, we warmest fireside of the near vicinity of cold- have, before the intense cold of winter sets in, a its fingers are feeling after us, and even if they light cellular bed covered by drift, six, eight, or do not clutch us, we know that they are there. ten feet deep, in which the plant retains its The sensations of such days almost make us vitality. .... I have found in mi dwinter, in associate their clearness and whiteness with this high latitude of 789 50', the surface so something malignant and evil. Charles Lamb nearly moist as to be friable to the touch ; asserts of snow, “ It glares too much for an and upon the ice-floes, commencing with innocent colour, methinks.” Why does popu- a surface temperature of 30°, I found at lar mythology associate the infernal regions two feet deep a temperature of -8°, at with a high temperature instead of a low one ? four feet + 2°, and at eight feet + 26°. . El Aisbi, the Arab writer, says of the bleak wind.. The glacier which we became so familiar of the desert (so writes Richardson, the African with afterwards at Etah yields an uninterrupted traveller): “ The north wind blows with an stream throughout the year." And be afterwards intensity equalling the cold of hell; language shows that even the varying texture ; and quality of fails me to describe its rigorous temperature." the snow deposited during the earl' er and later Some have thought that there is a similar allu- portions of the Arctic winter have their special sion in the phrase, “weeping and gnashing of adaptations to the welfare of the vegetation teeth” – the teeth chattering from frost. they protect. Milton also enumerates cold as one of the tor The process of crystallization seems a microments of the lost :

cosm of the universe. Radiata, mollusca,

feathers, flowers, ferns, mosses, palms, pines, “O’er many a frozen, many a fiery Alp;' grain-fields, leaves of cedar, chestnut, elm,

acanthus-these and multitudes of other objects and one may sup full of horrors on the exceed. are figured on your frosty window; on sixteen ingly cold collation provided for the next world different panes I have counted sixteen patterns by the Norse Edda.

strikingly distinct, and it appeared like a showSnow, indeed, actually nourishes animal life, case for the globe. What can seem remoter It holds in its bosom numerous animalcules : relatives than the star, the star-fish, the staryou may have a glass of water, perfectly free flower, and the starry snow-flake which clings from infusoria, which yet, after your dissolving perchance to your sleeve? — yet some phiin it a handful of snow, will show itself full of losophers hold that one day their law of exmicroscopic creatures, shrimp-like and swift; istence will be found precisely the same. The and the famous red snow of the Arctic regions connection with the primeval star, especially, is only an exhibition of the same property. It seems far and tanciful enough; but there are yet has sometimes been fancied that persons buried unexplored affinities between light and crystalunder the snow have received sustenance lization : some crystals have a tendency to grow through the pores of the skin, like reptiles em- toward the light, and others develop electricity bedded in rock. Elizabeth Woodcock lived and give out flashes of light during their formaeight days beneath a snow-drift, in 1799, with- tion. Slight foundations for scientific fancies, out eating a morsel; and a Swiss family were indeed; but slight is all our knowledge, buried beneath an avalanche in a manger, for More than a hundred different figures of five months, in 1755, with no food but a trifling snow-flakes, all regular and kaleidoscopic, have store of chestnuts and a sinall daily supply of been drawn by Scoresby, Lowe, and Glaisher, milk from a goat which was buried with them, and may be found pictured in the encyclopædias

« НазадПродовжити »