T HE dawn, the breaking dawn! I know nothing lovelier, nothing fresher, nothing newer, purer, sweeter than a summer dawn. I am just back from one—from the woods and cornfields wet with dew, the meadows and streams white with mist, and all the world of paths and fences running off into luring spaces of wavering, lifting, beckoning horizons where shrouded forms were moving and hidden voices calling. By noontime the buzz-saw of the cicada will be ripping the dried old stick of this August day into splinters and sawdust. No one could imagine that this midsummer noon, at 90° in the shade could have had so Maylike a beginning.
I said in "The Spring of the Year" that you should see a farmer ploughing, then a few weeks later the field of sprouting corn. Now in July or August you must see that field in silk and tassel, blade and stalk standing high over your head.
You might catch the same sight of wealth in a cotton-field, if cotton is "king" in your section; or in a vast wheat-field, if wheat is your king; or in a potato-field if you live in Maine—but no, not in a potato-field. It is all underground in a potato-field. Nor can cotton in the South, or wheat in the Northwest, give you quite the depth and the ranked and ordered wealth of long, straight lines of tall corn.
Then to hear a summer rain sweep down upon it and the summer wind run swiftly through it! You must see a great field of standing corn.
Keep out from under all trees, stand away from all tall poles, but get somewhere in the open and watch a blue-black thunderstorm come up. It is one of the wonders of summer, one of the shows of the sky, a thing of terrible beauty that I must confess I cannot look at without dread and a feeling of awe that rests like a load upon me.
"All heaven and earth are still—though not in sleep,
But breathless, as we grow when feeling most;
And silent, as we stand in thoughts too
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The sky is changed!—and such a change! Oh night,
And storm, and darkness, ye are wondrous strong,
Yet lovely in your strength. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Far along,
From peak to peak the rattling crags among,
Leaps the live thunder! Not from one lone cloud,
But every mountain now hath found a tongue,
And Jura answers, through her misty shroud,
Back to the joyous Alps who call to her aloud."
But there are many smaller, individual things to be seen this summer, and among them, notable for many reasons, is a hummingbird's nest. "When completed it is scarcely larger than an English walnut and is usually saddled on a small horizontal limb of a tree or shrub frequently many feet from the ground. It is composed almost entirely of soft plant fibers, fragments of spiders' webs sometimes being used to hold them in shape. The sides are thickly studded with bits of lichen, and practiced, indeed, is the eye of the man who can distinguish it from a knot on the limb."
This is the smallest of birds' nests and quite as rare and difficult to find as any single thing that you can go out to look for. You will stumble upon one now and then; but not many in a whole lifetime. Let it be a test of your keen eye—this finding of a little hummer's nest with its two white eggs the size of small pea-beans or its two tiny young that are up and off on their marvelous wings within three weeks from the time the eggs are laid!
Have you read Mr. William L. Finley's story of the California condor's nest? The hummingbird young is out and gone within three weeks; but the condor young is still in the care of its watchful parents three months after it is hatched. You ought to watch the slow, guarded youth of one of the larger hawks or owls during the summer. Such birds build very early,—before the snow is gone sometimes,—but they are to be seen feeding their young far into the summer. The wide variety in bird-life, both in size and habits, will be made very plain to you if you will watch the nests of two such birds as the hummer and the vulture or the eagle.
This is the season of flowers. But what among them should you especially see? Some time ago one of the school-teachers near me brought in a list of a dozen species of wild orchids, gathered out of the meadows, bogs, and woods about the neighborhood. Can you do as well?
Suppose, then, that you try to find as many. They were the pink lady's-slipper; the yellow lady's-slipper; the yellow fringed-orchis (Habenaria ciliaris); the ladies'-tresses, two species; the rattlesnake-plantain; arethusa, or Indian pink; calopogon, or grass pink; pogonia, or snake-mouth (ophioglossoides and verticillata); the ragged fringed-orchis; and the showy or spring orchis. Arethusa and the showy orchis really belong to the spring but the others will be task enough for you, and one that will give point and purpose to your wanderings afield this summer.
1. Arethusa bulbosa 2. Pogonia glossoides 3. Pink Lady's‑Slipper 4. Yellow Lady's‑Slipper 5. Showy Orchis
There are a certain number of moths and butterflies that you should see and know also. If one could come to know, say, one hundred and fifty flowers and the moths and butterflies that visit them (for the flower and its insect pollen-carrier are to be thought of and studied together), one would have an excellent speaking acquaintance with the blossoming out-of-doors.
Now, among the butterflies you ought to know the mourning-cloak, or vanessa; the big red-brown milkweed butterfly; the big yellow tiger swallowtail; the small yellow cabbage butterfly; the painted beauty; the red admiral; the common fritillary; the common wood-nymph—but I have named enough for this summer, in spite of the fact that I have not named the green-clouded or Troilus butterfly, and Asterias, the black swallowtail, and the red-spotted purple, and the viceroy.
Among the moths to see are the splendid Promethea,
Cecropia, bullseye, Polyphemus, and Luna, to say
nothing of the hummingbird moth, and the sphinx, or
hawk, moths, especially the large one that feeds as a
caterpillar upon the tomato-vines,
There is a like list of interesting beetles and other insects, that play a large part in even your affairs, which you ought to watch during the summer: the honeybee, the big droning golden bumblebee, the large white-faced hornet that builds the paper nests in the bushes and trees, the gall-flies, the ichneumon-flies, the burying beetle, the tumble-bug beetle, the dragon-fly, the caddis-fly—these are only a few of a whole world of insect folk about you, whose habits and life-histories are of utmost importance and of tremendous interest. You will certainly believe it if you will read the Peckhams' book called "Wasps, Social and Solitary," or the beautiful and fascinating insect stories by the great French entomologist Fabre. Get also "Every-day Butterflies," by Scudder; and "Moths and Butterflies," by Miss Dickerson, and "Insect Life," by Kellogg.
You see I cannot stop with this list of the things. That is the trouble with summer—there is too much of it while it lasts, too much variety and abundance of life. One is simply compelled to limit one's self to some particular study, and to pick up mere scraps from other fields.
But, to come back to the larger things of the out-of-doors, you should see the mist some summer morning very early or some summer evening, sheeted and still over a winding stream or pond, especially in the evening when the sun has gone down behind the hill, the flame has faded from the sky, and over the rim of the circling slopes pours the soft, cool twilight, with a breeze as soft and cool, and a spirit that is prayer. For then from out the deep shadows of the wooded shore, out over the pond, a thin white veil will come creeping—the mist, the breath of the sleeping water, the soul of the pond!
You should see it rain down little toads this summer—if you can! There are persons who claim to have seen it. But I never have. I have stood on Maurice River Bridge, however, and apparently had them pelting down upon my feet as the big drops of the July shower struck the planks—myriads of tiny toads covering the bridge across the river! Did they rain down? No, they had been hiding in the dirt between the planks and hopped out to meet the sweet rain and to soak their little thirsty skins full.
You should see a cowbird's young in a vireo's nest and the efforts of the poor deceived parents to satisfy its insatiable appetite at the expense of their own young ones' lives! Such a sight will set you to thinking.
I shall not tell you what else you should see, for the whole book could be filled with this one chapter, and then you might lose your forest in your trees. The individual tree is good to look at—the mighty wide-limbed hemlock or pine; but so is a whole dark, solemn forest of hemlocks and pines good to look at. Let us come to the out-of-doors with our study of the separate, individual plant or thing; but let us go on to Nature, and not stop with the individual thing.