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High Life
by [?]

Everybody knows mountain flowers are beautiful. As one rises up any minor height in the Alps or the Pyrenees below snow-level, one notices at once the extraordinary brilliancy and richness of the blossoms one meets there. All nature is dressed in its brightest robes. Great belts of blue gentian hang like a zone on the mountain slopes; masses of yellow globe-flower star the upland pastures; nodding heads of soldanella lurk low among the rugged boulders by the glacier’s side. No lowland blossoms have such vividness of colouring, or grow in such conspicuous patches. To strike the eye from afar, to attract and allure at a distance, is the great aim and end in life of the Alpine flora.

Now, why are Alpine plants so anxious to be seen of men and angels? Why do they flaunt their golden glories so openly before the world, instead of shrinking in modest reserve beneath their own green leaves, like the Puritan primrose and the retiring violet? The answer is, Because of the extreme rarity of the mountain air. It’s the barometer that does it. At first sight, I will readily admit, this explanation seems as fanciful as the traditional connection between Goodwin Sands and Tenterden Steeple. But, like the amateur stories in country papers, it is ‘founded on fact,’ for all that. (Imagine, by the way, a tale founded entirely on fiction! How charmingly aerial!) By a roundabout road, through varying chains of cause and effect, the rarity of the air does really account in the long run for the beauty and conspicuousness of the mountain flowers.

For bees, the common go-betweens of the loves of the plants, cease to range about a thousand or fifteen hundred feet below snow-level. And why? Because it’s too cold for them? Oh, dear, no: on sunny days in early English spring, when the thermometer doesn’t rise above freezing in the shade, you will see both the honey-bees and the great black bumble as busy as their conventional character demands of them among the golden cups of the first timid crocuses. Give the bee sunshine, indeed, with a temperature just about freezing-point, and he’ll flit about joyously on his communistic errand. But bees, one must remember, have heavy bodies and relatively small wings: in the rarefied air of mountain heights they can’t manage to support themselves in the most literal sense. Hence their place in these high stations of the world is taken by the gay and airy butterflies, which have lighter bodies and a much bigger expanse of wing-area to buoy them up. In the valleys and plains the bee competes at an advantage with the butterflies for all the sweets of life: but in this broad sub-glacial belt on the mountain-sides the butterflies in turn have things all their own way. They flit about like monarchs of all they survey, without a rival in the world to dispute their supremacy.

And how does the preponderance of butterflies in the upper regions of the air affect the colour and brilliancy of the flowers? Simply thus. Bees, as we are all aware on the authority of the great Dr. Watts, are industrious creatures which employ each shining hour (well-chosen epithet, ‘shining’) for the good of the community, and to the best purpose. The bee, in fact, is the bon bourgeois of the insect world: he attends strictly to business, loses no time in wild or reckless excursions, and flies by the straightest path from flower to flower of the same species with mathematical precision. Moreover, he is careful, cautious, observant, and steady-going–a model business man, in fact, of sound middle-class morals and sober middle-class intelligence. No flitting for him, no coquetting, no fickleness. Therefore, the flowers that have adapted themselves to his needs, and that depend upon him mainly or solely for fertilisation, waste no unnecessary material on those big flaunting coloured posters which we human observers know as petals. They have, for the most part, simple blue or purple flowers, tubular in shape and, individually, inconspicuous in hue; and they are oftenest arranged in long spikes of blossom to avoid wasting the time of their winged Mr. Bultitudes. So long as they are just bright enough to catch the bee’s eye a few yards away, they are certain to receive a visit in due season from that industrious and persistent commercial traveller. Having a circle of good customers upon whom they can depend with certainty for fertilisation, they have no need to waste any large proportion of their substance upon expensive advertisements or gaudy petals.