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The Coming Of Summer
by [?]

Who shall say when one season ends and another begins? Only the almanac-makers can fix these dates. It is like saying when babyhood ends and childhood begins, or when childhood ends and youth begins. To me spring begins when the catkins on the alders and the pussy-willows begin to swell; when the ice breaks up on the river and the first sea-gulls come prospecting northward. Whatever the date–the first or the middle or the last of March–when these signs appear, then I know spring is at hand. Her first birds–the bluebird, the song sparrow, the robin, the red-shouldered starling–are here or soon will be. The crows have a more confident caw, the sap begins to start in the sugar maple, the tiny boom of the first bee is heard, the downy woodpecker begins his resonant tat, tat, tat, on the dry limbs, and the cattle in the barnyard low long and loud with wistful looks toward the fields.

The first hint of summer comes when the trees are fully fledged and the nymph Shadow is born. See her cool circles again beneath the trees in the field, or her deeper and cooler retreats in the woods. On the slopes, on the opposite side of the river, there have been for months under the morning and noon sun only slight shadow tracings, a fretwork of shadow lines; but some morning in May I look across and see solid masses of shade falling from the trees athwart the sloping turf. How the eye revels in them! The trees are again clothed and in their right minds; myriad leaves rustle in promise of the coming festival. Now the trees are sentient beings; they have thoughts and fancies; they stir with emotion; they converse together; they whisper or dream in the twilight; they struggle and wrestle with the storm.

“Caught and cuff’d by the gale,”

Tennyson says.

Summer always comes in the person of June, with a bunch of daisies on her breast and clover blossoms in her hands. A new chapter in the season is opened when these flowers appear. One says to himself, “Well, I have lived to see the daisies again and to smell the red clover.” One plucks the first blossoms tenderly and caressingly. What memories are stirred in the mind by the fragrance of the one and the youthful face of the other! There is nothing else like that smell of the clover: it is the maidenly breath of summer; it suggests all fresh, buxom, rural things. A field of ruddy, blooming clover, dashed or sprinkled here and there with the snow-white of the daisies; its breath drifts into the road when you are passing; you hear the boom of bees, the voice of bobolinks, the twitter of swallows, the whistle of woodchucks; you smell wild strawberries; you see the cattle upon the hills; you see your youth, the youth of a happy farm-boy, rise before you. In Kentucky I once saw two fields, of one hundred acres each, all ruddy with blooming clover–perfume for a whole county.

The blooming orchards are the glory of May, the blooming clover-fields the distinction of June. Other characteristic June perfumes come from the honey-locusts and the blooming grapevines. At times and in certain localities the air at night and morning is heavy with the breath of the former, and along the lanes and roadsides we inhale the delicate fragrance of the wild grape. The early grasses, too, with their frostlike bloom, contribute something very welcome to the breath of June.

Nearly every season I note what I call the bridal day of summer–a white, lucid, shining day, with a delicate veil of mist softening all outlines. How the river dances and sparkles; how the new leaves of all the trees shine under the sun; the air has a soft lustre; there is a haze, it is not blue, but a kind of shining, diffused nimbus. No clouds, the sky a bluish white, very soft and delicate. It is the nuptial day of the season; the sun fairly takes the earth to be his own, for better or for worse, on such a day, and what marriages there are going on all about us: the marriages of the flowers, of the bees, of the birds. Everything suggests life, love, fruition. These bridal days are often repeated; the serenity and equipoise of the elements combine. They were such days as these that the poet Lowell had in mind when he exclaimed, “What is so rare as a day in June?” Here is the record of such a day, June 1, 1883: “Day perfect in temper, in mood, in everything. Foliage all out except on button-balls and celtis, and putting on its dark green summer color, solid shadows under the trees, and stretching down the slopes. A few indolent summer clouds here and there. A day of gently rustling and curtsying leaves, when the breeze almost seems to blow upward. The fields of full-grown, nodding rye slowly stir and sway like vast assemblages of people. How the chimney swallows chipper as they sweep past! The vireo’s cheerful warble echoes in the leafy maples; the branches of the Norway spruce and the hemlocks have gotten themselves new light green tips; the dandelion’s spheres of ethereal down rise above the grass: and now and then one of them suddenly goes down: the little chippy, or social sparrow, has thrown itself upon the frail stalk and brought it to the ground, to feed upon its seeds; here it gets the first fruits of the season. The first red and white clover heads have just opened, the yellow rock-rose and the sweet viburnum are in bloom; the bird chorus is still full and animated; the keys of the red maple strew the ground, and the cotton of the early everlasting drifts upon the air.” For several days there was but little change. “Getting toward the high tide of summer. The air well warmed up, Nature in her jocund mood, still, all leaf and sap. The days are idyllic. I lie on my back on the grass in the shade of the house, and look up to the soft, slowly moving clouds, and to the chimney swallows disporting themselves up there in the breezy depths. No hardening in vegetation yet. The moist, hot, fragrant breath of the fields–mingled odor of blossoming grasses, clover, daisies, rye–the locust blossoms, dropping. What a humming about the hives; what freshness in the shade of every tree; what contentment in the flocks and herds! The springs are yet full and cold; the shaded watercourses and pond margins begin to draw one.” Go to the top of the hill on such a morning, say by nine o’clock, and see how unspeakably fresh and full the world looks. The morning shadows yet linger everywhere, even in the sunshine; a kind of blue coolness and freshness, the vapor of dew tinting the air.