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Winter Sunshine
by [?]

But what does not the dweller in the National Capital endure in reaching these days! Think of the agonies of the heated term, the ragings of the dog-star, the purgatory of heat and dust, of baking, blistering pavements, of cracked and powdered fields, of dead, stifling night air, from which every tonic and antiseptic quality seems eliminated, leaving a residuum of sultry malaria and all-diffusing privy and sewer gases, that lasts from the first of July to near the middle of September! But when October is reached, the memory of these things is afar off, and the glory of the days is a perpetual surprise.

I sally out in the morning with the ostensible purpose of gathering chestnuts, or autumn leaves, or persimmons, or exploring some run or branch. It is, say, the last of October or the first of November. The air is not balmy, but tart and pungent, like the flavor of the red-cheeked apples by the roadside. In the sky not a cloud, not a speck; a vast dome of blue ether lightly suspended above the world. The woods are heaped with color like a painter’s palette,–great splashes of red and orange and gold. The ponds and streams bear upon their bosoms leaves of all tints, from the deep maroon of the oak to the pale yellow of the chestnut. In the glens and nooks it is so still that the chirp of a solitary cricket is noticeable. The red berries of the dogwood and spice-bush and other shrubs shine in the sun like rubies and coral. The crows fly high above the earth, as they do only on such days, forms of ebony floating across the azure, and the buzzards look like kingly birds, sailing round and round.

Or it may be later in the season, well into December. The days are equally bright, but a little more rugged. The mornings are ushered in by an immense spectrum thrown upon the eastern sky. A broad bar of red and orange lies along the low horizon, surmounted by an expanse of color in which green struggles with yellow and blue with green half the way to the zenith. By and by the red and orange spread upward and grow dim, the spectrum fades, and the sky becomes suffused with yellow white light, and in a moment the fiery scintillations of the sun begin to break across the Maryland hills. Then before long the mists and vapors uprise like the breath of a giant army, and for an hour or two, one is reminded of a November morning in England. But by mid-forenoon the only trace of the obscurity that remains is a slight haze, and the day is indeed a summons and a challenge to come forth. If the October days were a cordial like the sub-acids of a fruit, these are a tonic like the wine of iron. Drink deep, or be careful how you taste this December vintage. The first sip may chill, but a full draught warms and invigorates. No loitering by the brooks or in the woods now, but spirited, rugged walking along the public highway. The sunbeams are welcome now. They seem like pure electricity,–like a friendly and recuperating lightning. Are we led to think electricity abounds only in the summer when we see storm-clouds, as it were, the veins and ore-beds of it? I imagine it is equally abundant in winter, and more equable and better tempered. Who ever breasted a snowstorm without being excited and exhilarated, as if this meteor had come charged with latent aurorae of the North, as doubtless it has? It is like being pelted with sparks from a battery. Behold the frost-work on the pane,–the wild, fantastic limnings and etchings! can there be any doubt but this subtle agent has been here? Where is it not? It is the life of the crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it. When I come in at night after an all-day tramp I am charged like a Leyden jar; my hair crackles and snaps beneath the comb like a cat’s back, and a strange, new glow diffuses itself through my system.