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XXIV. - THE PRAIRIES.
THE attraction of the prairie consists in its extent, its carpet of verdure and flowers, its undulating surface, its groves, and the fringe of timber by which it is surrounded. Of all these, the last is the most expressive feature; it 5 is that which gives character to the landscape, which imparts the shape and marks the boundary of the plain. If the prairie be small, its greatest beauty consists in the vicinity of the surrounding margin of woodland, which resembles the shore of a lake, indented with deep vistas, 10 like bays and inlets, and throwing out long points, like capes and headlands; while occasionally these points approach so closely on either hand, that the traveller passes through a narrow avenue or strait, where the shadows of the woodland fall upon his path, and then 15 emerges again into another prairie.
Where the plain is large, the forest outline is seen in the far perspective, like the dim shore, when beheld at a distance from the ocean. The eye sometimes roams over the green meadow, without discovering a tree, a shrub, or any 20 object in the immense expanse, but the wilderness of grass and flowers; while at another time, the prospect is enlivened by the groves, which are seen interspersed like islands, or the solitary tree which stands alone in the blooming desert.
If it be in the spring of the year, and the young grass has just covered the ground with a carpet of delicate green, and especially if the sun is rising from behind a distant swell of the plain, and glittering upon the dewdrops, no scene can be more lovely to the eye. The deer 30 is seen grazing quietly upon the plain; the bee is on the wing; the wolf, with his tail dropped, is sneaking away to his covert, with the felon tread of one who is conscious that he has disturbed the peace of nature; and the grouse,
feeding in flocks, or in pairs, like the domestic fowl, cover the whole surface the males strutting and erecting their plumage like the peacock, and uttering a long, loud, mournful note, something like the cooing of the dove, but 5 resembling still more the sound produced by passing a rough finger boldly over the surface of a tambourine.
When the eye roves off from the green plain to the groves or points of timber, these are also found to be at this season robed in the most attractive hues. The rich 10 undergrowth is in full bloom. The red-bud, the dogwood, the crab-apple. the wild plum, the cherry, the wild rose, are abundant in all the rich lands; and the grapevine, although its blossom is unseen, fills the air with fragrance. The variety of the wild fruit and flowering shrubs 15 is so great, and such the profusion of the blossoms with which they are bowed down, that the eye is regaled almost to satiety.
The gayety of the prairie, its embellishments, and the absence of the gloom and savage wildness of the forest, 20 all contribute to dispel the feeling of lonesomeness, which usually creeps over the mind of the solitary traveller in the wilderness. Though one may see neither a house nor a human being, and is conscious that he is far from the habitations of man, he can scarcely divest himself of the 25 idea that he is travelling through scenes embellished by the hand of art. The flowers so fragile, so delicate, and so ornamental- seem to have been tastefully disposed to adorn the scene. The groves and clumps of trees seem to have been scattered over the lawn to beautify the land30 scape, and it is not easy to avoid the illusion of the fancy which persuades the beholder that such scenery has been created to gratify the refined taste of civilized man. Europeans are often reminded of the resemblance of this scenery to that of the extensive parks of noblemen, which 35 they have been accustomed to admire in the old world. The lawn, the avenue, the grove, the copse, which are
there produced by art, are here prepared by nature; a splendid specimen of massy architecture and the distant view of villages are alone wanting to make the similitude complete.
In the summer, the prairie is covered with a long, coarse grass, which soon assumes a golden hue, and waves in the wind like a ripe harvest. The first coat of grass is mingled with small flowers - the violet, the bloom of the strawberry, and others of the most minute and delicate 10 texture. As the grass increases in size, these disappear, and others, taller and more gaudy, display their brilliant colors upon the green surface; and still later, a larger and coarser succession rises with the rising tide of verdure.
A fanciful writer asserts that the prevalent color of 15 the prairie flowers is, in the spring, a bluish purple; in midsummer, red; and in the autumn, yellow. This is one of the notions that people get, who study nature by the fireside. The truth is, that the whole of the surface of these beautiful plains is clad throughout the season of 20 verdure with every imaginable variety of color, "from grave to gay." It is impossible to conceive a more infinite diversity, or a richer profusion of hues, or to detect any predominating tint, except the green, which forms the beautiful ground, and relieves the exquisite brilliancy of 25 all the others. The only changes of color, observed at the different seasons, arise from the circumstance, that in the spring the flowers are small, and the colors delicate ; as the heat becomes more ardent, a hardier race appears; the flowers attain a greater size, and the hue deepens; 30 and still later, a succession of still coarser plants rises above the tall grass, throwing out larger and gaudier flowers.
In the winter the prairies present a gloomy and desolate appearance. The fire has passed over them, consum35 ing every vegetable substance, and leaving the soil bare, and the surface perfectly blank. That gracefully-waving
outline, so attractive to the eye when clad in green, disrobed of all its ornaments; its fragrance, its notes or joy, and the graces of its landscape have all vanished, while the bosom of the cold earth, scorched and discolored, 5 is alone visible. There is nothing to be seen but the cold, dead earth and the bare mound, which move not; and the traveller, with a strange sensation, feels the blast rushing over him, while not an object visible to the eye is seen to stir. Accustomed as the mind is to associate with 1 the action of the wind its operation upon surrounding objects, there is a novel effect produced on the mind of one who feels the current of air rolling heavily over him, while nothing moves around.
SIR WALTER SCOTT.
[This poem commemorates the fate of Mr. Charles Gough, a young man who, in the spring of 1805, attempting to cross the Helvellyn, a mountain in Cumberland, England, to Grasmere, slipped from a steep part of the rock, where the ice was not thawed, and perished. His remains were not discovered till three months afterwards, when they were found guarded by his dog.]
1 I CLIMBED the dark brow of the mighty Helvellyn;
Lakes and mountains beneath me gleamed misty and
All was still, save by fits, when the eagle was yelling,
On the right, Striden-edge round the Red-tarn was
And Catchedicam its left verge was defending,
*Striden-edge and Catchedicam are subordinate peaks of Helvellyn. The Red-tarn is the name of a mountain lake.
2 Dark green was that spot 'mid the brown mountain heather,
Where the pilgrim of nature lay stretched in decay.
3 How long didst thou think that his silence was slumber? When the wind waved his garment, how oft didst thou start?
How many long days and long weeks didst thou number,
4 When a prince to the fate of the peasant has yielded, The tapestry waves dark round the dim-lighted hall; With scutcheons of silver the coffin is shielded,
And pages stand mute by the canopied pall:
Through the courts, at deep midnight, the torches are gleaming;
In the proudly-arched chapel the banners are beaming;
But meeter for thee, gentle lover of nature,
To lay down thy head like the meek mountain lamb, When, 'wildered, he drops from some cliff huge in stature,
And draws his last sob by the side of his dam.
And more stately thy couch, by this desert lake lying,