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- Over Prairie Trails - 10/28 -


leap and rear with impatience when taken into the open before they were hooked to the vehicle. They were being very well fed, and though once a week they had the hardest of work, for the rest of the time they had never more than enough to limber them up, for on schooldays I used to take them out for a spin of three or four miles only, after four. At home, when I left, my wife and I would get them ready in the stable; then I took them out and lined them up in front of the buggy. My wife quickly took the lines: I hooked the traces up, jumped in, grabbed for the lines and waved my last farewell from the road afar off. Even at that they got away from us once or twice and came very near upsetting and wrecking the buggy; but nothing serious ever happened during the winter. I had to have horses like that, for I needed their speed and their staying power, as the reader will see if he cares to follow me very much farther.

We flew along--the road seemed ideal--the air was wonderfully crisp and cold--my cutter fulfilled the highest expectations--the horses revelled in speed. But soon I pulled them down to a trot, for I followed the horsemen's rules whenever I could, and Dan, as I mentioned, was anyway rather too keen at the start for steady work later on. I settled back. The top of my cutter was down, for not a breath stirred; and I was always anxious to see as much of the country as I could...

Do you know which is the stillest hour of the night? The hour before dawn. It is at that time, too, that in our winter nights the mercury dips down to its lowest level. Perhaps the two things have a causal relation--whatever there is of wild life in nature, withdraws more deeply within itself; it curls up and dreams. On calm summer mornings you hear no sound except the chirping and twittering of the sleeping birds. The birds are great dreamers--like dogs; like dogs they will twitch and stir in their sleep, as if they were running and flying and playing and chasing each other. Just stalk a bird's nest of which you know at half past two in the morning, some time during the month of July; and before you see them, you will hear them. If there are young birds in the nest, all the better; take the mother bird off and the little ones will open their beaks, all mouth as they are, and go to sleep again; and they will stretch their featherless little wings; and if they are a little bit older, they will even try to move their tiny legs, as if longing to use them. As with dogs, it is the young ones that dream most. I suppose their impressions are so much more vivid, the whole world is so new to them that it rushes in upon them charged with emotion. Emotions penetrate even us to a greater depth than mere apperceptions; so they break through that crust that seems to envelop the seat of our memory, and once inside, they will work out again into some form of consciousness--that of sleep or of the wakeful dream which we call memory.

The stillest hour! In starlit winter nights the heavenly bodies seem to take on an additional splendour, something next to blazing, overweening boastfulness. "Now sleeps the world," they seem to say, "but we are awake and weaving destiny" And on they swing on their immutable paths.

The stillest hour! If you step out of a sleeping house and are alone, you are apt to hold your breath; and if you are not, you are apt to whisper. There is an expectancy in the air, a fatefulness--a loud word would be blasphemy that offends the ear and the feeling of decency It is the hour of all still things, the silent things that pass like dreams through the night. You seem to stand hushed. Stark and bare, stripped of all accidentals, the universe swings on its way.

The stillest hour! But how much stiller than still, when the earth has drawn over its shoulders that morning mist that allows of no slightest breath--when under the haze the very air seems to lie curled and to have gone to sleep. And yet how portentous! The haze seems to brood. It seems somehow to suggest that there is all of life asleep on earth. You seem to feel rather than to hear the whole creation breathing in its sleep--as if it was soundlessly stirring in dreams--presently to stretch, to awake. There is also the delicacy, the tenderness of all young things about it. Even in winter it reminds me of the very first unfolding of young leaves on trees; of the few hours while they are still hanging down, unable to raise themselves up as yet; they look so worldlywise sometimes, so precocious, and before them there still lie all hopes and all disappointments... In clear nights you forget the earth--under the hazy cover your eye is thrown back upon it. It is the contrast of the universe and of creation.

We drove along--and slowly, slowly came the dawn. You could not define how it came. The whole world seemed to pale and to whiten, and that was all. There was no sunrise. It merely seemed as if all of Nature--very gradually--was soaking itself full of some light; it was dim at first, but never grey; and then it became the whitest, the clearest, the most undefinable light. There were no shadows. Under the brush of the wild land which I was skirting by now there seemed to be quite as much of luminosity as overhead. The mist was the thinnest haze, and it seemed to derive its whiteness as much from the virgin snow on the ground as from above. I could not cease to marvel at this light which seemed to be without a source--like the halo around the Saviour's face. The eye as yet did not reach very far, and wherever I looked, I found but one word to describe it: impalpable--and that is saying what it was not rather than what it was. As I said, there was no sunshine, but the light was there, omnipresent, diffused, coming mildly, softly, but from all sides, and out of all things as well as into them.

Shakespeare has this word in Macbeth, and I had often pondered on it:

So fair and foul a day I have not seen.

This was it, I thought. We have such days about four or five times a year--and none but the northern countries have them. There are clouds--or rather, there is a uniform layer of cloud, very high, and just the slightest suggestion of curdiness in it; and the light is very white. These days seem to waken in me every wander instinct that lay asleep. There is nothing definite, nothing that seems to be emphasized--something seems to beckon to me and to invite me to take to my wings and just glide along--without beating of wings--as if I could glide without sinking, glide and still keep my height... If you see the sun at all--as I did not on this day of days--he stands away up, very distant and quite aloof. He looks more like the moon than like his own self, white and heatless and lightless, as if it were not he at all from whom all this transparency and visibility proceeded.

I have lived in southern countries, and I have travelled rather far for a single lifetime. Like an epic stretch my memories into dim and ever receding pasts. I have drunk full and deep from the cup of creation. The Southern Cross is no strange sight to my eyes. I have slept in the desert close to my horse, and I have walked on Lebanon. I have cruised in the seven seas and seen the white marvels of ancient cities reflected in the wave of incredible blueness. But then I was young. When the years began to pile up, I longed to stake off my horizons, to flatten out my views. I wanted the simpler, the more elemental things, things cosmic in their associations, nearer to the beginning or end of creation. The parrot that flashed through "nutmeg groves" did not hold out so much allurement as the simple gray-and-slaty junco. The things that are unobtrusive and differentiated by shadings only--grey in grey above all--like our northern woods, like our sparrows, our wolves--they held a more compelling attraction than orgies of colour and screams of sound. So I came home to the north. On days like this, however, I should like once more to fly out and see the tireless wave and the unconquerable rock. But I should like to see them from afar and dimly only--as Moses saw the promised land. Or I should like to point them out to a younger soul and remark upon the futility and innate vanity of things.

And because these days take me out of myself, because they change my whole being into a very indefinite longing and dreaming, I wilfully blot from my vision whatever enters. If I meet a tree, I see it not. If I meet a man, I pass him by without speaking. I do not care to be disturbed. I do not care to follow even a definite thought. There is sadness in the mood, such sadness as enters--strange to say--into a great and very definitely expected disappointment. It is an exceedingly delicate sadness--haughty, aloof like the sun, and like him cool to the outer world. It does not even want sympathy; it merely wants to be left alone.

It strangely chimed in with my mood on this particular and very perfect morning that no jolt shook me up, that we glided along over virgin snow which had come soft-footedly over night, in a motion, so smooth and silent as to suggest that wingless flight...

We spurned the miles, and I saw them not. As if in a dream we turned in at one of the "half way farms," and the horses drank. And we went on and wound our way across that corner of the marsh. We came to the "White Range Line House," and though there were many things to see, I still closed the eye of conscious vision and saw them not. We neared the bridge, and we crossed it; and then--when I had turned southeast--on to the winding log-road through the bush--at last the spell that was cast over me gave way and broke. My horses fell into their accustomed walk, and at last I saw.

Now, what I saw, may not be worth the describing, I do not know. It surely is hardly capable of being described. But if I had been led through fairylands or enchanted gardens, I could not have been awakened to a truer day of joy, to a greater realization of the good will towards all things than I was here.


Over Prairie Trails - 10/28

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