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Plant Life In The Valley

( Originally Published 1891 )



WAS there ever such a morning before ?

Far and wide, the frost had pitched its snowy tents of woven dew. Calm, cool and clear the air, as if the breath of night had fallen asleep in the cradle of the valley.

The limpid water of brook and pond slumbered with the soft blue sky above ; and in their dreams there seemed to float the • same pale castles of fairy mist.

Now and then, bright-tinted leaves fell fluttering from the swamp-maples, like feathers from the rosy wings of dawn. With the changing season, the foliage had ended its work, and decked itself in gayest colors.

" Autumn's earliest touch had given
To the woods below,
Hues of beauty, such as heaven
Lendeth to its bow ;
And the soft breeze from the west
Scarcely broke their dreamy rest."

- WHITTIER.

Such was the morning when our merry band gathered by the brookside to hear the story of Life in the Valley,—

"Of the wild-bees' morning chase,
Of the wild-flowers' time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole's nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape's clusters shine."

- WHITTIER.

"Can you tell me where the little yellow cow-slips grew last May, Bunny ? asked the brooklet.

" 0, yes ! and how pretty they looked in the wet meadow. I did not see any on the dry hillside. They were all here."

I saw them, too," piped a cheery voice; " and at first I thought they were buttercups. They grew near the white violet beds."

" I know another flower here in the wet soil," chirped the little squirrel. " It has dark-red berries.

" Cranberries ! " shouted Bunny. "Here are some of them. Ugh ! how sour they are."

There are the big brown cat-tails, also, standing on the marshy edge of the pond," said Dick. " They always grow in wet places."

" And so do the early pussy willows," added Redbreast. " I look for them just as soon as I fly north in the spring time."

" Then there is our jovial friend, Jack-in-the-pulpit, down where the frog-choir sings," cried Dick ; " and the water-cresses and graceful blue-flags."

" You must not forget my pure water-lilies," rippled the brook. " They float on the still water of my pond, and send their roots deep into the mud below. But let us look to another part of our valley, and see what plants grow on the steep hillside."

"There' are not many pretty flowers on the abrupt slopes," said Dick. " The loam is easily washed into the valley, and the water flows so swiftly there that only a little sinks into the ground. The soil is coarser and drier than in the level meadow. A few bushes and tufts of coarse grass cling to the steep side, but they are not very pretty.

"Last May a few clusters of wild columbine grew among the rocks, and nodded their pretty scarlet and yellow blossoms. They looked so lovely, I thought they must have strolled away from home and lost their way.

"Bunny can tell us where to find the sweet clover," chirped a merry voice.

" 0 yes, I know where all the blossoms grow, — the pussy, hop, red and white. The pretty white heads wave in the pasture. A little red clover grows there also, but most of it is in _the rich meadow. I wish it would stay all winter. When the snow is deep and hard, I cannot always find tender branches, and I am often hungry for days and days."

"If you could only eat nuts, Bunny, you could come and live with Chip and me," said kind-hearted Dick. " Last winter I saw a great dog chase you, but you ran into your burrow just in time."

" Yes, Dick, he nearly caught me. It was a cold, frosty day. The ground was covered with snow. I was very hungry, and went out to nip a few buds and a little bark.

"Just as I began to nibble a tender twig, I was almost stunned by a loud noise. I felt a sharp pain, and tried to hop away. But a bullet had broken my leg, and I could only hobble slowly along.

" Then I heard a savage dog bark close behind me. O, how frightened I was. The hard crust cut my poor bleeding leg, and as I dragged it along, it left a red stain on the white snow.

" At length I reached my lonely home. I was still very hungry, but I did not think of that. How my poor leg did ache !

"Long dark days and nights, I lay there all alone in the cold ground, while my leg grew stronger. °Then I crept out to gnaw a little bark.

" But when I saw the April showers, and heard the early blue-birds sing,—when all nature seemed to waken from its long winter sleep, how happy I felt !

"Nature's voice is fraught with gladness,
E'en its showers can hope impart,
And each fading cloud of sadness
Leave a rainbow in the heart.

"' Is it from the white cloud flying,
Or the blue-bird, sweetly singing
In the branches, gently sighing,
Or the distant herd-bell ringing ?

' Is it in the golden sunbeam,
Streaming through the pines above,
Or the brooklet's silver thread-stream,
Comes the gentle voice of love ?

"' As when cool, refreshing showers
Bless the earth with glad surprises,
Like the fragrance of its flowers,
Hope from nature sweetly rises.' "

-A. E. F.

When Bunny ended his story, the little flower was weeping, and Dick turned away his bright eyes, to hide the big round tears that were stealing down his cheeks.

" Poor Bunny ! " was all he said.

Even the brooklet seemed to murmur more sadly as it went on with its story.

" Do you know any means by which plants or their seeds are carried from place to place, Dick ? "

" I often find little quick-grass branches creeping through the soil, and sprouting into coarse green blades above. Sometimes I have seen branches go floating by in the stream, bearing pretty mosses with them to the sea.

" And who has not seen the tufts of thistle-down and dandelion carrying their tiny cargoes of seeds wherever the winds might waft them ? "

" And some seeds, such as those that grow under the scales of our pine cones, float away in the brook," added Chip.

" And some are carried about by birds," piped the robin.

Little animals, like field-mice, often take corn from the gardens and hide it in their nests. And you and I, Chip, carry away nuts, acorns and grasses," said Dick.

"In these and many other ways, plants and seeds are carried about," babbled the brook, " and if they reach proper soil, they spring up and live. But there are bounds beyond which they cannot grow. When the quick-grass reaches a pond or ledge, its branches must turn aside or die. If the tufts of the dandelion alight on the hot sand, their germs never waken to take root.

"The seeds of marsh plants may be carried in many ways to the hilltops, but there they will die.. By dropping its seeds from its scaly cones a pine may in time start a growth of little trees all over the upper slopes of a valley ; but the tiny germs will only rot in a cranberry bog, or wither away on a sandy field.

" Many kinds of seeds — yes, and of plants — are eaten by animals. The leaves of an apple-tree often feed swarms of caterpillars, while its fallen fruit becomes the home of worms. Millions of tiny seeds of the common plantain are gathered yearly by sparrows and other small birds.

" In gardens, the tomato-worm and potato-bug destroy countless plants ; and what shall we say of you, Redbreast ? and of you, Bunny, and Dick, and Chip ? How many seeds do you use for food each year, and so keep plants from spreading more?

" Flowers cannot live in every place where their seeds are sown, but only where the soil, heat and moisture will nourish them into growth. The lily needs much water, the pine but little. Meadow-grass will thrive only in rich soil, while thistles will spring up in rocky places. Clover holds its pretty head up to the sunlight, while many mosses and evergreen vines creep away into dark, damp woods.

" That is why our valley has plants of various kinds in it's different parts, — here the meadow-grass, there the cranberry; here the water-cress, there the wild columbine here the white violet, there the blue ; here the willow, there the oak.

Each in its proper place outgrows the rest, yet cannot go beyond the bounds which nature has set in the soil.

"Every part of our valley helps to make the flowers grow in every other part. The hillsides give their loam to the valley, and their water to its soil and streams. During the day, vapor rises from the water, and at night forms drops of dew for the thirsty flowers on the hillside whence it came.

" But if it were not for the fine soil of the valley, the streams would soon run dry after a rainfall. The very loam sent down by the hills holds back the water for days and weeks, giving it to the brooks very slowly. Then as dew, rain or snow, it returns to the slopes, and thus the rich land in the valley repays the gift of the hillsides."

"But what has the sandy field to do with the life in other parts of our basin?" asked Bunny, with a puzzled look.

" Do you not recall how the hot sand sets the atmosphere in motion, and how the winds supply rain to the slopes ? " asked the brooklet. "Then, too, warm air often flows from our tiny 'desert ' out over the cool meadow, and gives a breath of summer to its flowers.

"' Desert,' did I call it ? Some say that deserts are dead, — that they support no life. But there .are no such places on earth. There are vast fields of sand or parched soil where plants cannot grow. But these same heated tracts help to send warmth and moisture to other lands, just as the sandy field does in our valley.

They help to cover the earth with life, but do not make gardens of their own at home. Like dingy cow-birds, they lay their eggs in the nests of others.

" Thus you see that even our sandy field is very useful, and helps to clothe the valley with plants.

" Then there is our shady grove where the snow slowly melts, and feeds the rills long after the open fields are bare and dry. Beneath its trees, the leafy mould gives off its water even after the meadow loam is empty.

"And when it rains, only a little more than one-half the drops fall upon the surface beneath its branches. Some are taken into the leaves, and many are carried along the cracks and seams in the bark, down among the roots.

"Most of the forest rains find their way into the soil, instead of forming surface rills. In this way the streams are fed by springs during long, dry seasons, and do not become rushing torrents after each heavy rainfall.

"Hillsides and valleys, water and wooded soil, fertile slopes and sandy fields, — all are parts of one beautiful whole, and that is our valley home."



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