previous next
[40] looks back upon you, beyond the gunwale of the reflected boat, and you find that you float double-self and shadow.

Let us rest our paddles, and look round us, while the idle motion sways our light skiff onward, now half embayed among the lily-pads, now lazily gliding over into intervening gulfs. There is a great deal going on in these waters and their fringing woods and meadows. All the summer long the pond is bordered with successive walls of flowers. In early spring emerge the yellow catkins of the swamp-willow, first; then the long tassels of the graceful alders expand and droop, till they weep their yellow dust upon the water; then come the birch-blossoms, more tardily; then the downy leaves and white clusters of the medlar or shad-bush (Amelanchier Canadensis); these dropping, the roseate chalices of the mountain-laurel open; as they fade into melancholy brown, the sweet Azalea uncloses; and before its last honeyed blossom has trailed down, dying, from the stem, the more fragrant Clethra starts out above, the button-bush thrusts forth its merry face amid wild roses, and the Clematis waves its sprays of beauty. Mingled with these grow, lower, the spiraeas, white and pink, yellow touch-me-not, fresh white arrowhead, bright blue vervain and skull-cap, dull snake-head, gay monkey-flower, coarse eupatoriums, milkweeds, golden-rods, asters, thistles, and a host beside. Beneath, the brilliant scarlet cardinal-flower begins to palisade the moist shores; and after its superb reflection has passed away from the waters, the grotesque witch-hazel flares out its narrow yellow petals amidst the October leaves, and so ends the floral year. There is not a week during all these months when one cannot stand in the boat and wreathe garlands of blossoms from the shores.

These all crowd around the brink, and watch, day and night, the opening and closing of the water-lilies. Meanwhile, upon the waters, our queen keeps her chosen court, nor can one of these mere land-loving blossoms touch the hem of her garment. In truth, she bears no sister near her throne. There is but this one species among us, Nymphoea odorata, the beautiful little rose-colored Nympoea sanguinea, which still adorns the Botanic Gardens, being merely an occasional variety. She has, indeed, an English half-sister, Nymphoea alba, less beautiful, less fragrant, but keeping more fashionable hours,–not opening (according to Linnaeus) till seven, nor closing till four. And she has a humble cousin, the yellow Nuphar, who keeps commonly aloof, as becomes a poor relation, though created from the self-same mud,— a fact which Hawthorne has beautifully moralized. The prouder Nelumbium, a second-cousin, lineal descendant of the sacred bean of Pythagoras, has fallen to an obscurer position, but dwells, like a sturdy democrat, in the Far West.

Yet, undisturbed, the water-lily reigns on, with her retinue around her. The tall pickerel-weed (Pontederia) is her gentleman-usher, gorgeous in blue and gold through July, somewhat rusty in August. The water-shield (Hydropeltis) is chief maid-of-honor; a high-born lady she, not without royal blood indeed, but with rather a bend sinister; not precisely beautiful, but very fastidious; encased over her whole person with a gelatinous covering, literally a starched duenna. Sometimes she is suspected of conspiring to drive her mistress from the throne; for we have observed certain slow watercourses where the leaves of the water-lily have been almost wholly replaced, in a series of years, by the similar, but smaller, leaves of the watershield. More rarely seen is the slender Utricularia, a dainty maiden, whose light feet scarce touch the water,—with the still more delicate floating white Water-Ranunculus, and the shy Villarsia, whose submerged flowers merely peep one day above the surface and then close again forever. Then there are many humbler attendants, Potamogetons or pond-weeds. And here float little emissaries from the dominions of land; for the fallen florets of the Viburnum drift among the lily-pads, with mast-like stamens erect, sprinkling the water with a strange beauty, and cheating us with the promise of a new aquatic flower.

These are the still life of this sequestered nook; but it is in fact a crowded thoroughfare. No tropic jungle more swarms with busy existence than these midsummer waters and their bushy banks. The warm and humming air is filled with insect sounds, ranging from the murmur of invisible gnats and midges to the impetuous whirring of the great Libellulae, large almost as swallows, and hawking high in air for their food. Swift butterflies glance by, moths flutter, flies buzz, grasshoppers and katydids pipe their shrill notes, sharp as the edges of the sunbeams. Busy bees go humming past, straight as arrows, express-freight-trains from one blossoming copse to another. Showy wasps of many species fume uselessly about, in gallant uniforms, wasting an immense deal of unnecessary anger on the sultry universe. Graceful, stingless Sphexes and Ichneumon-flies emulate their bustle, without their weapons. Delicate lady-birds come and go to the milkweeds, spotted almost as regularly as if Nature had decided to number the species, like policemen or hack-drivers, from one to twenty. Elegant little Lepturae fly with them, so gay and airy they hardly seem like beetles. Phryganeae (once caddis-worms), lace-flies, and long-tailed Ephemerae flutter more heavily by. On the large alder-flowers clings the superb Desmocerus palliatus, beautiful as a tropical insect, with his steel-blue armor and his golden cloak (pallium) above his shoulders, grandest knight on this Field of the Cloth of Gold. The countless fireflies which spangled the evening mist now only crawl sleepily, daylight creatures, with the lustre buried in their milky bodies. More wholly children of night, the soft, luxurious Sphinxes (or hawk-moths) come not here; fine ladies of the insect world, their home is among gardens and greenhouses, late and languid by day, but all night long upon the

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Swift (1)
Pythagoras (1)
Linnaeus (1)
Hawthorne (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
October (1)
August (1)
July (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: