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Full Online Book HomeEssaysFollow Your Nose!
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Follow Your Nose! Post by :Gfacets Category :Essays Author :David Grayson Date :October 2011 Read :3702

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Follow Your Nose!

"Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn--
Look to this day! For it is Life,
The very Life of Life!"


On a spring morning one has only to step out into the open country, lift his head to the sky--and follow his nose....

It was a big and golden morning, and Sunday to boot, and I walked down the lane to the lower edge of the field, where the wood and the marsh begin. The sun was just coming up over the hills and all the air was fresh and clear and cool. High in the heavens a few fleecy clouds were drifting, and the air was just enough astir to waken the hemlocks into faint and sleepy exchanges of confidence.

It seemed to me that morning that the world was never before so high, so airy, so golden, All filled to the brim with the essence of sunshine and spring morning--so that one's spirit dissolved in it, became a part of it. Such a morning! Such a morning!

From that place and just as I was I set off across the open land.

It was the time of all times for good odours--soon after sunrise--before the heat of the day had drawn off the rich distillations of the night.

In that keen moment I caught, drifting, a faint but wild fragrance upon the air, and veered northward full into the way of the wind. I could not at first tell what this particular odour was, nor separate it from the general good odour of the earth; but I followed it intently across the moor-like open land. Once I thought I had lost it entirely, or that the faint northern airs had shifted, but I soon caught it clearly again, and just as I was saying to myself, "I've got it, I've got it!"--for it is a great pleasure to identify a friendly odour in the fields--I saw, near the bank of the brook, among ferns and raspberry bushes, a thorn-apple tree in full bloom.

"So there you are!" I said.

I hastened toward it, now in the full current and glory of its fragrance. The sun, looking over the taller trees to the east, had crowned the top of it with gold, so that it was beautiful to see; and it was full of honey bees as excited as I.

A score of feet onward toward the wind, beyond the thorn-apple tree, I passed wholly out of the range of its fragrance into another world, and began trying for some new odour. After one or two false scents, for this pursuit has all the hazards known to the hunter, I caught an odour long known to me, not strong, nor yet very wonderful, but distinctive. It led me still a little distance northward to a sunny slope just beyond a bit of marsh, and, sure enough, I found an old friend, the wild sweet geranium, a world of it, in full bloom, and I sat down there for some time to enjoy it fully.

Beyond that, and across a field wild with tangles of huckleberry bushes and sheep laurel where the bluets and buttercups were blooming, and in shady spots the shy white violet, I searched for the odour of a certain clump of pine trees I discovered long ago. I knew that I must come upon it soon, but could not tell just when or where. I held up a moistened finger to make sure of the exact direction of the wind, and bearing, then, a little eastward, soon came full upon it--as a hunter might surprise a deer in the forest. I crossed the brook a second time and through a little marsh, making it the rule of the game never to lose for an instant the scent I was following--even though I stopped in a low spot to admire a mass of thrifty blue flags, now beginning to bloom--and came thus to the pines I was seeking. They are not great trees, nor noble, but gnarled and angular and stunted, for the soil in that place is poor and thin, and the winds in winter keen; but the brown blanket of needles they spread and the shade they offer the traveller are not less hospitable; nor the fragrance they give off less enchanting. The odour of the pine is one I love.

I sat down there in a place I chose long ago--a place already as familiar with pleasing memories as a favourite room--so that I wonder that some of the notes I have written there do not of themselves exhale the very odour of the pines.

And all about was hung a fair tapestry of green, and the earthy floor was cleanly carpeted with brown, and the roof above was in arched mosaic, the deep, deep blue of the sky seen through the gnarled and knotted branches of the pines. Through a little opening among the trees, as through a window, I could see the cattle feeding in the wide meadows, all headed alike, and yellow butterflies drifted across the open spaces, and there were bumblebees and dragonflies. And presently I heard some one tapping, tapping, at the door of the wood and glancing up quickly I saw my early visitor. There he was, as neighbourly as you please, and not in the least awed by my intrusion; there he was, far out on the limb of a dead tree, stepping energetically up and down, like a sailor reefing a sail, and rapping and tapping as he worked--a downy woodpecker.

"Good morning, sir," I said.

He stopped for scarcely a second, cocked one eye at me, and went back to his work again. Who was I that I should interrupt his breakfast?

And I was glad I was there, and I began enumerating, as though I were the accredited reporter for the Woodland Gazette, all the good news of the day.

"The beech trees." said aloud, "have come at last to full leafage. The wild blackberries are ready to bloom, the swamp roses are budded. Brown planted fields I see, and drooping elms, and the young crows cry from their nests on the knoll.... I know now that, whoever I am, whatever I do, I am welcome here; the meadows are as green this spring for Tom the drunkard, and for Jim the thief, as for Jonathan the parson, or for Walt the poet: the wild cherry blooms as richly, and the odour of the pine is as sweet--"

At that moment, like a flame for clearness, I understood some of the deep and simple things of life, as that we are to be like the friendly pines, and the elm trees, and the open fields, and reject no man and judge no man. Once, a long time ago, I read a sober treatise by one who tried to prove with elaborate knowledge that, upon the whole, good was triumphant in this world, and that probably there was a God, and I remember going out dully afterward upon the hill, for I was weighed down with a strange depression, and the world seemed to me a hard, cold, narrow place where good must be heavily demonstrated in books. And as I sat there the evening fell, a star or two came out in the clear blue of the sky, and suddenly it became all simple to me, so that I laughed aloud at that laborious big-wig for spending so many futile years in seeking doubtful proof of what he might have learned in one rare home upon my hill. And far more than he could prove far more.

As I came away from that place I knew I should never again be quite the same person I was before.


Well, we cannot remain steadily upon the heights. At least I cannot, and would not if I could. After I have been out about so long on such an adventure as this, something lets go inside of me, and I come down out of the mountain--and yet know deeply that I have been where the bush was burning; and have heard the Voice in the Fire.

So it was yesterday morning. I realized suddenly that I was hungry--commonly, coarsely hungry. My whole attention, I was going to say my whole soul, shifted to the thought of ham and eggs! This may seem a tremendous anti-climax, but it is, nevertheless, a sober report of what happened. At the first onset of this new mood, the ham-and-eggs mood, let us call it, I was a little ashamed or abashed at the remembrance of my wild flights, and had a laugh at the thought of myself floundering around in the marshes and fields a mile from home, when Harriet, no doubt, had breakfast waiting for me! What absurd, contradictory, inconsistent, cowardly creatures we are, anyway!

The house seemed an inconceivable distance away, and the only real thing in the world the gnawing emptiness under my belt. And I was wet to my knees, and the tangled huckleberry bashes and sheep laurel and hardback I had passed through so joyously a short time before now clung heavily about my legs as I struggled through them. And the sun was hot and high--and there were innumerable small, black buzzing flies.

To cap the climax, whom should I meet as I was crossing the fence into the lower land but my friend Horace, He had been out early looking for a cow that had dropped her calf in the woods, and was now driving them slowly up the lane, the cow a true pattern of solicitous motherhood, the calf a true pattern of youth, dashing about upon uncertain legs.

"Takin' the air, David?"

I amuse Horace. Horace is an important man in this community. He has big, solid barns, and money in the bank, and a reputation for hardheadedness. He is also known as a "driver"; and has had sore trouble with a favourite son. He believes in "goin' it slow" and "playin' safe," and he is convinced that "ye can't change human nature."

His question came to me with a kind of shock. I imagined with a vividness impossible to describe what Horace would think if I answered him squarely and honestly, if I were to say:

"I've been down in the marshes following my nose--enjoying the thorn apples and the wild geraniums, talking with a woodpecker and reporting the morning news of the woods for an imaginary newspaper."

I was hungry, and in a mood to smile at myself anyway (good-humouredly and forgivingly as we always smile at ourselves!) before I met Horace, and the flashing vision I had of Horace's dry, superior smile finished me. Was there really anything in this world but cows and calves, and great solid barns, and oatcrops, and cash in the bank?

"Been in the brook?" asked Horace, observing my wet legs.

Talk about the courage to face cannon and Cossacks! It is nothing to the courage required to speak aloud in broad daylight of the finest things we have in us! I was not equal to it.

"Oh, I've been down for a tramp in the marsh," I said, trying to put him off.

But Horace is a Yankee of the Yankees and loves nothing better than to chase his friends into corners with questions, and leave them ultimately with the impression that they are somehow less sound, sensible, practical, than he is and he usually proves it, not because he is right, but because he is sure, and in a world of shadowy halt-beliefs and half-believers he is without doubts.

"What ye find down there?" asked Horace.

"Oh, I was just looking around to see how the spring was coming on."

"Hm-m," said Horace, eloquently, and when I did not reply, he continued, "Often git out in the morning as early as this?"

"Yes," I said, "often."

"And do you find things any different now from what they would be later in the day?"

At this the humour of the whole situation dawned on me and I began to revive. When things grow hopelessly complicated, and we can't laugh, we do either one of two things: we lie or we die. But if we can laugh, we can fight! And be honest!

"Horace," I said, "I know what you are thinking about."

Horace's face remained perfectly impassive, but there was a glint of curiosity in his eye.

"You've been thinking I've been wasting my time beating around down there in the swamp just to look at things and smell of things--which you wouldn't do. You think I'm a kind of impractical dreamer, now, don't you, Horace? I'll warrant you've told your wife just that more than once. Come, now!"

I think I made a rather shrewd hit, for Horace looked uncomfortable and a little foolish.

"Come now, honest!" I laughed and looked him in the eye.

"Waal, now, ye see--"

"Of course you do, and I don't mind it in the least."

A little dry gleam of humour came in his eye.

"Ain't ye?"

It's a fine thing to have it straight out with a friend.

"No," I said, "I'm the practical man and you're the dreamer. I've rarely known in all my life, Horace, such a confirmed dreamer as you are, nor a more impractical one."

Horace laughed.

"How do ye make that out?"

With this my spirit returned to me and I countered with a question as good as his. It is as valuable in argument as in war to secure the offensive.

"Horace, what are you working for, anyhow?"

This is always a devastating shot. Ninety-nine out of every hundred human beings are desperately at work grubbing, sweating, worrying, thinking, sorrowing, enjoying, without in the least knowing why.

"Why, to make a living--same as you," said Horace.

"Oh, come now, if I were to spread the report in town that a poor neighbour of mine, that's you, Horace, was just making his living, that he himself had told me so, what would you say? Horace, what are you working for? It's something more than a mere living."

"Waal, now, I'll tell ye, if ye want it straight, I'm layin' aside a little something for a rainy day."

"A little something!" this in the exact inflection of irony by which here in the country we express our opinion that a friend has really a good deal more laid aside than anybody knows about. Horace smiled also in the exact manner of one so complimented.

"Horace, what are you going to do with that thirty thousand dollars?"

"Thirty thousand!" Horace looks at me and smiles, and I look at Horace and smile.

"Honest now!"

"Waal, I'll tell ye--a little peace and comfort for me and Josie in our old age, and a little something to make the children remember us when we're gone. Isn't that worth working for?"

He said this with downright seriousness. I did not press him further, but if I had tried I could probably have got the even deeper admission of that faith that lies, like bed rock, in the thought of most men--that honesty and decency here will not be without its reward there, however they may define the "there." Some "prophet's paradise to come!"

"I knew it!" I said. "Horace, you're a dreamer, too. You are dreaming of peace and comfort in your old age, a little quiet house in town where you won't have to labour as hard as you do now, where you won't be worried by crops and weather, and where Mrs. Horace will be able to rest after so many years of care and work and sorrow--a kind of earthly heaven! And you are dreaming of leaving a bit to your children and grandchildren, and dreaming of the gratitude they will express. All dreams, Horace!"

"Oh, waal---"

"The fact is, you are working for a dream, and living on dreams--isn't that true?"

"Waal, now, if you mean it that way----"

"I see I haven't got you beaten yet, Horace!"

He smiled broadly,

"We are all amiable enough with our own dreams. You think that what you are working for--your dream--is somehow sounder and more practical than what I am working for."

Horace started to reply, but had scarcely debouched from his trenches when I opened on him with one of my twenty-fours.

"How do you know that you are ever going to be old?"

It hit.

"And if you do grow old, how do you know that thirty thousand dollars--oh, we'll call it that--is really enough, provided you don't lose it before, to buy peace and comfort for you, or that what you leave your children will make either you or them any happier? Peace and comfort and happiness are terribly expensive, Horace--and prices have been going up fast since this war began!"

Horace looked at me uncomfortably, as men do in the world when you shake the foundations of the tabernacle. I have thought since that I probably pressed him too far; but these things go deep with me.

"No, Horace," I said, "you are the dreamer--and the impractical dreamer at that!"

For a moment Horace answered nothing; and we both stood still there in the soft morning sunshine with the peaceful fields and woods all about us, two human atoms struggling hotly with questions too large for us. The cow and the new calf were long out of sight. Horace made a motion as if to follow them up the lane, but I held him with my glittering eye--as I think of it since, not without a kind of amusement at my own seriousness.

"I'm the practical man, Horace, for I want my peace now, and my happiness now, and my God now. I can't wait. My barns may burn or my cattle die, or the solid bank where I keep my deferred joy may fail, or I myself by to-morrow be no longer here."

So powerfully and vividly did this thought take possession of me that I cannot now remember to have said a decent good-bye to Horace (never mind, he knows me!). At least when I was halfway up the hill I found myself gesticulating with one clenched fist and saying to myself with a kind of passion: "Why wait to be peaceful? Why not he peaceful now? Why not be happy now? Why not be rich now?"

For I think it truth that a life uncommanded now is uncommanded; a life unenjoyed now is unenjoyed; a life not lived wisely now is not lived wisely: for the past is gone and no one knows the future.

As for Horace is he convinced that he is an impractical dreamer. Not a bit of it! He was merely flurried for a moment in his mind, and probably thinks me now, more than ever before, just what I think him. Absurd place, isn't it, this world?

So I reached home at last. You have no idea, unless you have tried it yourself, how good breakfast tastes alter a three-mile tramp in the sharp morning air. The odour of ham and eggs, and new muffins, and coffee, as you come up the hill, there is an odour for you! And it was good to see Harriet.

"Harriet," I said, "you are a sight for tired eyes."


(The end)
David Grayson's essay: Follow Your Nose!

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