The forest is never so wonderful as
when spring wrestles with winter for supremacy.
While the earth is yet ice bound, while snows occasionally
fly, spring breathes her warmer breath of approach,
and all nature responds. Sunny knolls, embankments,
and cleared spaces become bare, while shadow spots
and sheltered nooks remain white. This perfumes
the icy air with a warmer breath of melting snow.
The sap rises in the trees and bushes, sets buds swelling,
and they distil a faint, intangible odour. Deep
layers of dead leaves cover the frozen earth, and the
sun shining on them raises a steamy vapour unlike
anything else in nature. A different scent rises
from earth where the sun strikes it. Lichen faces
take on the brightest colours they ever wear, and rough,
coarse mosses emerge in rank growth from their cover
of snow and add another perfume to mellowing air.
This combination has breathed a strange intoxication
into the breast of mankind in all ages, and bird and
animal life prove by their actions that it makes the
same appeal to them.
Crows caw supremacy from tall trees;
flickers, drunk on the wine of nature, flash their
yellow-lined wings and red crowns among trees in a
search for suitable building places; nut-hatches run
head foremost down rough trunks, spying out larvae
and early emerging insects; titmice chatter; the bold,
clear whistle of the cardinal sounds never so gaily;
and song sparrows pipe from every wayside shrub and
fence post. Coons and opossums stir in their
dens, musk-rat and ground-hog inspect the weather,
while squirrels race along branches and bound from
tree to tree like winged folk.
All of them could have outlined the
holdings of the Harvester almost as well as any surveyor.
They understood where the bang of guns and the snap
of traps menaced life. Best of all, they knew
where cracked nuts, handfuls of wheat, oats, and crumbs
were scattered on the ground, and where suet bones
dangled from bushes. Here, too, the last sheaf
from the small wheat field at the foot of the hill
was stoutly fixed on a high pole, so that the grain
was free to all feathered visitors.
When the Harvester hitched Betsy,
loaded his spiles and sap buckets into the wagon,
and started to the woods to gather the offering the
wet maples were pouring down their swelling sides,
almost his entire family came to see him. They
knew who fed and passed every day among them, and
so were unafraid.
After the familiarity of a long, cold
winter, when it had been easier to pick up scattered
food than to search for it, they became so friendly
with the man, the dog, and the gray horse that they
hastily snatched the food offered at the barn and
then followed through the woods. The Harvester
always was particular to wear large pockets, for it
was good company to have living creatures flocking
after him, trusting to his bounty. Ajax, a shimmering
wonder of gorgeous feathers, sunned on the ridge pole
of the old log stable, preened, spread his train, and
uttered the peacock cry of defiance, to exercise his
voice or to express his emotions at all times.
But at feeding hour he descended to the park and snatched
bites from the biggest turkey cocks and ganders and
reigned in power absolute over ducks, guineas, and
chickens. Then he followed to the barn and tried
to frighten crows and jays, and the gentle white doves
under the eaves.
The Harvester walked through deep
leaves and snow covering the road that only a forester
could have distinguished. Over his shoulder he
carried a mattock, and in the wagon were his clippers
and an ax. Behind him came Betsy drawing the
sap buckets and big evaporating kettles. Through
the wood ranged Belshazzar, the craziest dog in all
creation. He always went wild at sap time.
Here was none of the monotony of trapping for skins
around the lake. This marked the first full day
in the woods for the season. He ranged as he
pleased and came for a pat or a look of confidence
when he grew lonely, while the Harvester worked.
At camp the man unhitched Betsy and
tied her to the wagon and for several hours distributed
buckets. Then he hung the kettles and gathered
wood for the fire. At noon he returned to the
cabin for lunch and brought back a load of empty syrup
cans, and barrels in which to collect the sap.
While the buckets filled at the dripping trees, he
dug roots in the sassafras thicket to fill orders
and supply the demand of Onabasha for tea. Several
times he stopped to cut an especially fine tree.
“You know I hate to kill you,”
he apologized to the first one he felled. “But
it certainly must be legitimate for a man to take enough
of his trees to build a home. And no other house
is possible for a creature of the woods but a cabin,
is there? The birds use of the material they find
here; surely I have the right to do the same.
Seems as if nothing else would serve, at least for
me. I was born and reared here, I’ve always
loved you; of course, I can’t use anything else
for my home.”
He swung the ax and the chips flew
as he worked on a straight half-grown oak. After
a time he paused an instant and rested, and as he did
so he looked speculatively at his work.
“I wonder where she is to-day,”
he said. “I wonder what she is going to
think of a log cabin in the woods. Maybe she has
been reared in the city and is afraid of a forest.
She may not like houses made of logs. Possibly
she won’t want to marry a Medicine Man.
She may dislike the man, not to mention his occupation.
She may think it coarse and common to work out of
doors with your hands, although I’d have to argue
there is a little brain in the combination. I
must figure out all these things. But there is
one on the lady: She should have settled these
points before she became quite so familiar. I
have that for a foundation anyway, so I’ll go
on cutting wood, and the remainder will be up to her
when I find her. When I find her,” repeated
the Harvester slowly. “But I am not going
to locate her very soon monkeying around in these woods.
I should be out where people are, looking for her
He chopped steadily until the tree
crashed over, and then, noticing a rapidly filling
bucket, he struck the ax in the wood and began gathering
sap. When he had made the round, he drove to the
camp, filled the kettles, and lighted the fire.
While it started he cut and scraped sassafras roots,
and made clippings of tag alder, spice brush and white
willow into big bundles that were ready to have the
bark removed during the night watch, and then cured
in the dry-house.
He went home at evening to feed the
poultry and replenish the ever-burning fire of the
engine and to keep the cabin warm enough that food
would not freeze. With an oilcloth and blankets
he returned to camp and throughout the night tended
the buckets and boiling sap, and worked or dozed by
the fire between times. Toward the end of boiling,
when the sap was becoming thick, it had to be watched
with especial care so it would not scorch. But
when the kettles were freshly filled the Harvester
sat beside them and carefully split tender twigs of
willow and slipped off the bark ready to be spread
on the trays.
“You are a good tonic,”
he mused as he worked, “and you go into some
of the medicine for rheumatism. If she ever has
it we will give her some of you, and then she will
be all right again. Strange that I should be
preparing medicinal bark by the sugar camp fire, but
I have to make this hay, not while the sun shines,
but when the bark is loose, while the sap is rising.
Wonder who will use this. Depends largely on where
I sell it. Anyway, I hope it will take the pain
out of some poor body. Prices so low now, not
worth gathering unless I can kill time on it while
waiting for something else. Never got over seven
cents a pound for the best I ever sold, and it takes
a heap of these little quills to make a pound when
they are dry. That’s all of you about
twenty-five cents’ worth. But even that
is better than doing nothing while I wait, and some
one has to keep the doctors supplied with salicin
and tannin, so, if I do, other folks needn’t
He arose and poured more sap into
the kettles as it boiled away and replenished the
fire. He nibbled a twig when he began on the spice
brush. As he sat on the piled wood, and bent over
his work he was an attractive figure. His face
shone with health and was bright with anticipation.
While he split the tender bark and slipped out the
wood he spoke his thoughts slowly:
“The five cents a pound I’ll
get for you is even less, but I love the fragrance
and taste. You don’t peel so easy as the
willow, but I like to prepare you better, because
you will make some miserable little sick child well
or you may cool some one’s fevered blood.
If ever she has a fever, I hope she will take medicine
made from my bark, because it will be strong and pure.
I’ve half a notion to set some one else gathering
the stuff and tending the plants and spend my time
in the little laboratory compounding different combinations.
I don’t see what bigger thing a man can do than
to combine pure, clean, unadulterated roots and barks
into medicines that will cool fevers, stop chills,
and purify bad blood. The doctors may be all
right, but what are they going to do if we men behind
the prescription cases don’t supply them with
unadulterated drugs. Answer me that, Mr. Sapsucker.
Doc says I’ve done mighty well so far as I have
gone. I can’t think of a thing on earth
I’d rather do, and there’s money no end
in it. I could get too rich for comfort in short
order. I wouldn’t be too wealthy to live
just the way I do for any consideration. I don’t
know about her, though. She is lovely, and handsome
women usually want beautiful clothing, and a quantity
of things that cost no end of money. I may need
all I can get, for her. One never can tell.”
He arose to stir the sap and pour
more from the barrels to the kettles before he began
on the tag alder he had gathered.
“If it is all the same to you,
I’ll just keep on chewing spice brush while
I work,” he muttered. “You are entirely
too much of an astringent to suit my taste and you
bring a cent less a pound. But you are thicker
and dry heavier, and you grow in any quantity around
the lake and on the marshy places, so I’ll make
the size of the bundle atone for the price. If
I peel you while I wait on the sap I’m that much
ahead. I can spread you on drying trays in a
few seconds and there you are. Howl your head
off, Bel, I don’t care what you have found.
I wouldn’t shoot anything to-day, unless the
cupboard was bare and I was starvation hungry.
In that case I think a man comes first, and I’d
kill a squirrel or quail in season, but blest if I’d
butcher a lot or do it often. Vegetables and
bread are better anyway. You peel easier even
than the willow. What jolly whistles father used
“There was about twenty cents’
worth of spice, and I’ll easy raise it to a
dollar on this. I’ll get a hundred gallons
of syrup in the coming two weeks and it will bring
one fifty if I boil and strain it carefully and can
guarantee it contains no hickory bark and brown sugar.
And it won’t! Straight for me or not at
all. Pure is the word at Medicine Woods; syrup
or drugs it’s the same thing. Between times
I can fell every tree I’ll need for the new
cabin, and average a dollar a day besides on spice,
alder, and willow, and twice that for sassafras for
the Onabasha markets; not to mention the quantities
I can dry this year. Aside from spring tea, they
seem to use it for everything. I never yet have
had enough. It goes into half the tonics, anodyne,
and stimulants; also soap and candy. I see where
I grow rich in spite of myself, and also where my
harvest is going to spoil before I can garner it, if
I don’t step lively and double even more than
I am now. Where the cabin is to come in well
it must come if everything else goes.
“The roots can wait and I’ll
dig them next year and get more and larger pieces.
I won’t really lose anything, and if she should
come before I am ready to start to find her, why then
I’ll have her home prepared. How long before
you begin your house, old fire-fly?” he inquired
of a flaming cardinal tilting on a twig.
He arose to make the round of the
sap buckets again, then resumed his work peeling bark,
and so the time passed. In the following ten days
he collected and boiled enough sap to make more syrup
than he had expected. His earliest spring store
of medicinal twigs, that were peeled to dry in quills,
were all collected and on the trays; he had digged
several wagon loads of sassafras and felled all the
logs of stout, slender oak he would require for his
walls. Choice timber he had been curing for candlestick
material he hauled to the saw-mills to have cut properly,
for the thought of trying his hand at tables and chairs
had taken possession of him. He was sure he could
make furniture that would appear quite as well as
the mission pieces he admired on display in the store
windows of the city. To him, chairs and tables
made from trees that grew on land that had belonged
for three generations to his ancestors, trees among
which he had grown, played, and worked, trees that
were so much his friends that he carefully explained
the situation to them before using an ax or saw, trees
that he had cut, cured, and fashioned into designs
of his own, would make vastly more valuable furnishings
in his home than anything that could be purchased
in the city.
As he drove back and forth he watched
constantly for her. He was working so desperately,
planning far ahead, doubling and trebling tasks, trying
to do everything his profession demanded in season,
and to prepare timber and make plans for the new cabin,
as well as to start a pair of candlesticks of marvellous
design for her, that night was one long, unbroken
sleep of the thoroughly tired man, but day had become
a delightful dream.
He fed the chickens to produce eggs
for her. He gathered barks and sluiced roots
on the raft in the lake, for her. He grubbed the
spice thicket before the door and moved it into the
woods to make space for a lawn, for her. His
eyes were wide open for every woven case and dangling
cocoon of the big night moths that propagated around
him, for her. Every night when he left the woods
from one to a dozen cocoons, that he had detected
with remarkable ease while the trees were bare, were
stuck in his hat band. As he arranged them in
a cool, dry place he talked to them.
“Of course I know you are valuable
and there are collectors who would pay well for you,
but I think not. You are the prettiest thing God
made that I ever saw, and those of you that home with
me have no price on your wings. You are much
safer here than among the crows and jays of the woods.
I am gathering you to protect you, and to show to her.
If I don’t find her by June, you may go scot
free. All I want is the best pattern I can get
from some of you for candlestick designs. Of everything
in the whole world a candlestick should be made of
wood. It should be carved by hand, and of all
ornamentations on earth the moth that flies to the
night light is the most appropriate. Owls are
not so bad. They are of the night, and they fly
to light, too, but they are so old. Nobody I
ever have known used a moth. They missed the best
when they neglected them. I’ll make her
sticks over an original pattern; I’ll twine
nightshade vines, with flowers and berries around them,
and put a trailed luna on one, and what is the next
prettiest for the other? I’ll think well
before if decide. Maybe she’ll come by the
time I get to carving and tell me what she likes.
That would beat my taste or guessing a mile.”
He carefully arranged the twigs bearing
cocoons in a big, wire-covered box to protect them
from the depredations of nibbling mice and the bolder
attacks of the saucy ground squirrels that stored nuts
in his loft and took possession of the attic until
their scampering sometimes awoke him in the night.
Every trip he made to the city he
stopped at the library to examine plans of buildings
and furniture and to make notes. The oak he had
hauled was being hewed into shape by a neighbour who
knew how, and every wagon that carried a log to the
city to be dressed at the mill brought back timber
for side walls, joists, and rafters. Night after
night he sat late poring over his plans for the new
rooms, above all for her chamber. With poised
pencil he wavered over where to put the closet and
entrance to her bath. He figured on how wide to
make her bed and where it should stand. He remembered
her dressing table in placing windows and a space
for a chest of drawers. In fact there was nothing
the active mind of the Harvester did not busy itself
with in those days that might make a woman a comfortable
home. Every thought emanated from impulses evolved
in his life in the woods, and each was executed with
A killdeer sweeping the lake close
two o’clock one morning awakened him. He
had planned to close the sugar camp for the season
that day, but when he heard the notes of the loved
bird he wondered if that would not be a good time
to stake out the foundations and begin digging.
There was yet ice in the ground, but the hillside
was rapidly thawing, and although the work would be
easier later, so eager was the Harvester to have walls
up and a roof over that he decided to commence.
But when morning came and he and Belshazzar
breakfasted and fed Betsy and the stock, he concluded
to return to his first plan and close the camp.
All the sap collected that day went into the vinegar
barrel. He loaded the kettles, buckets, and spiles
and stopped at the spice thicket to cut a bale of
twigs as he passed. He carried one load to the
wagon and returned for another. Down wind on
swift wing came a bird and entered the bushes.
Motionless the Harvester peered at it. A mourning
dove had returned to him through snow, skifting over
cold earth. It settled on a limb and began dressing
its plumage. At that instant a wavering, “Coo
coo a’gh coo,” broke in sobbing notes from
the deep wood. Without paying the slightest heed,
the dove finished a wing, ruffled and settled her
feathers, and opened her bill in a human-like yawn.
The Harvester smiled. The notes swelled closer
in renewed pleading. The cry was beyond doubt
a courting male and this an indifferent female.
Her beady eyes snapped, her head turned coquettishly,
a picture of self-possession, she hid among the dense
twigs of the spice thicket. Around the outside
circled the pleading male.
With shining eyes the Harvester watched.
These were of the things that made life in the woods
most worth while. More insistent grew the wavering
notes of the lover. More indifferent became the
beloved. She was superb in her poise as she amused
herself in hiding. A perfect burst of confused,
sobbing notes broke on the air. Then away in the
deep wood a softly-wavering, half-questioning “Coo-ah!”
answered them. Amazement flashed into the eyes
of the Harvester, but his face was not nearly so expressive
as that of the bird. She lifted a bewildered head
and grew rigid in an attitude of tense listening.
There was a pause. In quicker measure and crowding
notes the male called again. Instantly the soft
“Coo!” wavered in answer. The surprised
little hen bird of the thicket hopped straight up
and settled on her perch again, her dark eyes indignant
as she uttered a short “Coo!” The muscles
of the Harvester’s chest were beginning to twitch
and quiver. More intense grew the notes of the
pleading male. Softly seductive came the reply.
The clapping of his wings could be heard as he flew
in search of the charmer. “A’gh coo!”
cried the deserted female as she tilted off the branch
and tore through the thicket in pursuit, with wings
hastened by fright at the ringing laugh of the Harvester.
“Not so indifferent after all,
Bel,” he said to the dog standing in stiff point
beside him. “That was all ‘pretend!’
But she waited just a trifle too long. Now she
will have to fight it out with a rival. Good
thing if some of the flirtatious women could have seen
that. Help them to learn their own minds sooner.”
He laughed as he heaped the twigs
on top of the wagon and started down the hill chuckling.
Belshazzar followed, leading Betsy straight in the
middle of the road by the hitching strap. A few
yards ahead the man stopped suddenly with lifted hand.
The dog and horse stood motionless. A dove flashed
across the road and settled in sight on a limb.
Almost simultaneously another perched beside it, and
they locked bills in a long caress, utterly heedless
of a plaintive “Coo” in the deep wood.
“Settled!” said the Harvester.
“Jupiter! I wish my troubles were that
nearly finished! Wish I knew where she is and
how to find my way to her lips! Wonder if she
will come when I call her. What if I should find
her, and she would have everything on earth, other
lovers, and indifference worse than Madam Dove’s
for me. Talk about bitterness! Well I’d
have the dream left anyway. And there are always
two sides. There is just a possibility that she
may be poor and overworked, sick and tired, and wondering
why I don’t come. Possibly she had a dream,
too, and she wishes I would hurry. Dear Lord!”
The Harvester began to perspire as
he strode down the hill. He scarcely waited to
hang the harness properly. He did not stop to
unload the wagon until night, but went after an ax
and a board that he split into pegs. Then he
took a ball of twine, a measuring line, and began laying
out his foundation, when the hard earth would scarcely
hold the stakes he drove into it. When he found
he only would waste time in digging he put away the
neatly washed kettles, peeled the spice brush, spread
it to dry, and prepared his dinner. After that
he began hauling stone and cement for his basement
floor and foundation walls. Occasionally he helped
at hewing logs when the old man paused to rest.
That afternoon the first robin of the season hailed
him in passing.
“Hello!” cried the Harvester.
“You don’t mean to tell me that you have
beaten the larks! You really have! Well since
I see it, I must believe, but you are early.
Come around to the back door if crumbs or wheat will
do or if you can make out on suet and meat bones!
We are good and ready for you. Where is your
mate? For any sake, don’t tell me you don’t
know. One case of that kind at Medicine Woods
is enough. Say you came ahead to see if it is
too cold or to select a home and get ready for her.
Say anything on earth except that you love her, and
want her until your body is one quivering ache, and
you don’t know where she is.”