Litchfield County Sketches

By Newell Meeker Calhoun

Litchfield County University Club
1906

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I
Grass-grown Roads

THIS particular road was not always grass-grown, for the wheels, the hoofs and the feet passed along too often. But the West called with loud voice, and the city held out riches in the one hand and pleasure in the other, and those who had passed this way often in the old days have hardened their hearts and gone away. So it came to pass that the grass grew luxuriously where wheels once rattled over the stones.

The grass-grown road is not the same for two days in the season. This is a pleasure-house where the scenery and music are changed continuously by unseen hands. It will first show you some hepaticas in the warm hollow by the fence, and blood root and dog violets and adder tongues. Then the strawberries begin to crowd out toward the middle of the road, sending out advance runners, and showing white starlike blossoms, in spite of roadside dirt and dust. The low vine blackberries are only a day or two behind. These climb the lichen-covered wall and drape the unsightly piles of stone which the farmer some time since dumped heedlessly by the roadside. They too have snowy white blooms in marked contrast to the juicy blackberry, sweet and toothsome, which is promised. Then come the raspberry blossoms, both red and black, and the high bush blackberries, all contending for their highway rights. They must know that the boy has his eye upon them from the first, and has marked them for his own. It is just possible that they like boys and girls and birds. These last are only paid back for the cleaning off from their stems and leaves of some destructive worms both big and little, and sundry and divers bugs. What the boy is paid for who can tell, for he does nothing for all these wild berry bushes, save to watch them. He has been known, however, to spare their lives when the farmer had passed sentence of death upon them. There must be a tradition of this passed on from mother berry bush to mother berry bush, so that they know that the boy always voted not to cut them down so long as they produced berries.

These white and showy blooms often had mixed in with them the coral colored huckleberry blossoms, which modestly seemed to say, “We do not brag so loud as our neighbors, but just wait and see what we will do.” The huckleberry bush is more civilized than the blackberry vines, for it has no savage thorns to scratch the hands of the pickers of the fruit.

The grass-grown road, winding up and down and in and out until stopped by a pair of bars or by a travelled highway, has other promises for the school children who pass that way, their feet, bare and brown, cooled by the green grass. There are the choke-cherry blossoms, snow white and so thick as almost to hide the little green leaves. They have pushed themselves back into the fence corners, and even have been known to occupy the soil with the tumbling down stone wall, in their humility and desire not to seem to intrude. The farmer said they were good for nothing, but the birds said they helped out their larder wonderfully, and the boy sought them as keenly as the birds, although the cherries red and yellow puckered his mouth and furred his tongue. They were good to eat and he liked them. These same choke-cherries were highly artistic when in fruit as well as in blossom time. They gave a fine touch of color to the roadside in August, when color was mostly wanting. Indeed, one can readily understand how they helped out the swamp maples and gave them a longer summer, before they put on their gorgeous garments, fair heralds of the death of the leaves.

The elders took their turn at wayside decoration. Snowy white and in great clusters, they looked like white umbrellas, raised to protect the lesser plants from the increasing heat of the sun. The boy observed them, but had no particular use for the blossoms, although his sisters had, for they took them to the old red school house and decorated the teacher’s desk with them. Those elders, however, were the boy’s good friends, and he was always admiring the straightest of them, and thinking what “popguns” they would make. One was carefully selected, long between its joints, the pith pushed out with a stout hickory rod, paper pulp put in either end, the air compressed with the rod, and lo! a mighty explosion. Occasionally one of the lads might hit something or somebody. This was the airgun of a former generation. By putting a plug in the end of the gun in which a small goose quill had been inserted, and winding his rod to make an airtight valve, his popgun became a “squirt gun.” This became the terror of the girls and his little brothers.

Elderberries helped to make the wayside attractive later, when in place of the white clusters of bloom there were shown among the shining green leaves jet black bunches of berries. You could have a pie made of them, as you could of the choke-cherries, but neither were quite voted in by the Litchfield County housewife.

The roadway was further made beautiful, as the season wore away, by the sumachs. These were always under sentence of death, since a part of the family were bad, and the many had to bear the sins of a few. There was much ignorance as to which part of the family deserved to be killed, so that the good had to atone for the sins of the bad, as they always have to in this world of men and women and little children. The sumachs began their fall advertising early, by displaying in July their long bunches of bright red berries. These had to come early or they would not have been seen at all, by reason of the flaming red leaves, which were among the first to show the Autumn’s pencillings. Hardly anything is more beautiful than a clump of sumachs in early fall, when all other foliage save the swamp maple is still clothed in green. It has crowded out into the roadway as far as it dare, and stands there in its scarlet cloak, imperial sentinel of the king’s highway.

The scene changes rapidly as the September winds begin to blow, and the nights to show frosts in the valleys, the Autumn seed of Winter’s snows. The berry bushes are brilliant in their worn-out clothes, which drop from off them one by one in their beauty. The golden rod and asters make believe that there is time enough to enjoy themselves in their gay attire, imitating humans. The bitter-sweet is cracking open its bright berries, gorgeous both without and within, and every living thing, and dying thing, for that matter, puts on bright colors to celebrate the season’s close. As if they were saying,

“The leaves are getting scarlet,
The nuts are turning brown,
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.”


Nature does not do as we mortals have a way of doing in the putting on of black for our dead, for she is always hopeful of a resurrection in the Springtime. God has a way of telling his secrets, and. some people have a way of stopping their ears. Nature never does this; she always listens to what God has to say, and then takes the comfort of it.
The grass-grown road would be attractive for its color and fruitage alone, but when you stop to listen there is not an hour in all the days of Spring, Summer and Autumn when there is not music. The birds are less dis23
Grass-grown Roads

turhed than on more frequented highways, and sing just to hear themselves praise the One who made and feeds them. They do not sing for people alone, but for His ear, for they sing the sweetest when all the wOrld is asleep. Then it must be for the Heavenly Father’s sake, and for the joy of a few early risers, who must always be bird lovers.

The roadside concert has its finer musicians by day and by night. The grass is full of them, some vocalists and some players on instruments peculiarly their own. He who takes their Stradivarius must take them. Their music is graded down to that fineness that can be heard only in the quiet stillness of the deserted roadside. Beyond the power of the human ear there must be oratorios, choruses and solos from all the lesser folk who live on and are happy by the side of the grass-grown road.

These two—the boy and the girl—chased butterflies, picked berries, and went to school along this same country road, and in later years, he from his hilltop and she from the valley, walked as lovers and saw and heard and felt its beauty. But they do not care to live beside it now. Their eyes are blind to its homely beauty, and their ears deaf to its delightsome music. The odors of a thousand flowers do not awaken in them slumbering memories of the long ago. The god of this world hath blinded their eyes, appearing to them as pleasure, love of power and love of gain. The deceitfulness of riches and the mad pursuit of the butterflies of fashion absorb their time and thought. It may be they will awaken some Summer day, open their eyes and hearts, and come back to see their old friends the birds and the flowers, and the mornings and the evenings which they used to love. It seems strange to us that they and others should prefer the Babel noises of the city to the heavenly stillness of some grass-grown road. Ah, well, if they all wanted to live in the country there would be no grass-grown roads for those of us who love them; then what should we do?


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