Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Evening on Follansbee
By William Cowper Prime (18251905)
[Born in Cambridge, Washington Co., N. Y., 1825. Died in New York, N. Y., 1905. I Go A-Fishing. 1873.]
THE DAY had died most gloriously. The sword of the sun, that had lain across the forest, was withdrawn and sheathed. There was a stillness on land and water and in the sky that seemed like the presence of an invisible majesty. Eastward, the lofty pine trees rested their green tops in an atmosphere whose massive blue seemed to sustain and support them. Westward, the rosy tints along the horizon deepened into crimson around the base of the St. Regis, and faded into black toward the north.
No sign of life, human or inhuman, was anywhere visible or audible, except within the little boat where we two floated; and peace, that peace that reigns where no man isthat peace that never dwells in the abodes of menhere held silent and omnipotent sway.
But a change was coming. The first premonition of it was a sound in the tree-topsthat sighing, soughing of the pines which you have so often heard. At all times and places it is a strange and a melancholy sound, but nowhere so much so as in the deep forest. It is at first a heavy, distant breath, like the deep respiration, or rather the expiration of many weary mennay, rather of women, for it is gentle and low. But it rises into the sound of a great grief, the utterance of innumerable sighs; and now sobs interrupt it, and low wails of single sorrow that have no comparison with other woe, and that will not be appeased by any sympathies .
But while I listened to the wind in the pine trees, the gloom had increased, and a ripple came stealing over the water. There was a flapping of one of the lily pads as the first waves struck them; and then, as the breeze passed over us, I threw two flies on the black ripple. There was a swift rusha sharp dash and plunge in the water. Both were struck at the instant, and then I had work before me that forbade my listening to the voices of the pines. It took five minutes to kill my fishtwo splendid specimens, weighing each a little less than two pounds. Meantime the rip had increased, and the breeze came fresh and steady. It was too dark now to see the opposite shore, and the fish rose at every cast; and when I had a half dozen of the same sort, and one that lacked only an ounce of being full four pounds, we pulled up the killeck and paddled homeward around the wooded point. The moon rose, and the scene on the lake now became magically beautiful. The mocking laugh of the loon was the only cause of complaint in that evening of splendor. Who can sit in the forest in such a night, when earth and air are full of glorywhen the soul of the veriest blockhead must be elevated, and when a man begins to feel as if there were some doubt whether he is even a little lower than the angelswho, I say, can sit in such a scene, and hear that fiendish laugh of the loon, and fail to remember Eden and the Tempter? Did you ever hear that laugh? If so, you know what I mean.
That mocking laugh was in my ears as I reeled in my line, and, lying back in the bottom of the canoe, looked up at the still and glorious sky. Oh that I could live just here forever, I said, in this still forest home, by this calm lake, in this undisturbed companionship of earth and sky. Oh that I could leave the life of labor among men, and rest serenely here as my sun goes down the sky.
Well, the loon was right; and I was, like a great many other men, mistaken in fancying a hermits lifeor, what I rather desired, a life in the country with a few friendsas preferable to life among crowds of men. There is a certain amount of truth, however, in the idea that man made cities and God made the country.
Doubtless we human creatures were intended to live upon the products of the soil, and the animal food which our strength or sagacity would enable us to procure. It was intended that each man should, for himself and those dependent on him, receive from the soil of the earth such sustenance and clothing as he could compel it to yield. But we have invented a system of covering miles square of ground with large flat stones, or piles of brick and mortar, so as to forbid the product of any article of nourishment, forbidding grass or grain or flower to spring up, since we need the space for our intercommunication with each other, in the ways of traffic and accumulating wealth, while we buy for money, in what we call markets, the food and clothing we should have procured for ourselves from our common mother earth. Doubtless all this is a perversion of the original designs of Providence. The perversion is one that sprang from the accumulation of wealth by a few, to the exclusion of the many, which, in time, resulted in the purchase of the land by the few, and the supply of food in return for articles of luxury manufactured by artisans who were not cultivators of the soil. But who would listen now to an argument in favor of a return to the nomadic style of life? I am not going to give you one, and I am not at all inclined to think it advisable for every one; but in a still, delicious evening like that, I might be pardoned for a sigh when I remembered the workman that I was, and bethought me of the lounger that I might be.