Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 40.djvu/118

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108
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
HIGH LIFE.

EVERYBODY knows mountain flowers are beautiful. As one rises up any minor height in the Alps or the Pyrenees, below snow-level, one notices at once the extraordinary brilliancy and richness of the blossoms one meets there. All Nature is dressed in its brightest robes. Great belts of blue gentian hang like a zone on the mountain slopes; masses of yellow globe-flower star the upland pastures, nodding heads of soldanella lurk low among the rugged bowlders by the glacier's side. No lowland blossoms have such vividness of coloring, or grow in such conspicuous patches. To strike the eye from afar, to attract and allure at a distance, is the great aim and end in life of the Alpine flora.

Now, why are Alpine plants so anxious to be seen of men and angels? Why do they flaunt their golden glories so openly before the world, instead of shrinking in modest reserve beneath their own green leaves, like the Puritan primrose and the retiring violet? The answer is. Because of the extreme rarity of the mountain air. It's the barometer that does it. At first sight, I will readily admit, this explanation seems as fanciful as the traditional connection between Goodwin Sands and Tenterden Steeple. But, like the amateur stories in country papers, it is "founded on fact," for all that. (Imagine, by the way, a tale founded entirely on fiction! How charmingly aërial!) By a roundabout road, through varying chains of cause and effect, the rarity of the air does really account in the long run for the beauty and conspicuousness of the mountain flowers.

For bees, the common go-betweens of the loves of the plants, cease to range about a thousand or fifteen hundred feet below snow-level. And why? Because it's too cold for them? Oh, dear, no; on sunny days in early English spring, when the thermometer does'nt rise above freezing in the shade, you will see both the honey-bees and the great black bumble as busy as their conventional character demands of them among the golden cups of the first timid crocuses. Give the bee sunshine, indeed, with a temperature just about freezing-point, and he'll flit about joyously on his communistic errand. But bees, one must remember, have heavy bodies and relatively small wings: in the rarefied air of mountain heights they can't manage to support themselves in the most literal sense. Hence their place in these high stations of the world is taken by the gay and airy butterflies, which have lighter bodies and a much bigger expanse of wing-area to buoy them up. In the valleys and plains the bee competes at an advantage with the butterflies for all the sweets of life, but in this broad subglacial