My Native Place
"Sweetly wild, sweetly wild,
Were the scenes that charm'd me when a child."
It has been sagely said that "every one has a native place;" and with this unanswerable proposition we couple the remark, that they are prone to consider it the most Eden-like spot on earth's surface. Witness the Greenlander in his subterranean cell, the African under his palmtree, the Highlander among the trosachs, or the blast-defying hunter in the wilds of Oregon. My own birthplace had no such contrasts to over come. Caressed by two rivers, like an indulged child, it wore the fairest drapery; while the sea, flowing at the distance of less than a score of miles, had no power to disturb it by hoarse threatenings, though it insensibly softened the summer atmosphere.
Variety and abruptness of change marked the landscape. Here and there rose bold, beetling cliffs, like a citadel, surrounded by impregnable parapets. Expanses of the softest green were interspersed where lofty elms uplifted columns of umbrageous shade, or willows wept downward into the streams. Every brooklet was like dancing crystal. Gardens put forth early flowers, while the soil in some other portions of the state was bound in ices, or yielded only to the pickax.
Broken ranges of hills tinted with their purple line the blue of the horizon. Through their gorges wild wind-harps play when winter holds his court. Cottages are perched, like eagle nests upon the cliffs, and patrician mansions luxuriate amid lawns of velvet. White sails dance at the will of the breeze; boats glide beneath bridges, or between islands of verdure, like the gossamer in the sunbeam. Steep declivities, of a broken, sandy surface, studded and crowned with evergreens, gaze at themselves in the mirror which the river holds at their feet.
Bold, unexpected reverses of scenery keep attention awake, and almost lead you to fancy yourself in Scotland. Suddenly one of the embracing rivers changes its character. It had mildly wound its way through green meadows receiving with complacence the kiss of the humblest shrub that fringed its banks. You would not believe it to be the same, when opposing rocks rouse the antagonistic principle in its bosom. With Demosthenic fury, it rushes tumultuously against them uttering stormy eloquence. It gushes out in milky whiteness; it tosses foam and spray upon the tall trees, as if to reproach the neutrality that could thus look en, and help it not. Wounded and broken, it falls in countless cascades upon a channel of pointed rock, like "Damien's bed of steel." Compressed and prisoned between perpendicular precipices, towering like the turrets of a castle, it creeps slowly through the pass, with a Lethean blackness-the river of despair. Gazing into its depths, you seem to catch from it the spirit of forgetfulness, and lose the imagery of the passing world. Methinks a murmur rises to fancy's ear-the last wail of the hunted Pequot. Driven fiercely on before their conquerors, the Mohegans, the remnant of that wasted tribe here took that fatal plunge to eternity. See we the broken forms of those despairing warriors mingling with the dark, sullen waters? Is it their shriek that surmounts the clamor of the cataract?
Raising your eyes, lo! another "change hath come over the spirit of its dream." Unchained, untroubled, broad and free, it reflects the smile of the skies, while upon its distant shores fair abodes peer through vistas of green.
At some distance from this romantic dell, and surrounded by pleasant mansions, is that where I first saw the light. On each side of its gate-unshrinking sentinels-was a dark spruce; one spreading its arms in goodly show, the other more diminutive, and never able, by any force of culture, to equal its competitor. Its broad front, turned toward the rising sun, boasted no decoration, save the white rose and the sweet brier, trained in alternate columns to its eaves. A small court-yard of velvet-like turf, a spacious meadow in the rear, traversed by a swift, clear brook; and large gardens, with their terraces, fruit-trees, and flower-beds, made the peaceful domain beautiful. My early associations are with spring hyacinths and violets; with hearing golden pears drop hard and heavy from the tall old trees; with searching for the red and white straw berries, that ran lovingly together through the long sunny arena; with inhaling the fragrance of large yellow peaches from their propped and laden boughs; and with lingering in a vine-clad summer-house, singing my own little thought songs, for children think as well as love. The old place that gave the first page to my life's picture-book has now put on other garments. But its simple, comely features, unmodified, are set as a seal forever on the heart, that still trembles with the love it bore for it, and for the loved ones who dwelt beneath its roof.
Yonder, too, was the lone church, sheltered and shouldered by lofty masses and ledges of rock. It was anciently of wood, and weather-stained-with a tower not very symmetrical or imposing. But modern hands have been laid upon it, and many of its time-honored lineaments are annihilated. It would be in vain to say to the pulpit, what has been so often said from it, "Know thyself.' Where is thy majestic sounding-board, thy quaint cushion, and the square, high-backed pews upon which thou didst so solemnly look down? Where are the urchins who, with sly knives, would whittle their inserted bannisters, notwithstanding the harsh ministries of the stalwart tithing-man? Where is the venerated brow that rose above thee, Old Pulpit, white with many winters, and lips that spoke to reverent listeners the message of God?
There is a sighing answer to my question from a haunt where my childhood loved to wander-the neighboring burial-ground. Yes; I understand it. The changes of death and the changes of life are around. My own little bark threading its brief course among, them-a timid, stranger keel-soon to sink unrippling, and be remembered no more.
Busy and marked has been the magic of transmigration in my native place. Masts peer over warehouses where were erst the smooth green sward or the scarcely visited waters. From yon beautiful cataract those lofty trees have disappeared, whose trunks were covered with deeply carved names, and mill-wheels dash passionately in this, Nature's once secluded sanctuary. The money-changers have come into the temple.
Perchance, in revisiting my birth-spot, it would have been pleasanter to have found it as in its days of old. But it matters little, since its picture hangs in the halls of memory, to fade not till she herself is dead.