Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/424

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420
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

OF THE SOIL OF THE EARTH
By SPENCER TROTTER

SWARTHMORE COLLEGE

ONCE upon a time—certainly more than two hundred years ago and no man knows how long a time before—an aboriginal folk fished in the waters of the West Fork of Brandywine. The remains of an old breastwork of stones point to the former site of a dam, connected probably with a rude sort of weir. Such is the tradition handed down through several generations in the family of an alien occupant of the land. This occupant and his descendants to the present time have never permitted the ancient work to be disturbed, a rare and kindly virtue in these days of scant sentiment. Only the unhindered stream has worked its will. Not far from this dam, on a low rise of land overlooking the valley, stands a scattered group of trees—white oak and shellbark hickory—and here, again tradition has it, this aboriginal folk buried its dead. Certain it is that the alien occupant, though he ploughed deeply all about, likewise left this spot sacred to the hand of time. The site is not marked by any tumuli; only the level ground appears a trifle more grassy in some places, more springy under the foot, which lends color to the tradition of long-forgotten graves.

It was beyond a question that somewhere in this ground the mortal traces of a man lay scattered—hidden as completely as in that prior time of his being when as yet there was none of them. Deep in some maternal tissue there had once been that marvelous gathering together of elements—that ever-repeated miracle of the fashioning of a form of life. Where no light was there was yet the molding of a structure that in the days to come would be responsive to the light and to every play of color; a structure that would hold wonderful pictures of land and sea and sky. Where no sound was there was yet the molding of another structure that would come to know the sympathetic voice, the springtime song of birds, the multitudinous sounds of the forest, the droning cadence of streams. In the depths of this nebulous man another structure was being spun out of the life stuff, one that would come to hold all that the sights and the sounds had to tell, that would interpret their meanings, that would come to feel and to know, to remember and to wonder. And yet in this dark fountain-head of being there was no hint of such future possibilities. All through this formative man the delicate threads of life were spun between the central