List Of Contents | Contents of Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs
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The only part of my book I wish to preface is the last part,--the
foreign sketches,--and it is not much matter about these, since if they
do not contain their own proof, I shall not attempt to supply it here.

I have been told that De Lolme, who wrote a notable book on the English
Constitution, said that after he had been in England a few weeks, he
fully made up his mind to write a book on that country; after he had
lived there a year, he still thought of writing a book, but was not so
certain about it, but that after a residence of ten years he abandoned
his first design altogether. Instead of furnishing an argument against
writing out one's first impressions of a country, I think the
experience of the Frenchman shows the importance of doing it at once.
The sensations of the first day are what we want,--the first flush of
the traveler's thought and feeling, before his perception and
sensibilities become cloyed or blunted, or before he in any way becomes
a part of that which he would observe and describe. Then the American
in England is just enough at home to enable him to discriminate subtle
shades and differences at first sight which might escape a traveler of
another and antagonistic race. He has brought with him, but little
modified or impaired, his whole inheritance of English ideas and
predilections, and much of what he sees affects him like a memory. It
is his own past, his ante-natal life, and his long-buried ancestors
look through his eyes and perceive with his sense.

I have attempted only the surface, and to express my own first day's
uncloyed and unalloyed satisfaction. Of course, I have put these things
through my own processes and given them my own coloring, (as who would
not), and if other travelers do not find what I did, it is no fault of
mine; or if the "Britishers" do not deserve all the pleasant things I
say of them, why then so much the worse for them.

In fact, if it shall appear that I have treated this part in the same
spirit that I have the themes in the other chapters, reporting only
such things as impressed me and stuck to me and tasted good, I shall be

   ESOPUS-ON-HUDSON, November, 1875.

             I. MELLOW ENGLAND

     From a photograph by Walmsley Brothers
     From a photograph by Herbert W.  Gleason
     From drawing by L.  A.  Fuertes
     From a photograph by Walmsley Brothers
     From a photograph by Clifton Johnson
     From a photograph by Clifton Johnson



An American resident in England is reported as saying that the English
have an atmosphere but no climate. The reverse of this remark would
apply pretty accurately to our own case. We certainly have a climate, a
two-edged one that cuts both ways, threatening us with sun-stroke on
the one hand and with frost-stroke on the other; but we have no
atmosphere to speak of in New York and New England, except now and then
during the dog-days, or the fitful and uncertain Indian Summer. An
atmosphere, the quality of tone and mellowness in the near distance, is
the product of a more humid climate. Hence, as we go south from New
York,the atmospheric effects become more rich and varied, until on
reaching the Potomac you find an atmosphere as well as a climate. The
latter is still on the vehement American scale, full of sharp and
violent changes and contrasts, baking and blistering in summer, and
nipping and blighting in winter, but the spaces are not so purged and
bare; the horizon wall does not so often have the appearance of having
just been washed and scrubbed down. There is more depth and visibility
to the open air, a stronger infusion of the Indian Summer element
throughout the year, than is found farther north. The days are softer
and more brooding, and the nights more enchanting. It is here that Walt
Whitman saw the full moon

       "Pour down Night's nimbus floods,"

as any one may see her, during the full, from October to May.  There is
more haze and vapor in the atmosphere during that period, and every
pariticle seems to collect and hold the pure radiance until the world
swims with the lunar outpouring. Is not the full moon always on the
side of fair weather? I think it is Sir William Herschel who says her
influence tends to dispel the clouds. Certain it is her beauty is
seldom lost or even veiled in this southern or semi-southern clime.

       "Floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous,
       Indolent sinking sun, burning, expanding the air,"

a description that would not apply with the same force farther north,
where the air seems thinner and less capable of absorbing and holding
the sunlight. Indeed, the opulence and splendor of our climate, at
least the climate of the Atlantic seaboard, cannot be fully appreciated
by the dweller north of the thirty-ninth parallel. It seemed as if I
had never seen but a second-rate article of sunlight or moonlight until
I had taken up my abode in the National Capital. It may be, perhaps,
because we have such splendid specimens of both at the period of the
year when one values such things highest, namely, in the fall and
winter and early spring. Sunlight is good any time, but a bright,
evenly tempered day is certainly more engrossing to the attention in
winter than in summer, and such days seem the rule, and not the
exception, in the Washington winter. The deep snows keep to the north,
the heavy rains to the south, leaving a blue space central over the
border States. And there is not one of the winter months but wears this
blue zone as a girdle.

I am not thinking especially of the Indian summer, that charming but
uncertain second youth of the New England year, but of regularly
recurring lucid intervals in the weather system of Virginia fall and
winter, when the best our climate is capable of stand
revealed,--southern days with northern blood in their veins,
exhilarating, elastic, full of action, the hyperborean oxygen of the
North tempered by the dazzling sun of the South, a little bitter in
winter to all travelers but the pedestrian,--to him sweet and
warming,--but in autumn a vintage that intoxicates all lovers of the
open air.

It is impossible not to dilate and expand under such skies.  One
breathes deeply and steps proudly, and if he have any of the eagle
nature in him, it comes to the surface then. There is a sense of
altitude about these dazzling November and December days, of
mountain-tops and pure ether. The earth in passing through the fire of
summer seems to have lost all its dross, and life all its impediments.

But what does not the dweller in the National Capital endure in
reaching these days! Think of the agonies of the heated term, the
ragings of the dog-star, the purgatory of heat and dust, of baking,
blistering pavements, of cracked and powdered fields, of dead, stifling
night air, from which every tonic and antiseptic quality seems
eliminated, leaving a residuum of sultry malaria and all-diffusing
privy and sewer gases, that lasts from the first of July to near the
middle of September! But when October is reached, the memory of these
things is afar off, and the glory of the days is a perpetual surprise.

I sally out in the morning with the ostensible purpose of gathering
chestnuts, or autumn leaves, or persimmons, or exploring some run or
branch. It is, say, the last of October or the first of November. The
air is not balmy, but tart and pungent, like the flavor of the
red-cheeked apples by the roadside. In the sky not a cloud, not a
speck; a vast dome of blue ether lightly suspended above the world. The
woods are heaped with color like a painter's palette,--great splashes
of red and orange and gold. The ponds and streams bear upon their
bosoms leaves of all tints, from the deep maroon of the oak to the pale
yellow of the chestnut. In the glens and nooks it is so still that the
chirp of a solitary cricket is noticeable. The red berries of the
dogwood and spice-bush and other shrubs shine in the sun like rubies
and coral. The crows fly high above the earth, as they do only on such
days, forms of ebony floating across the azure, and the buzzards look
like kingly birds, sailing round and round.

Or it may be later in the season, well into December.  The days are
equally bright, but a little more rugged. The mornings are ushered in
by an immense spectrum thrown upon the eastern sky. A broad bar of red
and orange lies along the low horizon, surmounted by an expanse of
color in which green struggles with yellow and blue with green half the
way to the zenith. By and by the red and orange spread upward and grow
dim, the spectrum fades, and the sky becomes suffused with yellow white
light, and in a moment the fiery scintillations of the sun begin to
break across the Maryland hills. Then before long the mists and vapors
uprise like the breath of a giant army, and for an hour or two, one is
reminded of a November morning in England. But by mid-forenoon the only
trace of the obscurity that remains is a slight haze, and the day is
indeed a summons and a challenge to come forth. If the October days
were a cordial like the sub-acids of a fruit, these are a tonic like
the wine of iron. Drink deep, or be careful how you taste this December
vintage. The first sip may chill, but a full draught warms and
invigorates. No loitering by the brooks or in the woods now, but
spirited, rugged walking along the public highway. The sunbeams are
welcome now. They seem like pure electricity,--like a friendly and
recuperating lightning. Are we led to think electricity abounds only in
the summer when we see storm-clouds, as it were, the veins and ore-beds
of it? I imagine it is equally abundant in winter, and more equable and
better tempered. Who ever breasted a snowstorm without being excited
and exhilarated, as if this meteor had come charged with latent aurorae
of the North, as doubtless it has? It is like being pelted with sparks
from a battery. Behold the frost-work on the pane,--the wild, fantastic
limnings and etchings! can there be any doubt but this subtle agent has
been here? Where is it not? It is the life of the crystal, the
architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam.
This crisp winter air is full of it. When I come in at night after an
all-day tramp I am charged like a Leyden jar; my hair crackles and
snaps beneath the comb like a cat's back, and a strange, new glow
diffuses itself through my system.

It is a spur that one feels at this season more than at any other.  How
nimbly you step forth! The woods roar, the waters shine, and the hills
look invitingly near. You do not miss the flowers and the songsters, or
wish the trees or the fields any different, or the heavens any nearer.
Every object pleases. A rail fence, running athwart the hills, now in
sunshine and now in shadow,--how the eye lingers upon it! Or the
strait, light-gray trunks of the trees, where the woods have recently
been laid open by a road or clearing,--how curious they look, and as if
surprised in undress! Next year they will begin to shoot out branches
and make themselves a screen. Or the farm scenes,--the winter barnyards
littered with husks and straw, the rough-coated horses, the cattle
sunning themselves or walking down to the spring to drink, the domestic
fowls moving about,--there is a touch of sweet, homely life in these
things that the winter sun enhances and brings out. Every sign of life
is welcome at this season. I love to hear dogs bark, hens cackle, and
boys shout; one has no privacy with nature now, and does not wish to
seek her in nooks and hidden ways. She is not at home if he goes there;
her house is shut up and her hearth cold; only the sun and sky, and
perchance the waters, wear the old look, and to-day we will make love
to them, and they shall abundantly return it.

Even the crows and the buzzards draw the eye fondly.  The National
Capital is a great place for buzzards, and I make the remark in no
double or allegorical sense either, for the buzzards I mean are black
and harmless as doves, though perhaps hardly dovelike in their tastes.
My vulture is also a bird of leisure, and sails through the ether on
long flexible pinions, as if that was the one delight of his life. Some
birds have wings, others have "pinions." The buzzard enjoys this latter
distinctions. There is something in the sound of the word that suggests
that easy, dignified, undulatory movement. He does not propel himself
along by sheer force of muscle, after the plebeian fashion of the crow,
for instance, but progresses by a kind of royal indirection that
puzzles the eye. Even on a windy winter day he rides the vast aerial
billows as placidly as ever, rising and falling as he comes up toward
you, carving his way through the resisting currents by a slight
oscillation to the right and left, but never once beating the air

This superabundance of wing power is very unequally distributed among
the feathered races, the hawks and vultures having by far the greater
share of it. They cannot command the most speed, but their apparatus
seems the most delicate and consummate. Apparently a fine play of
muscle, a subtle shifting of the power along the outstretched wings, a
perpetual loss and a perpetual recovery of the equipoise, sustains them
and bears them along. With them flying is a luxury, a fine art; not
merely a quicker and safer means of transit from one point to another,
but a gift so free and spontaneous that work becomes leisure and
movement rest. They are not so much going somewhere, from this perch to
that, as they are abandoning themselves to the mere pleasure of riding
upon the air.

And it is beneath such grace and high-bred leisure that Nature hides in
her creatures the occupation of scavenger and carrion-eater!

But the worst thing about the buzzard is his silence.  The crow caws,
the hawk screams, the eagle barks, but the buzzard says not a word. So
far as I have observed, he has no vocal powers whatever. Nature dare
not trust him to speak. In his case she preserves discreet silence.

The crow may not have the sweet voice which the fox in his flattery
attributed to him, but he has a good, strong, native speech,
nevertheless. How much character there is in it! How much thrift and
independence! Of course his plumage is firm, his color decided, his wit
quick. He understands you at once and tells you so; so does the hawk by

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