Bushkill Falls is one of the bezillion waterfalls in the Poconos, and that entire region is about to explode into its annual display of fall color. Every year, I post all of the latest info about the leaf changes on my blog, and since the whole thing is just beginning to unfold, I’ll begin to share what I have discovered about Leaf Watching in the Poconos.
Poconos Leaf Report for September 21, 2017
Only part of Pennsylvania is comprised of the Pocono Mountain Region;
On a map made in 1749, the Poconos region is labeled as the Land of Endless Mountains.
If you study the entire map carefully, you will see that the Poconos’ Endless Mountains are in Pennsylvania, and they begin less than an hour above Philadelphia, and near the top of the state.
Resica Falls Is Near Bushkill Falls
Bushkill Falls is in the northern part of Pennsylvania, but there are waterfalls all along the Delaware River from the Lehigh Valley and North. As the map says, this is the Land of Endless Mountains and on the East Coast, when the mountains are endless, the waterfalls are, too.
For the purposes of leaf changing dates, the Poconos is divided into three parts. A continuously updating map and fall foliage report is at the following Poconos Mountains site Here
The fall foliage report is also available by calling 570-421-5565.
The Northern parts of the Poconos will be in peak color on October 16, 2017.
The Central and Southern parts of the Poconos will be in peak color between October 14-20.
Hickory Run Park is in White Haven, Pennsylvania, which is in the northern part of the state.
This old church is in the woods at Hickory Run Park.
Tobyhanna State Park
Bender Swamp at Tobyhanna
Tobyhanna is one of the best places to watch the leaves change, and it is only 36 miles away from Hickory Run. Resica Falls is South and East of Tobyhanna. Again, Resica Falls is near Bushkill Falls.
I live on the Jersey Shore, which is the Land of the Endless Sand Dunes, but I can drive less than 3 hours and be in the center of the Fall Foliage Display. I try to make that pilgrimage every year, and today, I am looking at my calendar and trying to decide when I’ll go this year. Wanna Join Me?
Ode to My Autumn Leaf – My September Song
by Jacki Kellum
I just took a nap for my mind, to see,
Flickering fae breath blew in, restored me.
Visions of sugarplums danced, set me free.
Sang me that September song.
Rain showers dripped down through the limbs of a tree.
Moonbeams and crystal shards lit up my sea.
Soft webs and angel hair dropped down from a flea,
And tow-tugged my leaf-boat along.
There is nothing more refreshing than a morning in September.
One advantage of living in the North is that as soon as the calendar hits September 1, PLOP! The curtain drops! And It Turns Fall! That doesn’t happen in the South. I remember my school-teaching days in Mississippi. I remember standing out on the asphalt parking lot and waiting for the kids to load into the buses. The heat was so intense that I felt as though I was baking–literally baking–I half-expected that my flesh would begin to fall off my bones–pulled-pork style.
In another week or two, I’ll begin singing my September Song about how we all need to book our plans to go to the Poconos to watch the leaves change in the land of endless trees and waterfalls. That is an awe-inspiring, mouth-dropping experience, but it is not what I do to recreate myself. Any trip requires packing and traveling and unpacking and packing again and traveling again and unpacking again and then, playing catch-up for several days afterward. Autumn does have a restorative power, but the best place for me to take advantage of that power is to open my back door and to simply go outside and into my garden.
“Outside the leaves on the trees constricted slightly; they were the deep done green of the beginning of autumn. It was a Sunday in September. There would only be four. The clouds were high and the swallows would be here for another month or so before they left for the south before they returned again next summer.” ― Ali Smith, The Whole Story and Other Stories
In the North, we have some hot days in summer, but summer doesn’t last as long here as it does in the South. I have laughed, saying that I believe that whoever broke the years into seasons lived in New Jersey, because in New Jersey, we have 4 distinctive seasons, and you can bank on the weather’s changing at exactly the time that it is supposed to change. September should look and feel like the beginning of fall, and that is how things are in New Jersey.
“[T]hat old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air … Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.” ― Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
My purple asters have begun to bloom in my garden, and this year, I have been rewarded by the opportunity to watch the fascinating life cycle of the monarchs who have come to sip the nectar from my asters and t munch on my milkweed. My black-eyed Susans are about done for the year, and my garden’s purples need some golden yellow now, but that is no problem. The garden centers here are brimming with pots of yellow chrysanthemums and bunches of dried corn stalks. The pumpkins are standing in columns, making promises about the army of jack-lantern grins that are in the ranks behind them.
We’ll still have some days that are typical of Indian Summer here, but by September 1 in New Jersey, it is time to begin looking for last season’s flannel shirts and leggings because by September 1 in New Jersey, fall has begun.
“But when fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.” ― Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot
“The first flash of color always excites me as much as the first frail, courageous bloom of spring. This is, in a sense, my season–sometimes warm and, when the wind blows an alert, sometimes cold. But there is a clarity about September. On clear days, the sun seems brighter, the sky more blue, the white clouds take on marvelous shapes; the moon is a wonderful apparition, rising gold, cooling to silver; and the stars are so big. The September storms–the hurricane warnings far away, the sudden gales, the downpour of rain that we have so badly needed here for so long–are exhilarating, and there’s a promise that what September starts, October will carry on, catching the torch flung into her hand.” ― Faith Baldwin, Evening Star
Without a doubt, I am a bit of a Rip Van Winkle, and I have a tendency to sleep-walk through chunks of time, but autumn is the season that always awakens and recreates me.
by Jacki Kellum
I just took a nap for my mind, to see,
Flickering fae breath blew in, restored me.
Visions of sugarplums danced, set me free.
Sang me that September song.
Rain showers dripped down through the limbs of my tree.
Moonbeams and crystal shards lit up my sea.
Soft webs and angel hair dropped from a flea,
And tow-tugged my leaf-boat along.
“First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren’t rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say.
Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn’t begun yet. July, well, July is really fine: there’s no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, Jun’es best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September’s a billion years away.” p. 1
“The seller of lightning-rods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder. Somewhere not so far back, vast lightnings stomped the earth.Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied.
“So the salesman jangled and clanged his huge leather kit in which oversized puzzles of ironmongery lay unseen but which his tongue conjured from door to door until he came at last to a lawn which was cut all wrong.
“No, not the grass. The salesman lifted his gaze.But two boys, far up the gentle slope, lying on the grass. Of a like size and general shape, the boys sat carving twig whistles, talking of olden or future times, content with having left their fingerprints on every movable object in Green Town during summer past and their footprints on every open path between here and the lake and there and the river since school began.” p. 5.
“He turned slowly, sniffing the air. Wind rattled the empty trees.Sunlight, breaking through a small rift in the clouds, minted a last few oak leaves all gold. But the sun vanished, the coins were spent,the air blew grey; the salesman shook himself from the spell.” p. 6.
“And the first boy, with hair as blond-white as milk thistle, shut up one eye, tilted his head, and looked at the salesman with a single eye as open, bright and clear as a drop of summer rain. ‘Will,’ he said. ‘William Halloway’ ” p. 6.
“The second boy did not move, but lay stomach down on the autumn grass, debating as if he might make up a name. His hair was wild, thick, and the glossy colour of waxed chestnuts. His eyes, fixed to some distant point within himself, were mint rock-crystal green.At last he put a
blade of dry grass in his casual mouth. ‘Jim Nightshade,’ he said.” p. 6.
“‘And only fitting,’ said Will Halloway. ‘I was born one minute before midnight, October thirtieth, Jim was born one minute after midnight, which makes it October thirty-first.’
‘Hallowe’en,’ said Jim.
By their voices, the boys had told the tale all their lives, proud of their mothers, living house next to [p. 6] house,running for the hospital together, bringing sons into the world seconds apart; one light, one dark. There was a history of mutual celebration behind them.Each year Will lit
the candles on a single cake at one minute to midnight. Jim, at one minute after, with the last day of the month begun, blew them out.: pvz. 6-7.
“The man, grieved by his own conscientiousness, rummaged in his leather bag and seized forth an iron contraption.
‘Take this, free! Why? One of those houses will be struck by lightning! Without this rod, bang! Fire and ash,roast pork and cinders! Grab!’
The salesman released the rod. Jim did not move.But Will caught the iron and gasped.
‘Boy, it’s heavy! And funny-looking. Never seen a lightning-rod like this. Look, Jim!’
And Jim, at last, stretched like a cat, and turned his head. His green eyes got big and then very narrow.
The metal thing was hammered and shaped half-crescent, half-cross. Around the rim of the main rod little curlicues and doohingies had been soldered on, later. The entire surface of the rod was finely scratched and etched with strange languages, names that could tie the tongue
or break the jaw, numerals that added to incomprehensible sums, pictographs of insect animals all bristle, chaff, and claw.
‘That’s Egyptian.’ Jim pointed his nose at a bug soldered to the iron. ‘Scarab beetle.’
‘So it is, boy!’ [p. 7]
Jim squinted. ‘And those there – Phoenician hen tracks,’
‘Why?’ asked Jim.
‘Why?’ said the man. ‘Why the Egyptian,Arabic,Abyssinian, Choctaw? Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What colour is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies? Boys, you got to be ready in every dialect with every shape and form to hex the St Elmo’s fires, the balls of blue light that prowl the earth like sizzling cats. I got the only lightning-rods in the world that hear, feel, know, and sass back any storm, no matter what tongue, voice, or sign. No foreign thunder so loud this rod can’t soft-talk it!’ [pgs. 7-8]
“And jangling his case full of iron rods, the salesman wheeled about and charged down the walk blinking wildly at the sky, the roof, the trees, at last closing his eyes, moving, sniffing, muttering. ‘Yes, bad, here it comes, feel it, way off now, but running fast…’
“And the man in the storm-dark clothes was gone, his cloud-coloured hat pulled down over his eyes, and the trees rustled and the sky seemed very old suddenly and Jim and Will stood testing the wind to see if they could smell electricity, the lightning-rod fallen between them.” p. 10.
“Like all boys, they never walked anywhere, but named a goal and lit for it, scissors and elbows. Nobody won. Nobody wanted to win. It was in their friendship they just wanted to run forever, shadow and shadow. Their hands slapped library-door handles together, their chests
broke track tapes together, their tennis shoes beat parallel pony tracks over lawns, trimmed bushes, squirreled trees, no one losing, both winning, thus saving their friendship for other times of loss.” p. 12
“So it was on this night that blew warm, then cool, as they let the wind take them downtown at eight o’clock. They felt the wings on their fingers and elbows flying, then, suddenly plunged in new sweeps of air, the clear autumn river flung them headlong where they must go.
Up step, three, six, nine, twelve! Slap! Their palms hit the library door. Jim and Will grinned at each other. It was all so good, these blowing quiet October nights and the library waiting inside now with its green-shaded lamps and papyrus dust.” p. 13
Description of Library in Something Wicked This Way Comes
“It was all so good, these blowing quiet October nights and the library waiting inside now with its green-shaded lamps and papyrus dust.,
. . .
“Out in the world, not much happened.But here in the special night, a land bricked with paper and leather, anything might happen, always did. Listen! and you heard ten thousand people screaming so high only dogs feathered their ears.A million folk ran toting cannons, sharpening
guillotines; Chinese, four abreast, marched on forever. Invisible, silent, yes, but Jim and Will had the gift of ears and noses as well as the gift of tongues. This was a factory of spices from far countries. Here alien deserts slumbered. Up front was the desk where the nice old lady, Miss
Watriss, purple-stamped your books, but down off away were Tibet and Antarctica, the Congo. There went Miss Wills, the other librarian, through Outer Mongolia, calmly toting fragments of Peiping and Yokohama and the Celebes.” p. 13
“Way down the third book corridor, an oldish man whispered his broom along in the dark, mounding the fallen spices.
. . .
” That’s Charles William Halloway, thought Will, not grand-father, not far-wandering, ancient uncle, as some might think, but…my father.” p. 14
. . .
“They stood now, a boy with corn-coloured hair and a man with moon-white hair, a boy with a summer-apple, a man with a winter-apple face. Dad, Dad, thought Will, why, why, he looks…like me in a smashed mirror! And suddenly Will remembered nights rising at two in the morning to go to the bathroom and spying across town to see that one single light in the high library window and know Dad had lingered on late murmuring and reading alone under these green jungle lamps. It made Will sad and funny to see that light, to know the old man – he stopped to change the word – his father, was here in all this shadow.: p. 15
. . .
“Outside, a weather of stars ran clear in an ocean sky.”
“‘Heck.’ Jim sniffed north, Jim sniffed south. ‘Where’s the storm? That darn salesman promised. I just got to watch that lightning fizz down my drainpipes!’ Will let the wind ruffle and refit his clothes, his skin, his hair. Then he said, faintly, ‘It’ll be here. By morning.’
‘The huckleberries all down my arms. They say.’
The wind flew Jim away.
A similar kite, Will swooped to follow.” p. 16
“Watching the boys vanish away, Charles Halloway suppressed a sudden urge to run with them, make the pack. He knew what the wind was doing to them where it was taking them, to all the secret places that were never so secret again in life.Somewhere in him, a shadow turned mournfully over.You had to run with a night like this, so the sadness could not hurt. Look! he thought. Will runs because running is its own excuse. Jim runs because something’s up ahead of him.
Yet, strangely, they do run together.
“What’s the answer, he wondered, walking through the library, putting out the lights, putting out the lights, putting out the lights, is it all in the whorls on our thumbs and fingers? Why are some people all grasshopper fiddlings, scrapings, all antennae shivering, one big ganglion
eternally knotting, slip-knotting, square-knotting themselves? They stoke a furnace all their lives, sweat their lips, shine their eyes and start it all in the crib. Caesar’s lean and hungry friends. They eat the dark, who only stand and breathe.
“That’s Jim, all bramble-hair and itchweed. [p. 17]
“And Will? Why he’s the last peach, high on the summer tree.Some boys walk by and you cry, seeing them. They feel good, they look good, they are good. Oh, they’re not above peeing off a bridge, or stealing an occasional dime-store pencil sharpener; it’s not that. It’s just, you know, seeing them pass, that’s how they’ll be all their life; they’ll get hit, hurt, cut, bruised, and always wonder why, why does it happen? how can it happen to them?
“But Jim, now, he knows it happens, he watches for it happening, he sees it start, he sees it finish, he licks the wound he expected, and never asks why; he knows. He always knew. Someone knew before him, a long time ago, someone who had wolves for pets and lions for night conversants. Hell, Jim doesn’t know with his mind.But his body knows.And while Will’s putting a bandage on his latest scratch, Jim’s ducking, waving, bouncing away from the knockout blow which must inevitably come.
“So there they go, Jim running slower to stay with Will, Will running faster to stay with Jim, Jim breaking two windows in a haunted house because Will’s along, Will breaking one instead of none, because Jim’s watching. God how we get our fingers in each other’s clay. That’s friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of the other.” p. 18
. . .
‘Distilled wine. … Fire-water, the Elixir Vitae, by God. … it was the Cure-all, the thing that worked miracles. Have a drink!?’
‘I don’t need it,’ said Halloway. ‘But someone inside me does.’Who?’
The boy I once was, thought Halloway, who runs like the leaves down the sidewalk autumn nights. But he couldn’t say that. So he drank, eyes shut, listening to hear if that thing inside turned over again,rustling in the deep bons that were stacked for burning but never burned.” p 19
“Charles Halloway put his hand to the saloon’s double swing doors, hesitant, as if the grey hairs on the back of his hand, like antennae, had felt something beyond slide by in the October night.Perhaps great fires burned somewhere and their furnace blasts warned him not to step forth. Or another Ice Age had loomed across the land, its freezing bulk might already have laid waste a billion people in the hour.Perhaps Time itself fixed was draining off down an immense glass, with powdered darkness failing after to bury all.” p. 23
“Or maybe it was only that man in a dark suit, seen through the saloon window, across the street. Great paper rolls under one arm, a brush and bucket in his free hand, the man was whistling a tune, very far away.” p. 23
“His mothers fingers twitched, her mouth counted, the happiest woman he had ever seen. He remembered a greenhouse on a winter day, pushing aside thick jungle leaves to find a creamy pink hothouse rose poised alone in the wilderness. That was [p. 34] mother, smelling like fresh milk, happy, to herself, in this room.” pgs. 34-35
. . .
“Will stepped into the parlour.
Immediately Mom opened a smile that was like lighting a second fire.” p. 35
“There was a thing in Dad’s voice, up, over, down, easy as a hand winging soft in the air like a white bird describing flight pattern, made the ear want to follow and the mind’s eye to see. And the odd thing in Dad’s voice was the sound truth makes being said. The sound of truth, in a wild roving land of city or plain country lies, will spell any boy. Many nights Will drowsed this way, his senses like stopped clocks long before that half-singing voice was still. Dad’s voice was a midnight [p.36] school, teaching deep fathom hours, and the subject was life.” pgs. 36-37
. . .
“‘…Will…makes me feel so old…a man should play baseball with his son…’
‘Not necessary,’ said the woman’s voice, kindly. ‘You’re a good man.’
‘ – in a bad season. Hell, I was forty when he was born! And you! Who’s your daughter? people say. God, when you lie down your thoughts turn to mush. Hell!’
Will heard the shift of weight as Dad sat up in the dark.A match was being struck, a pipe was being smoked. The wind rattled the windows.” p. 37
“No one else in the world had a name came so well off the tongue.
‘Jim Nightshade. That’s me.’Jim stood tall and now lay long in bed, strung together by marsh-grass, his bones easy in his flesh, his flesh easy on his bones. The library books lay unopened-by his relaxed right hand.
Waiting, his eyes were dark as twilight, with shadows under the eyes from the time, his mother said, he had almost died when he was three and still remembered. His hair was dark autumn chestnut and the veins in his temples and brow and in his neck and ticking in his wrists
and on the backs of his slender hands, all these were dark blue. He was marbled with dark, was Jim Nightshade, a boy who talked less and smiled less as the years increased.
The trouble with Jim was he looked at the world and could not look away.And when you
never look away all your life, by the time you are thirteen you have done twenty years taking in
the laundry of the world.” p. 39
“Will Halloway, it was in him young to always look just beyond, over or to one side.So at thirteen he had saved up only six years of staring. [p. 39] Jim knew every centimeter of his shadow, could have cut it out of tar paper, furled it, and run it up a flagpole – his banner. Will, he was occasionally surprised to see his shadow following him somewhere, but that was that.” pgs. 39-40
“Just after midnight.
Along the empty street came the lightning-rod salesman, his leather valise swung almost empty in his baseball-mitt hand, his face at ease. He turned a corner and stopped.
Paper-soft white moths tapped at an empty store window, looking in.
And in the window, like a great coffin boat of star-coloured glass, beached on two sawhorses lay a chunk of Alaska Snow Company ice chopped to a size great enough to flash in a giant’s ring.
And sealed in this ice was the most beautiful woman in the world.
The lightning-rod salesman’s smile faded.
In the dreaming coldness of ice like someone fallen and slept in snow avalanches a thousand years, forever young, was this woman.
She was as fair as this morning and fresh as tomorrow’s flowers and lovely as any maidmwhen a man shuts up his eyes and traps her, in cameo perfection, on the shell of his eyelids.
The lightning-rod salesman remembered to breathe.” p. 42
“Once, long ago, travelling among the marbles of Rome and Florence, he had seen women like this, kept in stone instead of Ice. Once, wandering in the Louvre, he had found women like this, washed in summer colour and kept in paint. Once, as a boy, sneaking the cool grottoes
behind a motion picture theatre screen, on his way to a free seat, he had glanced up and there towering and flooding the haunted dark seen a women’s face as he had never seen it since, of such size and beauty built of milk-bone and moon-flesh, at to freeze him there alone behind
the stage, shadowed by the, motion of her lips, the bird-wing flicker of her eyes, the snow-pale-death-shimmering illumination from her cheeks.
So from other years there jumped forth images which flowed and found new substance here within the ice.: p. 43
“Midnight then and the town clocks chiming on toward one and two and then three in the deep morning and the peals of the great clocks shaking dust off old toys in attics and shedding silver off old mirrors in yet higher attics and s up dreams about docks in all beds where children slept.
Will heard it.
Muffled away in the prairie lands, the chuffing of an engine, the slow-slow-following dragon-glide of a train.
Will sat up in bed.
Across the way, like a mirror image, Jim sat up, too.
A calliope began to play oh so softly, grieving to itself, a million miles away.
In one single motion, Will leaned from his window, as did Jim. Without a word they gazed over the trembling surf of trees.
Their rooms were high, as boys’ rooms should be. From these gaunt windows they could rifle-fire their gaze artillery distances past library, city hall, depot, cow barns, farmlands to empty prairie!
There, on the world’s rim, the lovely snail-gleam of the railway tracks ran, flinging wild gesticulations [p. 45] of lemon or cherry-coloured semaphore to the stars.
There, on the precipice of earth, a small steam feather uprose like the first of a storm cloud yet to come.”
“The train itself appeared, link by link, engine, coal-car, and numerous and numbered all-asleep-and-slumbering-dream-filled cars that followed the firefly-sparked chum, chant, drowsy autumn hearth-fire roar. Hellfires flushed the stunned hills. Even at this remote view, one
imagined men with buffalo-haunched arms shoveling black meteor falls of coal into the open boilers of the engine.
Both boys vanished, came back to life binoculars.
‘Civil War! No other stack like that since 1900!’
‘The rest of the train, all of it’s old’
‘The flags! The cages! It’s the carnival!’
They listened. At first Will thought he heard the air whistling fast in his nostrils.But no – it
was the train, and the calliope sighing, weeping, on that train.
‘Sounds like church music!’
‘Hell. Why would a carnival play church music?’
‘Don’t say hell,’ hissed Will.
‘Hell.’ Jim ferociously leaned out. ‘I’ve saved up all day.Everyone’s asleep so – hell!’
The music drifted by their windows. Goose pimples rose bid as boils on Will’s arms.
‘That is church music. Changed.'”pgs. 45-46
“Sometimes you see a kite so high, so wise it almost knows the wind. It travels, then chooses to land in one spot and no other and no matter how you yank,run this way or that, it will simply break its cord, seek its resting place and bring you, blood-mouthed,running.
‘Jim! Wait for me!’
So now Jim was the kite, the wild twine cut, and whatever wisdom was his taking him away from Will who could only run, earthbound, after one so high and dark silent and suddenly
‘Jim, here I come!’
And running, Will thought,Boy, it’s the same old thing. I talk. Jim runs. I tilt stones, Jim grabs the cold junk under the stones and – lickety-split! I climb hills. Jim yells off church steeples. I got a bank account. Jim’s got the hair on his head, the yell in his mouth, the shirt on his back and
the tennis shoes on his feet. How come I think he’s richer? Because, Will thought, I sit on a rock in the sun and old Jim, he prickles his arm-hairs by moonlight and dances with hop-toads. I tend cows, Jim tames Gila monsters. Fool! I yell at Jim. Coward! he yells back.And here we -go! [p.48]
“And they ran from town, across fields and both froze under a rail bridge with the moon ready
beyond the hills and the meadows trembling with a fur of dew.”
The carnival train thundered the bridge, the calliope wailed.
‘There’s no one playing it!’ Jim stared up.
‘Jim, no jokes!’
‘Mother’s honour, look!’
Going away, away, the calliope pipes shimmered with star explosions, but no one sat at the high keyboard. The wind, sluicing air-water air in the pipes, made the music.
The boys ran. The train curved away, gonging it’s under-sea funeral bell, sunk,rusted, green-mossed, tolling, tolling. Then the engine whistle blew a great steam whiff and Will broke out in pearls of ice.
Way late at night Will had heard – how often? – train whistles jetting steam along the rim of sleep, forlorn, alone and far, no matter how near they came.Sometimes he woke to find tears on his cheek, asked why, lay back, listened and thought,Yes! they make me cry, going east,
going west, the trains so far gone in country deeps they drown in tides of sleep that escape the towns.
“Those trains and their grieving sounds were lost forever between stations, not remembering, where they had been, not guessing where they might go, exhaling their last pale breaths over the horizon, gone.So it was with all trains, ever.
Yet this train’s whistle!
The wails of a lifetime were gathered in it from other nights in other slumbering years; the howl of moon-dreamed dogs, the seep of river-cold winds through January porch screens which stopped the blood, a thousand fire sirens weeping, or worse! the [p 49] outgone shreds of
breath, the protests of a billion people dead or dying, not wanting to be dead, their groans, their sighs, burst over the earth!” pgs. 49-50
“The train had pulled off into Rolfe’s moon meadow, so-called because town couples came out to see the moon rise here over a land so wide, so long, it was like an inland sea, filled with grass in spring., or hay in late, summer or snow in winter, it was fine walking here along its crisp
shore with the moon coming up to tremble in its tides.
Well, the carnival train was crouched there now in the autumn grass on the old spur near the Woods and the boys crept and lay down under a bush, waiting.
‘It’s so quiet, whispered Will.
The train just stood in the middle of the dry autumn field, no one in the locomotive no one in the tender, no one in any of the cars behind, all black under the moon, and just the small sounds of its metal cooling, ticking on the rails.” p. 50
. . .
“But then a tall man stepped down from the train caboose platform like a captain assaying the tidal weathers of this inland sea.All dark suit, shadow-faced, he waded to the centre of the meadow, his shirt as black as the gloved hands he now stretched to the sky.
He gestured, once.
And the train came to life.
At first a head lifted in one window, then an arm, then another head like a puppet in a marionette theatre. Suddenly two men in black were carrying a dark tent-pole out across the hissing grass.
It was the silence that made Will pull back, even as Jim leaned forward eyes moon-bright.
A carnival should be all growls,roars like, timberlands stacked, bundled, rolled and crashed, great explosions of lion dust, men ablaze with working anger, pop bottles jangling, horse buckles shivering, engines and elephants in full stampede through rains of sweat while zebras
neighed and trembled like cage trapped in cage.
But this was like old movies, the silent theatre haunted with black-and-white ghosts, silvery mouth opening to let moon-light smoke out, gestures made [p. 51] in silence so hushed you could hear the wind fizz the hair on your cheeks. More shadows rustled from the train, passing the animal cages where darkness prowled with unlit eyes and the calliope stood mute save for the faintest idiot tune the breeze piped wandering up the flues.” pgs. 51-52
“Wandering alone in the library, letting his broom tell him things no one else could hear, hehad heard the whistle and the disjointed-calliope hymns.
‘Three,’ he now said, half-aloud. ‘Three in the morning…’
In the meadow the tents, the carnival waited. Waited for someone, anyone to wade along the grassy surf. The great tents filled like bellows. They softly issued forth exhalations of airthat smelled like ancient yellow beasts.
But only the moon looked in at the hollow dark, the deep caverns. Outside, night beasts hung in mid-gallop on a carousel.Beyond lay fathoms of Mirror[p. 54]Maze which housed a multifold series of empty vanities one wave on another, still, serene, silvered with age, white with time.
Any shadow, at the entrance, might stir reverberations the colour of fright, unravel deep-buried moons.
. . .
“Charles Halloway was cold. His skin was suddenly a lizard’s skin. His stomach filled with blood turned to rust. His mouth tasted of night damps.
Yet he could not turn from the library window.
Far off, something glittered in the meadow.
It was moonlight, flashing on a great glass.
Perhaps the light said something, perhaps it spoke in code.” pgs. 54-55
“Three in the morning, thought Charles Halloway, seated on the edge of his bed. Why did thetrain come at that hour?
For, he thought, it’s a special hour. Women never wake then, do they? They sleep the sleep of babes[p. 57] and children.But men in middle age? They know that hour well. Oh God, midnight’s not bad, you wake and go back to sleep, one or two’s not bad, you toss but sleep again. Five or six in the morning’s not bad there’s hope, for dawn’s just under the horizon. But three, now, Christ, three a.m.! The blood moves slow. You’re the nearest to dead you’ll ever be save dying. Sleep is a patch of death, but three in the morn, full wide-eyed staring, is living death! You dream with your eyes open. God, if you had strength to rouse up, you’d slaughter your half-dreams with buckshot! But no, you lie pinned to a deep well-bottom that’s burned dry. The moon rolls by to look at you down there, with its idiot face. It’s a long way back to sunset, a far
way on to dawn, so you summon all the fool things of your life, the stupid lovely things done with people known so very well who are now so very dead – And wasn’t it true, had he read it somewhere, more people in hospitals die at 3 a.m. than at any other time…?”pgs.57-58
“The sun rose yellow as a lemon.
The sky was round and blue.
The birds looped clear water songs in the air.
Will and Jim leaned from their windows.
Nothing had changed.
Except the look in Jim’s eyes.
‘Last night…’ said Will. ‘Did or didn’t it happen?’
They both gazed toward the far meadows.
The air was sweet as syrup. They could find no shadows, anywhere, even under trees.
‘Six minutes!’ cried Jim.
Four minutes later, cornflakes lurching in their stomachs, they frisked the leaves to a fine red
dust going out of town.
With a wild flutter of breath, they raised their eyes from the earth they had been treading.
And the carnival was there.
For the tents were lemon like the sun, brass like wheat fields a few weeks ago. Flags and banners bright as blue-birds snapped above lion-coloured canvas. From booths painted cotton-candy colours fine [p. 60] Saturday smells of bacon and eggs, hot dogs and pancakes swam
with the wind.Everywhere ran boys.Everywhere, sleepy fathers followed.
‘It’s just a plain old carnival,’ said Will.
‘Like heck,’ said Jim. ‘We weren’t blind last night. Come on!'” pgs. 60 -61
“…close up, the carnival was mildewed rope, moth-eaten canvas,rain-worn, sun-bleached tinsel. The side-show paintings, hung like
sad albatrosses on their poles, flapped and let fall flakes of ancient paint, shivering and at the same time revealing the unwondrous wonders of a thin man, fat-man, needle-head, tattooed man, hula dancer…” p. 61
FOUND AMONG THE PAPERS
OF THE LATE DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER.
A pleasing land of drowsy head it was,
Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;
And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,
Forever flushing round a summer sky.
CASTLE OF INDOLENCE.
In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic. Not far from this village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley or rather lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquillity.
I recollect that, when a stripling, my first exploit in squirrel-shooting was in a grove of tall walnut-trees that shades one side of the valley. I had wandered into it at noontime, when all nature is peculiarly quiet, and was startled by the roar of my own gun, as it broke the Sabbath stillness around and was prolonged and reverberated by the angry echoes. If ever I should wish for a retreat whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley.
From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of SLEEPY HOLLOW, and its rustic lads are called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the neighboring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a High German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.
The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War, and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not confined to the valley, but extend at times to the adjacent roads, and especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance. Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that the body of the trooper having been buried in the churchyard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head, and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak.
Such is the general purport of this legendary superstition, which has furnished materials for many a wild story in that region of shadows; and the spectre is known at all the country firesides, by the name of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
It is remarkable that the visionary propensity I have mentioned is not confined to the native inhabitants of the valley, but is unconsciously imbibed by every one who resides there for a time. However wide awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions.
I mention this peaceful spot with all possible laud, for it is in such little retired Dutch valleys, found here and there embosomed in the great State of New York, that population, manners, and customs remain fixed, while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved. They are like those little nooks of still water, which border a rapid stream, where we may see the straw and bubble riding quietly at anchor, or slowly revolving in their mimic harbor, undisturbed by the rush of the passing current. Though many years have elapsed since I trod the drowsy shades of Sleepy Hollow, yet I question whether I should not still find the same trees and the same families vegetating in its sheltered bosom.
In this by-place of nature there abode, in a remote period of American history, that is to say, some thirty years since, a worthy wight of the name of Ichabod Crane, who sojourned, or, as he expressed it, “tarried,” in Sleepy Hollow, for the purpose of instructing the children of the vicinity. He was a native of Connecticut, a State which supplies the Union with pioneers for the mind as well as for the forest, and sends forth yearly its legions of frontier woodmen and country schoolmasters. The cognomen of Crane was not inapplicable to his person. He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.
His schoolhouse was a low building of one large room, rudely constructed of logs; the windows partly glazed, and partly patched with leaves of old copybooks. It was most ingeniously secured at vacant hours, by a withe twisted in the handle of the door, and stakes set against the window shutters; so that though a thief might get in with perfect ease, he would find some embarrassment in getting out,—an idea most probably borrowed by the architect, Yost Van Houten, from the mystery of an eelpot. The schoolhouse stood in a rather lonely but pleasant situation, just at the foot of a woody hill, with a brook running close by, and a formidable birch-tree growing at one end of it. From hence the low murmur of his pupils’ voices, conning over their lessons, might be heard in a drowsy summer’s day, like the hum of a beehive; interrupted now and then by the authoritative voice of the master, in the tone of menace or command, or, peradventure, by the appalling sound of the birch, as he urged some tardy loiterer along the flowery path of knowledge. Truth to say, he was a conscientious man, and ever bore in mind the golden maxim, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Ichabod Crane’s scholars certainly were not spoiled.
I would not have it imagined, however, that he was one of those cruel potentates of the school who joy in the smart of their subjects; on the contrary, he administered justice with discrimination rather than severity; taking the burden off the backs of the weak, and laying it on those of the strong. Your mere puny stripling, that winced at the least flourish of the rod, was passed by with indulgence; but the claims of justice were satisfied by inflicting a double portion on some little tough wrong-headed, broad-skirted Dutch urchin, who sulked and swelled and grew dogged and sullen beneath the birch. All this he called “doing his duty by their parents;” and he never inflicted a chastisement without following it by the assurance, so consolatory to the smarting urchin, that “he would remember it and thank him for it the longest day he had to live.”
When school hours were over, he was even the companion and playmate of the larger boys; and on holiday afternoons would convoy some of the smaller ones home, who happened to have pretty sisters, or good housewives for mothers, noted for the comforts of the cupboard. Indeed, it behooved him to keep on good terms with his pupils. The revenue arising from his school was small, and would have been scarcely sufficient to furnish him with daily bread, for he was a huge feeder, and, though lank, had the dilating powers of an anaconda; but to help out his maintenance, he was, according to country custom in those parts, boarded and lodged at the houses of the farmers whose children he instructed. With these he lived successively a week at a time, thus going the rounds of the neighborhood, with all his worldly effects tied up in a cotton handkerchief.
That all this might not be too onerous on the purses of his rustic patrons, who are apt to consider the costs of schooling a grievous burden, and schoolmasters as mere drones, he had various ways of rendering himself both useful and agreeable. He assisted the farmers occasionally in the lighter labors of their farms, helped to make hay, mended the fences, took the horses to water, drove the cows from pasture, and cut wood for the winter fire. He laid aside, too, all the dominant dignity and absolute sway with which he lorded it in his little empire, the school, and became wonderfully gentle and ingratiating. He found favor in the eyes of the mothers by petting the children, particularly the youngest; and like the lion bold, which whilom so magnanimously the lamb did hold, he would sit with a child on one knee, and rock a cradle with his foot for whole hours together.
In addition to his other vocations, he was the singing-master of the neighborhood, and picked up many bright shillings by instructing the young folks in psalmody. It was a matter of no little vanity to him on Sundays, to take his station in front of the church gallery, with a band of chosen singers; where, in his own mind, he completely carried away the palm from the parson. Certain it is, his voice resounded far above all the rest of the congregation; and there are peculiar quavers still to be heard in that church, and which may even be heard half a mile off, quite to the opposite side of the millpond, on a still Sunday morning, which are said to be legitimately descended from the nose of Ichabod Crane. Thus, by divers little makeshifts, in that ingenious way which is commonly denominated “by hook and by crook,” the worthy pedagogue got on tolerably enough, and was thought, by all who understood nothing of the labor of headwork, to have a wonderfully easy life of it.
The schoolmaster is generally a man of some importance in the female circle of a rural neighborhood; being considered a kind of idle, gentlemanlike personage, of vastly superior taste and accomplishments to the rough country swains, and, indeed, inferior in learning only to the parson. His appearance, therefore, is apt to occasion some little stir at the tea-table of a farmhouse, and the addition of a supernumerary dish of cakes or sweetmeats, or, peradventure, the parade of a silver teapot. Our man of letters, therefore, was peculiarly happy in the smiles of all the country damsels. How he would figure among them in the churchyard, between services on Sundays; gathering grapes for them from the wild vines that overran the surrounding trees; reciting for their amusement all the epitaphs on the tombstones; or sauntering, with a whole bevy of them, along the banks of the adjacent millpond; while the more bashful country bumpkins hung sheepishly back, envying his superior elegance and address.
From his half-itinerant life, also, he was a kind of travelling gazette, carrying the whole budget of local gossip from house to house, so that his appearance was always greeted with satisfaction. He was, moreover, esteemed by the women as a man of great erudition, for he had read several books quite through, and was a perfect master of Cotton Mather’s “History of New England Witchcraft,” in which, by the way, he most firmly and potently believed.
He was, in fact, an odd mixture of small shrewdness and simple credulity. His appetite for the marvellous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spell-bound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow. It was often his delight, after his school was dismissed in the afternoon, to stretch himself on the rich bed of clover bordering the little brook that whimpered by his schoolhouse, and there con over old Mather’s direful tales, until the gathering dusk of evening made the printed page a mere mist before his eyes. Then, as he wended his way by swamp and stream and awful woodland, to the farmhouse where he happened to be quartered, every sound of nature, at that witching hour, fluttered his excited imagination,—the moan of the whip-poor-will from the hillside, the boding cry of the tree toad, that harbinger of storm, the dreary hooting of the screech owl, or the sudden rustling in the thicket of birds frightened from their roost. The fireflies, too, which sparkled most vividly in the darkest places, now and then startled him, as one of uncommon brightness would stream across his path; and if, by chance, a huge blockhead of a beetle came winging his blundering flight against him, the poor varlet was ready to give up the ghost, with the idea that he was struck with a witch’s token. His only resource on such occasions, either to drown thought or drive away evil spirits, was to sing psalm tunes and the good people of Sleepy Hollow, as they sat by their doors of an evening, were often filled with awe at hearing his nasal melody, “in linked sweetness long drawn out,” floating from the distant hill, or along the dusky road.
Another of his sources of fearful pleasure was to pass long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives, as they sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting and spluttering along the hearth, and listen to their marvellous tales of ghosts and goblins, and haunted fields, and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges, and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman, or Galloping Hessian of the Hollow, as they sometimes called him. He would delight them equally by his anecdotes of witchcraft, and of the direful omens and portentous sights and sounds in the air, which prevailed in the earlier times of Connecticut; and would frighten them woefully with speculations upon comets and shooting stars; and with the alarming fact that the world did absolutely turn round, and that they were half the time topsy-turvy!
But if there was a pleasure in all this, while snugly cuddling in the chimney corner of a chamber that was all of a ruddy glow from the crackling wood fire, and where, of course, no spectre dared to show its face, it was dearly purchased by the terrors of his subsequent walk homewards. What fearful shapes and shadows beset his path, amidst the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night! With what wistful look did he eye every trembling ray of light streaming across the waste fields from some distant window! How often was he appalled by some shrub covered with snow, which, like a sheeted spectre, beset his very path! How often did he shrink with curdling awe at the sound of his own steps on the frosty crust beneath his feet; and dread to look over his shoulder, lest he should behold some uncouth being tramping close behind him! And how often was he thrown into complete dismay by some rushing blast, howling among the trees, in the idea that it was the Galloping Hessian on one of his nightly scourings!
All these, however, were mere terrors of the night, phantoms of the mind that walk in darkness; and though he had seen many spectres in his time, and been more than once beset by Satan in divers shapes, in his lonely perambulations, yet daylight put an end to all these evils; and he would have passed a pleasant life of it, in despite of the Devil and all his works, if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was—a woman.
Among the musical disciples who assembled, one evening in each week, to receive his instructions in psalmody, was Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and only child of a substantial Dutch farmer. She was a blooming lass of fresh eighteen; plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father’s peaches, and universally famed, not merely for her beauty, but her vast expectations. She was withal a little of a coquette, as might be perceived even in her dress, which was a mixture of ancient and modern fashions, as most suited to set off her charms. She wore the ornaments of pure yellow gold, which her great-great-grandmother had brought over from Saardam; the tempting stomacher of the olden time, and withal a provokingly short petticoat, to display the prettiest foot and ankle in the country round.
Ichabod Crane had a soft and foolish heart towards the sex; and it is not to be wondered at that so tempting a morsel soon found favor in his eyes, more especially after he had visited her in her paternal mansion. Old Baltus Van Tassel was a perfect picture of a thriving, contented, liberal-hearted farmer. He seldom, it is true, sent either his eyes or his thoughts beyond the boundaries of his own farm; but within those everything was snug, happy and well-conditioned. He was satisfied with his wealth, but not proud of it; and piqued himself upon the hearty abundance, rather than the style in which he lived. His stronghold was situated on the banks of the Hudson, in one of those green, sheltered, fertile nooks in which the Dutch farmers are so fond of nestling. A great elm tree spread its broad branches over it, at the foot of which bubbled up a spring of the softest and sweetest water, in a little well formed of a barrel; and then stole sparkling away through the grass, to a neighboring brook, that babbled along among alders and dwarf willows. Hard by the farmhouse was a vast barn, that might have served for a church; every window and crevice of which seemed bursting forth with the treasures of the farm; the flail was busily resounding within it from morning to night; swallows and martins skimmed twittering about the eaves; and rows of pigeons, some with one eye turned up, as if watching the weather, some with their heads under their wings or buried in their bosoms, and others swelling, and cooing, and bowing about their dames, were enjoying the sunshine on the roof. Sleek unwieldy porkers were grunting in the repose and abundance of their pens, from whence sallied forth, now and then, troops of sucking pigs, as if to snuff the air. A stately squadron of snowy geese were riding in an adjoining pond, convoying whole fleets of ducks; regiments of turkeys were gobbling through the farmyard, and Guinea fowls fretting about it, like ill-tempered housewives, with their peevish, discontented cry. Before the barn door strutted the gallant cock, that pattern of a husband, a warrior and a fine gentleman, clapping his burnished wings and crowing in the pride and gladness of his heart,—sometimes tearing up the earth with his feet, and then generously calling his ever-hungry family of wives and children to enjoy the rich morsel which he had discovered.
The pedagogue’s mouth watered as he looked upon this sumptuous promise of luxurious winter fare. In his devouring mind’s eye, he pictured to himself every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce. In the porkers he saw carved out the future sleek side of bacon, and juicy relishing ham; not a turkey but he beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing, and, peradventure, a necklace of savory sausages; and even bright chanticleer himself lay sprawling on his back, in a side dish, with uplifted claws, as if craving that quarter which his chivalrous spirit disdained to ask while living.
As the enraptured Ichabod fancied all this, and as he rolled his great green eyes over the fat meadow lands, the rich fields of wheat, of rye, of buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchards burdened with ruddy fruit, which surrounded the warm tenement of Van Tassel, his heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea, how they might be readily turned into cash, and the money invested in immense tracts of wild land, and shingle palaces in the wilderness. Nay, his busy fancy already realized his hopes, and presented to him the blooming Katrina, with a whole family of children, mounted on the top of a wagon loaded with household trumpery, with pots and kettles dangling beneath; and he beheld himself bestriding a pacing mare, with a colt at her heels, setting out for Kentucky, Tennessee,—or the Lord knows where!
When he entered the house, the conquest of his heart was complete. It was one of those spacious farmhouses, with high-ridged but lowly sloping roofs, built in the style handed down from the first Dutch settlers; the low projecting eaves forming a piazza along the front, capable of being closed up in bad weather. Under this were hung flails, harness, various utensils of husbandry, and nets for fishing in the neighboring river. Benches were built along the sides for summer use; and a great spinning-wheel at one end, and a churn at the other, showed the various uses to which this important porch might be devoted. From this piazza the wondering Ichabod entered the hall, which formed the centre of the mansion, and the place of usual residence. Here rows of resplendent pewter, ranged on a long dresser, dazzled his eyes. In one corner stood a huge bag of wool, ready to be spun; in another, a quantity of linsey-woolsey just from the loom; ears of Indian corn, and strings of dried apples and peaches, hung in gay festoons along the walls, mingled with the gaud of red peppers; and a door left ajar gave him a peep into the best parlor, where the claw-footed chairs and dark mahogany tables shone like mirrors; andirons, with their accompanying shovel and tongs, glistened from their covert of asparagus tops; mock-oranges and conch-shells decorated the mantelpiece; strings of various-colored birds eggs were suspended above it; a great ostrich egg was hung from the centre of the room, and a corner cupboard, knowingly left open, displayed immense treasures of old silver and well-mended china.
From the moment Ichabod laid his eyes upon these regions of delight, the peace of his mind was at an end, and his only study was how to gain the affections of the peerless daughter of Van Tassel. In this enterprise, however, he had more real difficulties than generally fell to the lot of a knight-errant of yore, who seldom had anything but giants, enchanters, fiery dragons, and such like easily conquered adversaries, to contend with and had to make his way merely through gates of iron and brass, and walls of adamant to the castle keep, where the lady of his heart was confined; all which he achieved as easily as a man would carve his way to the centre of a Christmas pie; and then the lady gave him her hand as a matter of course. Ichabod, on the contrary, had to win his way to the heart of a country coquette, beset with a labyrinth of whims and caprices, which were forever presenting new difficulties and impediments; and he had to encounter a host of fearful adversaries of real flesh and blood, the numerous rustic admirers, who beset every portal to her heart, keeping a watchful and angry eye upon each other, but ready to fly out in the common cause against any new competitor.
Among these, the most formidable was a burly, roaring, roystering blade, of the name of Abraham, or, according to the Dutch abbreviation, Brom Van Brunt, the hero of the country round, which rang with his feats of strength and hardihood. He was broad-shouldered and double-jointed, with short curly black hair, and a bluff but not unpleasant countenance, having a mingled air of fun and arrogance. From his Herculean frame and great powers of limb he had received the nickname of BROM BONES, by which he was universally known. He was famed for great knowledge and skill in horsemanship, being as dexterous on horseback as a Tartar. He was foremost at all races and cock fights; and, with the ascendancy which bodily strength always acquires in rustic life, was the umpire in all disputes, setting his hat on one side, and giving his decisions with an air and tone that admitted of no gainsay or appeal. He was always ready for either a fight or a frolic; but had more mischief than ill-will in his composition; and with all his overbearing roughness, there was a strong dash of waggish good humor at bottom. He had three or four boon companions, who regarded him as their model, and at the head of whom he scoured the country, attending every scene of feud or merriment for miles round. In cold weather he was distinguished by a fur cap, surmounted with a flaunting fox’s tail; and when the folks at a country gathering descried this well-known crest at a distance, whisking about among a squad of hard riders, they always stood by for a squall. Sometimes his crew would be heard dashing along past the farmhouses at midnight, with whoop and halloo, like a troop of Don Cossacks; and the old dames, startled out of their sleep, would listen for a moment till the hurry-scurry had clattered by, and then exclaim, “Ay, there goes Brom Bones and his gang!” The neighbors looked upon him with a mixture of awe, admiration, and good-will; and, when any madcap prank or rustic brawl occurred in the vicinity, always shook their heads, and warranted Brom Bones was at the bottom of it.
This rantipole hero had for some time singled out the blooming Katrina for the object of his uncouth gallantries, and though his amorous toyings were something like the gentle caresses and endearments of a bear, yet it was whispered that she did not altogether discourage his hopes. Certain it is, his advances were signals for rival candidates to retire, who felt no inclination to cross a lion in his amours; insomuch, that when his horse was seen tied to Van Tassel’s paling, on a Sunday night, a sure sign that his master was courting, or, as it is termed, “sparking,” within, all other suitors passed by in despair, and carried the war into other quarters.
Such was the formidable rival with whom Ichabod Crane had to contend, and, considering all things, a stouter man than he would have shrunk from the competition, and a wiser man would have despaired. He had, however, a happy mixture of pliability and perseverance in his nature; he was in form and spirit like a supple-jack—yielding, but tough; though he bent, he never broke; and though he bowed beneath the slightest pressure, yet, the moment it was away—jerk!—he was as erect, and carried his head as high as ever.
To have taken the field openly against his rival would have been madness; for he was not a man to be thwarted in his amours, any more than that stormy lover, Achilles. Ichabod, therefore, made his advances in a quiet and gently insinuating manner. Under cover of his character of singing-master, he made frequent visits at the farmhouse; not that he had anything to apprehend from the meddlesome interference of parents, which is so often a stumbling-block in the path of lovers. Balt Van Tassel was an easy indulgent soul; he loved his daughter better even than his pipe, and, like a reasonable man and an excellent father, let her have her way in everything. His notable little wife, too, had enough to do to attend to her housekeeping and manage her poultry; for, as she sagely observed, ducks and geese are foolish things, and must be looked after, but girls can take care of themselves. Thus, while the busy dame bustled about the house, or plied her spinning-wheel at one end of the piazza, honest Balt would sit smoking his evening pipe at the other, watching the achievements of a little wooden warrior, who, armed with a sword in each hand, was most valiantly fighting the wind on the pinnacle of the barn. In the mean time, Ichabod would carry on his suit with the daughter by the side of the spring under the great elm, or sauntering along in the twilight, that hour so favorable to the lover’s eloquence.
I profess not to know how women’s hearts are wooed and won. To me they have always been matters of riddle and admiration. Some seem to have but one vulnerable point, or door of access; while others have a thousand avenues, and may be captured in a thousand different ways. It is a great triumph of skill to gain the former, but a still greater proof of generalship to maintain possession of the latter, for man must battle for his fortress at every door and window. He who wins a thousand common hearts is therefore entitled to some renown; but he who keeps undisputed sway over the heart of a coquette is indeed a hero. Certain it is, this was not the case with the redoubtable Brom Bones; and from the moment Ichabod Crane made his advances, the interests of the former evidently declined: his horse was no longer seen tied to the palings on Sunday nights, and a deadly feud gradually arose between him and the preceptor of Sleepy Hollow.
Brom, who had a degree of rough chivalry in his nature, would fain have carried matters to open warfare and have settled their pretensions to the lady, according to the mode of those most concise and simple reasoners, the knights-errant of yore,—by single combat; but Ichabod was too conscious of the superior might of his adversary to enter the lists against him; he had overheard a boast of Bones, that he would “double the schoolmaster up, and lay him on a shelf of his own schoolhouse;” and he was too wary to give him an opportunity. There was something extremely provoking in this obstinately pacific system; it left Brom no alternative but to draw upon the funds of rustic waggery in his disposition, and to play off boorish practical jokes upon his rival. Ichabod became the object of whimsical persecution to Bones and his gang of rough riders. They harried his hitherto peaceful domains; smoked out his singing school by stopping up the chimney; broke into the schoolhouse at night, in spite of its formidable fastenings of withe and window stakes, and turned everything topsy-turvy, so that the poor schoolmaster began to think all the witches in the country held their meetings there. But what was still more annoying, Brom took all opportunities of turning him into ridicule in presence of his mistress, and had a scoundrel dog whom he taught to whine in the most ludicrous manner, and introduced as a rival of Ichabod’s, to instruct her in psalmody.
In this way matters went on for some time, without producing any material effect on the relative situations of the contending powers. On a fine autumnal afternoon, Ichabod, in pensive mood, sat enthroned on the lofty stool from whence he usually watched all the concerns of his little literary realm. In his hand he swayed a ferule, that sceptre of despotic power; the birch of justice reposed on three nails behind the throne, a constant terror to evil doers, while on the desk before him might be seen sundry contraband articles and prohibited weapons, detected upon the persons of idle urchins, such as half-munched apples, popguns, whirligigs, fly-cages, and whole legions of rampant little paper gamecocks. Apparently there had been some appalling act of justice recently inflicted, for his scholars were all busily intent upon their books, or slyly whispering behind them with one eye kept upon the master; and a kind of buzzing stillness reigned throughout the schoolroom. It was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a negro in tow-cloth jacket and trowsers, a round-crowned fragment of a hat, like the cap of Mercury, and mounted on the back of a ragged, wild, half-broken colt, which he managed with a rope by way of halter. He came clattering up to the school door with an invitation to Ichabod to attend a merry-making or “quilting frolic,” to be held that evening at Mynheer Van Tassel’s; and having delivered his message with that air of importance, and effort at fine language, which a negro is apt to display on petty embassies of the kind, he dashed over the brook, and was seen scampering away up the hollow, full of the importance and hurry of his mission.
All was now bustle and hubbub in the late quiet schoolroom. The scholars were hurried through their lessons without stopping at trifles; those who were nimble skipped over half with impunity, and those who were tardy had a smart application now and then in the rear, to quicken their speed or help them over a tall word. Books were flung aside without being put away on the shelves, inkstands were overturned, benches thrown down, and the whole school was turned loose an hour before the usual time, bursting forth like a legion of young imps, yelping and racketing about the green in joy at their early emancipation.
The gallant Ichabod now spent at least an extra half hour at his toilet, brushing and furbishing up his best, and indeed only suit of rusty black, and arranging his locks by a bit of broken looking-glass that hung up in the schoolhouse. That he might make his appearance before his mistress in the true style of a cavalier, he borrowed a horse from the farmer with whom he was domiciliated, a choleric old Dutchman of the name of Hans Van Ripper, and, thus gallantly mounted, issued forth like a knight-errant in quest of adventures. But it is meet I should, in the true spirit of romantic story, give some account of the looks and equipments of my hero and his steed. The animal he bestrode was a broken-down plow-horse, that had outlived almost everything but its viciousness. He was gaunt and shagged, with a ewe neck, and a head like a hammer; his rusty mane and tail were tangled and knotted with burs; one eye had lost its pupil, and was glaring and spectral, but the other had the gleam of a genuine devil in it. Still he must have had fire and mettle in his day, if we may judge from the name he bore of Gunpowder. He had, in fact, been a favorite steed of his master’s, the choleric Van Ripper, who was a furious rider, and had infused, very probably, some of his own spirit into the animal; for, old and broken-down as he looked, there was more of the lurking devil in him than in any young filly in the country.
Ichabod was a suitable figure for such a steed. He rode with short stirrups, which brought his knees nearly up to the pommel of the saddle; his sharp elbows stuck out like grasshoppers’; he carried his whip perpendicularly in his hand, like a sceptre, and as his horse jogged on, the motion of his arms was not unlike the flapping of a pair of wings. A small wool hat rested on the top of his nose, for so his scanty strip of forehead might be called, and the skirts of his black coat fluttered out almost to the horses tail. Such was the appearance of Ichabod and his steed as they shambled out of the gate of Hans Van Ripper, and it was altogether such an apparition as is seldom to be met with in broad daylight.
It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet. Streaming files of wild ducks began to make their appearance high in the air; the bark of the squirrel might be heard from the groves of beech and hickory-nuts, and the pensive whistle of the quail at intervals from the neighboring stubble field.
The small birds were taking their farewell banquets. In the fullness of their revelry, they fluttered, chirping and frolicking from bush to bush, and tree to tree, capricious from the very profusion and variety around them. There was the honest cock robin, the favorite game of stripling sportsmen, with its loud querulous note; and the twittering blackbirds flying in sable clouds; and the golden-winged woodpecker with his crimson crest, his broad black gorget, and splendid plumage; and the cedar bird, with its red-tipt wings and yellow-tipt tail and its little monteiro cap of feathers; and the blue jay, that noisy coxcomb, in his gay light blue coat and white underclothes, screaming and chattering, nodding and bobbing and bowing, and pretending to be on good terms with every songster of the grove.
As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye, ever open to every symptom of culinary abundance, ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn. On all sides he beheld vast store of apples; some hanging in oppressive opulence on the trees; some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market; others heaped up in rich piles for the cider-press. Farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn, with its golden ears peeping from their leafy coverts, and holding out the promise of cakes and hasty-pudding; and the yellow pumpkins lying beneath them, turning up their fair round bellies to the sun, and giving ample prospects of the most luxurious of pies; and anon he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields breathing the odor of the beehive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty slapjacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.
Thus feeding his mind with many sweet thoughts and “sugared suppositions,” he journeyed along the sides of a range of hills which look out upon some of the goodliest scenes of the mighty Hudson. The sun gradually wheeled his broad disk down in the west. The wide bosom of the Tappan Zee lay motionless and glassy, excepting that here and there a gentle undulation waved and prolonged the blue shadow of the distant mountain. A few amber clouds floated in the sky, without a breath of air to move them. The horizon was of a fine golden tint, changing gradually into a pure apple green, and from that into the deep blue of the mid-heaven. A slanting ray lingered on the woody crests of the precipices that overhung some parts of the river, giving greater depth to the dark gray and purple of their rocky sides. A sloop was loitering in the distance, dropping slowly down with the tide, her sail hanging uselessly against the mast; and as the reflection of the sky gleamed along the still water, it seemed as if the vessel was suspended in the air.
It was toward evening that Ichabod arrived at the castle of the Heer Van Tassel, which he found thronged with the pride and flower of the adjacent country. Old farmers, a spare leathern-faced race, in homespun coats and breeches, blue stockings, huge shoes, and magnificent pewter buckles. Their brisk, withered little dames, in close-crimped caps, long-waisted short gowns, homespun petticoats, with scissors and pincushions, and gay calico pockets hanging on the outside. Buxom lasses, almost as antiquated as their mothers, excepting where a straw hat, a fine ribbon, or perhaps a white frock, gave symptoms of city innovation. The sons, in short square-skirted coats, with rows of stupendous brass buttons, and their hair generally queued in the fashion of the times, especially if they could procure an eel-skin for the purpose, it being esteemed throughout the country as a potent nourisher and strengthener of the hair.
Brom Bones, however, was the hero of the scene, having come to the gathering on his favorite steed Daredevil, a creature, like himself, full of mettle and mischief, and which no one but himself could manage. He was, in fact, noted for preferring vicious animals, given to all kinds of tricks which kept the rider in constant risk of his neck, for he held a tractable, well-broken horse as unworthy of a lad of spirit.
Fain would I pause to dwell upon the world of charms that burst upon the enraptured gaze of my hero, as he entered the state parlor of Van Tassel’s mansion. Not those of the bevy of buxom lasses, with their luxurious display of red and white; but the ample charms of a genuine Dutch country tea-table, in the sumptuous time of autumn. Such heaped up platters of cakes of various and almost indescribable kinds, known only to experienced Dutch housewives! There was the doughty doughnut, the tender oly koek, and the crisp and crumbling cruller; sweet cakes and short cakes, ginger cakes and honey cakes, and the whole family of cakes. And then there were apple pies, and peach pies, and pumpkin pies; besides slices of ham and smoked beef; and moreover delectable dishes of preserved plums, and peaches, and pears, and quinces; not to mention broiled shad and roasted chickens; together with bowls of milk and cream, all mingled higgledy-piggledy, pretty much as I have enumerated them, with the motherly teapot sending up its clouds of vapor from the midst—Heaven bless the mark! I want breath and time to discuss this banquet as it deserves, and am too eager to get on with my story. Happily, Ichabod Crane was not in so great a hurry as his historian, but did ample justice to every dainty.
He was a kind and thankful creature, whose heart dilated in proportion as his skin was filled with good cheer, and whose spirits rose with eating, as some men’s do with drink. He could not help, too, rolling his large eyes round him as he ate, and chuckling with the possibility that he might one day be lord of all this scene of almost unimaginable luxury and splendor. Then, he thought, how soon he’d turn his back upon the old schoolhouse; snap his fingers in the face of Hans Van Ripper, and every other niggardly patron, and kick any itinerant pedagogue out of doors that should dare to call him comrade!
Old Baltus Van Tassel moved about among his guests with a face dilated with content and good humor, round and jolly as the harvest moon. His hospitable attentions were brief, but expressive, being confined to a shake of the hand, a slap on the shoulder, a loud laugh, and a pressing invitation to “fall to, and help themselves.”
And now the sound of the music from the common room, or hall, summoned to the dance. The musician was an old gray-headed negro, who had been the itinerant orchestra of the neighborhood for more than half a century. His instrument was as old and battered as himself. The greater part of the time he scraped on two or three strings, accompanying every movement of the bow with a motion of the head; bowing almost to the ground, and stamping with his foot whenever a fresh couple were to start.
Ichabod prided himself upon his dancing as much as upon his vocal powers. Not a limb, not a fibre about him was idle; and to have seen his loosely hung frame in full motion, and clattering about the room, you would have thought St. Vitus himself, that blessed patron of the dance, was figuring before you in person. He was the admiration of all the negroes; who, having gathered, of all ages and sizes, from the farm and the neighborhood, stood forming a pyramid of shining black faces at every door and window, gazing with delight at the scene, rolling their white eyeballs, and showing grinning rows of ivory from ear to ear. How could the flogger of urchins be otherwise than animated and joyous? The lady of his heart was his partner in the dance, and smiling graciously in reply to all his amorous oglings; while Brom Bones, sorely smitten with love and jealousy, sat brooding by himself in one corner.
When the dance was at an end, Ichabod was attracted to a knot of the sager folks, who, with Old Van Tassel, sat smoking at one end of the piazza, gossiping over former times, and drawing out long stories about the war.
This neighborhood, at the time of which I am speaking, was one of those highly favored places which abound with chronicle and great men. The British and American line had run near it during the war; it had, therefore, been the scene of marauding and infested with refugees, cowboys, and all kinds of border chivalry. Just sufficient time had elapsed to enable each storyteller to dress up his tale with a little becoming fiction, and, in the indistinctness of his recollection, to make himself the hero of every exploit.
There was the story of Doffue Martling, a large blue-bearded Dutchman, who had nearly taken a British frigate with an old iron nine-pounder from a mud breastwork, only that his gun burst at the sixth discharge. And there was an old gentleman who shall be nameless, being too rich a mynheer to be lightly mentioned, who, in the battle of White Plains, being an excellent master of defence, parried a musket-ball with a small sword, insomuch that he absolutely felt it whiz round the blade, and glance off at the hilt; in proof of which he was ready at any time to show the sword, with the hilt a little bent. There were several more that had been equally great in the field, not one of whom but was persuaded that he had a considerable hand in bringing the war to a happy termination.
But all these were nothing to the tales of ghosts and apparitions that succeeded. The neighborhood is rich in legendary treasures of the kind. Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered, long-settled retreats; but are trampled under foot by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of our country places. Besides, there is no encouragement for ghosts in most of our villages, for they have scarcely had time to finish their first nap and turn themselves in their graves, before their surviving friends have travelled away from the neighborhood; so that when they turn out at night to walk their rounds, they have no acquaintance left to call upon. This is perhaps the reason why we so seldom hear of ghosts except in our long-established Dutch communities.
The immediate cause, however, of the prevalence of supernatural stories in these parts, was doubtless owing to the vicinity of Sleepy Hollow. There was a contagion in the very air that blew from that haunted region; it breathed forth an atmosphere of dreams and fancies infecting all the land. Several of the Sleepy Hollow people were present at Van Tassel’s, and, as usual, were doling out their wild and wonderful legends. Many dismal tales were told about funeral trains, and mourning cries and wailings heard and seen about the great tree where the unfortunate Major André was taken, and which stood in the neighborhood. Some mention was made also of the woman in white, that haunted the dark glen at Raven Rock, and was often heard to shriek on winter nights before a storm, having perished there in the snow. The chief part of the stories, however, turned upon the favorite spectre of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman, who had been heard several times of late, patrolling the country; and, it was said, tethered his horse nightly among the graves in the churchyard.
The sequestered situation of this church seems always to have made it a favorite haunt of troubled spirits. It stands on a knoll, surrounded by locust-trees and lofty elms, from among which its decent, whitewashed walls shine modestly forth, like Christian purity beaming through the shades of retirement. A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water, bordered by high trees, between which, peeps may be caught at the blue hills of the Hudson. To look upon its grass-grown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace. On one side of the church extends a wide woody dell, along which raves a large brook among broken rocks and trunks of fallen trees. Over a deep black part of the stream, not far from the church, was formerly thrown a wooden bridge; the road that led to it, and the bridge itself, were thickly shaded by overhanging trees, which cast a gloom about it, even in the daytime; but occasioned a fearful darkness at night. Such was one of the favorite haunts of the Headless Horseman, and the place where he was most frequently encountered. The tale was told of old Brouwer, a most heretical disbeliever in ghosts, how he met the Horseman returning from his foray into Sleepy Hollow, and was obliged to get up behind him; how they galloped over bush and brake, over hill and swamp, until they reached the bridge; when the Horseman suddenly turned into a skeleton, threw old Brouwer into the brook, and sprang away over the tree-tops with a clap of thunder.
This story was immediately matched by a thrice marvellous adventure of Brom Bones, who made light of the Galloping Hessian as an arrant jockey. He affirmed that on returning one night from the neighboring village of Sing Sing, he had been overtaken by this midnight trooper; that he had offered to race with him for a bowl of punch, and should have won it too, for Daredevil beat the goblin horse all hollow, but just as they came to the church bridge, the Hessian bolted, and vanished in a flash of fire.
All these tales, told in that drowsy undertone with which men talk in the dark, the countenances of the listeners only now and then receiving a casual gleam from the glare of a pipe, sank deep in the mind of Ichabod. He repaid them in kind with large extracts from his invaluable author, Cotton Mather, and added many marvellous events that had taken place in his native State of Connecticut, and fearful sights which he had seen in his nightly walks about Sleepy Hollow.
The revel now gradually broke up. The old farmers gathered together their families in their wagons, and were heard for some time rattling along the hollow roads, and over the distant hills. Some of the damsels mounted on pillions behind their favorite swains, and their light-hearted laughter, mingling with the clatter of hoofs, echoed along the silent woodlands, sounding fainter and fainter, until they gradually died away,—and the late scene of noise and frolic was all silent and deserted. Ichabod only lingered behind, according to the custom of country lovers, to have a tête-à-tête with the heiress; fully convinced that he was now on the high road to success. What passed at this interview I will not pretend to say, for in fact I do not know. Something, however, I fear me, must have gone wrong, for he certainly sallied forth, after no very great interval, with an air quite desolate and chapfallen. Oh, these women! these women! Could that girl have been playing off any of her coquettish tricks? Was her encouragement of the poor pedagogue all a mere sham to secure her conquest of his rival? Heaven only knows, not I! Let it suffice to say, Ichabod stole forth with the air of one who had been sacking a henroost, rather than a fair lady’s heart. Without looking to the right or left to notice the scene of rural wealth, on which he had so often gloated, he went straight to the stable, and with several hearty cuffs and kicks roused his steed most uncourteously from the comfortable quarters in which he was soundly sleeping, dreaming of mountains of corn and oats, and whole valleys of timothy and clover.
It was the very witching time of night that Ichabod, heavy-hearted and crestfallen, pursued his travels homewards, along the sides of the lofty hills which rise above Tarry Town, and which he had traversed so cheerily in the afternoon. The hour was as dismal as himself. Far below him the Tappan Zee spread its dusky and indistinct waste of waters, with here and there the tall mast of a sloop, riding quietly at anchor under the land. In the dead hush of midnight, he could even hear the barking of the watchdog from the opposite shore of the Hudson; but it was so vague and faint as only to give an idea of his distance from this faithful companion of man. Now and then, too, the long-drawn crowing of a cock, accidentally awakened, would sound far, far off, from some farmhouse away among the hills—but it was like a dreaming sound in his ear. No signs of life occurred near him, but occasionally the melancholy chirp of a cricket, or perhaps the guttural twang of a bullfrog from a neighboring marsh, as if sleeping uncomfortably and turning suddenly in his bed.
All the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard in the afternoon now came crowding upon his recollection. The night grew darker and darker; the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving clouds occasionally hid them from his sight. He had never felt so lonely and dismal. He was, moreover, approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost stories had been laid. In the centre of the road stood an enormous tulip-tree, which towered like a giant above all the other trees of the neighborhood, and formed a kind of landmark. Its limbs were gnarled and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth, and rising again into the air. It was connected with the tragical story of the unfortunate André, who had been taken prisoner hard by; and was universally known by the name of Major André’s tree. The common people regarded it with a mixture of respect and superstition, partly out of sympathy for the fate of its ill-starred namesake, and partly from the tales of strange sights, and doleful lamentations, told concerning it.
As Ichabod approached this fearful tree, he began to whistle; he thought his whistle was answered; it was but a blast sweeping sharply through the dry branches. As he approached a little nearer, he thought he saw something white, hanging in the midst of the tree: he paused and ceased whistling but, on looking more narrowly, perceived that it was a place where the tree had been scathed by lightning, and the white wood laid bare. Suddenly he heard a groan—his teeth chattered, and his knees smote against the saddle: it was but the rubbing of one huge bough upon another, as they were swayed about by the breeze. He passed the tree in safety, but new perils lay before him.
About two hundred yards from the tree, a small brook crossed the road, and ran into a marshy and thickly-wooded glen, known by the name of Wiley’s Swamp. A few rough logs, laid side by side, served for a bridge over this stream. On that side of the road where the brook entered the wood, a group of oaks and chestnuts, matted thick with wild grape-vines, threw a cavernous gloom over it. To pass this bridge was the severest trial. It was at this identical spot that the unfortunate André was captured, and under the covert of those chestnuts and vines were the sturdy yeomen concealed who surprised him. This has ever since been considered a haunted stream, and fearful are the feelings of the schoolboy who has to pass it alone after dark.
As he approached the stream, his heart began to thump; he summoned up, however, all his resolution, gave his horse half a score of kicks in the ribs, and attempted to dash briskly across the bridge; but instead of starting forward, the perverse old animal made a lateral movement, and ran broadside against the fence. Ichabod, whose fears increased with the delay, jerked the reins on the other side, and kicked lustily with the contrary foot: it was all in vain; his steed started, it is true, but it was only to plunge to the opposite side of the road into a thicket of brambles and alder bushes. The schoolmaster now bestowed both whip and heel upon the starveling ribs of old Gunpowder, who dashed forward, snuffling and snorting, but came to a stand just by the bridge, with a suddenness that had nearly sent his rider sprawling over his head. Just at this moment a plashy tramp by the side of the bridge caught the sensitive ear of Ichabod. In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveller.
The hair of the affrighted pedagogue rose upon his head with terror. What was to be done? To turn and fly was now too late; and besides, what chance was there of escaping ghost or goblin, if such it was, which could ride upon the wings of the wind? Summoning up, therefore, a show of courage, he demanded in stammering accents, “Who are you?” He received no reply. He repeated his demand in a still more agitated voice. Still there was no answer. Once more he cudgelled the sides of the inflexible Gunpowder, and, shutting his eyes, broke forth with involuntary fervor into a psalm tune. Just then the shadowy object of alarm put itself in motion, and with a scramble and a bound stood at once in the middle of the road. Though the night was dark and dismal, yet the form of the unknown might now in some degree be ascertained. He appeared to be a horseman of large dimensions, and mounted on a black horse of powerful frame. He made no offer of molestation or sociability, but kept aloof on one side of the road, jogging along on the blind side of old Gunpowder, who had now got over his fright and waywardness.
Ichabod, who had no relish for this strange midnight companion, and bethought himself of the adventure of Brom Bones with the Galloping Hessian, now quickened his steed in hopes of leaving him behind. The stranger, however, quickened his horse to an equal pace. Ichabod pulled up, and fell into a walk, thinking to lag behind,—the other did the same. His heart began to sink within him; he endeavored to resume his psalm tune, but his parched tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, and he could not utter a stave. There was something in the moody and dogged silence of this pertinacious companion that was mysterious and appalling. It was soon fearfully accounted for. On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveller in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless!—but his horror was still more increased on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle! His terror rose to desperation; he rained a shower of kicks and blows upon Gunpowder, hoping by a sudden movement to give his companion the slip; but the spectre started full jump with him. Away, then, they dashed through thick and thin; stones flying and sparks flashing at every bound. Ichabod’s flimsy garments fluttered in the air, as he stretched his long lank body away over his horse’s head, in the eagerness of his flight.
They had now reached the road which turns off to Sleepy Hollow; but Gunpowder, who seemed possessed with a demon, instead of keeping up it, made an opposite turn, and plunged headlong downhill to the left. This road leads through a sandy hollow shaded by trees for about a quarter of a mile, where it crosses the bridge famous in goblin story; and just beyond swells the green knoll on which stands the whitewashed church.
As yet the panic of the steed had given his unskilful rider an apparent advantage in the chase, but just as he had got half way through the hollow, the girths of the saddle gave way, and he felt it slipping from under him. He seized it by the pommel, and endeavored to hold it firm, but in vain; and had just time to save himself by clasping old Gunpowder round the neck, when the saddle fell to the earth, and he heard it trampled under foot by his pursuer. For a moment the terror of Hans Van Ripper’s wrath passed across his mind,—for it was his Sunday saddle; but this was no time for petty fears; the goblin was hard on his haunches; and (unskilful rider that he was!) he had much ado to maintain his seat; sometimes slipping on one side, sometimes on another, and sometimes jolted on the high ridge of his horse’s backbone, with a violence that he verily feared would cleave him asunder.
An opening in the trees now cheered him with the hopes that the church bridge was at hand. The wavering reflection of a silver star in the bosom of the brook told him that he was not mistaken. He saw the walls of the church dimly glaring under the trees beyond. He recollected the place where Brom Bones’s ghostly competitor had disappeared. “If I can but reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod, “I am safe.” Just then he heard the black steed panting and blowing close behind him; he even fancied that he felt his hot breath. Another convulsive kick in the ribs, and old Gunpowder sprang upon the bridge; he thundered over the resounding planks; he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer should vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone. Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile, but too late. It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash,—he was tumbled headlong into the dust, and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider, passed by like a whirlwind.
The next morning the old horse was found without his saddle, and with the bridle under his feet, soberly cropping the grass at his master’s gate. Ichabod did not make his appearance at breakfast; dinner-hour came, but no Ichabod. The boys assembled at the schoolhouse, and strolled idly about the banks of the brook; but no schoolmaster. Hans Van Ripper now began to feel some uneasiness about the fate of poor Ichabod, and his saddle. An inquiry was set on foot, and after diligent investigation they came upon his traces. In one part of the road leading to the church was found the saddle trampled in the dirt; the tracks of horses’ hoofs deeply dented in the road, and evidently at furious speed, were traced to the bridge, beyond which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and black, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin.
The brook was searched, but the body of the schoolmaster was not to be discovered. Hans Van Ripper as executor of his estate, examined the bundle which contained all his worldly effects. They consisted of two shirts and a half; two stocks for the neck; a pair or two of worsted stockings; an old pair of corduroy small-clothes; a rusty razor; a book of psalm tunes full of dog’s-ears; and a broken pitch-pipe. As to the books and furniture of the schoolhouse, they belonged to the community, excepting Cotton Mather’s “History of Witchcraft,” a “New England Almanac,” and a book of dreams and fortune-telling; in which last was a sheet of foolscap much scribbled and blotted in several fruitless attempts to make a copy of verses in honor of the heiress of Van Tassel. These magic books and the poetic scrawl were forthwith consigned to the flames by Hans Van Ripper; who, from that time forward, determined to send his children no more to school, observing that he never knew any good come of this same reading and writing. Whatever money the schoolmaster possessed, and he had received his quarter’s pay but a day or two before, he must have had about his person at the time of his disappearance.
The mysterious event caused much speculation at the church on the following Sunday. Knots of gazers and gossips were collected in the churchyard, at the bridge, and at the spot where the hat and pumpkin had been found. The stories of Brouwer, of Bones, and a whole budget of others were called to mind; and when they had diligently considered them all, and compared them with the symptoms of the present case, they shook their heads, and came to the conclusion that Ichabod had been carried off by the Galloping Hessian. As he was a bachelor, and in nobody’s debt, nobody troubled his head any more about him; the school was removed to a different quarter of the hollow, and another pedagogue reigned in his stead.
It is true, an old farmer, who had been down to New York on a visit several years after, and from whom this account of the ghostly adventure was received, brought home the intelligence that Ichabod Crane was still alive; that he had left the neighborhood partly through fear of the goblin and Hans Van Ripper, and partly in mortification at having been suddenly dismissed by the heiress; that he had changed his quarters to a distant part of the country; had kept school and studied law at the same time; had been admitted to the bar; turned politician; electioneered; written for the newspapers; and finally had been made a justice of the Ten Pound Court. Brom Bones, too, who, shortly after his rival’s disappearance conducted the blooming Katrina in triumph to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.
The old country wives, however, who are the best judges of these matters, maintain to this day that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; and it is a favorite story often told about the neighborhood round the winter evening fire. The bridge became more than ever an object of superstitious awe; and that may be the reason why the road has been altered of late years, so as to approach the church by the border of the millpond. The schoolhouse being deserted soon fell to decay, and was reported to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate pedagogue and the plowboy, loitering homeward of a still summer evening, has often fancied his voice at a distance, chanting a melancholy psalm tune among the tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow.
FOUND IN THE HANDWRITING OF MR. KNICKERBOCKER.
The preceding tale is given almost in the precise words in which I heard it related at a Corporation meeting at the ancient city of Manhattoes, at which were present many of its sagest and most illustrious burghers. The narrator was a pleasant, shabby, gentlemanly old fellow, in pepper-and-salt clothes, with a sadly humourous face, and one whom I strongly suspected of being poor–he made such efforts to be entertaining. When his story was concluded, there was much laughter and approbation, particularly from two or three deputy aldermen, who had been asleep the greater part of the time. There was, however, one tall, dry-looking old gentleman, with beetling eyebrows, who maintained a grave and rather severe face throughout, now and then folding his arms, inclining his head, and looking down upon the floor, as if turning a doubt over in his mind. He was one of your wary men, who never laugh but upon good grounds–when they have reason and law on their side. When the mirth of the rest of the company had subsided, and silence was restored, he leaned one arm on the elbow of his chair, and sticking the other akimbo, demanded, with a slight, but exceedingly sage motion of the head, and contraction of the brow, what was the moral of the story, and what it went to prove?
The story-teller, who was just putting a glass of wine to his lips, as a refreshment after his toils, paused for a moment, looked at his inquirer with an air of infinite deference, and, lowering the glass slowly to the table, observed that the story was intended most logically to prove–
“That there is no situation in life but has its advantages and pleasures–provided we will but take a joke as we find it:
“That, therefore, he that runs races with goblin troopers is likely to have rough riding of it.
“Ergo, for a country schoolmaster to be refused the hand of a Dutch heiress is a certain step to high preferment in the state.”
The cautious old gentleman knit his brows tenfold closer after this explanation, being sorely puzzled by the ratiocination of the syllogism, while, methought, the one in pepper-and-salt eyed him with something of a triumphant leer. At length he observed that all this was very well, but still he thought the story a little on the extravagant–there were one or two points on which he had his doubts.
“Faith, sir,” replied the story-teller, “as to that matter, I don’t believe one-half of it myself.” D. K.
End of Project Gutenberg’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving
*** END OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW ***
In a little more than a week, I am making my annual autumnal pilgrimage to the Pocono Mountains, an area that was labeled, in 1749, as the land of The Endless Mountains.
The Land of The Endless Mountains – The Poconos
If you study the entire map carefully, you will see that the Poconos’ Endless Mountains are in Pennsylvania–they begin less than an hour above Philadelphia, and near the top of the state, there is Bushkill Falls, which is an almost touristy natureland. But there are waterfalls all along the Delaware River from the Lehigh Valley and North. As the map says, this is the Land of Endless Mountains and on the East Coast, when the mountains are endless, the waterfalls are, too.
What the 1749 map does not mention is that the Poconos region is also The Land of Endless Forests, Endless Hiking Trails [the Appalachian Trail runs through here,too], Endless National and State Parks, and Endless Wildlife Preserves. During every season, The Poconos Mountain Region is Nirvana for people who love nature, but during autumn, the place is breathtaking.
As usual, I have been watching the leaf report for the Poconos Here.
To learn more about the sites numbered on the above map, go the the Penns Woods Fall Foliage Site Here
1749.1 A MAP OF PENSILVANIA, NEW JERSEY, NEW YORK, AND THE THREE DELAWARE COUNTIES by Lewis Evans, MDCCXLIX. L. Hebert Sculp. This may be the first map of Pennsylvania published in America. Evans followed this map with his more famous one of 1755, but this is an iconic map of the middle Atlantic and much copied, with English, German, and other editions. The county of Lancaster was created in 1729 and is shown along with the founding counties of Philadelphia, Bucks and Chester. York County, created in 1749, is not shown although the town appears. This map originated the phrase ‘Endless Mountains’ which is still used as an advertising slogan. The coverage of Pennsylvania ends just beyond the Susquehanna. This image is from the Library of Congress where a 1750 German version can also be seen. Gipson reproduces all of Evans’ important maps along with some of his writings. Listed in Phillips, page 672, Wheat & Brun No. 295-97. Image and Text Credit Here
The red star shows where I live now, in Southern New Jersey.
After it had rained for 24 hours, the temperature here began to drop. Today, the sun is brilliant, and a gentle breeze rustles through the silver grasses that line the edge of my pond. It is 60° outside, and even inside, I need to wear a flannel shirt. Flannel shirts make me feel cozy in fall.
Yesterday, I wrote that I am learning a great deal from reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Today, I want to share with you a way that Wilder created a feeling of coziness in her writing:
“The fire in the cookstove never went out. At night Pa banked it with ashes to keep the coals alive till morning.
“The attic was a lovely place to play. The large round, colored pumpkins made beautiful chairs and tables. The red peppers and the onions dangled overhead. The hams and the venison hung in their paper wrappings, and all the bunches of dried herbs, the spicy herbs for cooking and the bitter herbs for medicine gave the place a dusty-spicy smell.
“Often the wind howled outside with a cold and lonesome sound. But in the attic Laura and Mary played house with the squashes and the pumpkins, and everything was snug and cosy.” Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods, p. 19.
Yesterday, I also wrote that I have committed to keeping a writer’s notebook. I said that I am deliberately keeping my entries short. The first words of this post are my notebook entry for the day. I have made a commitment to carry a small notebook with me everywhere I go and to spend about ten minutes a day looking at my world. Then, in just a few, basic words, I am going to record what is before my eyes.
I may or may not elaborate on my initial few words later, but my challenge for myself is to do one thing each day: look carefully around myself for ten minutes and record what I see. Why don’t you take the daily notebook challenge, too?
The Writer’s Notebook Daily Challenge:
Go outside, look carefully for ten minutes, and in a few words, record what you see.
I have several reasons for setting time and word limits.
All of us are busy and when our notebook exercises are short, we will be more inclined to follow through with them.
As writers, we sometimes engage in wordplay that becomes too mental and abstract. I believe that an exercise that requires close observation and a few honest words about what we actually see, smell, hear, touch, etc., is a good way to pull us back into writing that is more immediate and concrete
“The days were growing shorter and the nights were cooler. One night Jack Frost passed by, and in the morning there were bright colors here and there among the green leaves of the Big Woods. Then all the leaves stopped being green. They were yellow and scarlet and crimson and golden and brown.
“Along the rail fence the sumac held up its dark red cones of berries above bright flame-colored leaves. Acorns were falling from the oaks, and Laura and Mary made little acorn cups and saucers for the playhouses. Walnuts and hickory nuts were dropping to the ground in the Big Woods, and squirrels were scampering busily everywhere, gathering their winter’s store of nuts and hiding them away in hollow trees.” Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods, p. 215.
I am teaching a class about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and her books, and this past Thursday, my class discussed Wilder’s first book Little House in the Big Woods. I have discovered that Wilder has a cult following of older women. As children, they read Wilder’s stories and the books made a lasting impression on them. I did not read the Little House books as a child, and I must admit that until I studied them, I had sold them short.
Although the Little House books were published for children, they were originally written as a type of memoir for adults. The writing is simple, but it is not childish, and I have discovered that Wilder’s use of description is worthy of study. I admit that I have read more elaborate descriptive writing in other books, but there is something about Wilder’s simplicity that is touching.
Most of the United States are about to enter the season of autumn. During the next few weeks, most of the people in America will watch nature as she kaleidoscopically shifts from color to color to color. Trees that are currently bulbous and full will begin to drop their leaves and within a month, crooked and stark limbs will be scrawled across the sky.
I am a gardener, and yesterday, I did some things that I do in fall. I transplanted some roses and I repaired my rose trellis. Today, it is raining at my house. A slow and steady rain has been peppering my roof for about 24 hours. I suspect that as soon as the rain moves away, the temperatures will drop, and nature will begin to shift. Before the day is out, I am going to buy myself a notebook that will fit into my bag. I have made a commitment to carry it with me everywhere I go and to spend about ten minutes a day looking at my world. Then, in just a few, basic words, I am going to record what is before my eyes.
I may or may not elaborate on my initial few words later, but my challenge for myself is to do one thing each day: look carefully around myself for ten minutes and record what I see. Why don’t you take the daily notebook challenge, too?
The Writer’s Notebook Daily Challenge:
Go outside, look carefully for ten minutes, and in a few words, record what you see.
I have several reasons for setting time and word limits.
All of us are busy and when our notebook exercises are short, we will be more inclined to follow through with them.
As writers, we sometimes engage in wordplay that becomes too mental and abstract. I believe that an exercise that requires close observation and a few honest words about what we actually see, smell, hear, touch, etc., is a good way to pull us back into writing that is more immediate and concrete.
William E. Gladstone said Time Is On Our Side, but I Disagree.
Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones sang the same song–that Time Is On Our Side–but I still disagree. It is almost October, and in New Jersey, the days and nights are getting cooler. Chily raindrops are beginning to fall, and I am peering into the 66th winter of my own life. As I begin to watch the leaves drifting to the ground, I know that the trees’ skeletal fingers will soon scratch into the sky, and I understand that the leaves of my own life are also falling and I too am moving toward winter. Yet, there is much that I still want to do, and I do not feel that time is on my side.
I was 15-years-old when The Rolling Stones released the song Time Is On My Side. That year was 1965. When I was 15-years-od, I believed that Time WAS on My Side, but I don’t feel that way now. Now, I feel as though Time is a luxury, and the tragedy is that I wasted an enormous amount of time in the process of discovering that truth. As Joni Mitchell says, “So Many Things I Would Have Done, but Clouds Got In My Way….[but] I’ve Looked at Clouds from Both Sides Now.”
Both Sids Now
by Joni Mitchell
Bows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
When I consider that Joni Mitchell was only 24-years-old when Judy Collins first released her song Both Sides Now, the lyrics amaze me. By the time I was 24-years-old, I had already almost died in a car accident that left me with several permanent scars, and in that regard, I had experienced more of life’s bitter truths than most 24-year-olds had discovered, but I still didn’t have a clue about all of the illusions and the delusions that I would eventually unveil. When I was 24-years-old, I still had not seen life from both sides now, and neither had Joni Mitchell.
In another of Joni Mitchell’s brilliant songs, she called life a game–The Circle Game.
The Circle Game
by Joni Mitchell
Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
Joni Mitchell’ song The Circle Game is a masterpiece, but it doesn’t tell the entire story. As soon as the boy reaches the age of twenty, the song ends:
So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty…
There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through.
When I first heard The Circle Game, I was also turning twenty, and frankly, I am glad that I didn’t realize then how much my understanding of that tune would change over the next several years. The greatest of life’s games is that when we are young, we don’t realize how precious the moments and the opportunities of youth actually are. When we are young, we believe that we will be young forever. Unfortunately, that is not true.
One of life’s greatest disappointments lies within discovering that Time itself is an illusion and that living is like chasing after a mirage. We waste too much of our lives looking too far ahead at something that seems to be golden and grand. We believe that the treasure is always just ahead. When we reach the time and place where we believed the treasure had lain, its golden somethingness isn’t there at all. What we had chased was merely a shiny reflection in the sand.
“What was any art but a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself – life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.” – Willa Cather
I don’t want to pretend that art and writing are more than they actually are, but in the almost final analysis, I can honestly say that my ability to create is the way that I begin to make sense of life’s Circle Game, and it is the way that I have managed to slow my own aging process. My writing has been particularly helpful in that regard. I won’t remind everyone of the very true words that youth is wasted on the young. That has been said so very many times and by so very many people that I am not sure who said it first. I’ll merely conclude by saying that Time is a Luxury, and it is a luxury that will eventually run out. Ultimately, everyone stands in the October of their own lives singing another song: Winter Comes Too Soon.
About 1 week ago, I wrote that I love autumn and that it always seems like the time that I should my new year Here on my blog: jackikellum.com.
This year, I decided to name September 11 as my official New Year’s Day, and on that day I established some new year’s resolutions. One of my resolutions is that I plan to launch a serious walking campaign. Many of my heroes were great walkers, and they used walking as a type of therapy and also as a tool for priming their writing pumps and as a way to lubricate their souls.
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ― John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir
“Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn–that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness–that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.” ― Jane Austen, Persuasion
Autumn is a beautiful time to be outside. It is a time that is too beautiful to stay inside. Autumn itself beckons me away from my house, and I have decided to increase my enjoyment of fall by walking. While I am out, I plan to begin writing and illustrating a nature journal.
“For [Jane Austen and the readers of Pride and Prejudice], as for Mr. Darcy, [Elizabeth Bennett’s] solitary walks express the independence that literally takes the heroine out of the social sphere of the houses and their inhabitants, into a larger, lonelier world where she is free to think: walking articulates both physical and mental freedom.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
Saturday, friend and I were returning from a writing conference, and she surprised me by stopping at Weymouth Furnace Park, which is the site where the Great Harbor passes through the ruins of an old glass-making place:
The Weymouth Furnace Park is 19 miles from my front door, and it is a lush, natural site that is almost undisturbed. I could rent a kayak at the park and kayak down the stream, or I could simply hike along it, and this place is close enough that I should do this every day. My friend and I were there during the weekend, and there were only a few other people there. I would imagine that no one is there during the week.
I realize that I am not allowing myself, my mind, and my spirit enough time to stop and to the rose petals that are scattered around my life. William Wordsworth said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of emotions, and I am sure that this was true for him. But it is important to understand that William Wordsworth was an avid walker. and that he made sure that he filled his life with the types of moments that evoke an ever-renewing spontaneous overflow of emotion. I realize that I have not been doing enough of that.
In her Grasmere Journal, William Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy wrote that Wordsworth often sat in a crude shepherd’s hut or a writer’s hut to write. Wordsworth’s writing huts were little more than a roof and a desk that were beneath a covered shelter, and they had no walls that separated him from nature. The huts were situated in places where he had a natural view and a first-hand experience of his natural environment. Wordsworth clearly wanted to write from a place where he could directly respond to his natural setting, and his intimacy with nature allowed himself to have the fodder needed to evoke his overflow of emotions and to refill his spirit.
Anaïs Nin also talked about the overflow that Wordsworth had mentioned:
“You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947
For the past year, I have written almost every day, but I have done so from a comfortable spot in my bed, with my laptop on my lap. Almost every day, I have responded to the WordPress Daily Prompts, and until recently, I have been able to draw upon memories for my writing. I have discovered, however, that I am beginning to repeat myself. Clearly, my emotional well is beginning to run dry, and I recognize that I need to do something more to provide myself with fresh writing material. Very simply, I need to recharge.
Last week, I began to read Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal, and in it, I saw that Dorothy’s journals are nothing more than simple records of what she saw and experienced directly in her life.
“In the morning when I arose the mists were hanging over the opposite hills and the tops of the highest hills were covered with snow. There was a most lovely combination at the head of the vale–of the yellow autumnal hills wrapped in sunshine and overhung with partial mists, the green and yellow trees and the distant snow-topped mountains. It was a most heavenly morning.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Friday 10 October 1800.
There is something alive and fresh about the way that Dorothy Wordsworth captured what she actually saw on October 10, 1800. What she has written is not fancy or elegant or sophisticated, and this is very important: Dorothy Wordsworth’s entry is not long and convoluted. It is simply a record of what Dorothy saw that day.
When I blog, I clearly blog with the reader in mind. I try to write in complete sentences, and I strive to write so that other people can make sense of what I have written. I also strive to write an article that I believe is respectably long. In other words, when I blog, I feel some obligation to write full and detailed blog posts. After reading Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal, however, I realize that I also need to be writing some simpler and more immediate notes about what is actually occurring around me and what I actually see day-to-day.
Dorothy Wordsworth was also a walker. On an almost daily basis, Dorothy would walk in some natural setting and she would write simple records of what she saw. Although she was not a poet per se, she closely observed the weather and the flora and fauna around the places where she walked. Afterward, in just a few words, she strove to capture her immediate impressions about what she had seen. Dorothy Wordsworth did not realize that her journals would be made public, and when she took notes on her daily life, she did not bother with grammatical correctness or with trying to write full sentences. She simply blurted a word or a phrase that signified an actual moment in her day. The following is an example of one of Dorothy Wordsworth’s longer entries in her journal:
“After tea we rowed down to Loughrigg Fell, visited the white foxglove, gathered wild strawberries, and walked up to view Rydale. We lay a long time looking at the lake, the shores all embrowned with the scorching sun. The ferns were turning yellow…here and there one was quite turned. We walked round by Benson’s wood home. The lake was now most still and reflected the beautiful yellow and blue and purple and grey colours of the sky. We heard a strange sound in the Bainriggs wood as we were floating on the water it seemed in the wood, but it must have been above it, for presently we saw a raven very high above us–it called out and the dome of the sky seemed to echo the sound–it called again and again as it flew onwards, and the mountains gave back the sound, seeming as if from their centre a musical bell-like answering to the bird’s hoarse voice. We heard both the call of the bird and the echo after we could see him no longer.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 27 June 1800.
As I said, the above is one of Dorothy’s longer and more refined entries, and even the above journal entry in not long, as compared to what I have deemed to be a respectably long blog post. I teach a writing class, and the excuse that i most often hear for the student’s not writing is that the student did not feel that he had enough time to write. What they are actually saying is that they did not have enough time to sit down and complete an article that is 400 -1200 words long.Everyone has time to journal the way that Dorothy Wordsworth journaled. On most days, she simply jotted a few words like in the following:
“A very fine day with showers–dried the linen & starched. Drank tea at Mr. Simpsons. Brought down Batchelors Buttons (Rock Ranunculus) & other plants–went part of the way back. A showery, mild evening–all the peas up.” May 22, 1800
Many of Dorothy’s entries are nothing more than an observation of the humdrum activities of her day, and her writing is usually noted in sentence fragments. Occasionally, Dorothy would follow a basic record of the hum-drum proceedings of her day with a simple comment about nature that was almost haiku in quality.
“No fire in the morning. Worked till between seven and eight, and then watered the garden, and was about to go up to Mr. Simpson’s, when Miss S. and her visitors passed the door. I went home with them, a beautiful evening the crescent moon hanging above Helm Crag.” Dorothy’s Journal May 28, 1800
“A letter from Jack Hutchinson, and one from Montagu enclosing a three-pound note. No William! i slackened my pace as I came near home fearing to hear that he was not come. I listened till after one o’clock….Foxgloves just coming into blossom.” Dorothy’s Journal June 6, 1800
On June 16, Dorothy wrote that a child stopped by her house on his way home from Hawkhead. He was hungry, and she fed him. In a way that is typical of Dorothy’s writing the final line transforms the entry entirely:
“When I asked him if he got enough to eat he looked surprised and said, ‘Nay’. He was seven years old but seemed not more than five….Lent three pounds nine shillings to the potter at Kendal. Met John on our return home at about ten o’clock. Saw a primrose in blossom.” Dorothy’s Journal June 16, 1800
I call attention to the fact that in most of that day’s entry, Dorothy is talking feeding the poor, but in the final sentence, she attaches a note about a flower that she had seen that day.
I have only read a few pages, but the following is my favorite of these entries that have a natural twist in the last sentence:
“Very cold. Baking in the morning, gathered pea seeds and took up–lighted a fire upstairs. Walked as far as Rydale with John intending to have gone on to Ambleside but we found the papers at Rydale–Wm walking in the wood all the time. John and he went out after our return–I mended stockings. Wind very high shaking the corn.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal August 22, 1800
I can see that Dorothy’s quick sketches of nature have an honesty and a lyricism that is often lost when a more sophisticated record is made. And more importantly, because Dorothy’s daily notes were very short, she did not allow herself the excuse of lack of time to prevent her from journaling. After having read Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere journal, I have created a new writing agenda to add to my other, more finished writing:
I need to get back into nature and to allow myself to simply jot down a few words here and there about what I have seen and heard.
I need to allow nature to recharge my writer’s well.
I need to embrace the fact that not every writing is obligated to be a chapter in the next break-out novel. I need to allow some of my writing to be very short and unfinished–just a word here and there.
I need to grant myself the time and the experiences to nourish my soul.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols