Published by
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      An Online Edition

edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. PowersCopy of birdbuttona.gif (2810 bytes)





Thursday, May 7, 1914

[The Courthouse Oak]



     In the Fireman's triangle the green growth urges itself upward to meet the long-sustained kiss of the sunbeams as gladly as though surrounded by acres of meadows or miles of forest instead of by a square of asphalt that resounds to a constant stream of traffic beating to and fro. The grass is misted over with soft bloom; the evergreens and low boxhedges brighten themselves with new leaves; under the spray at the fountain's edge a few cinnamon ferns brought down from the mountain, are sending up whole clusters of "fiddle-heads" that expand into perfect fronds; the clover lifts an offering of nectar to wandering bees, and the tight-folded leaf-buds of the magnolia stand on every twig erect and shining, like candles on a Christmas tree.

     "Our home," said the Sparrow, "is in a niche of a lowly roof, round which hang leaves so thick we can see nothing beyond the sheltering boughs that lean to the shadowy eaves. All night long we hear their whispered counsel. My nestlings, like five peas in the pod, think that all the world is green; but they will know better in a few days."

     Now that the sun shines hot enough for the Fireman to enjoy the cool streams that continually trickle over his back and shoulders the birds must bathe frequently in order to keep well, and they find the shade of the magnolia and the richness of the tender grass a grateful and refreshing oasis amid the desert roof spaces that form their part of the surrounding squares.

     "It is a most wonderful thing--the opening of the leaves in spring," said the White Pigeon, thoughtfully. "If there were but one spot on earth where such a thing occurred, it would be the chief wonder of the world."

     "The shrine of innumerable pilgrimages," added the Gray Pigeon. "Travelers would come from all quarters of the globe to look upon the miracle."

     "They wouldn't, either," contradicted the Sparrow, "because there wouldn't be any travelers to come; don't you know that?"

     "Quite true; I stand corrected," admitted the Gray Pigeon. "I hadn't quite realized it. Without green plants no life could exist on earth."

     "That is the most significant part of the miracle," said the White Pigeon, "that the green substance of plants is the only thing in nature that can take up and utilize the crude, raw, inorganice stuff of which rocks and deserts and mountain ranges and the ribs of the planet are made, and build it into living structures."

     "Yes; that's the way they feed all the rest of us," chirped the Sparrow, who carried his soul in his little stomach, and was not to be impressed by an marvel other than the H. C. of L.

     "Summer's work," said the Gray Pigeon, "is to build, particle by particle, this crude lifeless substance into living forms. Away out in the quiet of the country you can hear, or almost hear, in sun-sleepy forests or meadows steeped in the noonday, the fine murmur of her activity so priceless to us all. Even Man, with all his ingenuity, is dependent as we are upon this; for him as for us there is no life but by subsisting upon other life."

     "Well, we certainly pay our debt," commented the Sparrow. "If the birds didn't keep the insects under, there wouldn't be a green leaf left on earth in five years. I should like to see Man invent something to take the place of our labors! Suppose we should call a strike some day!"

     "I don't believe I feel equal to such a hunger strike as that would be," chattered his mate in alarm.

     "A vengeance of that sort," said the Gray Pigeon, amused at the little fellow's  notion, "is a sword without hilt or guard; it cuts both ways. I am not one who helps to keep down insect pests[--]that is not my way of service; my young squabs, even, subsist upon grain prepared by the parent birds; but I know that to shrink one's part of nature's working schedule is to incur punishment for one's own portion, and to throw the whole scheme out of gear for many others."

     The Fireman, who listens to many conversations in which he does not take part, now added a grave and earnest assent to the Pigeon's words.

     "And in all the manifold interrelations of the Good Gray Mother's plan of service," he continued, "there is none more indispensable than that performed by the chemistry of vegetation.

     "I am glad that our little square here is nearly surrounded by gracious presences of green; that almost all the streets that radiate from this point are overshadowed with their boughs. I like to feel them constantly around me, incessantly at work for the uplift of mere inorganic matter into something higher and finer and more complex, into the Scriptural 'life more abundant' which is the Good Gray Mother's end and aim in a material sense, as it is that of the divine will in a spiritual sense.

     "See that oak beside the courthouse across the street? It is a thing for the city to be proud of. Its grand, proud lines are a very passion of strength hurled at the sky. Look at its giant arms upheld; think of its giant roots mortised into the planet's solidity! Think of the sap's cool and steady stream ascending, and of the slowly nuzzling, groping rootlet tips in the dark underground! Day and night it sucks the juices of the soil and transforms them into forms of life and beauty. Each year it utters itself into myriads of leaves, joyous leaves, a trembling world of leaves, each islanded in the lambent, limpid air. One of our southern poets has sung of them--the 'friendly, sisterly, sweetheart leaves'--

"And there! there

As ye hang with your myriad palms in air,

Pray me a myriad prayer.'

     "And then, the caterpillar rolls himself in his silken tent in their shelter, and later opens there his gorgeous wings; the May-beetle's hundreds fill the dusk with their whirring; thousands of insects lay their eggs where the grubs may feed on the green pulp; the stings of gall-gnats bewitch the sap so that it starts into freakish fruitlike shapes of ink-ball and fluff-ball and hollow brown sphere. Still other insects come to prey on these, the spider swings his delicate span, and silk-spinning worms wind and unwind their almost invisible ladders, and aphides splash the leaves with 'honey-dew.' And birds come to feed upon them all. Thus each bough becomes the center of a community of living things.

     "All honor to His Majesty the Tree, keeper of the gate of life, custodian of that Green Fire which vitalizes the earth! 'I serve,' might be his crest. He is King and Keeper of the life in the veins of the world."

 



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