(Margaret was great observer of children. Here’s another column on her nieces and nephews)
There is a wood in which, strange to say, I had never set foot. It is beyond the “top dam,” and is fenced off in a manner to warn intruders off, and in our walks we always turned back at that fence. But the children came to me with a glowing tale of the beauty beyond, of lovely tented seats beneath spreading larch or fir where we could eat our picnic lunch in dappled shade.
Nests in abundance they were sure there must be, as the birds sang so loudly there. So, we set off, Willie took a cap with him, not to cover his lint-white locks, but to convey the eggs safely home.
The wood had all the enchantment I was told to expect, and we peeped into many a hollow where the fir needles made a nut-brown carpet, quite expecting to see little gnomes in peaked caps sitting cross-legged round the trunk, eating primrose petals. But when Ailie cried out that she saw one, and we all tried to squeeze after her, and my hair caught on a branch and held me, behold it got away before we got near enough.
“Isn’t it nice?” we all exclaimed in turn. And the birds trilled, “Come and look! Come and catch us!” It was very odd that every nest John found was last year’s — just a wisp of blackened hay.
The birds enjoyed our disappointment, and sang more triumphantly than ever. “There’s a lot of bird-nests here,” said Willie, “if only we could find them. I think I see one, if you’ll give me a leg up,” and he strained his eyes to the top of a very tall tree.
“This is a good place for birds, isn’t it? “ said John in a kind of ecstasy, looking round at the enchanted trees, peopled by invisible fairies and songsters “ …. a good place for hidin’ their nests.” At which confession, the chorus of birds swelled into a great bubble of laughing music.
We came to an open glade where great old twisted hawthorns were weighed down by their silvery wealth of blossom. They were at that stage of perfection which is most perfect, before maturity. When the blossom is fully opened, it has begun to decay. When half a tree is in bud, or one tree in full blossom, and the one next to it, with its panicles of flower in every stage of shy development; then is “haw-brek” most enchanting.
The little boys disappeared beneath the “locks o’ siller grey,” promising to bring out a handful of speckled blue eggs, but the thrush’s nest was too high up for them, or the flowering branches too thorny for their hands, and they came back across the little burn with some of the scented blossom, instead.
Coming home by another path, we came to a very large tree, bending over the stream and covered to the tip of every branch — lit (tinged) with the palest pink “flourish.” We caught it at that exquisite moment when many of the buds were still round pink pearls hiding the precious stamens within; fully opened to the south, and towards the north keeping their hearts partially closed.
I had to jump the stream in two places in order to take in the full glory, from every side, of this vision of spring, far more beautiful and wonderful than the woodland fairies we had been looking for on the pine needles.
I never knew there was a crab tree there, “ I exclaimed; and John commented, “I wonder why there’s so much blossom and so few apples. Last year there was just a little lot of crabs so high up that I couldn’t get at them. “ So much promise, so little fruit, and that little sour. A commentary on the vain promises and the illusions of life. But, after all, the beauty was no illusion. And there was fruit enough for nature’s purpose, and that is all we need to enquire.
With his new knife, Willie cut off a few sprays of blossom for mother’s flower glasses, and Ailie and I carried them between us. I left the three of them in the orchard swinging on an apple tree, its pink-blossomed branches swaying madly as John tried to touch the next tree with his toes.
As I turned to leave, he cried, “Don’t go away! Stop an’ see if I can touch that tree in eight swings. One ! Two! Three! …. Before he got to “eight” I took in the whole picture of the orchard, the hedges white with mayflower, the fruit trees clothed in every shade of heavenly pink, the emerald of the deep, dewy grass; the wee girlie with her finger in her mouth, and her tangled hair over her cheeks, on one side of the swing, the wee yellow-haired boy on the other side, both gazing admiringly and wistfully at the wriggling limbs of the older brother who seemed to get so much more of the joy of the swing than they did.
I would never see that picture of spring again. I seemed to be looking at it through a transparent veil from this sinful old world into that other ideal world of a poet’s dreams… “There! I did it. I touched that tree. Amn’t I going high? Let me! Let me! It’s my turn!… “I haven’t had a good swing yet….!