The Unnatural Naturalist by Christopher Morley

Story type: Essay

It gives us a great deal of pleasure to announce, officially, that spring has arrived.

Our statement is not based on any irrelevant data as to equinoxes or bluebirds or bock-beer signs, but is derived from the deepest authority we know anything about, our subconscious self. We remember that some philosopher, perhaps it was Professor James, suggested that individuals are simply peaks of self-consciousness rising out of the vast ocean of collective human Mind in which we all swim, and are, at bottom, one. Whenever we have to decide any important matter, such as when to get our hair cut and whether to pay a bill or not, and whether to call for the check or let the other fellow do so, we don’t attempt to harass our conscious volition with these decisions. We rely on our subconscious and instinctive person, and for better or worse we have to trust to its righteousness and good sense. We just find ourself doing something and we carry on and hope it is for the best.

From this deep abyss of subconsciousness we learn that it is spring. The mottled goosebone of the Allentown prophet is no more meteorologically accurate than our subconscience. And this is how it works.

Once a year, about the approach of the vernal equinox or the seedsman’s catalogue, we wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning. This is an immediate warning and apprisement that something is adrift. Three hundred and sixty-four days in the year we wake, placidly enough, at seven-ten, ten minutes after the alarm clock has jangled. But on this particular day, whether it be the end of February or the middle of March, we wake with the old recognizable nostalgia. It is the last polyp or vestige of our anthropomorphic and primal self, trailing its pathetic little wisp of glory for the one day of the whole calendar. All the rest of the year we are the plodding percheron of commerce, patiently tugging our wain; but on that morning there wambles back, for the nonce, the pang of Eden. We wake at 6 o’clock; it is a blue and golden morning and we feel it imperative to get outdoors as quickly as possible. Not for an instant do we feel the customary respectable and sanctioned desire to kiss the sheets yet an hour or so. The traipsing, trolloping humor of spring is in our veins; we feel that we must be about felling an aurochs or a narwhal for breakfast. We leap into our clothes and hurry downstairs and out of the front door and skirmish round the house to see and smell and feel.

See also  Every Man His Own Paper-Hanger by Bill Nye

It is spring. It is unmistakably spring, because the pewit bushes are budding and on yonder aspen we can hear a forsythia bursting into song. It is spring, when the feet of the floorwalker pain him and smoking-car windows have to be pried open with chisels. We skip lightheartedly round the house to see if those bobolink bulbs we planted are showing any signs yet, and discover the whisk brush that fell out of the window last November. And then the newsboy comes along the street and sees us prancing about and we feel sheepish and ashamed and hurry indoors again.

There may still be blizzards and frozen plumbings and tumbles on icy pavements, but when that morning of annunciation has come to us we know that winter is truly dead, even though his ghost may walk and gibber once or twice. The sweet urge of the new season has rippled up through the oceanic depths of our subconsciousness, and we are aware of the rising tide. Like Mr. Wordsworth we feel that we are wiser than we know. (Perhaps we have misquoted that, but let it stand.)

There are other troubles that spring brings us. We are pitifully ashamed of our ignorance Of nature, and though we try to hide it we keep getting tripped up. About this time of year inquisitive persons are always asking us: “Have you heard any song sparrows yet?” or “Are there any robins out your way?” or “When do the laburnums begin to nest out in Marathon?” Now we really can’t tell these people our true feeling, which is that we do not believe in peeking in on the privacy of the laburnums or any other songsters. It seems to us really immodest to keep on spying on the birds in that way. And as for the bushes and trees, what we want to know is, How does one ever get to know them? How do you find out which is an alder and what is an elm? Or a narcissus and a hyacinth, does any one really know them apart? We think it’s all a bluff. And jonquils. There was a nest of them on our porch, we are told, but we didn’t think it any business of ours to bother them. Let nature alone and she’ll let you alone.

See also  The Episode Of The Live Weekly by P G Wodehouse

But there is a pettifogging cult about that says you ought to know these things; moreover, children keep on asking one. We always answer at random and say it’s a wagtail or a flowering shrike or a female magnolia. We were brought up in the country and learned that first principle of good manners, which is to let birds and flowers and animals go on about their own affairs without pestering them by asking them their names and addresses. Surely that’s what Shakespeare meant by saying a rose by any other name will smell as sweet. We can enjoy a rose just as much as any one, even if we may think it’s a hydrangea.

And then we are much too busy to worry about robins and bluebirds and other poultry of that sort. Of course, if we see one hanging about the lawn and it looks hungry we have decency enough to throw out a bone or something for it, but after all we have a lot of troubles of our own to bother about. We are short-sighted, too, and if we try to get near enough to see if it is a robin or only a bandanna some one has dropped, why either it flies away before we get there or it does turn out to be a bandanna or a clothespin. One of our friends kept on talking about a Baltimore oriole she had seen near our house, and described it as a beautiful yellowish fowl. We felt quite ashamed to be so ignorant, and when one day we thought we saw one near the front porch we left what we were doing, which was writing a check for the coal man, and went out to stalk it. After much maneuvering we got near, made a dash–and it was a banana peel! The oriole had gone back to Baltimore the day before.

See also  Parental Advice by Edgar Wilson Nye

We love to read about the birds and flowers and shrubs and insects in poetry, and it makes us very happy to know they are all round us, innocent little things like mice and centipedes and goldenrods (until hay fever time), but as for prying into their affairs we simply won’t do it.

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *