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    The Amateur Nature Lover

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    Chapter 36
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    It is possible that an education entirely urban is not the best
    conceivable preparation for descriptive articles upon the country. On
    the other hand, your professional nature-lover is sometimes a little
    over-familiar with his subject. He knows the names of all the things,
    and he does not spare you. Besides, he is subtle. The prominent features
    are too familiar to him, and he goes into details. What respectable
    townsman, for instance, knows what "scabiosa" is? It sounds very
    unpleasant. Then the professional nature-lover assumes that you know
    trees. No Englishman can tell any tree from any other tree, except a
    very palpable oak or poplar. So that we may at least, as an experiment,
    allow a good Londoner to take his unsophisticated eyes out into the
    sweet country for once, and try his skill at nature-loving, though his
    botany has been learned over the counter of flower-shops, and his
    zoology on Saturday afternoons when they have the band in the Gardens.
    He makes his way, then, over by Epsom Downs towards Sutton, trying to
    assimilate his mood to the proper flavour of appreciation as he goes,
    and with a little notebook in the palm of his hand to assist an
    ill-trained memory. And the burthen of his song is of course the autumn
    tints.

    The masses of trees towards Epsom and Ewell, with the red houses and
    Elizabethan façades peeping through their interstices, contain, it would
    seem, every conceivable colour, except perhaps sky-blue; there are
    brilliant yellow trees, and a kind of tree of the most amazing gamboge
    green, almost the green of spring come back, and tan-coloured trees,
    deep brown, red, and deep crimson trees. Here and there the wind has
    left its mark, and the grey-brown branches and their purple tracery of
    twigs, with a suggestion of infinite depth behind, show through the
    rents in the leafy covering. There are deep green trees--the amateur
    nature-lover fancies they may be yews--with their dense warm foliage
    arranged in horizontal masses, like the clouds low down in a sunset; and
    certain other evergreens, one particularly, with a bluish-green covering
    of upstanding needles, are intensely conspicuous among the flame tints
    around. On a distant church tower, and nearer, disputing the possession
    of a gabled red house with a glowing creeper, is some ivy; and never is
    the perennial green of ivy so delightful as it is now, when all else is
    alight with the sombre fire of the sunset of the year....

    The amateur nature-lover proceeds over the down, appreciating all this
    as hard as he can appreciate, and anon gazing up at the grey and white
    cloud shapes melting slowly from this form to that, and showing lakes,
    and wide expanses, and serene distances of blue between their gaps. And
    then he looks round him for a zoological item. Underfoot the grass of
    the down is recovering from the summer drought and growing soft and
    green again, and plentiful little flattened snail shells lie about, and
    here and there a late harebell still nods in the breeze. Yonder bolts a
    rabbit, and then something whizzes by the amateur nature-lover's ear.

    They shoot here somewhere, he remembers suddenly; and then looking
    round, in a palpitating state, is reassured by the spectacle of a lone
    golfer looming over the brow of the down, and gesticulating black and
    weird against the sky. The Londoner, with an abrupt affectation of
    nonchalance, flings himself flat upon his back, and so remains
    comparatively safe until the golfer has passed. These golfers are
    strange creatures, rabbit-coloured, except that many are bright red
    about the middle, and they repel and yet are ever attracted by a devil
    in the shape of a little white ball, which leads them on through toothed
    briars, sharp furzes, pricking goss, and thorns; cursing the thing,
    weeping even, and anon laughing at their own foolish rambling;
    muttering, heeding no one to the right or left of their
    career,--demented creatures, as though these balls were their souls,
    that they ever sought to lose, and ever repented losing. And silent,
    ever at the heel of each, is a familiar spirit, an eerie human hedgehog,
    all set about with walking-sticks, a thing like a cylindrical
    umbrella-stand with a hat and boots and a certain suggestion of leg. And
    so they pass and are gone.

    Rising, the amateur nature-lover finds he has been reclining on a
    puff-ball. These puff-balls are certainly the most remarkable example of
    adaptation to circumstances known to English botanists. They grow
    abundantly on golf grounds, and are exactly like golf-balls in external
    appearance. They are, however, Pharisees and whited sepulchres, and
    within they are full of a soft mess of a most unpleasant appearance--the
    amateur nature-lover has some on him now--which stuff contains the
    spores. It is a case of what naturalists call "mimicry"--one of nature's
    countless adaptations. The golf-player smites these things with force,
    covering himself with ridicule--and spores, and so disseminating this
    far-sighted and ingenious fungus far and wide about the links.

    The amateur nature-lover passes off the down, and towards Banstead
    village. He is on the watch for characteristic objects of the
    countryside, and rustling through the leaves beneath a chestnut avenue
    he comes upon an old boot. It is a very, very old boot, all its blacking
    washed off by the rain, and two spreading chestnut leaves, yellow they
    are with blotches of green, with their broad fingers extended, rest upon
    it, as if they would protect and altogether cover the poor old boot in
    its last resting-place. It is as if Mother Nature, who lost sight of her
    product at the tanner's yard, meant to claim her own trampled child
    again at last, after all its wanderings. So we go on, noting a sardine
    tin gleaming brightly in the amber sunlight, through a hazel hedge, and
    presently another old boot. Some hawthorn berries, some hoary clematis
    we notice--and then another old boot. Altogether, it may be remarked, in
    this walk the amateur nature-lover saw eleven old boots, most of them
    dropped in the very sweetest bits of hedge tangle and grassy corner
    about Banstead.

    It is natural to ask, "Whence come all these old boots?" They are, as
    everyone knows, among the commonest objects in a country walk, so
    common, indeed, that the professional nature-lover says very little
    about them. They cannot grow there, they cannot be dropped from
    above--they are distinctly earth-worn boots. I have inquired of my own
    domestic people, and caused inquiry to be made in a large number of
    households, and there does not appear to be any regular custom of taking
    boots away to remote and picturesque spots to abandon them. Some
    discarded boots of my own were produced, but they were quite different
    from the old boot of the outer air. These home-kept old boots were
    lovely in their way, hoary with mould running into the most exquisite
    tints of glaucophane and blue-grey, but it was a different way
    altogether from that of the wild boot.

    A friend says, that these boots are cast away by tramps. People, he
    states, give your tramp old boots and hats in great profusion, and the
    modesty of the recipient drives him to these picturesque and secluded
    spots to effect the necessary change. But no nature-lover has ever
    observed the tramp or tramp family in the act of changing their clothes,
    and since there are even reasons to suppose that their garments are not
    detachable, it seems preferable to leave the wayside boot as a pleasant
    flavouring of mystery to our ramble. Another point, which also goes to
    explode this tramp theory, is that these countryside boots _never occur
    in pairs_, as any observer of natural history can testify....

    So our Cockney Jefferies proceeds, presently coming upon a cinder path.
    They use cinders a lot about Sutton, to make country paths with; it
    gives you an unexpected surprise the first time it occurs. You drop
    suddenly out of a sweetly tangled lane into a veritable bit of the Black
    Country, and go on with loathing in your soul for your fellow-creatures.
    There is also an abundance of that last product of civilisation, barbed
    wire. Oh that I were Gideon! with thorns and briers of the wilderness
    would I teach these elders of Sutton! But a truce to dark thoughts!

    We take our last look at the country from the open down above Sutton.
    Blue hills beyond blue hills recede into the remote distance; from
    Banstead Down one can see into Oxfordshire. Windsor Castle is in minute
    blue silhouette to the left, and to the right and nearer is the Crystal
    Palace. And closer, clusters red-roofed Sutton and its tower, then
    Cheam, with its white spire, and further is Ewell, set in a variegated
    texture of autumn foliage. Water gleams--a silver thread--at Ewell, and
    the sinking sun behind us catches a window here and there, and turns it
    into an eye of flame. And so to Sutton station and home to Cockneydom
    once more.
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