Most men do their work out of doors and their dreaming at home; and those whose work is done at home need something like a wherry in which to dream out of doors. On a squally day, with the wind northwest, it is a dream of action, and to round yonder point against an ebbing tide makes you feel as if you were Grant before Richmond; when you put about, you gallop like Sheridan, and the winds and waves become a cavalry escort. On other days all elements are hushed into a dream of peace, and you look out upon those once stormy distances as Landseer's sheep look into the mouth of the empty cannon on a dismantled fort. These are the days for revery, and your thoughts fly forth, gliding without friction over this smooth expanse; or, rather, they are like yonder pair of white butterflies that will flutter for an hour just above the glassy surface, traversing miles of distance before they alight again.
By a happy trait of our midsummer, these various phases of wind and water may often be included in a single day. On three mornings out of four the wind blows northwest down our bay, then dies to a calm before noon. After an hour or two of perfect stillness, you see the line of blue ripple coming up from the ocean till it conquers all the paler water, and the southwest breeze sets in. This middle zone of calm is like the noonday of the Romans, when they feared to speak, lest the great god Pan should be awakened. While it lasts, a thin, aerial veil drops over the distant hills of Conanicut, then draws nearer and nearer till it seems to touch your boat, the very nearest section of space being filled with a faint disembodied blueness, like that which fills on winter days, in colder regions, the hollows of the snow. Sky and sea show but gradations of the same color, and afford but modifications of the same element. In this quietness, yonder schooner seems not so much to lie at anchor in the water as to anchor the water, so that both cease to move; and though faint ripples may come and go elsewhere on the surface, the vessel rests in this liquid island of absolute calm. For there certainly is elsewhere a sort of motionless movement, as Keats speaks of "a little noiseless noise among the leaves," or as the summer clouds form and disappear without apparent wind and without prejudice to the stillness. A man may lie in the profoundest trance and still be breathing, and the very pulsations of the life of nature, in these calm hours, are to be read in these changing tints and shadows and ripples, and in the mirage-bewildered outlines of the islands in the bay. It is this incessant shifting of relations, this perpetual substitution of fantastic for real values, this inability to trust your own eye or ear unless the mind makes its own corrections,--that gives such an inexhaustible attraction to life beside the ocean. The sea-change comes to you without your waiting to be drowned. You must recognize the working of your own imagination and allow for it. When, for instance, the sea-fog settles down around us at nightfall, it sometimes grows denser and denser till it apparently becomes more solid than the pavements of the town, or than the great globe itself; and when the fog-whistles go wailing on through all the darkened hours, they seem to be signalling not so much for a lost ship as for a lost island.
How unlike are those weird and gloomy nights to this sunny noon, when I rest my oars in this sheltered bay, where a small lagoon makes in behind Coaster's Harbor Island, and the very last breath and murmur of the ocean are left outside! The coming tide steals to the shore in waves so light they are a mere shade upon the surface till they break, and then die speechless for one that has a voice. And even those rare voices are the very most confidential and silvery whispers in which Nature ever spoke to man; the faintest summer insect seems resolute and assured beside them; and yet it needs but an indefinite multiplication of these sounds to make up the thunder of the surf. It is so still that I can let the wherry drift idly along the shore, and can watch the life beneath the water. The small fry cluster and evade between me and the brink; the half-translucent shrimp glides gracefully undisturbed, or glances away like a flash if you but touch the surface; the crabs waddle or burrow, the smaller species mimicking unconsciously the hue of the soft green sea-weed, and the larger looking like motionless stones, covered with barnacles and decked with fringing weeds. I am acquainted with no better Darwinian than the crab; and however clumsy he may be when taken from his own element, he has a free and floating motion which is almost graceful in his own yielding and buoyant home. It is so with all wild creatures, but especially with those of water and air. A gull is not reckoned an especially graceful bird, but yonder I see one, snowy white, that has come to fish in this safe lagoon, and it dips and rises on its errands as lightly as a butterfly or a swallow. Beneath that neighboring causeway the water-rats run over the stones, lithe and eager and alert, the body carried low, the head raised now and then like a hound's, the tail curving gracefully and aiding the poise; now they are running to the water as if to drink, now racing for dear life along the edge, now fairly swimming, then devoting an interval to reflection, like squirrels, then again searching over a pile of sea-weed and selecting some especial tuft, which is carried, with long, sinuous leaps, to the unseen nest. Indeed, man himself is graceful in his unconscious and direct employments: the poise of a fisherman, for instance, the play of his arm, the cast of his line or net,--these take the eye as do the stealthy movements of the hunter, the fine attitudes of the wood-chopper, the grasp of the sailor on the helm. A haystack and a boat are always picturesque objects, and so are the men who are at work to build or use them. So is yonder stake-net, glistening in the noonday light,--the innumerable meshes drooping in soft arches from the high stakes, and the line of floats stretching shoreward, like tiny stepping-stones; two or three row-boats are gathered round it, with fishermen in red or blue shirts, while one white sail-boat hovers near. And I have looked down on our beach in spring, at sunset, and watched them drawing nets for the young herring, when the rough men looked as graceful as the nets they drew, and the horseman who directed might have been Redgauntlet on the Solway Sands.
I suppose it is from this look of natural fitness that a windmill is always such an appropriate object by the sea-shore. It is simply a four-masted schooner, stranded on a hill-top, and adapting itself to a new sphere of duty. It can have needed but a slight stretch of invention in some seaman to combine these lofty vans, and throw over them a few remodelled sails. The principle of their motion is that by which a vessel beats to windward; the miller spreads or reefs his sails, like a sailor,--reducing them in a high wind to a mere "pigeon-wing" as it is called, two or three feet in length, or in some cases even scudding under bare poles. The whole structure vibrates and creaks under rapid motion, like a mast; and the angry vans, disappointed of progress, are ready to grind to powder all that comes within their grasp, as they revolve hopelessly in this sea of air.
When the sun grows hot, I like to take refuge in a sheltered nook beside Goat Island Lighthouse, where the wharf shades me, and the resonant plash of waters multiplies itself among the dark piles, increasing the delicious sense of coolness. While the noonday bells ring twelve, I take my rest. Round the corner of the pier the fishing-boats come gliding in, generally with a boy asleep forward, and a weary man at the helm; one can almost fancy that the boat itself looks weary, having been out since the early summer sunrise. In contrast to this expression of labor ended, the white pleasure-boats seem but to be taking a careless stroll by water; while a skiff full of girls drifts idly along the shore, amid laughter and screaming and much aimless splash. More resolute and business-like, the boys row their boat far up the bay; then I see a sudden gleam of white bodies, and then the boat is empty, and the surrounding water is sprinkled with black and bobbing heads. The steamboats look busier yet, as they go puffing by at short intervals, and send long waves up to my retreat; and then some schooner sails in, full of life, with a white ripple round her bows, till she suddenly rounds to drops anchor, and is still. Opposite me, on the landward side of the bay, the green banks slope to the water; on yonder cool piazza there is a young mother who swings her baby in the hammock, or a white-robed figure pacing beneath the trailing vines. Peace and lotus-eating on shore; on the water, even in the stillest noon, there are life and sparkle and continual change.
One of those fishermen whose boats have just glided to their moorings is to me a far more interesting person than any of his mates, though he is perhaps the only one among them with whom I have never yet exchanged a word. There is good reason for it; he has been deaf and dumb since boyhood. He is reported to be the boldest sailor among all these daring men; he is the last to retreat before the coming storm; the first after the storm to venture through the white and whirling channels, between dangerous ledges, to which others give a wider berth. I do not wonder at this, for think how much of the awe and terror of the tempest must vanish if the ears be closed! The ominous undertone of the waves on the beach and the muttering thunder pass harmless by him. How infinitely strange it must be to have the sight of danger, but not the sound! Fancy such a deprivation in war, for instance, where it is the sounds, after all, that haunt the memory the longest; the rifle's crack, the irregular shots of skirmishers, the long roll of alarm, the roar of great guns. This man would have missed them all. Were a broadside from an enemy's gunboat to be discharged above his head, he would not hear it; he would only recognize, by some jarring of his other senses, the fierce concussion of the air.
How much deeper seems his solitude than that of any other "lone fisher on the lonely sea"! Yet all such things are comparative; and while the others contrast that wave-tossed isolation with the cheeriness of home, his home is silent too. He has a wife and children; they all speak, but he hears not their prattle or their complaints. He summons them with his fingers, as he summons the fishes, and they are equally dumb to him. Has he a special sympathy with those submerged and voiceless things? Dunfish, in the old newspapers, were often called "dumb'd fish"; and they perchance come to him as to one of their kindred. They may have learned, like other innocent things, to accept this defect of utterance, and even imitate it. I knew a deaf-and-dumb woman whose children spoke and heard; but while yet too young for words, they had learned that their mother was not to be reached in that way; they never cried or complained before her, and when most excited would only whisper. Her baby ten months old, if disturbed in the night, would creep to her and touch her lips, to awaken her, but would make no noise.
One might fancy that all men who have an agonizing sorrow or a fearful secret would be drawn by irresistible attraction into the society of the deaf and dumb. What awful passions might not be whispered, what terror safely spoken, in the charmed circle round yonder silent boat,--a circle whose centre is a human life which has not all the susceptibilities of life, a confessional where even the priest cannot hear! Would it not relieve sorrow to express itself, even if unheeded? What more could one ask than a dumb confidant? and if deaf also, so much the safer. To be sure, he would give you neither absolution nor guidance; he could render nothing in return, save a look or a clasp of the hand; nor can the most gifted or eloquent friendship do much more. Ah! but suddenly the thought occurs, suppose that the defect of hearing, as of tongue, were liable to be loosed by an overmastering emotion, and that by startling him with your hoarded confidence you were to break the spell! The hint is too perilous; let us row away.
Source of this article：http://nyhps.medkent.com/news/959b998047.html
Copyright statement: The content of this article was voluntarily contributed by internet users, and the views expressed in this article only represent the author themselves. This website only provides information storage space services and does not hold any ownership or legal responsibility. If you find any suspected plagiarism, infringement, or illegal content on this website, please send an email to report it. Once verified, this website will be immediately deleted.