"I am getting very tired," said a hard brain-worker to me once. "Life is beginning to drag and lose its zest." This is an experience that can scarcely happen to one who has fallen in love with Nature, or become deeply interested in any of her almost infinite manifestations. Mr. and Mrs. Clifford of my story are not wholly the creations of fancy. The aged man sketched in the following pages was as truly interested in his garden and fruit-trees after he had passed his fourscore years as any enthusiastic horticulturist in his prime, and the invalid, whose memory dwells in my heart, found a solace in flowers which no words of mine have exaggerated. If this book tends to bring others into sympathy with Nature, one of its chief missions will be fulfilled.

A love for the soil and all the pursuits of outdoor life is one of the most healthful signs in a people. Our broad and diversified land affords abundant opportunity for the gratification of every rural taste, and those who form such tastes will never complain that life is losing its zest. Other pleasures pall with time and are satiated. We outgrow them. But every spring is a new revelation, every summer a fresh, original chapter of experience, and every autumn a fruition of hopes as well as of seeds and buds. Nothing can conduce more to happiness and prosperity than multitudes of rural homes. In such abodes you will not find Socialists, Nihilists, and other hare-brained reformers who seek to improve the world by ignoring nature and common-sense. Possession of the soil makes a man conservative, while he, at the same time, is conserved.

The culture of the land is no longer plodding, ox-like drudgery, nor is the farm a place of humdrum, brainless routine. Science offers her aid on every hand, and beauty, in numberless forms, is ever present to those who have eyes and hearts capable of recognizing it. The farmer has a literature of his own, which every year is growing in proportions and value. He also has time for the best literature of the world. It is his own fault if he remains akin to the clod he turns. Is it not more manly to co-work with Nature for a livelihood than to eke out a pallid, pitiful existence behind a counter, usurping some woman's place?

Nature is a good mother, after all, in our latitude. She does not coddle and over-indulge her children, but rewards their love abundantly, invigorates them if they dwell in her presence, and develops mind and muscle, heart and soul, if they obey her laws and seek to know her well. Although infinitely rich, she has not the short-sighted folly of those parents who seek to place everything in the hand of a child without cost. On the contrary, she says, "See what you may win, what you may attain." Every crop is a prize to knowledge, skill, industry. Every flower is a beautiful mystery which may be solved in part; every tree is stored sunshine for the hearth, shelter from the storm, a thing of beauty while it lives, and of varied use when its life is taken. In animals, birds, insects, and vegetation we are surrounded by diversified life, and our life grows richer, more healthful and complete, as we enter into their life and comprehend it. The clouds above us are not mere reservoirs of water for prosaic use. In their light, shade, and exquisite coloring they are ever a reproach to the blindness of coarse and earthy minds.

The love of Nature is something that may be developed in every heart, and it is a love that rarely fails to purify and exalt. To many she is a cold, indifferent beauty. They see, but do not know and appreciate her, and she passes on her way as if they were nothing to her. But when wooed patiently and lovingly, she stops to smile, caress, and entertain with exhaustless diversion.

In this simple home story I have talked, perhaps, like a garrulous lover who must speak of his mistress, even though his words weary others. I console myself, however, with the thought that my text has proved the prosaic root and stem which have given being to the exquisite flowers of art that adorn these pages. In Mr. Gibson and Mr. Dielman I have had ideal associates in the work. They have poured light on a landscape that would otherwise be dull and gray.

My characters may seem shadows to others, but they have become real, or were real, to me. I meet them still in walks and drives where in fancy I had placed them before. I would not have to go very far to find types of the children introduced, but the lovers, and the majority of the others, began as shadows in the background of imagination, and took form and substance with time. Dr. Marvin, however, is a reality and a most valued friend, who has assisted me greatly in my work. Any one who has the good-fortune to meet Dr. E. A. Mearns, surgeon in the regular army, can scarcely fail to recognize in him the genial sportsman for whom the birds were "always in season." There are others to whom I am indebted, like John Burroughs, Thoreau, Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway, true lovers and interpreters of Nature. Those living stand near her queenly presence; those who have passed on are doubtless nearer still.