The feast opens with gentle slope rising above slope, clothed with close, moss-like grass of a brilliance such as only the Alps can produce, and strewn with a profusion of Bell-Gentian, known casually as Gentiana acavlis, but strictly as G. Kocldana or G. eoccisa, in all its varying shades, from rich French-blue to dark blue-purple; while, waving gently in the stirring air over this dazzling carpet of blue and green, are hosts of the large and lovely white Anemone (Anemone alpina), happy hunting-ground of 'the irreverent, buccaneering bee,' working already with all his proverbial busyness. Some butterflies, too, have made their appearance. For the most part, they are Tyndarus, Phyrrha, and Pasiphce, Alpine members of the family of 'Browns' - a family, as most collectors know, of special complexity and interest, in spite of its usually demure colouring.
Following the path as it winds up these wonderfully dressed slopes, and passing several drier mounds covered with the varying forms of that fascinating little 'everlasting' known popularly as Mountain Cudweed and botanically as Anten-naria dioica, we come to some hollows where snow is still sparsely lying. Here the ground is yet brown, but already it is sown with a wealth of the sky-blue Gentian (Gentiana verna), interspersed with many a curiously silky tuft of the purple Windflower (Anemone vernalis). Close at hand are broad patches of Soldanella (Soldanella alpina), associating with crowds of Crocus vernus and with many a specimen of Ranunculus pyrenceus, the dainty white Pyrenean Crowfoot of such fragile, fleeting flower; while, on some soft but stony ground near by, we have innumerable moss-like tufts of that little white, yellow-eyed gem, Andro-sace Chamcejasme.
Crocus And Soldanella At Les Plans, With The Mountains Of Savoy In The Background. April.
Wending our way slowly - for hurry were un seemly, if not impossible, amid such surroundings - we arrive at a stretch of flatter ground, marshy, and intersected by several shallow streamlets. Here is a wealth of Primula farinosa, its fresh, rosy hue enhanced by the dark purple-brown of Bartsia alpina, lavishly mingled with the bright blue stars of that tiniest of Gentians, Qentiana nivalis, while standing over this sea of pink and blue are regiments of the clear yellow Trollius europceus, or Globe-flower. Nestling on the spongy Sphagnum moss are colonies of Sundew (Drosera rotundifolid) and Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris), among which creeps the tiny, fragile Vaccinium oxycoccus, with small pink blossoms, whose petals, turned back, give it something of the appearance of a diminutive Cyclamen.
Continuing our way, the nature of the ground once more alters, and we come to steep and verdant sun-bathed slopes ascending to the cliffs and snows of the mighty peak above. And although the details of the scene may change, the seemingly unending panorama of varied colour continues. Here the many-flowered, apple-blossom-tinted heads of Anemone narcissiflora replace the large white flowers of Anemone alpina, and the carpet from which they are springing, though still retaining a profusion of Bell-Gentian, consists mainly of Viola calearata, varying in endless shades of violet, mauve, and purple-blue, and even, at rare intervals, going to pale lilac and to pure white. Here, too, on every hand, is the exquisite Alpine Forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris), of such heavenly blue as, surely, is never elsewhere seen than in the Alps; it is meeting in happiest communion with the paler blue of the graceful Flax (Linuia alpinum), and in happiest contrast with the golden blossoms of the Rock Rose (Helianthemum vulgare).
Now this, really, is but a rough sketch - a broad and casual impression - of the scene. Many another floral gem is here, lending its subtle beauty to the general effect. But we must be returning; time runs fleet in such a fairyland! We need not, however, retrace our steps. Let us bear to the left, along the base of these Viola-cropped slopes, and so gain yonder gully, which, if we follow it downwards, will bring us to our forest path. It will be somewhat of a scramble over the rocks and loose boulders, but we shall find plenty of fresh interest for our pains - plenty of lovely flowers with which we have not yet made acquaintance to-day.
How truly wonderful, how exquisite, it all is I To the right all purple and white, to the left all rose and gold, with blue of the heavens' own hue scattered everywhere! Although Nature 'never yields to sentiment any point of profit' - although Nature may, in herself, be devoid of every particle of sentiment - yet her effect is to produce in us abundant sentiment. After all, with humanity as with flowers, bewitching loveliness is the outcome of stern and practical necessity; and sentiment, really, there is not in the durable fabric of creation. But however that may be, here is a scene to dream amid, if ever there were one ! Here is occasion for 'that undisturbed silence of the heart which alone is perfect eloquence.' One feels with Hazlitt that these flowers are sweetest without comment; that one wants to see one's 'vague notions float like the down of the thistle before the breeze, and not to have them entangled in the briars and thorns of controversy.' Silence here, indeed, is golden. Surely here, if anywhere, the pettiness of men should evaporate, the character expand, and larger ideas take possession of the soul. 'Not to everyone,' writes Mr. John Galsworthy - 'not to everyone is it given to take a wide view of things, to look over the far, pale streams, the purple heather and moonlit pools of the wild marches, where reeds stand black against the sundown, and from long distance comes the cry of a curlew; not to everyone to gaze from steep cliffs over the wine-dark, shadowy sea, or from high mountain-side to see crowned chaos smoking with mist or gold-bright in the sun. To most it is given to watch assiduously a row of houses.' But surely here, in Nature's wildest and most orderly of lavish gardens, the 'row of houses' must vanish for the nonce while mind and soul drink of the 'largeness' of it all. Surely, too, when presently all but the memory of the scene is gone, one's 'row of houses,' erstwhile of the 'East End,' will be at least a row of pretty country villas fronted by smiling parterres.