THE Koreans are great students of Nature. Nothing seems to escape their attention as they plod through the fields or saunter for pleasure over the green hills. A naturally picturesque landscape is preserved in its freshness by the law that forbids the cutting of timber or fuel in any but prescribed localities. The necessity that compels the peasants to carefully rake together all the dried grass and underbrush for fuel, causes even the rugged mountain sides to present the appearance of a gentleman's well kept park, from which the landscape gardener has been wisely excluded.
Nature's beauty in Korea may be said to be enhanced rather than marred by the presence of man; since the bright tints of the ample costume worn by all lends a quaint charm to the view. The soil- begrimed white garments of the peasants at work in the fields are not especially attractive at short range; but the foot-traveller, clad in a gorgeous gown of light-colored muslin, adds a pleasant tench to the general effect, as he winds about the bills following one of the "short-cut" paths; while the flowing robes of brightly colored silk worn by the frequent parties of gentry who may be met, strolling for recreation, are a positive attraction. Nor are these groups uncommon. The climate during most of the year is so delightful; the gentry are so pre-eminently a people of leisure, and are so fond of sight-seeing, games, and music, that they may be continually met taking a stroll through the country.
As has been said, nothing out-of-doors seems to have escaped their attention. The flowers that carpet the earth from snow till snow have each been named and their seasons are known.
The mah-hah in-doors throws out its pretty sessile blossoms upon the leafless stem sometimes before the snows have left, as though summer were borne upon winter's bare arm with no leafy spring to herald her approach. Then the autumn snows and frosts often arrive before the great chrysanthemums have ceased their blooming, while, between the seasons of the two heralds, bloom myriads of pretty plants that should make up a veritable botanical paradise. Slimmer finds the whole hill-sides covered with the delicate fluffy bloom of the pink azaleas, summoning forth the bands of beauty seekers who have already admired the peach and the plum orchards. Great beds of nodding lilies of the valley usher in the harvest, and even the forest trees occasionally add their weight of blossoms to the general effect.
The coming and going of the birds is looked for, and the peculiarities and music of each are known. As a rule, they are named in accordance with the notes they utter; the pigeon is the pe-dul-key; the crow the kaw-mah-gue; the swallow the chap-pie, and so on. One bird - I think it is the oriole - is associated with a pretty legend to the effect that, once upon a time, one of the numerous ladies at court had a love affair with one of the palace officials - a Mr. Kim. It was discovered, and the poor thing lost her life. Her spirit could not be killed, however, and, unappeased, it entered this bird, in which form she returned to the palace and sang, "Kim-pul-lah-go," "Kim-pul, Kim-pul-lah-go," then, receiving no response, she would mournfully entreat - "Kim-poh-go-sip-so,"
"Kim-poh-go-sip-so." Now, in the language of Korea, "Kim-pul-lah-go" means "call Kim" or "tell Kim to come," and "Kim poh go sip so" means "I want to see Kim." So, even to this day, the women and children feel sad when they hear these plaintive notes, and unconsciously their hearts go out in pity for the poor lone lover who is ever searching in vain for her Kim.
Another bird of sadness is the cuckoo, and the women dislike to hear its homesick notes echoing across the valleys.
The pe chu kuh ruk is a bird that sings in the wild mountain places and warns people that robbers are near. When it comes to the hamlets and sings, the people know that the rice crop will be a failure, and that they will have to eat millet.
The crow is in great disfavor, as it eats dead dog, and brings the dread fever - Yim pyung.
The magpie - that impudent, noisy nuisance, - however, is in great favor, so much so that his great ugly nest is safe from human disturb-ance, and his presence is quite acceptable, especially in the morning. He seems to be the champion of the swallows that colonize the thick roofs and build their little mud houses underneath the tiles, for when one of the great lazy house-snakes comes out to sun himself after a meal of young swallows, the bereaved parents and friends at once fly off for the saucy magpie, who comes promptly and dashes at the snake's head amid the encouraging jabbering of the swallows. They usually succeed in driving the reptile under the tiles.
Should the magpie come to the house with his (excuse for a) song in the morning,good news may be expected during the day; father will return from a long journey; brother will succeed in his (civil-service) examination and obtain rank, or good news will be brought by post Should the magpie come in the afternoon with his jargon, a guest - not a friend - may be expected with an appetite equal to that of a family of children; while, if the magpie comes after dark, thieves may be dreaded.
This office of house-guard is also bestowed upon the domestic goose. Aside from its beauty, this bird is greatly esteemed for its daring in promptly Bounding an alarm, should any untimely visitor enter the court, as well as for its bravery in boldly pecking at and, in some cases, driving out the intruder.
The wild goose is one of the most highly prized birds in Korea. It always participates in the wedding ceremonies ; for no man would think himself properly married had he not been presented by his bride with a wild goose, even though the bird were simply hired for the occasion. The reason for this is that these observing people once noticed that a goose, whose mate was killed, returned to the place year after year to mourn her loss; and such constancy seek, by this pretty custom, to commend to their wives. They further pledge each other at this time in these words: "Black is the hair that now crowns our heads, yet when it has become as white as the fibres of the onion root, we shall still be found faithful to each other."