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A Busy Year at the Old Squire's by C. A. Stephens

The broom is not a plant parasite


We

knew what he meant now, but we had never heard those singular growths called "witches' brooms" before. Unlike mistletoe, the broom is not a plant parasite, but a growth from the fir itself, like an oak gall, or a gnarl on a maple or a yellow birch; but instead of being a solid growth on the tree trunk, it is a dense, abnormal growth of little twigs on a small bough of the fir, generally high up in the top.

The next day we went out along the borders of the farm wood lot and cut the seven firs; then, thinking that there might be a sale for others, we got enough more to make up a load for our trip to Portland.

While we were thus employed, Theodora and Ellen gathered the "lion's-paw," on the knolls by the border of the pasture woods; and in the afternoon we cut an immense bundle of holly along the wall by the upper field.

Holly is a word of many meanings; but in Maine what is called holly is the winterberry, a deciduous shrub that botanists rank as a species of alder. The vivid red berries are very beautiful, and resemble coral.

All the while we had been on the lookout for witches' brooms. In the swamp beyond the brook we found six, only two of which were perfect enough to use as decorations; at first we were a little doubtful of being able to fill this part of the order. There was one place, however, where we knew they could be found, and that

was in the great fir swamp along Lurvey's Stream, on the way up to the hay meadows. Addison mentioned it at the supper table that evening; but the distance was fully thirteen miles; and at first we thought it hardly worth while to go so far for a dozen witches' brooms, for which the Sunday school would probably be unwilling to pay more than fifty cents apiece.

"And yet," Addison remarked, "if this Sunday school wants a dozen, other schools may want some after they see them. What if we go up and get seventy-five or a hundred, and take them along with the rest of our load? They may sell pretty well. Listen: 'Witches' brooms for your Christmas tree! Very sylvan! Very odd! Something new and unique! Only fifty cents apiece! Buy a broom! Buy a witches' broom!'"

The girls laughed. "What a peddler you would make, Ad!" Ellen cried; and we began to think that the venture might be worth trying.

It snowed hard that night, and instead of going up the stream on the ice with two hand sleds, as we had at first planned, Addison and I set a hayrack on two traverse sleds, and with two of the work-horses drove up the winter road. Axes and ropes were taken, feed for the team, and food enough for two days.

The sun had come out bright and warm; there was enough snow to make the sleds run easily, and we got on well until past three in the afternoon, when we were made aware of a very unusual change of temperature, for Maine in December. It grew warm rapidly; clouds overspread the sky; a thunderpeal rumbled suddenly. Within ten minutes a thundershower was falling, and almost as if by magic, all that snow melted away. We were left with our rack and traverse sleds, scraping and bumping over logs and stones. Never before or since have I seen six inches of snow go out of sight so suddenly. When we started, the earth was white on every hand, and the firs and spruces were like huge white umbrellas. In a single hour earth and forest were black again.


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