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Title: In the Wilderness
Author: Warner, Charles Dudley
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Charles Dudley Warner




So many conflicting accounts have appeared about my casual encounter
with an Adirondack bear last summer that in justice to the public, to
myself, and to the bear, it is necessary to make a plain statement of
the facts. Besides, it is so seldom I have occasion to kill a bear, that
the celebration of the exploit may be excused.

The encounter was unpremeditated on both sides. I was not hunting for
a bear, and I have no reason to suppose that a bear was looking for me.
The fact is, that we were both out blackberrying, and met by chance, the
usual way. There is among the Adirondack visitors always a great deal of
conversation about bears,--a general expression of the wish to see one
in the woods, and much speculation as to how a person would act if he or
she chanced to meet one. But bears are scarce and timid, and appear only
to a favored few.

It was a warm day in August, just the sort of day when an adventure of
any kind seemed impossible. But it occurred to the housekeepers at our
cottage--there were four of them--to send me to the clearing, on the
mountain back of the house, to pick blackberries. It was rather a series
of small clearings, running up into the forest, much overgrown with
bushes and briers, and not unromantic. Cows pastured there, penetrating
through the leafy passages from one opening to another, and browsing
among the bushes. I was kindly furnished with a six-quart pail, and told
not to be gone long.

Not from any predatory instinct, but to save appearances, I took a
gun. It adds to the manly aspect of a person with a tin pail if he also
carries a gun. It was possible I might start up a partridge; though how
I was to hit him, if he started up instead of standing still, puzzled
me. Many people use a shotgun for partridges. I prefer the rifle: it
makes a clean job of death, and does not prematurely stuff the bird with
globules of lead. The rifle was a Sharps, carrying a ball cartridge (ten
to the pound),--an excellent weapon belonging to a friend of mine, who
had intended, for a good many years back, to kill a deer with it. He
could hit a tree with it--if the wind did not blow, and the atmosphere
was just right, and the tree was not too far off--nearly every time. Of
course, the tree must have some size. Needless to say that I was at that
time no sportsman. Years ago I killed a robin under the most humiliating
circumstances. The bird was in a low cherry-tree. I loaded a big shotgun
pretty full, crept up under the tree, rested the gun on the fence, with
the muzzle more than ten feet from the bird, shut both eyes, and pulled
the trigger. When I got up to see what had happened, the robin was
scattered about under the tree in more than a thousand pieces, no one
of which was big enough to enable a naturalist to decide from it to what
species it belonged. This disgusted me with the life of a sportsman. I
mention the incident to show that, although I went blackberrying armed,
there was not much inequality between me and the bear.

In this blackberry-patch bears had been seen. The summer before, our
colored cook, accompanied by a little girl of the vicinage, was picking
berries there one day, when a bear came out of the woods, and walked
towards them. The girl took to her heels, and escaped. Aunt Chloe was
paralyzed with terror. Instead of attempting to run, she sat down on
the ground where she was standing, and began to weep and scream,
giving herself up for lost. The bear was bewildered by this conduct.
He approached and looked at her; he walked around and surveyed her.
Probably he had never seen a colored person before, and did not know
whether she would agree with him: at any rate, after watching her a few
moments, he turned about, and went into the forest. This is an authentic
instance of the delicate consideration of a bear, and is much more
remarkable than the forbearance towards the African slave of the
well-known lion, because the bear had no thorn in his foot.

When I had climbed the hill,--I set up my rifle against a tree, and
began picking berries, lured on from bush to bush by the black gleam of
fruit (that always promises more in the distance than it realizes when
you reach it); penetrating farther and farther, through leaf-shaded
cow-paths flecked with sunlight, into clearing after clearing. I could
hear on all sides the tinkle of bells, the cracking of sticks, and
the stamping of cattle that were taking refuge in the thicket from the
flies. Occasionally, as I broke through a covert, I encountered a meek
cow, who stared at me stupidly for a second, and then shambled off into
the brush. I became accustomed to this dumb society, and picked on in
silence, attributing all the wood noises to the cattle, thinking nothing
of any real bear. In point of fact, however, I was thinking all the time
of a nice romantic bear, and as I picked, was composing a story about a
generous she-bear who had lost her cub, and who seized a small girl in
this very wood, carried her tenderly off to a cave, and brought her
up on bear’s milk and honey. When the girl got big enough to run away,
moved by her inherited instincts, she escaped, and came into the valley
to her father’s house (this part of the story was to be worked out, so
that the child would know her father by some family resemblance, and
have some language in which to address him), and told him where the bear
lived. The father took his gun, and, guided by the unfeeling daughter,
went into the woods and shot the bear, who never made any resistance,
and only, when dying, turned reproachful eyes upon her murderer. The
moral of the tale was to be kindness to animals.

I was in the midst of this tale when I happened to look some rods away
to the other edge of the clearing, and there was a bear! He was
standing on his hind legs, and doing just what I was doing,--picking
blackberries. With one paw he bent down the bush, while with the other
he clawed the berries into his mouth,--green ones and all. To say that
I was astonished is inside the mark. I suddenly discovered that I didn’t
want to see a bear, after all. At about the same moment the bear saw me,
stopped eating berries, and regarded me with a glad surprise. It is
all very well to imagine what you would do under such circumstances.
Probably you wouldn’t do it: I didn’t. The bear dropped down on his
forefeet, and came slowly towards me. Climbing a tree was of no use,
with so good a climber in the rear. If I started to run, I had no doubt
the bear would give chase; and although a bear cannot run down hill
as fast as he can run up hill, yet I felt that he could get over this
rough, brush-tangled ground faster than I could.

The bear was approaching. It suddenly occurred to me how I could divert
his mind until I could fall back upon my military base. My pail was
nearly full of excellent berries, much better than the bear could pick
himself. I put the pail on the ground, and slowly backed away from it,
keeping my eye, as beast-tamers do, on the bear. The ruse succeeded.

The bear came up to the berries, and stopped. Not accustomed to eat out
of a pail, he tipped it over, and nosed about in the fruit, “gorming”
 (if there is such a word) it down, mixed with leaves and dirt, like a
pig. The bear is a worse feeder than the pig. Whenever he disturbs a
maple-sugar camp in the spring, he always upsets the buckets of syrup,
and tramples round in the sticky sweets, wasting more than he eats. The
bear’s manners are thoroughly disagreeable.

As soon as my enemy’s head was down, I started and ran. Somewhat out of
breath, and shaky, I reached my faithful rifle. It was not a moment too
soon. I heard the bear crashing through the brush after me. Enraged at
my duplicity, he was now coming on with blood in his eye. I felt that
the time of one of us was probably short. The rapidity of thought at
such moments of peril is well known. I thought an octavo volume, had
it illustrated and published, sold fifty thousand copies, and went to
Europe on the proceeds, while that bear was loping across the clearing.
As I was cocking the gun, I made a hasty and unsatisfactory review of
my whole life. I noted, that, even in such a compulsory review, it is
almost impossible to think of any good thing you have done. The sins
come out uncommonly strong. I recollected a newspaper subscription I had
delayed paying years and years ago, until both editor and newspaper were
dead, and which now never could be paid to all eternity.

The bear was coming on.

I tried to remember what I had read about encounters with bears. I
couldn’t recall an instance in which a man had run away from a bear in
the woods and escaped, although I recalled plenty where the bear had run
from the man and got off. I tried to think what is the best way to kill
a bear with a gun, when you are not near enough to club him with the
stock. My first thought was to fire at his head; to plant the ball
between his eyes: but this is a dangerous experiment. The bear’s brain
is very small; and, unless you hit that, the bear does not mind a bullet
in his head; that is, not at the time. I remembered that the instant
death of the bear would follow a bullet planted just back of his
fore-leg, and sent into his heart. This spot is also difficult to reach,
unless the bear stands off, side towards you, like a target. I finally
determined to fire at him generally.

The bear was coming on.

The contest seemed to me very different from anything at Creedmoor. I
had carefully read the reports of the shooting there; but it was not
easy to apply the experience I had thus acquired. I hesitated whether I
had better fire lying on my stomach or lying on my back, and resting the
gun on my toes. But in neither position, I reflected, could I see
the bear until he was upon me. The range was too short; and the bear
wouldn’t wait for me to examine the thermometer, and note the direction
of the wind. Trial of the Creedmoor method, therefore, had to be
abandoned; and I bitterly regretted that I had not read more accounts of
offhand shooting.

For the bear was coming on.

I tried to fix my last thoughts upon my family. As my family is small,
this was not difficult. Dread of displeasing my wife, or hurting her
feelings, was uppermost in my mind. What would be her anxiety as hour
after hour passed on, and I did not return! What would the rest of the
household think as the afternoon passed, and no blackberries came! What
would be my wife’s mortification when the news was brought that her
husband had been eaten by a bear! I cannot imagine anything more
ignominious than to have a husband eaten by a bear. And this was not
my only anxiety. The mind at such times is not under control. With the
gravest fears the most whimsical ideas will occur. I looked beyond the
mourning friends, and thought what kind of an epitaph they would be
compelled to put upon the stone.

Something like this:


         ----- -------

         EATEN BY A BEAR
         Aug. 20, 1877

It is a very unheroic and even disagreeable epitaph. That “eaten by
a bear” is intolerable. It is grotesque. And then I thought what an
inadequate language the English is for compact expression. It would not
answer to put upon the stone simply “eaten”; for that is indefinite, and
requires explanation: it might mean eaten by a cannibal. This difficulty
could not occur in the German, where essen signifies the act of feeding
by a man, and fressen by a beast. How simple the thing would be in

          HIER LIEGT
        HERR ---- ------

        Aug. 20, 1877

That explains itself. The well-born one was eaten by a beast, and
presumably by a bear,--an animal that has a bad reputation since the
days of Elisha.

The bear was coming on; he had, in fact, come on. I judged that he could
see the whites of my eyes. All my subsequent reflections were confused.
I raised the gun, covered the bear’s breast with the sight, and let
drive. Then I turned, and ran like a deer. I did not hear the bear
pursuing. I looked back. The bear had stopped. He was lying down. I then
remembered that the best thing to do after having fired your gun is to
reload it. I slipped in a charge, keeping my eyes on the bear. He never
stirred. I walked back suspiciously. There was a quiver in the hindlegs,
but no other motion. Still, he might be shamming: bears often sham. To
make sure, I approached, and put a ball into his head. He didn’t mind
it now: he minded nothing. Death had come to him with a merciful
suddenness. He was calm in death. In order that he might remain so, I
blew his brains out, and then started for home. I had killed a bear!

Notwithstanding my excitement, I managed to saunter into the house with
an unconcerned air. There was a chorus of voices:

“Where are your blackberries?” “Why were you gone so long?” “Where’s
your pail?”

“I left the pail.”

“Left the pail? What for?”

“A bear wanted it.”

“Oh, nonsense!”

“Well, the last I saw of it, a bear had it.”

“Oh, come! You didn’t really see a bear?”

“Yes, but I did really see a real bear.”

“Did he run?”

“Yes: he ran after me.”

“I don’t believe a word of it. What did you do?”

“Oh! nothing particular--except kill the bear.”

Cries of “Gammon!” “Don’t believe it!” “Where’s the bear?”

“If you want to see the bear, you must go up into the woods. I couldn’t
bring him down alone.”

Having satisfied the household that something extraordinary had
occurred, and excited the posthumous fear of some of them for my own
safety, I went down into the valley to get help. The great bear-hunter,
who keeps one of the summer boarding-houses, received my story with
a smile of incredulity; and the incredulity spread to the other
inhabitants and to the boarders as soon as the story was known. However,
as I insisted in all soberness, and offered to lead them to the bear, a
party of forty or fifty people at last started off with me to bring the
bear in. Nobody believed there was any bear in the case; but everybody
who could get a gun carried one; and we went into the woods armed with
guns, pistols, pitchforks, and sticks, against all contingencies or
surprises,--a crowd made up mostly of scoffers and jeerers.

But when I led the way to the fatal spot, and pointed out the bear,
lying peacefully wrapped in his own skin, something like terror seized
the boarders, and genuine excitement the natives. It was a no-mistake
bear, by George! and the hero of the fight well, I will not insist upon
that. But what a procession that was, carrying the bear home! and what
a congregation, was speedily gathered in the valley to see the bear! Our
best preacher up there never drew anything like it on Sunday.

And I must say that my particular friends, who were sportsmen, behaved
very well, on the whole. They didn’t deny that it was a bear, although
they said it was small for a bear. Mr... Deane, who is equally good with
a rifle and a rod, admitted that it was a very fair shot. He is probably
the best salmon fisher in the United States, and he is an equally good
hunter. I suppose there is no person in America who is more desirous to
kill a moose than he. But he needlessly remarked, after he had examined
the wound in the bear, that he had seen that kind of a shot made by a
cow’s horn.

This sort of talk affected me not. When I went to sleep that night, my
last delicious thought was, “I’ve killed a bear!”


It ought to be said, by way of explanation, that my being lost in the
woods was not premeditated. Nothing could have been more informal.
This apology can be necessary only to those who are familiar with the
Adirondack literature. Any person not familiar with it would see the
absurdity of one going to the Northern Wilderness with the deliberate
purpose of writing about himself as a lost man. It may be true that a
book about this wild tract would not be recognized as complete without
a lost-man story in it, since it is almost as easy for a stranger to
get lost in the Adirondacks as in Boston. I merely desire to say that my
unimportant adventure is not narrated in answer to the popular demand,
and I do not wish to be held responsible for its variation from the
typical character of such experiences.

We had been in camp a week, on the Upper Au Sable Lake. This is a
gem--emerald or turquoise as the light changes it--set in the virgin
forest. It is not a large body of water, is irregular in form, and about
a mile and a half in length; but in the sweep of its wooded shores, and
the lovely contour of the lofty mountains that guard it, the lake
is probably the most charming in America. Why the young ladies and
gentlemen who camp there occasionally vex the days and nights with
hooting, and singing sentimental songs, is a mystery even to the
laughing loon.

I left my companions there one Saturday morning, to return to Keene
Valley, intending to fish down the Au Sable River. The Upper Lake
discharges itself into the Lower by a brook which winds through a mile
and a half of swamp and woods. Out of the north end of the Lower
Lake, which is a huge sink in the mountains, and mirrors the savage
precipices, the Au Sable breaks its rocky barriers, and flows through a
wild gorge, several miles, to the valley below. Between the Lower Lake
and the settlements is an extensive forest, traversed by a cart-path,
admirably constructed of loose stones, roots of trees, decayed logs,
slippery rocks, and mud. The gorge of the river forms its western
boundary. I followed this caricature of a road a mile or more; then
gave my luggage to the guide to carry home, and struck off through the
forest, by compass, to the river. I promised myself an exciting scramble
down this little-frequented canyon, and a creel full of trout. There was
no difficulty in finding the river, or in descending the steep precipice
to its bed: getting into a scrape is usually the easiest part of it. The
river is strewn with bowlders, big and little, through which the amber
water rushes with an unceasing thunderous roar, now plunging down in
white falls, then swirling round in dark pools. The day, already past
meridian, was delightful; at least, the blue strip of it I could see

Better pools and rapids for trout never were, I thought, as I concealed
myself behind a bowlder, and made the first cast. There is nothing like
the thrill of expectation over the first throw in unfamiliar waters.
Fishing is like gambling, in that failure only excites hope of a
fortunate throw next time. There was no rise to the “leader” on the
first cast, nor on the twenty-first; and I cautiously worked my way down
stream, throwing right and left. When I had gone half a mile, my opinion
of the character of the pools was unchanged: never were there such
places for trout; but the trout were out of their places. Perhaps they
didn’t care for the fly: some trout seem to be so unsophisticated as
to prefer the worm. I replaced the fly with a baited hook: the worm
squirmed; the waters rushed and roared; a cloud sailed across the
blue: no trout rose to the lonesome opportunity. There is a certain
companionship in the presence of trout, especially when you can feel
them flopping in your fish basket; but it became evident that there were
no trout in this wilderness, and a sense of isolation for the first time
came over me. There was no living thing near. The river had by this time
entered a deeper gorge; walls of rocks rose perpendicularly on either
side,--picturesque rocks, painted many colors by the oxide of iron. It
was not possible to climb out of the gorge; it was impossible to find a
way by the side of the river; and getting down the bed, over the falls,
and through the flumes, was not easy, and consumed time.

Was that thunder? Very likely. But thunder showers are always brewing
in these mountain fortresses, and it did not occur to me that there was
anything personal in it. Very soon, however, the hole in the sky closed
in, and the rain dashed down. It seemed a providential time to eat my
luncheon; and I took shelter under a scraggy pine that had rooted itself
in the edge of the rocky slope. The shower soon passed, and I continued
my journey, creeping over the slippery rocks, and continuing to show
my confidence in the unresponsive trout. The way grew wilder and more
grewsome. The thunder began again, rolling along over the tops of the
mountains, and reverberating in sharp concussions in the gorge: the
lightning also darted down into the darkening passage, and then the
rain. Every enlightened being, even if he is in a fisherman’s dress of
shirt and pantaloons, hates to get wet; and I ignominiously crept under
the edge of a sloping bowlder. It was all very well at first, until
streams of water began to crawl along the face of the rock, and
trickle down the back of my neck. This was refined misery, unheroic and
humiliating, as suffering always is when unaccompanied by resignation.

A longer time than I knew was consumed in this and repeated efforts
to wait for the slackening and renewing storm to pass away. In the
intervals of calm I still fished, and even descended to what a sportsman
considers incredible baseness: I put a “sinker” on my line. It is the
practice of the country folk, whose only object is to get fish, to use
a good deal of bait, sink the hook to the bottom of the pools, and wait
the slow appetite of the summer trout. I tried this also. I might as
well have fished in a pork barrel. It is true that in one deep, black,
round pool I lured a small trout from the bottom, and deposited him
in the creel; but it was an accident. Though I sat there in the awful
silence (the roar of water and thunder only emphasized the stillness)
full half an hour, I was not encouraged by another nibble. Hope,
however, did not die: I always expected to find the trout in the next
flume; and so I toiled slowly on, unconscious of the passing time. At
each turn of the stream I expected to see the end, and at each turn I
saw a long, narrow stretch of rocks and foaming water. Climbing out of
the ravine was, in most places, simply impossible; and I began to look
with interest for a slide, where bushes rooted in the scant earth would
enable me to scale the precipice. I did not doubt that I was nearly
through the gorge. I could at length see the huge form of the Giant of
the Valley, scarred with avalanches, at the end of the vista; and it
seemed not far off. But it kept its distance, as only a mountain can,
while I stumbled and slid down the rocky way. The rain had now set in
with persistence, and suddenly I became aware that it was growing dark;
and I said to myself, “If you don’t wish to spend the night in this
horrible chasm, you’d better escape speedily.” Fortunately I reached
a place where the face of the precipice was bushgrown, and with
considerable labor scrambled up it.

Having no doubt that I was within half a mile, perhaps within a few
rods, of the house above the entrance of the gorge, and that, in any
event, I should fall into the cart-path in a few minutes, I struck
boldly into the forest, congratulating myself on having escaped out of
the river. So sure was I of my whereabouts that I did not note the bend
of the river, nor look at my compass. The one trout in my basket was no
burden, and I stepped lightly out.

The forest was of hard-wood, and open, except for a thick undergrowth of
moose-bush. It was raining,--in fact, it had been raining, more or
less, for a month,--and the woods were soaked. This moose-bush is most
annoying stuff to travel through in a rain; for the broad leaves slap
one in the face, and sop him with wet. The way grew every moment
more dingy. The heavy clouds above the thick foliage brought night on
prematurely. It was decidedly premature to a near-sighted man, whose
glasses the rain rendered useless: such a person ought to be at home
early. On leaving the river bank I had borne to the left, so as to be
sure to strike either the clearing or the road, and not wander off into
the measureless forest. I confidently pursued this course, and went
gayly on by the left flank. That I did not come to any opening or path
only showed that I had slightly mistaken the distance: I was going in
the right direction.

I was so certain of this that I quickened my pace and got up with
alacrity every time I tumbled down amid the slippery leaves and catching
roots, and hurried on. And I kept to the left. It even occurred to me
that I was turning to the left so much that I might come back to the
river again. It grew more dusky, and rained more violently; but there
was nothing alarming in the situation, since I knew exactly where I was.
It was a little mortifying that I had miscalculated the distance: yet,
so far was I from feeling any uneasiness about this that I quickened my
pace again, and, before I knew it, was in a full run; that is, as full
a run as a person can indulge in in the dusk, with so many trees in
the way. No nervousness, but simply a reasonable desire to get there. I
desired to look upon myself as the person “not lost, but gone before.”
 As time passed, and darkness fell, and no clearing or road appeared, I
ran a little faster. It didn’t seem possible that the people had moved,
or the road been changed; and yet I was sure of my direction. I went
on with an energy increased by the ridiculousness of the situation,
the danger that an experienced woodsman was in of getting home late
for supper; the lateness of the meal being nothing to the gibes of the
unlost. How long I kept this course, and how far I went on, I do not
know; but suddenly I stumbled against an ill-placed tree, and sat down
on the soaked ground, a trifle out of breath. It then occurred to me
that I had better verify my course by the compass. There was scarcely
light enough to distinguish the black end of the needle. To my
amazement, the compass, which was made near Greenwich, was wrong.
Allowing for the natural variation of the needle, it was absurdly wrong.
It made out that I was going south when I was going north. It intimated
that, instead of turning to the left, I had been making a circuit to the
right. According to the compass, the Lord only knew where I was.

The inclination of persons in the woods to travel in a circle is
unexplained. I suppose it arises from the sympathy of the legs with the
brain. Most people reason in a circle: their minds go round and round,
always in the same track. For the last half hour I had been saying over
a sentence that started itself: “I wonder where that road is!” I had
said it over till it had lost all meaning. I kept going round on it; and
yet I could not believe that my body had been traveling in a circle.
Not being able to recognize any tracks, I have no evidence that I had so
traveled, except the general testimony of lost men.

The compass annoyed me. I’ve known experienced guides utterly discredit
it. It couldn’t be that I was to turn about, and go the way I had come.
Nevertheless, I said to myself, “You’d better keep a cool head, my
boy, or you are in for a night of it. Better listen to science than
to spunk.” And I resolved to heed the impartial needle. I was a little
weary of the rough tramping: but it was necessary to be moving; for,
with wet clothes and the night air, I was decidedly chilly. I turned
towards the north, and slipped and stumbled along. A more uninviting
forest to pass the night in I never saw. Every-thing was soaked. If
I became exhausted, it would be necessary to build a fire; and, as I
walked on, I couldn’t find a dry bit of wood. Even if a little punk were
discovered in a rotten log I had no hatchet to cut fuel. I thought it
all over calmly. I had the usual three matches in my pocket. I knew
exactly what would happen if I tried to build a fire. The first match
would prove to be wet. The second match, when struck, would shine and
smell, and fizz a little, and then go out. There would be only one match
left. Death would ensue if it failed. I should get close to the log,
crawl under my hat, strike the match, see it catch, flicker, almost
go out (the reader painfully excited by this time), blaze up, nearly
expire, and finally fire the punk,--thank God! And I said to myself,
“The public don’t want any more of this thing: it is played out. Either
have a box of matches, or let the first one catch fire.”

In this gloomy mood I plunged along. The prospect was cheerless; for,
apart from the comfort that a fire would give, it is necessary, at
night, to keep off the wild beasts. I fancied I could hear the tread of
the stealthy brutes following their prey. But there was one source of
profound satisfaction,--the catamount had been killed. Mr. Colvin,
the triangulating surveyor of the Adirondacks, killed him in his
last official report to the State. Whether he despatched him with a
theodolite or a barometer does not matter: he is officially dead, and
none of the travelers can kill him any more. Yet he has served them a
good turn.

I knew that catamount well. One night when we lay in the bogs of the
South Beaver Meadow, under a canopy of mosquitoes, the serene midnight
was parted by a wild and humanlike cry from a neighboring mountain.
“That’s a cat,” said the guide. I felt in a moment that it was the voice
of “modern cultchah.” “Modern culture,” says Mr. Joseph Cook in a most
impressive period,--“modern culture is a child crying in the wilderness,
and with no voice but a cry.” That describes the catamount exactly. The
next day, when we ascended the mountain, we came upon the traces of this
brute,--a spot where he had stood and cried in the night; and I confess
that my hair rose with the consciousness of his recent presence, as it
is said to do when a spirit passes by.

Whatever consolation the absence of catamount in a dark, drenched, and
howling wilderness can impart, that I experienced; but I thought what
a satire upon my present condition was modern culture, with its plain
thinking and high living! It was impossible to get much satisfaction
out of the real and the ideal,--the me and the not-me. At this time
what impressed me most was the absurdity of my position looked at in the
light of modern civilization and all my advantages and acquirements. It
seemed pitiful that society could do absolutely nothing for me. It
was, in fact, humiliating to reflect that it would now be profitable
to exchange all my possessions for the woods instinct of the most
unlettered guide. I began to doubt the value of the “culture” that
blunts the natural instincts.

It began to be a question whether I could hold out to walk all night;
for I must travel, or perish. And now I imagined that a spectre was
walking by my side. This was Famine. To be sure, I had only recently
eaten a hearty luncheon: but the pangs of hunger got hold on me when
I thought that I should have no supper, no breakfast; and, as the
procession of unattainable meals stretched before me, I grew hungrier
and hungrier. I could feel that I was becoming gaunt, and wasting away:
already I seemed to be emaciated. It is astonishing how speedily a
jocund, well-conditioned human being can be transformed into a spectacle
of poverty and want, Lose a man in the Woods, drench him, tear his
pantaloons, get his imagination running on his lost supper and the
cheerful fireside that is expecting him, and he will become haggard
in an hour. I am not dwelling upon these things to excite the reader’s
sympathy, but only to advise him, if he contemplates an adventure of
this kind, to provide himself with matches, kindling wood, something
more to eat than one raw trout, and not to select a rainy night for it.

Nature is so pitiless, so unresponsive, to a person in trouble! I had
read of the soothing companionship of the forest, the pleasure of
the pathless woods. But I thought, as I stumbled along in the dismal
actuality, that, if I ever got out of it, I would write a letter to
the newspapers, exposing the whole thing. There is an impassive, stolid
brutality about the woods that has never been enough insisted on.
I tried to keep my mind fixed upon the fact of man’s superiority to
Nature; his ability to dominate and outwit her. My situation was an
amusing satire on this theory. I fancied that I could feel a sneer in
the woods at my detected conceit. There was something personal in
it. The downpour of the rain and the slipperiness of the ground were
elements of discomfort; but there was, besides these, a kind of terror
in the very character of the forest itself. I think this arose not
more from its immensity than from the kind of stolidity to which I have
alluded. It seemed to me that it would be a sort of relief to kick the
trees. I don’t wonder that the bears fall to, occasionally, and scratch
the bark off the great pines and maples, tearing it angrily away. One
must have some vent to his feelings. It is a common experience of people
lost in the woods to lose their heads; and even the woodsmen themselves
are not free from this panic when some accident has thrown them out of
their reckoning. Fright unsettles the judgment: the oppressive silence
of the woods is a vacuum in which the mind goes astray. It’s a hollow
sham, this pantheism, I said; being “one with Nature” is all humbug: I
should like to see somebody. Man, to be sure, is of very little account,
and soon gets beyond his depth; but the society of the least human being
is better than this gigantic indifference. The “rapture on the lonely
shore” is agreeable only when you know you can at any moment go home.

I had now given up all expectation of finding the road, and was steering
my way as well as I could northward towards the valley. In my haste I
made slow progress. Probably the distance I traveled was short, and the
time consumed not long; but I seemed to be adding mile to mile, and hour
to hour. I had time to review the incidents of the Russo-Turkish war,
and to forecast the entire Eastern question; I outlined the characters
of all my companions left in camp, and sketched in a sort of comedy
the sympathetic and disparaging observations they would make on
my adventure; I repeated something like a thousand times, without
contradiction, “What a fool you were to leave the river!” I stopped
twenty times, thinking I heard its loud roar, always deceived by the
wind in the tree-tops; I began to entertain serious doubts about the
compass,--when suddenly I became aware that I was no longer on level
ground: I was descending a slope; I was actually in a ravine. In a
moment more I was in a brook newly formed by the rain. “Thank Heaven!”
 I cried: “this I shall follow, whatever conscience or the compass says.”
 In this region, all streams go, sooner or later, into the valley. This
ravine, this stream, no doubt, led to the river. I splashed and tumbled
along down it in mud and water. Down hill we went together, the fall
showing that I must have wandered to high ground. When I guessed that I
must be close to the river, I suddenly stepped into mud up to my ankles.
It was the road,--running, of course, the wrong way, but still the
blessed road. It was a mere canal of liquid mud; but man had made it,
and it would take me home. I was at least three miles from the point I
supposed I was near at sunset, and I had before me a toilsome walk of
six or seven miles, most of the way in a ditch; but it is truth to say
that I enjoyed every step of it. I was safe; I knew where I was; and I
could have walked till morning. The mind had again got the upper hand
of the body, and began to plume itself on its superiority: it was even
disposed to doubt whether it had been “lost” at all.


Trout fishing in the Adirondacks would be a more attractive pastime than
it is but for the popular notion of its danger. The trout is a retiring
and harmless animal, except when he is aroused and forced into a combat;
and then his agility, fierceness, and vindictiveness become apparent. No
one who has studied the excellent pictures representing men in an open
boat, exposed to the assaults of long, enraged trout flying at them
through the open air with open mouth, ever ventures with his rod upon
the lonely lakes of the forest without a certain terror, or ever reads
of the exploits of daring fishermen without a feeling of admiration for
their heroism. Most of their adventures are thrilling, and all of them
are, in narration, more or less unjust to the trout: in fact, the
object of them seems to be to exhibit, at the expense of the trout, the
shrewdness, the skill, and the muscular power of the sportsman. My own
simple story has few of these recommendations.

We had built our bark camp one summer and were staying on one of the
popular lakes of the Saranac region. It would be a very pretty region if
it were not so flat, if the margins of the lakes had not been flooded
by dams at the outlets, which have killed the trees, and left a rim of
ghastly deadwood like the swamps of the under-world pictured by Dore’s
bizarre pencil,--and if the pianos at the hotels were in tune. It would
be an excellent sporting region also (for there is water enough) if the
fish commissioners would stock the waters, and if previous hunters had
not pulled all the hair and skin off from the deers’ tails. Formerly
sportsmen had a habit of catching the deer by the tails, and of being
dragged in mere wantonness round and round the shores. It is well known
that if you seize a deer by this “holt” the skin will slip off like the
peel from a banana--This reprehensible practice was carried so far
that the traveler is now hourly pained by the sight of peeled-tail deer
mournfully sneaking about the wood.

We had been hearing, for weeks, of a small lake in the heart of the
virgin forest, some ten miles from our camp, which was alive with trout,
unsophisticated, hungry trout: the inlet to it was described as stiff
with them. In my imagination I saw them lying there in ranks and rows,
each a foot long, three tiers deep, a solid mass. The lake had never
been visited except by stray sable hunters in the winter, and was
known as the Unknown Pond. I determined to explore it, fully expecting,
however, that it would prove to be a delusion, as such mysterious haunts
of the trout usually are. Confiding my purpose to Luke, we secretly
made our preparations, and stole away from the shanty one morning at
daybreak. Each of us carried a boat, a pair of blankets, a sack of
bread, pork, and maple-sugar; while I had my case of rods, creel, and
book of flies, and Luke had an axe and the kitchen utensils. We think
nothing of loads of this sort in the woods.

Five miles through a tamarack swamp brought us to the inlet of Unknown
Pond, upon which we embarked our fleet, and paddled down its vagrant
waters. They were at first sluggish, winding among triste fir-trees, but
gradually developed a strong current. At the end of three miles a
loud roar ahead warned us that we were approaching rapids, falls,
and cascades. We paused. The danger was unknown. We had our choice
of shouldering our loads and making a detour through the woods, or of
“shooting the rapids.” Naturally we chose the more dangerous course.
Shooting the rapids has often been described, and I will not repeat
the description here. It is needless to say that I drove my frail bark
through the boiling rapids, over the successive waterfalls, amid rocks
and vicious eddies, and landed, half a mile below with whitened hair
and a boat half full of water; and that the guide was upset, and boat,
contents, and man were strewn along the shore.

After this common experience we went quickly on our journey, and, a
couple of hours before sundown, reached the lake. If I live to my dying
day, I never shall forget its appearance. The lake is almost an exact
circle, about a quarter of a mile in diameter. The forest about it was
untouched by axe, and unkilled by artificial flooding. The azure water
had a perfect setting of evergreens, in which all the shades of the
fir, the balsam, the pine, and the spruce were perfectly blended; and
at intervals on the shore in the emerald rim blazed the ruby of the
cardinal flower. It was at once evident that the unruffled waters had
never been vexed by the keel of a boat. But what chiefly attracted my
attention, and amused me, was the boiling of the water, the bubbling and
breaking, as if the lake were a vast kettle, with a fire underneath. A
tyro would have been astonished at this common phenomenon; but sportsmen
will at once understand me when I say that the water boiled with the
breaking trout. I studied the surface for some time to see upon what
sort of flies they were feeding, in order to suit my cast to their
appetites; but they seemed to be at play rather than feeding, leaping
high in the air in graceful curves, and tumbling about each other as we
see them in the Adirondack pictures.

It is well known that no person who regards his reputation will ever
kill a trout with anything but a fly. It requires some training on
the part of the trout to take to this method. The uncultivated,
unsophisticated trout in unfrequented waters prefers the bait; and the
rural people, whose sole object in going a-fishing appears to be to
catch fish, indulge them in their primitive taste for the worm. No
sportsman, however, will use anything but a fly, except he happens to be

While Luke launched my boat and arranged his seat in the stern, I
prepared my rod and line. The rod is a bamboo, weighing seven ounces,
which has to be spliced with a winding of silk thread every time it is
used. This is a tedious process; but, by fastening the joints in this
way, a uniform spring is secured in the rod. No one devoted to high
art would think of using a socket joint. My line was forty yards
of untwisted silk upon a multiplying reel. The “leader” (I am very
particular about my leaders) had been made to order from a domestic
animal with which I had been acquainted. The fisherman requires as good
a catgut as the violinist. The interior of the house cat, it is well
known, is exceedingly sensitive; but it may not be so well known that
the reason why some cats leave the room in distress when a piano-forte
is played is because the two instruments are not in the same key, and
the vibrations of the chords of the one are in discord with the catgut
of the other. On six feet of this superior article I fixed three
artificial flies,--a simple brown hackle, a gray body with scarlet
wings, and one of my own invention, which I thought would be new to the
most experienced fly-catcher. The trout-fly does not resemble any known
species of insect. It is a “conventionalized” creation, as we say of
ornamentation. The theory is that, fly-fishing being a high art, the fly
must not be a tame imitation of nature, but an artistic suggestion of
it. It requires an artist to construct one; and not every bungler
can take a bit of red flannel, a peacock’s feather, a flash of tinsel
thread, a cock’s plume, a section of a hen’s wing, and fabricate a
tiny object that will not look like any fly, but still will suggest the
universal conventional fly.

I took my stand in the center of the tipsy boat; and Luke shoved off,
and slowly paddled towards some lily-pads, while I began casting,
unlimbering my tools, as it were. The fish had all disappeared. I
got out, perhaps, fifty feet of line, with no response, and gradually
increased it to one hundred. It is not difficult to learn to cast; but
it is difficult to learn not to snap off the flies at every throw. Of
this, however, we will not speak. I continued casting for some moments,
until I became satisfied that there had been a miscalculation.
Either the trout were too green to know what I was at, or they were
dissatisfied with my offers. I reeled in, and changed the flies (that
is, the fly that was not snapped off). After studying the color of the
sky, of the water, and of the foliage, and the moderated light of the
afternoon, I put on a series of beguilers, all of a subdued brilliancy,
in harmony with the approach of evening. At the second cast, which was
a short one, I saw a splash where the leader fell, and gave an excited
jerk. The next instant I perceived the game, and did not need the
unfeigned “dam” of Luke to convince me that I had snatched his felt hat
from his head and deposited it among the lilies. Discouraged by this, we
whirled about, and paddled over to the inlet, where a little ripple was
visible in the tinted light. At the very first cast I saw that the hour
had come. Three trout leaped into the air. The danger of this manoeuvre
all fishermen understand. It is one of the commonest in the woods: three
heavy trout taking hold at once, rushing in different directions, smash
the tackle into flinders. I evaded this catch, and threw again. I recall
the moment. A hermit thrush, on the tip of a balsam, uttered his long,
liquid, evening note. Happening to look over my shoulder, I saw the
peak of Marcy gleam rosy in the sky (I can’t help it that Marcy is fifty
miles off, and cannot be seen from this region: these incidental touches
are always used). The hundred feet of silk swished through the air, and
the tail-fly fell as lightly on the water as a three-cent piece (which
no slamming will give the weight of a ten) drops upon the contribution
plate. Instantly there was a rush, a swirl. I struck, and “Got him,
by---!” Never mind what Luke said I got him by. “Out on a fly!”
 continued that irreverent guide; but I told him to back water, and make
for the center of the lake. The trout, as soon as he felt the prick of
the hook, was off like a shot, and took out the whole of the line with
a rapidity that made it smoke. “Give him the butt!” shouted Luke. It
is the usual remark in such an emergency. I gave him the butt; and,
recognizing the fact and my spirit, the trout at once sank to the
bottom, and sulked. It is the most dangerous mood of a trout; for you
cannot tell what he will do next. We reeled up a little, and waited five
minutes for him to reflect. A tightening of the line enraged him, and he
soon developed his tactics. Coming to the surface, he made straight
for the boat faster than I could reel in, and evidently with hostile
intentions. “Look out for him!” cried Luke as he came flying in the air.
I evaded him by dropping flat in the bottom of the boat; and, when I
picked my traps up, he was spinning across the lake as if he had a new
idea: but the line was still fast. He did not run far. I gave him the
butt again; a thing he seemed to hate, even as a gift. In a moment the
evil-minded fish, lashing the water in his rage, was coming back again,
making straight for the boat as before. Luke, who was used to these
encounters, having read of them in the writings of travelers he had
accompanied, raised his paddle in self-defense. The trout left the water
about ten feet from the boat, and came directly at me with fiery eyes,
his speckled sides flashing like a meteor. I dodged as he whisked by
with a vicious slap of his bifurcated tail, and nearly upset the boat.
The line was of course slack, and the danger was that he would entangle
it about me, and carry away a leg. This was evidently his game; but I
untangled it, and only lost a breast button or two by the swiftly-moving
string. The trout plunged into the water with a hissing sound, and went
away again with all the line on the reel. More butt; more indignation on
the part of the captive. The contest had now been going on for half an
hour, and I was getting exhausted. We had been back and forth across
the lake, and round and round the lake. What I feared was that the trout
would start up the inlet and wreck us in the bushes. But he had a new
fancy, and began the execution of a manoeuvre which I had never read of.
Instead of coming straight towards me, he took a large circle, swimming
rapidly, and gradually contracting his orbit. I reeled in, and kept my
eye on him. Round and round he went, narrowing his circle. I began to
suspect the game; which was, to twist my head off.--When he had
reduced the radius of his circle to about twenty-five feet, he struck
a tremendous pace through the water. It would be false modesty in
a sportsman to say that I was not equal to the occasion. Instead of
turning round with him, as he expected, I stepped to the bow, braced
myself, and let the boat swing. Round went the fish, and round we went
like a top. I saw a line of Mount Marcys all round the horizon; the
rosy tint in the west made a broad band of pink along the sky above the
tree-tops; the evening star was a perfect circle of light, a hoop of
gold in the heavens. We whirled and reeled, and reeled and whirled. I
was willing to give the malicious beast butt and line, and all, if he
would only go the other way for a change.

When I came to myself, Luke was gaffing the trout at the boat-side.
After we had got him in and dressed him, he weighed three-quarters of
a pound. Fish always lose by being “got in and dressed.” It is best to
weigh them while they are in the water. The only really large one I ever
caught got away with my leader when I first struck him. He weighed ten


If civilization owes a debt of gratitude to the self-sacrificing
sportsmen who have cleared the Adirondack regions of catamounts and
savage trout, what shall be said of the army which has so nobly
relieved them of the terror of the deer? The deer-slayers have somewhat
celebrated their exploits in print; but I think that justice has never
been done them.

The American deer in the wilderness, left to himself, leads a
comparatively harmless but rather stupid life, with only such excitement
as his own timid fancy raises. It was very seldom that one of his tribe
was eaten by the North American tiger. For a wild animal he is very
domestic, simple in his tastes, regular in his habits, affectionate in
his family. Unfortunately for his repose, his haunch is as tender as his
heart. Of all wild creatures he is one of the most graceful in action,
and he poses with the skill of an experienced model. I have seen the
goats on Mount Pentelicus scatter at the approach of a stranger, climb
to the sharp points of projecting rocks, and attitudinize in the most
self-conscious manner, striking at once those picturesque postures
against the sky with which Oriental pictures have made us and them
familiar. But the whole proceeding was theatrical.

Greece is the home of art, and it is rare to find anything there natural
and unstudied. I presume that these goats have no nonsense about them
when they are alone with the goatherds, any more than the goatherds
have, except when they come to pose in the studio; but the long ages of
culture, the presence always to the eye of the best models and the forms
of immortal beauty, the heroic friezes of the Temple of Theseus, the
marble processions of sacrificial animals, have had a steady molding,
educating influence equal to a society of decorative art upon the people
and the animals who have dwelt in this artistic atmosphere. The Attic
goat has become an artificially artistic being; though of course he is
not now what he was, as a poser, in the days of Polycletus. There is
opportunity for a very instructive essay by Mr. E. A. Freeman on the
decadence of the Attic goat under the influence of the Ottoman Turk.

The American deer, in the free atmosphere of our country, and as yet
untouched by our decorative art, is without self-consciousness, and
all his attitudes are free and unstudied. The favorite position of
the deer--his fore-feet in the shallow margin of the lake, among the
lily-pads, his antlers thrown back and his nose in the air at the
moment he hears the stealthy breaking of a twig in the forest--is still
spirited and graceful, and wholly unaffected by the pictures of him
which the artists have put upon canvas.

Wherever you go in the Northern forest you will find deer-paths. So
plainly marked and well-trodden are they that it is easy to mistake them
for trails made by hunters; but he who follows one of them is soon in
difficulties. He may find himself climbing through cedar thickets an
almost inaccessible cliff, or immersed in the intricacies of a marsh.
The “run,” in one direction, will lead to water; but, in the other,
it climbs the highest hills, to which the deer retires, for safety and
repose, in impenetrable thickets. The hunters, in winter, find them
congregated in “yards,” where they can be surrounded and shot as
easily as our troops shoot Comanche women and children in their winter
villages. These little paths are full of pitfalls among the roots and
stones; and, nimble as the deer is, he sometimes breaks one of his
slender legs in them. Yet he knows how to treat himself without a
surgeon. I knew of a tame deer in a settlement in the edge of the forest
who had the misfortune to break her leg. She immediately disappeared
with a delicacy rare in an invalid, and was not seen for two weeks. Her
friends had given her up, supposing that she had dragged herself away
into the depths of the woods, and died of starvation, when one day she
returned, cured of lameness, but thin as a virgin shadow. She had the
sense to shun the doctor; to lie down in some safe place, and patiently
wait for her leg to heal. I have observed in many of the more refined
animals this sort of shyness, and reluctance to give trouble, which
excite our admiration when noticed in mankind.

The deer is called a timid animal, and taunted with possessing courage
only when he is “at bay”; the stag will fight when he can no longer
flee; and the doe will defend her young in the face of murderous
enemies. The deer gets little credit for this eleventh-hour bravery. But
I think that in any truly Christian condition of society the deer would
not be conspicuous for cowardice. I suppose that if the American girl,
even as she is described in foreign romances, were pursued by bull-dogs,
and fired at from behind fences every time she ventured outdoors, she
would become timid, and reluctant to go abroad. When that golden era
comes which the poets think is behind us, and the prophets declare is
about to be ushered in by the opening of the “vials,” and the killing of
everybody who does not believe as those nations believe which have
the most cannon; when we all live in real concord,--perhaps the
gentle-hearted deer will be respected, and will find that men are not
more savage to the weak than are the cougars and panthers. If the little
spotted fawn can think, it must seem to her a queer world in which the
advent of innocence is hailed by the baying of fierce hounds and the
“ping” of the rifle.

Hunting the deer in the Adirondacks is conducted in the most manly
fashion. There are several methods, and in none of them is a fair chance
to the deer considered. A favorite method with the natives is practiced
in winter, and is called by them “still hunting.” My idea of still
hunting is for one man to go alone into the forest, look about for a
deer, put his wits fairly against the wits of the keen-scented animal,
and kill his deer, or get lost in the attempt. There seems to be a sort
of fairness about this. It is private assassination, tempered with a
little uncertainty about finding your man. The still hunting of the
natives has all the romance and danger attending the slaughter of sheep
in an abattoir. As the snow gets deep, many deer congregate in the
depths of the forest, and keep a place trodden down, which grows larger
as they tramp down the snow in search of food. In time this refuge
becomes a sort of “yard,” surrounded by unbroken snow-banks. The hunters
then make their way to this retreat on snowshoes, and from the top of
the banks pick off the deer at leisure with their rifles, and haul them
away to market, until the enclosure is pretty much emptied. This is one
of the surest methods of exterminating the deer; it is also one of
the most merciful; and, being the plan adopted by our government for
civilizing the Indian, it ought to be popular. The only people who
object to it are the summer sportsmen. They naturally want some pleasure
out of the death of the deer.

Some of our best sportsmen, who desire to protract the pleasure of
slaying deer through as many seasons as possible, object to the practice
of the hunters, who make it their chief business to slaughter as many
deer in a camping season as they can. Their own rule, they say, is
to kill a deer only when they need venison to eat. Their excuse is
specious. What right have these sophists to put themselves into a desert
place, out of the reach of provisions, and then ground a right to slay
deer on their own improvidence? If it is necessary for these people
to have anything to eat, which I doubt, it is not necessary that they
should have the luxury of venison.

One of the most picturesque methods of hunting the poor deer is called
“floating.” The person, with murder in his heart, chooses a cloudy
night, seats himself, rifle in hand, in a canoe, which is noiselessly
paddled by the guide, and explores the shore of the lake or the dark
inlet. In the bow of the boat is a light in a “jack,” the rays of which
are shielded from the boat and its occupants. A deer comes down to feed
upon the lily-pads. The boat approaches him. He looks up, and stands a
moment, terrified or fascinated by the bright flames. In that moment the
sportsman is supposed to shoot the deer. As an historical fact, his hand
usually shakes so that he misses the animal, or only wounds him; and the
stag limps away to die after days of suffering. Usually, however,
the hunters remain out all night, get stiff from cold and the cramped
position in the boat, and, when they return in the morning to camp,
cloud their future existence by the assertion that they “heard a big
buck” moving along the shore, but the people in camp made so much noise
that he was frightened off.

By all odds, the favorite and prevalent mode is hunting with dogs. The
dogs do the hunting, the men the killing. The hounds are sent into the
forest to rouse the deer, and drive him from his cover. They climb the
mountains, strike the trails, and go baying and yelping on the track of
the poor beast. The deer have their established runways, as I said; and,
when they are disturbed in their retreat, they are certain to attempt to
escape by following one which invariably leads to some lake or stream.
All that the hunter has to do is to seat himself by one of these
runways, or sit in a boat on the lake, and wait the coming of the
pursued deer. The frightened beast, fleeing from the unreasoning
brutality of the hounds, will often seek the open country, with a
mistaken confidence in the humanity of man. To kill a deer when he
suddenly passes one on a runway demands presence of mind and quickness
of aim: to shoot him from the boat, after he has plunged panting into
the lake, requires the rare ability to hit a moving object the size of
a deer’s head a few rods distant. Either exploit is sufficient to make
a hero of a common man. To paddle up to the swimming deer, and cut his
throat, is a sure means of getting venison, and has its charms for some.
Even women and doctors of divinity have enjoyed this exquisite pleasure.
It cannot be denied that we are so constituted by a wise Creator as to
feel a delight in killing a wild animal which we do not experience in
killing a tame one.

The pleasurable excitement of a deer-hunt has never, I believe, been
regarded from the deer’s point of view. I happen to be in a position, by
reason of a lucky Adirondack experience, to present it in that light. I
am sorry if this introduction to my little story has seemed long to
the reader: it is too late now to skip it; but he can recoup himself by
omitting the story.

Early on the morning of the 23d of August, 1877, a doe was feeding on
Basin Mountain. The night had been warm and showery, and the morning
opened in an undecided way. The wind was southerly: it is what the
deer call a dog-wind, having come to know quite well the meaning of “a
southerly wind and a cloudy sky.” The sole companion of the doe was her
only child, a charming little fawn, whose brown coat was just beginning
to be mottled with the beautiful spots which make this young creature
as lovely as the gazelle. The buck, its father, had been that night on a
long tramp across the mountain to Clear Pond, and had not yet returned:
he went ostensibly to feed on the succulent lily-pads there. “He feedeth
among the lilies until the day break and the shadows flee away, and he
should be here by this hour; but he cometh not,” she said, “leaping upon
the mountains, skipping upon the hills.” Clear Pond was too far off for
the young mother to go with her fawn for a night’s pleasure. It was a
fashionable watering-place at this season among the deer; and the doe
may have remembered, not without uneasiness, the moonlight meetings of
a frivolous society there. But the buck did not come: he was very likely
sleeping under one of the ledges on Tight Nippin. Was he alone? “I
charge you, by the roes and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not
nor awake my love till he please.”

The doe was feeding, daintily cropping the tender leaves of the young
shoots, and turning from time to time to regard her offspring. The fawn
had taken his morning meal, and now lay curled up on a bed of moss,
watching contentedly, with his large, soft brown eyes, every movement of
his mother. The great eyes followed her with an alert entreaty; and, if
the mother stepped a pace or two farther away in feeding, the fawn made
a half movement, as if to rise and follow her. You see, she was his
sole dependence in all the world. But he was quickly reassured when she
turned her gaze on him; and if, in alarm, he uttered a plaintive cry,
she bounded to him at once, and, with every demonstration of affection,
licked his mottled skin till it shone again.

It was a pretty picture,--maternal love on the one part, and happy trust
on the other. The doe was a beauty, and would have been so considered
anywhere, as graceful and winning a creature as the sun that day shone
on,--slender limbs, not too heavy flanks, round body, and aristocratic
head, with small ears, and luminous, intelligent, affectionate eyes.
How alert, supple, free, she was! What untaught grace in every movement!
What a charming pose when she lifted her head, and turned it to regard
her child! You would have had a companion picture if you had seen, as I
saw that morning, a baby kicking about among the dry pine-needles on a
ledge above the Au Sable, in the valley below, while its young mother
sat near, with an easel before her, touching in the color of a reluctant
landscape, giving a quick look at the sky and the outline of the Twin
Mountains, and bestowing every third glance upon the laughing boy,--art
in its infancy.

The doe lifted her head a little with a quick motion, and turned her ear
to the south. Had she heard something? Probably it was only the south
wind in the balsams. There was silence all about in the forest. If the
doe had heard anything, it was one of the distant noises of the world.
There are in the woods occasional moanings, premonitions of change,
which are inaudible to the dull ears of men, but which, I have no
doubt, the forest-folk hear and understand. If the doe’s suspicions were
excited for an instant, they were gone as soon. With an affectionate
glance at her fawn, she continued picking up her breakfast.

But suddenly she started, head erect, eyes dilated, a tremor in her
limbs. She took a step; she turned her head to the south; she listened
intently. There was a sound,--a distant, prolonged note, bell-toned,
pervading the woods, shaking the air in smooth vibrations. It was
repeated. The doe had no doubt now. She shook like the sensitive mimosa
when a footstep approaches. It was the baying of a hound! It was far
off,--at the foot of the mountain. Time enough to fly; time enough to
put miles between her and the hound, before he should come upon her
fresh trail; time enough to escape away through the dense forest, and
hide in the recesses of Panther Gorge; yes, time enough. But there was
the fawn. The cry of the hound was repeated, more distinct this time.
The mother instinctively bounded away a few paces. The fawn started up
with an anxious bleat: the doe turned; she came back; she couldn’t leave
it. She bent over it, and licked it, and seemed to say, “Come, my child:
we are pursued: we must go.” She walked away towards the west, and the
little thing skipped after her. It was slow going for the slender legs,
over the fallen logs, and through the rasping bushes. The doe bounded in
advance, and waited: the fawn scrambled after her, slipping and tumbling
along, very groggy yet on its legs, and whining a good deal because its
mother kept always moving away from it. The fawn evidently did not hear
the hound: the little innocent would even have looked sweetly at the
dog, and tried to make friends with it, if the brute had been rushing
upon him. By all the means at her command the doe urged her young one
on; but it was slow work. She might have been a mile away while they
were making a few rods. Whenever the fawn caught up, he was quite
content to frisk about. He wanted more breakfast, for one thing; and his
mother wouldn’t stand still. She moved on continually; and his weak legs
were tangled in the roots of the narrow deer-path.

Shortly came a sound that threw the doe into a panic of terror,--a
short, sharp yelp, followed by a prolonged howl, caught up and reechoed
by other bayings along the mountain-side. The doe knew what that meant.
One hound had caught her trail, and the whole pack responded to the
“view-halloo.” The danger was certain now; it was near. She could not
crawl on in this way: the dogs would soon be upon them. She turned again
for flight: the fawn, scrambling after her, tumbled over, and bleated
piteously. The baying, emphasized now by the yelp of certainty, came
nearer. Flight with the fawn was impossible. The doe returned and stood
by it, head erect, and nostrils distended. She stood perfectly still,
but trembling. Perhaps she was thinking. The fawn took advantage of the
situation, and began to draw his luncheon ration. The doe seemed to
have made up her mind. She let him finish. The fawn, having taken all he
wanted, lay down contentedly, and the doe licked him for a moment. Then,
with the swiftness of a bird, she dashed away, and in a moment was lost
in the forest. She went in the direction of the hounds.

According to all human calculations, she was going into the jaws of
death. So she was: all human calculations are selfish. She kept straight
on, hearing the baying every moment more distinctly. She descended
the slope of the mountain until she reached the more open forest of
hard-wood. It was freer going here, and the cry of the pack echoed more
resoundingly in the great spaces. She was going due east, when (judging
by the sound, the hounds were not far off, though they were still hidden
by a ridge) she turned short away to the north, and kept on at a
good pace. In five minutes more she heard the sharp, exultant yelp of
discovery, and then the deep-mouthed howl of pursuit. The hounds had
struck her trail where she turned, and the fawn was safe.

The doe was in good running condition, the ground was not bad, and she
felt the exhilaration of the chase. For the moment, fear left her, and
she bounded on with the exaltation of triumph. For a quarter of an hour
she went on at a slapping pace, clearing the moose-bushes with bound
after bound, flying over the fallen logs, pausing neither for brook nor
ravine. The baying of the hounds grew fainter behind her. But she struck
a bad piece of going, a dead-wood slash. It was marvelous to see her
skim over it, leaping among its intricacies, and not breaking her
slender legs. No other living animal could do it. But it was killing
work. She began to pant fearfully; she lost ground. The baying of the
hounds was nearer. She climbed the hard-wood hill at a slower gait; but,
once on more level, free ground, her breath came back to her, and she
stretched away with new courage, and maybe a sort of contempt of her
heavy pursuers.

After running at high speed perhaps half a mile farther, it occurred
to her that it would be safe now to turn to the west, and, by a wide
circuit, seek her fawn. But, at the moment, she heard a sound that
chilled her heart. It was the cry of a hound to the west of her. The
crafty brute had made the circuit of the slash, and cut off her retreat.
There was nothing to do but to keep on; and on she went, still to the
north, with the noise of the pack behind her. In five minutes more she
had passed into a hillside clearing. Cows and young steers were grazing
there. She heard a tinkle of bells. Below her, down the mountain slope,
were other clearings, broken by patches of woods. Fences intervened;
and a mile or two down lay the valley, the shining Au Sable, and the
peaceful farmhouses. That way also her hereditary enemies were. Not a
merciful heart in all that lovely valley. She hesitated: it was only for
an instant. She must cross the Slidebrook Valley if possible, and gain
the mountain opposite. She bounded on; she stopped. What was that? From
the valley ahead came the cry of a searching hound. All the devils were
loose this morning. Every way was closed but one, and that led straight
down the mountain to the cluster of houses. Conspicuous among them was
a slender white wooden spire. The doe did not know that it was the spire
of a Christian chapel. But perhaps she thought that human pity dwelt
there, and would be more merciful than the teeth of the hounds.

     “The hounds are baying on my track:
     O white man! will you send me back?”

In a panic, frightened animals will always flee to human-kind from the
danger of more savage foes. They always make a mistake in doing so.
Perhaps the trait is the survival of an era of peace on earth; perhaps
it is a prophecy of the golden age of the future. The business of this
age is murder,--the slaughter of animals, the slaughter of fellow-men,
by the wholesale. Hilarious poets who have never fired a gun write
hunting-songs,--Ti-ra-la: and good bishops write war-songs,--Ave the

The hunted doe went down the “open,” clearing the fences splendidly,
flying along the stony path. It was a beautiful sight. But consider what
a shot it was! If the deer, now, could only have been caught I No doubt
there were tenderhearted people in the valley who would have spared her
life, shut her up in a stable, and petted her. Was there one who
would have let her go back to her waiting-fawn? It is the business of
civilization to tame or kill.

The doe went on. She left the sawmill on John’s Brook to her right; she
turned into a wood-path. As she approached Slide Brook, she saw a boy
standing by a tree with a raised rifle. The dogs were not in sight;
but she could hear them coming down the hill. There was no time for
hesitation. With a tremendous burst of speed she cleared the stream,
and, as she touched the bank, heard the “ping” of a rifle bullet in the
air above her. The cruel sound gave wings to the poor thing. In a moment
more she was in the opening: she leaped into the traveled road. Which
way? Below her in the wood was a load of hay: a man and a boy, with
pitchforks in their hands, were running towards her. She turned south,
and flew along the street. The town was up. Women and children ran to
the doors and windows; men snatched their rifles; shots were fired; at
the big boarding-houses, the summer boarders, who never have anything
to do, came out and cheered; a campstool was thrown from a veranda. Some
young fellows shooting at a mark in the meadow saw the flying deer, and
popped away at her; but they were accustomed to a mark that stood still.
It was all so sudden! There were twenty people who were just going to
shoot her; when the doe leaped the road fence, and went away across a
marsh toward the foothills. It was a fearful gauntlet to run. But nobody
except the deer considered it in that light. Everybody told what he was
just going to do; everybody who had seen the performance was a kind of
hero,--everybody except the deer. For days and days it was the subject
of conversation; and the summer boarders kept their guns at hand,
expecting another deer would come to be shot at.

The doe went away to the foothills, going now slower, and evidently
fatigued, if not frightened half to death. Nothing is so appalling to a
recluse as half a mile of summer boarders. As the deer entered the thin
woods, she saw a rabble of people start across the meadow in pursuit.
By this time, the dogs, panting, and lolling out their tongues, came
swinging along, keeping the trail, like stupids, and consequently losing
ground when the deer doubled. But, when the doe had got into the timber,
she heard the savage brutes howling across the meadow. (It is well
enough, perhaps, to say that nobody offered to shoot the dogs.)

The courage of the panting fugitive was not gone: she was game to the
tip of her high-bred ears. But the fearful pace at which she had just
been going told on her. Her legs trembled, and her heart beat like a
trip-hammer. She slowed her speed perforce, but still fled industriously
up the right bank of the stream. When she had gone a couple of miles,
and the dogs were evidently gaining again, she crossed the broad, deep
brook, climbed the steep left bank, and fled on in the direction of the
Mount-Marcy trail. The fording of the river threw the hounds off for
a time. She knew, by their uncertain yelping up and down the opposite
bank, that she had a little respite: she used it, however, to push on
until the baying was faint in her ears; and then she dropped, exhausted,
upon the ground.

This rest, brief as it was, saved her life. Roused again by the baying
pack, she leaped forward with better speed, though without that keen
feeling of exhilarating flight that she had in the morning. It was still
a race for life; but the odds were in her--favor, she thought. She
did not appreciate the dogged persistence of the hounds, nor had any
inspiration told her that the race is not to the swift.

She was a little confused in her mind where to go; but an instinct kept
her course to the left, and consequently farther away from her fawn.
Going now slower, and now faster, as the pursuit seemed more distant
or nearer, she kept to the southwest, crossed the stream again, left
Panther Gorge on her right, and ran on by Haystack and Skylight in the
direction of the Upper Au Sable Pond. I do not know her exact course
through this maze of mountains, swamps, ravines, and frightful
wildernesses. I only know that the poor thing worked her way along
painfully, with sinking heart and unsteady limbs, lying down “dead beat”
 at intervals, and then spurred on by the cry of the remorseless dogs,
until, late in the afternoon, she staggered down the shoulder of
Bartlett, and stood upon the shore of the lake. If she could put that
piece of water between her and her pursuers, she would be safe. Had she
strength to swim it?

At her first step into the water she saw a sight that sent her back with
a bound. There was a boat mid-lake: two men were in it. One was rowing:
the other had a gun in his hand. They were looking towards her: they had
seen her. (She did not know that they had heard the baying of hounds on
the mountains, and had been lying in wait for her an hour.) What should
she do? The hounds were drawing near. No escape that way, even if she
could still run. With only a moment’s hesitation she plunged into the
lake, and struck obliquely across. Her tired legs could not propel the
tired body rapidly. She saw the boat headed for her. She turned toward
the centre of the lake. The boat turned. She could hear the rattle of
the oarlocks. It was gaining on her. Then there was a silence. Then
there was a splash of the water just ahead of her, followed by a roar
round the lake, the words “Confound it all!” and a rattle of the oars
again. The doe saw the boat nearing her. She turned irresolutely to
the shore whence she came: the dogs were lapping the water, and howling
there. She turned again to the center of the lake.

The brave, pretty creature was quite exhausted now. In a moment more,
with a rush of water, the boat was on her, and the man at the oars had
leaned over and caught her by the tail.

“Knock her on the head with that paddle!” he shouted to the gentleman in
the stern.

The gentleman was a gentleman, with a kind, smooth-shaven face, and
might have been a minister of some sort of everlasting gospel. He took
the paddle in his hand. Just then the doe turned her head, and looked at
him with her great, appealing eyes.

“I can’t do it! my soul, I can’t do it!” and he dropped the paddle. “Oh,
let her go!”

“Let H. go!” was the only response of the guide as he slung the deer
round, whipped out his hunting-knife, and made a pass that severed her

And the gentleman ate that night of the venison.

The buck returned about the middle of the afternoon. The fawn was
bleating piteously, hungry and lonesome. The buck was surprised. He
looked about in the forest. He took a circuit, and came back. His doe
was nowhere to be seen. He looked down at the fawn in a helpless sort of
way. The fawn appealed for his supper. The buck had nothing whatever to
give his child,--nothing but his sympathy. If he said anything, this is
what he said: “I’m the head of this family; but, really, this is a novel
case. I’ve nothing whatever for you. I don’t know what to do. I’ve the
feelings of a father; but you can’t live on them. Let us travel.”

The buck walked away: the little one toddled after him. They disappeared
in the forest.


There has been a lively inquiry after the primeval man. Wanted, a man
who would satisfy the conditions of the miocene environment, and yet
would be good enough for an ancestor. We are not particular about our
ancestors, if they are sufficiently remote; but we must have something.
Failing to apprehend the primeval man, science has sought the primitive
man where he exists as a survival in present savage races. He is, at
best, only a mushroom growth of the recent period (came in, probably,
with the general raft of mammalian fauna); but he possesses yet some
rudimentary traits that may be studied.

It is a good mental exercise to try to fix the mind on the primitive man
divested of all the attributes he has acquired in his struggles with
the other mammalian fauna. Fix the mind on an orange, the ordinary
occupation of the metaphysician: take from it (without eating it) odor,
color, weight, form, substance, and peel; then let the mind still dwell
on it as an orange. The experiment is perfectly successful; only, at the
end of it, you haven’t any mind. Better still, consider the telephone:
take away from it the metallic disk, and the magnetized iron, and the
connecting wire, and then let the mind run abroad on the telephone.
The mind won’t come back. I have tried by this sort of process to get a
conception of the primitive man. I let the mind roam away back over
the vast geologic spaces, and sometimes fancy I see a dim image of him
stalking across the terrace epoch of the quaternary period.

But this is an unsatisfying pleasure. The best results are obtained by
studying the primitive man as he is left here and there in our era,
a witness of what has been; and I find him most to my mind in the
Adirondack system of what geologists call the Champlain epoch. I suppose
the primitive man is one who owes more to nature than to the forces of
civilization. What we seek in him are the primal and original traits,
unmixed with the sophistications of society, and unimpaired by the
refinements of an artificial culture. He would retain the primitive
instincts, which are cultivated out of the ordinary, commonplace man.
I should expect to find him, by reason of an unrelinquished kinship,
enjoying a special communion with nature,--admitted to its mysteries,
understanding its moods, and able to predict its vagaries. He would be a
kind of test to us of what we have lost by our gregarious acquisitions.
On the one hand, there would be the sharpness of the senses, the keen
instincts (which the fox and the beaver still possess), the ability to
find one’s way in the pathless forest, to follow a trail, to circumvent
the wild denizens of the woods; and, on the other hand, there would be
the philosophy of life which the primitive man, with little external
aid, would evolve from original observation and cogitation. It is our
good fortune to know such a man; but it is difficult to present him to
a scientific and caviling generation. He emigrated from somewhat limited
conditions in Vermont, at an early age, nearly half a century ago, and
sought freedom for his natural development backward in the wilds of the
Adirondacks. Sometimes it is a love of adventure and freedom that sends
men out of the more civilized conditions into the less; sometimes it is
a constitutional physical lassitude which leads them to prefer the rod
to the hoe, the trap to the sickle, and the society of bears to town
meetings and taxes. I think that Old Mountain Phelps had merely the
instincts of the primitive man, and never any hostile civilizing intent
as to the wilderness into which he plunged. Why should he want to slash
away the forest and plow up the ancient mould, when it is infinitely
pleasanter to roam about in the leafy solitudes, or sit upon a mossy log
and listen to the chatter of birds and the stir of beasts? Are there not
trout in the streams, gum exuding from the spruce, sugar in the maples,
honey in the hollow trees, fur on the sables, warmth in hickory logs?
Will not a few days’ planting and scratching in the “open” yield
potatoes and rye? And, if there is steadier diet needed than venison
and bear, is the pig an expensive animal? If Old Phelps bowed to the
prejudice or fashion of his age (since we have come out of the tertiary
state of things), and reared a family, built a frame house in a
secluded nook by a cold spring, planted about it some apple trees and a
rudimentary garden, and installed a group of flaming sunflowers by the
door, I am convinced that it was a concession that did not touch his
radical character; that is to say, it did not impair his reluctance to
split oven-wood.

He was a true citizen of the wilderness. Thoreau would have liked him,
as he liked Indians and woodchucks, and the smell of pine forests; and,
if Old Phelps had seen Thoreau, he would probably have said to him, “Why
on airth, Mr. Thoreau, don’t you live accordin’ to your preachin’?”
 You might be misled by the shaggy suggestion of Old Phelps’s given
name--Orson--into the notion that he was a mighty hunter, with the
fierce spirit of the Berserkers in his veins. Nothing could be farther
from the truth. The hirsute and grisly sound of Orson expresses only his
entire affinity with the untamed and the natural, an uncouth but gentle
passion for the freedom and wildness of the forest. Orson Phelps has
only those unconventional and humorous qualities of the bear which
make the animal so beloved in literature; and one does not think of Old
Phelps so much as a lover of nature,--to use the sentimental slang of
the period,--as a part of nature itself.

His appearance at the time when as a “guide” he began to come into
public notice fostered this impression,--a sturdy figure with long body
and short legs, clad in a woolen shirt and butternut-colored trousers
repaired to the point of picturesqueness, his head surmounted by a limp,
light-brown felt hat, frayed away at the top, so that his yellowish hair
grew out of it like some nameless fern out of a pot. His tawny hair was
long and tangled, matted now many years past the possibility of being
entered by a comb.

His features were small and delicate, and set in the frame of a reddish
beard, the razor having mowed away a clearing about the sensitive mouth,
which was not seldom wreathed with a childlike and charming smile.
Out of this hirsute environment looked the small gray eyes, set near
together; eyes keen to observe, and quick to express change of thought;
eyes that made you believe instinct can grow into philosophic judgment.
His feet and hands were of aristocratic smallness, although the latter
were not worn away by ablutions; in fact, they assisted his toilet to
give you the impression that here was a man who had just come out of
the ground,--a real son of the soil, whose appearance was partially
explained by his humorous relation to-soap. “Soap is a thing,” he said,
“that I hain’t no kinder use for.” His clothes seemed to have been
put on him once for all, like the bark of a tree, a long time ago.
The observant stranger was sure to be puzzled by the contrast of this
realistic and uncouth exterior with the internal fineness, amounting to
refinement and culture, that shone through it all. What communion had
supplied the place of our artificial breeding to this man?

Perhaps his most characteristic attitude was sitting on a log, with a
short pipe in his mouth. If ever man was formed to sit on a log, it
was Old Phelps. He was essentially a contemplative person. Walking on
a country road, or anywhere in the “open,” was irksome to him. He had
a shambling, loose-jointed gait, not unlike that of the bear: his short
legs bowed out, as if they had been more in the habit of climbing
trees than of walking. On land, if we may use that expression, he was
something like a sailor; but, once in the rugged trail or the unmarked
route of his native forest, he was a different person, and few
pedestrians could compete with him. The vulgar estimate of his
contemporaries, that reckoned Old Phelps “lazy,” was simply a failure
to comprehend the conditions of his being. It is the unjustness of
civilization that it sets up uniform and artificial standards for all
persons. The primitive man suffers by them much as the contemplative
philosopher does, when one happens to arrive in this busy, fussy world.

If the appearance of Old Phelps attracts attention, his voice, when
first heard, invariably startles the listener. A small, high-pitched,
half-querulous voice, it easily rises into the shrillest falsetto; and
it has a quality in it that makes it audible in all the tempests of the
forest, or the roar of rapids, like the piping of a boatswain’s whistle
at sea in a gale. He has a way of letting it rise as his sentence goes
on, or when he is opposed in argument, or wishes to mount above other
voices in the conversation, until it dominates everything. Heard in the
depths of the woods, quavering aloft, it is felt to be as much a part
of nature, an original force, as the northwest wind or the scream of the
hen-hawk. When he is pottering about the camp-fire, trying to light
his pipe with a twig held in the flame, he is apt to begin some
philosophical observation in a small, slow, stumbling voice, which seems
about to end in defeat; when he puts on some unsuspected force, and the
sentence ends in an insistent shriek. Horace Greeley had such a voice,
and could regulate it in the same manner. But Phelps’s voice is not
seldom plaintive, as if touched by the dreamy sadness of the woods

When Old Mountain Phelps was discovered, he was, as the reader has
already guessed, not understood by his contemporaries. His neighbors,
farmers in the secluded valley, had many of them grown thrifty and
prosperous, cultivating the fertile meadows, and vigorously attacking
the timbered mountains; while Phelps, with not much more faculty of
acquiring property than the roaming deer, had pursued the even tenor
of the life in the forest on which he set out. They would have been
surprised to be told that Old Phelps owned more of what makes the value
of the Adirondacks than all of them put together, but it was true. This
woodsman, this trapper, this hunter, this fisherman, this sitter on a
log, and philosopher, was the real proprietor of the region over
which he was ready to guide the stranger. It is true that he had not a
monopoly of its geography or its topography (though his knowledge was
superior in these respects); there were other trappers, and more deadly
hunters, and as intrepid guides: but Old Phelps was the discoverer of
the beauties and sublimities of the mountains; and, when city strangers
broke into the region, he monopolized the appreciation of these delights
and wonders of nature. I suppose that in all that country he alone
had noticed the sunsets, and observed the delightful processes of
the seasons, taken pleasure in the woods for themselves, and climbed
mountains solely for the sake of the prospect. He alone understood what
was meant by “scenery.” In the eyes of his neighbors, who did not know
that he was a poet and a philosopher, I dare say he appeared to be
a slack provider, a rather shiftless trapper and fisherman; and his
passionate love of the forest and the mountains, if it was noticed, was
accounted to him for idleness. When the appreciative tourist arrived,
Phelps was ready, as guide, to open to him all the wonders of his
possessions; he, for the first time, found an outlet for his enthusiasm,
and a response to his own passion. It then became known what manner
of man this was who had grown up here in the companionship of forests,
mountains, and wild animals; that these scenes had highly developed in
him the love of beauty, the aesthetic sense, delicacy of appreciation,
refinement of feeling; and that, in his solitary wanderings and musings,
the primitive man, self-taught, had evolved for himself a philosophy and
a system of things. And it was a sufficient system, so long as it was
not disturbed by external skepticism. When the outer world came to
him, perhaps he had about as much to give to it as to receive from it;
probably more, in his own estimation; for there is no conceit like that
of isolation.

Phelps loved his mountains. He was the discoverer of Marcy, and caused
the first trail to be cut to its summit, so that others could enjoy
the noble views from its round and rocky top. To him it was, in noble
symmetry and beauty, the chief mountain of the globe. To stand on it
gave him, as he said, “a feeling of heaven up-h’istedness.” He heard
with impatience that Mount Washington was a thousand feet higher, and he
had a childlike incredulity about the surpassing sublimity of the Alps.
Praise of any other elevation he seemed to consider a slight to Mount
Marcy, and did not willingly hear it, any more than a lover hears the
laudation of the beauty of another woman than the one he loves. When he
showed us scenery he loved, it made him melancholy to have us speak of
scenery elsewhere that was finer. And yet there was this delicacy about
him, that he never over-praised what he brought us to see, any more than
one would over-praise a friend of whom he was fond. I remember that when
for the first time, after a toilsome journey through the forest, the
splendors of the Lower Au Sable Pond broke upon our vision,--that
low-lying silver lake, imprisoned by the precipices which it reflected
in its bosom,--he made no outward response to our burst of admiration:
only a quiet gleam of the eye showed the pleasure our appreciation
gave him. As some one said, it was as if his friend had been admired--a
friend about whom he was unwilling to say much himself, but well pleased
to have others praise.

Thus far, we have considered Old Phelps as simply the product of the
Adirondacks; not so much a self-made man (as the doubtful phrase has it)
as a natural growth amid primal forces. But our study is interrupted
by another influence, which complicates the problem, but increases its
interest. No scientific observer, so far as we know, has ever been able
to watch the development of the primitive man, played upon and fashioned
by the hebdomadal iteration of “Greeley’s Weekly Tri-bune.” Old Phelps
educated by the woods is a fascinating study; educated by the woods
and the Tri-bune, he is a phenomenon. No one at this day can reasonably
conceive exactly what this newspaper was to such a mountain valley as
Keene. If it was not a Providence, it was a Bible. It was no doubt owing
to it that Democrats became as scarce as moose in the Adirondacks. But
it is not of its political aspect that I speak. I suppose that the most
cultivated and best informed portion of the earth’s surface--the Western
Reserve of Ohio, as free from conceit as it is from a suspicion that
it lacks anything owes its pre-eminence solely to this comprehensive
journal. It received from it everything except a collegiate and a
classical education,--things not to be desired, since they interfere
with the self-manufacture of man. If Greek had been in this curriculum,
its best known dictum would have been translated, “Make thyself.” This
journal carried to the community that fed on it not only a complete
education in all departments of human practice and theorizing, but the
more valuable and satisfying assurance that there was nothing more to be
gleaned in the universe worth the attention of man. This panoplied its
readers in completeness. Politics, literature, arts, sciences, universal
brotherhood and sisterhood, nothing was omitted; neither the poetry of
Tennyson, nor the philosophy of Margaret Fuller; neither the virtues of
association, nor of unbolted wheat. The laws of political economy and
trade were laid down as positively and clearly as the best way to bake
beans, and the saving truth that the millennium would come, and come
only when every foot of the earth was subsoiled.

I do not say that Orson Phelps was the product of nature and the
Tri-bune: but he cannot be explained without considering these two
factors. To him Greeley was the Tri-bune, and the Tri-bune was Greeley;
and yet I think he conceived of Horace Greeley as something greater than
his newspaper, and perhaps capable of producing another journal equal
to it in another part of the universe. At any rate, so completely did
Phelps absorb this paper and this personality that he was popularly
known as “Greeley” in the region where he lived. Perhaps a fancied
resemblance of the two men in the popular mind had something to do with
this transfer of name. There is no doubt that Horace Greeley owed his
vast influence in the country to his genius, nor much doubt that he owed
his popularity in the rural districts to James Gordon Bennett; that is,
to the personality of the man which the ingenious Bennett impressed upon
the country. That he despised the conventionalities of society, and was
a sloven in his toilet, was firmly believed; and the belief endeared him
to the hearts of the people. To them “the old white coat”--an antique
garment of unrenewed immortality--was as much a subject of idolatry as
the redingote grise to the soldiers of the first Napoleon, who had seen
it by the campfires on the Po and on the Borysthenes, and believed that
he would come again in it to lead them against the enemies of France.
The Greeley of the popular heart was clad as Bennett said he was clad.
It was in vain, even pathetically in vain, that he published in his
newspaper the full bill of his fashionable tailor (the fact that it was
receipted may have excited the animosity of some of his contemporaries)
to show that he wore the best broadcloth, and that the folds of his
trousers followed the city fashion of falling outside his boots. If this
revelation was believed, it made no sort of impression in the country.
The rural readers were not to be wheedled out of their cherished
conception of the personal appearance of the philosopher of the

That the Tri-bune taught Old Phelps to be more Phelps than he would
have been without it was part of the independence-teaching mission of
Greeley’s paper. The subscribers were an army, in which every man was a
general. And I am not surprised to find Old Phelps lately rising to
the audacity of criticising his exemplar. In some recently-published
observations by Phelps upon the philosophy of reading is laid down this
definition: “If I understand the necessity or use of reading, it is to
reproduce again what has been said or proclaimed before. Hence, letters,
characters, &c., are arranged in all the perfection they possibly can
be, to show how certain language has been spoken by the original author.
Now, to reproduce by reading, the reading should be so perfectly like
the original that no one standing out of sight could tell the reading
from the first time the language was spoken.”

This is illustrated by the highest authority at hand: I have heard
as good readers read, and as poor readers, as almost any one in this
region. If I have not heard as many, I have had a chance to hear nearly
the extreme in variety. Horace Greeley ought to have been a good reader.
Certainly but few, if any, ever knew every word of the English language
at a glance more readily than he did, or knew the meaning of every mark
of punctuation more clearly; but he could not read proper. ‘But how
do you know?’ says one. From the fact I heard him in the same lecture
deliver or produce remarks in his own particular way, that, if they had
been published properly in print, a proper reader would have reproduced
them again the same way. In the midst of those remarks Mr. Greeley took
up a paper, to reproduce by reading part of a speech that some one else
had made; and his reading did not sound much more like the man that
first read or made the speech than the clatter of a nail factory sounds
like a well-delivered speech. Now, the fault was not because Mr. Greeley
did not know how to read as well as almost any man that ever lived, if
not quite: but in his youth he learned to read wrong; and, as it is
ten times harder to unlearn anything than it is to learn it, he, like
thousands of others, could never stop to unlearn it, but carried it on
through his whole life.

Whether a reader would be thanked for reproducing one of Horace
Greeley’s lectures as he delivered it is a question that cannot detain
us here; but the teaching that he ought to do so, I think, would please
Mr. Greeley.

The first driblets of professional tourists and summer boarders who
arrived among the Adirondack Mountains a few years ago found Old Phelps
the chief and best guide of the region. Those who were eager to throw
off the usages of civilization, and tramp and camp in the wilderness,
could not but be well satisfied with the aboriginal appearance of this
guide; and when he led off into the woods, axe in hand, and a huge
canvas sack upon his shoulders, they seemed to be following the
Wandering Jew. The contents--of this sack would have furnished a modern
industrial exhibition, provisions cooked and raw, blankets, maple-sugar,
tinware, clothing, pork, Indian meal, flour, coffee, tea, &c. Phelps was
the ideal guide: he knew every foot of the pathless forest; he knew all
woodcraft, all the signs of the weather, or, what is the same thing, how
to make a Delphic prediction about it. He was fisherman and hunter, and
had been the comrade of sportsmen and explorers; and his enthusiasm for
the beauty and sublimity of the region, and for its untamable wildness,
amounted to a passion. He loved his profession; and yet it very soon
appeared that he exercised it with reluctance for those who had neither
ideality, nor love for the woods. Their presence was a profanation amid
the scenery he loved. To guide into his private and secret haunts a
party that had no appreciation of their loveliness disgusted him. It was
a waste of his time to conduct flippant young men and giddy girls who
made a noisy and irreverent lark of the expedition. And, for their part,
they did not appreciate the benefit of being accompanied by a poet and
a philosopher. They neither understood nor valued his special knowledge
and his shrewd observations: they didn’t even like his shrill voice;
his quaint talk bored them. It was true that, at this period, Phelps
had lost something of the activity of his youth; and the habit
of contemplative sitting on a log and talking increased with the
infirmities induced by the hard life of the woodsman. Perhaps he would
rather talk, either about the woods-life or the various problems of
existence, than cut wood, or busy himself in the drudgery of the camp.
His critics went so far as to say, “Old Phelps is a fraud.” They would
have said the same of Socrates. Xantippe, who never appreciated the
world in which Socrates lived, thought he was lazy. Probably Socrates
could cook no better than Old Phelps, and no doubt went “gumming” about
Athens with very little care of what was in the pot for dinner.

If the summer visitors measured Old Phelps, he also measured them by
his own standards. He used to write out what he called “short-faced
descriptions” of his comrades in the woods, which were never so
flattering as true. It was curious to see how the various qualities
which are esteemed in society appeared in his eyes, looked at merely
in their relation to the limited world he knew, and judged by their
adaptation to the primitive life. It was a much subtler comparison than
that of the ordinary guide, who rates his traveler by his ability to
endure on a march, to carry a pack, use an oar, hit a mark, or sing
a song. Phelps brought his people to a test of their naturalness and
sincerity, tried by contact with the verities of the woods. If a person
failed to appreciate the woods, Phelps had no opinion of him or his
culture; and yet, although he was perfectly satisfied with his own
philosophy of life, worked out by close observation of nature and study
of the Tri-bune, he was always eager for converse with superior minds,
with those who had the advantage of travel and much reading, and, above
all, with those who had any original “speckerlation.” Of all the society
he was ever permitted to enjoy, I think he prized most that of Dr.
Bushnell. The doctor enjoyed the quaint and first-hand observations of
the old woodsman, and Phelps found new worlds open to him in the wide
ranges of the doctor’s mind. They talked by the hour upon all sorts
of themes, the growth of the tree, the habits of wild animals, the
migration of seeds, the succession of oak and pine, not to mention
theology, and the mysteries of the supernatural.

I recall the bearing of Old Phelps, when, several years ago, he
conducted a party to the summit of Mount Marcy by the way he had “bushed
out.” This was his mountain, and he had a peculiar sense of ownership in
it. In a way, it was holy ground; and he would rather no one should
go on it who did not feel its sanctity. Perhaps it was a sense of some
divine relation in it that made him always speak of it as “Mercy.” To
him this ridiculously dubbed Mount Marcy was always “Mount Mercy.” By a
like effort to soften the personal offensiveness of the nomenclature
of this region, he invariably spoke of Dix’s Peak, one of the southern
peaks of the range, as “Dixie.” It was some time since Phelps himself
had visited his mountain; and, as he pushed on through the miles of
forest, we noticed a kind of eagerness in the old man, as of a lover
going to a rendezvous. Along the foot of the mountain flows a clear
trout stream, secluded and undisturbed in those awful solitudes, which
is the “Mercy Brook” of the old woodsman. That day when he crossed it,
in advance of his company, he was heard to say in a low voice, as if
greeting some object of which he was shyly fond, “So, little brook, do I
meet you once more?” and when we were well up the mountain, and emerged
from the last stunted fringe of vegetation upon the rock-bound slope,
I saw Old Phelps, who was still foremost, cast himself upon the ground,
and heard him cry, with an enthusiasm that was intended for no mortal
ear, “I’m with you once again!” His great passion very rarely found
expression in any such theatrical burst. The bare summit that day was
swept by a fierce, cold wind, and lost in an occasional chilling cloud.
Some of the party, exhausted by the climb, and shivering in the rude
wind, wanted a fire kindled and a cup of tea made, and thought this the
guide’s business. Fire and tea were far enough from his thought. He had
withdrawn himself quite apart, and wrapped in a ragged blanket, still
and silent as the rock he stood on, was gazing out upon the wilderness
of peaks. The view from Marcy is peculiar. It is without softness or
relief. The narrow valleys are only dark shadows; the lakes are bits
of broken mirror. From horizon to horizon there is a tumultuous sea of
billows turned to stone. You stand upon the highest billow; you command
the situation; you have surprised Nature in a high creative act; the
mighty primal energy has only just become repose. This was a supreme
hour to Old Phelps. Tea! I believe the boys succeeded in kindling a
fire; but the enthusiastic stoic had no reason to complain of want of
appreciation in the rest of the party. When we were descending, he told
us, with mingled humor and scorn, of a party of ladies he once led to
the top of the mountain on a still day, who began immediately to talk
about the fashions! As he related the scene, stopping and facing us in
the trail, his mild, far-in eyes came to the front, and his voice rose
with his language to a kind of scream.

“Why, there they were, right before the greatest view they ever saw,
talkin’ about the fashions!”

Impossible to convey the accent of contempt in which he pronounced the
word “fashions,” and then added, with a sort of regretful bitterness, “I
was a great mind to come down, and leave ‘em there.”

In common with the Greeks, Old Phelps personified the woods, mountains,
and streams. They had not only personality, but distinctions of sex. It
was something beyond the characterization of the hunter, which
appeared, for instance, when he related a fight with a panther, in such
expressions as, “Then Mr. Panther thought he would see what he could
do,” etc. He was in “imaginative sympathy” with all wild things. The
afternoon we descended Marcy, we went away to the west, through the
primeval forests, toward Avalanche and Colden, and followed the course
of the charming Opalescent. When we reached the leaping stream, Phelps

“Here’s little Miss Opalescent!”

“Why don’t you say Mr. Opalescent?” some one asked.

“Oh, she’s too pretty!” And too pretty she was, with her foam-white
and rainbow dress, and her downfalls, and fountainlike uprising. A
bewitching young person we found her all that summer afternoon.

This sylph-like person had little in common with a monstrous lady whose
adventures in the wilderness Phelps was fond of relating. She was built
some thing on the plan of the mountains, and her ambition to explore was
equal to her size. Phelps and the other guides once succeeded in raising
her to the top of Marcy; but the feat of getting a hogshead of molasses
up there would have been easier. In attempting to give us an idea of her
magnitude that night, as we sat in the forest camp, Phelps hesitated a
moment, while he cast his eye around the woods: “Waal, there ain’t no

It is only by recalling fragmentary remarks and incidents that I can put
the reader in possession of the peculiarities of my subject; and
this involves the wrenching of things out of their natural order and
continuity, and introducing them abruptly, an abruptness illustrated by
the remark of “Old Man Hoskins” (which Phelps liked to quote), when one
day he suddenly slipped down a bank into a thicket, and seated himself
in a wasps’ nest: “I hain’t no business here; but here I be!”

The first time we went into camp on the Upper Au Sable Pond, which has
been justly celebrated as the most prettily set sheet of water in the
region, we were disposed to build our shanty on the south side, so that
we could have in full view the Gothics and that loveliest of mountain
contours. To our surprise, Old Phelps, whose sentimental weakness for
these mountains we knew, opposed this. His favorite camping ground was
on the north side,--a pretty site in itself, but with no special view.
In order to enjoy the lovely mountains, we should be obliged to row out
into the lake: we wanted them always before our eyes,--at sunrise and
sunset, and in the blaze of noon. With deliberate speech, as if weighing
our arguments and disposing of them, he replied, “Waal, now, them
Gothics ain’t the kinder scenery you want ter hog down!”

It was on quiet Sundays in the woods, or in talks by the camp-fire, that
Phelps came out as the philosopher, and commonly contributed the light
of his observations. Unfortunate marriages, and marriages in general,
were, on one occasion, the subject of discussion; and a good deal of
darkness had been cast on it by various speakers; when Phelps suddenly
piped up, from a log where he had sat silent, almost invisible, in the
shadow and smoke, “Waal, now, when you’ve said all there is to be said,
marriage is mostly for discipline.”

Discipline, certainly, the old man had, in one way or another; and years
of solitary communing in the forest had given him, perhaps, a childlike
insight into spiritual concerns. Whether he had formulated any creed or
what faith he had, I never knew. Keene Valley had a reputation of not
ripening Christians any more successfully than maize, the season there
being short; and on our first visit it was said to contain but one
Bible Christian, though I think an accurate census disclosed three. Old
Phelps, who sometimes made abrupt remarks in trying situations, was not
included in this census; but he was the disciple of supernaturalism in a
most charming form. I have heard of his opening his inmost thoughts to
a lady, one Sunday, after a noble sermon of Robertson’s had been read
in the cathedral stillness of the forest. His experience was entirely
first-hand, and related with unconsciousness that it was not common to
all. There was nothing of the mystic or the sentimentalist, only a vivid
realism, in that nearness of God of which he spoke,--“as near some-times
as those trees,”--and of the holy voice, that, in a time of inward
struggle, had seemed to him to come from the depths of the forest,
saying, “Poor soul, I am the way.”

In later years there was a “revival” in Keene Valley, the result of
which was a number of young “converts,” whom Phelps seemed to regard
as a veteran might raw recruits, and to have his doubts what sort of
soldiers they would make.

“Waal, Jimmy,” he said to one of them, “you’ve kindled a pretty good
fire with light wood. That’s what we do of a dark night in the woods,
you know but we do it just so as we can look around and find the solid
wood: so now put on your solid wood.”

In the Sunday Bible classes of the period Phelps was a perpetual anxiety
to the others, who followed closely the printed lessons, and beheld
with alarm his discursive efforts to get into freer air and light. His
remarks were the most refreshing part of the exercises, but were outside
of the safe path into which the others thought it necessary to win
him from his “speckerlations.” The class were one day on the verses
concerning “God’s word” being “written on the heart,” and were keeping
close to the shore, under the guidance of “Barnes’s Notes,” when Old
Phelps made a dive to the bottom, and remarked that he had “thought a
good deal about the expression, ‘God’s word written on the heart,’
and had been asking himself how that was to be done; and suddenly it
occurred to him (having been much interested lately in watching the work
of a photographer) that, when a photograph is going to be taken, all
that has to be done is to put the object in position, and the sun makes
the picture; and so he rather thought that all we had got to do was to
put our hearts in place, and God would do the writin’.”

Phelps’s theology, like his science, is first-hand. In the woods, one
day, talk ran on the Trinity as being nowhere asserted as a doctrine in
the Bible, and some one suggested that the attempt to pack these
great and fluent mysteries into one word must always be more or
less unsatisfactory. “Ye-es,” droned Phelps: “I never could see much
speckerlation in that expression the Trinity. Why, they’d a good deal
better say Legion.”

The sentiment of the man about nature, or his poetic sensibility, was
frequently not to be distinguished from a natural religion, and was
always tinged with the devoutness of Wordsworth’s verse. Climbing slowly
one day up the Balcony,--he was more than usually calm and slow,--he
espied an exquisite fragile flower in the crevice of a rock, in a very
lonely spot.

“It seems as if,” he said, or rather dreamed out, “it seems as if the
Creator had kept something just to look at himself.”

To a lady whom he had taken to Chapel Pond (a retired but rather
uninteresting spot), and who expressed a little disappointment at its
tameness, saying, of this “Why, Mr. Phelps, the principal charm of this
place seems to be its loneliness.”

“Yes,” he replied in gentle and lingering tones, and its nativeness. “It
lies here just where it was born.”

Rest and quiet had infinite attractions for him. A secluded opening in
the woods was a “calm spot.” He told of seeing once, or rather being in,
a circular rainbow. He stood on Indian Head, overlooking the Lower Lake,
so that he saw the whole bow in the sky and the lake, and seemed to be
in the midst of it; “only at one place there was an indentation in it,
where it rested on the lake, just enough to keep it from rolling off.”
 This “resting” of the sphere seemed to give him great comfort.

One Indian-summer morning in October, some ladies found the old man
sitting on his doorstep smoking a short pipe.

He gave no sign of recognition except a twinkle of the eye, being
evidently quite in harmony with the peaceful day. They stood there a
full minute before he opened his mouth: then he did not rise, but slowly
took his pipe from his mouth, and said in a dreamy way, pointing towards
the brook,--

“Do you see that tree?” indicating a maple almost denuded of leaves,
which lay like a yellow garment cast at its feet. “I’ve been watching
that tree all the morning. There hain’t been a breath of wind: but for
hours the leaves have been falling, falling, just as you see them now;
and at last it’s pretty much bare.” And after a pause, pensively: “Waal,
I suppose its hour had come.”

This contemplative habit of Old Phelps is wholly unappreciated by his
neighbors; but it has been indulged in no inconsiderable part of his
life. Rising after a time, he said, “Now I want you to go with me and
see my golden city I’ve talked so much about.” He led the way to a
hill-outlook, when suddenly, emerging from the forest, the spectators
saw revealed the winding valley and its stream. He said quietly,
“There is my golden city.” Far below, at their feet, they saw that vast
assemblage of birches and “popples,” yellow as gold in the brooding
noonday, and slender spires rising out of the glowing mass. Without
another word, Phelps sat a long time in silent content: it was to him,
as Bunyan says, “a place desirous to be in.”

Is this philosopher contented with what life has brought him? Speaking
of money one day, when we had asked him if he should do differently if
he had his life to live over again, he said, “Yes, but not about money.
To have had hours such as I have had in these mountains, and with such
men as Dr. Bushnell and Dr. Shaw and Mr. Twichell, and others I could
name, is worth all the money the world could give.” He read
character very well, and took in accurately the boy nature. “Tom” (an
irrepressible, rather overdone specimen),--“Tom’s a nice kind of a
boy; but he’s got to come up against a snubbin’-post one of these
days.”--“Boys!” he once said: “you can’t git boys to take any kinder
notice of scenery. I never yet saw a boy that would look a second
time at a sunset. Now, a girl will some times; but even then it’s
instantaneous,--comes an goes like the sunset. As for me,” still
speaking of scenery, “these mountains about here, that I see every
day, are no more to me, in one sense, than a man’s farm is to him. What
mostly interests me now is when I see some new freak or shape in the
face of Nature.”

In literature it may be said that Old Phelps prefers the best in the
very limited range that has been open to him. Tennyson is his favorite
among poets an affinity explained by the fact that they are both
lotos-eaters. Speaking of a lecture-room talk of Mr. Beecher’s which he
had read, he said, “It filled my cup about as full as I callerlate to
have it: there was a good deal of truth in it, and some poetry; waal,
and a little spice, too. We’ve got to have the spice, you know.” He
admired, for different reasons, a lecture by Greeley that he once heard,
into which so much knowledge of various kinds was crowded that he said
he “made a reg’lar gobble of it.” He was not without discrimination,
which he exercised upon the local preaching when nothing better offered.
Of one sermon he said, “The man began way back at the creation, and just
preached right along down; and he didn’t say nothing, after all. It just
seemed to me as if he was tryin’ to git up a kind of a fix-up.”

Old Phelps used words sometimes like algebraic signs, and had a habit
of making one do duty for a season together for all occasions.
“Speckerlation” and “callerlation” and “fix-up” are specimens of words
that were prolific in expression. An unusual expression, or an unusual
article, would be charactcrized as a “kind of a scientific literary

“What is the program for tomorrow?” I once asked him. “Waal, I
callerlate, if they rig up the callerlation they callerlate on, we’ll
go to the Boreas.” Starting out for a day’s tramp in the woods, he would
ask whether we wanted to take a “reg’lar walk, or a random scoot,”--the
latter being a plunge into the pathless forest. When he was on such an
expedition, and became entangled in dense brush, and maybe a network
of “slash” and swamp, he was like an old wizard, as he looked here and
there, seeking a way, peering into the tangle, or withdrawing from a
thicket, and muttering to himself, “There ain’t no speckerlation there.”
 And when the way became altogether inscrutable,--“Waal, this is a
reg’lar random scoot of a rigmarole.” As some one remarked, “The
dictionary in his hands is like clay in the hands of the potter.” “A
petrifaction was a kind of a hard-wood chemical git-up.”

There is no conceit, we are apt to say, like that born of isolation
from the world, and there are no such conceited people as those who have
lived all their lives in the woods. Phelps was, however, unsophisticated
in his until the advent of strangers into his life, who brought in
literature and various other disturbing influences. I am sorry to say
that the effect has been to take off something of the bloom of his
simplicity, and to elevate him into an oracle. I suppose this is
inevitable as soon as one goes into print; and Phelps has gone into
print in the local papers. He has been bitten with the literary “git
up.” Justly regarding most of the Adirondack literature as a “perfect
fizzle,” he has himself projected a work, and written much on the
natural history of his region. Long ago he made a large map of the
mountain country; and, until recent surveys, it was the only one that
could lay any claim to accuracy. His history is no doubt original in
form, and unconventional in expression. Like most of the writers of
the seventeenth century, and the court ladies and gentlemen of the
eighteenth century, he is an independent speller. Writing of his work on
the Adirondacks, he says, “If I should ever live to get this wonderful
thing written, I expect it will show one thing, if no more; and that
is, that every thing has an opposite. I expect to show in this that
literature has an opposite, if I do not show any thing els. We could
not enjoy the blessings and happiness of riteousness if we did not
know innicuty was in the world: in fact, there would be no riteousness
without innicuty.” Writing also of his great enjoyment of being in the
woods, especially since he has had the society there of some people he
names, he adds, “And since I have Literature, Siance, and Art all spread
about on the green moss of the mountain woods or the gravell banks of a
cristle stream, it seems like finding roses, honeysuckels, and violets
on a crisp brown cliff in December. You know I don’t believe much in the
religion of seramony; but any riteous thing that has life and spirit in
it is food for me.” I must not neglect to mention an essay, continued
in several numbers of his local paper, on “The Growth of the Tree,” in
which he demolishes the theory of Mr. Greeley, whom he calls “one of the
best vegetable philosophers,” about “growth without seed.” He treats
of the office of sap: “All trees have some kind of sap and some kind of
operation of sap flowing in their season,” the dissemination of seeds,
the processes of growth, the power of healing wounds, the proportion of
roots to branches, &c. Speaking of the latter, he says, “I have thought
it would be one of the greatest curiosities on earth to see a thrifty
growing maple or elm, that had grown on a deep soil interval to be two
feet in diameter, to be raised clear into the air with every root and
fibre down to the minutest thread, all entirely cleared of soil, so that
every particle could be seen in its natural position. I think it would
astonish even the wise ones.” From his instinctive sympathy with
nature, he often credits vegetable organism with “instinctive judgment.”
 “Observation teaches us that a tree is given powerful instincts, which
would almost appear to amount to judgment in some cases, to provide for
its own wants and necessities.”

Here our study must cease. When the primitive man comes into literature,
he is no longer primitive.


It seems to be agreed that civilization is kept up only by a constant
effort: Nature claims its own speedily when the effort is relaxed. If
you clear a patch of fertile ground in the forest, uproot the stumps,
and plant it, year after year, in potatoes and maize, you say you
have subdued it. But, if you leave it for a season or two, a kind of
barbarism seems to steal out upon it from the circling woods; coarse
grass and brambles cover it; bushes spring up in a wild tangle; the
raspberry and the blackberry flower and fruit; and the humorous bear
feeds upon them. The last state of that ground is worse than the first.

Perhaps the cleared spot is called Ephesus. There is a splendid city on
the plain; there are temples and theatres on the hills; the commerce
of the world seeks its port; the luxury of the Orient flows through
its marble streets. You are there one day when the sea has receded: the
plain is a pestilent marsh; the temples, the theatres, the lofty gates
have sunken and crumbled, and the wild-brier runs over them; and, as you
grow pensive in the most desolate place in the world, a bandit lounges
out of a tomb, and offers to relieve you of all that which creates
artificial distinctions in society. The higher the civilization has
risen, the more abject is the desolation of barbarism that ensues. The
most melancholy spot in the Adirondacks is not a tamarack-swamp, where
the traveler wades in moss and mire, and the atmosphere is composed of
equal active parts of black-flies, mosquitoes, and midges. It is the
village of the Adirondack Iron-Works, where the streets of gaunt houses
are falling to pieces, tenantless; the factory-wheels have stopped; the
furnaces are in ruins; the iron and wooden machinery is strewn about in
helpless detachment; and heaps of charcoal, ore, and slag proclaim an
arrested industry. Beside this deserted village, even Calamity Pond,
shallow, sedgy, with its ragged shores of stunted firs, and its
melancholy shaft that marks the spot where the proprietor of the
iron-works accidentally shot himself, is cheerful.

The instinct of barbarism that leads people periodically to throw aside
the habits of civilization, and seek the freedom and discomfort of the
woods, is explicable enough; but it is not so easy to understand why
this passion should be strongest in those who are most refined, and
most trained in intellectual and social fastidiousness. Philistinism and
shoddy do not like the woods, unless it becomes fashionable to do so;
and then, as speedily as possible, they introduce their artificial
luxuries, and reduce the life in the wilderness to the vulgarity of a
well-fed picnic. It is they who have strewn the Adirondacks with paper
collars and tin cans. The real enjoyment of camping and tramping in the
woods lies in a return to primitive conditions of lodging, dress,
and food, in as total an escape as may be from the requirements of
civilization. And it remains to be explained why this is enjoyed most by
those who are most highly civilized. It is wonderful to see how easily
the restraints of society fall off. Of course it is not true that
courtesy depends upon clothes with the best people; but, with others,
behavior hangs almost entirely upon dress. Many good habits are easily
got rid of in the woods. Doubt sometimes seems to be felt whether Sunday
is a legal holiday there. It becomes a question of casuistry with a
clergyman whether he may shoot at a mark on Sunday, if none of his
congregation are present. He intends no harm: he only gratifies a
curiosity to see if he can hit the mark. Where shall he draw the line?
Doubtless he might throw a stone at a chipmunk, or shout at a loon.
Might he fire at a mark with an air-gun that makes no noise? He will not
fish or hunt on Sunday (although he is no more likely to catch anything
that day than on any other); but may he eat trout that the guide has
caught on Sunday, if the guide swears he caught them Saturday night? Is
there such a thing as a vacation in religion? How much of our virtue do
we owe to inherited habits?

I am not at all sure whether this desire to camp outside of civilization
is creditable to human nature, or otherwise. We hear sometimes that the
Turk has been merely camping for four centuries in Europe. I suspect
that many of us are, after all, really camping temporarily in civilized
conditions; and that going into the wilderness is an escape, longed for,
into our natural and preferred state. Consider what this “camping out”
 is, that is confessedly so agreeable to people most delicately reared. I
have no desire to exaggerate its delights.

The Adirondack wilderness is essentially unbroken. A few bad roads that
penetrate it, a few jolting wagons that traverse them, a few barn-like
boarding-houses on the edge of the forest, where the boarders are
soothed by patent coffee, and stimulated to unnatural gayety by Japan
tea, and experimented on by unique cookery, do little to destroy the
savage fascination of the region. In half an hour, at any point, one can
put himself into solitude and every desirable discomfort. The party that
covets the experience of the camp comes down to primitive conditions of
dress and equipment. There are guides and porters to carry the blankets
for beds, the raw provisions, and the camp equipage; and the motley
party of the temporarily decivilized files into the woods, and begins,
perhaps by a road, perhaps on a trail, its exhilarating and weary march.
The exhilaration arises partly from the casting aside of restraint,
partly from the adventure of exploration; and the weariness, from the
interminable toil of bad walking, a heavy pack, and the grim monotony
of trees and bushes, that shut out all prospect, except an occasional
glimpse of the sky. Mountains are painfully climbed, streams forded,
lonesome lakes paddled over, long and muddy “carries” traversed. Fancy
this party the victim of political exile, banished by the law, and a
more sorrowful march could not be imagined; but the voluntary hardship
becomes pleasure, and it is undeniable that the spirits of the party
rise as the difficulties increase.

For this straggling and stumbling band the world is young again: it has
come to the beginning of things; it has cut loose from tradition, and
is free to make a home anywhere: the movement has all the promise of a
revolution. All this virginal freshness invites the primitive instincts
of play and disorder. The free range of the forests suggests endless
possibilities of exploration and possession. Perhaps we are treading
where man since the creation never trod before; perhaps the waters of
this bubbling spring, which we deepen by scraping out the decayed leaves
and the black earth, have never been tasted before, except by the wild
denizens of these woods. We cross the trails of lurking animals,--paths
that heighten our sense of seclusion from the world. The hammering of
the infrequent woodpecker, the call of the lonely bird, the drumming
of the solitary partridge,--all these sounds do but emphasize the
lonesomeness of nature. The roar of the mountain brook, dashing over its
bed of pebbles, rising out of the ravine, and spreading, as it were, a
mist of sound through all the forest (continuous beating waves that
have the rhythm of eternity in them), and the fitful movement of the
air-tides through the balsams and firs and the giant pines,--how these
grand symphonies shut out the little exasperations of our vexed life! It
seems easy to begin life over again on the simplest terms. Probably
it is not so much the desire of the congregation to escape from the
preacher, or of the preacher to escape from himself, that drives
sophisticated people into the wilderness, as it is the unconquered
craving for primitive simplicity, the revolt against the everlasting
dress-parade of our civilization. From this monstrous pomposity even the
artificial rusticity of a Petit Trianon is a relief. It was only human
nature that the jaded Frenchman of the regency should run away to the
New World, and live in a forest-hut with an Indian squaw; although he
found little satisfaction in his act of heroism, unless it was talked
about at Versailles.

When our trampers come, late in the afternoon, to the bank of a lovely
lake where they purpose to enter the primitive life, everything is
waiting for them in virgin expectation. There is a little promontory
jutting into the lake, and sloping down to a sandy beach, on which the
waters idly lapse, and shoals of red-fins and shiners come to greet the
stranger; the forest is untouched by the axe; the tender green sweeps
the water’s edge; ranks of slender firs are marshaled by the shore;
clumps of white-birch stems shine in satin purity among the evergreens;
the boles of giant spruces, maples, and oaks, lifting high their crowns
of foliage, stretch away in endless galleries and arcades; through the
shifting leaves the sunshine falls upon the brown earth; overhead are
fragments of blue sky; under the boughs and in chance openings
appear the bluer lake and the outline of the gracious mountains. The
discoverers of this paradise, which they have entered to destroy, note
the babbling of the brook that flows close at hand; they hear the splash
of the leaping fish; they listen to the sweet, metallic song of the
evening thrush, and the chatter of the red squirrel, who angrily
challenges their right to be there. But the moment of sentiment passes.
This party has come here to eat and to sleep, and not to encourage
Nature in her poetic attitudinizing.

The spot for a shanty is selected. This side shall be its opening,
towards the lake; and in front of it the fire, so that the smoke shall
drift into the hut, and discourage the mosquitoes; yonder shall be
the cook’s fire and the path to the spring. The whole colony bestir
themselves in the foundation of a new home,--an enterprise that has all
the fascination, and none of the danger, of a veritable new settlement
in the wilderness. The axes of the guides resound in the echoing spaces;
great trunks fall with a crash; vistas are opened towards the lake and
the mountains. The spot for the shanty is cleared of underbrush; forked
stakes are driven into the ground, cross-pieces are laid on them, and
poles sloping back to the ground. In an incredible space of time there
is the skeleton of a house, which is entirely open in front. The roof
and sides must be covered. For this purpose the trunks of great spruces
are skinned. The woodman rims the bark near the foot of the tree, and
again six feet above, and slashes it perpendicularly; then, with a blunt
stick, he crowds off this thick hide exactly as an ox is skinned.
It needs but a few of these skins to cover the roof; and they make a
perfectly water-tight roof, except when it rains. Meantime busy hands
have gathered boughs of the spruce and the feathery balsam, and shingled
the ground underneath the shanty for a bed. It is an aromatic bed: in
theory it is elastic and consoling. Upon it are spread the blankets. The
sleepers, of all sexes and ages, are to lie there in a row, their feet
to the fire, and their heads under the edge of the sloping roof. Nothing
could be better contrived. The fire is in front: it is not a fire, but
a conflagration--a vast heap of green logs set on fire--of pitch, and
split dead-wood, and crackling balsams, raging and roaring. By the time,
twilight falls, the cook has prepared supper. Everything has been cooked
in a tin pail and a skillet,--potatoes, tea, pork, mutton, slapjacks.
You wonder how everything could have been prepared in so few utensils.
When you eat, the wonder ceases: everything might have been cooked
in one pail. It is a noble meal; and nobly is it disposed of by these
amateur savages, sitting about upon logs and roots of trees. Never were
there such potatoes, never beans that seemed to have more of the bean in
them, never such curly pork, never trout with more Indian-meal on them,
never mutton more distinctly sheepy; and the tea, drunk out of a tin
cup, with a lump of maple-sugar dissolved in it,--it is the sort of tea
that takes hold, lifts the hair, and disposes the drinker to anecdote
and hilariousness. There is no deception about it: it tastes of tannin
and spruce and creosote. Everything, in short, has the flavor of
the wilderness and a free life. It is idyllic. And yet, with all our
sentimentality, there is nothing feeble about the cooking. The slapjacks
are a solid job of work, made to last, and not go to pieces in a
person’s stomach like a trivial bun: we might record on them, in
cuneiform characters, our incipient civilization; and future generations
would doubtless turn them up as Acadian bricks. Good, robust victuals
are what the primitive man wants.

Darkness falls suddenly. Outside the ring of light from our
conflagration the woods are black. There is a tremendous impression of
isolation and lonesomeness in our situation. We are the prisoners of
the night. The woods never seemed so vast and mysterious. The trees are
gigantic. There are noises that we do not understand,--mysterious winds
passing overhead, and rambling in the great galleries, tree-trunks
grinding against each other, undefinable stirs and uneasinesses. The
shapes of those who pass into the dimness are outlined in monstrous
proportions. The spectres, seated about in the glare of the fire, talk
about appearances and presentiments and religion. The guides cheer the
night with bear-fights, and catamount encounters, and frozen-to-death
experiences, and simple tales of great prolixity and no point, and jokes
of primitive lucidity. We hear catamounts, and the stealthy tread of
things in the leaves, and the hooting of owls, and, when the moon rises,
the laughter of the loon. Everything is strange, spectral, fascinating.

By and by we get our positions in the shanty for the night, and arrange
the row of sleepers. The shanty has become a smoke-house by this time:
waves of smoke roll into it from the fire. It is only by lying down, and
getting the head well under the eaves, that one can breathe. No one can
find her “things”; nobody has a pillow. At length the row is laid out,
with the solemn protestation of intention to sleep. The wind, shifting,
drives away the smoke.

Good-night is said a hundred times; positions are readjusted, more last
words, new shifting about, final remarks; it is all so comfortable and
romantic; and then silence. Silence continues for a minute. The fire
flashes up; all the row of heads is lifted up simultaneously to watch
it; showers of sparks sail aloft into the blue night; the vast vault
of greenery is a fairy spectacle. How the sparks mount and twinkle and
disappear like tropical fireflies, and all the leaves murmur, and clap
their hands! Some of the sparks do not go out: we see them flaming in
the sky when the flame of the fire has died down. Well, good-night,
goodnight. More folding of the arms to sleep; more grumbling about the
hardness of a hand-bag, or the insufficiency of a pocket-handkerchief,
for a pillow. Good-night. Was that a remark?--something about a root,
a stub in the ground sticking into the back. “You couldn’t lie along a
hair?”---“Well, no: here’s another stub. It needs but a moment for the
conversation to become general,--about roots under the shoulder, stubs
in the back, a ridge on which it is impossible for the sleeper to
balance, the non-elasticity of boughs, the hardness of the ground, the
heat, the smoke, the chilly air. Subjects of remarks multiply. The whole
camp is awake, and chattering like an aviary. The owl is also awake; but
the guides who are asleep outside make more noise than the owls. Water
is wanted, and is handed about in a dipper. Everybody is yawning;
everybody is now determined to go to sleep in good earnest. A last
good-night. There is an appalling silence. It is interrupted in the most
natural way in the world. Somebody has got the start, and gone to sleep.
He proclaims the fact. He seems to have been brought up on the seashore,
and to know how to make all the deep-toned noises of the restless ocean.
He is also like a war-horse; or, it is suggested, like a saw-horse. How
malignantly he snorts, and breaks off short, and at once begins again in
another key! One head is raised after another.

“Who is that?”

“Somebody punch him.”

“Turn him over.”

“Reason with him.”

The sleeper is turned over. The turn was a mistake. He was before, it
appears, on his most agreeable side. The camp rises in indignation.
The sleeper sits up in bewilderment. Before he can go off again, two or
three others have preceded him. They are all alike. You never can
judge what a person is when he is awake. There are here half a dozen
disturbers of the peace who should be put in solitary confinement. At
midnight, when a philosopher crawls out to sit on a log by the fire,
and smoke a pipe, a duet in tenor and mezzo-soprano is going on in the
shanty, with a chorus always coming in at the wrong time. Those who
are not asleep want to know why the smoker doesn’t go to bed. He is
requested to get some water, to throw on another log, to see what
time it is, to note whether it looks like rain. A buzz of conversation
arises. She is sure she heard something behind the shanty. He says it is
all nonsense. “Perhaps, however, it might be a mouse.”

“Mercy! Are there mice?”


“Then that’s what I heard nibbling by my head. I shan’t sleep a wink! Do
they bite?”

“No, they nibble; scarcely ever take a full bite out.”

“It’s horrid!”

Towards morning it grows chilly; the guides have let the fire go out;
the blankets will slip down. Anxiety begins to be expressed about the

“What time does the sun rise?”

“Awful early. Did you sleep?

“Not a wink. And you?”

“In spots. I’m going to dig up this root as soon as it is light enough.”

“See that mist on the lake, and the light just coming on the Gothics!
I’d no idea it was so cold: all the first part of the night I was

“What were they talking about all night?”

When the party crawls out to the early breakfast, after it has washed
its faces in the lake, it is disorganized, but cheerful. Nobody admits
much sleep; but everybody is refreshed, and declares it delightful. It
is the fresh air all night that invigorates; or maybe it is the tea,
or the slap-jacks. The guides have erected a table of spruce bark, with
benches at the sides; so that breakfast is taken in form. It is served
on tin plates and oak chips. After breakfast begins the day’s work.
It may be a mountain-climbing expedition, or rowing and angling in the
lake, or fishing for trout in some stream two or three miles distant.
Nobody can stir far from camp without a guide. Hammocks are swung,
bowers are built novel-reading begins, worsted work appears, cards
are shuffled and dealt. The day passes in absolute freedom from
responsibility to one’s self. At night when the expeditions return, the
camp resumes its animation. Adventures are recounted, every statement of
the narrator being disputed and argued. Everybody has become an adept in
woodcraft; but nobody credits his neighbor with like instinct. Society
getting resolved into its elements, confidence is gone.

Whilst the hilarious party are at supper, a drop or two of rain falls.
The head guide is appealed to. Is it going to rain? He says it does
rain. But will it be a rainy night? The guide goes down to the lake,
looks at the sky, and concludes that, if the wind shifts a p’int more,
there is no telling what sort of weather we shall have. Meantime the
drops patter thicker on the leaves overhead, and the leaves, in turn,
pass the water down to the table; the sky darkens; the wind rises; there
is a kind of shiver in the woods; and we scud away into the shanty,
taking the remains of our supper, and eating it as best we can. The
rain increases. The fire sputters and fumes. All the trees are dripping,
dripping, and the ground is wet. We cannot step outdoors without getting
a drenching. Like sheep, we are penned in the little hut, where no
one can stand erect. The rain swirls into the open front, and wets
the bottom of the blankets. The smoke drives in. We curl up, and enjoy
ourselves. The guides at length conclude that it is going to be damp.
The dismal situation sets us all into good spirits; and it is later than
the night before when we crawl under our blankets, sure this time of
a sound sleep, lulled by the storm and the rain resounding on the bark
roof. How much better off we are than many a shelter-less wretch! We
are as snug as dry herrings. At the moment, however, of dropping off to
sleep, somebody unfortunately notes a drop of water on his face; this
is followed by another drop; in an instant a stream is established. He
moves his head to a dry place. Scarcely has he done so, when he feels
a dampness in his back. Reaching his hand outside, he finds a puddle of
water soaking through his blanket. By this time, somebody inquires if
it is possible that the roof leaks. One man has a stream of water under
him; another says it is coming into his ear. The roof appears to be a
discriminating sieve. Those who are dry see no need of such a fuss. The
man in the corner spreads his umbrella, and the protective measure is
resented by his neighbor. In the darkness there is recrimination. One of
the guides, who is summoned, suggests that the rubber blankets be passed
out, and spread over the roof. The inmates dislike the proposal, saying
that a shower-bath is no worse than a tub-bath. The rain continues to
soak down. The fire is only half alive. The bedding is damp. Some
sit up, if they can find a dry spot to sit on, and smoke. Heartless
observations are made. A few sleep. And the night wears on. The morning
opens cheerless. The sky is still leaking, and so is the shanty. The
guides bring in a half-cooked breakfast. The roof is patched up.
There are reviving signs of breaking away, delusive signs that create
momentary exhilaration. Even if the storm clears, the woods are soaked.
There is no chance of stirring. The world is only ten feet square.

This life, without responsibility or clean clothes, may continue as long
as the reader desires. There are, those who would like to live in this
free fashion forever, taking rain and sun as heaven pleases; and there
are some souls so constituted that they cannot exist more than three
days without their worldly--baggage. Taking the party altogether,
from one cause or another it is likely to strike camp sooner than was
intended. And the stricken camp is a melancholy sight. The woods have
been despoiled; the stumps are ugly; the bushes are scorched; the
pine-leaf-strewn earth is trodden into mire; the landing looks like a
cattle-ford; the ground is littered with all the unsightly dibris of a
hand-to-hand life; the dismantled shanty is a shabby object; the charred
and blackened logs, where the fire blazed, suggest the extinction of
family life. Man has wrought his usual wrong upon Nature, and he can
save his self-respect only by moving to virgin forests.

And move to them he will, the next season, if not this. For he who has
once experienced the fascination of the woods-life never escapes its
enticement: in the memory nothing remains but its charm.


At the south end of Keene Valley, in the Adirondacks, stands Noon Mark,
a shapely peak thirty-five hundred feet above the sea, which, with the
aid of the sun, tells the Keene people when it is time to eat dinner.
From its summit you look south into a vast wilderness basin, a great
stretch of forest little trodden, and out of whose bosom you can hear
from the heights on a still day the loud murmur of the Boquet. This
basin of unbroken green rises away to the south and southeast into the
rocky heights of Dix’s Peak and Nipple Top,--the latter a local name
which neither the mountain nor the fastidious tourist is able to shake
off. Indeed, so long as the mountain keeps its present shape as seen
from the southern lowlands, it cannot get on without this name.

These two mountains, which belong to the great system of which Marcy
is the giant centre, and are in the neighborhood of five thousand
feet high, on the southern outposts of the great mountains, form the
gate-posts of the pass into the south country. This opening between them
is called Hunter’s Pass. It is the most elevated and one of the wildest
of the mountain passes. Its summit is thirty-five hundred feet high. In
former years it is presumed the hunters occasionally followed the game
through; but latterly it is rare to find a guide who has been that way,
and the tin-can and paper-collar tourists have not yet made it a runway.
This seclusion is due not to any inherent difficulty of travel, but to
the fact that it lies a little out of the way.

We went through it last summer; making our way into the jaws from the
foot of the great slides on Dix, keeping along the ragged spurs of the
mountain through the virgin forest. The pass is narrow, walled in on
each side by precipices of granite, and blocked up with bowlders and
fallen trees, and beset with pitfalls in the roads ingeniously covered
with fair-seeming moss. When the climber occasionally loses sight of a
leg in one of these treacherous holes, and feels a cold sensation in his
foot, he learns that he has dipped into the sources of the Boquet, which
emerges lower down into falls and rapids, and, recruited by creeping
tributaries, goes brawling through the forest basin, and at last comes
out an amiable and boat-bearing stream in the valley of Elizabeth Town.
From the summit another rivulet trickles away to the south, and finds
its way through a frightful tamarack swamp, and through woods scarred by
ruthless lumbering, to Mud Pond, a quiet body of water, with a ghastly
fringe of dead trees, upon which people of grand intentions and weak
vocabulary are trying to fix the name of Elk Lake. The descent of the
pass on that side is precipitous and exciting. The way is in the stream
itself; and a considerable portion of the distance we swung ourselves
down the faces of considerable falls, and tumbled down cascades. The
descent, however, was made easy by the fact that it rained, and
every footstep was yielding and slippery. Why sane people, often
church-members respectably connected, will subject themselves to this
sort of treatment,--be wet to the skin, bruised by the rocks, and flung
about among the bushes and dead wood until the most necessary part of
their apparel hangs in shreds,--is one of the delightful mysteries of
these woods. I suspect that every man is at heart a roving animal, and
likes, at intervals, to revert to the condition of the bear and the

There is no trail through Hunter’s Pass, which, as I have intimated, is
the least frequented portion of this wilderness. Yet we were surprised
to find a well-beaten path a considerable portion of the way and
wherever a path is possible. It was not a mere deer’s runway: these are
found everywhere in the mountains. It is trodden by other and larger
animals, and is, no doubt, the highway of beasts. It bears marks of
having been so for a long period, and probably a period long ago. Large
animals are not common in these woods now, and you seldom meet anything
fiercer than the timid deer and the gentle bear. But in days gone by,
Hunter’s Pass was the highway of the whole caravan of animals who were
continually going backward; and forwards, in the aimless, roaming way
that beasts have, between Mud Pond and the Boquet Basin. I think I can
see now the procession of them between the heights of Dix and Nipple
Top; the elk and the moose shambling along, cropping the twigs; the
heavy bear lounging by with his exploring nose; the frightened deer
trembling at every twig that snapped beneath his little hoofs, intent on
the lily-pads of the pond; the raccoon and the hedgehog, sidling along;
and the velvet-footed panther, insouciant and conscienceless, scenting
the path with a curious glow in his eye, or crouching in an overhanging
tree ready to drop into the procession at the right moment. Night and
day, year after year, I see them going by, watched by the red fox
and the comfortably clad sable, and grinned at by the black cat,--the
innocent, the vicious, the timid and the savage, the shy and the bold,
the chattering slanderer and the screaming prowler, the industrious and
the peaceful, the tree-top critic and the crawling biter,--just as it
is elsewhere. It makes me blush for my species when I think of it. This
charming society is nearly extinct now: of the larger animals there only
remain the bear, who minds his own business more thoroughly than any
person I know, and the deer, who would like to be friendly with men, but
whose winning face and gentle ways are no protection from the savageness
of man, and who is treated with the same unpitying destruction as the
snarling catamount. I have read in history that the amiable natives of
Hispaniola fared no better at the hands of the brutal Spaniards than
the fierce and warlike Caribs. As society is at present constituted in
Christian countries, I would rather for my own security be a cougar than
a fawn.

There is not much of romantic interest in the Adirondacks. Out of the
books of daring travelers, nothing. I do not know that the Keene Valley
has any history. The mountains always stood here, and the Au Sable,
flowing now in shallows and now in rippling reaches over the sands
and pebbles, has for ages filled the air with continuous and soothing
sounds. Before the Vermonters broke into it some three-quarters of a
century ago, and made meadows of its bottoms and sugar-camps of its
fringing woods, I suppose the red Indian lived here in his usual
discomfort, and was as restless as his successors, the summer boarders.
But the streams were full of trout then, and the moose and the elk left
their broad tracks on the sands of the river. But of the Indian there is
no trace. There is a mound in the valley, much like a Tel in the
country of Bashan beyond the Jordan, that may have been built by some
pre-historic race, and may contain treasure and the seated figure of
a preserved chieftain on his slow way to Paradise. What the gentle
and accomplished race of the Mound-Builders should want in this savage
region where the frost kills the early potatoes and stunts the scanty
oats, I do not know. I have seen no trace of them, except this Tel,
and one other slight relic, which came to light last summer, and is not
enough to found the history of a race upon.

Some workingmen, getting stone from the hillside on one of the little
plateaus, for a house-cellar, discovered, partly embedded, a piece of
pottery unique in this region. With the unerring instinct of workmen in
regard to antiquities, they thrust a crowbar through it, and broke the
bowl into several pieces. The joint fragments, however, give us the
form of the dish. It is a bowl about nine inches high and eight inches
across, made of red clay, baked but not glazed. The bottom is round,
the top flares into four comers, and the rim is rudely but rather
artistically ornamented with criss-cross scratches made when the clay
was soft. The vessel is made of clay not found about here, and it is
one that the Indians formerly living here could not form. Was it brought
here by roving Indians who may have made an expedition to the Ohio; was
it passed from tribe to tribe; or did it belong to a race that occupied
the country before the Indian, and who have left traces of their
civilized skill in pottery scattered all over the continent?

If I could establish the fact that this jar was made by a prehistoric
race, we should then have four generations in this lovely valley:-the
amiable Pre-Historic people (whose gentle descendants were probably
killed by the Spaniards in the West Indies); the Red Indians; the Keene
Flaters (from Vermont); and the Summer Boarders, to say nothing of the
various races of animals who have been unable to live here since the
advent of the Summer Boarders, the valley being not productive enough to
sustain both. This last incursion has been more destructive to the noble
serenity of the forest than all the preceding.

But we are wandering from Hunter’s Pass. The western walls of it are
formed by the precipices of Nipple Top, not so striking nor so bare as
the great slides of Dix which glisten in the sun like silver, but rough
and repelling, and consequently alluring. I have a great desire to scale
them. I have always had an unreasonable wish to explore the rough summit
of this crabbed hill, which is too broken and jagged for pleasure
and not high enough for glory. This desire was stimulated by a legend
related by our guide that night in the Mud Pond cabin. The guide had
never been through the pass before; although he was familiar with the
region, and had ascended Nipple Top in the winter in pursuit of the
sable. The story he told doesn’t amount to much, none of the guides’
stories do, faithfully reported, and I should not have believed it if I
had not had a good deal of leisure on my hands at the time, and been of
a willing mind, and I may say in rather of a starved condition as to any
romance in this region.

The guide said then--and he mentioned it casually, in reply to our
inquiries about ascending the mountain--that there was a cave high up
among the precipices on the southeast side of Nipple Top. He scarcely
volunteered the information, and with seeming reluctance gave us any
particulars about it. I always admire this art by which the accomplished
story-teller lets his listener drag the reluctant tale of the marvelous
from him, and makes you in a manner responsible for its improbability.
If this is well managed, the listener is always eager to believe a great
deal more than the romancer seems willing to tell, and always resents
the assumed reservations and doubts of the latter.

There were strange reports about this cave when the old guide was a
boy, and even then its very existence had become legendary. Nobody knew
exactly where it was, but there was no doubt that it had been inhabited.
Hunters in the forests south of Dix had seen a light late at night
twinkling through the trees high up the mountain, and now and then a
ruddy glare as from the flaring-up of a furnace. Settlers were few in
the wilderness then, and all the inhabitants were well known. If the
cave was inhabited, it must be by strangers, and by men who had some
secret purpose in seeking this seclusion and eluding observation. If
suspicious characters were seen about Port Henry, or if any such landed
from the steamers on the shore of Lake Champlain, it was impossible to
identify them with these invaders who were never seen. Their not
being seen did not, however, prevent the growth of the belief in their
existence. Little indications and rumors, each trivial in itself, became
a mass of testimony that could not be disposed of because of its very
indefiniteness, but which appealed strongly to man’s noblest faculty,
his imagination, or credulity.

The cave existed; and it was inhabited by men who came and went on
mysterious errands, and transacted their business by night. What this
band of adventurers or desperadoes lived on, how they conveyed their
food through the trackless woods to their high eyrie, and what could
induce men to seek such a retreat, were questions discussed, but never
settled. They might be banditti; but there was nothing to plunder in
these savage wilds, and, in fact, robberies and raids either in the
settlements of the hills or the distant lake shore were unknown. In
another age, these might have been hermits, holy men who had retired
from the world to feed the vanity of their godliness in a spot where
they were subject neither to interruption nor comparison; they would
have had a shrine in the cave, and an image of the Blessed Virgin, with
a lamp always burning before it and sending out its mellow light over
the savage waste. A more probable notion was that they were romantic
Frenchmen who had grow weary of vice and refinement together,--possibly
princes, expectants of the throne, Bourbon remainders, named Williams or
otherwise, unhatched eggs, so to speak, of kings, who had withdrawn out
of observation to wait for the next turn-over in Paris. Frenchmen do
such things. If they were not Frenchmen, they might be honest-thieves or
criminals, escaped from justice or from the friendly state-prison of New
York. This last supposition was, however, more violent than the others,
or seems so to us in this day of grace. For what well-brought-up New
York criminal would be so insane as to run away from his political
friends the keepers, from the easily had companionship of his pals
outside, and from the society of his criminal lawyer, and, in short, to
put himself into the depths of a wilderness out of which escape, when
escape was desired, is a good deal more difficult than it is out of the
swarming jails of the Empire State? Besides, how foolish for a man, if
he were a really hardened and professional criminal, having established
connections and a regular business, to run away from the governor’s
pardon, which might have difficulty in finding him in the craggy bosom
of Nipple Top!

This gang of men--there is some doubt whether they were accompanied
by women--gave little evidence in their appearance of being escaped
criminals or expectant kings. Their movements were mysterious but not
necessarily violent. If their occupation could have been discovered,
that would have furnished a clew to their true character. But about this
the strangers were as close as mice. If anything could betray them, it
was the steady light from the cavern, and its occasional ruddy flashing.
This gave rise to the opinion, which was strengthened by a good many
indications equally conclusive, that the cave was the resort of a
gang of coiners and counterfeiters. Here they had their furnace,
smelting-pots, and dies; here they manufactured those spurious quarters
and halves that their confidants, who were pardoned, were circulating,
and which a few honest men were “nailing to the counter.”

This prosaic explanation of a romantic situation satisfies all the
requirements of the known facts, but the lively imagination at once
rejects it as unworthy of the subject. I think the guide put it forward
in order to have it rejected. The fact is,--at least, it has never been
disproved,--these strangers whose movements were veiled belonged to that
dark and mysterious race whose presence anywhere on this continent is a
nest-egg of romance or of terror. They were Spaniards! You need not
say buccaneers, you need not say gold-hunters, you need not say swarthy
adventurers even: it is enough to say Spaniards! There is no tale of
mystery and fanaticism and daring I would not believe if a Spaniard is
the hero of it, and it is not necessary either that he should have the
high-sounding name of Bodadilla or Ojeda.

Nobody, I suppose, would doubt this story if the moose, quaffing deep
draughts of red wine from silver tankards, and then throwing themselves
back upon divans, and lazily puffing the fragrant Havana. After a day of
toil, what more natural, and what more probable for a Spaniard?

Does the reader think these inferences not warranted by the facts? He
does not know the facts. It is true that our guide had never himself
personally visited the cave, but he has always intended to hunt it up.
His information in regard to it comes from his father, who was a mighty
hunter and trapper. In one of his expeditions over Nipple Top he chanced
upon the cave. The mouth was half concealed by undergrowth. He entered,
not without some apprehension engendered by the legends which make it
famous. I think he showed some boldness in venturing into such a place
alone. I confess that, before I went in, I should want to fire a Gatling
gun into the mouth for a little while, in order to rout out the bears
which usually dwell there. He went in, however. The entrance was low;
but the cave was spacious, not large, but big enough, with a level floor
and a vaulted ceiling. It had long been deserted, but that it was once
the residence of highly civilized beings there could be no doubt. The
dead brands in the centre were the remains of a fire that could not
have been kindled by wild beasts, and the bones scattered about had
been scientifically dissected and handled. There were also remnants of
furniture and pieces of garments scattered about. At the farther end, in
a fissure of the rock, were stones regularly built up, the remains of a
larger fire,--and what the hunter did not doubt was the smelting furnace
of the Spaniards. He poked about in the ashes, but found no silver. That
had all been carried away.

But what most provoked his wonder in this rude cave was a chair I This
was not such a seat as a woodman might knock up with an axe, with rough
body and a seat of woven splits, but a manufactured chair of commerce,
and a chair, too, of an unusual pattern and some elegance. This chair
itself was a mute witness of luxury and mystery. The chair itself might
have been accounted for, though I don’t know how; but upon the back of
the chair hung, as if the owner had carelessly flung it there before
going out an hour before, a man’s waistcoat. This waistcoat seemed to
him of foreign make and peculiar style, but what endeared it to him was
its row of metal buttons. These buttons were of silver! I forget now
whether he did not say they were of silver coin, and that the coin was
Spanish. But I am not certain about this latter fact, and I wish to cast
no air of improbability over my narrative. This rich vestment the hunter
carried away with him. This was all the plunder his expedition afforded.
Yes: there was one other article, and, to my mind, more significant than
the vest of the hidalgo. This was a short and stout crowbar of iron; not
one of the long crowbars that farmers use to pry up stones, but a short
handy one, such as you would use in digging silver-ore out of the cracks
of rocks.

This was the guide’s simple story. I asked him what became of the vest
and the buttons, and the bar of iron. The old man wore the vest until he
wore it out; and then he handed it over to the boys, and they wore it
in turn till they wore it out. The buttons were cut off, and kept as
curiosities. They were about the cabin, and the children had them to
play with. The guide distinctly remembers playing with them; one of them
he kept for a long time, and he didn’t know but he could find it now,
but he guessed it had disappeared. I regretted that he had not treasured
this slender verification of an interesting romance, but he said in
those days he never paid much attention to such things. Lately he has
turned the subject over, and is sorry that his father wore out the vest
and did not bring away the chair. It is his steady purpose to find the
cave some time when he has leisure, and capture the chair, if it has not
tumbled to pieces. But about the crowbar? Oh I that is all right. The
guide has the bar at his house in Keene Valley, and has always used it.

I am happy to be able to confirm this story by saying that next
day I saw the crowbar, and had it in my hand. It is short and thick, and
the most interesting kind of crowbar. This evidence is enough for me. I
intend in the course of this vacation to search for the cave; and, if
I find it, my readers shall know the truth about it, if it destroys the
only bit of romance connected with these mountains.


My readers were promised an account of Spaniard’s Cave on Nipple-Top
Mountain in the Adirondacks, if such a cave exists, and could be found.
There is none but negative evidence that this is a mere cave of the
imagination, the void fancy of a vacant hour; but it is the duty of the
historian to present the negative testimony of a fruitless expedition in
search of it, made last summer. I beg leave to offer this in the simple
language befitting all sincere exploits of a geographical character.

The summit of Nipple-Top Mountain has been trodden by few white men of
good character: it is in the heart of a hirsute wilderness; it is itself
a rough and unsocial pile of granite nearly five thousand feet high,
bristling with a stunted and unpleasant growth of firs and balsams, and
there is no earthly reason why a person should go there. Therefore we
went. In the party of three there was, of course, a chaplain. The guide
was Old Mountain Phelps, who had made the ascent once before, but not
from the northwest side, the direction from which we approached it. The
enthusiasm of this philosopher has grown with his years, and outlived
his endurance: we carried our own knapsacks and supplies, therefore, and
drew upon him for nothing but moral reflections and a general knowledge
of the wilderness. Our first day’s route was through the Gill-brook
woods and up one of its branches to the head of Caribou Pass, which
separates Nipple Top from Colvin.

It was about the first of September; no rain had fallen for several
weeks, and this heart of the forest was as dry as tinder; a lighted
match dropped anywhere would start a conflagration. This dryness has its
advantages: the walking is improved; the long heat has expressed all the
spicy odors of the cedars and balsams, and the woods are filled with a
soothing fragrance; the waters of the streams, though scant and clear,
are cold as ice; the common forest chill is gone from the air. The
afternoon was bright; there was a feeling of exultation and adventure
in stepping off into the open but pathless forest; the great stems of
deciduous trees were mottled with patches of sunlight, which brought
out upon the variegated barks and mosses of the old trunks a thousand
shifting hues. There is nothing like a primeval wood for color on a
sunny day. The shades of green and brown are infinite; the dull red of
the hemlock bark glows in the sun, the russet of the changing moose-bush
becomes brilliant; there are silvery openings here and there; and
everywhere the columns rise up to the canopy of tender green which
supports the intense blue sky and holds up a part of it from falling
through in fragments to the floor of the forest. Decorators can learn
here how Nature dares to put blue and green in juxtaposition: she has
evidently the secret of harmonizing all the colors.

The way, as we ascended, was not all through open woods; dense masses
of firs were encountered, jagged spurs were to be crossed, and the going
became at length so slow and toilsome that we took to the rocky bed of
a stream, where bowlders and flumes and cascades offered us sufficient
variety. The deeper we penetrated, the greater the sense of savageness
and solitude; in the silence of these hidden places one seems to
approach the beginning of things. We emerged from the defile into an
open basin, formed by the curved side of the mountain, and stood silent
before a waterfall coming down out of the sky in the centre of the
curve. I do not know anything exactly like this fall, which some
poetical explorer has named the Fairy-Ladder Falls. It appears to have
a height of something like a hundred and fifty feet, and the water
falls obliquely across the face of the cliff from left to right in short
steps, which in the moonlight might seem like a veritable ladder for
fairies. Our impression of its height was confirmed by climbing the very
steep slope at its side some three or four hundred feet. At the top we
found the stream flowing over a broad bed of rock, like a street in the
wilderness, slanting up still towards the sky, and bordered by low firs
and balsams, and bowlders completely covered with moss. It was above the
world and open to the sky.

On account of the tindery condition of the woods we made our fire on the
natural pavement, and selected a smooth place for our bed near by on the
flat rock, with a pool of limpid water at the foot. This granite couch
we covered with the dry and springy moss, which we stripped off in heavy
fleeces a foot thick from the bowlders. First, however, we fed upon the
fruit that was offered us. Over these hills of moss ran an exquisite
vine with a tiny, ovate, green leaf, bearing small, delicate berries,
oblong and white as wax, having a faint flavor of wintergreen and the
slightest acid taste, the very essence of the wilderness; fairy food, no
doubt, and too refined for palates accustomed to coarser viands. There
must exist somewhere sinless women who could eat these berries without
being reminded of the lost purity and delicacy of the primeval senses.
Every year I doubt not this stainless berry ripens here, and is
unplucked by any knight of the Holy Grail who is worthy to eat it,
and keeps alive, in the prodigality of nature, the tradition of the
unperverted conditions of taste before the fall. We ate these berries, I
am bound to say, with a sense of guilty enjoyment, as if they had been
a sort of shew-bread of the wilderness, though I cannot answer for
the chaplain, who is by virtue of his office a little nearer to these
mysteries of nature than I. This plant belongs to the heath family, and
is first cousin to the blueberry and cranberry. It is commonly called
the creeping snowberry, but I like better its official title of
chiogenes,--the snow-born.

Our mossy resting-place was named the Bridal Chamber Camp, in the
enthusiasm of the hour, after darkness fell upon the woods and the stars
came out. We were two thousand five hundred feet above the common world.
We lay, as it were, on a shelf in the sky, with a basin of illimitable
forests below us and dim mountain-passes-in the far horizon.

And as we lay there courting sleep which the blinking stars refused to
shower down, our philosopher discoursed to us of the principle of fire,
which he holds, with the ancients, to be an independent element that
comes and goes in a mysterious manner, as we see flame spring up
and vanish, and is in some way vital and indestructible, and has a
mysterious relation to the source of all things. “That flame,” he says,
“you have put out, but where has it gone?” We could not say, nor whether
it is anything like the spirit of a man which is here for a little hour,
and then vanishes away. Our own philosophy of the correlation of forces
found no sort of favor at that elevation, and we went to sleep leaving
the principle of fire in the apostolic category of “any other creature.”

At daylight we were astir; and, having pressed the principle of fire
into our service to make a pot of tea, we carefully extinguished it or
sent it into another place, and addressed ourselves to the climb of some
thing over two thousand feet. The arduous labor of scaling an Alpine
peak has a compensating glory; but the dead lift of our bodies up Nipple
Top had no stimulus of this sort. It is simply hard work, for which the
strained muscles only get the approbation of the individual conscience
that drives them to the task. The pleasure of such an ascent is
difficult to explain on the spot, and I suspect consists not so much in
positive enjoyment as in the delight the mind experiences in tyrannizing
over the body. I do not object to the elevation of this mountain, nor to
the uncommonly steep grade by which it attains it, but only to the other
obstacles thrown in the way of the climber. All the slopes of Nipple
Top are hirsute and jagged to the last degree. Granite ledges interpose;
granite bowlders seem to have been dumped over the sides with no more
attempt at arrangement than in a rip-rap wall; the slashes and windfalls
of a century present here and there an almost impenetrable chevalier des
arbres; and the steep sides bristle with a mass of thick balsams, with
dead, protruding spikes, as unyielding as iron stakes. The mountain
has had its own way forever, and is as untamed as a wolf; or rather
the elements, the frightful tempests, the frosts, the heavy snows, the
coaxing sun, and the avalanches have had their way with it until its
surface is in hopeless confusion. We made our way very slowly; and it
was ten o’clock before we reached what appeared to be the summit, a
ridge deeply covered with moss, low balsams, and blueberry-bushes.

I say, appeared to be; for we stood in thick fog or in the heart of
clouds which limited our dim view to a radius of twenty feet. It was a
warm and cheerful fog, stirred by little wind, but moving, shifting, and
boiling as by its own volatile nature, rolling up black from below and
dancing in silvery splendor overhead As a fog it could not have been
improved; as a medium for viewing the landscape it was a failure and we
lay down upon the Sybarite couch of moss, as in a Russian bath, to await

We waited two hours without change, except an occasional hopeful
lightness in the fog above, and at last the appearance for a moment
of the spectral sun. Only for an instant was this luminous promise
vouchsafed. But we watched in intense excitement. There it was again;
and this time the fog was so thin overhead that we caught sight of a
patch of blue sky a yard square, across which the curtain was instantly
drawn. A little wind was stirring, and the fog boiled up from the valley
caldrons thicker than ever. But the spell was broken. In a moment more
Old Phelps was shouting, “The sun!” and before we could gain our feet
there was a patch of sky overhead as big as a farm. “See! quick!” The
old man was dancing like a lunatic. There was a rift in the vapor at
our feet, down, down, three thousand feet into the forest abyss, and lo!
lifting out of it yonder the tawny side of Dix,--the vision of a second,
snatched away in the rolling fog. The play had just begun. Before
we could turn, there was the gorge of Caribou Pass, savage and dark,
visible to the bottom. The opening shut as suddenly; and then, looking
over the clouds, miles away we saw the peaceful farms of the Au Sable
Valley, and in a moment more the plateau of North Elba and the sentinel
mountains about the grave of John Brown. These glimpses were as fleeting
as thought, and instantly we were again isolated in the sea of mist. The
expectation of these sudden strokes of sublimity kept us exultingly
on the alert; and yet it was a blow of surprise when the curtain was
swiftly withdrawn on the west, and the long ridge of Colvin, seemingly
within a stone’s throw, heaved up like an island out of the ocean,
and was the next moment ingulfed. We waited longer for Dix to show its
shapely peak and its glistening sides of rock gashed by avalanches. The
fantastic clouds, torn and streaming, hurried up from the south in haste
as if to a witch’s rendezvous, hiding and disclosing the great summit
in their flight. The mist boiled up from the valley, whirled over the
summit where we stood, and plunged again into the depths. Objects were
forming and disappearing, shifting and dancing, now in sun and now gone
in fog, and in the elemental whirl we felt that we were “assisting” in
an original process of creation. The sun strove, and his very striving
called up new vapors; the wind rent away the clouds, and brought new
masses to surge about us; and the spectacle to right and left, above
and below, changed with incredible swiftness. Such glory of abyss and
summit, of color and form and transformation, is seldom granted to
mortal eyes. For an hour we watched it until our vast mountain was
revealed in all its bulk, its long spurs, its abysses and its savagery,
and the great basins of wilderness with their shining lakes, and the
giant peaks of the region, were one by one disclosed, and hidden and
again tranquil in the sunshine.

Where was the cave? There was ample surface in which to look for it. If
we could have flitted about, like the hawks that came circling round,
over the steep slopes, the long spurs, the jagged precipices, I have no
doubt we should have found it. But moving about on this mountain is not
a holiday pastime; and we were chiefly anxious to discover a practicable
mode of descent into the great wilderness basin on the south, which we
must traverse that afternoon before reaching the hospitable shanty
on Mud Pond. It was enough for us to have discovered the general
whereabouts of the Spanish Cave, and we left the fixing of its exact
position to future explorers.

The spur we chose for our escape looked smooth in the distance; but we
found it bristling with obstructions, dead balsams set thickly together,
slashes of fallen timber, and every manner of woody chaos; and when
at length we swung and tumbled off the ledge to the general slope, we
exchanged only for more disagreeable going. The slope for a couple of
thousand feet was steep enough; but it was formed of granite rocks all
moss-covered, so that the footing could not be determined, and at short
intervals we nearly went out of sight in holes under the treacherous
carpeting. Add to this that stems of great trees were laid
longitudinally and transversely and criss-cross over and among the
rocks, and the reader can see that a good deal of work needs to be done
to make this a practicable highway for anything but a squirrel....

We had had no water since our daylight breakfast: our lunch on the
mountain had been moistened only by the fog. Our thirst began to be that
of Tantalus, because we could hear the water running deep down among
the rocks, but we could not come at it. The imagination drank the
living stream, and we realized anew what delusive food the imagination
furnishes in an actual strait. A good deal of the crime of this world,
I am convinced, is the direct result of the unlicensed play of the
imagination in adverse circumstances. This reflection had nothing to do
with our actual situation; for we added to our imagination patience, and
to our patience long-suffering, and probably all the Christian virtues
would have been developed in us if the descent had been long enough.
Before we reached the bottom of Caribou Pass, the water burst out from
the rocks in a clear stream that was as cold as ice. Shortly after, we
struck the roaring brook that issues from the Pass to the south. It is
a stream full of character, not navigable even for trout in the upper
part, but a succession of falls, cascades, flumes, and pools that would
delight an artist. It is not an easy bed for anything except water to
descend; and before we reached the level reaches, where the stream flows
with a murmurous noise through open woods, one of our party began to
show signs of exhaustion.

This was Old Phelps, whose appetite had failed the day before,--his
imagination being in better working order than his stomach: he had eaten
little that day, and his legs became so groggy that he was obliged to
rest at short intervals. Here was a situation! The afternoon was wearing
away. We had six or seven miles of unknown wilderness to traverse, a
portion of it swampy, in which a progress of more than a mile an hour is
difficult, and the condition of the guide compelled even a slower
march. What should we do in that lonesome solitude if the guide became
disabled? We couldn’t carry him out; could we find our own way out
to get assistance? The guide himself had never been there before; and
although he knew the general direction of our point of egress, and was
entirely adequate to extricate himself from any position in the woods,
his knowledge was of that occult sort possessed by woodsmen which it
is impossible to communicate. Our object was to strike a trail that
led from the Au Sable Pond, the other side of the mountain-range, to an
inlet on Mud Pond. We knew that if we traveled southwestward far enough
we must strike that trail, but how far? No one could tell. If we reached
that trail, and found a boat at the inlet, there would be only a row of
a couple of miles to the house at the foot of the lake. If no boat was
there, then we must circle the lake three or four miles farther through
a cedar-swamp, with no trail in particular. The prospect was not
pleasing. We were short of supplies, for we had not expected to pass
that night in the woods. The pleasure of the excursion began to develop

We stumbled on in the general direction marked out, through a forest
that began to seem endless as hour after hour passed, compelled as we
were to make long detours over the ridges of the foothills to avoid the
swamp, which sent out from the border of the lake long tongues into
the firm ground. The guide became more ill at every step, and needed
frequent halts and long rests. Food he could not eat; and tea, water,
and even brandy he rejected. Again and again the old philosopher,
enfeebled by excessive exertion and illness, would collapse in a heap
on the ground, an almost comical picture of despair, while we stood and
waited the waning of the day, and peered forward in vain for any sign of
an open country. At every brook we encountered, we suggested a halt for
the night, while it was still light enough to select a camping-place,
but the plucky old man wouldn’t hear of it: the trail might be only a
quarter of a mile ahead, and we crawled on again at a snail’s pace. His
honor as a guide seemed to be at stake; and, besides, he confessed to
a notion that his end was near, and he didn’t want to die like a dog
in the woods. And yet, if this was his last journey, it seemed not an
inappropriate ending for the old woodsman to lie down and give up the
ghost in the midst of the untamed forest and the solemn silences he felt
most at home in. There is a popular theory, held by civilians, that a
soldier likes to die in battle. I suppose it is as true that a woodsman
would like to “pass in his chips,”--the figure seems to be inevitable,
struck down by illness and exposure, in the forest solitude, with heaven
in sight and a tree-root for his pillow.

The guide seemed really to fear that, if we did not get out of the
woods that night, he would never go out; and, yielding to his dogged
resolution, we kept on in search of the trail, although the gathering
of dusk over the ground warned us that we might easily cross the trail
without recognizing it. We were traveling by the light in the upper sky,
and by the forms of the tree-stems, which every moment grew dimmer. At
last the end came. We had just felt our way over what seemed to be a
little run of water, when the old man sunk down, remarking, “I might as
well die here as anywhere,” and was silent.

Suddenly night fell like a blanket on us. We could neither see the guide
nor each other. We became at once conscious that miles of night on all
sides shut us in. The sky was clouded over: there wasn’t a gleam of
light to show us where to step. Our first thought was to build a fire,
which would drive back the thick darkness into the woods, and boil
some water for our tea. But it was too dark to use the axe. We scraped
together leaves and twigs to make a blaze, and, as this failed, such
dead sticks as we could find by groping about. The fire was only a
temporary affair, but it sufficed to boil a can of water. The water we
obtained by feeling about the stones of the little run for an opening
big enough to dip our cup in. The supper to be prepared was fortunately
simple. It consisted of a decoction of tea and other leaves which had
got into the pail, and a part of a loaf of bread. A loaf of bread which
has been carried in a knapsack for a couple of days, bruised and handled
and hacked at with a hunting-knife, becomes an uninteresting object.
But we ate of it with thankfulness, washed it down with hot fluid, and
bitterly thought of the morrow. Would our old friend survive the night?
Would he be in any condition to travel in the morning? How were we to
get out with him or without him?

The old man lay silent in the bushes out of sight, and desired only to
be let alone. We tried to tempt him with the offer of a piece of toast:
it was no temptation. Tea we thought would revive him: he refused it. A
drink of brandy would certainly quicken his life: he couldn’t touch it.
We were at the end of our resources. He seemed to think that if he
were at home, and could get a bit of fried bacon, or a piece of pie, he
should be all right. We knew no more how to doctor him than if he had
been a sick bear. He withdrew within himself, rolled himself up, so
to speak, in his primitive habits, and waited for the healing power of
nature. Before our feeble fire disappeared, we smoothed a level place
near it for Phelps to lie on, and got him over to it. But it didn’t
suit: it was too open. In fact, at the moment some drops of rain fell.
Rain was quite outside of our program for the night. But the guide
had an instinct about it; and, while we were groping about some yards
distant for a place where we could lie down, he crawled away into the
darkness, and curled himself up amid the roots of a gigantic pine, very
much as a bear would do, I suppose, with his back against the trunk, and
there passed the night comparatively dry and comfortable; but of this we
knew nothing till morning, and had to trust to the assurance of a voice
out of the darkness that he was all right.

Our own bed where we spread our blankets was excellent in one
respect,--there was no danger of tumbling out of it. At first the rain
pattered gently on the leaves overhead, and we congratulated ourselves
on the snugness of our situation. There was something cheerful about
this free life. We contrasted our condition with that of tired invalids
who were tossing on downy beds, and wooing sleep in vain. Nothing was so
wholesome and invigorating as this bivouac in the forest. But, somehow,
sleep did not come. The rain had ceased to patter, and began to fall
with a steady determination, a sort of soak, soak, all about us. In
fact, it roared on the rubber blanket, and beat in our faces. The wind
began to stir a little, and there was a moaning on high. Not contented
with dripping, the rain was driven into our faces. Another suspicious
circumstance was noticed. Little rills of water got established along
the sides under the blankets, cold, undeniable streams, that interfered
with drowsiness. Pools of water settled on the bed; and the chaplain had
a habit of moving suddenly, and letting a quart or two inside, and down
my neck. It began to be evident that we and our bed were probably the
wettest objects in the woods. The rubber was an excellent catch-all.
There was no trouble about ventilation, but we found that we had
established our quarters without any provision for drainage. There was
not exactly a wild tempest abroad; but there was a degree of liveliness
in the thrashing limbs and the creaking of the tree-branches which
rubbed against each other, and the pouring rain increased in volume and
power of penetration. Sleep was quite out of the question, with so much
to distract our attention. In fine, our misery became so perfect that
we both broke out into loud and sarcastic laughter over the absurdity of
our situation. We had subjected ourselves to all this forlornness simply
for pleasure. Whether Old Phelps was still in existence, we couldn’t
tell: we could get no response from him. With daylight, if he continued
ill and could not move, our situation would be little improved. Our
supplies were gone, we lay in a pond, a deluge of water was pouring down
on us. This was summer recreation. The whole thing was so excessively
absurd that we laughed again, louder than ever. We had plenty of this
sort of amusement. Suddenly through the night we heard a sort of reply
that started us bolt upright. This was a prolonged squawk. It was like
the voice of no beast or bird with which we were familiar. At first it
was distant; but it rapidly approached, tearing through the night and
apparently through the tree-tops, like the harsh cry of a web-footed
bird with a snarl in it; in fact, as I said, a squawk. It came close
to us, and then turned, and as rapidly as it came fled away through the
forest, and we lost the unearthly noise far up the mountain-slope.

“What was that, Phelps?” we cried out. But no response came; and we
wondered if his spirit had been rent away, or if some evil genius had
sought it, and then, baffled by his serene and philosophic spirit, had
shot off into the void in rage and disappointment.

The night had no other adventure. The moon at length coming up behind
the clouds lent a spectral aspect to the forest, and deceived us for a
time into the notion that day was at hand; but the rain never ceased,
and we lay wishful and waiting, with no item of solid misery wanting
that we could conceive.

Day was slow a-coming, and didn’t amount to much when it came, so
heavy were the clouds; but the rain slackened. We crawled out of our
water-cure “pack,” and sought the guide. To our infinite relief he
announced himself not only alive, but in a going condition. I looked at
my watch. It had stopped at five o’clock. I poured the water out of it,
and shook it; but, not being constructed on the hydraulic principle, it
refused to go. Some hours later we encountered a huntsman, from whom I
procured some gun-grease; with this I filled the watch, and heated it in
by the fire. This is a most effectual way of treating a delicate Genevan

The light disclosed fully the suspected fact that our bed had been made
in a slight depression: the under rubber blanket spread in this had
prevented the rain from soaking into the ground, and we had been lying
in what was in fact a well-contrived bathtub. While Old Phelps was
pulling himself together, and we were wringing some gallons of water out
of our blankets, we questioned the old man about the “squawk,” and what
bird was possessed of such a voice. It was not a bird at all, he said,
but a cat, the black-cat of the woods, larger than the domestic animal,
and an ugly customer, who is fond of fish, and carries a pelt that is
worth two or three dollars in the market. Occasionally he blunders into
a sable-trap; and he is altogether hateful in his ways, and has the most
uncultivated voice that is heard in the woods. We shall remember him as
one of the least pleasant phantoms of that cheerful night when we lay
in the storm, fearing any moment the advent to one of us of the grimmest

We rolled up and shouldered our wet belongings, and, before the shades
had yet lifted from the saturated bushes, pursued our march. It was a
relief to be again in motion, although our progress was slow, and it
was a question every rod whether the guide could go on. We had the day
before us; but if we did not find a boat at the inlet a day might not
suffice, in the weak condition of the guide, to extricate us from our
ridiculous position. There was nothing heroic in it; we had no object:
it was merely, as it must appear by this time, a pleasure excursion,
and we might be lost or perish in it without reward and with little
sympathy. We had something like a hour and a half of stumbling through
the swamp when suddenly we stood in the little trail! Slight as it was,
it appeared to us a very Broadway to Paradise if broad ways ever lead
thither. Phelps hailed it and sank down in it like one reprieved from
death. But the boat? Leaving him, we quickly ran a quarter of a mile
down to the inlet. The boat was there. Our shout to the guide would
have roused him out of a death-slumber. He came down the trail with the
agility of an aged deer: never was so glad a sound in his ear, he said,
as that shout. It was in a very jubilant mood that we emptied the boat
of water, pushed off, shipped the clumsy oars, and bent to the two-mile
row through the black waters of the winding, desolate channel, and over
the lake, whose dark waves were tossed a little in the morning breeze.
The trunks of dead trees stand about this lake, and all its shores are
ragged with ghastly drift-wood; but it was open to the sky, and although
the heavy clouds still obscured all the mountain-ranges we had a sense
of escape and freedom that almost made the melancholy scene lovely.

How lightly past hardship sits upon us! All the misery of the night
vanished, as if it had not been, in the shelter of the log cabin at Mud
Pond, with dry clothes that fitted us as the skin of the bear fits him
in the spring, a noble breakfast, a toasting fire, solicitude about our
comfort, judicious sympathy with our suffering, and willingness to hear
the now growing tale of our adventure. Then came, in a day of absolute
idleness, while the showers came and went, and the mountains appeared
and disappeared in sun and storm, that perfect physical enjoyment which
consists in a feeling of strength without any inclination to use it,
and in a delicious languor which is too enjoyable to be surrendered to

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