Henry David Thoreau.

The writings of Henry David Thoreau (Volume 3) online

. (page 20 of 25)
Online LibraryHenry David ThoreauThe writings of Henry David Thoreau (Volume 3) → online text (page 20 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

by the weeds and sprouts, it appeared to have been burnt
about two years before. It was covered with charred
trunks, either prostrate or standing, which crocked our
clothes and hands, and we could not easily have dis
tinguished a bear there by his color. Great shells of
trees, sometimes unburnt without, or burnt on one side
only, but black within, stood twenty or forty feet high.
The fire had run up inside, as in a chimney, leaving the
sap-wood. Sometimes we crossed a rocky ravine fifty
feet wide, on a fallen trunk; and there were great fields
of fire-weed (Epilobium angustifolium) on all sides, the
most extensive that I ever saw, which presented great
masses of pink. Intermixed with these were blueberry
and raspberry bushes.

Having crossed a second rocky ridge like the first,
when I was beginning to ascend the third, the Indian,
whom I had left on the shore some fifty rods behind,
beckoned to me to come to him, but I made sign that I
would first ascend the highest rock before me, whence I
expected to see the lake. My companion accompanied
me to the top. This was formed just like the others.
Being struck with the perfect parallelism of these singu
lar rock hills, however much one might be in advance of
another, I took out my compass and found that they lay
northwest and southeast, the rock being on its edge, and
sharp edges they were. This one, to speak from memory,


was perhaps a third of a mile in length, but quite narrow,
rising gradually from the northwest to the height of
about eighty feet, but steep on the southeast end. The
southwest side was as steep as an ordinary roof, or as we
could safely climb ; the northeast was an abrupt preci
pice from which you could jump clean to the bottom,
near which the river flowed; while the level top of the
ridge, on which you walked along, was only from one
to three or four feet in width. For a rude illustration,
take the half of a pear cut in two lengthwise, lay it on its
flat side, the stem to the northwest, and then halve it
vertically in the direction of its length, keeping the
southwest half. Such was the general form.

There was a remarkable series of these great rock-
waves revealed by the burning; breakers, as it were. No
wonder that the river that found its way through them
was rapid and obstructed by falls. No doubt the ab
sence of soil on these rocks, or its dryness where there
was any, caused this to be a very thorough burning.
We could see the lake over the woods, two or three miles
ahead, and that the river made an abrupt turn southward
around the northwest end of the cliff on which we stood,
or a little above us, so that we had cut off a bend, and
that there was an important fall in it a short distance
below us. I could see the canoe a hundred rods behind,
but now on the opposite shore, and supposed that the
Indian had concluded to take out and carry round some
bad rapids on that side, and that that might be what he
had beckoned to me for; but after waiting a while I
could still see nothing of him, and I observed to my com
panion that I wondered where he was, though I began


to suspect that he had gone inland to look for the lake
from some hilltop on that side, as we had done. This
proved to be the case ; for after I had started to return
to the canoe, I heard a faint halloo, and descried him on
the top of a distant rocky hill on that side. But as, after
a long time had elapsed, I still saw his canoe in the same
place, and he had not returned to it, and appeared in no
hurry to do so, and, moreover, as I remembered that he
had previously beckoned to me, I thought that there
might be something more to delay him than I knew, and
began to return northwest, along the ridge, toward the
angle in the river. My companion, who had just been
separated from us, and had even contemplated the
necessity of camping alone, wishing to husband his
steps, and yet to keep with us, inquired where I was
going ; to which I answered that I was going far enough
back to communicate with the Indian, and that then I
thought we had better go along the shore together, and
keep him in sight.

When we reached the shore, the Indian appeared
from out the woods on the opposite side, but on account
of the roar of the water it was difficult to communicate
with him. He kept along the shore westward to his
canoe, while we stopped at the angle where the stream
turned southward around the precipice. I again said
to my companion that we would keep along the shore
and keep the Indian in sight. We started to do so, being
close together, the Indian behind us having launched
his canoe again, but just then I saw the latter, who had
crossed to our side, forty or fifty rods behind, beckoning
to me, and I called to my companion, who had just dis-


appeared behind large rocks at the point of the preci
pice, three or four rods before me, on his way down the
stream, that I was going to help the Indian a moment.
I did so, helped get the canoe over a fall, lying with
my breast over a rock, and holding one end while he
received it below, and within ten or fifteen minutes
at most I was back again at the point where the river
turned southward, in order to catch up with my com
panion, while Polis glided down the river alone, parallel
with me. But to my surprise, when I rounded the preci
pice, though the shore was bare of trees, without rocks,
for a quarter of a mile at least, my companion was not
to be seen. It was as if he had sunk into the earth. This
was the more unaccountable to me, because I knew that
his feet were, since our swamp walk, very sore, and that
he wished to keep with the party ; and besides this was
very bad walking, climbing over or about the rocks. I
hastened along, hallooing and searching for him, think
ing he might be concealed behind a rock, yet doubting if
he had not taken the other side of the precipice, but the
Indian had got along still faster in his canoe, till he was
arrested by the falls, about a quarter of a mile below.
He then landed, and said that we could go no farther that
night. The sun was setting, and on account of falls and
rapids we should be obliged to leave this river and carry
a good way into another farther east. The first thing
then was to find my companion, for I was now very much
alarmed about him, and I sent the Indian along the
shore down-stream, which began to be covered with un-
burnt wood again just below the falls, while I searched
backward about the precipice which we had passed.


The Indian showed some unwillingness to exert him
self, complaining that he was very tired, in consequence
of his day's work, that it had strained him very much
getting down so many rapids alone; but he went off
calling somewhat like an owl. I remembered that my
companion was near-sighted, and I feared that he had
either fallen from the precipice, or fainted and sunk
down amid the rocks beneath it. I shouted and searched
above and below this precipice in the twilight till I could
not see, expecting nothing less than to find his body
beneath it. For half an hour I anticipated and believed
only the worst. I thought what I should do the next day
if I did not find him, what I could do in such a wilder
ness, and how his relatives would feel, if I should return
without him. I felt that if he were really lost away from
the river there, it would be a desperate undertaking to
find him; and where were they who could help you?
What would it be to raise the country, where there were
only two or three camps, twenty or thirty miles apart,
and no road, and perhaps nobody at home? Yet we
must try the harder, the less the prospect of success.

I rushed down from this precipice to the canoe in order
to fire the Indian's gun, but found that my companion
had the caps. I was still thinking of getting it off when
the Indian returned. He had not found him, but he said
that he had seen his tracks once or twice along the shore.
This encouraged me very much. He objected to firing
the gun, saying that if my companion heard it, which
was not likely, on account of the roar of the stream, it
would tempt him to come toward us, and he might break
his neck in the dark. For the same reason we refrained


from lighting a fire on the highest rock. I proposed that
we should both keep down the stream to the lake, or
that I should go at any rate, but the Indian said : " No
use, can't do anything in the dark ; come morning, then
we find 'em. No harm, he make 'em camp. No bad
animals here, no gristly bears, such as in California,
where he 's been, warm night, he well off as you
and I." I considered that if he was well he could do
without us. He had just lived eight years in California,
and had plenty of experience with wild beasts and wilder
men, was peculiarly accustomed to make journeys of
great length ; but if he were sick or dead, he was near
where we were. The darkness in the woods was by this
so thick that it alone decided the question. We must
camp where we were. I knew that he had his knapsack,
with blankets and matches, and, if well, would fare no
worse than we, except that he would have no supper nor

This side of the river being so encumbered with rocks,
we crossed to the eastern or smoother shore, and pro
ceeded to camp there, within two or three rods of the
falls. We pitched no tent, but lay on the sand, putting a
few handfuls of grass and twigs under us, there being no
evergreen at hand. For fuel we had some of the charred
stumps. Our various bags of provisions had got quite
wet in the rapids, and I arranged them about the fire to
dry. The fall close by was the principal one on this
stream, and it shook the earth under us. It was a cool,
because dewy, night; the more so, probably, owing to
the nearness of the falls. The Indian complained a good
deal, and thought afterward that he got a cold there


which occasioned a more serious illness. We were not
much troubled by mosquitoes at any rate. I lay awake a
good deal from anxiety, but, unaccountably to myself,
was at length comparatively at ease respecting him. At
first I had apprehended the worst, but now I had little
doubt but that I should find him in the morning. From
time to time I fancied that I heard his voice calling
through the roar of the falls from the opposite side of the
river; but it is doubtful if we could have heard him
across the stream there. Sometimes I doubted whether
the Indian had really seen his tracks, since he manifested
an unwillingness to make much of a search, and then my
anxiety returned.

It was the most wild and desolate region we had
camped in, where, if anywhere, one might expect to meet
with befitting inhabitants, but I heard only the squeak
of a nighthawk flitting over. The moon in her first quar
ter, in the fore part of the night, setting over the bare
rocky hills garnished with tall, charred, and hollow
stumps or shells of trees, served to reveal the desolation.

THURSDAY, July 30.

I aroused the Indian early this morning to go in search
of our companion, expecting to find him within a mile
or two, farther down the stream. The Indian wanted
his breakfast first, but I reminded him that my com
panion had had neither breakfast nor supper. We were
obliged first to carry our canoe and baggage over into
another stream, the main East Branch, about three
fourths of a mile distant, for Webster Stream was no
farther navigable. We went twice over this carry, and the


dewy bushes wet us through like water up to the middle ;
I hallooed in a high key from time to time, though I
had little expectation that I could be heard over the roar
of the rapids, and, moreover, we were necessarily on the
opposite side of the stream to him. In going over this
portage the last time, the Indian, who was before me
with the canoe on his head, stumbled and fell heavily
once, and lay for a moment silent, as if in pain. I hastily
stepped forward to help him, asking if he was much
hurt, but after a moment's pause, without replying, he
sprang up and went forward. He was all the way subject
to taciturn fits, but they were harmless ones.

We had launched our canoe and gone but little way
down the East Branch, when I heard an answering
shout from my companion, and soon after saw him
standing on a point where there was a clearing a quarter
of a mile below, and the smoke of his fire was rising near
by. Before I saw him I naturally shouted again and
again, but the Indian curtly remarked, " He hears you,"
as if once was enough. It was just below the mouth of
Webster Stream. When we arrived, he was smoking his
pipe, and said that he had passed a pretty comfortable
night, though it was rather cold, on account of the dew.

It appeared that when we stood together the previous
evening, and I was shouting to the Indian across the
river, he, being near-sighted, had not seen the Indian
nor his canoe, and when I went back to the Indian's
assistance, did not see which way I went, and supposed
that we were below and not above him, and so, making
haste to catch up, he ran away from us. Having reached
this clearing, a mile or more below our camp, the night


overtook him, and he made a fire in a little hollow, and
lay down by it in his blanket, still thinking that we were
ahead of him. He thought it likely that he had heard
the Indian call once the evening before, but mistook it
for an owl. He had seen one botanical rarity before it
was dark, pure white Epilobium angustifolium amidst
the fields of pink ones, in the burnt lands. He had al
ready stuck up the remnant of a lumberer's shirt, found
on the point, on a pole by the waterside, for a signal, and
attached a note to it, to inform us that he had gone on
to the lake, and that if he did not find us there, he
would be back in a couple of hours. If he had not found
us soon, he had some thoughts of going back in search
of the solitary hunter whom we had met at Telos Lake,
ten miles behind, and, if successful, hire him to take
him to Bangor. But if this hunter had moved as fast as
we, he would have been twenty miles off by this time,
and who could guess in what direction ? It would have
been like looking for a needle in a haymow, to search
for him in these woods. He had been considering how
long he could live on berries alone.

We substituted for his note a card containing our
names and destination, and the date of our visit, which
Polis neatly inclosed in a piece of birch bark to keep it
dry. This has probably been read by some hunter or
explorer ere this.

We all had good appetites for the breakfast which we
made haste to cook here, and then, having partially dried
our clothes, we glided swiftly down the winding stream
toward Second Lake.

As the shores became flatter with frequent gravel and


sand-bars, and the stream more winding in the lower
land near the lake, elms and ash trees made their appear
ance; also the wild yellow lily (Lilium Canadense), some
of whose bulbs I collected for a soup. On some ridges
the burnt land extended as far as the lake. This was a
very beautiful lake, two or three miles long, with high
mountains on the southwest side, the (as our Indian
said) Nerlumskeechticook, i. e., Deadwater Mountain.
It appears to be the same called Carbuncle Mountain
on the map. According to Polis, it extends in separate
elevations all along this and the next lake, which is much
larger. The lake, too, I think, is called by, the same
name, or perhaps with the addition of gamoc or mooc.
The morning was a bright one, and perfectly still and
serene, the lake as smooth as glass, we making the only
ripple as we paddled into it. The dark mountains about
it were seen through a glaucous mist, and the brilliant
white stems of canoe birches mingled with the other
woods around it. The wood thrush sang on the distant
shore, and the laugh of some loons, sporting in a con
cealed western bay, as if inspired by the morning, came
distinct over the lake to us, and, what was more remark
able, the echo which ran round the lake was much louder
than the original note ; probably because, the loon being
in a regularly curving bay under the mountain, we were
exactly in the focus of many echoes, the sound being
reflected like light from a concave mirror. The beauty
of the scene may have been enhanced to our eyes by the
fact that we had just come together again after a night
of some anxiety. This reminded me of the Ambejijis
Lake on the West Branch, which I crossed in my first


coming to Maine. Having paddled down three quarters
of the lake, we came to a standstill, while my companion
let down for fish. A white (or whitish) gull sat on a rock
which rose above the surface in mid-lake not far off, quite
in harmony with the scene ; and as we rested there in the
warm sun, we heard one loud crushing or crackling
sound from the forest, forty or fifty rods distant, as of a
stick broken by the foot of some large animal. Even this
was an interesting incident there. In the midst of our
dreams of giant lake trout, even then supposed to be
nibbling, our fishermen drew up a diminutive red perch,
and we took up our paddles again in haste.

It was not apparent where the outlet of this lake was,
and while Jthe Indian thought it was in one direction,
I thought it was in another. He said, " I bet you four-
pence it is there," but he still held on in my direction,
which proved to be the right one. As we were approach
ing the outlet, it being still early in the forenoon, he sud
denly exclaimed, " Moose ! moose ! " and told us to be
still. He put a cap on his gun, and, standing up in the
stern, rapidly pushed the canoe straight toward the shore
and the moose. It was a cow moose, about thirty rods
off, standing in the water by the side of the outlet, partly
behind some fallen timber and bushes, and at that dis
tance she did not look very large. She was flapping her
large ears, and from time to time poking off the flies with
her nose from some part of her body. She did not appear
much alarmed by our neighborhood, only occasionally
turned her head and looked straight at us, and then gave
her attention to the flies again. As we approached nearer
she got out of the water, stood higher, and regarded us


more suspiciously. Polis pushed the canoe steadily for
ward in the shallow water, and I for a moment forgot
the moose in attending to some pretty rose-colored
Polygonums just rising above the surface, but the canoe
soon grounded in the mud eight or ten rods distant from
the moose, and the Indian seized his gun and prepared
to fire. After standing still a moment, she turned slowly,
as usual, so as to expose her side, and he improved this
moment to fire, over our heads. She thereupon moved
off eight or ten rods at a moderate pace, across a shallow
bay, to an old standing-place of hers, behind some fallen
red maples, on the opposite shore, and there she stood
still again a dozen or fourteen rods from us, while the
Indian hastily loaded and fired twice at her, without her
moving. My companion, who passed him his caps and
bullets, said that Polis was as excited as a boy of fifteen,
that his hand trembled, and he once put his ramrod back
upside down. This was remarkable for so experienced a
hunter. Perhaps he was anxious to make a good shot
before us. The white hunter had told me that the
Indians were not good shots, because they were excited,
though he said that we had got a good hunter with us.

The Indian now pushed quickly and quietly back,
and a long distance round, in order to get into the outlet,
for he had fired over the neck of a peninsula between
it and the lake, till we approached the place where
the moose had stood, when he exclaimed, "She is a
goner ! " and was surprised that we did not see her as
soon as he did. There, to be sure, she lay perfectly dead,
with her tongue hanging out, just where she had stood
to receive the last shots, looking unexpectedly large and


horse-like, and we saw where the bullets had scarred the

Using a tape, I found that the moose measured just
six feet from the shoulder to the tip of the hoof, and was
eight feet long as she lay. Some portions of the body,
for a foot in diameter, were almost covered with flies,
apparently the common fly of our woods, with a dark
spot on the wing, and not the very large ones which
occasionally pursued us in midstream, though both are
called moose-flies.

Polis, preparing to skin the moose, asked me to help
him find a stone on which to sharpen his large knife. It
being all a flat alluvial ground where the moose had
fallen, covered with red maples, etc., this was no easy
matter; we searched far and wide, a long time, till at
length I found a flat kind of slate-stone, and soon after he
returned with a similar one, on which he soon made his
knife very sharp.

While he was skinning the moose, I proceeded to
ascertain what kind of fishes were to be found in the
sluggish and muddy outlet. The greatest difficulty was
to find a pole. It was almost impossible to find a slender,
straight pole ten or twelve feet long in those woods. You
might search half an hour in vain. They are commonly
spruce, arbor- vitae, fir, etc., short, stout, and branchy,
and do not make good fish-poles, even after you have
patiently cut off all their tough and scraggy branches.
The fishes were red perch and chivin.

The Indian, having cut off a large piece of sirloin, the
upper lip, and the tongue, wrapped them in the hide,
and placed them in the bottom of the canoe, observing


that there was " one man," meaning the weight of one.
Our load had previously been reduced some thirty
pounds, but a hundred pounds were now added, a seri
ous addition, which made our quarters still more narrow,
and considerably increased the danger on the lakes and
rapids, as well as the labor of the carries. The skin was
ours according to custom, since the Indian was in our
employ, but we did not think of claiming it. He being
a skillful dresser of moose-hides would make it worth
seven or eight dollars to him, as I was told. He said that
he sometimes earned fifty or sixty dollars in a day at
them; he had killed ten moose in one day, though the
skinning and all took two days. This was the way he
had got his property. There were the tracks of a calf
thereabouts, which he said would come " by, by," and he
could get it if we cared to wait, but I cast cold water on
the project.

We continued along the outlet toward Grand Lake,
through a swampy region, by a long, winding, and nar
row dead water, very much choked up by wood, where
we were obliged to land sometimes in order to get the
canoe over a log. It was hard to find any channel, and
we did not know but we should be lost in the swamp.
It abounded in ducks, as usual. At length we reached
Grand Lake, which the Indian called Matungamook.

At the head of this we saw, coming in from the south
west, with a sweep apparently from a gorge in the moun
tains, Trout Stream, or Uncardnerheese, which name,
the Indian said, had something to do with mountains.

We stopped to dine on an interesting high rocky
island, soon after entering Matungamook Lake, securing


our canoe to the cliffy shore. It is always pleasant to step
from a boat on to a large rock or cliff. Here was a good
opportunity to dry our dewy blankets on the open sunny
rock. Indians had recently camped here, and acciden
tally burned over the western end of the island, and Polis
picked up a gun-case of blue broadcloth, and said that he
knew the Indian it belonged to, and would carry it to
him. His tribe is not so large but he may know all its
effects. We proceeded to make a fire and cook our din
ner amid some pines, where our predecessors had done
the same, while the Indian busied himself about his
moose-hide on the shore, for he said that he thought it a
good plan for one to do all the cooking, i. e., I suppose,
if that one were not himself. A peculiar evergreen over
hung our fire, which at first glance looked like a pitch
pine (P. rigida), with leaves little more than an inch
long, spruce-like, but we found it to be the Pinus Bank-
siana, " Banks's, or the Labrador Pine," also called
scrub pine, gray pine, etc., a new tree to us. These
must have been good specimens, for several were thirty
or thirty-five feet high. Richardson found it forty feet

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryHenry David ThoreauThe writings of Henry David Thoreau (Volume 3) → online text (page 20 of 25)