Henry David Thoreau.

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with its rich burden of cones, looking, still, fuller of life
than our trees in the most favorable positions. You did
not expect to find such spruce trees in the wild woods,
but they evidently attend to their toilets each morning
even there. Through such a front yard did we enter that

There was a very slight rise above the lake, the
country appearing like, and perhaps being partly a
swamp, and at length a gradual descent to the Penob-
scot, which I was surprised to find here a large stream,
from twelve to fifteen rods wide, flowing from west to
east, or at right angles with the lake, and not more than
two and a half miles from it. The distance is nearly
twice too great on the Map of the Public Lands, and on
Colton's Map of Maine, and Russell Stream is placed
too far down. Jackson makes Moosehead Lake to be
nine hundred and sixty feet above high water in Port
land harbor. It is higher than Chesuncook, for the
lumberers consider the Penobscot, where we struck it,
twenty-five feet lower than Moosehead, though eight
miles above it is said to be the highest, so that the water


can be made to flow either way, and the river falls a
good deal between here and Chesuncook. The carry-
man called this about one hundred and forty miles above
Bangor by the river, or two hundred from the ocean,
and fifty-five miles below Hilton's, on the Canada road,
the first clearing above, which is four and a half miles
from the source of the Penobscot.

At the north end of the carry, in the midst of a
clearing of sixty acres or more, there was a log camp
of the usual construction, with something more like a
house adjoining, for the accommodation of the carry-
man's family and passing lumberers. The bed of with
ered fir twigs smelled very sweet, though really very
dirty. There was also a store-house on the bank of the
river, containing pork, flour, iron, batteaux, and birches,
locked up.

We now proceeded to get our dinner, which always
turned out to be tea, and to pitch canoes, for which
purpose a large iron pot lay permanently on the bank.
This we did in company with the explorers. Both In
dians and whites use a mixture of rosin and grease for
this purpose, that is, for the pitching, not the dinner.
Joe took a small brand from the fire and blew the heat
and flame against the pitch on his birch, and so melted
and spread it. Sometimes he put his mouth over the
suspected spot and sucked, to see if it admitted air ;
and at one place, where we stopped, he set his canoe
high on crossed stakes, and poured water into it. I nar
rowly watched his motions, and listened attentively to
his observations, for we had employed an Indian mainly
that I might have an opportunity to study his ways.


I heard him swear once, mildly, during this operation,
about his knife being as dull as a hoe, an accomplish
ment which he owed to his intercourse with the whites;
and he remarked, " We ought to have some tea before
we start ; we shall be hungry before we kill that moose."

At mid-afternoon we embarked on the Penobscot.
Our birch was nineteen and a half feet long by two and
a half at the widest part, and fourteen inches deep
within, both ends alike, and painted green, which Joe
thought affected the pitch and made it leak. This, I
think, was a middling-sized one. That of the explorers
was much larger, though probably not much longer.
This carried us three with our baggage, weighing in all
between five hundred and fifty and six hundred pounds.
We had two heavy, though slender, rock-maple paddles,
one of them of bird's-eye maple. Joe placed birch-
bark on the bottom for us to sit on, and slanted cedar
splints against the cross-bars to protect our backs, while
he himself sat upon a cross-bar in the stern. The bag
gage occupied the middle or widest part of the canoe.
We also paddled by turns in the bows, now sitting with
our legs extended, now sitting upon our legs, and now
rising upon our knees ; but I found none of these posi
tions endurable, and was reminded of the complaints
of the old Jesuit missionaries of the torture they en
dured from long confinement in constrained positions
in canoes, in their long voyages from Quebec to the
Huron country ; but afterwards I sat on the cross-bars,
or stood up, and experienced no inconvenience.

It was deadwater for a couple of miles. The river
had been raised about two feet by the rain, and lum-


berers were hoping for a flood sufficient to bring down
the logs that were left in the spring. Its banks were
seven or eight feet high, and densely covered with white
and black spruce, which, I think, must be the com
monest trees thereabouts, fir, arbor- vitse, canoe,
yellow and black birch, rock, mountain, and a few red
maples, beech, black and mountain ash, the large-
toothed aspen, many civil-looking elms, now imbrowned,
along the stream, and at first a few hemlocks also.
We had not gone far before I was startled by seeing
what I thought was an Indian encampment, covered
with a red flag, on the bank, and exclaimed, " Camp! "
to my comrades. I was slow to discover that it was a
red maple changed by the frost. The immediate shores
were also densely covered with the speckled alder, red
osier, shrubby willows or sallows, and the like. There
were a few yellow lily pads still left, half-drowned,
along the sides, and sometimes a white one. Many
fresh tracks of moose were visible where the water was
shallow, and on the shore, the lily stems were freshly
bitten off by them.

After paddling about two miles, we parted company
with the explorers, and turned up Lobster Stream,
which comes in on the right, from the southeast. This
was six or eight rods wide, and appeared to run nearly
parallel with the Penobscot. Joe said that it was so
called from small fresh- water lobsters found in it. It is
the Matahumkeag of the maps. My companion wished
to look for moose signs, and intended, if it proved
worth the while, to camp up that way, since the Indian
advised it. On account of the rise of the Penobscot,


the water ran up this stream to the pond of the same
name, one or two miles. The Spencer Mountains, east
of the north end of Moosehead Lake, were now in plain
sight in front of us. The kingfisher flew before us, the
pigeon woodpecker was seen and heard, and nuthatches
and chickadees close at hand. Joe said that they called
the chickadee kecunnilessu in his language. I will not
vouch for the spelling of what possibly was never spelt
before, but I pronounced after him till he said it would
do. We passed close to a woodcock, which stood per
fectly still on the shore, with feathers puffed up, as if
sick. This Joe said they called nipsquecohossus. The
kingfisher was skuscumonsuck ; bear was wassus ; Indian
devil, lunxus ; the mountain-ash, upahsis. This was
very abundant and beautiful. Moose tracks were not
so fresh along this stream, except in a small creek about
a mile up it, where a large log had lodged in the spring,
marked " W-cross-girdle-crow-foot." We saw a pair of
moose-horns on the shore, and I asked Joe if a moose
had shed them; but he said there was a head attached
to them, and I knew that they did not shed their heads
more than once in their lives.

After ascending about a mile and a half, to within
a short distance of Lobster Lake, we returned to the
Penobscot. Just below the mouth of the Lobster we
found quick water, and the river expanded to twenty
or thirty rods in width. The moose-tracks were quite
numerous and fresh here. We noticed in a great many
places narrow and well-trodden paths by which they
had come down to the river, and where they had slid
on the steep and clayey bank. Their tracks were either


close to the edge of the stream, those of the calves dis
tinguishable from the others, or in shallow water ; the
holes made by their feet in the soft bottom being visi
ble for a long time. They were particularly numerous
where there was a small bay, or pokelogan, as it is
called, bordered by a strip of meadow, or separated
from the river by a low peninsula covered with coarse
grass, wool-grass, etc., wherein they had waded back
and forth and eaten the pads. We detected the remains
of one in such a spot. At one place, where we landed
to pick up a summer duck, which my companion had
shot, Joe peeled a canoe birch for bark for his hunting-
horn. He then asked if we were not going to get the
other duck, for his sharp eyes had seen another fall
in the bushes a little farther along, and my companion
obtained it. I now began to notice the bright red ber
ries of the tree-cranberry, which grows eight or ten
feet high, mingled with the alders and cornel along the
shore. There was less hard wood than at first.

After proceeding a mile and three quarters below
the mouth of the Lobster, we reached, about sundown,
a small island at the head of what Joe called the
Moosehorn Deadwater (the Moosehorn, in which he
was going to hunt that night, coming in about three
miles below), and on the upper end of this we decided
to camp. On a point at the lower end lay the carcass
of a moose killed a month or more before. We con
cluded merely to prepare our camp, and leave our bag
gage here, that all might be ready when we returned
from moose-hunting. Though I had not come a-hunt-
ing, and felt some compunctions about accompanying


the hunters, I wished to see a moose near at hand, and
was not sorry to learn how the Indian managed to kill
one. I went as reporter or chaplain to the hunters,
and the chaplain has been known to carry a gun him
self. After clearing a small space amid the dense spruce
and fir trees, we covered the damp ground with a
shingling of fir twigs, and, while Joe was preparing his
birch horn and pitching his canoe, for this had to be
done whenever we stopped long enough to build a fire,
and was the principal labor which he took upon him
self at such times, we collected fuel for the night,
large, wet, and rotting logs, which had lodged at the
head of the island, for our hatchet was too small for
effective chopping; but we did not kindle a fire, lest
the moose should smell it. Joe set up a couple of
forked stakes, and prepared half a dozen poles, ready
to cast one of our blankets over in case it rained in the
night, which precaution, however, was omitted the next
night. We also plucked the ducks which had been

killed for breakfast.

While we were thus engaged in the twilight, we
heard faintly, from far down the stream, what sounded
like two strokes of a woodchopper's axe, echoing dully
through the grim solitude. We are wont to liken many
sounds, heard at a distance in the forest, to the stroke
of an axe, because they resemble each other under those
circumstances, and that is the one we commonly hear
there. When we told Joe of this, he exclaimed, " By
George, I '11 bet that was a moose ! They make a noise
like that." These sounds affected us strangely, and by
their very resemblance to a familiar one, where they


probably had so different an origin, enhanced the im
pression of solitude and wildness.

At starlight we dropped down the stream, which was
a deadwater for three miles, or as far as the Moose-
horn ; Joe telling us that we must be very silent, and
he himself making no noise with his paddle, while he
urged the canoe along with effective impulses. It was
a still night, and suitable for this purpose, for if
there is wind, the moose will smell you, and Joe was
very confident that he should get some. The Harvest
Moon had just risen, and its level rays began to light
up the forest on our right, while we glided downward
in the shade on the same side, against the little breeze
that was stirring. The lofty, spiring tops of the spruce
and fir were very black against the sky, and more dis
tinct than by day, close bordering this broad avenue on
each side; and the beauty of the scene, as the moon
rose above the forest, it would not be easy to describe.
A bat flew over our heads, and we heard a few faint
notes of birds from time to time, perhaps the myrtle-
bird for one, or the sudden plunge of a musquash, or
saw one crossing the stream before us, or heard the
sound of a rill emptying in, swollen by the recent rain.
About a mile below the island, when the solitude
seemed to be growing more complete every moment,
we suddenly saw the light and heard the crackling of a
fire on the bank, and discovered the camp of the two
explorers ; they standing before it in their red shirts, and
talking aloud of the adventures and profits of the day.
They were just then speaking of a bargain, in which,
as I understood, somebody had cleared twenty-five


dollars. We glided by without speaking, close under
the bank, within a couple of rods of them; and Joe,
taking his horn, imitated the call of the moose, till we
suggested that they might fire on us. This was the last
we saw of them, and we never knew whether they de
tected or suspected us.

I have often wished since that I was with them.
They search for timber over a given section, climbing
hills and often high trees to look off; explore the
streams by which it is to be driven, and the like; spend
five or six weeks in the woods, they two alone, a hun
dred miles or more from any town, roaming about,
and sleeping on the ground where night overtakes
them, depending chiefly on the provisions they carry
with them, though they do not decline what game they
come across ; and then in the fall they return and make
report to their employers, determining the number of
teams that will be required the following winter. Ex
perienced men get three or four dollars a day for this
work. It is a solitary and adventurous life, and comes
nearest to that of the trapper of the West, perhaps.
They work ever with a gun as well as an axe, let their
beards grow, and live without neighbors, not on an
open plain, but far within a wilderness.

This discovery accounted for the sounds which we
had heard, and destroyed the prospect of seeing moose
yet awhile. At length, when we had left the explorers
far behind, Joe laid down his paddle, drew forth his
birch horn, a straight one, about fifteen inches long
and three or four wide at the mouth, tied round with
strips of the same bark, and, standing up, imitated


the call of the moose, ugh-ugh-ugh, or oo-oo-oo-oo,
and then a prolonged oo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o, and listened
attentively for several minutes. We asked him what
kind of noise he expected to hear. He said that if a
moose heard it, he guessed we should find out; we
should hear him coming half a mile off; he would come
close to, perhaps into, the water, and my companion
must wait till he got fair sight, and then aim just
behind the shoulder.

The moose venture out to the riverside to feed and
drink at night. Earlier in the season the hunters do
not use a horn to call them out, but steal upon them
as they are feeding along the sides of the stream, and
often the first notice they have of one is the sound of
the water dropping from its muzzle. An Indian whom
I heard imitate the voice of the moose, and also that
of the caribou and the deer, using a much longer horn
than Joe's, told me that the first could be heard eight
or ten miles, sometimes; it was a loud sort of bellowing
sound, clearer and more sonorous than the lowing of
cattle, the caribou's a sort of snort, and the small deer's
like that of a lamb.

At length we turned up the Moosehorn, where the
Indians at the carry had told us that they killed a
moose the night before. This is a very meandering
stream, only a rod or two in width, but comparatively
deep, coming in on the right, fitly enough named Moose-
horn, whether from its windings or its inhabitants. It
was bordered here and there by narrow meadows be
tween the stream and the endless forest, affording
favorable places for the moose to feed, and to call them


out on. We proceeded half a mile up this as through
a narrow, winding canal, where the tall, dark spruce
and firs and arbor- vitse towered on both sides in the
moonlight, forming a perpendicular forest-edge of great
height, like the spires of a Venice in the forest. In two
places stood a small stack of hay on the bank, ready
for the lumberer's use in the winter, looking strange
enough there. We thought of the day when this might
be a brook winding through smooth-shaven meadows
on some gentleman's grounds; and seen by moonlight
then, excepting the forest that now hems it in, how little
changed it would appear!

Again and again Joe called the moose, placing the
canoe close by some favorable point of meadow for
them to come out on, but listened in vain to hear one
come rushing through the woods, and concluded that
they had been hunted too much thereabouts. We saw,
many times, what to our imaginations looked like a
gigantic moose, with his horns peering from out the
forest edge; but we saw the forest only, and not its
inhabitants, that night. So at last we turned about.
There was now a little fog on the water, though it was
a fine, clear night above. There were very few sounds
to break the stillness of the forest. Several times we
heard the hooting of a great horned owl, as at home,
and told Joe that he would call out the moose for him,
for he made a sound considerably like the horn ; but
Joe answered, that the moose had heard that sound a
thousand times, and knew better; and oftener still we
were startled by the plunge of a musquash. Once, when
Joe had called again, and we were listening for moose,


we heard, come faintly echoing, or creeping from far
through the moss-clad aisles, a dull, dry, rushing sound
with a solid core to it, yet as if half smothered under
the grasp of the luxuriant and fungus-like forest, like
the shutting of a door in some distant entry of the
damp and shaggy wilderness. If we had not been there,
no mortal had heard it. When we asked Joe in a whis
per what it was, he answered, " Tree fall." There is
something singularly grand and impressive in the sound
of a tree falling in a perfectly calm night like this, as
if the agencies which overthrow it did not need to be
excited, but worked with a subtle, deliberate, and con
scious force, like a boa-constrictor, and more effectively
then than even in a windy day. If there is any such
difference, perhaps it is because trees with the dews of
the night on them are heavier than by day.

Having reached the camp, about ten o'clock, we
kindled our fire and went to bed. Each of us had a
blanket, in which he lay on the fir twigs, with his ex
tremities toward the fire, but nothing over his head. It
was worth the while to lie down in a country where you
could afford such great fires; that was one whole side,
and the bright side, of our world. We had first rolled
up a large log some eighteen inches through and ten
feet long, for a backlog, to last all night, and then piled
on the trees to the height of three or four feet, no mat
ter how green or damp. In fact, we burned as much
wood that night as would, with economy and an air
tight stove, last a poor family in one of our cities all
winter. It was very agreeable, as well as independent,
thus lying in the open air, and the fire kept our un-


covered extremities warm enough. The Jesuit mission
aries used to say, that, in their journeys with the
Indians in Canada, they lay on a bed which had never
been shaken up since the creation, unless by earth
quakes. It is surprising with what impunity and com
fort one who has always lain in a warm bed in a close
apartment, and studiously avoided drafts of air, can
lie down on the ground without a shelter, roll himself
in a blanket, and sleep before a fire, in a frosty autumn
night, just after a long rain-storm, and even come soon
to enjoy and value the fresh air.

I lay awake awhile, watching the ascent of the sparks
through the firs, and sometimes their descent in half-
extinguished cinders on my blanket. They were as
interesting as fireworks, going up in endless, successive
crowds, each after an explosion, in an eager, serpentine
course, some to five or six rods above the tree-tops be
fore they went out. We do not suspect how much OUT
chimneys have concealed; and now air-tight stoves
have come to conceal all the rest. In the course of the
night, I got up once or twice and put fresh logs on the
fire, making my companions curl up their legs.

When we awoke in the morning (Saturday, Septem
ber 17), there was considerable frost whitening the
leaves. We heard the sound of the chickadee, and a
few faintly lisping birds, and also of ducks in the water
about the island. I took a botanical account of stock
of our domains before the dew was off, and found that
the ground-hemlock, or American yew, was the pre
vailing undershrub. We breakfasted on tea, hard-
bread, and ducks.


Before the fog had fairly cleared away we paddled
down the stream again, and were soon past the mouth
of the Moosehorn. These twenty miles of the Penob-
scot, between Moosehead and Chesuncook lakes, are
comparatively smooth, and a great part deadwater ; but
from time to time it is shallow and rapid, with rocks or
gravel beds, where you can wade across. There is no
expanse of water, and no break in the forest, and the
meadow is a mere edging here and there. There are
no hills near the river nor within sight, except one or
two distant mountains seen in a few places. The
banks are from six to ten feet high, but once or twice
rise gently to higher ground. In many places the for
est on the bank was but a thin strip, letting the light
through from some alder swamp or meadow behind.
The conspicuous berry-bearing bushes and trees along
the shore were the red osier, with its whitish fruit,
hobble-bush, mountain-ash, tree-cranberry, choke-
cherry, now ripe, alternate cornel, and naked vibur
num. Following Joe's example, I ate the fruit of the
last, and also of the hobble-bush, but found them rather
insipid and seedy. I looked very narrowly at the vege
tation, as we glided along close to the shore, and fre
quently made Joe turn aside for me to pluck a plant,
that I might see by comparison what was primitive
about my native river. Horehound, horse-mint, and
the sensitive fern grew close to the edge, under the wil
lows and alders, and wool-grass on the islands, as along
the Assabet River in Concord. It was too late for
flowers, except a few asters, goldenrods, etc. In sev
eral places we noticed the slight frame of a camp, such


as we had prepared to set up, amid the forest by the
riverside, where some lumberers or hunters had passed
a night, and sometimes steps cut in the muddy or
clayey bank in front of it.

We stopped to fish for trout at the mouth of a small
stream called Ragmuff, which came in from the west,
about two miles below the Moosehorn. Here were the
ruins of an old lumbering-camp, and a small space,
which had formerly been cleared and burned over,
was now densely overgrown with the red cherry and
raspberries. While we were trying for trout, Joe,
Indian-like, wandered off up the Ragmuff on his own
errands, and when we were ready to start was far beyond
call. So we were compelled to make a fire and get our
dinner here, not to lose time. Some dark reddish birds,
with grayer females (perhaps purple finches), and
myrtle-birds in their summer dress, hopped within six
or eight feet of us and our smoke. Perhaps they smelled
the frying pork. The latter bird, or both, made the
lisping notes which I had heard in the forest. They
suggested that the few small birds found in the wilder
ness are on more familiar terms with the lumberman
and hunter than those of the orchard and clearing with
the farmer. I have since found the Canada jay, and
partridges, both the black and the common, equally
tame there, as if they had not yet learned to mistrust
man entirely. The chickadee, which is at home alike
in the primitive woods and in our wood-lots, still re
tains its confidence in the towns to a remarkable

Joe at length returned, after an hour and a half, and


said that he had been two miles up the stream explor
ing, and had seen a moose, but, not having the gun, he
did not get him. We made no complaint, but concluded
to look out for Joe the next time. However, this may
have been a mere mistake, for we had no reason to
complain of him afterwards. As we continued down
the stream, I was surprised to hear him whistling " O
Susanna " and several other such airs, while his paddle

Online LibraryHenry David ThoreauThe writings of Henry David Thoreau (Volume 3) → online text (page 8 of 25)