The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 10, No. 62, December, 1862 online

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above, below, thither, hither, and yon, Fog, not fog, but FOG.

Ripogenus, the water-body, had had aspirations, and a boon of brief
transfiguration into a cloud-body had been granted it by Nature, who
grants to every terrestrial essence prophetic experiences of what it one
day would be.

In short, and to repeat, Ripogenus had transmuted itself into vapor, and
filled the valley full to our feet. A faint wind had power to billow
this mist-lake, and drive cresting surges up against the eastern
hill-side, over which they sometimes broke, and, involving it totally,
rolled clear and free toward Katahdin, where he stood hiding the glows
of sunrise. Leagues higher up than the mountain rested a presence of
cirri, already white and luminous with full daylight, and from them
drooped linking wreaths of orange mist, clinging to the rosy-violet
granite of the peak.

Up clomb and sailed Ripogenus and befogged the whole; then we
condescended to breakfast.



Singularly enough, mill-dams are always found below mill-ponds.
Analogously in the Maine rivers, below the lakes, rapids are. Rapids
too often compel carries. While we breakfasted without steak of bear
or cutlet of moose, Ripogenus gradually retracted itself, and became
conscious again of what poetry there is in a lake's pause and a rapid's
flow. Fog condensed into water, and water submitting to its destiny went
cascading down through a wild defile where no birch could follow.

The Ripogenus carry is three miles long, a faint path through thickets.

"First half," said Cancut, "'s plain enough; but after that 't would
take a philosopher with his spectacles on to find it."

This was discouraging. Philosophers twain we might deem ourselves; but
what is a craftsman without tools? And never a goggle had we.

But the trappers of muskrats had become our fast friends. They insisted
upon lightening our loads over the brambly league. This was kindly.
Cancut's elongated head-piece, the birch, was his share of the burden;
and a bag of bread, a firkin of various grub, damp blankets for three,
and multitudinous traps, seemed more than two could carry at one trip
over this longest and roughest of portages.

We paddled from the camp to the lake-foot, and there, while the others
compacted the portables for portage, Iglesias and I, at cost of a
ducking with mist-drops from the thickets, scrambled up a crag for a
supreme view of the fair lake and the clear mountain. And we did
well. Katahdin, from the hill guarding the exit of the Penobscot from
Ripogenus, is eminent and emphatic, a signal and solitary pyramid,
grander than any below the realms of the unchangeable, more distinctly
mountainous than any mountain of those that stop short of the venerable
honors of eternal snow.

We trod the trail, we others, easier than Cancut. He found it hard to
thread the mazes of an overgrown path and navigate his canoe at the
same time. "Better," thought he, as he staggered and plunged and bumped
along, extricating his boat-bonnet now from a bower of raspberry-bushes,
now from the branches of a brotherly birch-tree, - "better," thought he,
"were I seated in what I bear, and bounding gayly over the billow. Peril
is better than pother."

Bushwhacking thus for a league, we circumvented the peril, and came upon
the river flowing fair and free. The trappers said adieu, and launched
us. Back then they went to consult their traps and flay their fragrant
captives, and we shot forward.

That was a day all poetry and all music. Mountain airs bent and blunted
the noonday sunbeams. There was shade of delicate birches on either
hand, whenever we loved to linger. Our feather-shallop went dancing
on, fleet as the current, and whenever a passion for speed came after
moments of luxurious sloth, we could change floating at the river's
will into leaps and chasing, with a few strokes of the paddle. All was
untouched, unvisited wilderness, and we from bend to bend the first
discoverers. So we might fancy ourselves; for civilization had been
here only to cut pines, not to plant houses. Yet these fair curves, and
liberal reaches, and bright rapids of the birchen-bowered river were
only solitary, not lonely. It is never lonely with Nature. Without
unnatural men or unnatural beasts, she is capital society by herself.
And so we found her, - a lovely being in perfect toilet, which I
describe, in an indiscriminating, masculine way, by saying that it was a
forest and a river and lakes and a mountain and doubtless sky, all made
resplendent by her judicious disposition of a most becoming light.
Iglesias and I, being old friends, were received into close intimacy.
She smiled upon us unaffectedly, and had a thousand exquisite things to
say, drawing us out also, with feminine tact, to say our best things,
and teaching us to be conscious, in her presence, of more delicate
possibilities of refinement and a tenderer poetic sense. So we voyaged
through the sunny hours, and were happy.

Yet there was no monotony in our progress. We could not always drift and
glide. Sometimes we must fight our way. Below the placid reaches were
the inevitable "rips" and rapids: some we could shoot without hitting
anything; some would hit us heavily, did we try to shoot. Whenever
the rocks in the current were only as thick as the plums in a
boarding-school pudding, we could venture to run the gantlet; whenever
they multiplied to a school-boy's ideal, we were arrested. Just at the
brink of peril we would sweep in by an eddy into a shady pool by the
shore. At such spots we found a path across the carry. Cancut at once
proceeded to bonnet himself with the trickling birch. Iglesias and I
took up the packs and hurried on with minds intent on berries. Berries
we always found, - blueberries covered with a cloudy bloom, blueberries
pulpy, saccharine, plenteous.

Often, when a portage was not quite necessary, a dangerous bit of white
water would require the birch to be lightened. Cancut must steer her
alone over the foam, while we, springing ashore, raced through the thick
of the forest, tore through the briers, and plunged through the punk of
trees older than history, now rotting where they fell, slain by Time the
Giganticide. Cancut then had us at advantage. Sometimes we had laughed
at him, when he, a good-humored malaprop, made vague clutches at the
thread of discourse. Now suppose he should take a fancy to drop down
stream and leave us. What then? Berries then, and little else, unless we
had a chance at a trout or a partridge. It is not cheery, but dreary, to
be left in pathlessness, blanketless, guideless, and with breadths of
lake and mountain and Nature, shaggy and bearish, between man and man.
With the consciousness of a latent shudder in our hearts at such a
possibility, we parted brier and bramble until the rapid was passed, we
scuffled hastily through to the river-bank, and there always, in some
quiet nook, was a beacon of red-flannel shirt among the green leaves
over the blue and shadowy water, and always the fast-sailing Cancut
awaiting us, making the woods resound to amicable hails, and ready again
to be joked and to retaliate.

Such alternations made our voyage a charming olla. We had the placid
glide, the fleet dash, the wild career, the pause, the landing,
the agreeable interlude of a portage, and the unburdened stampede
along-shore. Thus we won our way, or our way wooed us on, until, in
early afternoon, a lovely lakelet opened before us. The fringed
shores retired, and, as we shot forth upon wider calm, lo, Katahdin!
unlooked-for, at last, as a revolution. Our boat ruffled its shadow,
doing pretty violence to its dignity, that we might know the greater
grandeur of the substance. There was a gentle agency of atmosphere
softening the bold forms of this startling neighbor, and giving it
distance, lest we might fear it would topple and crush us. Clouds, level
below, hid the summit and towered aloft. Among them we might imagine the
mountain rising with thousands more of feet of heaven-piercing height:
there is one degree of sublimity in mystery, as there is another degree
in certitude.

We lay to in a shady nook, just off Katahdin's reflection in the river,
while Iglesias sketched him. Meanwhile I, analyzing my view, presently
discovered a droll image in the track of a land-avalanche down the
front. It was a comical fellow, a little giant, a colossal dwarf, six
hundred feet high, and should have been thrice as tall, had it had any
proper development, - for out of his head grew two misdirected skeleton
legs, "hanging down and dangling." The countenance was long, elfin,
sneering, solemn, as of a truculent demon, saddish for his trade, an
ashamed, but unrepentant rascal. He had two immense erect ears, and in
his boisterous position had suffered a loss of hair, wearing nothing
save an impudent scalp-lock. A very grotesque personage. Was he the
guardian imp, the legendary Eft of Katahdin, scoffing already at us as
verdant, and warning that he would make us unhappy, if we essayed to
appear in demon realms and on Brocken heights without initiation?

"A terrible pooty mountain," Cancut observed; and so it is.

Not to fail in topographical duty, I record, that near this lakelet
flows in the river Sowadehunk, and not far below, a sister streamlet,
hardly less melodiously named Ayboljockameegus. Opposite the latter we
landed and encamped, with Katahdin full in front, and broadly visible.



Our camping-place was worthy of its view. On the bank, high and dry, a
noble yellow birch had been strong enough to thrust back the forest,
making a glade for its own private abode. Other travellers had already
been received in this natural pavilion. We had had predecessors, and
they had built them a hut, a half roof of hemlock bark, resting on a
frame. Time had developed the wrinkles in this covering into cracks, and
cracks only wait to be leaks. First, then, we must mend our mansion.
Material was at hand; hemlocks, with a back-load of bark, stood ready to
be disburdened. In August they have worn their garment so long that they
yield it unwillingly. Cancut's axe, however, was insinuating, not to
say peremptory. He peeled off and brought great scales of rough
purple roofing, and we disposed them, according to the laws of
forest architecture, upon our cabin. It became a good example of the
_renaissance_. Storm, if such a traveller were approaching, was shut
out at top and sides; our blankets could become curtains in front and
completely hide us from that unwelcome vagrant, should he peer about
seeking whom he might duck and what he might damage.

Our lodge, built, must be furnished. We need a luxurious carpet, couch,
and bed; and if we have these, will be content without secondary
articles. Here, too, material was ready, and only the artist wanting, to
use it. While Cancut peeled the hemlocks, Iglesias and I stripped off
armfuls of boughs and twigs from the spruces to "bough down" our camp.
"Boughing down" is shingling the floor elaborately with evergreen
foliage; and when it is done well, the result counts among the high
luxuries of the globe. As the feathers of this bed are harsh stems
covered with leafage, the process of bed-making must be systematic, the
stems thoroughly covered, and the surface smooth and elastic. I have
slept on the various beds of the world, - in a hammock, in a pew, on
German feathers, on a bear-skin, on a mat, on a hide; all, all give but
a feeble, restless, unrecreating slumber, compared to the spruce or
hemlock bed in a forest of Maine. This is fragrant, springy, soft,
well-fitting, better than any Sybarite's coach of uncrumpled
rose-leaves. It sweetly rustles when you roll, and, by a gentle
titillation with the little javelin-leaves, keeps up a pleasant
electricity over the cuticle. Rheumatism never, after nights on such a
bed; agues never; vigor, ardor, fervor, always.

We despatched our camp-building and bed-making with speed, for we had
a purpose. The Penobscot was a very beautiful river, and the
Ayboljockameegus a very pretty stream; and if there is one place in the
world where trout, at certain seasons, are likely to be found, it is in
a beautiful river at the mouth of a pretty stream. Now we wanted trout;
it was in the programme that something more delicate than salt-pork
should grace our banquets before Katahdin. Cancut sustained our _a
priori_, that trout were waiting for us over by the Aybol. By this
time the tree-shadows, so stiff at noon, began to relax and drift down
stream, cooling the surface. The trout could leave their shy lairs
down in the chilly deeps, and come up without fear of being parboiled.
Besides, as evening came, trout thought of their supper, as we did of

Hereupon I had a new sensation. We made ready our flies and our rods,
and embarked, as I supposed, to be ferried across and fish from _terra
firma_. But no. Cancut dropped anchor very quietly opposite the Aybol's
mouth. Iglesias, the man of Maine experience, seemed nought surprised.
We were to throw our lines, as it appeared, from the birch; we were to
peril our lives on the unsteady basis of a roly-poly vessel, - to keep
our places and ballast our bowl, during the excitement of hooking
pounds. Self-poise is an acrobatic feat, when a person, not loaded at
the heels, undertakes trout-fishing from a birch.

We threw our flies. Instantly at the lucky hackle something darted,
seized it, and whirled to fly, with the unwholesome bit in its mouth, up
the peaceful Ayboljockameegus. But the lucky man, and he happened to be
the novice, forgot, while giving the capturing jerk of his hook, that
his fulcrum was not solid rock. The slight shell tilted, turned - over
not quite, over enough to give everybody a start. One lesson teaches the
docile. Caution thereafter presided over our fishing. She told us to sit
low, keep cool, cast gently, strike firmly, play lightly, and pull in
steadily. So we did. As the spotted sparklers were rapidly translated
from water to a lighter element, a well-fed cheerfulness developed in
our trio. We could not speak, for fear of breaking the spell; we smiled
at each other. Twenty-three times the smile went round. Twenty-three
trout, and not a pigmy among them, lay at our feet. More fish for one
dinner and breakfast would be waste and wanton self-indulgence. We
stopped. And I must avow, not to claim too much heroism, that the fish
had also stopped. So we paddled home contented.

Then, O Walton! O Davy! O Scrope! ye fishers hard by taverns! luxury was
ours of which ye know no more than a Chinaman does of music. Under
the noble yellow birch we cooked our own fish. We used our scanty
kitchen-battery with skill. We cooked with the high art of simplicity.
Where Nature has done her best, only fools rush in to improve: on the
salmonids, fresh and salt, she has lavished her creative refinements;
cookery should only ripen and develop. From our silver gleaming pile
of pounders, we chose the larger and the smaller for appropriate
experiments. Then we tested our experiments; we tasted our examples.
Success. And success in science proves knowledge and skill. We feasted.
The delicacy of our food made each feaster a finer essence.

So we supped, reclined upon our couch of spruce-twigs. In our good cheer
we pitied the Eft of Katahdin: he might sneer, but he was supperless. We
were grateful to Nature for the grand mountain, for the fair and sylvan
woods, for the lovely river and what it had yielded us.

By the time we had finished our flaky fare and sipped our chocolate from
the Magdalena, Night announced herself, - Night, a jealous, dark lady,
eclipsed and made invisible all her rivals, that she might solely
possess us. Night's whispers lulled us. The rippling river, the rustling
leaves, the hum of insects grew more audible; and these are gentle
sounds that prove wide quietude in Nature, and tell man that the burr
and buzz in his day-laboring brain have ceased, and he had better be
breathing deep in harmony. So we disposed ourselves upon the fragrant
couch of spruce-boughs, and sank slowly and deeper into sleep, as divers
sink into the thick waters down below, into the dreamy waters far below
the plunge of sunshine.

By-and-by, as the time came for rising to the surface again, and the
mind began to be half conscious of facts without it, as the diver may
half perceive light through thinning strata of sea, there penetrated
through my last layers of slumber a pungent odor of wetted embers. It
was raining quietly. Drip was the pervading sound, as if the rain-drops
were counting aloud the leaves of the forest. Evidently a resolute and
permanent wetting impended. On rainy days one does not climb Katahdin.
Instead of rising by starlight, breakfasting by gray, and starting by
rosy dawn, it would be policy to persuade night to linger long into the
hours of a dull day. When daylight finally came, dim and sulky, there
was no rivalry among us which should light the fire. We did not leap,
but trickled slowly forth into the inhospitable morning, all forlorn.
Wet days in camp try "grit." "Clear grit" brightens more crystalline,
the more it is rained upon; sham grit dissolves into mud and water.

Yankees, who take in pulverized granite with every breath of their
native dust, are not likely to melt in a drizzle. We three certainly
did not. We reacted stoutly against the forlorn weather, unpacking our
internal stores of sunshine, as a camel in a desert draws water from his
inner tank when outer water fails. We made the best of it. A breakfast
of trout and trimmings looks nearly as well and tastes nearly as well in
a fog as in a glare: that we proved by experience at Camp Katahdin.

We could not climb the mountain dark and dim; we would not be idle: what
was to be done? Much. Much for sport and for use. We shouldered the
axe and sallied into the dripping forest. Only a faint smoke from the
smouldering logs curled up among the branches of the yellow birch over
camp. We wanted a big smoke, and chopped at the woods for fuel. Speaking
for myself, I should say that our wood-work was ill done. Iglesias
smiled at my axe-handling, and Cancut at his, as chopping we sent chips
far and wide.

The busy, keen, short strokes of the axe resounded through the forest.
When these had done their work, and the bungler paused amid his wasteful
_debris_ to watch his toil's result, first was heard a rustle of leaves,
as if a passing whirlwind had alighted there; next came the crack of
bursting sinews; then the groan of a great riving spasm, and the tree,
decapitated at its foot, crashed to earth, with a vain attempt to clutch
for support at the stiff, unpitying arms of its woodland brotherhood.

Down was the tree, - fallen, but so it should not lie. This tree we
proposed to promote from brute matter, mere lumber, downcast and
dejected, into finer essence: fuel was to be made into fire.

First, however, the fuel must be put into portable shape. We top-sawyers
went at our prostrate and vanquished non-resistant, and without mercy
mangled and dismembered him, until he was merely a bare trunk, a torso
incapable of restoration.

While we were thus busy, useful, and happy, the dripping rain, like a
clepsydra, told off the morning moments. The dinner-hour drew nigh. We
had determined on a feast, and trout were to be its daintiest dainty.
But before we cooked our trout, we must, according to sage Kitchener's
advice, catch our trout. They were, we felt confident, awaiting us in
the refrigerate larder at hand. We waited until the confusing pepper of
a shower had passed away and left the water calm. Then softly and deftly
we propelled our bark across to the Ayboljockameegus. We tossed to the
fish humbugs of wool, silk, and feathers, gauds such as captivate the
greedy or the guileless. Again the "gobemouches" trout, the fellows
on the look-out for novelty, dashed up and swallowed disappointing
juiceless morsels, and with them swallowed hooks.

We caught an apostolic boat-load of beauties fresh and blooming
as Aurora, silver as the morning star, gemmy with eye-spots as a

O feast most festal! Iglesias, of course, was the great artist who
devised and mainly executed it. As well as he could, he covered his pot
and pan from the rain, admitting only enough to season each dish with
gravy direct from the skies. As day had ripened, the banquet grew ripe.
Then as day declined, we reclined on our triclinium of hemlock and
spruce boughs, and made high festival, toasting each other in the
uninebriating flow of our beverages. Jollity reigned. Cancut fattened,
and visibly broadened. Toward the veriest end of the banquet, we seemed
to feel that there had been a slight sameness in its courses. The Bill
of Fare, however, proved the freest variety. And at the close we sat and
sipped our chocolate with uttermost content. No _gar√Іon_, cringing, but
firm, would here intrude with the unhandsome bill. Nothing to pay is the
rarest of pleasures. This dinner we had caught ourselves, we had cooked
ourselves, and had eaten for the benefit of ourselves and no other.
There was nothing to repent of afterwards in the way of extravagance,
and certainly nothing of indigestion. Indigestion in the forest
primeval, in the shadow of Katahdin, is impossible.

While we dined, we talked of our to-morrow's climb of Katahdin. We were
hopeful. We disbelieved in obstacles. To-morrow would be fine. We would
spring early from our elastic bed and stride topwards. Iglesias nerved
himself and me with a history of his ascent some years before, up the
eastern side of the mountain. He had left the house of Mr. Hunt, the
outsider at that time of Eastern Maine, with a squad of lumbermen, and
with them tramped up the furrow of a land-avalanche to the top, spending
wet and ineffective days in the dripping woods, and vowing then to
return and study the mountain from our present camping-spot. I recalled
also the first recorded ascent of the Natardin or Catardin Mountain by
Mr. Turner in 1804, printed in the Massachusetts Historical Society's
Collections, and identified the stream up whose valley he climbed with
the Ayboljockameegus. Cancut offered valuable contributions to our
knowledge from his recent ascent with our Boston predecessors. To-morrow
we would verify our recollections and our fancies.

And so good-night, and to our spruce bed.



Next morning, when we awoke, just before the gray of dawn, the sky was
clear and scintillating; but there was a white cotton night-cap on
the head of Katahdin. As we inspected him, he drew his night-cap down
farther, hinting that he did not wish to see the sun that day. When
a mountain is thus in the sulks after a storm, it is as well not to
disturb him: he will not offer the prize of a view. Experience taught us
this: but then experience is only an empiric at the best.

Besides, whether Katahdin were bare-headed or cloud-capped, it would be
better to blunder upward than lounge all day in camp and eat Sybaritic
dinners. We longed for the nervy climb. We must have it. "Up!" said
tingling blood to brain. "Dash through the forest! Grasp the crag, and
leap the cleft! Sweet flash forth the streamlets from granite fissures.
To breathe the winds that smite the peaks is life."

As soon as dawn bloomed in the woods we breakfasted, and ferried the
river before sunrise. The ascent subdivides itself into five zones. 1. A
scantily wooded acclivity, where bears abound. 2. A dense, swampy forest
region. 3. Steep, mossy mountain-side, heavily wooded. 4. A belt of
dwarf spruces, nearly impenetrable. 5. Ragged rock.

Cancut was our leader to-day. There are by far too many blueberries in
the first zone. No one, of course, intends to dally, but the purple
beauties tempted, and too often we were seduced. Still such yielding
spurred us on to hastier speed, when we looked up after delay and saw
the self-denying far ahead.

To write an epic or climb a mountain is merely a dogged thing; the
result is more interesting to most than the process. Mountains, being
cloud-compellers, are rain-shedders, and the shed water will not always
flow with decorous gayety in dell or glen. Sometimes it stays bewildered
in a bog, and here the climber must plunge. In the moist places great
trees grow, die, fall, rot, and barricade the way with their corpses.
Katahdin has to endure all the ills of mountain being, and we had all
the usual difficulties to fight through doggedly. When we were clumsy,
we tumbled and rose up torn. Still we plodded on, following a path
blazed by the Bostonians, Cancut's late charge, and we grumblingly

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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 10, No. 62, December, 1862 → online text (page 6 of 20)