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The Gorge. — A Bear-Path. — Another Pond. — Water-Snakes. — Hawks. — Wash as a Naturalist. — A Hawk’s Nest. —
The “Brulê.” — Blueberries. — “Scat! you great-headed Wretch.” — A Lynx-Hunt. — A Hedge-Hog. — Mephitis mephitica.
FOR breakfast we had another pudding, considerably improved on that of the preceding evening, and the remainder of the cakes and cheese in the lunch-basket. As we had no further use for the basket, we left it hanging in the spruce, to be carried back to the boat on our return. At quarter-past seven we clambered down from the “big rock,” and went on. A hundred rods took us up into the throat of the gorge. The two peaks were now seen, towering six or seven hundred feet on each side. Their ledgy summits could scarcely have been more than five hundred yards apart. Judge, then, how steep must have been the sides of the ravine, and how narrow the rocky pass along its bed, down which poured the brook in a continuous cascade. Yet, doubling and threading along the bank, we were not a little surprised to find a small but well-worn path.
“Is it possible that parties going up through here have worn this?” Raed asked.
It seemed hardly probable.
“Then it must be bears, deer, or some other kind of wild animals,” said Wash.
We concluded that it was mainly the track of bears.
“Oh! wouldn’t here be a grand place to hunt them?” exclaimed Wade. “What say for stopping here a few days for a bear-hunt?”
“We’ve other and better business,” replied Raed. “Besides, our friend back at the shanty says “tain’t the right time o’ y’ar to hunt b’ars;’ and I dare say he knows.”
The gorge was here and there choked with drift-logs and brush. Huge bowlders had rolled down from the peaks, and lay piled in seemingly im passable barriers. But, following the path, it somehow found its way either around or under every thing. Indeed, it was very convenient for us; though we were in no little dread of coming upon a regular tramper at some of the numerous short turns. Thus we went on for fully three-fourths of a mile. Toward the top it grew still wilder and narrower. We could scarcely hear each other’s voices for the roar of the torrent. Every bush and every rock seemed to wear a scared look, and to be listening, — listening for something above the noise of the waters. We walked on in silence, and involuntarily stepped quicker. Hurry and wildness were all about us. Quite unexpectedly, the path and the bed of the glen turned sharply to the right, and, presto! we were at the head of the gorge, looking out on a wide, calm pond. Taking a few steps forward, all the roar of the ravine behind was suddenly stilled, and all the wildness merged in a quiet landscape. ‘Twas a marvellously rapid transition.
“I don’t feel like the same fellow!!” cried Wash, looking back to hearken.” What a den that was!”
“A den of waters,” suggested Wade.
A little farther on we crossed the brook, the outlet of the pond, on a fallen bass-wood. Beneath the log the stream ran quiet as a sunbeam.
“Looks good-humored enough under there,” said Raed. “Who would think it meant to set up such a howling?”
The mountain-ridges fold back on each side of the pond. After crossing the outlet, we went on up the eastern shore between the pond and the mountain, the craggy side of which rose steeply from the water. The pond itself was seemingly three or four miles long, running north-west by south-east nearly. Its shores were clothed down to the water with spruce mainly, with here and there a clump of hard-wood. A two-hours’ tramp, with occasional “rests,” took us up near the north ern end. The water was low, and a long mud flat lay exposed. The hot August sun had baked and seamed it with a network of cracks. Several hawks were circling slowly over the flat. One was nearly white, with black-tipped tail and wings; and, as we passed along, it suddenly stooped, barely touched the mud with its talons, then rose straight up. Something was writhing and dangling from its claws.
“Looks like a piece of rope,” said Wash.
“It’s a water-snake,” said I.
“That flat is doubtless alive with them,” remarked Raed. “That’s what those hawks are sailing round there for.”
The hawk was having quite a struggle with its prey in the air. The snake proved refractory, and kept coiling around its captor’s legs and body. As often as it got wound about too closely, the hawk would, with a few quick flaps, shake it off.
Once it fell from its talons, but was caught up ere it struck the mud. At length it hung down long and limp; and not till then did the hawk sail off to its nest. With a few strong strokes the victor then rose up higher, and, passing directly over our heads, settled on the top of a large hemlock, a hundred feet up the side of the mountain.
“Nest in that hemlock,” said Wash. “Shall we stop for it?”
As Wade had never seen one, we decided to do so, and, setting down our buckets, “bundle,” and kettle, began clambering up among the rocks.
“What sort of a hawk did you say it was?” inquired Wade.
As the naturalist did not seem inclined to immediately answer to this, I replied that it was what country-boys call a hen-hawk.
“Ah, yes; Circus cyanens!” cried Wash. “That’s it!”
Indeed there was something rather funny about Wash’s knowledge of natural history. He knew scarcely any of our birds or animals by sight; though, as soon as I had told him the common name, he could give the scientific one. I knew them by sight, and he knew them by science. There seemed to be a little gap between him and the animal kingdom which he couldn’t get across without help. And, now I think of it, I wonder if there are not a great many young would-be naturalists in the same fix.
Laying hold of the bushes which grew among the rocks, we climbed up to the foot of the hem lock. The pond was now at our feet, with the dark shadow of the mountain thrown far out upon it.
“But how are we to get the nest?” asked Wade. “We’ve no ladder here.”
“Have to climb the hemlock,” said I. “Put your arms round it, and shin up, bear-fashion. Will you go up?”
“I guess you had better,” said he. “I don’t quite understand the process.”
The trunk was fully as large as I could clasp: but, pulling off my coat, I shinned up to the branches; then climbed from limb to limb ladder-wise. The nest — a coarse structure of sticks and water-grass — was placed in a crotch formed by two branches with the trunk, near the top. The old hawk had risen from the tree, and was sailing silently around quite near, but did not venture to molest me. I raised myself to look into the nest; when the snake, which lay upon it, raised his head with an angry hiss: it had not yet been killed. I ducked my head in a hurry; for the water-snake has the reputation among all country-boys of being a poisonous biter, though Wash disputes it. Then, spying its tail hanging over the other side, I caught hold of that, and, with a quick jerk, sent the reptile down through the boughs to the ground, where Raed despatched it. Wash put his pocket-rule on it, and pronounced it nearly three feet long. That is about common size; though I once cut one in two with an axe as it lay sunning on a log, which, on being put together, measured five feet and a half.
Loosening the nest from the crotch, I held it out as far as I could to clear the limbs, and dropped it down to the boys, the young ones — there were three of them — squalling like young crows. The skins and skeletons of no less than a dozen snakes were hanging to the twigs; and the whole tree-top had a highly-offensive odor. On getting down, I found the boys having considerable sport with the young hawks. They were savage, and struck with their tiny claws, and bit, if touched.
“But they’re all of different sizes,” said Wash. “Here’s one half grown ‘most, while this next one isn’t more than half as large; and the last one looks as if just out of the shell. How’s this?”
Hawks begin to lay their eggs and to set at the same time: so the first egg may often be hatched a fortnight before the last.
This bit of hawk-history was entirely new to Wash.
It may be added, that the same economy is ob servable at a crow’s nest.
Hearing the cries of their young, both old birds — for the male had now made his appearance — began to swoop down, one after the other, each with a wrathful yellow eye bent unwinkingly upon us. Watching his chance, Wash fired at the mother-bird with the shot-gun. At the report she uttered a sharp squall, and sidled away through the air. Several feathers came fluttering down ward. She was wounded, and, flapping painfully, carne gradually down to the surface of the pond below.
“Will drown, sure,” said Wade.
For some minutes the bird lay flat on the water, with its wings spread out; then began tripping and splashing, seeming to touch the water alternately with wings and feet and never once stop ping till it had reached the opposite shore. At the same time, the male bird rose high in the air, and sailed off.
Another circumstance struck Wade as very curious. He could scarcely believe that the largest of the hawks — the one Wash had fired at — was the female.
“Why, it’s fully a third the largest,” said he.
“I know that,” replied Wash. “The female of hawks and eagles is always the largest.”
“Are you sure?” and I fear he wasn’t half convinced then.
Putting the chicks back into the shattered nest, we left them at the foot of the hemlock, and, making our way down to the pond-shore again, went on.
Above the pond the land rose gradually. We were passing through a growth of maple and ash interspersed with alder clumps; and, farther on, crossed a belt of hackmatack. Emerging from these, we came out into what seemed a vast bushy clearing. It was one of those tracts to which the Canadian woodsmen give the name of “brulé,” — a region devastated by the terrific fires which some times sweep over hundreds of square miles, burning not only the heavy growth of wood, but also the ground itself so deeply that a score of years will elapse ere another growth of any size can take root. For miles and miles to the northward — farther than we could see — the fire had blasted and swept off the entire growth. Immense pine- trunks, often four feet in diameter, lay prostrate and blackened, rotting slowly away. In some places these arboreal giants had fallen across each other till the rick was ten and fifteen feet in height. Millions of dollars could not replace the value of the pine-timber thus destroyed.* Thou sands upon thousands of these trunks lie rotting where they fell. The amount of pine lumber — and that, too, of the very best quality — thus irretrievably lost is perfectly enormous. Here and there, tall black stubs, burned nearly off at the root, and looking as if a breath would cause them to totter and fall, rose sixty and seventy feet. Beneath the rank, breast-high growth of recent brakes, the ground was strewn with dead coal and charred fagots. The very stones looked fire-smitten, and crumbled under our feet. We were constantly running upon smutty stumps and rolling knots that lurked underneath the brakes. Nature was already at work, — not trying to restore the giant pines, but seeking, as it were, to conceal the havoc and nakedness of the region with a sprightly growth of dwarfish white birches, pigmy poplars, and wild red cherry and choke-cherry. Here and there a low pine-shrub shows its green tassels. In the more open places blueberry-bushes abound. In this latitude the blueberry does not ripen much before the first of August. But such blueberries! They were as large as red cranberries commonly grow. We dropped, each on his little knoll, and feasted. As if to vary the repast, the wild-cherry trees reached down their laden branches, red with juicy fruit. There was also a kind of plum, commonly known among boys as “bird-pears” or “pear-plums,” growing on shrubs slender and tree-like, but smaller than the cherry-trees. A stomach full of blueberries and cherries will not take the place of dinner, however. By one o’clock we began to feel the need of something more substantial. Following up a little “run” to where it was moistened by a spring under a mass of overhanging golden-rod not yet in bloom, we built a fire against an old log, and proceeded to boil eggs and make pudding, as usual. This time we flavored the pudding with blueberries strewn in with the meal. For dessert we had some very sweet “bird-pears.”
Getting dinner and eating it took until after three o’clock. We then went on, keeping N. E. by N. for about three miles farther, threading our way with no little difficulty among the fallen pines; and at six o’clock encamped for the night in a clump of low firs clustered about the foot of a lofty, blackened stub. A couple of rods back from our fire lay the trunk of a truly enormous pine. Wash found it to be five feet seven inches in diameter. The low firs which grew about it were scarcely higher than the log.
A rill in a hollow, a few hundred yards to the west, furnished water for our kettle and to drink; though we longed for coffee. While the rest of us were preparing supper, Wade set the aneroid to ascertain the height above the sea-level. He announced it to be nearly thirteen hundred and seventy-five feet.
To such of our readers as may never have seen an aneroid barometer, I may describe it as a circular brass box, with a ring-handle something like that of a watch. Into the top of it is set a dial, on which, under a crystal, moves an indicator, or hand. The box is air-tight; and, when the air is exhausted, the varying pressure of atmosphere upon the elastic top moves the hand (by means of mechanism best known to the inventors) around the graduated dial. The point at which the indicator stands at the sea-level being marked, the height of mountains, where the atmospheric pressure is of course less, can be calculated from the backward movement of the hand.
After supper, Wash, in his capacity of naturalist, reported relative to the habits of the hawks we had seen. He had also noticed that some of the cherry-trees were broken down, the branches showing as if the fruit had been stripped off. Many of the blueberry knolls showed similar marks. From certain big tracks he had discovered over in the hollow by the spring, he supposed this to be the work of bears, which, at this season, leave the swamps for the uplands, where they feed largely on berries and other wild fruits. Raed, as geologist, had noticed a ledge of shelly limestone; which he thought rather singular, since granite was the prevailing rock of this whole region. As mineralogist, I had found a bank of smooth dark-red pebbles of jasper on the pond- shore; also some pure white fragments of felspar where the fire had burned about a number of large rocks.
During the evening we sprigged off sapin from the firs, and pitched our “bar” over it on some willow-twigs from the hollow. About nine, Raed built a second fire a little back of us. The guns were set at hand; and we lay down under our blankets much as we had done the previous evening, though in a far different place; Ding-bat being supposed to keep watch for the bears.
A few minutes after one (as was afterwards found) I was awakened by a sudden stir and scramble; and, starting up, heard Wade yell out,
“Scat! you great-headed wretch!”
At the same instant a noise as of nails on the pine-log was heard, followed by a pounce down upon the ground and a scampering-off. Ding-bat then burst out, barking furiously.
“What was that?” cried Raed.
“Hollo!” shouted Wash, suddenly awaking: “What’s the matter?”
Wade had jumped up and seized one of the guns.
“What is it?” said I.
“Some kind of a great cat!” he exclaimed. “Sat there on that big log, staring at us! Had a head as large as yours! And such eyes! — shone like fire! Ding-hat hadn’t heard him; laid there asleep when I woke.”
“The creature must have crept up still,” said Raed. “What waked you?”
“I don’t know hardly,” replied Wade. “I think it was his eyes. I was dreaming, — something hideous. Opened my eyes all at once, and saw that big cat-head looking at me from the top of the log. Took me a moment to find out whether I was awake or not. Then I sang out ‘Scat!’ The instant I stirred, he turned and scampered along the log; then jumped down and ran off.”
“Did he have prick ears?” I asked.
“With tassels on them?”
“And a bob tail?”
“It looked like that when he turned to run.”
“Then it was a lynz!” exclaimed Wash; “just like that one we saw down in the ‘dead-growth.’”
“Well, it may be,” said Wade; “but this was certainly larger than that one. You’ve no idea what a great head he had.”
“Do you suppose he would have jumped at us or at the dog?” Raed asked.
I thought it not likely that he would. It seemed more probable that the beast had been prowling about, and, smelling us, had crept up more from curiosity than from any ferocious design.
Yet we somehow found it impossible to go to sleep again, and lay talking till daybreak; when Raed got up, and, kindling a fire, began to get breakfast.
By this means we were able to get a pretty early start, and went on nearly a mile before sun rise; our plan being to travel during the cool of the morning, and thus have the more time to rest at noon.
Ding-bat had run on ahead, and presently began to bark so sharply, that Wade thought he must have started something sizable. Wash and I had the guns. Giving our luggage to Raed and Wade, we ran quietly along from one cluster of bushes to another for thirty or forty rods. The dog could now be heard, making a great din and yapping, seemingly not more than a hundred yards ahead; but a leafy hazel-thicket intervened. Stepping very cautiously, we made our way among the hazels; and, on coming near the farther edge, parted the leaves, and looked out. Ding-bat was under a clump of thick young beeches some ten or a dozen rods away; and amid the leaves, up seven or eight feet, we had a glimpse of gray fur.
“What is it?” Wash whispered.
Although the position of the animal in the tree could be made out with considerable certainty, the leaves prevented us from getting a fair view of it. It might be either a wild-cat or a raccoon.
Whatever it was, the creature seemed to give it self very little uneasiness on account of Ding-bat. It lay along a limb, looking nonchalantly down at his noisy demonstrations.
“Try him with the rifle!” I whispered. “I’ll stand ready with the shot-gun in case he jumps out and runs.”
Wash took a careful aim, and pulled the trigger. A sharp, cat-like cry followed the report. The creature did not leap down, however. We stood watching it a moment. Then a little stream of blood began to drop and trickle down; at sight of which Ding-bat grew nearly beside himself.
“You’ve hit him,” said I; “killed him, I guess.”
“Hollo!” shouted Raed. He and Wade had just come up on the other side of the hazels.
They now came through where we were standing, and together we went along to the tree. The creature was hanging back down, clinging with its claws to the underside of the branch on which it had been crouching. It made no movement as we approached. Wash reached up with the rifle, and gave it a poke; when it fell to the ground, dead, as we had supposed.
It was a lynx.
The slug had gone the whole length of its body, probably hitting the heart. Wash was not a little proud of that shot.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” cried Wade, stroking the soft, bright fur. “Shall we skin it?”
If we skinned it, we should have the skin to carry with us many a weary mile.
“Guess we had best leave it as it lies,” said Raed; “though it does seem too bad to lose it.”
Its head was large and round, with erect, pointed ears, each tipped with a tuft of black hairs. The yellow eyes were partly unclosed, and had a fierce look even in death. Its body was nearly three feet in length, and its legs stout and powerful, with large feet, and long, curved claws. The back and sides were clad with fur of a beautiful stone-gray color; while the under parts of the body and breast were white, beautifully mottled with black spots. The tail was very short, — not more than four inches in length, — and also tipped with black. The broad, white breast, flecked with foam and blood, disclosed a gaping wound where the slug had come out. Its weight we judged to be somewhere from thirty to thirty-five pounds.
“Does it look like the great-headed wretch you saw last night, Wade?” asked Wash.
“Well, something like it: only it isn’t nearly so large.”
Wade has always insisted that the one he saw was as large as a full-grown hyena as we see them at menageries. Naturalists seem to concur in their opinions that the Canada lynx is very shy, always fleeing from the presence of man. Nevertheless, I have an authentic account of one that came boldly out into a logging-road, and attacked the driver of a sled, who had to fight for his life, and only by his utmost efforts succeeded in beating the creature off with a sled-stake.
Two or three miles farther on we entered a growth of large poplars, forming a pleasant grove about a spring at the foot of another limestone ledge. Three of the poplars standing near the spring were of remarkable size. Wash found one of them to be rising two feet in diameter, with a grand pale-green trunk, straight as an arrow, and fully seventy-five feet in height. Though there was no perceptible breeze, the polished leaves seemed never to rest from their ceaseless shiver.
As so fine a spring is not always to be chanced upon, we decided to camp here for dinner, which was prepared after the usual programme.
While eating, we several times heard a harsh, low cry, which we had at first supposed to be a bird.
“Don’t sound just like a bird, either,” said Wash; “too gruff.”
“But it seems to come from the tops of the poplars out there,” said Wade, pointing off to the west of the spring.
“I think it’s one of those large woodpeckers,” remarked Raed, “such as we heard down at the flow.”
The low shriek was repeated at intervals of from five to ten minutes. Finally Wash jumped up.
“I’m going to see what that is,” he said, and walked off, peering attentively among the leafy tops.
Presently we heard him whistle sharply three or four times.
“He’s calling us,” said Wade. “Let’s go out there.”
We went quietly along, and soon caught sight of Wash standing behind the body of one of the poplars. He was beckoning with his hand to come quick and be still. We tiptoed up.
“There!” he whispered, pointing into the top of another poplar fifteen or twenty yards away. “What sort of a bird do you call that?”
Up about thirty-five feet from the ground, a brown animal, nearly as large as Ding-bat was sitting in one of the stout crotches, looking un easily toward us. Ding-bat ran along under the tree; when it again uttered the same harsh, low shriek; at which the Chinaman glanced quickly up, and began to bark.
“Keep your eye on him,” exclaimed Wash, “while I run back for the shot-gun!”
“But just look at those branches,” whispered Raed; “those above him! They’re all peeled. See how red and dry they look!”
“Yes; and look at those poplars out farther!” said Wade; “those beyond the one the creature’s in. They’re dead, — all stripped of their bark.”
Wash came creeping up with the gun. Pointing it by the tree, he fired. The creature seemed to roll off the branch, and fell all in a heap to the ground. Ding-bat made a dive at him, but suddenly drew back with a yelp. We ran along. The animal lay all rolled up in a ball, his stiff brown-black hair standing out in all directions. Mixed with it were numerous white quills with black tips.
“It’s a hedgehog!” I exclaimed.
“Ah, yes!” cried Wash, — “Erethizon dorsatus, the Canada porcupine. Strange I hadn’t recognized it!”
Some of the quills were nearly four inches long, — those along its back.
“Its snout does look some like a pig’s,” said Raed.
It had wonderful little black feet with black nails. Its length was about thirty inches; and its weight not far from twenty-five pounds, we thought. It seemed strange that so clumsy an animal should climb so well. Ding-bat was clawing at his mouth.
“Come here!” said Wade. “What’s the matter, sir?”
“Oh, look at the two quills in the poor beast’s nose!” cried Wash.
Wade pulled them out. The dog seemed to know that the operation was for his good, and bore it very well; though it made the tears come in his eyes when they tore through the flesh.
These quills have tiny barbs like the beard of wheat-heads. Once in the flesh, they will keep working in farther and farther till they strike the bone.
Wash informed us that the porcupine feeds on the bark of trees and shrubs, especially that of the poplar. It was, therefore, fairly to be presumed that the dry poplars had been denuded, and finally died from the gnawings of the porcupine.
At two o’clock, P. M., we started on again N. E. by N., and continued for four or five miles over ridge after ridge of the bushy “brulé.” One who has never cruised on one of these burnt tracts can form no adequate idea of the tiresome nature of the walking, where fallen trunks have to be climbed over at every rod. Add to this a heavy bucket in one hand, and a gun in the other, and you have “such a getting up stairs” as soon sets a fellow’s legs aching.
We encamped, weary enough, in the lee of a great rick of logs and rocks, a little up from a tiny runnel which moistened a fire-blackened gully between two of the ridges. Blackberry-bushes grew about the rick, and were now laden with berries. Some of them were an inch long, soft, and sweet as honey. They went well with our pudding and eggs. So abundant were they, that, as we sat around our pudding-kettle, we could reach back and pull them off by the handful.
Raed and Wade built a number of fires for the night at different points about our camp; while Wash and I brought sapin from some pine-shrubs a little way up the gully. From some cause, — atmospheric or providential, — there were no mosquitoes. We lay down in the shadow of the high blackberry-bushes to make up for last night’s broken slumbers. But Ding-bat seemed to suspect something wrong about the rick. He kept trotting around it, poking his nose into odd chinks, and snuffing. Presently, as we lay talking drowsily, he ran round to the upper-side. We could hear him sniffing; then he barked sharply, once, twice; when there started out from our side, and within a few feet of our bed, a very beautiful little animal, such as we have all frequently met in our afternoon walks, — started out, and, turning partially about, waved a fine, bushy- black-and-white tail, making all the while a queer, wheezy, hissing noise.
“A skunk!” shouted Raed.
“Mephitis mephitica!” from Wash.
We jumped up, and scrambled back out of range “in hot haste.” Wade caught up an old knot.
“Hold! — don’t! don’t throw it!” exclaimed Raed.
But he spoke too late. Wade had already let fly. The missile struck little “enfant de diable” whack on the side, knocking him end over end: whereupon he jumped nimbly up, and whisked his bush. We all distinctly heard a squirting sound.
“You’ve done it now!” exclaimed Raed, holding his nose. “Come away, Ding-bat!”
Ding-bat came away willingly, with his tail between his legs.
“Whew!” cried Wade. “Struck ile, no mistake!”
“Might as well follow him up now,” said Wash. “Get stones, and give it to him!”
A rapid fusilade commenced. Several throws missed him. At length, a big knot sent him heels over head again; and we kept throwing at him till he had gone nilly-willy down to the bed of the gully. Very fortunately, he had not hit the blankets; and the buckets and kettle had been set on the other side of the fire. As may readily be guessed, we lost no time in moving camp. Gathering up our luggage, we went along to where Wash and I had got the sapin among the shrub-pines.
It was ten o’clock before we were again settled for repose. Raed complained considerably of nausea. The awful odor seemed to linger in our nostrils — even in our mouths — all night. To all wandering tourists permit me to exclaim, in the words of Wash, “Beware of Mephitis mephitica! Give him a wide berth!”___________________________
* It is said that many of these terrible fires have been wantonly set, out of spite toward the State government.