Here to return to
A MAY VISIT TO MOOSILAUKE
WHEN a man sets forth on an out-of-door pleasure jaunt, his prayer is for weather. If he is going to the mountains, let him double his urgency. In the mountains, if nowhere else, weather is three fifths of life.
My first trip to New Hampshire the present season 1 was made under smooth, high clouds, which left the distance clear, so that the mountains stood up grandly beyond the lake as we ran along its western border. Not a drop of rain fell till I stepped off the car at Warren. At that moment the world grew suddenly dark, and before I could get into the open carriage the clouds burst, and with a rattling of thunder bolts a deluge of rain and hail descended upon us. There was no contending with such an adversary, though a good woman across the way, commiserating our plight, came to the door with proffers of an umbrella. I retreated to the station, while the driver hastened down the street to put his team under shelter. So a half hour passed. Then we tried again, and half frozen, in spite of a winter overcoat and everything that goes with it (the date was May 17), I reached my destination, five miles away, at the foot of Moosilauke.
All this would hardly deserve narration, perhaps (the story of travelers’ discomforts being mostly matter for skipping), only that it marked the setting in of a cold, rainy “spell” that hung upon us for four days. Four sunless days out of seven was a proportion fairly to be complained of. The more I consider it, the truer seems the equation just now stated, that mountain weather is three fifths of life. For those four clays I did not even see Moosilauke, though we were living, so to speak, upon its shoulder, and I knew by hearsay that the summit house was visible from the back doorstep.
My first brief walk before supper should reasonably have been in the clearer valley country; but if reason spoke inclination did not hear it, and my feet — which seem to feel that they are old enough by this time to know their master’s business for him — took of their own motion an opposite course. The mountain woods, as I entered them, had the appearance of early March: only the merest sprinkling of new life, — clintonia leaves especially, with here and there a round-leaved violet, both leaves and flowers, — upon a ground still all defaced by the hand of Winter. Dead leaves make an agreeable carpet, as they rustle cheerfully-sadly under one’s feet in autumn; but there was no rustle here; the snow had pressed every leaf flat and left it sodden. One thing consoled me: I had not arrived too late. The “bud-crowned spring,” for all my fears, was yet to “go forth.”
The next morning it was not enough to say that it was cloudy. That impersonal expression would have been quite below the mark. We were cloudy. In short, the cloud was literally around us and upon us. As I stepped out of doors, a rose-breasted grosbeak was singing in one direction, and a white-throated sparrow in another, both far away in the mist. It was strange they should be so happy, I was ready to say. But I bethought myself that their case was no different from my own. It was comparatively clear just about me, while the fog shut down like a curtain a rod or two away, leaving the rest of the world dark. So every bird stood in a ring of light, an illuminated chantry all his own,
for joy, good Christian bird,
Strange had he not been happy. To be blest above one’s fellows is to be blest twice over. This time I took the downward road, turning to the left, and found myself at once in pleasant woods, with hospitable openings and bypaths; a birdy spot, or I was no prophet, though just now but few voices were to be heard, and those of the commonest. Here stood new-blown anemones, bellworts, and white violets, an early flock, with one painted trillium lording it over them; a small specimen of its kind, but big enough to be king (or shepherd) in such company. A brook, or perhaps two, with the few birds, sang about me, invisible. I knew not whither I was going, and the all-embracing cloud deepened the mystery. Soon the road took a sudden dip, and a louder noise filled my ears. I was coming to a river? Yes, for presently I was on the bridge, with a raging mountain torrent, eighty feet, perhaps, underneath, foaming against the boulders; a bare, perpendicular cliff on one side, and perpendicular spruces and hemlocks draping a similar cliff on the other side. It was Baker’s River, I was told afterward, — the same that I had looked at here and there, the day before, from the car window. It was good to see it so young and exuberant; but even a young river need not be so much in haste, I thought. It would get to the sawmills soon enough, and by and by would learn, too late, that it is only a little way to the sea.
Once over the bridge, the road climbed quickly out of the narrow gorge, and at the first turn brought me in sight of a small painted house, with a small orchard of thrifty-looking small trees behind it. Here a venerable collie came running forth to bark at the stranger, but yielded readily to the usual blandishments, and after sniffing again and again at my heels, just to make sure of knowing me the next time, went back, contented, to lie down in his old place before the window. He was the only person that spoke to me — the only one I met — during the forenoon, though I spent it all on the highway.
Another patch of woods, where a distant Canadian nuthatch is calling (strange how I love that nasal, penetrating, far-reaching voice, whose quality my reasoning taste condemns), and I see before me another house, standing in broad acres of cleared land. This one is not painted, and, as I presently make out, is uninhabited, its old tenant gone, dead or discouraged, and no new one looked for; an “abandoned farm,” such as one grows used to seeing in our northern country. It is beautiful for situation, one of those sightly places which the city-worn passer-by in a mountain wagon pitches upon at once as just the place he should like to buy and retire to — some day; in that autumn of golden leisure of which, now and then,
“When all his active powers are still,”
he has a pleasing vision. Oh yes, he means to do something of that kind — some day; and even while he talks of it he knows in his heart that “some day” is only another name for “next day after never.”
A few happy barn swallows (wise enough, or simple enough, to be happy now) go skimming over the grass, and a pair of robins and a pair of bluebirds seem to be at home in the orchard; which they like none the worse, we may be sure, the bluebirds, especially, — because, along with the house and the barn, it is falling into decay. What are apple trees for, but to grow old and become usefully hollow? Otherwise they would be no better than so many beeches or butternuts. It is impossible but that every creature should look at the world through its own eyes; and no bluebird ever ate an apple. A purple finch warbles ecstatically, a white-throated sparrow whistles in the distance, and now and then, from far down the slope, I catch the up-liftings of a hermit thrush.
A man grows thoughtful, not to say sentimental, in such a place, surrounded by fields on which so many years of human labor have been spent, so much ploughing and harrowing, planting and reaping, now given up again to nature. Here was the garden patch, its outlines still traceable. Here was the well. Long lines of stone wall still separate the mowing land from the pasturage; and scattered over the fields are heaps of boulders, thrown together thus to get them out of the grass’s way. About the edges of every pile, and sometimes through the midst, have sprung up a few shrubs, — shad bushes, cherries, willows, and the like. Here they escape the scythe, as we are all trying to do. “Give us room that we may dwell!” — so these children of Zion cry. It is the great want of seeds, so many millions of which go to waste annually in every acre, — a place in which to take root and (harder yet) to keep it. And the birds, too, find the boulder heaps a convenience. I watch a savanna sparrow as he flits from one to another, stopping to sing a measure or two from each. Even this humble, almost voiceless artist needs a stage or platform. The lowliest sparrow ever hatched has some rudiments of a histrionic faculty; and be we birds or humans, it is hard to do one’s best without a bit of posing.
What further uses these humble stone heaps may serve I cannot say; no doubt they shelter many insects; but it is encouraging to consider how few things a farmer can do that will not be of benefit to others beside himself. Surely the man who piled these boulders for the advantage of his hay crop never expected them to serve as a text for preaching.
The cloud drops again, and is at its old trick of exaggeration. A bird that I take for a robin turns out to be a sparrow. Did it look larger because it seemed to be farther away than it really was? Or is it seen now as it actually is, my vision not being deceived, but rather corrected of an habitual error? The fog makes for me a newer and stranger world, at any rate; I am farther from home because of it; another day’s travel might have done less for me. And for all that, I am not sorry when it rises again, and the hills come out. How beautiful they are! They will hardly be more so, I think, when the June foliage replaces the square miles of bare boughs which now give them a blue-purple tint, interrupted here and there by patches of new yellow-green poplar leaves — a veritable illumination, sun-bright even in this sunless weather — or a few sombre evergreens.
As I get away from the farm, the mountain woods on either side seem to be filled with something like a chorus of rose-breasted grosbeaks. Except for a few days at Highlands, North Carolina, some years ago, I have never seen so many together. A grand “migratory wave” must have broken on the mountains within a night or two. As far as music is concerned, the grosbeaks have the field mostly to themselves, though a grouse beats his drum at short intervals, and now and then a white-throat whistles. There is no bird’s voice to which a fog is more becoming, I say to myself, with a pleasing sense of having said something unintended. To my thinking, the white-throat should always be a good distance away (perhaps because in the mountains one grows accustomed to hearing him thus); and the fog puts him there, with no damage to the fullness of his tone.
Looking at the flowers along the wayside, — a few yellow violets, a patch of spring-beauties, and little else, — my eye falls upon what seems to be a miniature forest of curious tiny plants growing in the gutter. At first I see only the upright, whitish stalks, an inch or two in height, each bearing at the top a globular brown knob. Afterward I discover that the stalks, which, examined more closely, have a crystalline, glassy appearance, spring from a leaf-like or lichen-like growth, lying prostrate upon the wet soil. The plant is a liverwort, or scale-moss, of some kind, I suppose, and is growing here by the mile. How few are the things we see! And of those we see, how few there are concerning which we have any real knowledge, — enough, even, to use words about them! (When a man can do that concerning any class of natural objects, no matter what they are or what he says about them, he passes with the crowd for a scholar, or at the very least a “close observer.”) But to tell the shameful truth, my mood just now is not inquisitive. I should like to know? Yes; but I can get on without knowing. There are worse things than ignorance. Let this plant be what it will. I should be little the wiser for being able to name it.2 I have no body of facts to which to attach this new one; and unrelated knowledge is almost the same as none at all. At best it is quickly forgotten. So my indolence excuses itself.
The road begins to climb rather sharply. Unless I am going to the top of the ridge and beyond, I have gone far enough. So I turn my back upon the mountain; and behold, the cloud having lifted again, there, straight before me down the road and across the valley, is the house from which I set out, almost or quite the only one in sight. After all, I have walked but a little way, though I have been a good while about it; for I have hardly begun my return before I find myself again approaching the abandoned farm. Downhill miles are short. Here a light shower comes on, and I raise my umbrella. Then follows a grand excitement among a flock of sheep, whose day, perhaps, needs enlivening as badly as my own. They gaze at the umbrella, start away upon the gallop, stop again to look (“There are forty looking like one,” I say to myself), and are again struck with panic. This time they scamper down the field out of sight. Another danger escaped! Shepherds, it is evident, cannot be so effeminate as to carry umbrellas.
Two heifers are of a more confiding disposition, coming close to look at the stranger as he sits on the doorsill of the old barn. Their curiosity concerning me is perhaps about as lively as mine was touching the supposed liverworts. Like me they stand and consider, but betray no unmannerly eagerness. “Who is he, I wonder?” they might be saying; “I never saw him before.” But their jaws still move mechanically, and their beautiful eyes are full of a peaceful satisfaction. A cud must be a great alleviation to the temper. With such a perennial sedative, how could any one ever be fretted into nervous prostration? As a matter of fact, I am told, cows rarely or never suffer from that most distressing ailment. I have seen chewers of gum before now who, by all signs, should have enjoyed a similar immunity.
While the heifers are still making up their minds about their unexpected visitor, I turn to examine a couple of white-crowned sparrows, male and female, — I wonder if they really are a couple? — feeding before the house. I hope the species is to prove common here. Three birds were behind the hotel before breakfast, and one of them sang. The quaint little medley, sparrow song and warbler song together, is still something of an event with me, I have heard it so seldom and like it so well; and whether the birds sing or not, they are musical to look at.
When I approach the painted house, on my way homeward, the fat old collie comes running out again, barking. This time, however, he takes but one sniff. He has made a mistake, and realizes it at once. “Oh, excuse me,” he says quite plainly. “I didn’t recognize you. You’re the same old codger. I ought to have known.” And he is so confused and ashamed that he hurries away without waiting to make up.
It is a great mortification to a gentlemanly dog to find himself at fault in this manner. I remember another collie, much younger than this one, with whom I once had a minute or two of friendly intercourse. Then, months afterward, I went again by the house where he lived, and he came dashing out with all fierceness, as if he would rend me in pieces. I let him come (there was nothing else to do, or nothing else worth doing), but the instant his nose struck me he saw his error. Then, in a flash, he dropped flat on the ground, and literally licked my shoes. There was no attitude abject enough to express the depth of his humiliation. And then, like the dog of this morning, he jumped up, and ran with all speed back to his doorstep.
Another descent into the gorge of Baker’s River, and another stop on the bridge (how gloriously the water comes down !), and I am again in the pretty, broken woods below the hotel. Here my attention is attracted by an almost prostrate but still vigorous yellow birch, like the one that stood for so many years by the road below the Profile House, in the Franconia Notch. Somehow the tree got an awkward slant in its youth, and has always kept it, while the larger branches have grown straight upward, at right angles with the trunk, as if each were trying to be a tree on its own account. The Franconia Notch specimen became a landmark, and was really of no inconsiderable service; a convenience to the hotel proprietors, and a means of health to idle boarders, who needed an incentive to exercise. “Come, let’s walk down as far as the bent tree,” one would say to another. The average American cannot stroll; he has never learned; if he puts his legs in motion, he must go to some fixed point, though it be only a milestone or a huckleberry bush. The infirmity is most likely congenital, a taint in the blood. The fathers worked, — all honor to them, — having to earn their bread under hard conditions; and the children, though they may dress like the descendants of princes, cannot help turning even their amusements into a stint.
And the sapient critic? Well, instead of carrying a fishing rod or walking to a bent tree, he had come out with an opera-glass, and had made of his morning jaunt a bird-cataloguing expedition. Considered in that light, the trip had not been a brilliant success. In my whole forenoon I had seen and heard but twenty-eight species. If I had stayed in my low-country village, and walked half as far, I should have counted twice as many. But I should not have enjoyed myself one quarter as well.
The next day and the next were rainy, with Moosilauke still invisible. Then came a morning of sunshine and clear atmosphere. So far it was ideal mountain weather; but the cold wind was so strong at our level that it was certain to be nothing less than a hurricane at the top. I waited, therefore, twenty-four hours longer. Then, at quarter before seven on the morning of May 23, I set out. I am as careful of my dates, it seems, as if I had been starting for the North Pole. And why not? The importance of an expedition depends upon the spirit in which it is undertaken. Nothing is of serious consequence in this world except as subjective considerations make it so. Even the North Pole is only an imaginary point, the end of an imaginary line, as old geographies used to inform us, pleonastically, — as if “position without dimensions,” a something without length, breadth, or thickness, could be other than imaginary. I started, then, at quarter before seven. Many years ago I had been taken up the mountain road in a carriage; now I would travel it on foot, spending at least an hour upon each of its five miles, and so see something of the mountain itself, as well as of the prospect from the summit.
The miles, some longer, some shorter, as I thought (a not unpleasant variety, though the fourth stage was excessively spun out, it seemed to me, perhaps to make it end at the spring), are marked off by guideboards, so that the newcomer need not fall into the usual disheartening mistake of supposing himself almost at the top before he has gone halfway. As for the first mile, which must measure near a mile and a half, and which ends just above the “second brook” (every mountain path has its natural waymarks), I had been over it twice within the last few days, so that the edge of my curiosity was dulled; but, with one excuse and another, I managed easily enough to give it its allotted hour. For one thing, a hairy woodpecker detained me five or ten minutes, putting such tremendous vigor into his hammering that I was positively certain (with a shade of uncertainty, nevertheless, such as all “observers” will understand; there is nothing so true as a paradox) that he must be a pileatus, till at last he showed himself. “Well, well,” said I, “guesswork is a poor dependence.” It was well I had stayed by. The forest was so nearly deserted, so little animated, that I felt under obligation to the fellow for every stroke of his mallet. Though a man goes to the wood for silence, his ear craves some natural noises, — enough, at least, to make the stillness audible.
The second mile is of steeper grade than the first, and toward the close brought me suddenly to a place unlike anything that had gone before. I named it at once the Flower Garden. For an acre, or, more likely, for two or three acres, the ground — a steep southern exposure, held up to face the sun — was covered with plants in bloom: Dutchman’s-breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), — bunches of heart-shaped, cream-white flowers with yellow facings, looking for all the world as if they had been planted there; round-leaved violets in profusion; white violets (blanda); spring-beauties; adder’s-tongue (dog’s-tooth violet); and painted trillium. A pretty show; pretty in itself, and a thousand times prettier for being happened upon thus unexpectedly, after two hours of woods that were almost as dead as winter.
Only a little way above this point were the first beds of snow; and henceforward, till I came out upon the ridge, two miles above, the woods were mostly filled with it, though there was little in the road. About this time, also, I began to notice a deer’s track. He had descended the road within a few hours, as I judged, or since the last rainfall, and might have been a two-legged, or even a one-legged animal, — biped or uniped, — so far as his footsteps showed. I should rather have seen him, but the hoofprints were a deal better than nothing; and undoubtedly I saw them much longer than I could possibly have seen the maker of them, and so, perhaps, got out of them more of companionship. They were with me for two hours, — clean up to the ridge, and part way across it.
Somewhere between the third and fourth mile-boards I stopped short with an exclamation. There, straight before me, over the long eastern shoulder of Moosilauke, beyond the big Jobildunk Ravine, loomed or floated a shining snow-white mountain-top. Nothing could have been more beautiful. It was the crest of Mount Washington, I assumed, though even with the aid of a glass I could make out no sign of buildings, which must have been matted with new-fallen snow. I took its identity for granted, I say. The truth is, I became badly confused about it afterward, such portions of the range as came into view having an unfamiliar aspect; but later still, on arriving at the summit, found that my first idea had been correct.
That sudden, heavenly apparition gave me one of those minutes that are good as years. Once, indeed, in early October, I had seen Mount Washington when it was more resplendent: freshly snow-covered throughout, and then, as the sun went down, lighted up before my eyes with a rosy glow, brighter and brighter and brighter, till it seemed all on fire within. But even that unforgettable spectacle had less of unearthly beauty, was less a work of pure enchantment, I thought, than this detached, fleecy-looking piece of aerial whiteness, cloud stuff or dream stuff, yet whiter than any cloud, lying at rest yonder, almost at my own level, against the deep blue of the forenoon sky.
All this while, the birds, which had been few from the start, — black-throated greens and blues, Blackburnians, oven-birds, a bay-breast, blue yellow-backs, siskins, Swainson thrushes, a blue-headed vireo, winter wrens, rose-breasted grosbeaks, chickadees, grouse, and snowbirds, — had grown fewer and fewer, till at last, among these stunted, low-branched spruces, with the snow under them, there was little else but an occasional myrtle warbler (“The brave myrtle,” I kept saying to myself), with its musical, soft trill, so out of place, — the voice of peaceful green valleys rather than of stormy mountaintops, — yet so welcome. Once a gray-cheeked thrush called just above me. These impenetrable upper woods are the gray-cheeks’ summer home, — a worthy one; but I heard nothing of their wild music, and doubted whether they had yet arrived in full summer force.
It was past eleven o’clock when I came out at the clearing by the woodpile, with half the world before me. From this point it was but a little way to the bare ridge connecting the South Peak — up which I had been trudging all the forenoon — and the main summit. This, with its little hotel, that looked as if it were in danger of sliding off the mountain northward, was straight before me across the ravine, a long but easy mile away.
On the ridge I found myself all at once in something like a gale of ice-cold wind. Who could have believed it? It was well I had brought a sweater; and squatting behind a lucky clump of low evergreens, I wormed my way into what is certainly the most comfortable of all garments for such a place, — as good, at least, as two overcoats. Now let the wind whistle, especially as it was at my back, and was bearing me triumphantly up the slope. So I thought, bravely enough, till the trail took a sudden shift, and the gale caught me on another tack. Then I sang out of the other corner of my mouth, as I used to hear country people say. I no longer boasted, but saved my breath for better use.
Wind or no wind, it is an exhilaration to walk here above the world. Once a bird chirps to me timidly from the knee-wood close by. I answer him, and out peeps a white-throat. “You here!” he says; “so early!” At my feet is plenty of Greenland sandwort, — faded, winter-worn, gray-green tufts, tightly packed among the small boulders. Whatever lives here must lie low and hang on. And with it is the shiny-leaved mountain cranberry, — Vaccinium Vitis-Idæa. Let me never omit that pretty name. Neither cranberry nor sandwort shows any sign of blossom or bud as yet; but it is good to know that they will both be ready when the clock strikes. I can see them now, pink and white, just as they will look in July — nay, just as they will look a thousand years hence.
Again my course alters, and the wind lets me lean back upon it as it lifts me forward. Who says we are growing old? The years, as they pass, may turn and look at us meaningly, as if to say, You have lived long enough; “yet even to us the climbing of a mountain road (though by this time it must be a road, or something like it) is still only the putting of one foot before the other.
So I come at last to the top, and make haste to get into the lee of the house, which is tightly barred, of course, just as its owners left it seven or eight months ago. The wind chases me round the corners, one after another; but by searching I discover a nook where it can hit me no more than half the time. Here I sit and look at the mountains, — a glorious company: Mount Washington and its fellows, with all their higher parts white the sombre mass of the Twins on this side of them; and, nearer still, the long, sharp, purple crest of dear old Lafayette and its southern neighbors. So many I can name. The rest are mountains only; a wilderness of heaped-up, forest-covered land; a prospect to dilate the soul.
My expectation has been to stay here for two hours or more; but the wind is merciless, and after going out over the broad, bare, boulder-sprinkled summit till I can see down into Franconia (which looks pretty low and pretty far off, though I distinguish certain of the buildings clearly enough), I begin to feel that I shall enjoy the sight of my eyes better from some sheltered position on the upper part of the road. Even on the ridge, however, I take advantage of every tuft of spruces to stand still for a bit, looking especially at the mountain itself, so big, so bare, and so solid: East Peak, South Peak, and the Peak, as they are called, although neither of them is in the slightest degree peaked, with the great gulf of Jobildunk — in which Baker’s River rises — wedged among them. If the word Moosilauke means a “bald place,” as it is said to do, then we have here another proof of the North American Indian’s genius for fitting words to things.3
Even to-day, windy and cold as it is, a butterfly passes over now and then (mostly red admirals), and smaller insects flit carelessly about. Insects are capable mountaineers, as I have often found occasion to notice. The only time I was ever on the sharp point of Mount Adams, where my companion and I had barely room to stand together, the air about our heads was black with insects of all sorts and sizes, a veritable cloud; and when we unscrewed the Appalachian Club’s brass bottle to sign the roll of visitors, we found that the signers immediately before us, after putting down a date and their names, had added, “Plenty of bugs.” And surely I was never pestered worse by black flies than once, years ago, on this very summit of Moosilauke. All the hours of a long, breathless, tropical July day they made life miserable for me. Better a thousand times such a frosty, man-compelling wind as I am now fleeing from.
Once off the ridge, I can loosen my hat and sit down in comfort. The sun is good. How incredible it seems that the air is so furiously in motion only fifty rods back! Here it is like Elysium. And almost I believe that this limited prospect is better than the grander sweep from the summit itself, — less distracting and more restful. So half a loaf may be better than a whole one, if a man cannot be contented without trying to eat the whole one. A white-throat and a myrtle warbler sing to me as I nibble my sandwich. They are the loftiest spirits, it appears. I take off my hat to them.
Already I am down far enough to catch the sound of running water; and every rod brings a new mountain into view from behind the long East Peak. One of the best of them all is cone-shaped Kearsarge, topped with its house. Now the white crest of Washington rises upon me, — snow with the sun on it; and here, by the fourth mileboard, are a few pale-bright spring-beauties, — five or six blossoms only. They have found a bit of earth from which the snow melted early, and here they are, true to their name, with the world on every side nothing but a desolation. If it is time for myrtle warblers, why not for them? Now I see not only Washington, but the mountains with it, all strangely foreshortened, so as to give the highest peak a most surprising preëminence. No wonder I was in doubt what to call it.
In days past I have walked that whole ridge, from Clinton to Adams; and glad I am to remember it. A man should do such things while he can, teaching his feet to feel the ground, and letting his heart cheer him.
A turn in the road, and straight below me lies my deserted farmhouse. Another turn, and I lose it. In ascending a mountain we face the path; in descending we face the world. I speak thus because at this moment I am looking down a charming vista, — forest-covered mountains, row beyond row. But for the gravel under my feet I might be a thousand miles from any human habitation. Presently a Swainson thrush whistles. By that token I am getting away from the summit, though things are still wintry enough, with no sign of bud or blossom.
And look! What is that far below me, facing up the road? A four-footed beast of some kind. A bear? No; I raise my glass, and see a porcupine. He has his mobile, sensitive nose to the ground, and continues to smell, and perhaps to feed, as I draw nearer and nearer. By and by, being very near, and still unworthy of the creature’s notice, I roll a stone toward him. At this he shows a gleam of interest. He sits up, folds his hands, — puts his fore paws together over his breast, — looks at me, and then waddles a few steps toward the upper side of the road. “I must be getting out of this,” he seems to think. But he reconsiders his purpose, comes back, sits on end again and folds his hands; and then, the reconnoissance being satisfactory, falls to smelling the ground as before. I can see the tips of his nostrils twitching as in a kind of ecstasy. There must be something savory under them. Meantime, still with my glass lifted, I come closer and closer, till I am right upon him. If porcupines can shoot, I must be in danger of a quill. Another step or two, and he waddles to the lower side of the road. He is a vacillating body, however; and once more he turns to sit up and fold his hands. This time I hear him rattling his teeth, but not very fiercely, — nothing to compare with the gnashings of an angry woodchuck; and at last, when I cluck to him, he hastens his steps a little, as much, perhaps, as a porcupine can, and disappears in the brush, dragging his ridiculous, sloping, straw-thatched hinder parts — a combination of lean-to and L— after him. He has never cultivated speed or decision of character, having a better defense. So far as appearances go, he is certainly an odd one.
There are no blossoms yet, nor visible promise of any, but once in a while a bright Atalanta (red admiral) butterfly flits before me. I wonder if I could capture one by the old schoolboy method? I am moved to try; but my best effort — not very determined, it must be confessed — ends in failure. Perhaps I should have had some golden apples.
At last I come to a few adder’s-tongues, the first flowers since the five or six spring-beauties a mile and a half back. Yes, I am approaching the Flower Garden; for here is a most lovely bank of yellow violets, a hundred or two together, a real bed of them. Nobody ever saw anything prettier. Here, also, is the showy purple trillium, not so unhandsomely overgrown as it sometimes is, in addition to all the flowers that I noticed on the ascent. A garden indeed. I pull up a root of Dutchman’s-breeches, and sit down to examine the cluster of rice-like pink kernels at the base of the stem. Excellent fodder they must make for animals of some kind. “Squirrel-corn” is an apt name, I think, though I believe it is applied, not to this species, but to its relative, Dicentra Canadensis.
The whole plant is uncommonly clean-looking and attractive, with its pale, finely dissected leaves and its delicate, waxy bloom; but looking at it, and then at a bank of round-leaved violets opposite, I say once more, “Those are my flowers.” Something in the shade of color is most exactly to my taste. The very sight of them gladdens me like sunshine. But before I get out of the garden, as I am in no haste to do (if it was attractive this morning, it is doubly so now, after those miles of snowbanks), I am near to changing my mind; for suddenly, as my eye follows the border of the road, it falls upon a small blue violet, the first of that color that I have noticed since my arrival at Moosilauke. It must be my long-desired Selkirkii, I say to myself, and down I go to look at it. Yes, it is not leafy-stemmed, the petals are not bearded, and the leaves are unlike any I have ever seen. I take it up, root and all, and search carefully till I find one more. If it is Selkirkii, as I feel sure it is,4 then I am happy. This is the one species of our eastern North American violets that I have never picked. It completes my set. And it is especially good to find it here, where I was not in the least expecting it. With the two specimens in my pocket I trudge the remaining two miles in high spirits. The violets are no newer to me than the liverwort specimens on Mount Cushman were, but they have the incomparable advantage of things long looked for, — things for the lack of which, so to speak, a pigeonhole in the mind has stood consciously vacant. Blessed are they who want something, for when they get it they will be glad.
The weather below had been warm and still, a touch of real summer. So said the people at the hotel; and I knew it already; for, as I came through the cattle pasture, I saw below me a new, strange-looking, brightly illuminated grove of young birches. “Were those trees there this morning?” I thought. A single day had covered them with sunny, yellow-green leaves, till the change was like a miracle. Indeed, it was a miracle. May the spring never come when I shall fail to feel it so. Then I looked back at the summit. Was it there, no farther away than that, that so icy a wind had chased me about? — or had I been in Greenland?_______________________
2 It may have been some species of Pellia, to judge by the plate in Gray’s Manual.
3 And if New Hampshire people will call the mountain “Moose Hillock,” as, alas, they will, then we have here another proof of the degeneracy which follows the white man’s addiction to the punning habit.
4 And so it was; for though I felt sure, I wanted to be sure, and submitted it to an expert.