Here to return to
ON BALD MOUNTAIN
“FOUR inches of snow at the Profile House:” such was the word brought to us at the breakfast table, the driver of the “stage” having communicated the intelligence as he passed the hotel an hour or two earlier. We were not surprised. It rained in Franconia night before last, and yesterday, when the clouds now and then lifted a little, the sides of the mountains were seen to be white. This morning (October 7), although even the lower slopes were veiled, the day promised well, and at the first minute I set out for the Notch.
It was evident almost immediately that at some time within the last forty-eight hours there had been a great influx of migrating birds. Song sparrows, white-throated sparrows, snowbirds, bluebirds, and myrtle warblers were in extraordinary force. Soon I began to hear the wrennish calls of ruby-crowned kinglets, — which have been very scarce hitherto, — and presently more than one was heard rehearsing its pretty song. What with bluebird voices, song sparrows’ warblings (no set tune, but “continuous melody”), the cackle of robins, and the croaking of rusty blackbirds, the air was loud. To these travelers, as to me, the weather seemed to be changing for the better, though the sun did not yet show itself, and finding themselves in so delectable a valley, they were in exuberant spirits.
Just above the Profile House farm the road took me into a flock of birds that proved to be the better part of half a mile in length. The wayside hedges were literally in a flutter, snowbirds being the most abundant, I think, with white-throats and myrtle warblers not far behind. Hermit thrushes, winter wrens, chipping sparrows, song sparrows, and ruby-crowns were continually in sight, and an unseen purple finch was practicing niggardly, disconnected, vireo-like phrases, as the manner of his kind is in the autumnal season.
Then, when the older forest was reached, there came an interval of silence, broken at last by the distant, or distant-seeming, voice of a red-breasted nuthatch and the cheerful notes of chickadees. Soon two hermits showed themselves, facing me on a low perch, and lifting their tails solemnly in response to my chirping; and not far away were a winter wren or two, and a flock of white-throats and snowbirds. I had never seen the dear old road birdier, even in May, though of course I had often seen the number of species very much larger.
At the height of land I came upon the first snow, a ragged fringe left on the shady side of the way. I made a snowball, for the sake of doing it (or, as I said to myself, suiting the boyish act with a boyish word, “for greens”), and decided all at once not to go down into the Notch, but up to the top of Bald Mountain. From that point, if the sky cleared, as I felt hopeful it would, there would be sights worth remembering.
The mountain is only a little one, but it is steep enough — the upper half, at all events — to give the eager pedestrian a puff for his money. For myself, I had time to spare, and, fortunately or unfortunately, had been over the path too often to be subject to the state of mind (I know it well) which we may characterize as climbers’ impatience. Unless something unforeseen should happen, the summit would wait for me. Halfway up, also, a flock of blue jays, five or six at least, who were holding a long and mysterious confabulation close by the path, afforded me a comfortable breathing spell. For a moment I suspected the presence of an owl, against whom the rascals were plotting mischief; but their voices were much of the time too soft, too intimate-sounding, too lacking in belligerency. Some of the birds might even have been communing with themselves. Their whole behavior had an air of preternatural gravity and cunning, and their remarks, whatever the purport of them, were in the highest degree varied. One fellow was a masterly performer upon the bones (jay scholars will understand what I mean, and I should despair of explaining myself in a few words to any one else), while another furnished me with a genuine surprise by whistling again and again in the manner of a red-tailed hawk.
Well, the conspirators dispersed, the solitary climber pocketed his curiosity, and in a few minutes longer his feet were at the top. The rocky cone of Lafayette was still densely capped, but under the fringed edges of the cloud there was plenty of snow in sight. All the upper slopes of Kinsman, Cannon, and Lafayette were covered with it, except that the deciduous trees (broad patches of yellow) stood bare. Apparently the snow had stuck only upon the evergreens, and the effect at this distance was very striking, the white over the green producing a beautiful gray. I could never have imagined it. The hotel and its cottages, nestled between the mountains, all had white roofs, but the landscape as a whole was anything but wintry. Everywhere below me the great forest still showed an abundance of bright hues, — red, yellow, and russet, — a piece of glorious pageantry, though many shades less brilliant than I had seen it two days before.
So I am saying to myself when suddenly I look upward, and behold, the cap is lifted from Lafayette, and the mountain-top is clear white, shining in the sunlight against the blue sky; a vision, it seems; something not of this world; splendor immaculate, unearthly, unspeakable. I feel like shouting, or tell myself that I do; but for some reason I keep silence. Clouds still hang about the mountains, their shapes altering from glory to glory with every minute. Now a band lies clean across Lafayette, immediately below the cone, detaching the white mass from everything underneath, and leaving it, as it were, floating in the air.
A sharp-shinned hawk sails past me, nuthatches call from the valley woods, a snowbird perches on a dwarf spruce at my elbow, a red squirrel breaks into sudden spluttering, and then, with hands uplifted, sits silent and motionless. I mention these details, but they are nothing. What I really see and feel is the world I am living in: the sunshine, the stillness, the temperate airs, the bright encircling forest, in which my little hilltop is cradled, and the white peak yonder in the sky. The snow lends it lightness, airiness, buoyancy. As I said just now, it seems almost to float in the ether.
I remained with this beauty for an hour, divided at the last between the luminous, snowy peak above me and the soft — ineffably soft — world of leafy tree-tops below. Then, as I had done only day before yesterday, I bade the place good-by. Probably I should not come this way again till next summer, at the soonest. Good-by, old mountain. Good-by, old woods. No doubt you have many worthier lovers, but let me be counted as one of the faithful.
I was still on the cone, making my way downward, when a grouse drummed and in a minute or two repeated himself. The sound struck me as curiously wanting in resonance, as if the log were water-soaked (though I do not believe he was striking one), or his breast not fully inflated. Perhaps he was a young fellow, a new hand with the drumsticks, and so excusable. Certainly the difficulty lay not in the matter of distance, for between two of the performances I turned a sharp corner, effectively triangulating the bird, and it was impossible that he should be more than a few yards away. On all sides the little nuthatches were calling to each other in their quaint childish treble. I love to hear them, and the goldcrests also; but here, as on the heights above, the birds were less than the forest. I was in a susceptible mood, I suppose. The mere sight of the tall, straight trunks, with the lights and shadows on them, gave me a pleasure indescribable. Though the friend who had been my walking companion for a week past (and no man could wish a better one) is sure to read this column, I cannot refrain from saying that solitariness has its merciful alleviations. I was no longer tempted to babble, and the wise old trees took their turn at talking. If I could only repeat what they said!