Here to return to
A WEEK ON WALDEN’S RIDGE.
THROUGHOUT my stay in Chattanooga I looked often and with desire at a long, flat-topped, perpendicular-sided, densely wooded mountain, beyond the Tennessee River. Its name was Walden’s Ridge, I was told; the top of it was eighty miles long and ten or twelve miles wide; if I wanted a bit of wild country, that was the place for me. Was it accessible? I asked. And was there any reasonable way of living there? Oh yes; carriages ran every afternoon from the city, and there were several small hotels on the mountain. So it happened that I went to Walden’s Ridge for my last week in Tennessee, and have ever since thanked my stars — as New England Christians used to say, in my boyhood — for giving me the good wine at the end of the feast.
The wine, it is true, was a little too freely watered. I went up the mountain in a rain, and came down again in a rain, and of the seven intervening days five were showery. The showers, mostly with thunder and lightning, were of the sort that make an umbrella ridiculous, and my jaunts, as a rule, took me far from shelter. Yet I had little to complain of. Now and then I was put to my trumps, as it were; my walk was sometimes grievously abbreviated, and my pace uncomfortably hurried, but by one happy accident and another I always escaped a drenching. Worse than the water that fell — worse, and not to be escaped, even by accident — was that which saturated the atmosphere, making every day a dogday, and the week a seven-day sweat. And then, as if to even the account, on the last night of my stay I was kept awake for hours shivering with cold; and in the morning, after putting on all the clothing I could wear, and breakfasting in a snowstorm, I rode down the mountain in a state suggestive of approaching congelation. “My feet are frozen, I know they are,” said the lady who sat beside me in the wagon; but she was mistaken.
This sudden drop in the temperature seemed to be a trial even to the natives. As we drove into Chattanooga, it was impossible not to smile at the pinched and woebegone appearance of the colored people. What had they to do with weather that makes a man hurry? And the next morning, when an enterprising, bright-faced white boy ran up to me with a “Times,’ sir? Have a ‘Times’?” I fear he quite misapprehended the more or less quizzical expression which I am sure came into my face. I was looking at his black woolen mittens, and thinking how well he was mothered. It was the 19th of May; for at least three weeks, to my own knowledge, the city had been sweltering under the hottest of midsummer heats, — 94° in the shade, for example; and now, mittens and overcoats!
I should be sorry to exaggerate, or leave a false impression. In this day of literary conscientiousness, when writers of fiction itself are truth-tellers first, and story-tellers afterwards, — if at all, — it behooves mere tourists and naturalists to speak as under oath. Be it confessed, then, that the foregoing paragraphs, though true in every word, are not to be taken too seriously. If the weather, “the dramatic element in scenery,” happened not to suit the convenience of a naturally selfish man, now ten times more selfish than usual — as is the rule — because he was on his annual vacation, it does not follow that it was essentially bad. The rains were needed, the heat was to have been expected, and the cold, unseasonable and exceptional, was not peculiar to Tennessee. As for the snow, it was no more than I have seen before now, even in Massachusetts, -- a week or two earlier in the month; and it lent such a glory to the higher Alleghanies, as we passed them on our way homeward, that I might cheerfully have lain shivering for two nights in that unplastered bedroom, with its window that no man could shut, rather than miss the spectacle. Eastern Tennessee, I have no doubt, is a most salubrious country; properly recommended by the medical fraternity as a refuge for consumptive patients. If to me its meteorological fluctuations seemed surprisingly wide and sudden, it was perhaps because I had been brought up in the equable climate of New England. It would be unfair to judge the world in general by that favored spot.
The road up the mountain — the “new road,” as it is called — is a notable piece of work, done, I was told, by the county chain-gangs. The pleasure of the ascent, which naturally would have been great, was badly diminished by the rain, which made it necessary to keep the sides of the wagon down; but I was fortunate in my driver. At first he seemed a stolid, uncommunicative body, and when we came to the river I made sure he could not read. As we drove upon the bridge, where straight before his eyes was a sign forbidding any one to drive or ride over the bridge at a pace faster than a walk, under a penalty of five dollars for each offense, he whipped up his horse and his mule (the mule the better horse of the two), and they struck into a trot. Halfway across we met another wagon, and its driver too had let his horses out. Illiteracy must be pretty common in these parts, I said to myself. But whatever my driver’s educational deficiencies, it did not take long to discover that in his own line he was a master. He could hit the ear of his mule with the end of his whip with a precision that was almost startling. In fact, it was startling — to the mule, For my own part, as often as he drew back his hand and let fly the lash, my eye was glued to the mule’s right ear in spite of myself. Had my own ears been endowed with life and motion, instead of fastened to my head like blocks of wood, I think they too would have twitched, I wondered how long the man had practiced his art, He appeared to be not more than forty-five years old. Perhaps he came of a race of drivers, and so began life with some hereditary advantages. At all events, he was a specialist, with the specialist’s motto, “This one thing I do.”
We were hardly off the bridge and in the country before I began plying him with questions about this and that, especially the wayside trees, He answered promptly and succinctly, and turned out to be a man who had kept his eyes open, and, better still, knew how to say, “No, suh,” as well as, “Yea, suh.” (There is no mark in the dictionaries to indicate the percussive brevity of the vowel sound in “ suh” as he pronounced it.) The big tupelo he recognized as the “black-gum.” “But isn’t it ever called 'sour-gum’?” “No, suh.” He knew but one kind of tupelo, as he knew but one kind of “ellum.” There were many kinds of oaks, some of which he named as we passed them. This botanical catechism presently waked up the only other passenger in the wagon, a modest girl of ten or twelve years. She too, it appeared, had some acquaintance with trees. I had asked the driver if there were no long-leaved pines hereabout. “No, suh,” he said. “But I think I saw some at Chickamauga the other day,” I ventured. (It was the only place I did see them, as well as I remember.) “Yes, sir,” put in the girl, “there are a good many there.” “Good for you!” I was ready to say. It was a pretty rare schoolgirl who, after visiting a battlefield, could tell what kind of pines grow on it. Persimmons? Yes, indeed, the girl had eaten them. There was a tree by the fence. Had I never eaten them? She seemed to pity me when I said “No,” but I fancied she would have preferred to see me begin with one a little short of ripe.
As for the birds of Walden’s Ridge, the driver said, there were partridges, pheasants, and turkeys. He had seen ravens, also, but only in winter, he thought, and never in flocks. His brother had once shot one. About smaller birds he could not profess to speak. By and by he stopped the carriage. “There’s a bird now,” he said, pointing with his whip. “What do you call that?” It was a summer tanager, I told him, or summer redbird. Did he know another redbird, with black wings and tail? Yes, he had seen it; that was the male, and this all-red one was the female, Oh no, I explained; the birds were of different species, and the females in both cases were yellow. He did not insist, — it was a case of a driver and his fare; but he had always been told so, he said, and I do nut flatter myself that I convinced him to the contrary. It is hard to believe that one man can be so much wiser than everybody else, A Massachusetts farmer once asked me, I remember, if the night-hawk and the whippoorwill were male and female of the same bird. I answered, of course, that they were not, and gave, as I thought, abundant reason why such a thing could not be possible. But I spoke as a scribe. “Well,” remarked the farmer, when I had finished my story, “some folks say they be, but I guess they ain’t.”
With such converse, then, we beguiled the climb to the “Brow,” — the top of the cliffs which rim the summit of the mountain, and give it from below a fortified look, — and at last, after an hour’s further drive through the dripping woods, came to the hotel at which I was to put up — or with which I was to put up, during my stay on the Ridge.
I had hardly taken the road, the next morning, impatient to see what this little world on a mountain top was like, before I came to a lovely brook making its devious course among big boulders with much pleasant gurgling, in the shadow of mountain laurel and white azalea, — a place highly characteristic of Walden’s Ridge, as I was afterwards to learn. Just now, naturally, there was no stopping so near home, though a Kentucky warbler, with his cool, liquid song, did his best to beguile me; and I kept on my way, past a few houses, a tiny box of a post-office, a rude church, and a few more houses, till just beyond the last one the road dropped into the forest again, as if for good.
And there, all at once I seemed to be in New Hampshire. The land fell away sharply, and at one particular point, through a vista, the forest could be seen sloping down on either side to the gap, beyond which, miles away, loomed a hill, and then, far, far in the distance, high mountains dim with haze. It was like a note of sublimity in a poem that till now had been only beautiful.
From the bottom of the valley came a sound of running water, and between me and the invisible stream a chorus of olive-backed thrushes were singing, — the same simple and hearty strains that, in June and July, echo all day long through the woods of the Crawford Notch. The birds were on their way from the far South, and were happy to find themselves in so homelike a place. Then, suddenly, amid the golden voices of the thrushes, I caught the wiry notes of a warbler. They came from the treetops in the valley, and — so I prided myself upon guessing — belonged to a cerulean warbler, a bird of which I had seen my first and only specimen a week before, on Lookout Mountain. Down the steep hillside I scrambled, — New Hampshire clean forgotten, — and was just bringing my glass into play when the fellow took wing, and began singing at the very point I had just left. I hastened back; he flew again, farther up the hill, and again I put myself out of breath with pursuing him. Again and again he sang, now in this tree, now in that, but there was no getting sight of him. The trees should have been shorter, or the bird larger. Straight upward I gazed, till the muscles of my neck cried for mercy. At last I saw him, flitting amid the dense foliage, but so far above me, and so exactly between me and the sun, that I might as well not have seen him at all.
It was a foolish half-hour. The bird, as I afterwards discovered, was nothing but a blue yellow-back, with an original twist to his song. In Massachusetts, I should not have listened to it twice, but on new hunting-grounds a man is bound to look for new game; else what would be the use of traveling? It was a foolish half-hour, I say; but I wish some moralist would explain, in a manner not inconsistent with the dignity of human nature, how it happens that foolish half-hours are commonly so much more enjoyable at the time, and so much pleasanter in the retrospect, than many that are more reasonably employed.
I swallowed my disappointment, and presently forgot it, for at the first turn in the road I found myself following the course of a brook or creek, between which and myself was a dense thicket of mountain Iaurel and rhododendron, with trees and other shrubs intermingled. The laurel was already in full bloom, while the rhododendrons held aloft clusters of gorgeous rose-purple buds, a few of which, the middle ones of the cluster, were just bursting into flower. Here was beauty of a new order, — such wealth and splendor of color in surroundings so romantic. And the place, besides, was alive with singing birds, hooded warblers, Kentucky warblers, a Canadian warbler, a black-throated blue, a black-throated green, a blue yellow-back, scarlet tanagers, wood pewees, wood thrushes, a field sparrow (on the hillside beyond) a cardinal, a chat, a bunch of white-throated sparrows, and who could tell what else? It was an exciting moment. Luckily, a man can look and listen both at once. Here was a fringe-tree, a noble specimen, hung with creamy, white plumes; here was a magnolia, with big leaves and big flowers; and here was a flowering dogwood, not to be put out of countenance in any company; but especially, here were the rhododendrons! And all the while, deep in the thickest of the bushes, some unknown bird was singing a strange, breathless jumble of a song, note tripping over note, — like an eager churchman with his responses, I kept saying to myself, with no thought of disrespect to either party. It cost me a long vigil and much patient coaxing to make the fellow out, and he proved to be merely a Wilson’s blackcap, after all; but he was the only bird of his kind that I saw in Tennessee.
On this first visit I did not get far beyond the creek, through the bed of which the road runs, with a single log for foot-passengers. I had spent at least an hour in going a hundred rods, and it was already drawing near dinner time. But I returned to the spot that very afternoon, and half a dozen times afterward. So poor a traveler am I, so ill fitted to explore a new country. Whenever nothing in particular offered itself, why, it was always pretty down at Falling Water Creek. There I saw the rhododendrons come into exuberant bloom, and there I oftenest see them in memory, though I found them elsewhere in greater abundance, and in a setting even more romantic.
More romantic, perhaps, but hardly more beautiful, I remember, just beyond the creek, a bank where sweet bush (Calycanthus), wild ginger (Asarum), rhododendron, laurel, and plenty of trailing arbutus (the last now out of flower) were growing side by side, — a rare combination of beauty and fragrance. And within a few rods of the same spot I sat down more than once to take a long look at a cross-vine covering a dead hemlock, The branches of the tree, shortening regularly to the top, were draped heavily with gray lichens, while the vine, keeping mostly near the trunk and climbing clean to the tip, — fifty feet or more, as I thought, — was hung throughout with large, orange-red, gold-lined bells. Their numbers were past guessing, Here and there a spray of them swung lightly from the end of a branch, as if inviting the breeze to lend them motion and a voice. The sight was worth going miles to see, and yet I passed it three times before it caught my eye, so full were the woods of things to look at. After all, is it a poor traveler who turns again and again into the same path? Whether is better, to read two good books once, or one good book twice?
A favorite shorter walk, at odd minutes, — before breakfast and between showers, — was through the woods for a quarter of a mile to a small clearing and a cabin. On a Sunday afternoon I ventured to pass the gate and make a call upon my neighbors. The doors of the house stood open, but a glance inside showed that there was no one there, and I walked round it, inspecting the garden — corn, beans, and potatoes coming on, — till, just as I was ready to turn back into the woods, I descried a man and woman on the hillside not far away; the man leading a mule, and the woman picking strawberries. At sight of a stranger the woman fell behind, but the man kept on to the house, greeted me politely, and invited me to be seated under the hemlock, where two chairs were already placed. After tying the mule he took the other chair, and we fell into talk about the weather, the crops, and things in general. When the wife finally appeared, I rose, of course; but she went on in silence and entered the house, while the husband said, “Oh, keep your seat.” We continued our conversation till the rain began to fall, Thee we picked up our chairs and followed the woman inside. She sat in the middle of the room (young, pretty, newly married, and Sunday-dressed), but never once opened her lips. Her behavior was in strict accordance with local etiquette, I was afterward assured (as if all etiquette were not local); but though I admire feminine modesty as much as any man, I cannot say that I found this particular manifestation of it altogether to my liking. Silence is golden, no doubt, and gold is more precious than silver, but in cases of this figurative sort I profess myself a bimetallist. A little silver, I say; enough for small change, at any rate; and if we can have a pretty free coinage, why, so much the better, though as to that, it must be admitted, a good deal depends upon the “image and superscription.” However, my hostess followed her lights, and reserved her voice — soft and musical let us hope — for her husband’s ear.
They had not lived in the house very long, he told me, and he did not know how many years the land had been cleared. There was a fair amount of game in the woods, — turkeys, squirrels, pheasants, and so on, — and in winter the men did considerable hunting. Formerly there were a good many deer, but they had been pretty well killed off. Turkeys still held out. They were gobbling now. His father had been trying for two or three weeks, off and on, to shoot a certain old fellow who had several hens with him down in the valley. His father could call with his mouth better than with any “caller,” but so far the bird had been too sharp for him. The son laughed good-naturedly when I confessed to an unsportsmanlike sympathy with the gobbler.
The cabin, built of hewn logs, with clay in the chinks, was neatly furnished, with beds in two corners of the one room, a stone chimney, two doors directly opposite each other, and no window. The doors, it is understood, are always to be open, for ventilation and light. Such is the custom; and custom is nowhere more powerful than in small rustic communities, If a native, led away by his wife, perhaps, puts a window into his new cabin, the neighbors say, “Oh, he is building a glass house, isn’t he?” It must be an effeminate woman, they think, who cannot do her cooking and sewing by the light of the door. None the less, in a climate where snow is possible in the middle of May, such a Spartan arrangement must sometimes be found a bit uncomfortable by persons not to the manner born. A preacher confided to me that in his pastoral calls he had once or twice made hold to push to a door directly at his back, when the wind was cold; but the innovation was ill received, and the inmates of the house, doubtless without wishing to hurt their minister’s feelings, — since he had meant no harm, to be sure, but was simply unused to the ways of the world, — speedily found some excuse for rectifying his mistake. Probably there is no corner of the world where the question of fresh air and draughts is not available for purposes of moral discipline.
Beside the path to the cabin, on the 13th of May, was a gray-cheeked thrush, a very gray specimen, sitting motionless in the best of lights. “Look at me,” he seemed to say. “I am no olive-back. My cheeks are not sallow.” On the same day, here and in another place, I saw white-throated sparrows. Their presence at this late hour was a great surprise, and suggested the possibility of their breeding somewhere in the Carolina mountains, though I am not aware that such an occurrence has ever been recorded. Another recollection of this path is of a snow-white milkweed (Asclepias variegata), white with the merest touch of purple to set it off, — for the downright elegance of which I was not in the least prepared. The queen of all milkweeds, surely.
After nightfall the air grew loud with the cries of batrachians and insects, an interesting and novel chorus. On my first evening at the hotel I was loitering up the road, with frequent auditory pauses, thinking how full the world is of unseen creatures which find their day only after the sun goes down, when in a woody spot I heard behind me a sound of footsteps. A woman was close at my heels, fetching a pail of water from the spring. I remarked upon the many voices. She answered pleasantly. It was the big frogs that I heard, she reckoned.
“Do you have whippoorwills here?” I asked,
“Plenty of ‘em,” she answered, “plenty of ‘em.”
“Do you hear them right along the road?”
“Yes, sir; oh yes.”
We had gone hardly a rod further before we exclaimed in the same breath, “There is one now!”
I inquired if there was another bird here, something like the whippoorwill, meaning the chuck-will’s-widow. But she said no; she knew of but one.
“How early does the whippoorwill get here?” said I.
“Pretty early,” she answered.
“By the first of April, should you say?”
“Yes, sir, I think about then. I know the timber is just beginning to put out when they begin to holler.”
This mannerly treatment of a stranger was more Christian-like than the stately silence of my lady of the cabin, it seemed to me. I liked it better, at all events, I had learned nothing, perhaps; but unless a man is far gone in philosophy he need not feel bound to increase in wisdom every time a neighbor speaks to him; and anyhow, that expression about the “putting out of the timber” had given me pleasure. Hearing it thus was better than finding it upon a page of Stevenson, or some other author whose business in life is the picking of right words. Let us have some silver, I repeat. I am ready to believe, what I have somewhere read, that men will have to give account not only for every idle word, but for every idle silence.
The summit of the Ridge, as soon as one leaves its precipitous rocky edge, — the Brow, so called, — is simply an indefinite expanse of gently rolling country, thin-soiled, but well watered, and covered with fine open woods, rambling through which the visitor finds little to remind him of his elevation above the world. I heard a resident speak of going to the “top of the mountain,” however, and on inquiry learned that a certain rocky eminence, two miles, more or less, from Fairmount (the little “settlement” where I was staying), went by that name, and was supposed to be the highest point of the Ridge, My informant kindly made me a rough map of the way thither, and one morning I set out in that direction. It would be shameful to live for a week on the “summit” of a mountain, and not once go to the “top.”
The glory of Walden’s Ridge, as compared with Lookout Mountain, — so the dwellers there say, — is its streams and springs; and my morning path soon brought me to the usual rocky brook bordered with mountain laurel, holly, and hemlock. To my New England eyes it was an odd circumstance, the hemlocks growing always along the creeks in the valley bottoms. Beyond this point I passed an abandoned cabin, — no other house in sight, — and by and by a second one, near which, in the garden (better worth preserving than the house, it appeared), a woman and two children were at work. Yes, the woman said, I was on the right path. I had only to keep a straight course, and I should bring up at the “top of the mountain,” A little farther, and my spirits rose at the sight of a circular, sedgy, woodland pond, such a place as I had not seen in all this Chattanooga country. It ought to yield something new for my local ornithological list, which up to this time included ninety species, and not one of them a water-bird. I did my best, beating round the edge and “squeaking,” but startled nothing rarer than a hooded warbler and a cardinal grosbeak.
Next I traversed a long stretch of unbroken oak woods, with single tall pines interspersed; and then all at once the path turned to the right, and ran obliquely downhill to a clearing in which stood a house, — not a cabin, — with a garden, orchard trees, and beehives. This should be the German shoemaker’s, I thought, looking at my map. If so, I was pretty near the top, though otherwise there was no sign of it; and if I had made any considerable ascent, it had been as children increase in stature, — and as the good increase in goodness, — unconsciously. A woman of some years was in the garden, and at my approach came up to the fence, — a round-faced, motherly body. Yes, the top of the mountain was just beyond. I could not miss it.
“You do not live here?” she asked.
No, I explained; I was a stranger on the Ridge, — a stranger from Boston.
“No, from Boston.”
“Oh! from Boston! — Massachusetts! — Oh-h-h!”
She would go part way with me, she said, lest I should miss the path, Perhaps she wished to show some special hospitality to a man from Massachusetts; or possibly she thought I must be more in danger of getting bewildered, being so far from home. But I could not think of troubling her. Was there a spring near by, where I could drink?
“I have water in the house,” she answered.
“But isn’t there a creek down in the valley ahead?”
Oh yes, there was a creek; but had I anything to drink out of? I thanked her. Yes, I had a cup. “My husband will be at home by the time you come back,” she said, as I started on, and I promised to call.
The scene at the brook, halfway between the German’s house and the top, would of itself have paid me for my morning’s jaunt. I stood on a boulder in mid-current, in the shadow of overhanging trees, and drank it in. Such rhododendrons and laurel, now in the perfection of their beauty! One rhododendron bush was at least ten feet high, and loaded with blooms. Another lifted its crown of a dozen rose-purple clusters amid the dark foliage of a hemlock. A magnolia-tree stood near; but though it was much taller than the laurel or the rhododendron, and had much larger flowers, it made little show beside them. Birds were singing on all hands, and numbers of gay-colored butterflies flitted about, sipping here and there at a blossom. I remember especially a fine tiger swallow-tail; the only one I saw in Tennessee, I believe. I remember, too, how well the rhododendron became him. Here, as in many other places, the laurel was nearly white; a happy circumstance, as it and the rhododendron went the more harmoniously together. Even in this high company, some tufts of cinnamon fern were not to be overlooked; the fertile cinnamon-brown fronds were now at their loveliest, and showed as bravely here, I thought, as in the barest of Massachusetts swamp-lands.
A few rods more, up a moderate slope, and I was at the top of the mountain, — a wall of outcropping rocks, falling off abruptly on the further side, and looking almost like an artificial rampart. Beyond me, to my surprise, I heard the hum of cicadas, — seventeen-year locusts, — a sound of which the lower country had for some time been full, but of which, till this moment, I had heard nothing on the Ridge.
As for the prospect, it was far reaching, but only in one direction, and through openings among the trees. Directly before me, some hundreds of feet below, was a piece of road, with a single cabin and a barn; and much farther away were other cabins, each with its private clearing. Elsewhere the foreground was an unbroken forest, For some time I could not distinguish the Ridge itself from the outlying world. Mountains and hills crowded the hazy horizon, range beyond range. Moving along the rocks, I found a vista through which Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain were visible, Another change, and a stretch of the Tennessee River came into sight, and, beyond it, Missionary Ridge with its settlements and its two observatories. Evidently I was considerably above the level of the Brow; but whether this was really the top of the mountain — reached, in some mysterious way, without going uphill — was more than I could say.1
Nor did it matter. I was glad to be there. It was a pleasant place and a pleasant hour, with an oak root for a seat, and never an insect to trouble me. That, by the way, was true of all those Tennessee forests, — when I was there, I mean; from what I heard, the ticks and jiggers must be bad enough later in the season. As men do at such times, — for human nature is of noble origin, and feels no surprise at being well treated, — I took my immunity as a matter of course, and only realized how I had been favored when I got back to Massachusetts, where, on my first visit to the woods, I was fairly driven out by swarms of mosquitoes.
The shoemaker was at home when I reached his house on my return, and at the urgent invitation of himself and his wife I joined them on the piazza for a bit of neighborly chat. I found him a smallish man, not German in appearance, but looking, I thought, like Thoreau, only grown a little older. He had been on Walden’s Ridge for fifteen years. Before that he was in South Carolina, but the yellow fever came along and made him feel like getting out. Yes, this was a healthy country, He had nothing to complain of; he was sixty-two years old and his doctors’ bills had never amounted to “five dollar.”
“Do you like living here?” I asked his wife.
“No,” she answered promptly; “I never did. But then,” she added, “we can’t help it, If you own something, you know, you have to stay.”
The author of Walden would have appreciated that remark. There was no shoemaking to be done here, the man said, his nearest neighbor being half a mile distant through the woods; and there was no clover, so that his bees did not do very well; and the frost had just killed all his peach-trees; but when I asked if he never felt homesick for Germany, the answer came like a pistol shot, — “No.”
I inquired about a cave, of which I had heard reports. Yes, it was a good cave, they said; I could easily find it. But their directions conveyed no very clear idea to my mind, and by and by the woman began talking to her husband in German. “She is telling him he ought to go with me and show me the way,” I said to myself; and the neat moment she came back to English. “He will go with you,” she said. I demurred, but he protested that he could do it as well as not. “Take up a stick; you might see a snake,” his wife called after him, as we left the house. He smiled, but did not follow her advice, though I fancied he would have done so had she gone along with us. A half-mile or so through the pathless woods brought us to the cave, which might hold a hundred persons, I thought. The dribbling “creek” fell over it in front. Then the man took mo to my path, pointed my way homeward, and, with a handshake (the silver lining of which was not refused, though I had been troubled with a scruple), bade me good-by. First, however, he told me that if I found any one in Boston who wanted to buy a place on Walden’s Ridge, he would sell a part of his or the whole of it. I remember him most kindly, and would gladly do him a service. If any reader, having a landed investment in view, should desire my intervention in the premises, I am freely at his command; only let him bear in mind the terms of the deed: “If you own something, you know, you have to stay.”
Fairmount, as has already been said, is but a clearing in the forest. Instead of a solitary cabin, as elsewhere, there are perhaps a dozen or two of cabins and houses scattered along the road, which emerges from the woods at one end of the settlement, and, after a mile or so in the sun, drops into them again at the other end. The glory of the place, and the reason of its being, as I suppose, is a chalybeate spring in a woody hollow before the post-office. There may be a shop of some kind, also, but memory retains no such impression. One building, rather larger than most of its neighbors, and apparently unoccupied, I looked at more than once with a measure of that curiosity which is everywhere the stranger’s privilege. It sat squarely on the road, and boasted a sort of portico or piazza, — it puzzled me what to call it, — but there was no vestige of a chimney. One day a ragged, bright-faced boy met me at the right moment, and I asked, “Did some one use to live in that house?” “That?” said he, in a tone I shall never forget. “That’s a barn. That over there is the dwelling.” My ignorance was fittingly rebuked, and I had no spirit to inquire about the piazza. Probably it was nothing but a lean-to. Even in my humiliation, however, it pleased me to hear what I should have called that good literary word “dwelling” on such lips. A Yankee boy might have said “dwelling-house,” but no Yankee of any age, or none that I have ever known, would have said “dwelling,” though he might have read the word in books a thousand times. I thought of a spruce colored waiter in Florida, who, when I asked him at breakfast how the day was likely to turn out, answered promptly, “I think it will be inclement.” It may reasonably be counted among the minor advantages of travel that it enriches one’s everyday vocabulary.
Another Fairmount building (an unmistakable house, this time) is memorable to me because on the doorstep, day after day, an old gentleman and a younger antagonist — they might have been grandfather and grandson — were playing checkers. “I hope you are beating the young fellow,” I could not help saying once to the old gentleman. He smiled dubiously, and made some halting reply suggestive of resignation rather than triumph; and it came to me with a kind of pang, as I passed on, that if growing old is a bad business, as most of us think, it is perhaps an unfavorable symptom when a man finds himself, not out of politeness, but as a simple matter of course, taking sides with the aged,
Fairmounters, living in the woods, have no outlook upon the world, If they wish to see off, they must go to the Brow, which, by a stroller’s guess, may be two miles distant. My first visit to it was the pleasanter — the more vocational, so to speak — for being an accident. I sauntered aimlessly down the road, past the scattered houses and orchards (the raising of early apples seemed to be a leading industry on the Ridge, though a Chattanooga gentleman had assured me that the principal crops were blackberries and rabbits), and almost before I knew it, was in the same delightful woods that had welcomed me wherever I had gone. And in the same woods the same birds were singing. My notes make particular record of hooded and Kentucky warblers, these being two of my newer acquaintances, as well as two of the commoner Ridge songsters; but I halted for some time, and with even a livelier interest, to listen to an old friend (no acquaintance, if you please), — a black-throated green warbler. It was one of the queerest of songs: a bar of five or six notes, uniform in pitch, and then at once, in perfect form and voice, — the voice being a main part of the music in the case of this warbler, — the familiar trees, trees, murmuring trees. Where could the fellow have picked up such a ditty? No doubt there was some story connected with it. Nothing is born of itself. A dozen years ago, in the Green Mountains, — at Bread-Loaf Inn, — I heard from the forest by the roadside a song utterly strange, and hastened in search of its author. After much furtive approach and diligent scanning of the foliage, I had the bird under my opera-glass, — a black-throated blue warbler! — with my eye still upon him, he sang again and again, and the song bore no faintest resemblance to the kree, kree, kree, which all New England bird-lovers know as the work of Dendroica cærulescens. In what private school he had been educated I have no idea; but I believe that every such extreme eccentricity goes back to something out of the common in the bird’s early training.
I felt in no haste, Life is easy in the Tennessee mountains, A pile of lumber, newly unloaded near the road, — in the woods, of course, offered a timely seat, and I took it. Some Chattanooga gentleman was planning a summer cottage for himself, I gathered, May he enjoy it for twenty years as much as I did for twenty minutes. Not far beyond, near a fork in the road, a man of twenty-five or thirty, a youth of sixteen or seventeen, and a small boy were playing marbles in a cabin yard. I interrupted the sport long enough to inquire which road I had better take. I was going nowhere in particular, I explained, and wanted simply a pleasant stroll. “Then I would go to the Brow, if I were you,” said the man. “Keep a straight road. It isn’t far.” I thanked him, and with a cheery “Come on!” to his playmates he ran back, literally, to the ring. Yes, life is easy in the Tennessee mountains. It is not to be assumed, nevertheless, that the man was a do-nothing: probably he had struck work for a few minutes only; but, like a sensible player, he was enjoying the game while it lasted. Perhaps it is a certain inborn Puritanical industriousness, against which I have never found the courage effectually to rebel, that makes me look back upon this dooryard comedy as one of the brightest incidents of my Tennessee vacation. Fancy a Massachusetts farmer playing marbles at nine o’clock in the forenoon!
At that moment, it must be owned, a rebuke of idleness would have fallen with a poor grace from my Massachusetts lips. If the player of marbles had followed his questioner round the first turn, he would have seen him standing motionless beside a swamp, holding his head on one side as if listening, — though there was nothing to be heard, — or evoking ridiculous squeaking noises by sucking idiotically the back of his hand. Well, I was trying to find another bird, just as he was trying to knock another marble out of the ring.
The spot invited such researches, — a bushy swamp, quite unlike the dry woods and rocky woodland brooks which I had found everywhere else. I had seen my first cerulean warbler on Lookout Mountain, my first Cape May warbler on Cameron Hill, my first Kentucky warbler on Missionary Ridge, and my first blue-winged yellow warbler at the Chickamauga battlefield. If Walden was to treat me equally well, as in all fairness it ought, now was the time. Looking, listening, and squeaking were alike unrewarded, however, till I approached the same spot on my return. Then some bird sang a new song, I hoped it was a prothonotary warbler, a bird I had never seen, and about whose notes I knew nothing. More likely it was a Louisiana water-thrush, a bird I had seen, but had never heard sing. Whichever it was, alas, it speedily fell silent, and no beating of the bush proved of the least avail.
Meanwhile I had been to the Brow, where I had sat for an hour or more on the edge of the mountain, gazing down upon the world. The sky was clouded, but here and there were fugitive patches of sunshine, now on Missionary Ridge, now on the river, now glorifying the smoke of the city. Southward, just across the valley and over Chattanooga, was Lookout Mountain; eastward stretched Missionary Ridge, with many higher hills behind it; and more to the north, and far in the distance, loomed the Great Smoky Mountains, in all respects true to their name. The valley at my feet was beautiful beyond words — green forests interspersed with green clearings, lonely cabins, and bare fields of red earth. At the north, Walden’s Ridge made a turn eastward, narrowing the valley, but without ending it. Chimney swifts were cackling merrily, and the air was full of the hum of seventeen-year locusts, — miles and miles of continuous sound. From somewhere far below rose the tinkle of cow-bells. Even on that cloudy and smoky day it was a glorious landscape; but it pleased me afterward to remember that the eye returned of itself again and again to a stretch of freshly green meadow along a slender watercourse, — a valley within the valley. Of all the fair picture, that was the most like home.
Meanwhile there was no forgetting that undiscovered stranger in the swamp, Whoever he was, he must be made to show himself; and the next day, when the usual noonday deluge was past, I looked at the clouds, and said: “We shall have another, but in the interval I can probably reach the Brow, There I will take shelter on the piazza of an unoccupied cottage, and, when the rain is over, go back to the swamp, see my bird, and thence return home.” So it turned out — in part. The clouds hurried me, but I reached the Brow just in season, climbed the cottage fence, the gate being padlocked, and, thoroughly heated as I was, paced briskly to and fro on the piazza in a chilling breeze for an hour or more, the flood all the while threatening to fall, and the thunder shaking the house. There was plenty to look at, for the cottage faced the Great Smokies, and though we were under the blackest of clouds, the landscape below was largely in the sun. The noise of the locusts was incessant. Nothing but the peals of thunder kept it out of my ears.
So far, then, my plans had prospered; but to find the mysterious bird, — that was not so easy. The swamp was silent, and I was at once so cold and so hot, and so badly under the weather already, that I dared not linger.
In the woods, nevertheless, I stopped long enough to enjoy the music of a master cardinal, — a bewitching song, and, as I thought, original birdy, birdy, repeated about ten times in the sweetest of whistles, and then a sudden descent in the pitch, and the same syllables over again. At that instant, a Carolina wren, as if stirred to rivalry, sprang into a bush and began whistling cherry, cherry, cherry at his loudest and prettiest. It was a royal duet. The cardinal was in magnificent plumage, and a scarlet tanager near by was equally handsome. If the tanager could whistle like the cardinal, our New England woods would have a bird to brag of.
Not far beyond these wayside musicians I came upon a boy sitting beside a wood-pile, with his saw lying on the ground. “It is easier to sit down than to saw wood, isn’t it?” said I. Possibly he was unused to such aphoristic modes of speech. He took time to consider. Then he smiled, and said, “Yes, sir.” The answer was all-sufficient. We spoke from experience, both of us; and between men who know, whatever the matter in hand, disagreement is impossible and amplification needless.
Three days later — my last day on the Ridge — I had better luck at the swamp. The stranger was singing on the nearer edge as I approached, and I had simply to draw near and look at him, — a Louisiana water-thrush. He sang, and I listened; and farther along, at the little bridge where I had first heard the song, another like him was in tune. The strain, as warbler songs go (“water-thrushes” being not thrushes, but warblers), is rather striking, — clear, pretty loud, of about ten notes, the first pair of which are longest and best. I speak of what I heard, and give, of course, my own impression. Audubon pronounces the notes “as powerful and mellow, and at times as varied,” as those of the nightingale, and Wilson waxes almost equally enthusiastic in his praise of the “exquisitely sweet and expressive voice.” Here, as in Florida, I was interested to perceive how instantly the bird’s appearance and carriage distinguished it from its Northern relative, although the descriptions of the two species, as given in books, sound confusingly alike. It is matter for thankfulness, perhaps, that language is not yet so all expressive as to render individual eyesight superfluous.
I kept on to the Brow, and some time afterward was at Mabbitt’s Spring, quenching my thirst with a draught of liquid iron rust, when a third songster of the same kind struck up his tune. The spring, spurting out of the rock in a slender jet, is beside the same stream — Little Falling Water — that makes through the swamp; and along its banks, it appeared, the water-thrushes were at home. I was glad to have heard the famous singer, but my satisfaction was not without alloy. Walden, after all, had failed to show me a new bird, though it had given me a new song.
The most fatiguing, and perhaps the most interesting of my days on the Ridge was the one day in which I did not travel on foot. Passing through the village, on my return from one of my earlier visits to Falling Water, I stopped a nice-looking man (if he will pardon the expression, copied from my notes), driving a horse with a pair of clothesline reins. He had an air of being at home, and naturally I took him for a native. Would he tell me something about the country, especially about the roads, so that I might improve my scanty time to the best advantage? Very gladly, he answered. He had walked and driven over the mountain a good deal, surveying, and if I would call at his house, a short distance down the road — the house with the big barn, — he would make me a rough map, such as would answer my purpose. At the same time he mentioned two or three shorter excursions which I ought not to miss; and when I had thanked him for his kindness, he gathered up the reins and drove on. Intending no disrespect to the inhabitants of the Ridge, I may perhaps be allowed to say that I was considerably impressed by a certain unexpected propriety, and even elegance, of diction, on the part of my new acquaintance, I remember in particular his description of a pleasant cold spring as being situated not far from the “confluence” of two streams. Con-fluens, I thought, flowing together. Having always something else to do, I omitted to call at his house, and one day, when we met again in the road, I apologized for my neglect, and asked another favor. He was familiar with the country, and kept a horse. Could he not spare a day to take me about? If he thought this proposal a bit presumptuous, courtesy restrained him from letting the fact be seen, and, after a few minutes of deliberation, — his hands being pretty full just then, he explained, — he promised to call for me two mornings later, at seven o’clock. We would take a luncheon along, and make a day of it.
He appeared at the gate in due season, and in a few minutes we were driving over a road new to me, but through the same spacious oak woods to which I had grown accustomed. We went first to Burnt Cabin Spring, one of the famous chalybeate springs of the mountain, — a place formerly frequented by picnic parties, but now, to all appearance, fallen into neglect. We stretched our legs, drank of the water, admired the flowers and ferns, talking all the while (it was here that my companion told a story of a young theologian from Grant University, who, in a solemn discourse, spoke repeatedly of Jacob as having “euchred his brother out of his birthright”), and then, while a “pheasant” drummed near by, took our places again in the buggy.
Another stage, still through the oak woods, and we were at Signal Point, famous — in local tradition, at least — as the station from which General Sherman signaled encouragement to the Union army beleaguered in Chattanooga, in danger of starvation or surrender. I had looked at the bold, jutting crags from Lookout Mountain and elsewhere, and rejoiced at last to stand upon them.
It would have been delightful to spend a long day there, lying upon the cliffs and enjoying the prospect, which, without being so far-reaching as from Point Lookout, or even from the eastern brim of Walden, is yet extensive and surpassingly beautiful. The visitor is squarely above the river, which here, in the straitened valley between the Ridge and Raccoon Mountain, grows narrower and narrower till it rushes through the “Suck” Even at that elevation we could hear the roar of the rapids. A short distance above the Suck, and almost at our feet, lay Williams Island. A farmer’s Eden it looked, with its broad, newly planted fields, and its house surrounded by outbuildings and orchard-trees. The view included Chattanooga, Missionary Ridge, and much else; but its special charm was its foreground, the part peculiar to itself, — the valley, the river, and Raccoon Mountain. Along the river-banks were small clearings, each with its one cabin, and generally a figure or two ploughing or planting. A man in a strangely long boat — a dugout, probably — was making his difficult way upstream with a paddle. The Tennessee, in the neighborhood of Chattanooga, at all events, is too swift for pleasure-boating. Seen from above, as I commonly saw it, it looked tranquil enough; but when I came down to its edge, now and then, the speed and energetic sweep of the smooth current laid fast hold upon me, From the mountains to the sea is a long, long journey, and no wonder the river felt in haste.
I had gone to Signal Point not as an ornithologist, but as a patriot and a lover of beauty; but, being there, I added one to my list of Tennessee birds, — a red-tailed hawk, one of the very few hawks seen in all my trip. Sailing below us, it displayed its rusty, diagnostic tail, and put its identity at once beyond question.
Our next start — far too speedy, for the day was short — was for Williams Point; but on our way thither we descended into the valley of Shoal Creek, down which, with the creek to keep it company, runs the old mountain road, now disused and practically impassable. Here we hitched the horse, and strolled downwards for perhaps half a mile. I was never in a lovelier spot. The mountain brook, laughing over the stones, is overhung with laurel and rhododendron, which in turn are overhung by precipitous rocks broken into all wild and romantic shapes, with here and there a cavern “rock-house” — to shelter a score of travelers. The place was rich in ferns and other plants, which, unhappily, I had no time to examine, and all the particulars of which have faded out of my memory. We walked far enough to look over the edge of the mountain, and up to the Signal Point cliffs. If I could have stayed there two or three hours, it would have been a memorable season. As it was, the stroll was enlivened by one little adventure, at which I have laughed too many times ever to forget it.
I had been growing rapturous over the beauty of things, when my companion said, “There are some people whom it is no pleasure to take into places like this. They can’t keep their eyes off the ground, they are so bitten with the fear of snakes.” He was a few paces ahead of me, as he spoke, and the sentence was barely finished before he shouted, “Look at that huge snake!” and sprang forward to snatch up a stone. “Get a stick!” he cried. “Get a stick!” From his manner I took it for granted that the creature was a rattlesnake, and a glance at it, lying motionless among the stones beside the road, did not undeceive me. I turned hurriedly, looking for a stick, but somehow could not find one, and in a moment more was recalled by shouts of “Come and help me! It will get away from us!” It was a question of life and death, I thought, and I ran forward and began throwing stones. “Look out! Look out! You’ll bury it!” cried my companion; but just then one of my shots struck the snake squarely to the head, “That’s a good one!” exclaimed the other man, and, picking up a dead stick, he thrust it under the disabled creature and tossed it into the road. Then he bent over it, and, with a stone, pounded its head to a jelly. Such a fury as possessed him! He might have been bruising the head of Satan himself, as no doubt he was — in his mind; for my surveyor was also a preacher, as had already transpired.
“It isn’t a venomous snake, is it?” I ventured to ask, when the work was done. “Oh, I think not,” and he pried open its jaws to look for its fangs.
“I don’t generally kill innocent snakes,” I ventured again, a little inopportunely, it must be confessed.
“Well, I do,” said the preacher. “The very sight of a snake stirs my hatred to its depths.”
After that it was natural to inquire whether he often saw rattlesnakes hereabouts. (The driver who brought me up the mountain had said that they were not common, but that I “wanted to look out sharp for them in the woods.”) My companion had never seen one, he answered, but his wife had once killed one in their door-yard. Then, by way of cooling off, after the fervor of the conflict, he told me about a gentleman and his little boy, who, having come to spend a vacation on the Ridge, started out in the morning for a stroll. They were quickly back again, and the boy, quite out of breath, came running into the garden.
“Oh, Mr. M.,” he cried, “we saw a rattlesnake, and papa fired off his pistol!”
“A rattlesnake! Where is it? What did it look like?”
“Why, we didn’t see it, but we heard it.”
“What was the noise like?” asked Mr. M., and he took a pencil from his pocket and began tapping on a log.
“That’s it!” said the boy, “that’s it!” They had heard a woodpecker drilling for grubs, — or drumming for love, — whereupon the man had fired his pistol, and for them there was no more walking in the woods.
After our ramble along Shoal Creek we rested at the ford, near a brilliant show of laurel and rhododendron, and ate our luncheon to the music of the stream. I finished first, as my evil habit is, and was crossing the brook on natural stepping-stones when a bird — a warbler of some unknown kind — saluted me from the thicket. Making my companion a signal not to disturb us by driving into the stream, I gave myself up to discovering the singer; edging this way and that, while the fellow moved about also, always unseen, and sang again and again, now a louder song, now, with charming effect, a quieter and briefer one, till I was almost as badly beside myself as the preacher had been half an hour before. But my warfare was less successful than his, for, with all my pains, I saw not so much as a feather. There is nothing prettier than a jungle of laurel and rhododendron in full bloom, hut there are many easier places in which to make out a bird.
Williams Point, which we reached on foot, after driving as near it as the roughness of the unfrequented road would comfortably allow, is not in itself equal to Signal Point, but affords substantially the same magnificent prospect. Near it, in the woods, stood a newly built cabin, looking badly out of place with its glaring unweathered boards; and beside the cabin stood a man and woman in a condition of extreme disgust. The man had come up the mountain to work in some coal-mine, if I understood him correctly; but the tools were not ready, there was no water, his household goods were stranded down in the valley somewhere (the hens were starving to death, the woman added), and, all in all, the pair were in a sorry plight.
Here, as at Signal Point, I made an addition to my local ornithology, and this time too the bird was a hawk. We were standing on the edge of the cliff, when a sparrow hawk, after alighting near us, took wing and hung for some time suspended over the abyss, beating against the breeze, and so holding itself steady, — a graceful piece of work, the better appreciated for being seen from above. Here, also, for the first time in my life, I was addressed as a “you-un.” “Where be you-uns from?” asked the woman at the cabin, after the ordinary greetings bad been exchanged. I believe, in my innocence, I had always looked upon that word as an invention of story-writers.
Somewhere in this neighborhood we traversed a pine wood, in which my first Walden pine warbler was trilling. Then, for some miles, we drove along the Brow, with the glory of the world — valley, river, and mountain — outspread before us, and the Great Smokies looming in the background, barely visible through the haze. For seven miles, I was told, one could drive along that mountain rim. Surely the city of Chattanooga is happy in its suburbs. Here were many cottages, the greater number as yet unopened; and not far beyond the one under the piazza of which I had weathered the thunderstorm of the day before, the road entered the forest again. Then, as the way grew more and more difficult, we left the horse behind, and by and by came to a footpath. This brought us at last to Falling Water Fall, where Little Falling Water — after threading the swamp and passing Mabbitt’s Spring, as before described — tumbles over a precipice which my companion, with his surveyor’s eye, estimated to be one hundred and fifty feet in height. The slender stream, broken into jewels as it falls, strikes the bottom at some distance from the foot of the cliffs, which here form the arc of a circle, and are not perpendicular, but deeply hollowed. After enjoying the prospect from this point, — holding to a tree and leaning over the edge of the rocks, — we retraced our steps till we came to a steep, zigzag path, which took us to the foot of the precipice. Here, as well as above, were laurel and rhododendron in profusion. One big rhododendron-tree grew on the face of the cliff, thirty feet over our heads, leaning outward, and bearing at least fifty clusters of gorgeous rose-purple flowers; and a smaller one, in a similar position, was equally full. The hanging gardens of Babylon may have been more wonderful, but I was well content.
From the point where we stood the ledge makes eastward for a long distance, almost at right angles, and the cliffs for a mile — or, more likely, for two or three miles — were straight before us, broken everywhere into angles, light gray and reddish-brown intermixed, with the late afternoon sun shining full upon them, and the green forest fringing them above and sweeping away from them below.
It was a breathless clamber up the rocks again, tired and poorly off as I was, but I reached the top with one hand full of rhododendrons (it seemed a shame to pick them, and a shame to leave them), and in half an hour we were driving homeward, our day’s work done; while my seatmate, who, besides being preacher, lawyer, surveyor, and farmer, was also a mystic and a saint, — though he would have refused the word, — fell into a strain of reminiscence, appropriate to the hour, about the inner life of the soul, its hopes, its struggles, and its joys. I listened in reverent silence. The passion for perfection is not yet so common as to have become commonplace, and one need not be certain of a theory in order to admire a practice. He had already told me who his father was, and I had ceased to wonder at his using now and then a choice phrase.
My friend (he will allow me that word, I am sure) had given me a day of days, and with it a new idea of this mountain world; where the visitor finds hills and valleys, creeks and waterfalls, the most beautiful of forests, with clearings, isolated cabins, straggling settlements, orchards, and gardens, and where he forgets again and again that he is on a mountain at all. Even now I had seen but a corner of it, as I have seen but a corner of the larger world on which, for these few years back, I have had what I call my existence. And even of what I saw, much has gone undescribed: stately tulip-trees deep in the forest, with humming-birds darting from flower to flower among them; the flame-colored azalea; the ground flowers of the woods, including some tiny yellow lady’s-slippers, too dainty for the foot of Cinderella herself; the road to Sawyer’s Springs; and numbers of birds, whose names, even, I have omitted. It was a wonderful world; but if the hobbyist may take the pen for a single sentence, it may stand confessed that the greatest wonder of all was this, — that in all those miles of oak forest I found not one blue jay.
Another surprising circumstance, which I do not remember to have noticed, however, till my attention was somewhat rudely called to it, was the absence of colored people. With the exception of three servants at the hotel, I saw none but whites. Walden’s Ridge, although staunchly Union in war-time, and largely Republican now, as I was told, is a white man’s country. I had gone to bed one night, and was fast asleep, when I was wakened suddenly by the noise of some one hurrying up the stairs and shouting, “Where’s the gun? Where’s the gun? Shorty’s been shot!” “Shorty” was the colored waiter, and the speaker was a general factotum, an English boy. The colored people — Shorty, his wife, and the cook — had been out on the edge of the woods behind the house, when three men had fired at them, or pretended to do so. It was explained the next morning that this was only an attempt (on the part of some irresponsible young men, as the older residents said) to “run the niggers off the mountain,” — after what I understood to be a somewhat regular custom. “Niggers” did not belong there; their place was down below. If a Chattanooga cottager brought up a colored servant, he was “respectfully requested” to send him back, and save the natives the trouble of attending to the matter. In short, the Ridgites appeared to look upon “niggers” as Northern laborers look upon non-union men — “scabs.”
The hotel-keeper, an Englishman, with an Englishman’s notions about personal rights, was naturally indignant. He would hire his own servants, or he would shut the house. In any event, the presence of “Whitecaps,” real or imaginary, must affect his summer patronage. I fully expected to see the colored trio pack up and go back to Chattanooga, without waiting for further hints; but they showed no disposition to do anything of the sort, and, I must add, rose in my estimation accordingly.
Of the feeling of the community I had a slight but ludicrous intimation a day or two after the shooting. I passed a boy whom I had noticed in the road, some days before, playing with a pig, lifting him by the hind legs and pitching him over forwards. “He can turn a somerset good,” he had said to me, as I passed. Now, for the sake of being neighborly, I asked, “How’s the pig today?” He smiled, and made some reply, as if he appreciated the pleasantry; but a more serious-looking playmate took up his parable, and said, “The pig’ll be all right, if the folks up at the hotel don’t shoot him.” His tone and look were intended to be deeply significant. “Oh, I know you,” they implied: “you are up at the hotel, where they threaten to shoot white folks.”
For my last afternoon — wars and rumors of wars long since forgotten — I went to the place that had pleased me first, the valley of Falling Water Creek. The cross-vine on the dead hemlock had by this time dropped the greater part of its bells, but even yet many were hanging from the uppermost branches. The rhododendron was still at the height of its splendor. All the gardens were nothing to it, I said to myself. Crossing the creek on the log, and the branch on stepping-stones, I went to quench my thirst at the Marshall Spring, which once had a cabin beside it, and frequent visitors, but now was clogged with fallen leaves and seemingly abandoned. It was perhaps more beautiful so. Directly behind it rose a steep bank, and in front stood an oak and a maple, the latter leaning toward it and forming a pointed arch, — a worthy entrance. Mossy stones walled it in, and ferns grew luxuriantly about it. Just over them, an azalea still held two fresh pink flowers, the last till another May. In such a spot it would have been easy to grow sentimental; but there came a rumbling of thunder, the sky darkened, and, with a final hasty look about me, I picked up my umbrella and started homeward.
My last walk had ended like many others in that showery, fragmentary week. But what is bad weather when the time is past? All those black clouds have left no shadow on Walden’s Ridge, and the best of all my strolls beside Falling Water, a stroll not yet finished,
“The calm sense of seen beauty without sight.”
suffers no harm. As Thoreau says, “It is after we get home that we really go over the mountain.”________________________________
1It was not the top of the mountain; so I am now informed, on the best of authority. I followed the map, but misunderstood the man who drew it. It was a map of some other route, and I did not see the top of the mountain, after all.