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JUNE ON KEARSARGE
Butterflies and Flowers on a Summit of Splendid Isolation
The familiar spirits of Kearsarge Mountain this June seemed to me to be the white admiral butterflies. Clad in royal purple are these with buttons of red and azure and broad white epaulettes which cross both wings. These greeted me in the highway at Lower Bartlett and there was almost always one in sight up Bartlett Mountain, over the ledges and to the very top of Kearsarge itself. One of them politely showed me the wrong wood road as a start for the trail up Bartlett which leaves the highway just a little south of the east branch of the Saco. Then when the road ended in a vast tangle of slash and new growth he showed me what was to him a perfectly good trail still, up in the air and over the tops of the trees and ledges in easy flight, and I dare say he thought me very dull that I did not follow as easily as he led. It is the season for white admirals and you may meet them in favored places all over the mountains from now on, but nowhere have I seen them so plentiful as they are this June along the slopes of Bartlett and Kearsarge. A South American navy could not have more admirals.
Kearsarge and Bartlett, seen from Middle Mountain, near Jackson
With the white admirals I find, flying lower and keeping well in shadowy nooks, a thumbnail butterfly which might well be a midshipman, he is so much a copy on a small scale of the admiral, very dark in ground color and having white epaulettes across both wings also. This butterfly is new to me, nor do I find him figured in such works on lepidoptera as I have been able to consult since I have seen him. I had to get lost on the way up Bartlett to find him most plentiful, but his fellows are common throughout the shady woodlands of the upper branches of the Saco from Pinkham Notch to the borders of the Conway meadows. In fact I fancy the whole White Mountain region is a school for these understudies of the white admirals, and they certainly could have no more noble exemplar.
No doubt my volunteer white admiral guide had a great contempt for any would-be sailor that could not climb as he did when he went straight toward the main truck of Kearsarge by way of the bobstay, but he left me where the lumber road did, in a wild tangle of slash, to get up the mountain the way the bear does, on all fours. There is a path up Bartlett, a proper one that enters from the highway as the A. M. C. guide says it does and sticks to its job after the first third of the ascent is accomplished, but the way it flirts with the wood roads between these two points is bewildering to the sober-minded stranger who attempts to follow it. However, missing this slender trifler had its compensations. I am convinced that I reached portions of the slope of Bartlett that are rarely visited. I was long getting out of the awful mess which lumbermen leave behind them at the upper ends of their roads. The inextricable confusion of tangled spruce tops and the sudden riot of new deciduous growth, wild with delight over the flood of sunshine it gets, held me as if in a net. And all the time I wrestled with it an indigo bunting sat on the top of a rock maple and sang his surprise at seeing such a thing in such a place. "Dear, dear!" he gurgled, "who is it? who is it? dear, dear, dear!" and once in a while he added a little tittering "tee, hee, hee." It was all very well for him. He could follow the white admiral if he were bound for the main truck of Kearsarge by way of the Bartlett bob-stay, and he looked very handsome and capable as he glistened, iridescent blue-black up there against the sun. How poor a creature a man is, after all! A box turtle could have gone up through that slash better than I did.
From Eagle Mountain one may see Kearsarge, blue and symmetrical in the distance, peering over the shoulder of Thorn
However, man wins because he keeps everlastingly at it, and I reasoned that if I kept climbing I would come out on top of something or other, and I did. On top of a pretty little hill, which is an outlying, northwesterly spur of Bartlett, a spot which gave me a glimpse of the dark, spruce-covered summit far above and a deep ravine between down into which I must go and begin my scramble all over again. A no-trail trip gives one an idea of what a mountain really is, showing him, for one thing, how rapidly it moves down into the valley beneath it. Here on steep slopes were loose masses of angled fragments of granite, weighing from a few pounds to a few tons each, broken from the precipices above by the frost and ready, some of them at least, to be toppled at a touch and start an avalanche. It needs but the footfall of a climbing deer, a bear, or a stray man to start one rock, or two, and it is easy to see that a down-rush of spring rain takes always a part of the mountain with it. To go up one of the precipitous ledges, "tooth and nail" as one must who misses the path, is to find how easily these broken chunks, separated by the frost from the parent rock, fall out and join the masses below.
Yet such a climb has its joys, which the path does not always give. Here the deer have browsed and left prints of slender hoofs in the black earth beneath the trees, there the white hare had his lair all winter, a jutting rock sheltering him and the sun from the southwest warming him as he crouched. Here are holes where the porcupines have scratched their bristly way, or a cave where perhaps a bear had his den. This the wandering stranger views with suspicion and approaches with many delightful thrills strangely compounded of hope and fear. Probably there are no bears on Bartlett, but what if there were one, and nothing for defence but the majesty of the human eye! A man is apt to get his own measure in places like these. of course the bear, if there be one, will run — but which way? In the wildest glen, filled with rough dens and suspicions of bears of the largest size, I found grateful traces of at least the former presence of men, men in bulk, so to speak. Here, in the forest tangle, wreathed with mountain moosewood blooms, was a good-sized cook-stove. There was no suspicion of a road, and I could only guess that it had wandered from a lumber camp and lost the trail, as I had. It reminded me that Bartlett summit was still distant, more distant perhaps than the noon hour which this mountain range also suggested, and it set me to the ascent with renewed vigor.
All the way up in woodsy nooks where are little levels of rich black soil the moccasin flowers climb till the very top of Bartlett is reached. Their rose-purple foot coverings with the greenish-purple pointed thongs for tying seem scattered as if pukwudgies had lost them, fleeing in terror from the bears which I could only suspect, the mountain top their refuge, where I found them, grouped rather close together in mossy nooks among the ledges. The dwarf cornels climb with them, finding footing in much the same places and stare unblinkingly up with round and chubby foolish faces. The cypripediums are sensitive and emotional; these that climb with them are strangely stolid and shallow by comparison, yet they add beauty of their own sort to the wide, moss-carpeted stretches beneath the trees. On the very ledges themselves neither of these advance, yet wherever the frosts of winter have split the rock the slender hints of strange lettering are green with mountain cranberry vines, and the creeping snowberry has followed and holds rose-white blooms up to lure the mountain bees. The lichens have painted these ledges, of which the upper part of Bartlett Mountain is built, with wonderful soft colors of mingled grays and greens, and the spruces spire, black and beautiful, all over the summit, making one hunt for open spaces from which to view the world stretched out beneath. I found the path again on the ledges well up toward the summit, a slender, coquettish thing still, hard to follow, but enticing with its waywardness, its most bewildering vagaries marked by former lovers, men of the A. M. C. without doubt, little piles of stone which lead him who trusts them to the very summit.
Here, as on that lower spur of Bartlett which I had struggled to attain, one looks upon a greater height, with a ravine between, Kearsarge looming grandly up into the sky to eastward. The white admiral butterfly danced along here, too — or was it another? — seemingly impatient at my long delay in following, and the path coquettes in vain, down ledges and up ledges, always to be found by patient study of those little piles of marking stone, till, breasting the steep slope of Kearsarge itself, one enters the comparatively broad highway which leads up from Kearsarge village. After that the ascent to Olympus is easy.
On few mountains does one get the sense of exaltation and ecstatic uplift that comes to him when he stands on the high summit of Kearsarge. The mountain is splendidly isolated, only Bartlett rising high near it, and the summit of that even being so far below as to be readily overlooked. Northwestward looms Mount Washington, higher, no doubt, but so buttressed by the great ranges on which it sits serene as to lose the effect of upleap that Kearsarge has. Under you is spread all eastern Maine, like a map, and you look northeastward across silver levels of lakes and mottled green of dwarfed hills till, shadowy on the far horizon, looms the peak of Katahdin, a blue land-cloud on the rim of the silver-flecked green sea. The two peaks of Doublehead are curious twin green knolls below to the north, and only in the far-distant north and west are summits of height that equal or exceed your own. Far away in these directions they begin and pinnacle and retreat, range beyond range, till they fade into the dim blue haze of the farthest horizon. Southeast lie one silver lake after another, till the eye finds Sebago, and beyond that the thin rim of the world which is Casco Bay and the sea.
Much cool water must well up from the heart of Kearsarge to its summit, for grass grows long there in the hollows of the granite, and many alders, hung with powdery curls of staminate bloom and green with many leaves in mid-June. The moccasin flowers failed in their climb from Bartlett summit to reach the top of Kearsarge, but the rhodora has come up and set rose purple blooms in the same season, the leaves here pushing out with the flowers instead of waiting, as they do in lower latitudes, at lesser heights. Under their caresses the mountain has smiled and given forth butterflies. Here are the white admirals, conscious with epaulettes as if they had just stepped ashore from the white cloud fleets that swing with cumulus sails piled high just off shore. Here is the painted lady, hovering admiringly by, seemingly unnoticed by the admirals. Here are tiger swallowtails, their gold black-barred with rippling shadows, and little skippers, swift and busy when the admirals heave in sight. Most of all I note mourning cloaks, and one in particular is in deep mourning, the usual pale rim of his wings replaced by a brown that is so deep it is black and hides all azure spots that should be there. It may be that all these butterflies sailed up into the island port of a mountain top that swims so high in the vivid sunshine of the June afternoon that the air about it seems to me, watching them, to be a veritable transparent blue sea of great depth, yet it is just as likely that many were born on or near the summit, of generations of mountain dwelling lepidoptera. of these must have been my black-bordered mourning cloak, the winter's cold having dulled his color within the chrysalis and giving an added depth to his mourning. He was as sombre as the dusky wings which dashed about with the skippers, like black slaves come to help in the lading of their vessels.
Into this island port in the high air carne, about four in the afternoon, a wind from the sea, cooling the intense heat and spreading a smoke-blue haze all along the southeastern horizon. It wiped out the coast-line of Casco Bay and moved the sea in with it, swallowing Sebago and pushing on till Lovell's Pond and the lesser ones within the New Hampshire line became estuaries at which one looked long, expecting to see slanting sails and smell the cool fragrance of tide-washed flats. Into this haze loomed one after another the distant Maine mountains and vanished as if slipping their cables and sailing away over the rim of the world, bound for foreign ports. A new romance of mystery had come to the outlook from the mountain top. Far up its side, borne on this cool air, came the song of thrushes, a jubilation of satisfied longing. The breath of the sea had come with cool reassurance to soothe and hearten all things.
On beyond Kearsarge, toward Crawford Notch and the Presidential Range swept this coal reviving air, carrying its blue haze with it. The low sun sent broad bands of palest blue down through this vapor and with it, northwestward, the mountains seemed withdraw; details that had been so clear vanished, and instead of dapple of purple-green forest and rose-gray cliff were long cloud-ridges of wonderful deep blue riding one beyond another like waves on a painted sea, the darkest nearest, the farther paling into the farthest and that vanishing into the blue of the sky itself. Out of Crawford Notch rolled the Saco, flecking the valley below with patches of gleaming silver. The cumulus cloud fleets that had swung over the mountains all day long, bluing the green of the hills with the shadows of their canvas, swept northwestward with this wind, a great convoy for the sun on into the ports of the radiant west. Now one of them hid him from sight, its edges all gold with the joy of it. Again the rays flashed clear and the shadow of Kearsarge moved its point of blue a little farther out on the green of the forest to eastward. Down the mountain path a Bicknell's thrush sang, the veery's song, less round and loud and full, but with much of the spiral, bell-tone quality in it. It reminded me that the visitor to the summit who is to go home by way of the broad path to Kearsarge village may well wait till this pointed shadow of the summit climbs Pleasant Mountain in Maine and looms upward into the purple shadows beyond. I was to go back by that coquette of a trail down Bartlett, and the thought of what tricks it would play on me by moonlight made me hasten.
The cool of evening was descending like a benediction on the level, elm-fringed meadows of Intervale, and the little village of North Conway gleamed white in the low sun and pointed the broad way down the Saco Valley to a hundred lakes as I climbed over the brow of Bartlett and clinked my heels on the ledges of its western face. The mocassin flowers nodded good night and the golden green, spiked blooms of the mountain moosewood waved me on down the path that seemed as true as slender as it wound on down the hill. Surely, I thought, holding is having, and I shall keep this little path close till the end of the way. And then it slipped from under my arm and snickered as it made off in the bushes, goodness knows where, leaving me two-thirds the way down Bartlett with the dusk and the tangle of forest all before me. However, "down hill goes merrily," and so did I, and by and by I came to a tiny mountain brook, and we two jogged on together in the deepening gloom, prattling of what we had seen.
At least, mountain brooks do not run away from you as mountain paths do, but it is as well not to trust them too much, after dark. This one led me demurely to the brink of the little precipice of "No-go" Falls and chuckled as it took the thirty-foot leap, a slim thread of silver in the moonlight. I dare say it was thinking what a fine splash I would make in the shallow pool below. Instead I clambered carefully around and made the foot of the little cliff without a thud, there to find that the laugh is really on the brook, for its leap takes it into a big iron funnel whence it is personally conducted down a mile more of mountain into the little reservoir of the North Conway water supply. I followed the pipe, too, but outside, and the brook did not gurgle once about it all the way down.