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UP MOUNT JACKSON
The Climb from Crawford's Through an Enchanting Forest
Off Mount Jackson runs a tiny brook. I do not know its name, but because it is the very beginning of the Saco River and because it empties into Saco Lake, I fancy it is Saco Brook. Whatever its name it is fortunate above most White Mountain brooks in that the lumbermen have kept away from it for half a century or so and the great growth of an ancient forest shadows it. At the bottom of this it dances down ledges and under prostrate trunks of trees that have stood their time and been pushed over by the wind, and as it goes it splashes joyously to itself in a liquid flow of language that has as many variations of syllables and intonations as has human speech. On either side its winding staircase in the forest old, old hemlocks rise in columnar dignity and great yellow birches spread the climbing walls of its passageway with a leafy tapestry of gold and green, their once crisp, sun-imprisoning curls of yellow bark all gray with age and as shaggy as those on a centenarian's head. Through such shady glens of cool delight the little brook calls the path up Jackson from its beginnings at the cellar-hole of the old Crawford homestead and the path responds gladly, climbing within sound of this melodious monologue a pleasant part of the way.
Even after it turns, reluctantly one thinks, to breast the slope southward and leave the friendly brook behind, the way leads still through this fine old forest whose moist gloaming fosters the growth of all mosses and through them in turn makes the forest tenure secure. Nor does it pass into the full sun until its two and three-quarters miles to the summit of Jackson are all but completed and it climbs steeply out of dwarf firs and spruces to surmount the bare dome. How excellent the moist moss which deeply clothes stumps, stones and all things else, is for the growing of firs and hemlocks may be easily seen. Here no seedling need fail to grow for lack of moisture, even if it fall on the very top of a high rock. Here is a fir, for instance, beside the path up by Bugle Cliff. Its first rootlets ran from the very top of a boulder down each side of it through this soft, moist covering of moss till they reached the ground beneath. There as the years have passed they sunk deep and the fir has become a fine tree, though the base of its trunk is five feet from the ground and its two big roots straddle the rock on which they first found frail tenure in the thin covering of moss. Once let the sun in on this to dry out the moisture and the seedling would have evaporated with it. Thus the trees protect the moss and the moss protects the trees. Remove either one and the other must go.
This golden gloom and persistent moisture fosters other evergreen growth than firs and mosses. Here thrives and grows beautiful the spinulose wood fern, which seems peculiarly the. fern of the high mountain slopes. But more conspicuous along this path to the summit of Jackson are the polypodys. The polypody stands drought or cold equally well. In either it shrivels and seems to wither, but let the warmth or moisture needed come back and the seemingly blighted fronds fill out and are vigorously alive once more. I often find polypodys in summer on exposed rocks seemingly crisp and dead with the drought. But when the September rains have soaked them I come by again and find them growing as huskily as before. Yet for all their persistence throughout weather torment these ferns are most beautiful and luxuriant in spots where moisture persists, and they have uninterrupted growth throughout their summer season. Such a spot is the deep wood along this trail, and there, on such rocks as they favor, the polypodys set close fronds of a green that seems singularly bright and rich in shade. It may be that the diffused gold of the sunlight in such places brings out greens at their best, but surely nowhere else have I found these little ferns at once so luxuriant in growth and so beautiful in color.
For all that, not all rocks in this delectable woodland bear the picturesque decoration of the polypody fronds. Up by Bugle Cliff are two great cubical boulders. On the level top of one of these is a splendid garden of the little ferns. They cover it with an even matted growth that looks like a marvellously woven and decorated mat covering a mighty footstool that might have been left behind by some recently departing race of giants. Yet within a stone's throw of it is another rock, quite like it in size and shape, on which one or two straggling ferns are trying to get a foothold, but with very indifferent success. So through this as other woodlands it seems to be with the polypody, which is without doubt a fern of feminine nature in spite of its sturdiness. With one rock Miss Polypody will dwell in woodland seclusion most happily all her days; with another of similar shape and size she will have no dallying. The cause is no doubt to be sought in the character of the rock rather than in its figure or consistency. The polypody has a predilection for lime, and it is probable that the rocks which they decorate so faithfully have their characters sweetened by this ingredient.
But in these forest shades if every stone may not bear wilful Miss Polypody upon its breast none goes without decoration of beauty. Without the mosses and lichens the ferns would find little chance for life in any forest, and here they cover all things with a beauty that is as profuse as it is delicate. No rock nor stump nor growing trunk of forest tree but has these, so wonderfully blended in their grays and greens, their olives and browns, that the eye accepts them as a whole and, in such perfect harmony is their adornment, half the time fails to note that they are there at all. Yet one has but to pick out a definite spot and examine it for a moment to be impressed with the prodigality of beauty of the whole. Here, for instance, not far from the point where the trail up Mount Webster diverges from that up Jackson, is a pathside rock of rough, micaceous granite such as mosses love. Its surface slopes like a lean-to roof toward the north and is but a foot or two square. It is no more beautifully, no more diversely decorated than ten thousand other rocks which one may see along the trail. Yet here is a harmony of blending and contrasting colors and forms such as the cleverest human artist with all the fabrics and all the dyes of Christendom might labor in vain to produce.
Tiny fern-like fronds of the dainty cedar moss weave across it a tapestry of golden green, a feathery fabric such as only fairy workmen, laboring patiently for long years, can produce. Yet it is a fabric common to the whole wood, carpeting and upholstering its inequalities for miles. Into this is sparingly wrought an over-pattern of deeper green tufts of the hairy-cap moss, sending up slender stems headed with fruitage and holding the pointed caps which are the fairy headgear. To note these is to realize suddenly that the fairies are still at work under the shadow of the warp and woof of the fabric, though they are too nimble to be seen, however suddenly one may lift it. It is easy to lift the hairy caps, but I refrain. To take even one away is to spoil the perfect symmetry of this pattern which is so complete that every detail, even the most minute, is needed for the harmony of the whole. On one side an hepatic lichen spreads a rosette-like decoration of purple-brown edged with silvery gray, a color that has its answering glints all through the structure of the cedar moss and which joins the brown hepatic in all its roughness to this dainty background.
In another spot is the gray mist of a clump of reindeer lichen, a fine, soft, green-gray mist, blowing across from the other lichen's edge and clouding with its filmy fluff a tiny portion of the picture. It is thus that summer clouds float over the green tops of the forest trees on some days and shadow them with a gray mist for a moment. The reindeer lichen is growing on the stone, but it has all the effect of being blown across it, and I know well that if I look away for a moment it will be gone when I look back. Diagonally across the rock runs a bar dextra of Clintonia leaves, loosely laid in shining green, and in certain groups are the trifoliate scallops of the wood-sorrel. The whole is like a shield of one of the great knights of Arthur's court, heraldic emblazonry thick upon it, hung here in the greenwood while its bearer rests upon his arms or drinks perhaps from the waters of the Silver Cascade brook which I hear swishing coolly down the glen not far away.
But all this decoration, so wonderfully harmonious, so minutely complete in itself, is, on this particular rock, but a background for a clump of pure white Indian pipe blooms, growing in its centre. Ghostlily beautiful, their white glowing by contrast in the green gloom of the place, these blossoms seem the plant embodiment of the cool echo of falling waters that slips along the aisles of flickering, golden light between the brown, straight columns of the firs and hemlocks. The nodding, pallid flowers are as soothing to the sight as is this soft whisper of descending streams to the ear. The forest writes the word "hush" in letters of the Indian pipe blooms.
With eye and ear as well as muscles rested, I go on to the steeper ascent which the path makes through a tangle of firs that diminish in size but increase in numbers as the elevation increases. For long it climbs within sound of Silver Cascade brook, but finally gets too high for it and passes into a little section of silver forest, where for a space all the firs are dead, Most of them still stand erect, the green all gone out of them. Ghosts of the trees they once were, they stand silvery gray in the midst of the green wood, as if a patch of moonlight had forgotten to go when the day came. Into this sunlit place in the surrounding shade of the forest the mountain goldenrod has come till its flowers make all the space beneath the dead trees yellow, a very lake of sunlight. Silver and gold the rocks of the White Mountains may or may not have in their veins, but the White Mountain forests hold the two precious metals in nuggets and pockets and veritable placers for all who will seek.
Not far from this silver forest the path crowds through a dense tangle of dwarf firs and climbs out upon the rough rock dome of Mount Jackson, 4112 feet above the sea level, just rising above the tree line. Here, to be sure, are a few dwarf firs, not knee high, and here climbs plentifully the resinous perfume of their taller brothers just below, but the eye has an uninterrupted sweep of the horizon where few ranges Obstruct. Northward, fifteen miles or so across Oakes Gulf, looms Mount Washington, 2181 feet higher still, and the long ridge of the southern peaks descends from this to Clinton, a mighty wall of perpendicular rock set against the sky. The vast basin of the gulf is always a marvel, with its precipitous walls and its expanse of forested floor, the forest so distant and so close set that it looks like the cedar-moss tapestry on the way up; but nowhere is it more impressive than from the summit of Jackson, with its mighty wall of the Presidential Range for a background. Southeast Kearsarge lifts its clean cone over the jumble of mountains that make the northward walls of the Crawford Notch; southwesterly stands Carrigain, with the pinnacles of the Sandwich Range far beyond; while westerly Lafayette rises above Guyot and the Twins, far over Zealand Notch. Under one's feet, almost, lies the green level of the Fabyan plateau with its huge hotels giving almost the only human touch to the view. Out of this depth of distance swings a flock of eaves-swallows, already, like the occupants of the hotels very likely, planning their southern trip and discussing accommodations and gastronomic possibilities. In the upper woods of the trail I had passed through a considerable flock of Hudsonian chickadees, but these had fallen behind and the only birds of the summit were the swift passing swallows. Here again were the summit herbs of the higher hills, the mountain sandwort, mountain cranberry, creeping snow-berry, Labrador tea, all springing from mosses in scant soil which obtains in the almost level acre of rock which is the top of the mountain.
It is a place on which to make rendezvous with the winds of the world and be sure they will meet you there, yet, strange to relate, on my day on the summit for a long time no winds blew and gauzy-winged insects from the regions below fluttered lazily over the great rock dome. Here were colias, hunter's, mourning cloak and mountain fritillary butterflies, making the place gay with their bright colors. Here were a score of varieties of diptera and hymenoptera, some of astonishing size and peculiarities of wing and leg, some of amazing brilliancy of color, till I wished for a convocation of the Cambridge Entomological Society to name and describe them for me. None of these unexpected mountain flyers was difficult to capture. Neither was I, and I was glad when a sudden breeze from the west sent them all careering down into the Oakes Gulf whence I dare say they came.
Passing the silver forest on my way down I found my Hudsonian chickadee friend in numbers in the firs once more. Much as I have been in the woods about the Presidential Range it is only lately that I have met these interesting birds, and now I seem to find them in increasing numbers, at the head of the Notch, on the northerly slope of Mount Pleasant, and here. I have sought them for long, and at last, as Thoreau said of the wild geese, they fly over my meridian and I am able to bag them by shooting up chimney. Perhaps a more reasonable interpretation would be that now the nestlings are full fledged and the increased flocks beginning to range far in search of food, August passes and the wind out of the north has sometimes in it a zest that collects flocks and sets the migratory instinct to throbbing in many a bird's breast.
No tang of the north wind could touch the heart of the deep woods down the trail, but there, too, as I descended I found the promise of autumn written in many colored characters in the enchanting gloom. The Clintonias spelled it in the Prussian blue ink of their ripe berries. The creeping snowberry had done it in white and the Mitchella, Gaultheria, and Trillium in varying shades of red. Even the Indian pipe which writes "hush" and "peace" all along the forest floor in late summer seems in this way to tell of the season of rough winds, migrating birds and falling scarlet leaves that is just ahead of us. Its pallid attempt to hold the full glory of the ripened summer where it is cannot succeed here on the high northern hills where the summer is at best but a brief sojourner. Rather, for all its desires, it seems but a pale flower of sleep, presaging that white forgetfulness of snow that will presently descend through the whispering hemlock leaves and blot out all this writing on the forest floor.
Ah, these wise old hemlocks of the deep trails of the Northern woods! These indeed of the forest primeval,
"Bearded with moss, in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar with beards that rest on their bosoms."
These are the wise old men of the woods. Erect and tall, of mighty compactness of muscles and shaggy headed with deep green, conical capes shielding crown and shoulders, they seem less trees than woodland deities, and to stand among them is to be present at an assembly of demigods of the forest. The wisdom of centuries, blown about the world by the west winds, finds voice in their whispering leaves, and I, listening in the cool twilight below, hear it told in forest runes. Some day someone who loves the woods enough shall learn to translate this runic rhyme of the harper hemlocks as their tops chant to the west wind and send the music down the listening forest aisles where the Indian pipes whitely whisper "hush" and "peace" — and the translator will be very wise thereby.
He who climbs Jackson shall see much beauty of wild gulfs and rugged peaks, and this I saw, But more vividly in my memory of the trip linger the sunny glade under the silver firs all yellow with its flood of goldenrod, and the moss-clad rocks with their messages written in white Indian pipe blooms. Most vivid of all is the personality of those stately old-man hemlocks that stand with such dignity, making the deep woods along the trail.