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List Of Contents | Contents of In the Wilderness, by Charles Dudley Warner
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its faces in the lake, it is disorganized, but cheerful.  Nobody
admits much sleep; but everybody is refreshed, and declares it
delightful.  It is the fresh air all night that invigorates; or maybe
it is the tea, or the slap-jacks.  The guides have erected a table of
spruce bark, with benches at the sides; so that breakfast is taken in
form.  It is served on tin plates and oak chips.  After breakfast
begins the day's work.  It may be a mountain-climbing expedition, or
rowing and angling in the lake, or fishing for trout in some stream
two or three miles distant.  Nobody can stir far from camp without a
guide.  Hammocks are swung, bowers are built novel-reading begins,
worsted work appears, cards are shuffled and dealt.  The day passes
in absolute freedom from responsibility to one's self.  At night when
the expeditions return, the camp resumes its animation.  Adventures
are recounted, every statement of the narrator being disputed and
argued.  Everybody has become an adept in woodcraft; but nobody
credits his neighbor with like instinct.  Society getting resolved
into its elements, confidence is gone.

Whilst the hilarious party are at supper, a drop or two of rain
falls.  The head guide is appealed to.  Is it going to rain?  He says
it does rain.  But will it be a rainy night?  The guide goes down to
the lake, looks at the sky, and concludes that, if the wind shifts a
p'int more, there is no telling what sort of weather we shall have.
Meantime the drops patter thicker on the leaves overhead, and the
leaves, in turn, pass the water down to the table; the sky darkens;
the wind rises; there is a kind of shiver in the woods; and we scud
away into the shanty, taking the remains of our supper, and eating it
as best we can.  The rain increases.  The fire sputters and fumes.
All the trees are dripping, dripping, and the ground is wet.  We
cannot step outdoors without getting a drenching.  Like sheep, we are
penned in the little hut, where no one can stand erect.  The rain
swirls into the open front, and wets the bottom of the blankets.  The
smoke drives in.  We curl up, and enjoy ourselves.  The guides at
length conclude that it is going to be damp.  The dismal situation
sets us all into good spirits; and it is later than the night before
when we crawl under our blankets, sure this time of a sound sleep,
lulled by the storm and the rain resounding on the bark roof.  How
much better off we are than many a shelter-less wretch!  We are as
snug as dry herrings.  At the moment, however, of dropping off to
sleep, somebody unfortunately notes a drop of water on his face; this
is followed by another drop; in an instant a stream is established.
He moves his head to a dry place.  Scarcely has he done so, when he
feels a dampness in his back.  Reaching his hand outside, he finds a
puddle of water soaking through his blanket.  By this time, somebody
inquires if it is possible that the roof leaks.  One man has a stream
of water under him; another says it is coming into his ear.  The roof
appears to be a discriminating sieve.  Those who are dry see no need
of such a fuss.  The man in the corner spreads his umbrella, and the
protective measure is resented by his neighbor.  In the darkness
there is recrimination.  One of the guides, who is summoned, suggests
that the rubber blankets be passed out, and spread over the roof.
The inmates dislike the proposal, saying that a shower-bath is no
worse than a tub-bath.  The rain continues to soak down.  The fire is
only half alive.  The bedding is damp.  Some sit up, if they can find
a dry spot to sit on, and smoke.  Heartless observations are made.  A
few sleep.  And the night wears on.  The morning opens cheerless.
The sky is still leaking, and so is the shanty.  The guides bring in
a half-cooked breakfast.  The roof is patched up.  There are reviving
signs of breaking away, delusive signs that create momentary
exhilaration.  Even if the storm clears, the woods are soaked.  There
is no chance of stirring.  The world is only ten feet square.

This life, without responsibility or clean clothes, may continue as
long as the reader desires.  There are, those who would like to live
in this free fashion forever, taking rain and sun as heaven pleases;
and there are some souls so constituted that they cannot exist more
than three days without their worldly--baggage.  Taking the party
altogether, from one cause or another it is likely to strike camp
sooner than was intended.  And the stricken camp is a melancholy
sight.  The woods have been despoiled; the stumps are ugly; the
bushes are scorched; the pine-leaf-strewn earth is trodden into mire;
the landing looks like a cattle-ford; the ground is littered with all
the unsightly dibris of a hand-to-hand life; the dismantled shanty is
a shabby object; the charred and blackened logs, where the fire
blazed, suggest the extinction of family life.  Man has wrought his
usual wrong upon Nature, and he can save his self-respect only by
moving to virgin forests.

And move to them he will, the next season, if not this.  For he who
has once experienced the fascination of the woods-life never escapes
its enticement: in the memory nothing remains but its charm.




VII

A WILDERNESS ROMANCE

At the south end of Keene Valley, in the Adirondacks, stands Noon
Mark, a shapely peak thirty-five hundred feet above the sea, which,
with the aid of the sun, tells the Keene people when it is time to
eat dinner.  From its summit you look south into a vast wilderness
basin, a great stretch of forest little trodden, and out of whose
bosom you can hear from the heights on a still day the loud murmur of
the Boquet.  This basin of unbroken green rises away to the south and
southeast into the rocky heights of Dix's Peak and Nipple Top,--the
latter a local name which neither the mountain nor the fastidious
tourist is able to shake off.  Indeed, so long as the mountain keeps
its present shape as seen from the southern lowlands, it cannot get
on without this name.

These two mountains, which belong to the great system of which Marcy
is the giant centre, and are in the neighborhood of five thousand
feet high, on the southern outposts of the great mountains, form the
gate-posts of the pass into the south country.  This opening between
them is called Hunter's Pass.  It is the most elevated and one of the
wildest of the mountain passes.  Its summit is thirty-five hundred
feet high.  In former years it is presumed the hunters occasionally
followed the game through; but latterly it is rare to find a guide
who has been that way, and the tin-can and paper-collar tourists have
not yet made it a runway.  This seclusion is due not to any inherent
difficulty of travel, but to the fact that it lies a little out of
the way.

We went through it last summer; making our way into the jaws from the
foot of the great slides on Dix, keeping along the ragged spurs of
the mountain through the virgin forest.  The pass is narrow, walled
in on each side by precipices of granite, and blocked up with
bowlders and fallen trees, and beset with pitfalls in the roads
ingeniously covered with fair-seeming moss.  When the climber
occasionally loses sight of a leg in one of these treacherous holes,
and feels a cold sensation in his foot, he learns that he has dipped
into the sources of the Boquet, which emerges lower down into falls
and rapids, and, recruited by creeping tributaries, goes brawling
through the forest basin, and at last comes out an amiable and boat-
bearing stream in the valley of Elizabeth Town.  From the summit
another rivulet trickles away to the south, and finds its way through
a frightful tamarack swamp, and through woods scarred by ruthless
lumbering, to Mud Pond, a quiet body of water, with a ghastly fringe
of dead trees, upon which people of grand intentions and weak
vocabulary are trying to fix the name of Elk Lake.  The descent of
the pass on that side is precipitous and exciting.  The way is in the
stream itself; and a considerable portion of the distance we swung
ourselves down the faces of considerable falls, and tumbled down
cascades.  The descent, however, was made easy by the fact that it
rained, and every footstep was yielding and slippery.  Why sane
people, often church-members respectably connected, will subject
themselves to this sort of treatment,--be wet to the skin, bruised by
the rocks, and flung about among the bushes and dead wood until the
most necessary part of their apparel hangs in shreds,--is one of the
delightful mysteries of these woods.  I suspect that every man is at
heart a roving animal, and likes, at intervals, to revert to the
condition of the bear and the catamount.

There is no trail through Hunter's Pass, which, as I have intimated,
is the least frequented portion of this wilderness.  Yet we were
surprised to find a well-beaten path a considerable portion of the
way and wherever a path is possible.  It was not a mere deer's
runway: these are found everywhere in the mountains.  It is trodden
by other and larger animals, and is, no doubt, the highway of beasts.
It bears marks of having been so for a long period, and probably a
period long ago.  Large animals are not common in these woods now,
and you seldom meet anything fiercer than the timid deer and the
gentle bear.  But in days gone by, Hunter's Pass was the highway of
the whole caravan of animals who were continually going backward; and
forwards, in the aimless, roaming way that beasts have, between Mud
Pond and the Boquet Basin.  I think I can see now the procession of
them between the heights of Dix and Nipple Top; the elk and the moose
shambling along, cropping the twigs; the heavy bear lounging by with
his exploring nose; the frightened deer trembling at every twig that
snapped beneath his little hoofs, intent on the lily-pads of the
pond; the raccoon and the hedgehog, sidling along; and the velvet-
footed panther, insouciant and conscienceless, scenting the path with
a curious glow in his eye, or crouching in an overhanging tree ready
to drop into the procession at the right moment.  Night and day, year

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