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List Of Contents | Contents of In the Wilderness, by Charles Dudley Warner
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small, delicate berries, oblong and white as wax, having a faint
flavor of wintergreen and the slightest acid taste, the very essence
of the wilderness; fairy food, no doubt, and too refined for palates
accustomed to coarser viands.  There must exist somewhere sinless
women who could eat these berries without being reminded of the lost
purity and delicacy of the primeval senses.  Every year I doubt not
this stainless berry ripens here, and is unplucked by any knight of
the Holy Grail who is worthy to eat it, and keeps alive, in the
prodigality of nature, the tradition of the unperverted conditions of
taste before the fall.  We ate these berries, I am bound to say, with
a sense of guilty enjoyment, as if they had been a sort of shew-bread
of the wilderness, though I cannot answer for the chaplain, who is by
virtue of his office a little nearer to these mysteries of nature
than I.  This plant belongs to the heath family, and is first cousin
to the blueberry and cranberry.  It is commonly called the creeping
snowberry, but I like better its official title of chiogenes,--the
snow-born.

Our mossy resting-place was named the Bridal Chamber Camp, in the
enthusiasm of the hour, after darkness fell upon the woods and the
stars came out.  We were two thousand five hundred feet above the
common world.  We lay, as it were, on a shelf in the sky, with a
basin of illimitable forests below us and dim mountain-passes-in the
far horizon.

And as we lay there courting sleep which the blinking stars refused
to shower down, our philosopher discoursed to us of the principle of
fire, which he holds, with the ancients, to be an independent element
that comes and goes in a mysterious manner, as we see flame spring up
and vanish, and is in some way vital and indestructible, and has a
mysterious relation to the source of all things.  "That flame," he
says, "you have put out, but where has it gone?" We could not say,
nor whether it is anything like the spirit of a man which is here for
a little hour, and then vanishes away.  Our own philosophy of the
correlation of forces found no sort of favor at that elevation, and
we went to sleep leaving the principle of fire in the apostolic
category of " any other creature."

At daylight we were astir; and, having pressed the principle of fire
into our service to make a pot of tea, we carefully extinguished it
or sent it into another place, and addressed ourselves to the climb
of some thing over two thousand feet.  The arduous labor of scaling
an Alpine peak has a compensating glory; but the dead lift of our
bodies up Nipple Top had no stimulus of this sort.  It is simply hard
work, for which the strained muscles only get the approbation of the
individual conscience that drives them to the task.  The pleasure of
such an ascent is difficult to explain on the spot, and I suspect
consists not so much in positive enjoyment as in the delight the mind
experiences in tyrannizing over the body.  I do not object to the
elevation of this mountain, nor to the uncommonly steep grade by
which it attains it, but only to the other obstacles thrown in the
way of the climber.  All the slopes of Nipple Top are hirsute and
jagged to the last degree.  Granite ledges interpose; granite
bowlders seem to have been dumped over the sides with no more attempt
at arrangement than in a rip-rap wall; the slashes and windfalls of a
century present here and there an almost impenetrable chevalier des
arbres; and the steep sides bristle with a mass of thick balsams,
with dead, protruding spikes, as unyielding as iron stakes.  The
mountain has had its own way forever, and is as untamed as a wolf; or
rather the elements, the frightful tempests, the frosts, the heavy
snows, the coaxing sun, and the avalanches have had their way with it
until its surface is in hopeless confusion.  We made our way very
slowly; and it was ten o'clock before we reached what appeared to be
the summit, a ridge deeply covered with moss, low balsams, and
blueberry-bushes.

I say, appeared to be; for we stood in thick fog or in the heart of
clouds which limited our dim view to a radius of twenty feet.  It was
a warm and cheerful fog, stirred by little wind, but moving,
shifting, and boiling as by its own volatile nature, rolling up black
from below and dancing in silvery splendor overhead As a fog it could
not have been improved; as a medium for viewing the landscape it was
a failure and we lay down upon the Sybarite couch of moss, as in a
Russian bath, to await revelations.

We waited two hours without change, except an occasional hopeful
lightness in the fog above, and at last the appearance for a moment
of the spectral sun.  Only for an instant was this luminous promise
vouchsafed.  But we watched in intense excitement.  There it was
again; and this time the fog was so thin overhead that we caught
sight of a patch of blue sky a yard square, across which the curtain
was instantly drawn.  A little wind was stirring, and the fog boiled
up from the valley caldrons thicker than ever.  But the spell was
broken.  In a moment more Old Phelps was shouting, "The sun!" and
before we could gain our feet there was a patch of sky overhead as
big as a farm.  "See! quick!"  The old man was dancing like a
lunatic.  There was a rift in the vapor at our feet, down, down,
three thousand feet into the forest abyss, and lo! lifting out of it
yonder the tawny side of Dix,--the vision of a second, snatched away
in the rolling fog.  The play had just begun.  Before we could turn,
there was the gorge of Caribou Pass, savage and dark, visible to the
bottom.  The opening shut as suddenly; and then, looking over the
clouds, miles away we saw the peaceful farms of the Au Sable Valley,
and in a moment more the plateau of North Elba and the sentinel
mountains about the grave of John Brown.  These glimpses were as
fleeting as thought, and instantly we were again isolated in the sea
of mist.  The expectation of these sudden strokes of sublimity kept
us exultingly on the alert; and yet it was a blow of surprise when
the curtain was swiftly withdrawn on the west, and the long ridge of
Colvin, seemingly within a stone's throw, heaved up like an island
out of the ocean, and was the next moment ingulfed.  We waited longer
for Dix to show its shapely peak and its glistening sides of rock
gashed by avalanches.  The fantastic clouds, torn and streaming,
hurried up from the south in haste as if to a witch's rendezvous,
hiding and disclosing the great summit in their flight.  The mist
boiled up from the valley, whirled over the summit where we stood,
and plunged again into the depths.  Objects were forming and
disappearing, shifting and dancing, now in sun and now gone in fog,
and in the elemental whirl we felt that we were "assisting" in an
original process of creation.  The sun strove, and his very striving
called up new vapors; the wind rent away the clouds, and brought new
masses to surge about us; and the spectacle to right and left, above
and below, changed with incredible swiftness.  Such glory of abyss
and summit, of color and form and transformation, is seldom granted
to mortal eyes.  For an hour we watched it until our vast mountain
was revealed in all its bulk, its long spurs, its abysses and its
savagery, and the great basins of wilderness with their shining
lakes, and the giant peaks of the region, were one by one disclosed,
and hidden and again tranquil in the sunshine.

Where was the cave?  There was ample surface in which to look for it.
If we could have flitted about, like the hawks that came circling
round, over the steep slopes, the long spurs, the jagged precipices,
I have no doubt we should have found it.  But moving about on this
mountain is not a holiday pastime; and we were chiefly anxious to
discover a practicable mode of descent into the great wilderness
basin on the south, which we must traverse that afternoon before
reaching the hospitable shanty on Mud Pond.  It was enough for us to
have discovered the general whereabouts of the Spanish Cave, and we
left the fixing of its exact position to future explorers.

The spur we chose for our escape looked smooth in the distance; but
we found it bristling with obstructions, dead balsams set thickly
together, slashes of fallen timber, and every manner of woody chaos;
and when at length we swung and tumbled off the ledge to the general
slope, we exchanged only for more disagreeable going.  The slope for
a couple of thousand feet was steep enough; but it was formed of
granite rocks all moss-covered, so that the footing could not be
determined, and at short intervals we nearly went out of sight in
holes under the treacherous carpeting.  Add to this that stems of
great trees were laid longitudinally and transversely and criss-cross
over and among the rocks, and the reader can see that a good deal of
work needs to be done to make this a practicable highway for anything
but a squirrel....

We had had no water since our daylight breakfast: our lunch on the
mountain had been moistened only by the fog.  Our thirst began to be
that of Tantalus, because we could hear the water running deep down
among the rocks, but we could not come at it.  The imagination drank
the living stream, and we realized anew what delusive food the
imagination furnishes in an actual strait.  A good deal of the crime
of this world, I am convinced, is the direct result of the unlicensed
play of the imagination in adverse circumstances.  This reflection
had nothing to do with our actual situation; for we added to our
imagination patience, and to our patience long-suffering, and
probably all the Christian virtues would have been developed in us if
the descent had been long enough.  Before we reached the bottom of
Caribou Pass, the water burst out from the rocks in a clear stream
that was as cold as ice.  Shortly after, we struck the roaring brook
that issues from the Pass to the south.  It is a stream full of
character, not navigable even for trout in the upper part, but a
succession of falls, cascades, flumes, and pools that would delight
an artist.  It is not an easy bed for anything except water to

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