Make your own free website on

List Of Contents | Contents of In the Wilderness, by Charles Dudley Warner
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

mountain, we came upon the traces of this brute,--a spot where he had
stood and cried in the night; and I confess that my hair rose with
the consciousness of his recent presence, as it is said to do when a
spirit passes by.

Whatever consolation the absence of catamount in a dark, drenched,
and howling wilderness can impart, that I experienced; but I thought
what a satire upon my present condition was modern culture, with its
plain thinking and high living!  It was impossible to get much
satisfaction out of the real and the ideal,--the me and the not-me.
At this time what impressed me most was the absurdity of my position
looked at in the light of modern civilization and all my advantages
and acquirements.  It seemed pitiful that society could do absolutely
nothing for me.  It was, in fact, humiliating to reflect that it
would now be profitable to exchange all my possessions for the woods
instinct of the most unlettered guide.  I began to doubt the value of
the "culture" that blunts the natural instincts.

It began to be a question whether I could hold out to walk all night;
for I must travel, or perish.  And now I imagined that a spectre was
walking by my side.  This was Famine.  To be sure, I had only
recently eaten a hearty luncheon: but the pangs of hunger got hold on
me when I thought that I should have no supper, no breakfast; and, as
the procession of unattainable meals stretched before me, I grew
hungrier and hungrier.  I could feel that I was becoming gaunt, and
wasting away: already I seemed to be emaciated.  It is astonishing
how speedily a jocund, well-conditioned human being can be
transformed into a spectacle of poverty and want, Lose a man in the
Woods, drench him, tear his pantaloons, get his imagination running
on his lost supper and the cheerful fireside that is expecting him,
and he will become haggard in an hour.  I am not dwelling upon these
things to excite the reader's sympathy, but only to advise him, if he
contemplates an adventure of this kind, to provide himself with
matches, kindling wood, something more to eat than one raw trout, and
not to select a rainy night for it.

Nature is so pitiless, so unresponsive, to a person in trouble!  I
had read of the soothing companionship of the forest, the pleasure of
the pathless woods.  But I thought, as I stumbled along in the dismal
actuality, that, if I ever got out of it, I would write a letter to
the newspapers, exposing the whole thing.  There is an impassive,
stolid brutality about the woods that has never been enough insisted
on.  I tried to keep my mind fixed upon the fact of man's superiority
to Nature; his ability to dominate and outwit her.  My situation was
an amusing satire on this theory.  I fancied that I could feel a
sneer in the woods at my detected conceit.  There was something
personal in it.  The downpour of the rain and the slipperiness of the
ground were elements of discomfort; but there was, besides these, a
kind of terror in the very character of the forest itself.  I think
this arose not more from its immensity than from the kind of
stolidity to which I have alluded.  It seemed to me that it would be
a sort of relief to kick the trees.  I don't wonder that the bears
fall to, occasionally, and scratch the bark off the great pines and
maples, tearing it angrily away.  One must have some vent to his
feelings.  It is a common experience of people lost in the woods to
lose their heads; and even the woodsmen themselves are not free from
this panic when some accident has thrown them out of their reckoning.
Fright unsettles the judgment: the oppressive silence of the woods is
a vacuum in which the mind goes astray.  It's a hollow sham, this
pantheism, I said; being "one with Nature" is all humbug: I should
like to see somebody.  Man, to be sure, is of very little account,
and soon gets beyond his depth; but the society of the least human
being is better than this gigantic indifference.  The "rapture on the
lonely shore" is agreeable only when you know you can at any moment
go home.

I had now given up all expectation of finding the road, and was
steering my way as well as I could northward towards the valley.  In
my haste I made slow progress.  Probably the distance I traveled was
short, and the time consumed not long; but I seemed to be adding mile
to mile, and hour to hour.  I had time to review the incidents of the
Russo-Turkish war, and to forecast the entire Eastern question; I
outlined the characters of all my companions left in camp, and
sketched in a sort of comedy the sympathetic and disparaging
observations they would make on my adventure; I repeated something
like a thousand times, without contradiction, "What a fool you were
to leave the river!"  I stopped twenty times, thinking I heard its
loud roar, always deceived by the wind in the tree-tops; I began to
entertain serious doubts about the compass,--when suddenly I became
aware that I was no longer on level ground: I was descending a slope;
I was actually in a ravine.  In a moment more I was in a brook newly
formed by the rain.  "Thank Heaven!" I cried: "this I shall follow,
whatever conscience or the compass says."  In this region, all
streams go, sooner or later, into the valley.  This ravine, this
stream, no doubt, led to the river.  I splashed and tumbled along
down it in mud and water.  Down hill we went together, the fall
showing that I must have wandered to high ground.  When I guessed
that I must be close to the river, I suddenly stepped into mud up to
my ankles.  It was the road,--running, of course, the wrong way, but
still the blessed road.  It was a mere canal of liquid mud; but man
had made it, and it would take me home.  I was at least three miles
from the point I supposed I was near at sunset, and I had before me a
toilsome walk of six or seven miles, most of the way in a ditch; but
it is truth to say that I enjoyed every step of it.  I was safe; I
knew where I was; and I could have walked till morning.  The mind had
again got the upper hand of the body, and began to plume itself on
its superiority: it was even disposed to doubt whether it had been
"lost" at all.



Trout fishing in the Adirondacks would be a more attractive pastime
than it is but for the popular notion of its danger.  The trout is a
retiring and harmless animal, except when he is aroused and forced
into a combat; and then his agility, fierceness, and vindictiveness
become apparent.  No one who has studied the excellent pictures
representing men in an open boat, exposed to the assaults of long,
enraged trout flying at them through the open air with open mouth,
ever ventures with his rod upon the lonely lakes of the forest
without a certain terror, or ever reads of the exploits of daring
fishermen without a feeling of admiration for their heroism.  Most of
their adventures are thrilling, and all of them are, in narration,
more or less unjust to the trout: in fact, the object of them seems
to be to exhibit, at the expense of the trout, the shrewdness, the
skill, and the muscular power of the sportsman.  My own simple story
has few of these recommendations.

We had built our bark camp one summer and were staying on one of the
popular lakes of the Saranac region.  It would be a very pretty
region if it were not so flat, if the margins of the lakes had not
been flooded by dams at the outlets, which have killed the trees, and
left a rim of ghastly deadwood like the swamps of the under-world
pictured by Dore's bizarre pencil,--and if the pianos at the hotels
were in tune.  It would be an excellent sporting region also (for
there is water enough) if the fish commissioners would stock the
waters, and if previous hunters had not pulled all the hair and skin
off from the deers' tails.  Formerly sportsmen had a habit of
catching the deer by the tails, and of being dragged in mere
wantonness round and round the shores.  It is well known that if you
seize a deer by this "holt" the skin will slip off like the peel from
a banana--This reprehensible practice was carried so far that the
traveler is now hourly pained by the sight of peeled-tail deer
mournfully sneaking about the wood.

We had been hearing, for weeks, of a small lake in the heart of the
virgin forest, some ten miles from our camp, which was alive with
trout, unsophisticated, hungry trout: the inlet to it was described
as stiff with them.  In my imagination I saw them lying there in
ranks and rows, each a foot long, three tiers deep, a solid mass.
The lake had never been visited except by stray sable hunters in the
winter, and was known as the Unknown Pond.  I determined to explore
it, fully expecting, however, that it would prove to be a delusion,
as such mysterious haunts of the trout usually are.  Confiding my
purpose to Luke, we secretly made our preparations, and stole away
from the shanty one morning at daybreak.  Each of us carried a boat,
a pair of blankets, a sack of bread, pork, and maple-sugar; while I
had my case of rods, creel, and book of flies, and Luke had an axe
and the kitchen utensils.  We think nothing of loads of this sort in
the woods.

Five miles through a tamarack swamp brought us to the inlet of
Unknown Pond, upon which we embarked our fleet, and paddled down its
vagrant waters.  They were at first sluggish, winding among triste
fir-trees, but gradually developed a strong current.  At the end of
three miles a loud roar ahead warned us that we were approaching
rapids, falls, and cascades.  We paused.  The danger was unknown.  We
had our choice of shouldering our loads and making a detour through
the woods, or of "shooting the rapids." Naturally we chose the more
dangerous course.  Shooting the rapids has often been described, and
I will not repeat the description here.  It is needless to say that I
drove my frail bark through the boiling rapids, over the successive
waterfalls, amid rocks and vicious eddies, and landed, half a mile
below with whitened hair and a boat half full of water; and that the
guide was upset, and boat, contents, and man were strewn along the

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: