List Of Contents | Contents of On Horseback by Charles Dudley Warner
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ground damp.  Doubtless a high mountain covered with vegetation has
its compensation, but for me the naked granite rocks in sun and
shower are more cheerful.

The advantage of Roan is that one can live there and be occupied for
a long time in mineral and botanical study.  Its mild climate,
moisture, and great elevation make it unique in this country for the
botanist.  The variety of plants assembled there is very large, and
there are many, we were told, never or rarely found elsewhere in the
United States.  At any rate, the botanists rave about Roan Mountain,
and spend weeks at a time on it.  We found there ladies who could
draw for us Grey's lily (then passed), and had kept specimens of the
rhododendron (not growing elsewhere in this region) which has a deep
red, almost purple color.

The hotel (since replaced by a good house) was a rude mountain
structure, with a couple of comfortable rooms for office and sitting-
room, in which big wood fires were blazing; for though the
thermometer might record 60 deg., as it did when we arrived, fire was
welcome.  Sleeping-places partitioned off in the loft above gave the
occupants a feeling of camping out, all the conveniences being
primitive; and when the wind rose in the night and darkness, and the
loose boards rattled and the timbers creaked, the sensation was not
unlike that of being at sea.  The hotel was satisfactorily kept, and
Southern guests, from as far south as New Orleans, were spending the
season there, and not finding time hang heavy on their hands.  This
statement is perhaps worth more than pages of description as to the
character of Roan, and its contrast to Mount Washington.

The summer weather is exceedingly uncertain on all these North
Carolina mountains; they are apt at any moment to be enveloped in
mist; and it would rather rain on them than not.  On the afternoon of
our arrival there was fine air and fair weather, but not a clear sky.
The distance was hazy, but the outlines were preserved.  We could see
White Top, in Virginia; Grandfather Mountain, a long serrated range;
the twin towers of Linville; and the entire range of the Black
Mountains, rising from the valley, and apparently lower than we were.
They get the name of Black from the balsams which cover the summits.

The rain on Roan was of less annoyance by reason of the delightful
company assembled at the hotel, which was in a manner at home there,
and, thrown upon its own resources, came out uncommonly strong in
agreeableness.  There was a fiddle in the house, which had some of
the virtues of that celebrated in the history of old Mark Langston;
the Professor was enabled to produce anything desired out of the
literature of the eighteenth century; and what with the repartee of
bright women, big wood fires, reading, and chat, there was no dull
day or evening on Roan.  I can fancy, however, that it might tire in
time, if one were not a botanist, without the resource of women's
society.  The ladies staying here were probably all accomplished
botanists, and the writer is indebted to one of them for a list of
plants found on Roan, among which is an interesting weed, catalogued
as Humana, perplexia negligens.  The species is, however, common

The second morning opened, after a night of high wind, with a
thunder-shower.  After it passed, the visitors tried to reach Eagle
Cliff, two miles off, whence an extensive western prospect is had,
but were driven back by a tempest, and rain practically occupied the
day.  Now and then through the parted clouds we got a glimpse of a
mountain-side, or the gleam of a valley.  On the lower mountains, at
wide intervals apart, were isolated settlements, commonly a wretched
cabin and a spot of girdled trees.  A clergyman here, not long ago,
undertook to visit some of these cabins and carry his message to
them.  In one wretched hut of logs he found a poor woman, with whom,
after conversation on serious subjects, he desired to pray.  She
offered no objection, and he kneeled down and prayed.  The woman
heard him, and watched him for some moments with curiosity, in an
effort to ascertain what he was doing, and then said:

"Why, a man did that when he put my girl in a hole."

Towards night the wind hauled round from the south to the northwest,
and we went to High Bluff, a point on the north edge, where some
rocks are piled up above the evergreens, to get a view of the sunset.
In every direction the mountains were clear, and a view was obtained
of the vast horizon and the hills and lowlands of several States--a
continental prospect, scarcely anywhere else equaled for variety or
distance.  The grandeur of mountains depends mostly on the state of
the atmosphere.  Grandfather loomed up much more loftily than the day
before, the giant range of the Blacks asserted itself in grim
inaccessibility, and we could see, a small pyramid on the southwest
horizon, King's Mountain in South Carolina, estimated to be distant
one hundred and fifty miles.  To the north Roan falls from this point
abruptly, and we had, like a map below us, the low country all the
way into Virginia.  The clouds lay like lakes in the valleys of the
lower hills, and in every direction were ranges of mountains wooded
to the summits.  Off to the west by south lay the Great Smoky
Mountains, disputing eminence with the Blacks.

Magnificent and impressive as the spectacle was, we were obliged to
contrast it unfavorably with that of the White Hills.  The rock here
is a sort of sand or pudding stone; there is no limestone or granite.
And all the hills are tree-covered.  To many this clothing of verdure
is most restful and pleasing.  I missed the sharp outlines, the
delicate artistic sky lines, sharply defined in uplifted bare granite
peaks and ridges, with the purple and violet color of the northern
mountains, and which it seems to me that limestone and granite
formations give.  There are none of the great gorges and awful
abysses of the White Mountains, both valleys and mountains here being
more uniform in outline.  There are few precipices and jutting crags,
and less is visible of the giant ribs and bones of the planet.

Yet Roan is a noble mountain.  A lady from Tennessee asked me if I
had ever seen anything to compare with it--she thought there could be
nothing in the world.  One has to dodge this sort of question in the
South occasionally, not to offend a just local pride.  It is
certainly one of the most habitable of big mountains.  It is roomy on
top, there is space to move about without too great fatigue, and one
might pleasantly spend a season there, if he had agreeable company
and natural tastes.

Getting down from Roan on the south side is not as easy as ascending
on the north; the road for five miles to the foot of the mountain is
merely a river of pebbles, gullied by the heavy rains, down which the
horses picked their way painfully.  The travelers endeavored to
present a dashing and cavalier appearance to the group of ladies who
waved good-by from the hotel, as they took their way over the waste
and wind-blown declivities, but it was only a show, for the horses
would neither caracole nor champ the bit (at a dollar a day) down-
hill over the slippery stones, and, truth to tell, the wanderers
turned with regret from the society of leisure and persiflage to face
the wilderness of Mitchell County.

"How heavy," exclaimed the Professor, pricking Laura Matilda to call
her attention sharply to her footing

    "How heavy do I journey on the way,
     When what I seek--my weary travel's end
     Doth teach that ease and that repose to say,
     Thus far the miles are measur'd from thy friend!
     The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
     Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
     As if by some instinct the wretch did know
     His rider loved not speed, being made from thee:
     The bloody spur cannot provoke him on
     That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,
     Which heavily he answers with a groan,
     More sharp to me than spurring to his side;
     For that same groan doth put this in my mind;
     My grief lies onward and my joy behind."

This was not spoken to the group who fluttered their farewells, but
poured out to the uncomplaining forest, which rose up in ever
statelier--and grander ranks to greet the travelers as they
descended--the silent, vast forest, without note of bird or chip of
squirrel, only the wind tossing the great branches high overhead in
response to the sonnet.  Is there any region or circumstance of life
that the poet did not forecast and provide for?  But what would have
been his feelings if he could have known that almost three centuries
after these lines were penned, they would be used to express the
emotion of an unsentimental traveler in the primeval forests of the
New World?  At any rate, he peopled the New World with the children
of his imagination.  And, thought the Friend, whose attention to his
horse did not permit him to drop into poetry, Shakespeare might have
had a vision of this vast continent, though he did not refer to it,
when he exclaimed:

    "What is your substance, whereof are you made,
     That millions of strange shadows on you tend?"

Bakersville, the capital of Mitchell County, is eight miles from the
top of Roan, and the last three miles of the way the horsemen found
tolerable going, over which the horses could show their paces.  The
valley looked fairly thrifty and bright, and was a pleasing
introduction to Bakersville, a pretty place in the hills, of some six
hundred inhabitants, with two churches, three indifferent hotels, and
a court-house.  This mountain town, 2550 feet above the sea, is said
to have a decent winter climate, with little snow, favorable to
fruit-growing, and, by contrast with New England, encouraging to
people with weak lungs.

This is the center of the mica mining, and of considerable excitement
about minerals.  All around, the hills are spotted with "diggings."
Most of the mines which yield well show signs of having been worked
before, a very long time ago, no doubt by the occupants before the

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