Part 4 out of 4
too. Sang, in desperation, seized a pole, but the cow
dashed such a feeble weapon aside. Sang caught
sight of a little opening, too small for cows, back
into the main corral. He squeezed through. The
cow crashed through after him, smashing the boards.
At the crucial moment Sang tripped and fell on his
face. The cow missed him by so close a margin that
for a moment we thought she had hit. But she had
not, and before she could turn, Sang had topped the
fence and was halfway to the kitchen. Tom Waters
always maintained that he spread his Chinese sleeves
and flew. Shortly after a tremendous smoke arose from
the kitchen chimney. Sang had gone back to cooking.
Now that Mongolian was really in great danger,
but no one of the outfit thought for a moment of
any but the humorous aspect of the affair. Analogously,
in a certain small cow-town I happened to be
transient when the postmaster shot a Mexican.
Nothing was done about it. The man went right on
being postmaster, but he had to set up the drinks
because he had hit the Mexican in the stomach.
That was considered a poor place to hit a man.
The entire town of Willcox knocked off work for
nearly a day to while away the tedium of an enforced
wait there on my part. They wanted me to go fishing.
One man offered a team, the other a saddle-horse. All
expended much eloquence in directing me accurately, so
that I should be sure to find exactly the spot where
I could hang my feet over a bank beneath which there
were "a plumb plenty of fish." Somehow or other
they raked out miscellaneous tackle. But they were a
little too eager. I excused myself and hunted up a
map. Sure enough the lake was there, but it had been
dry since a previous geological period. The fish were
undoubtedly there too, but they were fossil fish. I
borrowed a pickaxe and shovel and announced myself
as ready to start.
Outside the principal saloon in one town hung a
gong. When a stranger was observed to enter the
saloon, that gong was sounded. Then it behooved him
to treat those who came in answer to the summons.
But when it comes to a case of real hospitality
or helpfulness, your cowboy is there every time.
You are welcome to food and shelter without price,
whether he is at home or not. Only it is etiquette to
leave your name and thanks pinned somewhere about
the place. Otherwise your intrusion may be
considered in the light of a theft, and you may be
Contrary to general opinion, the cowboy is not
a dangerous man to those not looking for trouble.
There are occasional exceptions, of course, but they
belong to the universal genus of bully, and can be
found among any class. Attend to your own business,
be cool and good-natured, and your skin is
safe. Then when it is really "up to you," be a man;
you will never lack for friends.
The Sierras, especially towards the south where
the meadows are wide and numerous, are full of cattle
in small bands. They come up from the desert
about the first of June, and are driven back again
to the arid countries as soon as the autumn storms
begin. In the very high land they are few, and to
be left to their own devices; but now we entered a
new sort of country.
Below Farewell Gap and the volcanic regions
one's surroundings change entirely. The meadows
become high flat valleys, often miles in extent; the
mountains--while registering big on the aneroid--
are so little elevated above the plateaus that a few
thousand feet is all of their apparent height; the
passes are low, the slopes easy, the trails good, the
rock outcrops few, the hills grown with forests to
their very tops. Altogether it is a country easy to
ride through, rich in grazing, cool and green, with its
eight thousand feet of elevation. Consequently during
the hot months thousands of desert cattle are pastured
here; and with them come many of the desert men.
Our first intimation of these things was in the
volcanic region where swim the golden trout. From the
advantage of a hill we looked far down to a hair-grass
meadow through which twisted tortuously a brook,
and by the side of the brook, belittled by distance,
was a miniature man. We could see distinctly his
every movement, as he approached cautiously the
stream's edge, dropped his short line at the end of a
stick over the bank, and then yanked bodily the fish
from beneath. Behind him stood his pony. We
could make out in the clear air the coil of his raw-
hide "rope," the glitter of his silver bit, the metal
points on his saddle skirts, the polish of his six-
shooter, the gleam of his fish, all the details of his
costume. Yet he was fully a mile distant. After a
time he picked up his string of fish, mounted, and
jogged loosely away at the cow-pony's little Spanish
trot toward the south. Over a week later, having
caught golden trout and climbed Mount Whitney,
we followed him and so came to the great central
camp at Monache Meadows.
Imagine an island-dotted lake of grass four or five
miles long by two or three wide to which slope regular
shores of stony soil planted with trees. Imagine
on the very edge of that lake an especially fine grove
perhaps a quarter of a mile in length, beneath whose
trees a dozen different outfits of cowboys are camped
for the summer. You must place a herd of ponies
in the foreground, a pine mountain at the back, an
unbroken ridge across ahead, cattle dotted here and
there, thousands of ravens wheeling and croaking
and flapping everywhere, a marvelous clear sun and
blue sky. The camps were mostly open, though a
few possessed tents. They differed from the ordinary
in that they had racks for saddles and equipments.
Especially well laid out were the cooking arrangements.
A dozen accommodating springs supplied fresh water with
the conveniently regular spacing of faucets.
Towards evening the men jingled in. This summer
camp was almost in the nature of a vacation to
them after the hard work of the desert. All they had
to do was to ride about the pleasant hills examining
that the cattle did not stray nor get into trouble. It
was fun for them, and they were in high spirits.
Our immediate neighbors were an old man of
seventy-two and his grandson of twenty-five. At
least the old man said he was seventy-two. I should
have guessed fifty. He was as straight as an arrow,
wiry, lean, clear-eyed, and had, without food, ridden
twelve hours after some strayed cattle. On arriving
he threw off his saddle, turned his horse loose, and
set about the construction of supper. This consisted
of boiled meat, strong tea, and an incredible number
of flapjacks built of water, baking-powder, salt, and
flour, warmed through--not cooked--in a frying-
pan. He deluged these with molasses and devoured
three platefuls. It would have killed an ostrich, but
apparently did this decrepit veteran of seventy-two
After supper he talked to us most interestingly in
the dry cowboy manner, looking at us keenly from
under the floppy brim of his hat. He confided to us
that he had had to quit smoking, and it ground him
--he'd smoked since he was five years old.
"Tobacco doesn't agree with you any more?" I hazarded.
"Oh, 'taint that," he replied; "only I'd ruther chew."
The dark fell, and all the little camp-fires under the
trees twinkled bravely forth. Some of the men sang.
One had an accordion. Figures, indistinct and
formless, wandered here and there in the shadows,
suddenly emerging from mystery into the clarity of
firelight, there to disclose themselves as visitors. Out
on the plain the cattle lowed, the horses nickered.
The red firelight flashed from the metal of suspended
equipment, crimsoned the bronze of men's faces,
touched with pink the high lights on their gracefully
recumbent forms. After a while we rolled up in our
blankets and went to sleep, while a band of coyotes
wailed like lost spirits from a spot where a steer had
THE GOLDEN TROUT
After Farewell Gap, as has been hinted, the
country changes utterly. Possibly that is why
it is named Farewell Gap. The land is wild, weird,
full of twisted trees, strangely colored rocks, fantastic
formations, bleak mountains of slabs, volcanic cones,
lava, dry powdery soil or loose shale, close-growing
grasses, and strong winds. You feel yourself in
an upper world beyond the normal, where only the
freakish cold things of nature, elsewhere crowded
out, find a home. Camp is under a lonely tree, none
the less solitary from the fact that it has companions.
The earth beneath is characteristic of the treeless
lands, so that these seem to have been stuck alien into
it. There is no shelter save behind great fortuitous
rocks. Huge marmots run over the boulders, like
little bears. The wind blows strong. The streams run
naked under the eye of the sun, exposing clear and
yellow every detail of their bottoms. In them there
are no deep hiding-places any more than there is
shelter in the land, and so every fish that swims shows
as plainly as in an aquarium.
We saw them as we rode over the hot dry shale
among the hot and twisted little trees. They lay
against the bottom, transparent; they darted away
from the jar of our horses' hoofs; they swam slowly
against the current, delicate as liquid shadows, as
though the clear uniform golden color of the bottom
had clouded slightly to produce these tenuous ghostly
forms. We examined them curiously from the
advantage our slightly elevated trail gave us, and knew
them for the Golden Trout, and longed to catch some.
All that day our route followed in general the
windings of this unique home of a unique fish. We
crossed a solid natural bridge; we skirted fields of
red and black lava, vivid as poppies; we gazed
marveling on perfect volcano cones, long since extinct:
finally we camped on a side hill under two tall
branchless trees in about as bleak and exposed a
position as one could imagine. Then all three, we
jointed our rods and went forth to find out what
the Golden Trout was like.
I soon discovered a number of things, as follows:
The stream at this point, near its source, is very
narrow--I could step across it--and flows beneath
deep banks. The Golden Trout is shy of approach.
The wind blows. Combining these items of knowledge
I found that it was no easy matter to cast forty
feet in a high wind so accurately as to hit a three-foot
stream a yard below the level of the ground. In fact,
the proposition was distinctly sporty; I became as
interested in it as in accurate target-shooting, so that
at last I forgot utterly the intention of my efforts and
failed to strike my first rise. The second, however,
I hooked, and in a moment had him on the grass.
He was a little fellow of seven inches, but mere
size was nothing, the color was the thing. And that
was indeed golden. I can liken it to nothing more
accurately than the twenty-dollar gold-piece, the
same satin finish, the same pale yellow. The fish was
fairly molten. It did not glitter in gaudy burnishment,
as does our aquarium gold-fish, for example,
but gleamed and melted and glowed as though fresh
from the mould. One would almost expect that on
cutting the flesh it would be found golden through
all its substance. This for the basic color. You
must remember always that it was a true trout, without
scales, and so the more satiny. Furthermore,
along either side of the belly ran two broad longitudinal
stripes of exactly the color and burnish of the
copper paint used on racing yachts.
I thought then, and have ever since, that the
Golden Trout, fresh from the water, is one of the
most beautiful fish that swims. Unfortunately it
fades very quickly, and so specimens in alcohol
can give no idea of it. In fact, I doubt if you will
ever be able to gain a very clear idea of it unless
you take to the trail that leads up, under the end
of which is known technically as the High Sierras.
The Golden Trout lives only in this one stream,
but occurs there in countless multitudes. Every little
pool, depression, or riffles has its school. When not
alarmed they take the fly readily. One afternoon I
caught an even hundred in a little over an hour. By
way of parenthesis it may be well to state that most
were returned unharmed to the water. They run
small,--a twelve-inch fish is a monster,--but are
of extraordinary delicacy for eating. We three
devoured sixty-five that first evening in camp.
Now the following considerations seem to me at
this point worthy of note. In the first place, the
Golden Trout occurs but in this one stream, and is
easily caught. At present the stream is comparatively
inaccessible, so that the natural supply probably
keeps even with the season's catches. Still the
trail is on the direct route to Mount Whitney, and
year by year the ascent of this "top of the Republic"
is becoming more the proper thing to do. Every
camping party stops for a try at the Golden Trout,
and of course the fish-hog is a sure occasional migrant.
The cowboys told of two who caught six hundred
in a day. As the certainly increasing tide of summer
immigration gains in volume, the Golden Trout, in
spite of his extraordinary numbers at present, is going
to be caught out.
Therefore, it seems the manifest duty of the Fisheries
to provide for the proper protection and distribution
of this species, especially the distribution.
Hundreds of streams in the Sierras are without trout
simply because of some natural obstruction, such as
a waterfall too high to jump, which prevents their
ascent of the current. These are all well adapted to
the planting of fish, and might just as well be stocked
by the Golden Trout as by the customary Rainbow.
Care should be taken lest the two species become
hybridized, as has occurred following certain misguided
efforts in the South Fork of the Kern.
So far as I know but one attempt has been made
to transplant these fish. About five or six years ago
a man named Grant carried some in pails across to a
small lake near at hand. They have done well, and
curiously enough have grown to a weight of from one
and a half to two pounds. This would seem to show
that their small size in Volcano Creek results entirely
from conditions of feed or opportunity for development,
and that a study of proper environment might
result in a game fish to rival the Rainbow in size and
certainly to surpass him in curious interest.
A great many well-meaning people who have
marveled at the abundance of the Golden Trout
in their natural habitat laugh at the idea that
Volcano Creek will ever become "fished out." To such
it should be pointed out that the fish in question is
a voracious feeder, is without shelter, and quickly
landed. A simple calculation will show how many
fish a hundred moderate anglers, camping a week
apiece, would take out in a season. And in a short
time there will be many more than a hundred, few
of them moderate, coming up into the mountains to
camp just as long as they have a good time. All it
needs is better trails, and better trails are under way.
Well-meaning people used to laugh at the idea that
the buffalo and wild pigeons would ever disappear.
They are gone.
ON GOING OUT
ON GOING OUT
The last few days of your stay in the wilderness
you will be consumedly anxious to get out.
It does not matter how much of a savage you are,
how good a time you are having, or how long you
have been away from civilization. Nor does it mean
especially that you are glad to leave the wilds.
Merely does it come about that you drift unconcernedly
on the stream of days until you approach the
brink of departure: then irresistibly the current
hurries you into haste. The last day of your week's
vacation; the last three of your month's or your
summer's or your year's outing,--these comprise the
hours in which by a mighty but invisible transformation
your mind forsakes its savagery, epitomizes
again the courses of social evolution, regains the poise
and cultivation of the world of men. Before that you
have been content; yes, and would have gone on
being content for as long as you please until the
approach of the limit you have set for your wandering.
In effect this transformation from the state of
savagery to the state of civilization is very abrupt.
When you leave the towns your clothes and mind
are new. Only gradually do they take on the color
of their environment; only gradually do the subtle
influences of the great forest steal in on your dulled
faculties to flow over them in a tide that rises
imperceptibly. You glide as gently from the artificial to
the natural life as do the forest shadows from night
to day. But at the other end the affair is different.
There you awake on the appointed morning in complete
resumption of your old attitude of mind. The
tide of nature has slipped away from you in the night.
Then you arise and do the most wonderful of your
wilderness traveling. On those days you look back
fondly, of them you boast afterwards in telling what
a rapid and enduring voyager you are. The biggest
day's journey I ever undertook was in just such a
case. We started at four in the morning through a
forest of the early spring-time, where the trees were
glorious overhead, but the walking ankle deep. On
our backs were thirty-pound burdens. We walked
steadily until three in the afternoon, by which time
we had covered thirty miles and had arrived at what
then represented civilization to us. Of the nine who
started, two Indians finished an hour ahead; the half
breed, Billy, and I staggered in together, encouraging
each other by words concerning the bottle of beer we
were going to buy; and the five white men never
got in at all until after nine o'clock that night.
Neither thirty miles, nor thirty pounds, nor ankle-
deep slush sounds formidable when considered as
abstract and separate propositions.
In your first glimpse of the civilized peoples your
appearance in your own eyes will undergo the same
instantaneous and tremendous revulsion that has
already taken place in your mental sphere. Heretofore
you have considered yourself as a decently well
appointed gentleman of the woods. Ten to one, in
contrast to the voluntary or enforced simplicity of the
professional woodsman you have looked on your
little luxuries of carved leather hat-band, fancy knife
sheath, pearl-handled six-shooter, or khaki breeches
as giving you slightly the air of a forest exquisite.
But on that depot platform or in presence of that
staring group on the steps of the Pullman, you suddenly
discover yourself to be nothing less than a
disgrace to your bringing up. Nothing could be more
evident than the flop of your hat, the faded, dusty
appearance of your blue shirt, the beautiful black
polish of your khakis, the grime of your knuckles, the
three days' beard of your face. If you are a fool, you
worry about it. If you are a sensible man, you do not
mind;--and you prepare for amusing adventures.
The realization of your external unworthiness,
however, brings to your heart the desire for a hot
bath in a porcelain tub. You gloat over the thought;
and when the dream comes to be a reality, you soak
away in as voluptuous a pleasure as ever falls to the
lot of man to enjoy. Then you shave, and array
yourself minutely and preciously in clean clothes
from head to toe, building up a new respectability,
and you leave scornfully in a heap your camping
garments. They have heretofore seemed clean, but
now you would not touch them, no, not even to put
them in the soiled-clothes basket, let your feminines
rave as they may. And for at least two days you
prove an almost childish delight in mere raiment.
But before you can reach this blissful stage you
have still to order and enjoy your first civilized
dinner. It tastes good, not because your camp dinners
have palled on you, but because your transformation
demands its proper aliment. Fortunate indeed you
are if you step directly to a transcontinental train or
into the streets of a modern town. Otherwise the
transition through the small-hotel provender is apt
to offer too little contrast for the fullest enjoyment.
But aboard the dining-car or in the cafe you will
gather to yourself such ill-assorted succulence as thick,
juicy beefsteaks, and creamed macaroni, and sweet
potatoes, and pie, and red wine, and real cigars and
In their acquisition your appearance will tell
against you. We were once watched anxiously by
a nervous female head waiter who at last mustered
up courage enough to inform me that guests were
not allowed to eat without coats. We politely pointed
out that we possessed no such garments. After a long
consultation with the proprietor she told us it was all
right for this time, but that we must not do it again.
At another place I had to identify myself as a
responsible person by showing a picture in a magazine
bought for the purpose.
The public never will know how to take you.
Most of it treats you as though you were a two-dollar
a day laborer; some of the more astute are puzzled.
One February I walked out of the North Country on
snowshoes and stepped directly into a Canadian
Pacific transcontinental train. I was clad in fur cap,
vivid blanket coat, corded trousers, German stockings
and moccasins; and my only baggage was the
pair of snowshoes. It was the season of light travel.
A single Englishman touring the world as the crow
flies occupied the car. He looked at me so askance
that I made an opportunity of talking to him. I
should like to read his "Travels" to see what he
made out of the riddle. In similar circumstances,
and without explanation, I had fun talking French
and swapping boulevard reminiscences with a member
of a Parisian theatrical troupe making a long
jump through northern Wisconsin. And once, at
six of the morning, letting myself into my own
house with a latch-key, and sitting down to read the
paper until the family awoke, I was nearly brained
by the butler. He supposed me a belated burglar,
and had armed himself with the poker. The most
flattering experience of the kind was voiced by a
small urchin who plucked at his mother's sleeve:
"Look, mamma!" he exclaimed in guarded but
jubilant tones, "there's a real Indian!"
Our last camp of this summer was built and broken
in the full leisure of at least a three weeks' expectation.
We had traveled south from the Golden Trout
through the Toowah range. There we had viewed
wonders which I cannot expect you to believe in,--
such as a spring of warm water in which you could
bathe and from which you could reach to dip up a
cup of carbonated water on the right hand, or cast
a fly into a trout stream, on the left. At length we
entered a high meadow in the shape of a maltese
cross, with pine slopes about it, and springs of water
welling in little humps of green. There the long
pine-needles were extraordinarily thick and the pine-
cones exceptionally large. The former we scraped
together to the depth of three feet for a bed in the
lea of a fallen trunk; the latter we gathered in arm-
fuls to pile on the camp-fire. Next morning we rode
down a mile or so through the grasses, exclaimed
over the thousands of mountain quail buzzing from
the creek bottoms, gazed leisurely up at our well-
known pines and about at the grateful coolness of
our accustomed green meadows and leaves;--and
then, as though we had crossed a threshold, we
emerged into chaparral, dry loose shale, yucca, Spanish
bayonet, heated air and the bleached burned-out
furnace-like country of arid California in midsummer.
The trail dropped down through sage-brush, just as
it always did in the California we had known; the
mountains rose with the fur-like dark-olive effect of
the coast ranges; the sun beat hot. We had left the
The trail was very steep and very long, and took
us finally into the country of dry brown grasses, gray
brush, waterless stony ravines, and dust. Others had
traveled that trail, headed the other way, and
evidently had not liked it. Empty bottles blazed the
path. Somebody had sacrificed a pack of playing-
cards, which he had stuck on thorns from time to
time, each inscribed with a blasphemous comment
on the discomforts of such travel. After an apparently
interminable interval we crossed an irrigating
ditch, where the horses were glad to water, and so
came to one of those green flowering lush California
villages so startlingly in contrast to their surroundings.
By this it was two o'clock and we had traveled
on horseback since four. A variety of circumstances
learned at the village made it imperative that both
the Tenderfoot and myself should go out without
the delay of a single hour. This left Wes to bring
the horses home, which was tough on Wes, but he
rose nobly to the occasion.
When the dust of our rustling cleared, we found we
had acquired a team of wild broncos, a buckboard,
an elderly gentleman with a white goatee, two bottles of beer,
some crackers and some cheese. With these we hoped to
reach the railroad shortly after midnight.
The elevation was five thousand feet, the road
dusty and hot, the country uninteresting in sage-
brush and alkali and rattlesnakes and general dryness.
Constantly we drove, checking off the landmarks
in the good old fashion. Our driver had immigrated
from Maine the year before, and by some
chance had drifted straight to the arid regions. He
was vastly disgusted. At every particularly atrocious
dust-hole or unlovely cactus strip he spat into space
and remarked in tones of bottomless contempt:--
This was evidently intended as a quotation.
Towards sunset we ran up into rounded hills,
where we got out at every rise in order to ease the
horses, and where we hurried the old gentleman beyond
the limits of his Easterner's caution at every descent.
It grew dark. Dimly the road showed gray in the
twilight. We did not know how far exactly we were
to go, but imagined that sooner or later we would
top one of the small ridges to look across one of the
broad plateau plains to the lights of our station.
You see we had forgotten, in the midst of flatness,
that we were still over five thousand feet up. Then
the road felt its way between two hills;--and the
blackness of night opened below us as well as above,
and from some deep and tremendous abyss breathed
the winds of space.
It was as dark as a cave, for the moon was yet two
hours below the horizon. Somehow the trail turned
to the right along that tremendous cliff. We thought
we could make out its direction, the dimness of its
glimmering; but equally well, after we had looked a
moment, we could imagine it one way or another, to
right and left. I went ahead to investigate. The trail
to left proved to be the faint reflection of a clump of
"old man" at least five hundred feet down; that to
right was a burned patch sheer against the rise of the
cliff. We started on the middle way.
There were turns-in where a continuance straight
ahead would require an airship or a coroner; again
turns-out where the direct line would telescope you
against the state of California. These we could make
out by straining our eyes. The horses plunged and
snorted; the buckboard leaped. Fire flashed from
the impact of steel against rock, momentarily blinding
us to what we should see. Always we descended into
the velvet blackness of the abyss, the canon walls rising
steadily above us shutting out even the dim illumination
of the stars. From time to time our driver, desperately
scared, jerked out cheering bits of information.
"My eyes ain't what they was. For the Lord's
sake keep a-lookin', boys."
"That nigh hoss is deef. There don't seem to be
no use saying WHOA to her."
"Them brakes don't hold fer sour peanuts. I been
figgerin' on tackin' on a new shoe for a week."
"I never was over this road but onct, and then I
was headed th' other way. I was driving of a corpse."
Then, after two hours of it, BING! BANG! SMASH!
our tongue collided with a sheer black wall, no
blacker than the atmosphere before it. The trail here
took a sharp V turn to the left. We had left the face
of the precipice and henceforward would descend the bed
of the canon. Fortunately our collision had done damage
to nothing but our nerves, so we proceeded to do so.
The walls of the crevice rose thousands of feet
above us. They seemed to close together, like the
sides of a tent, to leave only a narrow pale lucent
strip of sky. The trail was quite invisible, and even
the sense of its existence was lost when we traversed
groves of trees. One of us had to run ahead of the
horses, determining its general direction, locating the
sharper turns. The rest depended on the instinct of
the horses and pure luck.
It was pleasant in the cool of night thus to run down
through the blackness, shouting aloud to guide our
followers, swinging to the slope, bathed to the soul
in mysteries of which we had no time to take cognizance.
By and by we saw a little spark far ahead of us
like a star. The smell of fresh wood smoke and stale
damp fire came to our nostrils. We gained the star
and found it to be a log smouldering; and up the
hill other stars red as blood. So we knew that we
had crossed the zone of an almost extinct forest fire,
and looked on the scattered camp-fires of an army
The moon rose. We knew it by touches of white
light on peaks infinitely far above us; not at all by
the relieving of the heavy velvet blackness in which
we moved. After a time, I, running ahead in my
turn, became aware of the deep breathing of animals.
I stopped short and called a warning. Immediately
a voice answered me.
"Come on, straight ahead. They're not on the road."
When within five feet I made out the huge
freight wagons in which were lying the teamsters,
and very dimly the big freight mules standing tethered
to the wheels.
"It's a dark night, friend, and you're out late."
"A dark night," I agreed, and plunged on. Behind
me rattled and banged the abused buckboard,
snorted the half-wild broncos, groaned the unrepaired
brake, softly cursed my companions.
Then at once the abrupt descent ceased. We glided out
to the silvered flat, above which sailed the moon.
The hour was seen to be half past one. We had
missed our train. Nothing was visible of human
habitations. The land was frosted with the moonlight,
enchanted by it, etherealized. Behind us, huge
and formidable, loomed the black mass of the range
we had descended. Before us, thin as smoke in the
magic lucence that flooded the world, rose other
mountains, very great, lofty as the sky. We could
not understand them. The descent we had just
accomplished should have landed us on a level plain
in which lay our town. But here we found ourselves
in a pocket valley entirely surrounded by mountain
ranges through which there seemed to be no pass less
than five or six thousand feet in height.
We reined in the horses to figure it out.
"I don't see how it can be," said I. "We've
certainly come far enough. It would take us four
hours at the very least to cross that range, even if
the railroad should happen to be on the other side
"I been through here only once," repeated the
driver,--"going the other way.--Then I drew a
corpse." He spat, and added as an afterthought,
We stared at the mountains that hemmed us in.
They rose above us sheer and forbidding. In the
bright moonlight plainly were to be descried the
brush of the foothills, the timber, the fissures, the
canons, the granites, and the everlasting snows.
Almost we thought to make out a thread of a waterfall
high up where the clouds would be if the night
had not been clear.
"We got off the trail somewhere," hazarded the
"Well, we're on a road, anyway," I pointed out.
"It's bound to go somewhere. We might as well
give up the railroad and find a place to turn-in."
"It can't be far," encouraged the Tenderfoot;
"this valley can't be more than a few miles across."
"Gi dap!" remarked the driver.
We moved forward down the white wagon trail
approaching the mountains. And then we were
witnesses of the most marvelous transformation. For
as we neared them, those impregnable mountains,
as though panic-stricken by our advance, shrunk
back, dissolved, dwindled, went to pieces. Where
had towered ten-thousand-foot peaks, perfect in the
regular succession from timber to snow, now were
little flat hills on which grew tiny bushes of sage. A
passage opened between them. In a hundred yards
we had gained the open country, leaving behind us
the mighty but unreal necromancies of the moon.
Before us gleamed red and green lights. The mass
of houses showed half distinguishable. A feeble
glimmer illuminated part of a white sign above the
depot. That which remained invisible was evidently
the name of the town. That which was revealed was
the supplementary information which the Southern
Pacific furnishes to its patrons. It read: "Elevation
482 feet." We were definitely out of the mountains.
THE LURE OF THE TRAIL
The trail's call depends not at all on your
common sense. You know you are a fool for
answering it; and yet you go. The comforts of
civilization, to put the case on its lowest plane, are
not lightly to be renounced: the ease of having your
physical labor done for you; the joy of cultivated
minds, of theatres, of books, of participation in the
world's progress; these you leave behind you. And
in exchange you enter a life where there is much long
hard work of the hands--work that is really hard and
long, so that no man paid to labor would consider
it for a moment; you undertake to eat simply, to
endure much, to lie on the rack of anxiety; you
voluntarily place yourself where cold, wet, hunger, thirst,
heat, monotony, danger, and many discomforts will
wait upon you daily. A thousand times in the course
of a woods life even the stoutest-hearted will tell
himself softly--very softly if he is really stout-hearted,
so that others may not be annoyed--that if ever the
fates permit him to extricate himself he will never
These times come when long continuance has
worn on the spirit. You beat all day to windward
against the tide toward what should be but an hour's
sail: the sea is high and the spray cold; there are
sunken rocks, and food there is none; chill gray
evening draws dangerously near, and there is a
foot of water in the bilge. You have swallowed
your tongue twenty times on the alkali; and the
sun is melting hot, and the dust dry and pervasive,
and there is no water, and for all your effort the
relative distances seem to remain the same for days.
You have carried a pack until your every muscle
is strung white-hot; the woods are breathless; the
black flies swarm persistently and bite until your
face is covered with blood. You have struggled
through clogging snow until each time you raise
your snowshoe you feel as though some one had
stabbed a little sharp knife into your groin; it has
come to be night; the mercury is away below zero,
and with aching fingers you are to prepare a camp
which is only an anticipation of many more such
camps in the ensuing days. For a week it has
rained, so that you, pushing through the dripping
brush, are soaked and sodden and comfortless, and
the bushes have become horrible to your shrinking
goose-flesh. Or you are just plain tired out, not
from a single day's fatigue, but from the gradual
exhaustion of a long hike. Then in your secret soul
you utter these sentiments:--
"You are a fool. This is not fun. There is no real
reason why you should do this. If you ever get out
of here, you will stick right home where common
sense flourishes, my son!"
Then after a time you do get out, and are thankful.
But in three months you will have proved in
your own experience the following axiom--I should
call it the widest truth the wilderness has to teach:--
"In memory the pleasures of a camping trip
strengthen with time, and the disagreeables weaken."
I don't care how hard an experience you have had,
nor how little of the pleasant has been mingled with
it, in three months your general impression of that
trip will be good. You will look back on the hard
times with a certain fondness of recollection.
I remember one trip I took in the early spring
following a long drive on the Pine River. It rained
steadily for six days. We were soaked to the skin
all the time, ate standing up in the driving downpour,
and slept wet. So cold was it that each morning
our blankets were so full of frost that they crackled
stiffly when we turned out. Dispassionately I can
appraise that as about the worst I ever got into. Yet
as an impression the Pine River trip seems to me a
most enjoyable one.
So after you have been home for a little while the
call begins to make itself heard. At first it is very
gentle. But little by little a restlessness seizes hold
of you. You do not know exactly what is the matter:
you are aware merely that your customary life
has lost savor, that you are doing things more or less
perfunctorily, and that you are a little more irritable
than your naturally evil disposition.
And gradually it is borne in on you exactly what
is the matter. Then say you to yourself:--
"My son, you know better. You are no tenderfoot.
You have had too long an experience to admit
of any glamour of indefiniteness about this thing.
No use bluffing. You know exactly how hard you
will have to work, and how much tribulation you are
going to get into, and how hungry and wet and cold
and tired and generally frazzled out you are going to
be. You've been there enough times so it's pretty
clearly impressed on you. You go into this thing
with your eyes open. You know what you're in for.
You're pretty well off right here, and you'd be a fool
"That's right," says yourself to you. "You're dead
right about it, old man. Do you know where we can
get another pack-mule?"