|A Symphony in Yellow and Red||211|
|A Colorado Week||243|
|A Study of Red Canyon||271|
|Central City and Bob-Tail Tunnel||276|
|Georgetown and the “Terrible Mine”||286|
|The Cradle of Peace||307|
|A Winter Morning at Colorado Springs||316|
|Grand Canyon of the Arkansas||322|
|Our New Road||331|
|North Cheyenne Canyon||345|
|Wa-ha-toy-a; or, Before the Graders||351|
|The Procession of Flowers in Colorado||363|
|Little Rose and the House of the Snowy Range||376|
|A New Anvil Chorus||386|
|A Calendar of Sunrises in Colorado||407|
“The Procession of Flowers in Colorado” was republished in 1897 as a free-standing illustrated book, part of Roberts Bros.’ “Colorado Series”. The artist is uncredited. All illustrations, including the frontispiece photograph of Cheyenne Mountain, are taken from this book.
We owe a great debt to Mr. Whistler for having reclaimed the good word “symphony” from the arbitrary monopoly of music writers. At first we wondered at the daring reprisal; but presently the right of it became so plain that we only wondered no man had done it before.
Henceforth they who make harmonies for the eye will hold the word fraternally in common with those who make harmonies for the ear, and no just person can call it an affectation. And he also who seeks to render in words, as others in music or color, some one of nature’s gracious harmonies which has greatly delighted him, will do it all the better by the help of this good word in the beginning. Except for it, I think I should have never believed it possible to tell what I am going to try to tell now. One day an artist in Colorado spoke to me of Mr. Whistler’s Symphony in White.
“Ah,” said I, “Colorado is a symphony in yellow and red.” And as soon as I had said the words, the colors and the shapes in which I knew them seemed instantly to be arranged in my thought: places miles apart began to knit themselves together into a concerted and related succession; spots and tints I had only vaguely recognized became distinct and significant, each in its order and force; and more and more as I looked from the plains to the mountains and from the mountains to the plains, and stood in the great spaces crowded with gay and fantastic rocks, all the time bearing in mind this phrase, it grew to seem true and complete and inevitable.
I ought to say at the outset that in speaking of the 212 coloring of Colorado, I speak only of the part of Colorado which I know thoroughly, the vicinity of the town of Colorado Springs, which lies seventy miles south of Denver, at the foot of Pike’s Peak. There is a similar brilliance and variety of coloring in other parts of the Territory, but I know them less.
“The eye paints best in the presence, the heart in the absence, of the loved object,” said Bettina. To-day, as I sit on a New England hillside and look westward, the pale blue bar of the horizon line seems a vista, rather than a barrier, and I see the Colorado plains lying beyond; see them as distinctly as if I were standing on their very edge, and counting the belts and bands of color which I know the fiery Colorado sun is at this very moment printing on their surface.
When I first saw them they were gray; blank, bald, pitiless gray, under a gray November sky. “A sea of gray ice!” I said to myself. “It is terrible.” To the east and the south and the north they stretched, apparently endless; broken only by a few buttes rising as gray icebergs might, frozen fast in the gray sea. To the west, a mountain wall; mountains which looked like black adamant crystallized into immovable and giant shapes. Had I passed by then, and never seen those plains and mountains again, the picture would have lived in my memory always as the picture of a place fit for the old Scandinavian hell. I recall the scene now, as one recalls a vision from a nightmare dream. No darkest day ever produced it again. After I had once seen the plains aglow, nothing could make them any thing but beautiful. We know no face till it smiles. If the smile is a true smile, the face is transfigured to us for ever.
These plains are thick-covered with grasses; the buffalo grass, which grows in low tufts or mats, with a single tiny, dark, spear-shaft head on each stalk; and two or three other sorts which have fine feathery blossoms. These dry in wonderful colors, yellows and reds; the yellows shade up to scarlets, and the reds down to the darkest claret. There are also numerous weeds, 213 whose tiny flowers dry on their stalks in the marvellous preserving air of the plains. These too dry into yellow and berry-red. I especially remember one of these which eluded me for a long time. I had noticed, in my drives, spots of vivid red here and there on the ground at short distances from the road, but saw nothing to explain them. When I walked over the same ground I found only the usual grasses and indifferent-colored weeds. At last, one day, I saw a big patch of this color, half a rod long; when I reached the spot, I found myself walking over myriads of infinitesimal stems, not more than an inch or two from the ground, each holding at top a tiny dried calyx, bright red, the size of a pin’s head. Singly or in small bunches they would hardly be seen, and yet I afterwards recognized that they made superb masses of color in many places. I carried a bunch of them home, but their color had gone out. In vain I set them in strong light on a window-sill; they would not be bright red any longer. They needed the free air of the plains, and the sun striking through.
There are no trees or bushes on these plains, except along the small and infrequent creek courses. Looking down from heights you trace the creeks from horizon to horizon, not by glistening lines of water, but merely by zigzag lines of deeper color; in the summer by lines of vivid green, in the winter by lines of dark red, pale yellow, and gray. The bare cotton-wood trees are gray; the willows, of which there are several varieties growing luxuriantly, are yellow and red: yellow as gold, and with the sheen of satin on their stems; red as wine, and taking the sun as flashingly. A little marsh filled with them, and lying in a hollow of the plain, makes, on a bright day, such a blaze of shaded and graduated color as I do not know elsewhere. When above these claret and yellow willow stems rises a copse of leafless cotton-woods, of soft, filmy gray, the whitest gray ever seen, the combination of color is at once so dainty and so vivid that one is amazed that so subtle an effect can last day after day. Yet there they stand, all through 214 January, all through February, all through March, and through April, well into May, a perpetual delight. These are the months in which the coloring of the plains is at its best. When spring fades the willows, covers the cotton-woods with light green leaves, and turns the plains to a pale olive-green, the landscape becomes tame in comparison with its winter hue. I have spent winter afternoons on the bluffs to the east of the town, looking down on the plains when they were yellow as wheat fields in August, of as even surface as a close shorn lawn, and with great belts and irregular spaces of paler or deeper yellow, berry-red, claret, and dark brown. Looking at these miles of shaded and blended colors one finds the worn-out simile of a carpet almost fresh in one’s thought, because so inevitable. Then, when swiftly moving clouds make a play of shadows upon the carpet, it looks more like a sea. There is a peculiar tint of blue in all shadows in Colorado. When they are cast upon snow the effect is indescribably beautiful. A fantastic chariot in mazarine blue glides noiselessly by your side as you drive; a double in ghostly clothes of blue steel slips on ahead of you as you walk. These shifting blue shadows on the yellow plains give them a wonderful semblance to the sea under alternating sunlight and shade.
The northern horizon of this shining carpet, this sunlit sea, is a deep blue wall. This is the Divide, the table-land separating the Denver plains from ours. It is eight thousand feet high at its highest, and thickly grown with pines; but it looks simply like a solid bar of blue.
The western horizon is the top of a mountain range, Pike’s Peak, nearly fifteen thousand feet high, its central and culminating point, whose tints shall be fiery red, golden yellow, or deep purple blue, according as you see them: fiery red at dawn, yellow in the first flood of sunrise, and purple just after the sun has set. The southern and eastern horizons are sky or plain, you know not which. Whether the sky bends and droops, or the plain hollows 215 and curves up to the tender, vanishing line in which both cease to be, you never know; and your not knowing is the charm, the spell, under which you gaze and gaze into the immeasurable distance, until myriads of worlds seem to be coming and going just along the outer edge of this one. On a very clear day, two blue pyramids rise in the south, and a long, low, undulating line like blue mist is seen at their right. These are the Spanish Peaks, a hundred miles away, and the range is the Sangre di Cristo. What a strange audacity of reverence there seems in the way the Spaniard has set the name of his Christ everywhere! In the east, there are a few near buttes or bluffs. They also are yellow, darkened by low growths of pines and firs. They rise up like fortresses. Among them lie and wind labyrinthine valleys,—sheltered spots in which sheep-raisers find warm nooks for themselves and for their sheep at night. These buttes or bluffs are mainly of yellow sandstone; the growth of firs and low oaks is so thin that it does not hide the yellow tint, only makes a dark fretwork over it. Coming closer to them, you see that their sides are strangely rounded, and, as it were, hewn into projections like towers, bastions, parapets, arches,—ledges and chasms and toppled bowlders everywhere. No wonder the yellow plain looks like a sunlit sea, for not so very long ago, as the earth reckons her ages, it was a great lake, and these were the cliffs on its shores. Climbing up these bluffs, and wandering in their shady recesses, one thinks of Edom and Petræa. Strange shapes of yellow sandstone are standing or lying about in a confusion which is at once suggestive and bewildering. They are mostly rounded and grooved columns, of tapering and irregular forms, sometimes broken short off, but more often widening at the top into a broad cap, like an anvil. Many of them are of such grotesque shapes that at every turn they take new and fantastic semblances, seem to have leering or malicious faces, sometimes almost to be peering out and disappearing mockingly behind the trees. Their color is not a uniform 216 yellow, but is of a variety of shades and tones, often deepening into orange or scarlet, often shading up to nearly white at top, and then finished off with the anvil-like cap of dark brown, green, or red. The ground is strewn with odd, round pebbles, large and small, of the same friable yellow stone. Many of them are broken open into equal halves, a round hollow in the centre of each, as if they were petrified husks of nuts. Many of them bear fantastic resemblances to birds or beasts. There was one well known for months to all frequenters of the bluffs; it was as comical a rooster as could have been moulded out of clay. The gardener had put it on the top of a pile of stones, where two roads crossed, and it was a familiar landmark. At last, one day, a traveller carried it to the Colorado Springs Hotel, and showed it in triumph as a rare trophy. It was recognized at once.
“Why, that is the rooster from Austin’s Bluffs.”
“You cannot have that. It is private property. Mr. Austin’s gardener put it on that pile of stones. You must carry it back.”
Public opinion was too strong for the traveller to resist. The rooster was carried back and remounted on his pedestal; only, alas, to disappear again, in the grasp of some less honest visitor, who, I hope, may read this paragraph and blush to recollect how he “robbed” that “roost.”
Twelve miles northward of Colorado Springs is a group of beautiful small valleys known as Monument Park, from the great number of these strange sandstone rocks. It is the liveliest of all lonely places. You drive over a grassy road in the middle of a narrow green meadow, the sides of which slope up like the sides of a trough, the narrow strip of meadow ending abruptly at the base of high yellow sandstone cliffs, covered with pines, firs, and low oak shrubs. There are frequent breaks in these cliffs, and passes through them; and so crowded are these passes and cliff-sides with the yellow stone columns, that it is not at all hard to fancy that 217 they are figures winding in and out in a procession, mounting guard, lying down, sunning themselves, leading or embracing each other. Perverse people with fancies of a realistic order have given names to many of these figures and groups: The Anvil, The Quaker Wedding, The Priest and Nun, The Pincushion, and so forth. Photographers, still more perverse, have persisted in photographing single rocks, or isolated groups, with neither background nor foreground. These are to be seen everywhere, labelled “Rocks in Monument Park,” and are admirably calculated to repel people from going to what would appear to be some bare, outlying pinnacle of the universe, on which imps had played at making clay figures, with high stakes for the A true picture of Monument Park would give a background of soft yellow and white sandstone cliffs, rounded, fluted, and grooved, with waving pines thick on the top and scattering down the sides, and the statue-like rocks half in and half out among the trees; and to make the picture perfect, it should be taken looking west, so that the green valley with its fantastic yellow side walls and statues should be shut across at the farther end by a high mountain range, dark blue against a shining sky. Then, one seeing the picture could get some faint notion of what these valleys in Monument Park are like.
The famous Garden of the Gods, for which everybody asks as soon as he enters Colorado, and which nine out of ten people see for the first time with a ludicrous sense of disappointment, is another of these strange, rock-crowded parks. Who is responsible for the inappropriate name Garden of the Gods, I do not know: one more signally unfitting could hardly have been chosen. Fortress of the Gods, or Tombs of the Giants, would be better.
This park lies only three miles from Colorado Springs, and its grand gateway is in full sight from every part of the town. Fancy two red sandstone rocks three hundred feet high, of irregular outline and surface, rising abruptly and perpendicularly like a wall, with a 218 narrow passage-way between them. The rock on your right, as you enter from the east, is of the deepest brick-red; the one on the left is paler, more of a flesh-color. At their base is a thick growth of low oak bushes, vivid light green in summer, in winter a scarcely less vivid brown, for many of the leaves hang on until April. These rocks are literally fretted full of holes and rifts; tiny round holes as smooth as if an auger had bored them; ghastly crevices and chasms smoothed and hollowed like sockets in gigantic skeletons. Thousands of swallows have nests in these, and at sunset it is a beautiful sight to see them circling high in the air, perching for a moment on the glittering red spires and pinnacles at top of the wall, and then swooping downward and disappearing suddenly where no aperture is to be seen, as if with their little bills they had cloven way for themselves into the solid rock. Within a few feet of the top of the highest spire on the right-hand rock is a small diamond-shaped opening, a mullioned window, through which is always to be seen the same diamond-shaped bit of sky, bright blue or soft gray, or shadowy white if a cloud happens to pause so as to fill the space.
I once had the good fortune to see a white-breasted sparrow sit motionless for some minutes on a point of rock just above this window, when the sky was clear blue, and the rock vivid red in a blazing sunlight. Such a picture as that was, three hundred feet up in the air, one does not see more than once in a life-time. The sparrow’s white breast looked like a tiny fleece of white cloud caught on the rock. Not till two dark wings suddenly opened out and bore the white fleece upward, did I know that it was a bird.
Passing through this majestic gateway, you find yourself in the weirdest of places; your red road winds along over red ground thinly grass-grown, among low cedars, pines, and firs, and through a wild confusion of red rocks: rocks of every conceivable and inconceivable shape and size, from pebbles up to gigantic bowlders, from queer, grotesque little monstrosities, looking like 219 , fishes, cats, or masks, up to colossal monstrosities looking like elephants, like huge gargoyles, like giants, like sphinxes eighty feet high, all bright red, all motionless and silent, with a strange look of having been just stopped and held back in the very climax of some supernatural catastrophe. The stillness, the absence of living things, the preponderance of grotesque shapes, the expression of arrested action, give to the whole place, in spite of its glory of coloring, spite of the grandeur of its vistas ending in snow-covered peaks only six miles away, spite of its friendly and familiar cedars and pines, spite of an occasional fragrance of clematis or smile of a daisy or twitter of a sparrow, spite of all these, a certain uncanniness of atmosphere which is at first oppressive. I doubt if one ever loved the Garden of the Gods at first sight. One must feel his way to its beauty and rareness, must learn it like a new language; even if one has known nature’s tongues well, he will be a helpless foreigner here. I have fancied that its speech was to the speech of ordinary nature what the Romany is among the dialects of the civilized,—fierce, wild, free, defiantly tender; and I believe no son of the Romany folk has ever lived long among the world’s people without drooping and pining.
A mile to the north of the Garden of the Gods is a very beautiful little park, walled in by high hills and sandstone rocks of many colors, red, pink, yellow, and pale gray, stained dark green and brown and red in markings so fantastic and capricious, it seems impossible that they are not painted. The outlet from this little nook to the north is a narrow canyon, little more than a cleft in the rocks. A snow-fed brook runs down through this canyon and zigzags through the little park, making it a luxuriant garden of cotton-wood trees, shrubs, and vines, and all manner of flowers. The rocks here are so towering and grand that except for the relief of their brilliant hues, and the tender leafing and flowering things around them, they would be overawing. There are single shafts like obelisks or minarets, 220 slender, pointed, one or two hundred feet high; huge slabs laid tier upon tier like giant sarcophagi; fretted and turreted masses like abbeys fallen into ruin: and all these are red or painted in mosaic tints of green and brown and black and yellow. This is called Glen Eyrie; in it there is a beautiful home, and the voices of little children are often heard high up on the rock walls, where they seem as contented and as safe as the goats which are their comrades.
I will describe but one more of these parks; I am told that there are scores of them all along the range of foot-hills running northward from Colorado Springs. I do not believe that among the scores is one to be found so beautiful as Blair Athol. I do not believe that in all the earth is a spot to be found more beautiful than Blair Athol, unless possibly it may be some of the wild flower-gardens nestled at the base of the dolomites in the Tyrol. Will there ever arise in Colorado a master to paint her rocks and mountains in the backgrounds of immortal pictures, as Titian painted the dolomites?
Blair Athol lies six miles to the northwest of Colorado Springs. Its name has a charm of sound which is not lessened when you know that the Scotchman who owns and named it added to his own name, Blair, the name of Athol, by reason of his love for house and lands of that name in Scotland. It is a spot fit for a clan and a chieftain. It lies lonely and still, biding its time. The road which leads into it is so grass-grown that it is hard to find. The spot where it turns off from the main highway is sure to be overlooked unless one keeps a close watch. It seems not to promise much, this rough, grass-grown track. It points toward foot-hills which are low and close-set, and more than usually bare. But in Colorado roads, any minute’s bend to right or left may give you a delicious surprise, a new peak, a far vista, a changed world. The Blair Athol road, taking a sudden curve to the left, shows you such a vista: a foreground of low oaks and pines, the hills falling away to right and left and revealing the mouth of a glen walled thickly across by high pines; through this solid wall of 221 green, fantastic gleams of deep red and rose pink; rising above it, a spire or two of bright yellow; on the left hand, sharp ridges of dark, iron-stained sandstone, green, gray, yellow, black; on the right hand, low, mound-shaped hills densely grown with pines and firs, the soil shining red below them.
As the road winds in, the rocks seem almost to wheel and separate, so many new vistas open between the pines, so many new rocks come in sight. A few steps farther, and the way seems suddenly barred by a huge mass of yellow rock; a broad light streams in from the left, the south; there lies open country. Close to the base of this yellow rock wall the road clings, still in shade of the pines, and turns an abrupt corner to the left. You are in the park. The yellow rock round which you have turned is its east wall; to the west it is walled with rocks, rose-color and white; to the north with high, conical, pine-grown hills; to the south with sharp, almost pyramidal hills and masses of detached and piled rocks, dark red and rose color. It is smooth as a meadow; its curves rise to the bases of the rocks gently and lingeringly. Groups of pines make wide fringed circles of shades here and there; blue anemones, if it is a June day, dot the ground. A few rods farther there is a break in the eastern wall, and framed in this frame of yellow rock is a broad picture of the distant plains in bars of sunlight and shadow, gold and purple. This is the view on which must look the eastern and southern piazzas of the house when it is built, and to that end nature has left clear the slight eminence a little to the north of the centre of the park. No man building here could think of building elsewhere than on this rise, and it is surely an odd thing that not a pine has set foot in it; that they have grouped themselves all about it, with as exquisite a consideration as the king’s head gardener could have shown.
Presently the road stops short on the brink of a ravine, in which once there must have been water, for it is full of vines and shrubs, a tangle of green. Because the ravine is not bridged, we turn to the right; there is 222 just room to creep round the base of the west wall of red rock. Turning this, lo, we are in another little park, wilder and more beautiful than the first. The ground is more broken, and there are thick copses of low oaks and pines. The red wall on this side is even stranger and more fantastic than on the other. It leans and topples, keeping all the while a general slant northwest and southeast, which is, no doubt, to the geologist an important feature in its record. At its base, huge dark red and pale rose-colored bowlders are piled in confusion; its top is jagged; isolated peaks and projections on its sides seem to have been wrought and carven; one into a great stone chair, one into a canopied sounding-board. The stone is worn out in hollows and crevices into which you can thrust your arm up to the elbow. In these, generations of conies and squirrels have kept their “feast of the acorn,” and left the shells behind. This wall is on your right; on the left, low mounds and hills, with groves of pines in front, pines so thick that you get only glimpses through them of the hills behind. Soon the road ceases, dies away as if the last traveller had been caught up, at this point, into the air. A delicious sense of being in the wilderness steals over you. Climbing up on one of the ridges of the right-hand wall, you look down into the first park, and out across it to the plains. Seen from this height, the grouping of the pines seems even more marvellous than before. It is impossible to leave off wondering what law determined it, if a landscape instinct and a prophetic sense of unbuilt homes be in the very veins of Colorado pines. The outlook eastward from this ridge is grand. It is the one which the upper windows of the house will command: in the foreground the huge yellow rock, three hundred feet long, and from one to two hundred feet high; beyond this a line of bluffs, then an interval of undulating plains, then another line of bluffs, and then the true plains, far, soft, and blue, as if they were an outlying ocean in which the world was afloat.
Immediately below this ridge lies the exquisite little cup-like park, with its groups of pines. The rocks of 223 its western wall, seen from this point, are not only dark red and pale rose: they show intricate markings of white and gray and yellow; the tints are as varied and beautifully combined as you would see in a bed of September asters. Underneath your feet the hollows of the rock are filled in and matted with dry pine needles; here and there, in a crevice, grows a tiny baby pine, and now and then gleams out a smooth white pebble, cast up by some ancient wave, and wedged tight in the red sandstone.
As you climb higher and higher to the north, there are more rocks, more vistas, more pines and low oaks, a wilder and wilder confusion of bowlders. When you reach the summit, the whole northern horizon swings slowly into view, and completes the semicircle of plains by the dark blue belt of the Divide. At the very top of this pinnacle is an old pine-tree, whose gnarled roots hold great bowlders in their clutch, as eagles hold prey. If the tree were to blow off, some one of the days when the wind blows ninety miles an hour in Colorado, it looks as if it must go whirling through the air with the rocks still tight in its talons. There seems no soil here, yet the kinni-kinnick vines have spread shining mats of thick green all around the base of the tree. The green of these and the pine, the bright brown of the fallen cones, the shading and multiplying reds of the gigantic rocks, the yellow and blue of the far-off plains, the white and blue of the far-off sky,—all these crowd on the sight, as you sit on this crowning pinnacle of Blair Athol. The silence is absolute; but the color is so intense, so full of swift motion, change, and surprise, that it seems to be rhythmic like sound, and to fill the air fuller. It is the final chord of the symphony in yellow and red, and as, in the slow-falling twilight, it grows fainter and fainter, one recalls some of the vivid lines of America’s one lyric poetess:—
“I see the chasm yawning dread;
I see the flaming arch o’erhead;
I stake my life upon the red!”
Original publication: The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 36, December 1875
with high stakes for the ugliest.
, for .
looking like seals, fishes, cats, or masks
s in seals invisible
America’s one lyric poetess
[Guess again. It’s Julia Ward Howe, “Rouge Gagne”.]
I once said of a face, at hasty first sight, “What a plain face! How is it that people have called it handsome? I see no single point of beauty in it.”
That face afterward became in my eyes not only noble, fine, strong, sweet, but beautiful, apart from its beauty as an index and record of the loveliest nature and life I have ever known. Again and again I try to recall the face as I first saw it. I cannot. The very lineaments seem totally changed.
It is much the same with my first impression of the Colorado Springs. I shall never forget my sudden sense of hopeless disappointment at the moment when I first looked on the town. It was a gray day in November. I had crossed the continent, ill, disheartened, to find a climate which would not kill. There stretched before me, to the east, a bleak, bare, unrelieved, desolate plain. There rose behind me, to the west, a dark range of mountains, snow-topped, rocky-walled, stern, cruel, relentless. Between lay the town—small, straight, new, treeless.
“One might die of such a place alone,” I said bitterly. “Death by disease would be more natural.”
To-day that plain and those mountains are to me well-nigh the fairest spot on earth. To-day I say, “One might almost live on such a place alone.” I have learned it, as I learned that human face, by heart; and there can be a heart and a significant record in the face of a plain and a mountain, as much as in the face of a man.
To those who care to know the position of Colorado 225 Springs geographically, it can be said that its latitude is about the same as that of Washington City; that it lies in El Paso County, seventy miles to the south of Denver and five miles from the foot of Pike’s Peak. For myself and for those whom I might possibly win to love Colorado Springs as I love it, I would say simply that it is a town lying due east of the Great Mountains and west of the sun.
Again, to those who are curious as to statistics and dates and histories of affairs, it might be said that three years ago the town of Colorado Springs did not exist, and that to-day it numbers three thousand inhabitants; that it is also known as the “Fountain Colony,”—a name much more attractive than Colorado Springs, and also more fitting for the place, since there is not a spring of any sort whatever in the town, and the soda and chalybeate springs, which have done so much to make the region famous, are five miles away, in the town of Manitou.
The trustees of the Fountain Colony are men of means, position, and great executive ability. What is more, they are enthusiasts,—enthusiasts in their faith in the future of this region, and enthusiasts in their determination to exert their controlling power in the right direction. They hold in their jurisdiction a tract of about ten thousand acres of land; and the money derived from the sales of two-thirds of this property is to be and is being expended in the construction of irrigating canals, roads, parks, schools, the planting of trees, and other improvements. All deeds contain an improvement clause, and a clause prohibiting the manufacture or sale of intoxicating liquors on the property. Already the liquor-dealers and the company have come into collision, and the contest will wax hotter, no doubt; but the company is resolved that the town shall continue to be, as it began, a temperance town, and it will be an evil day for the little village if ever the whiskey dealers and drinkers win the fight.
The streets of the town are laid out at right angles 226 and are alternately one hundred and one hundred and forty feet wide. Narrow streams of running water are carried through all the streets, as in Salt Lake City. Cotton-wood trees have been planted regularly along these little streams. Already these trees are large enough to give some shade. Already there are in the town, bakeries, laundries, livery stables, billiard halls, restaurants, mills, shops, hotels, and churches. In all these respects, the town is far better provided than the average New England town of the same population. Remoteness from centres of supplies compels towns, as it compels individuals, to take care of themselves.
These things I mention for the sake of those who are anxious as to statistics, and dates, and the history of affairs. There is much more of the same sort that might be told; of the great increase in the value of property, for instance, lots having trebled in value within six months; of the great success in stock-raising in this region, the herds running free on the plains all winter long, requiring no shelter, and feeding well on the dry, sweet grasses; of the marvellous curative qualities of the climate,—asthma, throat diseases, and earlier stages of consumption being, almost without exception, cured by this dry and rarefied air. But all these things are set forth in the circulars of the Fountain Colony, in the reports of medical associations, and in pamphlets and treatises on Western immigration and the future of Colorado,—set forth accurately, even eloquently. The statistician, the pioneer, the builder of railroads, has his own language, his own sphere; and to him one must go for the facts of a country, for the catalogue of its resources, the forecasting of its destiny. But it is perhaps also worth while to look at a lover’s portrait of it. A picture has uses, as well as a . There is more stimulus sometimes in suggestion than in information; more delight in the afterglow of reminiscence than in the clear detail of observation. For myself, therefore, and for those alone whom I might possibly win to love Colorado Springs as I love it, I repeat 227 that it is a town lying east of the Great Mountains and west of the sun. Between it and the morning sun and between it and the far southern horizon stretch plains which have all the beauty of the sea added to the beauty of plains. Like the sea they are ever changing in color, and seem illimitable in distance. But they are full of tender undulations and curves, which never vary except by light and shade. They are threaded here and there by narrow creeks, whose course is revealed by slender, winding lines of cotton-wood trees, dark green in summer, and in winter of a soft, clear gray, more beautiful still. They are broken here and there by sudden rises of table-lands, sometimes abrupt, sharp-sided, and rocky, looking like huge castles or lines of fortifications; sometimes soft, mound-like, and imperceptibly widening, like a second narrow tier of plain overlying the first.
The sloping sides of these belts of table-land are rifted and hollowed and fluted endlessly. Miniature canyons, filled with green growths, nooks and dells, and overlapping mounds, make up the mystery of their beauty. Water-washed stones and honeycombed rocks are strewed on many of them, showing that their shapes were rounded ages ago by mighty waves. No wonder, then, that these plains add, as I said, to the beauty of plains all the beauty of the sea. Their surface is covered with close, low grasses,—amber brown, golden yellow, and claret red in winter; in summer of a pale olive green, far less beautiful, vivid, and vitalized than the browns and yellows and reds of the winter. But in the summer come myriads of flowers, lighting up the olive green background, making it into a mosaic of white and purple and pink and scarlet and yellow. Smooth, hard roads cross these plains, north, south, east, west, without turning, without guide-post, without landmark; many of them seeming so aimless, endless, that one wonders why they are there at all. It takes but a few times driving anywhere to mark out a road. If a ditch overflows and a gully is made, the next half 228 dozen passers-by drive a little to the right or left; the new road is begun and practically made, and after a few mornings purple vetches and daisies will be blossoming in the old one. Looking northward over this sea-plain, one sees at the horizon a dark blue line, like a wall, straight, even-topped, unbroken. This is the “Divide,”—another broad-spreading belt of table-land, lifting suddenly from the plains, running from east to west, and separating them. Its highest point is eight thousand feet above the sea, and is crossed by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. On its very summit lies a lake, whose shores in June are like garden-beds of flowers, and in October are blazing with the colors of rubies and carnelians.
It is a gracious and beautiful country the Divide, eight or ten miles in width and seventy long, well wooded and watered, and with countless glens and valleys full of castellated rocks and pine groves. All this one learns journeying across it; but, looking up at it from Colorado Springs, it is simply a majestic wall against the northern sky,—blue, deep, dark, unfathomable blue, as an ocean wave might be if suddenly arrested at its highest and crystallized into a changeless and eternal boundary. It is thirty or forty miles away from us; but in every view we find our eyes fastening upon it, tracing it, wondering how, not being built of lapis lazuli or clouded sapphire, it can be so blue. It is the only spot in our glorious outlook which is uniform of color. Sunsets may turn the whole north sky golden yellow, and the afterglow may stretch rosy red the entire circle round, while the plains below fade from brilliant sunlight to soft, undistinguishable gray; but the wall of the Divide remains always of its own unchanging blue. Storms sweep over it, black and fierce, but the blue shows through. Snow covers it and the winter sky arches white above it, but still its forest ranks of pines and firs stand solid, constant blue in the horizon. This is a dim picture of what we who dwell in this town east of the mountains and west of the sun 229 see when we look south and east or north,—a very dim picture, since it sets forth only the shapes and proportions, and can in no wise suggest the colors. If I say that even on this day (the two hundred and eleventh day that I have looked on these plains) I see colors and combinations of colors I never saw before, and that out of the two hundred and eleven days there have been no two days alike, who will believe me? No one,—perhaps not even they who have dwelt by my side; yet it is true, and a calendar might be kept which would prove it. In such a calendar there would be records of days when the whole plain looked like a soft floor of gray mist, its mounds and hills like mounds and hills of vapor, slow curling and rounding; when it looked like a floor of beaten gold, even, solid, shining; or like a tapestry, woven in bands of brown and yellow,—a magic tapestry, too, for the bands are ever shifting, deepening, paling, advancing, receding, vanishing and coming again, as the clouds come or go, deepen or pale, in the skies above; or, if it be winter, like a trackless, illimitable, frozen ocean, with here and there dark icebergs looming up. Not the furthest Polar Sea can look like wider, icier Arctic space than does this sunny plain when it is white with snow.
In such calendar there would be records of hours when, in spite of the whole sunset plains being darkened by overhanging clouds, the sunlight floods every bluff and castellated mound in the east, lifting them and making them look like fairy realms, with spires and slopes and turreted walls of gold; of hours again when the plains, being in strong, full light, clouds chance to rest above the same bluffs, transforming them into grim and dark and terrible fortresses, bearing no semblance to the smiling fairy castles of gold they were the day before; of hours on some winter morning, when every tiny grass-blade, flower-stalk, and shrub on the whole plain has been covered with snow crystals in the night,—not with the common round feathery crystals, but with acicular crystals fine as a cobweb thread, an inch 230 or an inch and a half long, and so close set that even stout weed-stalks curve and bend under the weight of their snowy fringe. Upon these myriads, acres, miles of crystals flashes the hot sun, and almost in the twinkling of an eye the plain changes from soft and solid white to a field of glistening sparkles, and from the glistening sparkles back to its pale yellows and browns. Even in the few seconds while I have been walking past an oak shrub I have seen every dried leaf on it change from white to brown, so marvellous is this Colorado sun,—its direct rays burning as through a burning-glass. There would be records of hours when having gone a few hundred feet up on the eastward slope of Cheyenne Mountain, we sat down in a fragrant garden of , scarlet penstemons, spiræas, wild roses, columbines, red lilies, lupines, harebells, and myriads more which we knew not, and looked off over the plains. Though they were only three or four miles away, they looked as if we might journey for days and not reach them,—so wide, so remote, so deep down, so ineffably soft and misty. We sat, as I say, in a garden; but there was in the garden, besides the flowers, a confusion of great rocks and oak bushes and tall pines and firs. There were no level spaces, only nooks between rocks and here and there zigzag intervals: but on every inch of ground some green or flowering thing grew; ravines, with unsuspected brooks in them, were on each hand. Parting the tangles of bushes and creeping or springing down their sides, we found great clumps of golden and white columbines and green ferns.
Between the pines and firs were wonderful vistas of the radiant plain. Each glimpse was a picture in itself,—now an open space of clear, sunny distance; now a belt of cotton-wood trees, making a dark green oasis in the yellow; now the majestic bluffs, looking still more castlelike, framed in the dark foreground lines of pine boughs. We were in shadow. The sun had set for us; but it was yet early afternoon on the plain and it was brilliant with sun. As we went slowly down, bearing 231 our sheaves of flowers, the brilliance slowly faded, and the lower sunset light cast soft shadows on every mound and hill and hollow. The whole plain seemed dimpling with shadows; each instant they deepened and moved eastward; first revealing and then slowly hiding each rise and fall in the vast surface. Away in the east, sharply against the sky, lines of rocky bluffs gleamed white as city walls; close at the base of the mountain the foot-hills seemed multiplied and transfigured into countless velvet mounds. The horizon line seemed to curve more and more, as if somehow the twilight were folding the world up for night, and we were on some outside shore watching it. One long, low cloud lay in amber and pink bars above the blue wall of the Divide, a vivid rosy band of afterglow spread slowly in the east and south; and the town below us looked strangely like an army, with its wide avenues and battalion-like parallelograms of houses.
If I have dwelt long on what one sees looking north, east, south from Colorado Springs, it is not because the westward outlook—I had almost said uplook—is less grand, less satisfying; rather because the reverent love for mountains is like a reverent love for a human being,—reticent, afraid of the presumptuousness of speech.
Looking westward, we see only mountains. Their summits are in the skies, ten, twelve, fourteen thousand feet high. Their foot-hills and foot-hill slopes reach almost to the base of the plateau on which the town stands. Whether the summits or the foot-hills are more beautiful one for ever wonders and is never sure. The summits are sharp, some of them of bare red rock, gleaming under the summer sunrise like pyramids of solid garnet, yet blue again at sunset,—of a purple blue, as soft as the purple blue of grapes at their ripest. Sometimes in winter, they are more beautiful still,—so spotless white, stately, and solemn that if one believes there is a city of angels he must believe that these are the towers and gates thereof.
The foot-hills are closely grown with grass. In winter 232 they are, like the prairies, brown and yellow and claret, varying in tint and shade, according to the different growths and in every shifting light from sunrise to sunset. No one who has not seen can fancy the beauty of a belt of such colors as these at base of mountains of red and yellow sandstone. The foot-hills lap and overlap and interrupt each other, sometimes repeating in softened miniature the outline of the crowding and overlapping peaks above. Here and there sharp ridges of sandstone rock have been thrown up among them. The spaces between these are so hollowed and smooth moulded that they look like beautiful terraced valleys, with jagged red walls on either hand. When sunset casts alternate beams of light and shade across these valleys, and the red walls glow redder and redder, they look like veritable enchanted lands; and if one looks up to the snow-topped mountains above the sense of enchantment is only heightened. And this is what Colorado Springs sees, looking west. Are there many spots on earth where the whole rounded horizon is thus full of beauty and grandeur, and where to all the grandeur of outline and beauty of color is added the subtle and indescribable spell of the rarefied air and light of six thousand feet above the sea?
One day last winter we saw a prismatic cloud in the sky. It was high noon. The cloud lay close to the sun: it was fleecy, yet solid; white, yet brilliant with all the rainbow tints of mother-of-pearl. All who saw it held their breaths with a sense of something preternatural in its beauty. Every instant the tints changed. They paled, they deepened, they shifted place,—pink, yellow, green, separate, blended, iridescent. As one holds up a mother-of-pearl shell to the light, turning it slowly back and forth to catch the rays, it seemed as if some invisible hand must be holding up this shining cloud and moving it slowly back and forth in the sun. The wonderful spectacle lasted some ten minutes; then slowly the iridescence disappeared, leaving the cloud simply a white and fleecy cloud, like myriads of others 233 in the sky. It seemed to me emblematic of the beauty of this whole panorama, which has as mystical a quality of endless change as the iridescent tints of mother-of-pearl. While light lasts never shall mother-of-pearl show twice exactly the same harmony, exactly the same succession of tints. And I believe that hour after hour, day after day, and year after year, these plains and mountains will never show twice the same harmony, the same succession. Most earnestly I believe, also, that there is to be born of these plains and mountains, all along the great central plateaus of our continent, the very best life, physical and mental, of the coming centuries. There are to be patriarchal families, living with their herds, as patriarchs lived of old on the eastern plains. Of such life, such blood, comes culture a few generations later,—a culture all the better because it comes spontaneously and not of effort, is a growth and not a graft. It was in the east that the wise men saw the star; but it was westward to a high mountain, in a lonely place, that the disciples were led for the transfiguration!
Originally published in the New York Independent.
if ever the whiskey dealers and drinkers win the fight
[Colorado Springs was a temperance town for 61 years—beginning two years before Helen Hunt’s visit, continuing through statewide Prohibition in 1916, and ending when national Prohibition ended.]
A picture has uses, as well as a gazeteer.
a fragrant garden of gillias
text unchanged: everywhere else “gilia” with one “l”
There are nine “places of divine worship” in Colorado Springs,—the Presbyterian, the Cumberland Presbyterian, the Methodist, the South Methodist, the Episcopal, the Congregationalist, the Baptist, the Unitarian, and Cheyenne Canyon.
Cheyenne Canyon is three miles out of town; but the members of its congregation find this no objection. They are forced just now to go over a troublesome road to reach it. Until within the past month the road led directly up one of the main spurs of the mountain, through fine breezy fields, with glorious views in all directions; but the owners of these fields have seen fit to shut them up by wire fences, which neither man nor horse can pass, and now all Cheyenneans must go up the creek, through a tangle of sand-bar, willow copse, meadow, field, farm, ford, and scramble, which is hard at first to learn, but which will soon become dearer to their hearts than the old road.
The day we first drove over it we were followed by a party of four laboring men, also seeking the way. Sittings are free in the cathedral of Cheyenne Canyon.
“Is this the road to Cheyenne Canyon?” we called back to them, at a point where, to say truth, there seemed very little road at all, only faint traces of wheels in a meadow radiant with golden daisies. They stopped singing to answer.
“Reckon so, sir. That’s where we’re going; but we’ve never been before.”
We were wrong, though. The track grew fainter and 235 fainter, and, after leading us across the creek and up a steep bank, thick with cotton-wood trees, ended in front of a log cabin. In the doorway sat a girl, with a mass of dark auburn hair, from which no one could easily look away. Once before I have seen such hair. Very sure I am that it rarely happens to a person to see two such sights in a lifetime. On her knees she held her boy, a superb baby, two years old. He was shining from his Sunday-morning bath, and every now and then he sobbed at the memory of it. Poor little fellow, “he had cried hard all the time,” the young girl-mother said. She looked at us wistfully as she told us how to find the road to the canyon. It was an event in her day our driving up to her door, and I was glad we had taken the wrong ford.
“This is the wrong road. The ford is higher up,” we called out to the wagonful of men as we met them following us.
“All right,” they answered gaily, wheeling their ugly little mules; and, as we drove on ahead, they broke out into full chorus of the hearty Methodist song:—
“If you get there before we do,
Tell them that we are coming too.”
The ford was a picture. The creek widened just above it, and was divided by three long sand-bars into three small zigzagging streams, which looked as if the creek were untwisting itself into shining strands. The water was of amber brown, so clear that the pebbles gleamed through. The sand-bars were set thick with spikes of the blue penstemon, a flower like a foxglove, growing here some foot or foot and a half high, with its bright blue blossoms set so thick along the stem that they hinder each other’s opening.
As I looked up from the ford to the mouth of the canyon, I was reminded of some of the grand old altar-pieces of the early centuries, where, lest the pictures of saints and angels and divine beings should seem too remote, too solemn and overawing, the painters 236 used to set at the base, rows of human children, gay and mirthful, leaping and laughing or playing viols. So lay this sunny belt of sparkling water, glistening sand, and joyous blue blossom, at the base of the picture made by the dark mouth of the canyon, where two great mountains had recoiled and fallen apart from each other, leaving a chasm, midway in which rose a smaller mountain of sharp rocks, like a giant sentry disputing the way. Forests of pines fill the rift on either side this rock, and their dark lines stretch high up, right and left, nearly to the top of each mountain. Higher and ruggeder peaks rise beyond, looking as if they must shut the canyon sharply, as a gate closes an alley; but they do not. Past them, among them, in spite of them, the creek took its right of way, the mountains and rocks yielded, and the canyon winds.
Entering it, one loses at first the sense of awe, of grandeur. It might be any bright, brook-stirred wood. Overhead a canopy of fir and willow boughs, with glimmers of sky coming through; thickets of wild roses, spiræas, glittering green oak bushes, and myriads of lovely lesser things on each hand; tiny, threadlike streams lapsing along gently between green, grassy paths and sandy rims; great bowlders, however, and bits of driftwood here and there, telling a tale of slides and freshets; and presently, even while looking back, we can see glimpses of the wide distances of the plain; and, almost before we know that we are in the canyon, the path narrows, the walls grow high, and the brook has become a swift, leaping, white-foamed torrent, which we must cross carefully on a slippery, dead log. In a few moments we cross again. The path seems a caprice; but there is small choice of foot-holds on the sides of this canyon. This time we cross on a superb pine-tree, fallen, still green, with every bough on the upper side waving, and those on the lower side dipping and swaying in the swift water below. Here we come to a sheer rock wall on the right, and on the left three high, jagged red-sandstone rocks, hundreds of feet 237 high, marked, and, as it were, mapped, with black and green lichens. Tall firs, growing in the edge of the creek, reach one-third of the way up these walls. Tall firs, growing on their very tops, look like bushes. Climbing a little further, now in shadow, now in sun, now in thickets of willow close on the water’s edge, now on bare and gravelly slopes higher up, we come to the third crossing. This is a more serious affair. Stones and driftwood. That is all. It is a species of dam. It would give way if the water hurried much. Around every stone is a white line of foam. Above the dam is a smooth, clear space,—so clear that the shadow of the upper edge of the rock wall, with the shrubs waving there, is marked distinct and dark on the shining gravel bed. Tiny tufts of fern nod from crevices, and one brave strawberry vine vainly flings out its scarlet runners in the air far above our heads. The path grows wilder; fallen trees cross it, piled bowlders crowd it; the rock walls are hollowed, hewn, piled, and overpiled; they are scarred, seamed, lined with the traces and records of ages, of glaciers and avalanches, of flood and perhaps of fire. Surely the black seams and lines look as if they might have been burned and branded in. Still, the firs and pines and willows make beautiful shade along the brook. It is still a flowery, spicy, sunny summer wood through which the path climbs. Clematis and woodbine tangle the trees together. Up the whole length of the highest pines races the woodbine, and flings out shining streamers at top; while the clematis, as much humbler as it is more beautiful, lies in long, trailing wreaths on the lower bushes, even on the ground. Again and again the path crosses the brook, we forget to count how many times. Each crossing is a new picture. Now sharp stone peaks, seeming to wheel suddenly across the canyon, as if there could be no going further; now the walls widening and curving out into a sort of horseshoe shape, with a beautiful little grove of pines in the hollow; now, turning a sharp corner and springing, for a rod or more, from bowlder to 238 bowlder, in the widest part of the creek, we come to a spot where, standing midway in the stream, we look down into a huge stone fortress half filled with pines, and up into another stone fortress half filled with pines. Just above these close-walled fortresses comes a wider space, where the rocky sides take gentle slopes, with here and there soft, grassy spaces, even to their very tops,—grassy spaces where yellow columbines and white spiræas wave, safe from all touch save that of winds and birds and insects. What an estate for a lark or a butterfly, such a little grassy bit as this, a thousand feet up on a rocky wall, with Colorado sun to keep him warm, and all Cheyenne Creek to drink from! Below these pine-tufted, grass-tufted walls, the brook runs slower. Shadows of every thing growing on the banks flicker on its bed, and the flickering shadows on the bed are thrown back again in flickering lights on shelving rocks which overhang it. A lovely mertensia, with its tiny pink and blue bells, hangs over the edge of the water, and a great yellow daisy stands up triumphant in a sunny corner, giving the one bit of strong color needed to make the picture perfect. To make the picture perfect to the eye, and to make it perfect to the heart, two babies lie cooing in the shade. A German family,—father, mother, children,—friends, and neighbors, are dining just here, between services. They are poor people, but the table-cloth spread on the ground is snowy white, and the babies look fresh and clean. Who can reckon the good which such a day may do in the laboring man’s life? Soul, body, heart, all refreshed, stimulated, purified. The very canyon itself seemed glorified in our eyes as we passed this cheery bit of home in it.
One more crossing and we have reached a barrier past which, though the creek can come, we cannot go. In a grand stone chamber we stand and look up to its northern wall, over which the creek comes leaping at three steps. The wall is in sloping terraces, hollowed and scooped into basins and pools. There are six 239 more such terraces of pools and basins higher up; but we cannot see them from below. Midway in the last fall there is a font-like projection of rock, into which the stream falls,—how deep no man knows, but so deep that nearly the whole body of water is thrown back in a great sheaf-shaped jet of shining drops,—a fountain in the centre of a fall, fantastic, unexpected, beautiful. Behind the sheaf of falling drops, smooth swift threads of water run in unbroken lines of descent, making a background of shifting silver under the glittering shower of diamond drops. Below the sheaf of falling drops, an amber, silent pool, marvellously undisturbed by the ceaseless fall which rains upon it, its outer ripples breaking as gently on the bright gravel rims at base of the rocky walls, as if only a languid summer breeze had stirred its surface. It needs but one wall more to make this basin of the Cheyenne Falls seem the bottom of a granite well, with sides hundreds of feet high; yet the noon sun lies hot in its depths, and the water is warm to the taste.
From the bottom of this well one looks up incredulously to the top, which he is told he can reach by a not very difficult path. “It is only a matter of time,” say they who are in the habit of going to the top of Cheyenne Canyon. “You must not hurry going up.”
“It is also a question of strength,” will be retorted by the ordinary traveller, when he finds himself invited to mount some twelve or fifteen hundred feet up the side of a mountain, where for many a long interval there is no path, only perpendicular, sliding, rolling, crunching surfaces of disintegrated rock, gravel, and fine sand, in which he seems to slip back at every step further than he climbs, and in which he can get a breathing space only by swinging himself sharply around in front of a pine-tree and bracing himself against it, never without fear that his weight will detach the tree from its perilous slant, and he and tree shoot down together in confusion. Stinging recollections crowd on his mind, of unpleasant arithmetical problems 240 given to youth, in which a certain number of steps forward are set in complicated formula with a certain number of slips back, with the question at the end, “How long will it take to go a mile?” He also thinks more of Bruce’s spider than he has thought for many years. It is an ugly, hard climb. But ah, the reward of ugly, hard climbs in this world! Mentally, morally, physically, what is worth so much as outlooks from high places? All the beauty, all the mystery, all the grandeur of the canyon as we had seen it below were only the suggestion, the faint prelude of its grandeur as seen from above.
We looked out to the east over the tops of the peaks. Long stone ridges, running south and north, seemed to be interlocked with each other, as fingers can interlock with fingers; and each line of interlacement was marked by the crowding tops of pines and firs. Running transversely to these, now and then hiding them, winding and winding again, sometimes at sharp angles, but still keeping its direction east and west, was the dark, fir-topped line of the canyon. A royal road to the plain the creek had made for itself through the very heart of the range, in spite of the mountains having locked and interlaced themselves together. And following the creek’s royal road below was a royal road through the air, down whose radiant vista we could look. Framed between two stone walls, which slope sharp to right and sharp to left, sharp as a pyramid’s side, there lay the plains, shining, sunny, near, and yet looking infinitely remote.
By a curious freak of the apparent perspective, these sharp, pyramidal lines framing this picture seemed to come toward us and vanish in an impossible “point of sight” midway between us and the horizon. The effect of this was to make the triangular spaces of plain look, when we bent our heads low to one side, like gigantic triangular banners of green and gold, flung up the canyon, and lying across from wall to wall like canopies. Then when we lifted our heads they were again radiant 241 distances of plain, hundreds of feet below us, and seemingly days’ journey away.
Creeping close to the edge of the rocky precipice, we looked over at the falls,—three, four, five. The three we had seen merged into one, and above that four others, simply narrow lines of white foam as we looked down on them from this great height,—lines of white foam running swiftly down a great stone sluiceway, hollowed into basins, narrowed into flumes, widened into broad shelves. On one of these shelves stood four men.
“They don’t look bigger’n a minute!” exclaimed a man who was lying on his breast just beyond us and looking over the edge. He was one of the Methodist brethren who had followed us in the morning singing songs. All day they had been following the creek and climbing in the woods. They wore their work-day clothes, grimed, stained. Evidently it was by some very hard and repulsive toil that they earned bread; but to-day their faces shone with delight, and again the very canyon itself became glorified in my sight by reason of unconscious human witness to its good.
From this summit we could also look westward. As far as the eye could reach here also were ridges and peaks and canyons and lines of dark pines and firs. We bore away one trophy with us,—the top, the very top, of a high balsam fir. How this victory was won is the conqueror’s secret still; but the trophy hangs on my wall and is as regal in captivity as in freedom. Seventy-three purple-blue cones are on its boughs,—seventy-three, blue as ripe grapes at their bluest in the sun and purple as grapes at their darkest in shadow. Seventy-three! Cones of Eshcol I call them.
Going down the canyon in the late afternoon, we found new pictures at every turn, a different beauty in every spot. The brook was still amber and brown and white; but it was in shadow now, no longer shining and transparent. The dancing golden light which had lighted its every nook and depth in the morning had 242 gone, and now lay serene, radiant, high up on the walls of the canyon. These great spans of vivid yellow light on the rocks shone marvellously through and between the pines. At every step we took they moved, rising higher, higher, falling to right or left, and sometimes going out of a sudden, as the blaze of a fire goes out in a wind.
The canyon was incomparably more beautiful in this light and shadow than it had been when the sharp morning light revealed and defined every thing; “as much more beautiful,” said one, thoughtfully, “as life is when our eyes are fixed on radiant heights of purpose and action and the little things of the moment lie in shadow.”
Just outside the mouth of the canyon we sat down and waited for the twilight. No sun was in sight; but the plains were sunny as at noon, and the higher peaks each side the canyon were golden red. Slowly the light left peak after peak, until only one narrow sunbeam bar was left along the upper edge of the southern summit. This bright bar stretched behind a line of tall firs, and made them gleam out for a moment like figures in shining armor. Then they grew misty and dark and melted into the mountain’s dim purple outline. The birds’ evening songs ceased, the wind died slowly away, and the beautiful Sunday came to an end.
Only from Saturday to Saturday, and I suppose the days could not have been more than twenty-four hours long; but what a week it was! Ten hours a day out under a Colorado sky; ten hours a day of Colorado mountain air; ten hours a day of ever-changing delight; beauty deepening to grandeur, grandeur softening to beauty, and beauty and grandeur together blending in pictures which no pencil, no pen can render,—pictures born only to be stamped upon hearts, never to be transferred to canvas or to page. I said that the days could not have been more than twenty-four hours long. I spoke hastily, and am not at all sure of any thing of the kind. There is a comic story of a traveller in Colorado who, having been repeatedly misled and mystified by the marvellous discrepancies between real and apparent distances in the rarefied air, was found one day taking off his shoes and stockings to wade through a little brook, not a foot wide.
“Why, man, what are you about? Why don’t you step over?” exclaimed everybody.
He shook his head and continued his preparations for wading.
“No! no! you can’t fool me,” he exclaimed. “I shan’t be surprised if it turns out to be a quarter of a mile across this brook.”
One comes to have much the same feeling about outdoor days in Colorado. Enjoyment can be rarefied, like air, so that its measures of time grow meaningless and seem false, as do the measures of distance in the upper air. I am not in the least sure, therefore, that 244 these days of which I write were only twenty-four hours long. I do know, however, that it was on a Saturday we set out, and on the next Saturday we came home, and that the week might be called the Holy Week of our summer.
We set out at noon from Colorado Springs. Thirty-five miles, chiefly up-hill miles, were to be driven before night. The seven hours would be none too long. As we drove through the busy streets of the little town, hearty “good-byes” and “good-times to you” came from friend after friend, on the sidewalk or in the doorways. Not the least among the charms of the simple life in this far new West is the out-spoken interest and sympathy between neighbors. That each man knows what each other man does or is going to do becomes an offence or a pleasure according to the measures of good will involved in the curiosity and familiarity. In older communities people have crystallized into a strong indifference to each other’s affairs, which, if it were analyzed, would be found to be nine parts selfishness. In the primitive conditions of young colonies this is impossible. Helpfulness and sympathy are born of the hard-pressing common needs and the closely-linked common life. The hearty, confiding, questioning, garrulous speech of the Western American really has its source in a deep substratum of this kindly sympathy. It sounds odd and unpleasant enough, no doubt, to Eastern ears and tried by the Eastern standards of good manners; but, reflecting on it, one comes to do it a tardy justice and meet it on its own ground fairly and with honest liking. All this I thought as, driving out of Colorado Springs that Saturday noon, we passed many persons who, although they knew only one of our party, were evidently well aware that we were setting out for the mountains, waved their hands and smiled and called out: “Goodbye, good-bye. A good trip to you.” Who shall say that the influence of such cheery benedictions from friendly hearts does not last far beyond the moment in which they are spoken; does not enter into one’s good 245 luck, by some moral chemistry subtler than any for which the material science can find analysis or formula? The world would be none the worse for believing this, at any rate, and we should all be friendlier and readier and freer in greetings.
Thirty-five miles westward and up-hill we drove that afternoon, through the lovely nestled nook of Manitou and up the grand Ute Pass. The oftener one goes through this pass, the grander it seems. There are in it no mere semblances, no delusions of atmospheric effect. It is as severely, sternly real as Gibraltar. Sunlight cannot soften it nor storms make it more frowning. High, rocky, inaccessible, its walls tower and wind and seem at every turn to close rather than to open the path through which the merry little stream comes leaping, foaming down. The rocks on either side are scarred and grooved and seamed and wrought, as if the centuries had rent asunder some giant fortress, but found slender triumph in its fall,—two fortresses being set now to guard the spot where before there had been but one. The contrast is sharp and weird between the sparkling amber and white brook, paved with shining pebbles and shaded by tangled growths of willows and clematis and tasselled festoons of wild hops, and the bare red and gray rock walls, rising hundreds and hundreds of feet, unrelieved except by straight, stern, dark, unyielding firs,—so sharp, so weird a contrast that one unconsciously invests both the brook and the rock walls above with a living personality and antagonism, and longs that the brook should escape. For a short distance the road is narrow and perilous—on strips of ledges between two precipices, or on stony rims of the crowded brook, which it crosses and recrosses twenty-four times in less, than three miles. Then the Pass widens, the rocky walls sink gradually, round and expand into lovely hills—hill after hill, bearing more and more off to the right and more and more off to the left—until there is room for bits of meadow along the brook and for groves and grassy intervals where the 246 hills join; room and at the same time shelter, for the hills are still high. And that their slopes are sunny and warm in the early spring we find record written in clumps of the waving seed-vessels of the beautiful blue wind-flower of Colorado, the Anemone patens. In April, if we had been here, we should have seen these slopes blue with the lovely cup-blossoms. Except in color, the seed-vessels are no less beautiful. Fancy a dandelion seed-globe with each one of its downy spokes expanded into a hairy plume two inches or two and a half in length, the soft gray hairs set thick on both sides the tiny centre thread, regular as on an ostrich feather and fine as the down on a butterfly’s wing. I have one before me as I write. It was over-ripe when I gathered it. The plumes had been blown and twisted by the wind, till no two are alike in their curve or direction. Yet it is still a globe; a dainty dishevelled little curly-head of a thing, by whose side the finest dandelion “blow” would look stupid and set and priggish. Out of curiosity—not idle, but reverent—I set myself to counting the plumes. They were tangled, so that it was not easy. I counted twelve springing from a pin’s-point centre. There must be a hundred or more in all. But I left off counting, for it seemed like a cruel pulling of a baby’s hair.
It was nightfall when we reached the ranch at which we were to sleep. We had climbed several divides, rising, falling, rising, falling, all in the depths of pine forests, all steadily mounting westward, toward the great grand central range; and we came out at sunset on a ridge from which we could look down into a meadow. The ridge sloped down to the meadow through a gateway made by two huge masses of rocks. All alone in the smooth grassy forest, they loomed up in the dim light, stately and straight as colossal monoliths, though they were in reality composed of rounded bowlders piled one above another. Because they are two and alone and set over against each other, men have called them The Twins. All over the world, even among the 247 most uncultured people, we find this unconscious investiture of Nature with personality, so instinctive a tendency have sensitive hearts toward a noble and tender pantheism.
As we paused on this ridge, the western sky was filled with red sunset clouds; the western horizon was one long line of dark blue mountain peaks, seeming to uphold the red canopy of clouds. Only at the point of the sun’s sinking was there a golden tint. There two blue peaks stood sharply outlined against a vivid yellow sky; one fine line of gold, like an arch, spanned the interval and linked the peaks together. The magic bridge lasted but a second; before we had fully caught the beautiful sight, arch and yellow sea and blue peaks together were all swimming in rosy clouds.
The ranch was a cluster of log cabins. When the Colorado ranchman prospers, his log cabins multiply and grow out from and on to one another, very much as barnacles spread and congregate on a rock. At foot of a hill and spreading up on its side, such a log-cabin clump is a wonderfully picturesque sight. The irregular white plaster lines in all the crevices between the brown logs; the yellow hewn ends interlocked at the corners; the low doors, square windows, and perhaps flat roof, with grass waving on it,—altogether the picture is not unpleasing, and is beautiful compared with that of the average small frame house,—high, straight, sharp-angled, narrow-roofed, abominable. On entering, you will probably find the walls and ceiling papered with old newspapers. The ultimate intent of illustrated weeklies flashes instantly clear on one’s comprehension. They may be forgiven for existing. To the dwellers in log cabins they are priceless. I have seen in rich men’s houses far uglier wall-papers than they make, and there is endless entertainment in lying in bed of a morning and reading up and down and across your bedroom walls that sort of verse which is printed in the “Blades” and “Flags” and “Spirits” and “Times” of our Union.248
When we first looked to the west the next morning the two peaks which had been blue the night before and circled by the fine line of gold were deep gray on a faint pink sky. Our road lay directly toward them. “All day we shall see,” we said, “the mystic gold arch spanning the space between them, as we saw it in yesterday’s sunset.” But we did not. Sufficient unto the day is the beauty thereof in Colorado. One does not remember nor anticipate the beauties of yesterday or tomorrow. The gold arch was forgotten before we had driven half an hour through the meadows of flowers. Great patches of brilliant fire-weed on all sides. On the road edges, rims of a fine feathery white flower, new to us all; dainty wild flax, its blue disks waving and nodding; clumps of scarlet “painter’s-brush” gleaming out like red torches in the grass; tall spikes of white and pink and scarlet gilia; and everywhere, making almost a latticed setting for the rest, mats and spikes and bushes of yellow blossoms. Six different kinds of yellow flowers we counted; but, shame to us, we knew the names of no one of them.
On a knoll in the meadows, within stone’s throw of the sluggish Platte River, yet well sheltered by wooded hills on two sides, stood a small frame house,—the house of a famous old hunter. Deer-skins and fox-skins were drying on the fences; huge elk-horns leaned against the sides of the house. As we drove slowly by, the old man came out. His hair was white and his face thickly wrinkled; but his eye was bright, clear, and twinkling with gladness and energy, like the gladness and energy of youth.
“Never go out but what I bring home something, sir,—an antelope, if nothing more,” he said, in reply to a question as to the hunting in the . Summer and winter the old man ranges the hills and his name is well known in the markets of Denver and Colorado Springs.
Leaving the Platte meadows, we began again to climb hills to the west. Divide after divide, like those we had 249 climbed and crossed the day before, we climbed now. Still the Great Range stood apparently as far off as ever. From the tops of all the ridges we looked off to it, and, looking backward, saw Pike’s Peak making as high and majestic a wall in the east. The hills were so alike, the distance so apparently undiminished that we began to feel as if we were in an enchantment,—living over a “Story without an End,” in which we should wander for ever in a succession of pine-covered ridges and valleys, lured on by an endlessly retreating wall of snow-topped mountains before us. But an end came; that is, an end to the pine-covered ridges. It was an end which was a beginning, however. Shall we ever forget the moment when, having climbed the highest of the pine-covered ridges, we found ourselves on a true summit at last, on the summit of the eastern wall of the great South Park.
The South Park is sixty miles long and forty wide, a majestic, mountain-walled valley; a valley eight or nine thousand feet high. Its extreme western wall is the great central range of the Rocky Mountains, but so many lesser ranges are massed and built up against this that the effect to the eye is as if there lay only mountains to the very outermost edge of the world. To the north and to the south it is the same. We looked down on this valley from near the centre of the eastern ridges. The view had the vastness of a view from a high mountain peak, mingled with the beauty of one from near hills. A great silence, like the great silence of the place, fell upon us. The scene seemed almost unreal. From our very feet to the distant western wall, forty miles away, stretched the soft, smooth, olive-gray surface of the valley, with belts and bars and flickering spaces of dark shadow of yellow sunlight playing over it. Here and there rose hills,—some wooded, some bare and of the same soft olive-gray of the valley. Some were almost high enough to be called mountains; some were low and fluted in smooth water-worn grooves. These were islands when South Park was a lake. They looked 250 hardly less like islands now, and the olive-gray plain when it was a placid sea could not have had a smoother tint or a tenderer light on its shimmering surface. The dome of the sky looked strangely vast and high. It was filled with fleecy, shifting clouds and its blue was unfathomably deep. There seemed no defined horizon to west or south or north; only a great outlying continent of mountain peaks, bounding, upholding, containing the valley, and rounding, upholding, and piercing the dome above it. There was no sound, no sight, no trace of human life. The silence, the sense of space in these Rocky Mountains solitudes cannot be expressed; neither can the peculiar atmospheric beauty be described. It is the result partly of the grand distances, partly of the rarefied air. The shapes are the shapes of the north, but the air is like the air of the tropics,—shimmering, kindling. No pictures of the Rocky Mountains which I have seen have caught it in the least. There is not a cold tint here. No dome of Constantinople or Venice, no pyramid of Egypt, ever glowed and swam in warmer light and of warmer hue than do these colossal mountains. Some mysterious secret of summer underlies and outshines their perpetual snows. Perhaps it is only the ineffable secret of distance. Nowhere else in the world are there mountains fourteen and fifteen thousand feet high which have all the room they need,—great circles and semicircles of plains at their feet and slopes a half continent long!
As we drove down into the valley, the horizon peaks slowly sank; with each mile they changed place, lessened, disappeared, until only the loftiest ones remained in sight. Winding among the hills, which had looked from the summit of the valley like isolated islands, we found them sometimes linked together by long divides, which we climbed and crossed, as we had those of the valley walls. With each of these lifts came a fresh view of the myriad mountains around us. Then we sank again to the lower level, and the plain seemed again to stretch endlessly before and behind and around 251 Now and then we came to small creeks, meadows, and a herdsman’s ranch; but these were miles and miles apart, and hardly broke in on the sense of solitude. Early in the afternoon storms began to gather in the horizon. In straight columns the black clouds massed and journeyed; sometimes so swiftly that the eye had to move swiftly to follow them, and the spaces of sunlight and shadow on the sky seemed wheeling in circles; sometimes spreading slowly and blotting out a third of the horizon in gray mist. All the time we were in broad hot sun, looking out from our light into their darkness. We were nearing the western wall. As we came closer, we saw that there were myriads of lovely parks making up among the wooded foot-hills. These were the inlets of the old lake days; and of their rich soil had been born exquisite groves of aspen, lying now like solid mounds of green moss on the hill-sides. Toward sunset the storm-columns thickened, blended, and swept down on all sides. Mountain after mountain and near hill after near hill were veiled in mist,—first white, gray, then dark blue-black. At last the last blue sky, the last clear spot surrendered. We were hemmed in completely in a great globe of rain. Drenched and dripping, but, for all that, glad of the rain—it had been such a masterly storm to see—we dashed on, turning northward and skirting the western hills, to the town of Fair Play. Fair Play is a mining town, one of the oldest in Colorado. It ought to be a beautiful village, lying as it does on a well-wooded slope at foot of grand mountains and on the Platte River. It is not. It is ill arranged, ill built, ill kept, dreary. Why cannot a mining town be clean, well-ordered, and homelike? I have never seen one such in Colorado or in California. Surely, it would seem that men getting gold first hand from Nature might have more heart and take more time to make home pleasant and healthful than men who earn their money by the ordinary slow methods.
To enter Fair Play from the south, you go down into and up out of the Platte River. The Platte River just 252 there is an odd place. It consists of, first, a small creek of water, then a sand-bar, then a pebble tract, then an iron pipe for mining purposes, then another pebble tract, then a wooden sluice-way for mining purposes, then a sand-bar with low aspen trees on it, then a second small stream of water, and lastly a pebble tract,—each side of these a frightful precipice. To go down the first precipice, across the creeks, sand-bars, pebble tracts, pipes, and sluiceways, and up the second precipice requires, for strangers new to the ways and blinded by gales of rain, some nerve. This was the way we entered Fair Play. We shall remember it.
At sunset the rain stopped; the clouds lifted and showed us the grand summit of Mount Lincoln, which we had come to ascend.
“Up to the top of that mountain in a carriage!” we exclaimed. “It is impossible.”
“It is not even difficult,” was the reply. “The road is as good a road as you have been over to-day. The steepness is the only trouble. It takes five hours to go from here, and it is only twelve miles to the summit.”
We were incredulous. Mount Lincoln was nearly fifteen thousand feet high. It rose bare, precipitously, and seemed to pierce the sky. A bank of snow lay along its upper line.
“There’s a mine just below that snowbank,” continued the astonishing tale. “The miners live in a cabin there all the year round and there are loads of ore drawn down every day over this road you are going on.”
The sides of the mountain looked more and more precipitous each moment that we gazed upon them. The story must be true, but it was incredible. The road must be real, but it was terrible to think of. We dreaded the morning. And it was the morning of a day which we would gladly live over again. So false are fears in this life.
We set out early,—down into the Platte meadows; up a rift between mountains, called a valley; along the edges of pine forests; past dismal little mining settlements, 253 where great piles of sulphur smoked lurid and yellow,—seven miles of this, with the bare, brown, terrible mountains looming up straight and near before us, and we came to the base of Mount Lincoln. Seven miles we had come in a little more than an hour. It was to take us four hours to climb the remaining five miles. No wonder, at our first turn into the mountain road, we looked at each other aghast. It seemed nearly perpendicular. It was full of stones, of bowlders; it looked like the washed-out bed of a fierce mountain torrent. The pine forest on either hand was grand and stately. We could see no longer the bare summit above us; but, looking back, we saw minute by minute, by the receding valley and the opening up of new views of hills and ravines and parks in all directions, how fast we were mounting. On all sides of us blazed enchanting color,—solid spaces of fire-weed, brilliant pink, purple and yellow and white asters, and blue harebells by tens of thousands; green grassy nooks under the pine trees were filled or bordered or dotted with the gay blossoms. The contrast between these and the devastated gully in which we were climbing seemed inexplicable. The horses’ sides heaved like billows and their breathing was loud. Every two minutes they must stop to recover breath. Only the strongest brakes could hold the carriage in its place. “This is nothing,” said Jack, the driver. “I don’t mind any thing about it below timber line.”
Neither did we after we had been above timber line. That was some three thousand feet below the summit. Just there stood a group of cabins—the cabins and stables of the muleteers who work for the mines.
“You’ll never get up with them hosses,” called out one of the mule-drivers, as we passed.
Jack received the taunt in contemptuous silence.
“I hain’t never been by here yet without some o’ them fellers tellin’ me I couldn’t get up,” said he. “They think there can’t nothin’ go up this mountain except a mule.”254
“Well, when we come down all safe you can ask them which knew best,” said I.
“No, I don’t never say nothin’ to ’em,” replied Jack; “for as like as not some day I shan’t get up, and then they’ll fling it up at me. I’m the only fellow in our stable but what has had his hosses give out on this road.”
We were out, fairly out on the bald, bare, blistering mountain,—on Mount Bross, which we must nearly cross to reach Mount Lincoln. The mountains, instead of being sheer solid rock, as we had supposed, looking at them from below, were simply piles, giant piles of fine-broken stone, broken into sharp, fine fragments, as if it had been crushed in a rolling mill,—not a single smooth roadstone among them, and so little sand or gravel or soil of any kind that it seemed a marvel how the great mass was held together; why strong winds did not blow it gradually away in showers of stones; why it was not perpetually rolling down; how it could possibly be tunnelled or driven over.
“There’s the road,” said Jack, pointing up to a dim zigzag line of a little lighter color than the rest of the mountain. “That’s the worst place,” indicating what looked like a track on which there had been a slide some day. “I shan’t refuse anybody that likes to get out and walk there.”
It was indeed fearful. Nothing but the grandeur of the off-look into space could have held our terror in check. That and the blue of the blue-bells all around us in great masses, making solid color as a cloverfield has. There they stood, the dainty, frail, beloved blue-bells, hugging the ground for safety; none of them more than three or four inches high, but clear, shining, and lovely as those which waved on the shady terraces below. Blue-bells twelve thousand feet above the sea, and they were not alone. There were dozens of other low flowers, which we knew not,—blue, white, lavender, and pink,—all keeping close to the ground, like mosses, but all perfect of form and tint. These comforted 255 When for very dizziness we could not look up or off, we looked down to the ground, and there secure, content little faces reassured us.
The road wound and doubled, making occasional vertical thrusts upward. It seemed to have been made by pushing down the loose stones, bracing them and packing them a little tighter; that was all. Again and again we saw ahead of us what we supposed to be the road, and it proved to be only an accidental depression or projection in the mountain side. The horses could go only about twice or three times the carriage length at a time. Then, gasping and puffing, they stopped and rested five or six minutes. It seemed to me cruel to compel them to draw us. I jumped out and announced my intention of walking. A very few steps showed me that it was out of my power. Each step that I took seemed to resound in my head. I could not breathe. I was dizzy. My forehead seemed bursting from the pressure of the surging blood.
“Shade of Henry Bergh!” I exclaimed. “Couldst thou be humane at thirteen thousand feet above the sea? I cannot.” And at the end of the first rod I called piteously to Jack that I must be taken into the carriage again. Two-thirds of the way up Mount Bross were several small cabins, projecting like odd-shaped rocks from the side of the mountain. Places for these also had apparently been scooped out among the fine rolling stones. This was the “Dolly Varden” Mine. Some of the miners stood in the cabin-doors as we passed. I gazed at them earnestly, expecting to see them look like sons of gnomes of the upper and lower air; but their faces were fresh, healthful, and kindly. A little further along Jack exclaimed:—
“We’re riding over the Moose Mine now. There’s tunnels right under us here that you could drive a four-hoss team through.” Looking cautiously over the edge of the precipice to the right, we could see the roofs of the cabins many feet below us, and in a few moments we passed the road leading down to them. It was just 256 such a road as we were on, and we could still see nothing but loose stone above, below, around. Mysterious mountain! Apparently a gigantic pile of tiny, rolling bits of stone, and yet mined and tunnelled and counter-tunnelled, and full of silver from top to bottom.
The road wound around the northern face of Mount Bross and then came out on a narrow ridge or saddle connecting Mount Bross to Mount Lincoln. This was perhaps the grandest point of all. To the north we looked up Mount Lincoln, a thousand feet above us; to the east we looked off and down to the river level, over and through and between myriads of sharp peaks and unfathomable gorges, and beyond these off to a horizon of mountains. To the west also we looked down into a confusion of peaks and ridges wedged between canyons; and just below us lay a small lake, so smooth, so dark it looked like a huge steel shield flung into the chasm.
As we ascended the last few hundred feet of Mount Lincoln a fierce wind blew in our faces. It seemed as if to such a wind it would be a trifling thing to whisk our carriage and us off the narrow ledge of road. Very welcome was the roaring fire in the cabin of the “Present Help” Mine at the summit, and very significant seemed the name of the mine.
Nothing in the mining country is odder than the names of the mines. They are as indicative of parentage as are the names of men and women; and, overhearing them in familiar conversations, one is often much bewildered. Once on a hotel piazza I overheard the following sentences:—
“He’s sold out i’ the Moore and bought into the Moskeeter; he’s got suthin’ in Hiawatha, too.”
“Well, I think Buckskin Joe’s pretty good, don’t you?” replied the listener.
The cabin was, like those of the Dolly Varden Mine, below, built against the side of the mountain, in a spot apparently scooped out of the stones. From its front was a transcendent off-look to the south and east. Its door was perhaps three feet from the edge of a sheer 257 precipice. Hundreds and, for aught I know, thousands of feet down would that man fall who made a misstep; and yet the men went back and forth swiftly, and jostled the mules carelessly to one side if they happened to wander in there. We, however, crept slowly around the cabin corner, holding by the logs, and did not venture to look off until we were fairly in the doorway.
The cook was a cheery fellow, with a fine head and laughing brown eyes. He was kneading bread. His tin pans shone like a dairymaid’s. The cabin was by no means a comfortless place. One wide, long bench for table; a narrow one for chairs; tin cups, tin pans, black knives and forks,—we borrowed them all. The cook made delicious coffee for us and we took our lunch with as good relish as if we had been born miners. The men’s beds were in tiers of bunks on two sides of the cabin, much wider and more comfortable than stateroom berths in steamers. In each berth was a small wooden box, nailed on the wall, for a sort of cupboard or bureau drawer. In these lay the Sunday clothes, white shirts, and so forth, neatly folded. There were newspapers lying about, and when I asked the cook if he liked living there, he answered: “Oh, yes! very well. We have a mail once a week.” A reply which at once revealed the man and was significant of the age in which he lived.
There were still two hundred feet of Mount Lincoln to be climbed. The little cabin had seemed to be but a step below the summit-line; but now we looked up to two sharp pyramids of stones above us. Up to the first point, over fine, sharp bits of stone, which slipped and rolled under our feet at every step, we crawled; up to the second, over great bowlders, piled and poised and tipped on each other, we scrambled and leaped, and sunk down at the foot of the flag-staff. We were literally on the apex point of the continent! Here, on the one hand, were the head-waters of the Arkansas River, going south; on the other, the head-waters of the Platte, going east; and just across a small divide, almost within 258 a stone’s throw, the headwaters of the Grande, going west to the Pacific. Well did the old Spaniards name this central range “Sierra Madre”—“Mother Mountains.” It is said that the view from this peak has a radius of over a hundred and fifty miles. It would be easy to believe it greater. Fancy such a radius as this sweeping slowly around a horizon circle of lofty peaks, and the entire space from the outer horizon to the central summit filled with great mountain ranges and their intervening parks and valleys. The great South Park, a day’s journey wide, was a hand’s-breadth now of soft olive-gray, its wooded ridges and hills making dots of dark color; yet its tint and its outline were as distinct as when seen from its near wall.
As we looked down on the narrow chains and into the closer chasms, it seemed as if this great giant pyramid on which we stood must hold, in some mysterious way, in its secret chambers, the threads of all the other ranges, as if they centred in it, radiated out from it, circled around it, in an intricate bond, like that by which the spider-web is spun and swung. The near peaks and ridges were bare, stony, sharp. Their chasms looked unfathomable, like ghastly seams cloven to the earth’s very centre. Among these, to the north, were two silent, black, gleaming lakes. From these nearer peaks the eye journeyed downward, with a sense of relief, to wooded ranges, intervals of sunny valley; and then outward, in the vast circle, to mountains with snowy tops; and at last to mountains in the furthest horizon, blue, dim, and unreal,—mountains of which one could unquestioningly believe that they were not of this world, but of some other,—parapets of some far planet, which at that moment beings of an unknown race might be standing and looking off across the great space wonderingly at us.
Who knows that among the “things prepared” there may not be this: that, we being set free from all hindrances of space, as well as from those of time, there will be recognition, converse from planet to planet, the 259 universe round, as quick and complete as there is now from face to face within hand’s reach. On such heights as this one sees clearly, and feels a million times more clearly than he sees, that this glorious world could never have been fashioned solely for the uses of our present helplessness. Deeper than the secret stores of gold and silver and gems with which these great untouched mountains are filled, there lies in them a secret, a prophecy of life to come, into which they shall enter and of which we shall be triumphant possessors.
With brakes clinched, wheels tied, and teeth set, we grazed, twisted, slid down the mountain; none too soon, for a storm was gathering in the west, which gave us a hard race down the valley and across the river meadows. But we came in ahead at sunset, and were warming our hands over a big fire in the Fair Play Hotel when it burst in avalanches of cold rain.
“This is snow on the mountains,” said the landlord. Sure enough. Next morning all the upper peaks were solid white,—so white that it was hard to see where snow left off and clouds began. As we looked back and up from the bed of the Platte at the majestic shining pyramids and cones, we doubted our memories of the day before. As well tell us we had been caught up into the skies.
We were a very glad party that morning. We were setting our faces toward an unanticipated pleasure; more than that, toward a pleasure we had longed for but had unwillingly abandoned all hope of. We were setting out for the Twin Lakes. We owed this to Jack. Jack was a reticent fellow. A hasty observer might have thought his face a sullen one; but there were fine lines around the corners of his eyes which meant good, and a smile now and then which showed a sensitive nature. He had led a wild life. He had been a stage-driver in Mexico; had spent whole winters trapping on the shores of Itaska Lake; had fought Indians everywhere; and just now was lying by in inglorious quiet in a Fair Play livery stable. Before he had been long with 260 us on the mountain, he knew what we liked. The first remark which betrayed his discriminating observation was called out by our enthusiastic ejaculations about the flowers. Without turning his head and speaking low, as if in a soliloquy, he said: “There’s great differences in folks about noticin’ things.”
Have we the tutor of Sandford and Merton for a driver? thought I, and I smothered a laugh as I said: “Yes, indeed, Jack. But what reminded you of that?”
“I was a-thinkin’ of the two people I drove up here, day before yesterday. I never heard ’em say one word from first to last about any thin’ they see; an’ they wanted to turn right round an’ come straight down ’s soon ’s they got up. I don’t know what such folks ’s them takes the trouble to travel round for. I s’pose it’s just for the name on’t,—to say they’ve done it.”
The words give no idea of the drollery and contemptuousness of his manner. We could hardly reply for laughing.
“Oh! Jack, didn’t they even notice the flowers?” we said.
“Don’t believe they’d have said there was a flower on the road,” replied Jack. “All they see was the stones and the steep places. The man, he swore at ’em.”
“But there ain’t nothin’ that you’ll see to-day,” he continued, “which is ’s handsome, to my way o’ thinkin’, ’s the Twin Lakes. You’re goin’ there, ain’t you?”
“No, Jack,” we said. “We can’t take the time to go there.”
Jack’s countenance fell.
“Can’t you?” he said. “I’d like first-rate to have you see them lakes. They’re the nicest things in this country.”
Again and again in the course of the day he alluded to them. It evidently went sorely against him that we should not see those lakes.
“You like flowers so much,” he said. “You hain’t seen any flowers yet to what you’ll see there, an’ there ain’t no kind of difficulty in gettin’ to the Twin It’s a plain road from Fair Play.”261
“Yes, Jack,” we said; “but it is two days’ journey, and we can’t spend so much time.”
Jack fairly sprang round on his seat, and, facing us, exclaimed:—
“Who’s been a-tellin’ you it was two days’ journey? It’s only thirty-five miles straight across the range. You’ll do it easy in one day.”
And so, all by reason of Jack’s having noticed the “differences in people about noticin’ things,” we set off on the fourth morning of our Holy Week for the Twin Lakes.
“Jack,” said I, as we were climbing up out of the Platte River, “what is the reason you like the Twin Lakes so much?”
An awkward, half-shamefaced look flickered over Jack’s features, as if I had asked him some question about his sweetheart.
“I don’t know,” he said, hesitatingly. “I reckon it’s because it’s such a lonely-lookin’ kind o’ place. I hain’t been there but once.”
There was a strange mixture of the hermit and the adventurer in our Jack. We liked journeying in his company.
We were out once more in the great, grand South Park. It was glorious under the morning light. Its broad stretches shone silver-gray, and its myriad-mountained wall was blue in the south and in the east and in the west snow-topped. We drove a few miles southward, then turned sharply to the west, and followed a grassy road into one of the many lovely valleys which we had seen two days before, making up like inlets between the foot-hills of the western wall of the Park. This wall we were to cross. Its multiplying and towering crests looked impassable; but we had learned the marvel of the secret windings of mountain passes, and a messenger had already met us,—a messenger white with haste, so fast had he come down and out.
By the same road we would go up and in, and so across. Almost immediately the valley narrowed. The 262 creek, the messenger, became a foaming brook and the road clung to its bank. It was thick set with willows, bush-maples, and alders. Their branches brushed into our faces, they grew so close; flowers burst into our sight like magic on all sides,—fireweed, harebells, painter’s-brush, larkspur, asters of all colors and superbly full and large. It was a fairy garden. The grass was green,—real, perfect green grass, the first, the only true green grass I have ever seen in Colorado. Except for the towering and stony walls above our heads and for the fiery scarlet of the painter’s-brush and the tall spikes of larkspur, I could have fancied myself in a wild thicketed cave in Vermont. The green grass ran up in lovely spaces under the pines and firs; the air was almost overladen with fragrance; white butterflies wheeled and circled above us and then flew on ahead; the road was set, literally set, thick with borders of lavender, gray, purple, white, and yellow asters. Even down the middle of the road they grew,—not only asters, but harebells; under the horses’ feet, safe, untouched, in the narrow central strip of grass, lifted high between the two trodden furrows.
The rocky walls narrowed and still narrowed; we were at bottom of a chasm. Then imperceptibly our road would rise, its borders widen, and we would find ourselves on a narrow divide, with deep ravines on either hand. I am at utter loss to describe how these Rocky Mountain ridges underlie, overlie, cross, and swallow up each other. They remind me of nothing but masses of colossal crystals, so sharp their edges, so straight their sides, so endless their intersections. They are gigantic wedges driven into the mountains and each other, and piled up again in tiers, making mountains upon mountains. The ravines between them seem to have been cloven by them, as an axe cleaves wood and remains fast in the rift it has made.
Over and on and up and down these wedged ridges, through unvarying pine and fir forests and through ever-varying flower-beds, we slowly climbed the range. At 263 last the pines and firs stopped. We were eleven thousand feet high. The bare ridge on which we were, tapered to a point before us and disappeared in the side of a stony peak. A small dark lake lay in the hollow just below their intersection. A sharp wind blew from the left; we were at the top. We looked over into another ravine. A dark wooded mountain shut across it like a gate; between us and it were a bit of meadow and a little
After these, the ravine narrowed again and the road grew steep and rocky,—very steep and very rocky. Through a very carnival of bowlders, fallen pines, driftwood, and foaming water we descended. Soon, through a grand rock gateway, we saw the valley of the Arkansas, olive-gray, with meandering lines of solid green marking the river course, and with strange and exquisitely beautiful terraces in it, rising abruptly and in detached curves,—the record of changing water-lines in the ancient days. As we reached the edge of the valley, we saw a faint track leading off to the left.
“Ah!” said Jack. “Here’s the short cut.” And he turned into it.
“What short cut?” said I, being by nature and by experience distrustful of short cuts to any thing.
“There’s a short cut through here down to the river, that saves four miles. So McLaughlin said. He’s been through here. It don’t look much worn, though; that’s a fact,” said Jack, as we drove into the meadow grass.
Zigzagging around that meadow, now in now out of sight, over boggy places and round hillocks, led that “short cut.” We were in no danger of losing our way, for there lay the Arkansas meadows in full sight; but the road seemed to be making no special headway toward them. The question was about the ford. Should we hit it? Presently we came out into a travelled road and in full sight of the Arkansas River; that is, of several tortuous lines of alders and willows in a bright green meadow. Not a gleam of water to be 264 Neither did our short cut in any wise cross this travelled road, which ran parallel with the river. There was no suggestion of a track leading down to the river at this point. Slowly we drove up and down that road, peering into the grass on its river side for sign or trail of a road leading to a ford. There was none. At last, Jack, giving the horses a revengeful stroke, as if they had suggested the short cut, poor things! drove rapidly up the road, saying: “Well, I reckon we’ll save time to drive up to the ford I know, four miles up the road.”
“So much for short cuts, Jack. They never turn out well,” said I, as we passed the point where the road we had forsaken joined the one we were on. It would have brought us to the ford an hour sooner.
After the ford, six miles down-stream again, through the luscious meadow grass, in which cows grazed ankle-deep. The mountains we had crossed stood bare and red in the east, the mountains we were still to enter stood soft and blue in the west,—two high ranges, and the Arkansas River and its meadows between; and yet we were in that very world of near peaks and ravines and ridges upon which we had looked down from Mount Lincoln the day before. We had thought it all mountains. Yet here in one of those chasms, which had looked to us like nothing more than clefts, there was room for a river, and river meadows, homesteads, and herds.
The sun was so low that he cast huge profiles of shadow on all the northern slopes of the western mountains, as we turned toward them. Once more to the right, once more into a grassy valley making up between the foot-hills; soft, round, covered only with low grass and a pale bluish shrub, they fairly shimmered in their ghostly gray as the twilight settled on them. One, two, three, four, five we climbed, and seemed to get no nearer the mountains. “I’d forgotten there were so many of these hills,” said Jack. “You’ll see the lakes after the next one, sure.” But we did not; nor after the next, nor the next. At last the sight came,—beautiful 265 enough to have been waited for. Before us a line of high, sharp peaks, dark blue nearly to the top, their summits just touched by the red sunset-light. They seemed to curve westward and to eastward till they met the terraced line of hills on which we stood. At their feet and at ours lay the two lakes,—dark, motionless, shining, stretching close to the mountain bases on all sides, and linked to each other by a narrow neck of green land, across which a line of green bushes stretched, looking like a second band set to strengthen or to adorn the first. Afterward we saw that it was a closer link than we dreamed; for beneath the line of green bushes runs a little creek, mingling the waters of the upper and the lower lake perpetually.
Jack turned and looked at us in silence.
“Yes, you were right, Jack,” we said. “It is more beautiful than any thing we saw yesterday, and it is a very lonely-looking kind of place.”
Not so lonely as we could have wished, however, when we drove down the steep hills to the Log Cabin Hotel, where we must sleep. People walking about, white-covered camp-wagons, high-topped buggies, all told us that we were too late on the list of arrivals.
“Indeed, I can’t,—not to make you anyways comfortable,” was the landlady’s honest answer when we appeared at her door, saying: “Here we four are, and must stay. Can you take care of us?” It wasn’t so bad as it might have been, that wind-swept, fluttering room in which we went to bed that night, bounded to west by a chinky log wall, to north by an open window, to east and south by a scant calico curtain, which parted, but did not sever us from the dining-room. Colorado travellers have often fared worse, no doubt; but, taking all things into account, we thought it an odd coincidence that over at the head of one very unrestful bed there should have been pasted a leaf of “The Overland Monthly,” containing the first stanzas of an “Ode to Pain.” Never shall I cease to regret that we were so stupefied by lack of sleep and by the repeated alarms at 266 the fluttering calico curtain that we omitted to copy that “Ode to Pain.” The pattern of the calico of the calico curtain I recollect perfectly,—it is stamped on my brain for ever; but not a line of the Ode can I recall.
All the next morning we sat under a pine-tree on the northern shore of the lakes and looked out upon them. Marvellous, lovely twins! Ten thousand feet above the sea and thousands of miles away from it, they held all its charm and none of its sadness. The soft waves lapped on the shore with a sound as gentle as the sigh of pines, and the water was clear as crystal sixty feet down. They were seas, translated, glorified, come to their spiritual resurrection, and wedded to each other for all eternity. The lower lake is about three miles in length; the upper one only half as long. They are not more than a mile and a half wide. But when you sit on the shore, and see the great mountains’ full height and the dome of the sky reflected in them as in a glass, and reaching only half way across, they seem much wider. The mountains are wooded half way up. The green line of firs and pines and aspens reproduces on the mountain side exactly the line which the summits make against the sky. This beautiful, jagged summit line, therefore, is three times mapped in the beautiful picture,—mapped first in red against the blue sky, then in green on the mountain side, and then red and green outlines both are mapped again together on the dark amber of the lake. The picture seemed to be drawn by a trembling hand. At the slightest breeze on the surface it quivered and was effaced, but returned in an instant again if the breeze died down. As we drove away in the early afternoon, along the terraced hills on the northern shore, the lakes were motionless, and dark blue as tempered steel, and the picture of the wooded mountains stretched across the shining surface in lines as fine and distinct as Damascus ever graved on her magic metal for blade or shield.
We followed the lake outlet down toward the Arkansas 267 meadows again, over more of the soft, sage-gray hills, past deserted mining villages where grass grew high round blackened hearthstones, and past villages where men are still mining for gold, down, down as fast as the creek into the fertile bottom-lands. The Arkansas here is narrow, and doubles on itself perpetually, as if it sought to baffle some pursuer. Its meadow at this point is a delicious bit of color. First the curving lines of willows and cottonwoods, dark green; then the rank meadow grass, bright yellow-green; then the foot-hill slopes of the exquisite gray-green, paling to silver-gray at top, and with the red soil gleaming through everywhere; then the dark, wooded slopes of the mountains, reaching up to ten or eleven thousand feet, and above those the bare peaks, gray, or red, or blue, or purple, according to the day and the hour. Again and again I wonder at the ineffable loveliness of the soft tints in this stern-visaged country. Again and again I long for an artist to come who can seize the secret of their tenderness, the bloom of their beauty. The meadow grew less and less,—from fields to narrow strips, from strips to fringes it diminished, and the mountains came closer and closer. On every side of us were weird and fantastic rocks, shaped in all manner of semblances, so distorted, so uncouth, so significant of ages of violence, that they were almost fearful. At sunset we looked out to the mouth of this canyon on a scene bewilderingly beautiful. No mirage in the desert ever played a more fantastic trick upon travellers eyes than did the sweet light and mist slanting over the distance beyond the mouth of the canyon. Against the southern sky rose one of the highest mountain ranges, its summit-line majestically cut into square buttress shapes in the centre, and in slowly lowering peaks and undulations to right and left. It was two-thirds in shadow,—deep, dark blue,—the upper third so bathed in light that the clouds floating above it seemed part of it, and we disputed with each other hotly as to where the real crests of the mountains were. At foot of this range, bathed 268 in a golden light and yet misty and pale blue in parts, there lay what seemed to be a great city of Oriental architecture. Domes and minarets and towers and roofs,—nothing could be plainer. The light streamed in among them; the beams lay in dusty gold aslant across them; shining spots here and there looked like the kindling reflections of sunlight on glass surfaces. What could it be? No city, certainly. It was into the wilderness we gazed, but what did the shapes mean? They were far too solid to be mere atmospheric effects, optical illusions. As well as if we were touching their foundations, we knew that they were solid, real. Behind us the western sky was one sheet of gold. Floating crimson clouds hung low over the near mountains, and the east was clear blue. Slowly the city sank into shadow. Even after it was wrapped in gray, the domes and the minarets and the towers remained. It was a city still. And we drove down into the valley almost believing that some strange chance had brought us to that height at the exact moment when the sun’s rays had revealed some unknown ruins in a hollow of the great hills.
There could hardly be a sharper contrast than that from the gorgeous color and fairy-like spectacle on which we had been feasting at top of the hill, to the dank, dark hollow into which a few moments brought us,—to the low, flat-roofed cabins, and the sad, worn face of the woman who stood in their doorway.
The cabins were built close to the bank of the river. Hills to the north and to the south shut in all the dampness and shut out hoursful of sun. There was a heavy and ill-odored moisture in the air, such as I had not supposed could exist in Colorado. I shuddered at the thought that we must sleep in it.
In reply to the question whether she could take care of us for the night, the sad-faced woman answered:—
“I’ll do the best I can.”
The expression of her face made my heart ache. She looked ill, hopeless; every feature showed refinement, 269 and her voice and her words were those of an educated woman.
“I am sure you are from the East,” I said to her. The tears filled her eyes instantly.
“Yes, I am from New York State,” she said, and turned away.
Before night we knew her whole story. It seemed to be a relief to her to tell it to us. She had been a school teacher in western New York. Of delicate fibre physically, and of an unusually fine and sensitive mental organization, she was as unfitted for life in the Colorado wildernesses as a woman could well be. Yet she had borne up under it bravely until the last three years, when ill health had been added to her other burdens. Within the last month, two of her three children had died, and this last blow had broken her heart. One had died of scarlet fever, and the other, she said, “of this dreadful new disease that the doctors don’t know much about,—the cerebro-spinal meningitis, they call it, or some such name.”
Poor babies! No wonder, living in that damp hollow, with the river miasms, if there were any, shut in and kept over from night to night in the low-roofed cabin!
The remaining child, a little boy of six or eight, looked very pale and lifeless. He too had had the fever. It would have seemed cruel to say to that helpless mother, “The only chance for healthful life for him and for you is a new house on some sunny hill-side.” Yet I yearned to say it. It will be long before I forget that sad little home on the Arkansas.
The next morning—our sixth morning—we set out early on our homeward way. A few miles brought us to the magic city of the night before. The marvel was not so strange. Here were hills, upon hills,—sharp, rounded, crowded, piled with rocks, which even by day bore almost the shapes they had shown to us by night,—pinnacles, buttresses, terraces, towers, with sharp-pointed firs growing among them. It was indeed a city—a silent, tenantless city—which reminded me of some 270 of the stories I read in my childhood of Edom and Petræa. We were in the canyon still, but it was fast widening and bearing to the right. The way of the Arkansas River lay south, and we could follow it no longer. We must turn northward and climb the range again. We had lost many hundred feet of elevation in coming down this easier way by the river’s road. Five hours of good climbing did it. Over divide after divide, as we had so many times climbed before; under the pines and among the flowers and out on the bare ridges at top; then down, miles down, into the grand, steadfast, reposeful plain of the park. We were a half day’s journey now to the south of Fair Play and our road skirted the western wall of the park. We looked up into all the lovely valleys, thrusting their arms into the forest slopes of the mountains. They were alike and not alike,—all green and smooth and creek-fed, but no two of the same outline, no two of the same depth, any more than any two of the inlets on a fretted seashore. A night at Fair Play again, and then we retraced our road of the first two days,—eastward, instead of westward, across the park; eastward over the mountains and through the passes, and at sunset of the eighth day down into our own beloved plains. The first glimpse of their immeasurable distance was grander than all we had journeyed to see.
Their mystic vanishing line, where earth and sky seem one, only because eyes are too weak to longer follow their eternal curves, always strikes upon my sight as I think there would fall upon the ear the opening perfect chord of some celestial symphony,—a celestial symphony which we must for ever strain to hear, must for ever know to be resounding just beyond our sense, luring our very souls out of this life into the next, from earth to heaven.
Only, as I said, from a Saturday to a Saturday. But what a week it had been,—the Holy Week of our summer!
[Now Pulsatilla patens.]
hunting in the neighborhood
text has neigborhood
endlessly before and behind and around us.
final . invisible
first white, then gray
text has white, then, gray
These comforted us.
final . invisible
I jumped out and announced my intention of walking. A very few steps showed me that it was out of my power.
[It was around this point that I added Black Beauty to my In Progress list.]
Shade of Henry Bergh!
[Founder of the ASPCA. He was alive at the time this article was written—in fact he outlived the author by several years—so referring to his “shade” seems premature.]
’n he’s got suthin’ in Hiawatha, too
text unchanged: expected ’n’
difficulty in gettin’ to the Twin Lakes.
final . invisible
a bit of meadow and a little stream.
final . missing
Not a gleam of water to be seen.
final . invisible
to curve westward and to curve eastward
text has curvs eastward
Never shall I cease to regret . . . that we omitted to copy that “Ode to Pain.”
[That makes two of us. The Overland Monthly, published 1868-1875, exists online, but I couldn’t find anything like an “Ode to Pain”. It’s possible our author has misremembered the title—either of the poem or of the journal. In Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine for August 1871 (pg. 133-135 of Volume VIII) there’s an “Ode to Pain” by Elizabeth Sill:
Abhorrèd mistress of this mortal frame!
Thou of the bloodless cheek, the cruel eye,
Whose conquering touch the tiger’s rage can tame,
From whom the strongest shrink, the bravest fly!
I see thee stalking o’er this sighing world:
A thousand poisoned shafts thy quiver bears,
A writhing scorpion ’mid thy locks is curled,
And in thy hand thou shak’st a lash that never spares
The poet’s name does not appear until the final page.]
On the fourth day of June, 1876, Pike’s Peak was white with snow, and glittered in the sun as if the snow were solid ice. Half-a-dozen little fleecy clouds flitted around its summit, like fairies wrapped in swan’s down skating back and forth on the shining surface. Nowhere else in the radiant blue dome of sky was a cloud to be seen. The Fountain Creek, which runs eastward from Manitou toward Colorado Springs, was swollen high by melting snows in the mountains, and dashed along with foamy, white-capped waves. A tiny island, not more than two or three feet square, full of tall, waving, yellow lupines, was so nearly swallowed up by the torrent that it hardly looked like an island,—rather like a gay bark, with a myriad golden pennons, tossing on a stormy sea.
To enter Red Canyon, one must ford this creek about two miles east of Manitou. It took some nerve to drive into the swift current. A second’s swaying of the carriage, a sudden plunge of the horses, a muffled clattering of their feet deep down beneath the water, and we were out on the other side, wheels dripping like mill-wheels and the horses shaking themselves like Newfoundland dogs after a swim.
“If the creek should continue to rise while we are in the canyon, what then?” said I, as we rounded the first rocky bank, and began to walk the horses in a soft, green open.
“Stay here till it fell,” was the wise and sententious answer. “We couldn’t ford it if it were two inches higher.”272
How much did this thought enhance the pleasure of that day? Red Canyon was not only Red Canyon. It was a possible home, lodging, shelter,—a sudden sanctuary of refuge. Had we friends, they could not find us, get at us. Red Canyon had taken possession of us, had chosen to monopolize us by a grim and daring hospitality akin to that of the feudal ages. Had we enemies, were we fugitives, Red Canyon would not give us up. It was our extempore monarch and knew nothing of laws of extradition. The very thought of these possibilities seemed to drop a veil between us and home, only three miles away; to lend a spell as of unreckoned distance and uncounted time. The day, the place, became dramatic, and we were irresponsible dramatis personæ, with no trouble about learning our parts. It was a novel and delicious sensation,—one of the many and inexhaustible surprises which they enjoy to whom the gods have granted that they may live in Colorado.
And so we studied Red Canyon. First, as I said, is a soft, green open or valley, not many rods wide, its left wall red sandstone, in thin horizontal layers, piled up from fifty to a hundred feet high, jagged edges, water-worn and seamed, with pine-trees growing in their crevices. On the right hand, low hills, grass-grown, a copse of oak bushes close to the road on the left; on the right, one of wild cherry-trees in full bloom. The sandstone ledges look in places like old ship-keels, turned up, stranded, battered. The oak bushes are so close to the road they brush your wheels. The road winds, now right, now left; more ledges, more grassy hills, more isolated rocks, columns, obelisks, all red. Three sharp pinnacles stand out on the left and seem to narrow and cut off the road. A second more, and a cone-like hill beyond has risen suddenly like a green fortress across the way between two red ledges. Now the road winds through a cottonwood grove, and the hills and ledges on each side seem to be slipping past, above the tree-tops, like the sliding canvas of a painted panorama. Then the rift widens into a little park. 273 Close in front is one sharp sandstone peak, thick-grown half way up with pines and firs,—a pyramid of red set in a bowl of green. Hills upon hills rise on the right, full of green firs and pinnacles of red stone. Blue mertensias and penstemons grow among them. Now the canyon narrows again. It is only a chasm. The ledges on each side present a front as of myriads of plate edges, so thin are the layers and so many. Again they are rounded and smooth. One on the right looks like a gigantic red whale, hundreds of rods long. Opposite him are great surfaces of slanting rock, finely striated, as with engravers’ tools. You can see only a few rods ahead. The road is a gully. Roses begin to make the air sweet. In a thicket of them, the road turns sharply round a high rock, and you are again in a little grassy open, some hundred yards wide. The great red stone whale on the right has his backbone higher than ever, and dozens of loose bowlders are riding him. On the left hand the rock wall is perpendicular, serrated at top, and with slanting pinnacles shooting out here and there. Tall pines, also, seventy and eighty feet high, rooted in rocks where apparently is no crumb of earth. At the base of this wall, a thick copse of oak bushes, whose young leaves are of as tender and vivid a green as the leaves of slender white birches in June in New England. Now we cross a broad gully. In the bottom of its red and sandy bed is a thread of shining water. Ahead looms up a solid mass of green,—a fir wood,—out of which taller pines rise like canopies borne over heads below. The walls on either hand slope back, and have here and there little plateaus, which are thick with foliage, a sort of brilliant repoussé work in green on a red background. There is a sharp buzz of insects all through the air. Here comes another little thread-like stream leaping across the road, and suddenly the canyon widens again. The left-hand wall is a wall of green, none of its stone showing through; but in the centre of the canyon rises a huge minster-like pile of red stone, with tall firs and pines for towers and spires. 274 Next we cross a dry and stony gully, and come to gypsum quarries, where the glistening white stone is tumbled about in fine, picturesque masses,—a sudden and delicious contrast of color after the dark reds and greens on which we have been looking so long.
The canyon narrows; the road narrows; the walls seem to brace their very feet together. Pink wild roses and shrubs of a beautiful white-flowered rubus overhang the road. There are huge red bowlders and peaks on our left; green hills and the white quarries on our right; a disused kiln, also, whose white doorway looks ghostly. The road sinks into rocky chasms, climbs out, turns such short corners we cannot see the horses’ lengths ahead, scrambles over bowlders and slabs and piles of gypsum, and comes to a dead stop in front of a hill, with great masses of cleft rock on its top. This is the head of the canyon,—the hard knot, as it were, in which the two walls are tied.
Tiers of soft, green, conical hills shut us in on all sides. A great shelf of rock juts out, and makes so large a shadow that a party of four or five might be comfortably bestead here for a night. It has evidently been often used for such shelter, for the ashes of old fires lie thick in its recesses.
Summer days seem always reckoned by minutes, and not by hours. How much too short they seem in Colorado it would not be wise to try to tell; but no one will forget who has spent many of them out of doors there.
Red Canyon has, doubtless, many secrets to keep. I shall keep well my share of the secrets of this fleeting fourth of June.
As we retraced our steps in the late afternoon, the canyon seemed like a new one we had never seen, so changed was it by our changed point of view. It is far more beautiful as you go down. The sides seem abrupter, the contrasts more vivid, and there is ever before your eyes a magnificent background of distance to the north and northeast. The blue wall of the divide breaks it, and the grand gates of the Garden of 275 the Gods glow like pinnacles of red cornelian in the sunset light.
The creek, which had been so full of foamy white-caps in the morning, was running so much more peacefully when we crossed it at night that our horses stood still in the middle and drank at their leisure; and the gay bark, with its yellow lupine pennons, was high above water, its sides looking black and worn, as if it had been in battle.
On the fourth day of June, 1876
[Colorado formally became a state on 1 August 1876.]
here and there a few pallid weeds
text has palid
Three hours by rail from Denver to Central City,—only three hours; but one might often journey for three days and nights without making so sharp a transition. To go in three hours’ time, from a broad, dusty, sun-smitten plain, into cool, dark, pine-clad gorges, and up and out upon mountain heights, is like being lifted in one day, by some great stroke of fate, from a stagnant, commonplace level of life to an atmosphere full of joy and purpose and action. Who that has lived and loved has not known some such sudden upliftings? Who that has lived in and loved Colorado has not thus journeyed from one to another of her marvellous worlds? Not that the plain which bears Denver on its bosom can ever be called commonplace, or Denver stagnant and inert. The plain is majestic, almost solemn in the suggestion of its distances and its snow-topped westward wall; and Denver is bristling at every turn and in every corner with the sharpest sort of action. Nevertheless, the plain is a plain,—bare, apparent, monotonous, wearying, hot; and the mountains,—God be praised for them for ever,—are reticent, unfathomable, eternally varied, restful, cool. So long as the world stands shall the instinct of men turn to them for the best strengths of soul and body. Three hours by railroad, I said; but the last two hours are on a species of railroad for which I think some new name should be invented. Simply to say “narrow-gauge” conveys no idea, except to the mind educated in railroad technicalities, of the 277 slender, winding, curving railroad tracks which thread the canyons of these Colorado mountains. They bear the same relation to the common railroads that a footpath does to a turnpike, and their agile little engines climb like goats. “Let us buy it and take it home to the children,” said a facetious man, the other day, standing at the Colorado Springs Station and watching the arrival of the noon train on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. And, indeed, they do look not unlike toys. They make magnificent work of their playing, however, whisking around curves of thirty-one and thirty-two degrees and drawing heavy loads up grades of two hundred and eleven feet to the mile. Wherever water can come down, a narrow-gauge railroad can go up. Side by side, on equal terms, asking no favors, it will make foothold for itself on the precipices, and follow the stream, leap for leap, grade to grade, coming out triumphant, abreast, at top of the mountain. This was the way we mounted to Central City, through Clear Creek Canyon.
The walls of the canyon are rocky, precipitous, and in places over one thousand feet high. It seems little more than a rift in the mountain, and we could easily fancy it closing behind us as we passed on. Fir-trees and aspens made a mosaic of dark and light green, like shaded malachite, on the sides. Wild roses and spiræas and blue-bells grew on the edge of the creek and far up in the clefts of the rocks.
Wherever the creek foamed whitest and swiftest, there the pink roses and blue-bells waved and danced gayest. Here and there other canyons broke the wall, running down at sharp angles to our road, and opening long, narrow vistas of view to right or left, making the labyrinth of overlapping, interlacing hills seem endless. Now and then we came to little oases of green, where the creek widened, and cottonwood trees had found space to grow and branch; now and then to picturesque little water stations, perched on the rocks, with foot-bridges thrown across the creek; though for what the 278 master of the water-station could want to cross to the opposite precipice it was hard to conceive, unless, indeed, it might be to pick more blue-bells. On one of these rocky plateaus was a high swing, its beams fastened by firm iron stanchions to the rock. Far out over the foaming creek, nearly spanning it, the ropes would reach if the swinger were bold. Could it be for some child’s delight it had been set there? We wondered whether even a mountain child, born in Clear Creek Canyon, could be so brave.
Again and again, as we looked up the canyon, we could see our engine, the whole of the first car, and part of the second, doubling and twisting around sharp curves ahead. The train seemed supple-jointed as a serpent, and glided without jar over its sinuous path. The wonder of this was so great and the beauty of the scene so marvellous, that throughout the train every man seemed to become friend to his neighbor; on all sides strangers were talking animatedly, joyously, sharing each other’s delight with unaffected enthusiasm. Everybody said to everybody, “Oh, look!” Not least among the endless pleasures of journeying in this grand old New World of ours, is the satisfaction of finding out, as we do at such moments, how much true fellowship and kinship there is at bottom between man and man. There was in all that car no man so rough, no woman so uncultured, as to sit stolid and unstirred by the grand rocks, the leaping stream, the beauteous blossoms, and the incredible marvel of our swift ascent.
As we neared Central City, the hills on either side grew barer, stonier, higher; and along the creek we began to see the dreary traces of that dreariest of all things on the earth’s surface, gulch mining: long stretches of pebble beds torn up, rent, piled, bare, desolate; here and there a few weeds struggling to crowd their way down and up between the stones and live in the arid sand. They only made the devastation look ghastlier. Is there not a significance in this thing, that men find no way of getting gold from 279 the earth’s depths, without so marring, blighting all the fair, green beauty of its surface?
The railway station in Central City seems invested at once with historical interest when you are told that it is known only by the name of “Fitz-John Porter’s Folly.” Why that unlucky general should have been permitted still further to disgrace himself on this remote and unmilitary field, or how in the name of the very science of blundering he could have spent two hundred thousand dollars on this low, dark, ill-shaped purposeless building, it is not worth while to ask; but so long as the building stands, men will not cease to wonder.
To get to Central City, you drive through Black Hawk. Where Black Hawk leaves off and Central City begins seems indefinite. Why a part of the gulch should be called Black Hawk, and a part Central City, seems to a stranger inexplicable; but to the citizens of those two towns seems evident, natural, and a sufficient ground for antagonistic rivalry. To say literally how “it feels” to drive in the streets of this gulch, or the gulches of these streets, called respectively Black Hawk and Central City, would be to commit unpardonable exaggerations. Why the towns do not slide down hill any night, in one great avalanche of houses, stamping mills, smelting works, piles of slag, ore, mules, bowlders, and citizens, I do not know. To the unaccustomed eye, every thing and everybody seems to have been miraculously arrested in the process of toppling down. The houses are perched one above another, on the sides of the gulch, as if they were set on the successive steps of ladders. A man sitting on his piazza may rest his feet on the roof-tree of his neighbor next below; and so on all the way down. The only endurable situation, one would think, must be at the top of the hill, but how climb to that? I looked to see derricks for the elevation of families at the corners of all the streets, but they have not yet been introduced. However, many of the cross streets are made chiefly of stairs; and I saw mules going up and down them as 280 naturally as cats go up and down trees. My room at the hotel was on the second floor. Out of its windows I looked across a very narrow street into the basement of the house opposite. I saw many small houses built where the precipice was so steep that, as you looked up from the street you saw the hill above the house, apparently making a continuation of the roof. It produced a most curious optical illusion. No house thus placed can stand so straight that it will not have the look of tumbling down. Add to this apparent confusion of toppling houses, intervals of bare, brown, rocky hillsides, dotted everywhere with piles of gray ore thrown up at the mouths of mines, and some conception may be formed of the desolateness of the scene. Not all the red gold of Ophir would be compensation to an artistic soul for the hourly sight of such desolation. I fancied that the whole expression of the town seemed to say, “We endure this but a short time. We are here only for a season, harvesters of gold. As soon as the harvest is reaped, we will return to the regions of life and verdure and beauty.” Yet there were many of the little houses which looked homelike,—had white curtains, and flowers in the windows; and two or three had small trees in the yards. These looked like oases in Sahara.
A few weeks ago a fire broke out in this gulch. In less than three hours it swept away a third of the town. It seemed for a time as if nothing could stay it. High up on the sides of the precipices were gathered the women and children, watching their burning homes. The fire must have looked, at bottom of that narrow gulch, like a second stream, with fiery waves, rushing down side by side with the creek. It was terrible to imagine it.
There are treatises on metallurgy which give detailed and accurate accounts of the processes by which gold and silver are made ready for buying and selling. A person who has seen these processes in the mills and mines of Central City, ought to be able to write such a 281 treatise. There is, no doubt, something organically wrong in the constitution of a mind which, at the end of hours of wonderstruck gazing upon such mysteries, and in spite of the most minute explanations of them, emerges into daylight and poverty as ignorant of gold and silver as before. As ignorant, but not as irreverent. The smallest gold or silver coin will for ever seem to me a talisman of necromancy, a link with the powers and the principalities of the air. Have I not seen it burning without fire, by virtue of its own sulphur? Huge piles of it lying in open air, stacked up like charcoal mounds, and smouldering away sullenly at every crevice, while the lurid sulphur gathered in yellow incrustations over the top, and made a superb contrast to the column of amber and opal-colored smoke which rose in slow coils from the furnace chimneys, and was reflected like sunset clouds in the creek beneath. Have I not walked cautiously through dark galleries of fiery furnaces, whose open mouths glowed and glared with an evil heat, while the metal boiled and bubbled and hissed within? Have I not seen huge tubs where a part of its waste was slowly turning into superb crystals, of a blue which no sapphire could match,—no, not in centuries of growth in the heart of a mountain? Have I not climbed stairs to a platform where every plank under our feet was a trap-door, and opened into shallow, tray-like boxes, with compartments, where the fine granulated silver lay soaking, stewing, slowly cooking in boiling water? Have I not seen the final furnaces of all, where, in small, round crucibles, the last test of the hottest fire is applied, and the molten metal must cease its angry and resistant seething, and become calm and smooth-surfaced as a mirror? When the workman sees his own face reflected in the placid, shining surface, he knows that the refining process is completed. From that instant no more need of fire. There is a Holy Scripture which has new beauty after one has seen this. And there might be a scripture, also holy, of human love, which would find here as fitting a metaphor 282 for the peace and calm of the highest earthly affections. It also becomes placid at the greatest fervor, and reflects the loved one’s face, soul, nature, life; and after that instant no more need of fire!
“Can I not go into a mine?” I said. “I would like to see the beginning,—the spot where the hand of Nature reaches out and lays this treasure in the hand of man.”
One, experienced in the interior of mines, smiled, but answered me kindly:—
“Yes, yes; you shall. There is the Bob Tail Tunnel. That is pretty dry. You shall go into that.”
At the mouth of the Bob Tail Tunnel we met its workmen pouring out. It was six o’clock. Their day had ended. Pallid, dusty, earth-stained, they looked like no joyous seekers after riches. Their begrimed and careworn faces, and ragged clothes, seemed a bitter satire on the words silver and gold.
Trotting slowly along, head down, meek and sleepy, came a gray mule, drawing a small iron car loaded with ore.
“We can go in in that,” said my friend, the one experienced in the interior of mines. “It isn’t too late, Charley, is it?” he added, turning to a big negro who was driving the mule.
Charley scrutinized us. “No, no; jump in,” he said. “I’ll take the lady in.”
“In!” It was literally “in.” The mouth of the Bob Tail Tunnel was like the door to a huge brick oven in the side of a mountain. Sitting on a water-pail bottom side up, in that car, crouching low to my knees, grasping a bit of flaring, dripping candle in one hand, and rolling myself up tightly in warm wraps with the other, I entered that grim cavern. An icy blast met us. In five minutes it was dark as midnight. My candle showed me the bottom of the car and the spots of tallow on my skirts. Charley’s candle showed me the shadows of the mule’s legs on the sides of the place we were in. These were all I saw. It might have been anybody’s 283 coal-bin, or cellar stairs, for all I could perceive. Jolt, jolt, rumble, rumble, on we went. Suddenly we came to a halt. By a chance gleam from Charley’s candle, I saw another oven door in the right-hand wall.
“Will you go down Number Two or Number Six, sir?” said Charley. “Here’s where Number Two leads off.”
“What’s the difference, Charley?” said a reassuring voice behind me.
“No great difference, sir. Number Two’s the longest.”
“Keep on in Number Six,” I whispered.
“Keep on in Number Six, Charley,” said the reassuring voice behind me,—the voice of one much amused, the voice of one experienced in the interior of mines.
“All right, sir,” said Charley. “They’re blasting in Number Two now,” he added, as the mule began his jolting trot again.
Above us, below us, around us, before and behind us, pealed that blast. The echoes seemed louder than the blast. It was terrific. I suppose I have been in a gold mine, because I was told so; but I know I have been in the middle of a thunder-clap, for I have felt it.
Even the one experienced in the interior of mines did not enjoy this.
“All right here, Charley?” he said. And I wondered what there would be to be done in case it had not been “all right.”
Dim reminiscences crowded my mind of accounts I had read of affecting messages which miners had scrawled on the walls of choked-up galleries.
“Ha, ha! Yes, sir. All right, sir,” chuckled Charley.
Charley enjoyed that blast. Presently we stopped. This was the end of the track.
“Are we a mile in?” I asked.
“Only a few hundred feet,” was the reply. I did not believe it. I do not now. I firmly believe that I was standing just above the highest tower of Pekin at that moment.284
Charley led the way; we followed. To clamber in the dark over the wildest confusion of bowlders, on the top of a mountain, with the risk of bumping your head thrown in,—this it is to walk in the Bob Tail Tunnel. Anxiously, and as well as I could by my very little candle, I peered at the walls on either hand.
“Here’s a fine vein.” “Here’s the lead they’re following now.” “Here’s the pure metal, sir,” said Charley, enthusiastically, at every step of the way holding up his candle to spots a little darker or lighter than the rest. Occasionally I fancied I saw a gleam; but it might have been the shining of the candle-flame on a wet spot.
Soon we heard the sound of pickaxes,—clink, thud, clink, thud, at regular intervals; and presently quick, panting breaths, in alternation with the blows; and in a moment more we saw just ahead of us an arched opening into a lighted chamber, and the forms of two miners swinging their arms with powerful strokes, and before each stroke drawing in a heavy breath. This was the end of the mine. This was in keeping with my thought of mystery, of some subtle bond with Nature. Inch by inch, flake by flake, these two men were winning, compelling way to the whole of the secret hid in the rock. This was mining. Until midnight they were to stand in that chamber, panting, cleaving the solid stone, journeying toward the centre of the earth. Above them the city would be at rest; perhaps they would be the only ones not sleeping. How strange it would seem to them to come out at high noon of night, and see the heaven full of stars! As their forms bent and lifted, and bent and lifted, in the dim light, they seemed to me not human beings, doing the bidding and winning the wealth of an earthly master; but gnomes, spirits, working the will of invisible omnipotence, as they must have worked who wrought “before ever the mountains were brought forth.”
Never shone any turquoise in the eyes of eager finder as did the tiny oval of blue sky at the mouth of that 285 tunnel as we drew near it on our return. We had been in the bowels of the earth only a short half hour, as clocks reckon minutes; but no clocks can lose or gain time as hearts can. We had lived the lifetime of a miner; we had felt what it might be to die his death.
Looking down on the town at sunset, from a point high up on one side of the gulch, we were impressed anew with the marvellousness of its existence under such unfavoring conditions. Even the sunset glow could not much soften the barrenness, the rocky confusion, of the sharp and angular steeps.
“I have never seen any thing so dreary, unless it be in northern New Hampshire,” said a New Englander of the party. “New Hampshire!” I echoed, loving New Hampshire, granite and all, and knowing well how all the granite is redeemed and made gracious by myriads of lichens and mosses and vines, in the barest of her fields,—“New Hampshire! It is New Hampshire wrong side out, bottom side up, and after a spring freshet!”
But, as the shadows darkened and the gulch seemed to grow deeper and deeper in the twilight, a sadder and deeper thought took possession of me. This strange, gold-filled rift in the mountains seemed to me like a great crucible, into which had been cast the lives of men and women and children. Fiery as the tests through which the metals pass, must be the tests of life in such a spot. How much must be consumed and perish for ever, that the pure silver be refined!
Fitz-John Porter’s Folly
[FitzJohn Porter (1822-1901) had a long history of either incompetence or bad luck, depending on whose version you follow. He was court-martialed and kicked out of the Army in 1863, and spent the next 20 years fighting for reinstatement. He began his civilian life in 1864-65 as on-site Superintendent of Mining Operations for one or more New York-based companies (Gunnell Mining Company and/or New York & Colorado Mining Company). The railroad station dubbed “Folly” was built as, but never used for, a stone mill.]
Where Black Hawk leaves off and Central City begins seems indefinite.
[The two are still separate.]
“No, no; jump in,” he said. “I’ll take the lady in.”
[Was our author is so wrapped up in thoughts of gold that she forgot to put the speaker’s words into “dialect”? No, it was probably intentional. Usage in Ramona, written some ten years later, suggests an established personal policy of only using “dialect” for white speakers.]
Georgetown is the American cousin of Bad-Gastein. As Bad-Gastein crowds, nestles, wedges itself into a valley among the Austrian Alps, so does Georgetown crowd, nestle, wedge itself into its canyon among the Rocky Mountains. And as the River Ach runs through and in the streets of Gastein, so runs Clear Creek in and through the streets of Georgetown. But Clear Creek does not leap, like the Ach. Georgetown has no waterfall. Neither are the sides of the canyon wooded, like the beautiful, glittering sides of the Gastein Valley. Georgetown is bare and brown. Georgetown is Gastein stripped of its fortune, come to the New World to begin anew in the hard pioneer life. In the old days of Gastein, silver and gold mines were worked in all the mountains round about. Those were the days of the haughty Weitmosers, whose history is wrought into legends, and linked with every rock and forest and waterfall in the Gastein Valley. Now the Weitmoser name is seen only on tombstones, and the water-wheels and sluices of the old gold mines are slowly rotting away. Perhaps three hundred years hence the steep sides of the Georgetown Canyon will covered again with balsams and pines; the pinks, daisies, and vetches will carpet the ground as the pink heath does in Gastein; the mill-wheels will stand still; the mines will be empty; and pilgrims will seek the heights as they seek Gastein’s, not because they hold silver and gold, but because they are gracious and beautiful and health-giving.
To Georgetown, as to Gastein, there is but one easy 287 way of going,—that is, by private carriage. The public coaches are here, as everywhere, uncomfortable, overloaded, inexorable. I know of no surer way to rob a journey of all its finest pleasures, than to commit one’s self to one of these vehicles. It means being obliged to get up at hours you abhor, to sit close to people you dislike, to eat when you are not hungry, to go slowest when there is nothing to see and fastest when you would gladly linger for hours, to be drenched with rain, choked with dust, and never have a chance to pick a flower. It means misery.
The private carriage, on the other hand, means so much of delight, freedom, possession, that it is for ever a marvel to me that all travellers with money, even with a little money, do not journey in that way. Good horses, an open carriage, bright skies overhead; beloved faces,—eager, responsive, sympathetic,—on either hand; constant and an unrestrained interchange of thought, impression, impulse,—all this, and the glorious out-door world added! Is there a way of being happier? I think not.
It was thus that we set out, early on a June day, to go from Central City to Georgetown.
“Up to Georgetown,” somebody said in our hearing.
“Is there any going further up?” we exclaimed.
It had not seemed that there could be. Did not the sky rest on the tops of the sharp-precipiced hills near whose summits we were clinging?
Nevertheless it was “up” to Georgetown at first,—up through Nevada Gulch, a steeper, narrower, stonier, dirtier gulch than we had yet seen, more riddled with mines and crowded with more toppling houses. Then, out upon what seemed an “open” by comparison with the gulches, but was really only an interval of lesser hills and canyons. Deserted mills, mines, and cabins were here; hardly a trace of cultivation, but everywhere green shrubs and luxuriant flowers, to show what fertility was lying neglected in the unused soil. Three miles of this, and then, turning to the left, we plunged 288 into a road so stony, so overgrown, it seemed hardly possible it could be the one we had been told to take to reach the top of Bellevue Mountain.
Let no one forget, in going from Central City to Georgetown, to ask for and find this wild path. Its outlook is worth all the rest of the journey.
It was a severe climb,—we did not know how severe, for our eyes were feasting on the wayside lovelinesses of green oak and juniper and golden asters, white daisies and purple vetches. From the bare and stony gulches we had left behind, to this fragrance and color, was a leap from a desert into a garden. Suddenly looking up, we found that we were also looking off. We were on a grand ridge or divide, around which seemed to centre semicircles of mountains. So high and so separated is this ridge, and yet so central in the great fields of peaks which make up this part of the great Rocky Mountain chain, that, while we could look off far enough to see the Snowy Range, we could also look down into the canyons and gorges among the nearer mountains. It was a surpassing sight! It is one of the few extended views I have seen which have also composition, beauty of grouping, and tenderness of significance and revelation. We could see long, shining, serrated spaces of the solid, snow-covered peaks, the highest on the continent,—peaks from whose summit one could look, if human vision were keen enough, to the Western and the Eastern Oceans. These lofty serrated lengths of shining snow lay cut against the uttermost horizon blue, like an alabaster wall rounding the very world. Seeming to join this wall, and almost in lines of concentric curves, were myriads and masses of lower mountains, more than the eye could count. To the very foot of the watch-tower ridge on which we stood, the peaks seemed crowded. We could look into the green valleys lying between them, and trace the brown thread of road winding up each valley. We sat under the shade of pines and firs. The ground was gay with yellow lupines, daisies, and 289 great mats of vines (the bear-berry) with full clusters of delicate pink bells, as lovely as arbutus blossoms, and almost as fragrant.
Ten thousand feet above the sea, and yet the air was as spicy and summer-laden as in an Italian June! Ten thousand feet above the sea, and yet the warm wind burnt our faces fiercely, and the snow-topped horizon wall seemed like a miracle under such a tropical sun!
On the very summit of the mountain, even here among the daisies and lupines, and within sight of all the solemn kingdoms of mountains, we came upon one who dug for gold. He was a German, tall, broad-chested, straight-shouldered, blue-eyed, flaxen-haired,—a superbly made man. Health and power actually seemed to radiate from him under the sunlight, and the unconscious joyousness of their unconscious possession lighted his eye and beamed in his smile. He stood all day long at the mouth of a shaft, and drew up buckets full of ore which might mean a few dollars of gold. It was an old claim. He had two partners in the ownership of it, and they were now working it for a few months, merely to comply with the provisions of the recent Miner’s Act. He spoke that delicious and effective broken English which only Germans use. To him the Act meant personal inconvenience; but he had thought deeper than that. “It is good for the country. There will be not the wild cat any more. It shall be that a man do not throw his money away that another man shall move his stakes in the night.”
I do not know why this man’s figure seemed to me more typical of the true genius and soul of gold-winning than all the toiling crowds in mining towns. It was, perhaps, the loneliness of the spot, the glorious lift of it above the world around, or even the beauty of the blossoms and the scent of the firs. It might have been just such a nook in the Hartz Mountains to which the genii of gold and silver led the favored mortals to whom they elected to open the doors of their treasure-house.290
From Bellevue Mountain to Idaho it is three miles, downhill. Not downhill in the ordinary acceptation of the word, not such downhill as one may have three miles of any day in northern New England; but downhill in a canyon,—that is, downhill between two other hills so sharp that they wall the road. Truly, labyrinths of interlacing hills can be marvellous. Much I question whether the earth holds anywhere a more delightful confusion than has been wrought out of these upheavals of the Rocky Mountains, and planted with firs and bluebells. In a hollow made by the mouth of the canyon down which we had driven, and by the mouths of several other canyons, all sharp-walled and many-curved, lay Idaho. From the tops of the mountains which circle it, the little handful of houses must look like a handful of pebbles at the bottom of an emerald-sided well. Thither come every summer multitudes of men and women,—Coloradoans, Californians, and travellers from the East,—seeking to be made well and strong by bathing in hot soda springs, which bubble out of the rocks of a small creek.
For the benefit of those who, not being disciples of Hahnemann, do not shudder at the thought of medicated baths, I give the analysis of the water:—
|Carbonate of Soda||30.80|
|Carbonate of Lime||9.52|
|Carbonate of Magnesia||2.88|
|Carbonate of Iron||4.12|
|Sulphate of Soda||29.36|
|Sulphate of Magnesia||18.72|
|Sulphate of Lime||3.44|
|Chloride of Sodium||4.16|
|Silicate of Soda||4.08|
|Chloride of Calcium and Magnesium,
of each a trace.
If it were proposed to any man to go into an apothecary’s shop and take from the big jars on the shelves all these carbonates, sulphates, silicates, and chlorides, dissolve them in his bath-tub, and then proceed to soak 291 himself in the water, absorbing the drugs through his million-pored skin, he would probably see the absurdity and the risk of the process. But, because Nature, for some mysterious purposes, has seen fit to brew these concoctions in the bowels of the earth, which spits them out as fast as it can, men jump at the conclusion that they are meant for healing purposes, and that one cannot drink too much of them, or stay in them too long.
“Do you take the baths yourself?” I asked the man in charge of the “Pioneer Bathing Establishment.”
“Yes’m, I’m tryin’ ’em. But if I stay in more ’n fifteen minutes, I get just as weak as any thing,—real weak feeling all over; it seems as if I couldn’t get out. But there’s plenty of folks that comes and stays in an hour and a half, and say it does ’em good.”
“But are you not afraid of any thing which is so powerful that it makes you feel so weak in so few minutes? Why do you take the baths at all? Are you ill?” I said.
“No’m, I ain’t sick. Leastways, nothing to speak of. I hain’t ever been very strong. But I thought I’d try ’em. The doctors all say they’re good, and I expect they must be; they ought to know. And I’m here all day, with not much of any thing to do. I might as well go in.”
What an epitome of truth in the bathman’s words! What an unconscious analysis of the process by which patients are made,—lack of occupation, and an ignorant faith in doctors’ assertions.
Up a westward canyon from Idaho lies the road to Georgetown,—twelve miles of it. There is just room for it and for Clear Creek, and for narrow rims of cotton-wood, willows, and wild roses, and for here and there a bit of farm. The sides of the canyon are sometimes bare, stony; sometimes green with pines and firs and young aspens; sometimes gray, because fire has killed the pines; sometimes gray with piles of ore thrown up from mouths of mines; always a changing succession 292 of color; always a changing succession of shape, of contour. Ah! the twelve miles it is to remember; and alas! the twelve miles it is to long and yet fail to describe. Canyons after canyons open and shut as we pass. Just such a road as we are on flings its alluring brown thread up each one. If there were no such thing as a fixed purpose, and an inexorable appointed day, we would follow each clew and learn each canyon by heart. No two canyons are alike to true lovers of canyons, any more than any two faces are alike to the student of faces. To the outer edge of the concentric, curving ranges of this Rocky Mountain chain one might journey, in and out and up and over, and in and out and in and out again, I am persuaded, all summer long, for summers and summers, and find no monotony, no repetition. That is, if one be a lover; and if one be not, what use in being alive? Rather, one should say, in having a name to live while one is dead.
Georgetown is a surprise at last. It has no straggling outposts of houses, and you have become so absorbed in climbing the canyon, watching the creek and the mountains, the trees and the flowers, that you forget that a town is to come. Suddenly you see it full in view, not many rods ahead, wedged, as I said before, like Bad-Gastein,—crowded, piled, choked in at the end of the narrowed rift up which you have climbed. In and out among the narrow streets runs the creek, giving shining and inexplicable glimpses of water, here, there, and everywhere, among the chimney-tops and next to doorsteps. The houses are neat, comfortable, and have a suggestion of home-loving and abiding, quite unlike the untamed and nomadic look of Central City. You turn corner after corner, crossing the mountain side sharply at each turn, and getting up higher and higher, street by street, till on the very highest level you come to the Barton House, and look off from its piazza over the roofs of the town. On either hand are towering mountain sides, dotted wellnigh to the tops with the shining pyramids of the gray ore thrown 293 up by mines. They mark lines like ledges hundreds of feet above the town. The hills are honey-combed by galleries and shafts; but they look still and peaceful and sunny as the virgin hills of the Tyrol.
“Shall we go down into a silver mine? Have you had enough of mines?” said the one experienced in mines.
“Never enough of mines,” I replied. “And down into a mine must be a thing quite unlike headforemost into a mine. Let us go.”
“Then I will take you to the ’Terrible ” he said. “It is the nearest, and one of the largest.”
“Is it so very terrible?” I asked. The word was not alluring.
“Only ‘Terrible’ by reason of the amount of money sunk in it,” he laughed. “It is the most picturesquely situated and attractive mine I know of. But it has swallowed up more money than any other three mines in the region, and is only just now beginning to
As the horses’ heads were turned sharp to the right from the hotel door and we began to climb again, I exclaimed, incredulously: “What, still further up?”
“Oh, yes! two miles straight up. There might be a ladder set from here to there, if one could be made long enough,” was the reply. If it had been a ladder it would have seemed safer. A narrow shelf on the precipitous side of the mountain,—winding, zigzagging up in a series of sharp curves, with only a slight banking of the earth and the stone at the outer edge, and a sheer wall hundreds of feet below, down to the foaming creek,—this is the terrible road up to the “Terrible Mine.” It was like swinging out into space when we turned the corners. Teams heavily loaded with silver ore were coming down. In places where two inches’ room made all the odds between being dashed over the precipice and not, we passed them,—that is, our carriage passed them. We were not in it. We were standing close to the inner wall, backed up against it, holding our breaths to make ourselves thin. “Can’t go on the outside, sir, 294 with this load,” was the firm though respectfully sympathizing reply of teamster after teamster; and on the outer and almost crumbling edge of the road, where the heavy load of ore would have been in danger of crushing down the entire shelf, there our wheels were airily poised, waiting for the wagons to pass. More than once, watching closely from behind, I failed to see even a rim of road beyond the wheel. One careless misstep of a horse, one instant’s refusal to obey the rein, and the carriage would have toppled over and down into the foam. Yet our driver seemed as unconcerned as if he had been driving on a broad boulevard, and had evidently a profound contempt for his passengers, who persisted in jumping from the carriage at every turn-out.
The creek was one pauseless torrent of white foam. All the beautiful amber spaces were gone. Not a breath did it take; it seemed like two miles of continuous waterfall. Tall fir-trees shaded it, but their tops were far below us; their shining darkness made the white of the foaming water all the whiter by contrast. On the rocky wall on our right were waving flowers and shrubs,—columbines, bluebells, spiræas; so slight their hold they seemed but to have just alighted, like gay-winged creatures, who might presently soar and pass on.
One thread-like stream of water came down this precipice. It zigzagged to get down as much as we were zigzagging to get up. At turn after turn in the road we continued to see new leaps, new falls of it, until at last we saw the spot where it cleft the uppermost rock, looking like nothing but a narrow, fleecy wisp of cloud, lying half on the gray summit and half on the blue sky.
The miners’ cabins were perched here and there among the bowlders, hundreds of feet up, bare, shelterless, remote. They looked more like homes for eagles than for men. No path led to them; no green thing, save firs and low oaks, grew near them; only by the sharp roof-tree line could one tell them from the rocks which were piled around them.
At the end of two miles, we came to a spot where creek and road and precipice paused and widened. The 295 creek was dammed up, making a smooth, clear lake, with odd little pine-planked bridge-paths circling it; the road space widened into a sheltered, shady spot, where, nestled against the mountain of stone, stood three or four small buildings. A fountain played before one and children played before the others. These were the offices and homes of the men in charge of the mine, and the mouth of the mine was in sight, high up on the mountain side. An enormous pyramid of the glistening gray ore lay in front of it. On the top of this two men were at work loading the ore into small buckets, swung on wire from the mouth of the mine to the top of a high derrick on the edge of the creek. Back and forth and back and forth glided the buckets, swift and noiseless. The wire was but just visible in the air; the buckets seemed, coming and going, like huge shining shuttles, hung by invisible hands.
By gasps we threaded our way among the bowlders and up to the mouth of the mine. Here, indeed, a ladder would have been a help.
Then, miners’ jackets on our shoulders, candles in our hands, facing an icy wind and breathing the fumes of gunpowder, again we entered the earth by an oven-door in a rock. We walked on the iron rails of the track, down which cars loaded with ore came constantly rumbling out of the darkness. We shrank into crannies of the rock to let them pass. The track was wet and slippery. It seemed a long way, but was only a few hundred feet, before we came to a vaulted chamber, so dimly lighted that it looked vast. Strange sounds came from its centre. As our eyes gradually grew used to the darkness, a strange shape in its centre grew gradually distinct. The sounds and the shape were one. It was a steam-engine. It was at work. Puff, puff, hiss, creak, slide,—weird beyond all power of words to say sounded these noises in that ghostly place. A gnome-like shape, in semblance of a man, stood by, with a controlling hand on the puffing engine.
“Would you like to go down in the mine?” said the Shape, courteously.296
It was a hospitable gnome. This was the one entertainment at his command. Tremblingly I said The Shape disappeared. We were left alone in the vaulted chamber. The steam-engine stopped. No sound broke the silence. The darkness seemed to grow darker. I reached out for a friendly hand, and was just about to say, “This is, indeed, the ‘Terrible Mine,’” when a sudden light flashed into the place, and, springing back, I saw the head of another Shape coming up from an aperture at my feet. A trap-door had been flung open. The Shape had a lighted candle in the band of his cap. If I were to describe him as he appeared to me in that first instant, I should say that frightful flames issued from his forehead. He smiled friendlily; but I grasped the protecting hand closer.
“Is the lady coming down, sir? The bucket will be up in a minute,” he said.
This was the mouth of the shaft. The Shape had crawled up on a ladder. It was no more than an ordinary front stairs to him.
I was ashamed to say how afraid I grew. The Shape answered my unspoken thought.
“There’s ladies goes down every day. There’s no danger,—not the least,” he said.
“Ye wouldn’t miss it, not for any thing.”
The bucket came up. It was swung off to one side of the trap-door. It was an extra-sized water-pail, with high sides,—sides coming up just above the knees of them who stood in it. It could hold just two,—no more. It was necessary to stand facing in a particular way to prevent its swinging round and round. By an iron hook from the centre of the handle it was suspended over the dark aperture. It was raised and lowered by the steam-engine.
“Ready?” said the Shape who stood with his hand on the engine.
“All ready,” replied the Shape who stood with one hand on the edge of our bucket.
“Now, keep cool. Don’t mind the bucket’s swinging. The shaft ain’t straight, and it will twist some. I’ll be 297 down there before you are. He’ll let you down slow.” And the friendly Shape vanished in the gloom.
It was odd how much it felt like being lowered by the hair of one’s head, the going down in that bucket. It is odd how very little consciousness one has of any thing solid under one’s feet, standing in such buckets under such circumstances. It is odder still what a comfort there is in a bit of lighted candle in this sort of place. All that the candle showed me was the slanting wooden wall, against which we bumped with great force every now and then. Why the sight of this should have been reassuring it is impossible to tell; but, during the hour—three minutes long—which we passed in that descending, swinging, twisting, bumping bucket I fixed my eyes on that candle-flame as earnestly as if it had been a light-house, and I a sailor steering to shore by its guidance.
“All right, ma’am. You didn’t mind it much, did you?” came suddenly from the darkness, and a pair of strong hands laid violent hold on the bucket edge, and, resting it firm on a wet and stony ground, helped us out. This was the nethermost gallery of the mine. We were five hundred feet down in the earth and there were five galleries above our heads. We followed the friendly Shape over rocks, piles of ore, past mouths of pits, and through dripping water, to the end of the gallery, where we found a party of miners drilling and picking. Here and there we saw long, glistening veins of the precious ore in the walls over head. It seemed to run capriciously, branching now to right, now to left. Here and there we came to dark openings in the walls, through which our guide would call to men at work above us. Their voices reverberated in the heavy gloom and sounded preternaturally loud.
The place grew more and more weird and awesome at every step. The faces of the miners we met seemed to grow more and more unhuman, less and less friendly. I was glad when we began to retrace our steps; and the bucket, swinging in mid-air, looked like a welcome escape, a comforting link between us and the outer 298 world. Whether bucket, shaft, steam-engine, or we were in fault I do not know; but the upward journey was a terrible one. The bucket swung violently,—almost round and round; our clothes had not been carefully secured, and they were caught between the bucket and the shaft-sides and wrenched and twisted; and, to add to the horror, our candle went out. No words were spoken in that bucket during those minutes; they were minutes not to be forgotten. Still the guide was right: we would not “have missed it for any thing.”
When we offered our guide money, he said: “No, thank you. I don’t take any money for myself; but, if you’ll read that notice,”—pointing to a written paper on the office wall,—“perhaps you’ll give us something for our reading-room.” This paper stated that the miners were trying to collect money enough to build a small room, where they might have books and papers and perhaps now and then a lecture. They had subscribed among themselves nearly three hundred dollars.
“You see,” said our guide, “if we had some such place as that, then the boys wouldn’t go down to the town evenings and Sundays and get drunk. When a fellow’s worked in a mine all day he’s got to have something.”
How the thought struck home to our hearts at that minute. We had been in that airless, sunless cavern only one short half hour; yet the blue sky, the light, the breeze, the space already seemed to us unreal. We were dazzled, bewildered. What must be the effect of weeks and months and years of such life?
“Indeed, we will give you all the help we can,” we said; “and, what is more, we will ask everybody we know to send you some papers or books.”
Here is the guide’s address:
Henry F. Lampshire,
Foreman of the “Terrible Mine,”
From Georgetown down to Idaho at sunset is more beautiful even than from Idaho up to Georgetown of a morning.
Full speed; sunlight gone from the left-hand wall, broad gold bands of it on the right; now and then a lift or canyon opening suddenly to the west and letting in a full flood of light, making it sunny in a second, afternoon, when the second before it had been wellnigh sombre twilight and the second after it will be sombre twilight again; red, gray, and white clouds settling down in fleecy masses upon the snowy mountain towers of the gateway of the valley,—this is sunset between Georgetown and Idaho. And to us there came also a wayside greeting more beautiful than the clouds, bluer than the sky, and gladder than the sun,—only a flower, one flower! But it was the Rocky Mountain columbine,—peerless among columbines, wondrous among flowers. Waving at top of a stem two feet high, surrounded by buds full two inches and a half in diameter, the inner petals stainless white, the outer ones brilliant blue, a sheaf of golden-anthered stamens in the centre,—there it stood, pure, joyous, stately, regal. We gazed in speechless delight into its face. There was a certain solemnity in its beauty.
“That’s the gladdest flower I ever saw,” were the first words spoken, and the face of the man who said them glowed.
Oh! wondrous power of a fragile thing, born for a single day of a single summer! I think that the thing I shall longest remember and always most vividly see of that whole trip in the Colorado canyons will be that fearless, stainless, joyful, regnant blossom, and my friend’s tribute of look, of tone, when he said, “The gladdest flower I ever saw.”
Throughout this article, “Idaho” is Idaho Springs.
Georgetown Canyon will be covered again
text has will he
great mats of killikinnick vines
text unchanged: expected kinnikinnick
disciples of Hahnemann
[The inventor of homeopathy. He also got a mention in Bits of Travel.]
“Then I will take you to the ’Terrible Mine,’”
closing single quote invisible
just now beginning to pay.”
single for double quote
Tremblingly I said “Yes.”
” invisible at line-end
Canyons are known of their lovers. To their lovers they reveal themselves; to their lovers’ eyes they are no more alike than fair women are alike in the eyes of their worshippers.
Also there is a right way to take a canyon, as there is to take a person. One must not be driven through,—no, not if a broad turnpike ran its whole length. Only by slow and humble toiling on foot can one see its beauties. Another is made for a swift and royal dash on wheels, or on horses’ backs; as distinctly “set” to an allegro movement as was ever a joyous outburst of the soul of Beethoven or Mozart. Harmonies obey one law all Nature through, and when we learn and study Nature, as we study and love art, we shall know better how to “keep time” with her, and our voices will not be out of tune so often. We shall not pipe to her at high noon and expect her to dance, which is only a fantastic way of saying that, going out at midday to look at mountain ranges, we shall not pretend to know them; that shall visit meadows of a morning, and not be seen driving eastward at sunset; and that, if we live in Colorado, we shall take our canyons right end foremost and be absolutely certain which way they were meant to be read.
The more canyons one sees, the more this truth sinks into one’s heart, the more vividly one realizes the intense individuality of each canyon. Carried blindfold into any one of them and set down midway, one knowing them could never mistake or be in doubt. But it is hard to find words in which these differences shall be distinctly set forth, harder even than it is to tell just how one 301 human voice differs from another; yet who ever mistook a voice he knew?
Bowlder Canyon is one of the “allegro” movements. It is sixteen miles long and one should ride swiftly down it,—race, as it were, with the creek, which has never yet drawn a long breath since first it plunged into the gorge. To see Bowlder Canyon aright, therefore, one must enter it from the Nederlands Meadows, at its upper mouth; and to reach the Nederlands Meadows from Denver one must go by rail up the Clear Creek Canyon (hardly less beautiful than Bowlder Canyon itself) and drive across from Central City to Nederlands. The road lies through tracts of pines and over great ridges, grand in their loneliness. From every ridge is a new view of the “Snowy Range,” to the west and north. In strong sunlight and shadow these myriads of snow-peaks, relieved against the blue sky, are of such brilliant and changing colors that it must be a very dull soul indeed that could look on them without thinking of many-colored jewels. On the day that I saw this view, James’s Peak was covered with snow and stood in full light. Its sharp pyramidal lines looked as fine cut and hard as if the mountain had but just been hewn from alabaster. A little to the north, Long’s Peak, which is cleft into two peaks, was half in shadow and half in sun. The peak in the shadow was as dark a blue as blue can be and not be black; and the peak in the sun was distinctly and wholly pink,—a rosy pink, with an opaline quality in the tint. The mountain did not look like a mountain. The colors were so intense that the line where they joined was as plainly marked to our sight as if it had been on a map in our hands; but the mountain was twenty miles away.
Midway between Central City and Nederlands is a settlement, called Rawlinsville, which ought to be called Oasis Town. Between two bare and brown hill-ridges, a bit of meadow New England might own, and an amber and white trout-stream foaming through it. The meadow seemed fairly to be bursting into blade and leaf as 302 we drove in, so wondrous and so surprising green was it. A dusty brown road on its edge leads westward up the green vista. A gate shuts it off from the highway. It is the road into Colorado’s beautiful mountain valley, the Middle Park. From Rawlins to Nederlands only ridges and hills and their connecting and interlocking spurs, pines, and firs, and everywhere loneliness and silence. “In” the mountains is a phrase we have come to use carelessly when we mean among them. But it is a significant thing that we say “in” and do not say “among.” Among the Rocky Mountains it is especially significant. Hour by hour one sinks and rises and climbs and descends in labyrinths of wedged hills. Each hour you are hemmed in by a new circle of peaks, among which no visible outlet appears; and each hour you escape, mount to a new level, and are again circled by a different and more glorious horizon. You come to feel that you yourself are, as it were, a member of the mountain race; the sky is the family roof, and you and they are at home together under it. This it is to be “in the mountains.”
Nederlands is a dismal little mining town,—only a handful of small houses and smelting mills. Bowlder Creek comes dashing through it, foaming white to the very edge of the grimy street, reclaiming the land from dust and stones and making it soft and green for many an acre. As you drive eastward down this meadow, following but never overtaking the creek, the mouth of Bowlder Canyon stands full in sight. Its gray stone walls rise up, fortresslike, from the meadow-sward,—the left-hand wall bare and gray; the right-hand one thick set with firs from base to top. It is a picture of vivid contrasts,—the green meadow, with ranks upon ranks of yellow and red willow bushes making belts of bright color upon it; between the yellows and reds, gleams of white foam flashing; and beyond, the high buttress fronts of the canyon mouth, adorned with evergreens, as for a triumph. One step past this gate and you are in a second meadow. A tiny spot, but green as the other, walled to the sky with gray stone 303 and fir trees, dainty and soft under foot, lighted by the flashing water and gay with flowers. Here spreads a gigantic cedar tree, broad like a banyan, with gnarled roots, that make seats, and low boughs, that make a good roof, as who should know better than we who sat composedly lunching under them while a shower of rain rattled away over our heads and did not wet us. It gathered blacker and blacker, however, and the canyon darkened fast, as a little room darkens when candles burn down. There is none too much light at best in a rift between rocks which are hundreds of feet high. When its strip of sky canopy turns black as ink and rain falls in white sheets, filling it in, day seems day no longer. Ahead of the storm, we dashed down the canyon. Looking back, we could see it following us in a strange mist wall, which advanced as solid-fronted and steady and swift as an army. The noises of battle were not wanting either, for the wind roared and shrieked, the trees gave out great sobbing sounds as they bent in the gale, and overhead the thunder crashed and echoed, sharp lightning leaped from side to side, seeming a fiery network over our heads. It was grand; but it was not safe, and we were glad to scramble, all dripping, into a deserted log cabin. The rain came into the open chimney-hole in the roof and fell in pitiless satire on the blackened hearthstone, where no fire could be. But the old bunks were dry; and on the edges of these we sat and peered out into the canyon. What a very carnival of waters it was! The creek leaped and danced as if it were mad with joy, flinging itself upward to meet the torrents of rain half way. All the green things leaped and danced also, swaying their supple bodies in rhythmic time to the tempest. The fir-trees seemed as lithe as the blades of grass, and the buttercups and daisies bowed down to the ground and up to their full height—down and up and down and up—and never a stem of them all broke in this storm, in which it was not safe for us to be out. So much stronger are the weak things of the earth than the mighty.304
In the thickest of the storm an old man came slowly sauntering up the road. Long, white beard dripping with water; old leather trowsers running with water; old battered hat streaming water, as if it were a pail he had just put on, full of water,—he looked as if he might have had something to do with the storm. Seeing us, he entered the cabin, and, with a reticent nod, sat down on the three-legged chair. It was to see us that he came in; by no means to escape the storm. Yet he seemed in no wise disposed to talk. What use he did make of us, he knows, no doubt; it was not apparent. His steady, reflective gaze was embarrassing. He owned the little log cabin we had noticed at the entrance of the canyon. It stood in a clump of fir-trees, on a high bank a few rods from the creek. The vegetable garden looked flourishing, and we had said as we passed, “That is a spot where a king might spend the summer and raise his own peas.” The king was before us. His last kingdom had been in Wisconsin, and he was “a-fixin’ up this place to bring his family out in the fall. Didn’t know as they’d like it. Calk’lated they’d think ’twas kind o’ lonesome.”
Long before we could see that the storm had lessened by a drop, he remarked that the “rain wuz about done,” shouldered his heavy axe, picked up his flask bottle, and, with the same indirect nod with which he had sauntered in, sauntered out again and strolled away. He looked more actual and human out in the rain than he had in the cabin.
He was right. The rain was “about done.” In the twinkling of an eye the clouds broke away, the blue sky shone out, the sun blazed in on the wet tree-tops and turned every leaf, every pine-needle, to a fretwork of diamonds. A bird, whose voice seemed to fall from the very sky, called out, “Tweep!” “Tweep!” in a fine, high note, like the first violin notes before an orchestra begins to play; and after him other birds sang out, and the joint symphony of sight and sound burst into its fullest.305
Still twelve miles down the canyon, and this is the way they ran,—if I tell it breathless, it is because I try to tell it true, and if I could tell it really true, the words would leap and break into foam like the creek,—this is the way the miles ran:—
Now between walls made of piled bowlders, piled as if storms had hurled them where they hung,—bowlders poised, and bowlders wedged, and bowlders half welded together; with great fir-trees crowded in among them, shooting out of crevices like spears thrust through from underneath; clasping gnarled roots like anchors round edges of precipices.
Now a high pyramid of rock, only a few rods ahead, walled the way, and we said, “Where do we and the creek go? Surely, to the left.” No; to the right, and under rather than around the rock. Like a huge sounding-board, it ran out above our heads, its seams like rafters and its rifts like groined archways, mossy with age and now shining with the dripping water. We and our carriage and our horses could have been safely housed under it, with room to spare.
Round this, sharply to the left, and another just such wall juts out on the right; and between the two we cross the foaming creek on a narrow bridge.
Fir-trees high up on the sides; fir-trees walling the topmost edge; fir-trees standing with their roots in the water; fir-trees bent out across the stream, as if they had sought to clasp hands,—the air itself seemed of a verdurous color, from their masses of solemn dark green.
Now through wider spaces, where one or other of the walls recedes, and the broader slopes are green as meadows. Now through narrow passes, where the walls are straight hewn, and the narrow strip of sky overhead is like a blue line drawn on gray, so closely the rocks approach each other. In these rock-walls are ravines, packed full of fir-trees. They look only like fissures filled with bushes. Mid-way up these rock-walls are jutting projections which look like mere 306 ledges. They are broad plateaus on which forests grow.
Meantime the creek never slackens. Amber and white and black in the arrested spaces, it whirls under the bridges and round the corners, doubles on itself, leaps over and high above a hundred rocks in a rod, breaks into sheafs and showers of spray, foams and shines and twinkles and glistens; and if there be any other thing which water at its swiftest and sunniest can do, that it does also, even to jumping rope with rainbows.
And I must not forget that there are gardens all the way down. In the bends of the creek, round the butments of the bridges, in sheltered nooks under the overhanging rocks, wherever there can be a few feet of ground, there spring all manner of flowers,—white spiræas and pink roses and blue larkspur, and masses of yellow for setting.
Sixteen miles, such miles as these, and never once the creek slackens! Said I not well that it was an allegro movement? And is one not to be forgiven who tells it breathlessly, with the marvellous Colorado air quickening his veins?
Suddenly, at the last, while the canyon walls are still high and the creek still foams, the road turns a corner, and lo! there lie the plains in full sight,—a belt of serene, dark, unfathomable blue. In a few moments you come out upon a foothill, and under a dome of sky which seems immeasurably wide after the narrow line which roofed the canyon.
Here lies the little town of Bowlder, at the mouth of the pass. It is fast growing rich and big by the outcoming and ingoing from the mining region. But I hold the Bowlder people lucky, not in that gold and silver are brought down into their streets every day, but that they can walk of an afternoon up into Bowlder Canyon.
that we shall visit meadows of a morning
e in we invisible
none too much light at best in a narrow, rift
the little town of Bowlder
[Current population: close to 100,000.]
Only half of this name is my own. I wish I could honestly claim the whole; but the sweetest word in it was the thought of the man who had known and loved the spot years before I saw it. I, coming later and perhaps more tired, saw that the air of the land was peace; but all honor to him who first saw and said that it lay in the shape of a cradle. Men going before had called it a park; and one who for some years fed herds on its meadows, had given it his own name, “Bergun.” By this name alone it will be found recorded in the books which guide travellers; but much I mistake if any traveller, having once slept and waked in it, will from that day call it by any other name than ours,—“The Cradle of Peace.”
A giant cradle, indeed,—nine miles long and three wide; Pike’s Peak for its foot and a range of battlemented mountains for its head; lying, as it should, due north and south, with high sides sloping up to the east and up to the west to meet the gracious canopy of sky.
In the old, mysterious days of which men think they know, when every thing was something quite different from what it is to-day, all these Rocky Mountain parks were lakes, it is said.
Looking down on and into the Cradle of Peace from the high hills of its sides, one easily believes this, but says to himself that the beauty of the primeval lake was only the beauty of a promise. To-day is the fulfilment. They are born by the baptism of water,—this meadow, these grassy slopes, these pine forests; it was that they might be, that the lake was set and ebbed away.308
All that is left of it now is a tiny, nameless creek, which zigzags along in the meadow-bottom, revealed by the very willows and alders it has lifted to hide itself; revealed also by the bright green of the rich growths on either hand; just water enough in the creek to make the cradle safe and prosperous for a home; just green enough in the meadow strip to light up the soft brown and yellow slopes above, and the dark pines still further above, into an enchanting picture. This is what the ancient lake does for the park to-day, giving it a secret of vitality and an inherited fairness, as does some unknown and unthanked old ancestor far back in the line of a noble house.
I rested three days in the Cradle of Peace. Each moment of each day was brimful of delights to sense and soul; each hour has left me a vivid picture, yet words come slow as I seek to set those pictures in frames of speech. Only he who sees can ever know how surpassingly beautiful is this mountain-walled, pine-walled valley, swung in the air.
On its western side the slopes rise gently to the forest-line. They are grass-grown,—chiefly with the “tuft-grass,” which is in July silvery white, and curled in thick mats at the base, with a few slender, brown stalks rising three or four inches high. This gives to the whole surface a uniform tint of indescribable softness, as if a miraculous hoar-frost had fallen, of a pale, brownish-yellow. Sometimes these slopes are broken abruptly by sandy cliffs,—their fronts bright red, of the red sandstone color, and their lines curving as only water-worn cliffs can curve. Looking down the whole length of the park, the forest-line on these western slopes seems nearly straight and unbroken. Driving along it, one finds that it is a series of promontories of pines, making out into the smooth, grassy level; or, perhaps one ought the rather to say, remembering the days of the ancient lake, that the smooth, grassy level makes up in inlets into the forest. Be it called inlet of smooth, grassy surface, or promontory of pine, inlet 309 and promontory together make, along the whole western side of the park, a succession of sunny-centred, pine-shadowed, miniature half-parks of wonderful beauty. They round into the forest-like coves, they open out on the great park like mouths of rivers. After all, is it the spell of the ancient lake, that the water must still lend all the shapes whose names will fit to the shapes of these nooks in the western forest-edge of the Cradle of Peace? Some of them, as I said, are narrow, and round into the forest like coves; some of them are acres broad, and have in their centres a thread of brook, tinkling slowly down under a green meadow cover to the creek below. In some of them stand, lonely, bare, inexplicable, great rocks of red sandstone, grooved and rounded and hollowed and smoothed, poised one above another, as if only yesterday the waves had lodged them there; or standing erect, solitary, like single pillars of temples swept away. Nothing could be more weird than these huge, strange-shaped rocks, standing isolated in the pine forests; not a small stone, not a tiny pebble at their base,—only the smooth, grassy spaces and the silent forest about them. No ruin I have ever seen of cities of men’s building seemed so solemn, so mysterious, so significant of centuries. On the eastern side of the park, the grassy slopes are very soon broken up into hills. First low, rounding foot-hills, whose lines are only undulations; next higher hills and steeper, but still gentle of curve, and linked each to each by soft, grass-grown hollows: lastly sharp, rocky peaks, separated by deep and difficult ravines. Over all these hills and to the top of the highest peaks grow the same stately pines which make the forest-walls of the western side of the park. The ground is covered many layers thick with the pine-needles, and in a sunny forenoon the air is almost overpoweringly spicy with the pine fragrance. Rambling south or north, one goes from hill-top to hill-top through a succession of dells, no two dells alike and each dell hard to leave; some sudden, narrow, with sides so straight that one 310 might slip swiftly to the bottom and lie as in a hammock; some broader and more open, but still with sides so straight that, climbing up them, one sees the blue sky brought into a marvellously close horizon-line on the upper edge; some filled full of young, waving pines; some with a narrow, water-worn gully in the centre, where water runs in spring, and in summer bloom white spiræas, blue and purple penstemons, harebells, crowfoot, and the huge white thistles, beloved of butterflies; some, almost the most beautiful of all, without either pines or flowers, only the soft, white yellow, and brown and white grasses, with here and there glossy green mats of kinnikinnick,—dainty, sturdy, indefatigable kinnikinnick. How shall kinnikinnick be told to them who know it not? To a New Englander it might be said that a whortleberry-bush changed its mind one day and decided to be a vine, with leaves as glossy as laurel, bells pink-striped and sweet like the arbutus, and berries in clusters and of scarlet instead of black. The Indians call it kinnikinnick, and smoke it in their pipes. White men call it bear-berry, I believe; and there is a Latin name for it, no doubt, in the books. But kinnikinnick is the best,—dainty, sturdy, indefatigable kinnikinnick, green and glossy all the year round, lovely at Christmas and lovely among flowers at midsummer, as content and thrifty on bare, rocky hillsides as in grassy nooks, growing in long, trailing wreaths, five feet long, or in tangled mats, five feet across, as the rock or the valley may need, and living bravely for many weeks without water, to make a house beautiful. I doubt if there be in the world a vine I should hold so precious, indoors and out.
Climbing a little higher, following one of the grassy hill-top lines, as it curves into the forest, you come here and there to small level opens, some so surrounded by pines that you see no vistas, no glimpses of the park, no distance,—only a grassy field, walled high with green and roofed with blue. Some, less shut in, from which you look off in all directions through vistas 311 framed by yellow pine timbers,—now a vista of sky and cloud, now a distant mountain, now a bit of the shining meadow below. A step to right, to left, the vista is changed and the picture new. A forenoon flies like an hour in these sunny forest chambers, with new birds, new insects, new sounds, new sights on every hand. There is a locust in these woods who on the wing is yellow as a butterfly, on the ground is mottled brown and white, like a rattlesnake. His rattle is like castanets, and so loud that when he springs it suddenly under your feet you start as if you had stumbled over “bones” at a negro concert. There are golden-winged woodpeckers and black and white woodpeckers, and yellow birds, and orioles, and multitudes of sparrows; not singly and far apart, like the terrified survivors in civilized woods, but in numbers, at ease and unconcerned, at home in their wilderness. There are tiny sparrows, no larger than the rice-birds we see in cages. These fly in flocks and spend hours at a time in one tree. I watched a pine-tree full of them one morning. There must have been dozens; yet never was there even one still for one second. The tree itself seemed all a-flutter,—dusky backs, snowy breasts, green pine-needles, and yellow branches in a swift kaleidoscope of shifting shape and color.
Now and then a great hawk soars out noiselessly from a tree-top near by, and, circling a few times overhead, sinks back again into the pines, so close to you that you fancy you hear the branches open with a soft plash like waves. Squirrels dart back and forth, not even looking at you, and run races and fight fights in the branches of a fallen pine, almost within your hand’s reach. When the yellow pine dies and stands still erect, it is a weird thing to see. It looks like a ship’s mast, with huge grape-vine tangles fastened to it at right angles. If it falls, it looks still ghastlier,—like some giant lizard, its body stiffened straight in death and its myriad limbs convulsed and cramped in agony. My thoughts linger on these memories of the sounds 312 and sights of those sunny out-door chambers, as my feet lingered, walking through them. But there are higher levels yet and an outlook to come; an outlook all the more beautiful, all the more thrilling, because you reach it by the way of the dells and the walled spaces and the near horizons of the wooded foot-hills.
Following the line of some tiny brook, which has ambushed in willows and alders, you will come up and out among the higher peaks, the deep ravines. It is hard scrambling, but well worth while. Each lift to a new ridge-line opens up more and more, until, standing finally on the third or fourth terrace level, you can look fairly over to the west and up to the north and down into the park. Now you see to perfection the sunny inlet spaces in the forest on the western slope, the tender outreaching promontories of pines, and the bright-tinted belts and winding lines of green crops in the meadow centre. Now you see the exquisite contour of the up-curving sides, east and west, and the majestic height of the mountains, north and south, which form the cradle.
You see also still further to the west, making a vivid break of light in the wilderness of dark pines, another park, higher than this and of not half its size. Few men have trod there, and no man may dwell in its sweet seclusion, for it has no water. Lonely and safe for ever it lies; its only mission to make a perpetual golden gleam in the picture from the upper eastern wall of the Cradle of Peace.
Midway in the forest rises a huge mountain of rock, of most marvellous shape. Turret, roof, wall, it stands a gigantic abbey, and the few pines which grow on its stony sides look merely like the ivy clinging to a ruin. It is a startlingly comic thing to be told that this mountain is called Sugar Loaf; but this is its name, and it is said that, seen from the south country, the shape makes the name true. To one seeing it only from the east this seems incredible, and casts the fable of the gold and silver shield into the shade.313
The western horizon is broken by only one peak, which lies sharp cut as a pyramid against the sky. In the northwest and north rise some of the grand mountains of the central range, mighty, snow-topped, remote. The park, the beautiful cradle, seems but a hand’s-breadth long, lying at the feet of these giants.
In the south, if it is sunset,—and only at sunset should dwellers in the Cradle of Peace climb its eastern wall,—Pike’s Peak stands glowing. The north and northwestern side of this glorious mountain are its true face of beauty. Living to the eastward of it, no one knows its grandeur, no one feels its height. Smaller peaks crowding close about it divide and lessen its glory. Its northwestern line stretches along the sky in a steady, harmonious descent, from fifteen thousand feet to eight or ten. Miles and miles of mountain-tops welded into one long, grand spur and ending at last in a sudden lift,—a distinct and separated summit, as straight cut as a and sharper pointed. If it is sunset,—and, as I said, unless it be sunset come not,—you will see this long spur, welded, forged, fitted and piled of mountain masses, glowing in full light, while the park is in soft shadow. Its surfaces are many-sided, sharp-ridged, as if the very mountains had crystallized. The faces which turn west are opaline pink, the faces which turn east are dusky blue, and the pink and the blue change and shift and pale and brighten, until the sweet silence of the twilight seems marked into rhythms by the mere motions of color. It is a sight solemn as beautiful, and the absolute soundlessness of the great forest spaces makes the solemnity almost overawing. But as you go slowly down among the pines into the soft grassy hollows, the silence is broken by a sound subtler than stringed instrument, brook, or bird can give,—a sound more of kin to Nature, it always seems to me, than any one of Nature’s own. It is the faint and distant tinkle of the bell-cow’s bell. There is a home in the Cradle of Peace. Standing on one of the low foot-hills, you can look down on it, and see 314 the brown and white herds hurrying toward it through the meadow.
It is a ranch of six cabins,—log cabins, bright brown outside and bright yellow in. One is the dairy, one is the house of the master of the ranch, one the home of his men, the other three are bedroom cabins, built solely for those coming from the world to rest in the Cradle of Peace. Their walls and their floors are of bare boards; their ceilings are of paper, nailed up with tacks. This is the record the realist will bring away. But the artist will only remember that, the boards of the walls being bright yellow pine and the clay in the chinks being red sandstone clay, the sides of his room were in alternate stripes of gold and red brown, a perpetual feast of color to his eye; that, the paper of the ceiling being of a soft blue gray, spaced into panels by narrow mouldings of the bright pine, and tacked on here and there by silver-headed tacks, he lay half awake in his bed in the morning twilights, and gazed overhead with a dreamy notion that he was looking up at a starry sky through a yellow lattice-work roof. But realist and artist alike will remember the evenings around the cabin hearth, the light of the blazing pine-logs and the voice of the master of the ranch,—Rugby boy and Cambridge man,—telling how in his “longs” he used to hunt seals in the caves of the wild Hebrides.
Every day Colorado sees men with the blood and the love, the traditions and the culture, of Old England strong within them falling under the spell of her wildernesses and surrendering to her mountains. But I think she has won no truer allegiance, no more genuine enthusiasm, than those which bind and kindle the life and purpose in these cabins in the Cradle of Peace.
Beautiful Cradle of Peace! There are some spots on earth which seem to have a strong personality about them,—a charm and a spell far beyond any thing which mere material nature, however lovely, can exert; a charm which charms like the beauty of a human face, and a spell which lasts like the bond of a human relation. 315 In such spots we can live alone without being lonely. We go away from them with the same sort of sorrow with which we part from friends, and we recall their looks with the yearning tenderness with which we look on the photographs of beloved absent faces.
Thus I left, thus I shall always recall, the beautiful Cradle of Peace.
there is a Latin name for it, no doubt
[Arctostaphylos uva-ursi: “bearberry”, or rather “beargrape”, in two languages.]
as straight cut as a pyramid
text has pryamid
mouldings of the bright yellow pine
text has pellow
To the east and the south and the north great sunlit plains, bounded by a rounding wall of the furthest visible sky,—it might be by the Atlantic and the Arctic and the Antarctic seas, for aught the horizon line tells to the contrary; to the west a grand range of the Rocky Mountains, built up and up and up,—(first soft, dimpling, crowding foot-hills; then jagged, overlapping ridges; then sharp, glistening, snow-topped peaks, till the blue is touched fifteen thousand feet high in the air); fronting the mountains, making a little space of shining dots and lines on the sunlit plains, the baby town of Colorado Springs, the “Fountain Colony.” It is the fourteenth day of December, winter, by the calendar. Winter, too, to the eye. Ice lies firm-frozen in the gutters, and even the low foot-hills are powdered with snow. The mercury registered only 14 degrees this morning at six o’clock, and we are wrapped in furs for our drive; but we are going in an open carriage, and our eyes must be sheltered from the blazing sun as much as if it were midsummer. Winter by the calendar, winter to the sight and touch; but winter which and warms like June.
The horses bound and spring like frolicsome kittens. The electric air stirs their blood, as well as ours. Not until after long driving will they settle down to a steady trot.
We turn our backs on the sun. It is not yet eleven o’clock; but there is the feeling of noon in the air, and it is pleasanter driving west than east. The mountains 317 look only a few steps away; but we shall have trotted steadily toward them for one good half-hour before we shall have reached the first of the foot-hills.
Across sandy bottoms, where silvery-gray cotton-wood trees mark the courses of small brooks, through the one street of poor, desolate, mistaken, discouraged “Colorado City,” up gently climbing slopes, brown and gray and orange-tinted, and set here and there with sharp, serrated ledges of gleaming red sandstone, and we strike the line of the Fountain Creek, a dashing little amber brook, which has made brave way down the pass up which we are going. The road follows the creek, crosses it wherever it doubles, and crowds it close for room in narrow places.
Before we know that we have fairly left the plains, we find ourselves shut in by hills on either side, and in the very heart of Manitou. Manitou is a glen, a valley consisting chiefly of sides, a little fairy canyon, full of rocks and fir-trees, and the creek, and effervescing medicine springs. It holds also three hotels, a post-office, a store, a livery stable, and a few other houses. Here Grace Greenwood has built a dainty cottage, in a clematis tangle. Here Dr. Bell, an Englishman, well known in Colorado, has built a house of the pink and red stone, which blends so exquisitely with the landscape that it looks like a natural outgrowth of it. Here, ten years hence, will be dozens of villas, perched in little grassy spots on the ledges and rocky slopes. Already most of the building sites are sold,—and chiefly to Englishmen. To cross both an ocean and a continent for one’s summer home seems a brave indifference to trouble.
But even this shining little nook does not keep us this morning. We dash through it, still side by side with the creek, following and crossing and recrossing it, and in five minutes Manitou is lost to us, as the plains were just back, and we are once more walled in on either side,—this time by higher, closer, and rockier walls. This is the real entrance of the Ute Pass. The road seems leading straight into a mountain of rock. 318 A strange hollowed niche faces us; it looks like a gigantic portal, barred and double-barred. On the left, many feet below, runs the little amber-colored creek. No, it does not run; it skips, it threads its way, it is half in, half out of sight. Between ice and snow and huge bowlders, journeying is made hard for it this morning; but wherever it is clearly in sight it is still amber and yellow and limpid, and fine red and white pebbles gleam through it like mosaics. And wherever the ice veils it the effects are yet more fantastic. We have swung round the gigantic stone portal, and are fairly in the pass. On little grassy bits of soil and in crevices of the rock, high up above our heads, fir-trees grow at perilous slants. Gray, leafless cotton-wood trees and alders, graceful with dried brown catkins on every twig, grow on the edges of the creek below. We look down through their tops in some of the steepest places. On the summits of the walls, on both sides, are magnificent masses of red and yellow and brown rock, shaped like castles, like monuments, like ruins; some most curiously mottled with black lines or vivid green lichens. But we cannot remember to look up. The creek rivets our eyes. Surely never before of a warm and sunny morning were such ice fantasies to be seen and heard. We jump from the carriage. The horses toil up the steep road. We turn from all the grandeur of the pass, and walk with downward-bent eyes, looking into a weird and shining realm. How shall they be told, the marvellous things which water and ice and sunshine are doing in the bed of the Fountain Creek on this June day of December! Ice bridges; ice arches; ice veils over little falls; rippled water-lines frozen into ice films; ice sheaths on roots and twigs; ice canopies on shelving places, with fringing rows of ice-drops rounded and tapered like bells; ice shields, round and wrought in daintier patterns than Damascus ever drew; ice colonnades, three floors deep, the stalactites all tapering to the top like masts, and the sunlight making rainbow bars on the lowest floor,—these are a few of the shapes and semblances to which words can give names.319
Then there were, in wider places of the brook, round capes of ice, making out into the amber water. These were scolloped on the outer edges, wonderfully like the shell-shaped fungi which grow on old trees. They were full of fine lines, following always the scollop of the outer edge, like the lines on the fungi. Sometimes there were three layers of these exquisite ice shells, all transparent, all mottled, and lined with infinite intricacy of design, and the water gliding above, below, between them, breaking now and then on their edges suddenly like a wave,—the tidal record of some other wave far up the pass.
These tidal waves made their most exquisite record on the thinner ice edges of some limpid pools further up the creek. Here they pulsed in and out with a rhythmic motion, and as each withdrawal left the ice rim perfectly transparent, the swift sunlight struck it, marking the outer edge with fine pencilled lines of flashing silver. As regular as the strokes of a metronome, and seeming almost to keep time for the melody of the bubbling water, they came and went, and came and went; amber, silver, amber, silver. No doubt there was a liquid syllable of sound to each individual curve, and there were ears finer than ours which could hear it,—the cony and the fox, perhaps, for they had been there before us. Their weird little, pattering foot-prints were all about on the snow; disappearing at entrances of rock crevices or under fallen logs, crossing and recrossing on the ice bridges, which looked too frail to bear even a cony’s weight.
But conies are said to be a fearless folk: and well they may be who dwell in impregnable homes in the walls of the Ute Pass. There was also one tiny track of a bird. Barely a third of an inch long the foot-prints were, but as firmly defined on the feathery snow as if a pencil had drawn them but the moment before. The little creature had evidently gone to the very edge of the ice to drink. There it had slipped, and, struggling to regain a foothold, had made a tiny trampling. We 320 dipped our drinking-cup at the same spot and drank to the health of the unknown guest before us. Magpie? blue jay? A happy new year to you! And a happy year they have of it, in these cedars and firs, with spicy juniper berries for the picking. They flit about on all the roads, as familiarly and as commonly as robins in May. The blue jay has a fine crest on his head, and is of such a brilliant and shimmering blue, when the sun strikes him, that he looks like a bit of sky tumbled down and floating about. As for the magpie, he is so vivid a black and white that he lights up a pine-tree almost as well as an oriole can.
Now we have reached the main fall of the creek. No cony or fox has crossed here. Even the tiniest bird’s footfall would have dislodged this thin-fringed ice and snow canopy which overhangs the fall. It sways from side to side and undulates, and we look momently to see it fall; but it does not. There must be ice pillars beneath it, which we cannot see. Exactly in the centre, reaching almost down to the rushing water, hangs one pendant globule, pear-shaped, flashing like a diamond in the sun. “The solitaire of all the world!” said we; “and presently it shall be dissolved and swallowed in a foaming draught.” “And who sits at the banquet?” “The name of the queen is Nature, and he who loves is emperor always.”
These things we said, because when to midwinter at six thousand feet above the sea is added the sun of June the heads and hearts of men grow gay as by wine.
Then we crept out to the edge of a sharp rock, and there in the warm sun we sat, looking down into the huge crystal bowl into which the water had been pouring and foaming and freezing, until the frozen foam reached up half way to the top of the fall. A glorious crystal beaker it was,—solid white snow at bottom, granulated frost-work up the sides, and trestlework of stalactites around and below it, and every moment the foaming silver was building it higher and higher.321
But noon is near, and the seven homeward miles will seem long. In a peculiarly narrow bend of the road, where the hind wheels graze the rock wall and our horses’ heads look off over the precipice, we turn. We are not half through the pass. For five miles more the road and the creek crowd up into the heart of the mountains; but we count those miles as misers count gains to come. Millionaires that we are, we have yet whole months of winter mornings ahead.
Now, as we descend, we see the full grandeur of the pass. Across its opening, to the southwest, stand the mighty mountains. Pike’s Peak, fifteen thousand feet high, and Cameron’s Cone, only a little lower, are in full sight, and it seems that the only way out must lie through the sky over their tops. With every turn we make new mountains rise across our path and the walls on our right hand and our left seem wilder and more abrupt. Then of a sudden we swing out into the open peace and sunshine of lovely Manitou again, and home over the plains, seven miles to the hour, the June sun burning our faces and the December snow dazzling our eyes. And this is midwinter in Colorado.
winter which wooes and warms like June
The Arkansas River at Pueblo is a very languid stream. It goes zig-zagging along as dilatorily as a boy goes to school of a May morning. In and out, among and around gravelly sand-bars and long narrow strips of islands, plumy with cotton-woods, its twisting and untwisting threads of water seem hardly to make a respectable river. But as soon as you set your face westward and follow up the way it has come down, you find that it is not an aimless, characterless wanderer, after all. A narrow-gauge railroad (the Denver and Rio Grande) creeps up on its left side, and is very soon pressed for room. The banks become vertical walls, and in many places rise almost sheer from the water. As the river curves, so must the railroad, and the bends are sharp. Often the engine and the first car are in full view to the right or the left from the rear car. The river is swift and muddy. Boiling chocolate, with the cream frothing on the top, is like it. Old snags, gray and weather-beaten, come sailing past. Now and then, an uprooted tree drifts by, head down, with the roots tossing like arms reaching for help. The high banks are of yellow sandstone, limestone, and clay. The rocks are strangely rounded out, like turrets and bastions. Sometimes they seemed to be piled up in thin layers; sometimes they look like solid hewn stone from base to top. The clay or sand slopes are dotted with low pine-trees, but the trees are never so thick as to shut out the pallid yellow-gray tint of the clay or rock on which they stand. It is an ugly color and in a strong sunlight makes a glare as unpleasant to the eye as that from a white surface; 323 and much more irritating to the nerves, because, the color being so dull, it has no business to glare and you cannot understand how it manages to do it. Nevertheless, the panorama of the river is a beautiful one as it unfolds mile after mile. It is rimmed with cotton-woods and willows. Wherever it widens it has little islands also green with cotton-woods and willows, and here and there are picturesque yellow log cabins surrounded by meadow fields. The bluffs look like long lines of fortifications, sometimes falling into ruin; sometimes as clean cut and complete in arch, doorway, embrasure, and turret as if they but waited for guns. As the valley opens wider, the vista to the west is longer, and mountain range after mountain range comes into sight, rising like walls across the pathway of the river, which sweeps ahead in curves, like a huge, shining sickle, reaping the meadow. The cotton-wood trees are a great beauty in the picture. The cotton-wood is among the trees what the mocking-bird is among birds. It can take any shape it likes and deceive your eye, as the mocking-bird deceives your ear. Only its color betrays it. That is a light, brilliant green, almost transparent in the spring. On the Atlantic seaboard there is no tree tint to compare with it, unless it be the tint of a young white birch in early June, when it stands between you and the sun. The effect of thick rounded masses of this vivid green, as seen against red sandstone or granitic rocks, or thrown up by the pale olive gray of the Colorado plains, cannot be described, and if it were faithfully rendered in a painting would be thought crude or impossible. And when one sees this plumy green arrayed on the forms of slender, drooping elms, stiff, straight poplars, swaying birches, round-topped sugar-maples, fantastic sycamores, and even old gnarled and twisted apple-trees, it is bewildering. Yet all these may be seen in capriciously blended groups in the valley of the Arkansas River, between Pueblo and Canyon City. Canyon City is a small village lying just at the mouth of Grand Canyon of the Arkansas. You 324 reach it, if you have come by rail, just at sunset and in the sunset light it is picturesque. It has a background to the west and north of mountains, which will be purple at that hour and cast soft dark shadows far beyond the village, out over the river valley. Next morning you look out on a scene so changed that it seems like enchantment. The gold has literally turned to ashes, for the whole region is of a pallid gray. The soil is adobe, cracked and seamed and printed with the mark of each wheel, each foot, which went over it in the last wet days when it was mud. The mountains are comparatively bare and rocky, and the foot-hills present a succession of oval fronts, all of pale gray limestone or adobe clay. The penitentiary, also of gray stone, stands conspicuously in sight. The convicts, in queer tights, with alternate black and white stripes going round them from chin to ankles—legs, arms, body all alike—are running to and fro, wheeling barrows full of gray stone or digging gray stone out of the gray foot-hills. They look like zebras, or imps in an opera. The sun streams full from the east on the bare gray foot-hills and pale adobe clay, and is reflected sharply back from the mountain wall, without a softening shadow or break to the pallid glare. I have seldom seen any thing more hopelessly ugly than Canyon City of a hot morning. Yet it is something to be picturesque and beautiful once in every twenty-four hours, and of that Canyon City may boast. Moreover, to be just to the little town, it has a wide-awake look and is growing fast. The shops are good and there are three hotels, all of which are tolerable. No doubt, in a few years it will be largely known as a resort for invalids, for the winter climate is a very pleasant one,—much warmer and milder than that of Colorado Springs, and, therefore, better for many consumptives. Moreover, there are bubbling up in the limestone rocks at the mouth of the Grand Canyon several nauseous hot springs, variously medicated, and the class of people who will drink this sort of water is a large and nomadic one.325
The drive from Canyon City to the top of the Grand Canyon is a ten-miles climb up-hill. You do well if you make it in three hours. The road winds among low hills, round, pointed, conical, barren except for the cactuses and piñon trees.
The road is red. The hills are red, with here and there a cropping out of yellow limestone. For a mile or two, the road follows the course of what is called, with a dismal literalness, “Sand Creek.” A creek of sand it is, indeed. Now and then, for a few rods, a darkened line of moisture or perhaps a threadlike glimmer of water; but for the rest only a ghastly and furrowed channel, dry as a desert. “In the spring it is full, I suppose,” I said, forgetting that it was a spring morning then. The driver looked at me with mild wonder. “Never see it higher ’n ’tis now,” he replied. “Dunno what they call ’t a creek for, anyhow.” But a creek it must have been at some time. The Arkansas River is shallower to-day by reason of loss of its water. Its bed is full of water-worn pebbles, and its banks are hollowed out and terraced as nothing can hollow and terrace except that master builder and destroyer, water.
Three miles from the canyon we stopped to buy milk at a little ranch which we had named in our hearts the year before “Lone Woman’s Ranch.” We had found living there an elderly woman, whose husband had just died. She had buried him on a low hill a rod or two from the house. The grave was surrounded by a high paling made of split cedar logs. The little house was comfortable, built of adobe bricks, and stood in a sunny and sheltered nook. The farm was a good one, she said, and there were a hundred and sixty acres of land; but it was a sad outlook for her, the undertaking to work it herself. We had often thought of her, and wondered now, as we drove up to the gate, if we should find her living there still. She was there, and with her a daughter and grandchild. The lonely year of hard work had told on her face, and she was gladder than 326 ever of a few moments’ chat, even with strangers. Every thing looked as neat and well-kept as before; nothing had changed except the woman’s face, which had grown thin and dark, and the cedar palings around the grave, which had grown white and glistening. As we drove away, she called after us: “I hope you’ll enjoy yourselves; but it’s a dreadful ugly place up there. At least, I couldn’t never see any thing pretty in it.”
She was right. There is nothing “pretty” about the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas. From the moment when you first reach the top of the grand amphitheatre-like plateau in which the rift was made, until the moment in which you stand on the very edge of the chasm and look dizzily over and down, there is but one thought, but one sense,—the thought of wonder, the sense of awe. The uncultured mind to-day is but one remove from the savage mind in its feeling when confronted with nature at her grandest. I do not know what Indians inhabited the region of the Arkansas River a half century ago; but I would hazard the statement that they held many an unhallowed rite on the edge of this abyss and believed that the bad Spirit lived in it. The superstition is shorn of its strength and definiteness to-day, but lingers still in a vague antagonism to the spot,—a disposition to avoid it because it is not “pretty.”
I said that the plateau in which the rift is made was amphitheatre-like. The phrase is at once a good and a bad one,—bad because it is hardly possible for the mind to conceive of the amphitheatre shape without a good deal of limitation in size. Do what we will, the Coliseum is apt to rise before us whenever we use the word amphitheatre. To picture to one’s self an amphitheatre whose central space shall be measured by tens, twenties, and thirties of miles, shall be varied by meadow parks and the forests which enclose the parks, and whose circling tiers of seats shall be mountain ranges, rising higher and higher, until the highest, dazzling white with snow, seem to cleave the sky, rather 327 than to rest against it,—this is not easy. Yet it is precisely such an amphitheatre as this that we are in as we approach the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas. From every hill-summit that is gained the amphitheatre effect is more and more striking, until at last its tiers of mountain walls are in full view,—south, west, north, and east. Then it is that, walking along through the groves of piñon-trees and seeing so far and so clear in all ways, one wonders where can be the canyon. This is a broad mountain-top plateau. It seems as if one might journey across it in any direction one liked, and come sooner or later to the base of the horizon heights. Suddenly, going southward, one finds the trees scantier, wider apart, ceasing altogether. The stony ground becomes stonier and stonier, until only armed cactuses and thorny shrubs keep foot-hold in the confusion of rocks. Then, looking southward, one sees a few rods ahead a strange effect in the air. There is no precipice edge visible as yet; but the eye perceives that just beyond there is a break, and there against the sky looms up a wall whose base is out of sight. It is strangely near, yet far. Between it and the ground you stand on is a shimmer of inexplicable lights and reflections. This wall is the further wall of the Canyon. A few steps more and you look in. You have been already for some moments walking on ground which was only the surface of an outjutting promontory of the nearer wall. Twelve hundred feet below you roars the Arkansas River, pent up in a channel so narrow that it looks like a brook one might ford. On its narrow rims of bank there are lying sticks of wood which look like fine kindling wood. They are heavy railroad ties, floated down from the timber-lands in the mountains.
This point, which it has taken a ten miles’ climb to reach, is only two miles from the mouth of the canyon. To one looking eastward through the mouth, the plains seem but a lower belt of sky, sky and plains together making a triangle of bars of dainty color, put up like a stile, as it were from wall to wall of the canyon, 328 or stretched like a curtain, or set like a band of gay tiles from eaves to eaves of a huge gable, the roof being the sky. There is no end to the fancies one has, looking at these distant triangles of sky, or of sky and plain, seen between the converging lines of canyon walls in this country of wonderful perspectives.
But this single outlook from and downlook into the canyon gives only a small idea of its grandeur. To comprehend it, one must toil slowly westward along its edge, climbing up and down to the upper and lower promontories of its walls. It is six or seven miles long and at every step its features change. Now the wall rises abruptly from the water,—so abruptly that it looks as if it might reach as many hundred feet below as above; and now it is broken into different slopes, as if slides upon slides had narrowed it below and widened it above. Now it is bare rock, lined and stained and furrowed, as if wrought by tools; now it is cleft from base to top, as if streams had leaped over and worn pathways for themselves. No doubt they did; for in these clefts are patches of solid green,—wild currants and gooseberries and spiræas and many a graceful green-leaved thing I did not know. The rocks are all granitic, the prevalent tint being red or gray, with sharp markings of black. Seen closer, they are a mosaic of lichens,—gray, black, light-yellowish green, and deep orange. They sparkle with mica, and have here and there glistening white pebbles of quartz set in their red surfaces, like snowy raisins in a crimson pudding. Again and again you come out upon points from which no river can be seen, so sharply do the walls turn and shut off the view both ways. The further west you go, the wilder and more terrible the abyss becomes, until the walls begin to slope down again to the western plain or park, through which the river has come. The wall on which you are walking seems sometimes to be nothing but a gigantic pile of separate bowlders. More than once I turned back shuddering from a rocky causeway in front of which the bowlders were so loosely 329 poised that I could look down between them, through fantastic window after window, into the chasm below. Here and there among these toppling yet immovable bowlders stood an old piñon-tree, holding on to the rocks by its gnarled roots as by grappling-irons. About four miles up is a second canyon, some three or four hundred rods long, leading to the right, as if the river had tried first to break through there, but had found the mountain too strong. It is but a figure of ignorant speech, however, to say that the river broke through. The volcano went ahead and tunnelled its road. Water never makes violent way for itself; and whenever it does wear a channel through rock it works backward, as at Niagara. Standing on the edge of this great chasm and looking down to the narrow thread of foam at its bottom, one wonders that even the most ignorant mind could for a moment suppose that the water had cleaved the rock. It must have been a mighty throe of volcanic action which did it. A supreme moment to have seen, surely, if there had been any spot just then cool enough to stand on. The other day I saw a curious little thing,—a silver button which had burst into an irregular rose-shaped flower by the same process and by virtue of the same law. It was an odd thing to be reminded by a dainty silver rose lying in the palm of my hand of a vast rock-walled canyon, with a river rushing through it; yet I was, for a sudden cooling made them both. The little silver button is heated to a certain point, and in the process absorbs oxygen. The instant it is taken out of the oven and the cold air strikes it, the oxygen is violently expelled, and the silver shoots upward, falls apart, and stiffens in fantastic and irregular points, which are wonderfully petal-like in their arrangement. Yet they reminded me instantly of the outlines of many of the rock walls and ridges in Colorado. Perhaps, if one could go high enough and look down, one might see in the great mountain ranges a similar grouping, a petal-like centring, a Titanic efflorescence of a planet cooled suddenly at white heat.330
It was late twilight when on our homeward way we stopped again for a moment at “Lonely Woman’s Ranch.” The cedar palings around the lonely grave glistened whiter in the struggling moonlight and the spot looked lonelier than it did in the morning. The woman was more profuse than ever in her voluble welcome. She asked eagerly if we had no friends who would like to buy her ranch. “One hundred and sixty acres for fifteen hundred dollars.” It was “a good chance for anybody that wanted to come into this country to settle.”
“You really want to sell it?” we said.
“Yes. I want to be nearer to town, for sake of schools,” she said. And then, as if a little conscience-stricken at having given only a part of her reason, she added, with a touching pathos in her tone: “And it is so lonesome for me, too.”
In the bushes behind the house an owl was hooting, “Twohoo! hoo! hoo!” and as we drove on both echoes blended strangely in our ears:—
“Twohoo! hoo! hoo!
Lonesome for me, too, too!”
The Arkansas River
[Fun fact: The river, unlike the state, is generally pronounced “Ar-KANSAS”. At least in Kansas.]
alternate black and white stripes
[At the time this was written, prison stripes were becoming ubiquitous. It’s surprising that the author had never seen the style before; maybe it was the combination of stripes and close fit (“like imps in an opera”) that struck her.]
The superstition is shorn of its strength and definiteness to-day
[That is: the superstition which she just made up.]
the further wall of the Great Canyon
text unchanged; everywhere else it is “Grand Canyon”
What a new singer or a new play is to the city man, a new road is to the man of the wilderness.
I fancy the parallel might be drawn out and amplified, much to the exaltation of the new road, if the man of the wilderness chose to boast, and if people were sensible enough to value pleasures as they do other fabrics, by their wear. It would be cruel, however, to make the city man discontented. Poor fellow! he is joined to his idols of stone, buried alive above them now, and soon he will be buried dead below them. Let him alone! It is no part of my purpose in this paper to enter the lists in defence of my joys, or to make an attack upon his. It is merely to describe our new road; and my pronoun “our” is by no means a narrow one,—it is a big plural, taking in some four thousand souls, all the dwellers in the town of Colorado Springs and its near neighborhood.
The “new road” is up and across Cheyenne Mountain. Cheyenne Mountain is the southernmost peak of the grand range which lies six miles west of our town. Only those who dwell at the feet of great mountain ranges know how like a wall they look, what sense of fortified security they give; people who come for a day, to gaze and pass by, or even people who stay and paint the hills’ portraits, know very little. A mountain has as much personality as a man; you do not know one any more than you know the other until you have summered and wintered him. You love one, and are profoundly indifferent to another, just as it is with your 332 feeling towards your neighbors; and it is often as hard to give good and sufficient reason for your preference in the one case as in the other. But no lover of Cheyenne was ever at loss to give reasons for his love. The mountain is so unique in its grandeur and dignity that one must be blind and stolid indeed not to feel its influence.
As I said, it is the southernmost peak of the range lying west of Colorado Springs. This is as if I said it is the southern bastion of our western wall. It is only two or three thousand feet above the town (the town, be it remembered, lies six thousand feet above the sea). Pike’s Peak, a few miles farther north, in the same range, is nearly twice as high; so it is not by reason of height that Cheyenne is so grand. Pausing now, with my pen in my hand, I look out of my south window at its majestic front, and despair of being loyal to the truth I would like to tell of this mountain. Is it that its eastern outline, from the summit down to the plain, is one slow, steady, in-curving slope, broken only by two rises of dark timber-lands, which round like billows; and that this exquisite hollowing curve is for ever outlined against the southern sky? Is it that the heavily cut and jagged top joins this eastern slope at a sharp angle, and stretches away to the northwest in broken lines as rugged and strong as the eastern slope is graceful and harmonious; and that the two lines together make a perpetual, vast triangulation on the sky? Is it that when white clouds in our heavens at noon journey south, they always seem to catch on its eastern slope, and hang and flutter there, or nestle down in an island-like bank reaching half-way up the mountain? Is it that the dawn always strikes it some moments earlier than it reaches the rest of the range, turning it glowing red from plains to sky, like a great illumined cathedral? Is it that the setting sun also loves it, and flings back mysterious broken prisms of light on its furrowed western slopes, long after the other peaks are black and grim? Is it that it holds canyons where one 333 can climb, among fir-trees and roses and clematis and columbine and blue-bells and ferns and mosses, to wild pools and cascades in which snow-fed brooks tumble and leap? These questions are only like the random answers of one suddenly hard pressed for the explanation of a mystery which has long since ceased to be a mystery to him,—ceased to be a mystery not because it has been fathomed, but because it has become familiar and dear. No lover of Cheyenne but will say that Cheyenne is better than all these; that no one of all these is quite truly and sufficiently told; and I myself in the telling feel like one stammering in a language but half learned, the great mountain all the while looking down on me in serene and compassionate silence. At this moment, it looks like a gigantic mountain of crystals, purple and white. Every smallest ridge slope fronting to the east or south is of a red purple, like the purple of a Catawba grape over-ripe; every smallest ridge slope to the north or west is white like the white of alabaster, and soft with the softness of snow. The plains are a clear, pale yellow, and the spot where the slope melts into the level, and the purple melts into the yellow, is a triumph of shape and color from which men who build and men who paint might well turn away sorrowful.
Knowing well, as I do, just where among these crystalline ridges our new road winds, I yet look up incredulous at the sharp precipices and ledges. But it is there, bless it!—our new uplifter, revealer, healer, nearer link of approach to a nearer sky! The workmen know it as the road over to Bear creek valley, and they think they have built it for purposes of traffic, and for bringing down railroad ties; it is a toll-road, and the toll-gatherer takes minute reckoning of all he can see passing his door. But I think there will always be a traffic which the workmen will not suspect, and a viewless company which will elude the toll-gatherer, on this new road of ours.
It was on one of our tropical midwinter days that I 334 first climbed it. A mile southward from the town, then a sharp turn to the west, fronting the mountains as directly as if our road must be going to pierce their sides, across brooks where the ice was so thick that our horses’ hoofs and our wheels crunched slowly through, up steep banks on which there were frozen glares of solid ice, and across open levels where the thin snow lay in a fine tracery around every separate grass-stalk,—one, two, three miles of this, and we were at the base of the mountain, and saw the new road, a faint brown track winding up the yellow slope and disappearing among the pines.
As we turned into the road, we saw, on our right, two ranch-men leaning, in the Sunday attitude, against a fence, and smoking. As we passed, one of them took his pipe from his mouth and said nonchalantly, “S’pose ye know this ere’s a toll-road.” The emphasis on the word “know” conveyed so much that we laughed in his face. Clever monosyllable, it stood for a whole paragraph.
“Oh, yes,” we said, “we know it. It’s worth fifty cents, isn’t it, to get high up on Cheyenne Mountain?”
“Well, yes,” he replied, reflectively, “’spose ’tis. It’s a mighty good road, anyhow. Found blossom rock up there yesterday,” he added, with the odd, furtive, gleaming expression which I have so often seen in the eyes of men who spoke of a possible or probable mine; “true blossom rock. The assayer, he was up, he says it’s the real mineral, no mistake,” he continued, and there seemed a fine and unconscious scorn in the way he fingered the dingy and torn paper half dollar with which we had paid for the right to drive over what might be chambers of silver and gold.
“Blossom rock,” I said, “why ‘blossom’?” To call this particular surface mineral the flower of the silver root lying below, is a strange fancy, surely; it seems a needlessly poverty-stricken device for Nature’s realms to borrow names from each other.
A few rods’ steep climb, and we have left the foot-hill 335 and are absolutely on the mountain. The road tacks as sharply as a ship in a gale; we are facing north instead of south, and are already on a ledge so high that we have a sense of looking over as well as of looking off. The plains have even now the pale pink flush which only distance gives, and our town, though it is only four miles away, looks already like a handful of yellow and white pebbles on a sand beach, so suddenly and so high are we lifted above it. We are not only on the mountain, we are among the rocks,—towering rocks of bright red sandstone, thick-grown in spaces with vivid yellow-green lichen. They are almost terrible, in spite of their beauty of color,—so high, so straight, so many-pointed are they. The curves of the road would seem to be more properly called loops, so narrow are they, so closely do they hug the sharp projections round which they turn and wind and turn and wind. One is tempted to say that the road has lassoed the mountain and caught it, like a conquered Titan, in a tangle of coils. At every inner angle of the curves is a wide turn-out, where we wait to give the horses breath, and to watch if there be any one coming down. Round the outer angles we go at a slow pace, praying that there may be no one just the other side. When we face northward, the mountain shuts off all sun and we are in cold shadow; the instant we double the outer point of the ridge and face southward, we are in full sunshine; thus we alternate from twilight to high noon, and from high noon to twilight, in a swift and bewildering succession. On our right, we look down into chasms bristling with sharp rocks and pointed tops of fir-trees; on our left the mountain-side rises, now abruptly like a wall, now in sloping tiers. After a mile of these steep ascents, we come out on a very promontory of precipices. Here we turn the flank of the mountain, and a great vista to the west and north opens up before us, peak rising above peak, with softer hills crowding in between; below us, canyon after canyon, ridge after ridge, a perfect net-work of ins and outs and ups and downs, and our 336 little brown thread of a road swinging along at easy levels above it all. There is no more hard climbing. There are even down slopes on which the horses trot, in the shade of high pine-trees on either hand, now and then coming upon a spot where the ridge has widened sufficiently for the trees to dispose themselves in a more leisurely and assured fashion, like a lowland grove, instead of clinging at a slant on steep sides, as they are for the most part driven to do; now and then coming out on opens, where a canyon lies bare and yawning, like a great gash in the mountain’s side, its slopes of fine red or yellow gravelly sand seeming to be in a perpetual slide from top to bottom,—only held in place by bowlders here and there, which stick out like grotesque heads of rivets with which the hill had been mended. Here we find the kinnikinnick in its perfection, enormous mats of it lying compact, glossy, green and claret-tinted, as if enamelled, on the yellow sand. Painters have thought it worth while to paint over and over again some rare face or spot whose beauty perpetually eluded their grasp and refused to be transferred to canvas. Why should I not be equally patient and loyal to this exquisite vine, of which I have again and again, and always vainly, tried to say what it is like, and how beautiful is the mantle it flings over bare and stony places?
Imagine that a garden-border of box should lay itself down and behave like a blackberry vine,—run, and scramble, and overlap, and send myriads of long tendrils out in all directions,—and you will have a picture of the shape, the set of the leaf, the thick matting of the branches, and the utter unrestrainedness of a root of kinnikinnick. Add to this the shine of the leaf of the myrtle, the green of green grass in June, and the claret-red of the blackberry vine in November, and you will have a picture of its lustrousness and its colors. The solid centres of the mats are green; the young tendrils run out more and more vivid red to their tips. In June it is fragrant with clusters of small pink and white 337 bells, much like the huckleberry blossom. In December it is gay with berries as red as the berries of the holly. Neither midsummer heat nor midwinter cold can tarnish the sheen nor shrivel the fulness of its leaf. It has such vitality that no barrenness, no drought, deters it; in fact, it is more luxuriant on the bare, gravelly slopes of which I was just now speaking, than I have ever seen it elsewhere. Yet its roots seem to take slight hold of the soil. You may easily, by a little care in loosening the tendrils, pull up solid mats five to seven feet long. Fancy these at Christmas, in one’s house. I look up, as I write, at one upon my own wall. It has a stem an inch in diameter, gnarled and twisted like an old cedar,—the delight of an artistic eye, the surprise and scorn of the Philistine, to whom it looks merely like fire-wood. From this gnarled bough bursts a great growth of luxuriant green branches, each branch claret-red at its tips and vivid green at its centre. It has hung as a crown of late dower over the head of my Beatrice Cenci for two months, and not a leaf has fallen. It will hang there unchanged until June, if I choose. This virtue is partly its own, partly the spell of the wonderful dryness of our Colorado air, in which all things do as Mrs. Stowe says New Englanders do when they are old,—“dry up a little and then last.”
Still running westward along the north side of the mountain, the road follows the ridge lines of the huge, furrow-like canyons which cleave the mountain from its base to its summit. These make a series of triangles piercing the solid mass; and we zigzag up one side, round the sharp inner corner, and down the other side, then round the outer point, and then up and down just such another triangle,—and so on, for miles. The sight of these great gorges is grand: a thousand feet down to their bottom on the one hand, and a thousand feet up to their top on the other. Looking forward or back across them, we see the line of our road like a narrow ledge on the precipice; a carriage on it looks as 338 if it had been let down by ropes from the top. Soon we come to great tracts of pines and firs, growing scantily at incredible angles on these steep slopes; many trees have been cut, and are lying about on the ground, as if giants had been playing jackstraws, and had gone away leaving their game unfinished. They call these trees “timber;” that is “corpse” for a tree. A reverent sadness always steals on my thoughts when I see a dead tree lying where the axe slew it. The road winds farther and farther into a labyrinth of mountain fastnesses; gradually these become clear to the eye, a certain order and system in their succession. The great Cheyenne Canyon stretches like a partially hewn pathway between the mountain we are on and the rest of the range lying to north of it. This northward wall is rocky, seamed, and furrowed; bare, water-worn cliffs, hundreds of feet high, alternate with intervals of pine forest, which look black and solid in the shade, but in full sunlight are seen to be sparse, so that even from the other side of the canyon you may watch every tree’s double of black shadow thrown on the ground below, making a great rafter-work floor, as it were, from which the trees seem to rise like columns. Above this stretch away endless tiers of peaks and round hills, more than one can count, because at each step some of them sink out of sight and new ones crop up. Some are snow-topped; some have a dark, serrated line of firs over their summits; some look like mere masses of bowlders and crags, their upper lines standing clear out against the sky, like the jagged top of a ruined wall. On all the slopes leading down into the canyons are rows of pines, like besiegers climbing up; and on most of the upper connecting ridges lies a fine white line of snow, like a silver thread knitting peak to peak. From all the outer points of these gorges, as we look back to the east, we have exquisite glimpses of the plains, framed always in a triangle made by sloping canyon walls. I doubt if it would be possible to render one of these triangle pictures as we get them from between 339 these intersecting and overlapping walls. A yucca plant, ten inches high, may happen to come into the near foreground, so that it helps to frame them; and yet their upper horizon line is miles and miles away. I have never seen so marvellous a blending of the far and the near as they give.
Still the road winds and winds, and the sense of remoteness grows stronger and stronger. The silence of the wilderness, what is there like it? The silence of the loneliest ruin is silence only because time has hushed the sounds with which the ruin was once alive. This is silence like that in which the world lay pregnant before time began.
Just as this grand, significant silence was beginning to make us silent, too, we came suddenly upon a little open where the wilderness was wilderness no longer. One man had tamed it. On our right hand stood his forge, on our left his house. Both forge and house were of a novel sort; nowhere but in the heart of the Rocky Mountains would they have been called by such names. The forge consisted of a small pine-tree, a slender post some four feet distant from it, a pile of stones and gravel, a log, and a pair of bellows. The house was perhaps eight feet high; the walls reached up one third that height: first, three logs, then, two planks; there the wall ended. One front post was a pine-tree, the other a rough cedar stump; from the ridgepole hung a sail-cloth roof which did not meet the walls; very airy must be the blacksmith’s house on a cold night, in spite of the southeast winds being kept off by a huge bowlder twenty feet high. On one side stood an old dead cedar-tree with crooked arms, like some marine monster; one of the arms was the blacksmith’s pantry, and there hung his dinners for a week or more, a big haunch of venison. A tomtit, not much larger than a humming-bird, was feasting on it by snatches. The tiny creature flew from the topmost branch of the tree down to the venison, took a bite, and was back again safe on the upper bough in far less time 340 than I take to write his name; less than a second a trip he took, I think; never once did he pause for a second bite, never once rest on a lower branch: he fairly seemed to buzz in the air, so fast he flew up and down.
“So you board the tomtit, do you?” we said to the blacksmith, who stood near by, piling boughs on a big fire.
“Yes; he’s so little I can afford to keep him,” replied the blacksmith, with a quiet twinkle in his eye and the cheery tone of a good heart in his voice: “he jest about lives in that tree, an’ there’s generally suthin’ there for him.”
It was a spot to win a man’s love, the spot the blacksmith had chosen for his temporary home, the little open had so sheltered and sheltering a look: to the south, east, north, mountain walls; to the west a vista, a suggestion of outlet, and a great friendliness of pine-trees. Two small brooks ran across the clearing. A thick line of bare, gray cotton-woods marked them now; in the summer they would be bowers of green, and the little bridges across them would be hid in thickets of foliage. The upper line of the southern mountain wall stood out against the sky in bold and fantastic shapes, endlessly suggestive. That rocks not hewn by men’s hands should have such similitudes is marvellous. I have seen photographs of ruins in Edom and Palmyra which seem to be almost reproductions of these rocky summit outlines of some of our Colorado peaks.
A half-mile farther on we came upon the camp of the men who were building the road. “Camp” is an elastic word. In this case, it meant merely a small pine grove, two big fires, and some piles of blankets. Here the road ceased. As we halted, three dogs came bounding towards us, barking most furiously. One of them stopped suddenly, gave one searching look at me, put her tail between her legs, and with a pitiful yelp of terror turned and fled. I walked slowly after her; she would look back over her shoulder, turn, make one or two lunges at me, barking shrilly, then with the same 341 yelp of terror run swiftly away; at last she grew brave enough to keep her face toward me, but continually backed away, alternating her bark of defiance with her yelp of terror in a way which was irresistibly ludicrous. We were utterly perplexed by her behavior until her master, as soon as he could speak for laughing, explained it.
“Yer see, that ’ere dog’s never seen a woman afore. She was reared in the woods, an’ I hain’t never took her nowheres, an’ thet’s jest the fact on’t; she dunno what to make of a woman.”
It grew droller and droller. The other dogs were our good friends at once, leaped about us, snuffed us, and licked our hands as we spoke to them. Poor Bowser hung back and barked furiously with warning and menace whenever I patted one of the other dogs, but if I took a step nearer her she howled and fled in the most abject way.
Two men were baking bread, and there seemed a good-natured rivalry between them.
“I’ve got a leetle too much soda in it,” said one, as I peered curiously into his big bake-kettle, lifting the cover, “but his’n’s all burnt on the top,” with a contemptuous cock of his eye towards his fellow-baker. It is said to be very good, this impromptu bread, baked in a shapeless lump in an iron kettle, with coals underneath and coals on the lid above. It did not look so, however. I think I should choose the ovens of civilization.
The owner of my canine foe was a man some fifty-five or sixty years old. He had a striking face, a clear, blue-gray eye, with a rare mixture of decision and sentiment in it, a patriarchal gray beard, and a sensitive mouth. He wore a gray hat, broader-brimmed even than a Quaker’s, and it added both picturesqueness and dignity to his appearance. His voice was so low, his intonation so good, that the uncultured speech seemed strangely out of place on his lips. He had lived in the woods “nigh eight year,” sometimes in one part of the 342 Territory, sometimes in another. He had been miner, hunter, farmer, and now road-builder. A very little talk with men of this sort usually draws from them some unexpected revelations of the motives or the incidents of their career. A long lonely life produces in the average mind a strange mixture of the taciturn and the confidential. The man of the wilderness will journey by your side whole days in silence; then, of a sudden, he will speak to you of matters of the most secret and personal nature, matters which it would be, for you, utterly impossible to mention to a stranger. We soon learned the secret of this man’s life in the woods. Nine years ago his wife had died. That broke up his farm home, and after that “all places seemed jest alike” to him, and “somehow” he “kinder took to the woods.” What an unconscious tribute there is in that phrase to nature’s power as a beneficent healer.
“There was another reason, too,” he added. “My wife, she died o’ consumption, hereditary, an’ them two boys’d ha’ gone the same way ef I hadn’t kep’ ’em out-o’-doors,” pointing to two stalwart young men perhaps eighteen and twenty. “They hain’t slep’ under a roof for eight year, an’ now they’re as strong an’ hearty as you’d wish to see.” They were, indeed, and they may thank their father’s wisdom for it.
Just beyond this camp was a cabin of fir boughs. Who that has not seen can conceive of the fragrant loveliness of a small house built entirely of fir boughs? It adds to the spice and the green and the airy lightness and the shelter of the pine-tree a something of the compactness and deftness and woven beauty of a bird’s nest. I never weary of looking at it, outside and in: outside, each half-confined twig lifting its cross of soft, plumy ends and stirring a little in the wind, as it used to do when it grew on the tree; inside, the countless glints of blue sky showing through the boughs, as when one lies on his back under a low pine-tree and looks up. This cabin has only three sides built of boughs. The fourth is a high bowlder, which slants away at just the 343 right angle to make a fire-place. The stone is of a soft, friable kind, and the fire has slowly eaten its way in, now and then cracking off a huge slice, until there is quite a fine “open Franklin” for the cabin. It draws well when the wind is in the right direction, as I can testify, for I have made fires in it. If the wind is from the east, it smokes, but I never heard of an open Franklin that did not.
The coming down over our new road is so unlike the going up that the very road seems changed. The beautiful triangular pictures of the distant plains are constantly before our eyes, widening at each turn, and growing more and more distinct at each lower level we reach. The blue line of the divide in the northern horizon looks always like a solid line of blue. By what process a stretch of green timber land turns into a wall of lapis lazuli, does the science of optics teach?
It is nearly sunset as we descend. The plains look boundless. Their color is a soft mingling of pink and yellow and gray; each smallest hollow and hill has a tint of its own, and hills and hollows alike seem dimples on the smooth expanse. Here and there patches of ploughed land add their clear browns with a fine effect of dark mosaics on the light surface.
As we pass the bare slopes where the kinnikinnick is richest and greenest, we load our carriage with its lovely, shining mats. Below, on the soft pink plains, is a grave we love. It lies in the shade of great pines, on a low hill to the west of the town. Surely, never did a little colony find ready to its hand a lovelier burial-place than this.
Long ago there must have been watercourses among these low hills, else these pines could never have grown so high and strong. The watercourses are dried now, and only barren sands lie around the roots of the great trees, but still they live and flourish, as green in December as in June, and the wind in their branches chants endless chants above the graves.
This grave that we love lies, with four pines guarding 344 it closely, on a westward slope which holds the very last rays of the setting sun. We look up from it to the glorious, snow-topped peaks which pierce the sky, and the way seems very short over which our friend has gone. The little mound is kept green with the faithful kinnikinnick vines, and we bring them, now, from the highest slopes which our new road reaches, on the mountain our friend so loved.
First publication: The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 38 pg 677 December 1876 under the title “A Colorado Road”
Bear creek valley
The assayer, he was up, an’ he says
text has an he
[Probably a mountain chickadee.]
Three miles south of Colorado Springs, on the main road to Pueblo, there is a road leading to the right. If you are looking for it, you will see it; otherwise you may easily pass by without observing it. This is the road which leads to the ranches on the foot-hills of Cheyenne Mountain. It is travelled by only two classes of people,—the hard-working farmers, who live on these ranches and come to town to sell butter, poultry, eggs, and wood; and pleasure-seekers, who go from town, past these ranches, up into the grand recesses of the mountain. For a mile or more the road is a lane between fenced fields. In June the fields are bright with red-and-white vetches, and purple lupines and white daisies grow on the edges of the lane. It follows closely along the bank of Cheyenne Creek, a stream which is a foaming torrent in spring and only a little thread of a brook in mid-summer. Its banks are thick-grown with the willow cotton-wood and with the white plum. When the plum is in flower, it makes the air so spicy sweet it draws all the bees and humming insects in the region, and makes you think you must be in Araby, as you drive by. Soon the lane plunges into great thickets of bushes,—low white oak, willow, plum, clethra, and, above all, the wild rose. You wind and wind in this tangle of green and blossom, looking out and up, past the waving tops of the bushes, at the red and black rocks of the precipitous mountain. The contrast is so vivid as to be bewildering and lends a peculiar enchantment to the approach to the canyon. You cross and recross the creek,—sometimes by a ford. 346 sometimes by a log bridge, which rolls and rattles under the horse’s feet; the bushes become trees and meet over your head; great bowlders and fir-trees crowd on the road, which suddenly ends in a small clearing that is like a green, swarded well, with high sides of rock. You are in the canyon. The brook, still hid in its procession of leafy standard-bearers, comes leaping into this open with a loud music of sound. For a little space further is a footpath you may follow. Then the footpath also comes to end, crowded out by bowlders, by sand-slopes, by big firs, by driftwood from many a spring freshet, and by the rushing brook to-day. On stones along the edge of the water or in it, on mossy logs and ledges, on crumbling sand-rims, you may keep on in the brook’s road, if you can. It is a scramble; but it is a delight.
The walls of the canyon are black, gray, or red granitic rock, with here and there sandstone. Tall pines and firs grow in clumps at their base, or in slanting rows, like slow-climbing besiegers on their sides. Now the canyon widens, and there are grassy banks to the brook, even a little bit of sandy beach now and then, and the water is amber-colored and still. Then the canyon narrows, the brook foams white over huge bowlders, and runs thin and shining, like shifting glass surfaces over great tables and slabs of dark stone. The walls on either hand are cloven in places, and stand out in turrets and towers fifty, a hundred, two hundred feet high. You cross the brook on logs,—logs three abreast, but no one firm. A huge bowlder in the middle of the stream divides it, turns it to the right and to the left, and tosses each current in fantastic jets and falls. Now the chasm bends to the south. Soft, green, and wooded hills come in sight, tokens of the fertile parks beyond. On the left hand is a level space, almost like a river interval, so thick grown with pines and firs that underneath their wide-spreading branches are great glooms of shade which no sun can reach. The ground is strewn thick with the fir-cones and pine-needles. 347 On the right hand are perpendicular walls of rock, two hundred feet high, on which the sky seems to rest. These walls are in tiers, which lap and overlap. Tufts of green growths—bushes, grasses—wave on them, even to the topmost rock. At their bases are piles of driftwood; its shining surfaces glisten like gray satin in the sun. Whole trees, with their gnarled roots in the air, have whirled down and lodged here. To look down from the top to the bottom of this canyon, in a spring freshet, when the brook is amusing itself with this sort of play would be a spectacle worth seeing. One of these huge dead trees a woodbine has chosen for its trellis. In and out, in and out, wreathing every bough and branch, it has gone faithfully from root to topmost twig, and on no live tree could it possibly be so beautiful. Here is the kinnikinnick, our one undying vine, with its glossy green lengths looking almost like running hieroglyphs on the yellow sand; and the purple clematis, too, which winds its rings and coils so tight around twigs and stems that it cannot be parted from them, even if you wish. But you do not wish, for the clematis alone would not be half so fair as it is when it flings out its purple bells as streamers from an oak bough or a stem of spiræa. Through the fir-glooms on the left, gleam red towers, which stand behind them. Far up on the south slopes of the canyon are more isolated red rocks,—pillars, altars, pyramids. No rounded or smoothed shapes; all abrupt, sharp-edged, jagged. Now comes a still wider open, with amphitheatre-like walls circling it; spaces of green grass and low bushes on either side the stream. A few steps, and we leave this behind, and are again in a close, cleft way, whose rocky sides are so near together that, as you look back, they seem to shut behind you. The left-hand wall is a sheer precipice. In strange contrast to its massive dark stone are the tufts of flowers growing out of its crevices to the very top,—white spiræas, white columbines, and, daintiest of all, the pink “shooting star.” This is a flower that must belong to the same family as the cyclamen, 348 which all dwellers in Albano know so well in its shady haunts under the old ilex-trees. Mad violet the Italians call it, and certainly there is something mischievous in the way it turns its petals back, as a restive horse turns his ears. Colorado’s “shooting star” is of a delicate pink, with exquisite dark brown and bright yellow markings in the centre, at the base of the pistil, and its rosy petals all bent back as determinedly as those of the cyclamen. Hanging and waving on a mossy rock, scores of feet above one’s head, it is one of the most bewitching flowers in all the marvellous flora of Colorado.
On the top of this flowery precipice stands one tree, alone, dead, its skeleton arms stretched motionless against the sky. It could not have seemed so lonely, so hopelessly dead anywhere else. The very blue sky itself seems to mock its desolation, to resist its appeal.
The next change is an abrupt one. The sharp, precipitous wall ends suddenly, or, rather, trends backward in jagged slopes to the south, and is succeeded by a beautiful grassy hill, making the left wall of the canyon. On its top are huge bowlders and serrated rocks in confusion, looking as if a high wind might topple them down. The brook buries itself in a thicket of willows; under the willows is an army of bulrushes, with their bristling spear-points. Pushing through these, you are in one moment up again on a bare hillside, so steep there is no trace of a path. It is of disintegrated rock, rather than of gravel, and at every step you sink ankle-deep in the sharp fragments. You clutch at tiny, frail bushes above, and you brace yourself against tiny, frail bushes below; but the bushes have not much firmer foot-hold than you have yourself, and there seems little to hinder you from slipping to the very bottom of the canyon. Wedged in the crevices of the rocks here are the mats of a variety of the prickly-pear cactus, now in blossom. The flower seems as strangely out of place as would a queen’s robe on a rough-shod 349 beggar. Its yellow petals glisten like satin, and are almost transparent, so delicate is their texture. They are thick set in the shape of a cup, and in the centre is a sheaf of filaments as fine as spun silk. How was it born of this shapeless, clumsy, pulpy, dull-tinted leaf, bristling all over with fierce and cruel thorns? Well does the coarse creature guard its dainty gold cups, however. You will rue it, if you try to pick one.
The gravelly hillside does not last long. Well for one’s muscle and patience that it does not, for a rod of it is as tiring as a mile of any other sort of scrambling. In a few moments you reach a spot where the rocks and the bushes and the fir-trees conquer and make a rough terra firma again. The confusion of the rocks increases; they look as if they must all have been hurled at each other in a fight. Bowlders are piled upon bowlders, and the bed of the stream is a succession of tilted slabs. Suddenly comes the sound of falling water, and you see, just ahead, a beautiful succession of irregular and twisting falls,—slides, rather than falls, one might well call them,—and they have a certain beauty and a variety of coloring which a simple vertical fall must forever lack. Water can do a hundred things more beautiful with itself than leaping off a precipice; but the world at large does not seem to know it. The noise and spatter and froth are what the world likes best. Here in these water-slides in North Cheyenne canyon you shall see in one small space water moving from side to side in a stately minuet motion over a many-colored surface of rock, more beautiful than a mosaic; water gliding inexplicably to right or to left; water leaping suddenly, flinging one jet and then no more; water turning and doubling on itself and pausing in dark pools. And, for sound, you shall hear in one moment a perfect orchestra of fine notes, of melodies all separate, yet all in unison, any one of which is as much sweeter and more delightsome than the noise of a fall as is the low ripple of mirth, which is but one remove from the silent smile, pleasanter to hear than the loud roar of open-mouthed laughter.350
You will not go any further up the canyon. It widens soon and grows less and less wild, till it opens at last into the fertile Bear Creek Valley. To journey through it is pleasant; but you will sit all the rest of the day on the mossy ledges by this gliding and melodious water.
At sunset you will go down. The rocky walls of the canyon will seem to swing and part before you, as you descend, like gate, portcullis, bridge, opened by friendly retainers, to speed their lord’s guest. You will bear in your hands bunches of whatever flowers you love best and choose as you walk. I bore on this June day, whose pictures I have so faintly outlined here, a sheaf of the white columbine,—one single sheaf, one single root; but it was almost more than I could carry. In the open spaces I carried it on my shoulder; in the thickets I bore it carefully in my arms, like a baby. When at last I had set it triumphantly in a great jar on my south window-sill I counted its blossoms, and there were forty-three.
up again on a bare gravel hillside
l in gravel invisible
almost too terrible to tell
[Helen, I do wish you had not interpolated that “almost”.]
in the better class of houses
text has or houses
just where, it was hard to learn.
, for .
nothing in life severer than the École Polytechnique
[This phrase is just begging for a punchline]
less polished than the saloons of Paris and Washington
l in less invisible
[I suspect she means “saloons” in the older sense, now spelled “salons”.]
Looking to the southwest from the high bluffs lying east of the town of Colorado Springs, we see two pale blue pyramids outlined against the sky. They are so distinct and so sharp-pointed that, if it were Egypt instead of Colorado, one would not doubt their being chiselled pyramids of stone; and when told that they are mountains more than a hundred miles away, one has a vague sense of disappointment. They look at once more defined and more evanescent than is the wont of mountains; on a hazy day they are marked only by a slightly deepened color; a little more haze, and they are gone, melting sometimes out of sight even under your eyes, like a mirage on the horizon. From the delicacy and softness of tint of these peaks, combined with their sharp-cut pyramidal outline, they have an inexpressible beauty as seen from the bluffs of which I speak; they enhance and crown the whole view, so much so that when people come home from the drive on the bluffs, the first question heard is always, “Were the Spanish Peaks in sight?”
Who called them, or why he called them, the Spanish Peaks, I cannot learn. Perhaps in old Castile there are peaks of the same soft tint and sharp outline; but the Indians named them better,—Wa-ha-toy-a, which, being turned into English, is the Twin Sisters, or, as some say, the Twin Breasts.
Gradually, as month after month one gazes on these beautiful far-off peaks, they take deep hold on the imagination. They seem to be the citadel-gates of 352 some fairer realm, into which we more and more yearn to look; and when the day comes on which we set out for the journey to their base, it is as if we were bound for some one of the El Dorados of our youth.
Starting from Colorado Springs to seek them, one must go by rail forty-five miles southward to Pueblo, and thence fifty miles, still by rail, farther south to Cucharas. It should be on an early June day. Then the mountain-tops will be white with snow, the cotton-woods along the creeks and the young grass on the foot-hills will be of a tender green, the dome of the sky will be vivid blue, and the radiant air will shimmer, spite of its coolness.
Set down at Cucharas at sunset, one feels tempted to run after the little narrow-gauge train, as it puffs away into the wilderness, and cry, “Hold! hold! It was a mistake. I will not remain.” The whole town itself seems a mistake, an accident: a handful of log-cabins and wooden shanties in two straggling lines, as if a caravan of daguerreotype saloons had been forced to halt for a rest; plains to north, east, south of them,—bare, barren, shelterless plains, with only the cactus and low bunch-grass to show that the sandy soil holds in it an element of life. It must be indeed a resolute soul which could content itself with the outlook at Cucharas.
It was twilight before we succeeded in finding the springless wagon and the unmated horses which were to take us six miles west to the town of Walsenburg,—six miles nearer to the great Twin Sisters. The plains looked vaster with each deepening shadow; the grim, gaunt cactus-stalks looked more and more fierce and unfriendly; of a deep purple, almost black, in the southwest, rose Wa-ha-toy-a, no longer soft of tint and luring, but a dark and frowning barrier.
“How like old skeletons these cactus plants look!” I exclaimed. “They are uncanny, with their fleshless legs and arms and elbows.”
“Heard of the Penitentes, I suppose?” replied our driver, with seeming irrelevance.353
“No,” said we, wonderingly. “What are they?”
“Well, these cactuses are what they whip themselves with. I’ve seen ’em with the blood streaming down their backs.”
It was a fearful tale to hear in the twilight, as we jolted along over the road, we and our driver apparently the only living creatures in the region. On our left hand ran the little Cucharas creek, a dusky line of trees marking its course; beyond the creek rose here and there low bluffs and plateaus, with Mexican houses upon them,—houses built of mud, small, square, flat-roofed, not more than six or seven feet high. Surely, the native Mexican must be first cousin to the mud-sparrow! He has improved on his cousin’s style of architecture in only one particular, and to that he has been driven in self-defence. He sometimes joins his houses together in a hollow square, and puts all the windows and doors on the inside. When Indians attack mud-sparrows’ nests, I dare say the mud-sparrows will do the same thing, and leave off having front doors. On our left the dusky, winding lines of trees, and the dark, silent hills crowned with the mud plazas; on our right the great, gray wilderness; in front the queer, nasal old voice, almost chanting rather than telling the tale of the Penitentes,—what an hour it was!
It seems that there still exists among the Roman Catholic Mexicans of Southern Colorado, an order like the old order of the Flagellants. Every spring, in Easter week, several of the young men belonging to this order inflict on themselves dreadful tortures in public. The congregations to which they belong gather about them, follow them from house to house and spot to spot, and kneel down around them, singing and praying and continually exciting their frenzy to a higher pitch. Sometimes they have also drums and fifes, adding a melancholy and discordant music to the harrowing spectacle. The priests ostensibly disapprove of these proceedings, and never appear in public with the 354 Penitentes. But the impression among outsiders is very strong that they do secretly countenance and stimulate them, thinking that the excitement tends to strengthen the hold of the church on the people’s minds. It is incredible that such superstitions can still be alive and in force in our country. Some of the tortures these poor creatures undergo are almost too terrible to tell. One of the most common is to make in the small of the back an arrow-shaped incision; then, fastening into each end of a long scarf the prickly cactus stems, they scourge themselves with them, throwing the scarf ends first over one shoulder, then over the other, each time hitting the bleeding wound. The leaves of the yucca, or “soap-weed,” are pounded into a pulp and made into a sort of sponge, acrid and inflaming. A man carries this along in a pail of water, and every now and then wets the wound with it, to increase the pain and the flowing of the blood. Almost naked, lashing themselves in this way, they run wildly over the plains. Their blood drops on the ground at every step. A fanatical ecstasy possesses them; they seem to feel no fatigue; for three days and two nights they have been known to keep it up, without rest.
Others bind the thick lobes of the prickly pear under their arms and on the soles of their feet, and then run for miles, swinging their arms and stamping their feet violently on the ground. To one who knows what suffering there is from even one of these tiny little spines imbedded in the flesh, it seems past belief that a man could voluntarily endure such pain.
Others lie on the thresholds of the churches, and every person who enters the church is asked to step with his full weight on their bodies.
Others carry about heavy wooden crosses, so heavy that a man can hardly lift them. Some crawl on their hands and knees, dragging the cross. Crowds of women accompany them, singing and shouting. When the penitent throws himself on the ground, they lay the cross on his breast, and fall on their knees around him, 355 and pray; then they rise up, place the cross on his back again, and take up the dreadful journey. Now and then the band will enter a house and eat a little food, which in all good Catholic houses is kept ready for them. After a short rest, the leader gives a signal, and they set out again.
Last spring, in the eighteen hundred and seventy-sixth year of our merciful Lord, four of these young men died from the effects of their tortures. One of them, after running for three days under the cactus scourge, lay all Easter night naked upon the threshold of a church. Easter morning he was found there dead. What a comfort in the thought that the old prayer can never cease to ascend. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The twilight had deepened into night before the tale drew to a close; and it was with a sense of grief and horror, almost as if we had been transported to the very hill of Calvary, that we drove into the little Mexican town of Walsenburg, which lies in the Cucharas meadows, only a few miles from the base of Wa-ha-toy-a.
From the tragedy we had been hearing, to the cheerful low comedy of Sporleder’s Hotel, was a grateful change. A mud-walled, rafter-roofed, rambling, but very comfortable old place was Sporleder’s. From the porch you stepped at once into the “office,” and through the office you came and went to your bedroom, and to the dining-room, by a mysterious, dim-lighted passage-way, or through somebody’s else still dimmer-lighted and more mysterious bedroom. The office was a bedroom, too; it held three beds, a wooden settle,—which was no doubt a bed also, though by day it held saddles and hunting-gear of all sorts,—a desk, and a three-cornered fire-place built out, in the picturesque Mexican fashion, chimney and all into the room. They look as if children might have built them for play, these Mexican fire-places, but they draw well, and are wonderfully picturesque. The mud-walled bedroom was 356 not damp: its one little window looked into a high Jefferson currant bush, and a cross-draught was established by the accident of a tiny opening at the eaves, on the left-hand side of the room, just above the edge of the white-cotton ceiling which was nailed on the rafters. Through this little hole moonlight twinkled all night, and daylight twinkled in the morning long before the sun had pierced through the Jefferson currant bush. The beds were clean and not very hard. The food was wholesome. One might easily fare worse in many a pretentious house. The landlord looked as if he had belonged to the childhood of Hans Christian Andersen. He was an old German tailor; he wore an ancient blue dress-coat, and a long black-velvet waistcoat, and did the honors of his clean little mud house with an old-fashioned and pathetic courtesy of manner. He had evidently seen much sorrow in the strange vicissitudes of life which had brought him to be an inn-keeper in Colorado.
Walsenburg is an old Mexican town. There are perhaps fifty houses in it, and more than half of these are the true Mexican mud huts,—mud floor, mud wall, mud roof; if there had been any way of baking mud till you could see through it, they would have had mud windows as well. As there was not, they compromised on windows, and have but one to a room, and many rooms without a window at all. These houses are not as uncomfortable as one would suppose, and by no means as ugly. The baked mud is of a good color, and the gaudy Roman Catholic prints and effigies and shrines with which the walls are often adorned stand out well on the rich brown. The mud floors are hard, and for the most part clean and smooth. Gay blankets and shawls are thrown down upon them in the better class houses; chairs are rare. The houses remind one more of bee-hives than of any thing else, they do so swarm at their one small entrance; women and girls are there by dozens and scores, all wearing bright shawls thrown over their heads in an indescribably 357 graceful way. Even toddlers of six and seven have their brilliant shawls thrown over their heads and trailing in the dust behind; I am not sure that they are not born in them. The little boys are not so much clothed; in fact, many of them are not clothed at all. The most irresistible one I saw wore a short white shirt reaching perhaps one-third of the way to his knees; over this, for purposes of decoration, he had put a heavy woollen jacket much too big for him; thus arrayed he strutted up and down with as pompous an air as if he were a king in state robes; but the jacket was heavy: he could not endure it long; presently he shook one arm free of its sleeve, then the other, and then in a moment more dropped the garment in a crumpled pile on the ground, and with an exultant fling of his thin brown legs raced away, his shirt blowing back like a scanty wisp tied round his waist. His mother sat on the ground leaning against the wall of her house, nursing her baby and laughing till all her teeth showed like a row of white piano keys on her shining brown skin. I stopped and praised her baby; she spoke no English, but she understood the praise of the baby’s eyes. By a gesture she summoned the hero of the shirt, said to him a single word, and in a second more he had sprung into the house, reappeared with a wooden chair, and placed it for me with a shy grace. Then he darted away sidewise, like a dragon-fly.
All the women’s voices were low and sweet; their eyes were as dark and soft as the eyes of deer, and their unfailing courtesy was touching. An old woman, one of the oldest in the town, took me over her house, from room to room, and stood by with a gratified smile while I looked eagerly at every thing. The landlord’s daughter, who had accompanied me, had mentioned to her that I was a stranger and had never before seen a Mexican town. When I took leave of her I said through my interpreter, “I am greatly obliged to you for showing me your house.”
With rapid gestures and shrugs of the shoulders she 358 poured forth sentence after sentence, all the while looking into my face with smiles and taking my hand in hers.
“What does she say?” I asked.
“She says,” replied my guide, “that her poor house is not worth looking at, and she is the one who is obliged that so beautiful a lady should enter it.” And this was a poverty-stricken old woman in a single garment of tattered calico, living in a mud hut, without a chair or a bed!
Early the next morning we set out again to drive still farther west. Our errand was to find the engineer corps who were surveying the route across the mountains into the San Juan country. The brave little narrow-gauge railroad, the Denver and Rio Grande, which is pushing down toward the City of Mexico as fast as it can, is about to reach one hand over into the San Juan silver mines to fill its pockets as it goes along, and the engineers were somewhere in this region; just where, it was hard to
“Over by Early’s,” said one.
“At the mouth of Middle Canyon,” said another. Nobody knew positively.
At any rate there were the mountains; we could drive towards them on a venture. Wa-ha-toy-a in the south, the Greenhorn and Veta along the west, and beyond, the snowy, glistening tops of the main range; a grand sweep of mountain wall confronted us as we drove up the Cucharas Valley. The Cucharas bottoms are chiefly taken up in Mexican farms: some small and carelessly tilled; others large and as well cultivated as the poor Mexican methods admit. The land is rich, and when the railroad opens up a market for its produce, these farms will become very valuable. We passed many Mexicans ploughing in their sleepy, shambling fashion. One good-natured fellow showed us his plough, and only laughed at our raillery about its primitive fashion. It looked like the invention of some shipwrecked man, in a forgotten age. It was simply a long pole with 359 a clumsy triangular wooden keel nailed on one end of it; on this was tied—yes, literally tied—a sort of iron tooth or prong. This scratched the earth lightly, perhaps two or three inches deep, no more. This imbecile instrument was drawn by two oxen, and the man’s only way of guiding them was by a rope tied to the near horn of the near ox.
Our road followed the river line closely. The banks were rich and green; thickets of cotton-woods and willows were just bursting into leaf; now and then we climbed up the bank and came out on fine plateaus, with broken table-lands, or “mesas,” stretching away to the right and covered with piñon-trees. On these were herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, each tended by a Mexican herder. You would take this herder, as he lies on the ground, for a bundle of cast-off rags somebody had left behind; but as you drive past the rags flutter a little, a brown face appears slowly lifted, and a lazy gleam of curiosity shoots out from two shining black eyes. The rags are a man or a boy.
“Oh, how do they live?” I exclaimed. “What poverty-stricken creatures!”
“Live!” replied the driver. “Give a Mexican five cents a day and he’ll lie by and do nothing, he’ll feel so rich. He’ll squat on his heels and chew piñon nuts from morning till night. Last year they did have a hard time, though; the grasshoppers cleaned them out. They had nothing left to live on but ‘chili’ [a fiery red pepper]. They had enough of that. Even the grasshoppers won’t eat chili.”
About ten miles from Walsenburg we came to a handful of frame houses scattered along the creek and conspicuous among the light-green cotton-wood trees. Close on the bank shone out a new pine “meeting-house.” “And Baptist, at that,” said the driver, with a judiciously balanced inflection on the “at that,” which might have left us amiable, whatever our predilections as to religions. This was a settlement of Georgians,—“all Baptists,”—and at a great sacrifice they had built 360 this meeting-house. Just beyond the Baptist meeting-house lies the farm of an old Virginian, a man of education and refinement, who, for some inexplicable reason, buried himself in this wilderness twenty-five years ago, when it swarmed with Indians. He so feared that white men and civilization would find him out that, whenever it was necessary for him to go to some trading-post, he went in and out of his hiding-place by different routes, and with his horse’s shoes reversed, that he might not leave a trail which could be followed. There was one interval of eleven years, he told me, in which he did not see the face of a white woman. He still lives alone; a Mexican man, with his wife, are his only servants; but his ranch is a favorite rendezvous for travellers, and in a few weeks the whistle of the steam-engine will resound through his lands. So useless is it for a man to seek, on this continent, to flee civilization.
It grew no easier to find the whereabouts of the engineers. Everybody had seen them; nobody knew where they were. We were twenty miles from Walsenburg; noon was at hand; our guide had no farther device to suggest; Early’s had been his last hope; we were at Early’s now, and neither in the log-cabin nor in the “store” could any news be had of the engineers. Very reluctantly we were turning to retrace our twenty bootless miles, when with a low chuckle our driver exclaimed, “By jingoes, if that ain’t luck! There they be now!”
There they were, to be sure, twelve of them, laughing, shouting, clattering down hill in a gay painted wagon, coming to Early’s for their nooning. Keen-eyed, bronze-faced, alert-looking fellows they were; a painter might have delighted to paint them, as a few moments later, they had flung themselves on the ground in a picturesque circle. As bronzed, as blistered, as hungry, as alert as any of them, was the young Frenchman who three months before had seen nothing in life severer than the École Polytechnique, or 361 polished than the saloons of Paris and Washington. It is a marvel how such men “take” to wild life in the Rocky Mountains. Perhaps it is only the highly civilized who can appreciate the delights of savagery. Certain it is that there are no men in Colorado who so enjoy living in tents or in shanties, doing their own cooking, raising their own potatoes, and hunting their meat, as do the sons and nephews of dukes and earls.
Our road back to Walsenburg lay on plateaus which overlooked the river interval up which we had come. The land was less fertile than in the meadows, but the opens were grand and breezy, with exhilarating off-looks to the north and east. We crossed the wagon-road which leads into the San Juan mining district, and saw, creeping along in a yellow cloud of dust, one of the caravans bound on the pilgrimage to that shrine of silver,—eleven white-topped wagons, with ten mules to each wagon. The mules walked so slowly that the line hardly seemed to advance; its motion looked at a distance like the undulating motion of a huge dark snake with white rings around its body. In a few weeks these white-topped wagons will have disappeared from the landscape, and in their stead will be seen the swift-vanishing smoke of steam-engines, doing in ten hours the work for which the mules took ten days.
A few miles out of Walsenburg, I saw, on a bare hill to the right of our road, a strange object which looked as if a vessel had been thrown up there ages ago, and had lain bleaching till her timbers had slowly fallen apart. I never saw, cast up on any shore, a ghastlier, more weather-beaten wreck than this seemed. I gazed at it with increasing perplexity, which our driver observed, and, following the direction of my eyes, exclaimed, “Oh, there they are! Those are the crosses the Penitentes carry at Easter. They keep ’em stacked up here on this hill, and there wouldn’t a living creature dare so much as to touch one of them nor go past them without crossing themselves.” As we drove nearer, their semblance to a wrecked vessel lessened, but the 362 symbolic significance of the likeness deepened. There were eleven of them, some of them nine or ten feet long: nine were lying on the ground, overlapping each other, with their gray bars stretching upward; the other two were planted firm and erect in the ground. The sight of them gave to the narrative of the Penitentes a reality and an intensity which nothing else could have done. The gaunt and rigid arms seemed lifted in appeal, and their motionless silence seemed as pregnant with woe as a cry.
The sun was just sinking behind the snowy western peaks when we reached Walsenburg. We had arrived at an important moment in the history of the little town. The graders had just come; the railroad was about to begin. In lazy, sauntering groups, the Mexicans were looking on: women with babies in their arms, barelegged, barefooted, their gaudy shawls close draped,—they looked like some odd sort of fowls, with brilliant plumage close-furled; men leaning in feigned nonchalance against fences here and there; ragged, half-naked boys and girls darting about from point to point, and peering with intensest curiosity at every thing; there they all were. I doubt if there were a Mexican left in the town. The meadow was all astir; wagons, horses, men, stacks of implements, tents, shanties going up like magic,—already the place looked like a little city. Just as we drove up, a man advanced from the crowd, dragging a ploughshare. Nobody took any especial note of him. He bent himself sturdily to the handles of the plough, and in a moment more soft ridges of upturned earth, and a line of rich dark brown, marked a narrow furrow. Swiftly he walked westward, the slender, significant dark-brown furrow lengthening rod by rod as he walked. His shadow lengthened until it became a slenderer line than the furrow in the distance, and was lost at last in the great purple shadow of Wa-ha-toy-a. The railroad was begun; the wilderness had surrendered.
First publication, with the title “Wa-Ha-Toy-A”: The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 39, June 1877
suppose the little black boys who hang on lamp-posts along the route of a grand city procession are not the best reporters of the parade. They do not know the names of the officials, and they would be likely to have very vague ideas as to the number of minutes it took the procession to pass any given point; but nobody in all the crowd will have a more vivid impression of the trappings of the show, of the colors and the shapes, and of the tunes the bands played. I am fitted for a chronicler of the procession of flowers in Colorado only as little black boys are for chroniclers of Fourth of July processions. Of the names of the dignitaries, and the times at which they reached particular places, I am sadly ignorant; but there is hardly a color or a shape I do not know by sight and by heart, and as for the music of delight which the bands play, its memory is so vivid with me that I think its rhythm would never cease to cheer me if I were banished for ever to Arctic snows.
The first Colorado flower I saw was the great blue wind-flower, or anemone. It was brought to me one morning, late in April, when snow was lying on the ground, and our strange spring-winter seemed to be coming on fiercely. The flower was only half open, and only half way out of a gray, furry sheath some two inches long; it looked like a Maltese kitten’s head, with sharp-pointed blue ears,—the daintiest, most wrapped-up little blossom. “A crocus, out in chinchilla fur!” I exclaimed.364
“Not a crocus at all; an anemone,” said they who knew.
It is very hard, at first, to believe that these anemones do not belong to the crocus family. They push up through the earth in clusters of conical, gray, hairy buds, and open cautiously, an inch or two from the ground, precisely as the crocuses do; but, day by day, inches at a time, the stem pushes up, until you suddenly find, some day, in a spot where you left low clumps of what you will persist, for a time, in calling blue crocuses, great bunches of waving blue flowers, on slender stems from six to twelve inches high, the blossoms grown larger and opened wider, till they look like small tulip cups, like the Italian anemones. A week or two later you find at the base of these clumps a beautiful fringing mat of leaves, resembling the buttercup leaf, but much more deeply and numerously slashed on the edges. These, too, grow at last, away from the ground and wave in the air; and, by the time they are well up, many of the flowers have gone to seed, and on the top of each stem flutters a great ball of fine, feathery seed plumes, of a green or claret color, almost as beautiful as the blossom itself. These anemones grow in great profusion on the foot-hills of the mountains to the west of Colorado Springs. They grow even along the roadsides, at Manitou. They have, apparently, caprices of fondness for certain localities, for you shall find one ridge blue with them, and another, near by, without a single flower.
About the same time as the anemone, or a little before, comes the low white daisy, harbinger of spring in Colorado, as is the epigæa in New England. This little blossom opens at first, like the anemone, close to the ground, and in thick-set mats, the stems so short, you can get the flower only by uprooting the whole mat. It has a central root like a turnip, from which all the mats radiate, sometimes a dozen from one root. Take five or six of these home, and fill a low dish with them, and the little brown blades of leaves will freshen and 365 grow up like grass, and the daisies will peer up higher and higher, until the dish looks like a bit of a waving field of daisies.
Next after these comes the mountain hyacinth, popularly so called for no other reason than that its odor is like the odor of the hyacinth. It is in reality a lily. It is the most ethereal and delicate of all our wild flowers, and yet it springs up, like the commonest of weeds, in the commonest of places; even in the dusty edges of the streets, so close to the ruts that wheels crush it, it lifts its snowy chalice. On neglected opens, in pathways trodden every day, you may see these lilies by dozens, trampled down; and yet at first sight you would take them for rare and fragile exotics. The blossom is star-shaped, almost precisely like the white jessamine, and of such fine and transparent texture that it is almost impossible to press it; one, two, sometimes half a dozen flowers, rising only two or three inches high from the centre of a little bunch of slender green leaves, in shape like the blades of the old-fashioned garden-pink, but of a bright green color. It is one of the purest looking blossoms. To see it as we do, growing lavishly in highways, trodden under foot of man and beast, is a perpetual marvel which is never quite free from pain.
After these three forerunners comes a great outburst of flowering: yellow daisies of several varieties, yellow mustard, a fine feathery, white flower, and vetches of all sizes, shapes, colors, more than you can count. And here I am not speaking of what happens in nooks and corners of the foot-hills, in fields, or by-ways, or places hard to come at. I am speaking of what happens in the streets of Colorado Springs, along all the edges of the sidewalks, in little spaces left at crossings, in unoccupied lots,—in short, everywhere in the town where man and his houses have left room. It is not the usual commonplace of exaggeration; it is only the simplest and most graphic form of exact statement you can find to say that by the middle of June the ground is a 366 mosaic of color. The vetches are bewildering. There are sixteen varieties of vetch which grow in one small piece of table-land between the Colorado Springs Hotel and the railroad station. They are white, with purple markings, all shades of purple, and all shades of red; some of them grow in spikes, standing erect; some in scrambling and running vines, with clusters of flowers; some with single blossoms, like the sweet-pea, and as varied in color. They all lie comparatively low, partly from the want of bushes and shrubs to climb on, partly because they are too wise to go very far away from their limited water supply in so dry a country; they must keep close to the ground, or choke. That this is a bit of specific precaution on their part, and not a peculiarity of their varieties, is proved by the fact that all along the creeks, in the cotton-wood and willow copses, we find the same vetches growing up boldly, many feet into the air, just as they do in Italy, leaping from shrub to shrub, and catching hold on any thing which to hand.
By the third week in June, we have added to these brilliant parterres of red, purple, white, and yellow in our streets, the superb spikes of the blue penstemon. This is a flower of which I despair to give any idea to one a stranger to it. The blossoms are shaped like the common foxglove blossom; they grow on the stems in single, double, or triple rows, as may be. I have seen stems so tight packed with blossoms that they could not stand erect, but bent over, like a bough too heavily loaded with fruit. Before the blue opens, it is a delicate pink bud; when it first opens, it is a clear, bright blue, as blue as the sky; day by day its tints change, sometimes to a purplish-blue; sometimes back again towards its childhood’s pink, so that out of a hundred spikes of blue penstemon you shall see no two of precisely the same tint; when they are their deepest, most purple blue, they look like burnished steel; when they are at their palest pink, they are as delicate as a pink apple-blossom. O New Englander! 367 groping reverently among scattered sunny knolls and in moist wood depths for scanty handfuls of pale blossoms, what would you do at such a banquet as this, spread before you whenever you stepped outside your door, lying between you and the post-office every day? For, let me repeat, these flowers of which I have spoken thus far, are only the flowers which grow wild in our streets, and there are yet many that I have not mentioned: there is the dark blue spider-wort, which is everywhere; and there are several yellow flowers, and one of pale pink, and several of white, I recollect, whose names I do not know; neither do I know how to describe their shapes. I am as helpless as the little black boy on the Fourth of July,—I can describe only the colors.
Leaving the streets of the town, and going southwest towards the foot-hills of the Cheyenne Mountain, we come to a new and a daintier show. As soon as we strike the line of the little creek which we must follow up among the hills, we find copses of wild plum and wild roses in full bloom. The wild rose grows here in great thickets, as the black alder grows in New England swamps. The trees are above your head, and each bough is so full of roses it would seem an impossibility for it to hold one rose more. We bear wild roses home, by whole trees, and keep them in our rooms in great masses which will well-nigh fill a window. I have more than once tried to count the roses on such a sheaf in my window, and have given it up.
Along the banks of the brook are white daisies, and pink; vetches, and lupines, white, yellow, and purple. The yellow ones grow in superb spikes, one or two feet from the ground; and the white ones in great branching plants, six or seven from a single root. On the first slopes of the foot-hills begins the gilia. This is a flower hard to describe. Take a single flower of a verbena cluster; fancy the tubular part an inch or two long, and the flowers set at irregular intervals up and down the length of a slender stem; this is the best my ignorance can do to convey the idea of the shape of the 368 gilia. And of the color, all I can say is that the gilia is what the botanists call a sporting flower; and I believe there is no shade of red, from the brightest scarlet up through pale pinks, to white, which you may not see in one half acre where gilias grow. It is a dancing sort of flower, flutters on the stem, and the stem sways in the lightest wind, so that it always seems either coming towards you or running away.
There is a part of Cheyenne Mountain which I and one other have come to call “our garden.” The possessive pronoun has no legal title behind it; it is an audacious assumption not backed by any squatter sovereignty, nor even by any contribution towards the cultivation of the soil; but ever since we found out the place, it has been mysteriously worked “on shares” for our benefit; and as long as we live we shall call it our garden. It lies five or six hundred feet above the town, four miles away, and has several plateaus of pine groves from which we look off into eastern distances back of the sunrise; it holds two or three grand ravines, each with a brook at bottom; it is walled to the west by the jagged and precipitous side of the mountain itself. The best part of our “procession of flowers” is always here.
Here on the plateaus, under the shade of the pines, are the anemone in stintless numbers, daisies, and kinnikinnick. In June the kinnikinnick vines are full of little pinkish-white bells, shaped like the wintergreen bell, and as fragrant as the linnæa blossom. Here are three low-growing varieties of the wild rose, none more than two or three inches from the ground: one pure white, one white with irregular red markings, and one deep pink. The petals are about one-third larger than those of the common wild rose.
Here are blue violets, and in moist spots the white violet with a purple and yellow centre. Here is the common red field lily of New England, looking inexplicably away from home among penstemons and gilias, as a country belle might in court circles. Here 369 is the purple clematis; a half-parasitic plant this seems to be, for you find it wound up and up to the very top of an oak or cherry bush, great lengths of its stem looking as dead as old drift-wood, but whorls of lovely fringing green leaves and purple, cup-shaped blossoms bursting out at intervals, sometimes a foot apart. How sap reaches them, through the cracked and split stems, it is hard to see; but it does, for you can carry one home, trellis and all, set it in water, and the clematis will live as long as the oak bush will.
Here is the purple penstemon, never but a single row of blossoms on its stem; and the scarlet penstemon, most gorgeous of its family. This, too, has but a single row of flowers on its stem; they are small, of the brightest scarlet, and the shape is somewhat different from the other penstemons,—longer, slenderer, and more complicated, they look like fairy gondolas hung by their prows. I have seen the stems as high as my shoulder, and the scarlet gondolas swinging all the way down to within a foot of the ground.
Here are great masses of a delicate flowering shrub, a rubus I think I have heard it called. Its flower is like a tiny single-petalled rose, of a snow-white color. On first looking at the bush, you would think it a wild white rose, till you observed the leaf, which is more like a currant leaf. Here also are bushes of the Missouri currant, with its golden-yellow blossoms, exhaustless in perfume; and a low shrub maple, which has a tiny, apple-green flower, set in a scarlet sheath, close at the base of each leaf, so small that half the world never discovers that the bush is in flower at all. Here are blue harebells, and Solomon’s seal both low and high; and here is the yellow cinquefoil. In the moist spots, with the white violets, grows the shooting-star, finer and daintier than the Italian cyclamen; its sharp-pointed petals of bright pink fold back like rosy ears; in its centre is a dark-brown circle round a sharp needle-point of yellow. There are many more, but of all the rest I will speak only of one,—the great yellow columbine. 370 This grows in the ravines. The flower is like our garden columbine, but larger, and of an exquisite yellow, sometimes with white in the centre. It grows here in such luxuriant tufts and clumps that you will often find thirty and forty flower-stems springing up from one root. Of this plant I recollect the botanical name, which was told me only once, but I could no more forget it than, if I had once sat familiarly by a queen in her palace, I could forget the name of her kingdom. It is the golden columbine of New Mexico, the aquilegia chrysantha.
When we drive down from “our garden” there is seldom room for another flower in our carriage. The top thrown back is filled, the space in front of the driver is filled, and our laps and baskets are filled with the more delicate blossoms. We look as if we were on our way to the ceremonies of Decoration Day. So we are. All June days are decoration days in Colorado Springs, but it is the sacred joy of life that we decorate,—not the sacred sadness of death. Going northwest from the town towards the mesa or table-land which lies in that direction between us and the foot-hills, we find still other blossoms, no less beautiful than those of which I have spoken: the wild morning-glory wreathes the willow bushes along the Fountain Creek which we must cross, and in the sandy spots between the bushes grow the wild heliotrope in masses, and the wild onion, whose delicate clustered umbels save for their odor would be priceless in bouquets. Yellow lupine, red gilias, wild roses, and white spiræas are here also; and waving by the roadsides, careless and common as burdocks in New England, grows the superb mentzelia. This is a regal plant; the leaves are of a bluish-green, long, jagged, shining, like the leaves of the great thistles which so adorn the Roman Campagna; the plant grows some two feet or two and a half feet high, and branches freely; each branch bears one or more blossoms; a white, many-pointed starry disk, in its centre a wide falling tuft of fine silky stamens. Here also we find a large white poppy whose leaves much resemble the 371 leaves of the mentzelia; and in the open stretches beyond the creek, the ground is white and pink every afternoon with the blossoms of four-o’clocks. There must be several varieties of these, for some are large and some are small, and they have a wide range of color, white, pinkish-white, and clear pink. Higher up, on the top of the mesa, we come to great levels which are dotted with brilliant points of fiery scarlet everywhere; the first time one sees a scarlet “painter’s brush” (castilleia) a few rods ahead of him in the grass is a moment he never forgets; it looks like a huge dropped jewel or a feather fallen from the plumage of some gorgeous bird. There are two colors of the castilleia here; one, of an orange shade of scarlet; and the other of the brightest cherry red. But, beautiful as is the castilleia, it is not the mesa’s crowning glory: vivid as is its color, the pale creamy tints of the yucca blossoms eclipse it in splendor. This also is a thing a lover of flowers will never forget,—the first time he saw yuccas by the hundred in full flower out-of-doors. It grows in such abundance on this mesa that in winter the solid green of its leaves gives a tone of color to whole acres. Spanish bayonet is its common name here, and not an inappropriate one, for the long, blade-like leaves are stiff and pointed as rapiers. They grow in bristling bunches directly from the root; the outer ones spread wide, and sometimes lie on the ground; from the centre of this “chevaux de frise” rise the flower-spikes, usually only one, sometimes two or three, from one to two and a half feet high, set thick with creamy white cups which look more like a magnolia flower than like any thing else. I counted once seventy-two on a spike about two feet long. Profusely as the yucca grows on this mesa, we do not get so many of them as we would like, for the cows are fond of them and eat the blossoms as fast as they come out. What a picture it is, to be sure,—a vagrant cow rambling along mile after mile, munching the tops of spikes of yucca blossoms. There ought to be something transcendent in the quality of her milk after such a day as that.
Beside the castilleia and the yucca, there grow on this mesa many of the vetches, especially a large white variety, which I have a misgiving that I ought to call astragalus, and not vetch.
The mesa slopes away to the east and to the west; it is really a sort of causeway or flattened ridge; on its sides are innumerable small nooks and hollows which, catching and holding a little more moisture than the surface above, are full of oak-bushes, little green oases on the bare slopes; in these grow several flowering shrubs, spiræas, and others whose names I know not.
Crossing the mesa and entering the foot-hills again, we come to little brook-fed glens and parks where grow all the flowers I have mentioned; yes, and more, for, I bethink me, I have not yet spoken of the white clematis,—virgin’s bower, as it is called in New England. This runs riot along every brook-course in the region,—this and the wild hop, the white feathery clusters of the one and the swinging green tassels of the other twisting and intertwisting, and knitting every thing into a tangle; and the blue iris, also, in great spaces in moist meadows, and the dainty nodding bells of the wild flax a little farther up on the hills, and the yellow lady’s-slipper, and the coreopsis, and the mertensia, which has drooping spikes of small blue-bells that are pink on the outside when they are folded up. And I believe that there are yet others which I do not recollect, besides some which I remember too vaguely to describe, having seen them perhaps only once from a car window, as I saw a gorgeous plant on the Arkansas meadows, one day. It was a great sheaf of waving feathery spikes of yellow. It is true that a railroad train waited for me while I had this plant taken up and brought on board; I nursed it carefully with water and shade all the way from Pueblo to Colorado Springs, but it was dead when I reached home, and nobody could tell me its name. Afterwards a botanist told me that it must have been stanleya pinnatifida, but I liked my name for it better,—golden prince’s feather.373
If it were possible ever to weary of the flora in the vicinity of Colorado Springs, and to long for some new flowers, one need but go a few hours farther south to Canyon City, and he will strike an almost tropical flora. Here grow twelve different varieties of cactus either in the town itself or on the slopes of the hills around it; some of these varieties are very rare; all bear brilliant blossoms, yellow, scarlet, and bright purple. Here grow all the flowers which we have at Colorado Springs, with many others added. A short extract from a paper written by an enthusiastic Canyon City botanist will give to botanists a better idea of the flora of Colorado than they could get from volumes of my rambling enthusiasm.
“There is no pleasanter botanical trip in the vicinity of Canyon City than a walk beyond the bath-rooms of the hot springs to the gate of the mountains, up the canyon of the Arkansas, and to the top of the Grand Canyon, a distance of about four miles. The grandeur of the far mountain summits covered with eternal snow, the perpendicular cliffs over one thousand feet high, the great river boiling and dashing along its rocky channel, are sources of excitement nowhere else combined; but to any one interested in flowers, their beauty, their abundance, and the rare species that meet you at every step make the trip wonderfully interesting. Here among the rocks are the most northern known stations of the ferns pellæa wrightiana and cheilanthes eatoni, and on the walls of the Grand Canyon, more than a thousand feet above the river, grows the very rare asplenium septentrionale, which the wild big-horn or mountain sheep seem to appreciate so much that it is difficult to find a specimen not bitten by them. The syringa (philadelphus microphyllus) is growing wherever it can find a foot-hold, and here and there is a bunch of the rare western Emory’s oak, that, like several other plants, seems to have wandered in from the half-explored region of the great Colorado River of Arizona. The lateral canyons are full of fallugia paradoxa, with its 374 white flowers and plumed fruit, and where little streams of water come dashing over the rocks and losing themselves in mist, the golden columbine of New Mexico, aquilegia chrysantha, grows to perfection. The scarlet penstemon, blue penstemon, the brilliant gilia aggregata, spiræas, castilleias, and hosts of less showy but equally interesting plants occupy every available piece of soil. The beauty of the flora is as indescribable as the grandeur of the scenery.
“The abundance of the four-o’clock family is noticeable. All of the nyctaginaceæ of Colorado are found about Canyon City, and some of them as yet only in this part of the territory. Most of them are very interesting, and their beauty forms a very prominent feature of our flora in June and July. Abronia fragrans whitens whole acres of land, and the large, conspicuous flowers of mirabilis multiflora are seen all over the town; opening their flowers late in the afternoon in company with the vespertine mentzelias, they are fresh and bright during the most pleasant part of the summer day. The Soda Spring Ledge, from which boils the cold mineral water, is a locality rich in rare plants. Here grow thamnosma texana, abutilon parvulum, allionia incarnata, tricuspis acuminata, mirabilis oxybaphoides, &c.
“The common flowers of Colorado are very abundant around Canyon City and in its vicinity. The monarda grows upon the mesas; exquisite penstemons adorn the brooks; rosa blanda and the more beautiful rosa arkansana are found on the banks of the Arkansas; eriogonum and astragalus are numerous in species and numberless in specimens; the grass fields of Wet Mountain Valley are full of clovers and cypripedium, iris and lilies; the botanist wandering through the canyons of the Sangre di Cristo range tramples down whole fields of white and blue larkspur and delicate mertensia. The summits are covered with woolly-headed thistles, phlox, senecios, forget-me-nots, saxifraga, and the numberless beauties of the Alpine flora. And besides all this, perhaps no locality in the world affords better opportunities to the collector to fill his herbarium with 375 beautiful and rare specimens easily and rapidly. The wealth of foliage found in moister climates does not obstruct the view and hide the more modest flowers, while the perpendicular range of nearly two thousand feet through which he may pass on his botanical rambles carries him from a climate as genial as that of Charleston to one as thoroughly boreal as that of the glaciers of Greenland.”
Not the least of the delights of living in such a flower garden as Colorado in June and July is the delight of seeing the delight which little children take in the flowers. Whenever in winter I try to recall the face of our June, I think I recall the blossoms oftenest as they look in the hands of the school children. Morning, noon, and evening you see troops of children going to and fro, all carrying flowers; the babies on doorsteps are playing with them; and late in the afternoon, as you drive through the streets, you see many a little sandheap in which are stuck wilted bunches of flowers, that have meant a play-garden all day long to some baby who has gone to sleep now, only to wake up the next morning and pick more flowers to make another garden. And among all the sweet sayings which I have heard from the mouths of children, one of the very sweetest was that of a little girl not six years old, who has never known any summer less lavish than Colorado’s. As soon as the flowers come she is impatient of every hour she is obliged to spend in-doors. At earliest dawn she clamors to be taken up and dressed, exclaiming, “I must get up early, there is so much to do to-day; there are so many flowers to be picked.” Coming in one day with her hands full of flowers which had grown near the house, she gave them one by one to her mother, gravely calling them by their names as she laid them in her mother’s hand. Of the last one, a tiny blue flower, she did not know the name. Looking at it earnestly for a moment or two, she said hesitatingly, as she placed it with the rest, “And this one—this—is a kiss from the good God. He sends them so.”
Original publication: The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 40, October 1877.
any thing which comes to hand
c in comes invisible
Before the blue penstemon opens
text has pentstemon
[The 1897 book was so confused by this misspelling, it used it even in some places where the original had “penstemon”.]
the ceremonies of Decoration Day
[Fun fact: Decoration Day was not officially renamed Memorial Day until . . . 1967.]
a paper written by an enthusiastic Canyon City botanist
[I haven’t been able to identify this any further, darn it.]
[More often spelled eatonii. It was named after a man named Eaton, so either form would be acceptable.]
Rosita, which being turned from Spanish into English means Little Rose, is a mining camp in the silver region of the Sierra Mojada, in southern Colorado. A legend runs that there was once another “Little Rose,” a beautiful woman of Mexico, who had a Frenchman for a lover. When she died, her lover lost his wits and journeyed aimlessly away to the north; he rambled on and on until he came to this beautiful little nook, nestled among mountains, and overlooking a great green valley a thousand feet below it. Here he exclaimed, “Beautiful as Rosita!” and settled himself to live and die on the spot.
A simpler and better authenticated explanation of the name is, that when the miners first came, six years ago, into the gulches where the town of Rosita now lies, they found several fine springs of water, each spring in a thicket of wild roses. As they went to and fro, from their huts to the springs, they found in the dainty blossoms a certain air of greeting, as of old inhabitants welcoming new-comers. It seemed no more than courteous that the town should be called after the name of the oldest and most aristocratic settler,—a kind of recognition which does not always result in so pleasing a name as Rosita (Tompkinsville, for instance, or Jenkins’s Gulch). Little Rose, then, it became, and Little Rose it will remain. Not even a millionaire of mines will ever dare to dispute this vested title of the modest little flower. Each spring would brand him as a usurper, for the wild rose still queens it in the Sierra Mojada.377
I suppose there may be many ways of approaching Rosita. I know only the one by which we went last June; going from Colorado Springs, first to Canyon City, by rail.
Canyon City lies at the mouth of the Grand Canyon by which the Arkansas River forces its way through the Wet Mountain range. It is a small town, which has always been hoping to be a large one. Since the Arkansas comes down this way from the great South Park, men thought they could carry and fetch goods on the same road; but the granite barrier is too much for them. Bold and rich must the railroad company be that will lay a track through this canyon. Canyon City has also many hot springs, highly medicinal; and it has hoped that the world would come to them to be cured of diseases. It has coal, too, in great quantity, and of good quality; and this seemed a certain element of prosperity. But, spite of all, Canyon City neither grows nor thrives, and wears always a certain indefinable look of depression and bad luck about it, just as men do when things go wrong with them year after year. It is surrounded on two sides by low foot-hills, which present bare fronts of the gloomiest shade of drab ever seen. One does not stop to ask if it be clay, sand, or rock, so overpowering is one’s sense of the color. It would not seem that so neutral a tint could make a glare; but not even on the surfaces of white houses can the sun make so blinding and intolerable a glare as it does on the drab plains and drab foot-hills of Canyon City. One escapes from it with a sense of relief which seems at first disproportionate,—a quick exhilaration, such as is produced by passing suddenly from the society of a stupid person into that of a brilliant and witty one. You see at once how frightfully you were being bored. You had not realized it before. Through six miles of this drab glare we drove, in a south-westerly direction, when we set out for Rosita. On the outskirts of the town we passed the penitentiary,—also of a drab color,—a fine stone building. To liven things a little, the 378 authorities have put the convicts into striped tights, black and white. The poor fellows were hewing, hammering, and wheeling drab stone, as we drove past. They looked droll enough,—like two-legged zebras prancing about.
The six miles of drab plain were relieved only by the cactus blossoms. These were abundant and beautiful, chiefly of the prickly pear variety, great mats of uncouth, bristling leaves, looking like oblong, green griddle-cakes, made thick and stuck full of pins, points out,—as a plant as is to be found anywhere on the face of the earth; but lo! out of the edge of this thick and unseemly lobe springs a many-leaved chalice of satin sheen, graceful, nay, regal in its poise, in its quiet. No breeze stirs it; no sun wilts it; no other blossom rivals the lustrous transparency of its petals. Of all shades of yellow, from the palest cream-color up to the deepest tint of virgin gold; of all shades of pink, from a faint, hardly perceptible flush, up to a rose as clear and bright as that in the palm of a baby’s hand. Myriads of these, full-blown, half-blown, and in bud, we saw on every rod of the six miles of desolate drab plains which we crossed below Canyon City. As soon as the road turned to the west and entered the foot-hills we began to climb; almost immediately we found ourselves on grand ledges. On these we wound and rose, and wound and rose, tier above tier, tier above tier, as one winds and climbs the tiers of the Coliseum in Rome; from each new ledge a grander off-look to the south and east; the whole wide plain wooded in spaces, with alternating intervals of smooth green fields; Pike’s Peak and its range, majestic and snowy, in the north-eastern horizon; countless peaks in the north; and, in the near foreground, Canyon City, redeemed from all its ugliness and bareness, nestled among its cotton-wood trees as a New England village nestles among its elms. It fills consciousness with delight almost too full, to look off at one minute upon grand mountain summits, and into distances so infinite one cannot even conjecture 379 their limits,—see the peaks lost in clouds, and the plains melting into skies; and the next minute to look down on one’s pathway and be dazzled by a succession of flowers almost as bewildering as the peaks and the plains. Here, on these rocky ledges, still grow the gold and pink cactus cups; and beside these, scarlet gilias, blue penstemons, white daisies and yellow spiræa, blue harebells and blue larkspur. This blue larkspur is the same which we see in old-fashioned gardens in New England. In Colorado it grows wild, side by side with the blue harebell, and behaves like it,—roots itself in crevices, and sways and waves in every wind.
The crowning beauty of the flower-show on these rocky ledges was a cactus, whose name I do not know. It is shaped and moulded like the sea-urchin, and grows sometimes as large as the wheel of a baby-carriage. Its lobes or sections are of clear apple-green, and thick set with long spines of a glistening white. The flower is a many-leaved, tubular cup, of a deep, rich crimson color. They are thrown out at hap-hazard, apparently, anywhere on the lobes. You will often see ten, twelve, or even twenty of these blossoms on a single plant of only medium size, say, eight or ten inches in When we first saw one of these great, crimson-flowered cacti, wedged in like a cushion or flattened ball in the gnarled roots of an old cedar-bush, on the side of this rocky road, we halted in silent wonder, and looked first at it and then at each other. Afterward we grew wonted to their beauty; we even pulled several of them up bodily, and carried them home in a box; but this familiarity bred no contempt,—it only added to our admiration a terror which was uncomfortable. A live creature which could bite would be no harder to handle and carry. It has one single root growing out at its centre, like the root of a turnip; this root is long and slender; it must wriggle its way down among the rocks like a snake. By this root you can carry the cactus, and by this alone. Woe betide you if you so much as attempt to tug, or lift, or carry it by its sides. You 380 must pry it up with a stick or trowel till you can reach the root, grasp it by that handle, and carry it bottom side up, held off at a judicious distance from your legs.
At last we had climbed up to the last ledge, rounded the last point. Suddenly we saw before us, many hundred feet below us, a green well, into the mouth of which we looked down. There is nothing but a well to which I can compare the first view from these heights of the opening of Oak Creek Canyon. The sides of the well slant outward. Perhaps it is more like a huge funnel, little end down. The sun poured into these green depths, so full and warm that each needle on the fir-trees glittered, and a fine aromatic scent arose, as if spices were being brewed there. One small house stood in the clearing. It was only a rough-built thing, of unpainted pine; but Colorado pine is as yellow as gold, and if you do not know that it is pine, you might take it, at a little distance, for some rare and gleaming material which nobody but kings could afford to make houses of.
Down into this green well we dashed, on precipitous ledges as steep as that we had climbed. Once down at the bottom of the well, we stopped to look up and back. It seemed a marvel that there should be a way in or out. There are but two: the way we had come, scaling the ledges; and the way we were to go, keeping close to Oak Creek. Close indeed! The road clings to the creek as one blind might cling to a rope; for miles and miles they go hand in hand, cross and recross and change places, like partners in a dance, only to come again side by side. It would take botany and geology, and painting as well, to tell the truth of this exquisite Oak Creek Canyon. Its sides were a tangle of oak, beeches, willows, clematis, green-brier, and wild rose; underneath these, carpets of white violets and blue, yellow daisies and white, and great spaces of an orange-colored flower I never saw before, which looked like a lantana; a rich purple blossom also, for which I have neither name nor similitude. Above these banks and 381 waving walls of flowers, were the immovable walls of rock, now in precipices, now in piles of bowlders, now in mountain-like masses. Often the canyon widens, and encloses, now a few acres of rich meadow-land, where a ranchman has built himself a little house, and begun a farm; now a desolate and arid tract, on which no human being will ever live. At all these openings there are glimpses of snowy peaks to the right and to the left. The road is literally in the mountains. At last,—and at last means nearly at sunset,—we reached the end of the canyon. It had widened and widened until, imperceptibly, it had ceased, and we were out in a vast open, with limitless distances stretching away in all directions. We were on a great plateau; we had climbed around, through, and come out on top of, the Sierra Mojada. We were on a plateau, yet the plateau was broken and uneven, heaved up into vast, billowy ovals and circles, which sometimes sharpened into ridges and were separated by ravines. It was a tenantless, soundless, well-nigh trackless wilderness. Our road had forsaken the creek, and there was no longer any guide to Rosita. Now and then we came to roads branching to right or left; no guide-posts told their destination, and in the silence and forsaken emptiness of these great spaces, all roads seemed alike inexplicable. In the west, a long, serrated line of snow-topped summits shone against the red sky. This was the grand Sangre di Cristo range, and by this we might partly know which way lay Rosita.
By a hesitating instinct, and not in any certainty, we groped along in that labyrinth of billowy hills and ravines, twilight settling fast upon the scene, and the vastness and the loneliness growing vaster and more lonely with each gathering shadow.
We were an hour too late. We had lingered too long among the flowers. Had we come out on this plateau in time to see the marshalling of the sunset, we should have looked down on Rosita all aglow with its reflection, and have seen the great Wet Mountain valley 382 below like one long prism of emerald laid at the feet of the mountains which are called by the name of the “Blood of Christ.”
It was dark when we saw the Rosita lights ahead; and there was a tone of unconfessed relief in the voice with which my companion said:
“Ha! there is Rosita now!”
I think if I had driven down into a deep burrow of glow-worms in Brobdingnag, I should have had about the same sensations I had as we crept down into the black twinkling gulches of Rosita. When I saw them by daylight, I understood how they looked so weird by night, but at my first view of them they seemed uncanny indeed. The shifting forms of the miners seemed unhumanly grotesque, and their voices sounded strange and elfish.
“The House of the Snowy Range,” they all replied, as we asked for the name of the best inn. “That’s the one you’d like best. Strangers always go there.”
“The House of the Snowy Range” was simple enough English, I perceived, the next morning, but that night it sounded to me mysterious and half terrifying, as if they had said, “Palace of the Ice King,” or, “Home of the Spirits of the Frost.”
Never was a house better named than the House of the Snowy Range. It is only an unpainted pine house, two stories high, built in the roughest way, and most scantily furnished. Considered only as a house, it is undeniably bare and forlorn; but it is never to be considered only as a house. It is the House of the Snowy Range. That means that as you sit on the roofless, unrailed, unplaned board piazza, you see in the west the great Sangre di Cristo range,—more peaks than you would think of counting, more peaks than you could count if you tried, for they are so dazzling white that they blind the eye which looks too long and too steadily at them. These peaks range from ten thousand to fifteen thousand feet in height; they are all sharp-pointed and sharp-lined to the base: no curves, no confusion of 383 over-lapping outlines. Of all the myriad peaks, lesser and greater, each one is distinct; the upper line made by the highest summits against the sky is sharply serrated, as if it were the teeth of a colossal saw; the whole front, as shown sloping to the east, is still a surface of sharp, distinct, pyramidal peaks, wedged in with each other in wonderful tiers and groupings. From the piazza of the House of the Snowy Range to the base of the nearest of these peaks is only five miles; but you look over at them through so marvellous a perspective that they seem sometimes nearer, sometimes much farther. They lie the other side of the great Wet Mountain valley. The House of the Snowy Range is one thousand feet above this valley, and gets its view of it between two near and rounding hills. From the piazza, therefore, you look at the Sangre di Cristo peaks across the mouth, as it were, of a huge, oval, emerald well, one thousand feet deep, yet illuminated with the clearest sunlight. It is an effect which can never be described. I am humiliated as I recall it and re-read these last few sentences. I think it would be the despair of the greatest painter that ever lived. What use, then, are words to convey it?
The Wet Mountain valley, or park, is thirty miles long and from four to five wide. It is one of the most fertile spots in Colorado. In July the meadow grasses grow higher than a man’s knee, and the hill slopes are carpeted with flowers. It is full of little streams and never-failing springs, fed from the snows on the mountain wall to the west. Here are large farms, well tilled and fenced in, and with comfortable houses. The creeks are full of trout, and the mountain slopes are full of game. It ought to be a paradise coveted and sought for; but the sound of the pickaxe from the hills above them reaches the ears of the farmers, and makes them discontented with their slower gains. Man after man they are drawn away by the treacherous lure, and the broad, beautiful valley is still but thinly settled. This is a mistake; but it is a mistake that is destined to go on repeating itself 384 for ever in all mining countries. The contagion of the haste to be rich is as deadly as the contagion of a disease, and it is too impatient to take note of facts that might stay its fever. It is a simple matter of statistics, for instance, that in the regions of Georgetown and Central City the average miner is poor, while the man who sells him potatoes is well off. Yet for one man who will plant potatoes, twenty will go into a mine.
I am not sure, however, that it is wholly the lure of silver which draws men up from the green farms of Wet Mountain valley to the hills of Rosita. It might well be the spell of the little place itself. Fancy a half dozen high, conical hills, meeting at their bases, but sloping fast and far enough back to let their valleys be sunny and open; fancy these hills green to the very top, so that cattle go grazing higher and higher, till at the very summit they look no bigger than flies; fancy these hills shaded here and there with groves of pines and firs, so that one need never walk too far without shade; fancy between five and six hundred little houses, chiefly of the shining yellow pine, scattered irregularly over these hill-sides; remember that from the door-ways and windows of these houses a man may look off on the view I have described,—across a green valley one thousand feet below him, up to a range of snow-topped mountains fifteen thousand feet above him,—and does it not seem natural to love Rosita? Another most picturesque figure in the landscape is the contrast of color produced by the glittering piles of quartz thrown up at the mouths of the mines. There are over three hundred of these mines; they are dotted over the hill-sides, and each mine has its great pyramid of loose stone, which shines in the sun and is of a beautiful silvery gray color. The names of these mines are well-nigh incredible, and produce most bewildering effects when one hears them on every hand in familiar conversation. “Leviathan,” “Lucille,” “Columbus,” “Hebe,” “Elizabeth,” “Essex,” “Humboldt,” “Buccaneer,” “Montezuma,” “Ferdinand,” “Sunset,” “Bald Hornet,” “Silver Wing,” “Evening 385 Star,” and “Hell and Six,” are a few of them. Surely they indicate an amount and variety of taste and research very remarkable to be found in a small mining community.
On the morning after our arrival, we drove down into Wet Mountain valley, crossed it, and climbed high up on one of the lower peaks of the Sangre di Cristo range. From this point we looked back on the Sierra Mojada; it was a sea of green mountain-tops, not a bare or rocky summit among them. Rosita was out of sight, and, looking at its close-set hills, one who did not know would have said there was no room for a town there.
At our feet grew white strawberry-blossoms, the low Solomon’s seal, and the dainty wild rose, as lovely, as perfect, and apparently as glad here, ten thousand feet above the sea, as they seem on a spring morning in New England’s hills and woods.
Finding one’s native flowers thousands of miles away from home seems to annihilate distance. To be transplanted seems the most natural thing in the world. Exile is not exile, if it be to a country where the wild rose can grow and a Snowy Range give benediction.
Original publication, under the title “Little Rose”: Scribner’s Monthly, vol. 16, no. 1 (May 1878), pgs. 55ff.
It would not seem that so neutral a tint could make a glare
[The author must have forgotten that she used this identical description about 50 pages earlier, in the “Grand Canyon of the Arkansas” chapter.]
black and white . . . like two-legged zebras
[This description, too, is recycled from “Grand Canyon of the Arkansas”. Did Scribner’s and the Independent have an entirely different readership?]
a quick exhilaration, such as is produced by passing suddenly from the society of a stupid person into that of a brilliant and witty one
[With these words, Helen Jackson wins the Internet.]
as repellant a plant
eight or ten inches in diameter.
final . invisible
Ever since men began to dig for silver and gold in Colorado, one of the many hard things they have had to do, has been the journeying into the rich silver regions of the San Juan country. The great Sangre di Cristo range, with its uncounted peaks, all from twelve to fifteen thousand feet high, is a barrier which only seekers after gold or after liberty would have courage to cross. One of the most picturesque sights which the traveller in southern Colorado, during the past two or three years, has seen, has been the groups of white-topped wagons creeping westward toward the passes of this range; sometimes thirty or forty together, each wagon drawn by ten, fifteen, or even twenty mules; the slow-moving processions look like caravan lines in a desert; two, three, four weeks on the road, carrying in people by households; carrying in food, and bringing out silver by the ton; back and forth, back and forth, patient men and patient beasts have been toiling every summer from June to October.
This sort of thing does not go on for many years before a railroad comes to the rescue. Engineering triumphs where brute force merely evades; the steam-engine has stronger lungs than mules or men; and the journey which was counted by weeks is made in hours. Such a feat as this, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (narrow gauge) is now performing in Colorado. A little more than a year ago, I saw the ploughshare cut the first furrow for its track through the Cucharas meadows at foot of the Spanish Peaks. One day last week I looked out from car windows as we whirled past 387 the same spot; a little town stood where then was wilderness, and on either side of our road were acres of sunflowers whose brown-centred disks of yellow looked like trembling faces still astonished at the noise. Past the Spanish Peaks; past the new town of Veta; into the Veta Pass; up, up, nine thousand feet up, across a neck of the Sangre di Cristo range itself; down the other side, and out among the foot-hills to the vast San Luis valley, the plucky little railroad has already pushed. It is a notable feat of engineering. As the road winds among the mountains, its curves are so sharp that the inexperienced and timid hold their breath. From one track, running along the edge of a precipice, you look up to another which you are presently to reach; it lies high on the mountain-side, four hundred feet above your head, yet it looks hardly more than a stone’s throw across the ravine between. The curve by which you are to climb up this hill is a thirty-degree curve. To the non-professional mind it will perhaps give a clearer idea of the curve to say that it is shaped like a mule-shoe,—a much narrower shoe than a horse-shoe. The famous horse-shoe curve on the Pennsylvania Railroad is broad and easy in comparison with this. There are three of these thirty-degree curves within a short distance of each other; the road doubles on itself, like the path of a ship tacking in adverse winds. The grade is very steep,—two hundred and eleven feet to the mile; the engines pant and strain, and the wheels make a strange sound, at once sibilant and ringing on the steel rails. You go but six miles an hour; it seems like not more than four, the leisurely pace is so unwonted a one for steam engines. With each mile of ascent, the view backward and downward becomes finer: the Spanish Peaks and the plains in the distance, the dark ravines full of pine-trees in the foreground, and Veta Mountain on the left hand,—a giant bulwark furrowed and bare. There are so many seams on the sides of this mountain that they have given rise to its name, Veta, which in the Spanish tongue means “vein.”388
From the mouth of the pass to the is, measured by miles, fourteen miles; measured by hours, three hours; measured by sensations, the length of a dream,—that means a length with which figures and numbers have nothing in common. One dreams sometimes of flying in the air, sometimes of going swiftly down or up endless stairways without resting his feet on the steps; my recollection of being lifted up and through the Veta Pass, by steam, are like the recollections of such dreams.
The summit is over nine thousand feet above the sea-level,—the highest point reached by a railroad on this continent. Two miles beyond, and a hundred or two feet lower down, is the “Summit House,” at which we passed the night. It is a little four-roomed house built of mud and set down in a flower-bed of larkspur, harebells, penstemons, gilias, white, yellow, and purple asters and wild strawberries; just above the house a spring of pure water gushes out. The ceaseless running of this water and the wind in the pines are the only sounds which break the solitude of the spot. Once at night and once in the morning, the sudden whistle of the steam-engine and the swift rush of the train going by fall on the silence startlingly, and are gone in a second. The next day we drove eighteen miles westward, following the line of the railroad down the canyon for six or eight miles, then bearing off to the right and climbing the high hills which make the eastern wall of the San Luis Park. On our right rose the majestic Sierra Blanca,—the highest mountain in Colorado,—bare and colorless in the early morning light; but transformed into beauty later in the day when mists veiled it and threw it, solid gray, against a sunny blue sky, while transparent fringes of rain fell between us and it, making a shifting kaleidoscope of bits of rainbow here and there. The meadow intervals skirting the San Luis Park at this point are very beautiful: fields high with many-colored grasses and gay with flowers, with lines of cotton-wood trees zigzagging through wherever they 389 choose to go, and the three grand peaks of the Sierra Blanca towering above all; to the west and south a vast outlook, bounded and broken only by mountain-tops so far away that they are mistily outlined on the horizon. Leaving these meadow intervals, you come out on great opens where nothing but sage-brush grows.
“Good to make fires of; makes desperate hot fires,” said our driver.
It looked as if it had been burned at the stake already, every bush of it, and been raised by some miracle, with all its stems left still twisted in agony. There cannot be on earth another so sad-visaged a thing as a sage-bush, unless it be the olive-tree, of which it is a miniature reproduction: the same pallid gray tint to its leaf; the same full and tender curves in its marred outlines; the same indescribable contortions and writhings of stem; those which are short seem to be struck low by pain, to be clasping and clutching at the ground in despair; those which grow two or three feet high seem to be stretching up deformed and in every direction seeking help. It would be easy to fancy that journeying day after day across the sage-brush plains might make a man mad; that he might come at last to feel himself a part of some frightful metempsychosis, in which centuries of sin were being expiated.
Surrounded by stretches of this dreary sage-brush stands Fort Garland, looking southward down the valley. It is not a fort which could resist a siege,—not even an attack from a few mounted Indians; it must have been intended simply for barracks; a few rows of low mud-walled buildings placed in a sort of hollow square with openings on three sides; a little plat of green grass and a few cotton-wood trees in the centre; two brass field-pieces pointing vaguely to the south; a score or so of soldiers’ houses outside; some clothes-lines on which red shirts, and here and there a blue coat, were blowing; a United States flag fluttering on the flag-staff, one soldier and one sergeant; that was all we saw in the way of defences of the San Luis 390 There are two companies stationed at the post,—one a company of colored cavalry,—but a quieter, more peaceful, less military-looking spot than was Fort Garland during the time we spent there it would be hard to find. Over the door-way, in one of the mud-houses, was the sign “Hotel.” This hotel consisted apparently of three bedrooms and a kitchen. In the left-hand bedroom a travelling dentist was holding professional receptions for the garrison. The shining tools of his trade were spread on the centre-table and on the bed; in this room we waited while dinner was being served for us in the opposite bedroom. It was an odd thing at a dinner served in a small bedroom, to have a man waiter stand behind your chair, politely and incessantly waving a big feather brush to keep the flies away.
Garland City, the present terminus of the San Juan branch of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, is six miles from Fort Garland. The road to it from the fort lies for the last three miles on the top of a sage-grown plateau. It is straight as an arrow, looks in the distance like a brown furrow on the pale gray plain, and seems to pierce the mountains beyond. Up to within an eighth of a mile of Garland City, there is no trace of human habitation. Knowing that the city must be near, you look in all directions for a glimpse of it; the hills ahead of you rise sharply across your way. Where is the city? At your very feet, but you do not suspect it.
The sunset light was fading when we reached the edge of the ravine in which the city lies. It was like looking unawares over the edge of a precipice; the gulch opened beneath us as suddenly as if the earth had that moment parted and made it. With brakes set firm, we drove cautiously down the steep road; the ravine twinkled with lights, and almost seemed to flutter with white tent and wagon-tops. At the farther end it widened, opening out on an inlet of the San Luis Park, and in its centre, near this widening mouth, lay the twelve-days’ old city. A strange din arose from it.391
“What is going on?” we exclaimed.
“The building of the city,” was the reply. “Twelve days ago there was not a house here. To-day there are one hundred and five, and in a week more there will be two hundred; each man is building his own home, and working night and day to get it done ahead of his neighbor. There are four saw-mills going constantly, but they can’t turn out lumber half fast enough. Everybody has to be content with a board at a time. If it were not for that, there’d have been twice as many houses done as there are.”
We drove on down the ravine. The hills on either side were sparsely grown with grass, and thinly covered with piñon and cedar trees; a little creek on our right was half hid in willow thickets. Hundreds of white tents gleamed out among them: tents with poles; tents made by spreading sail-cloth over the tops of bushes; round tents; square tents; big tents; little tents; and for every tent a camp-fire; hundreds of white-topped wagons also, at rest for the night, their great poles propped up by sticks, and their mules and drivers lying and standing in picturesque groups around them. It was a scene not to be forgotten. Louder and louder sounded the chorus of the hammers as we drew near the centre of the “city;” more and more the bustle thickened; great ox-teams, swaying unwieldily about, drawing logs and planks; backing up steep places; all sorts of vehicles driving at reckless speed up and down; men carrying doors; men walking along inside of window-sashes,—the easiest way to carry them; men shovelling; men wheeling wheelbarrows; not a man standing still; not a man with empty hands; every man picking up something, and running to put it down somewhere else, as in a play, and all the while, “clink! clink! clink!” ringing above the other sounds, the strokes of hundreds of hammers, like the anvil chorus.
“Where is Perry’s Hotel?” we asked.
One of the least busy of the throng spared time to point to it with his thumb as he passed us. In some 392 bewilderment we drew up in front of a large unfinished house, through the many uncased apertures of which we could see only scaffoldings, rough boards, carpenter’s benches, and heaps of shavings. Streams of men were passing in and out through these openings, which might be either doors or windows; no steps led to any of them.
“Oh, yes! Oh, yes! can accommodate you all!” was the landlord’s reply to our hesitating inquiries. He stood in the door-way of his dining-room; the streams of men we had seen going in and out were the fed and the unfed guests of the house. It was supper-time: we also were hungry. We peered into the dining-room: three tables full of men; a huge pile of beds on the floor, covered with hats and coats; a singular wall, made entirely of doors propped upright; a triangular space walled off by sail-cloth,—this is what we saw. We stood outside waiting among the scaffolding and benches. A black man was lighting the candles in a candelabra, made of two narrow bars of wood nailed across each other at right angles, and perforated with holes. The candles sputtered, and the hot fat fell on the shavings below.
“Dangerous way of lighting a room full of shavings,” some one said.
The landlord looked up at the swinging candelabra and laughed.
“Tried it pretty often,” he said. “Never burned a house down yet.”
I observed one peculiarity in the speech at Garland City. Personal pronouns, as a rule, were omitted; there was no time for a superfluous word.
“Took down this house at Wagon Creek,” he continued, “just one week ago; took it down one morning while the people were eating breakfast; took it down over their heads; putting it up again over their heads now.”
This was literally true. The last part of it we ourselves were seeing while he spoke, and a friend at our elbow had seen the Wagon Creek crisis.393
“’M waiting for that round table for you,” said the landlord; “’11 bring the chairs out here ’s fast ’s they quit ’em. That’s the only way to get the table.”
So, watching his chances, as fast as a seat was vacated, he sprang into the room, seized the chair and brought it out to us, and we sat there in our “reserved seats” biding the time when there should be room enough vacant at the table for us to take our places.
What an indescribable scene it was! The strange-looking wall of propped doors which we had seen was the impromptu wall separating the bedrooms from the dining-room. Bedrooms? Yes, five of them; that is, five bedsteads in a row, with just space enough between them to hang up a sheet, and with just room enough between them and the propped doors for a moderate-sized person to stand upright if he faced either the doors or the bed. Chairs? Oh, no! What do you want of a chair in a bedroom which has a bed in it? Wash-stands? One tin basin out in the unfinished room. Towels? Uncertain.
The little triangular space walled off by the sail-cloth was a sixth bedroom, quite private and exclusive, and the big pile of beds on the dining-room floor was to be made up into seven bedrooms more between the tables after everybody had finished supper.
Luckily for us we found a friend here,—a man who has been from the beginning one of Colorado’s chief pioneers, and who is never, even in the wildest wilderness, without resources of comfort.
“You can’t sleep here,” he said. “I can do better for you than this.”
He offered us luxury. How movable a thing is one’s standard of comfort! A two-roomed pine shanty, board walls, board floors, board ceilings, board partitions not reaching to the roof, looked to us that night like a palace. To have been entertained at Windsor Castle would not have made us half so grateful.
It was late before the “city” grew quiet, and long 394 after most of the lights were out, and most of the sounds had ceased, I heard one solitary hammer in the distance, clink, clink, clink. I fell asleep listening to it. At daylight the chorus began again, dinning, deafening on all sides; the stir, the bustle, every motion of it began just where it had left off at bed-time. I sat on a door-step and watched the street. It was like a scene in an opera. Every man became dramatic from the unconscious absorption in his every action. Even the animals seemed playing parts in a spectacle. There were three old sows out with their broods in search of early breakfast, and they wore an expression of alertness and despatch such as I never before saw in their kind. There were twenty-three in all, of the little pigs, and very pretty they were too,—just big enough to run alone,—white, and black, and mottled, no two alike, and all with fine, pink, curly tails. How they fought over orange-peels, and sniffed at cigar-stumps, and every other minute ran squealing from under some hurrying foot! After a while, two of the mothers disappeared incontinently, leaving their broods behind them. The remaining sow looked after them with as reproachful an expression as a human mother could have worn, thus compelled to an involuntary baby-farming. She proved very faithful to the unwelcome trust, however, and did her best to keep all the twenty-three youngsters out of harm, and the last I saw of her, she was trying to persuade them all to go to bed in a willow thicket.
Then came a dash of mules and horses down the street, thirty or forty of them, driven at full gallop, by a man riding a calico horse and flourishing a big braided leather whip with gay tassels on it. They, too, were going out to meals. They were being driven down to a corral to be fed.
Then came a Mexican wagon, drawn by two gray and white oxen, of almost as fine a tint as the Italian oxen, which are so like in color to a Maltese kitten. They could not, would not hurry, nor, if they could help it, turn to the right or left for anybody. Smiling 395 brown faces of Mexican men shone from the front seat, and laughing brown faces of Mexican babies peeped out behind, from under the limp and wrinkled old wagon cover, which looked like a huge, broken-down sun-bonnet. There are squashes and string-beans and potatoes in the back of the wagon to sell; and, while they were measuring them out, the Mexicans chattered and laughed and showed white teeth, like men of the Campagna. They took me for a householder, as I sat on my door-step, and turned the gray oxen my way, laughing and calling out:—
“Madame, potatoes, beans, buy?” And when I shook my head, they still laughed. Everything seemed a joke to them that morning.
Next came a great water-wagon, with a spigot in its side. Good water is very scarce in Garland City, as it is, alas, in so many places in Colorado; and an enterprising Irishman is fast lining his pockets by bringing down water from a spring in the hill, north of the town, and selling it for twenty-five cents a barrel. After he had filled the barrel which stood by my friend’s door, he brought a large lump of ice, washed it, and put it into a tin water-pail of water on the table.
“Where did that ice come from?” I exclaimed, wondering if there were any other place in the world except America, where ice could be delivered to families in a town twelve days old.
“Oh, just back here from Veta. The people there, they laid in a big stock last winter, and when the town moved on, they hadn’t any use for the ice, ’n’ so they pack it down here on the cars every day.”
“The town moved on! What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“Why, most all these people that’s puttin’ up houses here, lived in Veta three months ago. They’re jest followin’ the railroad.”
“Oh,” said I, “I thought most of them had come from Wagon Creek” (the station between Veta and Garland City).396
“Well, they did stop at Wagon Creek for a spell; nothin’ more than to check up, though; not enough to count. Some of these houses was set up to Wagon Creek a few days.
“Where iver did ye git that dog?” he exclaimed suddenly, catching sight of Douglas, a superb, pure-blooded stag-hound, who had come with us from the Summit House. “Mebbe ye’re English?”
“No, we are not. Are you?”
“No. I’m Irish born; but I know an ould counthry dog when I see him. Ah, but he’s a foine craythur.”
“Do you like this country better than the old country?” I asked.
“Yes. I can make more money here; that’s the main thing,” said the thoroughly naturalized Pat; and he sprang up to the top of his water-cart and drove off, whistling.
Next came a big, black, leather-topped wagon, with a black bear chained on a rack behind. The wagon rattled along very fast, and the bear raced back and forth on his shelf and shook his chain. Nobody seemed to take any notice of the strange sight; not a man turned his head. One would not have thought wagons with black bears dancing on platforms behind them could have been common sights, even in Garland City.
These are only a few of the shifting street-scenes I watched that morning. After a time I left my door-step and strolled about in the suburbs of this baby “city.” The suburbs were, as suburbs always are, more interesting than the thoroughfares; pathetic, too, with their make-shifts of shelter. Here were huts, mere huts, literally made of loose boards thrown together; women and children looked out from shapeless doorways, and their ragged beds and bedding and clothes were piled in heaps outside, or flung on the bushes. Here were fenced corrals in open spaces among the willows, with ill-spelt signs saying that horses and mules would be fed there cheaply. Here were rows of new Kansas wagons, with green and white 397 bodies and scarlet wheels; here were top-buggies and carts, and a huge black ambulance, bound for Fort Garland. Here were stacks of every conceivable merchandise, which had been hastily huddled out of the freight cars, and were waiting their turn to be loaded on the San Juan wagons. Here stood the San Juan coach,—the great, swinging, red-bodied, covered coach we know so well in New England. A day and a night and half a day, without stopping, he must ride who will go from Garland City to Lake City in this stage. The next morning I saw it set off at six o’clock. A brisk, black-eyed little Frenchwoman, trig and natty, with her basket on her arm, was settling herself in the back seat. She had lived in Lake City a year, and she liked it better than Denver.
“Mooch nicer; mooch nicer: so cool as it is in summer! Nevare hot.”
“But is it not very cold in winter?”
A true French shrug of her shoulders was her first reply, followed by,—
“But no; with snug house, and big fire, it is nevare cold; and in winter we have so many of meetings, what you call sosharbles, it is a good time.” Then she called out sharply in French, to her husband, who was disposing of their parcels in a way which did not please her; and then, seeing me wave a good-by to one on top of the coach, she leaned out of the window, and called with the light-hearted laugh of her race:—
“Ah, then, why does not Madame come too? My husband is better; he takes me along.” At which the collective stage-coach laughed loud, the driver swung his long whip around the leaders’ ears, and the coach plunged off at a rattling pace.
In the edge of a willow copse, on the northern outskirts of the city, I found a small shanty, the smallest I had seen. It was so low, one could not enter without stooping, nor stand quite upright inside. The boards of which it was built were full of knot-holes; those making the roof were laid loosely across the top, and 398 could not have been much protection against rain. The boards of a wagon-top were set up close by the doorway, and on these were hanging beds, bedding, and a variety of nondescript garments. A fire was burning on the ground a few steps off; on this was a big iron kettle full of clothes boiling; there were two or three old pans and iron utensils standing near the fire; an old flag-bottomed chair, its wood worn smooth and shining by long use; and a wooden bench, on which was a wash-tub full of clothes soaking in water. I paused to look at the picture, and a woman, passing, said:—
“That’s Grandma’s house.”
“Your grandmother?” I said.
“Oh, no!” she replied. “She ain’t nobody’s grandmother; but we all call her Grandma. She’s here with her son; he was weakly, and she brought him out here. There ain’t many like her. I wonder where she’s gone, leavin’ her washin’ this way.”
Then we fell into talk about the new city, and what the woman’s husband was doing, and how hard it was for them to get along; and presently we heard footsteps.
“Oh, there’s Grandma, now,” she said.
I looked up, and saw a tall, thin woman, in a short, scant, calico gown, with an old woollen shawl crossed at her neck, and pinned tight at the belt, after the fashion of the Quaker women. Her sleeves were rolled up above her elbows, and her arms were brown and muscular as an Indian’s. Her thin gray hair blew about her temples under an old limp brown sun-bonnet, which hid the outline of her face, but did not hide the brightness of her keen, light-gray eyes. Her face was actually seamed with wrinkles; her mouth had fallen in from want of teeth; and yet she did not look wholly like an old woman.
“Grandma, this lady’s from Colorado Springs,” said my companion, by way of introduction.
Grandma was carrying an armful of cedar-boughs. 399 She threw them on the ground, and, turning to me, said with a smile which lighted up her whole face:—
“How d’ye do, marm? That’s a place I’ve always wanted to see. I’ve always thought I should like to live to the Springs, ever since I’ve been in this country.”
“Yes,” I said. “It’s a pleasant town; but do you not like it here?”
She glanced at her shanty and its surroundings, and I felt guilty at having asked my question; but she replied:—
“Oh, yes! I like it very well here. When we get our house built, we’ll be comfortable. It’s only for Tommy I’m here. If it wan’t for him I shouldn’t stay in this country. He’s all I’ve got. We’re all alone here, that is, so far as connections goes; but we’ve got plenty o’ friends, and God’s here just the same’s everywhere.”
She spoke this last sentence in as natural and easy a tone as all the rest; there was no more trace of cant or affectation in her mention of the name of God than in her mention of Tommy’s. They seemed equally familiar and equally dear. Then she went to the fire, and turned the clothes over in the water with a long stick, and prepared to resume her work.
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
“Only about a week,” she said. “Tommy he’s working ’s hard ’s ever he can, to get me a house built. It worries him to see me living this way; he’s got it three logs high already,” proudly pointing to it, only a few rods farther up the hill; “but Tommy’s only a boy yet; he ain’t sixteen; but he’s learning, he’s learning to do for hisself; he’s a real good boy, an’ he’s getting strong every day; he’s getting his health real firm, ’n’ that’s all I want. ’Tain’t any matter what becomes of me, if I can only get Tommy started all right.”
“Was he ill when you brought him here?” I asked.
“Oh, dear! yes. He was jest low; he had to lie on the bottom of the wagon all the way. I traded off my house for a wagon and two horses, one on ’em was 400 a colt,—hadn’t been in harness but a few times; jest that wagon and horses was all we had when I started to bring him to Colorado. I’d heard how the air here ’d cure consumption, ’n’ I jest took him ’n’ started; ’n’ it’s saved his life, ’n’ that’s all I care for. He’s all I’ve got.”
“Where was your home?” I said. “Was it a long journey?”
“Way down in Missouri; down in Sullivan county,” she replied. “That’s where I was raised. healthy there. There wan’t none o’ my children healthy. Tommy’s all I’ve got left,—at least I expect so. I oughter have a daughter living; but the last letter I had from her, she said she didn’t suppose she’d live many weeks; she’s had the consumption too; she’s married. I don’t know whether she’s ’live or dead now. Tommy’s all I’ve got.”
“Were these two your only children?” I ventured to say.
“Oh, no; I’ve had six. Two o’ my sons was grown men; they was both killed in the war. Then there was one died when he was nine months old, and another when he was jest growd,—jest fourteen; and then there’s the daughter I told ye on, an’ Tommy. He’s the youngest. He’s all I’ve got. He’s a good boy, Tommy is; real steady. He’s always been raised to go to Sunday school. He’s all I’ve got.”
The abject poverty of this woman’s surroundings, the constant refrain of, “he’s all I’ve got,” and the calm cheerfulness of her face, began to bring tears into my eyes.
“Grandma,” said I, “you have had a great deal of trouble in your life; yet you look happier than most people do.”
“Oh, no! I ain’t never suffered,” she said. “I’ve always had plenty. I’ve always been took care God’s always taken care of me.”
“That must be a great comfort to you, to think I said.401
“Think it!” exclaimed the grand old woman, with fire in her eye. “Think it! I don’t think any thing about it; I jest know it. Why, Tommy ’n’ me, we was snowed up last April in a canyon here,—us and old man Molan, ’n’ Miss Molan, ’n’ Miss Smith, ’n’ Miss Smith’s two children: snowed up in thet canyon two weeks lacking two days; ’n’ I’d like to know ef any thing but God ’d ha’ kep’ us alive then! No, I hain’t never suffered. I’ve always had plenty. God’s always took care of me.” And a serene smile spread over her face.
“Oh, will you not tell me about that time?” I exclaimed. “If it will not hinder you too much, I would be very glad to hear all about it.”
“Well, you jest set right down in that she said, pointing to the flag-bottomed chair, “’n’ I’ll tell you. ’Twas in that very chair Miss Molan she sat all the first night. Them two chairs (pointing to another in the shanty) I brought all the way from Missouri with me. We had them ’n the wagon. Miss Molan she sat in one, ’n’ held the baby; ’n’ Miss Smith she sat in the other, ’n’ held the little boy; ’n’ Tommy ’n’ me we turned over the two water-buckets ’n’ sat on them; ’n’ there we sat all night long, jest’s close to each other ’s we could get; ’n’ old man Molan he tended the fire; ’n’ it snowed, snowed, all night, ’s tight as it could snow; ’n’ towards morning the old man says, says he, ‘Well, I don’t know ’s I can hold out till morning, but I’ll try;’ ’n’ when morning come, there we was with snow-drifts piled up all round us higher ’n our heads, ’n’ them children never so much ’s cried. It seems ’s if the snow kep’ us warm. ’Twan’t real winter, ye see; if it had been, we’d ha’ died there, all in a heap,—froze to death, sure. Well, there we had to stay, down in that canyon, two weeks, a lacking two days, before we could get out. It wan’t deep with snow all the time, but when the snow went, there was such mud-holes, there couldn’t nobody travel; but the first week it snowed pretty much all the time. The wagons was up on the top o’ 402 the canyon, ’n’ we kep’ a path trod so we could go back an forth to them; ’n’ there was a kind o’ shelving place o’ rock in the canyon, ’n’ we got the horses down in there and kep’ them there, ’n’ we had plenty for them to eat. Old man Molan, he had four sacks o’ corn, we had three; ’n’ we had tea, ’n’ coffee, ’n’ flour, sugar, ’n’ beans, ’n’ dried apples. The dried apples was a heap o’ help. We didn’t suffer. I hain’t never suffered; I’ve always had plenty. There was one night, though, we did like to got lost. We got ketched in an awful storm a-goin’ up to the wagons; ’twas jest near night-time; it hed been real clear, ’n’ we all of us went up to the wagons to get things. All but Miss Molan,—she stayed in the canyon, with the children; ’n’ there came up the awfulest snow-squall I ever see. It took your breath out o’ your body, ’n’ you couldn’t see no more ’n you could in the dead o’ night. First I got into one wagon, ’n’ Tommy with me; ’n’ the rest they came on, ’n’ we was all calling out to each other, ‘Be you there?’ ‘Be you there?’ ’N’ at last we was all in the wagons, ’n’ there we jest sat till morning; an’ if you’ll believe it, along in the night, if we didn’t hear Miss Molan a-calling to us. She’d felt her way out o’ thet canyon, a-carrying that baby ’n’ dragging the boy after her. She was afraid to stay in the canyon all alone; but ’twas a meracle her getting to the wagons ’s she did. It was dreadful foolish in her, ’n’ I told her so. That morning the snow was up to our middles, and we had a time on’t getting back into the canyon.”
I wish I could tell the whole of Grandma’s story in her own words; but it would be impossible. My own words will be much less graphic, but they will serve to convey the main features of her narrative.
Finding me so sympathetic a listener, she told me bit by bit the whole history of her emigration from Missouri to Colorado. Her husband had been a farmer, and, I inferred, an unsuccessful one, in Missouri. He had died thirteen years ago. Her two eldest sons, grown men, had been in the Confederate army, and were both killed in battle. Shortly after this, the jay-hawkers 403 burnt her She escaped with only Tommy and his brother, and the clothes they were wearing.
“They jest left me my two little children,” she said, “and that was all. But it wan’t two days before the neighbors they got together ’n’ they gave me ’s much ’s two wagon loads o’ things, all I needed to set up again ’n’ go on. I hain’t never suffered; I’ve always been took care of, ye see.”
By hook and by crook she managed finally to get another house, with a little land, where she and Tommy were living alone together, when his health began to fail. He had chills, and then he raised blood; then she made up her mind, cost what it would, to carry him to Colorado. Her house must have been a small and poor one, because all she got in exchange for it was a little covered wagon and two horses; one, the colt which had been in harness only a few times, “was,” she said, “not much more ’n skin an’ bone, but ’twas the best I could do.”
So she packed her household goods and her sick boy into the wagon, and set out to drive to Colorado. When they reached Fort Scott in Kansas, the people at the fort persuaded her to lighten her load by shipping most of her things by rail to Pueblo.
“I got a big box,” she said, “an’ I jest put every thing into it, an’ a man who was shipping a lot o’ things o’ his own, said he’d ship mine with his, ’n’ I come on with Tommy ’n’ left ’em all; but I kind o’ mistrusted I shouldn’t ever see ’em again; but the horses ’d never held out to draw ’em through; so ’twas best to let ’em go, even if I did lose ’em.”
When they reached Pueblo nothing could be heard of the box; she made up her mind that it was lost, and pushed on with Tommy to Los Animas, where she went to work in a hotel for twenty dollars a month, and Tommy found a place as sheep-herder for fifteen dollars a month. Putting their wages together they soon got a little money ahead, enough to enable then to journey into the San Juan country to Lake City. The higher 404 into the mountains they went, the stronger Tommy grew. He would climb the hills like a goat, and delighted in the wild out-door life; but the altitude at Lake City was too great for Grandma’s lungs, and they were obliged to turn back.
“It seemed as if I jest couldn’t git a mite o’ breath up there,” she said, “’n’ we’d got to be where I could work for Tommy, an’ I wan’t of any account up there to do any thing.”
While they were living in Lake City, the lost box was recovered. A lady for whom Grandma had done some work interested herself in the matter sufficiently to speak of it to an express agent, and finding that there seemed still to be some possibility of tracing the box, sent for Grandma to come and tell her own story. “I told her I didn’t want to bother no Mr. Jones about it,” said Grandma; “the box was gone, I knew it was gone, ’n’ I’d made up my mind to ’t. But there wouldn’t nothing do, but I must go up to her house an’ see this Mr. Jones, an’ tell him all about it, jest who I shipped it with an’ all. I had the man’s name on a piece o’ paper. I always kep’ that. Well, Mr. Jones he asked me a heap o’ questions, an’ wrote it all down in a little book; and if you’ll believe me, it wan’t two weeks before a letter come a-saying that my box was all safe. They had been going to sell it in Pueblo, but that man that shipped it, he wouldn’t let ’em. He had it shipped back to him to Kansas City; he said he thought I’d turn up some day. Ye see when I was in Pueblo looking for it, it hadn’t got there. There was nine dollars ’n’ fifty-five cents to pay on the box before we could get it. Tommy and I together hadn’t got so much ’s that; but they took off the fifty-five cents, and some folks helped me to make it up; and when that box come, there was every thing in it exactly ’s I’d put ’em in most a year before, only one o’ the flat-irons had slipped on to the looking-glass an’ broke it; but the old clock it went right along jest ’s good ’s ever; an’ all my bed-quilts was dry ’s could be. It was a comfort to me, getting that box. It seemed ’s if we had something 405 then. I’ve sold most o’ my bed-quilts now,—I had some real handsome ones; but they was dreadful heavy to lug round; and we’ve wanted money pretty bad sometimes. I’ve sold some o’ my best clothes, too. I hain’t ever suffered; we’ve always been took care of.”
From Lake City Grandma and Tommy went back to Los Animas, where they made a comfortable living,—Tommy by “hauling” with his wagon and horses, and Grandma by taking in washing.
“We was doing first rate,” she said with an expression of something as near regret as her face was capable of, “an’ I wish we’d never come away; but Tommy he got in with old man Molan; old man Molan’s an old miner; he’s a first-rate miner they say, too, ef he wan’t so old—he’s going on seventy now; he’s mined all over California ’n’ made a heap of money in his turn; but he’s always fooled it away. He was full o’ coming up into the mines, an’ Tommy he got so full on’t, too, I didn’t try to keep him. He’s all I’ve got; so we come on. But it seemed like home down in Los Animas, the farmers’ wagons coming into town every Saturday with vegetables and all sorts of green stuff; I’d like to go back there, but I hear they’re moving away from there terrible.”
“Oh yes, Grandma,” I said, “there isn’t much of a town left there now. That was one of the towns built up for a few months by the railroad. I dare say there will not be a house to be seen there a year from now.”
She sighed and shook her head, saying,—
“Well, it does beat all; I liked Los Animas. I wish we’d stayed there.”
It was on the journey from Los Animas to Veta that they had had the terrible experience of being snowed up in the canyon. In Veta they had stayed for a month or two; then they had followed the advancing railroad to Wagon Creek, and now to its present terminus, Garland City.
“They do say there won’t be any town here, for more’n a year or so,” she said, looking anxiously at me; “that they’re going on way down to the Rio Grande 406 River. But some seems to think there’ll always be enough to keep a town going here. I suppose we shall go wherever old man Molan goes, though. Tommy’s so took up with him; an’ I don’t know ’s I care; he’s a good old man, if he wan’t so crazy about mining; he’s to work building now; he’s a good hand to work, old ’s he is. If we only had a church here, I wouldn’t mind about any thing; they say there isn’t any Sunday in Colorado, but I tell them God’s here the same ’s everywhere; and folks that wants to keep Sunday’ll keep Sunday wherever they be; but churches is a help. Hev ye got good churches to the Springs?”
“Oh yes, Grandma,” I said, “more than we know what to do with. There are nine different churches there; each man can go to the kind he likes best.”
A look of yearning came over her face.
“That’s the place I’d like to go to,” she said. “I’ve always thought I’d like to live there. But Tommy he wants to go where old man Molan goes; and I shan’t keep him; he’s all I’ve got, an’ he’s got his health first rate now; that’s all I care for.”
In the afternoon I carried to Grandma a piece of raspberry short-cake from a workmen’s picnic dinner, to which I had the good fortune to be invited. “Oh, that does look good,” she said with childlike pleasure. “Thank you for bringing it to me,” and as I was slowly walking away, she called after me,—
“Didn’t I tell you I was always took care of?”
Late in the day we drove back to the lonely Summit House for the night, and the next morning we went again over the wonderful curving railroad down the pass. Going down seemed even more marvellous than going up, and the views were all finer seen from above, than from below. But far more lasting and vivid than my memory of the beauty and grandeur and triumph of the road through the pass, will be my memory of the beauty and grandeur and triumph which I saw in the face, and heard in the words, of “Grandma.”
Original publication: Scribner’s Monthly, vol. 15, no. 3 (Jan 1878), pgs. 386ff. For those who have forgotten, the Anvil Chorus is from Il Trovatore. The part that was later parodied as “Come, friends, who plow the sea” et cetera is at pretty exactly the one-minute mark.
From the mouth of the pass to the summit, is . . . fourteen miles
the olive-tree, of which it is a miniature reproduction
[Is the author getting tired? She made the same sagebrush-to-olive comparison back in Chapter 1, “From Chicago to Ogden”.]
[The fort closed in 1883, though the town of the same name remains. The museum’s website says, depressingly, “It’s more interesting than you think!!”]
defences of the San Luis Valley.
final . invisible
[The 9th cavalry, stationed in this area 1876-79.]
the twelve-days’ old city
[Because of the railroad. Had the author passed through at a different time, the city would have had another name and been in another location.]
a wagon and two horses, an’ one on ’em
’ (apostrophe) in an’ invisible
’Tain’t healthy there.
second ’ in ’tain’t missing
I’ve always been took care of.
final . invisible
“That must be a great comfort to you, to think that,”
closing ” invisible
Miss Smith, ’n’ Miss Smith’s two children
[No explanation forthcoming as to why Miss Smith has two children. Another writer would probably have rendered the title as “Miz”.]
“Well, you jest set right down in that chair,” she said
close quote missing
four sacks o’ corn, ’n’ we had three
second ’ in ’n’ invisible
tea, ’n’ coffee, ’n’ flour, ’n’ sugar
second ’ in ’n’ sugar invisible
burnt her house.
final . invisible
If an emperor were to come to me, saying, “O friend, empire has grown wearisome to me, and of music and dancing and banquets I am tired; how shall I provide myself with a pleasure?” I should reply, “Sire, build an eastern wing to thy palace; let the windows of it be large; and have thy bed so set that, turning to the left, in the morning, thou shalt open thine eyes on the sunrise. So shall thy days become glad, thine eyes be filled with delight, and thy soul with new life.”
It would be cruel to add, “And, sire, thy palace must be built six thousand feet above the sea, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains of North America;” but I should desire to add it; and I should pity the emperor who, after he had built the eastern wing to his palace, and set his bed fronting the dawn, had only such sunrise as might be found, say, in Paris, or Moscow, or anywhere else in the world, except at the horizon of a Colorado plain, with Colorado mountains waiting in the west.
There is an audacity in speaking of sunrises. Hardly is it possible to use such tones as will redeem the words from triviality or irreverence, and disarm the resentment of those who find no worship true except it is silent. But I choose the word calendar as a guaranty and an apology: guaranty of concise exactness and simple fashion, and apology for inevitable shortcoming and failure; for well I know that, after I have borrowed from color all the names which its masters and adorers have given it, and after I have compelled memory to surrender each hidden treasure of the pictures it has 408 stored, I shall still have made but an insignificant and inadequate record of the sunrise pageants which I have watched on these marvellous Colorado plains.
My bedroom, like the one I should counsel the emperor to build, looks to the east. I have but to turn on my pillow to be ready for the sun’s coming. All my life, hitherto, I have had to rise, and journey a greater or less distance, to meet him; and of this has been born almost as great an aversion as dear Charles Lamb felt when he was bold enough to say, “That very unpleasant ceremony called sunrise.” How different a thing is sunrise seen from one’s pillow, in absolute repose, warmth, and that delicious, vague ecstasy of the beginning of the new day which all healthfully organized beings feel. Try it, O emperors!
On the morning of February 6, 1876, the dome of sky above the vast plain in which lies the little town of Colorado Springs was covered with one uniform gray cloud,—not a break, not a lightened shade anywhere. While it was yet hardly possible to see, this curtain slowly lifted in the eastern and southern horizon, revealing a narrow band of clear light. No name of color could be given to this luminous space. It was too radiant to be called white. It was too white to be called yellow. It was pure light. Presently there came upon the curtain faint ripples of rose-color, reaching in waving lines high up in the heavens. Rapidly these deepened, until they were glowing red, and the space of pure light at the horizon turned bright blue. Then filmy silver bars formed in the blue; and suddenly, almost in the twinkling of an eye, the gray curtain, with its rippled red lines, broke up into cumulous masses of rose red, fiery red, dark red clouds, floating and sailing away to south and toward the zenith, and changing shape and tint every second. Gradually these changed to flame-color, and the horizon belt of bright blue became pale green, while the slender silver bars in it changed to gold, and looked like golden rounds of a circling ladder. Next, the flame-colored clouds changed 409 to gold,—clear gold in the east; in the south of an amber tint. Then they grew softer and more misty, and their lower edges took on a silvery brightness. In so far as changes of color can convey the thought of a hush, of expectant silence, it was conveyed by this softening and silvering of every tint. It was the second before sunrise. As the round disc came slowly up, the whole plain and the whole heavens were suffused with an unutterably tender golden haze, and yellow light flooded the mountains in the west. By this time I had found my two eastern windows insufficient, and was leaning far out of a southern window, from which I could see east and south and west.
The village itself was not yet in full light; but the tops of the snowy mountains were glowing and shining bars of sunlight were creeping slowly down on the soft brown of the foot-hills. The zenith was pale blue, filled with great masses of white and golden clouds. Above the snow-topped mountains hung the silver moon, paling second by second in the deepening light; and, to complete the bewilderingly beautiful picture, a flock of tiny snow-birds came flying up from the south, wheeling and circling in the air. At last they flew over my head, so near that the whirring of their wings sounded like a wind in pine boughs. There were hundreds of these birds. As they passed above me, the vivid sunbeams shot through and through each outstretched wing, turning it for one second into a transparent golden web, and making the little creatures look more like great black-and-gold butterflies than like birds.
And so that day began. A few days later, the morning opened with a similar gray cloud curtain over the whole sky; but as soon as the curtain lifted at the southern and eastern horizons, it revealed a space of vivid yellow, with bands of intense salmon pink in it. Soon this space turned to pale, clear green, shading up to blue, and the bands slowly changed from salmon to gold. Above hung the gray curtain, its lower edge of a fiery 410 flame red, and flecks of the same red thickly scattered upon it. In the south, the clear belt at the horizon was of a pale yellow, and the cloud curtain of a dark, opaline purple, shading down to a rose-color where it joined the yellow.
Slowly,—so slowly that, watching even as closely as I was watching, I could hardly detect any motion,—the cloud curtain broke up into fine, flaky, feathery fragments, each of which became a pale yellow as it floated into the higher and bluer air. There they drew together again, as flocks of birds close in; and when they had once more become a solid cloud curtain, it was of an indescribable silvery brown tint, as light as the lightest possible gray, but with no shade of gray in it,—only pure yellow-brown, and with a deep golden, almost fringing edge at the bottom. Slowly it sank toward the horizon, and slowly it spread up toward the zenith, still silvery brown, edged above and below with gold. Gradually the golden fringes on the lower edge detached themselves and filled the clear horizon belt with misty, silvery brown clouds. Into these came the sun, turning them for one second into molten gold, but in the next second growing pale and disappearing himself in the misty vapor.
The southern sky turned for a moment to pale green, with bands of pearl gray in it; but the silvery brown curtain soon conquered all other colors. Every column of smoke which rose between me and the east was golden; those which were between me and the west were cold and dark blue gray. The plains were flooded with silvery brown mist. It was sunrise; but the sun had not risen. An hour later he came up over the top of the brown cloud curtain; again the tops of the mountains were lighted up with a rosy glow, while the foot-hills were in the shadow of the cloud bar; again the blue upper air was filled with floating clouds of pale yellow and silvery brown. And so, to that day there were two sunrises.
The next morning the pageant was a short one. The 411 same gray curtain covered the whole sky. A few moments before sunrise there came upon it a pale flush of rose color. This slowly deepened to red; then slowly faded again to pale rose, then disappeared altogether; and in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, was succeeded by a brilliant golden hue, with flecks of silver; then, in less time than I take to write my record of the fairy spectacle, the golden gray curtain and its silver flecks broke into a myriad of shining clouds, floated away and dissolved, and the sun came up into a cloudless heaven of shining blue.
Another sunrise which I shall never forget was on the morning of March 1st. Long before dawn I had begun to watch for it. The sky was dark, but clear as crystal and blazing with stars. The broad moon was setting in the west, and its light cast silver lines along all the roofs of the houses and lit up the eastern horizon. One by one the stars fade, and the sky slowly grew lighter and lighter, until it looked white,—pure, cold, luminous white. Then black clouds began to blow up from all sides. The whole heavens looked strangely angry and threatening, with alternating spaces of sharp black and white. Then the black clouds changed to a pale slate color and the wind whirled them about furiously. Next came a faint rose tinge upon the slate, making it seem almost purple. The same tinge spread over the thick dark cloud belt at the horizon and rippled it with red. Then the slate color changed to pale gray, then to the most delicate lavender, still rippled with red. Next, with a swift, strange darkening of the atmosphere, the red glow all died away, the curtain belt at the horizon lifted, and the whole sky was filled with cumulous masses of gray and white. Then in the clear light space at the horizon came one slender gold line, like a bird flying with outstretched wings; then more fine gold lines—lithe, curving, fluttering, like flying serpents. The upper edge of the gray turned to gold in the east, and in the south to vermillion and rose; the white space gradually changed to vivid light green, and the sunlight pouring 412 up from below suffused the whole mass of clouds with a pale yellow light, making them soft and misty and flooding the plains with an indescribably tender haze, while the clouds in the west and south were still stormy,—dark gray and cold slate blue.
Soon the gray conquered. It seemed to filter through the golden haze, absorbing it, mixing with it, until there was left at the horizon a broad belt of silvered and gilded gray, shining and rippling like the phosphorescent wake of a ship under strong moonlight.
Spite of all this splendor, it was a sombre morning. The luminous spaces of blue and silvery white seemed icy cold among the whirling gray clouds, and the mountains looked as gaunt and black and pitiless as if there was no sun above the horizon.
But of all the sunrises whose record I have kept the one I shall longest and most vividly remember is one in which I saw no sun. I opened my eyes upon a snow-storm, as still and pauseless and beautiful as one in New England. The whole sky was of that exquisite clear gray which we never see except as the background for thick-falling snowflakes. While I lay dreamily watching it, I suddenly thought I detected a faint rosy tint in the atmosphere. It could not be! No sunrise tint could pierce through that thick gray! But it was. It did. The color deepened. Rosier and rosier, redder and redder grew the gray wall, until I sprang to the window and with incredulous eyes gazed on a sight so weirdly beautiful that my memory almost distrusts itself as I recall the moment. The whole eastern and southern sky was deep red,—vivid yet opaque. The air was filled with large snowflakes. As they slowly floated down, each starry crystalline shape stood out with dazzling distinctness on the red background. It was but for a moment. As mysteriously as it had come the ruddy glow disappeared; the sky and the falling flakes all melted together again into soft white and gray, and not until another day did we see the sun which for that one brief moment had crimsoned our sky.413
These are but five sunrises from my calendar. O emperor, wilt thou not build an eastern wing to thy palace and set thy bed fronting the dawn?
And by emperor I mean simply any man to whom it is given to make for himself a home; and by palace I mean any house, however small, in which love dwells and on which the sun can shine.
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.