Life in the Open Air




MOOSEHEAD LAKE is a little bigger than the Lago di Guarda, and therefore, according to our American standard, rather more important. It is not very grand, not very picturesque, but considerably better than no lake,—a meritorious mean; not pretty and shadowy, like a thousand lakelets all over the land, nor tame, broad, and sham-oceanic, like the tanks of Niagara. On the west, near its southern end, is a well-intended blackness and roughness called Squaw Mountain. The rest on that side is undistinguished pine woods.

Mount Kinneo is midway up the lake, on the cast. It is the show-piece of the region,—the best they can do for a precipice, and really admirably done. Kinneo is a solid mass of purple flint rising seven hundred feet upright from the water. By the side of this block could some Archimedes appear, armed with a suitable “pou stô” and a mallet heavy enough, he might strike fire to the world. Since percussion-guns and friction cigar-lighters came in, flint has somewhat lost its value; and Kinneo is of no practical use at present. We cannot allow inutilities in this world. Where is the Archimedes? He could make a handsome thing of it by flashing us off with a spark into a new system of things.

Below this dangerous cliff on the lakebank is the Kinneo House, where fishermen and sportsmen may dwell, and kill or catch, as skill or fortune favors. The historical success of all catchers and killers is well balanced, since men who cannot master facts are always men of imagination, and it is as easy for them to invent as for the other class to do. Boston men haunt Kinneo. For a hero who has not skill enough or imagination enough to kill a moose stands rather in Nowhere with Boston fashion. The tameness of that pleasant little capital makes its belles ardent for tales of wild adventure. NewYork women are less exacting; a few of them, indeed, like a dash of the adventurous in their lover; but most of them are business-women, fighting their way out of vulgarity into style, and romance is an interruption.

Kinneo was an old station of Iglesias’s, in those days when he was probing New England for the picturesque. When the steamer landed, he acted as cicerone, and pointed out to me the main object of interest thereabouts,—the dinner-table. We dined with lumbermen and moosehunters, scufflingly.

The moose is the lion of these regions. Near Greenville, a gigantic pair of moosehorns marks a fork in the road. Thenceforth moose-facts and moose-legends become the staple of conversation. Moosemeat, combining the flavor of beefsteak and the white of turtle, appears on the table. Moose-horns with full explanations, so that the buyer can play the part of hunter, are for sale. Tame mooselings are exhibited. Sportsmen at Kinneo can choose a matinée with the trout or a soirée with the moose.

The chief fact of a moose’s person is that pair of strange excrescences, his horns. Like fronds of tree-fern, like great corals or sea-fans, these great palmated plates of bone lift themselves from his head, grand, useless, clumsy. A pair of moose-horns overlooks me as I write; they weigh twenty pounds, are nearly five feet in spread, on the right horn are nine developed and two undeveloped antlers, the plates are sixteen inches broad,—a doughty head-piece.

Every year the great, slow-witted animal must renew his head-gear. He must lose the deformity, his pride, and cultivate another. In spring, when the first anemone trembles to the vernal breeze, the moose nods welcome to the wind, and as he nods feels something rattle on his skull. He nods again, as Homer sometimes did, Lo! something drops. A horn has dropped, and he stands a bewildered unicorn. For a few days he steers wild; in this ill-balanced course his lone horn strikes every tree on this side as he dodges from that side. The unhappy creature is staggered, body and mind. In what Jericho of the forest can he hide his diminished head ? He flies frantic. He runs amuck through the woods. Days pass by in gloom, and then comes despair; another horn falls, and he becomes defenceless; and not till autumn does his brow bear again its full honors.

I make no apology for giving a few lines to the great event of a moose's life. He is the hero of those evergreen-woods, —a hero too little recognized, except by stealthy assassins, meeting him by midnight for massacre. No one seems to have viewed him in his dramatic character, as a forest-monarch enacting every year the tragi-comedy of decoronation and recoronation.

The Kinneo House is head-quarters for moose-hunters. This summer the waters of Maine were diluvial, the feeding-grounds were swamped. Of this we took little note: we were in chase of something certain not to be drowned; and the higher the deluge, the easier we could float to Katahdin. After dinner we took the steamboat again for the upper end of the lake.

It was a day of days for sunny summer sailing. Purple haziness curtained the dark front of Kinneo,—a delicate haze purpled by this black promontory, but melting blue like a cloud-fall of cloudless sky upon loftier distant summits. The lake rippled pleasantly, flashing at every ripple.

Suddenly, “Katahdin!” said Iglesias.

Yes, there was a dim point, the object of our pilgrimage.

Katahdin,—the more I saw of it, the more grateful I was to the three powers who enabled me to see it: to Nature for building it, to Iglesias for guiding me to it, to myself for going.

We sat upon the deck and let Katahdin grow,—and sitting, talked of mountains, somewhat to this effect:—

Mountains are the best things to bo seen. Within the keen outline of a great peak is packed more of distance, of detail, of light and shade, of color, of all the qualities of space, than vision can get in any other way. No one who has not seen mountains knows how far the eye can reach. Level horizons are within cannon-shot. Mountain horizons not only may be a hundred miles away, but they lift up a hundred miles at length, to be seen at a look. Mountains make a background against which blue sky can be seen ; between them and the eye are so many miles of visible atmosphere, domesticated, brought down to the regions of earth, not resting overhead, a vagueness and a void. Air, blue in full daylight, rose and violet at sunset, gray like powdered starlight by night, is collected and isolated by a mountain, so that the eye can comprehend it in nearer acquaintance. There is nothing so refined as the outline of a distant mountain: even a rose-leaf is stiff-edged and harsh in comparison. Nothing else has that definite indefiniteness, that melting permanence, that evanescing changelessness. Clouds in vain strive to imitate it; they are made of slighter stuff; they can be blunt or ragged, but they cannot have that solid positiveness.

Mountains, too, are very stationary,— always at their post. They are characters of dignity, not without noble changes of mood; but these changes are not bewildering, capricious shifts. A mountain can be studied like a picture; its majesty, its grace can be got by heart. Purple precipice, blue pyramid, cone or dome of snow, it is a simple image and a positive thought. It is a delicate fact, first, of beauty,—then, as you approach, a strong fact of majesty and power. But even in its cloudy, distant fairness there is a concise, emphatic reality altogether uncloudlike.

Manly men need the wilderness and the mountain. Katahdin is the best mountain in the wildest wild to be had on this side the continent. He looked at us encouragingly over the hills. I saw that he was all that Iglesias, connoisseur of mountains, had promised, and was content to wait for the day of meeting.

The steamboat dumped us and our canoe on a wharf at the lake-head about four o’clock. A wharf promised a settlement, which, however, did not exist. There was population,—one man and one great ox. Following the inland-pointing nose of the ox, we saw, penetrating the forest, a wooden railroad. Ox-locomotive, and no other, befitted such rails. The train was one great go-cart. We packed our traps upon it, roofed them with our birch, and, without much ceremony of whistling, moved on. As we started, so did the steamboat. The link between us and the inhabited world grew more and more attenuated. Finally it snapped, and we were in the actual wilderness,

I am sorry to chronicle that Iglesias hereupon turned to the ox and said impatiently,—

“ Now, then, bullgine ! ”

Why a railroad, even a wooden one, here? For this: the Penobscot at this point approaches within two and a half miles of Moosehead Lake, and over this portage supplies are taken conveniently for the lumbermen of an extensive lumbering country above, along the river.

Corduroy railroad, ox-locomotive, and go-cart train up in the pine woods were a novelty and a privilege. Our cloven-hoofed engine did not whirr turbulently along, like a thing of wheels. Slow and sure must the knock-kneed chewer of cuds step from log to log. Creakingly the wain followed him, pausing and starting and pausing again with groans of inertia. A very fat ox was this, protesting every moment against his employment, where speed, his duty, and sloth, his nature, kept him bewildered by their rival injunctions. Whenever the engine-driver stopped to pick a huckleberry, the train, self-braking, stopped also, and the engine took in fuel from the tall grass that grew between the sleepers. It was the sensation of sloth at its uttermost.

Iglesias and I, meanwhile, marched along and shot the game of the country, namely, one Tetrao Canadensis, one spruce-partridge, making in all one bird, quite too pretty to shoot with its red and black plumage. The spruce-partridge is rather rare in inhabited Maine, and is malignantly accused of being bitter in flesh, and of feeding on spruce-buds to make itself distasteful. Our bird we found sweetly berry-fed. The bitterness, if any, was that we had not a brace.

So, at last, in an hour, after shooting one bird and swallowing six million berries, for the railroad was a shaft into a mine of them, we came to the terminus. The chewer of cuds was disconnected, and plodded off to his stable. The go-cart slid down an inclined plane to the river, the Penobscot.

We paid quite freely for our brief monopoly of the railroad to the superintendent, engineer, stoker, poker, switch-tender, brakeman, baggage-master, and every other official in one. But who would grudge his tribute to the enterprise that opened this narrow vista through toward the Hyperboreans, and planted these once not crumbling sleepers and once not rickety rails, to save the passenger a portage? Here, at Bullgineville, the pluralist railroad-manager had his cabin and clearing, ox-engine house and warehouse.

To balance these symbols of advance, we found a station of the rear-guard of another army. An Indian party of two was encamped on the bank. The fusty sagamore of this pair was lying wounded; his fusty squaw tended him tenderly, minding, meanwhile, a very witch-like caldron of savory fume. No skirmish, with actual war-whoop and sheen of real scalping-knife, had put this prostrate chieftain here hors du combat. He had shot himself cruelly by accident. So he informed us feebly, in a muddy, guttural patois of Canadian French. This aboriginal meeting was of great value; it helped to eliminate the railroad.



IT was now five o'clock of an August evening. Our work-day was properly done. But we were to camp somewhere, “anywhere out of the world” of railroads. The Penobscot glimmered winningly. Our birch looked wistful for its own element. Why not marry shallop to stream? Why not yield to the enticement of this current, fleet and clear, and gain a few beautiful miles before nightfall? All the world was before us where to choose our bivouac. We dismounted our birch from the truck, and laid its lightness upon the stream. Then we became stevedores, stowing cargo. Sheets of birch-bark served for dunnage. Cancut, in flamboyant shift, ballasted the after-part of the craft. For the present, I, in flamboyant shirt, paddled in the bow, while Iglesias, similarly glowing, sat àla Turque midships among the traps. Then, with a longing sniff at the caldron of Soggysampcook, we launched upon the Penobscot.

Upon no sweeter stream was voyager ever launched than this of our summerevening sail. There was no worse haste in its more speed; it went fleetly lingering along its leafy dell. Its current, unripplingly smooth, but dimpled ever, and wrinkled with the whirls that mark an underflow deep and shady, bore on our bark. The banks were low and gently wooded. No Northern forest, rude and gloomy with pines, stood stiffly and unsympathizingly watching the graceful water, but cheerful groves and dedicate coppices opened in vistas where level sunlight streamed, and barred the river with light, between belts of lightsome shadow. We felt no breeze, but knew of one, keeping pace with us, by a tremor in the birches as it shook them. On we drifted, mile after mile, languidly over sweet calms. One would seize his paddle, and make our canoe quiver for a few spasmodic moments. But it seemed needless and impertinent to toil, when noiselessly and without any show of energy the water was bearing us on, over rich reflections of illumined cloud and blue sky, and shadows of feathery birches, bearing us on so quietly that our passage did not shatter any fair image, but only drew it out upon the tremors of the water.

So, placid and beautiful as an interview of first love, went on our first meeting with this Northern river. But water, the feminine element, is so mobile and impressible that it must protect itself by much that seems caprice and fickleness. We might be sure that the Penobscot would not always flow so gently, nor all the way from forests to the sea conduct our bark without one shiver of panic, where rapids broke noisy and foaming over rocks that showed their grinding teeth at us.

Sunset now streamed after us down the river. The arbor-vitæ along the banks marked tracery more delicate than any ever wrought by deftest, craftsman in western window of an antique fane. Brighter and richer than any tints that ever poured through painted oriel flowed the glories of sunset. Dear, pensive glooms of nightfall drooped from the zenith slowly down, narrowing twilight to a belt of dying flame. We were aware of the ever fresh surprise of starlight: the young stars were born again.

Sweet is the charm of starlit sailing where no danger is. And in days when the Munki Mannakens: were foes of the pale-face, one might dash down rapids by night in the hurry of escape. Now the danger was before, not pursuing. We must camp before we were hurried into the first “rips” of the stream, and before night made bush-ranging and campduties diflicult.

But these beautiful thickets of birch and alder along the bank, bow to get through them ? We must spy out an entrance. Spots lovely and damp, circles of ferny grass beneath elms offered themselves. At last, as to patience always, appeared the place of wisest choice. A little stream, the Ragmuff. entered the Penobscot. “Why Ragmuff?” thought we, insulted. Just below its mouth two spruces were propylæa to a little glade, our very spot. We landed. Some hunters had once been there. A skeleton lodge and frame of poles for drying moosehides remained.

Like skilful campaigners, we at once distributed ourselves over our work. Cancut wielded the axe; I the match-box; Iglesias the batterie de cuisine. Ragmuff drifted one troutling and sundry chubby chub down to nip our hooks. We reroofed our camp with its old covering of hemlock-bark, spreading over a light tentcover we had provided. The last glow of twilight dulled away; monitory mists hid the stars.

Iglesias, as chef with his two marmitons, had, meanwhile, been preparing supper. It was dark when he, the colorist, saw that fire with delicate touches of its fine brushes had painted all our viands to perfection. Then, with the same fire stirred to illumination, and dashing masterly glows upon landscape and figures, the trio partook of the supper and named it sublime.

Here follows the carte of the Restanrant Ragmuff,—woodland fare, a banquet simple, but elegant:—


Truite. Meunier.


Porc frit au naturel.
Còtelettes d’Elan.


Tetrao Canadensis.


Hard-Tack. Fromage.


Ragmuff blanc. Penobscot mousseux.
The Chocolat de Bogotá.
Petit verre de Cognac.

At that time I had a temporary quarrel with the frantic nineteenth century’s best friend, tobacco,—and Iglesias, being totally at peace with himself and the world, never needs anodynes. Cancut, therefore, was the only cloud-blower.

We two solaced ourselves with scorning civilization from our vantage-ground. We were beyond fences, away from the clash of town-clocks, the clink of towndollars, the hiss of town-scandals. As soon as one is fairly in camp and has begun to eat with his fingers, he is free. He and truth are at the bottom of a well,— a hollow, fire-lighted cylinder of forest. While the manly man of the woods is breathing Nature like an Amreeta draught, is it anything less than the summum bonum?

“Yet some call American life dull.”

“Ay, to dullards!” ejaculated Iglesias.

Moose were said to haunt these regions. Toward midnight our would-be moose-hunter paddled about up and down, seeking them and finding not. The waters were too high. Lily-pads were drowned. There were no moose looming duskily in the shallows, to be done to death at their banquet. They were up in the pathless woods, browsing on leaves and deappetizing with bitter bark. Starlight paddling over reflected stars was enchanting, but somniferous. We gave up our vain quest and glided softly home,—already we called it home,—toward the faint embers of our fire. Then all slept, as only woodmen sleep, save when for moments Cancut’s trumpet-tones sounded alarums, and we others awoke to punch and batter the snorer into silence.

In due time, bird and cricket whistled and chirped the reveille. We sprang from our lair. We dipped in the river and let its gentle friction polish us more luxuriously than ever did any hair-gloved polisher of an Oriental bath. Our joints crackled for themselves as we beat the current. From bath like this comes no unmanly kief, no sensuous, slumberous, dreamy indifference, but a nervous, intent, keen, joyous activity. A day of deeds is before us, and we would be doing.

When we issue from the Penobscot, from our baptism into a new life, we need no valet for elaborate toilet. Attire is simple, when the woods are the tiring-room.

When we had taken off the water and put on our clothes, we simultaneously thought of breakfast. Like a circle of wolves around the bones of a banquet, the embers of our fire were watching each other over the ashes; we had but to knock their heads together and fiery fighting began. The skirmish of the brands boiled our coffee and fried our pork, and we embarked and shoved off. A thin blue smoke, floating upward, for an hour or two, marked our bivouac; soon this had gone out, and the banks and braes of Ragmuff were lonely as if never a biped had trodden them. Nature drops back to solitude as easily as man to peace; —how little this fair globe would miss mankind!

The Penobscot was all asteam with morning mist. It was blinding the sun with a matinal oblation of incense. A crew of the profane should not interfere with such act of worship. Sacrilege is perilous, whoever be the God. We were instantly punished for irreverence. The first “rips” came up-stream under cover of the mist, and took us by surprise. As we were paddling along gently, we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of a boiling rapid. Gnashing rocks, with cruel foam upon their lips, sprang out of the obscure, eager to tear us. Great jaws of ugly blackness snapped about us as if we were introduced into a coterie of crocodiles. Symplegades clanged together behind; mighty gulfs, below seducing bends of smooth water, awaited us before. We were in for it. We spun, whizzed, dashed, leaped, “cavorted”; we did whatever a birch running the gantlet of whirlpools and breakers may do, except the fatal finality of a somerset. That we escaped, and only escaped. We had been only reckless, not audacious; and therefore peril, not punishment, befell us. The rocks smote our frail shallop ; they did not crush it. Foam and spray dashed in our faces; solid fluid below the crest did not overwhelm us. There we were, presently, in water tumultuous, but not frantic. There we were, three men floating in a birch, not floundering in a maelstrom,—on the water, not under it,— sprinkled, not drowned,—and in a wild wonder how we got into it and how we got out of it.

Cancut’s paddle guided us through. Unwieldy he may have been in person, but he could wield his weapon well. And so, by luck and skill, we were not drowned in the magnificent uproar of the rapid. Success, that strange stirabout of Providence, accident, and courage, were ours. But when we came to the next cascading bit, though the mist had now lifted, we lightened the canoe by two men’s avoirdupois, that it might dance, and not blunder heavily, might seek the safe shallows, away from the dangerous bursts of midcurrent, and choose passages where Cancut, with the setting-pole, could let it gently down. So Iglesias and I plunged through the labyrinthine woods, the stream along.

Not long after our little episode of buffeting, we shot out again upon smooth water, and soon, for it is never smooth but it is smoothest, upon a lake, Chesuncook.



CHESUNCOOK is a “bulge” of the Penobscot: so much for its topography. It is deep in the woods, except that some miles from its opening there is a lumbering-station, with house and barns. In the wilderness, man makes for man by a necessity of human instinct. We made for the log-houses. We found there an ex-barkeeper of a certain well-known New-York cockney coffee-house, promoted into a frontiersman, but mindful still of flesh-pots. Poor fellow, he was still prouder that he had once tossed the foaming cocktail than that he could now fell the forest-monarch. Mixed drinks were dearer to him than pure air. When we entered the long, low log-cabin, he was boiling doughnuts, as was to he expected. In certain regions of America every cook who is not baking pork and beans is boiling doughnuts, just as in certain other gastronomic quarters frijoles alternate with tortillas.

Doughnuts, like peaches, must be eaten with the dew upon them. Caught as they come bobbing up in the bubbling pot, I will not say that they are despicable. Woodsmen and canoemen, competent to pork and beans, can master also the alternative. The ex-barkeeper was generous with those brown and glistening langrage-shot, and aimed volley after volley at our mouths. Nor was he content with giving us our personal fill; into every crevice of our firkin he packed a pellet of future indigestion. Besides this result of foraging, we took the hint from a visible cow that milk might be had. Of this also the ex-barkeeper served us out galore, sighing that it was not the punch of his metropolitan days. We put our milk in our tea-pot, and thus, with all the ravages of the past made good, we launched again upon Chesuncook.

Chesuncook. according to its quality of lake, had no aid to give us with current. Paddling all a hot August mid-day over slothful water would be tame, day-laborer’s work. But there was a breeze, flood ! Come, kind Zephyr, fill our red blanket-sail! Cancut’s blanket in the bow became a substitute for Cancut’s paddle in the stern. We swept along before the wind, unsteadily, over Lake Chesuncook, at sea in a bowl,—“rolled to starboard, rolled to larboard,” in our keelless craft. Zephyr only followed us, mild as be was strong, and strong as he was mild. Had be been puffy, it would have been all over with us. But the breeze only sang about our way, and shook the water out of sunny calm. Katahdin to the North, a fair blue pyramid, lifted higher and stooped forward more imminent, yet still so many leagues away that his features were undefined, and the gray of his scalp undistinguishable from the green of his beard of forest. Every mile, however, as we slid drowsily over the hot lake, proved more and more that we were not befooled,—Iglesias by memory, and I by anticipation. Katahdin lost nothing by approach, as some of the grandees do : as it grew bigger, it grew better.

Twenty miles, or so, of Chesuncook, of sun-cooked Chesuncook, we traversed by the aid of our blanket-sail, pleasantly wafted by the unboisterous breeze. Undrowned, unducked, as safe from the perils of the broad lake as we bad come out of the defiles of the rapids, we landed at the carry below the dam at the lake’s outlet.

The skin of many a slaughtered varmint was nailed on its shingle, and the landing-place was carpeted with the fur. Doughnuts, ex-barkeepers, and civilization at one end of the lake, and here were muskrat-skins, trappers, and the primeval. Two hunters of moose, in default of their fern-horned, blubber-lipped game, bad condescended to muskrat, and were making the lower end of Chesuncook fragrant with muskiness.

It is surprising how hospitable and comrade a creature is man. The trappers of muskrats were charmingly brotherly. They guided us across the carry; they would not hear of our being porters. “Pluck the superabundant huckleberry,” said they, “while we, suspending your firkin and your traps upon the settingpole, tote them, as the spies of Joshua toted the grape-clusters of the Promised Land.”

Cancut, for his share, carried the canoe. He wore it upon his head and shoulders. Tough work he found it, toiling through the underwood, and poking his way like an elongated and mobile mushroom through the thick shrubbery. Ever and anon, as Iglesias and I paused, we would be aware of the canoe thrusting itself above our beads in the covert, and a voice would come from an unseen head under its shell,—“It ’s soul-breaking, carrying is !”

The portage was short. We emerged from the birchen grove upon the river, below a brilliant cascading rapid. The water came, flashing gloriously forward, a far other element than the tame, flat stuff we had drifted slowly over all the dullish hours. Water on the go is nobler than water on the stand ; recklessness may be as fatal as stagnation, but it is more heroic.

Presently, over the edge, where the foam and spray were springing up into sunshine, our canoe suddenly appeared, and had hardly appeared, when, as if by one leap, it had passed the rapid, and was gliding in the stiller current at our feet. One of the muskrateers had relieved Cancut of his head-piece, and shot the lower rush of water. We again embarked, and, guided by the trappers in their own canoe, paddled out upon Lake Pepogenus.