Speckled Trout

IN the number of this magazine for July, 1869, under the head of “ Birch Browsings,” I gave some account of a region that lies about the head-waters of the Delaware, in the State of New York, the second tract in the State of any considerable size where one can get a glimpse of genuine backwoods life, and as fresh an article in the way of camping out as can be had anywhere.

Since the expedition to Thomas Lake, described in that paper, I have made another excursion to those woods, this time dipping well into them, — indeed taking the core fairly out of them ; and were it not for the speckled trout, which are always a standing invitation, and a deer or two, which I expect to shoot in them one of these days, — yes, and I may add, a black bear or two also, — I should be looking round for new worlds to conquer.

Aaron, one of my companions, a sixfoot-in-his-stockings youth from Ohio, had never seen a speckled trout, though he had seen game equally slippery, and had been a constant and sometimes an unwilling camper-out for over four years ; and when I had the pleasure of showing him some noble specimens of the fish in a spring, at the house of a friend where we stopped before reaching the woods, I knew his curiosity was only half satisfied. It was not enough that they came up and took food from his hand ; he had a soldier’s desire to see them smoking over the coals.

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon when the stage set us down at a little country store and post-office amid the mountains of Shandaken, where the Esopus emerges from Big Ingin Hollow, and takes its eastward course to the Hudson. We expected to join another party at this point, who were to come across the mountains from a different direction, and we experienced our first disappointment of the trip when no familiar faces came out to greet us ; but we proceeded to get ready for the march just the same. While delayed here, a half-dozen or more young fellows, stained and sweaty and with their coats on their arms, came in from the backwoods on the Neversink, where they had been at work since spring. They were on their way out to get jobs in haying, and were brawny and well seasoned. They had come by the route we wished to take ; and on questioning them closely, I found that the rude draft I had made of the section from the county map was in its main features reliable. Just as we were ready to start our friends arrived, much to our joy ; and after exchanging congratulations all round, we set out, in fine spirits, for the head of the Big Ingin, about ten miles distant. On our way up the Hollow we met another party of men and boys, who had just come across the mountains; they had a rifle and some game,— a wild pigeon, a ruffed grouse, and a gray squirrel.

“ Are there wild pigeons in these woods ? ” I asked.

“ Not many; now and then you see one.”

“ Did they nest here this year ? ”

“ No. sir ; two years ago they nested on the Neversink in great numbers, but a cold spell with deep snows came on in April and broke them up, and they have not been back since. A great many froze to death on their nests, and a great many died from hunger.”

The passenger pigeon is attracted to this section of country by the vast quantities of beech-nuts that usually abound ; they come when the March rains first begin to lay bare the ground, and in places make the woods blue with their numbers ; but though the crop of nuts seldom fails, the visits of the pigeons, for some cause or other, occur at longer and longer intervals, and may soon be expected to cease altogether.

The account of the freezing of the pigeons, and the breaking up of their nests by the snow, was confirmed by all of whom we made inquiry. When we reached the Neversink we saw vast numbers of their nests filling the trees for miles, but not a pigeon anywhere.

Big Ingin Hollow was not a very big Ingin after all. It had reached the second stage of growth as a settlement, — the stage when the log-houses are going out and the framed ones coming in ; though as we neared its head, the little stumpy clearings, with their oneroomed log-dwellings, and a “ smudge ” near the door to keep off the midges or gnats, looked primitive enough. People certainly lived close to the bone here, and no doubt gnawed it hard and I hope found the meat sweet, though there must have been precious little of it. We satisfied ourselves that there was precious little in the streams ; for after tramping up and down the main branch and penetrating into the mountains where the smaller tributaries came down, we barely caught enough trout to afford a good smell for all.

My chief reason for remembering the locality is the novel experience I had that night of trying to go to sleep on a hay-mow beneath which four horses were stabled. A horse, it seems, never sleeps, at least as long as there is any hay in the rack. One of the animals was much disturbed by our proximity, and about every five minutes would prick up his ears and snort threateningly. Then at regular intervals would come the heavy stamping of the beasts changing their positions. Then if all grew still for a few moments, and the big jaws paused from very weariness, some sleeper would turn uneasily in the hay or set up a rival snoring, and thus arouse the suspicious animal beneath, who would wake up his companions, and the snorting and crunching and stamping would recommence as briskly as ever. To add to my discomfiture, the hay was musty, and the fine particles of dust choked me so whenever I stirred, that I more than half suspected I had the heaves. I endured it till after midnight, when I slid down on the floor, and, thoroughly regretting that I had not accepted the pressing invitation of the good woman to occupy one of her spare beds, I picked my way through the murky darkness, over logs and rocks, down to our camp-fire, where, rolled in my blanket at the foot of a sugar-maple, I found some sleep at last.

The morning dawned rainy as the night had foreboded, and, after giving the trout another trial, without any better success, we took refuge in a saw-mill, kindling a fire in its huge box stove, and drying ourselves and making our coffee at the same time. Then we looked disconsolately out into the wild, dripping scene. Toward noon the rain slackened or degenerated into a fine drizzle, when we slung knapsacks and set out for the Neversink, which headed on the other side of the mountain, about five miles distant. The atmosphere was “ muggy ” and hot, and our tramp was a heavy one, relieved from time to time by brief halts beside the delicious spring runs that here and there crossed our route. On the side of the mountain, in a small sapling, I found the nest of the rose - breasted grossbeak, a rare nest in this State, and the first I had ever seen. My attention was attracted to it by the moaning cry of the parent bird ; it was a strange sound which I did not recognize.

We struck the Neversink quite unexpectedly about the middle of the afternoon, at a point where it was a good-sized trout-stream. It had a gamy look, and with boyish eagerness I undid my fishing-tackle and wet my first fly in its waters. But the trees were too thick and their branches too near for fly-fishing, so I took in line and tried a worm, and found the trout small, but plenty and eager. On this hint other fishing-tackle was soon rigged, and the sport commenced in earnest, most of the fishers going down stream ; but the prospect up stream was so inviting that a youth and myself concluded to go thither. It was one of those black mountain brooks born of innumerable ice-cold springs, nourished in the shade, and shod, as it were, with thick-matted moss, that every camper-out remembers. The fish are as black as the stream and very wild. They dart from beneath the fringed rocks, or dive with the hook into the dusky depths, — an integral part of the silence and the shadows. The spell of the moss is over all. The fisherman’s tread is noiseless, as he leaps from stone to stone and from ledge to ledge along the bed of the stream. How cool it is ! He looks up the dark, silent defile, hears the solitary voice of the water, sees the decayed trunks of fallen trees bridging the stream, and all he has dreamed, when a boy, of the haunts of beasts of prey — the crouching feline tribes, especially if it be near nightfall and the gloom already deepening in the woods — comes freshly to mind, and he presses on, wary and alert, and speaking to his companions in low tones.

After an hour or so the trout became less abundant, and with nearly a hundred of the black sprites in our basket we turned back. Here and there I saw the abandoned nests of the pigeons, sometimes half a dozen in one tree. In a yellow-birch which the floods had uprooted a number of nests were still in place, each consisting of a handful of small twigs arranged with very little show of art, and affording little or no protection to the eggs or the young birds against inclement weather.

Before we had reached our companions the rain set in again and forced us to take shelter under a balsam. When it slackened we moved on, and soon came up with Aaron, who had caught his first trout, and, considerably drenched, was making his way toward camp, which one of the party had gone forward to build. After travelling less than a mile, we saw a smoke struggling up through the dripping trees, and in a few moments were all standing round a blazing fire. But the rain now commenced again, and fairly poured down through the trees, rendering the prospect of cooking and eating our supper there in the woods, and of passing the night on the ground without tent or cover of any kind, rather disheartening. We had been told of a bark shanty, a couple of miles farther down the creek, and thitherward we speedily took up our line of march. When we were on the point of discontinuing the search, thinking we had been misinformed or had passed it by, we came in sight of a bark-peeling, in the midst of which a small log-house lifted its naked rafters toward the now breakingsky. It had neither floor nor roof, and was less inviting on first sight than the open woods. But a board partition was still standing, out of which we built a rude porch on the east side of the house, large enough for us all to sleep under, if well packed, and eat under, if we stood up. There was plenty of well-seasoned timber lying about, and a fire was soon burning in front of our quarters, that made the scene social and picturesque, especially when the frying-pans were brought into requisition, and the coffee, in charge of Aaron, who was artist in this line, mingled its aroma with the wild-wood air. At dusk a balsam was felled, and the tips of the branches used to make a bed, which was more fragrant than soft; hemlock is better, because its needles are finer and its branches more elastic. We were two in the bed and five in the middle, and counterfeited sleep very well ; but if my own experience be a safe one to go by, I should say that not more than twenty-five per cent of the snoring was genuine. One tries to cheat himself and his fellows, under such circumstances, into the notion that he is asleep, by breathing hard and by lying supine, when most of the time he feels every midge that bites and notes every stage of the fire by its effect upon his feet.

This is the most serious drawback I meet with in my expeditions to the woods, — my inability to get anything more than a thin dilution of sleep the first three or four nights. Sleep, it seems, is a coy and fitful goddess, and the more you woo her at times, the more you may. Sometimes you cannot fight her off, and again she will not touch her fingers to your eyelids, beseech her never so patiently and long. The main, disturbing cause on the present occasion was the huge fire blazing away there in such proximity to my feet. Some kind of brute instinct seemed to take possession of my body ; and no sooner would my mind begin to loosen its rational hold upon things, than this instinct would cry “Fire,” and I would rouse up, expecting to find my feet wrapped in flame. And I remember it did get pretty warm when those green beech-logs got thoroughly agoing. The gnats, or “ no-see-ems,” had to leave, and I found their power of endurance was about equal to my own, for I had to change my position soon afterward.

Aaron’s nasal asseverations were no doubt sincere. It was no longer Aaron the citizen, but Aaron the soldier that lay there wrapped in his gray blanket. While the rest of us threw ourselves down without so much as removing our coats, I noticed that he prepared himself elaborately, took off his shoes (to rest his feet, he said) and hung them up to dry, removed most of his outer clothing, and, rolling himself from top to toe in his blanket, lay down with the utmost matter-of-course air.

There was a spirt or two of rain during the night, but not enough to find out the leaks in our roof. It took the shower or series of showers of next day to do that. They commenced about two o’clock in the afternoon. The forenoon had been fine, and we had brought into camp nearly three hundred trout ; but before they were half dressed or the first panfuls fried, the rain set in. First came short, sharp dashes, then a gleam of treacherous sunshine, followed by more and heavier dashes. The wind was in the southwest, and to rain seemed the easiest thing in the world. From fitful dashes to a steady pour the transition was natural. We stood huddled together, stark and grim, under our cover, like hens under a cart. The fire fought bravely for a time, and retaliated with sparks and spiteful tongues of flame ; but gradually its spirit was broken, only a heavy body of coal and half-consumed logs in the centre holding out against all odds. The simmering fish were soon floating about in a yellow liquid that did not look in the least appetizing. Point after point gave way in our cover, till standing between the drops was no longer possible. The water coursed down the underside of the boards, and dripped in our necks and formed puddles on our hat-brims. We shifted our guns and traps and viands, till there was no longer any choice of position, when the loaves and the fishes, the salt and the sugar, the pork and the butter, shared the same watery fate. The whiskey was water-proof, else we should have had to drink it up to keep it dry. The fire was gasping its last. Little rivulets coursed about it, and bore away the quenched but steaming coals on their bosoms. The spring run in the rear of our camp swelled so rapidly, that part of the trout that had been hastily left lying on its banks again found themselves quite at home. For over two hours the floods came down. About four o’clock, Orville, who had not yet come from the day’s sport, appeared, — Orville the stubborn, who worried the trout in a faded linen coat and white hat, sticking to them till they grew familiar with his bleached appearance, and nibbled his hook in confidence. To say Orville war wet is not much; he was better than that, — he had been washed and rinsed in at least half a dozen waters, and the trout that he bore dangling at the end of a string had hardly been out of their proper element.

But he brought welcome news. He had been two or three miles down the creek, and had seen a log-building, — whether house or stable he did not know, but it had the appearance of having a good roof, which was inducement enough for us instantly to leave our present quarters. Our course lay along an old wood road, and much of the time we were to our knees in water. The woods were literally flooded everywhere. Every little rill and springlet ran like a mill-tail, while the main stream rushed and roared, foaming, leaping, lashing, its volume increased fifty-fold. The water was not roily, but of a rich coffee-color, from the leechings of the woods. No more trout for the next three days! we thought, as we looked upon the rampant stream.

After we had labored and floundered along for about an hour, the road turned to the left, and in a little stumpy clearing near the creek a gable uprose on our view. It did not prove to be just such a place as poets love to contemplate. It required a greater effort of the imagination than any of us were then capable of, to believe it had ever been a favorite resort of wood-nymphs or sylvan deities. It savored rather of the equine and the bovine. The bark-men had kept their teams there, horses on the one side and oxen on the other, and no Hercules had ever done duty in cleansing the stables. My first impulse was to take to the woods again. I trust I am a lover of horses and cattle, and the savor of the stall with its occupant, and of the barn with long rows of patient cows, is agreeable to me ; but the prospect then before me of boarding in a musty manger, and treading the ooze beneath was not specially inviting. But there was a dry loft overhead with some straw, where we might get some sleep, in spite of the rain and the midges ; a double, layer of boards, standing at a very acute angle, would keep off the former, while the mingled refuse hay and muck beneath would nurse a smoke that would prove a thorough protection against the latter. And then, when Jim, the two-handed, mounting the trunk of a prostrate maple nearby, had severed it thrice with easy and familiar stroke, and, rolling the logs in front of the shanty, had kindled a fire, which, getting the better of the dampness, soon cast a bright glow over all, shedding warmth and light even into the dingy stable, I consented to unsling my knapsack and accept the situation. The rain had ceased and the sun shone out behind the woods. We had trout sufficient for present needs ; and after my first meal in an ox stall, I strolled out on the rude log-bridge to watch the angry Neversink rush by. Its waters fell quite as rapidly as they rose, and before sundown it looked as if we might have fishing again on the morrow. We had better sleep that night than either night before, though there were two disturbing causes, — the smoke in the early part of it, and the cold in the latter. The “ no-see-ems ” left in disgust ; and though disgusted myself, I swallowed the smoke, and hugged my pallet of straw the closer. In the morning I felt much like a sugar-cured ham, minus the sugar. But the day dawned bright, and a plunge in the Neversink set me all right again. The creek, to our surprise and gratification, was only a little higher than before the rain, and some of the finest trout we had yet seen we caught that morning near camp.

Our friends here reached the end of their tether, and after breakfast, with feelings of sadness and regret, we saw them turn their faces homeward, leaving the original trio to finish their campaign, the plan of which embraced a farther traversing of the Neversink, a crossing of the mountains by an unknown way into the Beaverkill, thence to Balsam Lake, thence across the mountains again to the Mill Brook, and thence home, — in all a tramp of upwards of forty miles in the woods.

We tarried yet another day and night at the old stable, but taking our meals outside, squatted on the ground, which had now become quite dry. Part of the day I spent strolling about the woods, looking up old acquaintances among the birds, and, as always, half expectant of making some new ones. Curiously enough, the most abundant species were among those I had found rare in most other localities, viz. the small water wagtail (Seiurus noveboracensis), the mourning ground warbler, and the yellow-bellied woodpecker. The latter seems to be the prevailing woodpecker through the woods of this region.

I do not like to confess that I had the heart to shoot a robin which alighted on a tall tree near camp, but only that I began to tire of a diet of all fish and no flesh; and had a “ fat wren ” happened to show himself in my vicinity, it is highly probable he would have been roasting over our coals in less than five minutes afterward.

That night the midges, those motes that sting, held high carnival. We learned afterward, in the settlement below and from the bark-peelers, that it was the worst night ever experienced in that valley. We had done no fishing during the day, but had anticipated some fine sport about sundown. Accordingly Aaron and I started off between six and seven o’clock, one going up stream and the other down. The scene was charming. The sun shot up great spokes of light from behind the woods, and beauty, like a presence, pervaded the atmosphere. But torment, multiplied as the sands of the sea-shore, lurked in every tangle and thicket. In a thoughtless moment I removed my shoes and socks, and waded in the water to secure a fine trout that had accidentally slipped from my string and was helplessly floating with the current. This caused some delay and gave the gnats time to accumulate. Before I had got one foot half dressed, I was enveloped in a black mist that settled upon my hands and neck and face, filling my ears with infinitesimal pipings and covering my flesh with infinitesimal bitings. I thought I should have to flee to the friendly fumes of the old stable, with “ one stocking off and one stocking on ” ; but I got my shoe on at last, though not without many amusing interruptions and digressions.

In a few moments after this adventure I was in rapid retreat toward camp. Just as I reached the path leading from the shanty to the creek, my companion, in the same ignoble plight, reached it also, his hat broken and rumpled, and his sanguine countenance looking more sanguinary than I had ever before seen it, and his speech, also, in the highest degree inflammatory. His face and forehead were as blotched and swollen as if he had just run his head into a hornets’ nest, and his manner as precipitate as if the whole swarm was still at his back.

No smoke or smudge which we ourselves could endure was sufficient in the earlier part of that evening to prevent serious annoyance from the same cause ; but later a respite was granted us.

About ten o’clock, as we stood round our camp-fire, we were startled by a brief but striking display of the aurora borealis. My imagination had already been excited by talk of legends and of weird shapes and appearances, and when, on looking up toward the sky, I saw those pale, phantasmal waves of magnetic light chasing each other across the little opening above our heads, and at first sight seeming barely to clear the tree-tops, I was as vividly impressed as if I had caught a glimpse of a veritable spectre of the Neversink.

After we had climbed to our loft and had lain down to sleep, another adventure befell us. This time a new and uninviting customer appears upon the scene, the genius loci of the old stable, namely, the “ fretful porcupine.” We had seen the marks and works of these animals about the shanty, and had been careful each night to hang our traps, guns, etc. beyond their reach, but of the prickly night-walker himselt we feared we should not get a view.

We had lain down some half-hour, and I was just on the threshold of sleep, ready, as it were, to pass through the open door into the land of dreams, when I heard outside somewhere that curious sound, — a sound which I had heard every night I spent in these woods, not only on this but on former expeditions, and which I had settled in my mind as proceeding from the porcupine, since I knew the sounds our other common animals were likely to make, — a sound that might be either a gnawing on some hard, dry substance, or a grating of teeth, or a shrill grunting.

Orville heard it also, and, raising up on his elbow, asked, “ What is that ? ”

“ What the hunters call a ‘ porcupig,’ ” said I.

“ Sure ? ”

“ Entirely so.”

“ Why does he make that noise ? ”

“ It is a way he has of cursing our fire,” I replied. “ I heard him last night also.”

“ Where do you suppose he is ? ” inquired my companion, showing a disposition to look him up.

“ Not far of, perhaps fifteen or twenty yards from our fire, where the shadows begin to deepen.”

Orville slipped into his trousers, felt for my gun, and in a moment had disappeared down through the scuttlehole. I had no disposition to follow him, but was rather annoyed than otherwise at the disturbance. Getting the direction of the sound, he went picking his way over the rough, uneven ground, and, when he got where the light failed him, poking every doubtful object with the end of his gun. Presently he poked a light grayish object, like a large round stone, which surprised him by moving off. On this hint he fired, making an incurable wound in the “ porcupig,” which, nevertheless, tried harder than ever to escape. I lay listening when, close on the heels of the report of the gun, came excited shouts for a revolver. Snatching up my Smith and Westson, I hastened, shoeless and hatless, to the scene of action, wondering what was up. I found my companion struggling to detain, with the end of the gun, an uncertain object that was trying to crawl off into the darkness. “ Look out ! ” said Orville, as he saw my bare feet, “ the quills are lying thick around here.”

And so they were ; he had blown or beaten them nearly all off the poor creature’s back, and was in a fair way completely to disable my gun, the ramrod of which was already broken and splintered clubbing his victim. But a couple of shots from the revolver, sighted by a lighted match, at the head of the animal, quickly settled him.

It proved to be an unusually large Canada porcupine, an old patriarch, gray and venerable, with spines three inches long, and weighing, I should say, twenty pounds. The build of this animal is much like that of the woodchuck, that is, heavy and pouchy. The nose is blunter than that of the woodchuck, the limbs stronger, and the tail broader and heavier. Indeed, the latter appendage is quite club-like, and the animal can, no doubt, deal a smart blow with it. An old hunter with whom I talked thought it aided them in climbing. They are inveterate gnawers, and spend much of their time in trees gnawing the bark. In winter one will take up its abode in a hemlock, and continue there till the tree is quite denuded. The carcass emitted a peculiar offensive odor, and, though very fat, was not in the least inviting as game. If it is part of the economy of nature for one animal to prey upon some other beneath it, then the poor devil has indeed a mouthful that makes a meal off the porcupine. Panthers and lynxes have essayed it, but have invariably left off at the first course, and have afterward been found dead or nearly so, with their heads puffed up like a pincushion, and the quills protruding on all sides. A dog that understands the business will manœuvre round the porcupine till he gets an opportunity to throw it over on its back, when he fastens on its quilless underbody. Aaron was puzzled to know how long-parted friends could embrace, when it was suggested that the quills could be depressed or elevated at pleasure.

The next morning boded rain ; but we had become thoroughly sated with the delights of our present quarters, outside and in, and packed up our traps to leave. Before we had reached the clearing, three miles below, the rain set in, keeping up a lazy, monotonous drizzle till the afternoon.

The clearing was quite a recent one, made mostly by bark-peelers, who followed their calling in the mountains round about in summer, and worked in their shops making shingle in winter. The Biscuit Brook came in here from the west,—a fine, rapid troutstream six or eight miles in length, with plenty of deer in the mountains about its head. On its banks we found the house of an old woodman, to whom we had been directed for information about the section we proposed to traverse.

“ Is the way very difficult,” said I, “ across from the Neversink into the head of the Beaverkill ? ”

“ Not to me ; I could go it the darkest night ever was. And I can direct you so you can find the way without any trouble. You go down the Neversink about a mile, when you come to Highfall Brook, the first stream that comes down on the right. Follow up it to Jim Reed’s shanty, about three miles. Then cross the stream, and on the left bank, pretty well up on the side of the mountain, you will find a wood road, which was made by a fellow below here who stole some ash logs off the top of the ridge last winter and drew them out on the snow. When the road first begins to tilt over the mountain, strike down to your left, and you can reach the Beaverkill before sundown.”

As it was then after two o’clock, and as the distance was six or eight of these terrible hunters’ miles, we concluded to take a whole day to it, and wait till next morning. The Beaverkill flowed west, the Neversink south, and I had a mortal dread of getting entangled amid the mountains and valleys that lie in either angle.

Besides, I was glad of another and final opportunity to pay my respects to the finny tribes of the Neversink. At this point it was the finest trout stream I had ever beheld. I have seen many clear, cold streams, but none before so absolutely transparent as that. It was so sparkling, its bed so free from sediment or impurities of any kind, that it had a new look, as if it had just come from the hand of its Creator. I tramped along its margin upwards of a mile that afternoon, part of the time wading to my knees, and casting my hook, baited only with a trout’s fin, to the opposite bank. Trout are real cannibals, and make no bones, and break none either, in lunching on each other. A friend of mine had several in his spring, when one day a large female trout gulped down one of her male friends, nearly one third her own size, and went around for two days with the tail of her liege lord protruding from her mouth. A fish’s eye will do for bait, though the anal fin is better. One of the natives here told me, that when he wished to catch large trout (and I judged he never fished for any other, — I never do), he used for bait the bullhead or dart, a little fish an inch and a half or two inches long, that rests on the pebbles near shore and darts quickly, when disturbed, from point to point. “ Put that on your hook,” said he, “and if there is a big fish in the creek he is bound to have it.” But the darts were not easily found ; the big fish, I concluded, had cleaned them all out ; and then it was easy enough to supply our wants with a fin.

Declining the hospitable offers of the settlers, we spread our blankets that night in a dilapidated shingle-shop on the banks of the Biscuit Brook, first flooring the damp ground with the new shingle that day piled in one corner. The place had a great-throated chimney with a tremendous expanse of fireplace within, that cried “ More ” at every morsel of wood we gave it.

But I must hasten over this part of the ground, nor let the delicious flavor of the milk we had that morning for breakfast, and that was so delectable after four days of fish, linger on my tongue, nor yet tarry to set down the talk of that honest, weather-worn passer-by who paused before our door, and every moment on the point of resuming his way, yet stood for an hour and recited his adventures hunting deer and bears on these mountains. Having replenished our stock of bread and salt-pork at the house of one of the settlers, midday found us at Reed’s shanty, — one of those temporary structures erected by the bark jobber, to lodge and board his “ hands ” near their work. Jim not being at home, we could gain no information from the “ women folks ” about the way, nor from the men who had just come in to dinner ; so we pushed on, as near as we could, according to the instructions we had previously received. Crossing the creek, we forced our way up the side of the mountain, through a perfect cheval-defrise of fallen and peeled hemlocks, and, entering the dense woods above, began to look anxiously about for the woodroad. My companions at first could see no trace of it ; but knowing that a casual wood-road cut in winter, when there was likely to be two or three feet of snow on the ground, would present only the slightest indications to the eye in summer, I looked a little closer, and could make out a mark or two here and there. The larger trees had been avoided, and the axe used only on the small saplings and underbrush, which had been lopped off a couple of feet from the ground. By being constantly on the alert, we followed it till near the top of the mountain ; but when looking to see it “ tilt ” over the other side, it disappeared altogether. Some stumps of the black cherry were found, and a solitary pair of snow-shoes were hanging high and dry on a branch, but no further trace of human hands could we see. While we were resting here a couple of hermit thrushes, one of them with some sad defect in his vocal powers which barred him from uttering more than a few notes of his song, gave voice to the solitude of the place. This was the second instance in which I have observed a song-bird with apparently some organic defect in its instrument. The other case was that of a bobolink, which, hover in midair and inflate its throat as it might, could only force out a few incoherent notes. But the bird in each case presented this striking contrast to human examples of the kind, that it was apparently just as proud of itself and just as well satisfied with its performance as its more successful rivals.

After deliberating some time over a pocket-compass which I carried, we decided upon our course, and held on to the west. The descent was very gradual. Traces of bear and deer were noted at different points, but not a live animal was seen.

About four o’clock, P. M., we reached the bank of a stream flowing west. Hail to the Beaverkill ! and we pushed on along its banks. The trout were plenty, and rose quickly to the hook ; but we held on our way, designing to go into camp about six o’clock. Many inviting places, first on one bank, then on the other, made us linger, till finally we reached a spot, a smooth, dry place overshadowed by balsam and hemlock, where the creek bent around a little fiat, which was so entirely to our fancy that we unslung our knapsacks at once. While my companions were cutting wood and making other preparations for the night, it fell to my lot, as the most successful angler, to provide the trout for supper and breakfast. How shall I describe that wild, beautiful stream, with features so like those of all other mountain streams ? And yet, as I saw it in the deep twilight of those woods on that June afternoon, with its steady, even flow, and its tranquil, many-voiced murmur, it made an impression upon my mind distinct and peculiar, fraught in an eminent degree with the charm of seclusion and remoteness. The solitude was perfect; and I felt that strangeness and insignificance which the civilized man must always feel when opposing himself to such a vast scene of silence and wildness. The trout were quite black, like all wood trout, and took the bait eagerly. I followed the stream till the deepening shadows warned me to turn back. As I neared camp, the fire shone far through the trees, dispelling the gathering gloom, but blinding my eyes to all obstacles at my feet. I was seriously disturbed on arriving to find that one of my companions had cut an ugly gash in his shin with the axe, while felling a tree. As we did not carry a fifth wheel, it was not just the time or place to have any of our members crippled, and I had bodings of evil. But, thanks to the healing virtues of the balsam, which must have adhered to the blade of the axe, and double thanks to the court-plaster with which Orville had supplied himself before leaving home, the wounded leg, by being favored that night and the next day, gave us little trouble.

That night we had our first fair and square camping out, — that is, sleeping on the ground with no shelter over us but the trees, — and it was in many respects the pleasantest night we spent in the woods. The weather was perfect and the place was perfect, and for the first time we were exempt from the midges and smoke ; and then we appreciated the clean new page we had to work on. Nothing is so acceptable to the camper-out as a pure article in the way of woods and waters. Any admixture of human relics mars the spirit of the scene. Yet I am willing to confess that, before we were through those woods, the marks of an axe in a tree was a welcome sight. On resuming our march next day we followed the right bank of the Beaverkill, in order to strike a stream which flowed in from the north, and which was the outlet of Balsam Lake, the objective point of that day’s march. The distance to the lake from our camp could not have been over six or seven miles ; yet travelling as we did, without path or guide, climbing up banks, plunging into ravines, making detours around swampy places, and forcing our way through woods choked up with much fallen and decayed timber, it seemed at least twice that distance, and the mid-afternoon sun was Shining when we emerged into what is called the “ Quaker Clearing,” ground that I had been over nine years before, and that lies about two miles south of the lake. From this point we had a well-worn path that led us up a sharp rise of ground, then through level woods till we saw the bright gleam of the water through the trees.

I am always struck on approaching these little mountain lakes with the extensive preparation that is made for them in the conformation of the ground. I am thinking of a depression, or natural basin in the side of the mountain or on its top, the brink of which I shall reach after a little steep climbing ; but instead of that, after I have accomplished the ascent, I find a broad sweep of level or gently undulating woodland that brings me after a half-hour or so to the lake, which lies in this vast lap like a drop of water in the palm of a man’s hand.

Balsam Lake was oval shaped, scarcely more than half a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide, but presented a charming picture, with a group of dark gray hemlocks filling the valley about its head, and the mountains rising above and beyond. We found a cow-house in good repair, also a dug-out and paddle and several floats of logs. In the dug-out I was soon creeping along the shady side of the lake, where the trout were incessantly jumping for a species of black fly, that, sheltered from the slight breeze, were dancing in swarms just above the surface of the water. The gnats were there in swarms also, and did their best toward balancing the accounts by preying upon me while I preyed upon the trout, which preyed upon the flies. But by dint of keeping my hands, face, and neck constantly wet, I am convinced that the balance of blood was on my side. The trout jumped most within a foot or two of shore, where the water was only a few inches deep. The shallowness of the water perhaps accounted for the inability of the fish to do more than lift their heads above the surface. They came up mouth wide open, and dropped back again in the most impotent manner. Where there is any depth of water, a trout will jump several feet into the air ; and where there is a solid, unbroken sheet or column, they will scale falls and dams fifteen feet high.

We had the very cream and flower of our trout-fishing at this lake. For the first time we could use the fly to advantage ; and then the contrast between laborious tramping along shore, and sitting in one end of a dug-out and casting your line right and left with no fear of entanglement in brush or branch, while you was gently propelled along, was of the most pleasing character.

There were two varieties of trout in the lake, — what it seems proper to call silver trout and golden trout; the former were the slimmer and seemed to keep apart from the latter. Starting from the outlet and working round on the eastern side toward the head, we invariably caught these first. They glanced in the sun like bars of silver. Their sides and bellies were indeed as white as new silver. As we neared the head, and especially as we came near a space occupied by some kind of watergrass that grew in the deeper part of the lake, the other variety would begin to take the hook, their bellies a bright gold color, which became a deep orange on their fins; and as we returned to the place of departure with the bottom of the boat strewn with these bright forms intermingled, it was a sight not soon to be forgotten. It pleased my eye so, that I would fain linger over them, arranging them in rows and studying the various hues and tints. They were of nearly a uniform size, rarely one over ten or under eight inches in length, and it seemed as if the hues of all the precious metals and stones were reflected from their sides. The flesh was deep salmon - color ; that of brook trout is generally much lighter. Some hunters and fishers from the valley of the Mill Brook, whom we met here, told us the trout were much larger in the lake, though far less numerous than they used to be. This, I think, is generally the case; brooktrout do not grow large till they become scarce. It is only in streams that have been long and much fished that I have caught them as much as sixteen inches in length.

The liveliest sport I had on Balsam Lake was during a heavy thunder-shower. How the trout can distinguish the fly when it rains so hard that the surface of the water seems an inch or two deep with bubbles is more than I can tell; yet I know they did, and that very readily. As the rain began to come down pretty briskly, Aaron headed the boat for camp. My fly was dragging, and as we were shooting over the watergrass which waved to and fro beneath the surface, two flame-finned beauties darted from the green depths and were instantly hooked. On this hint we backed water, took up a position with head to the wind, and for nearly an hour, amid the pouring rain and rattling thunder, the sport went on. I had on two flies, and usually both were snapped at the moment they touched the water. But the sport did not degenerate into wanton slaughter, for many were missed and many merely slapped the hook with their tails ; and when we were a few short of a hundred, the blue sky shone out, and, drenched to the skin, we rowed leisurely back to camp. The “ porcupigs ” were numerous about the lake, and not at all shy. One night the heat became so intolerable in our oven-shaped cow-house, that I was obliged to withdraw from under its cover and lie down a little to one side. Just at daybreak as I lay rolled in my blanket, something awoke me. Lifting up my head, there was a porcupine with his fore-paws on my hips. He was apparently as much surprised as I was; and to my inquiry as to what he at that moment might be looking for, he did not pause to reply, but hitting me a slap with his tail which left three or four quills in my blanket, he scampered off down the hill into the brush.

Being an observer of the birds, of course every curious incident connected with them fell under my notice. Hence as we stood about our campfire one afternoon, looking out over the lake, I was the only one to see a little commotion in the water, half hidden by the near branches, as of some tiny feathered swimmer struggling to reach the shore. Rushing to its rescue in the canoe, I found a yellowrumped warbler, quite exhausted, clinging to a twig that hung down into the water; I brought the drenched and helpless thing to camp, and, putting it into a basket, hung it up to dry. An hour or two afterward I heard it fluttering in its prison, and cautiously lifting the lid to get a better glimpse of the lucky captive, it darted out and was gone in a twinkling. How came it in the water ? That was my wonder, and I can only guess that it was a young bird that had never before flown over a pond of water, and, seeing the clouds and blue sky so perfect down there, thought it was a vast opening or gateway into another summer land, perhaps a short cut to the tropics, and so got itself into trouble. How my eye was delighted also with the red-bird that alighted for a moment on a dry branch above the lake, just where a ray of light from the setting sun fell full upon it. A mere crimson point, and yet how it. offset that dark sombre background !

I have thus run over some of the features of an ordinary trouting excursion to the woods. People, inexperienced people, sitting in their rooms and thinking of these things, of all the poets have sung and romancers written, are apt to get sadly taken in when they attempt to realize their dreams. They expect to enter a sylvan paradise of trout, cool retreats, laughing brooks, picturesque views, balsamic couches, etc., instead of which they find hunger, rain, smoke, toil, gnats, mosquitoes, dirt, broken rest, vulgar guides, and salt-pork ; and they are very apt not to see where the fun comes in. But he who goes in a right spirit will not be disappointed, and will find the taste of this kind of life better, though bitterer, than the writers have described.

John Burroughs.