Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

troubles of this kind. Four or five hours a day in the open air, in all kinds of weather, serve the double purpose of securing an abundance of pure air and stimulating a vigorous appetite. The temperature is often very low, but the dryness of the atmosphere takes the sting out of the cold. Those who have not had the opportunity of comparing a moist with a dry atmosphere in winter can hardly understand how little physical comfort depends on the mercury, and how much it depends on the presence or absence of humidity. One may feel far more discomfort on the coast, with the mercury at twenty degrees above zero, than in the Adirondacks with the mercury at ten or even twenty degrees below zero. On a clear day without wind, a low temperature has no terrors in a dry air; it necessitates a certain amount of vigilance in the surveillance of ears and nose, but it means pure exhilaration. Fatigue is an unknown sensation on such days; one walks miles without any sense of weariness, and without any consciousness of unusual cold. In the crystalline air the mountains stand out in startling distinctness; every tree is individualized; the dark masses of spruce or pine accentuate the whiteness of the snow and the blue of the sky; and one walks on and on with a sense of buoyancy and vitality which are a physical inspiration. On such a day no task seems too great to be accomplished, so powerfully does nature reinforce one with the tonic of dry mountain air. Returning from a three hours' ramble through the woods one can hardly accept the statement of the thermometer, which reports twentythree degrees below zero.

The tonic quality of the air during the periods of low temperature is by no means the only delightful effect. The landscape assumes a distinctness which is a revelation to one unfamiliar with it; there is a splendor of light, a delicacy and softness of color in the morning and evening skies, which are unknown to balmier days. The little village, seen by moonlight, becomes almost poetic in its suggestion of domesticity under a marvellously brilliant sky, and encircled by hills whose covering of snow fairly shines in the radiancy of a night so still

that nature seems to be waiting, in her most brilliant mood, for the coming of some favored guest. One lingers in the prosaic streets, and walks again and again from bridge to bridge, under the spell of a new enchantment; the softness and mystery of the moonlight of summer nights has yielded to the spell of an almost overpowering brilliancy. Within doors generous open fires keep the cold at bay, although the thick incrustation on the window-panes shows how sharp the struggle is, and by how fragile a line the summer within is separated from the winter without. During the night the mercury falls rapidly, and one is awakened at intervals by sharp explosions. If he happens to be a reader of Thoreau he recalls certain records in which the Concord naturalist reports similar experiences. On the 11th day of January, 1859, the mercury having fallen to twenty-two degrees below zero, he writes: "Going to Boston to-day I find that the cracking of the ground last night is the subject of conversation in the cars, and that it was quite general. I see many cracks in Concord and Cambridge. It would appear, then, that the ground cracks on the advent of very severe cold weather. I had not heard it before this winter." Domestic architecture suffers not a little from the same cause, and in the spring nails that have been drawn by the invisible fingers of the frost must be driven into place.

Nature is not to be trifled with in very low temperatures; ceaseless vigilance is the price of comfort and safety. To insure both in the open air, coats of buffalo or coon skin are worn, with felt boots, and fur caps of many kinds and shapes to complete the outfit. Add to these a pair of fur gloves, and one is armed cap-a-pie against all the assaults of the enemy. Indeed, the appearance of a sleighing party in the Adirondacks would fill the uninitiated with nameless terror; so lost is all human resemblance in a mass of skins, furs, and uncouth apparel of ingenious design.

Those who have had large experience of the delights and discomforts of sleighing know that the pleasure which it may yield depends on a nice adjustment of road, scenery, weather, temperature, and

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

companionship. It is, at most times and under most circumstances a purely speculative venture; but like all speculative ventures it sometimes yields very large returns. In the Adirondacks, on a brilliant day, it comes as near perfect enjoyment of sense and soul as anything which the narrow resources of our planet afford. For pure

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

physical exhilaration, without fatigue, there is no other form of exercise to be compared with it; while to the eye, and to the mind stimulated to unusual sensitiveness to impression, it offers a succession of joys in which the imagination secures the most complete satisfaction. A pleasure which finds its way to the mind through a quickening of the senses is generally of that high order which leaves no sting in the memory. Certainly no physical delight can harvest so many lasting impressions of color and form and beautiful grouping as sleighing through the winter woods. It is not an incidental pastime with the

[graphic][merged small]

Saranac colony; it is a serious business, seriously undertaken. The outfit is as complete as the exigencies of the country and the climate demand, and the best hours of each day are given up to this flying pursuit of health along the woodland roads or on the surface of the frozen lakes. One leaves no cares behind to steal after and ride with him; one forebodes no unwelcome engagements when the horses are turned homeward. To clear one's mind of care is a Saranac injunction as often and as vigorously repeated by the lips of authority as Dr. Johnson's famous advice about cant. One starts with a free and open mind; "black care" is shaken off with the civilization which has done so much to increase its weight and deepen its hue.

It is a clear, brilliant morning, with a temperature a little below the zero-point. The snow lies fresh and stainless over the fields and woods as one turns into the road to Lake Placid, leaves the little village behind him, and is soon speeding through a solitary world. The heavy, sandy road of bitter memory on hot summer days is now barely definable across the level reaches of snow. Two narrow tracks afford the only evidence that other adventurers have penetrated these remote and silent woods. The sense of isolation is fed by every turn of the road and by every vista through the forest; one feels alone with nature. Cities and the arts of men seem not only remote, but unreal. The road winds along the base of a low hill, whose crown of spruce and pine is dark and green amid the universal monotone of white; it climbs the upland, bare but beautiful now that its unsightly logs and stumps have been transformed by the magic of frost; it runs through an occasional clearing where the drifts lie so deep that a catastrophe is only avoided by extreme care and skill. On either side there is a succession of winter landscapes, a series of winter incidents, which make one oblivious of time and distance. It is a silent, deserted world, and yet how much goes on within it! The snow, lodged in every crevice, caught by every branch, interrupted by every leaf, has wrought upon the landscape with that unconscious art

which holds the most magical spell of beauty. In all that wilderness there is nothing common or unclean. The unsightly débris of dead trees has now a plastic purity of form and color, and every boulder shows some sculpturesque effect. Through the woods the road almost ceases to be definable; in advance or behind, the trees close up in apparently unbroken ranks, and one wonders whence he came or how he is to find his way out. The long aisles through which one passes noiselessly seem to lead into the very heart of a sanctuary-so silent, so solitary, so profoundly impressive to sense and thought are the snow-covered woods. The great trees, in their vigorous life, are not more beautiful than the dead, which have fallen against them and caught the snow in outspread branches. The trunks that lie prone among their more fortunate fellows have lost all trace of scars and decay; and the under-brush fills in the picture with a free and careless grace of outline and grouping which hints at nature's prodigality of beauty when she turns artist. Above all shines the delicate blue of the wintry sky.

Meanwhile the mountains have come into clear view, and lure one on to their fastnesses. To the east rises the noble mass of Whiteface, to the south the peak of Marcy overtops all its aspiring companions. The White Mountains show no more impressive grouping of hills. The sleigh suddenly leaves the road, descends a steep hill, and glides out onto the smooth surface of Mirror Lake. The ice-cutters are at work, and the blue tint of the great pieces piled about them suggest that last season's reflections of sky have been frost-bound and frozen in with the waters which received them. The lake is an open plain, through which one may take his own course; the snow is so light and dry that the horses pass through it without difficulty, and a light wind obliterates all trace of travel. The circuit of the lake is soon made, and in the meantime the sky is dimmed by a gathering haze which portends snow. A short drive through the woods, by a rough and uncertain road, brings one to Lake Placid, never so beautiful as now when it lies snow-bound among the mountains. To

[graphic][merged small]
« AnkstesnisTęsti »