Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

But our light canoes soon left the last clearing; and curving round the shore, we shot into Raquette River, and entered the bosom of the forest. As we left the lake, I saw a northern diver some distance up the inlet, evidently anxious to get out once more into open space. These birds (about the size of a goose,) you know, cannot rise from the water except by a long effort, and against a strong damp wind; and depend for safety entirely on diving, and swimming. At the approach of danger, they go under like a duck, and when you next see them, they are perhaps sixty rods distant, and beyond the reach of your bullet. If cornered in a small pond, they will sit and watch your motions with a keenness and certainty that is wonderful, and dodge the flash of a percussion-lock gun all day long. The moment they see the blaze from the muzzle they dive, and the bullet, if well aimed, will strike exactly where they sat. I have shot at them again and again, with a dead rest, and those watching, would see the ball each time, strike in the hollow made by the wake of the water above the creature's back. There is no killing them except by firing at them when they are not exnecting it, and then their head and neck are the only

[blocks in formation]

vulnerable points. They sit so deep in the water, and the quills on their backs are so hard and compact that a ball seems to make no impression on them. At least, I have never seen one killed by being shot through the body. Such are the means of self-preservation possessed by this curious bird, whose wild, shrill, and lonely cry, on the lake at midnight, is one of the most melancholy sounds I ever heard in the forest.

This diver, of which I was just now speaking, I wished very much to kill, in order to carry his skin to New York with me; and so, after firing at him in vain, I asked Mitchell if we could not both of us together manage to take him. He told me to land him where the channel was narrow that entered Long Lake, and paddle along towards where the fellow was sitting, and drive him out. As I approached the bird, he dived. Knowing that he would make straight fo the lake, I watched the whole line of his progress with the utmost care: but though my range took in nearly a third of a mile, I never saw him again. After a while I heard the crack of a rifle around the bend of the shore ; and hastening thither, I found Mitchell loading his gun. He said the rascal just raised

his head above water for a single second, opposite where he stood, and he of course missed him. The frightened bird did not appear again till it rose far out in the lake.

I mention this circumstance merely to show the habits of this, to me, most singular bird of our northern waters. I forgot to say that although it cannot rise from the water except with great difficulty, and never attempts it to escape danger, neither can it walk on the shore. Diving is about the only gift it possesses, which it uses, I must say, with great ability and success.

Paddling up Raquette river, we at length came to Buttermilk Falls, around which we were compelled to carry our canoes. So in another place we were compelled to carry them two miles, around rapids, through the woods. Nothing can be more comical than to stand and see a party thus passing through the forest. First a yoke is placed across the guide's neck, on which the boat is balanced bottom side up, covering the poor fellow down to the shoulders, and sticking out fore and aft over the biped below in such a way as to make him appear half human, halt-supernatural, or, at least, entirely un-natural. But it was

[blocks in formation]

no joke to me to carry ny part of the freight. Two rifles, one overcoat, one tea-pot, one lantern, one basin, and a piece of pork, were my portion. Sometimes I had a change—namely, two oars and a paddle, balanced by a tin pail in place of a rifle. Thus equipped, I would press on for a while, and then stop to see the procession-each poor fellow staggering under the weight he bore, while in the long intervals appeared the two inverted boats, walking through the woods on two human legs in the most surprising manner imaginable. Though tired and fagged out, I could not refrain from frequent outbursts of laughter, that made the forest ring again. But there was no other way of getting along, and each one had to become a beast of burden.

It was a relief to launch again, and when at last we struck the river just after it leaves Forked Lake, and gazed on the beautiful sheet of water that was rolling and sparkling in the sunlight ahead, an involuntary shout burst from the party. A flock of wild ducks, scared at the sound, made the water foam as they rose at our feet and sped away. Stemming the rapid stream with our light prows, we were soon afloat on the bosom of the lake. The wind was blowing directly in our teeth, making the miniature waves leap and dance around us as if welcoming us to their homema white gull rose from a rock at our side-a fish hawk screamed around her huge nest on a lofty pine-tree on the shore, as she wheeled and circled above her offspring—a raven croaked overhead—the cry of loons arose in the distance and all was wild yet beautiful. The sun was stooping to the western mountains, whose sea of summits were calmly sleeping against the golden heavens: the cool breeze stirred a world of foliage on our right-green islands, beautiful as Elysian fields, rose out of the water as we advanced; the sparkling waves rolled as merrily under as bright a sky as ever bent over the earth, and for a moment I seemed to have been transported into a new world. I never was more struck by a scene in my life : its utter wildness, spread out there where the axe of civilization has never struck a blow—the evening—the sunset—the deep purple of the mountains

the silence and solitude of the shores, and the cry of birds in the distance, combined to render it one of enchantment to me. My feelings were more excited, perhaps, by the consciousness that we were without any definite object before us—no place of

« FöregåendeFortsätt »