Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Wildness For Christmas, From 1909

The Eye wishes all a Merry Christmas, with a reprint of an article published in the Hartford Courant on December 27, 1909 (long-time Eye readers might recall this as a "This Date in History piece in in 2009). This is a glorious description of a wild and beautiful landscape which still today has pockets of primeval character, it would make a wonderful afternoon hike today or on New Year's Day.

Unfortunately, the article's author is not identified; if I didn't know better I might attribute it to John Muir, as it has the same breathless worship of a desolate wilderness characteristic of so much of his writing about the Sierra Nevada.

The magnificent photographs are all by Barrie Robbins-Pianka.

Enjoyment from a Day's Tramp Down River

Wild country to be found South of Middletown
Long Walk a Panacea for many troubles

An open winter has its own particular joys, and among them are the true delights of the woods, for strange to say, the latter make a better tramping ground than in the months when the foliage is thick. The woodsy places up and down the Connecticut River are veritable delights for those who love a tramp in the open. The true joy in living is only for those who are willing to get into the
open, the further away from the haunts of man the better, and if possible to reach a place where an occasional woodchopper's ax is the only discord in nature's harmony of breeze and underbrush.

The air has a crispness and tinkle and smells clean and wholesome and, what is more, there is a call in itself in the short noon sunshine. Really one is very responsive to the various moods of nature during this season of the winter. It is true there is more fun going to the square inch in the woods at this time, with the leaves under foot, and the sapless branches crackling and the frost crunching and the thick moss and groundpine yielding under boot like a thick carpet, minus the dust and the steam pipes.

The delights of wood travel are now akin to those received from tramping in the forest during the hot days of the summer; only it is better, keener and more inspiring. To be sure it is no lazy man's job. To travel right it is necessary to travel light, even in the middle of December, but the joy is in the poetry of motion, if one is in good health, and endowed with a determination to go fast enough to keep warm.

The first question, of course, that interests the native of Hartford or Middletown or any of the larger centers of living is where to find the best spot for this sort of an outing, and answer in most cases to be any place or stretch along the Connecticut River. There's no doubt that the scenic beauty of the Connecticut is neglected. Expecially in the winter a river seems a sort of cold and dreary spot. The question is--is it?

When the sun is out in mid day, and there is just frost enough to make the footing good and a ripple in the stream that defies the faint hearted attmepts of the lagging season to convert it into ice, then a river has a certain charm of its own.

It isn't always that a stream, robbed of its vernal splendor, will captivate the imagination. The roll of the Connecticut seems to do this, as it wends its way, now from north to south, now running almost east and then southeast while the high tide from the Sound forces the thin plates of new ice steadily upstream.

Of course there are other rivers dear to the hearts of those who have the forest wanderlust. There is the Farmington for instance, but the Farmington lacks grandeur. The Connecticut shows more plainly the marks of a gigantic struggle with the titantic [sic?] forces of the past, and the earth crust has been rippled and burst in scores of places that mere picturesque scars on the landscape.

It is from the top of these that beautiful views can be had that will be a lasting delight to the mind. It is along the tops of many of these wooded cliffs and banks, running high into the air that the venturesome traveler will be amply repaid by the view of stream and forest and of cliff and watery vistas.

To ramble properly it is necessary to get as far from the haunts of mankind as possible. It''s rather difficult to place civilization so very far in the rear, but there are stretches along the river that only the spot-light of the night boat touches during the journey from the island of Manhattan to Hartford. These are a joy to the eye during the summer, but there is as much joy in being on the very place in the winter and possessing the wilderness all to yourself.

Above Higganum and Maromas the river takes a bend and in the bend there is a little forest of wild land that is rapidly getting back to the time when the Indians paddled up and down in birch bark canoes. The top of the tract is near the high bluffs that mark the entrance to the narrows where the beacon light swings all night to keep the boats in the channel. Along the river on the south bank this land has become almost primeval. The ridges run for hundreds of feet above the river, and the outcroppings stand right up against the sky line on the journey to the Sound for several miles. Ending in them or having their start at the river are numerous north and south ridges that parallel each other through the section at distances of not more than a quarter of a mile. Each is crowned with its own particular cap of weatherbeaten granite, atop of which the scrub pines and hemlocks struggle for a living with the blasts of winter.

Geologically, the country is interesting and it is picturesque as well. A rough triangle or tetragon, including the bend of the river and the necessary hinterland might, possibly, include twenty-five or thirty miles. Within it the old workings of the granite quarries and the switchbacks stretch their abandoned and grades along the sides of the mountains [sic].

If the state wanted a natural hunting ground or game preserve it could not do better than to acquire this land. The ground is nearly devoid of human habitation and the rocks are full of caves for sheltering all sorts of wild animals. The thickets of laurel are green the year around and the dense underbrush protects numerous grouse and wild rabbits that scurry across the wood paths. Back in isolated spots are cellars that were once topped by dwelling places. Now all is as desolate as the traditional deserted village. Here and there is a clearing, where crops were grown years ago and a small part of it would still afford pasturage. The roads that wind through this reverted wilderness have been filled up by a steady growth of wood and the

houses have their windows boarded up or else all open to the weather. Ruins of barns and outbuildings and small patches of cleared space
about show where a truck garden was that farming was done. What impresses one most of all is the utter desolation of it, and probably the state would be put to it to find a wilder spot. It is certainly pleasant to ramble through. On one side the road stretches to Higganum and Middletown. On the north and the east the river forms an ever interesting boundary. It is into just some such spot as this that a winter tramp in the woods is most enjoyable. Shun the highways and lanes and wood roads and take right straight across country wherever there is a good climb and good prospect for an extensive view. The cross country jaunt, through the underbrush, with the leaves rustling under your feet and the brambles scratching on your puitees or leggins is part of the joy. The climb up every crag or cliff that looks worth while is a panacea for every known ill that afflicts mankind and the view from the summit where possibly you can smoke your pipe in the lee of a granite ledge is the reward.

There is about everything in a climb of this nature that goes to the uttermost joy of living. There is variety and variety is the spice of life as we all know. There is scope for ingenuity in getting to the top of the rocky outcroppings and there are caves all along the other side, where the frost has cropped the granite off in masses as big as a small house.
Nearly every cliff has one or two caves. Sometimes the particular ridge will abound in them and lead to unusual explorations, where one can crawl through passages that go up and down.

From the entrance to the narrows the riverside of this little natural park gives a view of the country for miles to the north and west. Portland, of course, and beyond, up what looks like an illimitable distance, is Glastonbury, and still further north, in a nearly direct line, is Hartford. The mountain formations that form the setting of the city of Rockville are easily seen, and further down are all the hills so familiar to those traveling over the Air Line. Opposite, the bluffs are full of small cottages, whose steps lead down to the edge of the river. Just back of the jaws of the narrows, one can distinguish the pot-holes and cylinders left by the ebb and flow of the mighty ice torrents of centuries past. The scars in the face of the rock, just above the present level, are easily discerned as well as the rock cylinders and grindstones that wore the holes.

Here and there in the forest, is the sound of an ax and once or twice a day the sound of blasting above Benvenue. The outcrop skirts along the river and following it one can secure a beautiful panorama. In the bold, clear sunshine everything and every natural feature stands out in silhouette and there are beautiful vistas up and down stream of the heights above, crowned with scrub oak and pines and darkening to a dull slate color the running water that during the summer reflects the brighter hues of that season.

In the base of the rock that affords the best view of the Capitol you will find an extensive fox cavern. Near the entrance and further in are bones, some of them evidently from a sheep. Down further, still following the hight, is a beautifully graded and grass grown highway along the face of the mountain. This is part of the old switchback that, years ago, carried the granite to the landing several miles below. The site of the old stone workings are not very far away and by following the path you can see them. All through the woods are traces of old boundary lines. Fences have long ago been turned to pulp, and stone walls have been overtopped by the frost and separated by strong young saplings. Now and then is a relic of a former survey, a pile of stones surmounted by a flat rock and near it the three trees, or the stumps of them, used as reference marks. Down below in the gulleys and ravines are swamps and water courses, sometimes flag swamps, and sometimes small ponds that, in seasons of the year, must be excellent cover for waterfowl. Indeed it would be difficult in any portions of the state to find such excellent cover for game and such an abundance of human habitations. Not for several miles is there an inhabited house and the prospect is as wild and desolate as could be wished.

Through all this is it possible to tramp for all day or half a day, noting the excellent cover for grouse and, scaring up plenty of them. There are gray squirrels, that haven't learned to be afraid of their biped enemies, and which will chatter empty nothings from a branch over you head.Berries are abundant, especially wintergreen which spreads out like a thick carpet. Acorns, hazelnuts, and hickorynuts [sic] furnish a good living for many of the wild inhabitants. After skirting the river, the switchback turns abruptly south and leads over to the new granite workings, also abandoned. Houses are here, but none of them have occupants, save chipmonks [sic] that run in and out of the eves and scamper along the roofless stone sheds.

Consult your pocket compass now and go due north for a half-mile. Overlooking the quarry and about three-quarters of a mile away is a steep ledge of rocks. As a matter of course climb it to get your bearings and running into the base is a big cavern, not unlike the sort the regicides occupied. The sides of the rock seem to have been hard and soft alternately and several of the soft layers have melted away. At all events a hole runs into the earth and the large aperture merges into a smaller one about which are the ashes of the last fire that threatened the serenity of the poor reynard. Over at the other opening, for there usually is another, are faint signs of a forest tragedy. The ground is scratched up. There are bits of fur adhering to the fragments round about and all things point to the passing of a forest wandered. Another squint at the compass now, for you have varied from the west line by the distance of the ledge to the north, and a line run over rock and valley, through gulch and thicket, will if run due west, strike an abandoned road leading to civilization.

Thus you will return, glutted with pleasure, redolent with woodcraft, and at peace with all the animal kingdom. Your hands are free from blood guilt; your face is flushed with the sting of the frost, and your frame exercised from toe to crown with those stiff climbs and agile sidesteppings to get away from the rebound of parted underbrush.

All overhead your ears have been soothed all day by the whisper of the winds through the tree tops and the gentle rustle of the leaves under foot. The crackle and snap of dried twigs has been a pure enjoyment to your senses. The smell of the hemlock and pine is in your nostrils, lending a balm and fragrant peace to your conscience and you have five times the true joy of living that can be gained in any other way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'll have what he's having