Abbildungen der Seite

ern gardens growing wild, its strawberry-scented and maroon-colored buds much larger than those of our variety, and, though a trifle less intense in their perfume, still sufficiently sweet to make every nook in which they grew delicious for yards around. Here and there the woods showed some symptoms of autumnal change; there were hectic spots now and then on the maple leaves; but nothing approaching in loveliness the forest euthanasia of our Eastern fall appeared until we had crossed the boundary of Oregon. Shasta Peak is, by the track, nearly eighty miles from that line. To-day, just as the sun got down to the tree-tops, the wooded slope suddenly receded from our left, and towered into one of those noble crags which all over the Continent go by the name of “Castle Rock,” but which include no instance more truly deserving the name than this bold mass of pinnacles and bastions, bare as a Yo-Semite precipice, which lifted itself apparently about a thousand feet above the green glacis of the slope, stern and gray at the base, but etherealized along its crest and battlement by sunset splendors of red and gold. Simultaneously with the Castle's appearance, our leafy covert parted before us, and disclosed in level light, which made its snow opalescent, and bathed its vast, rugged masses of stone and earth in one inclusive winy glow, the glorious giant of California which had drawn us hither through the wilderness. The height of Shasta is variously stated. It is certainly over sixteen thou. sand feet, and may likely be nearer eighteen thousand. One geological survey pronounces it the highest mountain in the Nevada Range, -a statement taking into account Mount Hood and the other great peaks of the Cascade system, which itself is but an Oregon reappearance of the Sierra Nevada. The distance from which Hood, Saint Helen's, and Ranier could be seen with the naked eye led us afterward to regard this statement with some doubt; but certainly no peak which we met in all our large experience of the mountains of this Continent ever compared with Shasta in producing the effect of vast height. All the others which we have seen, with the exception of Lander's Peak, whether in the Rocky, the Nevada, the Cascade, or the Pacific Coast Range, have suffered, visually, from modulation through their gradually ascending tiers of foot-hills, or by the blending of their outlines with the neighboring peaks. This is especially so with Pike's Peak, which, despite its being one of the loftiest mountains in America, has its proportions most dissatisfyingly disguised, in all but a single point of view in the cañon of the Fontaine-quiBouille. Shasta is a mountain without mediations. It sits on the verge of a plain, broken for a hundred miles to the northward only by pigmy volcanic cones heaped around extinct solfataras. We approached it in the only direction where there were anything like foot-hills to climb; but even upon us, on reaching Strawberry Walley, at its southwestern foot, the wonderful peak broke with as little feeling of gradual approach as if we had not seen its head glowing grander and more real out of the blue distance repeatedly during the last three days. When we first saw the whole of it distinctly, it seemed to make no compromise with surrounding plains or ridges, but rose in naked majesty, alone and simple from the grass of our valley to its own topmost iridescent ice. That view was not accorded to us on our first day out from Dog Creek. It was nearly dark when we reached the Soda Springs, nine miles south of Strawberry, took a draught of the most delicious mineral water I ever drank, more piquant than Kissingen, and cold as ice,—resisted the seductions of a small, premature boy of eight, who issued from the Springs Ranch to dilate agedly on the tonic properties of the water, the relaxing virtues of the beds, and the terrors of the grim forest which lay for us in the black night between there and Strawberry,+and, clapping spurs to our tired horses, pushed forward with stern determination to reach Sisson's that evening. I think that a darker night than presently lapped us among the thick evergreens was never travelled in. There were some streaks of blackness a mile long, in which, literally, I could not see my horse's head. But we had learned confidence in our animals' sagacity, and walked them, cheerily whistling to keep each other informed of our whereabouts, through at least six miles of road utterly unknown to and unseen by us. It was what Eastern people call very “poky;” but the language addressed to us by the premature boy had made it a matter of personal selfrespect for us to get to Sisson's that night. With a certain sense of triumph over that unpleasant and dissuasive child, we saw a lantern gleam from a corral about ten P. M., and had our interrogative hail of “Sisson's 2" answered in welcome affirmative by Sisson himself. At Sisson's, or exploring with him in the neighborhood of Shasta, we passed one of the most delightful weeks in our diary of travel through any land. His house was a low, two-story building, which had run like a verbena in all directions over a grassy level,putting out a fresh arm at every new suggestion of domestic convenience, until it had become at once the most amorphous and the most comfortable dwelling in the California wilds. His herds were populous and prosperous; only the merest pretence of fences broke their dream, without affecting their reality, of limitless pasture. His ranch ostensibly consisted of a few hundred acres; but old Shasta was his only surveyor of landmarks, and his base of supplies was coextensive with the base of the mountain. His family consisted of an admirably energetic and thrifty wife, who had accompanied him from Illinois, where he used to be a school-master, and one pretty little baby-girl indigenous to Strawberry Valley. The presence of this mother and child in a wilderness which otherwise howled chiefly with rough sporadic men and equally rough ubiquitous bears, was a perpetual delight to us, so far from our domestic communications. We admired Shasta all the more for looking at it over a little, gentle, pink-and-white baby who lay asleep in its shadow, like a cherub pressed to the bosom of one of the Djinn. Escaping from the poetical ground, I may observe that between the chief French restaurant of Sacramento City and the Dennison House in Portland, Oregon, no family whom we encountered lived in such wholesome and homelike luxury as Sisson's. If a Society for the Diffusion of Gastronomic Intelligence among the Heathen is ever founded in California and Oregon (and how bitterly such a philanthropic enterprise is needed my diary, spotted with the abominable grease of universal frying, bears abundant witness), I hope that the first tract which it publishes will be a biography of Mrs. Sisson; the first point insisted on by that tract, “This excellent and devoted woman used a gridiron.” Bless her! how she could broil things! No man who has not built up his system during a long expedition with brick after brick of pork fried hard in its own ooze, – who has not turned all his brain's active phosphorus into phosphate of soda by alkali biscuits drawn from the oven in the hot-dough stage,—who has not drunk his pease-coffee “straight.” at the tables of repeated Pike settlers too shiftless to milk one of their fifty kine,—who has not slept myriads in a bed with Cimex lectularius and his livelier congener of the saltatory habits, can imagine what a blissful bay, in the iron-bound coast of bad living, Sisson's seemed to us both in fruition and retrospection. We occasionally had beef, when Sisson, or some near neighbor ten miles off, “killed a critter,” and distributed it around; excellent mountain mutton, flavorous as the Welsh, was not lacking in its turn; but the great, stand-by of our table was venison,roast, broiled, made into pasties, treated with every variety of preparation save an oil-soak in the pagan frying-pan of the country. As for chickens and eggs, it “snewe in Sisson's house ’’ of that sort of “mete and drinke,” — he was Chaucer's Franklin transported to Shasta. Cream flowed in upon us like a river; potatoes were stewed in it; it was the base of chicken-sauce; the sirupy baked pears, whose secret Mrs. Sisson had inherited from some dim religious ancestor in the New England past, were drowned in it; and we took a glass of it with magical shiny rusk for nine o'clock supper, just to oil our joints before we relaxed them in innocent repose. Our rooms were ample, our beds luxurious, our surroundings the grandest within Nature's bestowal. Our capital host and hostess became our personal friends; and all

« ZurückWeiter »