Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything


Books Menu

Author Catalog
Title Catalog
Sectioned Catalog


- Our Friend John Burroughs - 30/34 -

visit one of the petrified forests, of which there are five in that vicinity. Blended with the unwonted scenes--the gray sands dotted with sagebrush and greasewood, the leaping jack rabbits, the frightened bands of half-wild horses, the distant buttes and mesas, and the brilliant blue of the Arizona sky--is the memory of that talk of Mr. Muir's during the long drive, a talk which for range and raciness I have never heard equaled. He often uses the broad dialect of the Scot, translating as he goes along. His forte is in monologue. He is a most engaging talker,--discursive, grave and gay,--mingling thrilling adventures, side-splitting anecdotes, choice quotations, apt characterizations, scientific data, enthusiastic descriptions, sarcastic comments, scornful denunciations, inimitable mimicry.

Mr. Burroughs, on the contrary, is not a ready talker; he gives of his best in his books. He establishes intimate relations with his reader, Mr. Muir with his listener. He is more fond of an interchange of ideas than is Mr. Muir; is not the least inclined to banter or to get the better of one; is so averse to witnessing discomfiture that even when forced into an argument, he is loath to push it to the bitter end. Yet when he does engage in argument, he drives things home with very telling force, especially when writing on debatable points.

As we drove along the desert, Mr. Muir pointed to a lofty plateau toward which we were tending,--"Robbers' Roost,"--where sheep-stealers hie themselves, commanding the view for hundreds of miles in every direction. I wish I could make vivid the panorama we saw from this vantage-ground--the desert in the foreground, and far away against the sky the curiously carved pink and purple and lilac mountains, while immediately below us lay the dry river-bed over which a gaunt raven flew and croaked ominously, and a little beyond rose the various buttes, mauve and terra-cotta colored, from whose sides and at whose bases projected the petrified trees. There lay the giant trees, straight and tapering--no branching as in our trees of to-day. The trunks are often flattened, as though they had been under great pressure, often the very bark seemed to be on them (though it was petrified bark), and on some we saw marks of insect tracery like those made by the borers of to-day. Some of the trunks were more than one hundred and fifty feet long, and five to seven feet in diameter, prostrate but intact, looking as though uprooted where they lay. Others were broken at regular intervals, as though sawed into stove lengths. In places the ground looks like a chip-yard, the chips dry and white as though bleached by the sun. The eye is deceived; chips these surely are, you think, but the ear corrects this impression, for as your feet strike the fragments, the clinking sound proves that they are stone. In some of the other forests, visited later, the chips and larger fragments, and the interior of the trunks, are gorgeously colored, so that we walked on a natural mosaic of jasper, chalcedony, onyx, and agate. In many fragments the cell-structure of the wood is still visible, but in others nature has carried the process further, and crystallization has transformed the wood of these old, old trees into the brilliant fragments we can have for the carrying--"beautiful wood replaced by beautiful stone," as Mr. Muir was fond of saying.

With what wonder and incredulity we roamed about witnessing the strange spectacle!--the prostrate monarchs with hearts of jasper and chalcedony, now silent and rigid in this desolate region where they basked in the sunlight and swayed in the winds millions of years ago. Only a small part of the old forest is as yet exposed; these trees, buried for ages beneath the early seas, becoming petrified as they lay, are, after ages more, gradually being unearthed as the softer parts of the soil covering them wears away.

The scenic aspects of the place, the powerful appeal it made to the imagination, the evidences of infinite time, the wonderful metamorphosis from vegetable life to these petrified remains which copy so faithfully the form and structure of the living trees, were powerfully enhanced by the sight of these two men wandering amid these ruins of Carboniferous time, sometimes in earnest conversation, oftener in silence; again in serious question from the one and perhaps bantering answer from the other; for although Mr. Burroughs was intensely interested in this spectacle, and full of cogitations and questions as to the cause and explanation of it all, Mr. Muir was not disposed to treat questions seriously.

"Oh, get a primer of geology, Johnnie," he would say when the earnest Eastern student would ask for a solution of some of the puzzles arising in his mind--a perversity that was especially annoying, since the Scot had carefully explored these regions, and was doubtless well equipped to adduce reasonable explanations had he been so minded. That very forest to which we went on that first day, and where we ate our luncheon from the trunk of a great petrified Sigillaria, had been discovered by Mr. Muir and his daughter a few years before as they were riding over the sandy plateau. He told us how excited he was that night--he could not sleep, but lay awake trying to restore the living forest in imagination, for, from the petrified remains, he could tell to what order these giants belonged.

When others congregate to eat, the Scot seems specially impelled to talk. With a fine disregard for food, he sat and crumbled dry bread, occasionally putting a bit in his mouth, talking while the eating was going on. He is likewise independent of sleep. "Sleep!" he would exclaim, when the rest of us, after a long day of sight-seeing, would have to yield to our sense of fatigue, "why, you can sleep when you get back home, or, at least, in the grave."

Mr. Burroughs, on the contrary, is specially dependent upon sleep and food in order to do his work or to enjoy anything. On our arrival at the Grand Canon in the morning, after a night of travel and fasting, all the rest of us felt the need of refreshing ourselves and taking breakfast before we would even take a peep at the great rose-purple abyss out there a few steps from the hotel, but the teasing Scot jeered at us for thinking of eating when there was that sublime spectacle to be seen. When we did go out to the rim, Mr. Muir preceded us, and, as we approached, waved toward the great abyss and said: "There! Empty your heads of all vanity, and look!" And we did look, overwhelmed by what must be the most truly sublime spectacle this earth has to offer--a veritable terrestrial Book of Revelation, as Mr. Burroughs said.

We followed a little path along the rim, led by Mr. Muir, to where we could escape from the other sight-seers, and there we sat on the rocks, though the snow lay in patches on the ground that bright February day. Mr. Burroughs made a fire of Juniper brush, and as the fragrant incense rose on the air, with that wondrous spectacle before our eyes, we listened to Mr. Muir reciting some lines from Milton--almost the only poet one would think of quoting in the presence of such solemn, awful beauty.

Mr. Muir tried to dissuade us the next day from going down into the canon: "Don't straddle a mule and poke your noses down to the ground, and plunge down that dangerous icy trail, imagining, because you get a few shivers down your backs, you are seeing the glories of the canon, or getting any conception of the noble river that made it. You must climb, climb, to see the glories, always." But when Mr. Burroughs would ask him where we could climb to, to see the canon, since under his guidance we had been brought to the very edge on the top, he did not deign to explain, but continued to deride the project of the descent into the depths--a way the dear man has of meeting an argument that is a bit annoying at times.

We did go down into the canon on mule-back,--down, down, over four thousand feet,--and the jeering Scot went with us, sitting his mule uncompromisingly, and indulging in many a jest at the expense of the terrified women who felt, when too late to retreat, that it would have been better to heed his advice. Still, after the descent, and then the ascent, were safely accomplished, we were glad we had not let him dissuade us. None of us can ever forget that day, with its rich and varied experiences, the mingled fear and awe and exultation, the overpowering emotions felt at each new revelation of the stupendous spectacle, often relieved by the lively sallies of Mr. Muir. We ate our luncheon on the old Cambrian plateau, the mighty Colorado, still a thousand feet below us, looking entirely inadequate to have accomplished the tremendous results we were witnessing.

One day at the canon, feeling acutely aware of our incalculable privilege, I said, "To think of having the Grand Canon, and John Burroughs and John Muir thrown in!"

"I wish Muir /was/ thrown in, sometimes," retorted Mr. Burroughs, with a twinkle in his eye, "when he gets between me and the canon."

In contrast to Mr. Muir, the Wanderer, is Mr. Burroughs, the Home-lover, one who is under the spell of the near and the familiar. The scenes of his boyhood in the Catskills, the woods he wandered in about Washington during the years he dwelt there, his later tramping-ground along the Hudson--these are the scenes he has made his readers love because he has loved them so much himself; and however we may enjoy his journeyings in "Mellow England," in "Green Alaska," in Jamaica, or his philosophical or speculative essays, we find his stay-at-home things the best. And he likes the familiar scenes and things the best, much as he enjoyed the wonders that the great West offered. The robins in Yosemite Valley and the skylarks in the Hawaiian Islands, because these were a part of his earlier associations, did more to endear these places to him than did the wonders themselves. On Hawaii, where we saw the world's greatest active volcano throwing up its fountains of molten lava sixty or more feet high, the masses falling with a roar like that of the "husky-voiced sea," Mr. Burroughs found it difficult to understand why some of us were so fascinated that we wanted to stay all night, willing to endure the discomforts of a resting-place on lava rocks, occasional stifling gusts of sulphur fumes, dripping rain, and heat that scorched our veiled faces, so long as we could gaze on that boiling, tumbling, heaving, ever-changing lake of fire. Such wild, terrible, unfamiliar beauty could not long hold him under its spell.

[Illustration: John Muir and John Burroughs, Pasadena, California. From a photograph by George R. King]

A veritable homesickness came over him amid unfamiliar scenes. One day in early March, after journeying all day over the strange region of the California desert, with its giant cacti, its lava-beds, its volcanic cones, its rugged, barren mountains, its deep gorges and canons, its snow-capped peaks, on reaching San Bernardino, so green and fresh and smiling in the late afternoon sun, and riding through miles and miles of orange groves to Riverside, this return to a winsome nature (though unlike his own), after so much of the forbidding aspect had been before us, was to Mr. Burroughs like water brooks to the thirsty hart.

His abiding love for early friends, too, crops out on all occasions. Twice while away on this trip be received the proffer of honorary degrees from two of our American universities. Loath

Our Friend John Burroughs - 30/34

Previous Page     Next Page

  1   10   20   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34 

Schulers Books Home

 Games Menu

Dice Poker
Tic Tac Toe


Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything