What can Hawthorne mean by saying in his English diary that "an American would never understand the passage in Bunyan about Christian and Hopeful going astray along a by-path into the grounds of Giant Despair, from there being no stiles and by-paths in our country"? So much of the charm of American pedestrianism lies in the by-paths! For instance, the whole interior of Cape Ann, beyond Gloucester, is a continuous woodland, with granite ledges everywhere cropping out, around which the high-road winds, following the curving and indented line of the sea, and dotted here and there with fishing hamlets. This whole interior is traversed by a network of footpaths, rarely passable for a wagon, and not always for a horse, but enabling the pedestrian to go from any one of these villages to any other, in a line almost direct, and always under an agreeable shade. By the longest of these hidden ways, one may go from Pigeon Cove to Gloucester, ten miles, without seeing a public road. In the little inn at the former village there used to hang an old map of this whole forest region, giving a chart of some of these paths, which were said to date back to the first settlement of the country. One of them, for instance, was called on the map "Old Road from Sandy Bay to Squam Meeting-house through the Woods"; but the road is now scarcely even a bridle-path, and the most faithful worshipper could not seek Squam Meeting-house in the family chaise. Those woods have been lately devastated; but when I first knew that region, it was as good as any German forest.
Often we stepped almost from the edge of the sea into some gap in the woods; there seemed hardly more than a rabbit-track, yet presently we met some wayfarer who had crossed the Cape by it. A piny dell gave some vista of the broad sea we were leaving, and an opening in the woods displayed another blue sea-line before; the encountering breezes interchanged odor of berry-bush and scent of brine; penetrating farther among oaks and chestnuts, we came upon some little cottage, quaint and sheltered as any Spenser drew; it was built on no high-road, and turned its vine-clad gable away from even the footpath.
Then the ground rose and we were surprised by a breeze from a new quarter; perhaps we climbed trees to look for landmarks, and saw only, still farther in the woods, some great cliff of granite or the derrick of an unseen quarry. Three miles inland, as I remember, we found the hearthstones of a vanished settlement; then we passed a swamp with cardinal-flowers; then a cathedral of noble pines, topped with crow's-nests. If we had not gone astray by this time, we presently emerged on Dogtown Common, an elevated table-land, over-spread with great boulders as with houses, and encircled with a girdle of green woods and an outer girdle of blue sea. I know of nothing more wild than that gray waste of boulders; it is a natural Salisbury Plain, of which icebergs and ocean-currents were the Druidic builders; in that multitude of couchant monsters there seems a sense of suspended life; you feel as if they must speak and answer to each other in the silent nights, but by day only the wandering sea-birds seek them, on their way across the Cape, and the sweet-bay and green fern embed them in a softer and deeper setting as the years go by. This is the "height of ground" of that wild footpath; but as you recede farther from the outer ocean and approach Gloucester, you come among still wilder ledges, unsafe without a guide, and you find in one place a cluster of deserted houses, too difficult of access to remove even their materials, so that they are left to moulder alone. I used to wander in those woods, summer after summer, till I had made my own chart of their devious tracks, and now when I close my eyes in this Oldport midsummer, the soft Italian air takes on something of a Scandinavian vigor; for the incessant roll of carriages I hear the tinkle of the quarryman's hammer and the veery's song; and I long for those perfumed and breezy pastures, and for those promontories of granite where the fresh water is nectar and the salt sea has a regal blue.
I recall another footpath near Worcester, Massachusetts; it leads up from the low meadows into the wildest region of all that vicinity, Tatesset Hill. Leaving behind you the open pastures where the cattle lie beneath the chestnut-trees or drink from the shallow brook, you pass among the birches and maples, where the woodsman's shanty stands in the clearing, and the raspberry-fields are merry with children's voices. The familiar birds and butterflies linger below with them, and in the upper and more sacred depths the wood-thrush chants his litany and the brown mountain butterflies hover among the scented vines. Higher yet rises the "Rattlesnake Ledge," spreading over one side of the summit a black avalanche of broken rock, now overgrown with reindeer-moss and filled with tufts of the smaller wild geranium. Just below this ledge,--amid a dark, dense track of second-growth forest, masked here and there with grape-vines, studded with rare orchises, and pierced by a brook that vanishes suddenly where the ground sinks away and lets the blue distance in,--there is a little monument to which the footpath leads, and which always seemed to me as wild a memorial of forgotten superstition as the traveller can find amid the forests of Japan.
It was erected by a man called Solomon Pearson (not to give his name too closely), a quiet, thoughtful farmer, long-bearded, low-voiced, and with that aspect of refinement which an ideal life brings forth even in quite uninstructed men. At the height of the "Second Advent" excitement this man resolved to build for himself upon these remote rocks a house which should escape the wrath to come, and should endure even amid a burning and transformed earth. Thinking, as he had once said to me, that, "if the First Dispensation had been strong enough to endure, there would have been no need of a Second," he resolved to build for his part something which should possess permanence at least. And there still remains on that high hillside the small beginning that he made.
There are four low stone walls, three feet thick, built solidly together without cement, and without the trace of tools. The end-walls are nine feet high (the sides being lower) and are firmly united by a strong iron ridge-pole, perhaps fifteen feet long, which is imbedded at each end in the stone. Other masses of iron lie around unused, in sheets, bars, and coils, brought with slow labor by the builder from far below. The whole building was designed to be made of stone and iron. It is now covered with creeping vines and the debris of the hillside; but though its construction had been long discontinued when I saw it, the interior was still kept scrupulously clean through the care of this modern Solomon, who often visited his shrine.
An arch in the terminal wall admits the visitor to the small roofless temple, and he sees before him, imbedded in the centre of the floor, a large smooth block of white marble, where the deed of this spot of land was to be recorded, in the hope to preserve it even after the globe should have been burned and renewed. But not a stroke of this inscription was ever cut, and now the young chestnut boughs droop into the uncovered interior, and shy forest-birds sing fearlessly among them, having learned that this house belongs to God, not man. As if to reassure them, and perhaps in allusion to his own vegetarian habits, the architect has spread some rough plaster at the head of the apartment and marked on it in bold characters, "Thou shalt not kill." Two slabs outside, a little way from the walls, bear these inscriptions, "Peace on Earth," "Good-Will to Men." When I visited it, the path was rough and so obstructed with bushes that it was hard to comprehend how it had afforded passage for these various materials; it seemed more as if some strange architectural boulder had drifted from some Runic period and been stranded there. It was as apt a confessional as any of Wordsworth's nooks among the Trossachs; and when one thinks how many men are wearing out their souls in trying to conform to the traditional mythologies of others, it seems nobler in this man to have reared upon that lonely hill the unfinished memorial of his own.
I recall another path which leads from the Lower Saranac Lake, near "Martin's," to what the guides call, or used to call, "The Philosopher's Camp" at Amperzand. On this oddly named lake, in the Adirondack region, a tract of land was bought by Professor Agassiz and his friends, who made there a summer camping-ground, and with one comrade I once sought the spot. I remember with what joy we left the boat,-- o delightful at first, so fatiguing at last; for I cannot, with Mr. Murray, call it a merit in the Adirondacks that you never have to walk,--and stepped away into the free forest. We passed tangled swamps, so dense with upturned trees and trailing mosses that they seemed to give no opening for any living thing to pass, unless it might be the soft and silent owl that turned its head almost to dislocation in watching us, ere it flitted vaguely away. Farther on, the deep, cool forest was luxurious with plumy ferns; we trod on moss-covered roots, finding the emerald steps so soft we scarcely knew that we were ascending; every breath was aromatic; there seemed infinite healing in every fragrant drop that fell upon our necks from the cedar boughs. We had what I think the pleasantest guide for a daylight tramp,--one who has never before passed over that particular route, and can only pilot you on general principles till he gladly, at last, allows you to pilot him. When we once got the lead we took him jubilantly on, and beginning to look for "The Philosopher's Camp," found ourselves confronted by a large cedar-tree on the margin of a wooded lake. This was plainly the end of the path. Was the camp then afloat? Our escort was in that state of hopeless ignorance of which only lost guides are capable. We scanned the green horizon and the level water, without glimpse of human abode. It seemed an enchanted lake, and we looked about the tree-trunk for some fairy horn, that we might blow it. That failing, we tried three rifle-shots, and out from the shadow of an island, on the instant, there glided a boat, which bore no lady of the lake, but a red-shirted woodsman. The artist whom we sought was on that very island, it seemed, sketching patiently while his guides were driving the deer.
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