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LOST IN THE WOODS

IT ought to be said, by way of explanation, that my being lost in the woods was not premeditated. Nothing could have been more informal. This apology can be necessary only to those who are familiar with the Adirondack literature. Any person not familiar with it would see the absurdity of one going to the Northern Wilderness with the deliberate purpose of writing about himself as a lost man.

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It
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be true that a book about this wild tract would not be recognized as complete without a lost-man story in it; since it is almost as easy for a stranger to get lost in the Adirondacks as in Boston. I merely desire to say that my unimportant adventure is not narrated in answer to the popular demand, and I do not wish to be held responsible for its variation from the typical character of such experiences.

We had been in camp a week, on the Upper Ausable Lake. This is a gem - emerald or turquoise as the light changes it - set in the virgin forest. It is not a large body of water, is irregular in form, and about a mile and a half in length; but in the sweep of its wooded shores, and the lovely contour of the lofty mountains that guard it, the lake is probably the most charming in America. Why the young ladies and gentlemen who camp there occasionally vex the

days and nights with hooting, and singing sentimental songs, is a mystery even to the laughing loon.

I left my companions there one Saturday morning to return to Keene Valley, intending to fish down the Ausable River. The Upper Lake discharges itself into the Lower by a brook which winds through a mile and a half of swamp and woods. Out of the north end of the Lower Lake, which is a huge sink in the mountains, and mirrors the savage precipices, the Ausable breaks its rocky barriers, and flows through a wild gorge, several miles, to the valley below. Between the Lower Lake and the settlements is an extensive forest, traversed by a cart-path, admirably constructed of loose stones, roots of trees, decayed logs, slippery rocks, and mud. The gorge of the river forms its western boundary. I followed this caricature of a road a mile or more; then gave my luggage to the guide to carry home, and struck off through the forest, by compass, to the river. I promised myself an exciting scramble down this little-frequented cañon, and a creel full of trout. There was no difficulty in finding the river, or in descending the steep precipice to its bed : getting into a scrape is usually the easiest part of it. The river is strewn with bowl. ders, big and little, through which the amber water rushes with an unceasing thunderous roar, now plunging down in white falls, then swirling round in dark pools. The day, already past meridian, was delight. ful; at least, the blue strip of it I could see overhead.

Better pools and rapids for trout never were, thought, as I concealed myself behind a bowlder, and made the first cast. There is nothing like the thrill of expectation over the first throw in unfamiliar waters. Fishing is like gambling, in that failure only

excites hope of a fortunate throw next time. There was no rise to the “ leader " on the first cast, nor on the twenty-first; and I cautiously worked my way down stream, throwing right and left. When I had gone half a mile, my opinion of the character of the pools was unchanged: never were there such places for trout; but the trout were out of their places. Perhaps they did n't care for the fly: some trout seem to be so unsophisticated as to prefer the worm. I replaced the fly with a baited hook: the worm squirmed; the waters rushed and roared; a cloud sailed across the blue : no trout rose to the lonesome opportunity. There is a certain companionship in the presence of trout, especially when you can feel them flopping in your fish-basket; but it became evident that there were no trout in this wilderness, and a sense of isolation for the first time came over me. There was no living thing near. The river had by this time entered a deeper gorge ; walls of rocks rose perpendicularly on either side, - picturesque rocks, painted many colors by the oxide of iron. It was not possible to climb out of the gorge ; it was impossible to find a way by the side of the river; and getting down the bed, over the falls, and through the flumes, was not easy, and consumed time.

Was that thunder ? Very likely. But thunder showers are always brewing in these mountain-fortresses, and it did not occur to me that there was any thing personal in it. Very soon, however, the hole in the sky closed in, and the rain dashed down. It seemed a providential time to eat my luncheon; and I took shelter under a scraggy pine that had rooted itself in the edge of the rocky slope. The shower soon passed, and I continued my journey, creeping

over the slippery rocks, and continuing to show my confidence in the unresponsive trout. The way grew wider and more grewsome. The thunder began again, rolling along over the tops of the mountains, and reverberating in sharp concussions in the gorge: the lightning also darted down into the darkening pas sage, and then the rain. Every enlightened being, even if he is in a fisherman's dress of shirt and pantaloons, hates to get wet; and I ignominiously crept under the edge of a sloping bowlder. It was all very well at first, until streams of water began to crawl along the face of the rock, and trickle down the back of my neck. This was refined misery, unheroic and humiliating, as suffering always is when unaccompanied by resignation.

A longer time than I knew was consumed in this and repeated efforts to wait for the slackening and renewing storm to pass away.

In the intervals of calm I still fished, and even descended to what a sportsman considers incredible baseness; I put a “ sinker" on my line. It is the practice of the country-folk, whose only object is to get fish, to use a good deal of bait, sink the hook to the bottom of the pools, and wait the slow appetite of the summer trout. I tried this also. I might as well have fished in a porkbarrel. It is true, that, in one deep, black, round pool, I lured a small trout from the bottom, and deposited him in the creel; but it was an accident. Though I sat there in the awful silence (the roar of water only emphasized the stillness) full half an hour, I was not encouraged by another nibble. Hope, how. ever, did not die: I always expected to find the trout in the next flume ; and so I toiled slowly on, unconscious of the passing time. At each turn of the

stream I expected to see the end, and at each turn I saw a long, narrow stretch of rocks and foaming water. Climbing out of the ravine was, in most places, simply impossible; and I began to look with interest for a slide, where bushes rooted in the scant earth would enable me to scale the precipice. I did not doubt that I was nearly through the gorge. I could at length see the huge form of the Giant of the Valley, scarred with avalanches, at the end of the vista ; and it seemed not far off. But it kept its distance, as only a mountain can, while I stumbled and slid down the rocky way. The rain had now set in with persistence, and suddenly I became aware that it was growing dark, and I said to myself, “ If you don't wish to spend the night in this horrible chasm, you'd bette escape speedily.” Fortunately I reached a place where the face of the precipice was bush-grown, and with considerable labor scrambled up it.

Having no doubt that I was within half a mile, perhaps within a few rods, of the house above the entrance of the gorge, and that, in any event, I should fall into the cart-path in a few minutes, I struck boldly into the forest, congratulating myself on having escaped out of the river. So sure was I of my whereabouts, that I did not note the bend of the river, nor look at my compass. The one trout in my basket was no burden, and I stepped lightly out.

The forest was of hard-wood, and open, except for a thick undergrowth of moose-bush. It was raining, - in fact, it had been raining, more or less, for a month, and the woods were soaked. This moosebush is most annoying stuff to travel through in a rain; for the broad leaves slap one in the face, and sop him with wet. The way grew every moment

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