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A Wilderness Romance
by [?]

At the south end of Keene Valley, in the Adirondacks, stands Noon Mark, a shapely peak thirty-five hundred feet above the sea, which, with the aid of the sun, tells the Keene people when it is time to eat dinner. From its summit you look south into a vast wilderness basin, a great stretch of forest little trodden, and out of whose bosom you can hear from the heights on a still day the loud murmur of the Boquet. This basin of unbroken green rises away to the south and southeast into the rocky heights of Dix’s Peak and Nipple Top,–the latter a local name which neither the mountain nor the fastidious tourist is able to shake off. Indeed, so long as the mountain keeps its present shape as seen from the southern lowlands, it cannot get on without this name.

These two mountains, which belong to the great system of which Marcy is the giant centre, and are in the neighborhood of five thousand feet high, on the southern outposts of the great mountains, form the gate-posts of the pass into the south country. This opening between them is called Hunter’s Pass. It is the most elevated and one of the wildest of the mountain passes. Its summit is thirty-five hundred feet high. In former years it is presumed the hunters occasionally followed the game through; but latterly it is rare to find a guide who has been that way, and the tin-can and paper-collar tourists have not yet made it a runway. This seclusion is due not to any inherent difficulty of travel, but to the fact that it lies a little out of the way.

We went through it last summer; making our way into the jaws from the foot of the great slides on Dix, keeping along the ragged spurs of the mountain through the virgin forest. The pass is narrow, walled in on each side by precipices of granite, and blocked up with bowlders and fallen trees, and beset with pitfalls in the roads ingeniously covered with fair-seeming moss. When the climber occasionally loses sight of a leg in one of these treacherous holes, and feels a cold sensation in his foot, he learns that he has dipped into the sources of the Boquet, which emerges lower down into falls and rapids, and, recruited by creeping tributaries, goes brawling through the forest basin, and at last comes out an amiable and boat-bearing stream in the valley of Elizabeth Town. From the summit another rivulet trickles away to the south, and finds its way through a frightful tamarack swamp, and through woods scarred by ruthless lumbering, to Mud Pond, a quiet body of water, with a ghastly fringe of dead trees, upon which people of grand intentions and weak vocabulary are trying to fix the name of Elk Lake. The descent of the pass on that side is precipitous and exciting. The way is in the stream itself; and a considerable portion of the distance we swung ourselves down the faces of considerable falls, and tumbled down cascades. The descent, however, was made easy by the fact that it rained, and every footstep was yielding and slippery. Why sane people, often church-members respectably connected, will subject themselves to this sort of treatment,–be wet to the skin, bruised by the rocks, and flung about among the bushes and dead wood until the most necessary part of their apparel hangs in shreds,–is one of the delightful mysteries of these woods. I suspect that every man is at heart a roving animal, and likes, at intervals, to revert to the condition of the bear and the catamount.

There is no trail through Hunter’s Pass, which, as I have intimated, is the least frequented portion of this wilderness. Yet we were surprised to find a well-beaten path a considerable portion of the way and wherever a path is possible. It was not a mere deer’s runway: these are found everywhere in the mountains. It is trodden by other and larger animals, and is, no doubt, the highway of beasts. It bears marks of having been so for a long period, and probably a period long ago. Large animals are not common in these woods now, and you seldom meet anything fiercer than the timid deer and the gentle bear. But in days gone by, Hunter’s Pass was the highway of the whole caravan of animals who were continually going backward; and forwards, in the aimless, roaming way that beasts have, between Mud Pond and the Boquet Basin. I think I can see now the procession of them between the heights of Dix and Nipple Top; the elk and the moose shambling along, cropping the twigs; the heavy bear lounging by with his exploring nose; the frightened deer trembling at every twig that snapped beneath his little hoofs, intent on the lily-pads of the pond; the raccoon and the hedgehog, sidling along; and the velvet-footed panther, insouciant and conscienceless, scenting the path with a curious glow in his eye, or crouching in an overhanging tree ready to drop into the procession at the right moment. Night and day, year after year, I see them going by, watched by the red fox and the comfortably clad sable, and grinned at by the black cat,–the innocent, the vicious, the timid and the savage, the shy and the bold, the chattering slanderer and the screaming prowler, the industrious and the peaceful, the tree-top critic and the crawling biter,–just as it is elsewhere. It makes me blush for my species when I think of it. This charming society is nearly extinct now: of the larger animals there only remain the bear, who minds his own business more thoroughly than any person I know, and the deer, who would like to be friendly with men, but whose winning face and gentle ways are no protection from the savageness of man, and who is treated with the same unpitying destruction as the snarling catamount. I have read in history that the amiable natives of Hispaniola fared no better at the hands of the brutal Spaniards than the fierce and warlike Caribs. As society is at present constituted in Christian countries, I would rather for my own security be a cougar than a fawn.