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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter XXIII

Roughing It

Chapter XXIII


If there is any life that is happier than the life we led on our timber
ranch for the next two or three weeks, it must be a sort of life which I
have not read of in books or experienced in person. We did not see a
human being but ourselves during the time, or hear any sounds but those
that were made by the wind and the waves, the sighing of the pines, and
now and then the far-off thunder of an avalanche. The forest about us
was dense and cool, the sky above us was cloudless and brilliant with
sunshine, the broad lake before us was glassy and clear, or rippled and
breezy, or black and storm-tossed, according to Nature's mood; and its
circling border of mountain domes, clothed with forests, scarred with
land-slides, cloven by canons and valleys, and helmeted with glittering
snow, fitly framed and finished the noble picture. The view was always
fascinating, bewitching, entrancing. The eye was never tired of gazing,
night or day, in calm or storm; it suffered but one grief, and that was
that it could not look always, but must close sometimes in sleep.

We slept in the sand close to the water's edge, between two protecting
boulders, which took care of the stormy night-winds for us. We never
took any paregoric to make us sleep. At the first break of dawn we were
always up and running foot-races to tone down excess of physical vigor
and exuberance of spirits. That is, Johnny was--but I held his hat.
While smoking the pipe of peace after breakfast we watched the sentinel
peaks put on the glory of the sun, and followed the conquering light as
it swept down among the shadows, and set the captive crags and forests
free. We watched the tinted pictures grow and brighten upon the water
till every little detail of forest, precipice and pinnacle was wrought in
and finished, and the miracle of the enchanter complete. Then to
"business."

That is, drifting around in the boat. We were on the north shore.
There, the rocks on the bottom are sometimes gray, sometimes white.
This gives the marvelous transparency of the water a fuller advantage
than it has elsewhere on the lake. We usually pushed out a hundred yards
or so from shore, and then lay down on the thwarts, in the sun, and let
the boat drift by the hour whither it would. We seldom talked.
It interrupted the Sabbath stillness, and marred the dreams the luxurious
rest and indolence brought. The shore all along was indented with deep,
curved bays and coves, bordered by narrow sand-beaches; and where the
sand ended, the steep mountain-sides rose right up aloft into space--rose
up like a vast wall a little out of the perpendicular, and thickly wooded
with tall pines.

So singularly clear was the water, that where it was only twenty or
thirty feet deep the bottom was so perfectly distinct that the boat
seemed floating in the air! Yes, where it was even eighty feet deep.
Every little pebble was distinct, every speckled trout, every hand's-
breadth of sand. Often, as we lay on our faces, a granite boulder, as
large as a village church, would start out of the bottom apparently, and
seem climbing up rapidly to the surface, till presently it threatened to
touch our faces, and we could not resist the impulse to seize an oar and
avert the danger. But the boat would float on, and the boulder descend
again, and then we could see that when we had been exactly above it, it
must still have been twenty or thirty feet below the surface. Down
through the transparency of these great depths, the water was not merely
transparent, but dazzlingly, brilliantly so. All objects seen through it
had a bright, strong vividness, not only of outline, but of every minute
detail, which they would not have had when seen simply through the same
depth of atmosphere. So empty and airy did all spaces seem below us, and
so strong was the sense of floating high aloft in mid-nothingness, that
we called these boat-excursions "balloon-voyages."

We fished a good deal, but we did not average one fish a week. We could
see trout by the thousand winging about in the emptiness under us, or
sleeping in shoals on the bottom, but they would not bite--they could see
the line too plainly, perhaps. We frequently selected the trout we
wanted, and rested the bait patiently and persistently on the end of his
nose at a depth of eighty feet, but he would only shake it off with an
annoyed manner, and shift his position.

We bathed occasionally, but the water was rather chilly, for all it
looked so sunny. Sometimes we rowed out to the "blue water," a mile or
two from shore. It was as dead blue as indigo there, because of the
immense depth. By official measurement the lake in its centre is one
thousand five hundred and twenty-five feet deep!

Sometimes, on lazy afternoons, we lolled on the sand in camp, and smoked
pipes and read some old well-worn novels. At night, by the camp-fire, we
played euchre and seven-up to strengthen the mind--and played them with
cards so greasy and defaced that only a whole summer's acquaintance with
them could enable the student to tell the ace of clubs from the jack of
diamonds.

We never slept in our "house." It never recurred to us, for one thing;
and besides, it was built to hold the ground, and that was enough. We
did not wish to strain it.

By and by our provisions began to run short, and we went back to the old
camp and laid in a new supply. We were gone all day, and reached home
again about night-fall, pretty tired and hungry. While Johnny was
carrying the main bulk of the provisions up to our "house" for future
use, I took the loaf of bread, some slices of bacon, and the coffee-pot,
ashore, set them down by a tree, lit a fire, and went back to the boat to
get the frying-pan. While I was at this, I heard a shout from Johnny,
and looking up I saw that my fire was galloping all over the premises!
Johnny was on the other side of it. He had to run through the flames to
get to the lake shore, and then we stood helpless and watched the
devastation.

The ground was deeply carpeted with dry pine-needles, and the fire
touched them off as if they were gunpowder. It was wonderful to see with
what fierce speed the tall sheet of flame traveled! My coffee-pot was
gone, and everything with it. In a minute and a half the fire seized
upon a dense growth of dry manzanita chapparal six or eight feet high,
and then the roaring and popping and crackling was something terrific.
We were driven to the boat by the intense heat, and there we remained,
spell-bound.

Within half an hour all before us was a tossing, blinding tempest of
flame! It went surging up adjacent ridges--surmounted them and
disappeared in the canons beyond--burst into view upon higher and farther
ridges, presently--shed a grander illumination abroad, and dove again--
flamed out again, directly, higher and still higher up the mountain-side-
-threw out skirmishing parties of fire here and there, and sent them
trailing their crimson spirals away among remote ramparts and ribs and
gorges, till as far as the eye could reach the lofty mountain-fronts were
webbed as it were with a tangled network of red lava streams. Away
across the water the crags and domes were lit with a ruddy glare, and the
firmament above was a reflected hell!

Every feature of the spectacle was repeated in the glowing mirror of the
lake! Both pictures were sublime, both were beautiful; but that in the
lake had a bewildering richness about it that enchanted the eye and held
it with the stronger fascination.

We sat absorbed and motionless through four long hours. We never thought
of supper, and never felt fatigue. But at eleven o'clock the
conflagration had traveled beyond our range of vision, and then darkness
stole down upon the landscape again.

Hunger asserted itself now, but there was nothing to eat. The provisions
were all cooked, no doubt, but we did not go to see. We were homeless
wanderers again, without any property. Our fence was gone, our house
burned down; no insurance. Our pine forest was well scorched, the dead
trees all burned up, and our broad acres of manzanita swept away. Our
blankets were on our usual sand-bed, however, and so we lay down and went
to sleep. The next morning we started back to the old camp, but while
out a long way from shore, so great a storm came up that we dared not try
to land. So I baled out the seas we shipped, and Johnny pulled heavily
through the billows till we had reached a point three or four miles
beyond the camp. The storm was increasing, and it became evident that it
was better to take the hazard of beaching the boat than go down in a
hundred fathoms of water; so we ran in, with tall white-caps following,
and I sat down in the stern-sheets and pointed her head-on to the shore.
The instant the bow struck, a wave came over the stern that washed crew
and cargo ashore, and saved a deal of trouble. We shivered in the lee of
a boulder all the rest of the day, and froze all the night through. In
the morning the tempest had gone down, and we paddled down to the camp
without any unnecessary delay. We were so starved that we ate up the
rest of the Brigade's provisions, and then set out to Carson to tell them
about it and ask their forgiveness. It was accorded, upon payment of
damages.

We made many trips to the lake after that, and had many a hair-breadth
escape and blood-curdling adventure which will never be recorded in any
history.

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Index Index

Prefactory
Contents
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXVIII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII
Chapter XLIII
Chapter XLIV
Chapter XLV
Chapter XLVI
Chapter XLVII
Chapter XLVIII
Chapter XLIX
Chapter L
Chapter LI
Chapter LII
Chapter LIII
Chapter LIV
Chapter LV
Chapter LVI
Chapter LVII
Chapter LVIII
Chapter LIX
Chapter LX
Chapter LXI
Chapter LXII
Chapter LXIII
Chapter LXIV
Chapter LXV
Chapter LXVI
Chapter LXVII
Chapter LXVIII
Chapter LXIX
Chapter LXX
Chapter LXXI
Chapter LXXII
Chapter LXXIII
Chapter LXXIV
Chapter LXXV
Chapter LXXVI
Chapter LXXVII
Chapter LXXVIII
Chapter LXXIX
Appendix

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