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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter XXXVIII

Roughing It

Chapter XXXVIII


Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert, eight thousand
feet above the level of the sea, and is guarded by mountains two thousand
feet higher, whose summits are always clothed in clouds. This solemn,
silent, sail-less sea--this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth
--is little graced with the picturesque. It is an unpretending expanse
of grayish water, about a hundred miles in circumference, with two
islands in its centre, mere upheavals of rent and scorched and blistered
lava, snowed over with gray banks and drifts of pumice-stone and ashes,
the winding sheet of the dead volcano, whose vast crater the lake has
seized upon and occupied.

The lake is two hundred feet deep, and its sluggish waters are so strong
with alkali that if you only dip the most hopelessly soiled garment into
them once or twice, and wring it out, it will be found as clean as if it
had been through the ablest of washerwomen's hands. While we camped
there our laundry work was easy. We tied the week's washing astern of
our boat, and sailed a quarter of a mile, and the job was complete, all
to the wringing out. If we threw the water on our heads and gave them a
rub or so, the white lather would pile up three inches high. This water
is not good for bruised places and abrasions of the skin. We had a
valuable dog. He had raw places on him. He had more raw places on him
than sound ones. He was the rawest dog I almost ever saw. He jumped
overboard one day to get away from the flies. But it was bad judgment.
In his condition, it would have been just as comfortable to jump into the
fire.

The alkali water nipped him in all the raw places simultaneously, and he
struck out for the shore with considerable interest. He yelped and
barked and howled as he went--and by the time he got to the shore there
was no bark to him--for he had barked the bark all out of his inside, and
the alkali water had cleaned the bark all off his outside, and he
probably wished he had never embarked in any such enterprise. He ran
round and round in a circle, and pawed the earth and clawed the air, and
threw double somersaults, sometimes backward and sometimes forward, in
the most extraordinary manner. He was not a demonstrative dog, as a
general thing, but rather of a grave and serious turn of mind, and I
never saw him take so much interest in anything before. He finally
struck out over the mountains, at a gait which we estimated at about two
hundred and fifty miles an hour, and he is going yet. This was about
nine years ago. We look for what is left of him along here every day.

A white man cannot drink the water of Mono Lake, for it is nearly pure
lye. It is said that the Indians in the vicinity drink it sometimes,
though. It is not improbable, for they are among the purest liars I ever
saw. [There will be no additional charge for this joke, except to
parties requiring an explanation of it. This joke has received high
commendation from some of the ablest minds of the age.]

There are no fish in Mono Lake--no frogs, no snakes, no polliwigs--
nothing, in fact, that goes to make life desirable. Millions of wild
ducks and sea-gulls swim about the surface, but no living thing exists
under the surface, except a white feathery sort of worm, one half an inch
long, which looks like a bit of white thread frayed out at the sides. If
you dip up a gallon of water, you will get about fifteen thousand of
these. They give to the water a sort of grayish-white appearance. Then
there is a fly, which looks something like our house fly. These settle
on the beach to eat the worms that wash ashore--and any time, you can see
there a belt of flies an inch deep and six feet wide, and this belt
extends clear around the lake--a belt of flies one hundred miles long.
If you throw a stone among them, they swarm up so thick that they look
dense, like a cloud. You can hold them under water as long as you
please--they do not mind it--they are only proud of it. When you let
them go, they pop up to the surface as dry as a patent office report, and
walk off as unconcernedly as if they had been educated especially with a
view to affording instructive entertainment to man in that particular
way. Providence leaves nothing to go by chance. All things have their
uses and their part and proper place in Nature's economy: the ducks eat
the flies--the flies eat the worms--the Indians eat all three--the wild
cats eat the Indians--the white folks eat the wild cats--and thus all
things are lovely.

Mono Lake is a hundred miles in a straight line from the ocean--and
between it and the ocean are one or two ranges of mountains--yet
thousands of sea-gulls go there every season to lay their eggs and rear
their young. One would as soon expect to find sea-gulls in Kansas.
And in this connection let us observe another instance of Nature's
wisdom. The islands in the lake being merely huge masses of lava, coated
over with ashes and pumice-stone, and utterly innocent of vegetation or
anything that would burn; and sea-gull's eggs being entirely useless to
anybody unless they be cooked, Nature has provided an unfailing spring of
boiling water on the largest island, and you can put your eggs in there,
and in four minutes you can boil them as hard as any statement I have
made during the past fifteen years. Within ten feet of the boiling
spring is a spring of pure cold water, sweet and wholesome.

So, in that island you get your board and washing free of charge--and if
nature had gone further and furnished a nice American hotel clerk who was
crusty and disobliging, and didn't know anything about the time tables,
or the railroad routes--or--anything--and was proud of it--I would not
wish for a more desirable boarding-house.

Half a dozen little mountain brooks flow into Mono Lake, but not a stream
of any kind flows out of it. It neither rises nor falls, apparently, and
what it does with its surplus water is a dark and bloody mystery.

There are only two seasons in the region round about Mono Lake--and these
are, the breaking up of one Winter and the beginning of the next. More
than once (in Esmeralda) I have seen a perfectly blistering morning open
up with the thermometer at ninety degrees at eight o'clock, and seen the
snow fall fourteen inches deep and that same identical thermometer go
down to forty-four degrees under shelter, before nine o'clock at night.
Under favorable circumstances it snows at least once in every single
month in the year, in the little town of Mono. So uncertain is the
climate in Summer that a lady who goes out visiting cannot hope to be
prepared for all emergencies unless she takes her fan under one arm and
her snow shoes under the other. When they have a Fourth of July
procession it generally snows on them, and they do say that as a general
thing when a man calls for a brandy toddy there, the bar keeper chops it
off with a hatchet and wraps it up in a paper, like maple sugar. And it
is further reported that the old soakers haven't any teeth--wore them out
eating gin cocktails and brandy punches. I do not endorse that
statement--I simply give it for what it is worth--and it is worth--well,
I should say, millions, to any man who can believe it without straining
himself. But I do endorse the snow on the Fourth of July--because I know
that to be true.

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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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