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Catskill Mountain House

Chapter 13

Sketches Continued

From "The Catskill Mountains And The Region Around" (1867) By Rev. Charles Rockwell
Willis Gaylord Clark.-His Sketch of the Mountains, the Road to them and Views from them.-Similar Sketches by Tyrone Power, N. P. Willis, Park Benjamin, Harriet Martineau, Mrs. Ellett, Dr. Murdoch, Bayard Taylor, and Rev. Dr. Cuyler.

 

A SKETCH
BY REV. DR. MURDOCK.

 We arrived at "the House" in a most unfavorable time for seeing anything, and were strongly tempted to return immediately. It was just that kind of sky which below gives the "blues." The dreary, dense mist that enveloped the entire range, was mournful; and, as the wind blew from the north-east, there was no prospect of the sky being cleared till the Newfoundland banks had exchanged these vapory sheets for a robe of sunshine. The cloud was as damp as clouds are anywhere that I have known. I have heard of Lapland fogs, and had felt Scotch mists, but this was equal to any of these for its penetrating quality. Starch and gum shrank into mournful, skin-like flaccidity; and to use the inelegant expression of a fellow-visitor, whose sobriquet was "Tom," "Kate's ringlets were no more like seraphs' locks than Old Bay's tail."

It was in vain that we fled from the outside of the house to the inside, as the cloud went with the air, and a perfect vacuum was impossible. Chairs, tables, mantel-pieces, stood in dewy beads; and even the beds had that sticky touch you feel at the "Ocean House" after two days stormy weather. Though there was a constant fire kept up in the parlor, it did not to us, the "new arrived," exhibit that bliss which a kindled hearth presents to the youthful imagination anticipating the marriage-day.

A lugubrious-looking man here stepped up, and with the most rueful-looking countenance declared, that "This was awful! I came here," said he, "a week ago, all the way from Cape Cod, for the sole object of getting a look, and here I have seen nothing ; and to be laughed at in the bargain.'' "I shall not go back," said Tom,"without my story. I have seen something worth telling." "And pray what shall you tell them that you saw " said the sad man, "except across the dinner-table; and scarcely that far, if I may guess from your good judgment on cookery." " Why," said " Tom," with perfect nonchalance, " I shall tell them I have seen the greatest fog that I have ever seen in my life!" "And, my dear sir," said the gentleman with the book, "you can now preach from that text, 'All baptized in the cloud' " "Or that other one," said the lady, "being compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses."

Now, thought I, there may be more in this darkness than was dreamed of in my first philosophy. I will remain, and perhaps I may catch some of the inspiration from this happy family. But I was disturbed in my cogitations by a buzz among the guests near the door, and all I could hear was that the house was "going past on the outside." A waiter was quieting an old lady by telling her that all was quite firm at the foundations, for it was built on a rock.

We were all on the piazza in a few moments, and there, sure enough, was the perfect image of the vast building, plainly impressed upon a thicker cloud than the general envelope that had covered us. It was a great mass of vapor, moving from north to south, directly in front, and only about two hundred feet from us, which reflected the light of the sun, now beginning to appear in the west, from its bosom, like a mirror, in which the noble Corinthian pillars, which form the front of the building' were expanded like some palace built by the Titans for the entertainment of their antediluvian guests. I had read of Catherine of Russia's famous palace of ice, all glittering with the gorgeousness that now beautifies the Kremlin; and how frequently that is produced, as emblematic of human glory; but here was something that more than recalled my early impressions of Aladdin's lamp, or of the magician's wand.  

The visionary illusion was moving with the cloud, and ere long we saw one pillar disappear, then another. We, ourselves, who were expanded to Brobdignags in size, saw the gulf into which we were to enter and be lost. I almost shivered when my turn came, but there was no eluding my fate; one side of my face was veiled, and in a few moments the whole had passed like a dream. An instant before, and we were the inhabitants of a "gorgeous palace," but it was the "baseless fabric of a vision," and now there was left "not a wreck behind."

After tea, and the lamps lit, the different sets were seen discussing the events of that day ; and it would fill a book to report the half of the really interesting conversations that were held. The book man was lecturing, upon optics and showing "Kate" how the laws of light were to be understood, on reflection and refraction; and how these effects were produced this afternoon by the rays striking a certain angle of incidence; all of which was Greek to me.

"Uncle," said " Kate," " tell us what you were thinking of during that wonderful vision." " Oh, yes," said the mother, " you have traveled, brother, in the old world, and can enlighten us." "My story has a moral to it," said the clergyman, for I found he was one. "The mysteriously grand temple we have beheld in the cloud has brought to my mind the fleeting nature of all earthly temples. When I first saw the Parthenon at Athens, looking out on the Aegean Sea from the highest point of the Acropolis, I said there is man's finest workmanship passing, after it has stood two thousand years. Again, I saw on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, how the proud Scotchmen attempted to imitate their ancient models, and failed. Their Parthenon is already like a ruin. And here, on a higher eminence still, stands a building that, at a distance, rivals both in appearance, till you come near and find that it is but wood, and shall pass away sooner than either of those I have referred to. But to-day, as if in mockery of all earthly greatness, we have seen an airy Parthenon passing by us like a dream. Truly,

    "'This world is all a fleeting show,
    For man's illusion given.'"
     

There was nothing to be seen next day, and the greater part was spent in hope of conjuring up something before it was done. About three o'clock I heard the cry of "A rainbow! a rainbow!" and on looking down towards the river I perceived that the right limb of a large bow was already formed. It gradually took its proper shape, until its colors came all out in their completeness. The shower was falling on the river, and supposing that to be the cord, the extent must have been twenty miles in length, with a span in proportion. It was such a token as Noah saw from Ararat, rising on the plain of Shinar.

It was interesting to listen to the remarks of the spectators -- moralizing, poetizing, and philosophizing. A young wife and mother stood next me, wrapt in admiration, and asked of her material husband if he did not think "that would make a noble gateway for the 'house made without hands,' that we saw yesterday ? " "Umph! " said the careful father, "pick up your raisins there, you little fool. What is that you said, my dear, about gate-posts?" " Oh, see," said the really enraptured wife, "what a gem is there. See! see! the sun is tinting that cloud with gold, till it looks like a throne in the heavens." The deep solemn voice of the grave man was repeating in an undertone, "And there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto to an emerald. And the city had twelve gates, and every several gate was one pearl." "Tom " was not behind the rest with his word. The idea of that being an entrance to the palace of yesterday caught his fancy, and he was repeating, with variations,

    "Still seem as in my infant days,
      A glorious gateway given,
    For happy spirits to alight,
      Between the earth and heaven."

The shower passed to the eastward, and the great bow fell flat upon the black surface, and did appear like a fallen arch, the remnant of departed glory.

I must take for granted that the ride to the falls and the general features of the region are known; but this day was remarkable for new objects of interest to me.

Standing on the south-west point, after going round below the cascade, I became drenched and almost suffocated with the steam, which rose through the air so thick that I could not see across the boiling caldron, and was glad to stand still and take breath. So much rain had fallen for a week, the torrent was greater than I had ever seen it before. It seemed that I was standing within the crater of a volcano, deep and fearful. After steadying my feet and my head, my eyes caught the iris of a rainbow of uncommon brilliancy. At first I was inclined to believe myself under some visual delusion, and that in my eagerness to retain the image of what I had already seen that day, this was but the spectrum of that other rainbow. But as I looked up I saw the sun reflected from millions of prisms, hung on every tree and blade of grass around. And from the point where I stood, round to the opposite side of the gulf, there was one solid mass of variegated glory. It seemed to be one jewel, upon which I might have walked with ease. After the first surprise, I discovered that I stood within the rays of this brightness. Was it presumption in me to feel enraptured, with the bow of promise around my head, and the rock of ages beneath my feet? Blessed emblem of hope and immortality!

The sun had now gained the full ascendancy in the heavens, and his setting gave us the hope of a bright morning and we retired to rest to-night, congratulating ourselves on the wonderful things we had seen this day.

In the dark of the morning I heard gentle feet going through the long passages, and, afraid of being late, I hastened to the east side of the house, where the greater part of the guests were before me ; and after looking at the sky, and then at the spectators, I thought of the Psalmist's words, "I wait for thee, as they that wait for the eyelids of the morning."

Except a few scattered clouds the dawn was purer than the crystal, for it was unassociated with any material thing. It brought all the beautiful things of this world to remembrance. An infant's eyes opening for the first time on a world of sin. The cactus in full flower, with its purple and azure mingling.

Two small clouds, half way up the sky, towards the north-east, caught the earliest tints of glory : then, higher up, another became so white that it was at last painful to look at. In my eagerness to see all and catch the first glance of the sun himself, my eyes were dazzled so that I was almost blinded. It was therefore a great relief to hear a voice cry out from one of the windows, Look below! look below!

And we all looked, but the whole scene was unutterably grand. The sea! the sea! many voices said at once. From the verge of the cliff, as far as the eye could reach, it was rolling vapor ; the waves rose and fell in hills and deep valleys, coming on like the tide and retiring; and I caught myself involuntarily listening for the dash of the surge. But the silence was alarming. The sea so measureless; so disturbed to the eye; so near, and yet so speechless to the ear. It was not a dead sea, for it moved; but it was the movement of oblivion. How melancholy to think on the thousands of buried homes, wrapt in that cold cheerless sheet; and we up here, basking in the beams of heaven's own brightness.

The two clouds nearest the east had become solid gold, we thought nothing could be brighter, till a moment after the king himself appeared. It was as if the helmet of a conqueror had risen on the top of a hill; but there he was himself, unexcelled. His actual presence produced a sudden tremor, and tears gushed plentifully at the sight.

We had now time to look beneath, and already there was an evident movement, as if some great commotion was taking place beneath, at the centre. But it was the sun now making himself felt, like the Spirit of God moving on the face of chaos, when he said, "Let there be light, and there was light." We were waiting for the "dry land" to appear.

The vapory mass began to move more rapidly, and assume every fantastic shape that the imagination gave it.

Monstrous giants rose, ruled, and departed like the despots of antiquity. Ossian, before his blindness, must have beheld the like, ere he described Fingal's combat with the misty demon. And so did Milton, doubtless, while "holy light" entered his early eye; when from the "alpine heights" he saw the celestial and infernal armies, as here, deploying, then closing, then recoiling in terrific fury.

"Uncle," said the sensitive girl, "tell me what you see there." "Oh, child, child, I see, I see what is unspeakable. There is Tophet sending forth its smoke; look at that yawning gulf, was ever anything so capacious ; and there beyond is Mount Sinai in awful hidden darkness." "Yes, brother," said the mother, "but look up higher, and tell me what you think of those clouds that have become separated from the rest, and that are now already tinged with heaven's gold." "Oh, it was in such a chariot as that my Master ascended, when a cloud received Him out of their sight; " and the solemn man wept like a child. In about an hour from sunrise the several fleeces had been lifted up from the earth, till the hills with which I was familiar became apparent, but still huge and awful. And there the river ran dark, in the mist, like the mysterious Styx of the region of Pluto; and as the clouds passed over it they seemed to be fleets of departed nations who were there navigating their shadowy barks, joyless and hopeless. What a contrast between that gloomy region and the rich panorama that is spread out here at noon. Then that river reminds one of the "river of life, clear as crystal," and of that world, when the veil of mystery will be removed, and we shall look no more through a glass darkly.

 

Chapter 13 SKETCHES

Willis Gaylord Clark.-His Sketch of the Mountains, the Road to them and Views from them.-Similar Sketches by Tyrone Power, N. P. Willis, Park Benjamin, Harriet Martineau, Mrs. Ellett, Dr. Murdoch, Bayard Taylor, and Rev. Dr. Cuyler.

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