A Rendezvous With June
By T. Morris Longstreth
There are many sorts of beacons to pull us safely through the last
hard mile. The horse has his manger, the philosopher his tertium
quid, and even the life-prisoner can count upon his pardons. And so
had I through the dark age of May my open sesame to the infinity of
corridor through which the school-year drags its hind quarters. I had
but to close my eyes and say "Noon at the topmost rock of Shokan
on the ninth of June," and the little brawling blockheads would
dissolve into thin air, and a close-up of a young fellow with
wide-set, steady eyes, broad shoulders, and an old felt hat would
occupy the screen.
Luck and I beat the calendar, as it happened. For the ninth of June
was still seven astronomical hours away, and the sun was contentedly
declining between Samson Mountain and Peekamose as I emerged from the
fringe of scrub balsam and deposited my limp anatomy upon the
"topmost rock." My pack had put in its final licks on my
shoulders with a vengeance as it found me nearing that spot. Never,
never climb High Point the way I did. It had seemed the shortest way,
straight from the Reservoir to the top. And the mosquitoes did not
seem to get out of wind. But, for anything equipped with less than
six legs and a pair of wings, I advise the trail from West Shokan.
The top was full pay for the climb; and the climb, despite the
insects just mentioned, was joy enough for me with a summer ahead,
school behind, and the pleasant hardships of the woods about me. When
one mounts nearly three thousand feet in a mile, not even mosquitoes
themselves can take one's mind from the fact that the next place to
put one's foot is overhead -- or else very nearly overhead.
Fortunately, I had time to be sensible, which means, in a question of
mounting steep slopes, the slowest possible pace. The man who will
pull one foot after another, taking time to place it, stepping around
obstacles instead of over, never allowing himself to lose breath, can
climb all day, will cover three times as much altitude as the chap
who hurries, and at the end will be nearly as fresh as when he began.
This is the solemnest truth, and therefore the hardest to believe,
and next to impossible to practise. But it pays.
Nearly everybody not entirely barren of sentiment has desired to
spend a night on a mountaintop, and the number who yield to their
desire is so few that one would judge our race to be a very self-disciplining
body if other explanations did not arise. Explanations do arise, and
the people don't. I rest with saying that I am sorry. If I could have
wafted a score of friends to the top of High Point that night, they
would have granted me justification -- while now --
Mid-June below was the end of May on my peak. Strawberries that had
made my dessert along the lake were in bud about the top. Columbines
that had nodded heartlessly at me from their grottos near the base
showed only the pale promise of their beauty in clumps of fernlike
leaves. The sweet white violet grew small, but when luck led me to
the proper flower I was rewarded with a breath more delicate than
even that of the wild rose.
My walk of the forenoon had been between fields of astounding
brilliance. All the seasons had been kaleidoscoped into one, it
seemed, and spread along the wayside for admiration's sake. A meadow,
white with daisies in one corner, would be set on fire by the flames
of orange hawk-weed, to be, in turn, extinguished by a shower of
meadowrue. Pools of blue gentian reflected heaven, and ripples of
white clover broke here and there into a sweet-scented spray.
A little way within the wood I saw the wild azalea and the buds of
the laurel. In certain places later we were to find the laurel in
immense profusion. Clintonia, purple-fringed orchis, Solomonis seal,
indeed all the delicate familiar loveliness of the spring wood, shone
in whites and pinks, yellows and blues, along my path. And at the top
the bunch-berry extended its white welcome.
I did not have to concern myself about food or shelter. I had carried
the former already prepared, and for the latter I spread my rubber
blanket on the thick moss in a little hollow beneath some stunted
balsam. I could give my whole attention to the spectacle staged horizon-round.
If I should work up a headache trying to portray the wonder of that
night, I could not convince you that I enjoyed it; neither am I such
a trusting dotard as to try. At first I thought that I wasn't going
to, either. My body-guard of gnats received my rebukes in a biting
silence. But as the sun withdrew so did they, leaving a little blood
still in the bank.
I ate supper, sitting on a cloth of golden moss, leaning against a
rock that had settled and hardened before ever the roots of the first
carboniferous fern had groped for soil. I looked over a section of
the world that man thinks he controls, but that simply laughs in his
face. I could see some of the tiny places where he had thrown a few
boards together for shelter and where he forgets his vast labors in
sleep. But I had to hunt for them. All about them swam the ineffable
green of spring, light for fields and dark for woods; and out over
the plain was reaching, creeping the effacing night. Only in one
direction did man seem to have made his mark -- in that marvelous
lake, the Reservoir of Ashokan.
It lay, outstretched and slim, amethyst above, sapphire beneath, a
miracle to have been made by hands.
Westward a tangle of mountain valleys were drowning in the twilight.
Only a top here and there caught the last rose.
The more extravagant is sentiment, the sooner it flies away; and I
was glad to weight down my feelings with chicken sandwiches and hot
tea. The absurd niceties of habit that make us go to bed when we are
not sleepy, and sit up since it is not time to go to bed, lose
something of their force on mountain-tops. I wrapped up in my
blanket, and watched the rose turn to gray, the gray to colorless
dark. The stars came from their hiding and began the night's march.
There was no blackness. Probably I dozed. But it did not seem long
until a faint shine appeared, a cloudlet turned a wild-rose pink, and
there was a new day -- the ninth of June.
I am quite sure of one thing: if you think some action seems scarcely
worth the labor, the discomfort, and yet you'd rather like to do it,
that is the thing to gird your loins and do. There is nothing so
weakening as ambition frustrated by doubt, nothing so encouraging as
something put through, which is the chief retort the foolish
mountaineer can make. There is scarcely anything sillier than
marching up a mountain and then marching down again; there is
scarcely anything more satisfying if you 've wanted to do it. And as
life is a succession of flippant nothings for most, anyway, even a
physical mountain-peak now and then need not seem too trivial to try.
If there are sermons in stones, there is a good year's preaching in
Almost before the fawn-colored light could be called dawn, I was
treated to such a matinee of bird-song as I have rarely heard. A
flock of white throat sparrows sat concealed in the low trees, and
gave their full-voiced cadences together, or following each other in
quick succession, as in some Mozart allegretto. Their falling
triplets, wistful at nightfall, are daintily glad at dawn, and to me,
half asleep, seemed the very choir of fairyland.
Coffee warmed me, and after I had watched the sun flood the great
eastern valley, I made a fire of gnarled old wood, so that Brute
might see the smoke, rolled in my blanket beneath the balsam, and --
woke to a hand laid gently on my shoulder.