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.

However widely European travellers have differed about other things in America, all seem to agree in their love of the Hudson. The pens of all tourists dwell on its scenery, and their affections linger about it like the magic lights which seem to have this river in their peculiar charge. Yet very few travellers have seen its noblest wonder. I may be singular; but I own that I was more moved by what I saw from the Mountain House than by Niagara itself.

What is this Mountain House? this Pine Orchard House? many will ask ; for its name is not to be found in most books of American travels. "What is that white speck ?" I myself asked, when staying at Tivoli, on the east bank of the Hudson, opposite to the Catskills, whose shadowy surface was perpetually tempting the eye. That white speck, visible to most eyes only when bright sunshine was upon it, was the Mountain House; a hotel built for the accommodation of hardy travellers who may desire to obtain that complete view of the valley of the Hudson which can be had nowhere else. I think I had rather have missed the Hawk's Nest, the Prairies, the Mississippi, and even Niagara, than this.

The mountain laurel conveyed by association the first impression of coolness. Sheep were browsing among the shrubs, apparently enjoying the shelter of the covert. We scrambled through deep shade for three or four miles, heavy showers passing over us, and gusts of wind bowing the tree-tops, and sending a shiver through us, partly from the sudden chillness, and partly from expeclation and awe of the breezy solitude.

After another level reach of road, and another scrambling ascent, I saw something on the rocky platform above our heads, like (to compare great things with small) an illumined fairy palace perched among the clouds in opera scenery; a large building, whose numerous window lights marked out its figure from amid the thunder-clouds and black twilight which overshadowed it. It was now half-past eight o'clock, and a stormy evening. Everything was chill, and we were glad of lights and tea in the first place.

After tea I went out upon the platform in front of the house, having been warned not to go too near the edge, so as to fall an unmeasured depth into the forest below. I sat upon the edge, as a security against stepping over unawares. The stars were bright overhead, and had conquered half the sky, giving promise of what we ardently desired, a fine morrow. Over the other half the mass of thunder-clouds was, I supposed, heaped together, for I could at first discern nothing of the campaign which I knew must be stretched below. Suddenly and from that moment incessantly, gushes of red lightning poured out from the cloudy canopy, revealing not merely the horizon, but the course of the river in all its windings through the valley. This thread of river, thus illuminated, looked like a flash of lightning caught by some strong hand and laid along in the valley. All the principal features of the landscape might, no doubt, have been discerned by this sulphurous light ; but my whole attention was absorbed by the river, which seemed to come out of the darkness like an apparition at the summons of my impatient will. It could be borne only for a short time ; this dazzling, bewildering alternation of glare and blackness, of vast reality and nothingness. I was soon glad to draw back from the precipice and seek the candle-light within.

The next day was Sunday. I shall never forget, if I live to a hundred, how the world lay at my feet one Sunday morning. I rose very early and looked abroad from my window, two stories above the platform. A dense fog, exactly level with my eyes, as it appeared, roofed in the whole plain of the earth; a dusky firmament, in which the stars had hidden themselves for the day. Such is the account which an antediluvian spectator would probably have given of it. This solid firmament had spaces in it, however, through which gushes of sunlight were poured, lighting up the spires of white churches, and clusters of farm buildings, too small to be otherwise distinguished; and especially the river, with its sloops floating like motes in the sunbeam. The firmament rose and melted, or parted off into the likeness of snowy sky-mountains, and left the cool Sabbath to brood brightly over the land. What human interest sanctifies a bird's-eye view! I suppose this is its peculiar charm, for its charm is found to deepen in proportion to the growth of mind. To an infant, a campaign of a hundred miles is not so much as a yard square of gay carpet. To the rustic it is less bewitching than a paddock with two cows. To the philosopher, what is it not? As he casts his eye over its glittering towns, its scattered hamlets, its secluded homes, its mountain ranges, church spires and untrodden forests, it is a picture of life; an epitome of the human universe; the complete volume of moral philosophy, for which he has sought in vain in all libraries. On the left horizon are the Green Mountains of Vermont, and at the right extremity sparkles the Atlantic. Beneath lies the forest, where the deer are hiding and the birds rejoicing in song. Beyond the river he sees spread the rich plains of Connecticut; there, where a blue expanse lies beyond the triple range of hills, are the churches of religious Massachusetts sending up their Sabbath psalms: praise which he is too high to hear, while God is not. The fields and waters seem to him to-day no more truly property than the skies which shine down upon them; and to think how some below are busying their thoughts this Sabbath day about how they shall hedge in another field, or multiply their flocks on yonder meadows, gives him a taste of the same pity which Jesus felt in his solitude when his followers were contending about which should be the greatest. It seems strange to him how that man should call anything his but the power which is in him, and which can create somewhat more vast and beautiful than all that this horizon incloses. Here he gains the conviction, to be never again shaken, that all that is real is ideal ; that the joys and sorrows of men do not spring up out of the ground or fly abroad on the wings of the wind, or come showered down from the sky; that good cannot be hedged in, nor evil barred out ; even that light does not reach the spirit through the eye alone, nor wisdom through the medium of sound or silence only. He becomes of one mind with the spiritual Berkeley, that the face of nature itself, the very picture of woods, and streams, and meadows, is a hieroglyphic writing in the spirit itself, of which the retina is no interpreter. The proof is just below him (at least it came under my eye), in the lady (not American) who, after glancing over the landscape, brings her chair into the piazza, and, turning her back to the campaign and her face to the wooden walls of the hotel, begins the study, this Sunday morning, of her lapful of newspapers. What a sermon is thus preached to him at this moment from a very hackneyed text! To him that hath much that hath the eye, and car, and wealth of the spirit, shall more be given; even a replenishing of this spiritual life from that which to others is formless and dumb; while from him that hath little, who trusts in that which lies about him rather than in that which lies within him, shall he taken away, by natural decline, the power of perceiving and enjoying what is within his own domain. To him who is already enriched with large divine and human revelations, this scene is, for all its stillness, musical with divine and human speech ; while one who has been deafened by the din of worldly affairs can bear nothing in this mountain solitude.

The march of the day over the valley was glorious, and I was grieved to have to leave my window for an expedition a few miles off. However, the expedition was a good preparation for the return to my window. The little nooks of the road, crowded with bilberries, cherries, and alpine plants, and the quiet tarn, studded with golden water-lilies, were a wholesome contrast to the grandeur of what we had left behind us.

On returning, we found dinner awaiting us, and also a party of friends out of, Massachusetts, with whom we passed the afternoon, climbing higher and higher among the pines, ferns, and blue berries of the mountain, to get wider and wider views. They told me that I saw Albany, but I was by no means sure of it. This large city lay in the landscape like an ant-hill in a meadow. Lon- before sunset I was at my window again, watching the gradual lengthening Of the shadows and purpling of the landscape. It was more beautiful than the sunrise of this morning, and less so than that of the morrow. Of this last I shall give no description, for I would not weary others with what is most sacred to me. Suffice it that it gave me a vivid idea of the process of creation, from the moment when all was without form and void, to that when light was commanded, and there was light. When we were departing, a foreign tourist was heard to complain of the high charges ! High charges ! As if we were to be supplied for nothing on a perch where the wonder is if any but the young ravens get fed! When I considered what a drawback it is in visiting mountaintops that one is driven. down again almost immediately by one's bodily wants, I was ready to thank the people devoutly for harboring us on any terms, so that we might think out our thoughts, and compose our emotions, and take our fill of that portion of our universal and eternal inheritance.




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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