Chapter XVIII

A Rendezvous With June

From "The Catskills" (1918)
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 one mountain.

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.

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