Infomotions, Inc.Over Prairie Trails / Grove, Frederick Philip, 1879?-1948



Author: Grove, Frederick Philip, 1879?-1948
Title: Over Prairie Trails
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): snow; cutter; trail; horses; fog; road; drift
Contributor(s): Symons, Arthur, 1865-1945 [Contributor]
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Title: Over Prairie Trails

Author: Frederick Philip Grove

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OVER PRAIRIE TRAILS

By Frederick Philip Grove




Contents

Introductory
1  Farms and Roads
2  Fog
3  Dawn and Diamonds
4  Snow
5  Wind and Waves
6  A Call for Speed
7  Skies and Scares




Introductory

A few years ago it so happened that my work--teaching
school--kept me during the week in a small country town
in the centre of one of the prairie provinces while my
family--wife and little daughter--lived in the southern
fringe of the great northern timber expanse, not very
far from the western shore of a great lake. My wife--like
the plucky little woman she is--in order to round off my
far-from-imperial income had made up her mind to look
after a rural school that boasted of something like a
residence. I procured a buggy and horse and went "home"
on Fridays, after school was over, to return to my town
on Sunday evening--covering thus, while the season was
clement and allowed straight cross-country driving, coming
and going, a distance of sixty-eight miles. Beginning
with the second week of January this distance was raised
to ninety miles because, as my more patient readers will
see, the straight cross-country roads became impassable
through snow.

These drives. the fastest of which was made in somewhat
over four hours and the longest of which took me nearly
eleven--the rest of them averaging pretty well up between
the two extremes--soon became what made my life worth
living. I am naturally an outdoor creature--I have lived
for several years "on the tramp"--I love Nature more than
Man--I take to horses--horses take to me--so how could
it have been otherwise? Add to this that for various
reasons my work just then was not of the most pleasant
kind--I disliked the town, the town disliked me, the
school board was sluggish and unprogressive, there was
friction in the staff--and who can wonder that on Fridays,
at four o'clock, a real holiday started for me: two days
ahead with wife and child, and going and coming--the drive.

I made thirty-six of these trips: seventy-two drives in
all. I think I could still rehearse every smallest incident
of every single one of them. With all their weirdness,
with all their sometimes dangerous adventure--most of
them were made at night, and with hardly ever any regard
being paid to the weather or to the state of the roads--
they stand out in the vast array of memorable trifles
that constitute the story of my life as among the most
memorable ones. Seven drives seem, as it were, lifted
above the mass of others as worthy to be described in
some detail--as not too trivial to detain for an hour or
so a patient reader's kind attention. Not that the others
lack in interest for myself; but there is little in them
of that mildly dramatic, stirring quality which might
perhaps make their recital deserving of being heard beyond
my own frugal fireside. Strange to say, only one of the
seven is a return trip. I am afraid that the prospect of
going back to rather uncongenial work must have dulled
my senses. Or maybe, since I was returning over the same
road after an interval of only two days, I had exhausted
on the way north whatever there was of noticeable
impressions to be garnered. Or again, since I was coming
from "home," from the company of those for whom I lived
and breathed, it might just be that all my thoughts flew
back with such an intensity that there was no vitality
left for the perception of the things immediately around me.




ONE
Farms and Roads

At ten minutes past four, of an evening late in September,
I sat in the buggy and swung out of the livery stable
that boarded my horse. Peter, the horse, was a chunky
bay, not too large, nor too small; and I had stumbled on
to him through none of my sagacity. To tell the plain
truth, I wanted to get home, I had to have a horse that
could stand the trip, no other likely looking horse was
offered, this one was--on a trial drive he looked as if
he might do, and so I bought him--no, not quite--I arranged
with the owner that I should make one complete trip with
him and pay a fee of five dollars in case I did not keep
him. As the sequence showed, I could not have found a
better horse for the work in hand.

I turned on to the road leading north, crossed the bridge,
and was between the fields. I looked at my watch and
began to time myself. The moon was new and stood high in
the western sky; the sun was sinking on the downward
stretch. It was a pleasant, warm fall day, and it promised
an evening such as I had wished for on my first drive
out. Not a cloud showed anywhere. I did not urge the
horse; he made the first mile in seven, and a half minutes,
and I counted that good enough.

Then came the turn to the west; this new road was a
correction line, and I had to follow it for half a mile.
There was no farmhouse on this short bend. Then north
for five miles. The road was as level as a table top--a
good, smooth, hard-beaten, age-mellowed prairie-grade.
The land to east and west was also level; binders were
going and whirring their harvest song. Nobody could have
felt more contented than I did. There were two clusters
of buildings--substantial buildings--set far back from
the road, one east, the other one west, both clusters
huddled homelike and sheltered in bluffs of planted
cottonwoods, straight rows of them, three, four trees
deep. My horse kept trotting leisurely along, the wheels
kept turning, a meadow lark called in a desultory way
from a nearby fence post. I was "on the go." I had torn
up my roots, as it were, I felt detached and free; and
if both these prosperous looking farms had been my
property--I believe, that moment a "Thank-you" would have
bought them from me if parting from them had been the
price of the liberty to proceed. But, of course, neither
one of them ever could have been my property, for neither
by temperament nor by profession had I ever been given
to the accumulation of the wealth of this world.

A mile or so farther on there stood another group of farm
buildings--this one close to the road. An unpainted barn,
a long and low, rather ramshackle structure with sagging
slidedoors that could no longer be closed, stood in the
rear of the farm yard. The dwelling in front of it was
a tall, boxlike two-story house, well painted in a rather
loud green with white door and window frames. The door
in front, one window beside it, two windows above,
geometrically correct, and stiff and cold. The house was
the only green thing around, however. Not a tree, not a
shrub, not even a kitchen garden that I could see. I
looked the place over critically, while I drove by.
Somehow I was convinced that a bachelor owned it--a man
who made this house--which was much too large for him
--his "bunk." There it stood, slick and cold, unhospitable
as ever a house was. A house has its physiognomy as well
as a man, for him who can read it; and this one,
notwithstanding its new and shining paint, was sullen,
morose, and nearly vicious and spiteful. I turned away.
I should not have cared to work for its owner.

Peter was trotting along. I do not know why on this first
trip he never showed the one of his two most prominent
traits--his laziness. As I found out later on, so long
as I drove him single (he changed entirely in this respect
when he had a mate), he would have preferred to be hitched
behind, with me between the shafts pulling buggy and him.
That was his weakness, but in it there also lay his
strength. As soon as I started to dream or to be absorbed
in the things around, he was sure to fall into the slowest
of walks. When then he heard the swish of the whip, he
would start with the worst of consciences, gallop away
at breakneck speed, and slow down only when he was sure
the whip was safe in its socket. When we met a team and
pulled out on the side of the road, he would take it for
granted that I desired to make conversation. He stopped
instantly, drew one hindleg up, stood on three legs, and
drooped his head as if he had come from the ends of the
world. Oh yes, he knew how to spare himself. But on the
other hand, when it came to a tight place, where only an
extraordinary effort would do, I had never driven a horse
on which I could more confidently rely. What any horse
could do, he did.

About two miles beyond I came again to a cluster of
buildings, close to the corner of the crossroads, sheltered,
homelike, inviting in a large natural bluff of tall,
dark-green poplars. Those first two houses had had an
aristocratic aloofness--I should not have liked to turn
in there for shelter or for help. But this was prosperous,
open-handed, well-to-do middle class; not that conspicuous
"moneyedness" that we so often find in our new west when
people have made their success; but the solid, friendly,
everyday liberality that for generations has not had to
pinch itself and therefore has mellowed down to taking
the necessities and a certain amount of give and take
for granted. I was glad when on closer approach I noticed
a school embedded in the shady green of the corner. I
thought with pleasure of children being so close to people
with whom I should freely have exchanged a friendly
greeting and considered it a privilege. In my mental
vision I saw beeches and elms and walnut trees around a
squire's place in the old country.

The road began to be lined with thickets of shrubs here:
choke cherry bushes, with some ripe, dried-up black
berries left on the branches, with iron-black bark, and
with wiry stems, in the background; in front of them,
closer to the driveway, hawthorn, rich with red fruit;
rosebushes with scarlet leaves reaching down to nearly
underfoot. It is one of the most pleasing characteristics
of our native thickets that they never rise abruptly
Always they shade off through cushionlike copses of
smaller growth into the level ground around.

The sun was sinking. I knew a mile or less further north
I should have to turn west in order to avoid rough roads
straight ahead. That meant doubling up, because some
fifteen miles or so north I should have to turn east
again, my goal being east of my starting place. These
fifteen or sixteen miles of the northward road I did not
know; so I was anxious to make them while I could see.
I looked at the moon--I could count on some light from
her for an hour or so after sundown. But although I knew
the last ten or twelve miles of my drive fairly well, I
was also aware of the fact that there were in it tricky
spots--forkings of mere trails in muskeg bush--where
leaving the beaten log-track might mean as much as being
lost. So I looked at my watch again and shook the lines
over Peter's back. The first six miles had taken me nearly
fifty minutes. I looked at the sun again, rather anxiously
I could count on him for another hour and a quarter--well
and good then!

There was the turn. Just north of it, far back from both
roads, another farmyard. Behind it--to the north, stretched
out, a long windbreak of poplars, with a gap or a vista
in its centre. Barn and outbuildings were unpainted, the
house white; a not unpleasing group, but something slovenly
about it. I saw with my mind's eye numerous children,
rather neglected, uncared for, an overworked, sickly
woman, a man who was bossy and harsh.

The road angles here. Bell's farm consists of three
quartersections; the southwest quarter lends its diagonal
for the trail. I had hardly made the turn, however, when
a car came to meet me. It stopped. The school-inspector
of the district looked out. I drew in and returned his
greeting, half annoyed at being thus delayed. But his
very next word made me sit up. He had that morning
inspected my wife's school and seen her and my little
girl; they were both as well as they could be. I felt so
glad that I got out of my buggy to hand him my pouch of
tobacco, the which he took readily enough. He praised my
wife's work, as no doubt he had reason to do, and I should
have given him a friendly slap on the shoulder, had not
just then my horse taken it into his head to walk away
without me.

I believe I was whistling when I got back to the buggy
seat. I know I slapped the horse's rump with my lines
and sang out, "Get up, Peter, we still have a matter of
nearly thirty miles to make."

The road becomes pretty much a mere trail here, a rut-track,
smooth enough in the rut, where the wheels ran, but rough
for the horse's feet in between.

To the left I found the first untilled land. It stretched
far away to the west, overgrown with shrub-willow,
wolf-willow and symphoricarpus--a combination that is
hard to break with the plow. I am fond of the silver
grey, leathery foliage of the wolf-willow which is so
characteristic of our native woods. Cinquefoil, too, the
shrubby variety, I saw in great numbers--another one of
our native dwarf shrubs which, though decried as a weed,
should figure as a border plant in my millionaire's park.

And as if to make my enjoyment of the evening's drive
supreme, I saw the first flocks of my favourite bird,
the goldfinch. All over this vast expanse, which many
would have called a waste, there were strings of them,
chasing each other in their wavy flight, twittering on
the downward stretch, darting in among the bushes, turning
with incredible swiftness and sureness of wing the shortest
of curves about a branch, and undulating away again to
where they came from.

To the east I had, while pondering over the beautiful
wilderness, passed a fine bluff of stately poplars that
stood like green gold in the evening sun. They sheltered
apparently, though at a considerable distance, another
farmhouse; for a road led along their southern edge,
lined with telephone posts. A large flock of sheep was
grazing between the bluff and the trail, the most
appropriate kind of stock for this particular landscape.

While looking back at them, I noticed a curious trifle.
The fence along my road had good cedar posts, placed
about fifteen feet apart. But at one point there were
two posts where one would have done. The wire, in fact,
was not fastened at all to the supernumerary one, and
yet this useless post was strongly braced by two stout,
slanting poles. A mere nothing, which I mention only
because it was destined to be an important landmark for
me on future drives.

We drove on. At the next mile-corner all signs of human
habitation ceased. I had now on both sides that same
virgin ground which I have described above. Only here it
was interspersed with occasional thickets of young
aspen-boles. It was somewhere in this wilderness that I
saw a wolf, a common prairie-wolf with whom I became
quite familiar later on. I made it my custom during the
following weeks, on my return trips, to start at a given
point a few miles north of here eating the lunch which
my wife used to put up for me: sandwiches with crisply
fried bacon for a filling. And when I saw that wolf for
the second time, I threw a little piece of bacon overboard.
He seemed interested in the performance and stood and
watched me in an averted kind of way from a distance. I
have often noticed that you can never see a wolf from
the front, unless it so happens that he does not see you.
If he is aware of your presence, he will instantly swing
around, even though he may stop and watch you. If he
watches, he does so with his head turned back. That is
one of the many precautions the wily fellow has learned,
very likely through generations of bitter experience.
After a while I threw out a second piece, and he started
to trot alongside, still half turned away; he kept at a
distance of about two hundred yards to the west running
in a furtive, half guilty-looking way, with his tail down
and his eye on me. After that he became my regular
companion, an expected feature of my return trips, running
with me every time for a while and coming a little bit
closer till about the middle of November he disappeared,
never to be seen again. This time I saw him in the
underbrush, about a hundred yards ahead and as many more
to the west. I took him by surprise, as he took me. I
was sorry I had not seen him a few seconds sooner. For,
when I focused my eyes on him, he stood in a curious
attitude: as if he was righting himself after having
slipped on his hindfeet in running a sharp curve. At the
same moment a rabbit shot across that part of my field
of vision to the east which I saw in a blurred way only,
from the very utmost corner of my right eye. I did not
turn but kept my eyes glued to the wolf. Nor can I tell
whether I had stirred the rabbit up, or whether the wolf
had been chasing or stalking it. I should have liked to
know, for I have never seen a wolf stalking a rabbit,
though I have often seen him stalk fowl. Had he pulled
up when he saw me? As I said, I cannot tell, for now he
was standing in the characteristic wolf-way, half turned,
head bent back, tail stretched out nearly horizontally.
The tail sank, the whole beast seemed to shrink, and
suddenly he slunk away with amazing agility. Poor fellow
--he did not know that many a time I had fed some of his
brothers in cruel winters. But he came to know me, as I
knew him; for whenever he left me on later drives, very
close to Bell's corner, after I had finished my lunch,
he would start right back on my trail, nose low, and I
have no doubt that he picked up the bits of bacon which
I had dropped as tidbits for him.

I drove and drove. The sun neared the horizon now It was
about six o'clock. The poplar thickets on both sides of
the road began to be larger. In front the trail led
towards a gate in a long, long line of towering cottonwoods.
What was beyond?

It proved to be a gate indeed. Beyond the cottonwoods
there ran an eastward grade lined on the north side by
a ditch which I had to cross on a culvert. It will
henceforth be known as the "twelve-mile bridge." Beyond
the culvert the road which I followed had likewise been
worked up into a grade. I did not like it, for it was
new and rough. But less did I like the habitation at the
end of its short, one-mile career. It stood to the right,
close to the road, and was a veritable hovel. [Footnote:
It might be well to state expressly here that, whatever
has been said in these pages concerning farms and their
inhabitants, has intentionally been so arranged as not
to apply to the exact localities at which they are
described. Anybody at all familiar with the district
through which these drives were made will readily identify
every natural landmark. But although I have not consciously
introduced any changes in the landscape as God made it,
I have in fairness to the settlers entirely redrawn the
superimposed man-made landscape.] It was built of logs,
but it looked more like a dugout, for stable as well as
dwelling were covered by way of a roof with blower-thrown
straw In the door of the hovel there stood two brats--poor
things!

The road was a trail again for a mile or two. It led once
more through the underbrush-wilderness interspersed with
poplar bluffs. Then it became by degrees a real "high-class"
Southern Prairie grade. I wondered, but not for long.
Tall cottonwood bluffs, unmistakably planted trees,
betrayed more farms. There were three of them, and,
strange to say, here on the very fringe of civilization
I found that "moneyed" type--a house, so new and up-to-date,
that it verily seemed to turn up its nose to the traveller.
I am sure it had a bathroom without a bathtub and various
similar modern inconveniences. The barn was of the
Agricultural-College type--it may be good, scientific,
and all that, but it seems to crush everything else around
out of existence; and it surely is not picturesque--unless
it has wings and silos to relieve its rigid contours.
Here it had not.

The other two farms to which I presently came--buildings
set back from the road, but not so far as to give them
the air of aloofness--had again that friendly, old-country
expression that I have already mentioned: here it was
somewhat marred, though, by an over-rigidity of the lines.
It is unfortunate that our farmers, when they plant at
all, will nearly always plant in straight lines. The
straight line is a flaw where we try to blend the work
of our hands with Nature. They also as a rule neglect
shrubs that would help to furnish a foreground for their
trees; and, worst of all, they are given to importing,
instead of utilising our native forest growth. Not often
have I seen, for instance, our high-bush cranberry planted,
although it certainly is one of the most beautiful shrubs
to grow in copses.

These two farms proved to be pretty much the last sign
of comfort that I was to meet on my drives to the north.
Though later I learned the names of their owners and even
made their acquaintance, for me they remained the "halfway
farms," for, after I had passed them, at the very next
corner, I was seventeen miles from my starting point,
seventeen miles from "home."

Beyond, stretches of the real wilderness began, the
pioneer country, where farms, except along occasional
highroads, were still three, four miles apart, where the
breaking on few homesteads had reached the thirty-acre
mark, and where a real, "honest-to-goodness" cash dollar
bill was often as scarce as a well-to-do teacher in the
prairie country.

The sun went down, a ball of molten gold--two hours from
"town," as I called it. It was past six o'clock. There
were no rosy-fingered clouds; just a paling of the blue
into white; then a greying of the western sky; and lastly
the blue again, only this time dark. A friendly crescent
still showed trail and landmarks after even the dusk had
died away. Four miles, or a little more, and I should be
in familiar land again. Four miles, that I longed to
make, before the last light failed...

The road angled to the northeast. I was by no means very
sure of it. I knew which general direction to hold, but
trails that often became mere cattle-paths crossed and
criss-crossed repeatedly. It was too dark by this time
to see very far. I did not know the smaller landmarks.
But I knew, if I drove my horse pretty briskly, I must
within little more than half an hour strike a black wall
of the densest primeval forest fringing a creek--and,
skirting this creek, I must find an old, weather-beaten
lumber bridge. When I had crossed that bridge, I should
know the landmarks again.

Underbrush everywhere, mostly symphoricarpus, I thought.
Large trunks loomed up, charred with forest fires; here
and there a round, white or light-grey stone, ghostly in
the waning light, knee-high, I should judge. Once I passed
the skeleton of a stable--the remnant of the buildings
put up by a pioneer settler who had to give in after
having wasted effort and substance and worn his knuckles
to the bones. The wilderness uses human material up...

A breeze from the north sprang up, and it turned strangely
chilly I started to talk to Peter, the loneliness seemed
so oppressive. I told him that he should have a walk, a
real walk, as soon as we had crossed the creek. I told
him we were on the homeward half--that I had a bag of
oats in the box, and that my wife would have a pail of
water ready... And Peter trotted along.

Something loomed up in front. Dark and sinister it looked.
Still there was enough light to recognize even that which
I did not know. A large bluff of poplars rustled, the wind
soughing through the stems with a wailing note. The brush
grew higher to the right. I suddenly noticed that I was
driving along a broken-down fence between the brush and
myself. The brush became a grove of boles which next
seemed to shoot up to the full height of the bluff. Then,
unexpectedly, startlingly, a vista opened. Between the
silent grove to the south and the large; whispering,
wailing bluff to the north there stood in a little clearing
a snow white log house, uncannily white in the paling
moonlight. I could still distinctly see that its upper
windows were nailed shut with boards--and yes, its lower
ones, too. And yet, the moment I passed it, I saw through
one unclosed window on the northside light. Unreasonably
I shuddered.

This house, too, became a much-looked-for landmark to me on
my future drives. I learned that it stood on the range line
and called it the "White Range Line House." There hangs
a story by this house. Maybe I shall one day tell it...

Beyond the great and awe-inspiring poplar-bluff the trail
took a sharp turn eastward. From the southwest another
rut-road joined it at the bend. I could only just make
it out in the dark, for even moonlight was fading fast
now. The sudden, reverberating tramp of the horse's feet
betrayed that I was crossing a culvert. I had been absorbed
in getting my bearings, and so it came as a surprise. It
had not been mentioned in the elaborate directions which
I had received with regard to the road to follow. For a
moment, therefore, I thought I must be on the wrong trail.
But just then the dim view, which had been obstructed by
copses and thickets, cleared ahead in the last glimmer
of the moon, and I made out the back cliff of forest
darkly looming in the north--that forest I knew. Behind
a narrow ribbon of bush the ground sloped down to the
bed of the creek--a creek that filled in spring and became
a torrent, but now was sluggish and slow where it ran at
all. In places it consisted of nothing but a line of
muddy pools strung along the bottom of its bed. In summer
these were a favourite haunting place for mosquito-and-
fly-plagued cows. There the great beasts would lie down
in the mud and placidly cool their punctured skins. A
few miles southwest the creek petered out entirely in a
bed of shaly gravel bordering on the Big Marsh which I
had skirted in my drive and a corner of which I was
crossing just now.

The road was better here and spoke of more traffic. It
was used to haul cordwood in late winter and early spring
to a town some ten or fifteen miles to the southwest. So
I felt sure again I was not lost but would presently
emerge on familiar territory. The horse seemed to know it,
too, for he raised his head and went at a better gait.

A few minutes passed. There was hardly a sound from my
vehicle. The buggy was rubber-tired, and the horse selected
a smooth ribbon of grass to run on. But from the black
forest wall there came the soughing of the wind and the
nocturnal rustle of things unknown. And suddenly there
came from close at hand a startling sound: a clarion call
that tore the veil lying over my mental vision: the sharp,
repeated whistle of the whip-poor-will. And with my mind's
eye I saw the dusky bird: shooting slantways upward in
its low flight which ends in a nearly perpendicular slide
down to within ten or twelve feet from the ground, the
bird being closely followed by a second one pursuing. In
reality I did not see the birds, but I heard the fast
whir of their wings.

Another bird I saw but did not hear. It was a small owl.
The owl's flight is too silent, its wing is down-padded.
You may hear its beautiful call, but you will not hear
its flight, even though it circle right around your head
in the dusk. This owl crossed my path not more than an
inch or two in front. It nearly grazed my forehead, so
that I blinked. Oh, how I felt reassured! I believe,
tears welled in my eyes. When I come to the home of frog
and toad, of gartersnake and owl and whip-poor-will, a
great tenderness takes possession of me, and I should
like to shield and help them all and tell them not to be
afraid of me; but I rather think they know it anyway.

The road swung north, and then east again; we skirted
the woods; we came to the bridge; it turned straight
north; the horse fell into a walk. I felt that henceforth
I could rely on my sense of orientation to find the road.
It was pitch dark in the bush--the thin slice of the moon
had reached the horizon and followed the sun; no light
struck into the hollow which I had to thread after turning
to the southeast for a while. But as if to reassure me
once more and still further of the absolute friendliness
of all creation for myself--at this very moment I saw
high overhead, on a dead branch of poplar, a snow white
owl, a large one, eighteen inches tall, sitting there in
state, lord as he is of the realm of night...

Peter walked--though I did not see the road, the horse
could not mistake it. It lay at the bottom of a chasm of
trees and bushes. I drew my cloak somewhat closer around
and settled back. This cordwood trail took us on for half
a mile, and then we came to a grade leading east. The
grade was rough; it was the first one of a network of
grades which were being built by the province, not
primarily for the roads they afforded, but for the sake
of the ditches of a bold and much needed drainage-system.
To this very day these yellow grades of the pioneer
country along the lake lie like naked scars on Nature's
body: ugly raw, as if the bowels were torn out of a
beautiful bird and left to dry and rot on its plumage.
Age will mellow them down into harmony.

Peter had walked for nearly half an hour. The ditch was
north of the grade. I had passed, without seeing it, a
newly cut-out road to the north which led to a lonesome
schoolhouse in the bush. As always when I passed or
thought of it, I had wondered where through this
wilderness-tangle of bush and brush the children came
from to fill it--walking through winter-snows, through
summer-muds, for two, three, four miles or more to get
their meagre share of the accumulated knowledge of the
world. And the teacher! Was it the money? Could it be
when there were plenty of schools in the thickly settled
districts waiting for them? I knew of one who had come
to this very school in a car and turned right back when
she saw that she was expected to live as a boarder on a
comfortless homestead and walk quite a distance and teach
mostly foreign-born children. It had been the money with
her! Unfortunately it is not the woman--nor the man
either, for that matter--who drives around in a car, that
will buckle down and do this nation's work! I also knew
there were others like myself who think this backwoods
bushland God's own earth and second only to Paradise--but
few! And these young girls that quake at their loneliness
and yet go for a pittance and fill a mission! But was
not my wife of their very number?

I started up. Peter was walking along. But here, somewhere,
there led a trail off the grade, down through the ditch,
and to the northeast into the bush which swallows it up
and closes behind it. This trail needs to be looked for
even in daytime, and I was to find it at night! But by
this time starlight began to aid. Vega stood nearly
straight overhead, and Deneb and Altair, the great autumnal
triangle in our skies. The Bear, too, stood out boldly,
and Cassiopeia opposite.

I drew in and got out of the buggy; and walking up to
the horse's head, got ahold of the bridle and led him,
meanwhile scrutinizing the ground over which I stepped.
At that I came near missing the trail. It was just a
darkening of the ground, a suggestion of black on the
brown of the grade, at the point where poles and logs
had been pulled across with the logging chain. I sprang
down into the ditch and climbed up beyond and felt with
my foot for the dent worn into the edge of the slope, to
make sure that I was where I should be. It was right, so
I led the horse across. At once he stood on three legs
again, left hindleg drawn up, and rested.

"Well, Peter," I said, "I suppose I have made it easy
enough for you: We have another twelve miles to make.
You'll have to get up." But Peter this time did not stir
till I touched him a flick with my whip.

The trail winds around, for it is a logging trail, leading
up to the best bluffs, which are ruthlessly cut down by
the fuel-hunters. Only dead and half decayed trees are
spared. But still young boles spring up in astonishing
numbers. Aspen and Balm predominate, though there is some
ash and oak left here and there, with a conifer as the
rarest treat for the lover of trees. It is a pitiful
thing to see a Nation's heritage go into the discard. In
France or in England it would be tended as something
infinitely precious. The face of our country as yet shows
the youth of infancy, but we make it prematurely old.
The settler who should regard the trees as his greatest
pride, to be cut into as sparingly as is compatible with
the exigencies of his struggle for life--he regards them
as a nuisance to be burned down by setting wholesale
fires to them. Already there is a scarcity of fuel-wood
in these parts.

Where the fires as yet have not penetrated too badly,
the cutting, which leaves only what is worthless, determines
the impression the forest makes. At night this impression
is distinctly uncanny. Like gigantic brooms, with their
handles stuck into the ground, the dead wood stands up;
the underbrush crowds against it, so dense that it lies
like huge black cushions under the stars. The inner
recesses form an almost impenetrable mass of young boles
of shivering aspen and scented balm. This mass slopes
down to thickets of alder, red dogwood, haw, highbush
cranberry, and honeysuckle, with wide beds of goldenrod
or purple asters shading off into the spangled meadows
wherever the copses open up into grassy glades.

Through this bush, and skirting its meadows, I drove for
an hour. There was another fork in the trail, and again
I had to get out and walk on the side, to feel with my
foot for the rut where it branched to the north. And
then, after a while, the landscape opened up, the brush
receded. At last I became conscious of a succession of
posts to the right, and a few minutes later I emerged on
the second east-west grade. Another mile to the east
along this grade, and I should come to the last, homeward
stretch.

Again I began to talk to the horse. "Only five miles now,
Peter, and then the night's rest. A good drink, a good
feed of oats and wild hay, and the birds will waken you
in the morning."

The northern lights leaped into the sky just as I turned
from this east-west grade, north again, across a high
bridge, to the last road that led home. To the right I
saw a friendly light, and a dog's barking voice rang over
from the still, distant farmstead. I knew the place. An
American settler with a French sounding name had squatted
down there a few years ago.

The road I followed was, properly speaking, not a road
at all, though used for one. A deep master ditch had been
cut from ten or twelve miles north of here; it angled,
for engineering reasons, so that I was going northwest
again. The ground removed from the ditch had been dumped
along its east side, and though it formed only a narrow,
high, and steep dam, rough with stones and overgrown with
weeds, it was used by whoever had to go north or south
here. The next east-west grade which I was aiming to
reach, four miles north, was the second correction line
that I had to use, twenty-four miles distant from the
first; and only a few hundred yards from its corner I
should be at home!

At home! All my thoughts were bent on getting home now.
Five or six hours of driving will make the strongest back
tired, I am told. Mine is not of the strongest. This road
lifted me above the things that I liked to watch.
Invariably, on all these drives, I was to lose interest
here unless the stars were particularly bright and
brilliant. This night I watched the lights, it is true:
how they streamed across the sky, like driving rain that
is blown into wavy streaks by impetuous wind. And they
leaped and receded, and leaped and receded again. But
while I watched, I stretched my limbs and was bent on
speed. There were a few particularly bad spots in the
road, where I could not do anything but walk the horse.
So, where the going was fair, I urged him to redoubled
effort. I remember how I reflected that the horse as yet
did not know we were so near home, this being his first
trip out; and I also remember, that my wife afterwards
told me that she had heard me a long while before I
came--had heard me talking to the horse, urging him on
and encouraging him.

Now I came to a slight bend in the road. Only half a
mile! And sure enough: there was the signal put out for
me. A lamp in one of the windows of the school--placed
so that after I turned in on the yard, I could not see
it--it might have blinded my eye, and the going is rough
there with stumps and stones. I could not see the cottage,
it stood behind the school. But the school I saw clearly
outlined against the dark blue, star-spangled sky, for
it stands on a high gravel ridge. And in the most friendly
and welcoming way it looked with its single eye across
at the nocturnal guest.

I could not see the cottage, but I knew that my little
girl lay sleeping in her cosy bed, and that a young woman
was sitting there in the dark, her face glued to the
windowpane, to be ready with a lantern which burned in
the kitchen whenever I might pull up between school and
house. And there, no doubt, she had been sitting for a
long while already; and there she was destined to sit
during the winter that came, on Friday nights--full often
for many and many an hour--full often till midnight--and
sometimes longer...




TWO
Fog

Peter took me north, alone, on six successive trips. We
had rain, we had snow, we had mud, and hard-frozen ground.
It took us four, it took us six, it took us on one
occasion--after a heavy October snowfall--nearly eleven
hours to make the trip. That last adventure decided me.
It was unavoidable that I should buy a second horse. The
roads were getting too heavy for single driving over such
a distance. This time I wanted a horse that I could sell
in the spring to a farmer for any kind of work on the
land. I looked around for a while. Then I found Dan. He
was a sorrel, with some Clyde blood in him. He looked a
veritable skate of a horse. You could lay your fingers
between his ribs, and he played out on the first trip I
ever made with this newly-assembled, strange-looking
team. But when I look back at that winter, I cannot but
say that again I chose well. After I had fed him up, he
did the work in a thoroughly satisfactory manner, and he
learnt to know the road far better than Peter. Several
times I should have been lost without his unerring road
sense. In the spring I sold him for exactly what I had
paid; the farmer who bought him has him to this very day
[Footnote: Spring, 1919.] and says he never had a better
horse.

I also had found that on moonless nights it was
indispensable for me to have lights along. Now maybe the
reader has already noticed that I am rather a thorough-going
person. For a week I worked every day after four at my
buggy and finally had a blacksmith put on the finishing
touches. What I rigged up, was as follows: On the front
springs I fastened with clamps two upright iron supports;
between them with thumbscrews the searchlight of a wrecked
steam tractor which I got for a "Thank-you" from a
junk-pile. Into the buggy box I laid a borrowed acetylene
gas tank, strapped down with two bands of galvanized tin.
I made the connection by a stout rubber tube, "guaranteed
not to harden in the severest weather." To the side of
the box I attached a short piece of bandiron, bent at an
angle, so that a bicycle lamp could be slipped over it.
Against the case that I should need a handlight, I carried
besides a so-called dashboard coal-oil lantern with me.
With all lamps going, it must have been a strange outfit
to look at from a distance in the dark.

I travelled by this time in fur coat and cap, and I
carried a robe for myself and blankets for the horses,
for I now fed them on the road soon after crossing the
creek.

Now on the second Friday of November there had been a
smell of smoke in the air from the early morning. The
marsh up north was afire--as it had been off and on for
a matter of twenty-odd years. The fire consumes on the
surface everything that will burn; the ground cools down,
a new vegetation springs up, and nobody would suspect
--as there is nothing to indicate--that only a few feet
below the heat lingers, ready to leap up again if given
the opportunity In this case I was told that a man had
started to dig a well on a newly filed claim, and that
suddenly he found himself wrapped about in smoke and
flames. I cannot vouch for the truth of this, but I can
vouch for the fact that the smoke of the fire was smelt
for forty miles north and that in the afternoon a
combination of this smoke (probably furnishing "condensation
nuclei") and of the moisture in the air, somewhere along
or above the lake brought about the densest fog I had
ever seen on the prairies. How it spread, I shall discuss
later on. To give an idea of its density I will mention
right here that on the well travelled road between two
important towns a man abandoned his car during the early
part of the night because he lost his nerve when his
lights could no longer penetrate the fog sufficiently
to reach the road.

I was warned at noon. "You surely do not intend to go
out to-night?" remarked a lawyer-acquaintance to me at
the dinner table in the hotel; for by telephone from
lake-points reports of the fog had already reached the
town. "I intend to leave word at the stable right now,"
I replied, "to have team and buggy in front of the school
at four o'clock." "Well," said the lawyer in getting up,
"I would not; you'll run into fog."

And into fog I did run. At this time of the year I had
at best only a little over an hour's start in my race
against darkness. I always drove my horses hard now while
daylight lasted; I demanded from them their very best
strength at the start. Then, till we reached the last
clear road over the dam, I spared them as much as I could.
I had met up with a few things in the dark by now, and
I had learned, if a difficulty arose, how much easier it
is to cope with it even in failing twilight than by the
gleam of lantern or headlight; for the latter never
illumine more than a limited spot.

So I had turned Bell's corner by the time I hit the fog.
I saw it in front and to the right. It drew a slanting
line across the road. There it stood like a wall. Not a
breath seemed to be stirring. The fog, from a distance,
appeared to rise like a cliff, quite smoothly, and it
blotted out the world beyond. When I approached it, I
saw that its face was not so smooth as it had appeared
from half a mile back; nor was it motionless. In fact,
it was rolling south and west like a wave of great
viscosity. Though my senses failed to perceive the
slightest breath of a breeze, the fog was brewing and
whirling, and huge spheres seemed to be forming in it,
and to roll forward, slowly, and sometimes to recede, as
if they had encountered an obstacle and rebounded clumsily.
I had seen a tidal wave, fifty or more feet high, sweep
up the "bore" of a river at the head of the Bay of Fundy.
I was reminded of the sight; but here everything seemed
to proceed in a strangely, weirdly leisurely way. There
was none of that rush, of that hurry about this fog that
characterizes water. Besides there seemed to be no end
to the wave above; it reached up as far as your eye could
see--now bulging in, now out, but always advancing. It
was not so slow however, as for the moment I judged it
to be; for I was later on told that it reached the town
at about six o'clock. And here I was, at five, six and
a half miles from its limits as the crow flies.

I had hardly time to take in the details that I have
described before I was enveloped in the folds of the fog.
I mean this quite literally, for I am firmly convinced
that an onlooker from behind would have seen the grey
masses fold in like a sheet when I drove against them.
It must have looked as if a driver were driving against
a canvas moving in a slight breeze--canvas light and
loose enough to be held in place by the resistance of the
air so as to enclose him. Or maybe I should say "veiling"
instead of canvas--or something still lighter and airier.
Have you ever seen milk poured carefully down the side
of a glass vessel filled with water? Well, clear air and
fog seemed to behave towards each other pretty much the
same way as milk in that case behaves towards water.

I am rather emphatic about this because I have made a
study of just such mists on a very much smaller scale.
In that northern country where my wife taught her school
and where I was to live for nearly two years as a
convalescent, the hollows of the ground on clear cold
summer nights, when the mercury dipped down close to the
freezing point, would sometimes fill with a white mist
of extraordinary density. Occasionally this mist would
go on forming in higher and higher layers by condensation;
mostly however, it seemed rather to come from below. But
always, when it was really dense, there was a definite
plane of demarcation. In fact, that was the criterion by
which I recognised this peculiar mist. Mostly there is,
even in the north, a layer of lesser density over the
pools, gradually shading off into the clear air above.
Nothing of what I am going to describe can be observed
in that case.

One summer, when I was living not over two miles from
the lakeshore, I used to go down to these pools whenever
they formed in the right way; and when I approached them
slowly and carefully, I could dip my hand into the mist
as into water, and I could feel the coolness of the misty
layers. It was not because my hand got moist, for it did
not. No evaporation was going on there, nor any condensation
either. Nor did noticeable bubbles form because there
was no motion in the mass which might have caused the
infinitesimal droplets to collide and to coalesce into
something perceivable to my senses.

Once, of a full-moon night, I spent an hour getting into
a pool like that, and when I looked down at my feet, I
could not see them. But after I had been standing in it
for a while, ten minutes maybe, a clear space had formed
around my body, and I could see the ground. The heat of
my body helped the air to redissolve the mist into steam.
And as I watched, I noticed that a current was set up.
The mist was continually flowing in towards my feet and
legs where the body-heat was least. And where evaporation
proceeded fastest, that is at the height of my waist,
little wisps of mist would detach themselves from the
side of the funnel of clear air in which I stood, and
they would, in a slow, graceful motion, accelerated
somewhat towards the last, describe a downward and inward
curve towards the lower part of my body before they
dissolved. I thought of that elusive and yet clearly
defined layer of mist that forms in the plane of contact
between the cold air flowing from Mammoth Cave in Kentucky
and the ambient air of a sultry summer day. [Footnote:
See Burroughs' wonderful description of this phenomenon
in "Riverby."]

On another of the rare occasions when the mists had formed
in the necessary density I went out again, put a stone
in my pocket and took a dog along. I approached a shallow
mist pool with the greatest caution. The dog crouched
low, apparently thinking that I was stalking some game.
Then, when I had arrived within about ten or fifteen
yards from the edge of the pool, I took the stone from
my pocket, showed it to the dog, and threw it across the
pool as fast and as far as I could. The dog dashed in
and tore through the sheet. Where the impact of his body
came, the mist bulged in, then broke. For a while there
were two sheets, separated by a more or less clearly
defined, vertical layer of transparency or maybe blackness
rather. The two sheets were in violent commotion,
approaching, impinging upon each other, swinging back
again to complete separation, and so on. But the violence
of the motion consisted by no means in speed: it suggested
a very much retarded rolling off of a motion picture
reel. There was at first an element of disillusion in
the impression. I felt tempted to shout and to spur the
mist into greater activity. On the surface, to both sides
of the tear, waves ran out, and at the edges of the pool
they rose in that same leisurely, stately way which struck
me as one of the most characteristic features of that
November mist; and at last it seemed as if they reared
and reached up, very slowly as a dying man may stand up
once more before he falls. And only after an interval
that seemed unconscionably long to me the whole pool
settled back to comparative smoothness, though without
its definite plane of demarcation now. Strange to say,
the dog had actually started something, a rabbit maybe
or a jumping deer, and did not return.

When fogs spread, as a rule they do so in air already
saturated with moisture. What really spreads, is the cold
air which by mixing with, and thereby cooling, the warmer,
moisture-laden atmosphere causes the condensation. That
is why our fall mists mostly are formed in an exceedingly
slight but still noticeable breeze. But in the case of
these northern mist pools, whenever the conditions are
favourable for their formation, the moisture of the upper
air seems to be pretty well condensed as dew It is only
in the hollows of the ground that it remains suspended
in this curious way. I cannot, so far, say whether it is
due to the fact that where radiation is largely thrown
back upon the walls of the hollow, the fall in temperature
at first is very much slower than in the open, thus
enabling the moisture to remain in suspension; or whether
the hollows serve as collecting reservoirs for the cold
air from the surrounding territory--the air carrying the
already condensed moisture with it; or whether, lastly,
it is simply due to a greater saturation of the atmosphere
in these cavities, consequent upon the greater approach
of their bottom to the level of the ground water. I have
seen a "waterfall" of this mist overflow from a dent in
the edge of ground that contained a pool. That seems to
argue for an origin similar to that of a spring; as if
strongly moisture-laden air welled up from underground,
condensing its steam as it got chilled. It is these
strange phenomena that are familiar, too, in the northern
plains of Europe which must have given rise to the belief
in elves and other weird creations of the brain--"the
earth has bubbles as the water has"--not half as weird,
though, as some realities are in the land which I love.

Now this great, memorable fog of that November Friday
shared the nature of the mist pools of the north in as
much as to a certain extent it refused to mingle with
the drier and slightly warmer air into which it travelled.
It was different from them in as much as it fairly dripped
and oozed with a very palpable wetness. Just how it
displaced the air in its path, is something which I cannot
with certainty say. Was it formed as a low layer somewhere
over the lake and slowly pushed along by a gentle,
imperceptible, fan-shaped current of air? Fan-shaped, I
say; for, as we shall see, it travelled simultaneously
south and north; and I must infer that in exactly the
same way it travelled west. Or was it formed originally
like a tremendous column which flattened out by and by,
through its own greater gravity slowly displacing the
lighter air in the lower strata? I do not know, but I am
inclined to accept the latter explanation. I do know that
it travelled at the rate of about six miles an hour; and
its coming was observed somewhat in detail by two other
observers besides myself--two people who lived twenty-five
miles apart, one to the north, one to the south of where
I hit it. Neither one was as much interested in things
meteorological as I am, but both were struck by the
unusual density of the fog, and while one saw it coming
from the north, the other one saw it approaching from
the south.

I have no doubt that at last it began to mingle with the
clearer air and to thin out; in fact, I have good testimony
to that effect. And early next morning it was blown by
a wind like an ordinary fog-cloud all over Portage Plains.

I also know that further north, at my home, for instance,
it had the smell of the smoke which could not have
proceeded from anywhere but the marsh; and the marsh lay
to the south of it. That seemed to prove that actually
the mist was spreading from a common centre in at least
two directions. These points, which I gathered later,
strongly confirmed my own observations, which will be
set down further on. It must, then, have been formed as
a layer of a very considerable height, to be able to
spread over so many square miles.

As I said, I was reminded of those mist pools in the
north when I approached the cliff of the fog, especially
of that "waterfall" of mist of which I spoke. But besides
the difference in composition--the fog, as we shall see,
was not homogeneous, this being the cause of its
wetness--there was another important point of distinction.
For, while the mist of the pools is of the whitest white,
this fog showed from the outside and in the mass--the
single wreaths seemed white enough--rather the colour of
that "wet, unbleached linen" of which Burroughs speaks
in connection with rain-clouds.

Now, as soon as I was well engulfed in the fog, I had a
few surprises. I could no longer see the road ahead; I
could not see the fence along which I had been driving;
I saw the horses' rumps, but I did not see their heads.
I bent forward over the dashboard: I could not even see
the ground below It was a series of negatives. I stopped
the horses. I listened--then looked at my watch. The
stillness of the grave enveloped me. It was a little past
five o'clock. The silence was oppressive--the misty
impenetrability of the atmosphere was appalling. I do
not say "darkness," for as yet it was not really dark.
I could still see the dial of my watch clearly enough to
read the time. But darkness was falling fast--"falling,"
for it seemed to come from above: mostly it rises--from
out of the shadows under the trees--advancing, fighting
back the powers of light above.

One of the horses, I think it was Peter, coughed. It was
plain they felt chilly. I thought of my lights and started
with stiffening fingers to fumble at the valves of my
gas tank. When reaching into my trouser pockets for
matches, I was struck with the astonishing degree to
which my furs had been soaked in these few minutes. As
for wetness, the fog was like a sponge. At last, kneeling
in the buggy box, I got things ready. I smelt the gas
escaping from the burner of my bicycle lantern and heard
it hissing in the headlight. The problem arose of how to
light a match. I tried various places--without success.
Even the seat of my trousers proved disappointing. I got
a sizzling and sputtering flame, it is true, but it went
out before I could apply it to the gas. The water began
to drip from the backs of my hands. It was no rain because
it did not fall. It merely floated along; but the droplets,
though smaller, were infinitely more numerous than in a
rain--there were more of them in a given space. At last
I lifted the seat cushion under which I had a tool box
filled with ropes, leather straps and all manner of things
that I might ever be in need of during my nights in the
open. There I found a dry spot where to strike the needed
match. I got the bicycle lantern started. It burned quite
well, and I rather admired it: unreasoningly I seemed to
have expected that it would not burn in so strange an
atmosphere. So I carefully rolled a sheet of letter paper
into a fairly tight roll, working with my back to the
fog and under the shelter of my big raccoon coat. I took
a flame from the bicycle light and sheltered and nursed
it along till I thought it would stand the drizzle. Then
I turned and thrust the improvised torch into the bulky
reflector case of the searchlight. The result was startling.
A flame eighteen inches high leaped up with a crackling
and hissing sound.

The horses bolted, and the buggy jumped. I was lucky,
for inertia carried me right back on the seat, and as
soon as I had the lines in my hands again, I felt that
the horses did not really mean it. I do not think we had
gone more than two or three hundred yards before the team
was under control. I stopped and adjusted the overturned
valves. When I succeeded, I found to my disappointment
that the heat of that first flame had partly spoiled the
reflector. Still, my range of vision now extended to the
belly-band in the horses' harness. The light that used
to show me the road for about fifty feet in front of the
horses' heads gave a short truncated cone of great
luminosity, which was interesting and looked reassuring;
but it failed to reach the ground, for it was so adjusted
that the focus of the converging light rays lay ahead
and not below. Before, therefore, the point of greatest
luminosity was reached, the light was completely absorbed
by the fog.

I got out of the buggy, went to the horses' heads and
patted their noses which were dripping with wetness. But
now that I faced the headlight, I could see it though I
had failed to see the horses' heads when seated behind
it. This, too, was quite reassuring, for it meant that
the horses probably could see the ground even though I
did not.

But where was I? I soon found out that we had shot off
the trail. And to which side? I looked at my watch again.
Already the incident had cost me half an hour. It was
really dark by now, even outside the fog, for there was
no moon. I tried out how far I could get away from the
buggy without losing sight of the light. It was only a
very few steps, not more than a dozen. I tried to visualize
where I had been when I struck the fog. And fortunately
my habit of observing the smallest details, even, if only
subconsciously, helped me out. I concluded that the horses
had bolted straight ahead, thus missing an s-shaped curve
to the right.

At this moment I heard Peter paw the ground impatiently;
so I quickly returned to the horses, for I did not relish
the idea of being left alone. There was an air of impatience
and nervousness about both of them.

I took my bicycle lantern and reached for the lines.
Then, standing clear of the buggy, I turned the horses
at right angles, to the north, as I imagined it to be.
When we started, I walked alongside the team through
dripping underbrush and held the lantern with my free
hand close down to the ground.

Two or three times I stopped during the next half hour,
trying, since we still did not strike the trail, to reason
out a different course. I was now wet through and through
up to my knees; and I had repeatedly run into willow-clumps,
which did not tend to make me any drier either. At last
I became convinced that in bolting the horses must have
swerved a little to the south, so that in starting up
again we had struck a tangent to the big bend north, just
beyond Bell's farm. If that was the case, we should have
to make another turn to the right in order to strike the
road again, for at best we were then simply going parallel
to it. The trouble was that I had nothing to tell me the
directions, not even a tree the bark or moss of which
might have vouchsafed information. Suddenly I had an
inspiration. Yes, the fog was coming from the northeast!
So, by observing the drift of the droplets I could find
at least an approximate meridian line. I went to the
headlight, and an observation immediately confirmed my
conjecture. I was now convinced that I was on that wild
land where two months ago I had watched the goldfinches
disporting themselves in the evening sun. But so as not
to turn back to the south, I struck out at an angle of
only about sixty degrees to my former direction. I tried
not to swerve, which involved rough going, and I had many
a stumble. Thus I walked for another half hour or
thereabout.

Then, certainly! This was the road! The horses turned
into it of their own accord. That was the most reassuring
thing of all. There was one strange doubt left. Somehow
I was not absolutely clear about it whether north might
not after all be behind. I stopped. Even a new observation
of the fog did not remove the last vestige of a doubt.
I had to take a chance, some landmark might help after
a while.

I believe in getting ready before I start. So I took my
coal-oil lantern, lighted and suspended it under the rear
springs of the buggy in such a way that it would throw
its light back on the road. Having the light away down,
I expected to be able to see at least whether I was on
a road or not. In this I was only partly successful; for
on the rut-trails nothing showed except the blades of
grass and the tops of weeds; while on the grades where
indeed I could make out the ground, I did not need a
light, for, as I found out, I could more confidently rely
on my ear.

I got back to my seat and proceeded to make myself as
comfortable as I could. I took off my shoes and socks
keeping well under the robe--extracted a pair of heavy
woollens from my suitcase under the seat, rubbed my feet
dry and then wrapped up, without putting my shoes on
again, as carefully and scientifically as only a man who
has had pneumonia and is a chronic sufferer from pleuritis
knows how to do.

At last I proceeded. After listening again with great
care for any sound I touched the horses with my whip,
and they fell into a quiet trot. It was nearly seven now,
and I had probably not yet made eight miles. We swung
along. If I was right in my calculations and the horses
kept to the road, I should strike the "twelve-mile bridge"
in about three-quarters of an hour. That was the bridge
leading through the cottonwood gate to the grade past
the "hovel." I kept the watch in the mitt of my left hand.

Not for a moment did it occur to me to turn back. Way up
north there was a young woman preparing supper for me.
The fog might not be there--she would expect me--I could
not disappoint her. And then there was the little girl,
who usually would wake up and in her "nightie" come out
of bed and sleepily smile at me and climb on to my knee
and nod off again. I thought of them, to be sure, of the
hours and hours in wait for them, and a great tenderness
came over me, and gratitude for the belated home they
gave an aging man...

And slowly my mind reverted to the things at hand. And
this is what was the most striking feature about them:
I was shut in, closed off from the world around. Apart
from that cone of visibility in front of the headlight,
and another much smaller one from the bicycle lamp, there
was not a thing I could see. If the road was the right
one, I was passing now through some square miles of wild
land. Right and left there were poplar thickets, and
ahead there was that line of stately cottonwoods. But no
suggestion of a landmark--nothing except a cone of light
which was filled with fog and cut into on both sides by
two steaming and rhythmically moving horseflanks. It was
like a very small room, this space of light--the buggy
itself, in darkness, forming an alcove to it, in which
my hand knew every well-appointed detail. Gradually,
while I was warming up, a sense of infinite comfort came,
and with it the enjoyment of the elvish aspect.

I began to watch the fog. By bending over towards the
dashboard and looking into the soon arrested glare I
could make out the component parts of the fog. It was
like the mixture of two immiscible liquids--oil, for
instance, shaken up with water. A fine, impalpable, yet
very dense mist formed the ground mass. But in it there
floated myriads of droplets, like the droplets of oil in
water. These droplets would sometimes sparkle in a mild,
unobtrusive way as they were nearing the light; and then
they would dash against the pane and keep it dripping,
dripping down.

I leaned back again; and I watched the whole of the
light-cone. Snow white wisps would float and whirl through
it in graceful curves, stirred into motion by the horses'
trot. Or a wreath of it would start to dance, as if gently
pulled or plucked at from above; and it would revolve,
faster towards the end, and fade again into the shadows
behind. I thought of a summer in Norrland, in Sweden, in
the stone-and-birch waste which forms the timberline,
where I had also encountered the mist pools. And a trip
down a stream in the borderland of the Finns came back
with great vividness into my mind. That trip had been
made in a fog like this; only it had been begun in the
early morning, and the whole mass of the mist had been
suffused with the whitest of lights. But strange to say,
what stood out most strikingly in the fleeting memory of
the voyage, was the weird and mocking laughter of the
magpies all along the banks. The Finnish woods seemed
alive with that mocking laughter, and it truly belongs
to the land of the mists. For a moment I thought that
something after all was missing here on the prairies.
But then I reflected again that this silence of the grave
was still more perfect, still more uncanny and ghostly,
because it left the imagination entirely free, without
limiting it by even as much as a suggestion.

No wonder, I thought, that the Northerners in their land
of heath and bog were the poets of elves and goblins and
of the fear of ghosts. Shrouds were these fogs, hanging
and waving and floating shrouds! Mocking spirits were
plucking at them and setting them into their gentle
motions. Gleams of light, that dance over the bog, lured
you in, and once caught in these veils after veils of
mystery, madness would seize you, and you would wildly
dash here and there in a vain attempt at regaining your
freedom; and when, exhausted at last, you broke down and
huddled together on the ground, the werwolf would come,
ghostly himself, and huge and airy and weird, his body
woven of mist, and in the fog's stately and leisurely
way he would kneel down on your chest, slowly crushing
you beneath his exceeding weight; and bending and
straightening, bending and stretching, slowly--slowly
down came his head to your throat; and then he would lie
and not stir until morning and suck; and after few or
many days people would find you, dead in the woods--a
victim of fog and mist...

A rumbling sound made me sit up at last. We were crossing
over the "twelve-mile bridge." In spite of my dreaming
I was keeping my eyes on the look-out for any sign of a
landmark, but this was the only one I had known so far,
and it came through the ear, not the eye. I promptly
looked back and up, to where the cottonwoods must be;
but no sign of high, weeping trees, no rustling of fall-dry
leaves, not even a deeper black in the black betrayed
their presence. Well, never before had I failed to see
some light, to hear some sound around the house of the
"moneyed" type or those of the "half way farms." Surely,
somehow I should be aware of their presence when I got
there! Some sign, some landmark would tell me how far I
had gone! . . . The horses were trotting along, steaming,
through the brewing fog. I had become all ear. Even though
my buggy was silent and though the road was coated with
a thin film of soft clay-mud, I could distinctly hear by
the muffled thud of the horses' hoofs on the ground that
they were running over a grade. That confirmed my bearings.
I had no longer a moment's doubt or anxiety over my drive.

The grade was left behind, the rut-road started again,
was passed and outrun. So now I was close to the three-farm
cluster. I listened intently for the horses' thump. Yes,
there was that muffled hoof-beat again--I was on the last
grade that led to the angling road across the corner of
the marsh.

Truly, this was very much like lying down in the
sleeping-car of an overland train. You recline and act
as if nothing unusual were going on; and meanwhile a
force that has something irresistible about it and is
indeed largely beyond your control, wafts you over mile
after mile of fabled distance; now and then the rumble
of car on rail will stop, the quiet awakens you, lights
flash their piercing darts, a voice calls out; it is a
well known stop on your journey and then the rumbling
resumes, you doze again, to be awakened again, and so
on. And when you get up in the morning--there she lies,
the goal of your dreams-the resplendent city...

My goal was my "home," and mildly startling, at least
one such mid-nightly awakening came. I had kept peering
about for a landmark, a light. Somewhere here in those
farmhouses which I saw with my mind's eye, people were
sitting around their fireside, chatting or reading. Lamps
shed their homely light; roof and wall kept the fog-spook
securely out: nothing as comfortable then as to listen
to stories of being lost on the marsh, or to tell them...
But between those people and myself the curtain had
fallen--no sign of their presence, no faintest gleam of
their light and warmth! They did not know of the stranger
passing outside, his whole being a-yearn with the desire
for wife and child. I listened intently--no sound of man
or beast, no soughing of wind in stems or rustling of
the very last leaves that were now fast falling... And
then the startling neighing of Dan, my horse! This was
the third trip he made with me, and I might have known
and expected it, but it always came as a surprise. Whenever
we passed that second farm, he stopped and raising his
head, with a sideways motion, neighed a loud and piercing
call. And now he had stopped and done it again. He knew
where we were. I lowered my whip and patted his rump.
How did he know? And why did he do it? Was there a horse
on this farmstead which he had known in former life? Or
was it a man? Or did he merely feel that it was about
time to put in for the night? I enquired later on, but
failed to discover any reason for his behaviour.

Now came that angling road past the "White Range Line
House." I relied on the horses entirely. This "Range Line
House" was inhabited now--a settler was putting in
winter-residence so he might not lose his claim. He had
taken down the clapboards that closed the windows, and
always had I so far seen a light in the house.

It seemed to me that in this corner of the marsh the fog
was less dense than it had been farther south, and the
horses, once started, were swinging along though in a
leisurely way, yet without hesitation. Another half hour
passed. Once, at a bend in the trail, the rays from the
powerful tractor searchlight, sweeping sideways past the
horses, struck a wetly glistening, greyish stone to the
right of the road. I knew that stone. Yes, surely the
fog must be thinning, or I could not have seen it. I
could now also dimly make out the horses' heads, as they
nodded up and down...

And then, like a phantom, way up in the mist, I made out
a blacker black in the black--the majestic poplars north
of the "Range Line House." Not that I could really see
them or pick out the slightest detail--no! But it seemed
to my searching eyes as if there was a quiet pool in the
slow flow of the fog--as the water in a slow flowing
stream will come to rest when it strikes the stems of a
willow submerged at its margin. I was trying even at the
time to decide how much of what I seemed to divine rather
than to perceive was imagination and how much reality.
And I was just about ready to contend that I also saw to
the north something like the faintest possible suggestion
of an eddy, such as would form in the flowing water below
a pillar or a rock--when I was rudely shaken up and jolted.

Trap, trap, I heard the horses' feet on the culvert.
Crash! And Peter went stumbling down. Then a violent
lurch of the buggy, I holding on--Peter rallied, and
then, before I had time to get a firmer grasp on the
lines, both horses bolted again. It took me some time to
realize what had happened. It was the culvert, of course;
it had broken down, and lucky I was that the ditch
underneath was shallow. Only much later, when reflecting
upon the incident, did I see that this accident was really
the best verification of what I was nearly inclined to
regard as the product of my imagination. The trees must
indeed have stood where I had seemed to see that quiet
reach in the fog and that eddy...

We tore along. I spoke to the horses and quietly and
evenly pulled at the lines. I think it must have been
several minutes before I had them under control again.
And then--in this night of weird things--the weirdest
sight of them all showed ahead.

I was just beginning to wonder, whether after all we had
not lost the road again, when the faintest of all faint
glimmers began to define itself somewhere in front.
And ... was I right? Yes, a small, thin voice came out of
the fog that incessantly floated into my cone of light
and was left behind in eddies. What did it mean?...

The glimmer was now defining itself more clearly. Somewhere,
not very far ahead and slightly to the left, a globe of
the faintest iridescent luminosity seemed suspended in
the brewing and waving mist. The horses turned at right
angles on to the bridge, the glimmer swinging round to
the other side of the buggy. Their hoofs struck wood,
and both beasts snorted and stopped.

In a flash a thought came. I had just broken through a
culvert--the bridge, too, must have broken down, and
somebody had put a light there to warn the chance traveller
who might stray along on a night like this! I was on the
point of getting out of my wraps, when a thinner wave in
the mist permitted me to see the flames of three lanterns
hung to the side-rails of the bridge. And that very moment
a thin, piping voice came out of the darkness beyond.
"Daddy, is that you?" I did not know the child's voice,
but I sang out as cheerily as I could. "I am a daddy all
right, but I am afraid, not yours. Is the bridge broken
down, sonny? Anything wrong?" "No, Sir," the answer came,
"nothing wrong." So I pulled up to the lanterns, and
there I saw, dimly enough, God wot, a small, ten-year
old boy standing and shivering by the signal which he
had rigged up. He was barefooted and bareheaded, in shirt
and torn knee-trousers. I pointed to the lanterns with
my whip. "What's the meaning of this, my boy?" I asked
in as friendly a voice as I could muster. "Daddy went to
town this morning," he said rather haltingly, "and he
must have got caught in the fog. We were afraid he might
not find the bridge." "Well, cheer up, son," I said, "he
is not the only one as you see; his horses will know the
road. Where did he go?" The boy named the town--it was
to the west, not half the distance away that I had come.
"Don't worry," I said; "I don't think he has started out
at all. The fog caught me about sixteen miles south of
here. It's nine o'clock now If he had started before the
fog got there, he would be here by now." I sat and thought
for a moment. Should I say anything about the broken
culvert? "Which way would your daddy come, along the
creek or across the marsh?" "Along the creek." All right
then, no use in saying anything further. "Well, as I
said," I sang out and clicked my tongue to the horses,
"don't worry; better go home; he will come to-morrow" "I
guess so," replied the boy the moment I lost sight of
him and the lanterns.

I made the turn to the southeast and walked my horses.
Here, where the trail wound along through the chasm of
the bush, the light from my cone would, over the horses'
backs, strike twigs and leaves now and then. Everything
seemed to drip and to weep. All nature was weeping I
walked the horses for ten minutes more. Then I stopped.
It must have been just at the point where the grade began;
but I do not know for sure.

I fumbled a long while for my shoes; but at last I found
them and put them on over my dry woollens. When I had
shaken myself out of my robes, I jumped to the ground.
There was, here, too, a film of mud on top, but otherwise
the road was firm enough. I quickly threw the blankets
over the horses' backs, dropped the traces, took the bits
out of their mouths, and slipped the feed-bags over their
heads. I looked at my watch, for it was my custom to let
them eat for just ten minutes, then to hook them up again
and walk them for another ten before trotting. I had
found that that refreshed them enough to make the remainder
of the trip in excellent shape.

While I was waiting, I stood between the wheels of the
buggy, leaning against the box and staring into the light.
It was with something akin to a start that I realized
the direction from which the fog rolled by: it came from
the south! I had, of course, seen that already, but it
had so far not entered my consciousness as a definite
observation. It was this fact that later set me to thinking
about the origin of the fog along the lines which I have
indicated above. Again I marvelled at the density of the
mist which somehow seemed greater while we were standing
than while we were driving. I had repeatedly been in the
clouds, on mountainsides, but they seemed light and thin
as compared with this. Finland, Northern Sweden, Canada
--no other country which I knew had anything resembling
it. The famous London fogs are different altogether.
These mists, like the mist pools, need the swamp as their
mother, I suppose, and the ice-cool summer night for
their nurse...

The time was up. I quickly did what had to be done, and
five minutes later we were on the road again. I watched
the horses for a while, and suddenly I thought once more
of that fleeting impression of an eddy in the lee of the
poplar bluff at the "White Range Line House." It was on
the north side of the trees, if it was there at all! The
significance of the fact had escaped me at the time. It
again confirmed my observation of the flow of the fog in
both directions. It came from a common centre. And still
there was no breath of air. I had no doubt any longer;
it was not the air that pushed the fog; the floating
bubbles, the infinitesimally small ones as well as those
that were quite perceptible, simply displaced the lighter
atmosphere. I wondered what kept these bubbles apart.
Some repellent force with which they were charged?
Something, at any rate, must be preventing them from
coalescing into rain. Maybe it was merely the perfect
evenness of their flow, for they gathered thickly enough
on the twigs and the few dried leaves, on any obstacles
in their way. And again I thought of the fact that the
mist had seemed thinner when I came out on the marsh.
This double flow explained it, of course. There were
denser and less dense waves in it: like veils hung up
one behind the other. So long as I went in a direction
opposite to its flow, I had to look through sheet after
sheet of the denser waves. Later I could every now and
then look along a plane of lesser density...

It was Dan who found the turn off the grade into the
bushy glades. I could see distinctly how he pushed Peter
over. Here, where again the road was winding, and where
the light, therefore, once more frequently struck the
twigs and boughs, as they floated into my cone of
luminosity, to disappear again behind, a new impression
thrust itself upon me. I call it an impression, not an
observation. It is very hard to say, what was reality,
what fancy on a night like that. In spite of its air of
unreality, of improbability even, it has stayed with me
as one of my strongest visions. I nearly hesitate to put
it in writing.

These boughs and twigs were like fingers held into a
stream that carried loose algae, arresting them in their
gliding motion. Or again, those wisps of mist were like
gossamers as they floated along, and they would bend and
fold over on the boughs before they tore; and where they
broke, they seemed like comets to trail a thinner tail
of themselves behind. There was tenacity in them, a
certain consistency which made them appear as if woven
of different things from air and mere moisture. I have
often doubted my memory here, and yet I have my very
definite notes, and besides there is the picture in my
mind. In spite of my own uncertainty I can assure you,
that this is only one quarter a poem woven of impressions;
the other three quarters are reality. But, while I am
trying to set down facts, I am also trying to render
moods and images begot by them...

We went on for an hour, and it lengthened out into two.
No twigs and boughs any longer, at last. But where I was,
I knew not. Much as I listened, I could not make out any
difference in the tramp of the horses now I looked down
over the back of my buggy seat, and I seemed to see the
yellow or brownish clay of a grade. I went on rather
thoughtlessly. Then, about eleven o'clock, I noticed that
the road was rough. I had long since, as I said, given
myself over to the horses. But now I grew nervous. No
doubt, unless we had entirely strayed from our road, we
were by this time riding the last dam; for no other trail
over which we went was quite so rough. But then I should
have heard the rumble on the bridge, and I felt convinced
that I had not. It shows to what an extent a man may be
hypnotised into insensibility by a constant sameness of
view, that I was mistaken. If we were on the dam and
missed the turn at the end of it, on to the correction
line, we should infallibly go down from the grade, on to
muskeg ground, for there was a gap in the dam. At that
place I had seen a horse disappear, and many a cow had
ended there in the deadly struggle against the downward
suck of the swamp...

I pulled the horses back to a walk, and we went on for
another half hour. I was by this time sitting on the left
hand side of the side, bicycle lantern in my left hand,
and bending over as far as I could to the left, trying,
with arm outstretched, to reach the ground with my light.
The lantern at the back of the buggy was useless for
this. Here and there the drop-laden, glistening tops of
the taller grasses and weeds would float into this
auxiliary cone of light--but that was all.

Then no weeds appeared any longer, so I must be on the
last half-mile of the dam, the only piece of it that was
bare and caution extreme was the word. I made up my mind
to go on riding for another five minutes and timed myself,
for there was hardly enough room for a team and a walking
man besides. When the time was up, I pulled in and got
out. I took the lines short, laid my right hand on Peter's
back and proceeded. The bicycle lantern was hanging down
from my left and showed plainly the clayey gravel of the
dam. And so I walked on for maybe ten minutes.

Suddenly I became again aware of a glimmer to the left,
and the very next moment a lantern shot out of the mist,
held high by an arm wrapped in white. A shivering woman,
tall, young, with gleaming eyes, dressed in a linen house
dress, an apron flung over breast and shoulders, gasped
out two words, "You came!" "Have you been standing here
and waiting?" I asked. "No, no! I just could not bear it
any longer. Something told me. He's at the culvert now,
and if I do not run, he will go down into the swamp!"
There was something of a catch in the voice. I did not
reply I swung the horses around and crossed the culvert
that bridges the master ditch.

And while we were walking up to the yard--had my drive
been anything brave--anything at all deserving of the
slightest reward--had it not in itself been a thing of
beauty, not to be missed by selfish me--surely, the touch
of that arm, as we went, would have been more than enough
to reward even the most chivalrous deeds of yore.




THREE
Dawn and Diamonds

Two days before Christmas the ground was still bare. I
had a splendid new cutter with a top and side curtains;
a heavy outfit, but one that would stand up, I believed,
under any road conditions. I was anxious to use it, too,
for I intended to spend a two weeks' holiday up north
with my family. I was afraid, if I used the buggy, I
might find it impossible to get back to town, seeing that
the first heavy winter storms usually set in about the
turn of the year.

School had closed at noon. I intended to set out next
morning at as early an hour as I could. I do not know
what gave me my confidence, but I firmly expected to find
snow on the ground by that time. I am rather a student
of the weather. I worked till late at night getting my
cutter ready. I had to adjust my buggy pole and to stow
away a great number of parcels. The latter contained the
first real doll for my little girl, two or three picture
books, a hand sleigh, Pip--a little stuffed dog of the
silkiest fluffiness--and as many more trifles for wife
and child as my Christmas allowance permitted me to buy.
It was the first time in the five years of my married
life that, thanks to my wife's co-operation in earning
money, there was any Christmas allowance to spend; and
since I am writing this chiefly for her and the little
girl's future reading, I want to set it down here, too,
that it was thanks to this very same co-operation that
I had been able to buy the horses and the driving outfit
which I needed badly, for the poor state of my health
forbade more rigorous exercise. I have already said, I
think, that I am essentially an outdoor creature; and
for several years the fact that I had been forced to look
at the out-of-doors from the window of a town house only,
had been eating away at my vitality. Those drives took
decades off my age, and in spite of incurable illness my
few friends say that I look once more like a young man.

Besides my Christmas parcels I had to take oats along,
enough to feed the horses for two weeks. And I was, as
I said, engaged that evening in stowing everything away,
when about nine o'clock one of the physicians of the town
came into the stable. He had had a call into the country,
I believe, and came to order a team. When he saw me
working in the shed, he stepped up and said, "You'll kill
your horses." "Meaning?" I queried. "I see you are getting
your cutter ready," he replied. "If I were you, I should
stick to the wheels." I laughed. "I might not be able to
get back to work." "Oh yes," he scoffed, "it won't snow
up before the end of next month. We figure on keeping
the cars going for a little while yet." Again I laughed.
"I hope not," I said, which may not have sounded very
gracious.

At ten o'clock every bolt had been tightened, the horses'
harness and their feed were ready against the morning,
and everything looked good to me.

I was going to have the first real Christmas again in
twenty-five years, with a real Christmas tree, and with
wife and child, and even though it was a poor man's
Christmas, I refused to let anything darken my Christmas
spirit or dull the keen edge of my enjoyment. Before
going out, I stepped into the office of the stable,
slipped a half-dollar into the hostler's palm and asked
him once more to be sure to have the horses fed at
half-past five in the morning.

Then I left. A slight haze filled the air, not heavy
enough to blot out the stars; but sufficient to promise
hoarfrost at least. Somehow there was no reason to despair
as yet of Christmas weather.

I went home and to bed and slept about as soundly as I
could wish. When the alarm of my clock went off at five
in the morning, I jumped out of bed and hurried down to
shake the fire into activity. As soon as I had started
something of a blaze, I went to the window and looked
out. It was pitch dark, of course, the moon being down
by this time, but it seemed to me that there was snow on
the ground. I lighted a lamp and held it to the window;
and sure enough, its rays fell on white upon white on
shrubs and fence posts and window ledge. I laughed and
instantly was in a glow of impatience to be off.

At half past five, when the coffee water was in the kettle
and on the stove, I hurried over to the stable across
the bridge. The snow was three inches deep, enough to
make the going easy for the horses. The slight haze
persisted, and I saw no stars. At the stable I found, of
course, that the horses had not been fed; so I gave them
oats and hay and went to call the hostler. When after
much knocking at last he responded to my impatience, he
wore a guilty look on his face but assured me that he
was just getting up to feed my team. "Never mind about
feeding," I said "I've done that. But have them harnessed
and hitched up by a quarter past six. I'll water them on
the road." They never drank their fill before nine o'clock.
And I hurried home to get my breakfast...

"Merry Christmas!" the hostler called after me; and I
shouted back over my shoulder, "The same to you." The
horses were going under the merry jingle of the bells
which they carried for the first time this winter.

I rarely could hold them down to a walk or a trot now,
since the cold weather had set in; and mostly, before
they even had cleared the slide-doors, they were in a
gallop. Peter had changed his nature since he had a mate.
By feeding and breeding he was so much Dan's superior in
vitality that, into whatever mischief the two got
themselves, he was the leader. For all times the picture,
seen by the light of a lantern, stands out in my mind
how he bit at Dan, wilfully, urging him playfully on,
when we swung out into the crisp, dark, hazy morning air.
Dan being nothing loth and always keen at the start, we
shot across the bridge.

It was hard now, mostly, to hitch them up. They would
leap and rear with impatience when taken into the open
before they were hooked to the vehicle. They were being
very well fed, and though once a week they had the hardest
of work, for the rest of the time they had never more
than enough to limber them up, for on schooldays I used
to take them out for a spin of three or four miles only,
after four. At home, when I left, my wife and I would
get them ready in the stable; then I took them out and
lined them up in front of the buggy. My wife quickly took
the lines: I hooked the traces up, jumped in, grabbed
for the lines and waved my last farewell from the road
afar off. Even at that they got away from us once or
twice and came very near upsetting and wrecking the buggy;
but nothing serious ever happened during the winter. I
had to have horses like that, for I needed their speed
and their staying power, as the reader will see if he
cares to follow me very much farther.

We flew along--the road seemed ideal--the air was
wonderfully crisp and cold--my cutter fulfilled the
highest expectations--the horses revelled in speed. But
soon I pulled them down to a trot, for I followed the
horsemen's rules whenever I could, and Dan, as I mentioned,
was anyway rather too keen at the start for steady work
later on. I settled back. The top of my cutter was down,
for not a breath stirred; and I was always anxious to
see as much of the country as I could...

Do you know which is the stillest hour of the night? The
hour before dawn. It is at that time, too, that in our
winter nights the mercury dips down to its lowest level.
Perhaps the two things have a causal relation--whatever
there is of wild life in nature, withdraws more deeply
within itself; it curls up and dreams. On calm summer
mornings you hear no sound except the chirping and
twittering of the sleeping birds. The birds are great
dreamers--like dogs; like dogs they will twitch and stir
in their sleep, as if they were running and flying and
playing and chasing each other. Just stalk a bird's nest
of which you know at half past two in the morning, some
time during the month of July; and before you see them,
you will hear them. If there are young birds in the nest,
all the better; take the mother bird off and the little
ones will open their beaks, all mouth as they are, and
go to sleep again; and they will stretch their featherless
little wings; and if they are a little bit older, they
will even try to move their tiny legs, as if longing to
use them. As with dogs, it is the young ones that dream
most. I suppose their impressions are so much more vivid,
the whole world is so new to them that it rushes in upon
them charged with emotion. Emotions penetrate even us to
a greater depth than mere apperceptions; so they break
through that crust that seems to envelop the seat of our
memory, and once inside, they will work out again into
some form of consciousness--that of sleep or of the
wakeful dream which we call memory.

The stillest hour! In starlit winter nights the heavenly
bodies seem to take on an additional splendour, something
next to blazing, overweening boastfulness. "Now sleeps
the world," they seem to say, "but we are awake and
weaving destiny" And on they swing on their immutable paths.

The stillest hour! If you step out of a sleeping house
and are alone, you are apt to hold your breath; and if
you are not, you are apt to whisper. There is an expectancy
in the air, a fatefulness--a loud word would be blasphemy
that offends the ear and the feeling of decency It is
the hour of all still things, the silent things that pass
like dreams through the night. You seem to stand hushed.
Stark and bare, stripped of all accidentals, the universe
swings on its way.

The stillest hour! But how much stiller than still, when
the earth has drawn over its shoulders that morning mist
that allows of no slightest breath--when under the haze
the very air seems to lie curled and to have gone to
sleep. And yet how portentous! The haze seems to brood.
It seems somehow to suggest that there is all of life
asleep on earth. You seem to feel rather than to hear
the whole creation breathing in its sleep--as if it was
soundlessly stirring in dreams--presently to stretch, to
awake. There is also the delicacy, the tenderness of all
young things about it. Even in winter it reminds me of
the very first unfolding of young leaves on trees; of
the few hours while they are still hanging down, unable
to raise themselves up as yet; they look so worldlywise
sometimes, so precocious, and before them there still
lie all hopes and all disappointments... In clear nights
you forget the earth--under the hazy cover your eye is
thrown back upon it. It is the contrast of the universe
and of creation.

We drove along--and slowly, slowly came the dawn. You
could not define how it came. The whole world seemed to
pale and to whiten, and that was all. There was no sunrise.
It merely seemed as if all of Nature--very gradually--was
soaking itself full of some light; it was dim at first,
but never grey; and then it became the whitest, the
clearest, the most undefinable light. There were no
shadows. Under the brush of the wild land which I was
skirting by now there seemed to be quite as much of
luminosity as overhead. The mist was the thinnest haze,
and it seemed to derive its whiteness as much from the
virgin snow on the ground as from above. I could not
cease to marvel at this light which seemed to be without
a source--like the halo around the Saviour's face. The
eye as yet did not reach very far, and wherever I looked,
I found but one word to describe it: impalpable--and that
is saying what it was not rather than what it was. As I
said, there was no sunshine, but the light was there,
omnipresent, diffused, coming mildly, softly, but from
all sides, and out of all things as well as into them.

Shakespeare has this word in Macbeth, and I had often
pondered on it:

   So fair and foul a day I have not seen.

This was it, I thought. We have such days about four or
five times a year--and none but the northern countries
have them. There are clouds--or rather, there is a uniform
layer of cloud, very high, and just the slightest suggestion
of curdiness in it; and the light is very white. These
days seem to waken in me every wander instinct that lay
asleep. There is nothing definite, nothing that seems to
be emphasized--something seems to beckon to me and to
invite me to take to my wings and just glide along--without
beating of wings--as if I could glide without sinking,
glide and still keep my height... If you see the sun at
all--as I did not on this day of days--he stands away
up, very distant and quite aloof. He looks more like the
moon than like his own self, white and heatless and
lightless, as if it were not he at all from whom all this
transparency and visibility proceeded.

I have lived in southern countries, and I have travelled
rather far for a single lifetime. Like an epic stretch
my memories into dim and ever receding pasts. I have
drunk full and deep from the cup of creation. The Southern
Cross is no strange sight to my eyes. I have slept in
the desert close to my horse, and I have walked on Lebanon.
I have cruised in the seven seas and seen the white
marvels of ancient cities reflected in the wave of
incredible blueness. But then I was young. When the years
began to pile up, I longed to stake off my horizons, to
flatten out my views. I wanted the simpler, the more
elemental things, things cosmic in their associations,
nearer to the beginning or end of creation. The parrot
that flashed through "nutmeg groves" did not hold out so
much allurement as the simple gray-and-slaty junco. The
things that are unobtrusive and differentiated by shadings
only--grey in grey above all--like our northern woods,
like our sparrows, our wolves--they held a more compelling
attraction than orgies of colour and screams of sound.
So I came home to the north. On days like this, however,
I should like once more to fly out and see the tireless
wave and the unconquerable rock. But I should like to
see them from afar and dimly only--as Moses saw the
promised land. Or I should like to point them out to a
younger soul and remark upon the futility and innate
vanity of things.

And because these days take me out of myself, because
they change my whole being into a very indefinite longing
and dreaming, I wilfully blot from my vision whatever
enters. If I meet a tree, I see it not. If I meet a man,
I pass him by without speaking. I do not care to be
disturbed. I do not care to follow even a definite thought.
There is sadness in the mood, such sadness as
enters--strange to say--into a great and very definitely
expected disappointment. It is an exceedingly delicate
sadness--haughty, aloof like the sun, and like him cool
to the outer world. It does not even want sympathy; it
merely wants to be left alone.

It strangely chimed in with my mood on this particular
and very perfect morning that no jolt shook me up, that
we glided along over virgin snow which had come
soft-footedly over night, in a motion, so smooth and
silent as to suggest that wingless flight...

We spurned the miles, and I saw them not. As if in a
dream we turned in at one of the "half way farms," and
the horses drank. And we went on and wound our way across
that corner of the marsh. We came to the "White Range
Line House," and though there were many things to see,
I still closed the eye of conscious vision and saw them
not. We neared the bridge, and we crossed it; and then--when
I had turned southeast--on to the winding log-road through
the bush--at last the spell that was cast over me gave
way and broke. My horses fell into their accustomed walk,
and at last I saw.

Now, what I saw, may not be worth the describing, I do
not know. It surely is hardly capable of being described.
But if I had been led through fairylands or enchanted
gardens, I could not have been awakened to a truer day
of joy, to a greater realization of the good will towards
all things than I was here.

Oh, the surpassing beauty of it! There stood the trees,
motionless under that veil of mist, and not their slenderest
finger but was clothed in white. And the white it was!
A translucent white, receding into itself, with strange
backgrounds of white behind it--a modest white, and yet
full of pride. An elusive white, and yet firm and
substantial. The white of a diamond lying on snow white
velvet, the white of a diamond in diffused light. None
of the sparkle and colour play that the most precious of
stones assumes under a definite, limited light which
proceeds from a definite, limited source. Its colour play
was suggested, it is true, but so subdued that you hardly
thought of naming or even recognising its component parts.
There was no red or yellow or blue or violet, but merely
that which might flash into red and yellow and blue and
violet, should perchance the sun break forth and monopolize
the luminosity of the atmosphere. There was, as it were,
a latent opalescence.

And every twig and every bough, every branch and every
limb, every trunk and every crack even in the bark was
furred with it. It seemed as if the hoarfrost still
continued to form. It looked heavy, and yet it was nearly
without weight. Not a twig was bent down under its load,
yet with its halo of frost it measured fully two inches
across. The crystals were large, formed like spearheads,
flat, slablike, yet of infinite thinness and delicacy,
so thin and light that, when by misadventure my whip
touched the boughs, the flakes seemed to float down rather
than to fall. And every one of these flat and angular
slabs was fringed with hairlike needles, or with featherlike
needles, and longer needles stood in between. There was
such an air of fragility about it all that you hated to
touch it--and I, for one, took my whip down lest it shook
bare too many boughs.

Whoever has seen the trees like that--and who has not?
--will see with his mind's eye what I am trying to suggest
rather than to describe. It was never the single sight
nor the isolated thing that made my drives the things of
beauty which they were. There was nothing remarkable in
them either. They were commonplace enough. I really do
not know why I should feel urged to describe our western
winters. Whatever I may be able to tell you about them,
is yours to see and yours to interpret. The gifts of
Nature are free to all for the asking. And yet, so it
seems to me, there is in the agglomerations of scenes
and impressions, as they followed each other in my
experience, something of the quality of a great symphony;
and I consider this quality as a free and undeserved
present which Chance or Nature shook out of her cornucopia
so it happened to fall at my feet. I am trying to render
this quality here for you.

On that short mile along the first of the east-west
grades, before again I turned into the bush, I was for
the thousandth time in my life struck with the fact how
winter blots out the sins of utility. What is useful, is
often ugly because in our fight for existence we do not
always have time or effort to spare to consider the looks
of things. But the slightest cover of snow will bury the
eyesores. Snow is the greatest equalizer in Nature. No
longer are there fields and wild lands, beautiful trails
and ugly grades--all are hidden away under that which
comes from Nature's purest hands and fertile thoughts
alone. Now there was no longer the raw, offending scar
on Nature's body; just a smooth expanse of snow white
ribbon that led afar.

That led afar! And here is a curious fact. On this early
December morning--it was only a little after nine when
I started the horses into their trot again--I noticed
for the first time that this grade which sprang here out
of the bush opened up to the east a vista into a seemingly
endless distance. Twenty-six times I had gone along this
piece of it, but thirteen times it had been at night,
and thirteen times I had been facing west, when I went
back to the scene of my work. So I had never looked east
very far. This morning, however, in this strange light,
which was at this very hour undergoing a subtle change
that I could not define as yet, mile after mile of road
seemed to lift itself up in the far away distance, as if
you might drive on for ever through fairyland. The very
fact of its straightness, flanked as it was by the rows
of frosted trees, seemed like a call. And a feeling that
is very familiar to me--that of an eternity in the
perpetuation of whatever may be the state I happen to be
in, came over me, and a desire to go on and on, for ever,
and to see what might be beyond...

But then the turn into the bushy trail was reached. I
did not see the slightest sign of it on the road. But
Dan seemed infallible--he made the turn. And again I was
in Winter's enchanted palace, again the slight whirl in
the air that our motion set up made the fairy tracery of
the boughs shower down upon me like snow white petals of
flowers, so delicate that to disturb the virginity of it
all seemed like profaning the temple of the All-Highest.

But then I noticed that I had not been the first one to
visit the woods. All over their soft-napped carpet floor
there were the restless, fleeting tracks of the snowflake,
lacing and interlacing in lines and loops, as if they
had been assembled in countless numbers, as no doubt they
had. And every track looked like nothing so much as like
that kind of embroidery, done white upon white, which
ladies, I think; call the feather stitch. In places I
could clearly see how they had chased and pursued each
other, running, and there was a merriness about their
spoors, a suggestion of swiftness which made me look up
and about to see whether they were not wheeling their
restless curves and circles overhead. But in this I was
disappointed for the moment, though only a little later
I was to see them in numbers galore. It was on that last
stretch of my road, when I drove along the dam of the
angling ditch. There they came like a whirlwind and
wheeled and curved and circled about as if they knew no
enemy, feeding meanwhile with infallible skill from the
tops of seed-bearing weeds while skimming along. But I
am anticipating just now In the bush I saw only their
trails. Yet they suggested their twittering and whistling
even there; and since on the gloomiest day their sound
and their sight will cheer you, you surely cannot help
feeling glad and overflowing with joy when you see any
sign of them on a day like this!

Meanwhile we were winging along ourselves, so it seemed.
For there was the second east-west grade ahead. And that
made me think of wife and child to whom I was coming like
Santa Claus, and so I stopped under a bush that overhung
the trail; and though I hated to destroy even a trifling
part of the beauty around, I reached high up with my whip
and let go at the branches, so that the moment before
the horses bolted, the flakes showered down upon me and
my robes and the cutter and changed me into a veritable
snowman in snow white garb.

And then up on the grade. One mile to the east, and the
bridge appeared.

It did not look like the work of man. Apart from its
straight lines it resembled more the architecture of a
forest brook as it will build after heavy fall rains
followed by a late drought when all the waters of the
wild are receding so that the icy cover stands above them
like the arches of a bridge. It is strange how rarely
the work of man will really harmonize with Nature. The
beaver builds, and his work will blend. Man builds, and
it jars--very likely because he mostly builds with silly
pretensions. But in winter Nature breathes upon his
handiwork and transforms it. Bridges may be imposing and
of great artificial beauty in cities--as for instance
the ancient structure that spans the Tiber just below
the tomb of Hadrian, or among modern works the spider
web engineering feat of Brooklyn bridge--but if in the
wilderness we run across them, there is something
incongruous about them, and they disturb. Strange to say,
there is the exception of high-flung trellis-viaducts
bridging the chasm of mountain canyons. Maybe it is
exactly on account of their unpretentious, plain utility;
or is it that they reconcile by their overweening boldness,
by their very paradoxality--as there is beauty even in
the hawk's bloodthirsty savagery. To-day this bridge was,
like the grades, like the trees and the meadows furred
over with opalescent, feathery frost.

And the dam over which I am driving now! This dam that
erstwhile was a very blasphemy, an obscenity flung on
the marshy meadows with their reeds, their cat-tails,
and their wide-leaved swamp-dock clusters! It had been
used by the winds as a veritable dumping ground for
obnoxious weeds which grew and thrived on the marly clay
while every other plant despised it! Not that I mean to
decry weeds--far be it from me. When the goldenrod flings
its velvet cushions along the edge of the copses, or when
the dandelion spangles the meadows, they are things of
beauty as well as any tulip or tiger-lily. But when they
or their rivals, silverweed, burdock, false ragweed,
thistles, gumweed, and others usurp the landscape and
seem to choke up the very earth and the very air with
ceaseless monotony and repetition, then they become an
offence to the eye and a reproach to those who tolerate
them. To-day, however, they all lent their stalks to
support the hoarfrost, to double and quadruple its total
mass. They were powdered over with countless diamonds.

It was here that I met with the flocks of snowflakes;
and if my joyous mood had admitted of any enhancement,
they would have given it.

And never before had I seen the school and the cottage
from quite so far! The haze was still there, but somehow
it seemed to be further overhead now, with a stratum of
winterclear air underneath. Once before, when driving
along the first east-west grade, where I discovered the
vista, I had wondered at the distance to which the eye
could pierce. Here, on the dam, of course, my vision was
further aided by the fact that whatever of trees and
shrubs there was in the way--and a ridge of poplars ran
at right angles to the ditch, throwing up a leafy curtain
in summer--stood bare of its foliage. I was still nearly
four miles from my "home" when I first beheld it. And
how pitiably lonesome it looked! Not another house was
to be seen in its neighbourhood. I touched the horses up
with my whip. I felt as if I should fly across the distance
and bring my presence to those in the cottage as their
dearest gift. They knew I was coming. They were at this
very moment flying to meet me with their thoughts. Was
I well? Was I finding everything as I had wished to find
it? And though I often told them how I loved and enjoyed
my drives, they could not view them but with much anxiety,
for they were waiting, waiting, waiting... Waiting on
Thursday for Friday to come, waiting on Wednesday and
Tuesday and Monday--waiting on Sunday even, as soon as
I had left; counting the days, and the hours, and the
minutes, till I was out, fighting storm and night to my
heart's content! And then--worry, worry, worry--what
might not happen! Whatever my drives were to me, to them
they were horrors. There never were watchers of weather
and sky so anxiously eager as they! And when, as it often,
too often happened, the winter storms came, when care
rose, hope fell, then eye was clouded, thought dulled,
heart aflutter... Sometimes the soul sought comfort from
nearest neighbours, and not always was it vouchsafed.
"Well," they would say, "if he starts out to-day, he will
kill his horses!"--or, "In weather like this I should
not care to drive five miles!"--Surely, surely, I owe it
to them, staunch, faithful hearts that they were, to set
down this record so it may gladden the lonesome twilight
hours that are sure to come...

And at last I swung west again, up the ridge and on to
the yard. And there on the porch stood the tall, young,
smiling woman, and at her knee the fairest-haired girl
in all the world. And quite unconscious of Nature's
wonder-garb, though doubtlessly gladdened by it the little
girl shrilled out, "Oh, Daddy, Daddy, did du see Santa
Claus?" And I replied lustily, "Of course, my girl, I am
coming straight from his palace."




FOUR
Snow

The blizzard started on Wednesday morning. It was that
rather common, truly western combination of a heavy
snowstorm with a blinding northern gale--such as piles
the snow in hills and mountains and makes walking next
to impossible.

I cannot exactly say that I viewed it with unmingled joy.
There were special reasons for that. It was the second
week in January; when I had left "home" the Sunday before,
I had been feeling rather bad; so my wife would worry a
good deal, especially if I did not come at all. I knew
there was such a thing as its becoming quite impossible
to make the drive. I had been lost in a blizzard once or
twice before in my lifetime. And yet, so long as there
was the least chance that horse-power and human will-power
combined might pull me through at all, I was determined
to make or anyway to try it.

At noon I heard the first dismal warning. For some reason
or other I had to go down into the basement of the school.
The janitor, a highly efficient but exceedingly bad-humoured
cockney, who was dissatisfied with all things Canadian
because "in the old country we do things differently"
--whose sharp tongue was feared by many, and who once
remarked to a lady teacher in the most casual way, "If
you was a lidy, I'd wipe my boots on you!"--this selfsame
janitor, standing by the furnace, turned slowly around,
showed his pale and hollow-eyed face, and smiled a
withering and commiserating smile. "Ye won't go north
this week," he remarked--not without sympathy, for somehow
he had taken a liking to me, which even prompted him off
and on to favor me with caustic expressions of what he
thought of the school board and the leading citizens of
the town. I, of course, never encouraged him in his
communicativeness which seemed to be just what he would
expect, and no rebuff ever goaded him into the slightest
show of resentment. "We'll see," I said briefly "Well,
Sir," he repeated apodeictically, "ye won't." I smiled
and went out.

But in my classroom I looked from the window across the
street. Not even in broad daylight could you see the
opposite houses or trees. And I knew that, once a storm
like that sets in, it is apt to continue for days at a
stretch. It was one of those orgies in which Titan Wind
indulges ever so often on our western prairies. I certainly
needed something. to encourage me, and so, before leaving
the building, I went upstairs to the third story and
looked through a window which faced north. But, though
I was now above the drifting layer, I could not see very
far here either; the snowflakes were small and like little
round granules, hitting the panes of the windows with
little sounds of "ping-ping"; and they came, driven by
a relentless gale, in such numbers that they blotted out
whatever was more than two or three hundred yards away.

The inhabitant of the middle latitudes of this continent
has no data to picture to himself what a snowstorm in
the north may be. To him snow is something benign that
comes soft-footedly over night, and on the most silent
wings like an owl, something that suggests the sleep of
Nature rather than its battles. The further south you
go, the more, of course, snow loses of its aggressive
character.

At the dinner table in the hotel I heard a few more
disheartening words. But after four I defiantly got my
tarpaulin out and carried it to the stable. If I had to
run the risk of getting lost, at least I was going to
prepare for it. I had once stayed out, snow-bound, for
a day and a half, nearly without food and altogether
without shelter; and I was not going to get thus caught
again. I also carefully overhauled my cutter. Not a bolt
but I tested it with a wrench; and before the stores were
closed, I bought myself enough canned goods to feed me
for a week should through any untoward accident the need
arise. I always carried a little alcohol stove, and with
my tarpaulin I could convert my cutter within three
minutes into a windproof tent. Cramped quarters, to be
sure, but better than being given over to the wind at
thirty below!

More than any remark on the part of friends or acquaintances
one fact depressed me when I went home. There was not a
team in town which had come in from the country. The
streets were deserted: the stores were empty. The north
wind and the snow had the town to themselves.

On Thursday the weather was unchanged. On the way to the
school I had to scale a snowdrift thrown up to a height
of nearly six feet, and, though it was beginning to
harden, from its own weight and the pressure of the wind,
I still broke in at every step and found the task tiring
in the extreme. I did my work, of course, as if nothing
oppressed me, but in my heart I was beginning to face
the possibility that, even if I tried, I might fail to
reach my goal. The day passed by. At noon the
school-children, the teachers, and a few people hurrying
to the post-office for their mail lent a fleeting appearance
of life to the streets. It nearly cheered me; but soon
after four the whole town again took on that deserted
look which reminded me of an abandoned mining camp. The
lights in the store windows had something artificial
about them, as if they were merely painted on the
canvas-wings of a stage-setting. Not a team came in all
day.

On Friday morning the same. Burroughs would have said
that the weather had gone into a rut. Still the wind
whistled and howled through the bleak, dark, hollow dawn;
the snow kept coming down and piling up, as if it could
not be any otherwise. And as if to give notice of its
intentions, the drift had completely closed up my front
door. I fought my way to the school and thought things
over. My wife and I had agreed, if ever the weather should
be so bad that there was danger in going at night, I was
to wait till Saturday morning and go by daylight. Neither
one of us ever mentioned the possibility of giving the
attempt up altogether. My wife probably understood that
I would not bind myself by any such promise. Now even on
this Friday I should have liked to go by night, if for
no other reason, than for the experience's sake; but I
reflected that I might get lost and not reach home at
all. The horses knew the road--so long as there was any
road; but there was none now. I felt it would not be fair
to wife and child. So, reluctantly and with much hesitation,
but definitely at last, I made up my mind that I was
going to wait till morning. My cutter was ready--I had
seen to that on Wednesday. As soon as the storm had set
in, I had instinctively started to work in order to
frustrate its designs.

At noon I met in front of the post-office a charming lady
who with her husband and a young Anglican curate constituted
about the only circle of real friends I had in town.
"Why!" I exclaimed, "what takes you out into this storm,
Mrs. ---?" "The desire," she gasped against the wind and
yet in her inimitable way, as if she were asking a favour,
"to have you come to our house for tea, my friend. You
surely are not going this week?" "I am going to go
to-morrow morning at seven," I said. "But I shall be
delighted to have tea with you and Mr. ---." I read her
at a glance. She knew that in not going out at night I
should suffer--she wished to help me over the evening,
so I should not feel too much thwarted, too helpless,
and too lonesome. She smiled. "You really want to go?
But I must not keep you. At six, if you please." And we
went our ways without a salute, for none was possible at
this gale-swept corner.

After four o'clock I took word to the stable to have my
horses fed and harnessed by seven in the morning. The
hostler had a tale to tell. "You going out north?" he
enquired although he knew perfectly well I was. "Of
course," I replied. "Well," he went on, "a man came in
from ten miles out; he was half dead; come, look at his
horses! He says, in places the snow is over the telephone
posts." "I'll try it anyway," I said. "Just have the team
ready I know what I can ask my horses to do. If it cannot
be done, I shall turn back, that is all."

When I stepped outside again, the wind seemed bent upon
shaking the strongest faith. I went home to my house
across the bridge and dressed. As soon as I was ready,
I allowed myself to be swept past stable, past hotel and
post-office till I reached the side street which led to
the house where I was to be the guest.

How sheltered, homelike and protected everything looked
inside. The hostess, as usual, was radiantly amiable.
The host settled back after supper to talk old country.
The Channel Islands, the French Coast, Kent and London
--those were from common knowledge our most frequently
recurring topics. Both host and hostess, that was easy
to see, were bent upon beguiling the hours of their rather
dark-humored guest. But the howling gale outside was
stronger than their good intentions. It was not very long
before the conversation got around--reverted, so it
seemed--to stories of storms, of being lost, of nearly
freezing. The boys were sitting with wide and eager eyes,
afraid they might be sent to bed before the feast of
yarns was over. I told one or two of my most thrilling
escapes, the host contributed a few more, and even the
hostess had had an experience, driving on top of a railroad
track for several miles, I believe, with a train, snowbound,
behind her. I leaned over. "Mrs. ---," I said, "do not
try to dissuade me. I am sorry to say it, but it is
useless. I am bound to go." "Well," she said, "I wish
you would not." "Thanks," I replied and looked at my
watch. It was two o'clock. "There is only one thing wrong
with coming to have tea in this home," I continued and
smiled; "it is so hard to say good-bye."

I carefully lighted my lantern and got into my wraps.
The wind was howling dismally outside. For a moment we
stood in the hall, shaking hands and paying the usual
compliments; then one of the boys opened the door for
me; and in stepping out I had one of the greatest surprises.
Not far from the western edge of the world there stood
the setting half-moon in a cloudless sky; myriads of
stars were dusted over the vast, dark blue expanse,
twinkling and blazing at their liveliest. And though the
wind still whistled and shrieked and rattled, no snow
came down, and not much seemed to drift. I pointed to
the sky, smiled, nodded and closed the door. As far as
the drifting of the snow went, I was mistaken, as I found
out when I turned to the north, into the less sheltered
street, past the post-office, hotel and stable. In front
of a store I stopped to read a thermometer which I had
found halfways reliable the year before. It read minus
thirty-two degrees...

It was still dark, of course, when I left the house on
Saturday morning to be on my way. Also, it was cold,
bitterly cold, but there was very little wind. In crossing
the bridge which was swept nearly clean of snow I noticed
a small, but somehow ominous-looking drift at the southern
end. It had such a disturbed, lashed-up appearance. The
snow was still loose, yet packed just hard enough to have
a certain degree of toughness. You could no longer swing
your foot through it: had you run into it at any great
speed, you would have fallen; but as yet it was not hard
enough to carry you. I knew that kind of a drift; it is
treacherous. On a later drive one just like it, only
built on a vastly larger scale, was to lead to the first
of a series of little accidents which finally shattered
my nerve. That was the only time that my temerity failed
me. I shall tell you about that drive later on.

At the stable I went about my preparations in a leisurely
way. I knew that a supreme test was ahead of myself and
the horses, and I meant to have daylight for tackling
it. Once more I went over the most important bolts; once
more I felt and pulled at every strap in the harness. I
had a Clark footwarmer and made sure that it functioned
properly I pulled the flaps of my military fur cap down
over neck, ears and cheeks. I tucked a pillow under the
sweater over my chest and made sure that my leggings
clasped my furlined moccasins well. Then, to prevent my
coat from opening even under the stress of motion, just
before I got into the cutter, I tied a rope around my
waist.

The hostler brought the horses into the shed. They pawed
the floor and snorted with impatience. While I rolled my
robes about my legs and drew the canvas curtain over the
front part of the box, I weighed Dan with my eyes. I had
no fear for Peter, but Dan would have to show to-day that
he deserved the way I had fed and nursed him. Like a
chain, the strength of which is measured by the strength
of its weakest link, my team was measured by Dan's pulling
power and endurance. But he looked good to me as he danced
across the pole and threw his head, biting back at Peter
who was teasing him.

The hostler was morose and in a biting mood. Every motion
of his seemed to say, "What is the use of all this? No
teamster would go out on a long drive in this weather,
till the snow has settled down; and here a schoolmaster
wants to try it."

At last he pushed the slide doors aside, and we swung
out. I held the horses tight and drove them into that
little drift at the bridge to slow them down right from
the start.

The dawn was white, but with a strictly localised angry
glow where the sun was still hidden below the horizon.
In a very few minutes he would be up, and I counted on
making that first mile just before he appeared.

This mile is a wide, well levelled road, but ever so
often, at intervals of maybe fifty to sixty yards, steep
and long promontories of snow had been flung across--some
of them five to six feet high. They started at the edge
of the field to the left where a rank growth of shrubby
weeds gave shelter for the snow to pile in. Their base,
alongside the fence, was broad, and they tapered across
the road, with a perfectly flat top, and with concave
sides of a most delicate, smooth, and finished looking
curve, till at last they ran out into a sharp point,
mostly beyond the road on the field to the right.

The wind plays strange pranks with snow; snow is the most
plastic medium it has to mould into images and symbols
of its moods. Here one of these promontories would slope
down, and the very next one would slope upward as it
advanced across the open space. In every case there had
been two walls, as it were, of furious blow, and between
the two a lane of comparative calm, caused by the shelter
of a clump of brush or weeds, in which the snow had taken
refuge from the wind's rough and savage play. Between
these capes of snow there was an occasional bare patch
of clean swept ground. Altogether there was an impression
of barren, wild, bitter-cold windiness about the aspect
that did not fail to awe my mind; it looked inhospitable,
merciless, and cruelly playful.

As yet the horses seemed to take only delight in dashing
through the drifts, so that the powdery crystals flew
aloft and dusted me all over. I peered across the field
to the left, and a curious sight struck me. There was
apparently no steady wind at all, but here and there,
and every now and then a little whirl of snow would rise
and fall again. Every one of them looked for all the
world like a rabbit reconnoitring in deep grass. It jumps
up on its hindlegs, while running, peers out, and settles
down again. It was as if the snow meant to have a look
at me, the interloper at such an early morning hour. The
snow was so utterly dry that it obeyed the lightest
breath; and whatever there was of motion in the air,
could not amount to more than a cat's-paw's sudden reach.

At the exact moment when the snow where it stood up
highest became suffused with a rose-red tint from the
rising sun, I arrived at the turn to the correction line.
Had I been a novice at the work I was engaged in, the
sight that met my eye might well have daunted me. Such
drifts as I saw here should be broken by drivers who have
short hauls to make before the long distance traveller
attempts them. From the fence on the north side of the
road a smoothly curved expanse covered the whole of the
road allowance and gently sloped down into the field at
my left. Its north edge stood like a cliff, the exact
height of the fence, four feet I should say. In the centre
it rose to probably six feet and then fell very gradually,
whaleback fashion, to the south. Not one of the fence
posts to the left was visible. The slow emergence of the
tops of these fence posts became during the following
week, when I drove out here daily, a measure for me of
the settling down of the drift. I believe I can say from
my observations that if no new snow falls or drifts in,
and if no very considerable evaporation takes place, a
newly piled snowdrift, undisturbed except by wind-pressure,
will finally settle down to about from one third to one
half of its original height, according to the pressure
of the wind that was behind the snow when it first was
thrown down. After it has, in this contracting process,
reached two thirds of its first height, it can usually
be relied upon to carry horse and man.

The surface of this drift, which covered a ditch besides
the grade and its grassy flanks, showed that curious
appearance that we also find in the glaciated surfaces
of granite rock and which, in them, geologists call
exfoliation. In the case of rock it is the consequence
of extreme changes in temperature. The surface sheet in
expanding under sudden heat detaches itself in large,
leaflike layers. In front of my wife's cottage up north
there lay an exfoliated rock in which I watched the
process for a number of years. In snow, of course, the
origin of this appearance is entirely different; snow is
laid down in layers by the waves in the wind. "Adfoliation"
would be a more nearly correct appellation of the process.
But from the analogy of the appearance I shall retain
the more common word and call it exfoliation. Layers upon
layers of paperlike sheets are superimposed upon each
other, their edges often "cropping out" on sloping
surfaces; and since these edges, according to the
curvatures of the surfaces, run in wavy lines, the total
aspect is very often that of "moire" silk.

I knew the road as well as I had ever known a road. In
summer there was a grassy expanse some thirty feet wide
to the north; then followed the grade, flanked to the
south by a ditch; and the tangle of weeds and small brush
beyond reached right up to the other fence. I had to stay
on or rather above the grade; so I stood up and selected
the exact spot where to tackle it. Later, I knew, this
drift would be harmless enough; there was sufficient
local traffic here to establish a well-packed trail. At
present, however, it still seemed a formidable task for
a team that was to pull me over thirty-three miles more.
Besides it was a first test for my horses; I did not know
yet how they would behave in snow.

But we went at it. For a moment things happened too fast
for me to watch details. The horses plunged wildly and
reared on their hind feet in a panic, straining against
each other, pulling apart, going down underneath the
pole, trying to turn and retrace their steps. And meanwhile
the cutter went sharply up at first, as if on the crest
of a wave, then toppled over into a hole made by Dan,
and altogether behaved like a boat tossed on a stormy
sea. Then order returned into the chaos. I had the lines
short, wrapped double and treble around my wrists; my
feet stood braced in the corner of the box, knees touching
the dashboard; my robes slipped down. I spoke to the
horses in a soft, quiet, purring voice; and at last I
pulled in. Peter hated to stand. I held him. Then I looked
back. This first wild plunge had taken us a matter of
two hundred yards into the drift. Peter pulled and champed
at the bit; the horses were sinking nearly out of sight.
But I knew that many and many a time in the future I
should have to go through just this and that from the
beginning I must train the horses to tackle it right.
So, in spite of my aching wrists I kept them standing
till I thought that they were fully breathed. Then I
relaxed my pull the slightest bit and clicked my tongue.
"Good," I thought, "they are pulling together!" And I
managed to hold them in line. They reared and plunged
again like drowning things in their last agony, but they
no longer clashed against nor pulled away from each other.
I measured the distance with my eye. Another two hundred
yards or thereabout, and I pulled them in again. Thus we
stopped altogether four times. The horses were steaming
when we got through this drift which was exactly half a
mile long; my cutter was packed level full with slabs
and clods of snow; and I was pretty well exhausted myself.

"If there is very much of this," I thought for the moment,
"I may not be able to make it." But then I knew that a
north-south road will drift in badly only under exceptional
circumstances. It is the east-west grades that are most
apt to give trouble. Not that I minded my part of it,
but I did not mean to kill my horses. I had sized them
up in their behaviour towards snow. Peter, as I had
expected, was excitable. It was hard to recognize in him
just now, as he walked quietly along, the uproar of
playing muscle and rearing limbs that he had been when
we first struck the snow. That was well and good for a
short, supreme effort; but not even for Peter would it
do in the long, endless drifts which I had to expect.
Dan was quieter, but he did not have Peter's staying
power, in fact, he was not really a horse for the road.
Strange, in spite of his usual keenness on the level
road, he seemed to show more snow sense in the drift.
This was to be amply confirmed in the future. Whenever
an accident happened, it was Peter's fault. As you will
see if you read on, Dan once lay quiet when Peter stood
right on top of him.

On this road north I found the same "promontories" that
had been such a feature of the first one, flung across
from the northwest to the southeast. Since the clumps of
shrubs to the left were larger here, and more numerous,
too, the drifts occasionally also were larger and higher;
but not one of them was such that the horses could not
clear it with one or two leaps. The sun was climbing,
the air was winter-clear and still. None of the farms
which I passed showed the slightest sign of life. I had
wrapped up again and sat in comparative comfort and at
ease, enjoying the clear sparkle and glitter of the virgin
snow. It was not till considerably later that the real
significance of the landscape dawned upon my consciousness.
Still there was even now in my thoughts a speculative
undertone. Subconsciously I wondered what might be ahead
of me.

We made Bell's corner in good time. The mile to the west
proved easy. There were drifts, it is true, and the going
was heavy, but at no place did the snow for any length
of time reach higher than the horses' hocks. We turned
to the north again, and here, for a while, the road was
very good indeed; the underbrush to the left, on those
expanses of wild land, had fettered, as it were, the feet
of the wind. The snow was held everywhere, and very little
of it had drifted. Only one spot I remember where a clump
of Russian willow close to the trail had offered shelter
enough to allow the wind to fill in the narrow road-gap
to a depth of maybe eight or nine feet; but here it was
easy to go around to the west. Without any further incident
we reached the point where the useless, supernumerary
fence post had caught my eye on my first trip out. I had
made nearly eight miles now.

But right here I was to get my first inkling of sights
that might shatter my nerve. You may remember that a
grove of tall poplars ran to the east, skirted along its
southern edge by a road and a long line of telephone
posts. Now here, in this shelter of the poplars, the snow
from the more or less level and unsheltered spaces to
the northwest had piled in indeed. It sloped up to the
east; and never shall I forget what I beheld.

The first of the posts stood a foot in snow; at the second
one the drift reached six or seven feet up; the next one
looked only half as long as the first one, and you might
have imagined, standing as it did on a sloping hillside,
that it had intentionally been made so much shorter than
the others; but at the bottom of the visible part the
wind, in sweeping around the pole, had scooped out a
funnel-shaped crater which seemed to open into the very
earth like a sinkhole. The next pole stood like a giant
buried up to his chest and looked singularly helpless
and footbound; and the last one I saw showed just its
crossbar with three glassy, green insulators above the
mountain of snow. The whole surface of this gigantic
drift showed again that "exfoliated" appearance which I
have described. Strange to say, this very exfoliation
gave it something of a quite peculiarly desolate aspect.
It looked so harsh, so millennial-old, so antediluvian
and pre-adamic! I still remember with particular
distinctness the slight dizziness that overcame me, the
sinking feeling in my heart, the awe, and the foreboding
that I had challenged a force in Nature which might defy
all tireless effort and the most fearless heart.

So the hostler had not been fibbing after all!

But not for a moment did I think of turning back. I am
fatalistic in temperament. What is to be, is to be, that
is not my outlook. If at last we should get bound up in
a drift, well and good, I should then see what the next
move would have to be. While the wind blows, snow drifts;
while my horses could walk and I was not disabled, my
road led north, not south. Like the snow I obeyed the
laws of my nature. So far the road was good, and we swung
along.

Somewhere around here a field presented a curious view
Its crop had not been harvested; it still stood in stooks.
But from my side I saw nothing of the sheaves--it seemed
to be flax, for here and there a flag of loose heads
showed at the top. The snow had been blown up from all
directions, so it looked, by the counter-currents that
set up in the lee of every obstacle. These mounds presented
one and all the appearance of cones or pyramids of butter
patted into shape by upward strokes made with a spoon.
There were the sharp ridges, irregular and erratic, and
there were the hollows running up their flanks--exactly
as such a cone of butter will show them. And the whole
field was dotted with them, as if there were so many
fresh graves.

I made the twelve-mile bridge--passing through the
cottonwood gate--reached the "hovel," and dropped into
the wilderness again. Here the bigger trees stood strangely
bare. Winter reveals the bark and the "habit" of trees.
All ornaments and unessentials have been dropped. The
naked skeletons show I remember how I was more than ever
struck by that dappled appearance of the bark of the
balm: an olive-green, yellowish hue, ridged and spotted
with the black of ancient, overgrown leaf-scars; there
was actually something gay about it; these poplars are
certainly beautiful winter trees. The aspens were different.
Although their stems stood white on white in the snow,
that greenish tinge in their white gave them a curious
look. From the picture that I carry about in my memory
of this morning I cannot help the impression that they
looked as if their white were not natural at all; they
looked white-washed! I have often since confirmed this
impression when there was snow on the ground.

In the copses of saplings the zigzagging of the boles
from twig to twig showed very distinctly, more so, I
believe, than to me it had ever done before. How slender
and straight they look in their summer garb--now they
were stripped, and bone and sinew appeared.

We came to the "half way farms," and the marsh lay ahead.
I watered the horses, and I do not know what made me rest
them for a little while, but I did. On the yard of the
farm where I had turned in there was not a soul to be
seen. Barns and stables were closed--and I noticed that
the back door of the dwelling was buried tight by the
snow. No doubt everybody preferred the neighbourhood of
the fire to the cold outside. While stopping, I faced
for the first time the sun. He was high in the sky by
now--it was half-past ten--and it suddenly came home to
me that there was something relentless, inexorable, cruel,
yes, something of a sneer in the pitiless way in which
he looked down on the infertile waste around. Unaccountably
two Greek words formed on my lips: Homer's Pontos
atrygetos--the barren sea. Half an hour later I was to
realize the significance of it.

I turned back to the road and north again. For another
half mile the fields continued on either side; but somehow
they seemed to take on a sinister look. There was more
snow on them than I had found on the level land further
south; the snow lay more smoothly, again under those
"exfoliated" surface sheets which here, too, gave it an
inhuman, primeval look; in the higher sun the vast expanse
looked, I suppose, more blindingly white; and nowhere
did buildings or thickets seem to emerge. Yet, so long
as the grade continued, the going was fair enough.

Then I came to the corner which marked half the distance,
and there I stopped. Right in front, where the trail had
been and where a ditch had divided off the marsh, a
fortress of snow lay now: a seemingly impregnable bulwark,
six or seven feet high, with rounded top, fitting
descriptions which I had read of the underground bomb-proofs
around Belgian strongholds--those forts which were hammered
to pieces by the Germans in their first, heart-breaking
forward surge in 1914. There was not a wrinkle in this
inverted bowl. There it lay, smooth and slick--curled up
in security, as it were, some twenty, thirty feet across;
and behind it others, and more of them to the right and
to the left. This had been a stretch, covered with brush
and bush, willow and poplar thickets; but my eye saw
nothing except a mammiferous waste, cruelly white,
glittering in the heatless, chuckling sun, and scoffing
at me, the intruder. I stood up again and peered out. To
the east it seemed as if these buttes of snow were a
trifle lower; but maybe the ground underneath also sloped
down. I wished I had travelled here more often by daytime,
so I might know. As it was, there was nothing to it; I
had to tackle the task. And we plunged in.

I had learned something from my first experience in the
drift one mile north of town, and I kept my horses well
under control. Still, it was a wild enough dash. Peter
lost his footing two or three times and worked himself
into a mild panic. But Dan--I could not help admiring
the way in which, buried over his back in snow, he would
slowly and deliberately rear on his hindfeet and take
his bound. For fully five minutes I never saw anything
of the horses except their heads. I inferred their motions
from the dusting snowcloud that rose above their bodies
and settled on myself. And then somehow we emerged. We
reached a stretch of ground where the snow was just high
enough to cover the hocks of the horses. It was a hollow
scooped out by some freak of the wind. I pulled in, and
the horses stood panting. Peter no longer showed any
desire to fret and to jump. Both horses apparently felt
the wisdom of sparing their strength. They were all white
with the frost of their sweat and the spray of the snow...

While I gave them their time, I looked around, and here
a lesson came home to me. In the hollow where we stood,
the snow did not lie smoothly. A huge obstacle to the
northwest, probably a buried clump of brush, had made
the wind turn back upon itself, first downward, then, at
the bottom of the pit, in a direction opposite to that
of the main current above, and finally slantways upward
again to the summit of the obstacle, where it rejoined
the parent blow. The floor of the hollow was cleanly
scooped out and chiselled in low ridges; and these ridges
came from the southeast, running their points to the
northwest. I learned to look out for this sign, and I
verily believe that, had I not learned that lesson right
now, I should never have reached the creek which was
still four or five miles distant.

The huge mound in the lee of which I was stopping was a
matter of two hundred yards away; nearer to it the snow
was considerably deeper; and since it presented an
appearance very characteristic of Prairie bush-drifts,
I shall describe it in some detail. Apparently the winds
had first bent over all the stems of the clump; for
whenever I saw one of them from the north, it showed a
smooth, clean upward sweep. On the south side the snow
first fell in a sheer cliff; then there was a hollow
which was partly filled by a talus-shaped drift thrown
in by the counter currents from the southern pit in which
we were stopping; the sides of this talus again showed
the marks that reminded of those left by the spoon when
butter is roughly stroked into the shape of a pyramid.
The interesting parts of the structure consisted in the
beetling brow of the cliff and the roof of the cavity
underneath. The brow had a honeycombed appearance; the
snow had been laid down in layers of varying density (I
shall discuss this more fully in the next chapter when
we are going to look in on the snow while it is actually
at work); and the counter currents that here swept upward
in a slanting direction had bitten out the softer layers,
leaving a fine network of little ridges which reminded
strangely of the delicate fretwork-tracery in
wind-sculptured rock--as I had seen it in the Black Hills
in South Dakota. This piece of work of the wind is
exceedingly short-lived in snow, and it must not be
confounded with the honeycombed appearance of those faces
of snow cliffs which are "rotting" by reason of their
exposure to the heat of the noonday sun. These latter
are coarse, often dirty, and nearly always have something
bristling about them which is entirely absent in the
sculptures of the wind. The under side of the roof in
the cavity looked very much as a very stiff or viscid
treacle would look when spread over a meshy surface, as,
for instance, over a closely woven netting of wire. The
stems and the branches of the brush took the place of
the wire, and in their meshes the snow had been pressed
through by its own weight, but held together by its
curious ductility or tensile strength of which I was to
find further evidence soon enough. It thus formed
innumerable, blunted little stalactites, but without the
corresponding stalagmites which you find in limestone
caves or on the north side of buildings when the snow
from the roof thaws and forms icicles and slender cones
of ice growing up to meet them from the ground where the
trickling drops fall and freeze again.

By the help of these various tokens I had picked my next
resting place before we started up again. It was on this
second dash that I understood why those Homeric words
had come to my lips a while ago. This was indeed like
nothing so much as like being out on rough waters and in
a troubled sea, with nothing to brace the storm with but
a wind-tossed nutshell of a one-man sailing craft. I knew
that experience for having outridden many a gale in the
mouth of the mighty St. Lawrence River. When the snow
reached its extreme in depth, it gave you the feeling
which a drowning man may have when fighting his desperate
fight with the salty waves. But more impressive than that
was the frequent outer resemblance. The waves of the
ocean rise up and reach out and batter against the rocks
and battlements of the shore, retreating again and ever
returning to the assault, covering the obstacles thrown
in the way of their progress with thin sheets of licking
tongues at least. And if such a high crest wave had
suddenly been frozen into solidity, its outline would
have mimicked to perfection many a one of the snow shapes
that I saw around.

Once the horses had really learned to pull exactly
together--and they learned it thoroughly here--our progress
was not too bad. Of course, it was not like going on a
grade, be it ever so badly drifted in. Here the ground
underneath, too, was uneven and overgrown with a veritable
entanglement of brush in which often the horses' feet
would get caught. As for the road, there was none left,
nothing that even by the boldest stretch of imagination
could have been considered even as the slightest indication
of one. And worst of all, I knew positively that there
would be no trail at any time during the winter. I was
well aware of the fact that, after it once snowed up,
nobody ever crossed this waste between the "half way
farms" and the "White Range Line House." This morning it
took me two and a half solid hours to make four miles.

But the ordeal had its reward. Here where the fact that
there was snow on the ground, and plenty of it, did no
longer need to be sunk into my brain--as soon as it had
lost its value as a piece of news and a lesson, I began
to enjoy it just as the hunter in India will enjoy the
battle of wits when he is pitted against a yellow-black
tiger. I began to catch on to the ways of this snow; I
began, as it were, to study the mentality of my enemy.
Though I never kill, I am after all something of a
sportsman. And still another thing gave me back that
mental equilibrium which you need in order to see things
and to reason calmly about them. Every dash of two hundred
yards or so brought me that much nearer to my goal. Up
to the "half way farms" I had, as it were, been working
uphill: there was more ahead than behind. This was now
reversed: there was more behind than ahead, and as yet
I did not worry about the return trip.

Now I have already said that snow is the only really
plastic element in which the wind can carve the vagaries
of its mood and leave a record of at least some permanency.
The surface of the sea is a wonderful book to be read
with a lightning-quick eye; I do not know anything better
to do as a cure for ragged nerves--provided you are a
good sailor. But the forms are too fleeting, they change
too quickly--so quickly, indeed, that I have never
succeeded in so fixing their record upon my memory as to
be able to develop one form from the other in descriptive
notes. It is that very fact, I believe, upon which hinges
the curative value of the sight: you are so completely
absorbed by the moment, and all other things fall away.
Many and many a day have I lain in my deck chair on board
a liner and watched the play of the waves; but the
pleasure, which was very great indeed, was momentary;
and sometimes, when in an unsympathetic mood, I have
since impatiently wondered in what that fascination may
have consisted. It was different here. Snow is very nearly
as yielding as water and, once it fully responds in its
surface to the carving forces of the wind, it stays--as
if frozen into the glittering marble image of its motion.
I know few things that are as truly fascinating as the
sculptures of the wind in snow; for here you have time
and opportunity a-plenty to probe not only into the what,
but also into the why. Maybe that one day I shall write
down a fuller account of my observations. In this report
I shall have to restrict myself to a few indications,
for this is not the record of the whims of the wind, but
merely the narrative of my drives.

In places, for instance, the rounded, "bomb-proof" aspect
of the expanses would be changed into the distinct contour
of gigantic waves with a very fine, very sharp crest-line.
The upsweep from the northwest would be ever so slightly
convex, and the downward sweep into the trough was always
very distinctly concave. This was not the ripple which
we find in beach sand. That ripple was there, too, and
in places it covered the wide backs of these huge waves
all over; but never was it found on the concave side.
Occasionally, but rarely, one of these great waves would
resemble a large breaker with a curly crest. Here the
onward sweep from the northwest had built the snow out,
beyond the supporting base, into a thick overhanging
ledge which here and there had sagged; but by virtue of
that tensile strength and cohesion in snow which I have
mentioned already, it still held together and now looked
convoluted and ruffled in the most deceiving way. I
believe I actually listened for the muffled roar which
the breaker makes when its subaqueous part begins to
sweep the upward sloping beach. To make this illusion
complete, or to break it by the very absurdity and
exaggeration of a comparison drawn out too far--I do not
know which--there would, every now and then, from the
crest of one of these waves, jut out something which
closely resembled the wide back of a large fish diving
down into the concave side towards the trough. This looked
very much like porpoises or dolphins jumping in a heaving
sea; only that in my memory picture the real dolphins
always jump in the opposite direction, against the run
of the waves, bridging the trough.

In other places a fine, exceedingly delicate crest-line
would spring up from the high point of some buried obstacle
and sweep along in the most graceful curve as far as the
eye would carry I particularly remember one of them, and
I could discover no earthly reason for the curvature in it.

Again there would be a triangular--or should I say
"tetrahedral"?--up-sweep from the direction of the wind,
ending in a sharp, perfectly plane down-sweep on the
south side; and the point of this three-sided but oblique
pyramid would hang over like the flap of a tam. There
was something of the consistency of very thick cloth
about this overhanging flap.

Or an up-slope from the north would end in a long, nearly
perpendicular cliff-line facing south. And the talus
formation which I have mentioned would be perfectly
smooth; but it did not reach quite to the top of the
cliff, maybe to within a foot of it. The upsloping layer
from the north would hang out again, with an even brow;
but between this smooth cornice and the upper edge of
the talus the snow looked as if it had been squeezed out
by tremendous pressure from above, like an exceedingly
viscid liquid--cooling glue, for instance, which is being
squeezed out from between the core and the veneer in a
veneering press.

Once I passed close to and south of, two thickets which
were completely buried by the snow. Between them a ditch
had been scooped out in a very curious fashion. It
resembled exactly a winding river bed with its water
drained off; it was two or three feet deep, and wherever
it turned, its banks were undermined on the "throw" side
by the "wash" of the furious blow. The analogy between
the work of the wind and the work of flowing water
constantly obtrudes, especially where this work is one
of "erosion."

But as flowing water will swing up and down in the most
surprising forms where the bed of the river is rough with
rocks and throws it into choppy waves which do not seem
to move, so the snow was thrown up into the most curious
forms where the frozen swamp ground underneath had bubbled,
as it were, into phantastic shapes. I remember several
places where a perfect circle was formed by a sharp
crestline that bounded an hemispherical, crater-like
hollow. When steam bubbles up through thick porridge, in
its leisurely and impeded way, and the bubble bursts with
a clucking sound, then for a moment a crater is formed
just like these circular holes; only here in the snow
they were on a much larger scale, of course, some of them
six to ten feet in diameter.

And again the snow was thrown up into a bulwark, twenty
and more feet high, with that always repeating cliff face
to the south, resembling a miniature Gibraltar, with many
smaller ones of most curiously similar form on its back:
bulwarks upon bulwarks, all lowering to the south. In
these the aggressive nature of storm-flung. snow was most
apparent. They were formidable structures; formidable
and intimidating, more through the suggestiveness of
their shape than through mere size.

I came to places where the wind had had its moments of
frolicksome humour, where it had made grim fun of its
own massive and cumbersome and yet so pliable and elastic
majesty. It had turned around and around, running with
breathless speed, with its tongue lolling out, as it
were, and probably yapping and snapping in mocking mimicry
of a pup trying to catch its tail; and it had scooped
out a spiral trough with overhanging rim. I felt sorry
that I had not been there to watch it, because after all,
what I saw, was only the dead record of something that
had been very much alive and vociferatingly noisy. And
in another place it had reared and raised its head like
a boa constrictor, ready to strike at its prey; up to
the flashing, forked tongue it was there. But one spot
I remember, where it looked exactly as if quite consciously
it had attempted the outright ludicrous: it had thrown
up the snow into the semblance of some formidable animal
--more like a gorilla than anything else it looked, a
gorilla that stands on its four hands and raises every
hair on its back and snarls in order to frighten that
which it is afraid of itself--a leopard maybe.

And then I reached the "White Range Line House." Curiously
enough, there it stood, sheltered by its majestic bluff
to the north, as peaceful looking as if there were no
such a thing as that record, which I had crossed, of the
uproar and fury of one of the forces of Nature engaged
in an orgy. And it looked so empty, too, and so deserted,
with never a wisp of smoke curling from its flue-pipe,
that for a moment I was tempted to turn in and see whether
maybe the lonely dweller was ill. But then I felt as if I
could not be burdened with any stranger's worries that day.

The effective shelter of the poplar forest along the
creek made itself felt. The last mile to the northeast
was peaceful driving. I felt quite cheered, though I
walked the horses over the whole of the mile since both
began to show signs of wear. The last four miles had been
a test to try any living creature's mettle. To me it had
been one of the culminating points in that glorious
winter, but the horses had lacked the mental stimulus,
and even I felt rather exhausted.

On the bridge I stopped, threw the blankets over the
horses, and fed. Somehow this seemed to be the best place
to do it. There was no snow to speak of. and I did not
know yet what might follow. The horses were drooping,
and I gave them an additional ten minutes' rest. Then I
slowly made ready. I did not really expect any serious
trouble.

We turned at a walk, and the chasm of the bush road opened
up. Instantly I pulled the horses in. What I saw, baffled
me for a moment so completely that I just sat there and
gasped. There was no road. The trees to both sides were
not so overly high, but the snow had piled in level with
their tops; the drift looked like a gigantic barricade.
It was that fleeting sight of the telephone posts over
again, though on a slightly smaller scale; but this time
it was in front. Slowly I started to whistle and then
looked around. I remembered now. There was a newly cut-out
road running north past the school which lay embedded in
the bush. It had offered a lane to the wind; and the
wind, going there, in cramped space, at a doubly furious
stride, had picked up and carried along all the loose
snow from the grassy glades in its path. The road ended
abruptly just north of the drift, where the east-west
grade sprang up. When the wind had reached this end of
the lane, where the bush ran at right angles to its
direction, it had found itself in something like a blind
alley, and, sweeping upward, to clear the obstacle, it
had dropped every bit of its load into the shelter of
the brush, gradually, in the course of three long days,
building up a ridge that buried underbrush and trees. I
might have known it, of course. I knew enough about snow;
all the conditions for an exceptionally large drift were
provided for here. But it had not occurred to me, especially
after I had found the northern fringe of the marsh so
well sheltered. Here I felt for a moment as if all the
snow of the universe had piled in. As I said, I was so
completely baffled that I could have turned the horses
then and there.

But after a minute or two my eyes began to cast about.
I turned to the south, right into the dense underbrush
and towards the creek which here swept south in a long,
flat curve. Peter was always intolerant of anything that
moved underfoot. He started to bolt when the dry and
hard-frozen stems snapped and broke with reports resembling
pistol shots. But since Dan kept quiet, I held Peter well
in hand. I went along the drift for maybe three to four
hundred yards, reconnoitring. Then the trees began to
stand too dense for me to proceed without endangering my
cutter. Just beyond I saw the big trough of the creek
bed, and though I could not make out how conditions were
at its bottom, the drift continued on its southern bank,
and in any case it was impossible to cross the hollow.
So I turned; I had made up my mind to try the drift.

About a hundred and fifty yards from the point where I
had turned off the road there was something like a fold
in the flank of the drift. At its foot I stopped. For a
moment I tried to explain that fold to myself. This is
what I arrived at. North of the drift, just about where
the new cut-out joined the east-west grade, there was a
small clearing caused by a bush fire which a few years
ago had penetrated thus far into this otherwise virgin
corner of the forest. Unfortunately it stood so full of
charred stumps that it was impossible to get through
there. But the main currents of the wind would have free
play in this opening, and I knew that, when the blizzard
began, it had been blowing from a more northerly quarter
than later on, when it veered to the northwest. And though
the snow came careering along the lane of the cut-out,
that is, from due north, its "throw" and therefore, the
direction of the drift would be determined by the direction
of the wind that took charge of it on this clearing.
Probably, then, a first, provisional drift whose long
axis lay nearly in a north-south line, had been piled up
by the first, northerly gale. Later a second, larger
drift had been superimposed upon it at an angle, with
its main axis running from the northwest to the southeast.
The fold marked the point where the first, smaller drift
still emerged from the second larger one. This reasoning
was confirmed by a study of the clearing itself which I
came to make two or three weeks after.

Before I called on the horses to give me their very last
ounce of strength, I got out of my cutter once more and
made sure that my lines were still sound. I trusted my
ability to guide the horses even in this crucial test,
but I dreaded nothing so much as that the lines might
break; and I wanted to guard against any accident. I
should mention that, of course, the top of my cutter was
down, that the traces of the harness were new, and that
the cutter itself during its previous trials had shown
an exceptional stability. Once more I thus rested my
horses for five minutes; and they seemed to realize what
was coming. Their heads were up, their ears were cocked.
When I got back into my cutter, I carefully brushed the
snow from moccasins and trousers, laid the robe around
my feet, adjusted my knees against the dashboard, and
tied two big loops into the lines to hold them by.

Then I clicked my tongue. The horses bounded upward in
unison. For a moment it looked as if they intended to
work through, instead of over, the drift. A wild shower
of angular snow-slabs swept in upon me. The cutter reared
up and plunged and reared again--and then the view cleared.
The snow proved harder than I had anticipated--which
bespoke the fury of the blow that had piled it. It did
not carry the horses, but neither--once we had reached
a height of five or six feet--did they sink beyond their
bellies and out of sight. I had no eye for anything except
them. What lay to right or left, seemed not to concern
me. I watched them work. They went in bounds, working
beautifully together. Rhythmically they reared, and
rhythmically they plunged. I had dropped back to the
seat, holding them with a firm hand, feet braced against
the dashboard; and whenever they got ready to rear, I
called to them in a low and quiet voice, "Peter--Dan--now!"
And their muscles played with the effort of desperation.
It probably did not take more than five minutes, maybe
considerably less, before we had reached the top, but to
me it seemed like hours of nearly fruitless endeavour.
I did not realize at first that we were high. I shall
never forget the weird kind of astonishment when the fact
came home to me that what snapped and crackled in the
snow under the horses' hoofs, were the tops of trees.
Nor shall the feeling of estrangement, as it were--as if
I were not myself, but looking on from the outside at
the adventure of somebody who yet was I--the feeling of
other-worldliness, if you will pardon the word, ever fade
from my memory--a feeling of having been carried beyond
my depth where I could not swim--which came over me when
with two quick glances to right and left I took in the
fact that there were no longer any trees to either side,
that I was above that forest world which had so often
engulfed me.

Then I drew my lines in. The horses fought against it,
did not want to stand. But I had to find my way, and
while they were going, I could not take my eyes from
them. It took a supreme effort on my part to make them
obey. At last they stood, but I had to hold them with
all my strength, and with not a second's respite. Now
that I was on top of the drift, the problem of how to
get down loomed larger than that of getting up had seemed
before. I knew I did not have half a minute in which to
decide upon my course; for it became increasingly difficult
to hold the horses back, and they were fast sinking away.

During this short breathing spell I took in the situation.
We had come up in a northeast direction, slanting along
the slope. Once on top, I had instinctively turned to
the north. Here the drift was about twenty feet wide,
perfectly level and with an exfoliated surface layer. To
the east the drift fell steeply, with a clean, smooth
cliff-line marking off the beginning of the descent; this
line seemed particularly disconcerting, for it betrayed
the concave curvature of the down-sweep. A few yards to
the north I saw below, at the foot of the cliff, the old
logging-trail, and I noticed that the snow on it lay as
it had fallen, smooth and sheer, without a ripple of a
drift. It looked like mockery. And yet that was where I
had to get down.

The next few minutes are rather a maze in my memory. But
two pictures were photographed with great distinctness.
The one is of the moment when we went over the edge. For
a second Peter reared up, pawing the air with his forefeet;
Dan tried to back away from the empty fall. I had at this
excruciating point no purchase whatever on the lines.
Then apparently Peter sat or fell down, I do not know
which, on his haunches and began to slide. The cutter
lurched to the left as if it were going to spill all it
held. Dan was knocked off his hind feet by the drawbar--and
we plunged... We came to with a terrific jolt that sent
me in a heap against the dashboard. One jump, and I stood
on the ground. The cutter--and this is the second picture
which is etched clearly on the plate of my memory--stood
on its pole, leaning at an angle of forty-five degrees
against the drift. The horses were as if stunned. "Dan,
Peter!" I shouted, and they struggled to their feet. They
were badly winded, but otherwise everything seemed all
right. I looked wistfully back and up at the gully which
we had torn into the flank of the drift.

I should gladly have breathed the horses again, but they
were hot, the air was at zero or colder, the rays of the
sun had begun to slant. I walked for a while alongside
the team. They were drooping sadly. Then I got in again,
driving them slowly till we came to the crossing of the
ditch. I had no eye for the grade ahead. On the bush road
the going was good--now and then a small drift, but
nothing alarming anywhere. The anti-climax had set in.
Again the speckled trunks of the balm poplars struck my
eye, now interspersed with the scarlet stems of the red
osier dogwood. But they failed to cheer me--they were
mere facts, unable to stir moods...

I began to think. A few weeks ago I had met that American
settler with the French sounding name who lived alongside
the angling dam further north. We had talked snow, and
he had said, "Oh, up here it never is bad except along
this grade,"--we were stopping on the last east-west
grade, the one I was coming to--"there you cannot get
through. You'd kill your horses. Level with the tree-tops."
Well, I had had just that a little while ago--I could
not afford any more of it. So I made up my mind to try
a new trail, across a section which was fenced. It meant
getting out of my robes twice more, to open the gates,
but I preferred that to another tree-high drift. To spare
my horses was now my only consideration. I should not
have liked to take the new trail by night, for fear of
missing the gates; but that objection did not hold just
now. Horses and I were pretty well spent. So, instead of
forking off the main trail to the north we went straight
ahead.

In due time I came to the bridge which I had to cross in
order to get up on the dam. Here I saw--in an absent-minded,
half unconscious, and uninterested way--one more structure
built by architect wind. The deep master ditch from the
north emptied here, to the left of the bridge, into the
grade ditch which ran east and west. And at the corner
the snow had very nearly bridged it--so nearly that you
could easily have stepped across the remaining gap. But
below it was hollow--nothing supported the bridge--it
was a mere arch, with a vault underneath that looked
temptingly sheltered and cosy to wearied eyes.

The dam was bare, and I had to pull off to the east, on
to the swampy plain. I gave my horses the lines, and
slowly, slowly they took me home! Even had I not always
lost interest here, to-day I should have leaned back and
rested. Although the horses had done all the actual work,
the strain of it had been largely on me. It was the
after-effect that set in now.

I thought of my wife, and of how she would have felt had
she been able to follow the scenes in some magical mirror
through every single vicissitude of my drive. And once
more I saw with the eye of recent memory the horses in
that long, endless plunge through the corner of the marsh.
Once more I felt my muscles a-quiver with the strain of
that last wild struggle over that last, inhuman drift.
And slowly I made up my mind that the next time, the very
next day, on my return trip, I was going to add another
eleven miles to my already long drive and to take a
different road. I knew the trail over which I had been
coming so far was closed for the rest of the winter--there
was no traffic there--no trail would be kept open. That
other road of which I was thinking and which lay further
west was the main cordwood trail to the towns in the
south. It was out of my way, to be sure, but I felt
convinced that I could spare my horses and even save time
by making the detour.

Being on the east side of the dam, I could not see school
or cottage till I turned up on the correction line. But
when at last I saw it, I felt somewhat as I had felt
coming home from my first big trip overseas. It seemed
a lifetime since I had started out. I seemed to be a
different man.

Here, in the timber land, the snow had not drifted to
any extent. There were signs of the gale, but its record
was written in fallen tree trunks, broken branches, a
litter of twigs--not in drifts of snow. My wife would
not surmise what I had gone through.

She came out with a smile on her face when I pulled in
on the yard. It was characteristic of her that she did
not ask why I came so late; she accepted the fact as
something for which there were no doubt compelling reasons.
"I was giving our girl a bath," she said; "she cannot
come." And then she looked wistfully at my face and at
the horses. Silently I slipped the harness off their
backs. I used to let them have their freedom for a while
on reaching home. And never yet but Peter at least had
had a kick and a caper and a roll before they sought
their mangers. To-day they stood for a moment knock-kneed,
without moving, then shook themselves in a weak,
half-hearted way and went with drooping heads and weary
limbs straight to the stable.

"You had a hard trip?" asked my wife; and I replied with
as much cheer as I could muster, "I have seen sights
to-day that I did not expect to see before my dying day."
And taking her arm, I looked at the westering sun and
turned towards the house.




FIVE
Wind and Waves

When I awoke on the morning after the last described
arrival at "home," I thought of the angry glow in the
east at sunrise of the day before. It had been cold again
over night, so cold that in the small cottage, whatever
was capable of freezing, froze to its very core. The
frost had even penetrated the hole which in this "teacher's
residence" made shift for a cellar, and, in spite of
their being covered with layer upon layer of empty bags,
had sweetened the winter's supply of potatoes.

But towards morning there had been a let-up, a sudden
rise in temperature, as we experience it so often,
coincident with a change in the direction of the wind,
which now blew rather briskly from the south, foreboding
a storm.

I got the horses ready at an early hour, for I was going
to try the roundabout way at last, forty-five miles of
it; and never before had I gone over the whole of it in
winter. Even in summer I had done so only once, and that
in a car, when I had accompanied the school-inspector on
one of his trips. I wanted to make sure that I should be
ready in time to start at ten o'clock in the morning.

This new road had chiefly two features which recommended
it to me. Firstly, about thirty-eight miles out of
forty-five led through a fairly well settled district
where I could hope to find a chain of short-haul trails.
The widest gap in this series of settlements was one of
two miles where there was wild land. The remaining seven
miles, it is true, led across that wilderness on the east
side of which lay Bell's farm. This piece, however, I
knew so well that I felt sure of finding my way there by
night or day in any reasonable kind of weather. Nor did
I expect to find it badly drifted. And secondly, about
twenty-nine miles from "home" I should pass within one
mile of a town which boasted of boarding house and livery
stable, offering thus, in case of an emergency, a convenient
stopping place.

I watched the sky rather anxiously, not so much on my
own account as because my wife, seeing me start, would
worry a good deal should that start be made in foul
weather. At nine the sky began to get grey in spots.
Shortly after a big cloud came sailing up, and I went
out to watch it. And sure enough, it had that altogether
loose appearance, with those wind-torn, cottony appendages
hanging down from its darker upper body which are sure
to bring snow. Lower away in the south--a rare thing to
come from the south in our climate--there lay a black
squall-cloud with a rounded outline, like a big windbag,
resembling nothing so much as a fat boy's face with its
cheeks blown out, when he tries to fill a football with
the pressure from his lungs. That was an infallible sign.
The first cloud, which was travelling fast, might blow
over. The second, larger one was sure to bring wind
a-plenty. But still there was hope. So long as it did
not bring outright snow, my wife would not worry so much.
Here where she was, the snow would not drift--there was
altogether too much bush. She--not having been much of
an observer of the skies before--dreaded the snowstorm
more than the blizzard. I knew the latter was what
portended danger.

When I turned back into the house, a new thought struck
me. I spoke to my wife, who was putting up a lunch for
me, and proposed to take her and our little girl over to
a neighbour's place a mile and a half west of the school.
Those people were among the very few who had been decent
to her, and the visit would beguile the weary Sunday
afternoon. She agreed at once. So we all got ready; I
brought the horses out and hooked them up, alone--no
trouble from them this morning: they were quiet enough
when they drank deep at the well.

A few whirls of snow had come down meanwhile--not enough,
however, as yet to show as a new layer on the older snow.
Again a cloud had torn loose from that squall-bag on the
horizon, and again it showed that cottony, fringy, whitish
under layer which meant snow. I raised the top of the
cutter and fastened the curtains.

By the time we three piled in, the thin flakes were
dancing all around again, dusting our furs with their
thin, glittering crystals. I bandied baby-talk with the
little girl to make things look cheerful, but there was
anguish in the young woman's look. I saw she would like
to ask me to stay over till Monday, but she knew that I
considered it my duty to get back to town by night.

The short drive to the neighbour's place was pleasant
enough. There was plenty of snow on this part of the
correction line, which farther east was bare; and it was
packed down by abundant traffic. Then came the parting.
I kissed wife and child; and slowly, accompanied by much
waving of hands on the part of the little girl and a
rather depressed looking smile on that of my wife, I
turned on the yard and swung back to the road. The cliffs
of black poplar boles engulfed me at once: a sheltered
grade.

But I had not yet gone very far--a mile perhaps, or a
little over--when the trees began to bend under the impact
of that squall. Nearly at the same moment the sun, which
so far had been shining in an intermittent way, was
blotted from the sky, and it turned almost dusky. For a
long while--for more than an hour, indeed--it had seemed
as if that black squall-cloud were lying motionless at
the horizon--an anchored ship, bulging at its wharf. But
then, as if its moorings had been cast off, or its sails
unfurled, it travelled up with amazing speed. The wind
had an easterly slant to it--a rare thing with us for a
wind from that quarter to bring a heavy storm. The gale
had hardly been blowing for ten or fifteen minutes, when
the snow began to whirl down. It came in the tiniest
possible flakes, consisting this time of short needles
that looked like miniature spindles, strung with the
smallest imaginable globules of ice--no six-armed crystals
that I could find so far. Many a snowstorm begins that
way with us. And there was even here, in the chasm of
the road, a swing and dance to the flakes that bespoke
the force of the wind above.

My total direction--after I should have turned off the
correction line--lay to the southeast; into the very
teeth of the wind. I had to make it by laps though, first
south, then east, then south again, with the exception
of six or seven miles across the wild land west of Bell's
corner; there, as nearly as I could hold the direction,
I should have to strike a true line southeast.

I timed my horses; I could not possibly urge them on
to-day. They took about nine minutes to the mile, and I
knew I should have to give them many a walk. That meant
at best a drive of eight hours. It would be dark before
I reached town. I did not mind that, for I knew there
would be many a night drive ahead, and I felt sure that
that half-mile on the southern correction line, one mile
from town, would have been gone over on Saturday by quite
a number of teams. The snow settles down considerably,
too, in thirty hours, especially under the pressure of
wind. If a trail had been made over the drift, I was
confident my horses would find it without fail. So I
dismissed all anxiety on my own score.

But all the more did the thought of my wife worry me. If
only I could have made her see things with my own eyes
--but I could not. She regarded me as an invalid whose
health was undermined by a wasting illness and who needed
nursing and coddling on the slightest provocation. Instead
of drawing Nature's inference that, what cannot live,
should die, she clung to the slender thread of life that
sometimes threatened to break--but never on these drives.
I often told her that, if I could make my living by
driving instead of teaching, I should feel the stronger,
the healthier, and the better for it--my main problem
would have been solved. But she, with a woman's instinct
for shelter and home, cowered down before every one of
Nature's menaces. And yet she bore up with remarkable
courage.

A mile or so before I came to the turn in my road the
forest withdrew on both sides, yielding space to the
fields and elbow-room for the wind to unfold its wings.
As soon as its full force struck the cutter, the curtains
began to emit that crackling sound which indicates to
the sailor that he has turned his craft as far into the
wind as he can safely do without losing speed. Little
ripples ran through the bulging canvas. As yet I sat snug
and sheltered within, my left shoulder turned to the
weather, but soon I sighted dimly a curtain of trees that
ran at right angles to my road. Behind it there stood a
school building, and beyond that I should have to turn
south. I gave the horses a walk. I decided to give them
a walk of five minutes for every hour they trotted along.
We reached the corner that way and I started them up
again.

Instantly things changed. We met the wind at an angle of
about thirty degrees from the southeast. The air looked
thick ahead. I moved into the left-hand corner of the
seat, and though the full force of the wind did not strike
me there, the whirling snow did not respect my shelter.
It blew in slantways under the top, then described a
curve upward, and downward again, as if it were going to
settle on the right end of the back. But just before it
touched the back, it turned at a sharp angle and piled
on to my right side. A fair proportion of it reached my
face which soon became wet and then caked over with ice.
There was a sting to the flakes which made them rather
disagreeable. My right eye kept closing up, and I had to
wipe it ever so often to keep it open. The wind, too,
for the first and only time on my drives, somehow found
an entrance into the lower part of the cutter box, and
though my feet were resting on the heater and my legs
were wrapped, first in woollen and then in leather
leggings, besides being covered with a good fur robe, my
left side soon began to feel the cold. It may be that
this comparative discomfort, which I had to endure for
the better part of the day, somewhat coloured the kind
of experience this drive became.

As far as the road was concerned, I had as yet little to
complain of. About three miles from the turn there stood
a Lutheran church frequented by the Russian Germans that
formed a settlement for miles around. They had made the
trail for me on these three miles, and even for a matter
of four or five miles south of the church, as I found
out. It is that kind of a road which you want for long
drives: where others who have short drives and, therefore,
do not need to consider their horses break the crust of
the snow and pack it down. I hoped that a goodly part of
my day's trip would be in the nature of a chain of shorter,
much frequented stretches; and on the whole I was not to
be disappointed.

Doubtless all my readers know how a country road that is
covered with from two to three feet of snow will look
when the trail is broken. There is a smooth expanse,
mostly somewhat hardened at the surface, and there are
two deep-cut tracks in it, each about ten to twelve inches
wide, sharply defined, with the snow at the bottom packed
down by the horses' feet and the runners of the respective
conveyances. So long as you have such a trail and horses
with road sense, you do not need to worry about your
directions, no matter how badly it may blow. Horses that
are used to travelling in the snow will never leave the
trail, for they dread nothing so much as breaking in on
the sides. This fact released my attention for other
things.

Now I thought again for a while of home, of how my wife
would be worrying, how even the little girl would be
infected by her nervousness--how she would ask, "Mamma,
is Daddy in ... now?" But I did not care to follow up
these thoughts too far. They made me feel too soft.

After that I just sat there for a while and looked ahead.
But I saw only the whirl, whirl, whirl of the snow slanting
across my field of vision. You are closed in by it as by
insecure and ever receding walls when you drive in a
snowstorm. If I had met a team, I could not have seen
it, and if my safety had depended on my discerning it in
time to turn out of the road, my safety would not have
been very safe indeed. But I could rely on my horses:
they would hear the bells of any encountering conveyance
long enough ahead to betray it to me by their behaviour.
And should I not even notice that, they would turn out
in time of their own accord: they had a great deal of
road sense.

Weariness overcame me. In the open the howling and
whistling of the wind always acts on me like a soporific.
Inside of a house it is just the reverse; I know nothing
that will keep my nerves as much on edge and prevent me
as certainly from sleeping as the voices at night of a
gale around the buildings. I needed something more definite
to look at than that prospect ahead. The snow was by this
time piling in on the seat at my right and in the box,
so as to exclude all drafts except from below I felt that
as a distinct advantage.

Without any conscious intention I began to peer out below
the slanting edge of the left side-curtain and to watch
the sharp crest-wave of snow-spray thrown by the curve
of the runner where it cut into the freshly accumulating
mass. It looked like the wing-wave thrown to either side
by the bow of a power boat that cuts swiftly through
quiet water. From it my eye began to slip over to the
snow expanse. The road was wide, lined with brush along
the fence to the left. The fields beyond had no very
large open areas--windbreaks had everywhere been spared
out when the primeval forest had first been broken into
by the early settlers. So whatever the force of the wind
might be, no high drift layer could form. But still the
snow drifted. There was enough coming down from above to
supply material even on such a narrow strip as a road
allowance. It was the manner of this drifting that held
my eye and my attention at last.

All this is, of course, utterly trivial. I had observed
it myself a hundred times before. I observe it again
to-day at this very writing, in the first blizzard of
the season. It always has a strange fascination for me;
but maybe I need to apologize for setting it down in
writing.

The wind would send the snowflakes at a sharp angle
downward to the older surface. There was no impact, as
there is with rain. The flakes, of course, did not rebound.
But they did not come to rest either, not for the most
imperceptible fraction of time. As soon as they touched
the white, underlying surface, they would start to scud
along horizontally at a most amazing speed, forming with
their previous path an obtuse angle. So long as I watched
the single flake--which is quite a task, especially while
driving--it seemed to be in a tremendous hurry. It rushed
along very nearly at the speed of the wind, and that was
considerable, say between thirty-five and forty miles an
hour or even more. But then, when it hit the trail, the
crack made by horses and runners, strange to say, it did
not fall down perpendicularly, as it would have done had
it acted there under the influence of gravity alone; but
it started on a curved path towards the lower edge of
the opposite wall of the crack and there, without touching
the wall, it started back, first downward, thus making
the turn, and then upward again, towards the upper edge
of the east wall, and not in a straight line either, but
in a wavy curve, rising very nearly but not quite to the
edge; and only then would it settle down against the
eastern wall of the track, helping to fill it in. I
watched this with all the utmost effort of attention of
which I was capable. I became intensely interested in my
observations. I even made sure--as sure as anybody can
be of anything--that the whole of this curious path lay
in the same perpendicular plane which ran from the
southeast to the northwest, that is to say in the direction
of the main current of the wind. I have since confirmed
these observations many times.

I am aware of the fact that nobody--nobody whom I know,
at least--takes the slightest interest in such things.
People watch birds because some "Nature-Study-cranks" (I
am one of them) urge it in the schools. Others will make
desultory observations on "Weeds" or "Native Trees." Our
school work in this respect seems to me to be most
ridiculously and palpably superficial. Worst of all, most
of it is dry as dust, and it leads nowhere. I sometimes
fear there is something wrong with my own mentality. But
to me it seems that the Kingdom of Heaven lies all around
us, and that most of us simply prefer the moving-picture-
show. I have kept weather records for whole seasons--brief
notes on the everyday observations of mere nothings. You,
for whom above all I am setting these things down, will
find them among my papers one day. They would seem
meaningless to most of my fellow men, I believe; to me
they are absorbingly interesting reading when once in a
great while I pick an older record up and glance it over.
But this is digressing.

Now slowly, slowly another fact came home to me. This
unanimous, synchronous march of all the flakes coming
down over hundreds of square miles--and I was watching
it myself over miles upon miles of road--in spite of the
fact that every single flake seemed to be in the greatest
possible hurry--was, judged as a whole, nevertheless an
exceedingly leisurely process. In one respect it reminded
me of bees swarming; watch the single bee, and it seems
to fly at its utmost speed; watch the swarm, and it seems
to be merely floating along. The reason, of course, is
entirely different. The bees wheel and circle around
individually, the whole swarm revolves--if I remember
right, Burroughs has well described it (as what has he
not?). [Footnote: Yes; I looked it up. See the "Pastoral
Bees" in "Locusts and Wild Honey."] But the snow will
not change its direction while drifting in a wind that
blows straight ahead. Its direction is from first to last
the resultant of the direction of the wind and that of
the pull of gravity, into which there enters besides only
the ratio of the strengths of these two forces. The single
snowflake is to the indifferent eye something infinitesimal,
too small to take individual notice of, once it reaches
the ground. For most of us it hardly has any separate
existence, however it may be to more astute observers.
We see the flakes in the mass, and we judge by results.
Now firstly, to talk of results, the filling up of a
hollow, unless the drifting snow is simply picked up from
the ground where it lay ready from previous falls, proceeds
itself rather slowly and in quite a leisurely way. But
secondly, and this is the more important reason, the wind
blows in waves of greater and lesser density; these
waves--and I do not know whether this observation has
ever been recorded though doubtless it has been made by
better observers than I am--these waves, I say, are
propagated in a direction opposite to that of the wind.
They are like sound-waves sent into the teeth of the
wind, only they travel more slowly. Anybody who has
observed a really splashing rain on smooth ground--on a
cement sidewalk, for instance--must have observed that
the rebounding drops, like those that are falling, form
streaks, because they, too, are arranged in vertical
layers--or sheets--of greater and lesser density--or
maybe the term "frequency" would be more appropriate;
and these streaks travel as compared with the wind, and,
as compared with its direction, they travel against it.
It is this that causes the curious criss-cross pattern
of falling and rebounding rain-streaks in heavy showers.
Quite likely there are more competent observers who might
analyze these phenomena better than I can do it; but if
nobody else does, maybe I shall one day make public a
little volume containing observations on our summer rains.
But again I am digressing.

The snow, then, hits the surface of the older layers in
waves, no matter whether the snow is freshly falling or
merely drifting; and it is these waves that you notice
most distinctly. Although they travel with the wind when
you compare their position with points on the ground--yet,
when compared with the rushing air above, it becomes
clear that they travel against it. The waves, I say, not
the flakes. The single flake never stops in its career,
except as it may be retarded by friction and other
resistances. But the aggregation of the multitudes of
flakes, which varies constantly in its substance, creates
the impression as if the snow travelled very much more
slowly than in reality it does. In other words, every
single flake, carried on by inertia, constantly passes
from one air wave to the next one, but the waves themselves
remain relatively stationary. They swing along in
undulating, comparatively slow-moving sheets which may
simply be retarded behind the speed of the wind, but more
probably form an actual reaction, set up by a positive
force counteracting the wind, whatever its origin may be.

When at last I had fully satisfied my mind as to the
somewhat complicated mechanics of this thing, I settled
back in my seat--against a cushion of snow that had
meanwhile piled in behind my spine. If I remember right,
I had by this time well passed the church. But for a
while longer I looked out through the triangular opening
between the door of the cutter and the curtain. I did
not watch snowflakes or waves any longer, but I matured
an impression. At last it ripened into words.

Yes, the snow, as figured in the waves, CRAWLED over the
ground. There was in the image that engraved itself on
my memory something cruel--I could not help thinking of
the "cruel, crawling foam" and the ruminating pedant
Ruskin, and I laughed. "The cruel, crawling snow!" Yes,
and in spite of Ruskin and his "Pathetic Fallacy," there
it was! Of course, the snow is not cruel. Of course, it
merely is propelled by something which, according to Karl
Pearson, I do not even with a good scientific conscience
dare to call a "force" any longer. But nevertheless, it
made the impression of cruelty, and in that lay its
fascination and beauty. It even reminded me of a cat
slowly reaching out with armed claw for the "innocent"
bird. But the cat is not cruel either--we merely call it
so! Oh, for the juggling of words!...

Suddenly my horses brought up on a farmyard. They had
followed the last of the church-goers' trails, had not
seen any other trail ahead and faithfully done their
horse-duty by staying on what they considered to be the
road.

I had reached the northern limit of that two-mile stretch
of wild land. In summer there is a distinct and good road
here, but for the present the snow had engulfed it. When
I had turned back to the bend of the trail, I was for
the first time up against a small fraction of what was
to come. No trail, and no possibility of telling the
direction in which I was going! Fortunately I realized
the difficulty right from the start. Before setting out,
I looked back to the farm and took my bearings from the
fence of the front yard which ran north-south. Then I
tried to hold to the line thus gained as best I could.
It was by no means an easy matter, for I had to wind my
weary way around old and new drifts, brush and trees.
The horses were mostly up to their knees in snow, carefully
lifting their hindlegs to place them in the cavities
which their forelegs made. Occasionally, much as I tried
to avoid it, I had to make a short dash through a snow
dam thrown up over brush that seemed to encircle me
completely. The going, to be sure, was not so heavy as
it had been the day before on the corner of the marsh,
but on the other hand I could not see as far beyond the
horses' heads. And had I been able to see, the less
conspicuous landmarks would not have helped me since I
did not know them. It took us about an hour to cross this
untilled and unfenced strip. I came out on the next
crossroad, not more than two hundred yards east of where
I should have come out. I considered that excellent; but
I soon was to understand that it was owing only to the
fact that so far I had had no flying drifts to go through.
Up to this point the snow was "crawling" only wherever
the thicket opened up a little. What blinded my vision
had so far been only the new, falling snow.

I am sure I looked like a snowman. Whenever I shook my
big gauntlets bare, a cloud of exceedingly fine and hard
snow crystals would hit my face; and seeing how much I
still had ahead, I cannot say that I liked the sensation.
I was getting thoroughly chilled by this time. The mercury
probably stood at somewhere between minus ten and twenty.
The very next week I made one trip at forty below--a
thermometer which I saw and the accuracy of which I have
reason to doubt showed minus forty-eight degrees. Anyway,
it was the coldest night of the winter, but I was not to
suffer then. I remember how about five in the morning,
when I neared the northern correction line, my lips began
to stiffen; hard, frozen patches formed on my cheeks,
and I had to allow the horses to rub their noses on fence
posts or trees every now and then, to knock the big
icicles off and to prevent them from freezing up
altogether--but. my feet and my hands and my body kept
warm, for there was no wind. On drives like these your
well-being depends largely on the state of your feet and
hands. But on this return trip I surely did suffer. Every
now and then my fingers would turn curd-white, and I had
to remove my gauntlets and gloves, and to thrust my hands
under my wraps, next to my body. I also froze two toes
rather badly. And what I remember as particularly
disagreeable, was that somehow my scalp got chilled.
Slowly, slowly the wind seemed to burrow its way under
my fur-cap and into my hair. After a while it became
impossible for me to move scalp or brows. One side of my
face was now thickly caked over with ice--which protected,
but also on account of its stiffness caused a minor
discomfort. So far, however, I had managed to keep both my
eyes at work. And for a short while I needed them just now.

We were crossing a drift which had apparently not been
broken into since it had first been piled up the previous
week. Such drifts are dangerous because they will bear
up for a while under the horses' weight, and then the
hard pressed crust will break and reveal a softer core
inside. Just that happened here, and exactly at a moment,
too, when the drifting snow caught me with its full force
and at its full height. It was a quarter-minute of
stumbling, jumping, pulling one against the other--and
then a rally, and we emerged in front of a farmyard from
which a fairly fresh trail led south. This trail was
filled in, it is true, for the wind here pitched the snow
by the shovelful, but the difference in colour between
the pure white, new snow that filled it and the older
surface to both sides made it sufficiently distinct for
the horses to guide them. They plodded along.

Here miles upon miles of open fields lay to the southeast,
and the snow that fell over all these fields was at once
picked up by the wind and started its irresistible march
to the northwest. And no longer did it crawl. Since it
was bound upon a long-distance trip, somewhere in its
career it would be caught in an upward sweep of the wind
and thrown aloft, and then it would hurtle along at the
speed of the wind, blotting everything from sight, hitting
hard whatever it encountered, and piling in wherever it
found a sheltered space. The height of this drifting snow
layer varies, of course, directly and jointly (here the
teacher makes fun of his mathematics) as the amount of
loose snow available and as the carrying force of the
wind. Many, many years ago I once saved the day by climbing
on to the seat of my cutter and looking around from this
vantage-point. I was lost and had no idea of where I was.
There was no snowstorm going on at the time, but a recent
snowfall was being driven along by a merciless northern
gale. As soon as I stood erect on my seat, my head reached
into a less dense drift layer, and I could clearly discern
a farmhouse not more than a few hundred yards away. I
had been on the point of accepting it as a fact that I
was lost. Those tactics would not have done on this
particular day, there being the snowstorm to reckon with.
For the moment, not being lost, I was in no need of them,
anyway. But even later the possible but doubtful advantage
to be gained by them seemed more than offset by the great
and certain disadvantage of having to get out of my robes
and to expose myself to the chilling wind.

This north-south road was in the future invariably to
seem endlessly long to me. There were no very prominent
landmarks--a school somewhere--and there was hardly any
change in the monotony of driving. As for landmarks, I
should mention that there was one more at least. About
two miles from the turn into that town which I have
mentioned I crossed a bridge, and beyond this bridge the
trail sloped sharply up in an s-shaped curve to a level
about twenty or twenty-five feet higher than that of the
road along which I had been driving. The bridge had a
rail on its west side; but the other rail had been broken
down in some accident and had never been replaced. I
mention this trifle because it became important in an
incident during the last drive which I am going to
describe.

On we went. We passed the school of which I did not see
much except the flagpole. And then we came to the crossroads
where the trail bent west into the town. If I had known
the road more thoroughly, I should have turned there,
too. It would have added another two miles to my already
overlong trip, but I invariably did it later on. Firstly,
the horses will rest up much more completely when put
into a stable for feeding. And secondly, there always
radiate from a town fairly well beaten trails. It is a
mistake to cut across from one such trail to another.
The straight road, though much shorter, is apt to be
entirely untravelled, and to break trail after a heavy
snowstorm is about as hard a task as any that you can
put your team up against. I had the road; there was no
mistaking it; it ran along between trees and fences which
were plainly visible; but there were ditches and brush
buried under the snow which covered the grade to a depth
of maybe three feet, and every bit of these drifts was
of that treacherous character that I have described.

If you look at some small drift piled up, maybe, against
the glass pane of a storm window, you can plainly see
how the snow, even in such a miniature pile, preserves
the stratified appearance which is the consequence of
its being laid down in layers of varying density. Now
after it has been lying for some time, it will form a
crust on top which is sometimes the effect of wind pressure
and sometimes--under favourable conditions--of superficial
glaciation. A similar condensation takes place at the
bottom as the result of the work of gravity: a harder
core will form. Between the two there is layer upon layer
of comparatively softer snow. In these softer layers the
differences which are due to the stratified precipitation
still remain. And frequently they will make the going
particularly uncertain; for a horse will break through
in stages only. He thinks that he has reached the carrying
stratum, gets ready to take his next step--thereby throwing
his whole weight on two or at best three feet--and just
when he is off his balance, there is another caving in.
I believe it is this what makes horses so nervous when
crossing drifts. Later on in the winter there is, of
course, the additional complication of successive snowfalls.
The layers from this cause are usually clearly discernible
by differences in colour.

I have never figured out just how far I went along this
entirely unbroken road, but I believe it must have been
for two miles. I know that my horses were pretty well
spent by the time we hit upon another trail. It goes
without saying that this trail, too, though it came from
town, had not been gone over during the day and therefore
consisted of nothing but a pair of whiter ribbons on the
drifts; but underneath these ribbons the snow was packed.
Hardly anybody cares to be out on a day like that, not
even for a short drive. And though in this respect I
differ in my tastes from other people, provided I can
keep myself from actually getting chilled, even I began
to feel rather forlorn, and that is saying a good deal.

A few hundred yards beyond the point where we had hit
upon this new trail which was only faintly visible, the
horses turned eastward, on to a field. Between two posts
the wire of the fence had been taken down, and since I
could not see any trail leading along the road further
south, I let my horses have their will. I knew the farm
on which we were. It was famous all around for its
splendid, pure-bred beef cattle herd. I had not counted
on crossing it, but I knew that after a mile of this
field trail I should emerge on the farmyard, and since
I was particularly well acquainted with the trail from
there across the wild land to Bell's corner, it suited
me to do as my horses suggested. As a matter of fact this
trail became--with the exception of one drive--my regular
route for the rest of the winter. Never again was I to
meet with the slightest mishap on this particular run.
But to-day I was to come as near getting lost as I ever
came during the winter, on those drives to and from the
north.

For the next ten minutes I watched the work of the wind
on the open field. As is always the case with me, I was
not content with recording a mere observation. I had
watched the thing a hundred times before. "Observing"
means to me as much finding words to express what I see
as it means the seeing itself. Now, when a housewife
takes a thin sheet that is lying on the bed and shakes
it up without changing its horizontal position, the
running waves of air caught under the cloth will throw
it into a motion very similar to that which the wind
imparts to the snow-sheets, only that the snow-sheets
will run down instead of up. Under a good head of wind
there is a vehemence in this motion that suggests anger
and a violent disposition. The sheets of snow are "flapped"
down. Then suddenly the direction of the wind changes
slightly, and the sheet is no longer flapped down but
blown up. At the line where the two motions join we have
that edge the appearance of which suggested to me the
comparison with "exfoliated" rock in a previous paper.
It is for this particular stage in the process of bringing
about that appearance that I tentatively proposed the
term "adfoliation." "Adfoliated" edges are always to be
found on the lee side of the sheet.

Sometimes, however, the opposite process will bring about
nearly the same result. The snow-sheet has been spread,
and a downward sweep of violent wind will hit the surface,
denting it, scraping away an edge of the top layer, and
usually gripping through into lower layers; then,
rebounding, it will lift the whole sheet up again, or
any part of it; and, shattering it into its component
crystals, will throw these aloft and afar to be laid down
again further on. This is true "exfoliation." Since it
takes a more violent burst of wind to effect this true
exfoliation than it does to bring about the adfoliation,
and since, further, the snow once indented, will yield
to the depth of several layers, the true exfoliation
edges are usually thicker than the others: and, of course,
they are always to be found on the wind side.

Both kinds of lines are wavy lines because the sheets of
wind are undulating. In this connection I might repeat
once more that the straight line seems to be quite unknown
in Nature, as also is uniformity of motion. I once watched
very carefully a ferry cable strung across the bottom of
a mighty river, and, failing to discover any theoretical
reason for its vibratory motion, I was thrown back upon
proving to my own satisfaction that the motion even of
that flowing water in the river was the motion of a pulse;
and I still believe that my experiments were conclusive.
Everybody, of course, is familiar with the vibrations of
telephone wires in a breeze. That humming sound which
they emit would indeed be hard to explain without the
assumption of a pulsating blow. Of course, it is easy to
prove this pulsation in air. From certain further
observations, which I do not care to speak about at
present, I am inclined to assume a pulsating arrangement,
or an alternation of layers of greater and lesser density
in all organised--that is, crystalline--matter; for
instance, in even such an apparently uniform block as a
lump of metallic gold or copper or iron. This arrangement,
of course, may be disturbed by artificial means; but if
it is, the matter seems to be in an unstable condition,
as is proved, for instance, by the sudden, unexpected
breaking of apparently perfectly sound steel rails. There
seems to be a condition of matter which so far we have
largely failed to take into account or to utilise in
human affairs...

I reached the yard, crossed it, and swung out through
the front gate. Nowhere was anybody to be seen. The yard
itself is sheltered by a curtain of splendid wild trees
to the north, the east, and the south. So I had a breathing
spell for a few minutes. I could also clearly see the
gap in this windbreak through which I must reach the
open. I think I mentioned that on the previous drive,
going north, I had found the road four or five miles east
of here very good indeed. But the reason had been that
just this windbreak, which angles over to what I have
been calling the twelve-mile bridge, prevented all serious
drifting while the wind came from the north. To-day I
was to find things different, for to the south the land
was altogether open. The force of the wind alone was
sufficient to pull the horses back to a walk, before we
even had quite reached the open plain. It was a little
after four when I crossed the gap, and I knew that I
should have to make the greater part of what remained in
darkness. I was about twelve miles from town, I should
judge. The horses had not been fed. So, as soon as I saw
how things were, I turned back into the shelter of the
bluff to feed. I might have gone to the farm, but I was
afraid it would cost too much time. After this I always
went into town and fed in the stable. While the horses
were eating and resting, I cleaned the cutter of snow
looked after my footwarmer, and, by tramping about and
kicking against the tree trunks, tried to get my benumbed
circulation started again. My own lunch on examination
proved to be frozen into one hard, solid lump. So I
decided to go without it and to save it for my supper.

At half past four we crossed the gap in the bluffs for
the second time.

Words fail me to describe or even to suggest the fury of
the blast and of the drift into which we emerged. For a
moment I thought the top of the cutter would be blown
off. With the twilight that had set in the wind had
increased to a baffling degree. The horses came as near
as they ever came, in any weather, to turning on me and
refusing to face the gale. And what with my blurred
vision, the twisting and dodging about of the horses,
and the gathering dusk, I soon did not know any longer
where I was. There was ample opportunity to go wrong.
Copses, single trees, and burnt stumps which dotted the
wilderness had a knack of looming up with startling
suddenness in front or on the side, sometimes dangerously
close to the cutter. It was impossible to look straight
ahead, because the ice crystals which mimicked snow cut
right into my eyes and made my lids smart with soreness.
Underfoot the rough ground seemed like a heaving sea.
The horses would stumble, and the cutter would pitch over
from one side to the other in the most alarming way. I
saw no remedy. It was useless to try to avoid the
obstacles--only once did I do so, and that time I had to
back away from a high stump against which my drawbar had
brought up. The pitching and rolling of the cutter
repeatedly shook me out of my robes, and if, when starting
up again from the bluff, I had felt a trifle more
comfortable, that increment of consolation was soon lost.

We wallowed about--there is only this word to suggest
the motion. To all intents and purposes I was lost. But
still there was one thing, provided it had not changed,
to tell me the approximate direction--the wind. It had
been coming from the south-southeast. So, by driving
along very nearly into its teeth, I could, so I thought,
not help emerging on the road to town.

Repeatedly I wished I had taken the old trail. That
fearful drift in the bush beyond the creek, I thought,
surely had settled down somewhat in twenty-four hours.
[Footnote: As a matter of fact I was to see it once more
before the winter was over, and I found it settled down
to about one third its original height. This was partly
the result of superficial thawing. But still even then,
shortly before the final thaw-up, it looked formidable
enough.] I had had as much or more of unbroken trail
to-day as on the day before. On the whole, though, I
still believed that the four miles across the corner of
the marsh south of the creek had been without a parallel
in their demands on the horses' endurance. And gradually
I came to see that after all the horses probably would
have given out before this, under the cumulative effect
of two days of it, had they not found things somewhat
more endurable to-day.

We wallowed along... And then we stopped. I shouted to
the horses--nothing but a shout could have the slightest
effect against the wind. They started to fidget and to
dance and to turn this way and that, but they would not
go. I wasted three or four minutes before I shook free
of my robes and jumped out to investigate. Well, we were
in the corner formed by two fences--caught as in a trap.
I was dumbfounded. I did not know of any fence in these
parts, of none where I thought I should be. And how had
we got into it? I had not passed through any gate. There
was, of course, no use in conjecturing. If the wind had
not veered around completely, one of the fences must run
north-south, the other one east-west, and we were in the
southeast corner of some farm. Where there was a fence,
I was likely to find a farmyard. It could not be to the
east, so there remained three guesses. I turned back to
the west. I skirted the fence closely, so closely that
even in the failing light and in spite of the drifting
snow I did not lose sight of it. Soon the going began to
be less rough; the choppy motion of the cutter seemed to
indicate that we were on fall-ploughed land; and not much
later Peter gave a snort. We were apparently nearing a
group of buildings. I heard the heavy thump of galloping
horses, and a second later I saw a light which moved.

I hailed the man; and he came over and answered my
questions. Yes, the wind had turned somewhat; it came
nearly from the east now (so that was what had misled
me); I was only half a mile west of my old trail, but
still, for all that, nearly twelve miles from town. In
this there was good news as well as bad. I remembered
the place now; just south of the twelve-mile bridge I
had often caught sight of it to the west. Instead of
crossing the wild land along its diagonal, I had, deceived
by the changed direction of the wind, skirted its northern
edge, holding close to the line of poplars. I thought of
the fence: yes, the man who answered my questions was
renting from the owner of that pure-bred Angus herd; he
was hauling wood for him and had taken the fence on the
west side down. I had passed between two posts without
noticing them. He showed me the south gate and gave me
the general direction. He even offered my horses water,
which they drank eagerly enough. But he did not offer
bed and stable-room for the night; nor did he open the
gate for me, as I had hoped he would. I should have
declined the night's accommodation, but I should have
been grateful for a helping hand at the gate. I had to
get out of my wraps to open it. And meanwhile I had been
getting out and in so often, that I did no longer even
care to clean my feet of snow; I simply pushed the heater
aside so as to prevent it from melting.

I "bundled in"--that word, borrowed from an angry lady,
describes my mood perhaps better than anything else I
might say. And yet, though what followed, was not exactly
pleasure, my troubles were over for the day. The horses,
of course, still had a weary, weary time of it, but as
soon as we got back to our old trail--which we presently
did--they knew the road at least. I saw that the very
moment we reached it by the way they turned on to it and
stepped out more briskly.

From this point on we had about eleven miles to make,
and every step of it was made at a walk. I cannot, of
course say much about the road. There was nothing for me
to do except as best I could to fight the wind. I got my
tarpaulin out from under the seat and spread it over
myself. I verily believe I nodded repeatedly. It did not
matter. I knew that the horses would take me home, and
since it was absolutely dark, I could not have helped it
had they lost their way. A few times, thinking that I
noticed an improvement in the road, I tried to speed the
horses up; but when Dan at last, in an attempt to respond,
went down on his knees, I gave it up. Sometimes we pitched
and rolled again for a space, but mostly things went
quietly enough. The wind made a curious sound, something
between an infuriated whistle and the sibilant noise a
man makes when he draws his breath in sharply between
his teeth.

I do not know how long we may have been going that way.
But I remember how at last suddenly and gradually I
realized that there was a change in our motion. Suddenly,
I say--for the realization of the change came as a
surprise; probably I had been nodding, and I started up.
Gradually--for I believe it took me quite an appreciable
time before I awoke to the fact that the horses at last
were trotting. It was a weary, slow, jogging trot--but
it electrified me, for I knew at once that we were on
our very last mile. I strained my eye-sight, but I could
see no light ahead. In fact, we were crossing the bridge
before I saw the first light of the town.

The livery stable was deserted. I had to open the doors,
to drive in, to unhitch, to unharness, and to feed the
horses myself. And then I went home to my cold and lonesome
house.

It was a cheerless night.




SIX
A Call for Speed

I held the horses in at the start. Somehow they realized
that a new kind of test was ahead. They caught the
infection of speed from my voice, I suppose, or from my
impatience. They had not been harnessed by the hostler
either. When I came to the stable--it was in the forenoon,
too, at an hour when they had never been taken out
before--the hostler had been away hauling feed. The boys
whom I had pressed into service had pulled the cutter
out into the street; it was there we hitched up. Everything,
then, had been different from the way they had been used
to. So, when at last I clicked my tongue, they bounded
off as if they were out for a sprint of a few miles only.

I held them in and pulled them down to a trot; for of
all days to-day was it of the utmost importance that
neither one of them should play out. At half past twelve
a telephone message had reached me, after having passed
through three different channels, that my little girl
was sick; and over the wire it had a sinister, lugubrious,
reticent sound, as if the worst was held back. Details
had not come through, so I was told. My wife was sending
a call for me to come home as quickly as I possibly could;
nothing else. It was Thursday. The Sunday before I had
left wife and child in perfect health. But scarlatina
and diphtheria were stalking the plains. The message had
been such a shock to me that I had acted with automatic
precision. I had notified the school-board and asked the
inspector to substitute for me; and twenty minutes after
word had reached me I crossed the bridge on the road to
the north.

The going was heavy but not too bad. Two nights ago there
had been a rather bad snowstorm and a blow, and during
the last night an exceedingly slight and quiet fall had
followed it. Just now I had no eye for its beauty, though.

I was bent on speed, and that meant watching the horses
closely; they must not be allowed to follow their own
bent. There was no way of communicating with my wife; so
that, whatever I could do, was left entirely to my
divination. I had picked up a few things at the drug
store--things which had occurred to me on the spur of
the moment as likely to be needed; but now I started a
process of analysis and elimination. Pneumonia, diphtheria,
scarlatina and measles--all these were among the more
obvious possibilities. I was enough of a doctor to trust
my ability to diagnose. I knew that my wife would in that
respect rather rely on me than on the average country-town
practitioner. All the greater was my responsibility.

Since the horses had not been fed for their midday-meal,
I had in any case to put in at the one-third-way town.
It had a drug store; so there was my last chance of
getting what might possibly be needed. I made a list of
remedies and rehearsed it mentally till I felt sure I
should not omit anything of which I had thought.

Then I caught myself at driving the horses into a gallop.
It was hard to hold in. I must confess that I thought
but little of the little girl's side of it; more of my
wife's; most of all of my own. That seems selfish. But
ever since the little girl was born, there had been only
one desire which filled my life. Where I had failed, she
was to succeed. Where I had squandered my energies and
opportunities, she was to use them to some purpose. What
I might have done but had not done, she was to do. She
was to redeem me. I was her natural teacher. Teaching
her became henceforth my life-work. When I bought a book,
I carefully considered whether it would help her one day
or not before I spent the money. Deprived of her, I myself
came to a definite and peremptory end. With her to continue
my life, there was still some purpose in things, some
justification for existence.

Most serious-minded men at my age, I believe, become
profoundly impressed with the futility of "it all." Unless
we throw ourselves into something outside of our own
personality, life is apt to impress us as a great mockery.
I am afraid that at the bottom of it there lies the
recognition of the fact that we ourselves were not worth
while, that we did not amount to what we had thought we
should amount to; that we did not measure up to the
exigencies of eternities to come. Children are among the
most effective means devised by Nature to delude us into
living on. Modern civilization has, on the whole, deprived
us of the ability for the enjoyment of the moment. It
raises our expectations too high--realization is bound
to fall short, no matter what we do. We live in an
artificial atmosphere. So we submerge ourselves in
business, profession, or superficial amusement. We live
for something--do not merely live. The wage-slave lives
for the evening's liberty, the business man for his
wealth, the preacher for his church. I used to live for
my school. Then a moment like the one I was living through
arrives. Nature strips down our pretences with a relentless
finger, and we stand, bare of disguises, as helpless
failures. We have lost the childlike power of living
without conscious aims. Sometimes, when the aims have
faded already in the gathering dusk, we still go on by
the momentum acquired. Inertia carries us over the dead
points--till a cog breaks somewhere, and our whole
machinery of life comes to with a jar. If no such awakening
supervenes, since we never live in the present, we are
always looking forward to what never comes; and so life
slips by, unlived.

If my child was taken from me, it meant that my future
was made meaningless. I felt that I might just as well
lie down and die.

There was injustice in this, I know I was reasoning, as
it were, in a phantom world. Actualities, outlooks,
retrospections--my view of them had been jarred and
distorted by an unexpected, stunning blow. For that it
did not really matter how things actually were up north.
I had never yet faced such possibilities; they opened up
like an abyss which I had skirted in the dark, unknowingly.
True, my wife was something like a child to me. I was
old enough to be her father, older even in mind than in
actual years. But she, too, by marrying an aging man,
had limited her own development, as it were, by mine.
Nor was she I, after all. My child was. The outlook
without her was night. Such a life was not to be lived.

There was the lash of a scourge in these thoughts, so
that I became nervous, impatient, and unjust--even to
the horses. Peter stumbled, and I came near punishing
him with my whip. But I caught myself just before I
yielded to the impulse. I was doing exactly what I should
not do. If Peter stumbled, it was more my own fault than
his. I should have watched the road more carefully instead
of giving in to the trend of my thoughts. A stumble every
five minutes, and over a drive of forty-five miles: that
might mean a delay of half an hour--it might mean the
difference between "in time" and "too late." I did not
know what waited at the other end of the road. It was my
business to find out, not to indulge in mere surmises
and forebodings.

So, with an effort, I forced my attention to revert to
the things around. And Nature, with her utter lack of
sentiment, is after all the only real soother of anguished
nerves. With my mind in the state it was in, the drive
would indeed have been nothing less than torture, had I
not felt, sometimes even against my will, mostly without
at any rate consciously yielding to it, the influence of
that merriest of all winter sights which surrounded me.

The fresh fall of snow, which had come over night, was
exceedingly slight. It had come down softly, floatingly,
with all the winds of the prairies hushed, every flake
consisting of one or two large, flat crystals only, which,
on account of the nearly saturated air, had gone on
growing by condensation till they touched the ground.
Such a condition of the atmosphere never holds out in a
prolonged snowfall, may it come down ever so soft-footedly;
the first half hour exhausts the moisture content of the
air. After that the crystals are the ordinary, small,
six-armed "stars" which bunch together into flakes. But
if the snowfall is very slight, the moisture content of
the lower air sometimes is not exhausted before it stops;
those large crystals remain at the surface and are not
buried out of sight by the later fall. These large,
coarse, slablike crystals reflect as well as refract the
light of the sun. There is not merely the sparkle and
glitter, but also the colour play. Facing north, you see
only glittering points of white light; but, facing the
sun, you see every colour of the rainbow, and you see it
with that coquettish, sudden flash which snow shares only
with the most precious of stones.

Through such a landscape covered with the thinnest possible
sheet of the white glitter we sped. A few times, in
heavier snow, the horses were inclined to fall into a
walk; but a touch of the whip sent them into line again.
I began to view the whole situation more quietly.
Considering that we had forty-five miles to go, we were
doing very well indeed. We made Bell's corner in forty
minutes, and still I was saving the horses' strength.

On to the wild land we turned, where the snow underfoot
was soft and free from those hard clods that cause the
horses' feet to stumble. I beguiled the time by watching
the distance through the surrounding brush. Everybody,
of course, has noticed how the open landscape seems to
turn when you speed along. The distance seems to stand
still, while the foreground rushes past you. The whole
countryside seems to become a revolving, horizontal wheel
with its hub at the horizon. It is different when you
travel fast through half open bush, so that the eye on
its way to the edge of the visible world looks past trees
and shrubs. In that case there are two points which speed
along: you yourself, and with you, engaged, as it were,
in a race with you, the distance. You can go many miles
before your horizon changes. But between it and yourself
the foreground is rushed back like a ribbon. There is no
impression of wheeling; there is no depth to that ribbon
which moves backward and past. You are also more distinctly
aware that it is not the objects near you which move,
but you yourself. Only a short distance from you trees
and objects seem rather to move with you, though more
slowly; and faster and faster all things seem to be moving
in the same direction with you, the farther away they
are, till at last the utmost distance rushes along at an
equal speed, behind all the stems of the shrubs and the
trees, and keeps up with you.

So is it truly in life. My childhood seems as near to me
now as it was when I was twenty--nearer, I sometimes
think; but the years of my early manhood have rushed by
like that ribbon and are half swallowed by oblivion.

This line of thought threw me back into heavier moods.
And yet, since now I banished the hardest of all thoughts
hard to bear, I could not help succumbing to the influence
of Nature's merry mood. I did so even more than I liked.
I remember that, while driving through the beautiful
natural park that masks the approach to the one-third-way
town from the south, I as much as reproached myself
because I allowed Nature to interfere with my grim purpose
of speed. Half intentionally I conjured up the vision of
an infinitely lonesome old age for myself, and again the
sudden palpitation in my veins nearly prompted me to send
my horses into a gallop. But instantly I checked myself.
Not yet, I thought. On that long stretch north, beyond
the bridge, there I was going to drive them at their
utmost speed. I was unstrung, I told myself; this was
mere sentimentalism; no emotional impulses were of any
value; careful planning only counted. So I even pulled
the horses back to a walk. I wanted to feed them shortly
after reaching the stable. They must not be hot, or I
should have trouble.

Then we turned into the main street of the town. In front
of the stable I deliberately assumed the air of a man of
leisure. The hostler came out and greeted me. I let him
water the horses and waited, watch in hand. They got some
hay, and five minutes after I had stopped, I poured their
oats into the feeding boxes.

Then to the drug store--it was locked. I hunted the
druggist all over town for nearly twenty minutes. Everybody
had seen him a short while ago; everybody knew exactly
where he had been a minute before; but nobody could
discover him just then. I worked myself into a veritable
frenzy of hurry. The moisture began to break out all over
my body. I rushed back to the livery stable to tell the
hostler to hitch up again--and there stood the druggist,
looking my horses over! I shall not repeat what I said.

Five minutes later I had what I wanted, and after a few
minutes more I walked my horses out of town. It had taken
me an hour and fifty minutes to make the town, and
thirty-five minutes to leave it behind.

One piece of good news I received before leaving. While
I was getting into my robes and the hostler hooked up,
he told me that no fewer than twenty-two teams had that
very morning come in with cordwood from the northern
correction line. They had made a farm halfways to town
by nightfall of the day before; the rest they had gone
that very day. So there would be an unmistakable trail
all the way, and there was no need to worry over the
snow.

I walked the horses for a while; then, when we were
swinging round the turn to the north, on that long,
twenty-mile grade, I speeded them up. The trail was good:
that just about summarizes what I remember of the road.
All details were submerged in one now, and that one was
speed. The horses, which were in prime condition, gave
me their best. Sometimes we went over long stretches that
were sandy under that inch or so of new snow--with sand
blown over the older drifts from the fields--stretches
where under ordinary circumstances I should have walked
my horses--at a gallop. Once or twice we crossed bad
drifts with deep holes in them, made by horses that were
being wintered outside and that had broken in before the
snow had hardened down sufficiently to carry them. There,
of course, I had to go slowly. But as soon as the trail
was smooth again, the horses would fall back into their
stride without being urged. They had, as I said, caught
the infection. My yearning for speed was satisfied at last.

Four sights stand out.

The first is of just such bunches of horses that were
being brought through the winter with practically no yard
feeding at all; and consequently their healthy outdoor
looks, and their velvety rumps were very conspicuous as
they scattered away from the trail on our approach.
Several times we dashed right in among them, and I had
to shout in order to clear the road. They did not like
to leave the firm footing on the trail, where they fed
by pawing away the snow on both sides and baring the
weeds. Sometimes a whole bunch of them would thunder
along in a stampede ahead of us till they came to a
cross-trail or to a farmyard; there we left them behind.
Sometimes only one of them would thus try to keep in
front, while the rest jumped off into the drifts; but,
being separated from his mates, he would stop at last
and ponder how to get back to them till we were right on
him again. There was, then, no way to rejoin those left
behind except by doing what he hated to do, by getting
off the trail and jumping into the dreaded snow, thus
giving us the right of way. And when, at last, he did
so, he felt sadly hampered and stopped close to the trail,
looking at us in a frightened and helpless sort of way
while we dashed by.

The next sight, too, impressed me with the degree to
which snow handicaps the animal life of our plains. Not
more than ten feet from the heads of my horses a rabbit
started up. The horses were going at a gallop just then.
There it jumped up, unseen by myself until it moved, ears
high, eyes turned back, and giving a tremendous thump
with its big hind feet before setting out on its wild
and desperate career. We were pretty close on its heels
and going fast. For maybe a quarter of a mile it stayed
in one track, running straight ahead and at the top of
its speed so that it pulled noticeably away. Every hundred
yards or so, however, it would slow down a little, and
its jumps, as it glanced back without turning--by merely
taking a high, flying leap and throwing its head
aloft--would look strangely retarded, as if it were
jumping from a sitting posture or braking with its hind
feet while bending its body backward. Then, seeing us
follow at undiminished speed, it would straighten out
again and dart away like an arrow. At the end of its
first straight run it apparently made up its mind that
it was time to employ somewhat different tactics in order
to escape. So it jumped slantways across the soft, central
cushion of the trail into the other track. Again it ran
straight ahead for a matter of four or five hundred yards,
slowing down three or four times to reconnoitre in its
rear. After that it ran in a zigzag line, taking four or
five jumps in one track, crossing over into the other
with a gigantic leap, at an angle of not more than thirty
degrees to its former direction; then, after another four
or five bounds, crossing back again, and so on. About
every tenth jump was now a high leap for scouting purposes,
I should say. It looked breathless, frantic, and desperate.
But it kept it up for several miles. I am firmly convinced
that rabbits distinguish between the man with a gun and
the one without it. This little animal probably knew that
I had no gun. But what was it to do? It was caught on
the road with us bearing down upon it. It knew that it
did not stand a chance of getting even beyond reach of
a club if it ventured out into the deep, loose snow.
There might be dogs ahead, but it had to keep on and take
that risk. I pitied the poor thing, but I did not stop.
I wished for a cross-trail to appear, so it would be
relieved of its panic; and at last there came one, too,
which it promptly took.

And as if to prove still more strikingly how helpless
many of our wild creatures are in deep snow, the third
sight came. We started a prairie chicken next. It had
probably been resting in the snow to the right side of
the trail. It began to run when the horses came close.
And in a sudden panic as it was, it did the most foolish
thing it possibly could do: it struck a line parallel to
the trail. Apparently the soft snow in which it sank
prevented it from taking to its wings. It had them lifted,
but it did not even use them in running as most of the
members of its family will do; it ran in little jumps or
spurts, trying its level best to keep ahead. But the
horses were faster. They caught up with it, passed it.
And slowly I pulled abreast. Its efforts certainly were
as frantic as those of the rabbit had looked. I could
have picked it up with my hands. Its beak was open with
the exertion--the way you see chickens walking about with
open beaks on a swooningly hot summer day I reached for
the whip to lower it in front of the bird and stop it
from this unequal race. It cowered down, and we left it
behind...

We had by that time reached the narrow strip of wild land
which separated the English settlements to the south from
those of the Russian Germans to the north. We came to
the church, and like everything else it rushed back to
the rear; the school on the correction line appeared.

Strangely, school was still on in that yellow building
at the corner. I noticed a cutter outside, with a man in
it, who apparently was waiting for his children. This is
the fourth of the pictures that stand out in my memory.
The man looked so forlorn. His horse, a big, hulking farm
beast, wore a blanket under the harness. I looked at my
watch. It was twenty-five minutes past four. Here, in
the bush country where the pioneers carve the farms out
of the wilderness, the time kept is often oddly at variance
with the time of the towns. I looked back several times,
as long as I could see the building, which was for at
least another twenty minutes; but school did not close.
Still the man sat there, humped over, patiently waiting.
It is this circumstance, I believe, which fixed in my
memory the exact hour at which I reached the correction
line.

Beyond, on the first mile of the last road east there
was no possibility of going fast. This piece was blown
in badly. There was, however, always a trail over this
mile-long drift. The school, of course, had something to
do with that. But when you drive four feet above the
ground, with nothing but uncertain drifts on both sides
of the trail, you want to be chary of speeding your horses
along. One wrong step, and a horse might wallow in snow
up to his belly, and you would lose more time than you
could make up for in an hour's breathless career. A horse
is afraid, too, of trotting there, and it takes a great
deal of urging to make him do it.

So we lost a little time here; but when a mile or so
farther on we reached the bush, we made up for it. This
last run of five or six miles along the correction line
consisted of one single, soft, smooth bed of snow. The
trail was cut in sharply and never drifted. Every successive
snowfall was at once packed down by the tree-fellers,
and whoever drove along, could give his horses the lines.
I did so, too, and the horses ran.

I relaxed. I had done what I could do. Anxiety there was
hardly any now. A drive over more than forty miles, made
at the greatest obtainable speed, blunts your emotional
energies. I thought of home, to be sure, did so all the
time; but it was with expectation now, with nothing else.
Within half an hour I should know...

Then the bush opened up. The last mile led along between
snow-buried meadows, school and house in plain view ahead.
There lay the cottage, as peaceful in the evening sun as
any house can look. Smoke curled up from its chimney and
rose in a nearly perpendicular column. I became aware of
the colder evening air, and with the chill that crept
over me I was again overwhelmed by the pitifully lonesome
looks of the place.

Mostly I shouted when I drew near to tell of my coming.
To-day I silently swung up through the shrubby thicket
in which the cottage and the stable behind it lay embedded
and turned in to the yard. As soon as the horses stopped,
I dropped the lines, jerked the door of the cutter back,
and jumped to the ground.

Then I stood transfixed. That very moment the door of
the cottage opened. There stood my wife, and between her
knee and the door-post a curly head pushed through, and
a child's voice shouted, "Daddy, come to the house! Daddy,
come to the house!"

A turn to the better had set in sometime during the
morning. The fever had dropped, and quickly, as children's
illness will come, it had gone. But the message had sped
on its way, irrevocable and, therefore, unrevoked. My
wife, when she told me the tale, thought, well had she
reason to smile, for had I not thus gained an additional
holiday?




SEVEN
Skies and Scares

We had a "soft spell" over a week end, and on Monday it
had been followed by a fearful storm--snowstorm and
blizzard, both coming from the southeast and lasting
their traditional three days before they subsided. On
Thursday, a report came in that the trail across the wild
land west of Bell's corner was closed completely--in
fact, would be impassable for the rest of the winter.
This report came with the air of authority; the man who
brought it knew what he was talking about; of that I had
no doubt. For the time being, he said, no horses could
possibly get through.

That very day I happened to meet another man who was
habitually driving back and forth between the two towns.
"Why don't you go west?" he said. "You angle over anyway.
Go west first and then straight north." And he described
in detail the few difficulties of the road which he
followed himself. There was no doubt, he of all men should
certainly know which was the best road for the first
seventeen miles. He had come in from that one-third-way
town that morning. I knew the trails which he described
as summer-roads, had gone over them a good many times,
though never in winter; so, the task of finding the trail
should not offer any difficulty. Well and good, then; I
made up my mind to follow the advice.

On Friday afternoon everything was ready as usual. I rang
off at four o'clock and stepped into the hall. And right
there the first thing went wrong.

Never before had I been delayed in my start. But now
there stood three men in the hall, prominent citizens of
the town. I had handed my resignation to the school-board;
these men came to ask me that I reconsider. The board,
so I had heard, was going to accept my decision and let
it go at that. According to this committee the board did
not represent the majority of the citizens in town. They
argued for some time against my stubbornness. At last,
fretting under the delay, I put it bluntly. "I have
nothing to reconsider, gentlemen. The matter does no
longer rest with me. If, as I hear, the board is going
to accept my resignation, that settles the affair for
me. It must of necessity suit me or I should not have
resigned. But you might see the board. Maybe they are
making a mistake. In fact, I think so. That is not my
business, however." And I went.

The time was short enough in any case; this cut it shorter.
It was five o'clock before I swung out on the western
road. I counted on moonlight, though, the fickle luminary
being in its first quarter. But there were clouds in the
north and the weather was by no means settled. As for my
lights, they were useless for driving so long as the
ground was completely buried under its sheet of snow. On
the snow there form no shadows by which you can recognize
the trail in a light that comes from between the two
tracks. So I hurried along.

We had not yet made the first three miles, skirting
meanwhile the river, when the first disaster came. I
noticed a rather formidable drift on the road straight
ahead. I thought I saw a trail leading up over it--I
found later on that it was a snowshoe trail. I drove
briskly up to its very edge; then the horses fell into
a walk. In a gingerly kind of way we started to climb.
And suddenly the world seemed to fall to pieces. The
horses disappeared in the snow, the cutter settled down,
there was a sharp snap, I fell back--the lines had broken.
With lightning quickness I reached over the dashboard
down to the whiffletrees and unhooked one each of the
horses' traces. That would release the others, too, should
they plunge. For the moment I did not know what they were
doing. There was a cloud of dust dry snow which hid them.
Then Peter emerged. I saw with horror that he stood on
Dan who was lying on his side. Dan started to roll over;
Peter slipped off to the right. That brought rebellion
into Dan, for now the neck yoke was cruelly twisting his
head. I saw Dan's feet emerging out of the snow, pawing
the air: he was on his back. Everything seemed convulsed.
Then Peter plunged and reared, pulling Dan half-ways up;
that motion of his released the neck yoke from the pole.
The next moment both horses were on their feet, head by
head now, but facing each other, apparently trying to
pull apart; but the martingales held. Then both jumped
clear of the cutter and the pole; and they plunged out,
to the rear, past the cutter, to solid ground.

I do not remember how I got out; but after a minute or
so I stood at their heads, holding them by the bridles.
The knees of both horses shook, their nostrils trembled;
Peter's eye looked as if he were going to bolt. We were
only a hundred yards or so from a farm. A man and a boy
came running with lanterns. I snapped the halter ropes
into the bit rings and handed the horses over to the boy
to be led to and fro at a walk so as to prevent a chill;
and I went with the man to inspect the cutter. Apparently
no damage was done beyond the snapping of the lines. The
man, who knew me, offered to lend me another pair, which
I promptly accepted. We pulled the cutter out backwards,
straightened the harness, and hitched the horses up again.
It was clear that, though they did not seem to be injured,
their nerves were on edge.

The farmer meanwhile enlightened me. I mentioned the name
of the man who had recommended the road. Yes, the road
was good enough from town to town. This was the only bad
drift. Yes, my adviser had passed here the day before;
but he had turned off the road, going down to the river
below, which was full of holes, it is true, made by the
ice-harvesters, but otherwise safe enough. The boy would
go along with his lantern to guide me to the other side
of the drift. I am afraid I thought some rather uncharitable
things about my adviser for having omitted to caution me
against this drift. What I minded most, was, of course,
the delay.

The drift was partly hollow, it appeared; the crust had
thawed and frozen again; the huge mass of snow underneath
had settled down. The crust had formed a vault, amply
strong enough to carry a man, but not to carry horse and
cutter.

When in the dying light and by the gleam of the lantern
we went through the dense brush, down the steep bank,
and on to the river, the horses were every second ready
to bolt. Peter snorted and danced, Dan laid his ears back
on his head. But the boy gave warning at every open hole,
and we made it safely. At last we got back to the road,
I kept talking and purring to the horses for a while,
and it seemed they were quieting down.

It was not an auspicious beginning for a long night-drive.
And though for a while all things seemed to be going
about as well as I could wish, there remained a nervousness
which, slight though it seemed while unprovoked, yet
tinged every motion of the horses and even my own state
of mind. Still, while we were going west, and later,
north into the one-third-way town, the drive was one of
the most marvellously beautiful ones that I had had during
that winter of marvellous sights.

As I have mentioned, the moon was in its first quarter
and, therefore, during the early part of the night high
in the sky. It was not very cold; the lower air was quiet,
of that strange, hushed stillness which in southern
countries is the stillness of the noon hour in
midsummer--when Pan is frightened into a panic by the
very quiet. It was not so, however, in the upper reaches
of the atmosphere. It was a night of skies, of shifting,
ever changing skies. Not for five minutes did an aspect
last. When I looked up, after maybe having devoted my
attention for a while to a turn in the road or to a drift,
there was no trace left of the picture which I had seen
last. And you could not help it, the sky would draw your
eye. There was commotion up there--operations were
proceeding on a very vast scale, but so silently, with
not a whisper of wind, that I felt hushed myself.

A few of the aspects have persisted in my memory, but it
seems an impossible task to sketch them.

I was driving along through open fields. The trail led
dimly ahead. Huge masses of snow with sharp, immovable
shadows flanked it. The horses were very wide awake. They
cocked their ears at every one of the mounds; and sometimes
they pressed rump against rump, as if to reassure each
other by their mutual touch.

About halfway up from the northern horizon there lay a
belt of faintest luminosity in the atmosphere--no play
of northern lights--just an impalpable paling of the dark
blue sky. There were stars, too, but they were not very
brilliant. Way down in the north, at the edge of the
world, there lay a long, low-flung line of cloud, black,
scarcely discernible in the light of the moon. And from
its centre, true north, there grew out a monstrous human
arm, reaching higher and higher, up to the zenith, blotting
the stars behind it. It looked at first--in texture and
rigid outline--as the stream of straw looks that flows
from the blower of a threshing machine when you stand
straight in its line and behind it. But, of course, it
did not curve down. It seemed to stretch and to rise,
growing more and more like an arm with a clumsy fist at
its end, held unconceivably straight and unbending. This
cloud, I have no doubt, was forming right then by
condensation. And it stretched and lengthened till it
obscured the moon.

Just then I reached the end of my run to the west. I was
nearing a block of dense poplar bush in which somewhere
two farmsteads lay embedded. The road turned to the north.
I was now exactly south of and in line with that long,
twenty-mile trail where I had startled horses, rabbit,
and partridge on the last described drive. I believe I
was just twenty-five miles from the northern correction
line. At this corner where I turned I had to devote all
my attention to the negotiating of a few bad drifts.

When I looked up again, I was driving along the bottom
of a wide road gap formed by tall and stately poplars on
both sides--trees which stood uncannily still. The light
of the moon became less dim, and I raised my eyes. That
band of cloud--for it had turned into a band now, thus
losing its threatening aspect--had widened out and loosened
up. It was a strip of flocculent, sheepy-looking, little
cloudlets that suggested curliness and innocence. And
the moon stood in between like a goodnatured shepherd in
the stories of old.

For a while I kept my eyes on the sky. The going was good
indeed on this closed-in road. And so I watched that
insensible, silent, and yet swift shifting of things in
the heavens that seemed so orderly, pre-ordained, and as
if regulated by silent signals. The clouds lost their
sheeplike look again; they became more massive; they took
on more substance and spine, more manliness, as it were;
and they arranged themselves in distinct lines. Soldiers
suggested themselves, not soldiers engaged in war, but
soldiers drilling in times of peace, to be reviewed,
maybe, by some great general. That central point from
which the arm had sprung and which had been due north
had sidled over to the northwest; the low-flung line
along the horizon had taken on the shape of a long wedge
pointing east; farther west it, too, looked more massive
now--more like a rather solid wall. And all those
soldier-clouds fell into a fan-shaped formation--into
lines radiating from that common central point in the
northwest. This arrangement I have for many years been
calling "the tree." It is quite common, of course, and
I read it with great confidence as meaning "no amount of
rain or snow worth mentioning." "The tree" covered half
the heavens or more, and nowhere did I see any large
reaches of clear sky. Here and there a star would peep
through, and the moon seemed to be quickly and quietly
moving through the lines. Apparently he was the general
who reviewed the army.

Again there came a shifting in the scenes. It looked as
if some unseen hands were spreading a sheet above these
flocculent clouds--a thin and vapoury sheet that came
from the north and gradually covered the whole roof of
the sky. Stars and moon disappeared; but not, so far,
the light of the moon; it merely became diffused--the
way the light from an electric bulb becomes diffused when
you enclose it in a frosted globe. And then, as the sheet
of vapour above began to thicken, the light on the snow
became dim and dimmer, till the whole of the landscape
lay in gloom. The sheet still seemed to be coming, coming
from the north. But no longer did it travel away to the
south. It was as if it had brought up against an obstacle
there, as if it were being held in place. And since there
was more and more of it pressing up--it seemed rather to
be pushed now--it telescoped together and threw itself
into folds, till at last the whole sky looked like an
enormous system of parallel clothes-lines over all of
which one great, soft, and loose cloth were flung, so
that fold after fold would hang down between all the
neighbouring pairs of lines; and between two folds there
would be a sharply converging, upward crease. It being
night, this arrangement, common in grey daylight, would
not have shown at all, had it not been for the moon above.
As it was, every one of the infolds showed an increasingly
lighter grey the higher it folded up, and like huge,
black udders the outfolds were hanging down. This sky,
when it persists, I have often found to be followed within
a few days by heavy storms. To-night, however, it did
not last. Shifting skies are never certain signs, though
they normally indicate an unsettled condition of the
atmosphere. I have observed them after a blizzard, too.

I looked back over my shoulder, just when I emerged from
the bush into the open fields. And there I became aware
of a new element again. A quiet and yet very distinct
commotion arose from the south. These cloth-clouds lifted,
and a nearly impalpable change crept over the whole of
the sky. A few minutes later it crystallised into a
distinct impression. A dark grey, faintly luminous,
inverted bowl stood overhead. Not a star was to be seen
above, nor yet the moon. But all around the horizon there
was a nearly clear ring, suffused with the light of the
moon. There, where the sky is most apt to be dark and
hazy, stars peeped out--singly and dimly only--I did not
recognize any constellation.

And then the grey bowl seemed to contract into patches.
Again the change seemed to proceed from the south. The
clouds seemed to lift still higher, and to shrink into
small, light, feathery cirrus clouds, silvery on the dark
blue sky--resembling white pencil shadings. The light of
the moon asserted itself anew. And this metamorphosis
also spread upward, till the moon herself looked out
again, and it went on spreading northward till it covered
the whole of the sky.

This last change came just before I had to turn west
again for a mile or so in order to hit a trail into town.
I did not mean to go on straight ahead and to cut across
those radiating road lines of which I have spoken in a
former paper. I knew that my wife would be sitting up
and waiting till midnight or two o'clock, and I wanted
to make it. So I avoided all risks and gave my attention
to the road for a while. I had to drive through a ditch
and through a fence beyond, and to cross a field in order
to strike that road which led from the south through the
park into town. A certain farmstead was my landmark.
Beyond it I had to watch out sharply if I wanted to find
the exact spot where according to my informant the wire
of the fence had been taken down. I found it.

To cross the field proved to be the hardest task the
horses had had so far during the night. The trail had
been cut in deep through knee-high drifts, and it was
filled with firmly packed, freshly blown-in snow. That
makes a particularly bad road for fast driving. I simply
had to take my time and to give all my attention to the
guiding of the horses. And here I was also to become
aware once more of the fact that my horses had not yet
forgotten their panic in that river drift of two hours
ago. There was a strawstack in the centre of the field;
at least the shape of the big, white mound suggested a
strawstack; and the trail led closely by it. Sharp shadows
showed, and the horses, pricking their ears, began to
dance and to sidle away from it as we passed along its
southern edge.

But we made it. By the time we reached the park that
forms the approach to the town from the south, the skies
had changed completely. There was now, as far as my eye
would reach, just one vast, dark-blue, star-spangled
expanse. And the skies twinkled and blazed down upon the
earth with a veritable fervour. There was not one of the
more familiar stars that did not stand out brightly, even
the minor ones which you do not ordinarily see oftener
than, maybe, once or twice a year--as, for instance,
Vega's smaller companions in the constellation of the
Lyre, or the minor points in the cluster of the Pleiades.

I sometimes think that the mere fact of your being on a
narrow bush-road, with the trees looming darkly to both
sides, makes the stars seem brighter than they appear
from the open fields. I have heard that you can see a
star even in daytime from the bottom of a deep mine-pit
if it happens to pass overhead. That would seem to make
my impression less improbable, perhaps. I know that not
often have the stars seemed so much alive to me as they
did that night in the park.

And then I came into the town. I stayed about forty-five
minutes, fed the horses, had supper myself, and hitched
up again.

On leaving town I went for another mile east in the
shelter of a fringe of bush; and this bush kept rustling
as if a breeze had sprung up. But it was not till I turned
north again, on the twenty-mile stretch, that I became
conscious of a great change in the atmosphere. There was
indeed a slight breeze, coming from the north, and it
felt very moist. Somehow it felt homely and human, this
breeze. There was a promise in it, as of a time, not
too far distant, when the sap would rise again in the
trees and when tender leaflets would begin to stir in
delicate buds. So far, however, its more immediate promise
probably was snow.

But it did not last, either. A colder breeze sprang up.
Between the two there was a distinct lull. And again
there arose in the north, far away, at the very end of
my seemingly endless road, a cloud-bank. The colder wind
that sprang up was gusty; it came in fits and starts,
with short lulls in between; it still had that water-laden
feeling, but it was now what you would call "damp" rather
than "moist"--the way you often feel winter-winds along
the shores of great lakes or along sea-coasts. There was
a cutting edge to it--it was "raw" And it had not been
blowing very long before low-hanging, dark, and formless
cloud-masses began to scud up from the north to the
zenith. The northern lights, too, made their appearance
again about that time. They formed an arc very far to
the south, vaulting up behind my back, beyond the zenith.
No streamers in them, no filtered rays and streaks--nothing
but a blurred luminosity high above the clouds and--so
it seemed--above the atmosphere. The northern lights have
moods, like the clouds--moods as varied as theirs--though
they do not display them so often nor quite so
ostentatiously.

We were nearing the bridge across the infant river. The
road from the south slopes down to this bridge in a rather
sudden, s-shaped curve, as perhaps the reader remembers.
I still had the moonlight from time to time, and whenever
one of the clouds floated in front of the crescent, I
drove more slowly and more carefully. Now there is a
peculiar thing about moonlight on snow. With a fairly
well-marked trail on bare ground, in summertime, a very
little of it will suffice to indicate the road, for there
are enough rough spots on the best of trails to cast
little shadows, and grass and weeds on both sides usually
mark the beaten track off still more clearly, even though
the road lead north. But the snow forms such an even
expanse, and the trail on it is so featureless that these
signs are no longer available. The light itself also is
too characterless and too white and too nearly of the
same quality as the light reflected by the snow to allow
of judging distances delicately and accurately. You seem
to see nothing but one vast whiteness all around. When
you drive east or west, the smooth edges of the tracks
will cast sharply defined shadows to the north, but when
you drive north or south, even these shadows are absent,
and so you must entirely rely on your horses to stay on
the trail. I have often observed how easily my own judgment
was deluded.

But still I felt so absolutely sure that I should know
when I approached the bridge that, perhaps through
overconfidence, I was caught napping. There was another
fact which I did not take sufficiently into account at
the time. I have mentioned that we had had a "soft spell."
In fact, it had been so warm for a day or two that the
older snow had completely iced over. Now, much as I
thought I was watching out, we were suddenly and quite
unexpectedly right on the downward slope before I even
realized that we were near it.

As I said, on this slope the trail described a double
curve, and it hit the bridge at an angle from the west.
The first turn and the behaviour of the horses were what
convinced me that I had inadvertently gone too far. If
I had stopped the horses at the point where the slope
began and then started them downward at a slow walk, we
should still have reached the bridge at too great a speed;
for the slope had offered the last big wind from the
north a sheer brow, and it was swept clean of new snow,
thus exposing the smooth ice underneath; the snow that
had drifted from the south, on the other hand, had been
thrown beyond the river, on to the lower northern bank;
the horses skidded, and the weight of the cutter would
have pushed them forward. As it was, they realized the
danger themselves; for when we turned the second curve,
both of them stiffened their legs and spread their feet
in order to break the momentum of the cutter; but in
spite of the heavy calks under their shoes they slipped
on all fours, hardly able to make the bend on to the
bridge.

They had to turn nearly at right angles to their last
direction, and the bridge seemed to be one smooth sheet
of ice. The moon shone brightly just then; so I saw
exactly what happened. As soon as the runners hit the
iced-over planks, the cutter swung out sideways; the
horses, however, slipping and recovering, managed to make
the turn. It was a worth-while sight to see them strike
their calks into the ice and brace themselves against
the shock which they clearly expected when the cutter
started to skid. The latter swung clear of the bridge--you
will remember that the railing on the east-side was broken
away--out into space, and came down with a fearful crash,
but right side up, on the steep north bank of the
river--just at the very moment when the horses reached
the deep, loose snow beyond which at least gave them a
secure footing. They had gone along the diagonal of the
bridge, from the southwest corner, barely clearing the
rail, to the northwest corner where the snow had piled
in to a depth of from two to five feet on the sloping
bank. If the ground where I hit the bank had been bare,
the cutter would have splintered to pieces; as it was,
the shock of it seemed to jar every bone in my body.

It seemed rather a piece of good luck that the horses
bolted; the lines held; they pulled me free of the drift
on the bank and plunged out on the road. For a mile or
two we had a pretty wild run; and this time there was no
doubt about it, either, the horses were thoroughly
frightened. They ran till they were exhausted, and there
was no holding them; but since I was on a clear road, I
did not worry very much. Nevertheless, I was rather badly
shaken up myself; and if I had followed the good advice
that suggested itself, I should have put in for some time
at the very next farm which I passed. The way I see things
now, it was anything rather than safe to go on. With
horses in the nervous condition in which mine were I
could not hope any longer to keep them under control
should a further accident happen. But I had never yet
given in when I had made up my mind to make the trip,
and it was hard to do so for the first time.

As soon as I had the horses sufficiently in hand again,
I lighted my lantern, got out on the road, and carefully
looked my cutter over. I found that the hardwood lining
of both runners was broken at the curve, but the steel
shoes were, though slightly bent, still sound. Fortunately
the top had been down, otherwise further damage would
have been sure to result. I saw no reason to discontinue
the drive.

Now after a while--when the nervousness incident upon
the shock which I had received subsided--my interest in
the shifting skies revived once more, and again I began
to watch the clouds. The wind was squally, and the low,
black vapour-masses overhead had coalesced into a vast
array of very similar but yet distinct groups. There was
still a certain amount of light from the moon, but only
just enough to show the texture and the grouping of the
clouds. Hardly ever had I seen, or at least consciously
taken note of a sky that with its blackness and its massed
multitudes of clouds looked so threatening, so sinister,
so much like a battle-array. But way up in the northeast
there were two large areas quite suffused with light from
the north. They must have been thin cloud-layers in whose
upper reaches the northern lights were playing. And these
patches of light were like a promise, like a word of
peace arresting the battle. Had it not been for these
islands of light, I should have felt depressed when I
looked back to the road.

We were swinging along as before. I had rested the horses
by a walk, and to a casual observer they would have seemed
to be none the worse for their fling at running away.
But on closer scrutiny they would again have revealed
the unmistakable signs of nervous tension. Their ears
moved jerkily on the slightest provocation. Still, the
road was good and clear, and I had no apprehensions.

Then came the sudden end of the trail. It was right in
front of a farm yard. Clearly, the farmer had broken the
last part of the road over which I had come. The trail
widened out to a large, circus-shaped flat in the drifts.
The snow had the ruffled appearance of being thoroughly
tramped down by a herd of cattle. On both sides there
were trees--wild trees--a-plenty. Brush lined the narrow
road gap ahead; but the snow had piled in level with its
tops. This had always been rather a bad spot, though the
last time I had seen it the snow had settled down to
about half the height of the shrubs. I stopped and
hesitated for a moment. I knew just where the trail had
been. It was about twenty-five feet from the fence of
the field to the east. It was now covered under three to
four feet of freshly drifted-in snow. The drift seemed
to be higher towards the west, where the brush stood
higher, too. So I decided to stay as nearly as I could
above the old trail. There, even though we might break
through the new snow the older drifts underneath were
likely to be firm enough.

We went ahead. The drift held, and slowly we climbed to
its summit. It is a strange coincidence that just then
I should have glanced up at the sky. I saw a huge, black
cloud-mass elbowing its way, as it were, in front of
those islands of light, the promise of peace. And so much
was I by this time imbued with the moods of the skies
that the disappearance of this mild glimmer sent a regret
through my very body. And simultaneously with this thrill
of regret there came--I remember this as distinctly as
if it had been an hour ago--the certainty of impending
disaster. The very next moment chaos reigned. The horses
broke in, not badly at all; but as a consequence of their
nervous condition they flew into a panic. I held them
tight as they started to plunge. But there was no guiding
them; they were bound to have things their own way
altogether. It seemed as if they had lost their road-sense,
too, for instead of plunging at least straight ahead,
out on the level trail, they made, with irresistible
bounds and without paying the slightest attention to the
pull of the lines, towards the east. There the drift,
not being packed by any previous traffic, went entirely
to pieces under their feet. I had meanwhile thrown off
my robes, determined at all costs to bring them to a
stop, for I knew, if I allowed them to get away with me
this time, they would be spoiled for any further drives
of mine.

Now just the very fraction of a second when I got my feet
up against the dashboard so as to throw my whole weight
into my pull, they reared up as if for one tremendous
and supreme bound, and simultaneously I saw a fence post
straight under the cutter pole. Before I quite realized
it, the horses had already cleared the fence. I expected
the collision, the breaking of the drawbar and the bolting
of the horses; but just then my desperate effort in
holding them told, and dancing and fretting they stood.
Then, in a flash, I mentally saw and understood the whole
situation. The runners of the cutter, still held up by
the snow of the drift which sloped down into the field
and which the horses had churned into slabs and clods,
had struck the fence wire and, lifting the whole of the
conveyance, had placed me; cutter and all, balanced for
a moment to a nicety, on top of the post. But already we
began to settle back.

I felt that I could not delay, for a moment later the
runners would slip off the wire and the cutter fall
backward; that was the certain signal for the horses to
bolt. The very paradoxicality of the situation seemed to
give me a clue. I clicked my tongue and, holding the
horses back with my last ounce of strength, made them
slowly dance forward and pull me over the fence. In a
moment I realized that I had made a mistake. A quick pull
would have jerked me clear of the post. As it was, it
slowly grated along the bottom of the box; then the cutter
tilted forward, and when the runners slipped off the
wire, the cutter with myself pitched back with a frightful
knock against the post. The back panel of the box still
shows the splintered tear that fence post made. The shock
of it threw me forward, for a second I lost all purchase
on the lines, and again the horses went off in a panic.
It was quite dark now, for the clouds were thickening in
the sky. While I attended to the horses, I reflected that
probably something had broken back there in the cutter,
but worst of all, I realized that this incident, for the
time being at least, had completely broken my nerve. As
soon as I had brought the horses to a stop, I turned in
the knee-deep snow of the field and made for the fence.

Half a mile ahead there gleamed a light. I had, of course,
to stay on the field, and I drove along, slowly and
carefully, skirting the fence and watching it as closely
as what light there was permitted.

I do not know why this incident affected me the way it
did; but I presume that the cumulative effect of three
mishaps, one following the other, had something to do
with it; the same as it affected the horses. But more
than that, I believe, it was the effect of the skies. I
am rather subject to the influence of atmospheric
conditions. There are not many things that I would rather
watch. No matter what the aspect of the skies may be,
they fascinate me. I have heard people say, "What a dull
day!"--or, "What a sleepy day!"--and that when I was
enjoying my own little paradise in yielding to the moods
of cloud and sky. To this very hour I am convinced that
the skies broke my nerve that night, that those incidents
merely furnished them with an opportunity to get their
work in more tellingly.

Of the remainder of the drive little needs to be said.
I found a way out of the field, back to the road, drove
into the yard of the farm where I had seen the light,
knocked at the house, and asked for and obtained the
night's accommodation for myself and for my horses.

At six o'clock next morning I was on the road again. Both
I and the horses had shaken off the nightmare, and through
a sprinkling, dusting fall of snow we made the correction
line and finally home in the best of moods and conditions.



END







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