Page:Madagascar - Phelps - 1883.djvu/25

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The country next the shore is generally flat and exceedingly low, in parts marshy and incapable of culture. The margin of level land along the sea-coast, consisting of rich meadow lands or rice grounds, extends on the eastern coast ten or fifteen miles inland; on the western side of the island it is from fifty to one hundred miles, and sometimes more, in width. In some parts of the eastern coast, the country becomes suddenly mountainous at the distance of about thirty miles from the sea. In the interior, beyond this margin of level ground, the country is diversified with hills of varied elevations, and extending in every direction. But in some parts of the island immense plains stretch, in comparatively cheerless solitude, over a wide extent of country, small spots here and there alone being under cultivation. Groves, with pleasing frequency, adorn the landscape; shrubs and brushwood decorate and clothe many parts of the island. The vast extent, the unbroken solitude and gloom of its impenetrable forests, where, under the continued influence of a tropical sun and a humid atmosphere, the growth and decay of vegetation, in its most uncontrolled spontaneity, has proceeded without interruption for centuries, present scenes of extensive and gigantic vegetation, in sublime and varied forms, rarely, perhaps, surpassed in any part of the world. Immense forests traverse the island in all directions, within which may be expected and realized all that is imposing, and wonderful, and venerable in the vegetable kingdom, where, for thousands of years no ax has been laid to their giant trunks, nor even have the footsteps of man ever broken the deep and impressive silence. It is with exceeding difficulty that their dark masses can be penetrated, owing partly to the insalubrity of the deep recesses, where the air itself can hardly circulate, and partly to the very situation of the forests themselves, stretching up the sides of precipitous mountains, spreading over hills broken by sudden and deep chasms, or tenaciously occupying an under soil, from whence the upper has been washed away by heavy rains and torrents, leaving merely a net-work of roots and fibres, with fallen and decayed timber, to support the foot of the passenger.

The country is diversified with mountains, lakes and rivers. The mountains of Ankasatra attain the height of 8,000 to 12,000 feet. Their summits rise from a broad table land in the interior, which, like that of Mexico, is itself considerably elevated. The summits of Ankasatra are generally basalt in various stages of decomposition, many of them being hard and solid within,