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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/134

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painted savages made their echoes ring with wicked cries, and are familiar with the pleasured that peace and later days give to the lover of deep woods. Now Dr. Merriam has taken up the natural history of the wilderness, and is the first to give us the characteristics which distinguish this tract, as a whole, from the surrounding country, and to present with scientific accuracy the peculiarities of its fauna and flora.

The first chapter treats of the location and boundaries of the Adirondacks, geological history, topography, climate, general features, botany, and faunal position, and contains much that is of general interest.

The author says "From a geological stand-point, the Adirondacks are interesting as constituting one of the few islands that rose above the level of the mighty continental sea previous to Paleozoic time. Its stern Arch├Žan shores were washed by the waves of countless ages before the undermost strata of the lower Silurian were deposited upon them, entombing and preserving many of the trilobites, brachiopods, and other curious inhabitants of that vast ocean. This lower Silurian zone marked the shore-line, so to speak, of the ancient island, and consists of Potsdam sandstone and the lime-rocks of the Trenton period. Though broken and interrupted, enough of it still remains to afford us tantalizing glimpses of the life of the time, torn pages of fragmentary chapters that constitute but a half-told story to excite our imagination and regret."

As to the forms of the mountains, they are in no sense a chain, but consist of more or less irregular groups, isolated peaks, and short ranges, having no regular trend, conforming to no definite axis, and sloping in all possible directions.

The entire region is studded with hundreds of beautiful lakes of various sizes and depths, two of them upward of four thousand feet above tide-level. Under the head of "Climate" the writer speaks at some length of the meteorology of the region, and states that the mean annual rainfall exceeds that of most portions of the State by about five inches. After dwelling upon the causes which serve to lower the temperature, increase the humidity, and promote great luxuriance of vegetation, he recounts the singular fact that many characteristic marsh-plants grow upon the highest summits, as the conditions previously described tend to produce upon them the effect of marshes. On the very top of Mount Marcy a number of these swamp-plants have been found; a matter of especial interest, as there are no trees to protect them, from the sun, and they grow on the open summit nearly five thousand feet above tide-level.

In "Botany" he enumerates thirty-two species of forest-trees, fifty-seven of under shrubs, and one hundred and seventy-eight of the most noticeable flowering-plants. As to the "Faunal Position," he is of the opinion that the temperature alone would show that the district belongs to the Canadian fauna, and a number of the resident birds and mammals are cited in support of this view.

The other five chapters are given to Mammalia, Aves, Reptilia, Batrachia, and Pisces, respectively. Of the "Mammalia" forty-two species are enumerated, but the first part ends with the consideration of the carnivora, and constitutes a most important original contribution to the literature of North American mammals. We have grown accustomed to the modern iconoclast haunting all paths of learning, and now it is Dr. Merriam who robs us of our time-honored panther, the bloodthirsty monster of the deep woods. Not that he takes him entirely away, but he only lets him do some fearful leaping to satisfy our old ideal. He says the panther is an arrant coward; that he is not fierce unless he is wounded, and cornered at that; he does not climb trees except at the point of the bayonet, as it were, and he does not scream screams that curdle the blood; at least, it is the testimony of the most reliable hunters that he rarely makes any noise at all. But he does eat porcupines until his mouth bristles with quills, and he does catch deer, even if he has to make quite a jump to do it.

Lack of space obliges us to refer the reader to the book itself for a further knowledge of its contents, which will abundantly repay perusal, and will confirm what indeed is apparent throughout the work, that the author is thoroughly acquainted with his subject, and writes about it in a style which is at once entertaining and instructive.