Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/596

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ground. Then a period of rest and quiet ensued, and the scene three years later was one of utter desolation, the eye within a radius of two or three miles resting only on vast wastes of volcanic sand, slag, and ashes, with the rugged wild lava streams below.

Late in the afternoon of a day in the middle of April we left Naples, then cold and raining, with thunder and lightning; and after a particularly rough and disagreeable night in a steamer without ballast, which bobbed about on the chopping sea like a cork, we landed early in the morning at Palermo. The day was spent in visiting the fine zoölogical museum, and in wandering through the attractive botanical garden of that beautiful city.

The traveler who would see Etna to the best advantage should approach it from the west and south as well as the north. Leaving Palermo the next morning by an early train we soon reached the junction of Termini. At this point the railroad turns south and runs into the interior; but before we left the coast we could see, some eighty miles distant, heavy clouds of steam and ashes drifting from the eastward, and we were sure that they arose from the island of Volcano, then in eruption, although inquiries from our fellow-travelers as to whether this were so failed to meet a response; either they were stupid or our limited Italian vocabulary was at fault.

It was not until we reached the neighborhood of Castrogiovanni that we had a good view of the noble cone of Etna, distant some forty miles. From this point of view, almost directly west, the grand mountain mass is seen to rise by a very gradual ascent from the regions below, its upper third snow-clad, its steepest slope toward the south. It has undergone little change since the days of Pindar, who nearly twenty-five hundred years ago sang of "the snowy Etna, the pillar of heaven—the nurse of everlasting frost, in whose deep caverns lie concealed the fountains of unapproachable fire—a stream of eddying smoke by day, a bright and ruddy flame by night; and burning rocks rolled down with loud uproar into the sea" (First Pythian Odes). It was the 16th of April, and the season was a late one, but the poplars were leaved out and the vines were much more advanced than in Naples. The green fields were crowded with poppies, wild peas, and other spring flowers in profusion, while farther on in our route, in the outskirts of Catania, the almonds and figs were fully formed on the trees, though still green.

Not stopping at Catania, we took the night steamer for Malta, where we spent a most interesting day, returning by night to Syracuse—a memorable trip one should not miss—and the morning of the 19th found us at Catania.

After lunch we drove through the long, straight Strada Etnea