Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/157

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THE BALSAM PEAKS

steeper parts where a horse would now and then slip badly. Scattered droves of half-wild hogs were rooting in the earth in the woods below us; lean, dark-colored fellows with long legs that bespoke a life of activity.

The oaks and chestnuts became straggling and scrubby; there was more sunlight through the woods, with an occasional glimpse of a distant mountain; sky-lines across gulfs of hazy blue. It was here that we saw the first evergreens—a few scattered trees along the upper edge of the deciduous zone. The tannin-smelling woods of oak and chestnut presently ceased altogether and we passed into a boreal forest, the trail winding through dense clumps of spire-topped firs and spruces, interspersed with open, grassy parks. One could not help breathing deeply in this rarer air, redolent with the aromatic fragrance of balsam that recalled long-forgotten Christmastides. I should not have been surprised if the paint and varnish smell of new toys had greeted me on these Balsam heights. Dainty bluets (Houstonia) of the northern spring made bright patches on the green moss, and here and there the Clintonia borealis reared its wand of yellowish-green flowers above the broad, glaucous leaves. We had left summer on the lower slopes; it was spring on these mountain tops; we had left Carolina in the valley, with its passion flowers and its wild indigo; it was Canada that we found above the six-thousand-foot line.

There was an impressive stillness about these evergreen solitudes that heightened the feeling of remoteness and isolation. Nor was bird life at all conspicuous, only the occasional chip of a Carolina junco. The tinkle of a bell sounded pleasingly when some mules met us on the trail, one with a bell fastened about its neck. White and Chalfant began talking of the fine pastures on these high slopes, where stock, from farms in the valley, is turned out to range at will. The animals are often more than half-wild in their freedom, and this is especially the case with the young cattle and hogs that are born there and that frequently reach maturity before seeing a man.

The trail presently led us into one of these alpine pastures—a broad, open meadow on the rounded shoulder of the mountain, falling away on either side into the fringe of evergreens. Here the juneberry (Amelánchier) was growing, with its red fruit clusters, and the mountain holly (Ilex monticola), and here and there a gray bowlder outcropped above the rich grass turf, and here and there a scattering clump of spruce and fir. Some distance off a number of young cattle were grazing, and farther down the slope some sheep and horses watched us with mingled distrust and curiosity. It was like riding along the roof of the world to traverse this sky-land meadow, lifted up like some enchanted country.

From this meadow our way led up the western flank of the peak