Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/159

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

THE BALSAM PEAKS

153

to a drenching. There is a certain feeling in being overtaken by these mountain rain-storms that lifts one above the mere petty annoyance of wetness. It savors of primitive things and is probably a reversion to remote ancestral ways of life. On one occasion Lucasta and I, with two piebald mares and a "hound dog," made the ascent of the Plott Balsam. It was a lowering morning and did not promise much in the way of views, but a wedding anniversary was to be kept in cloud-land—as near as possible to the place where such blissful states are said to have their origin. Beyond Huckleberry Knob we found ourselves in a driving mist and heard the rumble of thunder in the ravines on either side. We missed the trail above the alpine pasture and, tying the horses in the firs, blazed our way up the peak. The air was clear of mist on the summit; the cloud was beneath us and we looked out on its gray vapors as one might look upon the sea from an island shore. A rift suddenly disclosed a bit of the valley—a fleeting glimpse, for the dull mass as quickly rolled together again. We congratulated ourselves on the day. You may behold the expanse of land and sky many times from these outlooks, but rarely does it chance that one sees the earth through a cloud rift. The peak of Plott Balsam was above the cloud; when we returned to the horses it was to find them still in the same bewildering mist. We shared some biscuits with the companionable hound, the horses munching their measure of grain, and all the while the cloud drenched us and the dripping firs distilled a fragrance that entered into the soul. There was a fine sense of being a part of the primitive life of things—of the mountain, and the weather, and the vegetation—enough of the aboriginal man and woman in us to find joy in such surroundings.

The rain that had swept the slopes below the alpine meadow had made the trail so slippery that walking was preferable to riding, especially where the horses had to slide down the steeper parts. There had been a heavy thunder-storm in the valley and all the while we were in the cloud itself and above it, seeing no lightning at all from our elevation.

Lickstone Bald is a very different summit from the Plott Balsam. It begins as a long upward-trending ridge from Deep Gap, through dry open woods until it reaches a deciduous timber-line above which it is treeless—no evergreens and no arborescent rhododendrons. One gets the impression of riding along the ridge pole of an immensely highroof, so narrow is the crest-line and so steep the side slopes. The trail ends abruptly on the brow of a sharp declivity that falls away to the lower slopes for several thousand feet. These lower slopes about Lickstone are covered with a magnificent forest of oak, chestnut, magnolia (Magnolia Fraseri and M. acuminata), tulip or yellow poplar, buckeye, sourwood, and many other varieties. The showy flower-clusters of the