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Little Rivers Henry van Dyke

IV. Ampersand

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At such a time as this you can see the real colour of these Adirondack lakes. It is not blue, as romantic writers so often describe it, nor green, like some of those wonderful Swiss lakes; although of course it reflects the colour of the trees along the shore; and when the wind stirs it, it gives back the hue of the sky, blue when it is clear, gray when the clouds are gathering, and sometimes as black as ink under the shadow of storm. But when it is still, the water itself is like that river which one of the poets has described as

"Flowing with a smooth brown current."

And in this sheet of burnished bronze the mountains and islands were reflected perfectly, and the sun shone back from it, not in broken gleams or a wide lane of light, but like a single ball of fire, moving before us as we moved.

But stop! What is that dark speck on the water, away down toward Turtle Point? It has just the shape and size of a deer's head. It seems to move steadily out into the lake. There is a little ripple, like a wake, behind it. Hose turns to look at it, and then sends the boat darting in that direction with long, swift strokes. It is a moment of pleasant excitement, and we begin to conjecture whether the deer is a buck or a doe, and whose hounds have driven it in. But when Hose turns to look again, he slackens his stroke, and says: "I guess we needn't to hurry; he won't get away. It's astonishin' what a lot of fun a man can get in the course of a natural life a-chasm' chumps of wood."

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We landed on a sand beach at the mouth of a little stream, where a blazed tree marked the beginning of the Ampersand trail. This line through the forest was made years ago by that ardent sportsman and lover of the Adirondacks, Dr. W. W. Ely, of Rochester. Since that time it has been shortened and improved a little by other travellers, and also not a little blocked and confused by the lumbermen and the course of Nature. For when the lumbermen go into the woods, they cut roads in every direction, leading nowhither, and the unwary wanderer is thereby led aside from the right way, and entangled in the undergrowth. And as for Nature, she is entirely opposed to continuance of paths through her forest. She covers them with fallen leaves, and hides them with thick bushes. She drops great trees across them, and blots then out with windfalls. But the blazed line--a succession of broad axe-marks on the trunks of the trees, just high enough to catch the eye on a level--cannot be so easily obliterated, and this, after all, is the safest guide through the woods.

Our trail led us at first through a natural meadow, overgrown with waist-high grass, and very spongy to the tread. Hornet-haunted also was this meadow, and therefore no place for idle dalliance or unwary digression, for the sting of the hornet is one of the saddest and most humiliating surprises of this mortal life.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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