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Little Rivers Henry van Dyke

IV. Ampersand

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Then through a tangle of old wood-roads my guide led me safely, and we struck one of the long ridges which slope gently from the lake to the base of the mountain. Here walking was comparatively easy, for in the hard-wood timber there is little underbrush. The massive trunks seemed like pillars set to uphold the level roof of green. Great yellow birches, shaggy with age, stretched their knotted arms high above us; sugar-maples stood up straight and proud under their leafy crowns; and smooth beeches--the most polished and parklike of all the forest trees--offered opportunities for the carving of lovers' names in a place where few lovers ever come.

The woods were quiet. It seemed as if all living creatures had deserted them. Indeed, if you have spent much time in our Northern forests, you must have often wondered at the sparseness of life, and felt a sense of pity for the apparent loneliness of the squirrel that chatters at you as you pass, or the little bird that hops noiselessly about in the thickets. The midsummer noontide is an especially silent time. The deer are asleep in some wild meadow. The partridge has gathered her brood for their midday nap. The squirrels are perhaps counting over their store of nuts in a hollow tree, and the hermit-thrush spares his voice until evening. The woods are close--not cool and fragrant as the foolish romances describe them--but warm and still; for the breeze which sweeps across the hilltop and ruffles the lake does not penetrate into these shady recesses, and therefore all the inhabitants take the noontide as their hour of rest. Only the big woodpecker--he of the scarlet head and mighty bill--is indefatigable, and somewhere unseen is "tapping the hollow beech-tree," while a wakeful little bird,--I guess it is the black-throated green warbler,--prolongs his dreamy, listless ditty,--'te-de-terit-sca,--'te-de-us--wait.

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After about an hour of easy walking, our trail began to ascend more sharply. We passed over the shoulder of a ridge and around the edge of a fire-slash, and then we had the mountain fairly before us. Not that we could see anything of it, for the woods still shut us in, but the path became very steep, and we knew that it was a straight climb; not up and down and round about did this most uncompromising trail proceed, but right up, in a direct line for the summit.

Now this side of Ampersand is steeper than any Gothic roof I have ever seen, and withal very much encumbered with rocks and ledges and fallen trees. There were places where we had to haul ourselves up by roots and branches, and places where we had to go down on our hands and knees to crawl under logs. It was breathless work, but not at all dangerous or difficult. Every step forward was also a step upward; and as we stopped to rest for a moment, we could see already glimpses of the lake below us. But at these I did not much care to look, for I think it is a pity to spoil the surprise of a grand view by taking little snatches of it beforehand. It is better to keep one's face set to the mountain, and then, coming out from the dark forest upon the very summit, feel the splendour of the outlook flash upon one like a revelation.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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