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HOT GORGE OF THE STANISLAUS—A SLEEPY COACHMAN—MURPHY’S—A CHILL DRIVE—CALAVERAS—THE FOREST—BIG TREES—RATTLESNAKES—WOODPECKERS AND BLUE JAYS—MAGGOTS—SQUIRRELS—TARANTULAS.
Calaveras, Sunday, July 28th.
Once more I am in paradise—whether in the seventh heaven or in any lower degree I cannot venture to say, but assuredly in the most glorious forest sanctuary that can possibly be conceived.
As a matter of course, the approach to paradise was not altogether delightful. The first part of yesterday’s journey was through the same ghastly, denuded, old mining country, the anatomy of the rocks all laid bare in the most unbecoming manner. The heat was grilling, and it really seemed as if poor mother earth were acting on Sydney Smith’s suggestion, and had taken off her flesh to sit in her bones.
Presently we came to a vast plain, which in the spring is rich pasture-land, but now can scarcely be recognised as even sun-dried hay, so entirely does dust triumph—dust like the finest flour, flying in choking clouds, and the road only to be distinguished as a broad track of deeper dust. No shadow anywhere, but overhead a fierce scintillating sun, blazing with sickening heat.
Then we descended by a series of frightfully steep zig-zags into the gorge of the Stanislaus river, where the sun’s vertical rays seemed concentrated, for the hot air blowing in our faces was like the blast from a furnace.
At all these fearfully dangerous gradients the drivers invariably whip up their teams of five or six horses—three abreast—and tear down just as fast as they can lay foot to ground. The roads are narrow, with only just room to pass another wheeled vehicle. There is no parapet, not even a fence, to mark the edge, below which lies the steep descent of many hundred feet, to the dark chasm from which rises the tumultuous roar of unseen waters. The parapet would be considered an unnecessary extravagance; it would not pay.
Round these rapid curves and dizzy ledges the six horse team and heavy coach rattles as cheerily as ever coach ran on the old Highland road—never relaxing pace save when, at some particularly dangerous spot, we encounter heavily laden waggons, drawn by six or eight pair of mules. We met a mule-train coming up the gorge as we descended, and “you bet” I watched breathlessly while the outer wheels grazed within six inches of the precipice, and then rattled on again.
I bethought me of the Great Duke’s question to the trio of coachmen anxious to secure his situation: “How near the edge of a precipice could you venture to drive?” “Within a foot,” said the first—“Within six inches,” said the second—“Faith, and I’d keep as far from it as possible!” said the successful candidate. I felt to-day that Wellington was the Solomon for mountain drivers.
It is bad enough, even on an ordinary forest-road, to meet a waggon-train of long heavy-wheeled timber-carts, with one man to guide each team of eight or ten mules. He generally sits on one, and guides the others with a single rein, but chiefly by voice, and addressing each by name; he puts on the drag by means of a rope which works an iron lever, and if the road is too narrow to pass, he must pull up in the bush on one side—no easy task.
Well, we dashed full tilt down this breakneck descent, the coachman working the brake with his foot, and talking to his horses in the most calm matter-of-fact way, as if the apparent danger was not worth a thought. (They do sometimes come “an almighty smash”; and when they do so, it is something for the survivors—if there are any—to remember!)
As soon as we had climbed safely up the other side of the furnace-gorge, our driver became so overpowered with sleep, that he was quite unable to keep his eyes open: he confided to us that he had spent the two previous nights at balls, and was quite “used up.” Luckily, my fellow passenger, who was a grocer’s agent, proved equal to the occasion; and putting the driver inside to sleep in peace, he took the ribbons, and drove right well. Moreover, he had to keep up the pace, as we were late, and had to catch another coach at Murphy’s, which is a decaying mining town like Sonora, Columbia, Dutch Flat, Copperopolis, and all their mushroom tribe.
At Murphy’s we had only just time to change coaches; and then commenced a long steady pull uphill, through a forest of ever-increasing beauty, till we arrived here in a glory that excelleth. Such a forest! of every sort of fir; sugar-pine, yellow pine, cedar, spruce, silver fir, tamarack, &c., &c. They grow larger and more beautiful as we ascend.
But also, as we ascended, the air became more and more bitterly cold, till at last I was truly grateful to the coachman, who insisted on wrapping me up in his big greatcoat, declaring that nothing would induce him to wear it. I believe he must have been half perished, and I felt thankful this morning to see him start all right on the return trip.
It was 10 p.m. ere we arrived at this cosy, clean cottage-hotel, where we were welcomed with true Californian cordiality,—fed, warmed, and comforted.
Need I tell you that the sun had not risen long before I surveyed my surroundings from the pleasant verandah? and the glimpse so obtained was an irresistible summons to go forth to nature’s early service, in a grander cathedral than ever was devised by human architect!
This house stands on rising ground, in a small glade in the very heart of the most glorious forest, on the edge of perhaps the grandest existing grove of the Giant Sequoia. These stand singly, or in groups, like tall towers, and the colour of their thick, soft bark is such a rich golden red, or warm sienna, that when the light falls on them, they look like pillars of fire. These giants are scattered among thousands of other grand pines and cedars, with grey, white, red, or yellow stems, all faultlessly perpendicular, while from their drooping boughs hang long waving draperies of the loveliest bright yellow lichen, like rays of sunlight. You may remember my describing it to you at Mariposa, where I first made acquaintance with the Big trees. But then the forest lay deep in snow—a very different scene from this joyous summer, with all its treasures of delight.
I think I must also have told you how strange it is that most of these great monsters have only little insignificant branches near the summit. But the lower trees throw out graceful boughs which make a cloud of soft grey-green about the red stems, and make them look quite comfortably clothed; and down about their feet grow hazel bushes covered with nuts, to the endless joy of the merry squirrels.
I found one glade in the forest, which seemed to me, above all others, suggestive of a glorious natural cathedral—the mighty stems forming long, dreamy aisles. At one glance I could count twenty of the huge red columns, which, seen in their own gloom, against the light, are of a dark maroon colour like porphyry; while the lesser shafts of grey, red, and yellow, grouped themselves like pillars of many-coloured marbles, grey granite, and sienna.
And the eastern light, streaming through the silvery grey-green of the pines, or the mellow golden-green of the hazel undergrowth, became subdued, just as it is in very old churches with greenish glass. It was altogether beautiful, and so solemn and still; not a sound to be heard, save the chirruping of insects, and a few low bird-notes—not a full chorus, but a subdued under-tone.
Now I am going off to spend a long day by myself in the glorious forest. I only wish you could be here to enjoy it all with me.
The “Father of the Forest,”
Friday, 2d August.
They say that “familiarity breeds contempt,” but assuredly there are exceptions where it tends to deeper reverence, and foremost amongst such rank these, monarchs of the forest. I know that at first I could not understand them—now, day by day, I can better realise their majesty.
From the very fact that all the trees are so large, one fails to realise the magnitude of the giants. All have increased in proportion. It is as if, having looked at a European forest through the wrong end of your opera glasses, you suddenly turn them, and lo! you behold a Californian forest; but it requires a mental calculation to convince yourself that the transformation is something quite out of the common—in short, that, like Gulliver, you have passed from Lilliput to Brobdingnag.
It is only when you come to walk in and out of hollow trees, and to circle round them, and take a constitutional by walking alongside of a fallen giant, or perhaps (if it has done duty as a chimney before it came to grief) by riding inside the hollow for a considerable distance, that you begin to understand their size. You do so best when, standing on the ground beside a prostrate tree, half buried in a ditch of its own forming, you look up at a red wall, rising perhaps fifteen or twenty feet above your head, bulging outwards considerably, and extending in a straight line for 300 feet along the ground, and tell yourself that it is only a tree!
The owners of the forest, who carefully preserve this grove for the enjoyment of all the world, have erected tall ladders, to enable people to climb on to some of these heights, and walk along the fallen trees as if on garden terraces. It sounds Cockney, but it is pleasant. It is not every one who could scale these red ramparts without the aid of a ladder, and you gain a much finer view of the surrounding forest from an elevation of twenty or thirty feet; while, by clambering among the upturned roots of some deposed monarch, you may perch yourself some forty feet in the air, as I am at the present time.
I am snugly ensconced among the roots of the poor old Father of the Forest, a gigantic ruin, which perchance may have been a brave sapling in the days when “there were giants” on the young earth, and which little dreamt that in this nineteenth century a pale pigmy from a distant barbaric isle would be nestling among its roots, and using them as a writing-table!
By the most moderate computation, this forest-monarch must have survived the changes and chances of three thousand years! Mr Muir made a most careful calculation of the annular rings of a fallen tree, which was sawed across at four feet from the ground. It measured 107 feet in circumference inside the bark. The outer part of the trunk is so very close-grained that he counted thirty annular rings to the inch. Had this proportion been uniform throughout, it would have proved the age of the tree to be 6400 years. The central rings were, however, about twice the width of those formed by the aged tree, so he made a very liberal allowance, and set down the probable age at 3500 years!
One of the most remarkable points connected with these huge trees, is the extraordinarily small root which forms the pedestal for so ponderous a weight,—small comparatively, with little spread, and literally no depth—merely a superficial hold on the earth’s surface.
As I look on the interlacing roots which form my cedarwood bowers, and then let my eye travel along the vast stem till it loses itself in the forest, forming a broad roadway, along which (were it but level) two carriages could run with ease, it does appear a mystery passing strange how so slight a support can have enabled so huge a body to resist the wild storms of so many centuries.
It is estimated that this tree must, when perfect, have been about 450 feet in height! Now its summit is decayed, but what remains is like a long mountain; and two large archways have been cut into the side of the said mountain, in order that those whose taste lies in that line may ride into the hollow trunk and come out by the farther opening. Only think what a majestic tree this must have been, rising perpendicular for 210 feet ere throwing out one branch! It was broken in falling, but a straight column of 300 feet in length remains, and measures eighteen feet in circumference at the point of fracture.
There are many such tree-terraces lying about the forest, and their soft red bark forms a pleasant footpath; but only those with the Cockney ladders are accessible to me! The said bark is a most curious fibrous material, like rich sienna-coloured furniture-velvet, about eighteen inches thick. Small blocks of it can be bought at the hotel, as memorial pin-cushions. Happily this grove, and all that is in it, is held sacred,—so relic-worshippers are supplied from more distant trees. From the extremely porous nature of this bark, it appears probable that it may in some measure act the part of lungs to the huge tree, which surely could scarcely find sufficient breathing-power in the scanty foliage which adorns its lofty summit.
All the Big trees of this district are concentrated in two groves,—this little forest-gem of Calaveras, and a much larger belt, known as the South Park Grove, on the Stanislaus river, about six miles from here. I hope to find my way there to-morrow.
In this Calaveras grove all the Sequoias lie within an area of fifty acres, over which space altogether about a hundred lie scattered singly or in groups. Of these, twenty attain a circumference of about 80 feet near the base, and this portly old “Father” is found to measure 110 feet round. Of the trees now standing, five exceed 300 feet in height, and one measures 327. About twenty-five are said to exceed 250 feet in height. The “Mother of the Forest” is 321 feet high, and 90 feet in circumference. Truly a portly dame!1
[1Though there is every probability that the Sequoia will maintain its supremacy as the most massive column in the world’s forests, it must perforce yield the palm of altitude to the Australian Eucalyptus. In the valley of the Watts River, in Victoria, many fallen trees have been measured as they lie on the ground, and found to exceed 350 feet in length. One mighty giant had fallen so as to form a bridge across a deep ravine. It had been broken in falling, but the portion which remained intact measured 435 feet in length; and as its girth at the point of fracture is nine feet, its discoverer estimated that the perfect tree must have measured fully 500 feet! Its circumference five feet above the roots is fifty-four feet.
In the Dandenong district of Victoria an almond-leaf gum-tree (Eucalyptus amygdalina) has been carefully measured, and is found to be 430 feet. It attains a height of 380 feet before throwing out a branch. Its circumference is sixty feet.
Tasmania also produces specimens of Eucalyptus of 350 feet in height, and which rise 200 feet ere forming a branch. One near Hobart Town is eighty-six feet in girth, and till ten years ago towered to a height of 300 feet, but is now a ruin.]
I cannot imagine that these dry figures convey anything to your mind; so I had better give you a few simple facts,—such as, that many of these hollowed trees have been used as camps by explorers. There is one, called Pioneers’ Cabin, which is 300 feet in height, and measures 90 feet round five feet above the ground. It has been hollowed by fire, forming a dark cavern, in which fifty persons can find sitting room! Some have been used for stabling horses; and there is one, called “Burnt Tree,” which lies prostrate on the ground, and measures 330 feet. It was so hollowed by fire that it became a mere chimney, and now those who fancy going through charcoal tunnels can ride in at one opening and out at another, a distance of sixty feet!
Soon after this grove was discovered, some Goths determined to make known its glories by distributing sections of wood and of bark to various parts of the world. To this end, one of the noblest trees was felled,—an operation which kept five men hard at work for twenty-two days, boring through the tree with pump-augers. Even after the poor giant had been sawn in two, it refused to fall, and its murderers had to work for three days more, driving in wedges on one side, till they succeeded in tilting it over; and great was the fall of it. Then they smoothed the poor stump, at six feet above the ground, removed its bark, and built a pavilion over it, in which a party of thirty-two persons found room to dance,—not a savage war-dance over the mighty, conquered monarch, but commonplace quadrilles, with attendant musicians and spectators, all crowded into this novel ball-room. Its diameter is twenty-four feet, and its age, reckoned by the rings of annual growth, is found to be about 1300 years.
More barbarous still was the fate reserved for the venerable Mother of the Forest, which is the tallest tree in the grove—327 feet in height, and which attains to 137 feet before throwing out a branch. She was sacrilegiously stripped of her warm plush coat (Sequoia bark is really very like coarse furniture-velvet, and, moreover, is about eighteen inches thick). To the height of 116 feet from the base, the bark was removed in sections, each duly numbered, in order to be rebuilt and exhibited in various places. Unbelieving sight-seers supposed the huge erection to be a fraud, made up of many trees. Finally, it was taken to the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, where it was unfortunately destroyed in the great fire. Strange to say, though the poor tree was thus ruthlessly dealt with in the year 1854, she is still alive, though naked and miserable. I can see her from where I now sit—a ghastly object—her sides still transfixed with wooden implements of torture,—the St Sebastian of the forest. So I look in the opposite direction, where, on either hand, tower magnificent groups, like stately obelisks of burnished sienna, with leafy background of green and gold, fading away in dream-like forest-glades, through which the breeze floats fitfully, with low faint moaning.
I spoke unadvisedly in calling these huge stems “obelisks.” They are true columns—fluted columns, for the bark is deeply grooved with long vertical indentations, which produce just the effect of fluting. These majestic columns rise 200 feet ere throwing out a branch, and then only small stems, which support a leafy capital.
If you had ever seen the Kootub Minar—the colossal red sandstone minaret in Old Delhi—I could best compare them to it; for not only has it just such flutings as these trees, but it also expands considerably towards the base. So do these tall minarets—in fact, they are almost shaped like a funnel at the base; hence the very varied measurements given by different writers, some taking the circumference at their own height from the ground, while others measure scientifically at a height of twelve or fifteen feet, from which height upwards the diminution is imperceptible.
There is one little detail which savours unpleasantly of Cockneyism—namely, that every Sequoia in this grove has received a distinctive name, which in some cases is engraved on a granite tablet, and inserted in the bark. I do not dislike such names as “Pride of the Forest,” “The Beauty of the Forest,” “The Knight of the Forest,” “Queen, and her Maids of Honour”; nor do “Hercules,” “The Twins,” “The Hermit,” “The Fallen Monarch,” or “Mother and Son,” sound amiss. There is something characteristic in such names as “The Granite State,” “Old Republican,” “Old Dominion,” “Brother Jonathan.”
No one can grudge the dedication of a special tree to “Old Dowd,” the discoverer of the grove, who was supposed to be telling such “tall” stories, that he had to invent a real “tall” grizzly bear before he could induce his comrades to accompany him to Calaveras. Every one must acknowledge that “George Washington” is well named, and possibly the ever-green memory of some great naturalists is happily commemorated. But why every tree must be alike nicknamed in honour of minor mortals of exceedingly varied merit is a mystery to the mere lover of beautiful nature.
One tree is happily dedicated to William Cullen Bryant, whose words are inscribed on a marble tablet—
“The Groves were God’s first Temple.”
One of the loveliest groups is known as “The Three Graces”; they seem to spring from one root, and tapering symmetrically upward, tower side by side to a height of 290 feet, their united circumference being about 95 feet. The “Two Guardsmen” are each 300 feet in height, and respectively 65 and 70 feet in circumference. These stand sentinel at the entrance to this wonderful forest.
But there is no use in attempting to paint such a place in words. All the thousand details that go to make it a scene of enchantment are indescribable. You must imagine for yourself the drowsy hum of bees and other insects, the flash of blue jays, an occasional glimpse of a humming-bird, hovering for a few seconds, then vanishing, or a flight of butterflies, a heavy-winged moth, the aromatic fragrance of pine and cypress and cedar, all mingling
“Like sweet thoughts in a dream,”
and imparting a soothing sense of calm content, which makes mere existence a joy. I am sure the very breath of these resinous pine-forests is balmy and health-giving, and I do not wonder that your favourite fir-tree oil is credited with such wondrous powers of healing.1
[1It is much to be regretted that the curative properties of fir-oil are not more widely known. The oil prepared in the forests of Germany has been found invaluable for external use in the cure of rheumatism, and of obstinate coughs and kindred maladies.
In England, the Sanitas Oil Company, who adopt a fir-tree as their trade-mark, now offer us various preparations for the cleansing of wounds purifying of all unclean things and places, and for disinfecting purposes in general. Among the manifold forms in which this fir essence appears, are oil, soap, fluid, tooth-powder, nursery powder, ointment, &c. The only objection to the use of these is the overpowering smell of turpentine which seems to cling for ever to any object to which they have been applied—a clean smell certainly, but lacking the charm of the breath of the great coniferous forests.
One of the valuable purposes to which fir-tree oil has been successfully applied is in the destruction of blight, scale, green-fly, and all manner of insects on garden plants. As an experiment on a small scale, mix a tablespoonful of either German fir-oil or Sanitas in a tumbler of warm water, and therewith sponge the leaves and branches. Leave this to dry, and a few hours later syringe the plant with tepid water, when all animal life will be found to be extinct. For more general use, lay the plants on their side over a tub, and syringe the whole, but especially the under side of the leaves, with a preparation of half a pint of fir-oil to a gallon of water. When this has well dried, drench the plants thoroughly, and the insect pest will assuredly perish.
For soft-wooded and woolly-leaved plants, the preparation should be much weaker than for those with hard wood and shiny leaves. In the case of vines and fruit-trees which have been attacked by blight, it is recommended to follow up the preliminary washing by a coat of ointment made of fir-oil, sulphur, and soft-soap, mixed with clay—warranted a sure insecticide.]
I certainly enjoy this existence to the full, generally breakfasting at daybreak, and then starting for the day, carrying luncheon and a bottle of rich creamy milk, which I hide in some lovely nook, to which I can find my way back at my leisure, and meanwhile go off exploring—not, however, without keeping my eyes open, for there are a good many rattlesnakes about, and I have “happened” on several, especially one which was curled up under this very tree, in a hollow, where I often hide my drawing-blocks. I can tell you I slipped them in quick and went off, leaving the snake on guard. He was faithless to his charge, however, for when I came back next morning he was gone.
My only noisty companions are the woodpeckers,1 who, with their hard, sharp beak, drill deep holes all over the pine-trees; sometimes there are so many of them, all tap, tap, tapping, that you would think there must surely be carpenters working in the forest. I have seen trees with hundreds of holes in them, pierced to the depth of a couple of inches, till they are literally like a honeycomb—each hole bored as neatly as if it had been made by a joiner’s auger.
As fast as they are made, the woodpeckers and their partners, the blue jays, carefully deposit an acorn in each hole as their winter store, always with the point turned inwards, and the flat base just closes the opening. The careful woodpecker always selects one which exactly fits the hole, while the less tidy blue jay drops in the first he finds, whether it fits or not. Some of these acorns breed worms and some do not; so then the two birds divide the store, the woodpeckers eating the worms, while their friends get the sound acorns. Here you have a true cooperative society in the forest.
One day, while I was sitting quite still, a pair of woodpeckers came and hunted a dead tree beside me. First, Mrs Woodpecker walked up, closely followed by her husband (with his dandy scarlet cap). She went on very quickly, tapping the bark, where I could see nothing. But every minute she pulled out a fat white maggot, of which she swallowed half, and gave her husband half, like a dutiful wife. Then, when she was tired, he went first, and shared his bag with her in the same way.
This maggot is another creature which bores holes in timber, but which seems never to attack healthy trees, or, indeed, living trees. But so soon as one falls, or begins to decay, or is half burnt by a forest fire, then the pine-borer1 finds it out, and lays its eggs beneath the bark. It is an ugly grub about two inches long, and a quarter of an inch thick, with a proboscis very like an auger—a capital tool which never seems to get blunt, for with it this diligent workman bores its way right through any large timber. If you listen attentively as you sit near some great fallen tree, you can distinctly hear him mining and tunnelling in the heart of the wood.
Here he is left to work undisturbed; for luckily, though this beautiful forest has not been reserved as national property, it is most carefully preserved by men who appreciate its unique beauty, and will never suffer these grand trees to be cut down to make railway sleepers or to build log-huts. But in districts where trees are only valued as so much timber, and good logs and planks are worth so many dollars, there this little grub is a very serious enemy; and so, as soon as a tree is blown over or half burnt, if the lumberers consider it worth saving, they take care to strip off its bark before the spring, that their enemy may be deprived of this nice dry nest wherein to deposit the eggs, which would so quickly produce a large able-bodied family of destructive borers.
Here, as usual, my merriest friends are the mischievous little squirrels, always full of fun and frolic, busily nibbling pine-cones, or nutting in the hazel thickets. The whole country swarms with them. There are various grey squirrels, but my especial companions are the chipmunks—such jolly little beasts! On the highest points of the bleak, cold granite mountains, they whisk about, apparently quite as happy as their cousins in these beautiful forests. They are the sauciest little things imaginable.
Yesterday a couple came close to me as I was sketching under a big tree. I sat very still, for fear of frightening them; but I need not have taken that precaution, for they did not mind me a bit. In fact they were very angry at my staying there, and one of them sat on the side of the tree chattering at me, whistling and dancing, till I got tired of its noise, and threw a cone at it. It merely dodged round the tree and fetched its wife, and then the two together sat and scolded me furiously. They made such a noise that it became very tiresome indeed, so I threw several cones at them; but they were always too quick for me, and I had to put up with their chatter for more than an hour, after which they got tired and went away—much to my satisfaction.
Seriously (and not without good cause) as our British foresters object to the mischief done by squirrels in nibbling and breaking off the young shoots of growing timber, it cannot be denied that they are useful helpers as nurserymen, and constantly practise Sir Walter Scott’s great maxim, “Aye be stickin’ in a tree.”
For they are most provident little people, and, while enjoying their full share of good things in the present, do not fail to lay up abundant stores for wintry days. They establish subterranean granaries, in which they conceal all manner of nuts and seeds; and as they are always busy either eating or storing, they contrive in the course of the autumn to conceal ten times more material than they ever require.
So these carefully buried seeds spring up, and become the nurslings of the forest. Or, in the open country, they grow up singly, where they have room to expand; and there is no doubt that many of the noblest trees which give beauty to the land owe owe existence to the provident instincts of these wise little folk.1
[1Squirrels are not nature’s only good nurserymen. Rooks are equally useful, from their habit of burying both fir-cones and acorns for future use. An authentic instance of this is mentioned in a ‘Natural History of Westmoreland and Cumberland,’ published in 1709, in which the author, Mr Robinson, tells how he watched “a flock of crows” planting acorns; and how, a quarter of a century later, he found that these acorns had produced a grove of oaks, tall enough for crows to build in.]
Well would it be for California if her human inhabitants would give some heed to the future of her timber, instead of so ruthlessly destroying it to meet the requirements of the moment. One of the trees which suffers most severly at their hands is the noble chestnut-oak, the bark of which is found to be admirably adapted for tanning leather. So the beautiful growth of centuries is sacrificed to the manufacture of boots and saddles, and whole districts are denuded of their fine old trees, which are cut down wholesale, solely for the sake of their bark, which is peeled off, and the poor stripped trunks (which truly have fallen among thieves) are left lying on the ground to rot. Already the havoc done has been so great as to forebode the total destruction of one of the handsomest indigenous trees.
To-day an Indian boy offered me for sale some beautiful specimens of the strange nest of the tarantula spider,—or rather, of the trap-door spider, which is so called in this country. It is a wonderfully ingenious architect, and displays amazing skill and patience in contriving and constructing its home, which, in truth, is a fortress, with a strong door to keep out all besiegers.
The nest is a little well of clay, sunk in some earthy bank, just large enough to admit an average-sized human thumb. The interior is smoothly polished, but the tarantula is not content with bare plastered walls. She is a diligent worker, ever weaving dainty fabrics; so she lines her home with a double curtain,—a hanging of coarse spider-cloth next the wall, and over that a rich white satin material, smooth and glossy.
The well-like nest is almost invariably tunnelled into the side of a sloping bank. It is closed by a circular door, fastened at the upper side by a most ingenious hinge. It opens outward, so that when the spider goes out the door falls into its place and closes of its own accord, fitting so closely into the rim of the nest, and covering it so neatly, that no foe would ever notice the little disc in the earthen bank, which is the only trace of the tarantula’s home. But, to make assurance doubly sure, the wary spider provides means to secure it on the inside. At the side farthest from the hinge it leaves several small holes in the disc, and by clinging to these with its claws, it keeps the door tightly closed from the inside, so that no enemy can enter.
The door is in itself a marvellous contrivance, and a monument of patient ingenuity. Though barely the eighth of an inch in thickness, it is composed of thirty triple layers, each consisting of a coating of clay, lined with two ply of spider-cloth similar to the tapestry within the nest. These ninety layers are all fastened together, making a solid door, which is largest on the outside, and fits into a groove, so that it closes quite tight. I suppose sufficient air for breathing purposes comes in at the keyholes.
The enemy against which this spider defends itself so securely is a yellow-winged dragon-fly, which darts upon the spider, stabs and devours it, and even endeavours to scratch open the closed door behind which its prey has retreated.
I have seen very few Indians in this part of the country, but there are several parties of white campers, who have come up from the dusty plains to lay in stores of health, and who seem to be thoroughly enjoying their gipsy lives.
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