Adventures out West. “There is no end of wholesome medicine in such an experience.”
Text excerpted from Mark Twain's Roughing It, chapters 22 and 23. “Tahoe Passage” was commissioned by Triple Canopy as part of its Internet as Material project area, supported in part by the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and the Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston.
It was the end of August, and the skies were cloudless and the weather superb.
Johnny K— and I devoted our time to amusement.
We had heard a world of talk about the marvelous beauty of Lake Tahoe, and finally curiosity drove us thither to see it.
At last the Lake burst upon us—a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet higher still!
As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.
As the darkness closed down and the stars came out and spangled the great mirror with jewels, we smoked meditatively in the solemn hush and forgot our troubles and our pains.
In due time we spread our blankets in the warm sand between two large boulders
and soon fell asleep.
The wind rose just as we were losing consciousness, and we were lulled to sleep by the beating of the surf upon the shore.
We never moved a muscle all night, but waked at early dawn in the original positions, and got up at once, thoroughly refreshed, free from soreness, and brim full of friskiness.
It is always very cold on that lake shore in the night, but we had plenty of blankets
and were warm enough.
There is no end of wholesome medicine
in such an experience.
The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious.
It is the same the angels breathe.
As soon as we had eaten breakfast we got in the boat and skirted along the lake shore about three miles and disembarked. If there is any life that is happier than the life we led on our timber ranch for the next two or three weeks, it must be a sort of life which I have not read of in books or experienced in person.
We did not see a human being but ourselves during the time,
or hear any sounds but those that were made by the wind and the waves, the sighing of the pines, and now and then the far-off thunder of an avalanche.
The forest about us was dense and cool, the sky above us was cloudless and brilliant with sunshine, the broad lake before us was glassy and clear, or rippled and breezy, or black and storm-tossed, according to Nature’s mood. The view was always fascinating, bewitching, entrancing. The eye was never tired of gazing, night or day, in calm or storm; it suffered but one grief, and that was that it could not look always, but must close sometimes in sleep.
We watched the tinted pictures grow and brighten upon the water till every little detail of forest, precipice and pinnacle was wrought in and finished.
We never took any paregoric to make us sleep.
We usually pushed out a hundred yards or so from shore, and then lay down on the thwarts, in the sun, and let the boat drift by the hour whither it would.
We seldom talked. It interrupted the Sabbath stillness, and marred the dreams the luxurious rest and indolence brought.
So singularly clear was the water, that where it was only twenty or thirty feet deep the bottom was so perfectly distinct that the boat seemed floating in the air!
Yes, where it was even eighty feet deep. Every little pebble was distinct, every speckled trout, every hand’s-breadth of sand. Often, as we lay on our faces, a granite boulder, as large as a village church, would start out of the bottom apparently, and seem climbing up rapidly to the surface, till presently it threatened to touch our faces, and we could not resist the impulse to seize an oar and avert the danger.
But the boat would float on, and the boulder descend again, and then we could see that when we had been exactly above it, it must still have been twenty or thirty feet below the surface.
Down through the transparency of these great depths, the water was not merely transparent, but dazzlingly, brilliantly so. All objects seen through it had a bright, strong vividness, not only of outline, but of every minute detail, which they would not have had when seen simply through the same depth of atmosphere.
So empty and airy did all spaces seem below us, and so strong was the sense of floating high aloft in mid-nothingness, that we called these boat-excursions “balloon-voyages.”
The next morning we started back to the old camp, but while out a long way from shore, so great a storm came up that we dared not try to land.
So I baled out the seas we shipped, and Johnny pulled heavily through the billows till we had reached a point three or four miles beyond the camp.
The storm was increasing, and it became evident that it was better to take the hazard of beaching the boat than go down in a hundred fathoms of water;
so we ran in, with tall white-caps following.
In the morning the tempest had gone down, and we paddled down to the camp
without any unnecessary delay.
We made many trips to the lake after that, and had many a hairbreadth escape and bloodcurdling adventure which will never be recorded in any history.