A Dweller on Two Planets

If there are sermons in stones and books in the running brooks, then Tehastel’s craggy pile a noble library, in veritas.  In it the vastness, the grandeur and the solemnity of nature are expressed in mystic numbers carved in the eternal granite.  On those stony, stratified pages, Nature’s students may read the doings of the gnomes, mother earth’s treasurers.  Here, too, in characters of lava is writ Pluto’s kingly record.  Aye!  ‘tis indeed Nature’s own volume, bound between covers of snow and ice; and marking the treasures thereof is a silvery ribbon whose ends hang out of the vast tome at the north on end, at the south the other the name of the one “McCloud” river, and of the other the “Sacramento.”  Again, two lesser markers are in this sublime epic, viz.: “Pitt” and “Shasta” rivers.  A volume of poems should bear poetic title; so shall this.  Can we bestow one more appropriate than the aboriginal appellation “Ieka” a name retained and used by the earliest white men whose eye gazed on that land, far northern California land of romance, of gold and of adventure; retained through that intuitive recognition of eternal fitness, which pioneer and trapper have ever, in all lands, exhibited toward existent nomenclature.  For years the noble mountain bore, for white as for aborigine, the name it had fetched from out the night of time, as its sister peak far to the north Mt. Rainier retained its primal christening of “Tacoma.”  But, alas, for human conceit!  Alas, for man’s vain discontent, unable to let well enough alone!  To the one snowy mount came a Russian trapper, and thereafter “Ieka” was no more on the tongues of men, unless, indeed, it was still lovingly murmured by the dusky Modoc and his savage bride.  To the other glittering peak went an egotistic Englishman.  His lordship found “Tacoma” “so beastly savage, doncher know,” and so over its Indian appellate he tacked his own patronymic.  Time evens all things, and “ever is justice done.”  The patriotic Americanism of the Northern Pacific Railroad topographers reinstated on the company maps musical “Tacoma,” tossed to rubbish the imported name, and rebuked one egotist’s vanity.  That “Shasta Buttes” will ever know a parellel experience is problematical; if not, ‘tis perhaps as well, for American gratitude willingly concedes the privilege of nomination of this proud peak to its friend, and, in the ‘60s, champion of our national autonomy – – – – Russia.  So much for a kind of mental view, past and present, of this pride of the crags and peaks.


On the old wagon road which existed ere ever iron rails linked Oregon’s greatest city to the metropolis of the Golden West, there still stands, as for thirty years, not many miles from the State line, a station established for stage line uses, and “run” by “Daddy Dollarhyde.”  A lonely place, hidden amongst towering pines, which make regal raiment for the great “Siskiyou Ridge” of the Coast Range extending in gloomy grandeur not miles, but hundreds of miles Dollarhyde’s appeals to the heart of the traveller as Saharan oasis to the weary caravan. “’Tis a lodge in some vast wilderness,” and in the days of this second “Shasta Scene” (A.D. 1884) was the only footprint of civilization for many a long mile.

Leaving Dollarhyde’s the road wound as directly as possible up a two-mile stretch of exceedingly steep mountain.  Up this steep, long before aught but painted dawn lit those grand ridges, a youth, on foot and alone, was climbing.  A tramp?  Temporarily; down below, at Dollarhyde’s, the rest of his party yet slept.  Up, up he toiled, stopping when the love of nature prompted him to “hold communion with her visible forms,” and listen to her “various language”; pausing, the better to enjoy the exhilarating freedom, the beauty of the piney slopes, the whirr of the early grouse, and the chattering of squirrel and chipmunk.  Once, enchanted by the exquisite charm of a crystal spring that leapt into and across the road, he staid his steps; and again, he stood, gazing afar down into the gloom of a great canyon, which became lost to view “in the dawn’s early light.”  The summit at last!  But still no sun in the sky.  All beneath was yet quietly resting ‘neath the sway of Morpheus.  Ah! what is that?  Away in the south is a huge, dim mass, dull grey below, but, where its peak holds aloft the sky, ‘tis a rosy, glowing pink.  As the youth gazes, spellbound, Old Sol dispels the valley glooms, thrusts aside the night, ad the new day is born.  The rose tints are gone, but also the grey, and in their place appears a giant, pointed cone of purest white, albeit streaked at its base with black lines each some awful gorge.  It rises not like other mountain piles from ranges rivalling its height no, all alone it stands forth from its high plateau, piercing heaven’s blue, from base to summit, eleven thousand feet, from ocean’s plane to apical peak thirty-five hundred more Shasta, O, Mt. Shasta.


Of the youth, what?  A year later we find him suffering a violent fever the “gold-fever,” which yet lingers in that region of once famed mines, lingers, though it be now A. D. 1890.  Away up on a mountain’s side with pick, pan and shovel he has camped where a little gold may always be found; where hope whispers he may find a “pile” some time and fortune.

All through that region forest fires have raged many weeks; all the valleys lie hidden under a pile of smoke.  But the miner on the mountain is above it all, and as he labors looks out over the undulating surface of the silvery, smoky ocean, down below.  He sees a strange sight.  No waves disturb this sea, which, nearly a mile deep, extends away beyond scope of vision.  Two or three islands dot its expanse; these are all that is left to see of lofty mountain peaks whose bases are hidden.  Perchance the words “smoke-ocean” seem figurative.  Look heaven ward from its bottom down in the valleys; the sun, appearing like a globe of blood, needs no colored glass to shield too sensitive eyes.  Now go aloft to the miner on the mountain, looking down on, but seeing not, Yreka (town).  With him again gaze at the “islands”; one only of them is not black in hue.  It is the largest; sharp-summitted, white-shrouded in eternal snows, Mt. Shasta rises, a noble island in the murky ocean about it nine thousand feet.


Night.  Otherwise the same scene.  Our miner sits in his tent door, meditating on the novel beauty of the scene before, below him.  A north breeze has rolled the smoky sea silently away, and left no sign.  Beneath the tent outspreads a vast abyss, dark, silent, “the night’s Plutonian shore.”  Our miner’s fancy fills it with golden phantoms.  Only the stars “night’s tall taper” lighten the gloom.  But far away east, over ranges of lesser mountains dim shapes couched in the darkness far away, miles real as well as seeming, familiar shadowy shape of vast, uncertain size appears to shut form sight vision of some awful conflagration.  Look!  It grows, it brightens, till on the charmed eyes bursts a sudden, intense spark, then a full flame in Ieka’s side ‘tis the moon at its roundest!  And now Ieka’s snows glow in its ray like molten silver, the dark abys before, beneath the tent lightens, the phantoms flee, while over all, sublime, glorious, supreme rises Shasta’s argent image.


Traveling, southward, miner no more, the youth bends his course.  A year agone the golden phantoms died, the mine caved in, and “no man knows that sepulchre” in the wilds of Siskiyou.  Winter wet had extinguished the flames, and laid the smoky sea.  But the succeeding summer saw all aglow again, matched by the lightnings of heaven.  Our traveler is at the very base of Ieka Butte, and he and his steed crawl along the slopes and vales in the bed of the fireborn ocean of smoke as do crustacea on the bottoms of aqueous sees.  A flaw of wind decreases the denseness of the clouds, and above his head he sees an indistinct shape, lit feebly by the smoke-smothered moon, at its full now, as on that other night, a year ago.  Beautiful through the murky air it is not; but when told that the point dimly seen overhead is the smoke-free, gleaming we gaze at it from its own base, we fell an indescribable sense of awe.  And we liken the mount, with the flaming forests glowing at its feet, and its own muffled form rising in obscured grandeur to a silent sentinel by his watch fire, wrapped around with his cloak, and meditating on the trust he has kept, lo! these many ages, still keeps, and forever!


Returned from the far south, and in camp.  In camp at the timber line on Tehastel’s side, awaiting the nightfall, and through the long afternoon gazing out over a wealth of scenery not in word power to paint.  To the north “Goose Nest” mountain its crater ever full of fleecy snow rears itself aloft eleven thousand feet.  Down yonder in that gem-like valley is the lovely town of Sissons; down, to our traveler, albeit on a plane seen thousand feet above the ocean.  Night.  But not in a tent door.  No, on mule-back, he and a companion are toiling upwards.  There is no moon, no wind, no sound, save a few strange noises arising from the nether regions.  No moon; yet plenty of light, since the snow seems self luminous, so that objects appear against it in sharp silhouette.  How black the bleak rocks and ledges!  And those glimmerings of light afar in the night what are they?  Lamps; lamps miles away, thousands of feet lower, yet in seeming not so far off.  It is cold; oh, so frightfully cold, numbing the mind!  And still as the grave.  No sounds now arise to the ear; ‘tis too high for aught save silence.  So cold; and yet mid-day sun heats reflect from the snows as from a mirror, and then the temperature is fearful to fell, yet the snow melts not.  Here is a hot, sulphur spring, one thousand feet below the apex.  Warm your chilled hands in the hot mud, wipe them quickly, less they freeze, and climb on.  Your eyes, could you see them, congested as they are in the rarified atmosphere, the color of liver, would horrify you.  Your breathing pains you; your heart-beats sound like thuds of a pile driver, your throat is afire from thirst.  No matter; here is the top!  Two o’clock a. m. in July, 188_.  As yet no light, but faint dawn.  But ere long the soul  is awe-stricken by a weird glow in the east, which lights nothing.  The beholders are filled with a strange disquiet; see the waxing light, and in a fearful wonder, almost terror see the great sun, scarce heralded by the aerial rarity, spring from beneath the horizon.  Yet all below is in “the darkest hour before the dawn.”  No ridges, no hills appear, no valleys, nothing but “night’s deep darkness.”  We seem to have lost the world, and, for the nonce, are free of time!  The planet is swallowed up, leaving the mountain top’s half acre sole visible spot of all the Universe, save only the fearful splendor of Helios.  Understand now, for you may, the sensations of Campbell’s “last man.”  The world all gone, and self and comrade alone on a small spot in mid-air, whereon the almost rayless sun casts cold beams of strange, weird brightness.  Look north.  Afar in the night are four cones of light Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, Mt. Tacoma, and St. Helen’s tall torch, all peers of our Ieka.  As the Day King soars higher lesser peaks appear, then long black ridges ranges of vast extent begin near by, only to lose themselves in distant darkness.

Now the void of night vanishes, hills stand forth, silvery spots and streaks appear as the dawn lights lakes and rivers, and at last, no fog obscuring, in the distant west, seventy miles away, is seen a great gray plain, the Pacific’ broad expanse.  To the south interrupted streaks of silver show where flow Pitt and Sacramento rivers, while over two hundred miles away behold an indentation of California’s central coast, marking the Golden Gate, and San Francisco’s world-famed bay.


Beside a roaring, dashing mountain torrent falling in myriad cascades of foam white as drifted snow, interspersed with pools of quiet water -deep, trout-filled, blue, reflecting flowery banks and towering pine-crested ridges, “ribs of the planet,” we pause.  The day is hot, but the waters of this branch of McCloud river are cold as the pristine snows of Shasta from which they flow to our feet and thence away.

We recline on the brink of a deep blue crystal pool, idly casting pebbles into and shivering the image of a tall basalt cliff reflected from the mirror-calm surface.

What secrets perchance are about us!  We do not know as we lie there, our bodies resting, our souls filled with peace, nor do we know until many years are passed out through the back door of time that that tall basalt cliff conceals a doorway.  We do not suspect this, not that a long tunnel stretches away, far into the interior of majestic Shasta.  Wholly un-thought is it that there lie at the tunnel’s far end vast apartments the home of a mystic brotherhood, whose occult arts hollowed that tunnel and mysterious dwelling: – “Sach” the name is.  Are you indredulous as to these things?  Go there, or suffer yourself to be taken as I was, once!  See, as I saw, not with the vision of flesh, the walls, polished as by jewelers, though excavated as by giants; floors carpeted with long, fleecy gray fabric that looked like fur, but was a mineral product; ledges intersected by the builders, and in their wonderful polish exhibiting veinings of gold, or silver, or green copper ores, and maculations of precious stones.  Verily, a mystic temple, made afar from the adding crowd, a refuge whereof those who, “Seeing, see not,” can truly say:

“And no man knows***

“And no man saw it e’er.”

Once I was there, friend, casting pebbles in the stream’s deep pools; yet it was then hid, for only a few are privileged.  And departing, the spot was forgotten, and today, unable as any one who reads this, I cannot tell its place.  Curiosity will never unlock that secret.  Does it truly exist?  Seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.  Shasta is a true guardian and silently towers, giving no sign of that within his breast.  But there is a key.  The one who first conquers self, Shasta will not deny.

This is the last scene.  You have viewed the proud peak both near and far; by day, by night; in the smoke, and in the clear mountain air; seen its interior, and from its apex gazed upon it and the globe stretched away ‘neath your feet.  ‘Tis a sight of God’s handiwork, sublime, awful, never-to-be-forgotten; and as thy soul hath sated itself with admiration thereof, in that measure be now filled with His Peace.