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The North-east Peak. — The Beginning of a Long Search. — A Meteor, with a Calculation concerning it. —
A New Theory of the Earth by a Daring Speculator.
CLUEY had boiled meat enough to last cold for several meals. We had, therefore, to make the pudding and coffee for breakfast. This was soon disposed of. We climbed back to the top of the ridge, whence we had descended the evening before, and during the forenoon made our way along to the north-east peak, which, according to Wade’s measurement, does not lack fifty feet of being as high as the one we had ascended the day before. It is broader, however; and perhaps seems lower on that account.
In ascending Katahdin, the tourist should not slight this north-east peak. The view toward the north and east is very fine, — much better than from any other point on the ridge. The whole of the vast county of Aroostook, and even a considerable portion of North-west New Brunswick, is within the field of view, and, with a good glass, might be quite correctly made out. Even with our little pocket-glass we could follow the course of the Aroostook River down into the Valley of the St. John’s; and, farther north, the Eagle Lakes could be seen, shining on the horizon.
After a lunch of cold meat and pudding, we went down the north-east side of the ridge, descending from the peak seven hundred feet by the aneroid, and selected the site for a permanent camp for a week, amid a clump of large, low beeches. This north-east peak we had decided to examine thoroughly. It might be the one where the Indian had found the lead. Beginning at this extreme north-east point, we resolved to search along the whole northern side of the mountain, which presents a long ridge running north-east by south-west nearly. This north side is not as steep, nor yet as craggy, as the south side; but it has a vast number of spurs and ledgy faces standing out amid the black spruce growth, which clings to the granite flanks of the ridge like a sable vesture.
During the next fortnight our route was along this ridge, following it down toward the south west in the direction of Lake Chesuncook, searching every crag and spur and ledge. Out West such a search is turned “prospecting,” I believe. It is grim work, call it by whatever name you may. Should this little narrative fall under the eye of a geologist, I have no doubt he will laugh heartily at our undertaking; and yet he will know something of the toil and infinite patience it takes to look over twenty square miles of craggy mountain-side thoroughly. It was fun for the first half-day; but it soon degenerated into about the toughest work I ever engaged in. Only a veteran geologist can know the perseverance and grit which it takes, as day after day of disappointment accumulates on a fellow, to keep at it.
I cannot expect the reader to sympathize greatly with us in this our rather boyish, and withal doughty undertaking; and shall, therefore, confine my account to the more lively incidents of our stay in this wild region.
Below the beeches the mountain sloped off into a deep hollow, along the bed of which there were several small ponds.
As we expected to remain here some days, we constructed, under Cluey’s oversight, a “half-shelter” of stakes and poles, which we thatched with hemlock-boughs. We had found the nights rather chilly at this elevation. The shelter would make us warmer, and, in case of rain, would add greatly to our comfort.
Cluey then got supper. Henceforth his business was to be hunting and cooking; for, with our rather scanty stores of meal and meat, a good supply of partridges and caribou-meat would be quite necessary to our lengthened search. We did not believe the old man’s geological qualifications sufficient to make him of much use to us in our hunt for the lode; though I dare say he could have told lead, when he saw it, as well as we: but that was our conceit at the time.
By the time we had finished supper it was sun set.
After camping for several nights on high ground, it is always unpleasant to go down to a lower level. One cannot go to sleep comfortably in a hollow after sleeping on the hill above the night before. I do not pretend to explain it. Per haps it is because human nature has an upward tendency naturally: to go down is, therefore, disagreeable, repugnant. As a matter of fact, we did not feel just like lying down for the night at our camp at the foot of the ridge.
“Seems kind of sunken and stived up here,” Wash had remarked.
“Close too,” said Wade; for it was really a warm evening.
The mosquitoes in small squads began to gather around.
“Tell you, fellows,” said Raed, “let’s take our blankets and go up to the top again to sleep. Quite a climb, I know; but it will be out of the way of the mosquitoes.”
A climb of six or seven hundred feet is not generally popular at the end of a day’s tramp; but to-night we all liked the project, — all save Cluey: so, voting the old man the use of the mosquito-bar, we went up to the summit. The mosquito- bar, it should be remarked, had at first struck Cluey as “a mighty flimpsy consarn” anyway. His method of keeping off the mosquitoes was to build “a smudge,” — a smoke from a smouldering fire of punk, or anything which will yield a great deal of disagreeable smoke. After raising his smudge, the voyager has only to lie down in the lee of it, and let the vapor drift over him. It will keep off the mosquitos. They can’t stand it; and if he can, — why, he’s all right. But it is apt to recall the old adage of the remedy being worse than the disease. On our first setting up the bar, Cluey did not believe but that “the pasky varmin wad crawl through;” but, finding they did not he yielded the point, and accepted the “gawzy muzzlin consarn” without further comment. I wish all our old fogies would take to modern improvements with half as good a grace.
Gaining the top of the ledges, we spread our blankets on the thick lichen and moss, and sat down to get breath and enjoy the cool breeze that played across the crest of the mountain. The rocks were still quite warm from the hot sun-rays of the afternoon: but the air was rapidly cooling; for, in the west, a faint belt of twilight marked the course of the departing sun, while down the east and south-east the dark line of the earth’s black shadow was moving up toward the zenith. The twilight faded, and evening darkened, as we sat there talking. Suddenly, against the dusk background of the south-east, a bright point flashed out, and sailed slowly eastward, leaving a long pale-bright trail stretching far behind. I say, it moved slowly; for, as nearly as we could judge, it was in sight four or five seconds.
“Hollo!” cried Wade. “D’ye see that?”
“A meteor!” exclaimed Wash. “Wasn’t it a bright one?”
“I never saw one remain in sight so long,” said I. “Generally they flash out, and are gone in a second. Those I saw last evening did” (for, while lying with my face upturned, I had observed several).
“This was probably a larger one,” said Raed. “We saw it at a greater distance. That’s the reason it seemed to move more slowly.”
“How far off do you suppose it was?” said Wade.
“Oh! I don’t know,” replied Raed. “It would be of no use to guess at it. We might make a sort of rough calculation, though, like this: The average speed of meteors and shooting-stars is said to be about forty miles per second. Now, how long was this one in sight?”
“Four seconds,” said Wade.
“Five,” said Wash.
“Call it four and a half,” said Raed.
“Now, how many miles did it pass over while we saw it?”
“A hundred and eighty,” replied Wade.
“Now, the next question is, How great an arc of the horizon did it pass over?” continued Raed.
“Forty degrees,” I hazarded. “That would be one-ninth of the entire zodiac.”
“Not any more than that,” remarked Wade. Wash thought it was less.
“Call it one-ninth,” said Raed. “If a hundred and eighty miles is one-ninth, the whole circumference of the circle would have been — let me see” —
“Sixteen hundred and twenty miles,” replied Wade.
“Now, if this meteor was moving around us in a circle sixteen hundred and twenty miles in circumference, how far off was it from us at the centre? In other words, what’s the radius of the circle?”
“About one-sixth of the circumference,” said Wash.
“Two hundred and seventy miles,” said Wade.
“Roughly, then,” said Raed, “we have, for the distance of this meteor, two hundred and seventy miles.”
“Do you really believe that it was so far off?” I asked.
“I have no doubt of it,” said Raed: “indeed, I should not be surprised if it were much farther off. That was a large meteor.”
“How large do you suppose it was?” asked Wade. “Was it larger than a two-hundred-and fifty-pound shell?”
“Humph!” Wash exclaimed: “‘twas nearer the size of this ledge. Do you think we could see a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound shell two hundred and seventy miles?”
“But a Drummond light no bigger than your hand can be seen seventy-five miles,” retorted Wade.
“Yes; and an electric light of the same small size can be discerned a hundred miles,” said Raed. “Very much depends on the intensity of the light; and it is fair to suppose that a blazing meteor would give as intense a flame as would calcium in the Drummond light.”
“I don’t know about its being fair to suppose that,” Wash continued.
“It would depend on what the meteor was composed of,” said I.
“They are found to contain nickel, iron, arsenic, cobalt, tin, and even phosphorus and carbon,” replied Raed. “More nickel and iron than any thing else, though.”
“Yes; and, when the meteor comes plunging down into the atmosphere of the earth, it is so heated by friction, that the nickel and iron are burned and turned to gas, as we saw it in the trail of this one to-night,” said Wade. “Now, I don’t see why it should not give as bright a light as the calcium, or the carbon atoms, in the electric light. Therefore I argue that a lump of iron or nickel as large as a two-fifty shell would, in burning, give as much light as we saw from this meteor fo-night.”
“I don’t see it!” exclaimed Wash. “If this meteor was really two hundred and seventy miles away, its trail must have been a hundred miles long. How could you get gas and cinders enough out of a ball fifteen inches in diameter to make a trail a hundred miles long?”
“In turning to gas, iron expands a thousand fold,” replied Wade.
“A thousand-fold!” exclaimed Wash, following up his advantage. “This trail was a hundred miles long; and, judging from its proportions, it must have been ten or a dozen miles in diameter. Your fifteen-inch iron sphere would have to expand a million-fold to make such a cloud of gas as we saw!”
“I think you have greatly overestimated the proportions of the trail!” cried Wade. “Hasn’t he, Raed?”
“I should think he had given the diameter rather large,” laughed Raed. “But you will have to admit that he has made a strong point against you, even then. For my own part, I don’t doubt that this meteor was at least twenty feet in diameter.”
“Twenty feet!” cried Wash. “I don’t believe it was an inch less than two hundred, till I see the figures.”
“Then, of course, there’s no use arguing further with you,” said Wade; “for it will probably be some time before any of us see the figures.”
“There is nothing improbable in my estimate,” resumed Wash. “In the year 1819, a meteor was seen to move across New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. It looked as bright as the sun, and was thought to be twenty-five miles high, and half a mile in diameter.”
“That didn’t fall to the earth,” said Wade; “at least, it is not known to have fallen.”
“Neither is this one we saw to-night known to have fallen,” replied Wash. “But whether it fell or not makes no difference. There are two fragments of a meteor in Iceland, — Iceland or Greenland, — one of which contains upwards of forty thousand square feet, the other over twenty thousand. These show that big meteors do exist, and that they sometimes burst, and fall to the earth. What do you think, Raed: would a meteor two hundred feet in diameter be any thing unusual?”
“Rather unusual, certainly,” replied Raed.
“But would you deem it impossible?”
“Oh, no! not impossible. There have been meteors larger than that seen. In 1783 a very large meteor was seen the same evening in Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Germany, and at Rome, at a probable height of from seventy to a hundred miles, and moving at the rate of a thousand miles per minute. The diameter of this one was thought to be two thousand feet or upwards.”
“I should call that a small planet,” said Wade.
“So are all meteors small planets,” rejoined Wash. “All the difference between a planet and a meteor is in the size. Both move around the sun in orbits, obeying the same law of gravitation. Meteors only become ‘shooting-stars’ and ‘aerolites’ when they come so near the earth as to be drawn out of their own orbits by the earth’s superior strength of attraction. Then they come tumbling down through the air, and are either fused by friction and burned up, or else explode, and fall in a shower of stones like the stone-fall at Weston, Conn.”
“See!” exclaimed Wade. “There’s another! That was a little one, I suppose: it flashed out, and was gone in a second.”
A few minutes later we saw another.
“They are seen pretty thick about this time of year,” remarked Raed, — “from the 9th to the 11th of August. April is another month when a good many fall. But November is the great month for them, — from the 12th to the 15th of November. That’s the time when the famous star-showers happen.”
“Why is it that they come at just about such a time every year?” Wade asked.
“It is thought that these bodies move in irregular rings, or belts, about the sun: and in April, August, and November, the earth in its orbit cuts through these belts; consequently, more are drawn in at those times.”
“What vast numbers of them must fall!” said I. “Almost any night of the year, one can count half a dozen in an hour, — there! see that one! and they’re falling all over the earth, by day as well as night.”
“Prof. Newton says that there are probably seven million five hundred thousand shooting-stars and meteors, large enough to be seen, falling every twenty-four hours,” said Wash. “Then there are a host of smaller ones, too minute to be seen by the naked eye, such as only the telescope can discern. Put them all together, he thinks the whole number, little and great, would foot up four hundred million per day.”
“Where did you get hold of so much science?” demanded Wade.
“An extract from Prof. Newton’s article on meteors was published in the papers,” Wash explained.
“Those four hundred million must make quite a heap, lump them all together,” said Wade. “Wonder how much they would weigh apiece, on an average.”
“Prof. Harkness thinks the average weight may be about one grain,” replied Raed. “You can now reckon up the weight of the whole heap.”
“Too dark to make figures,” said Wash. “We can do it in the morning, though. We shall want to get up early to see the sun rise.”
“Don’t forget it then,” said Raed. “I should like to see how much it will foot up.”
The blankets were arranged. We talked a little longer, and fell asleep. Dawn was just whitening the eastern horizon when Wash waked me to see it. The other two boys were both asleep.
There is something sublime in this distant coming of the sun; the pale brightness seems so remote, and day is seen coming from afar.
“No wonder the old Persians worshipped the sun,” said Wash. ‘Twas the best thing for a god that could be chosen in the whole universe. What a flood of brightness comes with it! Which makes me think that a German doctor — Meyer, I believe his name is — argues that the flames of the sun are kept up by millions of meteors striking down on to it. Striking down so hard, you know, and so many of them, they make a vast amount of heat, which makes sunshine. Gravitation pulls about twenty-seven times as hard at the sun as it does on the earth. The meteors would pound down harder on that account. But a great many don’t believe a word of his theory. I think it looks likely enough, though.”
“Let’s stir Raed and Wade. We’ve got some ciphering to do this morning, you know. We can use blank leaves in our note-books.”
The boys were stirred up accordingly; and, after the usual yawns and gapes, we proceeded to business, stopping from time to time to gaze at the reddening east, which now blazed apace.
“400,000,000 meteors at an average weight of one grain apiece,” said Wade. “How many pounds?”
“Hold on!” cried Raed. “There are 400,000,000 of them on any ordinary night of the year. But, during April, August, and November, there are more, — sometimes vast showers like that of 1833: so, reckoning in these months, the average would be more than 400,000,000 per diem. Question arises, how much more?”
“As much again,” said Wash; “800,000,000 on an average.”
“One-half more,” said Wade; “600,000,000 on an average.”
“Split the difference!” cried Raed; “call it 700,000,000. Now how many pounds at one grain each?”
“Let’s see,” said Wade. “How many grains in a pound avoirdupois?”
“7,000,” said Wash. “Now we have it, then, — 100,000 pounds of meteors fall to the earth daily.”
“How much in a year?” demanded Raed.
“365 times 100,000,” repeated Wade; “36,500,000 pounds per year.”
“How much per century ?”
“3,650,000,000 pounds!” cried Wash.
“How many tons would that be? Divide by 2,000.”
“1,825,000 tons!” exclaimed Wade.
“No geologist of any note would think of set ting the age of the earth at less than 10,000,000 centuries,” said Raed. “How many tons of meteors may have fallen during that time?”
“1,825,000,000,000,000 tons,” replied Wash a moment later.
“Why, that would make quite a large planet of itself!” exclaimed Wade.
“I supposed the earth had got its growth long ago,” said I: “but, according to this, it is growing yet; gains 100,000 pounds per day.”
“Yes,” said Raed: “a thousand centuries hence it will have grown considerably larger.”
“Then, a thousand centuries ago, it must have been considerably smaller,” remarked Wade.
“Well, if the earth is growing, and has been growing in this way, why is it not fair to suppose that it was once very small, — no bigger than one’s fist?” said Wash.
“I don’t see why that is not a fair supposition,” said Wade.
“Nor I!” exclaimed Wash; “and, what’s more, I believe that was the way the world was formed, — out of meteors slowly collected through millions of years.”
“Here’s a new theory of the creation!” cried Raed; “a new genesis!”
“I don’t care,” said Wash, “if it is a new theory. It’s fully as reasonable to me as the nebular hypothesis you explained the other night.”
“So I think!” exclaimed Wade.
“Some time I mean to write it out and publish it,” said Wash.
“You were going to tell us why the existence of a central fire inside the earth was doubted.” said I to Raed. “Now is a good time for it.”
“Well, as to that,” replied the geologist, “I cannot, of course, enter into an elaborate argu ment: I don’t understand it well enough. But many scientists argue, that if the whole interior of the earth were a mass of liquid lava, as has been supposed, the rotation of the earth on its axis would flatten it at the poles into a lentiform shape; whereas the polar diameter is now almost as great as the equatorial diameter. They think too, that, if the outside crust were no more than fifty or a hundred miles thick, it would be broken up and shattered continually. Still another objection is in the fact, that volcanoes, even those located near each other, do not seem to be outlets from the same fiery gulf below, as has formerly been argued. The irruption of one often has no effect on another situated quite near.”
“But where does the lava come from?” asked Wade.
“It is thought to come from chemical action going on under ground; chiefly from the sea water finding its way down amid the strata of different kinds of rock.”
“I don’t think you’ve made out much of a case,” said Wash. “However, I am inclined to believe it; for it just fits into my new theory of the way the earth was formed. My theory doesn’t require any ‘central fire:’ therefore I’m against all central fires. I’ll stump any man to prove ‘em.”
The first red beam of the sun’s upper limb, peeping over the far horizon, interrupted the daring speculator; and we turned to gaze on what I should be called tiresome for describing, simply because the subject is so pen-worn: but it was still glorious to look upon. It seems to me that one sunrise like that should well repay all the ill luck of life. Can it be that the bright sun’s vast fires shall pale, smoulder low, and go out in their ashes? But, long ere that cold day, the sons of men will have ceased to climb Katahdin.
We went down to camp.
“Ben havin’ a cawkus up thar?” demanded Cluey. “Heerd ye a-argerfyin’ away fer mor’n an hour.”
It is wonderful how far, and how distinctly, sound can be heard in that clear air.