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Two Years in Oregon By Wallis Nash Characters: 22640

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


A spring ride in Oregon-?The start-?The equipment-?Horses and saddlery-?Packs-?The roadside-?Bird fellow-travelers-?Snakes-?The nearest farm-?Bees-?The great pasture-?The poisonous larkspur-? Market-gardening-?The Cardwell Hill-?The hill-top-?The water-shed-?Mary River-?Crain's-?The Yaquina Valley-?Brush, grass, and fern-?The young Englishmen's new home-?A rustic bridge-?"Chuck-holes"-?The road supervisor-?Trapp's-?The mill-dam-?Salmon-pass law-?Minnows and crawfish-?The Pacific at rest-?Yaquina-?Newport.

Some months ago I noticed an observation in the "Spectator," in a critique of a book of the Duke of Argyll's on Canadian homes, to the effect that what was wanted was such a description of roadside, farm, and woodland as should cause far-away readers to see them in their ordinary, every-day guise.

I have often felt the same need in books of travels, when I little thought it would ever fall to my lot to try to bring a land thousands of miles away before untraveled eyes.

So, take a ride with me, in May, from our town to Yaquina Bay, just sixty-six miles off.

I have already said enough of the valley lying here, in the early morning, calm and quiet, with the light mist tracing out the course of the great river for miles into the soft distance, and the Cascade Range standing out clear above. But we turn our backs on the town and face toward the west.

HORSES AND SADDLERY.One word on mount and equipment. The horse is a light chestnut-sorrel we call it here-about fifteen hands high, compact and active, with flowing mane and tail. He cost a hundred dollars six months back; in England, for a park hack, he would be worth three fourths as many pounds. He has four paces-a walk of about four miles an hour, a jog-trot of five, a lope or canter of six or seven, and a regular gallop. He passes from one pace to another by a mere pressure of the leg against his sides, and the gentlest movement of the reins. To turn him, be it ever so short, carry the bridle-hand toward the side you want to go, but put away all notion of pulling one rein or the other. He will walk unconcernedly through the deepest mud or the quickest flowing brook, and climb a steep hill with hardly quickened breath; if he meets a big log in the trail, he will just lift his fore-legs over it and follow with his hind-legs without touching it, and hardly moving you in the saddle. And he will carry a twelve-stone man, with a saddle weighing nearly twenty pounds, and a pack of fifteen pounds behind the saddle, from eight in the morning till six in the evening, with an hour's rest in the middle of the day, and be ready to do it again to-morrow, and the next day, and the day after that.

The saddle is in the Mexican shape, with a high pommel in front, handy for a rope or gun-sling, and a high cantle behind; it has a deep, smooth seat, and a leather flap behind and attached to the cantle on which the pack rests; huge wooden stirrups, broad enough to give full support to the foot, and wide enough for the foot to slip easily in and out. A horse-hair belt, six inches wide, with an iron ring at each end, through which runs a buckskin strap to attach it to the saddle, and by which it is drawn tight, forms a "sinch," the substitute for girths. The word "sinch" is a good one, and has passed into slang. If your enemy has injured you and you propose to return the compliment in the reverse of Christian fashion, "I'll sinch him," say you. If a poor player has won the first trick by accident, "I guess he'll get sinched soon," says the looker-on.

I advise no Englishman to bring saddlery to Oregon. He will save no money by doing so, and will not be fitted out so well for the hours-long rides he will have. I have only heard one Englishman out of fifty say that he prefers the English saddle, after getting used to the Mexican, and he had brought one out with him and used it out of pride.

Behind the saddle is the pack. Just a clean flannel shirt and a pair of socks, a hair-brush, a comb and tooth-brush, fit us out for a week or two; baggage becomes truly "impedimenta" when you have to carry it on your horse. You need not carry blankets now, for there are good stopping-houses at fit distances apart. But you may, if you wish, bring your Martini carbine, or Winchester rifle, for we may meet a deer by the way. So we start.

The first mile or two is along the open road. A brown, rather dusty track in the center, beaten hard by the travel; on either side a broad band of short grass; and snake-fences, built of logs ten feet long, piled seven high, and interlaced at the ends. In the angles of nearly every panel of the fence grows a rose-bush, now covered with young buds, just showing crimson tips. As we canter by, a meadow-lark gives us a stave of half-finished song from the top of the fence, and flits off to pitch some fifty yards away, in the young green wheat, and try again at his song. The bird is nearly as large as an English thrush, with speckled breast, and a bright-yellow patch under the tail. Just in front of us, on the fence, sits a little hawk, so tame that he moves not till we pass him, and then by turns follows and precedes us along the road, settling again and again upon the tallest rails. He is gayly dressed indeed, with a russet-brown back and head, and a yellow and brown barred and speckled chest, and all the keenness of eye one looks for in his tribe.

SNAKES.Early as it is, here and there in the road is one of the little brown snakes that abound in the valley; seduced from his hole by the warm sun, he is enjoying himself in the dust, and only just has time to glide hastily away as the horse-hoofs threaten his life. Their harmlessness and use in waging war on beetles, worms, and frogs, ought to save their lives; but they are snakes, and that suffices to cause every passer-by to strike at them with his staff.

The face of the country is vivid green, the autumn-sown wheat nearly knee-high, and the oats running the wheat a race in height and thickness. The orchard-trees close to the farmhouse we are approaching stand clothed from head to foot in flower; the pear-trees, whose branches are not now curved and bent with fruit, tower as white pyramids above the heads of the blushing apples.

Close by the orchard-fence the ewes and lambs feed, the little ones leaping high and throwing themselves away with the mere joy of warm sun and young life.

The farmer sees us coming, and scolds back the rough sheep-dog noisily barking at the strangers as he comes to his gate to shake hands. "Won't you hitch your horse and come in?" he says; "I want you to look at these bees-I have got six swarms already." And under the garden-fence stands a long, low-boarded roof, and under it a whole row of boxes and barrels, of all ages and sizes, with a noisy multitude coming and going. Straw hives are unknown, and any old tea-chest is used. Not much refinement about bee-keeping in Oregon; but honey fetches from thirty to fifty cents a pound.

We mount again, and, passing through a couple of loosely made and carelessly hung gates, we enter the big pasture. Not very much grass in it; it is wet, low-lying, undrained land. The wild-rose bushes are scattered here, there, and everywhere in clumps, and the face of the field is strewed with the dull, light-green, thick and hairy leaves of a wild sunflower, whose bright-yellow flowers with a brown center, all hanging as if too heavy for the stalk, have not yet matured. The cattle are very fond of this plant, and do well on it. An enemy of theirs is the lupin, here called the larkspur, one of the earliest of spring plants. Its handsome, dark-blue flowers do not redeem it, for the cattle are deceived by it, eat, and are seized with staggers, and will sink down and die if not seen to and treated. One of our friends tells us that he cures his larkspur-poisoned cattle with fat pork, lumps of which he stuffs down their throats. This information we submit to an unprejudiced public, but we do not guarantee that this remedy will cure. It is generally two-year-old cattle which partake and sicken-perhaps the calves have not enterprise enough, and the older cattle too much sense.

The plant is not so very common, but it has to be watched for and extirpated when found. Between the pasture and the wheat-fields stands another snake-fence and a gate. Alas! by the gate, and to be crossed before we reach it, is the Slough of Despond-a big, deep, uncompromising pool of black, sticky mud. The horses eye it doubtfully, and put down their noses to try if it smells better than it looks, and then step gravely in, girth-high almost, till we open and force back the heavy gate.

Skirting the wheat-field, between it and the creek, hardly seen for the undergrowth of rose-bushes and hazel, with here and there a big oak-tree, the road brings us out into a patch of garden-ground, filled with vegetables for the town housekeepers. Just now there is little to be seen but some rows of early peas and spring cabbage. Later on, the long beds of onions, French beans, cauliflowers, and all the rest, with the melons, squashes, or vegetable marrows, pumpkins, cucumbers, and tomatoes (which were the glory of the gardener), showed the full advantages of the irrigating ditches, fed by the higher spring, which are led here, there, and everywhere through the patch. For, remember, we had almost continuous fine weather, with hot sun and few showers, from the middle of May till the middle of October.

THE CARDWELL HILL.But here is the main road again, which we left to turn across the fields, and we are at the foot of the Cardwell Hill. The wood lies on both sides of us, and we mount rapidly upward. The wild-strawberry creeps everywhere along the ground, its white flower and yellow eye hiding modestly under the leaves. The catkins on the hazel-bushes dangle from each little bough. The purple iris grows thickly in the frequent mossy spots, and the scarlet columbine peers over the heads of the bunches of white flowers we knew not whether to call lilies-of-the-valley or Solomon's seal, for they bear the features of both. The purple crocuses have not yet all gone out of bloom, though their April glory has departed, and the tall spear-grass gives elegance all round to Dame Nature's bouquets.

We have ample time to take in all these homely beauties, for the road is too thickly shaded by the wood for the sun to dry the mud, and our horses painfully plod upward, with a noisy "suck, suck," as each foot in turn is dragged from the sticky mass.

But the undergrowth is thinner as we mount; first oak-scrub and then oak-trees growing here and there, with grass all round, take the place of the copse, and the mountain air blows fresh in our faces as we near the summit. Halting for a moment to let the horses regain their breath, we turn and see the whole broad valley lying bright in sunshine far below. So clear is the air that the firs on the Cascades, forty miles away, are hardly blended into a mass of dark, greenish gray; and the glorious snow-peaks shining away there twenty miles behind those firs, look to be on speaking terms with the Coast Range on which we stand.

But we pursue our westward course along a narrow track following the hill-side near the top, leaving the road to t

ake its way down below, to round the base of the hill which we strike across. This hill is bare of trees, and is covered now with bright, young, green grass, soon to be dried and shriveled into a dusty brown by the summer sun. We wind round the heads of rocky clefts or ca?ons, down each of which hastens a murmuring stream. There the oaks and alders grow tall, but we look over their heads, so rapid is the descent to the vale below.

The mountains on the distant left of us are Mary's Peak and the Alsea Mountain; the former with smooth white crown of snow above the dark fir timber; and away to the right, among lower, wooded hills, we catch one glimpse of the burned timber, the thick black stems standing out clear on the horizon-line.

Passing down the hill and by the farmhouse at the foot, with its great barn and blooming orchard, we strike the road once more, passing for a mile or two between wheat-fields, with the Mary River on the left closed from our sight by the screen of firs that follow it all the way along; then by a bridge and by other farms, and between fir-woods of thickly standing trees, and up and down hill, with here and there a level valley in between, we strike the Mary River again for the last time, and climb the Summit Hill.

We are twenty-two miles from our starting-point, and claim a meal and rest. We are among old friends as we ride up to Crain's to dine, and the noonday sun is hot enough for us to enjoy the cool breeze among the young firs behind the house, as we stand to wash hands and face by the bench on the side of the dairy built over the stream close by. The horses know their way to the barn, to stand with slackened sinches, and nuzzle into the sweet timothy-hay with which the racks are filled.

THE YAQUINA VALLEY.On our way once more, in half an hour we stand on the edge of the water-shed, and look down far into the Yaquina Valley, lying deep between rugged and broken hills below. As we dip below the crest, the character of the vegetation changes at once.

We have left the thick woods behind. The last of the tall green firs clothes the crest we have passed, and the black burned timber is dotted along the hill-sides.

Last year's brake-fern clothes the hills in dull yellow and brown, except where patches of thimble-berry and salmon-berry bushes have usurped its place. The wild-strawberry has been almost entirely left behind, and instead there is the blackberry-vine trailing everywhere along the rough ground, and casting its purple-tinged tracery over the fallen logs. There is plenty of grass among the fern, and the wild-pea grows erect as yet, not having length enough to bend and creep. The river Yaquina comes down from a wild, rough valley to the right, to be crossed by a wooden bridge close to a farmhouse on rising ground. Two of our recently arrived Englishmen have bought this place, and are well satisfied with their position. About eight hundred acres of their own land, of which quite three hundred are cultivable in grain, though not nearly all now in crop, and really unlimited free range on the hills all round for stock; some valley-land which produces everything it is asked; a garden-patch where potatoes grew this year, one of which was six pounds in weight; a comfortable house and substantial barn; a trout-stream by their doors; a railroad in near prospect to bring them within two hours of a market at either end; and, meanwhile, a demand at home for all the oats and hay they can raise for sale-it would be strange, indeed, I think, if they who had supposed they were coming into a wilderness with everything to make, were not well pleased.

The only things they complain of are the scarcity of neighbors and bad roads-both, we hope, in a fair way to be overcome. They look contented enough, as they stand by their house-door to bid us good-day as we ride by. The valley widens out and narrows again in turn. In each open space stands a farmhouse, or else the site demands one.

As we get nearer to the coast, the river forces its way through quite a narrow gorge, following round the point of a projecting fern-covered slope, and under the shadow of the high hill on the northern side. The great blechnum ferns, with fronds three or four feet long, are interspersed with the thimble-berry bushes, and border the road. Syringa and deutzia plants and two varieties of elder, which bear black and red berries, but are now bright with abundant flowers, clothe the steep bank overhanging the river, which here widens out into calm pools, divided by ripples, and runs over rocks. And see, here is a natural bridge; a huge fir has fallen right across, and the farmer has leveled the ground up to the top of the trunk, some six feet high, and has set up a slender rail on each side of his bridge, and over it he drives his sheep into the less matted and tangled ground on the far side.

"CHUCK-HOLES."The road, cut into the steep hill-side, never gets the sunshine; the mud clogs the horse's feet and fills the "chuck-holes"-traps for the unwary driver. Be it known that oftentimes a great log comes shooting down the hill in winter, and brings up in its downward course on the ledge formed by the road. Notice is sent to the road supervisor by the first passer-by, and this functionary, generally one of the better class of farmers, who has charge of the road district, calls out his neighbors to assist in the clearing of the road. He has legal power to enforce his summons, but it is never disregarded, and the "crowd" fall on with saws, axes, and levers. They soon cut a big "chunk" out of the log, some ten feet long, wide enough to clear the center of the road, and roll it unceremoniously away down the hill, or lodge it lengthwise by the roadside. There they leave matters, deeming spade-and-shovel work beneath them. Next winter's rain lodges and stands in the dint made by the trunk when it fell, and in the depression left by the men who rolled the middle of the log away. Never filled up, or any channel cut to run the water off, a "chuck-hole" is formed, which each wagon enlarges as it is driven round the edge to escape the center. Woe betide the stranger who does not altogether avoid, or boldly "straddle," the "chuck-hole" with his wheels! The side of the wagon whose fore and hind wheels have sunk into the hole dips rapidly down, and he is fortunate who escapes without an upset, and with only showers of liquid mud covering horses, driver, and load, as the team struggles to drag the wagon through. But, pressing through the gorge, we emerge into a more open stretch. On the right of us rises a smooth, round hill, fern-covered to the top; and on the opposite side, next the river, planted on a pretty knoll just where the valley turns sharply to the north, thereby getting a double view, is Mr. Trapp's farmhouse, our resting-place for the night. We have made our forty-four miles in spite of the muddy road and steep grades, and there is yet time before supper to borrow our host's rod and slip down to the river for a salmon-trout. Excellent fare and comfortable beds prepare us for the eighteen miles we have yet before us on the morrow, and we get an early start. Two miles below Trapp's is Eddy's grist-mill, with its rough mill-dam, made on the model of a beaver-dam, and of the same sticks and stones, but not so neatly; the ends of the sticks project over the mill-pool below, and prove the death of numberless salmon, which strike madly against them in their upward leaps, and fall back bruised and beaten into the pool again.

An effort was made to pass a law, this last session of the Legislature, compelling the construction of fish-passes through the mill-dams; but it was too useful and simple a measure to provoke a party fight, and therefore was quietly shelved. Better luck next time.

MINNOWS AND CRAWFISH.Presently we leave the Yaquina River, which, for over twenty miles, we have followed down its course; for never a mile without taking in some little brook, where the minnows are playing in busy schools over the clean gravel, and the crawfish are edging along, and staggering back, as if walking were an unknown art practiced for the first time. The river has grown from the burn we first crossed to a tidal watercourse, with a channel fifteen feet in depth, and, having left its youthful vivacity behind, flows gravely on, bearing now a timber-raft, then a wide-floored scow, and here the steam-launch carrying the mail. But we climb the highest hill we have yet passed, where the aneroid shows us eleven hundred feet above the sea-level, and from its narrow crest catch our first sight of the bay, glittering between the fir-woods in the morning sun.

We leave the copse-woods behind, and canter for miles along a gently sloping, sandy road; the hills are thick in fern and thimble-berry bush, with the polished leaves and waxy-white flowers of the sallal frequently pushing through. We have got used by this time to the black, burned trunks, and somehow they seem appropriate to the view. But the sound of the Pacific waves beating on the rocky coast has been growing louder, and as we get to the top of a long ascent the whole scene lies before us.

That dim blue haze in the distance is the morning fog, which has retreated from the coast and left its outlines clear.

On the right is the rounded massive cape, on the lowest ledge of which stands Foulweather Lighthouse. The bare slopes and steep sea-face tell of its basaltic formation, which gives perpendicular outlines to the jutting rocks against which, some six miles off, the waves are dashing heavily.

Between that distant cape and the Yaquina Lighthouse Point the coast-line is invisible from the height on which we stand, but the ceaseless roar tells of rocky headlands and pebble-strewed beach.

Below us lies the bay, a calm haven, with its narrow entrance right before us, and away off, a mile at sea, a protecting line of reef, with its whole course and its north and south ends distinctly marked by the white breakers spouting up with each long swell of the Pacific waves.

Under the shelter of the lighthouse hill, on the northern side, stands the little town of Newport, its twenty or thirty white houses and boat-frequented beach giving the suggestion of human life and interest to the scene.

Away across the entrance, the broad streak of blue water marking the deep channel is veined with white, betraying the reef below-soon, we trust, to be got rid of in part by the engineers whose scows and barges are strewed along the south beach there in the sun.

Yaquina Bay, Newport, 1880.

NEWPORT.On that south side a broad strip of cool, gray sand borders the harbor, and there stand the ferry-house, and its flag-staff and boats.

Looking to the left, the fir-crowned and fern-covered hills slope down to Ford's Point, jutting out into deep water, which flows up for miles till the turn above the mill shuts in the view.

But we must not wait, if we mean to catch any flounders before the tide turns, and so we hurry down to the beach and along the hard sand bordering the bay under the broken cliffs, and are soon shaking hands with the cheery landlord of the Sea-View Hotel, who has been watching us from his veranda ever since we descended the hill from Diamond Point.

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