It was the sublimest

We rode horseback all around the island of Hawaii (the crooked road
making the distance two hundred miles), and enjoyed the journey very
much. We were more than a week making the trip, because our Kanaka
horses would not go by a house or a hut without stopping–whip and spur
could not alter their minds about it, and so we finally found that it
economized time to let them have their way. Upon inquiry the mystery was
explained: the natives are such thorough-going gossips that they never
pass a house without stopping to swap news, and consequently their horses
learn to regard that sort of thing as an essential part of the whole duty
of man, and his salvation not to be compassed without it. However, at a
former crisis of my life I had once taken an aristocratic young lady out
driving, behind a horse that had just retired from a long and honorable
career as the moving impulse of a milk wagon, and so this present
experience awoke a reminiscent sadness in me in place of the exasperation
more natural to the occasion. I remembered how helpless I was that day,
and how humiliated; how ashamed I was of having intimated to the girl
that I had always owned the horse and was accustomed to grandeur; how
hard I tried to appear easy, and even vivacious, under suffering that was
consuming my vitals; how placidly and maliciously the girl smiled, and
kept on smiling, while my hot blushes baked themselves into a permanent
blood-pudding in my face; how the horse ambled from one side of the
street to the other and waited complacently before every third house two
minutes and a quarter while I belabored his back and reviled him in my
heart; how I tried to keep him from turning corners and failed; how I
moved heaven and earth to get him out of town, and did not succeed; how
he traversed the entire settlement and delivered imaginary milk at a
hundred and sixty-two different domiciles, and how he finally brought up
at a dairy depot and refused to budge further, thus rounding and
completing the revealment of what the plebeian service of his life had
been; how, in eloquent silence, I walked the girl home, and how, when I
took leave of her, her parting remark scorched my soul and appeared to
blister me all over: she said that my horse was a fine, capable animal,
and I must have taken great comfort in him in my time–but that if I
would take along some milk-tickets next time, and appear to deliver them
at the various halting places, it might expedite his movements a little.
There was a coolness between us after that.

In one place in the island of Hawaii, we saw a laced and ruffled cataract
of limpid water leaping from a sheer precipice fifteen hundred feet high;
but that sort of scenery finds its stanchest ally in the arithmetic
rather than in spectacular effect. If one desires to be so stirred by a
poem of Nature wrought in the happily commingled graces of picturesque
rocks, glimpsed distances, foliage, color, shifting lights and shadows,
and failing water, that the tears almost come into his eyes so potent is
the charm exerted, he need not go away from America to enjoy such an
experience. The Rainbow Fall, in Watkins Glen (N.Y.), on the Erie
railway, is an example. It would recede into pitiable insignificance if
the callous tourist drew on arithmetic on it; but left to compete for the
honors simply on scenic grace and beauty–the grand, the august and the
sublime being barred the contest–it could challenge the old world and
the new to produce its peer.

In one locality, on our journey, we saw some horses that had been born
and reared on top of the mountains, above the range of running water, and
consequently they had never drank that fluid in their lives, but had been
always accustomed to quenching their thirst by eating dew-laden or
shower-wetted leaves. And now it was destructively funny to see them
sniff suspiciously at a pail of water, and then put in their noses and
try to take a bite out of the fluid, as if it were a solid. Finding it
liquid, they would snatch away their heads and fall to trembling,
snorting and showing other evidences of fright. When they became
convinced at last that the water was friendly and harmless, they thrust
in their noses up to their eyes, brought out a mouthful of water, and
proceeded to chew it complacently. We saw a man coax, kick and spur one
of them five or ten minutes before he could make it cross a running
stream. It spread its nostrils, distended its eyes and trembled all
over, just as horses customarily do in the presence of a serpent–and for
aught I know it thought the crawling stream was a serpent.

In due course of time our journey came to an end at Kawaehae (usually
pronounced To-a-hi–and before we find fault with this elaborate
orthographical method of arriving at such an unostentatious result, let
us lop off the ugh from our word “though”). I made this horseback trip
on a mule. I paid ten dollars for him at Kau (Kah-oo), added four to get
him shod, rode him two hundred miles, and then sold him for fifteen
dollars. I mark the circumstance with a white stone (in the absence of
chalk–for I never saw a white stone that a body could mark anything
with, though out of respect for the ancients I have tried it often
enough); for up to that day and date it was the first strictly commercial
transaction I had ever entered into, and come out winner. We returned to
Honolulu, and from thence sailed to the island of Maui, and spent several
weeks there very pleasantly. I still remember, with a sense of indolent
luxury, a picnicing excursion up a romantic gorge there, called the Iao
Valley. The trail lay along the edge of a brawling stream in the bottom
of the gorge–a shady route, for it was well roofed with the verdant
domes of forest trees. Through openings in the foliage we glimpsed
picturesque scenery that revealed ceaseless changes and new charms with
every step of our progress. Perpendicular walls from one to three
thousand feet high guarded the way, and were sumptuously plumed with
varied foliage, in places, and in places swathed in waving ferns.
Passing shreds of cloud trailed their shadows across these shining
fronts, mottling them with blots; billowy masses of white vapor hid the
turreted summits, and far above the vapor swelled a background of
gleaming green crags and cones that came and went, through the veiling
mists, like islands drifting in a fog; sometimes the cloudy curtain
descended till half the canon wall was hidden, then shredded gradually
away till only airy glimpses of the ferny front appeared through it–then
swept aloft and left it glorified in the sun again. Now and then, as our
position changed, rocky bastions swung out from the wall, a mimic ruin of
castellated ramparts and crumbling towers clothed with mosses and hung
with garlands of swaying vines, and as we moved on they swung back again
and hid themselves once more in the foliage. Presently a verdure-clad
needle of stone, a thousand feet high, stepped out from behind a corner,
and mounted guard over the mysteries of the valley. It seemed to me that
if Captain Cook needed a monument, here was one ready made–therefore,
why not put up his sign here, and sell out the venerable cocoanut stump?

But the chief pride of Maui is her dead volcano of Haleakala–which
means, translated, “the house of the sun.” We climbed a thousand feet up
the side of this isolated colossus one afternoon; then camped, and next
day climbed the remaining nine thousand feet, and anchored on the summit,
where we built a fire and froze and roasted by turns, all night. With
the first pallor of dawn we got up and saw things that were new to us.
Mounted on a commanding pinnacle, we watched Nature work her silent
wonders. The sea was spread abroad on every hand, its tumbled surface
seeming only wrinkled and dimpled in the distance. A broad valley below
appeared like an ample checker-board, its velvety green sugar plantations
alternating with dun squares of barrenness and groves of trees diminished
to mossy tufts. Beyond the valley were mountains picturesquely grouped
together; but bear in mind, we fancied that we were looking up at these
things–not down. We seemed to sit in the bottom of a symmetrical bowl
ten thousand feet deep, with the valley and the skirting sea lifted away
into the sky above us! It was curious; and not only curious, but
aggravating; for it was having our trouble all for nothing, to climb ten
thousand feet toward heaven and then have to look up at our scenery.
However, we had to be content with it and make the best of it; for, all
we could do we could not coax our landscape down out of the clouds.
Formerly, when I had read an article in which Poe treated of this
singular fraud perpetrated upon the eye by isolated great altitudes,
I had looked upon the matter as an invention of his own fancy.

I have spoken of the outside view–but we had an inside one, too. That
was the yawning dead crater, into which we now and then tumbled rocks,
half as large as a barrel, from our perch, and saw them go careering down
the almost perpendicular sides, bounding three hundred feet at a jump;
kicking up cast-clouds wherever they struck; diminishing to our view as
they sped farther into distance; growing invisible, finally, and only
betraying their course by faint little puffs of dust; and coming to a
halt at last in the bottom of the abyss, two thousand five hundred feet
down from where they started! It was magnificent sport. We wore
ourselves out at it.

The crater of Vesuvius, as I have before remarked, is a modest pit about
a thousand feet deep and three thousand in circumference; that of Kilauea
is somewhat deeper, and ten miles in circumference. But what are either
of them compared to the vacant stomach of Haleakala? I will not offer
any figures of my own, but give official ones–those of Commander Wilkes,
U.S.N., who surveyed it and testifies that it is twenty-seven miles in
circumference! If it had a level bottom it would make a fine site for a
city like London. It must have afforded a spectacle worth contemplating
in the old days when its furnaces gave full rein to their anger.

Presently vagrant white clouds came drifting along, high over the sea and
the valley; then they came in couples and groups; then in imposing
squadrons; gradually joining their forces, they banked themselves solidly
together, a thousand feet under us, and totally shut out land and ocean
–not a vestige of anything was left in view but just a little of the rim
of the crater, circling away from the pinnacle whereon we sat (for a
ghostly procession of wanderers from the filmy hosts without had drifted
through a chasm in the crater wall and filed round and round, and
gathered and sunk and blended together till the abyss was stored to the
brim with a fleecy fog). Thus banked, motion ceased, and silence
reigned. Clear to the horizon, league on league, the snowy floor
stretched without a break–not level, but in rounded folds, with shallow
creases between, and with here and there stately piles of vapory
architecture lifting themselves aloft out of the common plain–some near
at hand, some in the middle distances, and others relieving the monotony
of the remote solitudes. There was little conversation, for the
impressive scene overawed speech. I felt like the Last Man, neglected of
the judgment, and left pinnacled in mid-heaven, a forgotten relic of a
vanished world.

While the hush yet brooded, the messengers of the coming resurrection
appeared in the East. A growing warmth suffused the horizon, and soon
the sun emerged and looked out over the cloud-waste, flinging bars of
ruddy light across it, staining its folds and billow-caps with blushes,
purpling the shaded troughs between, and glorifying the massy
vapor-palaces and cathedrals with a wasteful splendor of all blendings
and combinations of rich coloring.

It was the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed, and I think the memory
of it will remain with me always.