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Fountain Lake and John Muir BY WYMAN SMITH yOU mi never find Fountain Lki today, for even its name has been chanacd. Hut let me tell you i the road-across the canal at Portage and up the highway, over the ground once covered with the forest through which Father Marquette ami Louis Joliet hauled their canoes in 1673 then fol low the mam traveled road which angle toward the northeast and disappears around a hill Already sand will begin to appear in the road but as you approach the long "whale-back" hill a little schoolhouse wdl show among the green trees. It blinks at the ivorld from windows fired by the western stm-and it has a right to wink for in this little old ivhite building, first a brother and then a sister of John Muir "kept school' Farther on the sand road again approaches the Fox River, that transcontmental highway of the old coureur de bois who came to trade for pelts and hides with the Indians of the Mississippi. All the CO seems steeped m the romance of the old history makers; marshes now and then interrupt the lulls and flow away m long, sweeping stretches toward the ribbon of water; brilliant green tamaracks fringe the low spots on either side of the road; and one wonders if John Muir loved them for their fresh color and their great needle tops huddled together against the horizon. With such an introduction one enters the haunts of "John o' the Mountains," the countryside quiet and secluded where as a boy he learned his first lessons in nature and received that preparation of men tal, physical, and spiritual training -which zvas to make him one of our greatest naturalists. The outlet of Fountain Lake. Muirs, stood to the left WARNED by the setting sun that darkness was about to leave us many miles from the Muir home, we two trampcrs wandered aside to a little oak grove, carpeted two inches deep with soft moss which we anticipated would make an excellent mattress. We built our fire in the shelter of an old log and the tamaracks this time obstructed our west ward view to the river. To John Muir, who often lived merely on bread and who left his home, with perhaps only a pillow case full of dry crusts, for a several days' tramp in the wild, our camp fare would have been sumptuous. Before we had finished our meal of fried ham, sweet bread and coffee, the mud-pumper or, as he is more frequently called, the American bittern, was loudly at work driving stakes in the marsh with his odd crying, "punk-er-lunk." Many a boy has attempted to catch this great brown marsh bird but has been too startled to do anything but watch when the old fellow rises with a squdgy noise from a clump of high reeds and flies away with lumbering, yet graceful, sweeps of his wings. Weird "checr-ups" of small birds broke into the chant of the frogs, a melody which John Muir called their "love songs, or the musical notes varying from the sweet, tranquil, soothing, peep ing and purring of the hylas to the awfully deep, low bass, blunt bel lowing of the bullfrogs." And he then rather whimsically remarked, "some of the smaller specie have wonderfully ' clear, sharp voices and told us their good Bible names in musical tones about as plainly as the whip-poor-will. Isaac, Isaac: ) aeon, Yacob; Israel, Israel; shouted in sharp, ringing, far-reaching tones, as if they had all been to school and severely drilled in elocution. In the still, warm evenings, big bunchy bull frogs bellowed, Drunk! Drunk! Drunk I Jug o' rum! hg o' rum! and early in the spring, countless thousands of the commonest species, up to the throat in cold water, sang in concert." It was to the tunes of this droning, intermittent symphony that we were lulled to sleep. Evidently our fire aroused the curiosity of the bittern for I awoke in the middle of the night at his clear, sharp, "punk- er-lunk" less than fifty feet away, only to hear him a few minutes afterward again pounding out his sentinel calls from the middle of the marsh. Following the hours of starlight, morning came trip ping through the trees bringing all the tender music which a fresh green earth and a lapis lazuli sky can summon. Perhaps John Muir would have walked home the previous evening but we knew no roads and might nave become lost as easily as did Thomas Muir (John's father) who missed the trail on a return trip from Portage and was compelled to hold to the tail of old Tom, the ox, while that patient dumb creature led him home through the forest. Several miles more of the road which ran part of Jne time within a stone's throw of the Fox River finally fought us to the clearing through which we could see he small body of water once known as Fountain Lake out renamed Funis Lake by the geologists. It was a lae suffering the fate of so many shallow, mud-bot-omed lakes slowly but surely filling up and destined to corne a marsh or a swamp in the next geological age. the farther shore a sand bank showed just to the right ot the spot where the old log cahin had stood, the place nw being marked by a clump of lilac bushes. Oak woods bounded two other shores but the trees were 0Ullg, none of them much more than 80 years. No place jl0,ig the shore offered an opportunity to go bathing. 0T the muddy bottom gave way beneath one's feet and 1 thought poignantly of John Muir's Fourth of July scapade. when through a boyish foolhardiness he nearly g 51 his life in the mire. He had attempted to reach a at a few hundred feet from shore and becoming gntened when he missed his hold on the side, sank ,,Wn and floundered desperately until he was rescued. hisVleXt ay to Cl,re himse,f of his fright he rowed his h t0 thc mid(,le Of the lake and swam about to neart s content. It was his method of teaching him eVourage. sounH mstnn& whoo-ecw hoo-o-o-oo of the quails ne m a near"by an1 flowers were plentiful but m,ssed some of the picturesqucness so deftly dis- The log cabin, first home of the of the distant sand hill played by the naturalist when he wrote, "It was fed by 20 or 30 meadow springs, is about a half mile long, half as wide and surrounded by low, finely molded hills dotted with oak and hickory, and the meadows full of grasses and sedges and many beautiful orchids and ferns. First there is a zone of green, shining rushes and just beyond the rushes a zone of white and orange water lilies 50 or 60 feet wide, forming a magnificent border." But our boyhood days very often become romantic idylls and in spite of the hard work we remember most keenly the enjoyable moments. A marsh with a big spring wherein minnows swim back and forth with their quick darting flashes of life; the joy of jumping from bog to bog and searching for the nests of the bob-o-links; or perhaps a stray mud turtle, remain in the fancy for years, and long, after the boy's curious interest in the world about him has been replaced by careful observation and knowledge. From Fountain Lake we tramped eastward through nature's eternal treasurehouse, toward the second home of John Muir, still re taining the name of "Hickory Hill Farm." , Pot holes were filled with water and the road wound about them until at last we reached the church, now rebuilt, but on the same spot where John had worshipped un der the stern compul sion of his Scotch father long hours of worship through which he endured patiently his absence from the out-of- doors and the church of nature's making. Lnurcnes and boys have apparently been antagonists since time immemorial and John was no exception he went to church in his boyhood days because it would spare him a thrashing. At the "Hickory Hill Farm" only a few apple trees testified to the earlier presence of the Muirs; none of the locks, queer contraptions and machines remained and the old well house had been replaced by an iron windmill which, however, pumped water from the well which John had dug by drilling almost 80 feet through solid rock. Here again he almost lost his life one morning when his younger brother and his father had let him down to work in the bucket, for he dug the well by cutting out the rock chip by chip. Shortly afterward a neighbor arrived and, upon learn ing that John was down in the well, investigated, and when no response came to their call, the three men pulled up the bucket to find the worker blue from the "damps." It was a narrow escape from death but after his recovery John went back to work with his ac customed perseverance thereafter, however, al ways pouring a pailful of water down the hole before he descended. Long hours and hard work were the rule on the farm but the nature lover writes gleefully of his workshop in the old cellar. Disgusted at his longing to stay awake and read evenings, Thomas Muir had one night told him. "Go to bed at night, but if ye want to get up in the morning, ye can work then." John interpreted his injunction literally and every night there after worked at his ma chines from one o'clock until six in the morning, when it was tunc to go to work in the fields. Iter when he attended the University of Wisconsin, John continued work on his mechanical devices and made not only a barometer, a desk, and a queer clock, but a machine which tossed him out of bed in the morning when the sun's rays, focused through a condensing lens, burned a delicate hair which released the mechanism. He used wood almost entirely and some of his old. friends remember how he used to whittle continually at something or ttalFvTiaBr The new "Hickory Hill Farm" house Jack-in-the-Pulpits were out other whenever he had a few moments spare time. His locks proved disastrous to a group of threshers one day, for a heavy rain began when he was away from home; but so securely had he locked the barn that horses and men stayed out in the rain until he returned. He could hold the breaking plow better than any other man in the countryside, and his fame still lives in the neighborhood as that of a "strong man." John Muir easily accounts for it in his biography thus: "Our breaker turned a furrow two feet wide and on our best land held so firm a grip that at the end of the field my brother, who was driving the oxen, had to come to my assistance in throwing it over on its side to be drawn around the end of the landing. I learned to keep that plow in such trim that after I got started on a new furrow I used to ride on the cross bar between the handles with my feet resting comfort ably on the beam, without having to steer or steady it in any way on the whole length of the field, unless we had to go round a stump, for it sawed through the biggest grubs without flinching." Every settler on new land knows the meaning of "grubs." and no better explanation of them can be given than that of Mr. Muir: "When an acorn or a hickory nut had sent up its first season's growth a few inches long it was burned off in the autumn grass fires; but the root continued to hold on to life, formed a callous over the wound and sent up one or more shoots the next spring. Next autumn these new shoots were burned off, but the root continued to grow and to send up new shoots almost every year until probably more than a century old. while the tops which would nat urally have become broad-headed trees were only mere sprouts seldom more than two years old." Such was the land which John Muir was compelled to convert into a farm and which gave him still more lessons in hard work, as if he had not already grown accustomed to it on the first home farm of the Muirs. The spirit of John o' the Mountains must still lin ger about the quiet neighborhood, for it was these sur roundings which taught him something of that method of observation which was to make him. later in his life, a wanderer, a rover, a man who slept out-of-doors as if it were the only natural place for a man to sleep, a writer who looked at nature and realized that no matter how interestingly and how long he wrote, words cannot tell the story of the bypaths. For ten years he led an isolated life in the Sierra Nevada, undergoing all manner of hardships, says the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, in its sketch of John Muir. There he underwent all manner of hardships, often being subjected to great peril, and only when his stock of bread failed did he return to civilization. His winters there were devoted to study and to elaborating his notes. The flora and fauna and the meteorology of that region were minutely studied, but his labors as a geologist were far more important. The effects of the ela- cial period constituted the main subject of his investigation for many years, and he discovered 6S small residual gla ciers on the High Sierra. Mr. Muir was offered many flattering induce ments to prepare himself for professorships in colleges, but declined them, declaring that he wanted "to be more than a professor, whether noticed in the world or not. There are already far too many professors as compared with stu dents in the field." The wanderlust led him in later life through Alaska, where a great glitcning glacier was given his name; to Russia, Si beria, the Himalaya Mountains, the Philippines, Aus tralia and New Zealand, all places where he found endlesi enjoyment and continual association with the great and small inhabitants of forest, mountain, valley and stream. And one does not regret that the little lake among the Wisconsin hills has- not retained its earlier names of Muir Lake and Fountain Lake, for the name of John Muir is one which may be fixed to vast greatness, as inspiring as the Alaskan ice mountain.