페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

familiar to us by means of these narratives, which far surpass in excitement, enterprise, danger, and daring anything which imagination pictures. Mr. Kennan takes us more completely by surprise than either Mr. Whymper or Mr. Bell had done. Of Siberia we have learned a good deal of late, from Mr. Michie and others ; but the Kamtchatkan peninsula represents " the back of God-speed 1 " to us, still suggests Elizabeth or the Exiles more distinctly than any authentic record. Mr. Kennan sailed with a small exploring party, in 1864, from San Francisco, to the harbor of Petropaulovski, the voyage occupying forty-six days, and being sufficiently monotonous to afford ample opportunity for intensifying apprehensions concerning the nature of the place he was bound for. The very name had always been associated with everything barren and inhospitable. The little party discussed, during the voyage, the question whether anything but mosses, lichens, and a little grass maintained the unequal struggle for existence in that frozen clime. At the entrance of Avatcha Bay, when the fog, which had for some time tantalized them, lifted, they beheld green grassy valleys stretching away from openings in the rocky coast, until they were lost in the distant mountains; the rounded bluffs were covered with clumps of yellow birch ; and thickets of dark-green chaparral and patches of flowers could be seen on the warm sheltered slopes of the hills. As they neared the harbor, this was the scene they passed through : "On either side of the bay were green hills, covered with trees and verdant thickets ; valleys white with clover, and diversified with little groves of silver-barked birch ; rocks nodding with wild roses and columbine. Just before three o'clock, we came in sight of the village of Petropaulovski—a little cluster of red-roofed and bark-thatched log-houses; a Greek church, of curious architecture, with a green-painted dome; a strip of beach, a half-ruined .wharf, two whale-boats, and the dismantled wreck of a half-sunken vessel. High green hills swept in a great semi-circle of foliage around the little village, and almost shut in the quiet pondlike harbor—an inlet of Avatcha Bay, on which it was situated. We glided silently under the shadow of the encircling hills into this land-locked mill-pond, and within a stone's throw of the nearest house

the sails were suddenly clewed up, and with a quivering of the ship, and a rattle of chain-cable, our anchor dropped into the soil of Asia."

Petropaulovski is not exactly a representative Xamtchadal town, for it has been exposed to exterior and foreign influences, and is very like other Russian settlements. The exploring party made but little delay there, and divided their forces, so as to cover the whole proposed line. To Mr. Kennan's division—told off to travel through the peninsula of Kamtchatka, and to strike the proposed route of the line midway between Okhotsk and Behring's Strait—belonged Major Abasa, the superintendent of the work, and generalissimo of the forces in Siberia, two natives, and a young American fur-trader named Dodd, who was to act as interpreter. Their plari 'was simple ; here it is: "Our force numbered five men, and was to be divided into three parties—one for the west coast of the Okhotsk Sea; one for the north coast; and one for the country between the sea and the Arctic Circle. All minor details, such as means of transportation and subsistence, were left to the discretion of the several parties. We were to live on the country, and to travel with the natives. The Russian authorities did not hesitate to express their opinion that five men would never succeed in exploring the eighteen hundred miles of barren, almost uninhabited country between the Amoor River and Behring's Strait. It was not probable, they said, that the Major could get through the peninsula of Kamtchatka at all that fall, but that, if he did, he certainly could not penetrate the great desolate steppes to the northward, which were only inhabited by wandering tribes of Chookehis and Koraks. The Major replied simply that he would show them what we could do, and went on with his preparations."

There are no roads in the Kamtchadal peninsula, and the language spoken by the people is hopelessly unintelligible. It is necessary to bear these facts in mind, for the due appreciation of the journey on which Mr. Kennan, "the Major,'' Dodd, and their natives, set out on September 4, 1865. Boxes covered with sealskin, to be hung from pack-saddles, contained their stores ; tents, bear-skins, and camp equipage were packed away in ingeniously contrived bundles; horses were ordered from all the adjacent villages, and a special courier was sent throughout the peninsula, to apprise the natives of the coming of the expedition, and direct them to keep their horses in readiness. These comparatively civilized arrangements could, however, only avail them for a small portion of their journey, until they should reach the territory of the Wandering Koraks. North of that point, they could not depend upon any regular means of transportation—upon pack-horses, canoes, or dogsledges—but would be obliged to trust to the tender mercies of the arctic nomads. South Kamtchatka is a delightful place, with a mild and equable climate, and vegetation of tropical freshness and luxuriance. The whole peninsula is of volcanic formation—five or six volcanoes are now firing away uninterruptedly—and is longi-. tudinally divided by an immense chain of mountains, which has never been even named, and which breaks off abruptly into the Okhotsk Sea, leaving to the northward a high level steppe, called the "dole," or desert, which is the wandering ground of the reindeer Koraks. Of the central and southern parts of the peninsula, Mr. Kennan says: "They are broken up by the spurs and foothills of the great mountain range into deep sequestered valleys of the wildest and most picturesque character, and afford scenery which, for majestic and varied beauty, is not surpassed in all Northern Asia. The population numbers about five thousand, and is composed of three distinct classes—(he Russians, the Kaintchadals, or settled natives, and the Wandering Koraks. The most numerous are the Kamtchadals,—a good, peaceful, kindly, order-loving race—who live in log villages, near the mouths of small rivers, which rise in the central range of mountains, and fall into the Okhotsk Sea and the Pacific." Mr. Kennan gives a most interesting description of these people. He calls them "a quiet, inoffensive, hospitable tribe of semi-barbarians, remarkable only for honesty, general amiability, and comical reverence for legally constituted authority. Such an idea as rebellion or resistance to oppression is wholly foreign to the Kamtchadal character no7f, whatever it may have been in previous ages of independence. They will suffer and endure any amount of abuse and ill-treatment without any apparent desire for revenge, and with the greatest good-nature and

elasticity of spirit. They are as faithful and forgiving as a dog. If you treat them well, your slightest wish will be their law."

They are chiefly engaged in fishing, furtrapping, and the cultivation of rye, turnips, cabbages, and potatoes. The few Russians are scattered among their villages, and trade for furs with them and the nomadic tribes to the northward. The Wandering Koraks, who are the wildest, and most independent natives in the peninsula, seldom come south of the fiftyeighth parallel of latitude, except for the purposes of trade. Their chosen haunts are the great desolate steppes lying east of Penjinsk Gulf, where they wander constantly from place to place in solitary bands, living in large fur tents, and depending for subsistence upon their vast herds of tamed and domesticated reindeer. The whole peninsula is supposed to be governed by a Russian "Ispravnik," or local governor; but the Koraks are not really governed at all, nor do they require ruling. They are the most harmless and meritorious of savages, exceedingly interesting in a very strange way. One feels, in reading of them, as if they were creatures of an arctic mythology, dim and grim even beyond the Scandinavian; tenants of shades whose fields are ice-fields, and whose ghostly light comes from the flaming swords of the aurora borealis. The settlements of the southern natives, who are dark, swarthy, and. smaller than the pure Siberians, witlrall their rudeness, are not wanting in comfort, and the following picture is attractive as well as vivid :—" If you can imagine a rough American backwoods' settlement of low log-houses clustered round a gaily colored Turkish mosque, half-a-dozen small haystacks mounted on high vertical posts, fifteen or twenty titanic wooden gridirons similarly elevated, and hung full of drying fish, a few dog-sledges and canoes lying carelessly around, and a hundred or more gray wolves tied here and there between the houses to long heavy poles, you will have a general but tolerably accurate idea of a Kamtchadal settlement. They differ somewhat in respect to their size and their churches; but the gray log-houses, conical 'bologans,' drying fish, wolfish dogs, canoes, sledges, and fishy odors, are all invariable features." Like the Esquimaux, though without the same terrible conditions of existence to explain their decay, the Kamtchadals are dying out. Since 1780, their numbers have diminished one-half. They have already lost most of their distinctive customs and superstitiqns; and only the occasional sacrifice of a dog, to some malignant spirit of storm or disease, enables the modern traveller to catch a glimpse of their original paganism. They depend chiefly on the salmon, which literally choke the rivers, for their subsistence; but the whole peninsula abounds in animal life. Reindeer, and black and brown bears, roam about everywhere; a species of ibex inhabits the mountain ; and millions of ducks, geese, and swans swarm about every river and little marshy lake throughout the country.' Mr. Kennan's account of the reception given to the Major, Dodd, and himself, at a settlement whose name he never attempted to master, but which he calls Jerusalem, is one to capsize all one's previous notions of Kamtchatka.

"The house which was to be honored by our presence had been carefully scrubbed, swept, and garnished; the women had put on their most flowery calico dresses, and tied their hair up in their brightest silk handkerchiefs; most of the children's faces had been painfully washed and polished with soap, water, and wads of fibrous hemp; the whole village had been laid under contribution to obtain the requisite number of plates, cups, and spoons for our supper-table; and votive offerings of ducks, reindeer tongues, blueberries, and clotted cream poured in upon us with profusion. In an hour we sat down to an excellent supper of cold roast duck, broiled reindeer tongues, black bread and fresh butter, blueberries and cream, and wild rose petals crushed with white sugar into a rich delicious jam. We had come to Kamtchatka with minds and mouths heroically made up for an unvarying diet of blubber, tallow-candles, and train-oil; but imagine our surprise and delight at being treated instead to such luxuries as blueberries, cream, and preserved rose leaves!" No wonder Mr. Kennan is proud of making this hyperborean contribution to gastronomical science: "Take equal quantities of white loaf-sugar and the petals of the Alpine rose j add a little juice of crushed blueberries; macerate together to a rich crimson paste ; serve in the painted cups of trumpet honeysuckles, and imagine your

self feasting with the gods upon the summit of high Olympus!" Such a feast was a fitting preparation for a delicious journey through the valley of Gennl, the most beautiful as well as the most fertile spot in all the peninsula, in glorious weather, in perfect health, and in high spirits.

It is difficult to imagine anything more enjoyable than this journey, succeeded by a river voyage, during which the travellers "lay on the open deck of a Kamtchadal boat, covered to a depth of six inches with fragrant flowers and freshlycut hay," and floated slowly down a broad tranquil stream through ranges of snow-clad mountains, past forests glowing with yellow and crimson, and vast steppes waving with tall wild grass, and with occasional glimpses of magnificent active volcanoes. But when this is changed for the ascent of a tremendous ravine, and the exploration of immense plains of spongy moss, in the midst of driving rain, and wind of inconceivable force and fury, things are more in accordance with one's established notions of Kamtchatka. There was not much hardship to be endured, and there was an immense deal of compensating beauty to be seen in the journey so far as Tigily which settlement, second in importance in the peninsula to Petropaulovski, they reached, on a raft, rather dangerously late in the season, considering the nature of the moss steppes which must be traversed, and which, by no means easy to cross in winter, when reindeer sledges are employed for the purpose, are practically impassable in summer. For three or four hundred square miles, the eternally frozen ground is covered to a depth of two feet with a dense luxurious growth of soft springy arctic moss, saturated with water, and sprinkled here and there with little hillocks of stunted blueberry bushes and clusters of Labrador tea. It never dries up, never becomes hard enough to afford stable footing. From June to September, it is a great, soft, quaking cushion of wet moss. Walking over it is precisely like walking over an enormous wet sponge. This impracticable state of things is accounted for thus: "Light, heat, and moisture, in a northern climate, are so combined and intensified during the summer months, as to stimulate some kinds of vegetation into almost tropical luxuriance. The earth thaws in spring to an average depth of perhaps two feet, and below that point there is a thick impenetrable layer of solid frost. The water produced by the melting of the winter's snows is prevented by this stratum of frozen ground from sinking any farther into the earth, and no escape except by slow evaporation. It therefore saturates the cushion of moss on the surface, and, aided by the almost perpetual sunlight of June and July, excites it to a rapid and wonderfully luxuriant growth."

The little party left Tigil in September, for Lesnoi, the last Kamtchadal settlement in the peninsula, and left Lesnoi to explore the two hundred miles of terrible uninhabited wilderness which lie between it and Gee-zhe-ga, the point for which they were making. From this time, their journey presented tremendous hardships, and furnished pictures which Dante might borrow for an enlarged edition of his Inferno. They tried to cross the Samanka Mountains, though the natives of Lesnoi assured them it could not be done until the frost had set in, and dog-sledges could be used; and their obstinacy nearly cost them their lives. The supposed road over the mountains was presumed to lie near the sea-coast, and in the middle of the range there was said to be a small river cailed the Samanka. The party divided itself; half was to go round the mountains by water with the whale-boat; the other half round them with twenty unloaded horses; and the mouth of the river was to be their rendezvous. It was supposed that they would always be within signalling distance of each other. The Major went with Dodd in the whale-boat; Mr. Kennan, Vusheni the interpreter, and their best Cossack, with six Kamtchadals, formed the land party. The first and second day went off pretty well: it was dull work travelling through a tortuous valley, over spongy swamps, and across deep narrow creeks, surrounded by snowcapped mountains and extinct volcanic peaks, until it became dangerous, which it did when the valley narrowed to a wild rocky canon, one hundred and fifty feet in depth, at the bottom of which ran a swollen mountain torrent foaming around sharp black rocks, and falling over ledges of lava in magnificent cascades. To journey along this canon, on a narrow ledge of rock, just possibly safe for exceedingly sure-footed animals, was exciting, but a mere trifle in comparison with

what was to come; when, after emerging into a terrible barren place, where even the reindeer moss could hardly grow, and camping there in a tremendous rain, the morning revealed that a driving snowstorm was sweeping down the valley, and nature had put on the garb of winter. With inconceivable difficulty and suffering, they gained, after some hours, what seemed to be the crest of the mountain, perhaps two thousand feet above the sea, where the fury of the wind was almost irresistible, and then this happened:

"Dense clouds of driving snow hid everything from sight at a distance of a few steps, and we seemed to be standing on a fragment of a wrecked world, enveloped in a whirling tempest of stinging snow-flakes. Now and then, a black volcanic crag, inaccessible as the peak of the Matterhorn, would loom out in the white mist far above our heads, as if suspended in mid air, giving a startling momentary wildness to the scene; then it would again disappear in flying snow, and leave us staring blindly into vacancy. . . . We crept along the crest of the mountain to the eastward, and then up ridges and down ravines, until the guide acknowledged that we were lost in a perfect wilderness of mountains. Our limbs were chilled and stiffened by their icy covering, and a hurricane of wind blew in our faces. About the middle of the afternoon, we came suddenly out upon the very brink of a storm swept precipice, one hundred and fifty feet in depth, against whose base the sea "was hurling tremendous green breakers with a roar that drowned the rushing noise of the wind. Behind and around us lay a wilderness of white, desolate peaks, crowded together under a gray, pitiless sky, with here and there a patch of trailing pine, or a black pinnacle of trap rock, to intensify by contrast the ghastly whiteness and desolation of the weird snowy mountains. In front, but far below, was the troubled sea, rolling mysteriously out of a gray mist of snow-tlakes, breaking in thick sheets of clotted froth against the black cliff, and making long reverberations and hollow gurgling noises in the subterranean caverns which it had hollowed out. Snow, water, and mountains, and in the foreground a little group of ice-covered men and shaggy horses staring at the sea from the summit of a mighty cliff."

Long after dark they rode into a deep, lonely valley, which came out upon the beach near the rendezvous; and there they camped, the storm still raging. The morning showed them no traces of the whale-boat party, for whose arrival Mr. Kennan had orders to wait two days. But that night Vusheni came to him with the news that the party were then eating the last of their provisions. The Kamtchadals, making sure of meeting the whaleboat party, had supplied themselves for three days only, which had elapsed. They were, therefore, three days' journey (and such a journey !) from Lesnoi, and how were they to get back? The mountains were doubtless impassable, on account of the snow; and in such weather the whale-boat could never come. The mountain range must be passed somehow, for dear life's sake; orders must be disobeyed. Mr. Kennan wrote a note to the Major, enclosed it in a tin can, to be left on the site of their camp, and crawled into his fur bag to sleep and get strength for another struggle with the mountains. In the morning, the guide came to him with an extraordinary proposal, which he accepted. It was, that they should abandon the plan of crossing the mountains, and try instead to make their way along the narrow strip of beach which the ebbing tide would bare at the foot of the cliffs, to a ravine on the south side, within one day's hard ride of Lesnoi. Divested of its verbal plausibilities, his plan was a thirty-mile race with a high tide along a narrow beach, from which all escape was cut off by precipitous cliffs, one and two hundred feet in height. If they reached the ravine in time, all would be well; but if not, the beach would be covered ten feet deep with water, and their horses, if not themselves, swept away like corks. The tide was beginning to ebb, and it would be three or four hours before it would be low enough for them to start. The Kamtchadals improved the interval by killing one of the dogs, and offering him up to the Evil Spirit, in whose jurisdiction these mountains were supposed to be. Mr. Kennan regretted the ruthless murder of the poor animal, but was glad of the improvement it worked in the spirits and courage of his superstitious companions.

At length, the guide examined the beach, and gave the word to start for their four hours' race. They set off in a gallop

along the beach, with the tremendous black cliffs on one side, and the breakers on the other. Great masses of green slimy sea weed, shells, water-soaked driftwood, and thousands of medusa:, which had been thrown up by the storm, lay strewn in piles along the beach; but they dashed through and over them, never drawing rein except to pick their way between enormous masses of barnacle-encrusted, fallen rock, which blocked up the beach. When eighteen miles of this tremendous ride had been accomplished, two figures came along the beach, which were at first mistaken for bears, but proved to be natives, charged with a message from Major Abasa, which they delivered with all the ceremonious and irrepressible politeness habitual with the Kamtchadals, undeterred by the circumstances. "Seashore," wrote the Major, on a very dirty piece of paper; "fifteen versts from Lesnoi, October 4th. Driven ashore here by the storm. Hurry back as fast as possible." There was no time for explanations; the tide was running in rapidly; twelve miles must be made in little over an hour, or the horses lost. The tired messengers were mounted on two of the spare animals, and the race began again, to end thus: "The situation grew more and more exciting as we approached the ravine. At the end of every projecting bluff the water was higher and higher, and in several places it had already touched with foam and spray the foot of the cliffs. In twenty minutes more the beach would be impassable. Our horses held out nobly, and the ravine was only a short distance ahead ; only one more projecting bluff intervened. Against this the sea was already beginning to break, but we galloped past through several feet of water, and in five minutes drew rein at the mouth of the ravine."

Then came the cutting of a trail with their axes through the dense thickets which choked up the ravine—terrible toil after the hard ride and the long fast—and then enforced rest, from absolute inability to get on, in spite of hunger. A second day's ride, without food, nearly brought Mr. Kennan to the limit of his extraordinary powers of endurance. Two hours after dark, on that second day, they heard the howling of the dogs from Lesnoi, and in twenty minutes they rode into the settlement, dashed up to the little log-house

« 이전계속 »