List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
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A shout from our companions in the other canoe made us retrace our
steps to the shore. They had already rounded the point, and were
wondering at our absence.

Oh, what a magnificent scene of wild and lonely grandeur burst upon
us as we swept round the little peninsula, and the whole majesty of
Stony Lake broke upon us at once; another Lake of the Thousand
Isles, in miniature, and in the heart of the wilderness! Imagine a
large sheet of water, some fifteen miles in breadth and twenty-five
in length, taken up by islands of every size and shape, from the
lofty naked rock of red granite to the rounded hill, covered with
oak-trees to its summit; while others were level with the waters,
and of a rich emerald green, only fringed with a growth of aquatic
shrubs and flowers. Never did my eyes rest on a more lovely or
beautiful scene. Not a vestige of man, or of his works, was there.
The setting sun that cast such a gorgeous flood of light upon this
exquisite panorama, bringing out some of these lofty islands in
strong relief, and casting others into intense shade, shed no cheery
beam upon church spire or cottage pane. We beheld the landscape,
savage and grand in its primeval beauty.

As we floated among the channels between these rocky picturesque
isles, I asked Mat how many of them there were.

"I never could succeed," he said, "in counting them all. One Sunday
Pat and I spent a whole day in going from one to the other, to try
and make out how many there were, but we could only count up to one
hundred and forty before we gave up the task in despair. There are
a great many of them; more than any one would think--and, what is
very singular, the channel between them is very deep, sometimes
above forty feet, which accounts for the few rapids to be found in
this lake. It is a glorious place for hunting; and the waters,
undisturbed by steam-boats, abound in all sorts of fish.

"Most of these islands are covered with huckleberries; while
grapes, high and low-bush cranberries, blackberries, wild cherries,
gooseberries, and several sorts of wild currants grow here in
profusion. There is one island among these groups (but I never could
light upon the identical one) where the Indians yearly gather their
wampum-grass. They come here to collect the best birch-bark for
their canoes, and to gather wild onions. In short, from the game,
fish, and fruit which they collect among the islands of this lake,
they chiefly depend for their subsistence. They are very jealous of
the settlers in the country coming to hunt and fish here, and tell
many stories of wild beasts and rattlesnakes that abound along its
shores, but I, who have frequented the lake for years, was never
disturbed by anything, beyond the adventure with the wolf, which
I have already told you. The banks of this lake are all steep and
rocky, and the land along the shore is barren, and totally unfit
for cultivation.

"Had we time to run up a few miles further, I could have showed you
some places well worth a journey to look at; but the sun is already
down, and it will be dark before we get back to the mill."

The other canoe now floated alongside, and Pat agreed with his
brother that it was high time to return. With reluctance I turned
from this strangely fascinating scene. As we passed under one bold
rocky island, Mat said, laughingly, "That is Mount Rascal."

"How did it obtain that name?"

"Oh, we were out here berrying, with our good priest, Mr. B---.
This island promised so fair, that we landed upon it, and, after
searching for an hour, we returned to the boat without a single
berry, upon which Mr. B--- named it 'Mount Rascal.'"

The island was so beautiful, it did not deserve the name, and I
christened it "Oak Hill," from the abundance of oak-trees which
clothed its steep sides. The wood of this oak is so heavy and hard
that it will not float in the water, and it is in great request for
the runners of lumber-sleighs, which have to pass over very bad

The breeze, which had rendered our sail up the lakes so expeditious
and refreshing, had stiffened into a pretty high wind, which was
dead against us all the way down. Betty now knelt in the bow and
assisted her brother, squaw fashion, in paddling the canoe; but, in
spite of all their united exertions, it was past ten o'clock before
we reached the mill. The good Norah was waiting tea for us. She had
given the children their supper four hours ago, and the little
creatures, tired with using their feet all day, were sound asleep
upon her bed.

After supper, several Irish songs were sung, while Pat played upon
the fiddle, and Betty and Mat enlivened the company with an Irish

It was midnight when the children were placed on my cloak at the
bottom of the canoe, and we bade adieu to this hospitable family.
The wind being dead against us, we were obliged to dispense with the
sail, and take to our paddles. The moonlight was as bright as day,
the air warm and balmy; and the aromatic, resinous smell exuded by
the heat from the balm-of-gilead and the pine-trees in the forest,
added greatly to our sense of enjoyment as we floated past scenes so
wild and lonely--isles that assumed a mysterious look and character
in that witching hour. In moments like these, I ceased to regret my
separation from my native land; and, filled with the love of Nature,
my heart forgot for the time the love of home. The very spirit of
peace seemed to brood over the waters, which were broken into a
thousand ripples of light by every breeze that stirred the rice
blossoms, or whispered through the shivering aspen-trees. The
far-off roar of the rapids, softened by distance, and the long,
mournful cry of the night-owl, alone broke the silence of the night.
Amid these lonely wilds the soul draws nearer to God, and is filled
to overflowing by the overwhelming sense of His presence.

It was two o'clock in the morning when we fastened the canoe to the
landing, and Moodie carried up the children to the house. I found
the girl still up with my boy, who had been very restless during
our absence. My heart reproached me, as I caught him to my breast,
for leaving him so long; in a few minutes he was consoled for past
sorrows, and sleeping sweetly in my arms.


  Come, launch the light canoe;
    The breeze is fresh and strong;
  The summer skies are blue,
    And 'tis joy to float along;
      Away o'er the waters,
      The bright-glancing waters,
      The many-voiced waters,
    As they dance in light and song.

  When the great Creator spoke,
    On the long unmeasured night
  The living day-spring broke,
    And the waters own'd His might;
      The voice of many waters,
      Of glad, rejoicing waters,
      Of living, leaping waters,
    First hailed the dawn of light.

  Where foaming billows glide
    To earth's remotest bound;
  The rushing ocean tide
    Rolls on the solemn sound;
      God's voice is in the waters;
      The deep, mysterious waters,
      The sleepless, dashing waters,
    Still breathe its tones around.



[I am indebted to my husband for this sketch.]

  Behold that man, with lanky locks,
  Which hang in strange confusion o'er his brow;
  And nicely scan his garments, rent and patch'd,
  In colours varied, like a pictured map;
  And watch his restless glance--now grave, now gay--
  As saddening thought, or merry humour's flash
  Sweeps o'er the deep-mark'd lines which care hath left;
  As when the world is steep'd in blackest night,
  The forked lightning flashes through the sky,
  And all around leaps into life and light,
  To sink again in darkness blacker still.
  Yes! look upon that face lugubrious, long,
  As thoughtfully he stands with folded arms
  Amid his realm of charr'd and spectral stumps,
  Which once were trees, but now, with sprawling roots,
  Cling to the rocks which peep above the soil.
  Ay! look again,
  And say if you discern the faintest trace
  Of warrior bold;--the gait erect and proud,
  The steady glance that speaks the fearless soul,
  Watchful and prompt to do what man can do
  When duty calls. All wreck'd and reckless now;--
  But let the trumpet's soul-inspiring sound
  Wake up the brattling echoes of the woods,
  Then watch his kindling eye--his eagle glance--
  While thoughts of glorious fields, and battles won,
  And visions bright of joyous, hopeful youth
  Sweep o'er his soul. A soldier now once more--
  Touch'd by the magic sound, he rears his head,
  Responsive to the well-known martial note,
  And stands again a hero 'mid his rags.

It is delightful to observe a feeling of contentment under adverse
circumstances. We may smile at the rude and clumsy attempts of the
remote and isolated backwoodsman to attain something like comfort,
but happy he who, with the buoyant spirits of the light-hearted
Irishman, contrives to make himself happy even when all others would
be miserable.

A certain degree of dissatisfaction with our present circumstances
is necessary to stimulate us to exertion, and thus to enable us to
secure future comfort; but where the delusive prospect of future
happiness is too remote for any reasonable hope of ultimate
attainment, then surely it is true wisdom to make the most of the
present, and to cultivate a spirit of happy contentment with the lot
assigned to us by Providence.

"Ould Simpson," or the "Ould Dhragoon," as he was generally called,
was a good sample of this happy character; and I shall proceed to
give the reader a sketch of his history, and a description of his
establishment. He was one of that unfortunate class of discharged
soldiers who are tempted to sell their pensions often far below
their true value, for the sake of getting a lot of land in some
remote settlement, where it is only rendered valuable by the labour
of the settler, and where they will have the unenviable privilege of
expending the last remains of their strength in clearing a patch of
land for the benefit of some grasping storekeeper who has given them
credit while engaged in the work.

The old dragoon had fixed his abode on the verge of an extensive
beaver-meadow, which was considered a sort of natural curiosity in
the neighbourhood; and where he managed, by cutting the rank grass
in the summer time, to support several cows, which afforded the
chief subsistence of his family. He had also managed, with the
assistance of his devoted partner, Judy, to clear a few acres of
poor rocky land on the sloping margin of the level meadow, which
he planted year after year with potatoes. Scattered over this
small clearing, here and there might be seen the but-end of some
half-burnt hemlock tree, which had escaped the general combustion
of the log heaps, and now formed a striking contrast to the white
limestone rocks which showed their rounded surfaces above the meagre

The "ould dhragoon" seemed, moreover, to have some taste for the
picturesque, and by way of ornament, had left standing sundry tall
pines and hemlocks neatly girdled to destroy their foliage, the
shade of which would have been detrimental to the "blessed praties"
which he designed to grow in his clearing, but which, in the
meantime, like martyrs at the stake, stretched their naked branches
imploringly towards the smiling heavens. As he was a kind of hermit,
from choice, and far removed from other settlers, whose assistance
is so necessary in new settlements, old Simpson was compelled to
resort to the most extraordinary contrivances while clearing his
land. Thus, after felling the trees, instead of chopping them into
lengths, for the purpose of facilitating the operation of piling
them preparatory to burning, which would have cost him too much
labour, he resorted to the practice of "niggering," as it is called;
which is simply laying light pieces of round timber across the
trunks of the trees, and setting fire to them at the point of
contact, by which means the trees are slowly burned through.

It was while busily engaged in this interesting operation that I
first became acquainted with the subject of this sketch.

Some twenty or thirty little fires were burning briskly in different
parts of the blackened field, and the old fellow was watching the
slow progress of his silent "niggers," and replacing them from time
to time as they smouldered away. After threading my way among the
uncouth logs, blazing and smoking in all directions, I encountered
the old man, attired in an old hood, or bonnet, of his wife Judy,
with his patched canvas trousers rolled up to his knees; one foot
bare, and the other furnished with an old boot, which from its
appearance had once belonged to some more aristocratic foot. His
person was long, straight, and sinewy, and there was a light
springiness and elasticity in his step which would have suited a
younger man, as he skipped along with a long handspike over his
shoulder. He was singing a stave from the "Enniskillen Dragoon"
when I came up with him.

  "With his silver-mounted pistols, and his long carbine,
  Long life to the brave Inniskillen dragoon."

His face would have been one of the most lugubrious imaginable, with
his long, tangled hair hanging confusedly over it, in a manner which
has been happily compared to a "bewitched haystack," had it not been
for a certain humorous twitch or convulsive movement, which affected
one side of his countenance, whenever any droll idea passed
through his mind. It was with a twitch of this kind, and a certain
indescribable twinkle of his somewhat melancholy eye, as he seemed
intuitively to form a hasty conception of the oddity of his
appearance to a stranger unused to the bush, that he welcomed me
to his clearing. He instantly threw down his handspike, and leaving
his "niggers" to finish their work at their leisure, insisted on our
going to his house to get something to drink.

On the way, I explained to him the object of my visit, which was
to mark out, or "blaze," the sidelines of a lot of land I had
received as part of a military grant, immediately adjoining the
beaver-meadow, and I asked him to accompany me, as he was well
acquainted with the different lots.

"Och! by all manner of manes, and welcome; the dhevil a foot of the
way but I know as well as my own clearing; but come into the house,
and get a dhrink of milk, an' a bite of bread an' butther, for
sorrow a dhrop of the whiskey has crossed my teeth for the last
month; an' it's but poor intertainment for man or baste I can offer
you, but shure you're heartily welcome."

The precincts of the homestead were divided and subdivided into an
infinity of enclosures, of all shapes and sizes. The outer enclosure
was a bush fence, formed of trees felled on each other in a row, and
the gaps filled up with brushwood. There was a large gate, swung
with wooden hinges, and a wooden latch to fasten it; the smaller
enclosures were made with round poles, tied together with bark.
The house was of the rudest description of "shanty," with hollowed
basswood logs, fitting into each other somewhat in the manner of
tiles for a roof, instead of shingles. No iron was to be seen, in

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