CHAPTER XX. THROUGH UNMAPPED COUNTRY
We left the Taku ferry by way of a steep trail through an open pine and spruce forest along the rim of the Yangtze gorge where the view was magnificent. Someone has said that when a tourist sees the Grand Canon for the first time he gasps "Indescribable" and then immediately begins to describe it. Thus it was with us, but no words can picture the grandeur of this titanic chasm. In places the rocks were painted in delicate tints of blue and purple; in others, the sides fell away in sheer drops of hundreds of feet to the green torrent below rushing on to the sea two thousand five hundred miles away.
The caravan wound along the edge of the gorge all day and we were left far behind, for at each turn a view more beautiful than the last opened out before us, and until every color plate and negative in the holders had been exposed we worked steadily with the camera.
We were traveling northwestward through an unmapped region which Baron Haendel-Mazzetti had skirted and reported to be one of vast forests and probably rich in game. After six hours of riding over almost bare mountain-sides we passed through a parklike spruce forest and reached Habala, a long thin village of mud and stone houses scattered up the sides of a narrow valley.
Above and to the left of the village rose ridge after ridge of dense spruce forest overshadowed by a snow-crowned peak and cut by deep ravines, the gloomy depths of which yielded fascinating glimpses of rocky cliffs - a veritable paradise for serow and goral. Our camping place was a grassy lawn as flat and smooth as the putting green of a golf course. Just below the tents a streamlet of ice-cold water murmured comfortably to itself and a huge dead tree was lying crushed and broken for the camp fire.
The boys turned the beautiful spot into "home" in half an hour and, after setting a line of traps, we wandered slowly back through the darkness guided by the brilliant flames of the fires which threw a warm yellow glow over our little table spread for dinner.
We sent men to the village to bring in hunters and after dinner four or five picturesque Mosos appeared. They said that there were many serow, goral, muntjac and some wapiti in the forests above the village, and we could well believe it, for there was never a more "likely looking" spot. Although the men did not claim to be professional hunters, nevertheless they said that they had good dogs and had killed many muntjac and other animals.
They agreed to come at daylight and arrived about two hours late, which was doing fairly well for natives. It was a brilliant day just warm enough for comfort in the sun and we left camp with high hopes. However it did not take many hours to demonstrate that the men knew almost nothing about hunting and that their dogs were useless. Because of the dense cover "still hunting" was out of the question and, after a hard climb, we returned to camp to spend the remainder of the afternoon developing photographs and preparing small mammals.
Our traps had yielded three new shrews and a silver mole as well as a number of mice, rats, and meadow voles of species identical with those taken on the Snow Mountain. It was evident, therefore, that the Yangtze River does not act as an effective barrier to the distribution of even the smallest forms and that the region in which we were now working would not produce a different fauna. This was an important discovery from the standpoint of our distribution records but was also somewhat disappointing.
The photographic work already had yielded excellent results. The Paget color plates were especially beautiful and the fact that everything was developed in the field gave us an opportunity to check the quality of each negative.
For this work the portable dark room was invaluable. It could be quickly erected and suspended from a tree branch or the rafters of a temple and offered an absolutely safe place in which to develop or load plates. The moving-picture film required special treatment because of its size and we usually fastened in the servants' tent the red lining which had been made for this purpose in New York. Even then the space was so cramped that we were dead tired at the end of a few hours' work.
One who sits comfortably in a theater or hall and sees moving-picture film which has been obtained in such remote parts of the world does not realize the difficulties in its preparation. The water for developing almost invariably was dirty and in order to insure even a moderately clear film it always had to be strained. For washing the negative pailful after pailful had to be carried sometimes from a very long distance, and the film exposed for hours to the carelessness or curiosity of the natives. In our cramped quarters perhaps a corner of the tent would be pushed open admitting a stream of light; the electric flash lamp might refuse to work, leaving us in complete darkness to finish the developing "by guess and by gosh," or any number of other accidents occur to ruin the film. At most we could not develop more than three hundred feet in an afternoon and we never breathed freely until it finally was dried and safely stored away in the tin cans.
We left Habala, on November 23, for a village called Phete where the natives had assured us we would find good hunters with dogs. For almost the entire distance the road skirted the rim of the Yangtze gorge and there the view of the great chasm was even more magnificent than that we had left. While its sides are not fantastically sculptured and the colors are softer than those of the Grand Canon of the Colorado, nevertheless its grandeur is hardly less imposing and awe-inspiring. If Yuen-nan is ever made accessible by railroads this gorge should become a Mecca for tourists, for it is without doubt one of the most remarkable natural sights in the world.