V. UP THE RIVER OF TAPIRS
There was not much large mammalian life in the neighborhood. Kermit hunted industriously and brought in an occasional armadillo, coati, or agouti for the naturalists. Miller trapped rats and a queer opossum new to the collection. Cherrie got many birds. Cherrie and Miller skinned their specimens in a little open hut or shed. Moses, the small pet owl, sat on a cross-bar overhead, an interested spectator, and chuckled whenever he was petted. Two wrens, who bred just outside the hut, were much excited by the presence of Moses, and paid him visits of noisy unfriendliness. The little white-throated sparrows came familiarly about the palm cabins and whitewashed houses and trilled on the rooftrees. It was a simple song, with just a hint of our northern white-throat's sweet and plaintive melody, and of the opening bars of our song-sparrow's pleasant, homely lay. It brought back dear memories of glorious April mornings on Long Island, when through the singing of robin and song-sparrow comes the piercing cadence of the meadowlark; and of the far northland woods in June, fragrant with the breath of pine and balsam-fir, where sweetheart sparrows sing from wet spruce thickets and rapid brooks rush under the drenched and swaying alder-boughs.
From Tapirapoan our course lay northward up to and across the Plan Alto, the highland wilderness of Brazil. From the edges of this highland country, which is geologically very ancient, the affluents of the Amazon to the north, and of the Plate to the south, flow, with immense and devious loops and windings.
Two days before we ourselves started with our mule-train, a train of pack-oxen left, loaded with provisions, tools, and other things, which we would not need until, after a month or six weeks, we began our descent into the valley of the Amazon. There were about seventy oxen. Most of them were well broken, but there were about a score which were either not broken at all or else very badly broken. These were loaded with much difficulty, and bucked like wild broncos. Again and again they scattered their loads over the corral and over the first part of the road. The pack-men, however - copper-colored, black, and dusky-white - were not only masters of their art, but possessed tempers that could not be ruffled; when they showed severity it was because severity was needed, and not because they were angry. They finally got all their longhorned beasts loaded and started on the trail with them.
On January 21 we ourselves started, with the mule-train. Of course, as always in such a journey, there was some confusion before the men and the animals of the train settled down to the routine performance of duty. In addition to the pack-animals we all had riding-mules. The first day we journeyed about twelve miles, then crossing the Sepotuba and camping beside it, below a series of falls, or rather rapids. The country was level. It was a great natural pasture, covered with a very open forest of low, twisted trees, bearing a superficial likeness to the cross-timbers of Texas and Oklahoma. It is as well fitted for stock-raising as Oklahoma; and there is also much fine agricultural land, while the river will ultimately yield electric power. It is a fine country for settlement. The heat is great at noon; but the nights are not uncomfortable. We were supposed to be in the middle of the rainy season, but hitherto most of the days had been fine, varied with showers. The astonishing thing was the absence of mosquitoes. Insect pests that work by day can be stood, and especially by settlers, because they are far less serious foes in the clearings than in the woods. The mosquitoes and other night foes offer the really serious and unpleasant problem, because they break one's rest. Hitherto, during our travels up the Paraguay and its tributaries, in this level, marshy tropical region of western Brazil, we had practically not been bothered by mosquitoes at all, in our home camps. Out in the woods they were at times a serious nuisance, and Cherrie and Miller had been subjected to real torment by them during some of their special expeditions; but there were practically none on the ranches and in our camps in the open fields by the river, even when marshes were close by. I was puzzled - and delighted - by their absence. Settlers need not be deterred from coming to this region by the fear of insect foes.