This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
I set them to work on the top of the hill, and having got the timber down, untrimmed one tree oyer another, until we opened a circular space on the summit We began on the outside of the circle, and by means of blocks and tackles, we drew the trees one by one inwards, with their heads toward the top of the hill, until the pile got so high that they literally had not room to fall or even to be dragged down.
In this dilemma I had to call in my choppers, who pronounced it impossible to clear up the hill until the timber got dry enough to burn sufficiently to get into it and cut it up. As we had expended above six weeks labor on about a quarter of an acre, and I was anxious to get the space cleared up for my house, I determined to burn it up some way. 60 having piled an immense heap of dry cedar trees, carried from the borders of the lakes, over my sylvan monument, I set it on fire in different places at night, and went out on the lake to enjoy the magnificent breadth of light and shade which the blazing pile threw over the surrounding landscape. The effect was truly superb at night; but in the morning it had a very different aspect, as the first persons I saw when I left my room next day were my choppers, who came to tell me that the fire had run over the ground where they had been at work, and left nothing but a bare rock behind. The statement seeming incredible, where there was such a growth of fine heavy timber, all hands started off together.
The first place we came to was the hill, which presented the most desolate and miserable sight I ever beheld in the bush: the lofty trees stretched one over the other in the most chaotic confusion, charred and blackened, with their bare and spreading branches grappling with each other as if in final deadly struggle; while just beyond where the day before lay the rich black mold, with its thick, soft covering of crisp, dry leaves, nought was to be seen but the bare, flat, water-worn limestone rock, out of which solid bed the fine but now scorched and blackened trees seemed to spring up as if firmly rooted in the solid rock. A scene more utterly desolate I' have seldom viewed; and as if to deepen the effect, the first snow storm of the season, descending in its fleecy shower, threw its cold and dreary mantle over the blighted scene.
The first shock of astonishment having subsided, we proceeded to examine into a phenomenon for which none of us could account, and found that the surface of black mold was only a few inches deep, spread over a laminated limestone rock, which had evidently at some remote period been the bed of a communication between the two lakes; and that the fine timber with which it was covered, sprung up from and was rooted in the interstices with which it was intersected, varying in width from four to eight or ten inches, and in some places very deep, and all filled up with black mold, formed by the accumulation of decayed leaves and other vegetable matter. After a careful examination, being fully satisfied that the whole tract was of the same quality, and totally unfit for agricultural purposes, we resolved to start the next morning for Toronto, and get the Governor's permission to exchange my unfortunate location, and made preparations accordingly. But even in this I found that I had reckoned without my host; as the ice, though not strong enough to be traveled over, was too strong to force a boat through, and there was not even a practicable bush blaze to guide us by land: so that we were virtually imprisoned, and without the assistance of either frost or thaw, would have to remain so.
However, in a few days frost came to our rescue; and the ice seeming sufficient to bear us, attended by one man with a trunk and traveling bag on a hand-sleigh, and our guns on our shoulders, accompanied by my wife, we started at early morn on our return to Peterboro,' on foot, by a route considerably shorter than the one we came by water. After walking down Manitou Lake three miles on the glare ice, we had to cross the bush five miles to strike Buckhorn Lake, which being full of springs, its ice is at all times dangerous; and on gaining the shore, we saw open water in many places where the current ran in the center, but apparently connected between the openings sufficiently to afford a passage. Having resolved to attempt crossing, we got safely over more than two-thirds of the distance, when we came to the current, where much of the ice seemed floating. Seeing one place which seemed firm across, we gained it; and when about on the center of the frozen bridge, our weight broke it off from either side, and we found ourselves in an instant floating in open water on a small floe of ice, miles from any other human beings, and drifting swiftly to the boiling rapids about two miles below us.
Our astonishment was quickly succeeded by the awe and dread of our perilous situation.
After a few moments consultation, we decided on attempting the only chance which seemed open to us. Both the wind and current were urging us to the rapids; and about half way on the right shore, the one which we had been trying to gain, a point projected out so far as to narrow the channel to less than one-half; and the open water washed it To strike the weather side of this point was now our only hope. So placing my wife on the hand-sleigh, with her cloak spread out for a sail to try to get steerage way, we got as near the larboard side of the floe as possible, and using the butts of our guns for paddles, we by degrees guided our frail and dangerous raft inside of the point, upon which we drifted in safety, and quickly sprung ashore to pay our grateful homage to Him who had so mercifully preserved us.
Afraid to trust ourselves again upon the dangerous ice of Buckhorn, we waded through the wet snow on its marshy banks for six miles, to the Indian village, where it connects with Mud Lake. Having become acquainted with many of the Indians in their hunting excursions at Harvey, we went at once to the chief's house, where we were most hospitably entertained and comfortably warmed and dried.
As the glare ice on Mud lake (which we had yet to cross, a distance of six miles,) was not yet fit to be traveled by horses, the old chief collected all the tribe in the village, got his own sleigh on the ice, placed us in it, and partly drawn partly pushed by the whole tribe of Indians on skates, we flew across the lake at an almost incredible speed. They would receive no recompense, and seemed amply repaid by having been able to serve the white lady. The farmer at whose landing we left the lake, seeing that we were so anxious to get to Peterboro' that night, would not harness his team to take us the seven miles, until I paid him down eight dollars - a practical proof of savage generosity and civilized extortion.
Thus ended our first attempt at a settlement in the bush.