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Impearls: AFitW: Return

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Earthdate 2006-07-26

Return   by Alexis de Tocqueville

At five o’clock in the morning we thought about leaving.  All the Indians in the neighbourhood of Saginaw had disappeared.  They had gone to receive the presents that the English give them every year, and the Europeans were busy harvesting.  So we had to make up our minds to get back through the forest without a guide.  The undertaking was not as difficult as one might have supposed.  Generally speaking, there is only one path in these vast solitudes and it is only a question of not losing track of it to reach the end of one’s journey.

So then, at five o’clock in the morning, we crossed the Saginaw again; our hosts said good-bye to us and gave us their last words of advice.  Then, turning our horses’ heads, we found ourselves alone in the forest.  I must admit that it was not without apprehension that we began to penetrate its humid depths.  This same forest that surrounded us then stretched behind us to the Pole and to the Pacific Ocean.  Only one inhabited point separated us from the endless wilds and we were going to leave that.  But such thoughts only served to make us press our horses on and at the end of three hours we reached an abandoned wigwam and came to the solitary banks of the Cass River.  A turf covered point projecting above the river in the shade of great trees served us as a table and we sat down to luncheon with a view of the river whose waters clear as crystal snaked through the wood.

Going out of the wigwam on the Cass River we came upon several paths.  We had been told which to take; but it is easy to forget some points or not to make oneself clearly understood in receiving such explanations.  That is what we discovered on that day.  They had told us about two ways; there were three.  It is true that of these three ways there were two which joined up again further on, as we later found out, but we didn’t know that then and great was our distress.

When we had well looked and well argued, we did what almost all great men do and acted more or less on chance.  We got across the stream as best we could by a ford and forced our way quickly towards the South-West.  More than once the path seemed ready to disappear amid the undergrowth; in other places the way seemed so little frequented that we could scarcely believe that it led to anything more than some abandoned wigwam.  Our compass, it is true, showed us that we were always walking in the right direction.  Nonetheless, we were not completely reassured until we found the place where we had had dinner three days before.  A gigantic pine whose trunk, torn by the wind, we had admired made us recognize it.  Nonetheless, we went on our way as quickly as before, for the sun was beginning to go down.  Soon we came to a glade such as generally comes before the clearings and just as night was beginning to surprise us, we saw the Flint River.  Half an hour later, we reached our host’s door.  This time, the bear greeted us as old friends and only got onto its hind legs to show its delight at our happy return.

Throughout the whole of that day we had not met a single human face.  The animals too had disappeared; no doubt they had retreated under the foliage to escape the heat of the day.  Only at long intervals did we notice, on the bare top of some dead tree, a sparrow hawk, motionless on one foot and sleeping peacefully in the rays of the sun, seemed sculptured out of the very wood on which it rested.

It was in the midst of that profound solitude that we suddenly thought of the Revolution of 1830 whose first anniversary had just arrived.  I cannot describe the impact with which memories of the 29th July took possession of our minds.  The cries and smoke of battle, the roar of guns, the rattle of rifles, the even more horrible ringing of the tocsin, that whole day with its delirious atmosphere seemed suddenly to rise out of the past and to stand before me like a living picture.  This was only a sudden hallucination, a passing dream.  When I raised my head and looked around me, the apparition had already vanished; but never had the silence of the forest seemed so icy, the shadows so somber, the solitude so absolute.
 
 



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