of the Landscape
From Thomas Cole's notebook:
March, 1843 -
We have often heard that the falls of Caterskill present an interesting spectacle in mid-winter;
but, despite our strong desire to visit them, winter after winter has passed away without the accomplishment
of our wish, until a few days ago. February 27th, a party of ladies, who, to do them justice, are generally more
alive to the beauties of nature than our gentlemen, invited Mrs. C. and myself to join in this tour in search
of the wintry picturesque...but to visit the scene in winter is a privilege permitted to few, and to visit it this winter,
when the spectacle (if I may so call it) is more than usually magnificent, and, as the hunters say, more complete
than has been known for thirty years, is indeed worthy a long pilgrimage. What a contrast to its summer aspect!
No leafy woods, no blossoms glittering in the sun, rejoice upon the steeps around! Hoary winter
"O'er forests wide has laid his hand,
And they are bare;
They move and moan a spectral band,
Struck by despair?"
There are overhanging rocks, and the dark
browed cavern; but where the spangled cataract fell,
stands a gigantic tower of ice, reaching from the basin of the waterfall to the very summit of the crags.
From the jutting rocks, that form the canopy of which I have spoken, hang festoons of glittering icicles.
Not a drop of water, not a gush of spray is to be seen; no sound of many waters strikes the ear,
not even as of a gurgling rivulet or trickling rill; all is silent and motionless as death;
and did not the curious eye perceive, through two window-like spaces of clear ice, the falling water,
one would be lead to believe that all is bound in icy fetters. But there falls the cataract, not imprisoned,
but shielded like a thing too delicate for the blasts of winter to blow upon. It falls, too, as in the summer it falls,
broken into myriads of diamonds, which group themselves as they descend into wedge-like forms,
like wild fowl when traversing the blue air. I have said that the tower or perforated column of ice
reaches the whole height of the first fall; its base rests on a field of snow-covered ice,
spread over the basin and rocky platform, that in some parts is broken into miniature glaciers.
Near the foot it is more than thirty feet in diameter, but is somewhat narrower above.
It is in general of a milk-white colour, and curiously embossed with rich and fantastic ornaments;
about its base are numerous dome-like forms, supported by groups of icicles.
In other parts are to be seen falling strands of flowers, each flower ruffled by the breeze;
these were of the most transparent ice. This curious frost-work reminded me of the tracery and icicle-like ornament
frequent in Saracenic architecture: and I have no doubt that nature suggested such ornament to the architect,
as the most fitting for halls where ever-flowing fountains cooled the sultry air. Here and there,
suspended from the projecting rocks that form the eaves of the great gallery, are groups and ranks of icicles
of every variety of size and number. Some of them are twenty or thirty feet in length.
Sparkling in the sun-light, they form a magnificent fringe.
The scene is striking from many points of view; but one seemed superior to the rest. Near by, and overhead,
hung a broad festoon of icicles: a little further on, another cluster of icicles of great size, grouped with the columns
all in full sunlight, contrasting finely with the sombre cavern behind. The icicles in this group appear to be broken off
midway some time ago, and from their truncated ends numerous smaller icicles depend: they look like
gorgeous chandeliers, or the richest pendants of a gothic cathedral wrought in crystal.
Behind these icicles and the column, is seen a cluster of lesser columns and icicles, of pure cerulean colour;
then come the broken rocks and woods. The icy spears -- the majestic tower -- the impending rocks overhead --
the wild valley below with its contorted trees -- the lofty mountains towering in the distance,
compose a "wild and wondrous" scene, where the Ice-king
"Builds, in the starlight clear and cold,
A palace of ice, where the torrent falls,
With turret and arch, and fretwork fair,
And pillars blue as the summer air."
We left the spot with lingering steps and real
regret, for in all probability we were never to see
these wintry glories again. The royal architect builds but unstable structures,
which, like wordly virtues, quickly vanish in the full light, and fiery trial.
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