Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

BEARDING A SEALION IN HIS DEN.

BY J. N. REYNOLDS, ESQ.

The island of Staten Land, which lies south-east of Terra del Fuego, from which it is separated by the Strait le Maire, when seen from a short distance, has a most barren and forbidding appearance; but such is not its real character. The tops of the mountains, composed of immense masses of granite, produce, it is true, little vegetation ; but on their sides, and what may be called the low-lands, there is a rich thick mould, formed by the decomposition of their natural productions, and beautified with the most luxuriant verdure.

Near the entrance of Port Hatches, is a cavern, long known as the retreat of a few patriarchs of the ocean, to whom its deep recesses had been, until the period of which I am about to speak, a safe protection. The opening of this sea-lion's den is about thirty feet in width, its base being on a level with the sea, at low water mark. The whole length of the cave, beneath the base of the precipice, is two hundred and twenty paces, beautifully arched over with stalactites, and in some places changing its course from a direct line, and forming little apertures, which communicate with the main entrance.

To enter this cavern, explore its secret chambers, and provoke a combat with the ancient holders and proprietors of this wild citadel, was the object of one of our boat excursions. Preparatory to our advance into this

cavern hoar, That stands all lonely on the sea-beat shore,' fires were placed, one after another, with a distance of thirty yards between each two, to answer the double purpose of guiding our progress, and of securing a speedy retreat, should we be too roughly received by the old phoca, who, with a number of clap-matches in his suite, had taken up a position in the farthest corner of the den.

With lighted torches, we now advanced into the abyss, which the ancient Romans would have consecrated to deified nymphs, and the Persians have assigned as the seat of their god Mithras. The fires cast a dim, flickering light, which rendered visible the darkness in our rear. Every thing around us seemed to partake of the gloomy silence of the tomb, until the stillness was suddenly broken by the roar of the old lion, more appalling, by far, than that of his fierce namesake, of the Moorish plains. Having approached so near that we could see the monster's glaring eye-balls, we discharged our muskets, and continued, alternately retiring to load, and advancing to fire, until our ears were stunned, and our heads bewildered, with the reverberations of the reports, mingled with the roarings of the whole maddened group, now closely pressed, and severely wounded.

Our lights failing for an instant, we retreated to replenish them. The lashings of the waves at the mouth of the cavern, though distant, echoed and rumbled so loudly through the vaulted passages, that we could not hear each others' voices. As we again moved forward, to discharge our pieces, the old sea-lion broke out into a new par

oxysm of rage, tearing up the gravel and rocks with his claws and teeth. The white foam, mixed with blood, dropped from his large red tongue; while so hoarse, so loud and deafening, was his howl, that we were obliged to stop our ears with our hands, to prevent being pained by it.

The scene around us had now indeed become one of inconceivable wildness and horror. Two hundred paces within the mouth of a cave which man had never before entered, the dim flickering light of our torches, and the decaying fires in our rear, together with the suffocating smoke from the frequent firing, rendered it necessary to retrograde. Nor did we commence retreating a moment too soon. Wounded and infuriate, the old lion now began to move toward us, as we gradually returned, step by step, throwing stones and firebrands, to keep him in check, until we had reached so near the mouth of the cavern, that with deliberate aim, Captain Palmer, of the Penguin, shot him. This was his death wound, although he had previously received no less than ten balls.

After recruiting our fires with the blubber of our victim, we returned to the charge; and soon succeeded in taking the remaining five females and their pups. The old sea-lion (phoca jubata,) measured ten feet six inches in length, and eight feet round the shoulders ; and, as we supposed, could not weigh less than four hundred pounds. The females were from six to seven feet in length, and of a more slender form.

VISIT TO A PENGUIN ROOKERY.

We next visited the 'King Penguin Rookery,' about two miles west of the harbor; and we do not believe the whole range of natural history can furnish a more interesting spectacle. Indeed, to an enthusiastic admirer of nature, this curiosity alone is worth a voyage to Staten Land. The King Penguins stand perfectly erect; they measure from two and a half to three feet in height, and each weigh from thirty to forty pounds. Their color is a delicate pale ash, breast white, bili long and tapering; with two yellow streaks around the neck, like a cravat. Of their number, we could form no just estimate; but the beach, for more than a mile, was covered with them, standing and moving in squads, or solid columns, of from one to four, and six hundred birds. When viewed from a distance, they appeared like an army, performing its evolutions, rather than any thing else to which we can compare

them. Extending back from the shore, in this part of the island, is a prairie, or low marsh, covered with a luxuriant growth of coarse grass, through which the penguins had made their little roads, and where they were formed in small companies, more than a mile inland. They betrayed little apprehension on being approached, and would often stand still, holding down their heads to have their necks patted, and feathers smoothed down. We took three of them on board, where they remained for some time, making no effort to escape, and apparently not insensible to kind treatment. The sea, however, is their favorite element, and in its waters they are perfectly at home. The peacock is not vainer of its gaudy plumes, than is the penguin of the garb in which the Creator has arrayed him. These birds go

into the water, by hundreds at a time, seemingly for no other purpose than to clean and adjust their plumage. In these ablutions, their antics are exceedingly amusing. They swim alternately on their sides and backs, and dive in the most frolicsome mood. After indulging in these exercises, they again join their companions on the shore, and strut about in the most exulting pride. The female penguin, in the first instance, lays but one egg; but, if deprived of it, will lay a second, and so on to the number of four or five. The egg weighs a pound, and is not so rancid as that of the common domestic goose.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

* Won by the charming pathos and happy melody of H. W. LONGFELLOW's ' Psalms of Life,'I have perhaps too daringly, attempted a few stanzas in the same vein. Should my presumption be attended with failure, I can at least solace myself with the thought, that I have, in these pages as well as elsewhero, borne testimomy to my fervent admiration of the genius of my accomplished friend.

P. 8.

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

What a positive horror every one has of growing old! The bald head is no longer honorable, and the gray head has no respect for itself. The man, arrived at the time of life once considered venerable, covers his bare crown with a wig, à l’Adonis, and in a coat of the most fashionable cut, as he surveys his person in the glass, imagines himself quite as youthful in exterior, as any of those forward juveniles, who, under his eye, have so impertinently shot up to man's estate.

I met,' said an elderly acquaintance, who fancies that his dancing days' are not yet of the days gone by, 'I met your cousin Frank, the other day; how that boy has grown !"

• Astonishingly!' I replied ; so rapidly, that his hair has become quite gray under the operation !'

Yet, Age is a true aristocrat; ever counting the quarterings upon his shield, and looking askance on all who number less than himself.

Next to being called an old, I have the greatest aversion to being called “a sensible woman.' • What's in a name ? Martyrdom, in this ! A sensible' woman, one so esteemed, is at the mercy of the whole community :

all her faults observed, Set in a note-book, conned, and learned by rote.' Oh, none but she who is banned with the name, knoweth the misery of its endurance !

A sensible woman - for with the mass, to be sensible, implies to be learned, as well as endued with superior powers of perception - is supposed to be conversant with every science and accomplishment under the sun; from the admeasurement of a paralellogram, to the adjustment of a piece of patch-work; to have read all books, novels excepted, from the Bible downward. She is supposed to possess

« AnteriorContinuar »