When we went back I peeped into a cave close by, just large [enough] to admit a man & saw the smiling face of João who had made a bed of wild myrtle boughs, & had curled himself in to sleep. We told José however that they had better come inside, to which he was well agreed. He was however unhappy for tobacco, with which we could not supply him. In fact José was rather greedy, rather selfish & an uncommon liar, even if he is not the same guide unpleasantly characterized in Bullow’s book. His English was very imperfect & he never understood anything he did not wish to. Thus when after building a crackling fire of Jamojo boughs (wh. was seen at Fayal) we retired to our two story cowhouse, & when José & João crept in after us in the darkness, it was impossible to make the former understand that we wished the small window left open. At last however after a brief but decided verbal contest he fumblingly agreed [to] it & the two nestled down, with much rustlings & crushings, apparently covering themselves with the husks & boughs wh. strewed the floor. It was a queer night. Clear & cold without, & the wind whistling through the thin walls, supplying abundant ventilation. Within profoundly dark, & I who usually sleep profoundly on all such occasions, was soon put broad awake by an incursion of small insect tormentors, & kept awake by a slight chill, which wd. probably hv. been much less by a fire in the open air, where I never failed to sleep. The floor too was very insecure & Mr. L. & I agreed we should probably find ourselves smashing down upon the cows’ sons below, before morning. Fortunately they were very small ones, whose uneducated & youthful lowings sometimes added to the heavy breathing of the guides, or their rustling as they screwed themselves deeper into the couch. But I had some hours sleep, & as for the couch, it was sufficiently comfortable.
Before José went to sleep, we dimly saw him sitting up & when Mr. L. asked why, he indignantly replied that he was praying & then coolly added, “I can pray in English, this way” & then proceeded to repeat, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” with some peculiar modifications. We afterwards found this to be one of his regular accomplishments.
We had meant to rise with the dawn, but the window was surreptitiously shut & we slept till four. Emerging then we found a clear cold windy morning, “plenty & cold” José declared. After a slight ablution in a small spring, we breakfasted without milk, which I had hoped to obtain, as the cows are only milked in the mornings. Singularly enough, the clouds over Fayal were almost precisely as the night before, though the bank was narrowed & elongated & there was the same driving land between. We set forth at 1/4 5 & soon saw the early rays light up the white houses of Horta, gleaming beautifully through the mist. The wind blew furiously & it was a wonder how our tall João could stride over stone walls with the large basket on his head. An hour brought us to the end of the Serra, where we ought to have camped. We were then at the foot of the real cone, which it took us three hours to climb. Two thirds of the way were steep regular crags of black lava rock, overgrown with low bushes & wild thyme, packed closely in among the rocks, & the furious wind (in addition) made it the hardest work I ever did. Repeated pauses were necessary, after some of wh. it seemed almost impossible to go farther. The gale was seldom in our faces, but coming at one side, making a double effort of the knees necessary, to maintain our footing. For the first time, I found a staff useful. Gradually the clouds had collected below us, & whenever we looked down, it was at a glorious spectacle-a vast horizon of perfectly level white cloud, a vast floor, concealing everything below it, except where to the North a tract of ocean was lifted up to a seeming level with the cloud, so that it appeared like an Arctic scene. It was like the scene Thoreau describes above Williamstown, & we thought that no landscape could have been worth this. As we got still higher, there were slabs of lava, a sort of fragmentary pavement, with sometimes a “Mysterio”, & sometimes a slide of disintegrated lava. Suddenly we came upon a white ravine-the first snowdrift! & then others; it was like home to see them, they were white & hard & glittering, with many superficial thawings & freezings, no doubt. We eat greedily of them, nibbling also a little bread or cake, which greatly refreshed us, & instead of feeling any inconvenience fr. the rarified air, found in it the greatest invigoration. Suddenly to our surprise we found ourselves at the edge of the Caldeira! It is of course small compared to the great Fayal Caldeira, being perhaps 50 feet deep instead of 1500 & half a mile round instead of 5 miles, but on every side was heaped up a glittering snowdrift, almost to the edge, & the wild wind & the cold bleak sun above us, gave to it an impress of strange desolation. Stranger yet, on our right rose far above our heads, a bare black narrow, needle like peak, perhaps 150 feet high, which was the goal of our pilgrimage. The guides however entirely protested. João was a volunteer, since the point where the basket was hidden; he had declared on the way up that he would not for forty dollars hv. come in such a wind, & now that he would not for ten dollars ascend the small peak. José also objected to going declaring that we should be blown off & also frozen; whereupon I told him that I did not care whether he did or not, & walked off expecting him to follow, but he didn’t; Mr. L. however did, & reached the top first. We climbed over rocks & cinders, it was perfectly practicable, but for the gale which seemed doubled, & at the very top I really shrank a moment-it seemed like standing in a gale of wind on the apex of a steeple or the mainmast of a frigate, for the top is not large enough for six persons to stand together, & we literally had to hold on by the rocks while we deposited our rocks upon a cairn which is being gradually erected. Before retreating I glanced over the other side, & it looked so warm & sheltered that I climbed over & found an Italian climate: the sun shone warm & vapor curled up from between the stones at the side of a little crater which is formed even there (marked x). Off to the East, moreover, there was open sea & St. George’s, but nothing else, no Terceira, only the great flow of white level cloud over all the world. Pocketing the lichens & mosses which grew there, we crossed the airy peak & fronted the tremendous gale again & slid & clambered down. This was nine o’clock; it was too cold to remain long at the Caldeira especially in the uncertain weather & we soon began our descent. We had observed that José took quite a circuit & coming down we proposed to cross the Caldeira & cut it off, but we presently found it was the snow from which they shrank with their sandaled feet so we let them go round and crossed it ourselves-but the sloping drift was so slippery that I had one involuntary slide, after which we made holes with our heels & staves & crossed the drift more carefully. The only thing we missed seeing there was a remarkable cliff, which I shall always regret.
Down we came with long leaps over the steep sides, till our knees & backs were weary; a cloud of mist & drizzle soon swept round us, & the guides lost the way several times, rather to my surprise, for landmarks were always visible. In the Serra it was pretty to see the white sheep gleaming far away, as they nestled in sheltered nooks, & sad to pass where lambs had been killed & half eaten by dogs. Except a few shepherd boys girls & dogs, we saw nothing else till we came down among the vineyards; we attracted much attention as we came down with gaping boots and limping feet; & sometimes stopped the girls in their procession of water jars, to remove the branch of faya which keeps the water cool, & take a drink from the cow’s horn, in which they scoop it fr. the shallow wells. We reached the shore in 4 1/2 hours (perhaps 15 miles) & had to answer many questions fr. men at the landing, (as well as fr. the men & women, returning fr. Fayal market-day with pigs & cattle to fatten on the Serra.)-& after a delicious bath beneath an arch of ocean rock, & a nap at the Dabney Priory, we saw a boat fr. Horta dashing over in the gale to meet us, as promised, just as we had given it up. After an exciting trip of only 40 minutes we landed in the Key at 6 P.M.
Three things we had at Pico which no American mountain could have given. 1. The ascent of the whole literal height of the mountain fr. the level of the sea. 2. The aspect of the sea seen in gaps of the cloud that covered all else. 3. The vapor which made the central heat henceforth a reality to us.
George Monteiro is a lifelong student and teacher of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, contributing to the scholarship on numerous writers, including Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Adams, Henry James, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot and Bob Dylan. His latest book is Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil and After: A Poetic Career Transformed(McFarland, 2012).