Port Deposit, Cecil County, MD, September 12 -- Our trip to the outlet of the Susquehanna at Havre de Grace and Perryville from the little city of Columbia is one which will linger long in the memory.
Shut in as it is by high, steep ridges, this portion of the river, the last before its waters are spread out into broad Chesapeake Bay, has been very appropriately called the "Highlands of the Susquehanna." And in the opinion of our party there are few river highlands or palisades more enchanting.
One rocky spur after another juts out into the river and forms a series of bold natural abutments upon both sides. At the base of these high bluffs a railroad creeps along the east bank and the Tidewater Canal has been cut on the west bank, both of them often so near the river that it seems as if train or boat would fall over into the water or else jam its nose into some titanic wall of granite or slate. Along the hillsides between the jagged rocks are wild growths, a number of creeks and streams and frequent deep ravines. Sometimes there are homes, but the ridges are too rugged to permit much cultivation, and so the hills have been left practically undisturbed, save where rocks were blasted to make way for canal or railroad.
Between the hills is the river, so narrow at some places that one is tempted to try and throw a stone across, and again spread out so as to make room for rocky islets, ponderous, grim-looking bowlders and occasionally an island large enough to afford a chance for trees or tall grass. At least a dozen times some distinctly marked ledge of rocks extends from bank to bank, and over these the river pitches into rapids, swirling, tossing and foaming, with a strength which surprises one, but which shows what dangers the lumbermen and boatmen met when they formerly descended the river. The drought this summer has made the keen edges of the rocks even more apparent, and so has added to the dread which they inspire.
The great bowlders in midstream rise up in such grotesque and unnatural shapes that we instinctively feel that tremendous force grimly fashioned them in the primeval ages. They and the stony ridges which cast their shadows across the river are never-failing sources of interest to the geologist. They must have been among the earliest of the world's creations and are so hard that an ordinary hammer can do nothing to them.
Nature's climax is in the seven miles between Safe Harbor and McCall's Ferry. There the hills are steepest, the river wildest, the bowlders and rocky islets most abundant. McCall's Ferry is the point watched with greatest apprehension in the spring by the people of Port Deposit. It is 21 miles above Port Deposit and 18 below Columbia. At that point the river forms a gorge so narrow that if the ice jams there in its descent there is almost sure to be a disastrous flood when it breaks again.
One may believe he sees Iroquois in long canoes or dugouts. They have been visiting the conquered tribes in the valley, or they are returning from errands of vengeance in North Carolina. Here is Etienne Brule' with his Indian companions, here is Lewis Evans surveying for his maps, here John Bartram, awed by the immense trees and enchanted by rhododendron and shadbush. Here are ardent Moravians with hearts hungry for souls; here Conrad Weiser hastens desperately to stay the uplifted hand of the Indian warrior.
Imagination may penetrate still farther into the past. Dense forest cover the hills; their shadowy depths are haunted by wild beasts long since vanished. Bear, deer, enormous elk and bison step cautiously toward the river or crash through underbrush, pursued by the new sort of enemy carrying on his shoulder or horizontally in his hand a long fire-spitting stick. Smaller creatures, skunks or foxes, peer from their dens to be sure that no larger animal watches at their drinking place. Raccoons steal to the river bank or to little streams to wash their food, as is their sanitary custom.
One may picture an immense ribbon of passenger pigeons shadowing the blue water, both its beginning and its end out of sight. The ripples follow the course of a muskellunge; the quick leap is that of a shad. The snaky line marks the course of an eel for which there is as yet no W-shaped trap. These are visions from a past forever gone unless man opens his dams, lets his wood roads close, destroys his firearms, his railroads, his mines.
One may reconstruct a glittering, desolate landscape -- ages ago these valleys were filled, these hills overtopped buy a blanket of ice a thousand feet thick, now motionless, now advancing, its southern walls melting, rocks and sand from far away settling down to puzzle mankind, the bones of mastodons protruding.
All creatures of stream and forest and sky are not gone. Overhead still speed the wild geese, honking their way north to nesting places in Canada when shadblow and spicebush bloom. The great hawks and the eagles still soar; with luck and sharp eyes one may identify an astonishing number. Close to the bank swings a wide-winged, long-necked, blue and gray heron, its legs trailing. And these white birds, too large for blue herons in their second season -- can they be egrets? The answer is yes; their food in South Carolina swamps killed by spraying, they have come north for the summer to safer homes.