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izzy bird, not yet dark

Isabella is at Green Lake. It is a sight behold.
“From the gloom and chill below I had come up into the pure air and sunset light, and the glory of the unprofaned works of God. It brought to my mind the verse, “the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth;” and, as if in commentary upon it, were the hundreds and thousands of men delving into dark holes* in the gloom of the twilight below.”
She paused for a minute to opine that the view proved that neither God nor His sun** had yet deserted the world — but also that sunset really waits for no man and darkness would be on her soon. The ride back down through the precipice is one that requires nerve because of the steepness, snow, and ice. She made it back to the town where she’ll spend the night, however, and handed off her borrowed horse.
She left early the next morning on the stage coach, which would take her to the train. The conductor found her a lovely spot from which she could view the canyon on the way back to Golden City. Once there, she remounted trusty Birdie — hooray! — and intended to arrive back in Boulder by that night.
However, there was an “adventure” she met with that is “almost too silly to tell.” Which I will tell on Monday.
*must. resist. joke.
** her spelling.

Izzy Bird, 2,000 feet

Isabella is in Idaho Springs, which is a “fashionable mountain resort” during the summer but is mostly empty in November. Her goal is Green Lake but sunset is fast approaching and the snow up there is deep. The innkeeper in Idaho Springs* — “the only town I have seen in America to which the epithet picturesque could be applied” — sent a runner to the stable to see if someone would lend Isabella a horse. The response that comes back is, “If it’s the English lady traveling in the mountains, she can have a horse, but not anyone else.”

She has 2,000 feet of climb ahead of her and the night is quickly coming on. “I went up a steep track by Clear Creek, then a succession of frozen waterfalls in a widened and then narrowed valley, whose frozen sides looked 5,000 fee high. This is silver mining country, she writes, and the share lists in the Times quote prices from here.

The large mines, with all of their noise and hubbub, are not on her path to the lake. “I had turned altogether aside from them into a still region, where each miner in solitude was grubbing for himself, and confiding to none his finds or disappointments. Agriculture restores and beautifies, mining destroys and devastates, turning the earth inside out, making it hideous, and blighting each green thing, as it usually blights man’s heart and soul.”

One hundred and forty years on, we can now confirm that she isn’t wrong.


* Now you can rent some cute cabins up there.

Izzy Bird, about 19th century medicine

A brief detour in the Izzy Bird story so that I can mention a little bit about her health. Short version: she was decidedly not well and it was decidedly worse when she was in England. Perhaps it was decidedly worst there because of the state of medicine at the time.
From Mikki L. Stacey's English Honors Thesis at Gettysburg College.*
"Her symptoms included carbuncles on her spine, lesions, fevers, headaches, rashes, nausea, rheumatism, muscle spasms, hair loss, and general physical pain. Victorian medicine could not make sense of her amalgamation of symptoms. Some of Bird’s complaints were likely engendered by her efforts to cure them.
Along with several operations necessary to remove tumors, doctors also performed regular bloodlettings by both incisions and leeches. Her medication included laudanum, potassium bromide, and chlorodyne—some of which she took with alcohol in the hopes of soothing her nerves. Chlorodyne, a combination of opium and cannabis, has side effects like nausea, loss of appetite, and constipation, which would account for some of her symptoms. In addition, potassium bromide, though safe in small portions, can be dangerous in the quantities Bird consumed, leading to episodes of “psychological derangement” (Chubbuck 6). As she was taking it three times per day, she noted that it made her “more nervous than I have ever been and I cannot remember anything or read a book. These last few days I have felt shaking all over and oppressed with undefined terror” (qtd. in Chubbuck 6).
Bird probably had carbunculosis, a condition that entails “A staphylococcus skin infection that results in large, infectious knobs on the back and spine . . . accompanied by fever, fatigue, inflammation and malaise” (Chubbuck 6). Today, doctors would cure it by surgically draining its characteristic boils. Unsure what else to try, however, her doctor prescribed a sea voyage—a prescription that turned into something of a love affair Bird spent the rest of her life chasing."
* Oh, yes. I am deep in a research rabbit hole.

Izzy Bird, 16 miles

sabella has left Denver and is in Golden City.* It was a 16 mile ride.
“That 16 miles seemed like one mile, after sunset, in the rapturous freshness of the Colorado air, and Birdie, after her two days’ rest and with a lightened load, galloped across the prairie as if she enjoyed it.”
In daylight, however, Golden City is less lovely. “Brick, pine, and log houses are huddled together, every other house is a saloon, and hardly a woman is to be seen. … Golden City rang with oaths and curses, especially at the depot. Americans are given over to the most atrocious swearing, and the blasphemous use of our Savior’s name is peculiarly revolting.”**
Once in Golden City, Birdie and Bird would part because the Isabella wanted to see Clear Creek Canyon*** and Green Lake, which can only be accessed by narrow-gauge rail. Mining operations are quickly consuming the canyon’s natural beauty. “The track has been blasted out of the sides of the canyon, and has partly been ‘built’ by making a bed of stones in the creek itself, and laying the track across them.
“I have never seen such churlishness and incivility as in the officials of the railroad….or met with such preposterous charges. They have handsome little cars on the route, but though the passengers paid full faire, they put us in a baggage car because the season was over, and in order to see anything, I was obliged to sit on the floor at the door.”
Even with the poor seating, the grandeur of the place “cannot be described.”
* Now known as Golden and home to Coors and Red Rocks Amphitheater.
** she would be appalled by what comes out of my mouth on an average weekday.
*** Clear Creek Canyon is otherwise known as Toughcuss.

Izzy Bird, Denver

Isabella is in Denver, where the summer’s heat seems to have returned. It’s early November.

“The Range looked lovelier and sublimer than when I first saw it from Greeley, all spiritualized in the wonderful atmosphere. I went direct to Evans’s house,* where I found a hearty welcome, as they had been anxious about my safety, and Evans almost at once arrived… with three elk, one grizzly, and one bighorn in his wagon.**” Isabella discovered that many of the Estes Park crew that she knew and enjoyed had left for other parts of the state, the Mr and Mrs Edwards awaited her return.

The next day, she went to service at the Episcopal church. It was beautifully read and sung, she says, “but in a city in which men preponderate the congregation was mainly composed of women, who fluttered their fans in a truly distracting way…You can hardly imagine the delight of joining in those grand old prayers after so long a deprivation. The ‘Te Deum’ sounded heavenly in its magnificence; but the heat was so tremendous that it was hard to ‘warstle’ through the day.”

Tomorrow: Back on Birdie!

* She stayed with the Evans family during her time in Estes Park. They also have a house in Denver, which seems to be where they stay during the worst of the winter.

** I’m assuming for eating, rather than alive and walking around for petting.

Izzy Bird, the Indian problem

After a few more night sleeping in less savory conditions, Isabella is 18 miles from Denver and riding through the Turkey Creek Canyon. She took a short cut through a Ute Indian encampment of 500, which is a “disorderly and dirty huddle of lodges, ponies, men, squaws, children, skins, bones, and raw meat.”

For a woman of the 1870s, she has a pretty good grasp on how the Indians would continue to be treated. There will be no solution to the Indian problem, she says, until the Indian is extinct. Americans “have treated them after a fashion which has intensified their treachery and ‘devilry’ as enemies, and as friends reduces them to a degraded pauperism, devoid of the very first elements of civilization.

"The Indian Agency has been a sink of fraud and corruption; it is said that barely 30 percent of the allowance ever reaches those for whom it is voted; and the complaints of shoddy blankets, damaged flour, and worthless firearms are universal. An attempt has been made to cleanse the Augean stable* of the Indian Department, but it has met with signal failure, the usual result in America of every effort to purify the official atmosphere.**

“Americans specifically love superlatives. The phrases ‘biggest in the world,’ ‘finest in the world,’ are on all lips. Unless President Hayes is a strong man,*** they will soon come to boast that their government is composed of the ‘biggest scoundrels’ in the world.”

Once again, I wish Isabella was alive to see what we’re going through now. I imagine she’d have some … interesting …. observations.


* one of Hercules’ labors.

** ouch. Fair, mind, but ouch.

*** interestingly, Hayes was one of the first presidents to lose the popular vote but win the office because of the Electoral College. He also rolled back Reconstruction and was shocked (shocked!) when that meant Black men effectively lost their ability to vote. Oh - and the whole Indian Agency thing really went from awful to catastrophic under his watch.

Izzy Bird, the American character

Isabella is making slow progress to Denver because the roads are covered in ice. This is a common route for loggers and there is talk of installing a railway.*
The question that the Colorado Territory is currently grappling with is “drink or no drink,” meaning should it be a dry state once it joins the Union. Isabella, who believes that excessive drink is a problem, seems to have no problem with alcohol as a concept. But her bigger issue is one that is still lurking in the American psyche. “The ‘almighty dollar’ is the true divinity [in the west], and its worship is universal,” she says.
“‘Smartness’ is the quality most thought of. The boy who ‘gets on’ by cheating at his lessons is praised for being a ‘smart boy,’ and his satisfied parents foretell that he will make a ‘smart man.’ A man who overreaches his neighbor, but who does it so cleverly that the law cannot take hold of him, wins an envied reputation as a ‘smart man,’ and stories of this species of smartness are told admiringly round every stove. Smartness is but the initial stage of swindling, and the clever swindler who evades or defines the weak and often corruptly administered laws of the States excites unmeasured admiration among the masses.”
In a footnote added later, Isabella said, “The best and most thoughtful among Americans would endorse these remarks with shame and pain.”
Can confirm that she is not wrong.
* She goes into great detail about the style of horse-drawn wagons and teamsters and pack-jacks** that I’ll spare you.
** I don’t know either but Birdie is afraid of them.

Izzy Bird, coincidence? (yes, probably)

A brief interlude, prompted by Stoddart's bio/hagiography of Isabella Bird.

When she wasn't galavanting around the world, Bird spent the bulk of her adult life in Scotland -- and most of her time in Scotland was spent in Edinburgh.* 

Screen Shot 2020-10-21 at 10.35.41 AM

This is the part of Edinburgh I'll be referring to. The castle, which is what every person uses to orient themselves, is #6.

Stoddart lists two of the places the Isabella and her sister rented over the years. #2 is 7 Castle Terrace; #3 is 3 Atholl Place. While it might look like there is a lot of distance between the two, there really isn't. It's maybe a five minute walk. 

The last place I stayed in February 2018, which was the last time I was in Edinburgh,** is #1: Canning Street Lane Apartments. In the morning, I'd walk to the coffee place at #4. I recommend both, btw. 

Our last morning, I took a picture on my walk because the light was interesting.


This is Atholl Terrace. I believe the house in question is on the left. 

I took another picture about two seconds later, when I was putting my phone away and noticed a coin on the sidewalk.


Did Isabella's ghost leave it for me? Is this some kind of mysterious working of the universe? 

Eh. Probably not. It's neat, though.

I have to share a couple of other pictures from the trip, simply because they still amuse me but have nearly nothing to do with ghosts and destiny.


Cory was only 12 and forced to tour the whisky heritage center, which ends with a tasting. Because he is my child, he took notes on what the tour guide said each region's product tasted like. I think he took a sip of one, just to see, and decided he did would be happier with the Irn Bru offered to kids and/or teetotalers. 


There is a pub between St. Andrews and Edinburgh where the custom is to measure yourself on the wall and write your name. Cory was just taller than "Shirley No Shoes Involved."


St. Andrews, btw, is home to the creepiest and most wonderful aquarium in the world. You should go. 

Oh! And #5 on my Edinburgh map is a great Italian place. Highly recommend. 


* In case anyone has a lead on employment, I speak for both my spouse and myself when I say we'd move there in a heartbeat.

** Seriously. In a heartbeat.

Izzy Bird, not all peace and love

Isabella survived the night in the dubious cabin’s tent. She’s made it to Deer Valley, where she’s staying in a beautiful place where the people are less so. This will get rough.

“…two free-tongued noisy Irish women … are telling the most fearful stories of violence, vigilance committees, Lynch law, and ’stringing*’ that I ever heard. It turns one’s blood coldly to think that where I travel in perfect security, only a short time ago men were being shot like skunks. These women has a boarder, only 15, who thought he could not be anything until he shot somebody, and they gave an absurd account of the lad dodging about with a revolver, and not getting up courage enough to insult any one, till at last he hid himself in a stable and shot the first Chinaman who entered.”

Back in these mining towns, violence is a given. Usually, most of the shootings stem from words at the saloon. Some are driven by jealousy or revenge over “some woman not worth fighting for.” At two nearby towns, “vigilance committees had lately been formed, and when men act outrageously and make themselves generally obnoxious they receive a letter with a drawing of a tree, a man hanging from it, and a coffin below, on which is written ‘Forewarned.’ They ‘git’ in a few hours.”

A hanging had happening up at the dubious cabin just a night before Isabella got there. The miscreant in question “was overpowered by numbers, and, with circumstances of great horror, was tried and strung on that tree within an hour.” And as she explains in her own footnote: “Public opinion approved this execution, regarding it as fitting retribution for a series of crimes."


* it’s what you think it is.