Previous month:
November 2020
Next month:
January 2021

Izzy Bird, ugh. a dance.

Isabella is still on the way to Denver. They have just reached a cluster of houses called “Namaqua.”* She has heard there will be a dance at the inn that night and is dreading it.
“I pictured to myself no privacy, no peace, no sleep, drinking, low sounds, and worse than all, Jim getting into a quarrel and using his pistols. He was uncomfortable about it for another reason. He said he had dreamt the night before that there was to be a dance, and that he had to shoot a man for ‘making an unpleasant remark.’”
After arriving at the rooming house, which is full of people in town for the dance, she was told she could have the kitchen to herself. That is not what happened.
“I found a large, prononcee,** competent, bustling widow, hugely stout, able to manage all men and everything else, and a very florid sister like herself, top heavy with hair.” They were cooking dinner for ten men. “The bustle and clatter were indescribable, and the landlady asked innumerable questions, and seemed to fill the whole room….I sat by the stove until supper, wearying of the noise and bustle after the quiet of Estes Park.”
* It’s now part of Loveland and has its own interesting history.
** not sure if this is an actual word or a typo.

Izzy Bird, hard to leave

Isabella is about to take on the longest ride of her return trip. It will be 30 miles, which they will do at a walking pace because her horse is laden with luggage.

“I did not wish to realize that it was my last ride, and my last association with any of the men of the mountains whom I had learned to trust, and in some respects to admire. No more hunters’ tales told while the pine knots crack and blaze; no more thrilling narratives of adventures with Indians and bears; and never again shall I hear that strange talk of Nature and her doings which is the speech of those who live with her and her alone.”

When they emerged onto the Plains, the wind and cold became intolerable and the dismalness of the land began to overcome her. She turned to look at the mountains, “I never saw the mountain range look so beautiful — uplifted in every shade of transparent blue, till the sublimity of Long’s Peak, and the lofty crest of Storm Peak, bore only unsullied snow against the sky. *…100 miles away, Pikes Peak rose a lump of blue, and over all, through that glorious afternoon, a veil of blue spiritualized without dimming the outlines of that most glorious range, making it look like the dreamed-of mountains of ‘the land which is very far off,’ till at sunset it took out sharp in glories of violet and opal, and the whole horizon up to a great height was suffused with the deep rose and pure orange of the afterglow."

* This will be a long sentence. Take a deep breath before reading.

Izzy Bird, coruscations

Isabella is on her way to Denver with Jim. They have stopped for the night.

Initially, Isabella was to have slept at a woman’s house and mentioned that said woman “never stops talking.” Miller, a young man whose “attractive” house was not ready for ladies the last time she came through, now has a place where Isabella can stay. “His house is a model. He cleans everything as soon as it is used, so nothing is ever dirty, and his stove and cooking gear in their bright parts look like polished silver. It was amusing to heat the two men talk like two women about various ways of making bread and biscuits, one even writing out a recipe for the other.”*

The men treated her well and even went so far as to heat a stone for her feet and warm a blanket for her to sleep in, which is good because it is 11 below zero. 

“The stars were intensely bright, and a well-defined auroral arch, throwing off fantastic coruscations,** lighted the whole northern sky…This was my last evening in what may be called a mountainous region.”

Sounds delightful, frankly, if chilly.

* I suddenly want biscuits.

** “a sudden gleam or flash of light”

Izzy Bird, fyking

Isabella and Evans are riding up to Jim’s cabin. Jim will ride with her the rest of the way into Denver.
Evans sang the praises of Jim, whose chivalry toward women was well established. His heart was kind, Evans said, but he is his own worst enemy. A few months later, Evans would shoot and kill Jim. The story about why remains unclear. Of the event, Isabella writes, “The story of the previous weeks is dark, sad, and evil. Of the five differing versions which have been written to me of the act itself and its immediate causes, it is best to give none. The tragedy is too painful to dwell upon.”
But back in the here and now,” Jim is alive.
“At the door of his den I took leave of Birdie, who had been my faithful companion for more than 700 miles of traveling,** and of Evans, who had been uniformly kind to me and just in all his dealings, even to paying to me at that moment the very last dollar he owed me. May God bless him and his!”
Isabella and Jim faff around a bit before leaving from his cabin, mostly so that Jim can present her with his finest beaver skin. When they finally set off, the weather isn’t great.
“[Jim] had previously promised that he would not hurry or scold, by ‘fyking’*** had not been included in the arrangement, and when in the early darkness we reached the steep hill, at whose four the rapid deep St. Vrain flows, he ‘fyked’ unreasonably about me, the mare, and the crossing generally, and seemed to think I could not get through…”
But get through she did.
* which isn’t here nor now but you know what I mean.
** I’m more torn up about this separation than about Jim’s death, frankly.
*** apparently this is a valid word in Scrabble but I have zero idea what it means. Thanks for nothing, internet.
(I'm going to leave Isabella here until Monday. FYI.)

Izzy Bird, goodbyes

Isabella is saying her goodbyes to those in Estes Park and will soon leave Colorado.
“The last evening came… no woman will be seen in the park until next May.”
Lyman* suspects that by that time, “‘we shall be little better than brutes, in our manners at least.’ I have seen a great deal of the roughest class of men both on sea and land during the last two years,** and the more important I think the ‘mission’ of every quiet refined, self-respecting woman — the more mistakes I think those who would forfeit it by noise self-assertion, masculinity, or fastness. In all this wild West the influence of woman is second only in its benefits to the influence of religion, and where the last unhappily does not exist the first continually exerts its restraining power.”
Which is an interesting sentiment, that women must stand in for religion in all of the spaces where it doesn’t already hold sway. And by religion, of course, she means Christianity.
Soon enough, the last morning came.
“I cleaned up my room and sat at the window watching the red and gold of one of the most glorious of winter sunrises, and the slow lighting-up of one peak after another. I have written that this scenery is not lovable, but I love it.”
* The young man who eats everything and plagiarizes
** This trip is on the tail end of her journey to Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii.

Izzy Bird, box of matches

Isabella is at the Hughes’ house, near as I can tell.
It is cold and “the weather brings out some special severities. The stove has to be in the living room, the children cannot go out,* and, good and delightful as they are, it is hard for them to be shut up all day with four adults…before each meal, eggs, butter, milk, preserves, and pickles have to be unfrozen. Unless they are kept on the stove, there is no part of the room in which they do not freeze.”
Isabella finds this pernicious cold boring. She longs for more active winter weather, “the rushing winds, the piled-up peaks, the great pines, the wild night noises, the poetry and the prose of the free, jolly like of my unrivaled eyrie.” She’s about to get her wish because they will soon ride to Estes Park.
The morning of the ride, the mercury has disappeared, which means it is at least 20 below zero. After a breakfast of buffalo beef, she left on her ride. She stopped for a warm meal at a trapper’s cabin. Said trapper was pretty sure a woman out in the weather solo would freeze to death. She explained that she’d ridden 600 miles through the territory on her own and liked her odds. He gave her some matches and said, “You’ll have to camp out anyhow; you’d better make a fire than be froze to death.” She has zero intention of stopping to camp, by the way, and is certain she’ll make Estes Park by nightfall.
* That phrase — the children cannot go out — makes my blood run cold.

Izzy Bird, where now?

Isabella is still alive. The timeline gets a little muddy here — which it can do when you almost freeze to death — but I think she’s actually recounting her ride to Longmount and then her last return to Estes before she then leaves for good. Maybe.*

Anyway, when we left, she was nearly frozen. But she soon saw the “scattered houses and blessed lights of Longmount…When I reached the hotel I was so benumbed that I could not get off, and the worthy host lifted me off and carried me in. 

“Not expecting any travelers, they had no fire except in the bar-room, so they took me to the stove in their own room, gave me a hot drink and plenty of blankets and in half and hour I was all right and ready for a ferocious meal.”

It turns our that Evans was also there, which she’d discover the next day. All of the money issues were now ok. They intended to set back off early the next morning but discovered it was 17 below zero. Events (but not very interesting ones) intervene. She winds up waiting a bit, adding extra clothes, and riding back to the Hughes’ house.


* Sometimes, she gets a little hard to follow, is what I’m saying. She got better about timelines in later books.

Izzy Bird, bad idea

Isabella is recounting her ride to the Hughes’ house. She’s just left Jim and continued into the storm.
“The fog grew darker and thicker, the day colder and windier, the drifts deeper; but Birdie, whose four cunning feet had carried me 600 miles, and who in all difficulties proves her value, never flinched or made a false step, or gave me reason to be sorry that I had come on.”
She really is the best horse.
Isabella trusts her to carry them through the blowing snow and drifts, trusting “the pony’s sagacity.* It failed for once, for she took me on a lake and we fell through the ice into the water… and had a hard fight back again…. I wrapped up my face, but the hard, sharp snow beat on my eyes - the only exposed part-bringing tears into them, which froze and closed up my eyelids at once.”
She takes a glove off to pry open each eye and pick the ice from it. She starts to wonder if this was a good idea and if she’s even heading the right direction anymore. If she doesn’t reach Longmount in the next 30 minutes, she realized, she’ll be so frozen that she’ll fall off of Birdie.
* wisdom

Izzy Bird, no kissing

Isabella is recounting her ride through a storm to the Hughes’ house.
“…the mist began to freeze hard. Soon Birdie and myself were a mass of acicular* crystals; it was a true easterly fog. I galloped on, hoping to get through it, unable to see a yard before me; but it thickened, and I was obliged to subside into a jog-trot.”
BTW: in the here and now, we’re about to get one heck of a snow storm. I do not intend to go riding in the middle of it, however.
“As I rode on, about four miles from the cabin,** a human figure, looking gigantic like the specter of the Brocken, with long hair white as snow, appeared close to me, and at the same moment there was the flash of a pistol close to my ear, and I recognized Mountain Jim, frozen from head to foot, looking a century old with his frozen hair.”
She is disoriented and half-frozen. He guided her to his own cabin and made them coffee. He raged at her the whole time. “‘I’ve seen many foolish people, but never one so foolish as you — you haven’t a grain of sense,’” he said.
This is where they’d look deep into each other’s eyes and kiss, finally. If that is what happened, Isabella isn’t telling.
Instead, she warmed up and the storm subsided a bit. She continued her ride to the Hughes’ place.
* “needle-like”
** this is the Estes Park cabin.