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.

Izzy Bird, movement

Isabella has moved! She is at Dr. Hughes’ house in the Lower Canyon, where she hopes to get news of the outside world. Before that, Isabella shares a discovery so many of us have made: travel makes you appreciate home even more.
“Once again here, in refined and cultured society, with harmonious voices about me, and dear, sweet, loving children who make this cabin a true English home. ‘England, with all thy faults, I love thee still!’ I can truly say…Surely one advantage of traveling is that, while it removes much prejudice against foreigners and their customs, it intensifies tenfold one’s appreciation of the good at home, and, above all, the quietness and purity of English domestic life.”*
It remains cold. It is “intense — a clear, brilliant, stimulating cold, so dry that even in my threadbare flannel riding dress I do not suffer from it.” She is keeping her ink on the stove so that it remains fluid enough to write with.
Her intentions are to visit with the Hughes family and learn what she can about the state of the world. Most of her things are still in Estes Park but she did pack Birdie (!) with the mailbag, an additional blanket, and some raisins.**
There were adventures along the way… but those will wait until tomorrow.
* This was also the time of cholera epidemics and the toxic Thames but whatever.
** no matter where she traveled, she always had raisins. Your guess is as good as mine.

Izzy Bird, cayenne pepper

Isabella is still in Estes Park. She was going to start her ride for the Canyon today but the weather is disagreeable. Instead, she and the boy are heading up to Jim’s cabin. Her pretext is that she wants to read him her account of their climb of Long’s Peak. But. It feels like more than that, somehow.*

The boy intends to interview this well-known desperado and sell the result to a newspaper. Which is a thing people did then, I guess.

Jim’s cabin in more like an animal den, Isabella writes. It was “dense with smoke, and very dark, littered with hay, old blankets, skins, bones, tins, logs, powder flasks, magazines, old books, old moccasins, horseshoes, and relics of all kinds.

“I could not help looking at Jim as he stood talking to me. He goes made with drink at times, swears fearfully, has an ungovernable temper…. There is hardly a fireside in Colorado where fearful stories of him as an Indian fighter are not told; mothers frighten their naughty children by telling them that Mountain Jim will get them….but he is undoubtedly fascinating.”

On the ride back from Jim’s, she took a chill and started to feel unwell. However, the men gave her a trapper’s remedy, which is a tumbler of hot water with a pinch of cayenne in it. That “proved a rapid cure” and she hopes to set off tomorrow.

* maybe I’m just reading too much into it.

Izzy Bird, 40 pounds of trout

Isabella is where you think she is. However. Change will come soon because their supplies are so low that they’ve given up hope on Evans* returning before they run out of everything.
The men will hunt for another month, give or take, and their entire winter living depends on what they kill now. “I cannot leave the Territory till I get money, but I can go to Longmount for the mail and hear whether the panic is abating,” she writes.
The men hunted all day yesterday and returned with 40 lbs of trout, which they’ve packed in ice to take to Denver. But first, a feast.
“Epicures at home would have envied us. Mr Kavan kept the frying pan with boiling butter on the stove, butter enough thoroughly to cover the trout, rolled them in coarse corn meal, plunged them into the butter, turned them once, and took them out, thoroughly done, fizzing, and lemon colored. For once young Lyman** was satisfied, for the dish was replenished as often as it was emptied.”
It is a momentary respite in a time of bitter cold and hunger.
* Remember Evans? He’s like Godot.
** “the boy”

Izzy Bird, life at sea

You can likely guess where Isabella is.

This next bit from her letter about “the boy” really captures the time and the place of her lived experience. It’s long but worth it.*

“This life is in some respects like being on board ship — there are no mails, and one knows nothing beyond one’s own little world, a very little one in this case. We find each other true, and have learnt to esteem and trust each other. I should, for instance, go out of this room leaving this book open on the table, knowing that the men** would not read my letter. They are discreet, reticent, observant, and on my subjects well informed, but they are a type that has no antitype at home. All women work in this region, so there is no fuss about my working, or saying, ‘Oh, you mustn’t do that,’ or ‘Oh, let me do that.’”

For Isabella, the ability to do things without censure seems to be what she most craves when back in the “civilized” world.

* imho and ymmv

** she is not speaking of “the boy,” who she has made clear is without honor

Izzy Bird, "ginger" bread

Isabella is still in the cabin in Estes Park. Today’s entry is also a long one and concerns “the boy,” who is the lodger who was forced upon them.
Before his arrival, Isabella made a cake. She’d intended to use dried ginger but instead used cayenne.* She put half of the cake in the cupboard and promptly forgot about it.**
“During the night we heard a commotion in the kitchen and much choking, coughing, and groaning, and at breakfast the boy was unable to swallow food with his usual ravenousness. After breakfast he came up to me whimpering, and asking for something soothing for his throat, admitting he had seen the “gingerbread,” and “felt so starved” in the night that he got up to eat it.”
This only begins to demonstrate how not honorable the boy is. What might vex Isabella more is his poetry. He showed them some published pieces and “in one there are 20 lines copied without alteration from Paradise Lost; in another there are two stanzas from Resignation…he lent me an essay by himself, called “The Function of a Novelist,” which is nothing but a mosaic of unacknowledged quotations.”
She goes on to list the number and variety of things he has eaten on the sly and how he will read any letter left unattended, but “the plagiarism and want of honor are disgusting, and quite out of keeping with his profession of being a theological student.”***
* who amongst us?
** again: who amongst us?
*** BURN

Izzy Bird, holiday baking

Isabella is still in the cabin in Estes Park. They have decided that today is Thanksgiving. The day is not starting well, thanks to a cold front and snow storm.

The snow itself stopped about midnight, but not before covering Isabella’s bed. Her hair, which got wet with snowmelt earlier in the evening before bed, has frozen to her head.

“The milk and treacle are like rock, the eggs have to be kept in the coolest part of the stove to keep them fluid. Two calves in the shed were frozen to death. Half our floor is deep in snow, and it is so cold that we cannot open the door to shovel it out.”

The snow started up again while she wrote this letter to her sister. “Mr Kavan keeps my ink bottle close to the fire and hands it to me every time that I need to dip my pen.”

They do have a fire going, btw, but can’t get the interior temp higher than 20.

They are in decent spirits, all things considered, and are only worried about supplies.

“We have tea and coffee enough to last over to-morrow, the sugar is just done, and the flour is getting low. It is really serious that we have ‘another mouth to feed,’ and the newcomer is a ravenous creature, eating more than the three of us.”*

Still, they made a feast. Isabella made a pudding from saved eggs, cream, and dried cherries. “… and we had venison steak and potatoes, but for tea we were obliged to use the tea leaves of the morning again. I should think that few people in America have enjoyed their Thanksgiving dinner more.”


* remember him? He’s going to be much more a hindrance than a help. And very, very hungry.

Izzy Bird, a poem

I just found this Isabella Bird tidbit and want to share. Just before she was to be admitted as the first woman in the Royal Geographic Society, this poem ran in Punch magazine.
“A lady an explorer? A traveler in skirts?
The notion’s just a trifle too seraphic;*
Let them stay and mind the babies,
or hem our ragged shirts;
But they mustn’t, can’t and shan’t be geographic.”
* blissful? angelic? something in there.

Izzy Bird, Thanksgiving

Isabella, as you might have guessed, is still in the cabin in Estes Park. As the three were preparing their supper, the dogs made it clear that someone was approaching. They assumed it was Evans.* It was not.

Instead, it was a young man sent by Evans. Mr Kavan was less than thrilled and pointed out it was another mouth to feed, then went out to see the younger man in.

The lad is a “slangy, assured fellow of 20, who, having fallen into delicate health at a theological college, had been sent up here by Evans to work for his board…We were very much amazed, in truth, at his coming here. He is evidently a shallow, arrogant youth.”

But they put him up in a bed-closet near the kitchen.

They decide that the next day will be Thanksgiving — apparently Thanksgiving was a thing even on the frontier — and they are planning a feast. Or as much of one as they can muster.

The youth has decided to help by writing poetry, reading it aloud to Isabella, and asking for her criticism. Would that I were a fly on the wall.

* remember Evans?