ARRIVED ON THE narrow summit of the mountain, we stood up on a spot which was visible from both Oceans; but the forest rose above us, and we could not catch even a glimpse at the view through the leafy roof over head.
Fearing that the clouds would gather before we could fell the trees to make an opening, I selected one taller than its neighbors, and climbed to its top. Climbing a tree here at home is very easy work to one accustomed, as I was in my boyhood, to chase and capture flying squirrels and gather chestnuts. But there is was altogether a different matter. The trunk of the tree, scarcely more than a foot through, was enlarged to the apparent size of a barrel, by the soft wet moss, and parasitic plants. I had to bury my arms to the elbows in the moist, green moss, to find the real tree. Then there were dozens of large Aloe plants growing loosely on the tree, their broad green leaves forming a pitcher that held a quart of water and as soon as I touched one it was sure to upset and pour its contents on my devoted head. By the time I reached the top, I was thoroughly drenched by these repeated christenings.
Finally, however, I grasped the topmost limb and thrust my head above the leaves. The sight repaid me for all my weary climbing.
The Atlantic, with its bays and islands, seemed to be lying at my very feet. A dark scowling storm was bursting over it; so dark that, as I looked toward the horizon, I could not tell where the gloomy sky joined with the inky water.
Turning Southward, there lay the Pacific, gleaming in all the brightness of tropical sunshine. The glare of the water rivaled the glare of the sky, and made it difficult here, also, to mark the line of the distant horizon. From where I stood, down to the Atlantic, there was a wilderness of dark, forest-covered mountains; while on the other side, there was a rich, open, grassy, slope from the foot of the mountain down to the Pacific.
The inner and outer view from the walls of Paradise could not have presented a greater contrast than that toward the opposite shore of the isthmus. The narrow lofty ridge on which I stood does not more effectually divide the oceans of water, than it does the oceans of air. While all was storm and gloom on the one side, all was peace and sunshine on the other.
As I looked I seemed to myself to be taking a bird's-eye view of the whole earth. There was the broad Atlantic on the one side, and the far-reaching Pacific on the other, while between them lay this mighty Western Continent narrowed down to a space which the eye could traverse at a single sweep.
Just to the west of me, separated from my lookout only by a gorge of dizzying depth, there rose up the precipitous sides of an old volcano, which threw its roughened summit higher in air than Mt. Aetna. On its top, against the sky, I could see the outline of its bowl-like crater, perched, like a vast eagle's nest, on the crown of its jagged walls. Turning again toward the sea, I could count the swells as they broke in foam on either shore. I could have seen a sail-boat on either ocean, while a ship, to pass from one ocean to the other, would have to sail 10,000 miles, and weather, in its passage, the stormiest cape in all the world.
AND THEN I FELL to meditating on the original object of the divorce of the two oceans. My explorations had shown me that the date of the upheaval of the mountain range, on which I sat, was comparatively recent. Time was - in a remote age of this planet, it is true - when the two oceans flowed together, unchecked by the rocky barrier which now divides them. And then came a time in one of the more modern geological periods, when these huge Cordilleras thrust their heads above the water, and said to the sea on either hand, "Thus far shalt thou go, but no farther." And why? What purpose was to be served by this peremptory nonintercourse act of Nature?
In the British Islands, and on the Southern shore of the German ocean. I had seen the evidence of a period when those regions, now the seat of English civilization and influence, were under the sway of an Arctic winter; when the frost and snows of Greenland reached Southward to the now sunny shores of France. But the vast planes of Providence embraced those then frozen and inhospitable Islands, as the training ground of a peculiar people, a race which should develop the arts and institutions of a Christian Civilization, and then carry them around the globe.
To effect this, the perpetual winter which reigned there must be discrowned and driven back to Arctic seas and Icelandic caves. And then to secure this end, a current of Equatorial waters, bringing with them the subduing breezes of the tropics, must be brought up and poured against those ice-bound shores. And this again could be secured by the upheaval of this grand volcanic crest, as a breast-work against the set of the current along this great highway of the waters, thus bending back the flow at such an angle that the deflected tide should ultimately strike the Northwestern shore of the other continent.
In coming down the Atlantic coast of the United States, I had traversed this self-same current, sweeping with its attendant breeze on their way to melt the ice-bergs drifting down from the Polar seas; and at length to empty their wealth of warmth and moisture on the shores of the Hebrides and the Northern headlands of Scotland.
And when I thus traced, in a fancy suggested and sustained by scientific and historic fact, the long process of climatic changes in those Islands, the settlement and discipline there of that renowned Angle-Saxon race, whose imprint is today on all the civilization of the earth, and whose influence is the one controlling fact of the world's civil, social, and religious progress, I could not but exult in the truth of an Omnipotent as well as an Omniscient Hand, guiding the destinies of the human race.
AND YET on the other hand I could not resist the conviction that the day is at hand when this separation must cease. This partition of the waters has served its end, and sooner or later its hindrance will be removed. This rocky barrier is not to stand forever in the way of the world's commerce.
These two now parted seas will sometime be united by a ship canal. It may cost a hundred thousand lives, and a hundred million of money, but, even at such a price, it would be benevolent enterprise, compared with the cruel objects for which life and treasure have been freely squandered even in our own day.
And as to the glory of the achievement, it would outshine that of the campaign of both the Napoleons. For my own part, I would count it greater honor to fill the unmarked grave of the humblest laborer on such a world-benefitting work, than to own the sculptured monument of the proudest soldier that sleeps beneath the blood-stained ruins of Sebastopol.
To catch a glimpse as it were of the good times coming, when the sailor shall no longer dread Cape Horn, I took a pocket mirror, and held it up in such a way that I could see the Atlantic in it, while I looked past it to the Pacific.
Standing on such a spot, I found that little mirror a perfect magic wand. By means of it I could blend the images of the two seas into one. With a single turn of my hand I could take up an island of the Pacific and set it down without even a splash in the Atlantic. I could lead an arm of the Atlantic toward a bay of the Pacific till they met and flowed together as if no envious continent had ever parted them.
The world will yet pay its tribute of a hundred thousand lives, to realize the visions which that little mirror showed me. There are those now living who will one day see face to face that which I saw "as in a glass darkly."