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owing to the wholesale destruction that has smitten these splendid woods, and to the continual sound of the fatal axe, which alone seems to break the stillness of the solitude, announcing, but too plainly, the inevitable doom that hangs over the face of nature in this region.
Amongst the multitude of trees which make up the forests of the Lower Himalayas, the magnolias and rhododendrons are most striking; and, in the season of bloom, their splendour exceeds, perhaps, anything else of the kind in the world: not that the trees are individually handsomer or finer than many other objects of the vegetable kingdom, but their great size, immense numbers, and profuse inflorescence, and last, not least, the localities where they grow-on the summits and slopes of the hills-which are eminently adapted to show them to the best advantage, come upon the observer in such grand combination as utterly to set aside the lesser, but, perhaps more brilliant glory of more contracted views.
Magnolia excelsa, a lofty and stately tree, displays an almost incredible number of white, fragrant flowers, which render even a solitary specimen conspicuous amidst the greenery of the woods fully a mile away ; Rhododendron argenteum crowns the summit of the hills, and its glistening and silvery blossoms, in the aggregate, present to the beholder, at a distance, much the same effect as that of a recent fall of snow; and Magnolia Campbelli, a contorted and ungainly giant, at present without leaves, and with few and unsymmetrical branches, offers such a glorious show of rose-purple flowers that it must, in truth, be acknowledged as the pride of these mountain woods. It does not grow on the lower hills, but is abundant near the summit, and on the upper slopes.
Wild-flowers are, as yet, far from plentiful, a hardy few, only, having opened their blossoms to greet the returning spring; but, conspicuous from its brilliant azure and extreme beauty, the little Gentiana coronata cannot fail to attract attention, and elicit warm admiration. A purple foxglove and a pale violet (Viola repens) are also abundant; and, on the higher altitudes, the familiar forms of many other European genera, speak home to the heart of the traveller, who welcomes the little, humble-looking plants of his boyish recollections with thrice the warmth accorded to the more gorgeous children of the eastern sun.
Animal life is scarce in these dark, moss-grown, mysterious forests, reeking with moisture, and abounding in the most wondrous forms of the vegetable world; and even the occasional note of some lonely bird breaks on the ear as wild, and strange, and out of place, amidst the vastness of the solitude, where, it would almost seem, man stood apart from earth, and in the near presence of his Maker.* During the first part of the ascent, I only observed, in addition to a few tits and warblers, which I could not identify, the white-throated fantail (Leucocerca fuscoventris) and the verditer flycatcher (Eumyias melanops); while, higher up, the little chestnut-headed wren (Tesia castaneo-coronata) seemed to be the sole occupant of the woods.
The promise of the morning was not fulfilled; and, ere we had half completed the distance between our starting-point and our destination, we were enclosed in a fog so thick that we could hardly trace the path before us. Blindly following the track amidst this comparative gloom, and clambering over trees and slippery banks of moist and greasy earth, we at last completed the ascent of what we supposed was the highest point of Sinchul, and, sitting down, waited patiently for the atmosphere to clear. It did so, partially, for about ten minutes, and disclosed, not the grand panorama we had anticipated, for the clouds still lay in heavy masses all round the neighbouring hills, but the disappointing fact, that, instead of being, as we imagined, upon the apex of the mountains, we had only attained to one of the lesser summits, which had been cleared of trees for surveying purposes. It was too late in the day, and there was too little hope of a view, to induce us to complete the ascent to the highest peak, so, bidding adieu to the place until some brighter season, in the midst of the thick fog, which had again overspread the country, we descended from our lofty position, and trudged back towards Darjeeling, passing on our way a black and gloomy-looking little patch of water, which seemed more like a rain-puddle than the mountain-tarn I supposed it to be.
From the summit of Sinchul, in clear weather, is to be obtained a wide and marvellous view of the Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhotan Himalayas, presenting to the beholder a great ard almost graduated crowd of mountains, extending from the lesser hills in the valley of the Great Runjeet river to those matchless tiers of snowy peaks which cluster round the stupendous mass of Kinchin-junga, and afford a prospect which, for grandeur and sublimity, has no parallel on earth.
My subsequent experience of these forests has shown that the scarcity of birds, on the occasion referred to, was owing chiefly to the earliness of the season ; for, by the middle of May, the woods were full of feathered creatures, and fairly ringing with the clear, metallic whistle of the black-headed sibia (Sibia capistrata).
ELECTRICAL COUNTRIES, AND THEIR ACTION ON
BY M. J. FOURNET.
(From " Comptes Rendus," 1st July, 1867.)
It cannot be otherwise than interesting, in a scientific point of view, to ascertain whether or not there exist certain countries more electric than others; for, besides the strangeness of such a fact, it is not impossible that meteorological reactions may be produced, even at great distances, from unequal distribution of electricity.
The persevering studies of De Saussure, combined with those of other physicists, have made us accurately acquainted with what occurs in our regions in ordinary weather; and, in addition to this, many travellers have recorded certain highly curious effects which usually manifest themselves in remote countries; and, lastly, my own endeavour to add to our information on the storm action of the south-west, have led me to the idea that it may bring us electricity, excited on the other side of the Atlantic. It remains, therefore, to ascertain whether there are in existence any facts which may confirm such ideas.
On consulting the important work on Mexican Hydrology by M. H. de Saussure, grandson of the great explorer of the Alps, we see that, at the end of winter, dryness becomes excessive in the elevated plateaux of that country, where evaporation is immense. No vapours then disturb the purity of the sky, and the exhibition of electric sparks at the approach of various objects takes place at times with remarkable intensity.
This tension is even sustained in the rainy season, for in 1856, when M. H. de Saussure and M. Peyron ascended the Nevada de Toluca, in spite of the reiterated warnings of the inhabitants, they soon found themselves enveloped in a frostfog-a menacing symptom of the storm which was coming on. Soon came a violent wind, with hoar-frost, then lightning and thunder, pealing incessantly and with a frightful noise, obliged them to descend lest they should be struck with the discharges. At a lower elevation the storm appeared to calm itself for a moment, and the travellers were enveloped in a grey fog, accompanied with hoar-frost; and they noticed the hair of their Indian guides in agitation, as if about to rise up. Soon there came a dull, indefinable sound, at first weak, though in all directions, and then growing stronger and stronger, very distinct, and even alarming. It was an universal crepitation, as if all the little stones on the mountain were jostled together. After a lapse of five or six minutes, thunder came on again, and rain, which lasted to the borders of the forest region, when the storm became more endurable, partly from the greater distance of the focus of electrical disturbance; and also from partial discharges which were promoted by the vegetation.
Previous to this, M. Craveri, a Mexican physician, had been present at a similar spectacle, on the 19th of May, 1845, when it was suddenly induced by a cloud coming from the north-west. The guides and himself experienced electrical sensations at all their extremities—their fingers, noses, and ears, followed by a dull sound, though no thunder was heard. The long hair of the Indians became stiff and erect, giving their heads an appearance of enormous size, and thus aggravating their superstitious terrors. The noise at length grew more intense. It appeared to extend throughout the mountain, and was like the rattling of flints, alternately attracted and repulsed by electricity; but was probably due to the tapping sound of innumerable sparks starting from the rocky soil. In this case no hoar-frost came on.
The same observer experienced another storm on the 15th of September, 1855, near the summit of Popocatepetl, which differed from the preceding one only that, taking place on the snow-fields, there was no crepitation of stones.
These Mexican storms, which remind me of less striking results observed in the Alps, have been noticed in May, August, and September—that is to say, in the most stormy period for Europe ; and the coincidence ought not to be neglected. It will also be remarked that the storm of the 19th of May, 1845, was brought on by a west wind.
Phenomena of another kind have been observed at Chihuahua, in the Mexican Confederation, but more north. New York has supplied Professor Loomis with an assemblage of facts not less curious, in connection with the presence of an excessive quantity of electricity in the atmosphere. In the winter, hair frequently becomes electrical, especially when a fine comb is used. The greater the efforts made to smooth the hair, the rougher it becomes. It moves towards the fingers that approach it, and the only way to remedy this inconvenience is to make it damp.
At the same seasons woollen clothes, especially trowsers, attract particles of down or floating dust. These particles collect chiefly towards the feet, and brushing makes them stick tighter; a damp sponge is the only mode of removing them. During the night, thick carpets in hot rooms crackle and shine when walked over. By passing over them two or three times rapidly, sparks of some centimetres in length are obtained, and give noticeable pricks. A metallic object, such as a door-handle, shoots a spark at the hand which approaches it; and sometimes these discharges frighten the children. sionally a gas jet may be lit with a finger after walking on the insulating carpet.
These phenomena are so common in New York that they excite no surprise; but they attracted the attention of Volney at the close of the last century. This celebrated traveller observed that the quantity of electricity present in the air constitutes an especial difference between America and Europe. “The storms, also,” he said, “furnislı frightful proofs of this, by the violence of the thunder, and the prodigious intensity of the lightning.” At Philadelphia, the sky seemed on fire from their rapid succession; and their zigzags and darts were of a magnitude of which he had no idea.
The extreme dryness of all the plateaux of the Andes occasion similar effects; and, according to M. Philippi, in the desert of Atacama, men's hair is often made to stand on end, and luminous manifestations spring from the ground.
According to Dr. Livingstone, in spring, which is the season of greatest dryness, the deserts of South Africa are often traversed by a hot north wind, so electrical, that the feathers of the ostrich become excited to active movements; and the slightest friction of clothing gives rise to luminous jets. And, as Volney noticed in America, the heat of the tropical season is not essential to this abundance of electricity, as it is never so striking as when a cool wind blows from the north-west; and the observations of Gmelin, Pallas, Muller, and Georgi, show that it is not less excessive in the glacial atmosphere of Siberia.
In India, electric disturbances in the atmosphere occasion remarkable difficulties in working telegraphic lines. The apparatus seems delirious, and works backwards and forwards. Storms of dreadful violence tear up the posts, and threaten to melt the wires; so that, as a narrator observes, we need not be surprised that Indian telegrams are often as puzzling as the cuneiform inscriptions on Babylonian bricks.
It would be easy to multiply further evidence of the same kind; but this may suffice to show that in the east, the south, and the west, electrical actions influence meteorology, and we may be permitted to believe that their influence may be brought to us by the winds.