Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  9 (1884–85), 216–29.

The Cruise of the "Wallowy". A Travel for Temperature

Barnet Phillips


Essay, Travelogue

Relevant illustrations:

eng. [9]


Climatology, Natural History, Ornithology, Hunting, Extinction, Positivism, Measurement, Instruments, Error, Mapping, Physical Geography, Prognostication, Natural Economy, Archaeology, Sound

    Tired of 'plunging through the tundras of New York Spitzbergen', the narrator and two companions travel to the warmer climes of Southern Florida on a cruise dedicated to hunting and fishing. During preparations for the trip, the narrator observes, 'We laid in such a supply of cartridges that had the final shell been exploded (unerring marksmanship being understood), over Florida today never would have winged its way a solitary flamingo, and that peninsula would have become an ornithological blank'. Also notes that the 'last purchase was a thermometer. The buyer of it was a positivist, and took nothing for granted', and not being satisfied with generalised estimates of the temperature, 'he wanted to have unimpeachable scientific record of the fact. He recalled a friend of his who went to Japan for the sole purpose of studying earthquakes. It happened that his seismometer was defective, and would give no record of nature's convulsions. He had pinned his faith on an instrument of his own invention. He only thought there was something up when he and his apparatus were tumbled together to the ground, and the walls of a building crashed on top of him. Though his seismometer escaped without a scratch, he did not; but to this day he pooh-poohs an earthquake in Japan'. (216) Observes that the 'Maps of Florida' used by the hunting party, whether 'derived from the highest sources of authority' or 'culled from geographers of less topographical distinction', were equally 'signal failures' in the recording of particulars, it being 'beyond the power of the most painstaking and conscientious of chart-makers to keep up with the changes on the coast'. Similarly, the maritime climate of the region is highly unpredictable and a 'great many of those indications which men who follow the seas in Northern zones, and about which they are so everlastingly oracular and prophetic, come to nothing in the Gulf. Prognostications are spent breath'. (218) Describes how 'in the economy of nature, so far as constructive process goes, the mangrove, in combination with the oyster, has had much to do with the building up of this western fringe of Florida', explaining that when oysters die they release their grip on the mangroves on which they have lived and 'fall in the shallow water. The calcareous portions of the shells dissolve in part, but some of the débris, with the silicious matter, remains. A little more soil under water is made, and here will sprout another mangrove, certain in time to have its oyster appendages' (218–19). In this perpetual process 'nature's laws of life and death are balanced, and make up that grand everlasting harmony' (220). Also describes the strange noises emitted by various marine creatures, including 'fish [...] singing a solo for our benefit' which was 'raucous, like a cry of distress, and it irritated the nerves at times', and a 'much more pleasing' sound that was 'put down [...] to the action of shell-fish', and which had 'unknown, indescribable cadences, which Mendelssohn might have imagined when he composed his Meerstille' (226).

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