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    Chapter XXXVIII

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    Chapter 42
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    Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert, eight thousand
    feet above the level of the sea, and is guarded by mountains two thousand
    feet higher, whose summits are always clothed in clouds. This solemn,
    silent, sail-less sea--this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth
    --is little graced with the picturesque. It is an unpretending expanse
    of grayish water, about a hundred miles in circumference, with two
    islands in its centre, mere upheavals of rent and scorched and blistered
    lava, snowed over with gray banks and drifts of pumice-stone and ashes,
    the winding sheet of the dead volcano, whose vast crater the lake has
    seized upon and occupied.

    The lake is two hundred feet deep, and its sluggish waters are so strong
    with alkali that if you only dip the most hopelessly soiled garment into
    them once or twice, and wring it out, it will be found as clean as if it
    had been through the ablest of washerwomen's hands. While we camped
    there our laundry work was easy. We tied the week's washing astern of
    our boat, and sailed a quarter of a mile, and the job was complete, all
    to the wringing out. If we threw the water on our heads and gave them a
    rub or so, the white lather would pile up three inches high. This water
    is not good for bruised places and abrasions of the skin. We had a
    valuable dog. He had raw places on him. He had more raw places on him
    than sound ones. He was the rawest dog I almost ever saw. He jumped
    overboard one day to get away from the flies. But it was bad judgment.
    In his condition, it would have been just as comfortable to jump into the
    fire.

    The alkali water nipped him in all the raw places simultaneously, and he
    struck out for the shore with considerable interest. He yelped and
    barked and howled as he went--and by the time he got to the shore there
    was no bark to him--for he had barked the bark all out of his inside, and
    the alkali water had cleaned the bark all off his outside, and he
    probably wished he had never embarked in any such enterprise. He ran
    round and round in a circle, and pawed the earth and clawed the air, and
    threw double somersaults, sometimes backward and sometimes forward, in
    the most extraordinary manner. He was not a demonstrative dog, as a
    general thing, but rather of a grave and serious turn of mind, and I
    never saw him take so much interest in anything before. He finally
    struck out over the mountains, at a gait which we estimated at about two
    hundred and fifty miles an hour, and he is going yet. This was about
    nine years ago. We look for what is left of him along here every day.

    A white man cannot drink the water of Mono Lake, for it is nearly pure
    lye. It is said that the Indians in the vicinity drink it sometimes,
    though. It is not improbable, for they are among the purest liars I ever
    saw. [There will be no additional charge for this joke, except to
    parties requiring an explanation of it. This joke has received high
    commendation from some of the ablest minds of the age.]

    There are no fish in Mono Lake--no frogs, no snakes, no polliwigs--
    nothing, in fact, that goes to make life desirable. Millions of wild
    ducks and sea-gulls swim about the surface, but no living thing exists
    under the surface, except a white feathery sort of worm, one half an inch
    long, which looks like a bit of white thread frayed out at the sides. If
    you dip up a gallon of water, you will get about fifteen thousand of
    these. They give to the water a sort of grayish-white appearance. Then
    there is a fly, which looks something like our house fly. These settle
    on the beach to eat the worms that wash ashore--and any time, you can see
    there a belt of flies an inch deep and six feet wide, and this belt
    extends clear around the lake--a belt of flies one hundred miles long.
    If you throw a stone among them, they swarm up so thick that they look
    dense, like a cloud. You can hold them under water as long as you
    please--they do not mind it--they are only proud of it. When you let
    them go, they pop up to the surface as dry as a patent office report, and
    walk off as unconcernedly as if they had been educated especially with a
    view to affording instructive entertainment to man in that particular
    way. Providence leaves nothing to go by chance. All things have their
    uses and their part and proper place in Nature's economy: the ducks eat
    the flies--the flies eat the worms--the Indians eat all three--the wild
    cats eat the Indians--the white folks eat the wild cats--and thus all
    things are lovely.

    Mono Lake is a hundred miles in a straight line from the ocean--and
    between it and the ocean are one or two ranges of mountains--yet
    thousands of sea-gulls go there every season to lay their eggs and rear
    their young. One would as soon expect to find sea-gulls in Kansas.
    And in this connection let us observe another instance of Nature's
    wisdom. The islands in the lake being merely huge masses of lava, coated
    over with ashes and pumice-stone, and utterly innocent of vegetation or
    anything that would burn; and sea-gull's eggs being entirely useless to
    anybody unless they be cooked, Nature has provided an unfailing spring of
    boiling water on the largest island, and you can put your eggs in there,
    and in four minutes you can boil them as hard as any statement I have
    made during the past fifteen years. Within ten feet of the boiling
    spring is a spring of pure cold water, sweet and wholesome.

    So, in that island you get your board and washing free of charge--and if
    nature had gone further and furnished a nice American hotel clerk who was
    crusty and disobliging, and didn't know anything about the time tables,
    or the railroad routes--or--anything--and was proud of it--I would not
    wish for a more desirable boarding-house.

    Half a dozen little mountain brooks flow into Mono Lake, but not a stream
    of any kind flows out of it. It neither rises nor falls, apparently, and
    what it does with its surplus water is a dark and bloody mystery.

    There are only two seasons in the region round about Mono Lake--and these
    are, the breaking up of one Winter and the beginning of the next. More
    than once (in Esmeralda) I have seen a perfectly blistering morning open
    up with the thermometer at ninety degrees at eight o'clock, and seen the
    snow fall fourteen inches deep and that same identical thermometer go
    down to forty-four degrees under shelter, before nine o'clock at night.
    Under favorable circumstances it snows at least once in every single
    month in the year, in the little town of Mono. So uncertain is the
    climate in Summer that a lady who goes out visiting cannot hope to be
    prepared for all emergencies unless she takes her fan under one arm and
    her snow shoes under the other. When they have a Fourth of July
    procession it generally snows on them, and they do say that as a general
    thing when a man calls for a brandy toddy there, the bar keeper chops it
    off with a hatchet and wraps it up in a paper, like maple sugar. And it
    is further reported that the old soakers haven't any teeth--wore them out
    eating gin cocktails and brandy punches. I do not endorse that
    statement--I simply give it for what it is worth--and it is worth--well,
    I should say, millions, to any man who can believe it without straining
    himself. But I do endorse the snow on the Fourth of July--because I know
    that to be true.
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