by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books


Chapter 28 | Contents | Chapter 30

The Holy Land and the Bible
A Book of Scripture Illustrations gathered in Palestine

Cunningham Geikie D.D.

With a Map of Palestine and Original Illustrations by H. A. Harper
Special Edition



The "Glory" of the Jordan—Locale of the Baptist's Ministry—Mouth of the River—The Jerboa and the ConyAssociations of the JordanPilgrimages to the Supposed Scene of the BaptismGilgal of the Jordan Plain, and how it was discoveredThe other GilgalsThe Valley of the JordanIts SourcesIts Length—Historic Crossing PointsThe Hill of Surtabeh and its ancient usesFrom North to South—A Memorable Voyage

At the first sight of the Jordan, rushing swiftly on its way, the heart is filled with uncontrollable emotion. Sometimes, for a short distance, straight, it continually bends into new courses which hinder a lengthened view, yet add to the picturesque effect. On both sides it is deeply bordered by rich vegetation. Stretches of reeds, ten or twelve feet high, shaken in the wind (Matt 11:7; Luke 7:24), as such slender shafts well may be, alternate with little woods of tamarisks, acacias, oleanders, pistachios, and other trees, in which "the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, and sing among the branches" (Psa 104:12). Nightingales, bulbuls, and countless turtle doves, find here a delightful shade and abundant food. But though a paradise for birds, these thickets hide the view of the river, except from some high point on the upper bank, till vegetation ceases two or three miles from the Dead Sea. As it runs through the open plain the stream has at different times had many banks, which rise above each other in terraces. Its waters once washed the foot of the mountains behind Jericho, 630 feet above the Dead Sea, as shown by the mud terrace and gravel deposits they threw down on the lower slopes of these hills when they rolled past them in a stream nearly sixteen miles wide. A second terrace of gravel, 520 feet above the Dead Sea, stretches from the Sultan's Spring, for several miles, towards the Jordan. In this plateau freshwater shells of the river and its tributary streams are found bedded in layers of silt. At about a mile from the present banks there is a third terrace of white marl crusted with salt, a little over two hundred feet above the Dead Sea, and to this succeeds a fourth, which is liable, though rarely, to floods, and forms the alluvial plain bordering the river. At its upper end this bank has a height of ninety feet above the Dead Sea, but it gradually sinks to the level of the surrounding flat as the river approaches its mouth.* The surface is covered with thin herbage and scattered shrubs, and runs like a bluff close to the bank of the river. Descending its steep face to a depth of over fifty feet, we are in the midst of the bird-paradise of tamarisks, acacias, silver poplars, willows, terebinths, and other trees of which I have spoken; a dense undergrowth of reeds and plants fond of moisture filling up the intervals between the higher vegetation. This, I may repeat, is the "swelling" or "glory" of the Jordan; once the haunt of the lion, and still of the leopard, traces of which are constantly to be seen, especially on the eastern side. Wild swine, also, swarm in this jungle, which is pierced in every direction by their runs. Below this narrow belt of green, the Jordan rushes on, twisting from side to side in its crooked channel; its waters, generally not more than fifty yards across, discoloured by the earth they have received from their banks, or from tributaries, and in most places too deep to ford. When the stream is low, inner banks are visible, about five or six feet high, but when it is in flood, the waters sweep up to the terrace above, driving out the wild beasts in terror for their lives.

* Prof. Hull's Mount Seir, &c., 162.
It was during this inundation that the Israelites crossed, under Joshua. The time of their passage was four days before the Passover (Josh 4:19, 5:10), which has always been held during the full April moon, and then, as now, the harvest was ripe in the Jordan valley from April to early in May; the ripening of barley preceding that of wheat by two or three weeks. Then also, as now, there was a slight annual rise of the waters from the melting of the snows in Lebanon, and from the spring rains, so that the river flowed "with full banks" (Josh 3:15; 1 Chron 12:15) when the Hebrews came to it. It cannot, however, rise above the sunken terrace on which its border of jungle grows, and thus, since the waters shrank to their present level, can never have flooded the upper plain, as the Nile does Egypt. But even within the limits of its present rise, a great stream pours along, in wheeling eddies, when the flood is at its height; so great, that the bravery of the lion-faced men of Gad, who ventured to swim across it when thus full, to join David, has been thought worthy of notice in the sacred records (1 Chron 12:15). How stupendous, then, the miracle by which Israel went over dry-shod! (Josh 3:17)

Somewhere near the mount of the Jordan, perhaps at the ford two miles above it, John the Baptist drew to his preaching vast multitudes from every part of the country, including not only Judæa, but even distant Galilee, our blessed Lord among others. But though John may have baptised at the ford, it is a mistake to suppose that the Israelites crossed at this point, for the words are, "The waters that came down from above stood and rose up upon a heap...and those that came down toward the sea...failed, and were cut off; and the people passed over right against Jericho" (Josh 2:16). Thus, the waters being held back, those below flowed off, and left the channel dry towards the Dead Sea; so that the people, who numbered more than two millions, were not confined to a single point, but could pass over at any part of the empty channel.

From the site of Beth-Hogla to the mouth of the Jordan is a ride of about three miles, the last part of which is over a forbidding grey flat, impregnated with salt, and utterly destitute of living trees, though the bleached trunks and boughs of many, uprooted by floods, stick up from the soft mud. Here and there, indeed, a sandy hillock, rising above the level, gives a home to some desert shrubs, but such a break in the dulness is comparatively rare. The jerboa, a creature doubtless well known to the Israelites, is often seen on these hillocks, which are filled with its burrows—their safe hiding-places on the approach of danger, the least alarm causing them to disappear into them as if by magic, for they leap off to them over the sand with wonderful speed, like miniature kangaroos. Beautiful creatures they are, with their soft, chinchilla-like fur, their great eyes and mouse-like ears, and singular in their structure, with their almost nominal fore-legs, and hind-legs as long as their body, while the tail is still longer. It seems as if, what with the tail and great hind-legs, they flew rather than leaped. Ranked by the Jews among mice, the jerboa was "unclean," and could not be eaten, but the Arabs have no such scruples, though it is only very small game, since its body measures no more than six or seven inches in length. There are, in all, twenty-three species of small rodents in Palestine, and of these not a few contribute to the kitchen comfort of the Bedouins, when caught. One singular mouse, which abounds in the ravines and barrens round the Dead Sea, is exactly like a small porcupine, sharp bristles, like those of a hedgehog, standing out from the upper half of its back, wonderfully long for a creature about the size of our home mouse.

I must not forget to notice another animal that abounds in the gorge of the Kedron, and along the foot of the mountains west of the Dead Sea—the cony of Scripture. It is the size of a rabbit, but belongs to a very different order of animals, being placed by naturalists between the hippopotamus and the rhinoceros. Its soft fur is brownish-grey over the back, with long black hairs rising through this lighter coat, and is almost white on the stomach; the tail is very short. The Jews, who were not scientific, deceived by the motion of its jaws in eating, which is exactly like that of ruminant animals, fancied it chewed the cud, but as it "did not divide the hoof," they put its flesh amidst that which was forbidden (Lev 11:5; Deut 14:7). It lives in companies, and chooses a ready-made cleft in the rocks for its home, so that, though the conies are but "a feeble folk," their refuge in the rocks (Psa 104:18; Prov 30:24,26) gives them a security beyond that of stronger creatures. They are, moreover, "exceeding wise," so that it is very hard to capture one. Indeed, they are said, on high authority, to have sentries, regularly placed on the look-out while the rest are feeding, a squeak from the watchman sufficing to send the flock scudding to their holes like rabbits. The cony is found in many parts of Palestine, and in the region of the Dead Sea the Arabs consider it choice eating.

The Jordan was regarded by the Israelites as the glory of their country, for it is the only river in Palestine which always flows in a copious stream, though its sunken, tumultuous, twisted course, which, between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, winds for some 200 miles over a space only about sixty miles in direct length, has made it useless for navigation, or as an attraction to human communities, except at the plain of Jericho. The great miracle when the Hebrews passed over made it sacred to them, so that its waters were already regarded with reverence when Elisha commanded Naaman to wash in them as a cure for his leprosy (2 Kings 5:6ff). Hallowed still more by the preaching of John and the baptism of Christ, the Jordan has been the favourite goal of all pilgrimages to the Holy Land, in every age since the first Christian centuries. As early as the days of Constantine, to be baptised in its waters was deemed a great privilege, while in the sixth century Antoninus relates that marble steps led down into the water on both sides at the spot where it was believed our Lord had been baptised, while a wooden cross rose in the middle of the stream. Upon the eve of the Epiphany, he adds, "great vigils are held here, a vast crown of people is collected, and after the cock has crowed for the fourth or fifth time, matins begin. Then, as the day commences to dawn, the deacons begin the holy mysteries, and celebrate them in the open air; the priest descends into the river, and all who are to be baptised go to him."

Holy water was even in that early age carried away by masters of vessels who visited the stream as pilgrims, to sprinkle their ships before a voyage; and we are told that all pilgrims alike went into the water wearing a linen garment, which they sacredly preserved as a winding sheet to be wrapped round them at their death.* The scene of the yearly bathing of pilgrims now is near the ford, about two miles above the Dead Sea, each sect having its own particular spot, which it fondly believes to be exactly that at which our Saviour was baptised.

* Antoninus, Pal. Explor. Fund ed., p. 11.
The season of baptism has been changed from the colder time of Epiphany to that of Easter, and as the date of the latter feast differs in the Roman and Greek Churches, no collisions take place. Each Easter Monday thousands of pilgrims start, in a great caravan, from Jerusalem, under the protection of the Turkish Government, a white flag and loud music going before them, while Turkish soldiers, with the green standard of the prophet, close the long procession. On the Greek Easter Monday the same spectacle is repeated, four or five thousand pilgrims joining in this second caravan. Formerly, the numbers going to Jordan each year were much greater, from fifteen to twenty thousand visiting it even fifty years ago.* The procession streams from the gate and pours along the camel-track, towards Bethany and the Jordan; some on foot; others on horseback, or on asses, mules, or camels. Some companies travel with tents and provisions, to make everything comfortable on the journey. Here, a woman on horseback, with a child on each arm, is to be seen; there, in a pannier on one side of a mule, is a woman, in another on the opposite side is a man; or a dromedary, with a great frame across its hump, bears a family with all their coverlets and utensils. The Russian pilgrims, men, women, and priests, if it be the Greek Easter, are afoot in heavy boots, fur caps, and clothing more fitted for Archangel than for the Jordan valley. Midway comes a body of Turkish horse, with drawn swords, clearing the way for the governor; then pilgrims again. Drawn from every land, they have travelled thousands of miles, in the belief that to see the holy places and to bathe in the Jordan will tell on their eternal happiness.
* Stephen, Incidents, ii. 228.
In these wonderful gatherings there are as many woman as men. The Turkish soldiers are not merely ornamental, or a compliment to Christianity, but an indispensable protection from the robbers or thieves who have frequented the road since long before the story of the good Samaritan, and from the Bedouin at the Jordan itself. The broad space between the Sultan's Spring and Eriha is soon an extemporised town, tents of all sizes rising as by magic, while at night the plain is lighted up by the flames of countless fires. Next morning they start from this resting-place before sunrise, and march or ride by the light of the Passover moon towards the brink of the Jordan, but the pace of such a confused throng is slow. To help them on the first stages of their way, multitudinous torches blaze in the van, and huge watch-fires, kindled at the sides of the road, guard them past the worst places, till, as daylight breaks, the first of the throng reach the sacred river. Before long, the high bank, above the trees and reeds, is crowded with horses, mules, asses, and camels, in terrible confusion; old, young, men, women, and children, of many nationalities, all pressing together, in seemingly inextricable disorder. Yet they manage to clear themselves after a time, and then, dismounting, rush into the water with the most business-like quiet; too earnest and practical to express much emotion. Some strip themselves naked, but most of them plunge in clad in a white gown, which is to serve hereafter as a shroud, consecrated by its present use. Families bathe together, the father immersing the infant and his other children, that they may not need to make the pilgrimage in later life. Most of them keep near the shore, but some strike out boldly into the current; some choose one spot, some another, for their bath. In little more than two hours the banks are once more deserted, the pilgrims remounting their motley army of beasts with the same grave quiet as they had shown on leaving them for a time; and before noon they are back again at their encampment. They now sleep till the middle of the night, when, roused by the kettledrums of the Turks, they once more, by the light of the moon, torches, and bonfires, turn their faces to the steep pass up to Jerusalem, in such silence that they might all be gone without waking you if you slept near them. It was thus with a great caravan of pilgrims who encamped a few yards from my tent near the Lake of Galilee. Noisy enough by night, with firing of pistols and guns, they struck their tents and moved off early in the morning.

The ancient Gilgal, where the Israelites erected a circle of twelve stones, to commemorate the passage of the Jordan, and where they renewed the rite of circumcision (Josh 4:19,20, 5:2), has been rediscovered, of late years, by a German traveller,* whose ear fortunately caught from the lips of the Arabs the words Tell Jiljal and Birket Jiljalia; the former a mound over the ancient town, and the latter its pond. They lie about three miles south-east of the Sultan's Spring, close to the track leading to the ford of the Jordan, and a little more than a mile nearly east from Eriha, but beyond the verdure which surrounds it. The pool is of stone, without mortar, about forty yards in diameter, and within a mile of it are about a dozen mounds, three or four feet high, which may be the remains of the fortified camp of the Israelites. Ancient Canaanitish houses were very probably built of mud, and would disappear very soon, if deserted; and it is perhaps on account of this that so few vestiges are now to be found of either Gilgal or Jericho. Captain Conder supposes that the twelve stones set up by Joshua were something like a Druidical circle; a kind of rude sanctuary, of the form of the numerous rings of huge stones still found in Moab, and more or less in many countries, over a great part of the world. It may have been so, but one can hardly believe that all traces of it would have perished, had it been thus a miniature Stonehenge.

* Zschotte, Rector of the Austrian Hospice at Jerusalem, 1865.
There are several "Gilgals" in the Bible, but this, on the plain of the Jordan, was the most important. It was doubtless from it that the "angel," or, rather, "messenger," of Jehovah came up, from the sunken "ghor," to Bochim, in the hill-country, to rebuke the people, in the early days of the Judges, for their relations to the heathen inhabitants, and for their heathenism (Judg 2:1). Gilgal must thus, even then, it would seem, have been a religious centre, from which priests could be sent on spiritual errands to other parts of the land. It was to this Gilgal, also, that the representatives of the tribe of Judah came, to invite David to return to Jerusalem, after the death of Absalom (2 Sam 19:15); such a venerable sanctuary appearing the best place for a solemn act of kingly restoration. What services were performed at Gilgal, or in what the sanctuary consisted, is not discoverable, unless there be a hint in the twelve stones of Joshua, or in the statement that there were Pesilim "by Gilgal" (Judg 3:19). This word means, in twenty out of the twenty-one cases in which it occurs, carved images of idols; and though the Targum translates it in this one instance by "quarries," it very probably does so to save the early Israelites from an imputation of idolatry. If "carved images" be really meant, the inclination of the ancient Hebrews to idolatry must have early shown itself after their first arrival in Palestine. It is not certain, however, that this passage refers to the Gilgal of the Jericho plain; it may allude to another, in the hills of Ephraim (Judg 3:27). A Gilgal is mentioned "beside the oaks of Moreh" (Deut 11:30), that is, near Shechem, the present Nablus. From this, or from still another Gilgal, Elijah went down to Bethel, and then, farther down, to Jericho, so that it must have been either north of Bethel, or must have lain higher than that place, the Gilgal of the Jordan being excluded in either case (2 Kings 2:1,2). In this third Gilgal there was a community of prophets, for whom Elisha made wholesome the pottage of deadly gourds (2 Kings 4:38). It was, however, at the Gilgal in the Jordan plains that Joshua so long had his headquarters, after the taking of Jericho and Ai (Josh 9:6, 10:6,15,43, 14:6); that the tabernacle stood before it was transferred to Shiloh (Josh 18:1); and that Samuel held yearly circuit as a judge (1 Sam 7:16, 11:15), and solemnly inaugurated the kingdom of Saul, and that that unfortunate chief more than once assembled the people around him (1 Sam 13:4, 15:12,21,33). And it is this Gilgal which the prophets Hosea and Amos denounced as, along with Bethel, a chief seat of the worship of the calf by the northern kingdom (Hosea 4:15, 9:15, 12:11; Amos 4:4, 5:5).* Besides these three Gilgals, there was a fourth, apparently in the plains of Sharon (Josh 12:23); the frequent repetition of the name perhaps implying that in the early ages of Israelitish history, the setting up of stone circles, to which it seems to refer, was a frequent custom with the people. It assuredly was so with their neighbours of Moab, as is still shown by the numerous stone monuments, in circles and other shapes, preserved to our day.**
* From Ramah Samuel goes down to Gilgal. So does Saul from Carmel in Judah, but he goes up from Gilgal to Gibeah (1 Sam 10:8, 15:12,34).

** Conder, Heth and Moab, passim.

The Jordan, for much the greater part of its course, flows far below the level of the sea, its mouth being about thirteen hundred feet below the Mediterranean. It can never have run into the Gulf of Akabah, at the head of the Red Sea, for the very good reason that the watershed which lies in the way is more than eight hundred feet above the Mediterranean. South of the Dead Sea the continuation of the Valley of the Jordan is known as the Arabah, that is, the "Waste," or "Steppe"; while the valley through which the river actually flows is known as the "ghor," or "depression." The Jordan formed the eastern boundary of the Promised Land, any territory to the east of it being spoken of as "on the farther side" of the river. Its strange channel, sinking so deep, from step to step, gained it the name of Jordan, or "descender," while its numerous fords, rapids, eddies, sandbanks, and its sharp reefs, past which it often shoots wildly, have in all ages prevented its being used for boats or other vessels. Shut out from cooling winds, the valley is insufferably hot for most of the year, and hence is little inhabited. No town has ever risen on its banks, those near it standing upon heights some distance from it. No road ever ran through its gorges, though many crossed at its fords, but even these were very difficult of approach, from the steepness and roughness of the wadys on either side.

The most noteworthy source of the Jordan, near Hasbeya, in Lebanon, is about 2,200 feet above the sea. But it has two others—a spring, as large as a small river, which flows from under a low height at Dan; and a great flow of waters issuing from a cave at the foot of the hills at Banias, or Cæsarea Philippi, a thousand feet above the Mediterranean. These, after rushing swiftly and often tumultuously on their separate courses, unite in the little Lake of Huleh, four miles long, the ancient Sea of Merom, which lies about ninety feet above the ocean. A short distance below Huleh the river is crossed by the ancient but still used "Bridge of the Daughters of Jacob," and is still slightly above the sea-level, but from this point it rapidly sinks. Rushing and foaming through narrow clefts in the rocks, it hurries on to the Lake of Galilee, ten miles and a half from Lake Huleh, entering it through a green, marshy plain, at a level of 682 feet below the Mediterranean. Its course from the Lake southwards is a continued and sometimes rapid descent. In the twenty-six and a half miles from Banias it has already fallen 1,682 feet, and it has yet to sink 610 feet lower, before it reaches the Dead Sea, sixty-five miles in a straight line from the Sea of Galilee, but three times as far by the bends of the river channel.

The total length of the Jordan, from Banias, is thus, in a straight line, only about a hundred and four miles. Inside the deep sunken "ghor," alongside the stream, a terrace runs from 40 to 150 feet above the water, and on this alone luxuriant vegetation is found, the land over the "ghor" being very barren. An old Saracen bridge, five or six miles below the Lake of Galilee, marks the spot where probably Naaman crossed when he returned from Samaria to Damascus (2 Kings 5:14). The Syrians, under Benhadad, fled by the same way (2 Kings 7:15), and here, too, Judas Maccabæus crossed when returning from Gilead (1 Macc 5:52). Very possibly David used the same ford when he invaded Syria (2 Sam 10:17), for it is still the road from Jerusalem of the Jabbok, on the east side of the river, another bridge, built by the Romans, marks the ford where so many Ephraimites were slain by Jephtha (Judg 12:5); and it was apparently by this bridge that Galilean pilgrims, in the time of Christ, ended the roundabout journey they had made down the east bank of the Jordan, to avoid Samaria, crossing the Jordan to the eastern side a little below the Lake of Galilee, and recrossing here to go on to Jericho, and thence to Jerusalem. Here, also, the Christians must have crossed who fled to Pella at the fall of Jerusalem.

Five or six miles from the river, west of this passage, travellers or fugitives in these old times had the great hill of Surtabeh, standing up isolated more than two thousand feet above the Jordan,* as their landmark; a height famous in the land, for it was from its summit that the appearance of the new moon was flashed by signal fires over the country, till the Samaritans kindled false lights on other hills, so that couriers had to take the place of beacon flames. It is probable that Zarthan, where Solomon had the brazen vessels made for his Temple, lay near Surtabeh, as the soil of this part of the "ghor" is said to be specially fitted for founders' moulds. In the lower stages of the course of the Jordan the mountains on the western side are extremely rugged and barren, in striking contrast to those on the eastern side, but at the mouths of the valleys, where the water is low, there are a number of fords used from of old by all who have occasion to cross either east or west.

* It is 2,368 feet above the Jordan, and 1,244 feet above the Mediterranean.
From the foot of Hermon to Lake Huleh the river descends, in a very short distance, 1,434 feet; thence to the Lake of Galilee it falls 897 feet; and from that Lake to the Dead Sea, 618 feet more; in all, 2,949 feet. At Lake Huleh the charming open ground is fertile; and there are many green oases in the deep cleft from the Lake of Galilee, southwards; but as a whole the deeply sunken inner banks of the river deserve the name given them by the Hebrews—the Arabah, or Waste. Nor is the wildness relieved by peaceful tributaries on either side, for though several perennial streams join the main current from the east, and many winter torrents rush downwards to it from the west, they pour on both sides through ravines so steep and rugged that it is laborious to reach the level of the stream at any part. The common means of crossing in Bible times seems to have been by fords, though David is said to have been taken over with Barzillai in a ferry boat; but there are many shallow places in the long chasm through which the waters seek their way before reaching the plain of Jericho.

A river so unique may well demand our attention, not only for its strange descent beneath the level of the sea, or for the historical associations of its borders, but also for other features, which supply the key to its past physical history. Between Banias and Huleh the valley is about five miles broad, with steep cliffs on each side, about two thousand feet high, and more or less marshy ground between, the river flowing in the middle of the plain. After leaving Lake Huleh, however, the stream turns to the foot of the eastern hills, running about four miles from the western range, which towers up, in the neighbourhood of Safed, to more than 3,500 feet above the Lake of Galilee, the bed of which is the first sign of the great chasm in which the river henceforth flows. For thirteen miles south of the Lake, to Beisan, the valley is about four and a half miles wide, some of the cliffs on its western side rising eighteen hundred feet above the stream. In the next twelve miles it is still broader, expanding to a width of six miles, its sides showing a very curious succession of terraces. Beisan, for example, stands on a plateau about three hundred feet below the Mediterranean; the "ghor" itself is four hundred feet lower; while the narrow trench, from a quarter to half a mile broad, in which the river actually flows, is a hundred and fifty feet lower still.

After this open part of the valley is passed, the width contracts to two or three miles, with hills rising, on the western side, about five hundred feet above the sea. After running twelve miles through this glen, the stream again has an open course for a time through a valley eight miles broad, till we reach Surtabeh, which rises 2,400 feet above the river, as I have said. From this point to the plain of Jericho, the "ghor" is about ten miles broad, the river flowing, here as elsewhere, in a deeply sunken channel worn out in the valley. Finally, there is the Jericho plain, which the Palestine Survey reports as measuring more than eight miles from north to south, and more than fourteen across, with the Jordan in about the middle. The actual riverbed is, in this section, including its successive terraces, about a mile wide, and two hundred feet, or thereabouts, below the broad valley. It helps to explain the saltness of the Dead Sea to find that from Beisan southwards numbers of salt springs flow into the river.

It would appear from this sketch of the course of the river that a great lake once stretched to the foot of Lebanon, and that after it had begun to dry up, a chain of lakes, filling the broad parts of the valley, for a time took the place of the still larger lake, gradually shrinking, however, till we have only Huleh, the Lake of Galilee, and the Dead Sea, and the dry beds of two other lakes, represented by the plain of Beisan and that of Jericho.

The only boat, so far as is know, that ever descended the whole course of the Jordan, was that of Lieutenant Lynch, of the American Navy, whose description of the "ghor" is necessarily the most complete we possess; his account of the lower part of its course bringing it before us with a vividness only possible to personal observation. "The boats had little need to propel them," says he, "for the current carried us along at the rate of from four to six knots an hour, the river, from its eccentric course, scarcely permitting a correct sketch of its topography to be taken. It curved and twisted north, south, east, and west, turning, in the short space of half an hour, to every quarter of the compass...

"For hours, in their swift descent, the boats floated down in silence, the silence of the wilderness. Here and there were spots of solemn beauty. The numerous birds sang with a music strange and manifold; the willow branches floated from the trees like tresses, and creeping mosses and clambering weeds, with a multitude of white and silvery little flowers, looked out from among them; and the cliff swallow wheeled over the falls, or went at his own wild will, darting through the arched vistas, shadowed and shaped by the meeting foliage on the banks; and, above all, yet attuned to all, was the music of the river, gushing with a sound like that of shawms and cymbals...

"The birds were numerous, and at times, when we issued from the silence and shadow of a narrow and verdure-tinted part of the stream into an open bend, where the rapids rattled and the light burst in, and the birds sang their wildwood song, it was, to use a simile of Mr. Bedlow, like a sudden transition from the cold, dull-lighted hall, where the gentlemen hang their hats, into the white and golden saloon, where the music rings and the dance goes on. The hawk, upon the topmost branch of a blighted tree, moved not at our approach, and the veritable nightingale ceased not her song, for she made day into night in her covert among the leaves; and the bulbul, whose sacred haunts we disturbed when the current swept us among the overhanging boughs, but chirruped her surprise, calmly winged her flight to another sprig, and continued her interrupted melodies...

"Our course down the stream was with varied rapidity. At times we were going at the rate of from three to four knots an hour, and again we would be swept and hurried away, dashing and whirling onward with the furious speed of a torrent. At such moments there was excitement, for we knew not but that the next turn of the stream would plunge us down some fearful cataract, or dash us on the sharp rocks which might lurk beneath the surface. Many islands—some fairy-like, and covered with a luxuriant vegetation, others, mere sand-banks and sedimentary deposits, intercepted the course of the river, but were beautiful features in the monotony of the shores. The regular and almost unvaried scene, of high banks of alluvial deposit and sand-hills on the one hand, and the low shore, covered to the water's edge with tamarisk, the willow, and the thick, high cane, would have been fatiguing without the frequent occurrence of sand-banks and verdant islands. High up on the sand-bluffs, the cliff-swallow chattered from her nest in the hollow, or darted about in the bright sunshine, in pursuit of the gnat and the watter-fly."*

* Lynch, Narrative, 211-215.

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