During the two succeeding days, I reached the furthest point which I was anxious to examine. The country wore the same aspect, till at last the fine green turf became more wearisome than a dusty turnpike road. We everywhere saw great numbers of partridges (Nothura major). These birds do not go in coveys, nor do they conceal themselves like the English kind. It appears a very silly bird. A man on horseback by riding round and round in a circle, or rather in a spire, so as to approach closer each time, may knock on the head as many as he pleases. The more common method is to catch them with a running noose, or little lazo, made of the stem of an ostrich's feather, fastened to the end of a long stick. A boy on a quiet old horse will frequently thus catch thirty or forty in a day. In Arctic North America [1] the Indians catch the Varying Hare by walking spirally round and round it, when on its form: the middle of the day is reckoned the best time, when the sun is high, and the shadow of the hunter not very long.

On our return to Maldonado, we followed rather a different line of road. Near Pan de Azucar, a landmark well known to all those who have sailed up the Plata, I stayed a day at the house of a most hospitable old Spaniard. Early in the morning we ascended the Sierra de las Animas. By the aid of the rising sun the scenery was almost picturesque. To the westward the view extended over an immense level plain as far as the Mount, at Monte Video, and to the eastward, over the mammillated country of Maldonado. On the summit of the mountain there were several small heaps of stones, which evidently had lain there for many years. My companion assured me that they were the work of the Indians in the old time. The heaps were similar, but on a much smaller scale, to those so commonly found on the mountains of Wales. The desire to signalize any event, on the highest point of the neighbouring land, seems an universal passion with mankind. At the present day, not a single Indian, either civilized or wild, exists in this part of the province; nor am I aware that the former inhabitants have left behind them any more permanent records than these insignificant piles on the summit of the Sierra de las Animas.

The general, and almost entire absence of trees in Banda Oriental is remarkable. Some of the rocky hills are partly covered by thickets, and on the banks of the larger streams, especially to the north of Las Minas, willow-trees are not uncommon. Near the Arroyo Tapes I heard of a wood of palms; and one of these trees, of considerable size, I saw near the Pan de Azucar, in lat. 35 degs. These, and the trees planted by the Spaniards, offer the only exceptions to the general scarcity of wood. Among the introduced kinds may be enumerated poplars, olives, peach, and other fruit trees: the peaches succeed so well, that they afford the main supply of firewood to the city of Buenos Ayres. Extremely level countries, such as the Pampas, seldom appear favourable to the growth of trees. This may possibly be attributed either to the force of the winds, or the kind of drainage. In the nature of the land, however, around Maldonado, no such reason is apparent; the rocky mountains afford protected situations; enjoying various kinds of soil; streamlets of water are common at the bottoms of nearly every valley; and the clayey nature of the earth seems adapted to retain moisture. It has been inferred with much probability, that the presence of woodland is generally determined [2] by the annual amount of moisture; yet in this province abundant and heavy rain falls during the winter; and the summer, though dry, is not so in any excessive degree. [3] We see nearly the whole of Australia covered by lofty trees, yet that country possesses a far more arid climate. Hence we must look to some other and unknown cause.

Confining our view to South America, we should certainly be tempted to believe that trees flourished only under a very humid climate; for the limit of the forest-land follows, in a most remarkable manner, that of the damp winds. In the southern part of the continent, where the western gales, charged with moisture from the Pacific, prevail, every island on the broken west coast, from lat. 38 degs. to the extreme point of Tierra del Fuego, is densely covered by impenetrable forests. On the eastern side of the Cordillera, over the same extent of latitude, where a blue sky and a fine climate prove that the atmosphere has been deprived of its moisture by passing over the mountains, the arid plains of Patagonia support a most scanty vegetation.

The Voyage of the Beagle Page 24

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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