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Mahlon Norris Gilbert: Bishop Coadjutor of Minnesota 1886-1900.

By Francis Leseure Palmer
with an Introduction by Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, Presiding Bishop of the American Church.

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1912.
London: Mowbray, 1912.

Chapter XVIII. A Lover of Nature

A MARKED element in Bishop Gilbert's character was his deep love of nature. His boyhood in the country, the years in Utah and Montana, his many journeys in the Indian country, all fostered his love of the open air. He became a trained sportsman, a good shot, a fisherman of unusual skill. It was not the mere joy of bringing down the game or of returning to camp with a large "catch" that made him a sportsman. It was rather his love of nature in every aspect, and his sense of the Divine Hand in nature that drew him, every summer if possible, to camp with congenial companions in the unspoiled forest, far from city or town.

One of his vacation journeys is well described in a letter which Bishop Gilbert wrote for the Minnesota Missionary of September, 1890:

My letter this month will not tell about work, but rather about recreation and rest. I was quite ready for it when the time came. A steady run of work for several months daily, with no respite, had gotten me into a kind of nervous condition which demanded recreation.

For me to secure the full benefits of a vacation, I must go away from the busy activities of life, away from the haunts of men, and enter into the quiet restfulness of nature's solitudes. Naturally my steps led me westward to the dear old mountains, among which for many years I dwelt. How different the trip from the first I made into Montana nineteen years ago! Then I entered the territory from the south, riding from Salt Lake City northward five hundred miles by stage. Now I entered it from the east, reclining in comfort on the luxurious seats of the Pullman cars of the Northern Pacific. Then we found our meals in log stables by the wayside or in camps; now the splendid dining cars furnish one with every luxury.

I did get a bit of staging, however, this summer. To transact some necessary business, I left the Northern Pacific at Billings, entered a stage familiarly known as the "Jerky," which at night gave way to a buck-board, and went one hundred miles north to the foot of the Big Snowy Mountains.

(After this trip, the Bishop went on to Livingston, and from there was driven over the foot-hills to a stream called the Boulder. Here he found the Rev. Dr. James M, Sterrett, Professor at Seabury, with his three sons, awaiting him at the camp, which was in fine order. Unfortunately, after one day together, a severe attack of neuralgia of the heart forced Dr. Sterrett reluctantly to return home, and his sons went with him.)

This left me alone with my guide, but I am too fond of streams and mountains and trout-fishing to get lonely. For ten days I remained in camp and enjoyed every moment of the time. Certainly the trout-fishing on the Boulder is unexcelled by that of any stream in which I have ever wet my line. The trout are large, many of them reaching two pounds; they are gamy; the stream can be waded; a fly can be cast in all parts of it without difficulty; and the numbers to be secured are only limited by one's time and inclination. The scenery of the middle Boulder is very picturesque and in many places grand. Game is also very plentiful, and our larder was kept supplied with it by the slightest effort.

I broke camp very reluctantly, but my memory will return to the Boulder many times the coming year, and each memory will be a distinct refreshment.

On my way out I met my friend, and a veteran in the art of trout-fishing, Judge Wilder of Red Wing, with a party on their way through the Yellowstone Park. ... I ran over to the west of the mountains, and spent two days with my brother in Missoula, and then returned to my work, greatly refreshed.

On one of his camping vacations in Montana, Bishop Gilbert had a unique experience, which he recorded in an article published in Field and Stream, a magazine for sportsmen. It was entitled "Three Big Trout on Two Flies." The story is too long to print here in full. He was casting with two flies on one line, when, at the same moment, two trout seized the flies. While he was playing them, a great "bull trout" tried to swallow the smaller of the two, and, when too late, discovered that he was himself caught. After a long fight the Bishop succeeded in guiding all three into his landing net.

The excitement and work have exhausted me. I sit down and breathe. Then I weigh them and find that their combined weight is eight pounds and a half. Three trout on two flies, and landed with a seven ounce rod. I was satisfied. ... I pushed on up the stream until I came, half a mile beyond, to the shores of Red Eagle Lake. The trout were "breaking" all over its surface, yet I made no further casts, but revelled in the glory and grandeur of the scene before me-the sapphire lake, the glacier in the cleft of the mountains, the mighty peaks watching and warding this wondrous, jewel at their feet. So I sat upon the beach, and drank in the inspiration of my surroundings. I forgot the world of care in the busy fretting life far away. [Field and Stream, 1896, p. 108.]

On another vacation visit, Bishop Gilbert had a startling adventure. He had gone to Montana with a friend for a hunting and fishing expedition. At a familiar place, they left the train, hired horses of an old acquaintance, and started on their journey. On the way they met a party of rough-looking men, one of whom came up to the Bishop, looked his horse over, and claimed it as his own. Fearing trouble, Dr. Gilbert and his friend managed to break away from the men, and rode off at full speed. This did not end the adventure, for the next morning, as they were breaking camp, the county sheriff appeared with a warrant for their arrest as horse thieves. Fortunately, he was well acquainted with the Bishop, and, on recognizing him, broke out into uncontrollable laughter. The matter was soon explained. The horses which they rode had strayed into the premises of the man from whom they hired them, and he had ventured to send them out, supposing that no one would claim them. This story has been told in several forms. In the most dramatic version, the rope is actually around the Bishop's neck to hang him, when a friend rides up and saves him.

The last vacation trip among the mountains of which there is record was that of August, 1898. This outing was in the Clearwater Country of Idaho, his companions, besides the guide and cook, being Prof. Charles C. Camp of Seabury, and Mr. Alfred H. Bill, of Faribault. A very interesting narrative of this camping party was written by the Bishop, also for Field and Stream, and was published in the number for April, 1899, with four illustrations from photographs. Its title was, "Trout Fishing in Idaho." The journey to the Clearwater involved much hardship, but they were repaid. The Bishop writes:

The situation was ideal; the river teemed with trout, the hot springs, both above and below our camp, were famous "licks" for deer and elk, and our bill of fare was made up of venison steaks, grouse, and fish, served to our liking. . . . For eleven days we revelled in the enchantment of this remote wilderness on the banks of this picturesque stream. . . .

It is the absolute freedom from the conventionalities of social life that adds the keenest zest to the enjoyment of a vacation. I am frank to say that I cannot appreciate the pleasure which some very excellent and charming people seem to take at the fashionable summer resort, where the restrictions of social requirements are still paramount. Give me the wilderness with its silence, its isolation, its solitude. Give me the music of the secluded water falls, rather than the music of the paid band on the hotel porch. Give me the happy greeting of the graceful, careless water ousel, as he hops through the spray from stone to stone. Give me the gleam of the rainbow on the glistening sides of the darting trout, and the swift rush and break as he strikes for my "coachman." Give me these, and such as these, in preference to all the attractions of artificial environment, and I am content. . . .

Often in the long winter evenings in my study do I live over the incidents of that memorable August on the Lo Lo trail, in the heart of the Bitter Root Mountains, and my memory's chambers are peopled with its fascinating images. Such an experience as this keeps my heart ever young. [Field and Stream, Vol. IV., pp. 310-314.]

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