« PoprzedniaDalej »
§ 18.-Avalanches and Snow-Storms.
during the months of April and May, when the sun becomes powerful and the snow thaws rapidly under its influence. They fall constantly from different parts of the mountains, at different hours of the day, according as each part is reached by the sun: from the E. side between 10 and 12, from the S. side between 12 and 2, and later in the day from the W. and N. This species is more dangerous in its effects, from the snow being clammy and adhesive, and also hard and compact. Any object buried by it can only be dug out by the most arduous labour. Men or cattle overwhelmed by the staub-lawine can sometimes extricate themselves by their own exertions; or, at any rate, from the snow being less compact, may breathe for some hours through the interstices. In the case of the grund-lawine, the sufferers are usually either crushed or suffocated, and are, at any rate, so entangled that they can only be rescued by the aid of others. Such avalanches falling upon a mountain-stream, in a narrow gorge, have sometimes been hollowed out from beneath by the action of the water, until it has forced a passage under them; and they have then been left standing for the whole summer, serving as a bridge over which men and cattle might pass.
The avalanches have usually a fixed time for descending, and an habitual channel down which they slide, which may be known by its being worn perfectly smooth-sometimes even appearing polished, by the heap of debris at its base. The peasants, in some situations, await with impatience the fall of the regular avalanches, as a symptom of the spring having fairly set in.
Danger arises from avalanches either by their falling unexpectedly, while persons are traversing spots known to be exposed to them, or else (and this is the more fearful cause of catastrophes) from an unusual accumulation of snow formed by the wind, or, in consequence of the severity of the season, causing the avalanche to desert its usual bed, and to descend upon cultivated spots, houses, or even villages. There are certain valleys among the Alps in which scarcely any spot is totally exempt from the possible occurrence of such a calamity, though some are naturally more exposed than others. The Val Bedretto, in Canton Tessin, the Meyenthal, in Canton Uri, and many others, are thus dreadfully exposed. guard as much as possible against accidents, very large and massive dykes of masonry, like the projecting bastions of a fortification, are, in such situations, built against the hill-side, behind churches, houses, and other buildings, with an angle pointing upwards, in order to break and turn aside the snow. In some valleys, great care is bestowed on the preservation of the forests clothing their sides, as the best protection of the district below them from such calamities. These may truly be regarded as sacred groves; and no one is allowed to cut down timber within them, under pain of a legal penalty. Yet they not unfrequently show the inefficiency even of such protection against so fearful an engine of destruction. Whole forests are at times cut over and laid prostrate by the avalanche. The tallest stems, fit to make masts for a first-rate man
§ 18. Avalanches and Snow-Storms.
of-war, are snapped asunder like a bit of wax, and the barkless and branchless stumps and relics of the forest remain for years like a stubble-field to tell of what has happened.
A mournful catalogue of catastrophes, which have occurred in Switzerland, since the records of history, from avalanches, might be made out if necessary; but it will suffice to mention one or two instances..
In 1720 an avalanche killed, in Ober Gestelen (Vallais), 84 men and 400 head of cattle, and destroyed 120 houses. The same year, 40 individuals perished at Brieg, and 23 on the Great St. Bernard, from a similar cause.
In 1749 the village of Ruaras, in the Tavetsch Thal, was carried away by an avalanche; 100 men were overwhelmed by it, 60 of whom were dug out alive; and some of the houses, though removed to some distance from their original site, were so little shaken that persons sleeping within them were not awakened.
In 1800, after a snow-storm of three days' continuance, an enormous avalanche detached itself from the top of the precipice of Klucas above Trons, in the valley of the Vorder Rhein; it crossed the valley and destroyed a wood and some chalets on the opposite pasture of Zenin; recoiling, with the force it had acquired, to the side from which it had come, it did fresh mischief there, and so revolving to and fro, at the fourth rush reached Trons, and buried many of its houses to the roof in snow.
In 1827 the greater part of the village of Biel, in the Upper Vallais, was crushed beneath a tremendous avalanche, which ran down a ravine, nearly two leagues long, before it reached the village.
One of the most remarkable phenomena attending the avalanche is the blast of air which accompanies it, and which, like what is called the wind of a cannon-ball, extends its destructive influence to a considerable distance on each side of the actual line taken by the falling mass. It has all the effect of a blast of gunpowder: sometimes forest-trees, growing near the sides of the channel down which the snow passes, are uprooted and laid prostrate, without having been touched by it In this way, the village of Randa, in the Visp-Thal, lost many of its houses by the current of an avalanche which fell in 1720, blowing them to atoms, and scattering the materials like chaff. The E. spire of the convent of Dissentis was thrown down by the gust of an avalanche, which fell more than a quarter of a mile off.
Travellers visiting the Alps between the months of June and October are little exposed to danger from avalanches, except immediately after a snow-storm; and, when compelled to start at such times, they should pay implicit obedience to the advice of the guides. It is a common saying, that there is risk of avalanches as long as the burthen of snow continues on the boughs of the fir-trees, and while the naturally sharp angles of the distant mountains continue to look rounded.
It is different with those who travel from necessity in the spring, and before the annual avalanches have fallen. Muleteers, carriers,
§ 18.-Avalanches and Snow-Storms.
lvii and such persons, use great caution in traversing exposed parts of the road, and with these they are well acquainted. They proceed, in parties, in single file, at a little distance from one another, in order that, if the snow should sweep one off, the others may be ready to render assistance. They proceed as fast as possible, carefully avoiding any noise, even speaking, and, it is said, will sometimes muffle the mules' bells, lest the slightest vibration communicated to the air should disengage the nicely-poised mass of snow above their heads.
The avalanches, seen and heard by summer tourists on the sides of Mont Blanc and the Jungfrau, are of a different kind from those described above, being caused only by the rupture of a portion of the glaciers, which give way under the influence of the mid-day sun and of certain winds, during the summer and autumn, when other avalanches, generally speaking, have ceased to fall. They differ, also, in this respect, that, for the most part, they do no harm, since they fall on uncultivable and uninhabited spots. It is more by the roar which accompanies them, which, awakening the echoes of the Alps, sounds very like thunder, than by the appearance which they present, that they realize what is usually expected of avalanches. Still they are worth seeing, and will much enhance the interest of a visit to the Wengern Alp, the Cramont (on the S. side of Mont Blanc), or the borders of the Mer de Glace; especially if the spectator will bear in mind the immense distance at which he is placed from the objects which he sees and hears, and will consider that, at each roar, whole tons of solid ice are broken off from the parent glacier, and, in tumbling, many hundred feet perhaps, are shattered to atoms and ground to powder.
The Snow-storms, Tourmentes, or Guxen, which occur on the Alps, are much dreaded by the chamois-hunter, the shepherd, and those most accustomed to traverse the High Alps; how much more formidable must they be to the inexperienced traveller! They consist of furious and tempestuous winds, somewhat of the nature of a whirlwind, which occur on the summit-ridges and elevated gorges of the Alps, either accompanied by snow, or filling the air with that recently fallen, while the flakes are still dry, tossing them about like powder or dust. In an instant the atmosphere is filled with snow; earth, sky, mountain, abyss, and landmark of every kind, are obliterated from view, as though a curtain were let down on all sides of the wanderer. All trace of path, or of the footsteps of preceding travellers, are at once effaced, and the poles planted to mark the direction of the road are frequently overturned. In some places the gusts sweep the rock bare of snow, heaping it up in others, perhaps across the path, to a height of 20 feet or more, barring all passage, and driving the wayfarer to despair. At every step he fears to plunge into an abyss, or sink overhead in the snow. Large parties of men and animals have been overwhelmed by the snow-wreaths on the St. Gothard, where they sometimes attain a height of 40 or 50 feet. These tempests are accompanied almost every year by loss of life;
§ 19-Goitre and Cretinism.
and, though of less frequent occurrence in summer than in winter and spring, are a chief reason why it is dangerous for inexperienced travellers to attempt to cross remote and elevated passes without a guide.
The guides and persons residing on the mountain-passes, from the appearance of the sky, and other weather-signs known to them, can generally foresee the occurrence of tourmentes, and can tell when the fall of avalanches is to be apprehended.
$ 19. GOITRE AND CRETINISM.
"Quis tumidum guttur miratur in Alpibus ?"—Juv.
It is a remarkable fact that, amidst some of the most magnificent scenery of the globe, where Nature seems to have put forth all her powers in exciting emotions of wonder and elevation in the mind, man appears, from a mysterious visitation of disease, in his most degraded and pitiable condition. Such, however, is the fact. It is in the grandest and most beautiful valleys of the Alps that the maladies of goitre and cretinism prevail.
Goitre is a swelling in the front of the neck (of the thyroid gland, or the parts adjoining), which increases with the growth of the individual, until, in some cases, it attains an enormous size, and becomes "a hideous wallet of flesh," to use the words of Shakspeare, hanging pendulous down to the breast. It is not, however, attended with pain, and generally seems to be more unsightly to the spectator than inconvenient or hateful to the bearer.
Cretinism, which occurs in the same localities as goitre, and evidently arises from the same cause, whatever it may be, is a more serious malady, inasmuch as it affects the mind. The cretin is an idiot—a melancholy spectacle-a creature who may almost be said to rank a step below a human being. There is vacancy in his countenance; his head is disproportionately large; his limbs are stunted or crippled; he cannot articulate his words with distinctness; and there is scarcely any work which he is capable of executing. He spends his days basking in the sun, and, from its warmth, appears to derive great gratification. When a stranger appears, he becomes a clamorous and importunate beggar, assailing him with a ceaseless chattering; and the traveller is commonly glad to be rid of his hideous presence at the expense of a batz.
Various theories have been resorted to, to account for this complaint: some have attributed it to the use of water derived from melting snow; others, to the habit of carrying heavy weights on the head; others, again, to filthy habits; while a fourth theory derives it from the nature of the soil, or the use of spring water impregnated with calcareous matter; and a recent author has published the following statement regarding it:
"The proportion of the inhabitants of each rock, who are affected
§ 19.-Goitre and Cretinism.
with goitre and cretinism will stand to the healthy in the following order :
"Granite and gneiss-goitre, ; cretins, none.
"Mica-slate and hornblende slate-goitre, none; cretins, none. Clay-slate-goitre, ; cretins, none.
Transition-slate-goitre, ; cretins, none.
"Steatitic sandstone-goitre, none; cretins, none. "Calcareous rocks-goitre, }; cretins,
"Are we to suppose that these interesting results are the effects of chance, or of an accidental association of circumstances confined to a particular spot? When we recollect that a space of upwards of a thousand square miles has been made subject to the inquiry, and that, in every portion of this space, the same invariable circumstances attended the presence of the disease, and that its absence was invariably distinguished by the absence of those circumstances, it is more philosophic to view them in the light of cause and effect."-Dr. McClelland.
As the goitre occurs in Derbyshire, Notts, Hants, &c., where no permanent snow exists-and no rivers spring from glaciers-also in Sumatra and in parts of South America, where snow is unknown, it is evident that the first cause assigned is not the true one; as for the second and third, they would equally tend to produce goitre in the London porters, and in the inhabitants of the purlieus of St. Giles's. If the limestone theory be true, all other rocks should be exempt from it, which is not the case, as far as our experience goes. Goitre is found only in certain valleys; nor, when it does occur, does it exist throughout the valley. It appears in one spot; higher up it is unknown, and in another situation, a mile or two distant, perhaps, it is again prevalent.
A careful attention to the circumstances accompanying its appearance will show that it is connected with the condition of the atmosphere, and is found in low, warm, and moist situations, at the bottom of valleys, where a stagnation of water occurs, and where the summer exhalations and autumnal fogs arising from it are not carried off by a free circulation of air. It is found in places where the valley is confined, and shut in, as it were-where a free draft is checked by its sides being clothed with wood, or by a sudden bend occurring in its direction-where, at the same time, the bottom is subject to the overflowings of a river, or to extensive artificial irrigation. The conjecture which derives the disease from breathing an atmosphere of this kind, not liable to be purified by fresh currents of air to carry off the vapours, is, perhaps, the one most deserving of consideration.
The disease is much more common in females than in males, and usually occurs about the age of puberty. It becomes hereditary in a family, but children born and educated on spots distant from home and in elevated situations are often exempt from it. Iodine has been applied with success as a remedy in some cases; but, as it is a dangerous remedy, the administration of it must be resorted to with the greatest caution.