Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

space of from fifty to sixty feet, as if the tree they constituted had been sáwn or broken across, the pieces remaining in their places. The aspect of the fallen trunks is like that of the half rotten bog-wood found in an Irish or a Scottish morass. In hue, they are for the most part of a lightish chestnut-brown; some of them of a dusky-white, precisely of the colour of common ash or pine long exposed to the weather. Of this tint are nearly all the smaller fragments, which often lie about as if chipped off from the larger ones. There are no fangs of roots or branches connected with the stems, but there are the rudiments of both in abundance. The knots indicating where branches once had been, are often of singular beauty and distinctness; sometimes so much so, as to seem fresh torn off the stem. The whole scene is the very picture of solitude and desolation, enhanced beyond that of the ordinary Desert—which leaves no token of ever having been more productive than it is—inasmuch as the remains around remind you that what is now salt and barrenness must once have been fertility and verdure. The trees, as already said, are mostly on the surface; many of them, however, are half-buried, others barely show themselves above the sand. The sand itself is light coloured; the nodules of stone intermixed with it are rounded; sea-shells everywhere abounding. Near the edge of the forest there are what resemble the dry beds of small-sized streams and torrents: here the little cliffs displayed are of very soft limestone, full of oyster-shells, so fresh and bright, that they seem scarcely at all affected by the weather. They are of the transparent kind, nearly flat, and scarcely thicker than common paper. Selenite here abounds, as generally over the Desert, where sea-salt prevails. It is here for the most part fibrous, the fibres being horizontal, and at right angles to the axes of the vein. I took nearly half a ton of specimens home with me; and these, like the whole of the rest of my collection, were carried free of charge both by the Egyptian Transit and Steam Navigation Company. They were afterwards distributed amongst various of our public museums.

As for the nature of the trees, they are not palms, as their branches show; nor am I aware that there is any living race nearly kindred to them. They are completely silicified, ring like cast-iron, strike fire with flint, and scratch glass. How has this transformation been' effected ? By no chemical process now known to man. We have nothing at all analogous to it either in the laboratory of the chemist or that of nature. There is no substance more indestructible than charcoal. Cut off from air, it resists the most intense heats known to us, and remains in the bowels of the earth unscathed for millions of years! Here the whole woody and carbonaceous matter has vanished, and in its place we find silica—the earth of flints, a substance nearly insoluble, and by itself infusible by any heat we are acquainted with. Yet so quietly and so perfectly has the exchange been

effected, that for every atom of charcoal that has been displaced, an atom of lint has been left behind. Textures and tissues só minute, that the help of powerful microscopes is required for their detection—that their delineation can only be attempted after they have been much magnified-are changed in substance, but in substance only: the most minute and fragile of their forms remain as when the green leaves and bright blossoms drew their sustenance, and the vital fluids circulated through them. Egypt is the land of hoar antiquity; but what are the wonders of the mummy-case to this? The trees look as if they had fallen down, and been turned to stone on the ground where they grew; they look “like to a forest felled by mighty winds;"? they bear no marks of rolling or abrasion, such as that by which flints themselves are rounded. Yet all is sea-sand and shells everywhere; there is nothing to sustain vegetation; and whether the theory, that they belong to an age previous to that of the rock in which they are occasionally imbedded, be adopted or not, it is clear that, subsequent to their assumption of their present form and condition, the ground on which they now repose sunk beneath, and rose again far above, the surface of

It is singular, considering the extent of area, and the diversity of positions in the world over which silicified trees are found exposed above ground, that so little has been written on the subject. In Trinidad, in the West Indies, they are abundant; and they prevail over a vast expanse of surface on the seaboard of New Holland. They abound on the Coromandel coast near Madras; and in Scinde are found from Sukkur to Kurrachee, on salt desert sand, resting on nummulite limestone, exactly as

the sea.

in Egypt.

CAIRO TO SUEZ.

It has been already stated that our party arrived at Cairo on the morning of the 23d of December. Only a few hours is allowed, and every one should make his arrangements without unnecessary delay. Having arranged at the Transit Office to get all luggage, a small bag excepted, sent forward, and secured his place, the traveller may be considered ready to start. The convey, ance to Suez is by vans, which start in detachments at specified hours. In hot weather, it is preferable to start from Cairo in the afternoon, so as to travel all night. By this plan he arrives at the centre sleeping-station in the morning, and after a few hours? repose, he can again proceed, so as to reach Suez early in the following morning. Some go on direct; others stop.

The distance m Cairo to Suez is eighty-five or eighty-six miles; and as the line of route is without any towns or villages, station-houses have been erected for the accommodation of travellers, and for the changing of horses. There are altogether, seven station-houses, of which No. 4 from Cairo is the most com

modious. Refreshments are furnished at three of the stations, and they are usually of the most sumptuous kind.

The vans are of different sizes. For the greater part they are strong clumsy machines, open all around, tolerably stuffed, but without springs -merely suspended on leathern straps. They have two wheels about five feet in diameter; that is, one-third larger than those of a common carriage. They are drawn by four horses, two being in shafts, and two before them in traces. They are, in general

, not over-well trained, tempered, or conditioned; but really, on the whole, get on wonderfully well. The plan of the drivers generally is to urge them to a good gallop for a mile or so, and then allow them a few minutes to rest. Including twelve hours' repose by the way, the journey from Cairo to Suez is performed in thirty-two to thirty-six hours.

There is but little of the Suez desert covered with drift sand; it consists mainly of hard gravel, with a vast abundance of loose stones in all directions. The vans seldom adhere very regularly to any particular track, and the jolting is occasionally dreadful. In the direction of Suez, as indeed in most other directions, unless when approaching the Nile, you enter on the Desert at once. The burying-ground around the city is all in sand; and the first step beyond this the ground is as completely barren and desolate as it can be in the heart of the Great Sahara itself. The route through might be almost traced by the skeletons and bones of camels to be seen all along; thousands and thousands lie bleaching by the wayside. The surface of the ground is salt, and covered with rounded pebbles, chiefly the Egyptian agate, and sea-shells. Pieces of petrified wood, often of considerable mag. nitude, lie strewed around: and when the limestone rock shows itself above the sand and gravel, it is generally perforated by the pholas, or some other variety of marine borer." The rocks, like those near Cairo, abound in petrifactions—beautiful specimens of crabs and star-fishes being amongst the most abundant. Little, nimble, fairy-looking lizards, in colour very like the surface of the ground around them, are occasionally to be seen in the Desert; also a curious variety of serpent, with two horn-like processes protruding from the forehead. There are numberless vultures and carrion crows, which feed on the dead carcases of the animals who so frequently perish on the way across. Besides these, scarcely a living thing is to be seen. Here and there are considerable quantities of the poisonous henbane, and half-way betwixt Suez and Cairo numerous bushes of the prickly acacia or camelthorn. Just beyond the centre station is what is called " the tree of the Desert;" a solitary acacia, about one and a half feet in diameter, and ten feet length of stem, with a large thick bushy round top. This is seen at a vast distance from each side: to the weary wayworn traveller it seems almost impossible to approach it, he riding for hours after first catching sight of it without apparently coming nearer it.

The beautiful phenomenon known to sailors as “ looming,” to naturalists as mirage, equally visible in extremely cold as in warm countries, is often seen in great perfection betwixt Cairo and Suez. It is occasioned by the unequal temperature and refractive powers of different strata of the atmosphere-objects being invariably elongated or depressed, or a succession of images of them exhibited one over another. Scoresby gives drawings of images of ships and icebergs being seen by him in the arctic regions-direct or reversed, or the one and the other alternatelyhigh up in the air. Pools, and lakes of water, are occasionally seen to fill up the hollows or valleys; and this is the shape the illusion most frequently assumes. Three of us together once saw so perfect a picture of a pool surrounded by lofty rocks and hills, by which there were two tall men in black tishing, that, but for the fact that we had traversed the ground before, and knew that there was no such thing in existence, no reasoning short of that which induced us to refuse the testimony of ourselves could have persuaded us that it was all deception. The fishers turned out to be a couple of crows, the rocks and trees a few stones and shrubs--not half so many inches in reality as they seemed feet in alti de. On another occasion, the low hillocks to the south of the centre station rose into stupendous cliffs-a noble river cleft its way through a chasm by which they were disrupted, and was received in a finely-wooded lake at their base. It seemed some three or four miles off-the whole was occasioned by the distortion of objects not two hundred yards away. So constantly had we witnessed these exhibitions in April 1840, that the Red Sea was visible for nearly an hour before we believed it to be other than an illusion: the sight of ships and steamers was the first thing that convinced us of the reality.

The portion of the road nearest to Suez is extremely rough, and the path is covered on every side with large rounded stones; the whole forming one of the most unsightly portions of the Desert. Barren and arid as it is, it is curious to find fresh plants of the water-melon species growing here and there on the most unfruitful-looking spots. The leaves are about the tint, form, and size of those of the sweet-scented geranium. The stems trail along the ground, attaining a length of two or three feet. The fruit is about the size of a smallish apple, bright-green, and very pretty. In many places here, the sand of the Desert is in process of solidification into rock. The muriates and sulphates of the sea-salt, with which the soil is charged, seem to act on the calcareous material abounding everywhere, and the result is a carbonate of soda and sulphate of lime. The last constitutes the cementing material: it is bright and shining, in small plates or crystals, and yields readily to the finger-nail. A specimen of the rock which is the result of this, would most grievously perplex a geologist not familiar with the process by which it is formed. It consists of the sand and sea-shells of the Desert—the last of these,

when near Suez, being all apparently perfectly recent and identical with those now in the Red Sea; of the Egyptian jaspers, which here mainly constitute the gravel of the Desert, and are themselves the remnants of an abraded conglomerate of one of the rock formations at hand, and of the oyster, nummulite, and other shells of the different varieties of tertiary limestone, everywhere presenting itself above the surrounding drift and alluvium. With these heterogeneous materials, the bones of birds and animals now existing in the country, or portions of the works of man, may occasionally mingle, and present a conglomerate made up of as many different kinds of material as can be collected together. This, it must be recollected, is a process not confined to a few limited spots: it is apparently in progress over vast expanses of surface in all parts of the Desert towards the shore of the Red Sea. Though there is no continuous rain, heavy showers occasionally fall near Suez; and in the pools formed by them, fishes, some inches long, have been found four or five miles from the sea.

When within four miles of Suez, you reach the edge of a perfectly level plain, diversified here and there by slight ridges and hillocks of sand and gravel, but the whole wearing the appearance of one of the most recent upheavals—the Red Sea, at a geological period comparatively recent, having obviously covered a large surface now dry land. It was noon before we reached Suez, and we were to leave at three; but as I had been before disappointed in my attempts to examine the country around, I was resolved to make the most of the two hours at my disposal. I accordingly, hammer in hand, and knapsack on back, proceeded to make a geological ramble; and I need only say, was amply repaid for my trouble, as well as for the annoyance from a scorching sun. Close to Suez is the track where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea in flying into the wilderness from Egyptian bondage. Wilkinson assumes the place to have been a little above the harbour, at the camel ford, where the water then must have been much deeper than now, and where the effects of “a strong east wind," as described in Exodus, are now similar to what they seem to have been from the account given of them in Holy Writ. The extremity of the Red Sea is a few miles above the town, and thither travellers sometimes proceed to have the pleasure of placing one foot on African, the other on Arabian ground.

The entire journey through Egypt from Alexandria to Suez is usually performed in seventy-two hours; and to afford time for travellers getting forward, the steamers for India do not start for several hours later.

SUEZ TO INDIA.

Suez is a poor, walled town, situated at the head of the Red Sea, and sustains its existence principally by the trade of the great caravans of pilgrims from Egypt in their journey to Mecca.

« ForrigeFortsæt »