National Geographic : 1977 Feb
explained in his Scots accent that he was so liciting subscriptions for his work, which he opened and laid before Audubon-colored plate after colored plate of American birds. Startled, Audubon, on the impulse of the moment, raised his pen to subscribe. "My dear Audubon," Rozier whispered to the artist in French, "what induces you to subscribe to this work? Your drawings are certainly far better, and again you must know as much of the habits of American birds as this gentleman." Partly out of vanity, Audubon confessed, he put his pen down, much to Wilson's dis may. For the next several days, Audubon re lates, he treated Wilson kindly. "I presented him to my wife and friends.... We hunted together, and obtained birds which he had never before seen." Wilson's account differed sharply. In Louisville "I... neither received one act of civility... nor one new bird.... Science or literature has not one friend in this place." Whichever version was correct-and the discrepancy would help make Wilson's friends into Audubon's enemies-the meeting had made a lasting impression on Audubon. He now had some standard by which to judge his art-Wilson depicted birds "strictly ornithologically." Somewhere in the clock of Audubon's mind, faintly and irregularly, ambition began to tick. WITH BUSINESS at best indifferent, the partners packed their goods for a 190 mile float to Henderson in western Kentucky. Flatboats, the mass transportation of the frontier, moved families, livestock, and cargo downriver. Price: $75. Guarantees: none. Knocked together from rough-sawn lumber, flatboats were little more than rafts with freeboard, huts serving for cabins. This design, which Audubon disliked and Rozier detested, hasn't improved in a century andahalf.Or soitseemedtome inthesum mer of 1975, given the example of the Red Banks Queen. True, she had gunwale-to gunwale carpeting, but that polyester nicety served mainly to hide a leak near the stern. The Queen was Henderson's entry in the annual Great Ohio River Flatboat Race. A baker's dozen of flatboats milled about in confusion, some of the craft floating down river, some being towed up, when the starting flag was waved prematurely. The flotilla, in various states of authenticity and porosity, was off. We hit our top speed, maybe two or three knots, early and held a loser's place toward the rear of the ramshackle convoy. I took a turn at the steering oar, which had all the grace and balance of a telephone pole with a shingle nailed to the end. To keep steerage way and put the Queen on any course at all, I had to scull now and then. "This is supposed to be a drifting race," Bruce Farmer, a tree trunk of a man, com mented in a tone of virtue-is-its-own-reward. But it was screaming back muscles, more than race rules, that kept us pure. By the time the bloated sun squatted on the river horizon, the flatboats' essential cargo had long been broken out. Had all the beer from the 13 boats been pooled, it probably could have floated one of them. A welcoming committee of mosquitoes met us at French Island, where the boats tied up for an eve ning of singing and hollering. DAWN CAME just after sleep, and the boats rafted together downriver in a freshening breeze that repeatedly blew us into willow thickets along the Indiana shore. Disentangled, we resumed, as in his day Rozier had put it, "our slow, tedious and seemingly never ending journey." The flatboats having abandoned even the pretense of racing, I abandoned ship for Henderson, a river town as placid as the Ohio slipping by in slow summertime. There Audubon and Lucy had a home to them selves, "a log cabin, not a log house; but as better could not be had, we were pleased." Then a rough-hewn settlement of fewer than 200, Henderson provided little business -"our profits were enormous, but our sales small." So Audubon "attended to the procur ing of game and fish, while Rozier again stood behind the counter." Rozier grew restive, and the partners took to the Ohio in a December 1810 snowstorm, bound for Ste. Genevieve, up the Mississippi, in what is now Missouri. River ice slowed and sometimes stopped their progress. Rozier, "wrapped in a blanket, like a squirrel in winter quarters with his tail about his nose... slept and dreamed his time away." Dreaming of profits, no doubt, from Audubon "On the Wing"