Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/54

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46
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
THE TORRENTS OF SWITZERLAND.
By EDGAR R. DAWSON, M. E.

MARK TWAIN once said that he was in constant expectation in Switzerland of seeing a farmer fall out of his farm. The farmer has in many cases appreciated his hazardous position when harvesting his crops, and has put on crampoons to prevent a precipitous trip into the valley below. The crampoons prevent the farmer leaving his farm in such an undignified manner, but they do not prevent that same farm leaving its position on the mountain side. To show how, in many cases, the mountain sides are kept intact is the object of this paper. The old simile, "I am as sure of it as of the ground on which I stand," would be as much out of place in some parts of Switzerland as in those parts of the world where earthquakes are endemic. In fact, in these latter places, though the surface may receive a good shaking, it generally returns to somewhat the same neighborhood after its nervous peregrinations are over. Not so with the Swiss mountain side. When part of the mountain takes leave of the rest, it is forever.

Switzerland is often spoken of somewhat derisively as a garden, so perfectly have its pleasure grounds been laid out, and so completely comfortable does one find one's self in the midst of Nature's grandeurs. If its water courses had not been controlled and cared for as are those of a well-conducted park it would be chaos! The constant and vigilant struggle the Swiss have been forced to maintain against the liquid element is much to their credit, for they have generally been victorious. They have spent enormous sums of money in keeping their torrents and rivers within reasonable limits, and are even now, at times, forced to suppress new insurrections on the part of these irresponsible agents. The corrections of the water courses have been necessary for several reasons. In the first place, the erosions on the mountain sides result in deposits which present different inconveniences, of which I shall speak later. In the second place, the erosions are frequently the cause of landslides. The work of regulating the action of the water courses is now done according to accepted rules based on experience and on theories which have been confirmed by facts. Years ago, before the confederation took charge of this matter, it was done often in a haphazard, empirical fashion by the local authorities, with or without the aid of an engineer. But some great disasters in the canton of Grisons awakened the people to what might occur to many of them who had hitherto been more fortunate. At the end of September, 1868, both slopes of the Alps, and particularly the cantons of Valais and