The Mountains of California
John Muir

Part 3 out of 5

The Incense Cedar is another of the giants quite generally distributed
throughout this portion of the forest, without exclusively occupying any
considerable area, or even making extensive groves. It ascends to about
5000 feet on the warmer hillsides, and reaches the climate most
congenial to it at about from 3000 to 4000 feet, growing vigorously at
this elevation on all kinds of soil, and in particular it is capable of
enduring more moisture about its roots than any of its companions,
excepting only the Sequoia.

The largest specimens are about 150 feet high, and seven feet in
diameter. The bark is brown, of a singularly rich tone very attractive
to artists, and the foliage is tinted with a warmer yellow than that of
any other evergreen in the woods. Casting your eye over the general
forest from some ridge-top, the color alone of its spiry summits is
sufficient to identify it in any company.

In youth, say up to the age of seventy or eighty years, no other tree
forms so strictly tapered a cone from top to bottom. The branches swoop
outward and downward in bold curves, excepting the younger ones near the
top, which aspire, while the lowest droop to the ground, and all spread
out in flat, ferny plumes, beautifully fronded, and imbricated upon one
another. As it becomes older, it grows strikingly irregular and
picturesque. Large special branches put out at right angles from the
trunk, form big, stubborn elbows, and then shoot up parallel with the
axis. Very old trees are usually dead at the top, the main axis
protruding above ample masses of green plumes, gray and lichen-covered,
and drilled full of acorn holes by the woodpeckers. The plumes are
exceedingly beautiful; no waving fern-frond in shady dell is more
unreservedly beautiful in form and texture, or half so inspiring in
color and spicy fragrance. In its prime, the whole tree is thatched with
them, so that they shed off rain and snow like a roof, making fine
mansions for storm-bound birds and mountaineers. But if you would see
the _Libocedrus_ in all its glory, you must go to the woods in
winter. Then it is laden with myriads of four-sided staminate cones
about the size of wheat grains,--winter wheat,--producing a golden
tinge, and forming a noble illustration of Nature's immortal vigor and
virility. The fertile cones are about three fourths of an inch long,
borne on the outside of the plumy branchlets, where they serve to enrich
still more the surpassing beauty of this grand winter-blooming


(_Abies concolor_)


We come now to the most regularly planted of all the main forest belts,
composed almost exclusively of two noble firs--_A. concolor_ and
_A. magnifica_. It extends with no marked interruption for 450
miles, at an elevation of from 5000 to nearly 9000 feet above the sea.
In its youth _A. concolor_ is a charmingly symmetrical tree with
branches regularly whorled in level collars around its whitish-gray
axis, which terminates in a strong, hopeful shoot. The leaves are in two
horizontal rows, along branchlets that commonly are less than eight
years old, forming handsome plumes, pinnated like the fronds of ferns.
The cones are grayish-green when ripe, cylindrical, about from three to
four inches long by one and a half to two inches wide, and stand upright
on the upper branches.

Full-grown trees, favorably situated as to soil and exposure, are about
200 feet high, and five or six feet in diameter near the ground, though
larger specimens are by no means rare.

As old age creeps on, the bark becomes rougher and grayer, the branches
lose their exact regularity, many are snow-bent or broken off, and the
main axis often becomes double or otherwise irregular from accidents to
the terminal bud or shoot; but throughout all the vicissitudes of its
life on the mountains, come what may, the noble grandeur of the species
is patent to every eye.

(_Abies magnifica_)

This is the most charmingly symmetrical of all the giants of the Sierra
woods, far surpassing its companion species in this respect, and easily
distinguished from it by the purplish-red bark, which is also more
closely furrowed than that of the white, and by its larger cones, more
regularly whorled and fronded branches, and by its leaves, which are
shorter, and grow all around the branchlets and point upward.

In size, these two Silver Firs are about equal, the _magnifica_
perhaps a little the taller. Specimens from 200 to 250 feet high are not
rare on well-ground moraine soil, at an elevation of from 7500 to 8500
feet above sea-level. The largest that I measured stands back three
miles from the brink of the north wall of Yosemite Valley. Fifteen years
ago it was 240 feet high, with a diameter of a little more than five

Happy the man with the freedom and the love to climb one of these superb
trees in full flower and fruit. How admirable the forest-work of Nature
is then seen to be, as one makes his way up through the midst of the
broad, fronded branches, all arranged in exquisite order around the
trunk, like the whorled leaves of lilies, and each branch and branchlet
about as strictly pinnate as the most symmetrical fern-frond. The
staminate cones are seen growing straight downward from the under side
of the young branches in lavish profusion, making fine purple clusters
amid the grayish-green foliage. On the topmost branches the fertile
cones are set firmly on end like small casks. They are about six inches
long, three wide, covered with a fine gray down, and streaked with
crystal balsam that seems to have been poured upon each cone from above.

Both the Silver Firs live 250 years or more when the conditions about
them are at all favorable. Some venerable patriarch may often be seen,
heavily storm-marked, towering in severe majesty above the rising
generation, with a protecting grove of saplings pressing close around
his feet, each dressed with such loving care that not a leaf seems
wanting. Other companies are made up of trees near the prime of life,
exquisitely harmonized to one another in form and gesture, as if Nature
had culled them one by one with nice discrimination from all the rest of
the woods.


It is from this tree, called Red Fir by the lumberman, that mountaineers
always cut boughs to sleep on when they are so fortunate as to be within
its limits. Two rows of the plushy branches overlapping along the
middle, and a crescent of smaller plumes mixed with ferns and flowers
for a pillow, form the very best bed imaginable. The essences of the
pressed leaves seem to fill every pore of one's body, the sounds of
falling water make a soothing hush, while the spaces between the grand
spires afford noble openings through which to gaze dreamily into the
starry sky. Even in the matter of sensuous ease, any combination of
cloth, steel springs, and feathers seems vulgar in comparison.

The fir woods are delightful sauntering-grounds at any time of year, but
most so in autumn. Then the noble trees are hushed in the hazy light,
and drip with balsam; the cones are ripe, and the seeds, with their
ample purple wings, mottle the air like flocks of butterflies; while
deer feeding in the flowery openings between the groves, and birds and
squirrels in the branches, make a pleasant stir which enriches the deep,
brooding calm of the wilderness, and gives a peculiar impressiveness to
every tree. No wonder the enthusiastic Douglas went wild with joy when
he first discovered this species. Even in the Sierra, where so many
noble evergreens challenge admiration, we linger among these colossal
firs with fresh love, and extol their beauty again and again, as if no
other in the world could henceforth claim our regard.


It is in these woods the great granite domes rise that are so striking
and characteristic a feature of the Sierra. And here too we find the
best of the garden meadows. They lie level on the tops of the dividing
ridges, or sloping on the sides of them, embedded in the magnificent
forest. Some of these meadows are in great part occupied by
_Veratrumalba_, which here grows rank and tall, with boat-shaped
leaves thirteen inches long and twelve inches wide, ribbed like those of
cypripedium. Columbine grows on the drier margins with tall larkspurs
and lupines waist-deep in grasses and sedges; several species of
castilleia also make a bright show in beds of blue and white violets and
daisies. But the glory of these forest meadows is a lily--_L. parvum_.
The flowers are orange-colored and quite small, the smallest I ever saw
of the true lilies; but it is showy nevertheless, for it is seven to
eight feet high and waves magnificent racemes of ten to twenty flowers
or more over one's head, while it stands out in the open ground with
just enough of grass and other plants about it to make a fringe for
its feet and show it off to best advantage.

A dry spot a little way back from the margin of a Silver Fir lily garden
makes a glorious campground, especially where the slope is toward the
east and opens a view of the distant peaks along the summit of the
range. The tall lilies are brought forward in all their glory by the
light of your blazing camp-fire, relieved against the outer darkness,
and the nearest of the trees with their whorled branches tower above you
like larger lilies, and the sky seen through the garden opening seems
one vast meadow of white lily stars.

In the morning everything is joyous and bright, the delicious purple of
the dawn changes softly to daffodil yellow and white; while the sunbeams
pouring through the passes between the peaks give a margin of gold to
each of them. Then the spires of the firs in the hollows of the middle
region catch the glow, and your camp grove is filled with light. The
birds begin to stir, seeking sunny branches on the edge of the meadow
for sun-baths after the cold night, and looking for their breakfasts,
every one of them as fresh as a lily and as charmingly arrayed.
Innumerable insects begin to dance, the deer withdraw from the open
glades and ridge-tops to their leafy hiding-places in the chaparral, the
flowers open and straighten their petals as the dew vanishes, every
pulse beats high, every life-cell rejoices, the very rocks seem to
tingle with life, and God is felt brooding over everything great and

(_Sequoia gigantea_)

Between the heavy pine and Silver Fir belts we find the Big Tree, the
king of all the conifers in the world, "the noblest of a noble race." It
extends in a widely interrupted belt from a small grove on the middle
fork of the American River to the head of Deer Creek, a distance of
about 260 miles, the northern limit being near the thirty-ninth
parallel, the southern a little below the thirty-sixth, and the
elevation of the belt above the sea varies from about 5000 to 8000 feet.
From the American River grove to the forest on King's River the species
occurs only in small isolated groups so sparsely distributed along the
belt that three of the gaps in it are from forty to sixty miles wide.
But from King's River southward the Sequoia is not restricted to mere
groves, but extends across the broad rugged basins of the Kaweah and
Tule rivers in noble forests, a distance of nearly seventy miles, the
continuity of this part of the belt being broken only by deep canons.
The Fresno, the largest of the northern groves, occupies an area of
three or four square miles, a short distance to the southward of the
famous Mariposa Grove. Along the beveled rim of the canon of the south
fork of King's River there is a majestic forest of Sequoia about six
miles long by two wide. This is the northernmost assemblage of Big Trees
that may fairly be called a forest. Descending the precipitous divide
between the King's River and Kaweah you enter the grand forests that
form the main continuous portion of the belt. Advancing southward the
giants become more and more irrepressibly exuberant, heaving their
massive crowns into the sky from every ridge and slope, and waving
onward in graceful compliance with the complicated topography of the
region. The finest of the Kaweah section of the belt is on the broad
ridge between Marble Creek and the middle fork, and extends from the
granite headlands overlooking the hot plains to within a few miles of
the cool glacial fountains of the summit peaks. The extreme upper limit
of the belt is reached between the middle and south forks of the Kaweah
at an elevation of 8400 feet. But the finest block of Big Tree forest in
the entire belt is on the north fork of Tule River. In the northern
groves there are comparatively few young trees or saplings. But here for
every old, storm-stricken giant there are many in all the glory of prime
vigor, and for each of these a crowd of eager, hopeful young trees and
saplings growing heartily on moraines, rocky ledges, along watercourses,
and in the moist alluvium of meadows, seemingly in hot pursuit of
eternal life.

But though the area occupied by the species increases so much from north
to south there is no marked increase in the size of the trees. A height
of 275 feet and a diameter near the ground of about 20 feet is perhaps
about the average size of full-grown trees favorably situated; specimens
25 feet in diameter are not very rare, and a few are nearly 300 feet
high. In the Calaveras Grove there are four trees over 300 feet in
height, the tallest of which by careful measurement is 325 feet. The
largest I have yet met in the course of my explorations is a majestic
old scarred monument in the King's River forest. It is 35 feet 8 inches
in diameter inside the bark four feet from the ground. Under the most
favorable conditions these giants probably live 5000 years or more,
though few of even the larger trees are more than half as old. I never
saw a Big Tree that had died a natural death; barring accidents they
seem to be immortal, being exempt from all the diseases that afflict and
kill other trees. Unless destroyed by man, they live on indefinitely
until burned, smashed by lightning, or cast down by storms, or by the
giving way of the ground on which they stand. The age of one that was
felled in the Calaveras Grove, for the sake of having its stump for a
dancing-floor, was about 1300 years, and its diameter, measured across
the stump, 24 feet inside the bark. Another that was cut down in the
King's River forest was about the same size, but nearly a thousand years
older (2200 years), though not a very old-looking tree. It was felled to
procure a section for exhibition, and thus an opportunity was given to
count its annual rings of growth. The colossal scarred monument in the
King's River forest mentioned above is burned half through, and I spent
a day in making an estimate of its age, clearing away the charred
surface with an ax and carefully counting the annual rings with the aid
of a pocket-lens. The wood-rings in the section I laid bare were so
involved and contorted in some places that I was not able to determine
its age exactly, but I counted over 4000 rings, which showed that this
tree was in its prime, swaying in the Sierra winds, when Christ walked
the earth. No other tree in the world, as far as I know, has looked down
on so many centuries as the Sequoia, or opens such impressive and
suggestive views into history.

So exquisitely harmonious and finely balanced are even the very
mightiest of these monarchs of the woods in all their proportions and
circumstances there never is anything overgrown or monstrous-looking
about them. On coming in sight of them for the first time, you are
likely to say, "Oh, see what beautiful, noble-looking trees are towering
there among the firs and pines!"--their grandeur being in the mean time
in great part invisible, but to the living eye it will be manifested
sooner or later, stealing slowly on the senses, like the grandeur of
Niagara, or the lofty Yosemite domes. Their great size is hidden from
the inexperienced observer as long as they are seen at a distance in one
harmonious view. When, however, you approach them and walk round them,
you begin to wonder at their colossal size and seek a measuring-rod.
These giants bulge considerably at the base, but not more than is
required for beauty and safety; and the only reason that this bulging
seems in some cases excessive is that only a comparatively small section
of the shaft is seen at once in near views. One that I measured in the
King's River forest was 25 feet in diameter at the ground, and 10 feet
in diameter 200 feet above the ground, showing that the taper of the
trunk as a whole is charmingly fine. And when you stand back far enough
to see the massive columns from the swelling instep to the lofty summit
dissolving in a dome of verdure, you rejoice in the unrivaled display of
combined grandeur and beauty. About a hundred feet or more of the trunk
is usually branchless, but its massive simplicity is relieved by the
bark furrows, which instead of making an irregular network run evenly
parallel, like the fluting of an architectural column, and to some
extent by tufts of slender sprays that wave lightly in the winds and
cast flecks of shade, seeming to have been pinned on here and there for
the sake of beauty only. The young trees have slender simple branches
down to the ground, put on with strict regularity, sharply aspiring at
the top, horizontal about half-way down, and drooping in handsome curves
at the base. By the time the sapling is five or six hundred years old
this spiry, feathery, juvenile habit merges into the firm, rounded dome
form of middle age, which in turn takes on the eccentric picturesqueness
of old age. No other tree in the Sierra forest has foliage so densely
massed or presents outlines so firmly drawn and so steadily subordinate
to a special type. A knotty ungovernable-looking branch five to eight
feet thick may be seen pushing out abruptly from the smooth trunk, as if
sure to throw the regular curve into confusion, but as soon as the
general outline is reached it stops short and dissolves in spreading
bosses of law-abiding sprays, just as if every tree were growing beneath
some huge, invisible bell-glass, against whose sides every branch was
being pressed and molded, yet somehow indulging in so many small
departures from the regular form that there is still an appearance of

The foliage of the saplings is dark bluish-green in color, while the
older trees ripen to a warm brownish-yellow tint like Libocedrus. The
bark is rich cinnamon-brown, purplish in young trees and in shady
portions of the old, while the ground is covered with brown leaves and
burs forming color-masses of extraordinary richness, not to mention the
flowers and underbrush that rejoice about them in their seasons. Walk
the Sequoia woods at any time of year and you will say they are the most
beautiful and majestic on earth. Beautiful and impressive contrasts meet
you everywhere: the colors of tree and flower, rock and sky, light and
shade, strength and frailty, endurance and evanescence, tangles of
supple hazel-bushes, tree-pillars about as rigid as granite domes, roses
and violets, the smallest of their kind, blooming around the feet of the
giants, and rugs of the lowly chamaebatia where the sunbeams fall. Then
in winter the trees themselves break forth in bloom, myriads of small
four-sided staminate cones crowd the ends of the slender sprays,
coloring the whole tree, and when ripe dusting the air and the ground
with golden pollen. The fertile cones are bright grass-green, measuring
about two inches in length by one and a half in thickness, and are made
up of about forty firm rhomboidal scales densely packed, with from five
to eight seeds at the base of each. A single cone, therefore, contains
from two to three hundred seeds, which are about a fourth of an inch
long by three sixteenths wide, including a thin, flat margin that makes
them go glancing and wavering in their fall like a boy's kite. The
fruitfulness of Sequoia may be illustrated by two specimen branches one
and a half and two inches in diameter on which I counted 480 cones. No
other Sierra conifer produces nearly so many seeds. Millions are ripened
annually by a single tree, and in a fruitful year the product of one of
the northern groves would be enough to plant all the mountain-ranges of
the world. Nature takes care, however, that not one seed in a million
shall germinate at all, and of those that do perhaps not one in ten
thousand is suffered to live through the many vicissitudes of storm,
drought, fire, and snow-crushing that beset their youth.

The Douglas squirrel is the happy harvester of most of the Sequoia
cones. Out of every hundred perhaps ninety fall to his share, and unless
cut off by his ivory sickle they shake out their seeds and remain on the
tree for many years. Watching the squirrels at their harvest work in the
Indian summer is one of the most delightful diversions imaginable. The
woods are calm and the ripe colors are blazing in all their glory; the
cone-laden trees stand motionless in the warm, hazy air, and you may see
the crimson-crested woodcock, the prince of Sierra woodpeckers, drilling
some dead limb or fallen trunk with his bill, and ever and anon filling
the glens with his happy cackle. The humming-bird, too, dwells in these
noble woods, and may oftentimes be seen glancing among the flowers or
resting wing-weary on some leafless twig; here also are the familiar
robin of the orchards, and the brown and grizzly bears so obviously
fitted for these majestic solitudes; and the Douglas squirrel, making
more hilarious, exuberant, vital stir than all the bears, birds, and
humming wings together.

As soon as any accident happens to the crown of these Sequoias, such as
being stricken off by lightning or broken by storms, then the branches
beneath the wound, no matter how situated, seem to be excited like a
colony of bees that have lost their queen, and become anxious to repair
the damage. Limbs that have grown outward for centuries at right angles
to the trunk begin to turn upward to assist in making a new crown, each
speedily assuming the special form of true summits. Even in the case of
mere stumps, burned half through, some mere ornamental tuft will try to
go aloft and do its best as a leader in forming a new head.

Groups of two or three of these grand trees are often found standing
close together, the seeds from which they sprang having probably grown
on ground cleared for their reception by the fall of a large tree of a
former generation. These patches of fresh, mellow soil beside the
upturned roots of the fallen giant may be from forty to sixty feet wide,
and they are speedily occupied by seedlings. Out of these
seedling-thickets perhaps two or three may become trees, forming those
close groups called "three graces," "loving couples," etc. For even
supposing that the trees should stand twenty or thirty feet apart while
young, by the time they are full-grown their trunks will touch and crowd
against each other and even appear as one in some cases.

It is generally believed that this grand Sequoia was once far more
widely distributed over the Sierra; but after long and careful study I
have come to the conclusion that it never was, at least since the close
of the glacial period, because a diligent search along the margins of
the groves, and in the gaps between, fails to reveal a single trace of
its previous existence beyond its present bounds. Notwithstanding, I
feel confident that if every Sequoia in the range were to die to-day,
numerous monuments of their existence would remain, of so imperishable a
nature as to be available for the student more than ten thousand years

In the first place we might notice that no species of coniferous tree in
the range keeps its individuals so well together as Sequoia; a mile is
perhaps the greatest distance of any straggler from the main body, and
all of those stragglers that have come under my observation are young,
instead of old monumental trees, relics of a more extended growth.

Again, Sequoia trunks frequently endure for centuries after they fall. I
have a specimen block, cut from a fallen trunk, which is hardly
distinguishable from specimens cut from living trees, although the old
trunk-fragment from which it was derived has lain in the damp forest
more than 380 years, probably thrice as long. The time measure in the
case is simply this: when the ponderous trunk to which the old vestige
belonged fell, it sunk itself into the ground, thus making a long,
straight ditch, and in the middle of this ditch a Silver Fir is growing
that is now four feet in diameter and 380 years old, as determined by
cutting it half through and counting the rings, thus demonstrating that
the remnant of the trunk that made the ditch has lain on the ground
_more_ than 380 years. For it is evident that to find the whole
time, we must add to the 380 years the time that the vanished portion of
the trunk lay in the ditch before being burned out of the way, plus the
time that passed before the seed from which the monumental fir sprang
fell into the prepared soil and took root. Now, because Sequoia trunks
are never wholly consumed in one forest fire, and those fires recur only
at considerable intervals, and because Sequoia ditches after being
cleared are often left unplanted for centuries, it becomes evident that
the trunk remnant in question may probably have lain a thousand years or
more. And this instance is by no means a rare one.

But admitting that upon those areas supposed to have been once covered
with Sequoia every tree may have fallen, and every trunk may have been
burned or buried, leaving not a remnant, many of the ditches made by the
fall of the ponderous trunks, and the bowls made by their upturning
roots, would remain patent for thousands of years after the last vestige
of the trunks that made them had vanished. Much of this ditch-writing
would no doubt be quickly effaced by the flood-action of overflowing
streams and rain-washing; but no inconsiderable portion would remain
enduringly engraved on ridge-tops beyond such destructive action; for,
where all the conditions are favorable, it is almost imperishable.
_Now these historic ditches and root bowls occur in all the present
Sequoia groves and forests, but as far as I have observed, not the
faintest vestige of one presents itself outside of them_.

We therefore conclude that the area covered by Sequoia has not been
diminished during the last eight or ten thousand years, and probably not
at all in post-glacial times.

_Is the species verging to extinction? What are its relations to
climate, soil, and associated trees?_

All the phenomena bearing on these questions also throw light, as we
shall endeavor to show, upon the peculiar distribution of the species,
and sustain the conclusion already arrived at on the question of

In the northern groups, as we have seen, there are few young trees or
saplings growing up around the failing old ones to perpetuate the race,
and in as much as those aged Sequoias, so nearly childless, are the only
ones commonly known, the species, to most observers, seems doomed to
speedy extinction, as being nothing more than an expiring remnant,
vanquished in the so-called struggle for life by pines and firs that
have driven it into its last strongholds in moist glens where climate is
exceptionally favorable. But the language of the majestic continuous
forests of the south creates a very different impression. No tree of all
the forest is more enduringly established in concordance with climate
and soil. It grows heartily everywhere--on moraines, rocky ledges, along
watercourses, and in the deep, moist alluvium of meadows, with a
multitude of seedlings and saplings crowding up around the aged,
seemingly abundantly able to maintain the forest in prime vigor. For
every old storm-stricken tree, there is one or more in all the glory of
prime; and for each of these many young trees and crowds of exuberant
saplings. So that if all the trees of any section of the main Sequoia
forest were ranged together according to age, a very promising curve
would be presented, all the way up from last year's seedlings to giants,
and with the young and middle-aged portion of the curve many times
longer than the old portion. Even as far north as the Fresno, I counted
536 saplings and seedlings growing promisingly upon a piece of rough
avalanche soil not exceeding two acres in area. This soil bed is about
seven years old, and has been seeded almost simultaneously by pines,
firs, Libocedrus, and Sequoia, presenting a simple and instructive
illustration of the struggle for life among the rival species; and it
was interesting to note that the conditions thus far affecting them have
enabled the young Sequoias to gain a marked advantage.

In every instance like the above I have observed that the seedling
Sequoia is capable of growing on both drier and wetter soil than its
rivals, but requires more sunshine than they; the latter fact being
clearly shown wherever a Sugar Pine or fir is growing in close contact
with a Sequoia of about equal age and size, and equally exposed to the
sun; the branches of the latter in such cases are always less leafy.
Toward the south, however, where the Sequoia becomes _more_
exuberant and numerous, the rival trees become _less_ so; and where
they mix with Sequoias, they mostly grow up beneath them, like slender
grasses among stalks of Indian corn. Upon a bed of sandy flood-soil I
counted ninety-four Sequoias, from one to twelve feet high, on a patch,
of ground once occupied by four large Sugar Pines which lay crumbling
beneath them,--an instance of conditions which have enabled Sequoias to
crowd out the pines.

I also noted eighty-six vigorous saplings upon a piece of fresh ground
prepared for their reception by fire. Thus fire, the great destroyer of
Sequoia, also furnishes bare virgin ground, one of the conditions
essential for its growth from the seed. Fresh ground is, however,
furnished in sufficient quantities for the constant renewal of the
forests without fire, viz., by the fall of old trees. The soil is thus
upturned and mellowed, and many trees are planted for every one that
falls. Land-slips and floods also give rise to bare virgin ground; and a
tree now and then owes its existence to a burrowing wolf or squirrel,
but the most regular supply of fresh soil is furnished by the fall of
aged trees.

The climatic changes in progress in the Sierra, bearing on the tenure of
tree life, are entirely misapprehended, especially as to the time and
the means employed by Nature in effecting them. It is constantly
asserted in a vague way that the Sierra was vastly wetter than now, and
that the increasing drought will of itself extinguish Sequoia, leaving
its ground to other trees supposed capable of nourishing in a drier
climate. But that Sequoia can and does grow on as dry ground as any of
its present rivals, is manifest in a thousand places. "Why, then," it
will be asked, "are Sequoias always found in greatest abundance in
well-watered places where streams are exceptionally abundant?" Simply
because a growth of Sequoias creates those streams. The thirsty
mountaineer knows well that in every Sequoia grove he will find running
water, but it is a mistake to suppose that the water is the cause of the
grove being there; on the contrary, the grove is the cause of the water
being there. Drain off the water and the trees will remain, but cut off
the trees, and the streams will vanish. Never was cause more completely
mistaken for effect than in the case of these related phenomena of
Sequoia woods and perennial streams, and I confess that at first I
shared in the blunder.

When attention is called to the method of Sequoia stream-making, it will
be apprehended at once. The roots of this immense tree fill the ground,
forming a thick sponge that absorbs and holds back the rains and melting
snows, only allowing them to ooze and flow gently. Indeed, every fallen
leaf and rootlet, as well as long clasping root, and prostrate trunk,
may be regarded as a dam hoarding the bounty of storm-clouds, and
dispensing it as blessings all through the summer, instead of allowing
it to go headlong in short-lived floods. Evaporation is also checked by
the dense foliage to a greater extent than by any other Sierra tree, and
the air is entangled in masses and broad sheets that are quickly
saturated; while thirsty winds are not allowed to go sponging and
licking along the ground.

So great is the retention of water in many places in the main belt, that
bogs and meadows are created by the killing of the trees. A single trunk
falling across a stream in the woods forms a dam 200 feet long, and from
ten to thirty feet high, giving rise to a pond which kills the trees
within its reach. These dead trees fall in turn, thus making a clearing,
while sediments gradually accumulate changing the pond into a bog, or
meadow, for a growth of carices and sphagnum. In some instances a series
of small bogs or meadows rise above one another on a hillside, which are
gradually merged into one another, forming sloping bogs, or meadows,
which make striking features of Sequoia woods, and since all the trees
that have fallen into them have been preserved, they contain records of
the generations that have passed since they began to form.

Since, then, it is a fact that thousands of Sequoias are growing
thriftily on what is termed dry ground, and even clinging like mountain
pines to rifts in granite precipices; and since it has also been shown
that the extra moisture found in connection with the denser growths is
an effect of their presence, instead of a cause of their presence, then
the notions as to the former extension of the species and its near
approach to extinction, based upon its supposed dependence on greater
moisture, are seen to be erroneous.

The decrease in the rain- and snow-fall since the close of the glacial
period in the Sierra is much less than is commonly guessed. The highest
post-glacial watermarks are well preserved in all the upper river
channels, and they are not greatly higher than the spring floodmarks of
the present; showing conclusively that no extraordinary decrease has
taken place in the volume of the upper tributaries of post-glacial
Sierra streams since they came into existence. But in the mean time,
eliminating all this complicated question of climatic change, the plain
fact remains that _the present rain- and snow-fall is abundantly
sufficient for the luxuriant growth of Sequoia forests_. Indeed, all
my observations tend to show that in a prolonged drought the Sugar Pines
and firs would perish before the Sequoia, not alone because of the
greater longevity of individual trees, but because the species can
endure more drought, and make the most of whatever moisture falls.

Again, if the restriction and irregular distribution of the species be
interpreted as a result of the desiccation of the range, then instead of
increasing as it does in individuals toward the south where the rainfall
is less, it should diminish.

If, then, the peculiar distribution of Sequoia has not been governed by
superior conditions of soil as to fertility or moisture, by what has it
been governed?

In the course of my studies I observed that the northern groves, the
only ones I was at first acquainted with, were located on just those
portions of the general forest soil-belt that were first laid bare
toward the close of the glacial period when the ice-sheet began to break
up into individual glaciers. And while searching the wide basin of the
San Joaquin, and trying to account for the absence of Sequoia where
every condition seemed favorable for its growth, it occured to me that
this remarkable gap in the Sequoia belt is located exactly in the basin
of the vast ancient _mer de glace_ of the San Joaquin and King's
River basins, which poured its frozen floods to the plain, fed by the
snows that fell on more than fifty miles of the summit. I then perceived
that the next great gap in the belt to the northward, forty miles wide,
extending between the Calaveras and Tuolumne groves, occurs in the basin
of the great ancient _mer de glace_ of the Tuolumne and Stanislaus
basins, and that the smaller gap between the Merced and Mariposa groves
occurs in the basin of the smaller glacier of the Merced. _The wider
the ancient glacier, the wider the corresponding gap in the Sequoia

Finally, pursuing my investigations across the basins of the Kaweah and
Tule, I discovered that the Sequoia belt attained its greatest
development just where, owing to the topographical peculiarities of the
region, the ground had been most perfectly protected from the main
ice-rivers that continued to pour past from the summit fountains long
after the smaller local glaciers had been melted.

Taking now a general view of the belt, beginning at the south, we see
that the majestic ancient glaciers were shed off right and left down the
valleys of Kern and King's rivers by the lofty protective spurs
outspread embracingly above the warm Sequoia-filled basins of the Kaweah
and Tule. Then, next northward, occurs the wide Sequoia-less channel, or
basin, of the ancient San Joaquin and King's River _mer de glace_;
then the warm, protected spots of Fresno and Mariposa groves; then the
Sequoia-less channel of the ancient Merced glacier; next the warm,
sheltered ground of the Merced and Tuolumne groves; then the
Sequoia-less channel of the grand ancient _mer de glace_ of the
Tuolumne and Stanislaus; then the warm old ground of the Calaveras and
Stanislaus groves. It appears, therefore, that just where, at a certain
period in the history of the Sierra, the glaciers were not, there the
Sequoia is, and just where the glaciers were, there the Sequoia is not.

What the other conditions may have been that enabled Sequoia to
establish itself upon these oldest and warmest portions of the main
glacial soil-belt, I cannot say. I might venture to state, however, in
this connection, that since the Sequoia forests present a more and more
ancient aspect as they extend southward, I am inclined to think that the
species was distributed from the south, while the Sugar Pine, its great
rival in the northern groves, seems to have come around the head of the
Sacramento valley and down the Sierra from the north; consequently, when
the Sierra soil-beds were first thrown open to preemption on the melting
of the ice-sheet, the Sequoia may have established itself along the
available portions of the south half of the range prior to the arrival
of the Sugar Pine, while the Sugar Pine took possession of the north
half prior to the arrival of Sequoia.

But however much uncertainty may attach to this branch of the question,
there are no obscuring shadows upon the grand general relationship we
have pointed out between the present distribution of Sequoia and the
ancient glaciers of the Sierra. And when we bear in mind that all the
present forests of the Sierra are young, growing on moraine soil
recently deposited, and that the flank of the range itself, with all its
landscapes, is new-born, recently sculptured, and brought to the light
of day from beneath the ice mantle of the glacial winter, then a
thousand lawless mysteries disappear, and broad harmonies take their

But although all the observed phenomena bearing on the post-glacial
history of this colossal tree point to the conclusion that it never was
more widely distributed on the Sierra since the close of the glacial
epoch; that its present forests are scarcely past prime, if, indeed,
they have reached prime; that the post-glacial day of the species is
probably not half done; yet, when from a wider outlook the vast
antiquity of the genus is considered, and its ancient richness in
species and individuals; comparing our Sierra Giant and _Sequoia
sempervirens_ of the Coast Range, the only other living species of
Sequoia, with the twelve fossil species already discovered and described
by Heer and Lesquereux, some of which seem to have flourished over vast
areas in the Arctic regions and in Europe and our own territories,
during tertiary and cretaceous times,--then indeed it becomes plain that
our two surviving species, restricted to narrow belts within the limits
of California, are mere remnants of the genus, both as to species and
individuals, and that they probably are verging to extinction. But the
verge of a period beginning in cretaceous times may have a breadth of
tens of thousands of years, not to mention the possible existence of
conditions calculated to multiply and reextend both species and
individuals. This, however, is a branch of the question into which I do
not now purpose to enter.

In studying the fate of our forest king, we have thus far considered the
action of purely natural causes only; but, unfortunately, _man_ is
in the woods, and waste and pure destruction are making rapid headway.
If the importance of forests were at all understood, even from an
economic standpoint, their preservation would call forth the most
watchful attention of government. Only of late years by means of forest
reservations has the simplest groundwork for available legislation been
laid, while in many of the finest groves every species of destruction is
still moving on with accelerated speed.

In the course of my explorations I found no fewer than five mills
located on or near the lower edge of the Sequoia belt, all of which were
cutting considerable quantities of Big Tree lumber. Most of the Fresno
group are doomed to feed the mills recently erected near them, and a
company of lumbermen are now cutting the magnificent forest on King's
River. In these milling operations waste far exceeds use, for after the
choice young manageable trees on any given spot have been felled, the
woods are fired to clear the ground of limbs and refuse with reference
to further operations, and, of course, most of the seedlings and
saplings are destroyed.

These mill ravages, however, are small as compared with the
comprehensive destruction caused by "sheepmen." Incredible numbers of
sheep are driven to the mountain pastures every summer, and their course
is ever marked by desolation. Every wild garden is trodden down, the
shrubs are stripped of leaves as if devoured by locusts, and the woods
are burned. Running fires are set everywhere, with a view to clearing
the ground of prostrate trunks, to facilitate the movements of the
flocks and improve the pastures. The entire forest belt is thus swept
and devastated from one extremity of the range to the other, and, with
the exception of the resinous _Pinus contorta_, Sequoia suffers
most of all. Indians burn off the underbrush in certain localities to
facilitate deer-hunting, mountaineers and lumbermen carelessly allow
their camp-fires to run; but the fires of the sheepmen, or
_muttoneers_, form more than ninety per cent. of all destructive
fires that range the Sierra forests.

It appears, therefore, that notwithstanding our forest king might live
on gloriously in Nature's keeping, it is rapidly vanishing before the
fire and steel of man; and unless protective measures be speedily
invented and applied, in a few decades, at the farthest, all that will be
left of _Sequoia gigantea_ will be a few hacked and scarred

(_Pinus contorta_, var._Marrayana_)

This species forms the bulk of the alpine forests, extending along the
range, above the fir zone, up to a height of from 8000 to 9500 feet
above the sea, growing in beautiful order upon moraines that are
scarcely changed as yet by post-glacial weathering. Compared with the
giants of the lower zones, this is a small tree, seldom attaining a
height of a hundred feet. The largest specimen I ever measured was
ninety feet in height, and a little over six in diameter four feet from
the ground. The average height of mature trees throughout the entire
belt is probably not far from fifty or sixty feet, with a diameter of
two feet. It is a well-proportioned, rather handsome little pine, with
grayish-brown bark, and crooked, much-divided branches, which cover the
greater portion of the trunk, not so densely, however, as to prevent its
being seen. The lower limbs curve downward, gradually take a horizontal
position about half-way up the trunk, then aspire more and more toward
the summit, thus forming a sharp, conical top. The foliage is short and
rigid, two leaves in a fascicle, arranged in comparatively long,
cylindrical tassels at the ends of the tough, up-curving branchlets. The
cones are about two inches long, growing in stiff clusters among the
needles, without making any striking effect, except while very young,
when they are of a vivid crimson color, and the whole tree appears to be
dotted with brilliant flowers. The sterile cones are still more showy,
on account of their great abundance, often giving a reddish-yellow tinge
to the whole mass of the foliage, and filling the air with pollen.

No other pine on the range is so regularly planted as this one. Moraine
forests sweep along the sides of the high, rocky valleys for miles
without interruption; still, strictly speaking, they are not dense, for
flecks of sunshine and flowers find their way into the darkest places,
where the trees grow tallest and thickest. Tall, nutritious grasses are
specially abundant beneath them, growing over all the ground, in
sunshine and shade, over extensive areas like a farmer's crop, and
serving as pasture for the multitude of sheep that are driven from the
arid plains every summer as soon as the snow is melted.

The Two-leaved Pine, more than any other, is subject to destruction by
fire. The thin bark is streaked and sprinkled with resin, as though it
had been showered down upon it like rain, so that even the green trees
catch fire readily, and during strong winds whole forests are destroyed,
the flames leaping from tree to tree, forming one continuous belt of
roaring fire that goes surging and racing onward above the bending
woods, like the grass-fires of a prairie. During the calm, dry season of
Indian summer, the fire creeps quietly along the ground, feeding on the
dry needles and burs; then, arriving at the foot of a tree, the resiny
bark is ignited, and the heated air ascends in a powerful current,
increasing in velocity, and dragging the flames swiftly upward; then the
leaves catch fire, and an immense column of flame, beautifully spired on
the edges, and tinted a rose-purple hue, rushes aloft thirty or forty
feet above the top of the tree, forming a grand spectacle, especially on
a dark night. It lasts, however, only a few seconds, vanishing with
magical rapidity, to be succeeded by others along the fire-line at
irregular intervals for weeks at a time--tree after tree flashing and
darkening, leaving the trunks and branches hardly scarred. The heat,
however, is sufficient to kill the trees, and in a few years the bark
shrivels and falls off. Belts miles in extent are thus killed and left
standing with the branches on, peeled and rigid, appearing gray in the
distance, like misty clouds. Later the branches drop off, leaving a
forest of bleached spars. At length the roots decay, and the forlorn
trunks are blown down during some storm, and piled one upon another
encumbering the ground until they are consumed by the next fire, and
leave it ready for a fresh crop.

The endurance of the species is shown by its wandering occasionally out
over the lava plains with the Yellow Pine, and climbing moraineless
mountain-sides with the Dwarf Pine, clinging to any chance support in
rifts and crevices of storm-beaten rocks--always, however, showing the
effects of such hardships in every feature.

Down in sheltered lake hollows, on beds of rich alluvium, it varies so
far from the common form as frequently to be taken for a distinct
species. Here it grows in dense sods, like grasses, from forty to eighty
feet high, bending all together to the breeze and whirling in eddying
gusts more lithely than any other tree in the woods. I have frequently
found specimens fifty feet high less than five inches in diameter. Being
thus slender, and at the same time well clad with leafy boughs, it is
oftentimes bent to the ground when laden with soft snow, forming
beautiful arches in endless variety, some of which last until the
melting of the snow in spring.

(_Pinus monticola_)

The Mountain Pine is king of the alpine woods, brave, hardy, and
long-lived, towering grandly above its companions, and becoming stronger
and more imposing just where other species begin to crouch and
disappear. At its best it is usually about ninety feet high and five or
six in diameter, though a specimen is often met considerably larger than
this. The trunk is as massive and as suggestive of enduring strength as
that of an oak. About two thirds of the trunk is commonly free of limbs,
but close, fringy tufts of sprays occur all the way down, like those
which adorn the colossal shafts of Sequoia. The bark is deep
reddish-brown upon trees that occupy exposed situations near its upper
limit, and furrowed rather deeply, the main furrows running nearly
parallel with each other, and connected by conspicuous cross furrows,
which, with one exception, are, as far as I have noticed, peculiar to
this species.

The cones are from four to eight inches long, slender, cylindrical, and
somewhat curved, resembling those of the common White Pine of the
Atlantic coast. They grow in clusters of about from three to six or
seven, becoming pendulous as they increase in weight, chiefly by the
bending of the branches.

This species is nearly related to the Sugar Pine, and, though not half
so tall, it constantly suggests its noble relative in the way that it
extends its long arms and in general habit. The Mountain Pine is first
met on the upper margin of the fir zone, growing singly in a subdued,
inconspicuous form, in what appear as chance situations, without making
much impression on the general forest. Continuing up through the
Two-leaved Pines in the same scattered growth, it begins to show its
character, and at an elevation of about 10,000 feet attains its noblest
development near the middle of the range, tossing its tough arms in the
frosty air, welcoming storms and feeding on them, and reaching the grand
old age of 1000 years.

(_Juniperus occidentalis_)

The Juniper is preeminently a rock tree, occupying the baldest domes and
pavements, where there is scarcely a handful of soil, at a height of
from 7000 to 9500 feet. In such situations the trunk is frequently over
eight feet in diameter, and not much more in height. The top is almost
always dead in old trees, and great stubborn limbs push out horizontally
that are mostly broken and bare at the ends, but densely covered and
embedded here and there with bossy mounds of gray foliage. Some are mere
weathered stumps, as broad as long, decorated with a few leafy sprays,
reminding one of the crumbling towers of some ancient castle
scantily draped with ivy. Only upon the head waters of the Carson have I
found this species established on good moraine soil. Here it flourishes
with the Silver and Two-leaved Pines, in great beauty and luxuriance,
attaining a height of from forty to sixty feet, and manifesting but
little of that rocky angularity so characteristic a feature throughout
the greater portion, of its range. Two of the largest, growing at the
head of Hope Valley, measured twenty-nine feet three inches and
twenty-five feet six inches in circumference, respectively, four feet
from the ground. The bark is of a bright cinnamon color, and, in thrifty
trees, beautifully braided and reticulated, flaking off in thin,
lustrous ribbons that are sometimes used by Indians for tent-matting.
Its fine color and odd picturesqueness always catch an artist's eye, but
to me the Juniper seems a singularly dull and taciturn tree, never
speaking to one's heart. I have spent many a day and night in its
company, in all kinds of weather, and have ever found it silent, cold,
and rigid, like a column of ice. Its broad stumpiness, of course,
precludes all possibility of waving, or even shaking; but it is not this
rocky steadfastness that constitutes its silence. In calm, sun-days the
Sugar Pine preaches the grandeur of the mountains like an apostle
without moving a leaf.

[Illustration: JUNIPER, OR RED CEDAR.]

On level rocks it dies standing, and wastes insensibly out of existence
like granite, the wind exerting about as little control over it alive or
dead as it does over a glacier boulder. Some are undoubtedly over 2000
years old. All the trees of the alpine woods suffer, more or less, from
avalanches, the Two-leaved Pine most of all. Gaps two or three hundred
yards wide, extending from the upper limit of the tree-line to the
bottoms of valleys and lake basins, are of common occurrence in all the
upper forests, resembling the clearings of settlers in the old
backwoods. Scarcely a tree is spared, even the soil is scraped away,
while the thousands of uprooted pines and spruces are piled upon one
another heads downward, and tucked snugly in along the sides of the
clearing in two windrows, like lateral moraines. The pines lie with
branches wilted and drooping like weeds. Not so the burly junipers.
After braving in silence the storms of perhaps a dozen or twenty
centuries, they seem in this, their last calamity, to become somewhat
communicative, making sign of a very unwilling acceptance of their fate,
holding themselves well up from the ground on knees and elbows,
seemingly ill at ease, and anxious, like stubborn wrestlers, to rise

(_Tsuga Pattoniana_)

The Hemlock Spruce is the most singularly beautiful of all the
California coniferae. So slender is its axis at the top, that it bends
over and droops like the stalk of a nodding lily. The branches droop
also, and divide into innumerable slender, waving sprays, which are
arranged in a varied, eloquent harmony that is wholly indescribable. Its
cones are purple, and hang free, in the form of little tassels two
inches long from all the sprays from top to bottom. Though exquisitely
delicate and feminine in expression, it grows best where the snow lies
deepest, far up in the region of storms, at an elevation of from 9000 to
9500 feet, on frosty northern slopes; but it is capable of growing
considerably higher, say 10,500 feet. The tallest specimens, growing in
sheltered hollows somewhat beneath the heaviest wind-currents, are from
eighty to a hundred feet high, and from two to four feet in diameter.
The very largest specimen I ever found was nineteen feet seven inches in
circumference four feet from the ground, growing on the edge of Lake
Hollow, at an elevation of 9250 feet above the level of the sea. At the
age of twenty or thirty years it becomes fruitful, and hangs out its
beautiful purple cones at the ends of the slender sprays, where they
swing free in the breeze, and contrast delightfully with the cool green
foliage. They are translucent when young, and their beauty is delicious.
After they are fully ripe, they spread their shell-like scales and allow
the brown-winged seeds to fly in the mellow air, while the empty cones
remain to beautify the tree until the coming of a fresh crop.


The staminate cones of all the coniferae are beautiful, growing in
bright clusters, yellow, and rose, and crimson. Those of the Hemlock
Spruce are the most beautiful of all, forming little conelets of blue
flowers, each on a slender stem.

Under all conditions, sheltered or storm-beaten, well-fed or ill-fed,
this tree is singularly graceful in habit. Even at its highest limit
upon exposed ridge-tops, though compelled to crouch in dense thickets,
huddled close together, as if for mutual protection, it still manages to
throw out its sprays in irrepressible loveliness; while on well-ground
moraine soil it develops a perfectly tropical luxuriance of foliage and
fruit, and is the very loveliest tree in the forest; poised in thin
white sunshine, clad with branches from head to foot, yet not in the
faintest degree heavy or bunchy, it towers in unassuming majesty,
drooping as if unaffected with the aspiring tendencies of its race,
loving the ground while transparently conscious of heaven and joyously
receptive of its blessings, reaching out its branches like sensitive
tentacles, feeling the light and reveling in it. No other of our alpine
conifers so finely veils its strength. Its delicate branches yield to
the mountains' gentlest breath; yet is it strong to meet the wildest
onsets of the gale,--strong not in resistance, but compliance, bowing,
snow-laden, to the ground, gracefully accepting burial month after month
in the darkness beneath the heavy mantle of winter.

When the first soft snow begins to fall, the flakes lodge in the leaves,
weighing down the branches against the trunk. Then the axis bends yet
lower and lower, until the slender top touches the ground, thus forming
a fine ornamental arch. The snow still falls lavishly, and the whole
tree is at length buried, to sleep and rest in its beautiful grave as
though dead. Entire groves of young trees, from ten to forty feet high,
are thus buried every winter like slender grasses. But, like the violets
and daisies which the heaviest snows crush not, they are safe. It is as
though this were only Nature's method of putting her darlings to sleep
instead of leaving them exposed to the biting storms of winter.

Thus warmly wrapped they await the summer resurrection. The snow becomes
soft in the sunshine, and freezes at night, making the mass hard and
compact, like ice, so that during the months of April and May you can
ride a horse over the prostrate groves without catching sight of a
single leaf. At length the down-pouring sunshine sets them free. First
the elastic tops of the arches begin to appear, then one branch after
another, each springing loose with a gentle rustling sound, and at
length the whole tree, with the assistance of the winds, gradually
unbends and rises and settles back into its place in the warm air, as
dry and feathery and fresh as young ferns just out of the coil.

Some of the finest groves I have yet found are on the southern slopes of
Lassen's Butte. There are also many charming companies on the head
waters of the Tuolumne, Merced, and San Joaquin, and, in general, the
species is so far from being rare that you can scarcely fail to find
groves of considerable extent in crossing the range, choose what pass
you may. The Mountain Pine grows beside it, and more frequently the
two-leaved species; but there are many beautiful groups, numbering 1000
individuals, or more, without a single intruder.

I wish I had space to write more of the surpassing beauty of this
favorite spruce. Every tree-lover is sure to regard it with special
admiration; apathetic mountaineers, even, seeking only game or gold,
stop to gaze on first meeting it, and mutter to themselves: "That's a
mighty pretty tree," some of them adding, "d----d pretty!" In autumn,
when its cones are ripe, the little striped tamias, and the Douglas
squirrel, and the Clark crow make a happy stir in its groves. The deer
love to lie down beneath its spreading branches; bright streams from the
snow that is always near ripple through its groves, and bryanthus
spreads precious carpets in its shade. But the best words only hint its
charms. Come to the mountains and see.

(_Pinus albicaulis_)

This species forms the extreme edge of the timber line throughout nearly
the whole extent of the range on both flanks. It is first met growing in
company with _Pinus contorta_, var. _Murrayana_, on the upper margin of
the belt, as an erect tree from fifteen to thirty feet high and from one
to two feet in thickness; thence it goes straggling up the flanks of the
summit peaks, upon moraines or crumbling ledges, wherever it can obtain
a foothold, to an elevation of from 10,000 to 12,000 feet, where it
dwarfs to a mass of crumpled, prostrate branches, covered with slender,
upright shoots, each tipped with a short, close-packed tassel of leaves.
The bark is smooth and purplish, in some places almost white. The
fertile cones grow in rigid clusters upon the upper branches, dark
chocolate in color while young, and bear beautiful pearly seeds about
the size of peas, most of which are eaten by two species of tamias and
the notable Clark crow. The staminate cones occur in clusters, about an
inch wide, down among the leaves, and, as they are colored bright
rose-purple, they give rise to a lively, flowery appearance little
looked for in such a tree.


Pines are commonly regarded as sky-loving trees that must necessarily
aspire or die. This species forms a marked exception, creeping lowly, in
compliance with the most rigorous demands of climate, yet enduring
bravely to a more advanced age than many of its lofty relatives in the
sun-lands below. Seen from a distance, it would never be taken for a
tree of any kind. Yonder, for example, is Cathedral Peak, some three
miles away, with a scattered growth of this pine creeping like mosses
over the roof and around the beveled edges of the north gable, nowhere
giving any hint of an ascending axis. When approached quite near it
still appears matted and heathy, and is so low that one experiences no
great difficulty in walking over the top of it. Yet it is seldom
absolutely prostrate, at its lowest usually attaining a height of three
or four feet, with a main trunk, and branches outspread and intertangled
above it, as if in ascending they had been checked by a ceiling, against
which they had grown and been compelled to spread horizontally. The
winter snow is indeed such a ceiling, lasting half the year; while the
pressed, shorn surface is made yet smoother by violent winds, armed with
cutting sand-grains, that beat down any shoot that offers to rise much
above the general level, and carve the dead trunks and branches in
beautiful patterns.

During stormy nights I have often camped snugly beneath the interlacing
arches of this little pine. The needles, which have accumulated for
centuries, make fine beds, a fact well known to other mountaineers, such
as deer and wild sheep, who paw out oval hollows and lie beneath the
larger trees in safe and comfortable concealment.

[Illustration: A DWARF PINE.]

The longevity of this lowly dwarf is far greater than would be guessed.
Here, for example, is a specimen, growing at an elevation of 10,700
feet, which seems as though it might be plucked up by the roots, for it
is only three and a half inches in diameter, and its topmost tassel is
hardly three feet above the ground. Cutting it half through and counting
the annual rings with the aid of a lens, we find its age to be no less
than 255 years. Here is another telling specimen about the same height,
426 years old, whose trunk is only six inches in diameter; and one of
its supple branchlets, hardly an eighth of an inch in diameter inside
the bark, is seventy-five years old, and so filled with oily balsam, and
so well seasoned by storms, that we may tie it in knots like a

(_Pinus flexilis_)

This species is widely distributed throughout the Rocky Mountains, and
over all the higher of the many ranges of the Great Basin, between the
Wahsatch Mountains and the Sierra, where it is known as White Pine. In
the Sierra it is sparsely scattered along the eastern flank, from Bloody
Canon southward nearly to the extremity of the range, opposite the
village of Lone Pine, nowhere forming any appreciable portion of the
general forest. From its peculiar position, in loose, straggling
parties, it seems to have been derived from the Basin ranges to the
eastward, where it is abundant.

It is a larger tree than the Dwarf Pine. At an elevation of about 9000
feet above the sea, it often attains a height of forty or fifty feet,
and a diameter of from three to five feet. The cones open freely when
ripe, and are twice as large as those of the _albicaulis_, and the
foliage and branches are more open, having a tendency to sweep out in
free, wild curves, like those of the Mountain Pine, to which it is
closely allied. It is seldom found lower than 9000 feet above sea-level,
but from this elevation it pushes upward over the roughest ledges to the
extreme limit of tree-growth, where, in its dwarfed, storm-crushed
condition, it is more like the white-barked species.

Throughout Utah and Nevada it is one of the principal timber-trees,
great quantities being cut every year for the mines. The famous White
Pine Mining District, White Pine City, and the White Pine Mountains have
derived their names from it.

(_Pinus aristata_)

This species is restricted in the Sierra to the southern portion of the
range, about the head waters of Kings and Kern rivers, where it forms
extensive forests, and in some places accompanies the Dwarf Pine to the
extreme limit of tree-growth.

It is first met at an elevation of between 9000 and 10,000 feet, and
runs up to 11,000 without seeming to suffer greatly from the climate or
the leanness of the soil. It is a much finer tree than the Dwarf Pine.
Instead of growing in clumps and low, heathy mats, it manages in some
way to maintain an erect position, and usually stands single. Wherever
the young trees are at all sheltered, they grow up straight and arrowy,
with delicately tapered bole, and ascending branches terminated with
glossy, bottle-brush tassels. At middle age, certain limbs are
specialized and pushed far out for the bearing of cones, after the
manner of the Sugar Pine; and in old age these branches droop and cast
about in every direction, giving rise to very picturesque effects. The
trunk becomes deep brown and rough, like that of the Mountain Pine,
while the young cones are of a strange, dull, blackish-blue color,
clustered on the upper branches. When ripe they are from three to four
inches long, yellowish brown, resembling in every way those of the
Mountain Pine. Excepting the Sugar Pine, no tree on the mountains is so
capable of individual expression, while in grace of form and movement it
constantly reminds one of the Hemlock Spruce.


The largest specimen I measured was a little over five feet in diameter
and ninety feet in height, but this is more than twice the ordinary

This species is common throughout the Rocky Mountains and most of the
short ranges of the Great Basin, where it is called the Fox-tail Pine,
from its long dense leaf-tassels. On the Hot Creek, White Pine, and
Golden Gate ranges it is quite abundant. About a foot or eighteen inches
of the ends of the branches is densely packed with stiff outstanding
needles which radiate like an electric fox or squirrel's tail. The
needles have a glossy polish, and the sunshine sifting through them
makes them burn with silvery luster, while their number and elastic
temper tell delightfully in the winds. This tree is here still more
original and picturesque than in the Sierra, far surpassing not only its
companion conifers in this respect, but also the most noted of the
lowland oaks. Some stand firmly erect, feathered with radiant tassels
down to the ground, forming slender tapering towers of shining verdure;
others, with two or three specialized branches pushed out at right
angles to the trunk and densely clad with tasseled sprays, take the form
of beautiful ornamental crosses. Again in the same woods you find trees
that are made up of several boles united near the ground, spreading at
the sides in a plane parallel to the axis of the mountain, with the
elegant tassels hung in charming order between them, making a harp held
against the main wind lines where they are most effective in playing the
grand storm harmonies. And besides these there are many variable arching
forms, alone or in groups, with innumerable tassels drooping beneath the
arches or radiant above them, and many lowly giants of no particular
form that have braved the storms of a thousand years. But whether old or
young, sheltered or exposed to the wildest gales, this tree is ever
found irrepressibly and extravagantly picturesque, and offers a richer
and more varied series of forms to the artist than any other conifer I
know of.

(_Pinus monophylla_)

The Nut Pine covers or rather dots the eastern flank of the Sierra, to
which it is mostly restricted, in grayish, bush-like patches, from the
margin of the sage-plains to an elevation of from 7000 to 8000 feet.

A more contentedly fruitful and unaspiring conifer could not be
conceived. All the species we have been sketching make departures more
or less distant from the typical spire form, but none goes so far as
this. Without any apparent exigency of climate or soil, it remains near
the ground, throwing out crooked, divergent branches like an orchard
apple-tree, and seldom pushes a single shoot higher than fifteen or
twenty feet above the ground.

The average thickness of the trunk is, perhaps, about ten or twelve
inches. The leaves are mostly undivided, like round awls, instead of
being separated, like those of other pines, into twos and threes and
fives. The cones are green while growing, and are usually found over all
the tree, forming quite a marked feature as seen against the bluish-gray
foliage. They are quite small, only about two inches in length, and give
no promise of edible nuts; but when we come to open them, we find that
about half the entire bulk of the cone is made up of sweet, nutritious
seeds, the kernels of which are nearly as large as those of hazel-nuts.

This is undoubtedly the most important food-tree on the Sierra, and
furnishes the Mono, Carson, and Walker River Indians with more and
better nuts than all the other species taken together. It is the
Indians' own tree, and many a white man have they killed for cutting it

In its development Nature seems to have aimed at the formation of as
great a fruit-bearing surface as possible. Being so low and accessible,
the cones are readily beaten off with poles, and the nuts procured by
roasting them until the scales open. In bountiful seasons a single
Indian will gather thirty or forty bushels of them--a fine squirrelish

Of all the conifers along the eastern base of the Sierra, and on all the
many mountain groups and short ranges of the Great Basin, this foodful
little pine is the commonest tree, and the most important. Nearly every
mountain is planted with it to a height of from 8000 to 9000 feet above
the sea. Some are covered from base to summit by this one species, with
only a sparse growth of juniper on the lower slopes to break the
continuity of its curious woods, which, though dark-looking at a
distance, are almost shadeless, and have none of the damp, leafy glens
and hollows so characteristic of other pine woods. Tens of thousands of
acres occur in continuous belts. Indeed, viewed comprehensively the
entire Basin seems to be pretty evenly divided into level plains dotted
with sage-bushes and mountain-chains covered with Nut Pines. No slope is
too rough, none too dry, for these bountiful orchards of the red man.

The value of this species to Nevada is not easily overestimated. It
furnishes charcoal and timber for the mines, and, with the juniper,
supplies the ranches with fuel and rough fencing. In fruitful seasons
the nut crop is perhaps greater than the California wheat crop, which
exerts so much influence throughout the food markets of the world. When,
the crop is ripe, the Indians make ready the long beating-poles; bags,
baskets, mats, and sacks are collected; the women out at service among
the settlers, washing or drudging, assemble at the family huts; the men
leave their ranch work; old and young, all are mounted on ponies and
start in great glee to the nut-lands, forming curiously picturesque
cavalcades; flaming scarfs and calico skirts stream loosely over the
knotty ponies, two squaws usually astride of each, with baby midgets
bandaged in baskets slung on their backs or balanced on the saddle-bow;
while nut-baskets and water-jars project from each side, and the long
beating-poles make angles in every direction. Arriving at some
well-known central point where grass and water are found, the squaws
with baskets, the men with poles ascend the ridges to the laden trees,
followed by the children. Then the beating begins right merrily, the
burs fly in every direction, rolling down the slopes, lodging here and
there against rocks and sage-bushes, chased and gathered by the women
and children with fine natural gladness. Smoke-columns speedily mark the
joyful scene of their labors as the roasting-fires are kindled, and, at
night, assembled in gay circles garrulous as jays, they begin the first
nut feast of the season.

The nuts are about half an inch long and a quarter of an inch in
diameter, pointed at the top, round at the base, light brown in general
color, and, like many other pine seeds, handsomely dotted with purple,
like birds' eggs. The shells are thin and may be crushed between the
thumb and finger. The kernels are white, becoming brown by roasting, and
are sweet to every palate, being eaten by birds, squirrels, dogs,
horses, and men. Perhaps less than one bushel in a thousand of the whole
crop is ever gathered. Still, besides supplying their own wants, in
times of plenty the Indians bring large quantities to market; then they
are eaten around nearly every fireside in the State, and are even fed to
horses occasionally instead of barley.

Of other trees growing on the Sierra, but forming a very small part of
the general forest, we may briefly notice the following:

_Chamoecyparis Lawsoniana_ is a magnificent tree in the coast
ranges, but small in the Sierra. It is found only well to the northward
along the banks of cool streams on the upper Sacramento toward Mount
Shasta. Only a few trees of this species, as far as I have seen, have as
yet gained a place in the Sierra woods. It has evidently been derived
from the coast range by way of the tangle of connecting mountains at the
head of the Sacramento Valley.

In shady dells and on cool stream banks of the northern Sierra we also
find the Yew (_Taxus brevifolia_).

The interesting Nutmeg Tree (_Torreya Californica_) is sparsely
distributed along the western flank of the range at an elevation of
about 4000 feet, mostly in gulches and canons. It is a small, prickly
leaved, glossy evergreen, like a conifer, from twenty to fifty feet
high, and one to two feet in diameter. The fruit resembles a green-gage
plum, and contains one seed, about the size of an acorn, and like a
nutmeg, hence the common name. The wood is fine-grained and of a
beautiful, creamy yellow color like box, sweet-scented when dry, though
the green leaves emit a disagreeable odor.

_Betula occidentalis_, the only birch, is a small, slender tree
restricted to the eastern flank of the range along stream-sides below
the pine-belt, especially in Owen's Valley.

Alder, Maple, and Nuttall's Flowering Dogwood make beautiful bowers over
swift, cool streams at an elevation of from 3000 to 5000 feet, mixed
more or less with willows and cottonwood; and above these in lake basins
the aspen forms fine ornamental groves, and lets its light shine
gloriously in the autumn months.

The Chestnut Oak (_Quercus densiflora_) seems to have come from the
coast range around the head of the Sacramento Valley, like the
_Chamaecyparis_, but as it extends southward along the lower edge
of the main pine-belt it grows smaller until it finally dwarfs to a mere
chaparral bush. In the coast mountains it is a fine, tall, rather
slender tree, about from sixty to seventy-five feet high, growing with
the grand _Sequoia sempervirens_, or Redwood. But unfortunately it
is too good to live, and is now being rapidly destroyed for tan-bark.

Besides the common Douglas Oak and the grand _Quercus Wislizeni_ of
the foot-hills, and several small ones that make dense growths of
chaparral, there are two mountain-oaks that grow with the pines up to an
elevation of about 5000 feet above the sea, and greatly enhance the
beauty of the yosemite parks. These are the Mountain Live Oak and the
Kellogg Oak, named in honor of the admirable botanical pioneer of
California. Kellogg's Oak (_Quercus Kelloggii_) is a firm, bright,
beautiful tree, reaching a height of sixty feet, four to seven feet in
diameter, with wide-spreading branches, and growing at an elevation of
from 3000 to 5000 feet in sunny valleys and flats among the evergreens,
and higher in a dwarfed state. In the cliff-bound parks about 4000 feet
above the sea it is so abundant and effective it might fairly be called
the Yosemite Oak. The leaves make beautiful masses of purple in the
spring, and yellow in ripe autumn; while its acorns are eagerly gathered
by Indians, squirrels, and woodpeckers. The Mountain Live Oak (_Q.
Chrysolepis_) is a tough, rugged mountaineer of a tree, growing
bravely and attaining noble dimensions on the roughest earthquake
taluses in deep canons and yosemite valleys. The trunk is usually short,
dividing near the ground into great, wide-spreading limbs, and these
again into a multitude of slender sprays, many of them cord-like and
drooping to the ground, like those of the Great White Oak of the
lowlands (_Q. lobata_). The top of the tree where there is plenty
of space is broad and bossy, with a dense covering of shining leaves,
making delightful canopies, the complicated system of gray, interlacing,
arching branches as seen from beneath being exceedingly rich and
picturesque. No other tree that I know dwarfs so regularly and
completely as this under changes of climate due to changes in elevation.
At the foot of a canon 4000 feet above the sea you may find magnificent
specimens of this oak fifty feet high, with craggy, bulging trunks, five
to seven feet in diameter, and at the head of the canon, 2500 feet
higher, a dense, soft, low, shrubby growth of the same species, while
all the way up the canon between these extremes of size and habit a
perfect gradation may be traced. The largest I have seen was fifty feet
high, eight feet in diameter, and about seventy-five feet in spread. The
trunk was all knots and buttresses, gray like granite, and about as
angular and irregular as the boulders on which it was growing--a type of
steadfast, unwedgeable strength.


(_Sciurus Douglasii_)

The Douglas Squirrel is by far the most interesting and influential of
the California sciuridae, surpassing every other species in force of
character, numbers, and extent of range, and in the amount of influence
he brings to bear upon the health and distribution of the vast forests
he inhabits.

Go where you will throughout the noble woods of the Sierra Nevada, among
the giant pines and spruces of the lower zones, up through the towering
Silver Firs to the storm-bent thickets of the summit peaks, you
everywhere find this little squirrel the master-existence. Though only a
few inches long, so intense is his fiery vigor and restlessness, he
stirs every grove with wild life, and makes himself more important than
even the huge bears that shuffle through the tangled underbrush beneath
him. Every wind is fretted by his voice, almost every bole and branch
feels the sting of his sharp feet. How much the growth of the trees is
stimulated by this means it is not easy to learn, but his action in
manipulating their seeds is more appreciable. Nature has made him master
forester and committed most of her coniferous crops to his paws.
Probably over fifty per cent. of all the cones ripened on the Sierra are
cut off and handled by the Douglas alone, and of those of the Big Trees
perhaps ninety per cent. pass through his hands: the greater portion is
of course stored away for food to last during the winter and spring, but
some of them are tucked separately into loosely covered holes, where
some of the seeds germinate and become trees. But the Sierra is only one
of the many provinces over which he holds sway, for his dominion extends
over all the Redwood Belt of the Coast Mountains, and far northward
throughout the majestic forests of Oregon, Washington, and British
Columbia. I make haste to mention these facts, to show upon how
substantial a foundation the importance I ascribe to him rests.

The Douglas is closely allied to the Red Squirrel or Chickaree of the
eastern woods. Ours may be a lineal descendant of this species,
distributed westward to the Pacific by way of the Great Lakes and the
Rocky Mountains, and thence southward along our forested ranges. This
view is suggested by the fact that our species becomes redder and more
Chickaree-like in general, the farther it is traced back along the
course indicated above. But whatever their relationship, and the
evolutionary forces that have acted upon them, the Douglas is now the
larger and more beautiful animal.

From the nose to the root of the tail he measures about eight inches;
and his tail, which he so effectively uses in interpreting his feelings,
is about six inches in length. He wears dark bluish-gray over the back
and half-way down the sides, bright buff on the belly, with a stripe of
dark gray, nearly black, separating the upper and under colors; this
dividing stripe, however, is not very sharply defined. He has long black
whiskers, which gives him a rather fierce look when observed closely,
strong claws, sharp as fish-hooks, and the brightest of bright eyes,
full of telling speculation.

A King's River Indian told me that they call him "Pillillooeet," which,
rapidly pronounced with the first syllable heavily accented, is not
unlike the lusty exclamation he utters on his way up a tree when
excited. Most mountaineers in California call him the Pine Squirrel; and
when I asked an old trapper whether he knew our little forester, he
replied with brightening countenance: "Oh, yes, of course I know him;
everybody knows him. When I'm huntin' in the woods, I often find out
where the deer are by his barkin' at 'em. I call 'em Lightnin'
Squirrels, because they're so mighty quick and peert."

All the true squirrels are more or less birdlike in speech and
movements; but the Douglas is preeminently so, possessing, as he does,
every attribute peculiarly squirrelish enthusiastically concentrated. He
is the squirrel of squirrels, flashing from branch to branch of his
favorite evergreens crisp and glossy and undiseased as a sunbeam. Give
him wings and he would outfly any bird in the woods. His big gray cousin
is a looser animal, seemingly light enough to float on the wind; yet
when leaping from limb to limb, or out of one tree-top to another, he
sometimes halts to gather strength, as if making efforts concerning the
upshot of which he does not always feel exactly confident. But the
Douglas, with his denser body, leaps and glides in hidden strength,
seemingly as independent of common muscles as a mountain stream. He
threads the tasseled branches of the pines, stirring their needles like
a rustling breeze; now shooting across openings in arrowy lines; now
launching in curves, glinting deftly from side to side in sudden
zigzags, and swirling in giddy loops and spirals around the knotty
trunks; getting into what seem to be the most impossible situations
without sense of danger; now on his haunches, now on his head; yet ever
graceful, and punctuating his most irrepressible outbursts of energy
with little dots and dashes of perfect repose. He is, without exception,
the wildest animal I ever saw,--a fiery, sputtering little bolt of life,
luxuriating in quick oxygen and the woods' best juices. One can hardly
think of such a creature being dependent, like the rest of us, on
climate and food. But, after all, it requires no long acquaintance to
learn he is human, for he works for a living. His busiest time is in the
Indian summer. Then he gathers burs and hazel-nuts like a plodding
farmer, working continuously every day for hours; saying not a word;
cutting off the ripe cones at the top of his speed, as if employed by
the job, and examining every branch in regular order, as if careful that
not one should escape him; then, descending, he stores them away beneath
logs and stumps, in anticipation of the pinching hunger days of winter.
He seems himself a kind of coniferous fruit,--both fruit and flower. The
resiny essences of the pines pervade every pore of his body, and eating
his flesh is like chewing gum.

One never tires of this bright chip of nature,--this brave little voice
crying in the wilderness,--of observing his many works and ways, and
listening to his curious language. His musical, piny gossip is as savory
to the ear as balsam to the palate; and, though he has not exactly the
gift of song, some of his notes are as sweet as those of a
linnet--almost flute-like in softness, while others prick and tingle
like thistles. He is the mocking-bird of squirrels, pouring forth mixed
chatter and song like a perennial fountain; barking like a dog,
screaming like a hawk, chirping like a blackbird or a sparrow; while in
bluff, audacious noisiness he is a very jay.


In descending the trunk of a tree with the intention of alighting on the
ground, he preserves a cautious silence, mindful, perhaps, of foxes and
wildcats; but while rocking safely at home in the pine-tops there is no
end to his capers and noise; and woe to the gray squirrel or chipmunk
that ventures to set foot on his favorite tree! No matter how slyly they
trace the furrows of the bark, they are speedily discovered, and kicked
down-stairs with comic vehemence, while a torrent of angry notes comes
rushing from his whiskered lips that sounds remarkably like swearing. He
will even attempt at times to drive away dogs and men, especially if he
has had no previous knowledge of them. Seeing a man for the first time,
he approaches nearer and nearer, until within a few feet; then, with an
angry outburst, he makes a sudden rush, all teeth and eyes, as if about
to eat you up. But, finding that the big, forked animal doesn't scare,
he prudently beats a retreat, and sets himself up to reconnoiter on some
overhanging branch, scrutinizing every movement you make with ludicrous
solemnity. Gathering courage, he ventures down the trunk again, churring
and chirping, and jerking nervously up and down in curious loops, eyeing
you all the time, as if snowing off and demanding your admiration.
Finally, growing calmer, he settles down in a comfortable posture on
some horizontal branch commanding a good view, and beats time with his
tail to a steady "Chee-up! chee-up!" or, when somewhat less excited,
"Pee-ah!" with the first syllable keenly accented, and the second drawn
out like the scream of a hawk,--repeating this slowly and more
emphatically at first, then gradually faster, until a rate of about 150
words a minute is reached; usually sitting all the time on his haunches,
with paws resting on his breast, which pulses visibly with each word. It
is remarkable, too, that, though articulating distinctly, he keeps his
mouth shut most of the time, and speaks through his nose. I have
occasionally observed him even eating Sequoia seeds and nibbling a
troublesome flea, without ceasing or in any way confusing his "Pee-ah!
pee-ah!" for a single moment.

While ascending trees all his claws come into play, but in descending
the weight of his body is sustained chiefly by those of the hind feet;
still in neither case do his movements suggest effort, though if you are
near enough you may see the bulging strength of his short, bear-like
arms, and note his sinewy fists clinched in the bark.

Whether going up or down, he carries his tail extended at full length in
line with his body, unless it be required for gestures. But while
running along horizontal limbs or fallen trunks, it is frequently folded
forward over the back, with the airy tip daintily upcurled. In cool
weather it keeps him warm. Then, after he has finished his meal, you may
see him crouched close on some level limb with his tail-robe neatly
spread and reaching forward to his ears, the electric, outstanding hairs
quivering in the breeze like pine-needles. But in wet or very cold
weather he stays in his nest, and while curled up there his comforter is
long enough to come forward around his nose. It is seldom so cold,
however, as to prevent his going out to his stores when hungry.

Once as I lay storm-bound on the upper edge of the timber line on Mount
Shasta, the thermometer nearly at zero and the sky thick with driving
snow, a Douglas came bravely out several times from one of the lower
hollows of a Dwarf Pine near my camp, faced the wind without seeming to
feel it much, frisked lightly about over the mealy snow, and dug his way
down to some hidden seeds with wonderful precision, as if to his eyes
the thick snow-covering were glass.

No other of the Sierra animals of my acquaintance is better fed, not
even the deer, amid abundance of sweet herbs and shrubs, or the mountain
sheep, or omnivorous bears. His food consists of grass-seeds, berries,
hazel-nuts, chinquapins, and the nuts and seeds of all the coniferous
trees without exception,--Pine, Fir, Spruce, Libocedrus, Juniper, and
Sequoia,--he is fond of them all, and they all agree with him, green or
ripe. No cone is too large for him to manage, none so small as to be
beneath his notice. The smaller ones, such as those of the Hemlock, and
the Douglas Spruce, and the Two-leaved Pine, he cuts off and eats on a
branch of the tree, without allowing them to fall; beginning at the
bottom of the cone and cutting away the scales to expose the seeds; not
gnawing by guess, like a bear, but turning them round and round in
regular order, in compliance with their spiral arrangement.

When thus employed, his location in the tree is betrayed by a dribble of
scales, shells, and seed-wings, and, every few minutes, by the fall of
the stripped axis of the cone. Then of course he is ready for another,
and if you are watching you may catch a glimpse of him as he glides
silently out to the end of a branch and see him examining the
cone-clusters until he finds one to his mind; then, leaning over, pull
back the springy needles out of his way, grasp the cone with his paws to
prevent its falling, snip it off in an incredibly short time, seize it
with jaws grotesquely stretched, and return to his chosen seat near the
trunk. But the immense size of the cones of the Sugar Pine--from fifteen
to twenty inches in length--and those of the Jeffrey variety of the
Yellow Pine compel him to adopt a quite different method. He cuts them
off without attempting to hold them, then goes down and drags them from
where they have chanced to fall up to the bare, swelling ground around
the instep of the tree, where he demolishes them in the same methodical
way, beginning at the bottom and following the scale-spirals to the top.


From a single Sugar Pine cone he gets from two to four hundred seeds
about half the size of a hazel-nut, so that in a few minutes he can
procure enough to last a week. He seems, however, to prefer those of the
two Silver First above all others; perhaps because they are most easily
obtained, as the scales drop off when ripe without needing to be cut.
Both species are filled with an exceedingly pungent, aromatic oil, which
spices all his flesh, and is of itself sufficient to account for his
lightning energy.

You may easily know this little workman by his chips. On sunny hillsides
around the principal trees they lie in big piles,--bushels and
basketfuls of them, all fresh and clean, making the most beautiful
kitchen-middens imaginable. The brown and yellow scales and nut-shells
are as abundant and as delicately penciled and tinted as the shells
along the sea-shore; while the beautiful red and purple seed-wings
mingled with them would lead one to fancy that innumerable butterflies
had there met their fate.

He feasts on all the species long before they are ripe, but is wise
enough to wait until they are matured before he gathers them into his
barns. This is in October and November, which with him are the two
busiest months of the year. All kinds of burs, big and little, are now
cut off and showered down alike, and the ground is speedily covered with
them. A constant thudding and bumping is kept up; some of the larger
cones chancing to fall on old logs make the forest reecho with the
sound. Other nut-eaters less industrious know well what is going on, and
hasten to carry away the cones as they fall. But however busy the
harvester may be, he is not slow to descry the pilferers below, and
instantly leaves his work to drive them away. The little striped tamias
is a thorn in his flesh, stealing persistently, punish him as he may.
The large Gray Squirrel gives trouble also, although the Douglas has
been accused of stealing from him. Generally, however, just the opposite
is the case.

The excellence of the Sierra evergreens is well known to nurserymen
throughout the world, consequently there is considerable demand for the
seeds. The greater portion of the supply has hitherto been procured by
chopping down the trees in the more accessible sections of the forest
alongside of bridle-paths that cross the range. Sequoia seeds at first
brought from twenty to thirty dollars per pound, and therefore were
eagerly sought after. Some of the smaller fruitful trees were cut down
in the groves not protected by government, especially those of Fresno
and King's River. Most of the Sequoias, however, are of so gigantic a
size that the seedsmen have to look for the greater portion of their
supplies to the Douglas, who soon learns he is no match for these
freebooters. He is wise enough, however, to cease working the instant he
perceives them, and never fails to embrace every opportunity to recover
his burs whenever they happen to be stored in any place accessible to
him, and the busy seedsman often finds on returning to camp that the
little Douglas has exhaustively spoiled the spoiler. I know one
seed-gatherer who, whenever he robs the squirrels, scatters wheat or
barley beneath the trees as conscience-money.

The want of appreciable life remarked by so many travelers in the Sierra
forests is never felt at this time of year. Banish all the humming
insects and the birds and quadrupeds, leaving only Sir Douglas, and the
most solitary of our so-called solitudes would still throb with ardent
life. But if you should go impatiently even into the most populous of
the groves on purpose to meet him, and walk about looking up among the
branches, you would see very little of him. But lie down at the foot of
one of the trees and straightway he will come. For, in the midst of the
ordinary forest sounds, the falling of burs, piping of quails, the
screaming of the Clark Crow, and the rustling of deer and bears among
the chaparral, he is quick to detect your strange footsteps, and will
hasten to make a good, close inspection of you as soon as you are still.
First, you may hear him sounding a few notes of curious inquiry, but
more likely the first intimation of his approach will be the prickly
sounds of his feet as he descends the tree overhead, just before he
makes his savage onrush to frighten you and proclaim your presence to
every squirrel and bird in the neighborhood. If you remain perfectly
motionless, he will come nearer and nearer, and probably set your flesh
a-tingle by frisking across your body. Once, while I was seated at the
foot of a Hemlock Spruce in one of the most inaccessible of the San
Joaquin yosemites engaged in sketching, a reckless fellow came up behind
me, passed under my bended arm, and jumped on my paper. And one warm
afternoon, while an old friend of mine was reading out in the shade of
his cabin, one of his Douglas neighbors jumped from the gable upon his
head, and then with admirable assurance ran down over his shoulder and
on to the book he held in his hand.

Our Douglas enjoys a large social circle; for, besides his numerous
relatives, _Sciurus fossor, Tamias quadrivitatus, T. Townsendii,
Spermophilus Beccheyi, S. Douglasii_, he maintains intimate relations
with the nut-eating birds, particularly the Clark Crow (_Picicorvus
columbianus_) and the numerous woodpeckers and jays. The two
spermophiles are astonishingly abundant in the lowlands and lower
foot-hills, but more and more sparingly distributed up through the
Douglas domains,--seldom venturing higher than six or seven thousand
feet above the level of the sea. The gray sciurus ranges but little
higher than this. The little striped tamias alone is associated with him
everywhere. In the lower and middle zones, where they all meet, they are
tolerably harmonious--a happy family, though very amusing skirmishes may
occasionally be witnessed. Wherever the ancient glaciers have spread
forest soil there you find our wee hero, most abundant where depth of
soil and genial climate have given rise to a corresponding luxuriance in
the trees, but following every kind of growth up the curving moraines to
the highest glacial fountains.

Though I cannot of course expect all my readers to sympathize fully in
my admiration of this little animal, few, I hope, will think this sketch
of his life too long. I cannot begin to tell here how much he has
cheered my lonely wanderings during all the years I have been pursuing
my studies in these glorious wilds; or how much unmistakable humanity I
have found in him. Take this for example: One calm, creamy Indian summer
morning, when the nuts were ripe, I was camped in the upper pine-woods
of the south fork of the San Joaquin, where the squirrels seemed to be
about as plentiful as the ripe burs. They were taking an early breakfast
before going to their regular harvest-work. While I was busy with my own
breakfast I heard the thudding fall of two or three heavy cones from a
Yellow Pine near me. I stole noiselessly forward within about twenty
feet of the base of it to observe. In a few moments down came the
Douglas. The breakfast-burs he had cut off had rolled on the gently
sloping ground into a clump of ceanothus bushes, but he seemed to know
exactly where they were, for he found them at once, apparently without
searching for them. They were more than twice as heavy as himself, but
after turning them into the right position for getting a good hold with
his long sickle-teeth he managed to drag them up to the foot of the tree
from which he had cut them, moving backward. Then seating himself
comfortably, he held them on end, bottom up, and demolished them at his
ease. A good deal of nibbling had to be done before he got anything to
eat, because the lower scales are barren, but when he had patiently
worked his way up to the fertile ones he found two sweet nuts at the
base of each, shaped like trimmed hams, and spotted purple like birds'
eggs. And notwithstanding these cones were dripping with soft balsam,
and covered with prickles, and so strongly put together that a boy would
be puzzled to cut them open with a jack-knife, he accomplished his meal
with easy dignity and cleanliness, making less effort apparently than a
man would in eating soft cookery from a plate.

Breakfast done, I whistled a tune for him before he went to work,
curious to see how he would be affected by it. He had not seen me all
this while; but the instant I began to whistle he darted up the tree
nearest to him, and came out on a small dead limb opposite me, and
composed himself to listen. I sang and whistled more than a dozen airs,
and as the music changed his eyes sparkled, and he turned his head
quickly from side to side, but made no other response. Other squirrels,
hearing the strange sounds, came around on all sides, also chipmunks and
birds. One of the birds, a handsome, speckle-breasted thrush, seemed
even more interested than the squirrels. After listening for awhile on
one of the lower dead sprays of a pine, he came swooping forward within
a few feet of my face, and remained fluttering in the air for half a
minute or so, sustaining himself with whirring wing-beats, like a
humming-bird in front of a flower, while I could look into his eyes and
see his innocent wonder.

By this time my performance must have lasted nearly half an hour. I sang
or whistled "Bonnie Boon," "Lass o' Gowrie," "O'er the Water to
Charlie," "Bonnie Woods o' Cragie Lee," etc., all of which seemed to be
listened to with bright interest, my first Douglas sitting patiently
through it all, with his telling eyes fixed upon me until I ventured to
give the "Old Hundredth," when he screamed his Indian name,
Pillillooeet, turned tail, and darted with ludicrous haste up the tree
out of sight, his voice and actions in the case leaving a somewhat
profane impression, as if he had said, "I'll be hanged if you get me to
hear anything so solemn and unpiny." This acted as a signal for the
general dispersal of the whole hairy tribe, though the birds seemed
willing to wait further developments, music being naturally more in
their line.

What there can be in that grand old church-tune that is so offensive to
birds and squirrels I can't imagine. A year or two after this High
Sierra concert, I was sitting one fine day on a hill in the Coast Range
where the common Ground Squirrels were abundant. They were very shy on
account of being hunted so much; but after I had been silent and
motionless for half an hour or so they began to venture out of their
holes and to feed on the seeds of the grasses and thistles around me as
if I were no more to be feared than a tree-stump. Then it occurred to me
that this was a good opportunity to find out whether they also disliked
"Old Hundredth." Therefore I began to whistle as nearly as I could
remember the same familiar airs that had pleased the mountaineers of the
Sierra. They at once stopped eating, stood erect, and listened patiently
until I came to "Old Hundredth," when with ludicrous haste every one of
them rushed to their holes and bolted in, their feet twinkling in the
air for a moment as they vanished.

No one who makes the acquaintance of our forester will fail to admire
him; but he is far too self-reliant and warlike ever to be taken for a

How long the life of a Douglas Squirrel may be, I don't know. The young
seem to sprout from knot-holes, perfect from the first, and as enduring
as their own trees. It is difficult, indeed, to realize that so
condensed a piece of sun-fire should ever become dim or die at all. He
is seldom killed by hunters, for he is too small to encourage much of
their attention, and when pursued in settled regions becomes excessively
shy, and keeps close in the furrows of the highest trunks, many of which
are of the same color as himself. Indian boys, however, lie in wait with
unbounded patience to shoot them with arrows. In the lower and middle
zones a few fall a prey to rattlesnakes. Occasionally he is pursued by
hawks and wildcats, etc. But, upon the whole, he dwells safely in the
deep bosom of the woods, the most highly favored of all his happy tribe.
May his tribe increase!

[Illustration: TRYING THE BOW.]



The mountain winds, like the dew and rain, sunshine and snow, are
measured and bestowed with love on the forests to develop their strength
and beauty. However restricted the scope of other forest influences,
that of the winds is universal. The snow bends and trims the upper
forests every winter, the lightning strikes a single tree here and
there, while avalanches mow down thousands at a swoop as a gardener
trims out a bed of flowers. But the winds go to every tree, fingering
every leaf and branch and furrowed bole; not one is forgotten; the
Mountain Pine towering with outstretched arms on the rugged buttresses
of the icy peaks, the lowliest and most retiring tenant of the dells;
they seek and find them all, caressing them tenderly, bending them in
lusty exercise, stimulating their growth, plucking off a leaf or limb as
required, or removing an entire tree or grove, now whispering and cooing
through the branches like a sleepy child, now roaring like the ocean;
the winds blessing the forests, the forests the winds, with ineffable
beauty and harmony as the sure result.


After one has seen pines six feet in diameter bending like grasses
before a mountain gale, and ever and anon some giant falling with a
crash that shakes the hills, it seems astonishing that any, save the
lowest thickset trees, could ever have found a period sufficiently
stormless to establish themselves; or, once established, that they
should not, sooner or later, have been blown down. But when the storm is
over, and we behold the same forests tranquil again, towering fresh and
unscathed in erect majesty, and consider what centuries of storms have
fallen upon them since they were first planted,--hail, to break the
tender seedlings; lightning, to scorch and shatter; snow, winds, and
avalanches, to crush and overwhelm,--while the manifest result of all
this wild storm-culture is the glorious perfection we behold; then faith
in Nature's forestry is established, and we cease to deplore the
violence of her most destructive gales, or of any other storm-implement

There are two trees in the Sierra forests that are never blown down, so
long as they continue in sound health. These are the Juniper and the
Dwarf Pine of the summit peaks. Their stiff, crooked roots grip the
storm-beaten ledges like eagles' claws, while their lithe, cord-like
branches bend round compliantly, offering but slight holds for winds,
however violent. The other alpine conifers--the Needle Pine, Mountain
Pine, Two-leaved Pine, and Hemlock Spruce--are never thinned out by this
agent to any destructive extent, on account of their admirable toughness
and the closeness of their growth. In general the same is true of the
giants of the lower zones. The kingly Sugar Pine, towering aloft to a
height of more than 200 feet, offers a fine mark to storm-winds; but it
is not densely foliaged, and its long, horizontal arms swing round
compliantly in the blast, like tresses of green, fluent algae in a
brook; while the Silver Firs in most places keep their ranks well
together in united strength. The Yellow or Silver Pine is more
frequently overturned than any other tree on the Sierra, because its
leaves and branches form a larger mass in proportion to its height,
while in many places it is planted sparsely, leaving open lanes through
which storms may enter with full force. Furthermore, because it is
distributed along the lower portion of the range, which was the first to
be left bare on the breaking up of the ice-sheet at the close of the
glacial winter, the soil it is growing upon has been longer exposed to
post-glacial weathering, and consequently is in a more crumbling,
decayed condition than the fresher soils farther up the range, and
therefore offers a less secure anchorage for the roots.

While exploring the forest zones of Mount Shasta, I discovered the path
of a hurricane strewn with thousands of pines of this species. Great and
small had been uprooted or wrenched off by sheer force, making a clean
gap, like that made by a snow avalanche. But hurricanes capable of doing
this class of work are rare in the Sierra, and when we have explored the
forests from one extremity of the range to the other, we are compelled
to believe that they are the most beautiful on the face of the earth,
however we may regard the agents that have made them so.

There is always something deeply exciting, not only in the sounds of
winds in the woods, which exert more or less influence over every mind,
but in their varied waterlike flow as manifested by the movements of the
trees, especially those of the conifers. By no other trees are they
rendered so extensively and impressively visible, not even by the lordly
tropic palms or tree-ferns responsive to the gentlest breeze. The waving
of a forest of the giant Sequoias is indescribably impressive and
sublime, but the pines seem to me the best interpreters of winds. They
are mighty waving goldenrods, ever in tune, singing and writing
wind-music all their long century lives. Little, however, of this noble
tree-waving and tree-music will you see or hear in the strictly alpine
portion of the forests. The burly Juniper, whose girth sometimes more
than equals its height, is about as rigid as the rocks on which it
grows. The slender lash-like sprays of the Dwarf Pine stream out in
wavering ripples, but the tallest and slenderest are far too unyielding
to wave even in the heaviest gales. They only shake in quick, short
vibrations. The Hemlock Spruce, however, and the Mountain Pine, and some
of the tallest thickets of the Two-leaved species bow in storms with
considerable scope and gracefulness. But it is only in the lower and
middle zones that the meeting of winds and woods is to be seen in all
its grandeur.

One of the most beautiful and exhilarating storms I ever enjoyed in the
Sierra occurred in December, 1874, when I happened to be exploring one
of the tributary valleys of the Yuba River. The sky and the ground and
the trees had been thoroughly rain-washed and were dry again. The day
was intensely pure, one of those incomparable bits of California winter,
warm and balmy and full of white sparkling sunshine, redolent of all the
purest influences of the spring, and at the same time enlivened with one
of the most bracing wind-storms conceivable. Instead of camping out, as
I usually do, I then chanced to be stopping at the house of a friend.
But when the storm began to sound, I lost no time in pushing out into
the woods to enjoy it. For on such occasions Nature has always something
rare to show us, and the danger to life and limb is hardly greater than
one would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a roof.

It was still early morning when I found myself fairly adrift. Delicious
sunshine came pouring over the hills, lighting the tops of the pines,
and setting free a steam of summery fragrance that contrasted strangely
with the wild tones of the storm. The air was mottled with pine-tassels
and bright green plumes, that went flashing past in the sunlight like
birds pursued. But there was not the slightest dustiness, nothing less
pure than leaves, and ripe pollen, and flecks of withered bracken and
moss. I heard trees falling for hours at the rate of one every two or
three minutes; some uprooted, partly on account of the loose,
water-soaked condition of the ground; others broken straight across,
where some weakness caused by fire had determined the spot. The gestures
of the various trees made a delightful study. Young Sugar Pines, light
and feathery as squirrel-tails, were bowing almost to the ground; while
the grand old patriarchs, whose massive boles had been tried in a
hundred storms, waved solemnly above them, their long, arching branches
streaming fluently on the gale, and every needle thrilling and ringing
and shedding off keen lances of light like a diamond. The Douglas
Spruces, with long sprays drawn out in level tresses, and needles massed
in a gray, shimmering glow, presented a most striking appearance as they
stood in bold relief along the hilltops. The madronos in the dells, with
their red bark and large glossy leaves tilted every way, reflected the
sunshine in throbbing spangles like those one so often sees on the
rippled surface of a glacier lake. But the Silver Pines were now the
most impressively beautiful of all. Colossal spires 200 feet in height
waved like supple golden-rods chanting and bowing low as if in worship,
while the whole mass of their long, tremulous foliage was kindled into
one continuous blaze of white sun-fire. The force of the gale was such
that the most steadfast monarch of them all rocked down to its roots
with a motion plainly perceptible when one leaned against it. Nature was
holding high festival, and every fiber of the most rigid giants thrilled
with glad excitement.

I drifted on through the midst of this passionate music and motion,
across many a glen, from ridge to ridge; often halting in the lee of a
rock for shelter, or to gaze and listen. Even when the grand anthem had
swelled to its highest pitch, I could distinctly hear the varying tones
of individual trees,--Spruce, and Fir, and Pine, and leafless Oak,--and
even the infinitely gentle rustle of the withered grasses at my feet.
Each was expressing itself in its own way,--singing its own song, and
making its own peculiar gestures,--manifesting a richness of variety to
be found in no other forest I have yet seen. The coniferous woods of
Canada, and the Carolinas, and Florida, are made up of trees that
resemble one another about as nearly as blades of grass, and grow close
together in much the same way. Coniferous trees, in general, seldom
possess individual character, such as is manifest among Oaks and Elms.
But the California forests are made up of a greater number of distinct
species than any other in the world. And in them we find, not only a
marked differentiation into special groups, but also a marked
individuality in almost every tree, giving rise to storm effects
indescribably glorious.

Toward midday, after a long, tingling scramble through copses of hazel
and ceanothus, I gained the summit of the highest ridge in the
neighborhood; and then it occurred to me that it would be a fine thing
to climb one of the trees to obtain a wider outlook and get my ear close
to the Aeolian music of its topmost needles. But under the circumstances
the choice of a tree was a serious matter. One whose instep was not very
strong seemed in danger of being blown down, or of being struck by
others in case they should fall; another was branchless to a
considerable height above the ground, and at the same time too large to
be grasped with arms and legs in climbing; while others were not
favorably situated for clear views. After cautiously casting about, I
made choice of the tallest of a group of Douglas Spruces that were
growing close together like a tuft of grass, no one of which seemed
likely to fall unless all the rest fell with it. Though comparatively
young, they were about 100 feet high, and their lithe, brushy tops were
rocking and swirling in wild ecstasy. Being accustomed to climb trees in
making botanical studies, I experienced no difficulty in reaching the
top of this one, and never before did I enjoy so noble an exhilaration
of motion. The slender tops fairly flapped and swished in the passionate
torrent, bending and swirling backward and forward, round and round,
tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves,
while I clung with muscles firm braced, like a bobolink on a reed.

In its widest sweeps my tree-top described an arc of from twenty to
thirty degrees, but I felt sure of its elastic temper, having seen
others of the same species still more severely tried--bent almost to the
ground indeed, in heavy snows--without breaking a fiber. I was therefore
safe, and free to take the wind into my pulses and enjoy the excited
forest from my superb outlook. The view from here must be extremely
beautiful in any weather. Now my eye roved over the piny hills and dales
as over fields of waving grain, and felt the light running in ripples
and broad swelling undulations across the valleys from ridge to ridge,
as the shining foliage was stirred by corresponding waves of air.
Oftentimes these waves of reflected light would break up suddenly into a
kind of beaten foam, and again, after chasing one another in regular
order, they would seem to bend forward in concentric curves, and
disappear on some hillside, like sea-waves on a shelving shore. The
quantity of light reflected from the bent needles was so great as to
make whole groves appear as if covered with snow, while the black
shadows beneath the trees greatly enhanced the effect of the silvery

Excepting only the shadows there was nothing somber in all this wild sea
of pines. On the contrary, notwithstanding this was the winter season,
the colors were remarkably beautiful. The shafts of the pine and
libocedrus were brown and purple, and most of the foliage was well
tinged with yellow; the laurel groves, with the pale undersides of their
leaves turned upward, made masses of gray; and then there was many a
dash of chocolate color from clumps of manzanita, and jet of vivid
crimson from the bark of the madronos, while the ground on the
hillsides, appearing here and there through openings between the groves,
displayed masses of pale purple and brown.

The sounds of the storm corresponded gloriously with this wild
exuberance of light and motion. The profound bass of the naked branches
and boles booming like waterfalls; the quick, tense vibrations of the
pine-needles, now rising to a shrill, whistling hiss, now falling to a
silky murmur; the rustling of laurel groves in the dells, and the keen
metallic click of leaf on leaf--all this was heard in easy analysis when
the attention was calmly bent.

The varied gestures of the multitude were seen to fine advantage, so
that one could recognize the different species at a distance of several
miles by this means alone, as well as by their forms and colors, and the
way they reflected the light. All seemed strong and comfortable, as if
really enjoying the storm, while responding to its most enthusiastic
greetings. We hear much nowadays concerning the universal struggle for
existence, but no struggle in the common meaning of the word was
manifest here; no recognition of danger by any tree; no deprecation; but
rather an invincible gladness as remote from exultation as from fear.

I kept my lofty perch for hours, frequently closing my eyes to enjoy the
music by itself, or to feast quietly on the delicious fragrance that was
streaming past. The fragrance of the woods was less marked than that
produced during warm rain, when so many balsamic buds and leaves are
steeped like tea; but, from the chafing of resiny branches against each
other, and the incessant attrition of myriads of needles, the gale was
spiced to a very tonic degree. And besides the fragrance from these
local sources there were traces of scents brought from afar. For this
wind came first from the sea, rubbing against its fresh, briny waves,
then distilled through the redwoods, threading rich ferny gulches, and
spreading itself in broad undulating currents over many a
flower-enameled ridge of the coast mountains, then across the golden
plains, up the purple foot-hills, and into these piny woods with the
varied incense gathered by the way.

Winds are advertisements of all they touch, however much or little we
may be able to read them; telling their wanderings even by their scents
alone. Mariners detect the flowery perfume of land-winds far at sea, and
sea-winds carry the fragrance of dulse and tangle far inland, where it
is quickly recognized, though mingled with the scents of a thousand
land-flowers. As an illustration of this, I may tell here that I
breathed sea-air on the Firth of Forth, in Scotland, while a boy; then
was taken to Wisconsin, where I remained nineteen years; then, without
in all this time having breathed one breath of the sea, I walked
quietly, alone, from the middle of the Mississippi Valley to the Gulf of
Mexico, on a botanical excursion, and while in Florida, far from the
coast, my attention wholly bent on the splendid tropical vegetation
about me, I suddenly recognized a sea-breeze, as it came sifting through
the palmettos and blooming vine-tangles, which at once awakened and set
free a thousand dormant associations, and made me a boy again in
Scotland, as if all the intervening years had been annihilated.

Most people like to look at mountain rivers, and bear them in mind; but
few care to look at the winds, though far more beautiful and sublime,
and though they become at times about as visible as flowing water. When
the north winds in winter are making upward sweeps over the curving
summits of the High Sierra, the fact is sometimes published with flying
snow-banners a mile long. Those portions of the winds thus embodied can
scarce be wholly invisible, even to the darkest imagination. And when
we look around over an agitated forest, we may see something of the wind
that stirs it, by its effects upon the trees. Yonder it descends in a
rush of water-like ripples, and sweeps over the bending pines from hill
to hill. Nearer, we see detached plumes and leaves, now speeding by on


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