Chronicles of America 

Evergreen Forests of America

In America the most widespread type of forest is the evergreen coniferous woodland of the north. Its pines, firs, spruces, hemlocks, and cedars which are really junipers, cover most of Canada together with northern New England and the region south of Lakes Huron and Superior. At its northern limit the forest looks thoroughly forlorn. The gnarled and stunted trees are thickly studded with half-dead branches bent down by the weight of snow, so that the lower ones sweep the ground, while the upper look tired and discouraged from their struggle with an inclement climate. Farther south, however, the forest loses this aspect of terrific struggle. In Maine, for example, it gives a pleasant impression of comfortable prosperity. Wherever the trees have room to grow, they are full and stocky, and even where they are crowded together their slender up-springing trunks look alert and energetic. The signs of death and decay, indeed, appear everywhere in fallen trunks, dead branches, and decayed masses of wood, but moss and lichens, twinflowers and bunchberries so quickly mantle the prostrate trees that they do not seem like tokens of weakness. Then, too, in every open space thousands of young trees bank their soft green masses so gracefully that one has an ever-present sense of pleased surprise as he comes upon this younger foliage out of the dim aisles among the bigger trees.

Except on their southern borders the great northern forests are not good as a permanent home for man. The snow lies so late in the spring and the summers are so short and cool that agriculture does not prosper. As a home for the fox, marten, weasel, beaver, and many other fur-bearing animals, however, the coniferous forests are almost ideal. That is why the Hudson's Bay Company is one of the few great organizations which have persisted and prospered from colonial times to the present. As long ago as 1670 Charles II granted to Prince Rupert and seventeen noblemen and gentlemen a charter so sweeping that, aside from their own powers of assimilation, there was almost no limit to what the "Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay" might acquire. By 1749, nearly eighty years after the granting of the charter, however, the Company had only four or five forts on the coast of Hudson Bay, with about 120 regular employees. Nevertheless the poor Indians were so ignorant of the value of their furs and the consequent profits were so large that, after Canada had been ceded to Great Britain in 1763, a rival organization, the Northwest Fur Company of Montreal, was established. Then there began an era that was truly terrible for the Indians of the northern forest. In their eagerness to get the valuable furs the companies offered the Indians strong liquors in an abundance that ruined the poor Native American, body and soul. Moreover the fur-bearing animals were killed not only in winter but during the breeding season. Many mother animals were shot and their little ones were left to die. Hence in a short time the wild creatures of the great northern forest were so scarce that the Indians well-nigh starved.

Outliers of the pine forest extend far down into the United States. The easternmost lies in part along the Appalachians and in part along the coastal plain from southern New Jersey to Texas. The coastal forest is unlike the other coniferous forests in two respects, for its distribution and growth are not limited by long winters but by sandy soil which quickly becomes dry. This drier southern pine forest lacks the beauty of its northern companion. Its trees are often tall and stately, but they are usually much scattered and are surrounded by stretches of scanty grass. There is no trace of the mossy carpet and dense copses of undergrowth that add so much to the picturesque of the forests farther north. The unkempt half-breed or Indian hunter is replaced by the prosaic gatherer of turpentine. As the man of the southern forests shuffles along in blue or khaki overalls and carries his buckets from tree to tree, he seems a dull figure contrasted with the active northern hunter who glides swiftly and silently from trap to trap on his rawhide snowshoes. Yet though the southern pine forest may be less picturesque than the northern, it is more useful to man. In spite of its sandy soil, much of this forest land is being reclaimed, and all will some day probably be covered by farms.

Two other outliers of the northern evergreen forest extend southward along the cool heights of the Rocky Mountains and of the Pacific coast ranges of the United States. In the Olympic and Sierra Nevada ranges the most western outlier of this northern band of vegetation probably contains the most inspiring forests of the world. There grow the vigorous Oregon pines, firs, and spruces, and the still more famous Big Trees or sequoias. High on the sides of the Sierra above the yuccas, the live oaks, and the deciduous forest of the lower slopes, one meets these Big Trees. To come upon them suddenly after a long, rough tramp over the sunny lower slopes is the experience of a lifetime. Upward the great trees rise sheer one hundred feet without a branch. The huge fluted trunks encased in soft, red bark six inches or a foot thick are more impressive than the columns of the grandest cathedral. It seems irreverent to speak above a whisper. Each tree is a new wonder. One has to walk around it and study it to appreciate its enormous size. Where a tree chances to stand isolated so that one can see its full majesty, the sense of awe is tempered by the feeling that in spite of their size the trees have a beauty all their own. Lifted to such heights, the branches appear to be covered with masses of peculiarly soft and rounded foliage like the piled-up banks of a white cumulus cloud before a thunderstorm. At the base of such a tree the eye is caught by the sharp, triangular outline of one of its young progeny. The lower branches sweep the ground. The foliage is harsh and rough. In almost no other species of trees is there such a change from comparatively ungraceful youth to a superbly beautiful old age.

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