Sunday, December 29, 2013


An Unsparing Race

Susan Fenimore Cooper (1813-1894), Rural Hours, edd. Rochelle Johnson and Daniel Patterson (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998), p. 6 (Spring: March 11):
A disappointment awaited us—several noble pines, old friends and favorites, had been felled unknown to us during the winter; unsightly stumps and piles of chips were all that remained where those fine trees had so long waved their evergreen arms. Their fall seemed to have quite changed the character of the neighboring fields; for it often lies within the power of a single group of trees to alter the whole aspect of acres of surrounding lands.
Id., pp. 119-120 (Summer: July 21):
The preservation of those old pines must depend entirely upon the will of their owner; they are private property; we have no right to ask that they may be spared, but it is impossible to behold their hoary trunks and crested heads without feeling a hope that they may long continue unscathed, to look down upon the village which has sprung up at their feet. They are certainly one of the most striking objects in the county, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the hand which has so long preserved them, one of the honors of our neighborhood. It needs but a few short minutes to bring one of these trees to the ground; the rudest boor passing along the highway may easily do the deed; but how many years must pass ere its equal stand on the same spot! Let us pause to count the days, the months, the years; let us number the generations that must come and go, the centuries that must roll onward, ere the seed sown from this year's cones shall produce a wood like that before us. The stout arm so ready to raise the axe to-day, must grow weak with age, it must drop into the grave; its bone and sinew must crumble into dust long before another tree, tall and great as those, shall have grown from the cone in our hand. Nay, more, all the united strength of sinew, added to all the powers of mind, and all the force of will, of millions of men, can do no more toward the work than the poor ability of a single arm; these are of the deeds which time alone can perform. But allowing even that hundreds of years hence other trees were at length to succeed these with the same dignity of height and age, no other younger wood can ever claim the same connection as this, with a state of things now passed away forever; they cannot have that wild, stern character of the aged forest pines. This little town itself must fall to decay and ruin; its streets must become choked with bushes and brambles; the farms of the valley must be anew buried within the shades of a wilderness; the wild deer and the wolf, and the bear, must return from beyond the great lakes; the bones of the savage men buried under our feet must arise and move again in the chase, ere trees like those, with the spirit of the forest in every line, can stand on the same ground in wild dignity of form like those old pines now looking down upon our homes.
Id., p. 132 (Summer: July 28):
In these times, the hewers of wood are an unsparing race. The first colonists looked upon a tree as an enemy, and to judge from appearances, one would think that something of the same spirit prevails among their descendants at the present hour. It is not surprising, perhaps, that a man whose chief object in life is to make money, should turn his timber into bank-notes with all possible speed; but it is remarkable that any one at all aware of the value of wood, should act so wastefully as most men do in this part of the world. Mature trees, young saplings, and last year's seedlings, are all destroyed at one blow by the axe or by fire; the spot where they have stood is left, perhaps, for a lifetime without any attempt at cultivation, or any endeavor to foster new wood.
Id., pp. 133-134 (Summer: July 28):
But independently of their market price in dollars and cents, the trees have other values: they are connected in many ways with the civilization of a country; they have their importance in an intellectual and in a moral sense. After the first rude stage of progress is past in a new country—when shelter and food have been provided—people begin to collect the conveniences and pleasures of a permanent home about their dwellings, and then the farmer generally sets out a few trees before his door. This is very desirable, but it is only the first step in the track; something more is needed; the preservation of fine trees, already standing, marks a farther progress, and this point we have not yet reached. It frequently happens that the same man who yesterday planted some half dozen branchless saplings before his door, will to-day cut down a noble elm, or oak, only a few rods from his house, an object which was in itself a hundred-fold more beautiful than any other in his possession. In very truth, a fine tree near a house is a much greater embellishment than the thickest coat of paint that could be put on its walls, or a whole row of wooden columns to adorn its front; nay, a large shady tree in a door-yard is much more desirable than the most expensive mahogany and velvet sofa in the parlor. Unhappily, our people generally do not yet see things in this light. But time is a very essential element, absolutely indispensable, indeed, in true civilization; and in the course of years we shall, it is to be hoped, learn farther lessons of this kind. Closer observation will reveal to us the beauty and excellence of simplicity, a quality as yet too little valued or understood in this country. And when we have made this farther progress, then we shall take better care of our trees. We shall not be satisfied with setting out a dozen naked saplings before our door, because our neighbor on the left did so last year, nor cut down a whole wood, within a stone's throw of our dwelling, to pay for a Brussels carpet from the same piece as our neighbor's on the right; no, we shall not care a stiver for mere show and parade, in any shape whatever, but we shall look to the general proprieties and fitness of things, whether our neighbors to the right or the left do so or not.
Id., p. 135 (Summer: July 28):
At a particular point in the wilds of Oregon, near the bank of the Columbia River, there stood a single tree of great size, one of the majestic pines of that region, and long known as a landmark to the hunters and emigrants passing over those solitary wastes. One of the expeditions sent out to explore that country by the government, arriving near the point, were on the watch for that pine to guide their course; they looked for it some time, but in vain; at length, reaching the spot where they supposed it ought to have stood—a way-mark in the wilderness—they found the tree lying on the earth. It had been felled, and left there to rot, by some man claiming, no doubt, to be a civilized being. The man who could do such an act would have been worthy to make one of the horde of Attila, barbarians who delighted to level to the ground every object over which their own horses could not leap.
Id., p. 139 (Summer: August 2):
This general fertility, this blending of the fields of man and his tillage with the woods, the great husbandry of Providence, gives a fine character to the country, which it could not claim when the lonely savage roamed through wooded valleys, and which it must lose if ever cupidity, and the haste to grow rich, shall destroy the forest entirely, and leave these hills to posterity, bald and bare, as those of many older lands. No perfection of tillage, no luxuriance of produce can make up to a country for the loss of its forests; you may turn the soil into a very garden crowded with the richest crops, if shorn of wood, like Sampson shorn of his locks, it may wear a florid aspect, but the noblest fruit of the earth, that which is the greatest proof of her strength, will be wanting.
Id., p. 146 (Summer: August 7):
Walked in the Great Meadow. The old trees which bordered this fine field in past years are fast falling before the axe. A few summers back, this was one of the most beautiful meadows in the valley: a broad, grassy lawn of some twenty acres, shut out from the world by a belt of wood sweeping round it in a wide circle; it was favorite ground with some of us, one of those spots where the sweet quiet of the fields, and the deeper calm of the forest, are brought together. On one hand, the trees were of a younger growth, luxuriant and grove-like in aspect, but beyond, the wood rose from the bank of the river in tall, grand columns, of lighter and darker shades of gray. Nothing can be more different than the leafy, bowery border of a common wood, where one scarcely sees the trunks, and the bounds which mark a breach in the ancient forest. The branchless shafts of those aged oaks, pines, chestnuts, hemlocks and ashes, are very impressive objects, forming in such positions a noble forest portal. We have frequently stood upon the highway, perhaps half a mile off, to admire those great trunks lighted up by the sunshine, with which they had so lately made acquaintance; there are few such forest colonnades left in our neighborhood, and this is now falling rapidly before the axeman.
Id., p. 149 (Summer: August 9):
This whole grove was formerly very beautiful, composed chiefly of noble oaks of primeval growth, many of them hung with grape-vines, while a pretty clump of wild roses grew at their feet; some of the vines and many of the rose-bushes are still left, but the trees are falling rapidly. They have been recklessly abused by kindling fires against their trunks, using them as chimney shafts, which of course must destroy them. In this way, oaks that might have stood yet for centuries, with increasing beauty, have been wantonly destroyed. Not a season passes that one does not fall, and within the last few years their number has very sensibly diminished. The spot is but a wreck of what it was.


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