HAROLD W. FAIRBANKS
AUTHOR OF "HOME GEOGRAPHY, STORIES OF OUR MOTHER EARTH," "ROCKS AND MINERALS," "THE WESTERN UNITED STATES," "PRACTICAL PHYSIOGRAPHY," "GEOGRAPHY OF CALIFORNIA," ETC.
ILLUSTRATED WITH PHOTOGRAPHS AND WITH REPRODUCTIONS OF PAINTINGS IN COLOR
YONKERS-ON-HUDSON, NEW YORK
WORLD BOOK COMPANY
WORLD BOOK COMPANY
THE HOUSE OF APPLIED KNOWLEDGE
Established, 1905, by Caspar W. Hodgson
YONKERS-ON-HUDSON, NEW YORK
2126 PRAIRIE AVENUE, CHICAGO
The need for education in the principles of conservation is imperative. As Henry Fairfield Osborn states the matter, "We are yet far from the point where the momentum of conservation is strong enough to arrest and roll back the tide of destruction." The movement for the preservation of natural resources can succeed only with the establishment of an enlightened public sentiment on the subject. To create and maintain such a sentiment is the proper work of the schools. In making this Conservation Reader available for school use, author and publishers have had in mind the great and lasting service that such a text might render. The publishers believe that this little volume and others forthcoming in the Conservation Series will rank high among "Books That Apply the World's Knowledge to the World's Needs"
Copyright, 1920, by World Book Company Copyright in Great Britain All rights reserved
The wave of enthusiasm for the conservation of our national resources must reach the children or it will expend much of its force uselessly.
It is from the education of the children in right ways of looking at Nature that everything is to be expected in the years to come. If they learn to understand the value of the things about them, as well as to appreciate their beauties, the carrying on and enlarging of the conservation program which is now so well under way can be safely left to their care.
The West, although it has already been ruthlessly exploited, has lost less of its natural wealth than have the longer-settled Eastern states.
In the newer parts of our country we can reasonably hope to save most of the forests and most of the wild life, and pass them on down to our children and grandchildren in something of their primeval beauty and richness.
In the East we can hope to arouse a stronger sentiment for preserving what remains of the forests as well as for extending their areas, for proper forestation will lessen the danger of erosion of the soil and of floods, and will encourage the return of the wild creatures that are of so much economic importance and add so much to the joy of life.
A book bringing out in a simple and interesting manner the principles of conservation has long been needed, for there has been little that could be placed in the hands of pupils. It is with the earnest hope of furnishing something which will answer in part the present need that this Conservation Reader has been prepared.
Acknowledgments are due the publishers of American Forestry and the Century Magazine for courteous permission to reprint poems taken from those publications. For their help in supplying photographic subjects to illustrate the book, thanks are extended to the persons to whom the various illustrations are accredited in immediate connection with their use in the text. The reproductions in color of two bird subjects have been secured through the friendly cooeperation of Mr. T. Gilbert Pearson, Secretary of the National Association of Audubon Societies.
CHAPTER PAGE 1. HOW OUR FIRST ANCESTORS LIVED 1 2. HOW OUR NEEDS DIFFER FROM THOSE OF THE FIRST MEN 9 3. THE EARTH AS IT WAS BEFORE THE COMING OF CIVILIZED MEN 18 4. NATURE'S UNEQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF HER GIFTS 25 5. THE LAND OF THE POOR PEOPLE 32 6. WHAT THE MUDDY RIVULET HAS TO SAY 39 7. HOW FAR WILL NATURE RESTORE HER WASTED GIFTS? 44 8. THE SOIL—THE MOST IMPORTANT GIFT OF NATURE 51 9. THINGS OF WHICH SOIL IS MADE 57 10. HOW THE SOIL IS MADE 61 11. HOW VEGETATION HOLDS THE SOIL 67 12. WHAT HAPPENS WHERE THERE IS NO PROTECTING CARPET OF VEGETATION 73 13. THE USE AND CARE OF WATER 81 14. COULD WE GET ALONG WITHOUT THE TREES? 89 15. WHERE HAS NATURE SPREAD THE FOREST? 96 16. WHAT ARE THE ENEMIES OF THE TREES? 104 17. HOW THE FORESTS ARE WASTED 112 18. HOW THE FORESTS SUFFER FROM FIRES 119 19. EVILS THAT FOLLOW THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FORESTS 125 20. HOW OUR GOVERNMENT IS HELPING TO SAVE THE FORESTS 130 21. OUR FOREST PLAYGROUNDS 139 22. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE WILD FLOWERS 144 23. NATURE'S PENALTY FOR INTERFERING WITH HER ARRANGEMENTS 150 24. WHAT SHALL WE DO WHEN THE COAL, OIL, AND GAS ARE GONE? 155 25. NEED FOR PROTECTION OF CREATURES THAT LIVE IN THE WATER 162 26. MAN MORE DESTRUCTIVE THAN THE OTHER ANIMALS 171 27. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE ANIMALS AND BIRDS 176 28. THE TRAGEDIES OF MILADY'S HAT AND CAPE 183 29. THE COURT OF THE ANIMALS AND BIRDS 188 30. THE BIRDS OUR GOOD FRIENDS AND PLEASANT COMPANIONS 195 31. HOW TO BRING THE WILD CREATURES BACK AGAIN 203 INDEX 213
HOW OUR FIRST ANCESTORS LIVED
Before these fields were shorn and tilled Full to the brim our rivers flowed; The melody of waters filled The fresh and boundless woods; And torrents dashed, and rivulets play'd, The fountains spouted in the shade.
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, quoted in American Forestry, XIV. 520
The earth is our home. It is a great treasure house filled with the most wonderful things. Although people have lived on the earth for many thousands of years, they have been very slow in learning the secrets of their treasure house. This is because early men were much like the lower animals. During all these years their minds have been slowly growing. Now we can learn and understand many things which our ancestors of long ago could not.
In habits and appearance the first men that roamed the earth were little different from the other animals except that they walked upright. When they had enough to eat and a home safe from enemies, they seemed perfectly happy and contented.
These early men lived in the same wonderful treasure house as we do, but they did not know how to make use of its riches. In truth, their wants were so few that they would have had no use for the things that now seem so necessary to us. The rich fields about them lay untilled. The gold, silver, copper, and iron in the earth remained undiscovered; and the animals and birds that we now use in so many ways then served them mainly for food.
Since they had no furry coats to keep them warm as do the animals of the cold regions, and had not learned to make clothing, their homes must have been in the warm parts of the earth. While they were without weapons to defend themselves against the lion and tiger, yet they were sharp witted and very quick in their movements and thus were usually able to escape their more powerful enemies.
Although these early ancestors of ours seemed so much like the other animals, they were in reality very different. They had the same keen senses of sight, hearing, and smell, but they were more intelligent.
When the dog and cat have had enough to eat, they lie down perfectly happy and contented. But when early men had had enough to eat, they were often not satisfied. They had other longings which finally led them to make discoveries about the uses of things around them and how to make their lives more comfortable.
The little bear cub, for example, as it grows up learns from its mother just what it should do on all occasions. It learns what its mother knows and that is all. But among the early people of whom we are speaking the children not only learned all that their parents knew, but a little more. In this way each generation of children came to know more about the world.
Thus after many years had passed people came to understand something of the wonderful world in which they lived. They were no longer at the mercy of wild animals, storms, heat, cold, hunger, and disease.
The first people, like the other animals, used only their hands and teeth in hunting and in fighting their enemies. Finally some of the brighter ones discovered that a stick or club served better than the bare hands.
The use of flint knives may have been brought about through some one cutting himself accidentally upon a piece of flint sticking out of the ground. If he happened to be very bright, he would at once see the value of such a piece of stone tied on the end of an arrow or club. By such means, perhaps, implements of wood, bone, and stone came into use.
We have discovered the sites of many of the villages as well as the caves in which the ancient inhabitants of the earth lived. The implements of bone and stone which we have dug up in such places enable us to learn a great deal about their lives.
There was a time when people did not know the use of fire. What a fearful thing fire must have seemed to them, at first. Their knowledge of it probably came from lightning or from hot lava flowing from a volcano. After they had learned to control fire, and to make it by rubbing two sticks together, they must have felt rich indeed. The discovery of fire was one of their greatest triumphs. It kept the cold, damp cave warm and dry, even though it filled their eyes with smoke. It was a means of keeping them safe from the dangerous wild beasts when they had to sleep out in the open. It was useful in cooking their food, and by and by it was to prove valuable in still other ways, when they began to make things as well as to find things.
They began, by and by, to build rude shelters,—huts and wigwams, low houses of dried mud, and dugouts in the hillside. They learned to weave simple coverings out of the fibers of certain plants, or hair or wool, to protect their bodies against the cold and the wet. They learned, somehow, to tan the skins of animals, so that they would not first stretch and grow slippery. They learned to hold things together by sewing, using sharp bones for needles and the sinews of animals or fibers of plants for thread.
How did men discover that they could travel on the water? Some one may at first have made use of a log to cross a river and, afterwards, have tied several logs together, making a raft. When they had learned how to make a canoe out of a log, by burning or hewing it out with rude axes, they could then take long journeys on the water to new lands. Since paddling was very tiresome, some one, brighter than the rest, probably thought of making a sail of bark or skins and so letting the wind push the canoe along.
We do not know how the metals were discovered. Perhaps fire melted some of the copper in a vein of ore. Perhaps pure copper was found, for Nature sometimes leaves it in this form. Copper could be easily hammered into various useful articles, but it was too soft for many needs. After tin was discovered, it was learned that by melting it and copper together a new and very hard metal, known as bronze, was formed. Next, we think, came the discovery of iron, which has become so important that we could not get along without it. Think what this must have meant for them! To get firewood, to make rude boats and simple houses, to fight wild animals, now became easier. After iron they discovered gold and silver, and began to take an interest in making beautiful as well as useful things.
It is easy to see how, once these new ways of using the earth were found, men could move into other regions than the belt where it was always warm. They could store up food for the winter, they could build warm shelters and get warm clothing, and they could sit by a fire.
Sometimes when the first people were out hunting, instead of killing the young animals that they caught, they took them home and cared for them. So the little creatures became quite tame and grew up about the camps. The wild jungle fowls were the ancestors of the domestic hens which we find so useful. The wild cow was tamed in like manner, and made to supply milk in addition to food and clothing. The colts of wild horses and donkeys were captured and used for carrying loads. Sheep and goats were tamed in the same manner, and became the most valued possessions of some of the ancient peoples as they are of some peoples today. When they had learned to weave the wool of these animals into clothing and blankets, they had taken another step upon the long road which leads from ancient times down to us.
Did these early people live entirely upon meat? If they had done so, we should never have had the wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables that we now enjoy so much. We must not suppose that Nature grew these things wild just as they are found in our gardens today. Our ancestors grew them for many generations, gradually improving their size and flavor. By selecting the best and carefully cultivating them, we are still continuing to make them better.
The horse, donkey, cow, and camel proved valuable in another way to the people who were learning to cultivate the ground. When harnessed to a crooked and sharpened stick they aided in breaking up the ground in which the young plants were growing.
And so the long years passed while the early people were discovering and making use of the things around them. They came to building better and more permanent homes, because they did not have to move from place to place in search of food. Where there were forests, wood served for their buildings. Where there were few trees, stone or mud bricks were used.
The brighter people learned to understand Nature more quickly than those who were dull. Each discovery of some new way of doing things aided them in making others, and in this way people finally came to have all the comforts of today. Those people less quick to learn the secrets of Nature, or those who lived in countries to which Nature had given little, gained few comforts and even now remain savage.
After our ancestors had learned to cultivate the soil, to use the minerals and the forests, and had tamed the animals and birds, they were still unsatisfied. They attempted to make the forces of Nature work for them. For a long time people made flour by crushing grain in a mortar. Next, two flat stones were used, one being made to turn upon the other by a handle. After that some animal, such as an ox or a horse, was harnessed to larger stones which, as they slowly turned, ground the grain. This was a great deal of work, and so some one thought of making the water tumbling over a ledge of rock grind the grain for them. The water was made to go over a water wheel. This wheel then made the millstones go around. It was a great deal easier.
Where there was no water power, wind was made to do the same work. A crude windmill gathered the power of the rapidly moving air. After wind and water had been forced to serve them, some one who had seen the lid of a tea kettle dancing up and down, thought of using steam. Then electricity, which in the form of jagged lightning had seemed so fearful a thing to the early people, was harnessed and made the greatest servant of all the forces of Nature.
The discovery of powder led to the making of guns so destructive that dozens of birds could be killed at one shot.
Some people became greedy and used all these wonderful discoveries to rob Nature. It seemed as if in some places all the wild life would be destroyed. Fires were allowed to burn the forest unhindered. The soil was made to produce crops until it grew poor.
If we become selfish and indifferent and neglect to care for the treasures which Nature has placed in our hands, very serious things will happen to us, as they have happened to other people. How to use the storehouse of Nature without wasting or destroying these treasures is what we mean by conservation.
HOW OUR NEEDS DIFFER FROM THOSE OF THE FIRST MEN
We have seen that the first men, like the other animals, depended upon the food that Nature supplied them, and when this was lacking they went hungry. When men had learned the use of fire they took the first step in making Nature serve them better than she did the lower animals. Today she works for us in so many ways that we can hardly name them all.
After the use of fire the next thing that men learned was to make better homes, to tame some of the wild animals, and to raise a part of their food supplies, instead of depending entirely upon what they could pick up here and there.
As the number of people increased, the question of securing food became more and more important. Would it not seem pretty hard to have to go out and hunt for your breakfast in the woods, or fields, or along the water? If you were alone you might find enough to eat, but if there were thousands of other people doing the same thing, you would probably go hungry. For this reason people began to cultivate berries, fruits, roots, and grains, and to take better care of their herds.
Living as they did, in those parts of the world where the climate was warm, they usually found an abundance of food. But when these places became too crowded, and some of them had to move to new regions, they often found less food and a climate not always comfortable.
In this way people spread into the colder and drier parts of the earth. The need for things which they did not have there sharpened the wits of these people. It led to one discovery after another. New needs were felt and new ways of satisfying them were sought. They kept finding out more about Nature and how she works. After many years they knew much more and were also far more comfortable than those people who continued to live where Nature supplied everything.
There are now so many more people on the earth than there were long ago that to furnish them all with food is a very great task. Besides, there are now many people engaged in work other than farming, hunting, and fishing. All such people have to be provided for by those whose business it is to get food. People of the great cities are dependent upon those in the country for all that they eat! We can picture to ourselves the suffering that would follow if for only one week every one had to get his own food.
We need many things that the first people thought nothing about, because their manner of life was so much simpler than ours. Let us see now what they are.
We live in tightly closed houses, and so have less trouble in keeping warm and dry. But we do not always get the supply of fresh air that we need. Many of us are sickly and weak because of this. Our ancestors lived in the open air, which is always pure and fresh. A supply of pure air, then, is one of the things that we must now provide for.
People once gave no thought to the purity of the water that they drank. When there were few people, water did not easily become impure. One could drink water wherever one found it and there was small risk of harm. Now in many places there are so many thousands of people gathered together that they have to take the greatest care about drinking water, in order to keep in good health. To get pure water it is often necessary to bring it many miles from mountainous regions where no one lives.
Clothing is another thing that concerns us very much. Our ancestors were not troubled about their clothing. In the warm countries they went almost naked. Where it was cold the skins of animals served very well. Changes of fashion did not disturb them and cause them to throw away warm covering. To supply ourselves now with clothing we call upon Nature for many things. As she cannot, without our help, furnish what we need, we have to keep a great number of flocks, for their wool and skins, and cultivate vast fields of cotton and flax.
When Nature raised in her own way the berries, grains, and roots that the first men ate, no thought was given to the soil in which these things grew. In truth, it was not necessary to pay any attention to the soil. Nature is very careful in her way and never makes the soil poor by growing more plants than it can support. In her own gardens she always renews the foods in the soil which the plants require as fast as they take them away.
The needs of men have increased so fast that the soil has often been forced to grow more than it ought. Men have been a long time in learning that they cannot keep on growing the same crops on the same soil year after year without supplying to the soil extra foods, or fertilizers, as we call them. The care of the soil is another thing to which we have to give attention, but which did not worry our ancestors.
Nature clothes the earth with a carpet of grasses, bushes, or trees. When the rain falls on the ground, their roots hold the soil so firmly that it usually washes away only very slowly. When men first began to cultivate the soil, they paid no attention to the fact that water washes away the loose earth very easily. In this loose earth at the top of the ground is stored most of the food which the plants require. Care of the surface of the ground is, then, another thing which we have to keep in mind.
Men at first made shelters for themselves from anything that was at hand, such as bark, skins, rock, or earth. When they learned to make sharp-edged tools, they began to use trees. Where it is cold, much wood is required to build warm houses. As the numbers of men increased, they used greater and greater quantities of wood. Wood also proved to be most useful for many other purposes than house building. In order to plant larger fields the trees were cut down or burned off, without thought of doing any harm. In time trees became scarce in many parts of the world and men began to realize that care must be used or the supply of wood might fail them.
Coal was finally discovered and men said, "Now we have something that will last always, for there must be an inexhaustible amount in the earth beneath our feet. All that we shall have to do is to dig it out." When men grew wiser they learned that coal must not be used carelessly any more than the other gifts of Nature; otherwise the supply may give out and leave them with nothing to take its place.
Hunting and fishing continued to be the business of many. They invented destructive weapons with which they were able to kill such large numbers of wild creatures that some kinds disappeared entirely. Fish, also, of which people thought the sea and the rivers contained a never failing supply, became scarcer. They did not know that fish live mostly in the shallow waters along shores, and that the great ocean depths contain very few.
Thus, as the earth became thickly settled with men and their wants increased, they discovered that they had to treat Nature in a very different way from that of their early ancestors.
Because of our great numbers we have to be careful not to use the earth in such a way as to lessen its fertility and productiveness. Where people have been careless, famine has often resulted. Poverty and suffering have come to many parts of the earth, as we shall learn farther along in this little book.
THE CITY ON THE PLAIN
Strange indeed were the sounds I heard One day, on the side of the mountain: Hushed was the stream and silent the bird, The restless wind seemed to hold its breath, And all things there were as still as death, Save the hoarse-voiced god of the mountain.
Through the tangled growth, with a hurried stride, I saw him pass on the mountain, Thrusting the briers and bushes aside, Crackling the sticks and spurning the stones, And talking in loud and angry tones On the side of the ancient mountain.
The tips of his goatlike ears were red, Though the day was cool on the mountain, And they lay close-drawn to his horned head; His bushy brows o'er his small eyes curled, And he stamped his hoofs,—for all the world Like Pan in a rage on the mountain.
"Where are my beautiful trees," he cried, "That grew on the side of the mountain? The stately pines that were once my pride, My shadowy, droop-limbed junipers: And my dewy, softly whispering firs, 'Mid their emerald glooms on the mountain?
"They are all ravished away," he said, "And torn from the arms of the mountain, Away from the haunts of cooling shade, From the cloisters green which flourished here— My lodging for many a joyous year On the side of the pleasant mountain.
"The songbird is bereft of its nest, And voiceless now is the mountain. My murmurous bees once took their rest, At shut of day, and knew no fear, In the trees whose trunks lie rotting here On the side of the ruined mountain.
"Man has let in the passionate sun To suck the life-blood of the mountain, And drink up its fountains one by one: And out of the immortal freshness made A thing of barter, and sold in trade The sons of the mother mountain.
"Down in the valley I see a town, Built of his spoils from my mountain— A jewel torn from a monarch's crown, A grave for the lordly groves of Pan: And for this, on the head of vandal man, I hurl a curse from the mountain.
"His palpitant streams shall all go dry Henceforth on the side of the mountain, And his verdant plains as a desert lie Until he plants again the forest fold And restores to me my kingdom old, As in former days on the mountain.
"Long shall the spirit of silence brood On the side of the wasted mountain, E'er out of the sylvan solitude To lift the curse from off the plain, The crystal streams pour forth again From the gladdened heart of the mountain."
MILLARD F. HUDSON, in American Forestry, XIV. 42
THE EARTH AS IT WAS BEFORE THE COMING OF CIVILIZED MEN
For ages, on the silent forest here, Thy beams did fall before the red man came To dwell beneath them; in their shade the deer Fed, and feared not the arrow's deadly aim. Nor tree was felled, in all that world of woods, Save by the beaver's tooth, or winds, or rush of floods.
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, A Walk at Sunset
The earth has not always been as it is now. Those parts now possessed by the more civilized peoples have been very greatly changed. If we could look back and see some of the countries as they were long ago, we should hardly know them. In certain lands the forests have been cut down, the wild creatures driven away, and the soil so carelessly cultivated that it has become poor. In other lands Nature's gifts have been carefully used; even the barren deserts have been turned into green fields and blooming gardens for hundreds of miles.
Let us try to picture to ourselves how our own country looked when white men first found and explored it. A few hundred years ago it was the home of wild animals and Indians only. We have been given our freedom in one of the richest of Nature's gardens, and, like so many children, have tried to see who could gather the most treasures from it. We have given little attention to keeping up the garden.
If you have been in some part of the country that is still wild and unsettled, it will help you to form a picture of how the entire land once looked. If you have been in one of our great natural parks, this will be a better help. In these parks everything remains just as Nature made it. There the animals, birds, and plants are free to live their lives unmolested. Is it not a good thing that our government has been wise enough to have large tracts of land left in just the condition in which the whole country was when our ancestors first came?
We will think of our whole land, then, as a great wild park, rich in all kinds of animal and plant life. It was not an altogether happy family that lived in this park, for all were struggling for food, drink, and sunshine. But as none were possessed of such deadly weapons as those of civilized man, no one kind of animal was able to kill off all of any other kind.
Neither the Indians in their wigwams, nor the wild animals in their lairs, nor the birds singing in the trees, nor the ducks quacking in the marshes dreamed of the change that was coming to their homes. They did not dream of civilized man with his terrible weapons and his many needs, who was to change the whole appearance of the country and nearly or quite exterminate many of them.
The life of the Indians was almost as simple as that of the lower animals. Their clothing required little care. Their homes were easily made. Some of them had learned to cultivate the soil, but they depended mainly upon food obtained by hunting, and such roots, berries, and nuts as the women could collect. If we could have looked down on our land as the bird does, we should have seen little sign of human inhabitants. There were no roads or bridges, and only indistinct trails led from one village to another.
In the far Southwest there were people quite different from those of whom we have been speaking. They were called the Pueblo Indians. In Mexico there were similar people called the Aztecs. All these Indians still live in permanent stone villages, as they did a thousand years ago. They learned more about Nature than the wandering Indians, but we do not believe they would ever become civilized if left to themselves.
The only animal that the Indians had tamed was the wolf. They made little use of the wolf-dog except in the far North, where it drew their sleds over the snow.
Some of the Indians of our country once knew of the use of copper, but it had been forgotten when white men first came.
All about the Indians was the same world that surrounds us. In truth, it was a richer world in some ways, for since then many of its treasures have been lost through greed and waste.
The rich soil of the valleys was almost undisturbed. The forests were uncut save for an occasional tree used in making a canoe or a rude cabin. The forests suffered only at the hands of the insects, storms, and fires. The flowers that covered the ground in spring went ungathered. The vast grassy prairies were disturbed only by the feeding of such animals as the buffalo, elk, deer, and antelope.
A single great forest spread over all the mountains and valleys of the eastern part of our country. Now you can travel for many miles in the more thickly settled portions of this region and see not a single tree of the original forest.
To the west of the forest came the prairies and plains. Still farther west came lofty mountains and desert valleys. On these Western mountains were other forests with trees of wonderful size.
This great natural park, with its long seacoasts, rivers, lakes, marshes, dense woods, and open plains, was a paradise for wild creatures of every description, and the Indian was contented to leave it so.
Grizzly and black bears roamed the thickets. Elk wandered through the mountains and valleys. Deer were abundant everywhere. The antelope raced over the plains, mountain goats and sheep lived among the rocks, and moose filled the Northern woods. Great herds of buffalo darkened the surface of the plains. When the first railroad was built across the plains, less than fifty years ago, the trains were sometimes stopped by herds of buffalo crossing the track.
Most of the songbirds that filled the country then are still with us, for they were of little commercial value to the hunter. No other land has richer bird music than ours. Many of the birds that are valuable for food are, however, nearly extinct. Now we have laws for their protection, but these laws went into effect too late to save some species. The passenger pigeon is one of our greatest losses.
The cutting down of the vast forests that once covered the Eastern states, and the cultivation of fields, has helped to drive many of the wild creatures away. We are just beginning to learn how poor our country would be if we lost them all. Refuges are being established in many places, where those birds and animals most in danger of extinction may live safe from the hunter.
The coast waters, lakes, and streams of our country were once alive with fish. The Indians made use of them, but their rude traps did not catch enough to affect the number seriously. We have fished with every kind of trap that the brightest fisherman could think of. Many important food fishes are now very much reduced in numbers. The fur seal and sea otter are so nearly gone that only the most watchful protection will save them from extinction.
The land, as the Indian knew it, was beautiful, and was filled with everything that one could wish. But the Indian did not know how to use it. He lived a poor life, suffering from cold and hunger.
We came into the possession of a land unspoiled by its primitive inhabitants. It was just as Nature made it. In a few short years we have almost exterminated the Indian. We have swept away a large part of the forests. We have almost destroyed many of the species of animals and birds. We have robbed the soil and injured the flow of the rivers. Some of this loss we could not help, for when many millions of people occupy a land there must be many changes. But for the losses that we have needlessly and carelessly caused we shall sometime be sorry.
Do you not think we are wise in seeking how to take better care of this land of ours?
IN THE HEART OF THE WOODS
Such beautiful things in the heart of the woods! Flowers and ferns and the soft green moss; Such love of the birds in the solitudes, Where the swift winds glance and the treetops toss; Spaces of silence swept with song, Which nobody hears but the God above; Spaces where myriad creatures throng, Sunning themselves in his guarding love.
Such safety and peace in the heart of the woods! Far from the city's dust and din, Where passion nor hate nor man intrudes, Nor fashion nor folly has entered in. Deeper than hunter's trail hath gone Glimmers the tarn where the wild deer drink; And fearless and free comes the gentle fawn, To peep at herself o'er the grassy brink.
Such pledges of love in the heart of the woods! For the Maker of all things keeps the feast, And over the tiny flowers broods With care that for ages has never ceased. If he cares for this, will he not for thee— Thee, wherever thou art today? Child of an infinite Father, see; And safe in such gentlest keeping stay.
MARGARET E. SANGSTER, in American Forestry, XIV
NATURE'S UNEQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF HER GIFTS
Pure, fresh air is free to all of us, for, like an ocean, it surrounds the whole earth. We need pure water just as much as we do pure air, but it is not always easy to get. A large part of the earth is buried beneath water so salt that we cannot use it. Other parts of the earth are so dry that if we venture into them we may die of thirst. The solid land on which we make our homes is not all of the same value. Thousands of square miles are so rocky or so cold or so dry that they support no living thing. Other thousands of miles of the earth have been so favored by Nature that they are fairly alive with every sort of creature.
We say that a country is rich in natural resources when it has an abundance of those things that men need or can make use of for their pleasure and comfort. A country is poor when it has few of these things.
The first men were poor, although they lived in a rich part of the earth. They did not know how to make use of what lay around them. If civilized men are poor now, it is because they have wasted Nature's gifts or because they live in a country upon which she has bestowed little.
When we say that the far North where the Eskimos live is a dreary, desolate region, we mean that it lacks most of those things necessary to make men comfortable and happy. When we read of the life of the wandering Arabs in the desert of Arabia, we think of a country to which Nature has not given its share.
When we speak of Spain as poor, we have in mind a country once favored by Nature, but no longer prosperous because its resources have been wasted. Our own land is now rich and prosperous because of the abundance of its natural resources. We should guard these well lest we meet a fate similar to that of the people of Spain.
If we journey over our own land, we shall discover that Nature has been very partial to certain parts, giving them more than they need. Other parts have been left with little. We shall also discover what wonderful things men are doing to make up for the failures of Nature, and to make habitable many of those places which she left uninhabitable.
The forests of the eastern half of the country have been thinned out. West of the Mississippi River there are thousands of square miles of prairies where there are almost no trees. In such places the first settlers had difficulty in getting firewood, and had to build their houses of earth or stone.
Upon the northwest coast there is fog and rain and little sunshine. There the forests grow so dense that it is difficult to travel through them. In the deserts of the Southwest the sun shines out of a cloudless sky almost every day in the year. The ground becomes very dry and the living things found there have strange and curious habits.
In the Central and Eastern states there is much coal; and because of this, millions of people have gathered there to engage in manufacturing. In California coal is scarce and has to be brought from other parts of the earth.
The vast prairies of the Mississippi Valley are covered with fields of waving grain, much of which is shipped to distant regions. In New England much of the soil is rocky and not enough grain is raised there to supply the needs of the population.
The work that people do in different places is determined by the way in which Nature has distributed her resources. The farmers are mostly found in the valleys where the soil is best. Cattle are pastured on those lands not suited to farming. The miners go to the mountains, where they can more easily find the minerals they are after. The lumberman finds his work where the climate favors the growth of forest trees. The manufacturer seeks the waterfalls, where there is power to turn his mills.
Now let us try to discover in how far we can change Nature's plan and make habitable those places which she left uninhabitable. There are some things which we cannot do. We cannot make the air warmer or colder. We cannot cause rain to fall even though the fields are parched with drought. We cannot stop the rain falling, and we cannot stop the winds blowing.
While we cannot stop the water falling from the clouds, we can drain the lowlands and marshes and so make them fit for the farmer. We can raise great dikes or embankments along the rivers and so shut out the flood waters. The people of Holland have saved thousands of acres from the sea by building dikes and pumping out the water from the inclosed fields.
While we cannot make it rain where not enough rain falls, we can do that which is just as good or better: we can carry water by ditches and pipes to the land that needs it. Much of the soil of the great deserts in the southwestern part of our country is rich in plant food. All that it lacks is water.
The Indian roamed over the rich lands of the great delta of the Colorado River. He often went hungry and thirsty. He did not think of taking the water out of the river in a ditch and allowing it to flow over and wet the rich soil. The white man came and turned the river out of its channel and spread the water over hundreds of square miles of the richest land on the earth. Now, where once you would have died of thirst and hunger, there are green fields and growing crops as far as you can see.
The city of Los Angeles is situated in a dry region where there is not water enough for the needs of a great city. There has now been completed a great aqueduct which brings a river of water through deserts and mountains from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, over two hundred miles away. There is now sufficient water for hundreds of thousands of people.
When it rains too much, many rivers rise and overflow their banks. The farmer's crops are destroyed, his cattle drowned, and his buildings washed away. We can lessen the danger from these floods, which are very bad in such river basins as those of the Ohio and Mississippi, by building reservoirs in the highlands where the rivers take their start. If when summer comes these rivers are too shallow for safe navigation, the reservoirs can be opened and the streams supplied with this stored water.
The lack of trees upon the prairies was once a serious matter for the settler. We must not think, however, that because Nature placed no trees on the prairies that trees will not grow there. She may not have had handy the seed of the kind suitable for such dry lands. Our government has found in the dry regions of other countries trees that will grow upon our prairies. In their own home these trees had become used to a dry climate like that of our prairies.
Steep canons and cliffs of rock once kept people, living on the opposite sides of mountain ranges, from becoming acquainted with one another. Our ancestors were afraid to venture out on the boundless oceans with their small, frail boats. Because of this the continent that we live on long remained unknown. Those who first found it, the ancestors of the present Indians, came here by accident. Storms probably blew their boats across the North Pacific Ocean, and thus they found a new home. Now railroads enable us to cross the deserts in perfect comfort. Tunnels have been made through the mountains, so that we can go easily from one valley to another. Boats of giant size carry us safely and quickly across the stormy oceans. Nature did not intend us to fly through the air or swim beneath the water, but we are learning so much about her laws that we shall soon be almost as much at home in the air and the sea as the birds and fish are.
THE LAND OF THE POOR PEOPLE
My squandered forests, hacked and hewed, Are gone; my rivers fail; My stricken hillsides, stark and nude, Stand shivering in the gale. Down to the sea my teeming soil In yellow torrents goes; The guerdon of the farmer's toil With each year lesser grows.
ROBERT M. REESE, The Spendthrift; quoted in American Forestry, XIV. 269
This is the story of a land of plenty that became almost a desert. Long ago there dwelt in this land a people wise in all the things that concerned their home. Through many hard years of toil and struggle they had learned to take the very best care of what Nature had given them. Although Nature seemed to them to be wasteful, she punished waste in her children. As long as they obeyed, they had comfortable homes, fertile fields, and sleek herds.
The country of which we are speaking was very beautiful. There were lofty mountains and broad, fertile valleys. Many streams, fed by clear, cool springs, flowed through the land. There were also green meadows and deep, dark forests.
The forests contained many wild animals, for in the forests the animals found both food and protection. Birds of every sort abounded, and their music filled the air. Trees overhung the streams, shading them from the hot sun, so that they did not dry up in the summer. The springs never failed, for the carpet of leaves and decaying vegetation underneath the trees of the forests held much of the rainwater from running away, so that it sank into the ground. Instead of making floods in the rivers, it fed the springs gradually and steadily through the long, dry summers.
The people of this land had learned the secrets of the growing plants and how these plants could be made better by cultivation. They had also learned to tame the wild animals and make them useful. The farms were managed with great care so that they never grew poor. The soil never refused to grow their crops. The people had learned during their earlier years of struggle that they must not clear the forests from the hillsides, for, if they did, the soil would begin to wash away. They had learned that they must leave the forests on the mountains in order to save the springs.
Rain did not always come when it was needed for the crops, and at other times it rained too much. Reservoirs were built to hold the surplus water for use in time of drought. Canals were dug to carry it to the fields.
The wild animals and birds bothered the crops, and the first thought of the people was to kill them. But it was soon discovered that this was not wise. Those who destroyed the wild creatures about their farms began to suffer from rats, mice, rabbits, and a multitude of little insects that all but devoured the crops.
It did not take these people long to learn that Nature was not to be trifled with. If they took too much from the earth one year, she made them pay for it the next. They not only became wise enough to take care of every good thing that Nature had given them, but improved upon many things that she had left unsuited to their use.
Thus the land was kept beautiful and fertile. The inhabitants became rich, and, instead of fearing Nature as they once did, they came to love the rocks, the woods, the streams, and the wild creatures.
Let us now leave this rich and fertile land and come back to it after hundreds of years have passed. We find a new people living there and the country so changed that we can hardly believe it is the same land.
Yet it must be the same, for there are the very mountains that were there long ago. To be sure, they do not look just as they did. When we last saw them they were covered with forests, but now they are barren and scarred with many gulches. Here is the same river, but it also looks different. While it was once overhung with trees and its waters were so clear that we could see the fish in the bottom, it now has a broad, sandy bed; the trees are gone, and the water is shallow and muddy.
The new inhabitants of this land have a tired and discouraged appearance. They have a hard struggle to get enough to eat. The soil is rocky, and it takes much labor to raise the scanty crops. They never seem able to gather all the rocks from the fields, for the soil washes away and new ones are constantly uncovered.
Where are the forests that once grew here? We find in their stead only a few stunted trees and bushes. There is little grass and almost no flowers, even in spring. Sheep and cattle wander far for their forage and do not have the sleek appearance they once did.
There are few wild creatures of any sort, for since there are no woods there are few hiding places. Neither do we see any birds, and we listen in vain for a song or note of any kind.
The houses are made of mud or stone and look cold and cheerless. The people must suffer from cold in winter. The only wood they have is small brush which the women and children gather upon the far hills and bring home in huge bundles upon their backs.
In the towns of this country the only fuel now to be had is charcoal. This is brought upon the backs of burros from the distant mountains, where the few remaining trees give work to charcoal burners. The charcoal is peddled through the streets and sold in tiny quantities at each door. The people are too poor to buy much at a time and are very careful in its use. It is burned in a metal or earthen dish called a brazier, and a double handful may last a family a whole day.
Rains still fall in this country of the Poor People, as they did long ago. But the waters gather quickly upon the unprotected slopes and run off in muddy torrents, taking along some of the soil. Thus each succeeding year there is less plant food for the crops.
How did this country, once rich and fruitful, become so barren? We are sure from what we know of Nature's ways that she is not the cause of the trouble. Through greed and ignorance of how to take care of their land the present inhabitants have wasted and squandered its wealth until it has become almost a desert.
We can do things with Nature, and direct many of her forces so that they will work for our good. We cannot, however, as we have learned, change the amount of rain that falls, nor can we make it warmer or colder.
How, then, are these poor people to blame for the condition of their country? The troubles which overtook them came from two things. In the first place they did not know how to take care of their rich land, and in the second place they were greedy and wanted to become wealthy faster than they ought.
Why does the rain, which once made this country fruitful, now wash away the soil and make it barren? It is because in those earlier times much of the land was covered with cool forests. The rain then fell more gently because of the forests. More of it soaked into the ground and the springs were larger. Now the rains are delayed by the hot air of the thirsty land until, when they finally do come, the water falls in torrents. Such rains or cloudbursts, as we often call them, carry away the unprotected soil faster than Nature can renew it.
The strangers in the land, under whose rule it became poor, thought they knew better than Nature. They did not look upon her as the great wise mother of them all. Soon after these people came into possession of the land, they found that in other places there was a demand for their grain, cattle, and wool. They began to increase their fields and herds. To do this it was necessary to cut down the forests which had stood so long. It seemed to them too bad to leave valuable land covered only with trees.
The people began to look askance at the birds, for they thought they were eating too much grain. Because they did not know what good the little creatures were doing, they killed them. Since most of the birds nested in trees, they got rid of them faster by cutting down the trees.
The steep hillsides were finally cleared of trees and the soil began to wash, and the rocks soon appeared. No plant food was given to the soil to replace that taken by the growing plants, and the crops soon began to show the effect of starvation. The cattle began to suffer for lack of food. They ate the grass down so closely that much of it was killed.
The rainwater, instead of feeding the springs, now ran swiftly away. The clear, steady rivers turned to muddy floods during the rainy season. They swept through the valleys, washing away houses and crops. In the summer they dried up so that the fish died.
When these people at last discovered their mistake, they strove by hard labor to repair the damage which they had done through years of ignorance and greed. This was such slow, difficult work that the land still remains a dreary place in which to live. It is known as the Land of the Poor People.
WHAT THE MUDDY RIVULET HAS TO SAY
Would you like to know something about what I am doing? Would you like to know why my waters are yellow with mud? I am accused of being a noisy, roistering fellow, of robbing people of their wealth and of doing all sorts of wicked deeds. But, worst of all, I am accused of carrying away the tiny particles of soil in which the plants find their food and of dropping them in the depths of the sea.
Perhaps, when you really understand my work, you will say that I have no evil intentions at all. I am only one of Nature's servants. Each one of us has a work to do. Sometimes we have to do things that seem to be bad, but that is because some one on the earth has broken Nature's laws.
Nature has many servants. To each one of us is given a different kind of work. I am the great leveler of the land. No mountain is too great or too high for me to tear down. I can carry it all away grain by grain and leave it in the lowlands or in the sea. Many mountains I have destroyed so completely that you would hardly believe they ever existed. Long before there were any animals and men on the earth I was busy, and I shall be busy when they are all gone.
The farmer believes me his enemy, but if I do injure his fields it is because I cannot help it. The work that has been given me to do is the carrying away of the loose earth wherever I can find it. If the farmer does not want his hillsides made poor, he should take care of them.
The farmer does not know that he has me to thank for the richest of his lands, those lands where the soil is deep and dark, and filled with plant food. I and my brother rivulets have been thousands of years in collecting the soil which forms the fertile lowlands in the valleys through which we flow. We all unite to form the mighty river which finally ends in the sea.
Upon all the slopes which drain toward the river we rivulets are at work. Other servants of Nature are working here. Some of them are making the rocks soften and fall apart. Others are bringing seeds of the grasses and trees that they may take root in the crumbling rock. It is their business to make a carpet of plants over the earth and thus stop my work. But wherever the slopes are steep we rivulets have our way. We pick up and carry away the particles of sand and clay so that only the bare, hard rocks remain.
When the steep slopes become gentle, and we can no longer carry away all the particles of crumbled rock, then the carpet of plants spreads over the surface. Now our waters become clear. We seem like different beings. Once in a while, when the rains fall very heavily, some of us break through the protecting carpet and dig great hollows and gullies into the earth.
Would you like to know how we rivulets get rid of the load we carry from the mountain slopes? When we are muddy and swollen with the heavy rains, we turn the river into a flood. The river then breaks its banks and spreads out over all the lowlands along its course. Now the river flows more slowly and drops a part of the sand and mud which we rivulets brought to it. Finally, when the storm is over and the river goes back into its channel, there is left on the surface of the valleys a layer of earth rich in plant food. We brought the river the finest of the rock particles, together with the leaves and stems of plants that lay in our way.
As year after year we made the river overflow, the soil of the lowlands grew deeper and deeper until it became as you see it today. Now the slopes about the head of the river are not so steep as they were once. Our waters do not run away so rapidly and the river seldom overflows. Thus the farmer can use the land for his crops, which grow so luxuriantly that he is envied by his less fortunate neighbors who live upon the hills.
Upon the slopes about the valleys we rivulets did not leave so much soil. The farther one goes up the slopes the thinner one finds the soil, until at the top the bare rock may appear.
But our work, says the muddy rivulet, was not finished with the making of the fertile valley lands. We carried a part of our load of sand and mud on to the mouth of the river. Here in the bay into which the river empties we began another great task. It seemed hopeless at first to try to turn the bay into dry land, but year after year we kept at work, through a time so long that I have forgotten when we began. At last we succeeded in bringing so much material to the bay that the waters became shallow. Then the soft mud began to show itself when the water was low. At last the water was replaced by dry land, which appeared much like the lowlands which we had made along the river.
Now you who think we muddy rivulets do only harm see what we have accomplished. We have built a great delta of the richest land that extends away on every hand as level as a floor and almost as far as you can see. The soil of the delta is hundreds of feet deep and the richest to be found on the whole earth. It is on such river deltas that the first civilized men made their homes, and became rich and powerful.
Now I have told you what Nature has appointed the muddy rivulets to do. Is not the good that we do far greater than the harm? When we do harm it is because people have not learned how, or have not tried, to obey Nature's laws. If we make people poor, it is their own fault.
We still find much to do upon the earth. Nature is still making mountains which we have to tear down. We are still building deltas which will sometime be inhabited by rich and prosperous people. We do not willingly spoil the lands of the farmers on the hills and make them labor hard for a living.
In those happy lands where people understand Nature we rivulets have a different kind of work to do. We become pure and clear. We furnish a home for the fish, drink for the thirsty flocks, and a never-failing power to turn the mill wheels. Our waters are of service to every living thing.
HOW FAR WILL NATURE RESTORE HER WASTED GIFTS?
The natural wealth of our country is its soil, water, forests, minerals, animal and bird life, and, finally, its climate and scenery.
Of all these, climate and scenery are the only ones which we can use and enjoy as much as we like without any danger of their ever failing us. The sun will shine through the blue sky, the winds will blow, and the storms will come just the same, no matter what we may do.
Did you ever think how long a time it has taken to make the wonderful world in which we live, and place upon it the mountains and valleys, lakes and oceans? Did you ever think how long a time it has taken to make the rocks and store away in them gold, silver, copper, and iron? Did you ever think how long a time it has taken to cover the rocks with soil, and spread over the surface the flowers and trees and to stock it with uncounted numbers of animals and birds?
Nature usually works very slowly, but she never rests. The earth and all things on its surface, have always been changing, but changing so slowly that we do not ordinarily notice what is going on. When there is an earthquake, or a slide of rock on a mountain side, or an eruption of a volcano, we are astonished and often terrified.
Stories that have come down to us from the distant past tell us that the earth looked then much the same as it does now. If we could look away back to a time long before the first men lived, when even the animals and plants were different from those around us, we should discover that the surface of the earth was quite different from that of today. We should then see mountains and hills where now we find valleys, and dry land where now lies the blue ocean.
Nature has been such a long time making the beautiful world in which we live, that we ought to treat it with great consideration. It is also a wise thing for us to be heedful of her requests, for, if we will work with her, the earth with all its treasures will be at our command.
Shall we not now seek to learn which of the natural resources of our land will never be replaced if we squander them? Let us also learn which may be made good again by Nature, if we are willing to wait long enough, as well as to assist her in her slow work.
Each year the growing plants take certain substances from the soil. It is necessary for us to put back like substances if we would keep up the fertility of the soil. If we are neglectful of this law, or allow water to wash the soil away until only the bare rocks remain, poverty will be our lot for many years.
Nature will, however, if we give her a chance, renew the soil. The rocks will crumble and, by and by, seeds will sprout and tiny plants obtain a foothold. But it may take a whole lifetime, or hundreds of years, even, for a new and fertile soil to come again.
During the early years of placer mining in California thousands of acres of rich lands in the foothills were destroyed. Only boulders were left. Now fifty years have passed and a new soil is being formed, but it will be a long time yet before it will be as good as it was in the first place.
Upon the Western prairies only grain has been raised for so many years that in many places the soil will scarcely grow a crop worth gathering. Many farmers have never thought of this, but the wise ones understand that they must frequently add plant food to the soil to replace that taken by crops. They understand also that it is a good thing to change the crops grown upon any particular field from year to year, since different plants take different substances from the soil.
Water goes through a ceaseless round. It rises from the sea and lakes to form the clouds, falls as rain or snow, and then flows back down the slopes to the sea. Although we have learned that we cannot change the quantity of rain that falls in any place, we can influence the way in which it runs back to the sea. This in turn affects the lives of people. We can store water in reservoirs, and by building canals have it to use on the land during the summer. We can also keep it from flowing back to the sea as rapidly as it otherwise would, by leaving uninjured the covering of vegetation which has been spread over the mountain slopes. The water will run from bare rocks and bare soil much more quickly than it will from soil that is covered with leaf mold and held by plant roots. Do you not see, then, that we have almost as much control over water and its distribution as though we could increase or decrease the rainfall?
What about the forests? If we cut them down, will they ever come back? All through the eastern part of our country and in the mountains of the West are lands once forested which have been cleared and turned into farms. Many of these farms, when abandoned, have in a few years been covered with a growth of young trees. The scattering trees that had been left in the vicinity of the clearings furnished the seed. The winds and the birds carried the seed to the open fields and so the forests began again.
It will be hundreds of years before the trees are as large and valuable as those of the first forest. The "big trees" of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are found nowhere else in the world, for they are the last of their race. Some of these trees are more than 4000 years old. They stood here when our forefathers were still savages and lived in trees or caves. Much of the region where these trees are found has now been reserved as a park. If the lumberman had been allowed to get at them, they would have soon been gone forever.
It is far more difficult to destroy completely most of the species of forest trees than it is to destroy the species of animals and birds. We can cut down the trees and in some cases they will grow again from sprouts. Many will hide away in remote places and furnish seed for new forests.
The animals as well as the plants have had a long history. They have had a harder struggle than the plants, because many of them prey upon one another. We often dig up the skeletons of strange animals unlike any now living. These must have all been killed long ago. Each species or kind of animal now living must have come off victorious in the struggle with its enemies.
Does it not seem a heartless thing for us, who call ourselves civilized, to destroy so completely any species of animal or plant that not one of its kind remains alive? No species which we destroy will ever come back again, and its place will always remain empty. There are a few predatory animals and birds that destroy vast numbers of useful ones. We should keep these in check by every means in our power, but for our thoughtless destruction of the valuable ones the world will always be poorer.
What of the mineral treasures hidden away in the earth? Will these be replaced when once they have all been used up? It took Nature a very long time to make coal out of the vegetation which had gathered in some ancient swamp. It took her fully as long to make the oil and gas from the bodies of the little organisms that once lived in the sea.
The bodies of the little creatures from which oil is made are still gathering upon the bottom of the sea, and there are many swamps where we find vegetation and peat accumulating. But it is a long story from these substances to oil and coal. I am afraid we should get tired of waiting for Nature to make a new supply.
Gold, silver, copper, and other minerals, so useful to us, are found in very small quantities scattered throughout most of the solid rocks of the earth. It would be impossible for us to obtain these from rocks, because there is so little in any one place. But Nature has collected a part of them in veins in the rocks. We sink shafts upon these veins and mine the ores. It will be a long time before we shall have mined all there is of these minerals. Because they are so hard to get we are not likely to waste them. But it is quite certain that there is a limit to the supply of mineral treasures, and equally certain that they can be renewed either very, very slowly, or not at all. Shall we cause our remote descendants to suffer for our carelessness?
THE SOIL—THE MOST IMPORTANT GIFT OF NATURE
An ancient story tells us that men were made from the dust of the earth. This dust under our feet, which soils our shoes, this dust which the wind sometimes sweeps along in blinding clouds, is indeed precious. The delicate tissues of our bodies are made from the food we eat. If it be plant food, it comes directly from the soil. If it be meat or eggs or milk, it comes from animals which live upon the plants, that in turn got their nourishment from the soil.
This soft, dark substance which covers the rocky skeleton of the earth we call the soil. How common and cheap it looks when it is placed by the side of a piece of gold! But how much more wonderful it would seem if we could know all about it. The soil is far more necessary to our comfort and prosperity than gold. Gold, silver, or precious stones cannot keep us alive. They are of little worth to us compared with food and clothing. The soil, then, is the real wealth of the world. The farmer, who tills the soil, is the one worker we could not possibly do without. All the wealth of the world, all the comforts which we have, all the luxuries brought from far corners of the earth, come in the first place from the soil.
We do not have to journey far over the earth to learn that there are many lands where the fields are not fruitful, and yet such lands are often rich and prosperous. How can this be if the soil is so necessary? Let us go to New England and ask the people living there if they can tell us why rich people sometimes inhabit lands which do not raise enough for them to eat.
Much of New England is hilly and has a poor, rocky soil. The farmers who first settled there toiled hard, working early and late, and yet got few of the comforts of life. Most of the farmers did not know how to improve the soil or even to keep it in as good condition as it was when they first cleared away the forests and began cultivating it; so many left their farms to seek a living elsewhere. There are now many abandoned farms that are growing up to forests again.
In spite of this poor land, the New England states form one of the most wealthy and prosperous parts of our country. There are many great cities containing hundreds of thousands of people in this territory. The inhabitants enjoy luxuries of every kind sent from all parts of the world. The farmers of New England certainly do not produce this wealth from their rocky soil. Where, then, does it come from?
Industries of almost every sort except farming are carried on in the cities of New England. All these people have to be fed and the farms of this region would hardly support them even if the soil were very productive. So much food is needed every day that if the supply were cut off for only a short time, there would be great suffering.
Somewhere there must be farmers at work raising food supplies for the people of the great cities. The many beautiful and wonderful things made by the workers in the cities must be exchanged with the farmers for the real necessities of life.
Somewhere there must be vast fertile fields which produce much more than their owners require. We will journey westward to the prairies of the Mississippi Valley. Here for hundreds of miles we can see hardly anything but fields of waving wheat and corn. Here are hundreds of granaries and flour mills. Upon the rivers and lakes there are many boats, and upon the land railroads, all carrying flour and other farm products to feed the people of New England. Here are great stock ranches with thousands of cattle and hogs, which, when fattened upon the grain, are also shipped to New England to help feed the people there.
We must conclude, then, that if it were not for the vast fields with their deep, rich soil, where the farmers are able to grow much more than they need for themselves, it would not be possible for the people of New England to become wealthy by working at other things than farming. The articles which they are making add to their own comfort and pleasure as well as to that of the farmers, but they have to have the products of the soil to keep alive.
If the farmers of the Mississippi Valley and of all the other valleys that help support the city people are careful of their soil and keep up its fertility, our country will remain prosperous. But we are sorry to say that the farmers have not always been careful. Many have wanted to make more than they should from their lands. The plant food with which Nature has filled the soil has been taken away year after year faster than she has been able to renew it. Many fields do not produce the crops they once did. The smaller the yield becomes, the higher the prices the produce brings. This makes it more difficult for the workers in the cities to live comfortably. The less abundant the supply of food becomes, the less prosperous is the country.
There are countries, such as England, that have neglected agriculture but have, in spite of this, become rich and powerful through devoting their time to manufacturing articles to sell to other people. But those who work in the factories of England have to be fed, and so they must depend upon other countries to supply much of their food. If, for any reason, they were cut off from trade with these countries, not only would their manufacturing be ruined, but they would be in danger of starvation.
To the first men, who lived entirely upon hunting and fishing, the soil was of little consequence. Now things are different. The wild game has mostly gone and we have to depend upon the products of the soil.
The people of those lands where the climate is unfavorable and the soil poor and rocky lack most of the comforts of life, unless they are able to obtain them through trade. It does not follow, however, that people living in lands favored by Nature are always happy and prosperous.
You must remember that when the first men increased in numbers over the earth, the soil was fresh from the hand of Nature. Although they had everything about them that could be asked for, yet they were poor. There are men living today on the rich deltas that we have learned about who have few of the comforts that we have. This is because they are lazy and ignorant, and do not make proper use of this valuable gift, the rich soil.
We conclude, then, that the soil forms the real wealth of the world. All our comforts and luxuries come in the first place, as we have seen, from the soil. The more crowded people become upon the earth, and the greater the number that engage in manufacturing and trade, the more important becomes the care and cultivation of the soil. If we do not take the best of care of the soil, there may come a time when there will not be food enough for us all.
THINGS OF WHICH SOIL IS MADE
Let us take a spadeful of soft, dark earth from the garden and see if we can find of what it is made.
We will first put the earth in a dish of water and stir it thoroughly. We notice that the water at once becomes muddy and that little particles of a dark substance rise to the surface. These particles appear to be pieces of stems and leaves.
This crumbling vegetation is peat, a substance which fills many swamps and, when cut into blocks and dried, is used for fuel. When scattered through the earth peat has a very different use. As the leaves and stems of plants die and slowly mingle with the earth, they give it the dark color, which usually extends down for two or three feet. As this vegetation changes, or decays, as we usually say, it furnishes a number of substances which supply food to the roots of growing plants. One of the most important of these is nitrogen, an invisible gas.
The decaying vegetation which we find mixed with the soil has other uses. It holds water and so helps to keep the soil moist. It makes the soil loose and more easy to cultivate. It absorbs heat from the sun and so helps to warm the soil. This vegetable matter, when it is completely decayed, we call humus. Soils that are rich in humus are usually very fertile.
We will now turn the muddy water into another dish, pour more clear water upon the material that remains in the bottom of the dish, and wash it again, repeating the work until the water is no longer muddied. We will set aside the dish containing the muddy water and examine what remains in the bottom of the dish that once contained the earth or soil. This is mostly sand, but with it are rough fragments of rock which can be crumbled in the hand. The greater number of the little sand grains are quartz. Some of them are clear like glass, others are reddish. In this quartz sand are a few grains of iron which the magnet picks out, and a number of scales of yellow mica.
After standing a few hours the muddy water has become clear, and a deposit of a yellowish substance has collected in the bottom of the dish. We will carefully pour off the water and examine what remains. This fine soft mud we call clay. As it dries and becomes hard it shrinks and cracks, and thus breaks up into little pieces. Clay forms a greater or lesser part of all soil. Clay soil is very sticky when it is wet, as you will be sure to remember if you have tried to walk over it. When soil is formed largely of clay we speak of it as a heavy soil. In the West it is called adobe and is sometimes used in making houses. When adobe soil dries, great cracks form in it. These cracks are sometimes large enough for small animals to fall into. When there is a large amount of sand, we speak of the soil as light or sandy. A soil composed of sand and clay is sometimes called loam. If it is nearly all clay it is a clay loam; if there is much sand it is a sandy loam.
Soils found in low, swampy places are sometimes formed almost wholly of decaying vegetable matter. Such soils are known as peat soils. They are usually very fertile.
We have now learned about three things that the soil contains that are bulky and easy to discover: decaying vegetation, sand, and clay. These are, however, far from being all that compose the soil. There are still many other things, some of which are invisible to the unaided eye and difficult to find.
We will next take the clear water that remained after the mud settled. We will pour it into a dish, place the dish over a fire, and let the water boil slowly until it has all evaporated. There will remain in the bottom of the dish a thin white coating. Moisten this with a drop of vinegar or other weak acid and it will disappear in a mass of little bubbles. Such behavior teaches us that the white substance is probably a mixture of lime and soda. Besides these there are tiny particles of potash and phosphorus, which we cannot distinguish by the means we have used.
Some soils contain a great deal of lime, and because they have been formed from limestone, are called limestone soils. Plants need a little soda, but when there is much in the soil it will kill them. Soils rich in soda are known as alkali soils. They were formed in the bottom of lakes the waters of which contained soda. Salt is another harmful thing found in the soil. You can sometimes see faint whitish deposits of soda and other salts on the soil in flower pots.
There is one more thing that the soil contains that we must not forget, for it is one of the most important of them all. This is a living organism so small that we cannot see it with the unaided eye. Many thousands of these organisms are contained in a bit of earth such as you could take up on the point of a small knife blade. We have named them bacteria.
Plants cannot make use of most of the substances in the soil without the aid of these organisms. The bacteria live upon the materials of the soil and change them into such form that plants can digest them.
Soil may be supplied with all kinds of plant food in just the right amount and yet, if it is packed hard and is not watered, no living thing can take root in it and grow. Plants drink their food and so we must supply water. They also require oxygen, as do other living things. For this reason we must leave the soil loose, so that the air can enter it and the roots get the oxygen which it contains.
Thus we learn how wonderfully the soil is made. We learn that it contains many things required by plants. In order that the plants may be thrifty, there must be enough but not too much of these different things.
HOW THE SOIL IS MADE
The substances which we found in the soil teach us that it was formed from the rocks. If we could take the sand, clay, potash, soda, lime, and iron that we found in the soil and put them together as Nature knows how to do, we should have rock again.
But if we should take a piece of rock and crush it to a fine sand, that would not be soil, because soil cannot be made in that way. It takes Nature many, many years, as the rocks slowly crumble and decay, to change the materials of which they are composed into true soil with its swarms of bacteria and its plant food.
If we should dig down through the soft earth under our feet, we would at last come to solid rock. This is the rough and jagged crust of the earth on which rests the carpet of soil. In the mountains where the slopes are steep the rocks stick up through the soil. The outer parts of this solid rock are, however, always crumbling. Little particles, as soon as they become loosened, either fall by their own weight or are washed away. Some of the rock fragments collect upon the gentler slopes and finally turn to soil. This soil is not rich and it dries out quickly, because it is shallow. The soil in the valleys, as we have already learned from the muddy rivulet, is deep and rich.
Nature is slowly spreading her mantle of soil over the earth. In some parts of the earth one can travel for hundreds of miles and see no rocks. One might think that in time Nature's work would be finished. But before the mountains in one place have crumbled and been washed away, she raises up new ones somewhere else so that the tearing-down work begins again.
Let us, in imagination, sit down by the side of a rock, prepared to stay there many years, that we may learn just how Nature makes the soil. It will be a long, long time before we can see any change in the rock. Each bright day the sun warms the cold rock and makes it expand a very little. At night the rock grows cold and shrinks. In this way minute crevices are finally formed between the grains of the different minerals that make up the rock.
When it rains, water creeps into the tiny crevices. The water carries with it a little carbonic acid which the raindrops took from the air. This substance aids in dissolving some of the rock materials. If the nights are very cold, the water in the crevices freezes and opens them a little wider, for ice, as you know, takes up a little more room than it did when it was water.
Plants also aid in breaking the rock. Often seeds are dropped by the wind, and the rootlets of some of these seeds, when they sprout, may find a crevice large enough and deep enough for them to push their way into the rock. In these crevices they find a little food and slowly grow larger and stronger. By and by some of the roots are strong enough to push apart large pieces of rock.
If the rock which we are studying is granite, we shall after a time be able to pick out the different minerals of which it is composed. We can tell the grains of quartz, because they look glassy and remain very hard. Other grains, which we call feldspar, soften and change into clay, which makes the water muddy as it runs over the rocks. We see also little scales of yellow mica, sometimes called "fool's gold," and a few grains of iron. There are tiny quantities of other things which we shall not be able to see, for the rainwater dissolves them and carries them away.
As the rock slowly crumbles to sand and clay, the bacteria begin to make their home in it. Hardy plants, that are not particular about what they grow in, get a foothold, and when they die their stems and leaves decay and mix with the rock particles until at last this material begins to look like soil. It has become dark in color and rich in plant food. Then, many other plants that require a good soil take root there. The rock has at last completely disappeared under the layer of soil and its carpet of vegetation.
Suppose, now, that we dig down and find how deep the soil is and what lies below it. When we have gone down two feet the soil is harder and of a lighter color, for there are fewer plant remains in it. This poorer, lighter-colored soil we call subsoil. If we dig a little deeper, we shall find pieces of rock in the subsoil. Below these we come to soft, crumbling rock and last of all the solid rock.
The soil that is found resting on the rocks from which it was formed is known as residual soil. This name is given to such soil, because it is what remains after long years of rock decay during which the rains have washed away a part of the finer material.
What has become of the soft earth that the water washed away? The muddy rivulet has already told us its interesting story. We have learned that a part of this earth (or soil) is borne to the distant ocean. There it is forever lost unless the sea bottom should some day become dry land. Stranger things than that have happened on this ancient earth of ours. The part of the soil which the water carried away to form the rich valley lands and deltas is known as alluvial soil.
Long ago the northern part of our country was covered with a sheet of ice. This ice crept slowly southward, and as it moved along it tore off all the soil and loose rocks on the surface of the earth over which it passed. When it melted it left them spread roughly over the country. Such material forms glacial soil. It is often deep but not very rich.
There is another kind of soil, formed by the wind. If you have ever been in a dust storm you have seen the fine, powdery substance that settles over everything and creeps into the smallest cracks. In some countries where there are strong winds and not much rain there is little vegetation on the surface to hold the soil. Year after year the winds pick up particles of the dusty soil, whirl them high in the air, and do not let them down again until they have been carried many miles. In some far-off land where the winds go down the dust particles settle again to the earth. After a long, long time, enough dust collects to form a thick layer of the richest soil. This is called aeolian soil, from the word AEolus, meaning the "wind."
There is one more kind of soil which we ought to know about; that is peat soil. It is found in marshy or swampy lowlands and is formed largely of plant remains. When lands with such soil are drained, they prove very rich.
HOW VEGETATION HOLDS THE SOIL
A walk up the mountains on a rainy day is not a pleasant one. There are mud and water under our feet, and overhead are the dripping branches which, if touched, send down a shower of drops. But if we keep our eyes open we shall learn something which will be of great value to us. We shall learn how it is that Nature holds the soil on the slopes—the wonderful soil which it takes her so long a time to make and which is the source of all our wealth.
Our way up the mountains is by a winding road. We first pass the foothills upon which there are scattered oaks. The rain is steadily pouring down and rivulets loaded with mud are eating little gullies all over the slopes. Along the roadside, where they have united, the rivulets form a torrent which is making a deep ditch that threatens to render the road impassable.
These slopes were once covered with grass and the rivulets ran down them without doing any harm. But so many sheep were pastured here that the grass was killed. The roots, which once formed a thick protecting sod, are now decaying. How quickly the rivulets have taken advantage of the unprotected slopes!
The road leads still upward until it brings us to where there were once pine forests. The lumbermen cut off all the trees, and then fire came and burned the decaying vegetation which once lay spread over the ground. Now all that remains is bare earth and blackened stumps.
What are the raindrops doing here? They gather in rivulets just as they do on the once grassy hillside; but because there are so many roots still remaining in the ground they have not done much work. They are not loitering, however, and by and by, when the roots have rotted, they will seize their chance and begin tearing away the soil from the mountain side.
But this is not the end of the road. Farther up we come to the primeval forests, where the giant trees stand just as they did before men came. Here we can see how the slopes are protected, for in making the road the workmen cut deep into the hillside. They first removed a layer of pine needles and decaying branches. Then they cut through a layer of soil about two feet thick which was completely filled with little roots of trees and bushes. Below this they came to the soft subsoil, which contained only a few roots, and at the bottom they reached the solid rock.