Wild Life on the Rockies
Wild Life on the Rockies
Enos A. Mills
With Illustrations from Photographs
Boston and New York
Houghton Mifflin Company
The Riverside Press Cambridge
COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY ENOS A. MILLS
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published March 1909
This book contains the record of a few of the many happy days and novel experiences which I have had in the wilds. For more than twenty years it has been my good fortune to live most of the time with nature, on the mountains of the West. I have made scores of long exploring rambles over the mountains in every season of the year, a nature-lover charmed with the birds and the trees. On my later excursions I have gone alone and without firearms. During three succeeding winters, in which I was a Government Experiment Officer and called the "State Snow Observer," I scaled many of the higher peaks of the Rockies and made many studies on the upper slopes of these mountains.
"Colorado Snow Observer" was printed in part in The Youth's Companion for May 18, 1905, under the title of "In the Mountain Snows"; "The Story of a Thousand-Year Pine" appeared in The World's Work for August, 1908; and "The Beaver and his Works" is reprinted from The World To-Day for December, 1908.
E. A. M.
Colorado Snow Observer 1
The Story of a Thousand-Year Pine 29
The Beaver and his Works 51
The Wilds without Firearms 69
A Watcher on the Heights 81
Climbing Long's Peak 97
Midget, the Return Horse 113
Faithful Scotch 129
Bob and Some Other Birds 149
The Lodge-Pole Pine 181
Rocky Mountain Forests 197
Besieged by Bears 215
Mountain Parks and Camp-Fires 231
Long's Peak from the East Frontispiece
A Man with a History 6
The Crest of the Continent in Winter, 13,000 Feet above Sea-Level 16
A Snow-Slide Track 20
A Veteran Western Yellow Pine 32
A Beaver-House 58
A Beaver-Dam in Winter 63
Lake Odessa 76
On the Heights 84
A Storm on the Rockies 94
Long's Peak from the Summit of Mt. Meeker 100
On the Tip-Top of Long's Peak 110
A Miner on a Return Horse 116
Scotch near Timber-Line 132
The Cloud-Capped Continental Divide 144
Summer at an Altitude of 12,000 Feet 178
A Typical Lodge-Pole Forest 184
A Grove of Silver Spruce 208
Ouray, Colorado, a Typical Mining Town 218
Estes Park and the Big Thompson River from the Top of Mt. Olympus 238
In the Uncompahgre Mountains 244
A Grass-Plot among Engelmann Spruce 250
Colorado Snow Observer
"Where are you going?" was the question asked me one snowy winter day. After hearing that I was off on a camping-trip, to be gone several days, and that the place where I intended to camp was in deep snow on the upper slopes of the Rockies, the questioners laughed heartily. Knowing me, some questioners realized that I was in earnest, and all that they could say in the nature of argument or appeal was said to cause me to "forego the folly." But I went, and in the romance of a new world—on the Rockies in winter—I lived intensely through ten strong days and nights, and gave to my life new and rare experiences. Afterwards I made other winter excursions, all of which were stirring and satisfactory. The recollection of these winter experiences is as complete and exhilarating as any in the vista of my memory.
Some years after my first winter camping-trip, I found myself holding a strange position,—that of the "State Snow Observer of Colorado." I have never heard of another position like it. Professor L. G. Carpenter, the celebrated irrigation engineer, was making some original investigations concerning forests and the water-supply. He persuaded me to take the position, and under his direction I worked as a government experiment officer. For three successive winters I traversed the upper slopes of the Rockies and explored the crest of the continent, alone. While on this work, I was instructed to make notes on "those things that are likely to be of interest or value to the Department of Agriculture or the Weather Bureau,"—and to be careful not to lose my life.
On these winter trips I carried with me a camera, thermometer, barometer, compass, notebook, and folding axe. The food carried usually was only raisins. I left all bedding behind. Notwithstanding I was alone and in the wilds, I did not carry any kind of a gun.
The work made it necessary for me to ramble the wintry heights in sunshine and storm. Often I was out, or rather up, in a blizzard, and on more than one occasion I was out for two weeks on the snow-drifted crest of the continent, without seeing any one. I went beyond the trails and visited the silent places alone. I invaded gulches, eagerly walked the splendid forest aisles, wandered in the dazzling glare on dreary alpine moorlands, and scaled the peaks over mantles of ice and snow. I had many experiences,—amusing, dangerous, and exciting. There was abundance of life and fun in the work. On many an evening darkness captured me and compelled me to spend the night in the wilds without bedding, and often without food. During these nights I kept a camp-fire blazing until daylight released me. When the night was mild, I managed to sleep a little,—in installments,—rising from time to time to give wood to the eager fire. Sometimes a scarcity of wood kept me busy gathering it all night; and sometimes the night was so cold that I did not risk going to sleep. During these nights I watched my flaming fountain of fire brighten, fade, surge, and change, or shower its spray of sparks upon the surrounding snow-flowers. Strange reveries I have had by these winter camp-fires. On a few occasions mountain lions interrupted my thoughts with their piercing, lonely cries; and more than once a reverie was pleasantly changed by the whisper of a chickadee in some near-by tree as a cold comrade snuggled up to it. Even during the worst of nights, when I thought of my lot at all. I considered it better than that of those who were sick in houses or asleep in the stuffy, deadly air of the slums.
"Believe me, 'tis something to be cast Face to face with thine own self at last."
Not all nights were spent outdoors. Many a royal evening was passed in the cabin of a miner or a prospector, or by the fireside of a family who for some reason had left the old home behind and sought seclusion in wild scenes, miles from neighbors. Among Colorado's mountains there are an unusual number of strong characters who are trying again. They are strong because broken plans, lost fortunes, or shattered health elsewhere have not ended their efforts or changed their ideals. Many are trying to restore health, some are trying again to prosper, others are just making a start in life, but there are a few who, far from the madding crowd, are living happily the simple life. Sincerity, hope, and repose enrich the lives of those who live among the crags and pines of mountain fastnesses. Many a happy evening I have had with a family, or an old prospector, who gave me interesting scraps of autobiography along with a lodging for the night.
The snow-fall on the mountains of Colorado is very unevenly distributed, and is scattered through seven months of the year. Two places only a few miles apart, and separated by a mountain-range, may have very different climates, and one of these may have twice as much snow-fall as the other. On the middle of the upper slopes of the mountains the snow sometimes falls during seven months of the year. At an altitude of eleven thousand feet the annual fall amounts to eighteen feet. This is several times the amount that falls at an altitude of six thousand feet. In a locality near Crested Butte the annual fall is thirty feet, and during snowy winters even fifty feet. Most winter days are clear, and the climate less severe than is usually imagined.
One winter I walked on snowshoes on the upper slopes of the "snowy" range of the Rockies, from the Wyoming line on the north to near the New Mexico line on the south. This was a long walk, and it was full of amusement and adventure. I walked most of the way on the crest of the continent. The broken nature of the surface gave me ups and downs. Sometimes I would descend to the level of seven thousand feet, and occasionally I climbed some peak that was fourteen thousand feet above the tides.
I had not been out many days on this trip when I was caught in a storm on the heights above tree-line. I at once started downward for the woods. The way among the crags and precipices was slippery; the wind threatened every moment to hurl me over a cliff; the wind-blown snow filled the air so that I could see only a few feet, and at times not at all. But it was too cold to stop. For two hours I fought my way downward through the storm, and so dark was it during the last half-hour that I literally felt my way with my staff. Once in the woods, I took off a snowshoe, dug a large hole in the snow down to the earth, built a fire, and soon forgot the perilous descent. After eating from my supply of raisins, I dozed a little, and woke to find all calm and the moon shining in glory on a snowy mountain-world of peaks and pines. I put on my snowshoes, climbed upward beneath the moon, and from the summit of Lead Mountain, thirteen thousand feet high, saw the sun rise in splendor on a world of white.
The tracks and records in the snow which I read in passing made something of a daily newspaper for me. They told much of news of the wilds. Sometimes I read of the games that the snowshoe rabbit had played; of a starving time among the brave mountain sheep on the heights; of the quiet content in the ptarmigan neighborhood; of the dinner that the pines had given the grouse; of the amusements and exercises on the deer's stamping-ground; of the cunning of foxes; of the visits of magpies, the excursions of lynxes, and the red records of mountain lions.
The mountain lion is something of a game-hog and an epicure. He prefers warm blood for every meal, and is very wasteful. I have much evidence against him; his worst one-day record that I have shows five tragedies. In this time he killed a mountain sheep, a fawn, a grouse, a rabbit, and a porcupine; and as if this were not enough, he was about to kill another sheep when a dark object on snowshoes shot down the slope near by and disturbed him. The instances where he has attacked human beings are rare, but he will watch and follow one for hours with the utmost caution and curiosity. One morning after a night-journey through the wood, I turned back and doubled my trail. After going a short distance I came to the track of a lion alongside my own. I went back several miles and read the lion's movements. He had watched me closely. At every place where I rested he had crept up close, and at the place where I had sat down against a stump he had crept up to the opposite side of the stump,—and I fear while I dozed!
One night during this expedition I had lodging in an old and isolated prospector's cabin, with two young men who had very long hair. For months they had been in seclusion, "gathering wonderful herbs," hunting out prescriptions for every human ill, and waiting for their hair to grow long. I hope they prepared some helpful, or at least harmless prescriptions, for, ere this, they have become picturesque, and I fear prosperous, medicine-men on some populous street-corner. One day I had dinner on the summit of Mt. Lincoln, fourteen thousand feet above the ocean. I ate with some miners who were digging out their fortune; and was "the only caller in five months."
But I was not always a welcome guest. At one of the big mining-camps I stopped for mail and to rest for a day or so. I was all "rags and tags," and had several broken strata of geology and charcoal on my face in addition. Before I had got well into the town, from all quarters came dogs, each of which seemed determined to make it necessary for me to buy some clothes. As I had already determined to do this, I kept the dogs at bay for a time, and then sought refuge in a first-class hotel; from this the porter, stimulated by an excited order from the clerk, promptly and literally kicked me out!
In the robings of winter how different the mountains than when dressed in the bloom of summer! In no place did the change seem more marked than on some terrace over which summer flung the lacy drapery of a white cascade, or where a wild waterfall "leapt in glory." These places in winter were glorified with the fine arts of ice,—"frozen music," as some one has defined architecture,—for here winter had constructed from water a wondrous array of columns, panels, filigree, fretwork, relief-work, arches, giant icicles, and stalagmites as large as, and in ways resembling, a big tree with a fluted full-length mantle of ice.
Along the way were extensive areas covered with the ruins of fire-killed trees. Most of the forest fires which had caused these were the result of carelessness. The timber destroyed by these fires had been needed by thousands of home-builders. The robes of beauty which they had burned from the mountain-sides are a serious loss. These fire ruins preyed upon me, and I resolved to do something to save the remaining forests. The opportunity came shortly after the resolution was made.
Two days before reaching the objective point, farthest south, my food gave out, and I fasted. But as soon as I reached the end, I started to descend the heights, and very naturally knocked at the door of the first house I came to, and asked for something to eat. I supposed I was at a pioneer's cabin. A handsome, neatly dressed young lady came to the door, and when her eyes fell upon me she blushed and then turned pale. I was sorry that my appearance had alarmed her, but I repeated my request for something to eat. Just then, through the half-open door behind the young lady, came the laughter of children, and a glance into the room told me that I was before a mountain schoolhouse. By this time the teacher, to whom I was talking, startled me by inviting me in. As I sat eating a luncheon to which the teacher and each one of the six school-children contributed, the teacher explained to me that she was recently from the East, and that I so well fitted her ideas of a Western desperado that she was frightened at first. When I finished eating, I made my first after-dinner speech; it was also my first attempt to make a forestry address. One point I tried to bring out was concerning the destruction wrought by forest fires. Among other things I said: "During the past few years in Colorado, forest fires, which ought never to have been started, have destroyed many million dollars' worth of timber, and the area over which the fires have burned aggregates twenty-five thousand square miles. This area of forest would put on the equator an evergreen-forest belt one mile wide that would reach entirely around the world. Along with this forest have perished many of the animals and thousands of beautiful birds who had homes in it."
I finally bade all good-bye, went on my way rejoicing, and in due course arrived at Denver, where a record of one of my longest winter excursions was written.
In order to give an idea of one of my briefer winter walks, I close this chapter with an account of a round-trip snowshoe journey from Estes Park to Grand Lake, the most thrilling and adventurous that has ever entertained me on the trail.
One February morning I set off alone on snowshoes to cross the "range," for the purpose of making some snow-measurements. The nature of my work for the State required the closest observation of the character and extent of the snow in the mountains. I hoped to get to Grand Lake for the night, but I was on the east side of the range, and Grand Lake was on the west. Along the twenty-five miles of trail there was only wilderness, without a single house. The trail was steep and the snow very soft. Five hours were spent in gaining timber-line, which was only six miles from my starting-place, but four thousand feet above it. Rising in bold grandeur above me was the summit of Long's Peak, and this, with the great hills of drifted snow, out of which here and there a dwarfed and distorted tree thrust its top, made timber-line seem weird and lonely.
From this point the trail wound for six miles across bleak heights before it came down to timber on the other side of the range. I set forward as rapidly as possible, for the northern sky looked stormy. I must not only climb up fifteen hundred feet, but must also skirt the icy edges of several precipices in order to gain the summit. My friends had warned me that the trip was a foolhardy one even on a clear, calm day, but I was fated to receive the fury of a snowstorm while on the most broken portion of the trail.
The tempest came on with deadly cold and almost blinding violence. The wind came with awful surges, and roared and boomed among the crags. The clouds dashed and seethed along the surface, shutting out all landmarks. I was every moment in fear of slipping or being blown over a precipice, but there was no shelter; I was on the roof of the continent, twelve thousand five hundred feet above sea-level, and to stop in the bitter cold meant death.
It was still three miles to timber on the west slope, and I found it impossible to keep the trail. Fearing to perish if I tried to follow even the general course of the trail, I abandoned it altogether, and started for the head of a gorge, down which I thought it would be possible to climb to the nearest timber. Nothing definite could be seen. The clouds on the snowy surface and the light electrified air gave the eye only optical illusions. The outline of every object was topsy-turvy and dim. The large stones that I thought to step on were not there; and, when apparently passing others, I bumped into them. Several times I fell headlong by stepping out for a drift and finding a depression.
In the midst of these illusions I walked out on a snow-cornice that overhung a precipice! Unable to see clearly, I had no realization of my danger until I felt the snow giving way beneath me. I had seen the precipice in summer, and knew it was more than a thousand feet to the bottom! Down I tumbled, carrying a large fragment of the snow-cornice with me. I could see nothing, and I was entirely helpless. Then, just as the full comprehension of the awful thing that was happening swept over me, the snow falling beneath me suddenly stopped. I plunged into it, completely burying myself. Then I, too, no longer moved downward; my mind gradually admitted the knowledge that my body, together with a considerable mass of the snow, had fallen upon a narrow ledge and caught there. More of the snow came tumbling after me, and it was a matter of some minutes before I succeeded in extricating myself.
When I thrust my head out of the snow-mass and looked about me, I was first appalled by a glance outward, which revealed the terrible height of the precipice on the face of which I was hanging. Then I was relieved by a glance upward, which showed me that I was only some twenty feet from the top, and that a return thither would not be very difficult. But if I had walked from the top a few feet farther back, I should have fallen a quarter of a mile.
One of my snowshoes came off as I struggled out, so I took off the other shoe and used it as a scoop to uncover the lost web. But it proved very slow and dangerous work. With both shoes off I sank chest-deep in the snow; if I ventured too near the edge of the ledge, the snow would probably slip off and carry me to the bottom of the precipice. It was only after two hours of effort that the shoe was recovered.
When I first struggled to the surface of the snow on the ledge, I looked at once to find a way back to the top of the precipice. I quickly saw that by following the ledge a few yards beneath the unbroken snow-cornice I could climb to the top over some jagged rocks. As soon as I had recovered the shoe, I started round the ledge. When I had almost reached the jagged rocks, the snow-cornice caved upon me, and not only buried me, but came perilously near knocking me into the depths beneath. But at last I stood upon the top in safety.
A short walk from the top brought me out upon a high hill of snow that sloped steeply down into the woods. The snow was soft, and I sat down in it and slid "a blue streak"—my blue overalls recording the streak—for a quarter of a mile, and then came to a sudden and confusing stop; one of my webs had caught on a spine of one of the dwarfed and almost buried trees at timber-line.
When I had traveled a short distance below timber-line, a fearful crashing caused me to turn; I was in time to see fragments of snow flying in all directions, and snow-dust boiling up in a great geyser column. A snow-slide had swept down and struck a granite cliff. As I stood there, another slide started on the heights above timber, and with a far-off roar swept down in awful magnificence, with a comet-like tail of snow-dust. Just at timber-line it struck a ledge and glanced to one side, and at the same time shot up into the air so high that for an instant I saw the treetops beneath it. But it came back to earth with awful force, and I felt the ground tremble as it crushed a wide way through the woods. It finally brought up at the bottom of a gulch with a wreckage of hundreds of noble spruce trees that it had crushed down and swept before it.
As I had left the trail on the heights, I was now far from it and in a rugged and wholly unfrequented section, so that coming upon the fresh tracks of a mountain lion did not surprise me. But I was not prepared for what occurred soon afterward. Noticing a steamy vapor rising from a hole in the snow by the protruding roots of an overturned tree, I walked to the hole to learn the cause of it. One whiff of the vapor stiffened my hair and limbered my legs. I shot down a steep slope, dodging trees and rocks. The vapor was rank with the odor from a bear.
At the bottom of the slope I found the frozen surface of a stream much easier walking than the soft snow. All went well until I came to some rapids, where, with no warning whatever, the thin ice dropped me into the cold current among the boulders. I scrambled to my feet, with the ice flying like broken glass. The water came only a little above my knees, but as I had gone under the surface, and was completely drenched, I made an enthusiastic move toward the bank. Now snowshoes are not adapted for walking either in swift water or among boulders. I realized this thoroughly after they had several times tripped me, sprawling, into the liquid cold. Finally I sat down in the water, took them off, and came out gracefully.
I gained the bank with chattering teeth and an icy armor. My pocket thermometer showed two degrees above zero. Another storm was bearing down upon me from the range, and the sun was sinking. But the worst of it all was that there were several miles of rough and strange country between me and Grand Lake that would have to be made in the dark. I did not care to take any more chances on the ice, so I spent a hard hour climbing out of the canon. The climb warmed me and set my clothes steaming.
My watch indicated six o'clock. A fine snow was falling, and it was dark and cold. I had been exercising for twelve hours without rest, and had eaten nothing since the previous day, as I never take breakfast. I made a fire and lay down on a rock by it to relax, and also to dry my clothes. In half an hour I started on again. Rocky and forest-covered ridges lay between me and Grand Lake. In the darkness I certainly took the worst way. I met with too much resistance in the thickets and too little on the slippery places, so that when, at eleven o'clock that night, I entered a Grand Lake Hotel, my appearance was not prepossessing.
The next day, after a few snow-measurements, I set off to re-cross the range. In order to avoid warm bear-dens and cold streams, I took a different route. It was a much longer way than the one I had come by, so I went to a hunter's deserted cabin for the night. The cabin had no door, and I could see the stars through the roof. The old sheet-iron stove was badly rusted and broken. Most of the night I spent chopping wood, and I did not sleep at all. But I had a good rest by the stove, where I read a little from a musty pamphlet on palmistry that I found between the logs of the cabin. I always carry candles with me. When the wind is blowing, the wood damp, and the fingers numb, they are of inestimable value in kindling a fire. I do not carry firearms, and during the night, when a lion gave a blood-freezing screech, I wished he were somewhere else.
Daylight found me climbing toward the top of the range through the Medicine Bow National Forest, among some of the noblest evergreens in Colorado. When the sun came over the range, the silent forest vistas became magnificent with bright lights and deep shadows. At timber-line the bald rounded summit of the range, like a gigantic white turtle, rose a thousand feet above me. The slope was steep and very icy; a gusty wind whirled me about. Climbing to the top would be like going up a steep ice-covered house-roof. It would be a dangerous and barely possible undertaking. But as I did not have courage enough to retreat, I threw off my snowshoes and started up. I cut a place in the ice for every step. There was nothing to hold to, and a slip meant a fatal slide.
With rushes from every quarter, the wind did its best to freeze or overturn me. My ears froze, and my fingers grew so cold that they could hardly hold the ice-axe. But after an hour of constant peril and ever-increasing exhaustion, I got above the last ice and stood upon the snow. The snow was solidly packed, and, leaving my snowshoes strapped across my shoulders, I went scrambling up. Near the top of the range a ledge of granite cropped out through the snow, and toward this I hurried. Before making a final spurt to the ledge, I paused to breathe. As I stopped, I was startled by sounds like the creaking of wheels on a cold, snowy street. The snow beneath me was slipping! I had started a snow-slide.
Almost instantly the slide started down the slope with me on it. The direction in which it was going and the speed it was making would in a few seconds carry it down two thousand feet of slope, where it would leap over a precipice into the woods. I was on the very upper edge of the snow that had started, and this was the tail-end of the slide. I tried to stand up in the rushing snow, but its speed knocked my feet from under me, and in an instant I was rolled beneath the surface. Beneath the snow, I went tumbling on with it for what seemed like a long time, but I know, of course, that it was for only a second or two; then my feet struck against something solid. I was instantly flung to the surface again, where I either was spilled off, or else fell through, the end of the slide, and came to a stop on the scraped and frozen ground, out of the grasp of the terrible snow.
I leaped to my feet and saw the slide sweep on in most impressive magnificence. At the front end of the slide the snow piled higher and higher, while following in its wake were splendid streamers and scrolls of snow-dust. I lost no time in getting to the top, and set off southward, where, after six miles, I should come to the trail that led to my starting-place on the east side of the range. After I had made about three miles, the cold clouds closed in, and everything was fogged. A chilly half-hour's wait and the clouds broke up. I had lost my ten-foot staff in the snow-slide, and feeling for precipices without it would probably bring me out upon another snow-cornice, so I took no chances.
I was twelve thousand five hundred feet above sea-level when the clouds broke up, and from this great height I looked down upon what seemed to be the margin of the polar world. It was intensely cold, but the sun shone with dazzling glare, and the wilderness of snowy peaks came out like a grand and jagged ice-field in the far south. Halos and peculiarly luminous balls floated through the color-tinged and electrical air. The horizon had a touch of cobalt blue, and on the dome above, white flushes appeared and disappeared like faint auroras. After five hours on these silent but imposing heights I struck my first day's trail, and began a wild and merry coast down among the rocks and trees to my starting-place.
I hope to have more winter excursions, but perhaps I have had my share. At the bare thought of those winter experiences I am again on an unsheltered peak struggling in a storm; or I am in a calm and splendid forest upon whose snowy, peaceful aisles fall the purple shadows of crags and pines.
The Story of a Thousand-Year Pine
The peculiar charm and fascination that trees exert over many people I had always felt from childhood, but it was that great nature-lover, John Muir, who first showed me how and where to learn their language. Few trees, however, ever held for me such an attraction as did a gigantic and venerable yellow pine which I discovered one autumn day several years ago while exploring the southern Rockies. It grew within sight of the Cliff-Dwellers' Mesa Verde, which stands at the corner of four States, and as I came upon it one evening just as the sun was setting over that mysterious tableland, its character and heroic proportions made an impression upon me that I shall never forget, and which familiar acquaintance only served to deepen while it yet lived and before the axeman came. Many a time I returned to build my camp-fire by it and have a day or a night in its solitary and noble company. I learned afterwards that it had been given the name "Old Pine," and it certainly had an impressiveness quite compatible with the age and dignity which go with a thousand years of life.
When, one day, the sawmill-man at Mancos wrote, "Come, we are about to log your old pine," I started at once, regretting that a thing which seemed to me so human, as well as so noble, must be killed.
I went out with the axemen who were to cut the old pine down. A grand and impressive tree he was. Never have I seen so much individuality, so much character, in a tree. Although lightning had given him a bald crown, he was still a healthy giant, and was waving evergreen banners more than one hundred and fifteen feet above the earth. His massive trunk, eight feet in diameter on a level with my breast, was covered with a thick, rough, golden-brown bark which was broken into irregular plates. Several of his arms were bent and broken. Altogether, he presented a timeworn but heroic appearance.
It is almost a marvel that trees should live to become the oldest of living things. Fastened in one place, their struggle is incessant and severe. From the moment a baby tree is born—from the instant it casts its tiny shadow upon the ground—until death, it is in danger from insects and animals. It cannot move to avoid danger. It cannot run away to escape enemies. Fixed in one spot, almost helpless, it must endure flood and drought, fire and storm, insects and earthquakes, or die.
Trees, like people, struggle for existence, and an aged tree, like an aged person, has not only a striking appearance, but an interesting biography. I have read the autobiographies of many century-old trees, and have found their life-stories strange and impressive. The yearly growth, or annual ring of wood with which trees envelop themselves, is embossed with so many of their experiences that this annual ring of growth literally forms an autobiographic diary of the tree's life.
I wanted to read Old Pine's autobiography. A veteran pine that had stood on the southern Rockies and struggled and triumphed through the changing seasons of hundreds of years must contain a rare life-story. From his stand between the Mesa and the pine-plumed mountain, he had seen the panorama of the seasons and many a strange pageant; he had beheld what scenes of animal and human strife, what storms and convulsions of nature! Many a wondrous secret he had locked within his tree soul. Yet, although he had not recorded what he had seen, I knew that he had kept a fairly accurate diary of his own personal experience. This I knew the saw would reveal, and this I had determined to see.
Nature matures a million conifer seeds for each one she chooses for growth, so we can only speculate as to the selection of the seed from which sprung this storied pine. It may be that the cone in which it matured was crushed into the earth by the hoof of a passing deer. It may have been hidden by a jay; or, as is more likely, it may have grown from one of the uneaten cones which a Douglas squirrel had buried for winter food. Douglas squirrels are the principal nurserymen for all the Western pineries. Each autumn they harvest a heavy percentage of the cone crop and bury it for winter. The seeds in the uneaten cones germinate, and each year countless thousands of conifers grow from the seeds planted by these squirrels. It may be that the seed from which Old Pine burst had been planted by an ancient ancestor of the protesting Douglas who was in possession, or this seed may have been in a cone which simply bounded or blew into a hole, where the seed found sufficient mould and moisture to give it a start in life.
* * * * *
Two loggers swung their axes. At the first blow a Douglas squirrel came out of a hole at the base of a dead limb near the top of the tree and made an aggressive claim of ownership, setting up a vociferous protest against the cutting. As his voice was unheeded, he came scolding down the tree, jumped off one of the lower limbs, and took refuge in a young pine that stood near by. From time to time he came out on the top of the limb nearest to us, and, with a wry face, fierce whiskers, and violent gestures, directed a torrent of abuse at the axemen who were delivering death-blows to Old Pine.
The old pine's enormous weight caused him to fall heavily, and he came to earth with tremendous force and struck on an elbow of one of his stocky arms. The force of the fall not only broke the trunk in two, but badly shattered it. The damage to the log was so general that the sawmill-man said it would not pay to saw it into lumber and that it could rot on the spot.
I had come a long distance for the express purpose of deciphering Old Pine's diary as the scroll of his life should be laid open in the sawmill. The abandonment of the shattered form compelled the adoption of another way of getting at his story. Receiving permission to do as I pleased with his remains, I at once began to cut and split both the trunk and the limbs and to transcribe their strange records. Day after day I worked. I dug up the roots and thoroughly dissected them, and with the aid of a magnifier I studied the trunk, the roots, and the limbs.
I carefully examined the base of his stump, and in it I found 1047 rings of growth! He had lived through a thousand and forty-seven memorable years. As he was cut down in 1903, his birth probably occurred in 856.
In looking over the rings of growth, I found that a few of them were much thicker than the others; and these thick rings, or coats of wood, tell of favorable seasons. There were also a few extremely thin rings of growth. In places two and even three of these were together. These were the result of unfavorable seasons,—of drought or cold. The rings of trees also show healed wounds, and tell of burns, bites, and bruises, of torn bark and broken arms. Old Pine not only received injuries in his early years, but from time to time throughout his life. The somewhat kinked condition of several of the rings of growth, beginning with the twentieth, shows that at the age of twenty he sustained an injury which resulted in a severe curvature of the spine, and that for some years he was somewhat stooped. I was unable to make out from his diary whether this injury was the result of a tree or some object falling upon him and pinning him down, or whether his back had been overweighted and bent by wet, clinging snow. As I could not find any scars or bruises, I think that snow must have been the cause of the injury. However, after a few years he straightened up with youthful vitality and seemed to outgrow and forget the experience.
A century of tranquil life followed, and during these years the rapid growth tells of good seasons as well as good soil. This rapid growth also shows that there could not have been any crowding neighbors to share the sun and the soil. The tree had grown evenly in all quarters, and the pith of the tree was in the centre. But had one tree grown close, on that quarter the old pine would have grown slower than the others and would have been thinner, and the pith would thus have been away from the tree's centre.
When the old pine was just completing his one hundred and thirty-fifth ring of growth, he met with an accident which I can account for only by assuming that a large tree that grew several yards away blew over, and in falling, stabbed him in the side with two dead limbs. His bark was broken and torn, but this healed in due time. Short sections of the dead limbs broke off, however, and were embedded in the old pine. Twelve years' growth covered them, and they remained hidden from view until my splitting revealed them. The other wounds started promptly to heal and, with one exception, did so.
A year or two later some ants and borers began excavating their deadly winding ways in the old pine. They probably started to work in one of the places injured by the falling tree. They must have had some advantage, or else something must have happened to the nuthatches and chickadees that year, for, despite the vigilance of these birds, both the borers and the ants succeeded in establishing colonies that threatened injury and possibly death.
Fortunately relief came. One day the chief surgeon of all the Southwestern pineries came along. This surgeon was the Texas woodpecker. He probably did not long explore the ridges and little furrows of the bark before he discovered the wound or heard these hidden insects working. After a brief examination, holding his ear to the bark for a moment to get the location of the tree's deadly foe beneath, he was ready to act. He made two successful operations. These not only required him to cut deeply into the old pine and take out the borers, but he may also have had to come back from time to time to dress the wounds by devouring the ant-colonies which may have persisted in taking possession of them. The wounds finally healed, and only the splitting of the affected parts revealed these records, all filled with pitch and preserved for nearly nine hundred years.
Following this, an even tenor marked his life for nearly three centuries. This quiet existence came to an end in the summer of 1301, when a stroke of lightning tore a limb out of his round top and badly shattered a shoulder. He had barely recovered from this injury when a violent wind tore off several of his arms. During the summer of 1348 he lost two of his largest arms. These were large and sound, and were more than a foot in diameter at the points of breakage. As these were broken by a down-pressing weight or force, we may attribute these breaks to accumulations of snow.
The oldest, largest portion of a tree is the short section immediately above the ground, and, as this lower section is the most exposed to accidents or to injuries from enemies, it generally bears evidence of having suffered the most. Within its scroll are usually found the most extensive and interesting autobiographical impressions.
It is doubtful if there is any portion of the earth upon which there are so many deadly struggles as upon the earth around the trunk of a tree. Upon this small arena there are battles fierce and wild; here nature is "red in tooth and claw." When a tree is small and tender, countless insects come to feed upon it. Birds come to it to devour these insects. Around the tree are daily almost merciless fights for existence. These death-struggles occur not only in the daytime, but in the night. Mice, rats, and rabbits destroy millions of young trees. These bold animals often flay baby trees in the daylight, and while at their deadly feast many a time have they been surprised by hawks, and then they are at a banquet where they themselves are eaten. The owl, the faithful nightwatchman of trees, often swoops down at night, and as a result some little tree is splashed with the blood of the very animal that came to feed upon it.
The lower section of Old Pine's trunk contained records which I found interesting. One of these in particular aroused my imagination. I was sawing off a section of this lower portion when the saw, with a buzz-z-z-z, suddenly jumped. The object struck was harder than the saw. I wondered what it could be, and, cutting the wood carefully away, laid bare a flint arrowhead. Close to this one I found another, and then with care I counted the rings of growth to find out the year that these had wounded Old Pine. The outer ring which these arrowheads had pierced was the six hundred and thirtieth, so that the year of this occurrence was 1486.
Had an Indian bent his bow and shot at a bear that had stood at bay backed up against this tree? Or was there around this tree a battle among Indian tribes? Is it possible that at this place some Cliff-Dweller scouts encountered their advancing foe from the north and opened hostilities? It may be that around Old Pine was fought the battle that is said to have decided the fate of that mysterious race the Cliff-Dwellers. The imagination insists on speculating with these two arrowheads, though they form a fascinating clue that leads us to no definite conclusion. But the fact remains that Old Pine was wounded by two Indian arrowheads some time during his six hundred and thirtieth summer.
The year that Columbus discovered America, Old Pine was a handsome giant with a round head held more than one hundred feet above the earth. He was six hundred and thirty-six years old, and with the coming of the Spanish adventurers his lower trunk was given new events to record. The year 1540 was a particularly memorable one for him. This year brought the first horses and bearded men into the drama which was played around him. This year, for the first time, he felt the edge of steel and the tortures of fire. The old chronicles say that the Spanish explorers found the cliff-houses in the year 1540. I believe that during this year a Spanish exploring party may have camped beneath Old Pine and built a fire against his instep, and that some of the explorers hacked him with an axe. The old pine had distinct records of axe and fire markings during the year 1540. It was not common for the Indians of the West to burn or mutilate trees, and as it was common for the Spaniards to do so, and as these hackings in the tree seemed to have been made with some edged tool sharper than any possessed by the Indians, it at least seems probable that they were done by the Spaniards. At any rate, from the year 1540 until the day of his death, Old Pine carried these scars on his instep.
As the average yearly growth of the old pine was about the same as in trees similarly situated at the present time, I suppose that climatic conditions in his early days must have been similar to the climatic conditions of to-day. His records indicate periods of even tenor of climate, a year of extremely poor conditions, occasionally a year crowned with a bountiful wood harvest. From 1540 to 1762 I found little of special interest. In 1762, however, the season was not regular. After the ring was well started, something, perhaps a cold wave, for a time checked its growth, and as a result the wood for that one year resembled two years' growth, but yet the difference between this double or false ring and a regular one was easily detected. Old Pine's "hard times" experience seems to have been during the years 1804 and 1805. I think it probable that these were years of drought. During 1804 the layer of wood was the thinnest in his life, and for 1805 the only wood I could find was a layer which only partly covered the trunk of the tree, and this was exceedingly thin.
From time to time in the old pine's record, I came across what seemed to be indications of an earthquake shock; but late in 1811 or early in 1812, I think there is no doubt that he experienced a violent shock, for he made extensive records of it. This earthquake occurred after the sap had ceased to flow in 1811, and before it began to flow in the spring of 1812. In places the wood was checked and shattered. At one point, some distance from the ground, there was a bad horizontal break. Two big roots were broken in two, and that quarter of the tree which faced the cliffs had suffered from a rock bombardment. I suppose the violence of the quake displaced many rocks, and some of these, as they came bounding down the mountain-side, collided with Old Pine. One, of about five pounds' weight, struck him so violently in the side that it remained embedded there. After some years the wound was healed over, but this fragment remained in the tree until I released it.
During 1859 some one made an axe-mark on the old pine that may have been intended for a trail-blaze, and during the same year another fire badly burned and scarred his ankle. I wonder if some prospectors came this way in 1859 and made camp by him.
Another record of man's visits to the tree was made in the summer of 1881, when I think a hunting or outing party may have camped near here and amused themselves by shooting at a mark on Old Pine's ankle. Several modern rifle-bullets were found embedded in the wood around or just beneath a blaze which was made on the tree the same year in which the bullets had entered it. As both these marks were made during the year 1881, it is at least possible that this year the old pine was used as the background for a target during a shooting contest.
While I was working over the old pine, a Douglas squirrel who lived near by used every day to stop in his busy harvesting of pine-cones to look on and scold me. As I watched him placing his cones in a hole in the ground under the pine-needles, I often wondered if one of his buried cones would remain there uneaten to germinate and expand ever green into the air, and become a noble giant to live as long and as useful a life as Old Pine. I found myself trying to picture the scenes in which this tree would stand when the birds came singing back from the Southland in the springtime of the year 3000.
After I had finished my work of splitting, studying, and deciphering the fragments of the old pine, I went to the sawmill and arranged for the men to come over that evening after I had departed and burn every piece and vestige of the venerable old tree. I told them I should be gone by dark. Then I went back and piled into a pyramid every fragment of root and trunk and broken branch. Seating myself upon this pyramid, I spent some time that afternoon gazing through the autumn sunglow at the hazy Mesa Verde, while my mind rebuilt and shifted the scenes of the long, long drama in which Old Pine had played his part, and of which he had given us but a few fragmentary records. I lingered there dreaming until twilight. I thought of the cycles during which he had stood patient in his appointed place, and my imagination busied itself with the countless experiences that had been recorded, and the scenes and pageants he had witnessed but of which he had made no record. I wondered if he had enjoyed the changing of seasons. I knew that he had often boomed or hymned in the storm or in the breeze. Many a monumental robe of snow-flowers had he worn. More than a thousand times he had beheld the earth burst into bloom amid the happy songs of mating birds; hundreds of times in summer he had worn countless crystal rain-jewels in the sunlight of the breaking storm, while the brilliant rainbow came and vanished on the near-by mountain-side. Ten thousand times he had stood silent in the lonely light of the white and mystic moon.
Twilight was fading into darkness when I arose and started on a night-journey for the Mesa Verde, where I intended next morning to greet an old gnarled cedar which grew on its summit. When I arrived at the top of the Mesa, I looked back and saw a pyramid of golden flame standing out in the darkness.
The Beaver and his Works
I have never been able to decide which I love best, birds or trees, but as these are really comrades it does not matter, for they can take first place together. But when it comes to second place in my affection for wild things, this, I am sure, is filled by the beaver. The beaver has so many interesting ways, and is altogether so useful, so thrifty, so busy, so skillful, and so picturesque, that I believe his life and his deeds deserve a larger place in literature and a better place in our hearts. His engineering works are of great value to man. They not only help to distribute the waters and beneficially control the flow of the streams, but they also catch and save from loss enormous quantities of the earth's best plant-food. In helping to do these two things,—governing the rivers and fixing the soil,—he plays an important part, and if he and the forest had their way with the water-supply, floods would be prevented, streams would never run dry, and a comparatively even flow of water would be maintained in the rivers every day of the year.
A number of beaver establishing a colony made one of the most interesting exhibitions of constructive work that I have ever watched. The work went on for several weeks, and I spent hours and days in observing operations. My hiding-place on a granite crag allowed me a good view of the work,—the cutting and transportation of the little logs, the dam-building, and the house-raising. I was close to the trees that were felled. Occasionally, during the construction work of this colony, I saw several beaver at one time cutting trees near one another. Upon one occasion, one was squatted on a fallen tree, another on the limb of a live one, and a third upon a boulder, each busy cutting down his tree. In every case, the tail was used for a combination stool and brace. While cutting, the beaver sat upright and clasped the willow with fore paws or put his hands against the tree, usually tilting his head to one side. The average diameter of the trees cut was about four inches, and a tree of this size was cut down quickly and without a pause.
When the tree was almost cut off, the cutter usually thumped with his tail, at which signal all other cutters near by scampered away. But this warning signal was not always given, and in one instance an unwarned cutter had a narrow escape from a tree falling perilously close to him.
Before cutting a tree, a beaver usually paused and appeared to look at its surroundings as if choosing a place to squat or sit while cutting it down; but so far as I could tell, he gave no thought as to the direction in which the tree was going to fall. This is true of every beaver which I have seen begin cutting, and I have seen scores. But beavers have individuality, and occasionally I noticed one with marked skill or decision. It may be, therefore, that some beaver try to fell trees on a particular place. In fact, I remember having seen in two localities stumps which suggested that the beaver who cut down the trees had planned just how they were to fall. In the first locality, I could judge only from the record left by the stumps; but the quarter on which the main notch had been made, together with the fact that the notch had in two instances been made on a quarter of the tree where it was inconvenient for the cutter to work, seemed to indicate a plan to fell the tree in a particular direction. In the other locality, I knew the attitude of the trees before they were cut, and in this instance the evidence was so complete and conclusive that I must believe the beaver that cut down these trees endeavored to get them to fall in a definite direction. In each of these cases, however, judging chiefly from the teeth-marks, I think the cuttings were done by the same beaver. Many observations induce me to believe, however, that the majority of beaver do not plan how the trees are to fall.
Once a large tree is on the ground, the limbs are trimmed off and the trunk is cut into sections sufficiently small to be dragged, rolled, or pushed to the water, where transportation is easy.
The young beaver that I have seen cutting trees have worked in leisurely manner, in contrast with the work of the old ones. After giving a few bites, they usually stop to eat a piece of the bark, or to stare listlessly around for a time. As workers, young beaver appear at their best and liveliest when taking a limb from the hillside to the house in the pond. A young beaver will catch a limb by one end in his teeth, and, throwing it over his shoulder in the attitude of a puppy racing with a rope or a rag, make off to the pond. Once in the water, he throws up his head and swims to the house or the dam with the limb held trailing out over his back.
The typical beaver-house seen in the Rockies at the present time stands in the upper edge of the pond which the beaver-dam has made, near where the brook enters it. Its foundation is about eight feet across, and it stands from five to ten feet in height, a rude cone in form. Most houses are made of sticks and mud, and are apparently put up with little thought for the living-room, which is later dug or gnawed from the interior. The entrance to the house is below water-level, and commonly on the bottom of the lake. Late each autumn, the house is plastered on the outside with mud, and I am inclined to believe that this plaster is not so much to increase the warmth of the house as to give it, when the mud is frozen, a strong protective armor, an armor which will prevent the winter enemies of the beaver from breaking into the house.
Each autumn beaver pile up near by the house, a large brush-heap of green trunks and limbs, mostly of aspen, willow, cottonwood, or alder. This is their granary, and during the winter they feed upon the green bark, supplementing this with the roots of water-plants, which they drag from the bottom of the pond.
Along in May five baby beaver appear, and a little later these explore the pond and race, wrestle, and splash water in it as merrily as boys. Occasionally they sun themselves on a fallen log, or play together there, trying to push one another off into the water. Often they play in the canals that lead between ponds or from them, or on the "slides." Toward the close of summer, they have their lessons in cutting and dam-building.
A beaver appears awkward as he works on land. In use of arms and hands he reminds one of a monkey, while his clumsy and usually slow-moving body will often suggest the hippopotamus. By using head, hands, teeth, tail, and webbed feet the beaver accomplishes much. The tail of a beaver is a useful and much-used appendage; it serves as a rudder, a stool, and a ramming or signal club. The beaver may use his tail for a trowel, but I have never seen him so use it. His four front teeth are excellent edge-tools for his logging and woodwork; his webbed feet are most useful in his deep-waterway transportation, and his hands in house-building and especially in dam-building. It is in dam-building that the beaver shows his greatest skill and his best headwork; for I confess to the belief that a beaver reasons. I have so often seen him change his plans so wisely and meet emergencies so promptly and well that I can think of him only as a reasoner.
I have often wondered if beaver make a preliminary survey of a place before beginning to build a dam. I have seen them prowling suggestively along brooks just prior to beaver-dam building operations there, and circumstantial evidence would credit them with making preliminary surveys. But of this there is no proof. I have noticed a few things that seem to have been considered by beaver before beginning dam-building,—the supply of food and of dam-building material, for instance, and the location of the dam so as to require the minimum amount of material and insure the creation of the largest reservoir. In making the dam, the beaver usually takes advantage of boulders, willow-clumps, and surface irregularities. But he often makes errors of judgment. I have seen him abandon dams both before and after completion. The apparent reasons were that the dam either had failed or would fail to flood the area which he needed or desired flooded. His endeavors are not always successful. About twenty years ago, near Helena, Montana, a number of beaver made an audacious attempt to dam the Missouri River. After long and persistent effort, however, they gave it up. The beaver may be credited with errors, failures, and successes. He has forethought. If a colony of beaver be turned loose upon a three-mile tree-lined brook in the wilds and left undisturbed for a season, or until they have had time to select a site and locate themselves to best advantage, it is probable that the location chosen will indicate that they have examined the entire brook and then selected the best place.
As soon as the beaver's brush dam is completed, it begins to accumulate trash and mud. In a little while, usually, it is covered with a mass of soil, shrubs of willow begin to grow upon it, and after a few years it is a strong, earthy, willow-covered dam. The dams vary in length from a few feet to several hundred feet. I measured one on the South Platte River that was eleven hundred feet long.
The influence of a beaver-dam is astounding. As soon as completed, it becomes a highway for the folk of the wild. It is used day and night. Mice and porcupines, bears and rabbits, lions and wolves, make a bridge of it. From it, in the evening, the graceful deer cast their reflections in the quiet pond. Over it dash pursuer and pursued; and on it take place battles and courtships. It is often torn by hoof and claw of animals locked in death-struggles, and often, very often, it is stained with blood. Many a drama, picturesque, fierce, and wild, is staged upon a beaver-dam.
An interesting and valuable book could be written concerning the earth as modified and benefited by beaver action, and I have long thought that the beaver deserved at least a chapter in Marsh's masterly book, "The Earth as modified by Human Action." To "work like a beaver" is an almost universal expression for energetic persistence, but who realizes that the beaver has accomplished anything? Almost unread of and unknown are his monumental works.
The instant a beaver-dam is completed, it has a decided influence on the flow of the water, and especially on the quantity of sediment which the passing water carries. The sediment, instead of going down to fill the channel below, or to clog the river's mouth, fill the harbor, and do damage a thousand miles away, is accumulated in the pond behind the dam, and a level deposit is formed over the entire area of the lake. By and by this deposit is so great that the lake is filled with sediment, but before this happens, both lake and dam check and delay so much flood-water that floods are diminished in volume, and the water thus delayed is in part added to the flow of the streams at the time of low water, the result being a more even stream-flow at all times.
The regulation of stream-flow is important. There are only a few rainy days each year, and all the water that flows down the rivers falls on these few rainy days. The instant the water reaches the earth, it is hurried away toward the sea, and unless some agency delays the run-off, the rivers would naturally contain water only on the rainy days and a little while after. The fact that some rivers contain water at all times is but evidence that something has held in check a portion of the water which fell during these rainy days.
Among the agencies which best perform this service of keeping the streams ever-flowing, are the forests and the works of the beaver. Rainfall accumulates in the brooks. The brooks conduct the water to the rivers. If across a river there be a beaver-dam, the pond formed by it will be a reservoir which will catch and retain some of the water coming into it during rainy days, and will thus delay the passage of all water which flows through it. Beaver-reservoirs are leaky ones, and if they are stored full during rainy days, the leaking helps to maintain the stream-flow in dry weather. A beaver-dam thus tends to distribute to the streams below it a moderate quantity of water each day. In other words, it spreads out or distributes the water of the few rainy days through all the days of the year. A river which flows steadily throughout the year is of inestimable value to mankind. If floods sweep a river, they do damage. If low water comes, the wheels of steamers and of manufactories cease to move, and damage or death may result. In maintaining a medium between the extremes of high and low water, the beaver's work is of profound importance. In helping beneficially to control a river, the beaver would render enormous service if allowed to construct his works at its source. During times of heavy rainfall, the water-flow carries with it, especially in unforested sections, great quantities of soil and sediment. Beaver-dams catch much of the material eroded from the hillsides above, and also prevent much erosion along the streams which they govern. They thus catch and deposit in place much valuable soil, the cream of the earth, that otherwise would be washed away and lost,—washed away into the rivers and harbors, impeding navigation and increasing river and harbor bills.
There is an old Indian legend which says that after the Creator separated the land from the water he employed gigantic beavers to smooth it down and prepare it for the abode of man. This is appreciative and suggestive. Beaver-dams have had much to do with the shaping and creating of a great deal of the richest agricultural land in America. To-day there are many peaceful and productive valleys the soil of which has been accumulated and fixed in place by ages of engineering activities on the part of the beaver before the white man came. On both mountain and plain you may still see much of this good work accomplished by them. In the mountains, deep and almost useless gulches have been filled by beaver-dams with sediment, and in course of time changed to meadows. So far as I know, the upper course of every river in the Rockies is through a number of beaver-meadows, some of them acres in extent.
On the upper course of Grand River in Colorado, I once made an extensive examination of some old beaver-works. Series of beaver-dams had been extended along this stream for several miles, as many as twenty dams to the mile. Each succeeding dam had backed water to the one above it. These had accumulated soil and formed a series of terraces, which, with the moderate slope of the valley, had in time formed an extensive and comparatively level meadow for a great distance along the river. The beaver settlement on this river was long ago almost entirely destroyed, and the year before my arrival a cloudburst had fallen upon the mountain-slope above, and the down-rushing flood had, in places, eroded deeply into the deposits formed by the beaver-works. At one place the water had cut down twenty-two feet, and had brought to light the fact that the deposit had been formed by a series of dams one above the other, a new dam having been built or the old one increased in height when the deposit of sediment had filled, or nearly filled, the pond. This is only one instance. There are thousands of similar places in the Rockies where beaver-dams have accumulated deposits of greater or less extent than those on the Grand River.
Only a few beaver remain, and though much of their work will endure to serve mankind, in many places their old work is gone or is going to ruin for the want of attention. We are paying dearly for the thoughtless and almost complete destruction of this animal. A live beaver is far more valuable to us than a dead one. Soil is eroding away, river-channels are filling, and most of the streams in the United States fluctuate between flood and low water. A beaver colony at the source of every stream would moderate these extremes and add to the picturesqueness and beauty of many scenes that are now growing ugly with erosion. We need to cooeperate with the beaver. He would assist the work of reclamation, and be of great service in maintaining the deep-waterways. I trust he will be assisted in colonizing our National Forests, and allowed to cut timber there without a permit.
The beaver is the Abou-ben-Adhem of the wild. May his tribe increase.
The Wilds without Firearms
Had I encountered the two gray wolves during my first unarmed camping-trip into the wilds, the experience would hardly have suggested to me that going without firearms is the best way to enjoy wild nature. But I had made many unarmed excursions beyond the trail before I had that adventure, and the habit of going without a gun was so firmly fixed and so satisfactory that even a perilous wolf encounter did not arouse any desire for firearms. The habit continued, and to-day the only way I can enjoy the wilds is to leave guns behind.
On that autumn afternoon I was walking along slowly, reflectively, in a deep forest. Not a breath of air moved, and even the aspen's golden leaves stood still in the sunlight. All was calm and peaceful around and within me, when I came to a little sunny frost-tanned grass-plot surrounded by tall, crowding pines. I felt drawn to its warmth and repose and stepped joyfully into it. Suddenly two gray wolves sprang from almost beneath my feet and faced me defiantly. At a few feet distance they made an impressive show of ferocity, standing ready apparently to hurl themselves upon me.
Now the gray wolf is a powerful, savage beast, and directing his strong jaws, tireless muscles, keen scent, and all-seeing eyes are exceedingly nimble wits. He is well equipped to make the severe struggle for existence which his present environment compels. In many Western localities, despite the high price offered for his scalp, he has managed not only to live, but to increase and multiply. I had seen gray wolves pull down big game. On one occasion I had seen a vigorous long-horned steer fall after a desperate struggle with two of these fearfully fanged animals. Many times I had come across scattered bones which told of their triumph; and altogether I was so impressed with their deadliness that a glimpse of one of them usually gave me over to a temporary dread.
The two wolves facing me seemed to have been asleep in the sun when I disturbed them. I realized the danger and was alarmed, of course, but my faculties were under control, were stimulated, indeed, to unusual alertness, and I kept a bold front and faced them without flinching. Their expression was one of mingled surprise and anger, together with the apparent determination to sell their lives as dearly as possible. I gave them all the attention which their appearance and their reputation demanded. Not once did I take my eyes off them. I held them at bay with my eyes. I still have a vivid picture of terribly gleaming teeth, bristling backs, and bulging muscles in savage readiness.
They made no move to attack. I was afraid to attack and I dared not run away. I remembered that some trees I could almost reach behind me had limbs that stretched out toward me, yet I felt that to wheel, spring for a limb, and swing up beyond their reach could not be done quickly enough to escape those fierce jaws.
Both sides were of the same mind, ready to fight, but not at all eager to do so. Under these conditions our nearness was embarrassing, and we faced each other for what seemed, to me at least, a long time. My mind working like lightning, I thought of several possible ways of escaping, I considered each at length, found it faulty, and dismissed it. Meanwhile, not a sound had been made. I had not moved, but something had to be done. Slowly I worked the small folding axe from its sheath, and with the slowest of movements placed it in my right coat-pocket with the handle up, ready for instant use. I did this with studied deliberation, lest a sudden movement should release the springs that held the wolves back. I kept on staring. Statues, almost, we must have appeared to the "camp-bird" whose call from a near-by limb told me we were observed, and whose nearness gave me courage. Then, looking the nearer of the two wolves squarely in the eye, I said to him, "Well, why don't you move?" as though we were playing checkers instead of the game of life. He made no reply, but the spell was broken. I believe that both sides had been bluffing. In attempting to use my kodak while continuing the bluff, I brought matters to a focus. "What a picture you fellows will make," I said aloud, as my right hand slowly worked the kodak out of the case which hung under my left arm. Still keeping up a steady fire of looks, I brought the kodak in front of me ready to focus, and then touched the spring that released the folding front. When the kodak mysteriously, suddenly opened before the wolves, they fled for their lives. In an instant they had cleared the grassy space and vanished into the woods. I did not get their picture.
With a gun, the wolf encounter could not have ended more happily. At any rate, I have not for a moment cared for a gun since I returned enthusiastic from my first delightful trip into the wilds without one. Out in the wilds with nature is one of the safest and most sanitary of places. Bears are not seeking to devour, and the death-list from lions, wolves, snakes, and all other bugbears combined does not equal the death-list from fire, automobiles, street-cars, or banquets. Being afraid of nature or a rainstorm is like being afraid of the dark.
The time of that first excursion was spent among scenes that I had visited before, but the discoveries I made and the deeper feelings it stirred within me, led me to think it more worth while than any previous trip among the same delightful scenes. The first day, especially, was excitingly crowded with new sights and sounds and fancies. I fear that during the earlier trips the rifle had obscured most of the scenes in which it could not figure, and as a result I missed fairyland and most of the sunsets.
When I arrived at the alpine lake by which I was to camp, evening's long rays and shadows were romantically robing the picturesque wild border of the lake. The crags, the temples, the flower-edged snowdrifts, and the grass-plots of this wild garden seemed half-unreal, as over them the long lights and torn shadows grouped and changed, lingered and vanished, in the last moments of the sun. The deep purple of evening was over all, and the ruined crag with the broken pine on the ridge-top was black against the evening's golden glow, when I hastened to make camp by a pine temple while the beautiful world of sunset's hour slowly faded into the night.
The camp-fire was a glory-burst in the darkness, and the small many-spired evergreen temple before me shone an illuminated cathedral in the night. All that evening I believed in fairies, and by watching the changing camp-fire kept my fancies frolicking in realms of mystery where all the world was young. I lay down without a gun, and while the fire changed and faded to black and gray the coyotes began to howl. But their voices did not seem as lonely or menacing as when I had had a rifle by my side. As I lay listening to them, I thought I detected merriment in their tones, and in a little while their shouts rang as merrily as though they were boys at play. Never before had I realized that coyotes too had enjoyments, and I listened to their shouts with pleasure. At last the illumination faded from the cathedral grove and its templed top stood in charcoal against the clear heavens as I fell asleep beneath the peaceful stars.
The next morning I loitered here and there, getting acquainted with the lake-shore, for without a gun all objects, or my eyes, were so changed that I had only a dim recollection of having seen the place before. From time to time, as I walked about, I stopped to try to win the confidence of the small folk in fur and feathers. I found some that trusted me, and at noon a chipmunk, a camp-bird, a chickadee, and myself were several times busy with the same bit of luncheon at once.
Some years ago mountain sheep often came in flocks to lick the salty soil in a ruined crater on Specimen Mountain. One day I climbed up and hid myself in the crags to watch them. More than a hundred of them came. After licking for a time, many lay down. Some of the rams posed themselves on the rocks in heroic attitudes and looked serenely and watchfully around. Young lambs ran about, and a few occasionally raced up and down smooth, rocky steeps, seemingly without the slightest regard for the laws of falling bodies. I was close to the flock, but luckily they did not suspect my presence. After enjoying their fine wild play for more than two hours, I slipped away and left them in their home among the crags.
One spring day I paused in a whirl of mist and wet snow to look for the trail. I could see only a few yards ahead. As I peered ahead, a bear emerged from the gloom, heading straight for me. Behind her were two cubs. I caught her impatient expression when she beheld me. She stopped, and then, with a growl of anger, she wheeled and boxed cubs right and left like an angry mother. The bears disappeared in the direction from which they had come, the cubs urged on with spanks from behind as all vanished in the falling snow.
The gray Douglas squirrel is one of the most active, audacious, and outspoken of animals. He enjoys seclusion and claims to be monarch of all he surveys, and no trespasser is too big to escape a scolding from him. Many times he has given me a terrible tongue-lashing with a desperate accompaniment of fierce facial expressions, bristling whiskers, and emphatic gestures. I love this brave fellow creature; but if he were only a few inches bigger, I should never risk my life in his woods without a gun.
This is a beautiful world, and all who go out under the open sky will feel the gentle, kindly influence of Nature and hear her good tidings. The forests of the earth are the flags of Nature. They appeal to all and awaken inspiring universal feelings. Enter the forest and the boundaries of nations are forgotten. It may be that some time an immortal pine will be the flag of a united and peaceful world.
A Watcher on the Heights
While on the sky-line as State Snow Observer, I had one adventure with the elements that called for the longest special report that I have ever written. Perhaps I cannot do better than quote this report transmitted to Professor Carpenter, at Denver, on May 26, 1904.
NOTES ON THE POUDRE FLOOD
The day before the Poudre flood, I traveled for eight hours northwesterly along the top of the Continental Divide, all the time being above timber-line and from eleven thousand to twelve thousand feet above sea-level.
The morning was cloudless and hot. The western sky was marvelously clear. Eastward, a thin, dark haze overspread everything below ten thousand feet. By 9.30 A. M. this haze had ascended higher than where I was. At nine o'clock the snow on which I walked, though it had been frozen hard during the night, was soggy and wet.
About 9.30 a calm that had prevailed all the morning gave way before an easy intermittent warm breeze from the southeast.
At 10.10 the first cloud appeared in the north, just above Hague's Peak. It was a heavy cumulus cloud, but I do not know from what direction it came. It rose high in the air, drifted slowly toward the west, and then seemed to dissolve. At any rate, it vanished. About 10.30 several heavy clouds rose from behind Long's Peak, moving toward the northwest, rising higher into the sky as they advanced.
The wind, at first in fitful dashes from the southeast, began to come more steadily and swiftly after eleven o'clock, and was so warm that the snow softened to a sloppy state. The air carried a tinge of haze, and conditions were oppressive. It was labor to breathe. Never, except one deadly hot July day in New York City, have I felt so overcome with heat and choking air. Perspiration simply streamed from me. These oppressive conditions continued for two hours,—until about one o'clock. While they lasted, my eyes pained, ached, and twitched. There was no glare, but only by keeping my eyes closed could I stand the half-burning pain. Finally I came to some crags and lay down for a time in the shade. I was up eleven thousand five hundred feet and the time was 12.20. As I lay on the snow gazing upward, I became aware that there were several flotillas of clouds of from seven to twenty each, and these were moving toward every point of the compass. Each seemed on a different stratum of air, and each moved through space a considerable distance above or below the others. The clouds moving eastward were the highest. Most of the lower clouds were those moving westward. The haze and sunlight gave color to every cloud, and this color varied from smoky red to orange.
At two o'clock the haze came in from the east almost as dense as a fog-bank, crossed the ridge before me, and spread out as dark and foreboding as the smoke of Vesuvius. Behind me the haze rolled upward when it struck the ridge, and I had clear glimpses whenever I looked to the southwest. This heavy, muddy haze prevailed for a little more than half an hour, and as it cleared, the clouds began to disappear, but a gauzy haze still continued in the air. The feeling in the air was not agreeable, and for the first time in my life I felt alarmed by the shifting, rioting clouds and the weird haze.
I arrived at timber-line south of Poudre Lakes about 4.30 P. M., and for more than half an hour the sky, except in the east over the foothills, was clear, and the sunlight struck a glare from the snow. With the cleared air there came to me an easier feeling. The oppressiveness ceased. I descended a short distance into the woods and relaxed on a fallen tree that lay above the snow.
I had been there but a little while, when—snap! buzz! buzz! buzz! ziz! ziz! and electricity began to pull my hair and hum around my ears. The electricity passed off shortly, but in a little while it caught me again by the hair for a brief time, and this time my right arm momentarily cramped and my heart seemed to give several lurches. I arose and tramped on and downward, but every little while I was in for shocking treatment. The electrical waves came from the southwest and moved northeast. They were separated by periods of from one to several minutes in length, and were about two seconds in passing. During their presence they made it lively for me, with hair-pulling, heart-palpitation, and muscular cramps. I tried moving speedily with the wave, also standing still and lying down, hoping that the wave would pass me by; but in each and every case it gave me the same stirring treatment. Once I stood erect and rigid as the wave came on, but it intensified suddenly the rigidity of every muscle to a seemingly rupturing extent, and I did not try that plan again. The effect of each wave on me seemed to be slightly weakened whenever I lay down and fully relaxed my muscles.
I was on a northerly slope, in spruce timber, tramping over five feet of snow. During these electrical waves, the points of dry twigs were tipped with a smoky blue flame, and sometimes bands of this bluish flame encircled green trees just below their lower limbs. I looked at the compass a few times, and though the needle occasionally swayed a little, it was not affected in any marked manner.
The effect of the electrical waves on me became less as I descended, but whether from my getting below the electrical stratum, or from a cessation of the current, I cannot say.
But I did not descend much below eleven thousand feet, and at the lowest point I crossed the South Poudre, at the outlet of Poudre Lakes. In crossing I broke through the ice and received a wetting, with the exception of my right side above the hip. Once across, I walked about two hundred yards through an opening, then again entered the woods, on the southeasterly slope of Specimen Mountain. I had climbed only a short distance up this slope when another electrical wave struck me. The effect of this was similar to that of the preceding ones. There was, however, a marked difference in the intensity with which the electricity affected the wet and the dry portions of my body. The effect on my right side and shoulder, which had escaped wetting when I broke through the ice, was noticeably stronger than on the rest of my body. Climbing soon dried my clothes sufficiently to make this difference no longer noticeable. The waves became more frequent than at first, but not so strong. I made a clumsy climb of about five hundred feet, my muscles being "muscle-bound" all the time with rigidity from electricity. But this climb brought me almost to timber-line on Specimen Mountain, and also under the shadow of the south peak of it. At this place the electrical effects almost ceased. Nor did I again seriously feel the current until I found myself out in the sunlight which came between the two peaks of Specimen. While I continued in the sunlight I felt the electrical wave, but, strange to say, when I again entered the shadow I almost wholly escaped it.
When I started on the last slope toward the top of North Specimen, I came out into the sunlight again, and I also passed into an electrical sea. The slope was free from snow, and as the electrical waves swept in close succession, about thirty seconds apart, they snapped, hummed, and buzzed in such a manner that their advance and retreat could be plainly heard. In passing by me, the noise was more of a crackling and humming nature, while a million faint sparks flashed from the stones (porphyry and rhyolite) as the wave passed over. But the effect on me became constant. Every muscle was almost immovable. I could climb only a few steps without weakening to the stopping-point. I breathed only by gasps, and my heart became violent and feeble by turns. I felt as if cinched in a steel corset. After I had spent ten long minutes and was only half-way up a slope, the entire length of which I had more than once climbed in a few minutes and in fine shape, I turned to retreat, but as there was no cessation of the electrical colic, I faced about and started up again. I reached the top a few minutes before 6.30 P. M., and shortly afterward the sun disappeared behind clouds and peaks.
I regret that I failed to notice whether the electrical effects ceased with the setting of the sun, but it was not long after the disappearance of the sun before I was at ease, enjoying the magnificent mountain-range of clouds that had formed above the foothills and stood up glorious in the sunlight.
Shortly before five o'clock the clouds had begun to pile up in the east, and their gigantic forms, flowing outlines, and glorious lighting were the only things that caused the electrical effects to be forgotten even momentarily. The clouds formed into a long, solid, rounded range that rose to great height and was miles in length. The southern end of this range was in the haze, and I could not make out its outline further south than a point about opposite Loveland, Colorado, nor could I see the northern end beyond a few miles north of Cheyenne, where it was cut off by a dozen strata of low clouds that moved steadily at a right angle to the east. Sixty miles of length was visible. Its height, like that of the real mountains which it paralleled, diminished toward the north. The place of greatest altitude was about twenty-five miles distant from me. From my location, the clouds presented a long and smoothly terraced slope, the top of which was at least five thousand feet and may have been fifteen thousand feet above me. The clouds seemed compact; at times they surged upwards; then they would settle with a long, undulating swell, as if some unseen power were trying to force them further up the mountains, while they were afraid to try it. Finally a series of low, conical peaks rose on the summit of the cloud-range, and the peaks and the upper cloud-slope resembled the upper portion of a circus-tent. There were no rough places or angles.
When darkness came on, the surface of this cloud-range was at times splendidly illuminated by electricity beneath; and, when the darkness deepened, the electrical play beneath often caused the surface to shine momentarily like incandescent glass, and occasionally sinuous rivers of gold ran over the slopes. Several times I thought that the course of these golden rivers of electrical fire was from the bottom upward, but so brilliant and dazzling were they that I could not positively decide on the direction of their movement. Never have I seen such enormous cloud-forms or such brilliant electrical effects.
The summit of Specimen Mountain, from which I watched the clouds and electrical flashes, is about twelve thousand five hundred feet above sea-level. A calm prevailed while I remained on top. It was about 8.30 P. M. when I left the summit, on snowshoes, and swept down the steep northern slope into the woods. This hurry caused no unusual heart or muscle action.
The next morning was cloudy as low down as ten thousand five hundred feet, and, for all I know, lower still. The night had been warm, and the morning had the oppressive feeling that dominated the morning before. The clouds broke up before nine o'clock, and the air, with haze in it, seemed yellow. About 10.30, haze and, soon after, clouds came in from the southeast (at this time I was high up on the southerly slope of Mt. Richthofen), and by eleven o'clock the sky was cloudy. Up to this time the air, when my snow-glasses were off, burned and twitched my eyes in the same manner as on the previous morning.
Early in the afternoon I left Grand Ditch Camp and started down to Chambers Lake. I had not gone far when drops of rain began to fall from time to time, and shortly after this my muscles began to twitch occasionally under electrical ticklings. At times slight muscular rigidity was noticeable. Just before two o'clock the clouds began to burst through between the trees. I was at an altitude of about eleven thousand feet and a short distance from the head of Trap Creek. Rain, hail, and snow fell in turn, and the lightning began frequently to strike the rocks. With the beginning of the lightning my muscles ceased to be troubled with either twitching or rigidity. For the two hours between 2 and 4 P. M. the crash and roll of thunder was incessant. I counted twenty-three times that the lightning struck the rocks, but I did not see it strike a tree. The clouds were low, and the wind came from the east and the northeast, then from the west.
About four o'clock, I broke through the snow, tumbled into Trap Creek, and had to swim a little. This stream was really very swift, and ran in a narrow gulch, but it was blocked by snow and by tree-limbs swept down by the flood, and a pond had been formed. It was crowded with a deep deposit of snow which rested on a shelf of ice. This covering was shattered and uplifted by the swollen stream, and I had slipped on the top of the gulch and tumbled in. Once in, the swift water tugged at me to pull me under; the cakes of snow and ice hampered me, and my snowshoes were entangled with brush and limbs. The combination seemed determined to drown me. For a few seconds I put forth all my efforts to get at my pocket-knife. This accomplished, the fastenings of my snowshoes were cut, and unhampered by these, I escaped the waters.
* * * * *
Since I have felt no ill results, the effect of the entire experience may have been beneficial. The clouds, glorious as they had been in formation and coloring, resulted in a terrible cloudburst. Enormous quantities of water were poured out, and this, falling upon the treeless foothills, rushed away to do more than a million dollars' damage in the rich and beautiful Poudre Valley.
Climbing Long's Peak
Among the best days that I have had outdoors are the two hundred and fifty-seven that were spent as a guide on Long's Peak. One day was required from the starting-place near my cabin for each round trip to the summit of the peak. Something of interest occurred to enliven each one of these climbs: a storm, an accident, the wit of some one or the enthusiasm of all the climbers. But the climb I remember with greatest satisfaction is the one on which I guided Harriet Peters, an eight-year-old girl, to the top.
It was a cold morning when we started for the top, but it was this day or wait until next season, for Harriet was to start for her Southern home in a day or two and could not wait for a more favorable morning. Harriet had spent the two preceding summers near my cabin, and around it had played with the chipmunks and ridden the burros, and she had made a few climbs with me up through the woods. We often talked of going to the top of Long's Peak when she should become strong enough to do so. This time came just after her eighth birthday. As I was as eager to have her make the climb as she was to make it, we started up the next morning after her aunt had given permission for her to go. She was happy when I lifted her at last into the saddle, away up on old "Top's" back. She was so small that I still wonder how she managed to stay on, but she did so easily.
Long's Peak is not only one of the most scenic of the peaks in the Rocky Mountains, but it is probably the most rugged. From our starting-place it was seven miles to the top; five of these miles may be ridden, but the last two are so steep and craggy that one must go on foot and climb.
After riding a little more than a mile, we came to a clear, cold brook that is ever coming down in a great hurry over a steep mountain-side, splashing, jumping, and falling over the boulders of one of nature's stony stairways and forming white cascades which throw their spray among the tall, dark pines. I had told Harriet that ouzels lived by this brook; she was eager to see one, and we stopped at a promising place by the brook to watch. In less than a minute one came flying down the cascades, and so near to the surface of the water that he seemed to be tumbling and sliding down with it. He alighted on a boulder near us, made two or three pleasant curtsies, and started to sing one of his low, sweet songs. He was doing the very thing of which I had so often told Harriet. We watched and listened with breathless interest. In the midst of the song he dived into the brook; in a moment he came up with a water-bug in his bill, settled on the boulder again, gave his nods, and resumed his song, seemingly at the point where he left off. After a few low, sweet notes he broke off again and plunged into the water. This time he came up quickly and alighted on the spot he had just left, and went on with his song without any preliminaries and as if there had been no interruption.
The water-ouzel is found by the alpine lakes and brooks on the mountains of the West. It is a modest-appearing bird, about the size of a thrush, and wears a plain dress of slaty blue. This dress is finished with a tail-piece somewhat like that of the wren, though it is not upturned so much. The bird seems to love cascades, and often nests by one. It also shows its fondness for water by often flying along the brook, following every bend and break made by the stream, keeping close to the water all the time and frequently touching it. Over the quiet reaches it goes skimming; it plunges over the waterfalls, alights on rocks in the rapids, goes dashing through the spray, its every movement showing the ecstasies of eager life and joy in the hurrying water. Our ouzel was quietly feeding on the edge of the brook, when Harriet said good-bye as our ponies started up the trail.
Harriet had never been in school, but she could read, write, and sing. She had good health, and a brighter, cheerier little girl I have never seen. As we rode up the trail through the woods, the gray Douglas squirrels were busy with the harvest. They were cutting off and storing cones for winter food. In the treetops these squirrels seemed to be bouncing and darting in all directions. One would cut off a cone, then dart to the next, and so swiftly that cones were constantly dropping. Frequently the cones struck limbs and bounded as they fell, often coming to the ground to bounce and roll some distance over the forest floor. An occasional one went rolling and bouncing down the steep mountain-side with two or three happy chipmunks in jolly pursuit.
We watched one squirrel stow cones under trash and in holes in the thick beds of needles. These cones were buried near a tree, in a dead limb of which the squirrel had a hole and a home. Harriet asked many questions concerning the cones,—why they were buried, how the squirrel found them when they were buried in the snow, and what became of those which were left buried. I told her that during the winter the squirrel came down and dug through the snow to the cones and then fed upon the nuts. I also told her that squirrels usually buried more cones than were eaten. The uneaten cones, being left in the ground, were in a way planted, and the nuts in them in time sprouted, and young trees came peeping up among the fallen leaves. The squirrel's way of observing Arbor Day makes him a useful forester. Harriet said she would tell all her boy and girl friends what she knew of this squirrel's tree-planting ways, and would ask her uncle not to shoot the little tree-planter.
As we followed the trail up through the woods, I told Harriet many things concerning the trees, and the forces which influenced their distribution and growth. While we were traveling westward in the bottom of a gulch, I pointed out to her that the trees on the mountain that rose on the right and sloped toward the south were of a different kind from those on the mountain-side which rose on our left and sloped toward the north. After traveling four miles and climbing up two thousand feet above our starting-place, and, after from time to time coming to and passing kinds of trees which did not grow lower down the slopes, we at last came to timber-line, above which trees did not grow at all.
In North America between timber-line on the Rockies, at an altitude of about eleven thousand feet, and sea-level on the Florida coast, there are about six hundred and twenty kinds of trees and shrubs growing. Each kind usually grows in the soil and clime that is best suited to its requirements; in other words, most trees are growing where they can do the best, or where they can do better than any other kind. Some trees do the best at the moist seashore; some thrive in swamps; others live only on the desert's edge; some live on the edge of a river; and still others manage to endure the storms of bleak heights.