Page images
PDF
EPUB

throwing the aspen into shade and hindering their growth; another decade, and most of the aspens have died out because, being light-lovers, they could not thrive in the shade of the pine, which has now recovered the ground it lost thirty years ago. An exactly similar alternation of trees can be observed in New York and New England, with the exception that there spruces usually play the part taken by pines in the Lake region. Undoubtedly other sections of the country might furnish parallel cases where trees have an advantage at the start which they lose later on in the rivalry with other species.

Attentive readers must have observed that the dangers threatening a tree are by no means over when the seed has found a favorable locality and developed into a seedling. Just as very few seeds ever sprout at all, so very few infant trees ever reach old age. A very large old tree takes up a hundred times as much room as a young sapling. This room must be provided by killing off the weaker individuals competing for it. A wood composed mainly of very old trees will show far fewer individuals to the acre than one stocked with young ones. But the crown canopy may be just as dense, and the amount of timber contained in it is apt to be far higher.

It would require a volume by itself to describe in detail the manifold conditions under which the warfare of the forest is carried on. We have, almost at random, picked out a few of the phases which influence its progress. These illustrations were designed to impress upon the reader the fact that a forest, left to the undisturbed action of natural forces, does not remain unchanged from century to century, but is different to-day from what it was yesterday, and will be still different tomorrow. As the individual tree lives through various life stages, from infancy to old age, so the forest as a whole matures and grows old. But while the individual, when its limit of age is reached, must die, the forest has the power of constantly regenerating itself, so that its continuity may remain unbroken for countless ages. There are, to be sure, certain slow secular changes which may in the long run destroy a forest altogether. Thus the forests growing in the northern half of our continent in tertiary ages were destroyed by the long glacial winter. But that is a matter of many thousands of years. Humanly speaking, there is no reason why a forest, taking its vast extent as a whole, should not live forever.

Another important principle we have tried to impress by our cursory observations on the inner life of a forest: Multifarious and bewildering as the variety of its life phases is, the forest and the changes constantly going on in it are not the disorderly results of accident. In their astonishing complexity they are yet dependent on a few simple laws of nature. To the degree in which we understand these and their workings, to that degree we will be able to control their results. As we proceed in the consideration of the subject-matter of this volume, we will have frequent occasion to treat of the forest as subject, not to natural forces, but to control by the will of man, who may destroy, maintain, or regenerate it as suits his purposes. To understand clearly how such control is possible, we must bear in mind that it is done, not by suspending or reversing the action of the processes of nature, but by guiding and giving special directions to them.

Such guidance and control are possible only to men who have a knowledge of those natural processes. Not as if anybody now possessed or was ever likely to possess such knowledge perfectly. But even an imperfect knowledge gives us a means of exercising some influence. It is only within a relatively short time that a partial understanding of the life processes of a forest has been accomplished anywhere, and in America we are still far from knowing as much of our forests as the Europeans know of theirs. During the greater part of our history, we were very far from exercising an important influence on our forests. On the contrary, our history as a nation was far more intensely influenced and largely determined by the primeval woods. The manner of this influence by the forest on our national history shall be the theme of our next chapter.

CHAPTER III

THE FOREST AND MAN

THE bold navigators of the sixteenth century who gradually made the Atlantic coasts of our continent known to Europe had before their eyes hardly anything but the hope of discovering in the newly found countries stores of precious minerals. To the wealth of other resources they were almost entirely blind. But hardly had permanent settlements been established on the continent when the value of the forest became apparent both to the settlers and the home government. From a very early period, the British rulers had their attention directed to the management of the forests, particularly in the northern colonies, and the various disputes growing out of the attempts to regulate the exploitation of the woods were one of the causes that contributed to the estrangement of the colonists from the mother country.

To understand the attitudes of the parties to these disputes it is necessary to recall the views then held as to the proper relations of colonies to their central government. Nothing was farther from the minds of the authorities who promoted the establishment of colonies than a desire that the latter should grow up into flourishing communities, able to produce enough for their own independent support. The home governments merely wished to get from the colonists certain commodities which could not be produced at home and which would otherwise have to be purchased in foreign countries. Thus, in accordance with this theory, Virginia and other Southern colonies were to supply England with tobacco and indigo; the middle colonies were to furnish peltry. New England was long considered the most useless of all "His Majesty's plantations," for most of its natural products were of the kind that must come into competition with the products of Great Britain herself. But it was hoped that its forests might furnish the shipping of England with those great necessities classed under the name of naval stores: ship timber, masts, spars, tar, pitch, and the like.

Since English navigation had increased so much, in the time of Elizabeth, the supply of these stores had been a source of constant and anxious care to the government. The British Isles themselves could produce practically none of it. Therefore it had to be procured elsewhere, and the principal sources were Norway and "the East Country," meaning the Baltic provinces. This was considered a very unfortunate circumstance, first because British exports to those countries were small and most of the stores purchased had to be paid for in bullion, but particularly because it made England dependent on the good will of foreign governments. Sup

« PreviousContinue »