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three miles in length by two in width. To reach it from Calaveras we followed a beautiful but very steep trail, up high ridges and down into deep gorges, commanding ever-varying views, and at every turn became more deeply impressed by the indescribable grandeur of those glorious coniferous forests—the vast beautiful wilderness, where rarely a human ear catches the murmur of the lullabies which winds and rushing rivers sing ceaselessly to the mountains and pine forests. Tall green spires crown every ridge, and rise in clusters from the lower levels-grand trees of larch-like growth, middle-aged, hoary, deadsome lightning-stricken, standing ghastly and bleached--some lying prostrate, half buried in moss and veiled by a rich undergrowth of aspen, dwarf spruce, and cotton-wood.
We rode past tall sugar-pines so exquisite in their elegance that I could have lingered beside them for hours, but of course the one aim and object of our pilgrimage was to visit the biggest trees; and we certainly saw giants. I sketched one which measures 105 feet in circumference—at least, this is the accepted measurement. The fact is that the base of the Sequoia expands almost like a funnel; so, accord. ing as the measuring string is passed round a foot higher or lower, does the result vary. Ordinary mortals measure at about seven feet above the ground, being as high as they can reach. Scientific people do not care to measure below twelve feet from the ground, above which height the tree tapers very gradually to the summit.
Several of the grandest trees have been blown over, not recently, but in some terrific tempest long years ago. One of these is called “Goliath." In falling, it sank into the earth for a depth of fully four feet, and yet as I rode alongside of it, though I was on a very tall horse, my head did not reach half-way up the side of the stem. Someone measured it about 150 feet from the root and found that it was 45 feet in girth even there. So he could have cut out a second block of well-nigh imperishable wood 15 feet square by 120 feet long! Only think how many centuries it must have taken to grow.
We remarked with much wonder how very few young sequoias seem to be growing up, and I am told that throughout the northern forests the same thing has been observed, and that many of the old trees are childless. It is almost feared that in these groves the species is doomed to extinction.
In the southern belts, however, the young trees grow heartily everywhere, multitudes of seedlings and saplings springing up alike in rich moist meadows and on rocky ledges and moraines; so there, the danger of extinction lies not in natural causes, but in the ravages of sheep-feeders and lumberers, who not only cut the young timber, but, when clearing the ground for fresh operations, burn the refuse, and so destroy thousands of seedlings.
Some years ago, the Californian Government enacted a law forbidding the cutting down of trees over sixteen feet in diameter ; but as no penalty attaches to burning these, or to cutting down all lesser ones, the law is practically worthless, and ruthless lumberers still set up their saw-mills on the edge of the sequoia belt, and convert all they can into timber. Not very long ago, five saw-mills reckoned that in the previous season they had cut over two million feet of Big Tree lumber! If such devastation is allowed to go on unchecked, the extermination of the species will follow pretty closely on its discovery, and soon the glory of the primeval forest will be little more than a memory. Mercifully, the owners of saw-mills find that they cannot conveniently " handle " these monarchs, which are alike awkward to saw down and to cut up, so there is less danger of their being tempted to evade the law which protects the larger trees, consequently only the younger ones are thus ruthlessly destroyed.
The largest sequoia yet discovered is on King's River, about forty miles from Visalia. It is forty-four feet in diameter. A hundred and thirty-two feet in circumference. Wouldn't an English forester open his eyes pretty wide at such a giant as this? The forest in which this patriarch reigns extends for about one hundred and fifty miles, having a general width of ten miles. It clothes the ridges which divide the Kaweah and King's Rivers and their tributaries, and includes the finest belt yet discovered of the great sequoia, the largest trees being generally found in the valleys where the soil is moist, and at a general elevation of from 6,000 to 7,000 feet above the sea-level.
To the traveller accustomed to forests of mixed timber, such as clothe the beautiful Himalayas so gloriously, one of the most striking features of these Californian forests is the fact that they are altogether coniferous, and the marvel is how so great variety can be obtained from pines, firs, spruces, cedars, and junipers, unmingled with any hardwood worth speaking of. These grow singly, or in families, lying in belts at varying altitudes, each species favouring some special level, so that an experienced mountaineer and forester can form a tolerable estimate of the height to which he has attained by noting the kinds of trees around him, and their condition.
Some, however, have a very wide range, and are found at almost every altitude. This is especially true of the Yellow Pine, also called the Silver Pine, which is the Mark Tapley of the Sierras.
| Pinus ponderosa.
No matter how bare the rock ledge, or how unsheltered the spot-on the bleakest crags, 8,000 feet above the sea, it contrives to exist, and rears a brave ever-green head. Though dwarfed and stunted, it is always picturesque, throwing out gnarled and twisted boughs. Through long centuries these much-enduring trees have done ceaseless battle with adverse circumstances, struggling with the ungenial rock for a niggardly subsistence, and battered by the winds and tempests.
But while bravely making the best of difficulties, no tree more fully appreciates the good things of life, as shown by its luxuriant growth when living a cheery family life with its brethren in the forests, on good nutritious soil, and in an equable climate. Under these favourable circumstances it becomes almost as majestic as the Williamsonii or the Lambertiana. It flourishes at a very low elevation- less than 2,000 feet above the sea—but is to be seen in perfection in such sheltered valleys as the Yo Semité. It receives its name of Silver Pine because of the silvery gleam of its glossy needles, on which the sunbeams play in ten thousand shimmering points of light. Yet the name of Yellow Pine is more truly descriptive of the tree, whose needles are actually of a warm golden green, and its bark a reddish yellow. The latter is several inches thick, and is laid on in scales, like armour. It is generally pierced by innumerable holes, drilled by the diligent woodpecker, as storehouses for his winter supply of acorns. Its purplish-green cones are about four inches long, and grow in clusters among tassels of long firm needles, each six or eight inches in length. A fullgrown yellow pine averages 200 feet in height and eighteen feet in circumference, occasionally attaining to twenty-five feet in girth. It shoots heavenward as straight as a mast, and alas ! is greatly prized by the lumberers.
Whenever a yellow pine stands alone on good soil, and with room to expand, its boughs feather down to the ground most gracefully, but in general the lower part of the stem is bare, and only the upper half forms a green spire. Its boughs are so divided and subdivided as to form a bushy tree, therein greatly differing from a still more lovely tree, the Sugar-pine—whose graceful branches sweep in undivided lines for thirty or forty feet. To me, this stately tree is by far the loveliest object in the forests. She is the true queen of the Sierras. Whatever claims to masculine beauty and grandeur any other trees may possess, she, at least, stands unrivalled in grace and loveliness. I never see one of those tall, smooth, tapering shafts, reaching up to the blue heaven, and thence outstretching its crown of long slender branches clothed in tender green, and expanding in faultless-symmetrical curves, without receiving the same sort of impression as (alas ! how rarely !) is derived from the presence of a gracious and lovely woman. Even the youngest sugar-pines are things of beauty-fair daughters of a noble house, and full of the promise of ever-increasing loveliness when (after a strictly well-regulated youth of some sixty years, during which they adhere to the conventional forms of graceful, lady-like, young sugar-pines) they may begin to strike out an independent line of their own, and in the course of three or four hundred years, when they have attained a height of about 200 feet, and a girth of from eighteen to twenty feet, may boldly venture to throw out free and irregular branches, forty or fifty feet in length, sweeping in most graceful curves.
' Pinus Lambertiana.
Each branch is fringed with tassels of long fine needles, and from the tips of the slender, pensile boughs hang the most beautiful cones that exist in the whole pine kingdom--cones which are rarely less than fifteen, and often grow to eighteen, inches in length, averaging nine inches in circumference. When fully ripe the scales expand, and the cones are then fully fifteen inches in girth. They act as weights to draw down the tips of the branches. Their great size strikes one curiously, as compared with the small round cone of the Giant Sequoia. As the cones attain maturity, their delicate green changes to a rich purple hue, and then to a golden brown, which becomes yellowish as the opening scales reveal their inner sides, and long after the winged seeds have flown from their snug niches in the cone, these rich golden cones still cling to the boughs and mingle their mellow colouring with the green crop of the following year. But the sweet sunlit grass is all strewn with the great yellow cones which in former years have dropped to the ground, but seem in no hurry to decay. They ripen in September, when the seeds are carefully collected by men who have found them to be a profitable article of trade for the pine-growers of distant lands.
But the pine-growers of Britain are unable to supply the altitude most dear to the sugar-pine--ranging from 3,000 to 7,000 feet, and, moreover, many a generation will come and go, ere artificially reared trees can hope to approach the natural beauty of these free children of the mountain, some of which (with a circumference of about thirty-five feet) are supposed to have already braved six hundred winters, yet show no symptoms of decay, nor any reason why they should not survive six hundred more, if only they can escape the ruthless saw of the lumberer, or the still more cruel axe of the shingle-splitter.
Unfortunately, the wood splits so readily that it finds especial favour with these men, to whom a tree represents only so many cubic feet of timber, and so the loveliest creations of nature are hewn down, solely to be reduced to shingles, for building and roofing the most abject of huts. But where this sad fate has been arrested, the majestic tree still reigns supreme—a queen without a rival. Its warm brown stem is generally studded with golden lichen, which also hangs in long beard-like fringes from every bough. And not only do the pine-needles fill the air with resiny fragrance, but the wood itself has a pleasant smell, chiefly perceptible, alas ! when the woodcutter has sealed its doom.
The generous tree not only perfumes the clothes of the destroyer, but also gives him delicious white sugar, which, by many persons, is preferred to that of the sugar-maple. Whenever the tree is wounded either by fire or axe, there the sweet sap exudes, like the gum on our own cherry trees. Though naturally white, it so often flows from a wound charred by fire, that it is apt to assume a rich brown colour, like barley-sugar. Though pleasant to the taste, it cannot be eaten with impunity by all persons, being somewhat medicinal in its effects. It is curious that the bears, which have so keen a talent for scenting out honey and other sweet things, seem to avoid this natural sugar by instinct, and are never known to touch it. It is said to be useful as a cough lozenge, and is a remedy in lung disease.
Next in beauty to the sugar-pine ranks the Williamson Spruce, It is not so luxuriant in growth as many others, rarely, if ever, exceeding 100 feet in height, and from four to five feet in diameter. Yet, while it possesses all the elegance and delicate curves of the sugar pine, it has strength to withstand the rudest storms, and grows best on frosty northern slopes, at an altitude of 6,000 to 8,000 feet, where the snow lies so deep in winter as altogether to bury it. For so gently does this yielding tree droop beneath the gradually increasing weight of the snow, that not only the boughs, but even the slender main stem, bend like a reed, till it forms a perfect arch, and, as the snow falls deeper and deeper, the whole grove is literally buried—not an indication of a tree-top is to be seen. Thus sheltered from the wintry blasts, this graceful spruce lies hidden, till the return of warm spring melts the frozen snows, and the long-prisoned boughs, elastic as before, spring back to their accustomed position, and the beautiful tree reappears as fresh and