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A Lesson Of To-day
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What I Know Of Farming

Trees Woodland Forests

I am not at all sentimental--much less mawkish--regarding the
destruction of trees. Descended from several generations of
timber-cutters (for my paternal ancestors came to America in 1640), and
myself engaged for three years in land-clearing, I realize that trees
exist for use rather than for ornament, and have no more scruple as to
cutting timber in a forest than as to cutting grass in a meadow. Utility
is the reason and end of all vegetable growth--of a hickory's no less
than a corn-stalk's. I have always considered "Woodman, spare that
tree," just about the most mawkish bit of badly versified prose in our
language, and never could guess how it should touch the sensibilities of
any one. Understand, then, that I urge the planting of trees mainly
because I believe it will pay, and the preservation, improvement, and
extension, of forests, for precisely that reason.

Yet I am not insensible to the beauty and grace lent by woods, and
groves, and clumps or rows of trees, to the landscape they diversify. I
feel the force of Emerson's averment, that "Beauty is its own excuse
for being," and know that a homestead embowered in, belted by, stately,
graceful elms, maples, and evergreens, is really worth more, and will
sell for more, than if it were naked field and meadow. I consider it one
positive advantage (to balance many disadvantages) of our rocky, hilly,
rugged Eastern country, that it will never, in all probability, be so
denuded of forests as the rich, facile prairies and swales of the Great
Valley may be. Our winds are less piercing, our tornadoes less
destructive, than those of the Great West. I doubt whether there is
another equal area of the earth's surface whereon so many kinds of
valuable trees grow spontaneously and rapidly, defying eradication, as
throughout New England and on either slope of the Alleghenies; and this
profusion of timber and foliage may well atone for, or may be fairly
weighed against, many deficiencies and drawbacks. The Yankee, who has
been accustomed to see trees spring up spontaneously wherever they were
not kept down by ax, or plow, or scythe, and to cross running water
every half mile of a Summer day's journey, may well be made homesick, by
two thousand miles of naked, dusty, wind-swept Plains, whereon he finds
no water for fifty to a hundred miles, and knows it impossible to cut an
ax-helve, much more an axle-tree, in the course of a wearying journey.
No Eastern farmer ever realized the blessedness of abundant and
excellent wood and water until he had wandered far from his boyhood's

No one may yet be able fully to explain the inter-dependence of these
two blessings; but the fact remains. All over "the Plains," there is
evidence that trees grew and flourished where none are now found, and
that springs and streams were then frequent and abiding where none now
exist. A prominent citizen of Nevada, who explored southward from Austin
to the Colorado, assured me that his party traveled for days in the bed
of what had once been a considerable river, but in which it was evident
that no water had flowed for years. And I have heard that since the
Mormons have planted trees over considerable sections of Utah, rains in
Summer are no longer rare, and Salt Lake evinces, by a constant though
moderate increase of her volume of waters, that the equilibrium of
rain-fall with evaporation in the Great Basin has been fully
restored--or rather, that the rain-fall is now taking the lead.

I have a firm faith that all the great deserts of the Temperate and
Torrid Zones will yet be reclaimed by irrigation and tree-planting. The
bill which Congress did not pass, nor really consider, whereby it was
proposed, some years since, to give a section of the woodless Public
Lands remote from settlement to every one who, in a separate township,
would plant and cherish a quarter-section of choice forest-trees, ought
to have been passed--with modifications, perhaps, but preserving the
central idea. Had ten thousand quarter-sections, in so many different
townships of the Plains, been thus planted to timber ten to twenty
years ago, and protected from fire and devastation till now, the value
of those Plains for settlement would have been nearly or quite doubled.

A capital mistake, it seems to me, is being made by some of the dairy
farmers of our own State. One who has a hundred acres of good soil,
whereof twenty or thirty are wooded, cuts off his timber entirely,
calculating that the additional grass that he may grow in its stead will
pay for all the coal he needs for fuel, so that he will make a net gain
of the time he has hitherto devoted each Winter to cutting and hauling
wood. He does not consider how much his soil will lose in Summer
moisture, how his springs and runnels will be dried up, nor how the
sweep of harsh winds will be intensified, by baring his hill-tops and
ravines to sun and breeze so utterly. In my deliberate judgment, a farm
of one hundred acres will yield more feed, with far greater uniformity
of product from year to year, if twenty acres of its ridge-crests,
ravine-sides, and rocky places, are thickly covered with timber, than if
it be swept clean of trees and all devoted to grass. Hence, I insist
that the farmer who sweeps off his wood and resolves to depend on coal
for fuel, hoping to increase permanently the product of his dairy, makes
a sad miscalculation.

Spain, Italy, and portions of France, are now suffering from the
improvidence that devoured their forests, leaving the future to take
care of itself. I presume the great empires of antiquity suffered from
the same folly, though to a much greater extent. The remains of now
extinct races who formerly peopled and tilled the central valleys of
this continent, and especially the Territory of Arizona, probably bear
witness to a similar recklessness, which is paralleled by our fathers'
and our own extermination of the magnificent forests of White Pine
which, barely a century ago, covered so large a portion of the soil of
our Northern States. Vermont sold White Pine abundantly to England
through Canada within my day: she is now supplying her own wants from
Canada at a cost of not less than five times the price she sold for; and
she will be paying still higher rates before the close of this century.
I entreat our farmers not to preserve every tree, good, bad, or
indifferent, that may happen to be growing on their lands--but, outside
of the limited districts wherein the primitive forest must still be cut
away in order that land may be obtained for cultivation, to plant and
rear at least two better trees for every one they may be impelled to cut
down. How this may, in the average, be most judiciously done, I will
try to indicate in the succeeding chapter.

Next: Growing Timber Tree-planting

Previous: Laying Off A Farm Pasturing

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