I believe in God and my country. And if, after an implicit faith in an All-wise Providence, there is any one thing more than another on which I rely, it is the wisdom and prudence of the American people. The seed from the rude sowing of the colonies which hewed out the magnificent states of the East, and established a free and independent government, will never be found wanting in anything which goes to make up a truly great nation. From my earliest youth my voice has ever been raised against the destruction of the forests of America; but, lost amid the whir of saws and the resounding stroke of axes, it was too weak to be heard, until now, the day of reckoning having come, we must dispassionately consider the evil done, and take measures to remedy it in the future. It is the disposition of our people not to take heed of the future, but only to enjoy the present. While the forests of America lasted they could not and would not believe the day would ever come when they would have need of them. But now they see more clearly, and look with dismay on the ruin which their own hands have wrought. To all I would say, be not discouraged, for it is still possible to undo in a great measure the evils of the past, but it will require all of our patience and wisdom, and much more than was ever exhibited by our fathers.
To destroy the forests of America has been a brief work; to replant and reproduce them will be the labor of forty generations, but it can be done. I have written many books and submitted them to my countrymen for their approval, but never have I approached a subject with such diffidence and consciousness of my inability to cope with it as the one treated of in the following pages.
When I learned to love the trees I cannot remember, but I was born under the spurs of the Alleghanies, and passed my infancy in the umbrageous shade of their wide-spreading pines. I fished and hunted along the streams, and she who is the mother of my children often accompanied me in my rambles through the grand old mountain forests of Pennsylvania. How beautiful these mountains were, with their coats of pine, green as the sea! Shade so deep and dark it seemed like night on the brightest day; babbling brooks with sly little nooks by bits of grass, and deep, cool pools where the hermit trout lay. Here was a mossy glen and there a waterfall, yonder a clambering vine in many a wild festoon, and at our feet a bed of moss softer than down. If we turned over a rock in the mountain's side we found ice beneath it even in the hottest days of August. Then there were caves, deep, dark, and cool, filled with ice on the sides dripping with cold water, and stalactites shining overhead. How I remember stealing away and hiding in one of these caves, years and years ago, while the boys brought our brave mountain girls to see it; and when I roared like a bear how they ran like frightened fawns, a white dress glinting here and there through the forest, until all were lost to view in the distance, and Annie Berry sprained her foot so terribly on that day she was laid up for weeks, and the old doctor shook his cane and threatened what he would do if ever we frightened Annie again—all of which we knew was talk, for the doctor loved us too well to harm a hair on our young heads. It was rude, wild sport, and my mind goes back lovingly on a hot August day to the Bear Meadows, Galbraith's Gap, Snowshoe, Pleasant Gap, and the big mountains with their coats of pine.
There are no prettier spots on earth than those near Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, where I was born. Accustomed from infancy to look upon these wild mountains and grand old woods, they became common in my eyes, and, as naturally might be expected, were not appreciated. Much as I loved the trees and mountains, I never fully realized what beautiful things they were until after I came to the plains. For days and days I travelled over the level, arid, treeless prairie, often looking back at night to the place where we had started out in the morning, and which seemed scarcely ten miles distant, but was in reality over thirty. Every traveller has experienced the wonderfully deceptive distances of the plains. Often you would wager you could ride or walk to some distant mountain in a few hours, but you journey on for days and days, and still its barren sides and bald peaks loom up apparently as far off as when you started out. To the man who has been raised in the mountains the absence of trees on vast level flats becomes most painful, and his eyes are constantly unconsciously seeking for a rock, a vine, a tree, a green mountain, or a shady glen where he can lie down and rest. Land; land everywhere, and the sky shut down in great circles upon the level, burning plain. I never could get used to stretching my little piece of canvas to make a shade; it seemed so unnatural, so useless, and, indeed, was no shade at all if compared with the cool depths of the forest. A blazing sun overhead, a hot sand on the earth, and only a narrow strip of cloth between—that is not what the mountain man calls shelter. How often in those hot days did I long for the green mountains, mossy glens, and cool streams of the grand old woods where I was born.
For four years I had lived on the plains surrounded by sage-brush and sand, never once seeing a mountain or forest. Then I was ordered east with troops, to Kentucky. "We had been running very fast all night in the cars, and in the morning, just as I was washing in the sleeping-car, I heard the soldiers in the forward coaches cheering. I asked the conductor what was the matter, and he replied, " The soldiers are cheering the trees." We all hastened to the doors and windows, and there, sure enough, found we were running through a grand old Kentucky forest, and it was indeed a most beautiful sight. It had rained the night before, and the dripping trees shone like silver in the newly-risen sun. Grape vines hung in heavy festoons from the arms of giant oaks, woodbines wound about their trunks; the grass on the earth was green as an emerald, and so clean I longed to jump from the cars, lie down on it, and roll over and over and shout for very joy.