[Back to chapter 21] • [Forward to chapter 23] • [Contents]
Like the forests of Washington, already described, those of Oregon are in great part made up of the Douglas spruce 32 , or Oregon pine (Abies Douglasii). A large number of mills are at work upon this species, especially along the Columbia, but these as yet have made but little impression upon its dense masses, the mills here being small as compared with those of the Puget Sound region. The white cedar, or Port Orford cedar (Cupressus Lawsoniana, or Chamaecyparis Lawsoniana), is one of the most beautiful of the evergreens, and produces excellent lumber, considerable quantities of which are shipped to the San Francisco market. It is found mostly about Coos Bay, along the Coquille River, and on the northern slopes of the Siskiyou Mountains, and extends down the coast into California. The silver firs, the spruces, and the colossal arbor-vitae, or white cedar 33 (Thuja gigantea), described in the chapter on Washington, are also found here in great beauty and perfection, the largest of these (Picea grandis, Loud.; Abies grandis, Lindl.) being confined mostly to the coast region, where it attains a height of three hundred feet, and a diameter of ten or twelve feet. Five or six species of pines are found in the State, the most important of which, both as to lumber and as to the part they play in the general wealth and beauty of the forests, are the yellow and sugar pines (Pinus ponderosa and P. Lambertiana). The yellow pine is most abundant on the eastern slopes of the Cascades, forming there the main bulk of the forest in many places. It is also common along the borders of the open spaces in Willamette Valley. In the southern portion of the State the sugar pine, which is the king of all the pines and the glory of the Sierra forests, occurs in considerable abundance in the basins of the Umpqua and Rogue Rivers, and it was in the Umpqua Hills that this noble tree was first discovered by the enthusiastic botanical explorer David Douglas, in the year 1826.
This is the Douglas for whom the noble Douglas spruce is named, and many a fair blooming plant also, which will serve to keep his memory fresh and sweet as long as beautiful trees and flowers are loved. The Indians of the lower Columbia River watched him with lively curiosity as he wandered about in the woods day after day, gazing intently on the ground or at the great trees, collecting specimens of everything he saw, but, unlike all the eager fur-gathering strangers they had hitherto seen, caring nothing about trade. And when at length they came to know him better, and saw that from year to year the growing things of the woods and prairies, meadows and plains, were his only object of pursuit, they called him the “Man of Grass,” a title of which he was proud.
He was a Scotchman and first came to this coast in the spring of 1825 under the auspices of the London Horticultural Society, landing at the mouth of the Columbia after a long dismal voyage of the Columbia after a long, dismal voyage of eight months and fourteen days. During this first season he chose Fort Vancouver, belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company, as his headquarters, and from there made excursions into the glorious wilderness in every direction, discovering many new species among the trees as well as among the rich underbrush and smaller herbaceous vegetation. It was while making a trip to Mount Hood this year that he discovered the two largest and most beautiful firs in the world (Picea amabilis and P. nobilis — now called Abies), and from the seeds which he then collected and sent home tall trees are now growing in Scotland.
In one of his trips that summer, in the lower Willamette Valley, he saw in an Indian’s tobacco pouch some of the seeds and scales of a new species of pine, which he learned were gathered from a large tree that grew far to the southward. Most of the following season was spent on the upper waters of the Columbia, and it was not until September that he returned to Fort Vancouver, about the time of the setting-in of the winter rains. Nevertheless, bearing in mind the great pine he had heard of, and the seeds of which he had seen, he made haste to set out on an excursion to the headwaters of the Willamette in search of it; and how he fared on this excursion and what dangers and hardships he endured is best told in his own journal, part of which I quote as follows: —
October 26th, 1826. Weather dull. Cold and cloudy. When my friends in England are made acquainted with my travels I fear they will think that I have told them nothing but my miseries. . . . I quitted my camp early in the morning to survey the neighboring country, leaving my guide to take charge of the horses until my return in the evening. About an hour’s walk from the camp I met an Indian, who on perceiving me instantly strung his bow, placed on his left arm a sleeve of raccoon skin and stood on the defensive. Being quite sure that conduct was prompted by fear and not by hostile intentions, the poor fellow having probably never seen such a being as myself before, I laid my gun at my feet on the ground and waved my hand for him to come to me, which he did slowly and with great caution. I then made him place his bow and quiver of arrows beside my gun, and striking a light gave him a smoke out of my own pipe and a present of a few beads. With my pencil I made a rough sketch of the cone and pine tree which I wanted to obtain and drew his attention to it, when he instantly pointed with his hand to the hills fifteen or twenty miles distant towards the south; and when I expressed my intention of going thither, cheerfully set about accompanying me. At midday I reached my long-wished-for pines and lost no time in examining them and endeavoring to collect specimens and seeds. New and strange things seldom fail to make strong impressions and are therefore frequently overrated; so that, lest I should never see my friends in England to inform them verbally of this most beautiful and immensely grand tree, I shall here state the dimensions of the largest I could find among several that had been blown down by the wind. At three feet from the ground its circumference is fifty-seven feet, nine inches; at one hundred and thirty-four feet, seventeen feet five inches; the extreme length two hundred and forty-five feet. . . . As it was impossible either to climb the tree or hew it down, I endeavored to knock off the cones by firing at them with ball, when the report of my gun brought eight Indians, all of them painted with red earth, armed with bows, arrows, bone-tipped spears, and flint knives. They appeared anything but friendly. I explained to them what I wanted and they seemed satisfied and sat down to smoke; but presently I saw one of them string his bow and another sharpen his flint knife with a pair of wooden pincers and suspend it on the wrist of his right hand. Further testimony of their intentions was unnecessary. To save myself by flight was impossible, so without hesitation I stepped back about five paces, cocked my gun, drew one of the pistols out of my belt, and holding it in my left hand, the gun in my right, showed myself determined to fight for my life. As much as possible I endeavored to preserve my coolness, and thus we stood looking at one another without making any movement or uttering a word for perhaps ten minutes, when one at last, who seemed to be the leader, gave a sign that they wished for some tobacco; this I signified they should have if they fetched a quantity of cones. They went off immediately in search of them, and no sooner were they all out of sight than I picked up my three cones and some twigs of the trees and made the quickest possible retreat, hurrying back to my camp, which I reached before dusk. The Indian who last undertook to be my guide to the trees I sent off before gaining my encampment, lest he should betray me. How irksome is the darkness of night to one under such circumstances. I cannot speak a word to my guide, nor have I a book to divert my thoughts, which are continually occupied with the dread lest the hostile Indians should trace me hither and make an attack. I now write lying on the grass with my gun cocked beside me, and penning these lines by the light of my Columbian candle, namely, an ignited piece of rosin-wood.
Douglas named this magnificent species Pinus Lambertiana, in honor of his friend Dr. Lambert, of London. This is the noblest pine thus far discovered in the forests of the world, surpassing all others not only in size but in beauty and majesty. Oregon may well be proud that its discovery was made within her borders, and that, though it is far more abundant in California, she has the largest known specimens. In the Sierra the finest sugar pine forests lie at an elevation of about five thousand feet. In Oregon they occupy much lower ground, some of the trees being found but little above tide-water.
No lover of trees will ever forget his first meeting with the sugar pine. In most coniferous trees there is a sameness of form and expression which at length becomes wearisome to most people who travel far in the woods. But the sugar pines are as free from conventional forms as any of the oaks. No two are so much alike as to hide their individuality from any observer. Every tree is appreciated as a study in itself and proclaims in no uncertain terms the surpassing grandeur of the species. The branches, mostly near the summit, are sometimes nearly forty feet long, feathered richly all around with short, leafy branchlets, and tasseled with cones a foot and a half long. And when these superb arms are outspread, radiating in every direction, an immense crownlike mass is formed which, poised on the noble shaft and filled with sunshine, is one of the grandest forest objects conceivable. But though so wild and unconventional when full-grown, the sugar pine is a remarkably regular tree in youth, a strict follower of coniferous fashions, slim, erect, tapering, symmetrical, every branch in place. At the age of fifty or sixty years this shy, fashionable form begins to give way. Special branches are thrust out away from the general outlines of the trees and bent down with cones. Henceforth it becomes more and more original and independent in style, pushes boldly aloft into the winds and sunshine, growing ever more stately and beautiful, a joy and inspiration to every beholder.
Unfortunately, the sugar pine makes excellent lumber. It is too good to live, and is already passing rapidly away before the woodman’s axe. Surely out of all of the abounding forest wealth of Oregon a few specimens might be spared to the world, not as dead lumber, but as living trees. A park of moderate extent might be set apart and protected for public use forever, containing at least a few hundreds of each of these noble pines, spruces, and firs. Happy will be the men who, having the power and the love and benevolent forecast to do this, will do it. They will not be forgotten. The trees and their lovers will sing their praises, and generations yet unborn will rise up and call them blessed.
Dotting the prairies and fringing the edges of the great evergreen forests we find a considerable number of hardwood trees, such as the oak, maple, ash, alder, laurel, madrone, flowering dogwood, wild cherry, and wild apple. The white oak (Quercus Garryana) is the most important of the Oregon oaks as a timber tree, but not nearly so beautiful as Kellogg’s oak (Q. Kelloggii). The former is found mostly along the Columbia River, particularly about the Dalles, and a considerable quantity of useful lumber is made from it and sold, sometimes for eastern white oak, to wagon makers. Kellogg’s oak is a magnificent tree and does much for the picturesque beauty of the Umpqua and Rogue River Valleys where it abounds. It is also found in all the Yosemite valleys of the Sierra, and its acorns form an important part of the food of the Digger Indians. In the Siskiyou Mountains there is a live oak (Q. chrysolepis), wide-spreading and very picturesque in form, but not very common. It extends southward along the western flank of the Sierra and is there more abundant and much larger than in Oregon, oftentimes five to eight feet in diameter.
The maples are the same as those in Washington, already described, but I have not seen any maple groves here equal in extent or in the size of the trees to those on the Snoqualmie River.
The Oregon ash is now rare along the stream banks of western Oregon, and it grows to a good size and furnishes lumber that is for some purposes equal to the white ash of the Western States.
Nuttall’s flowering dogwood makes a brave display with its wealth of show involucres in the spring along cool streams. Specimens of the flowers may be found measuring eight inches in diameter.
The wild cherry (Prunus emarginata, var. mollis) is a small, handsome tree seldom more than a foot in diameter at the base. It makes valuable lumber and its black, astringent fruit furnishes a rich resource as food for the birds. A smaller form is common in the Sierra, the fruit of which is eagerly eaten by the Indians and hunters in time of need.
The wild apple (Pyrus rivularis) is a fine, hearty, handsome little tree that grows well in rich, cool soil along streams and on the edges of beaver meadows from California through Oregon and Washington to southeastern Alaska. In Oregon it forms dense, tangled thickets, some of them almost impenetrable. The largest trunks are nearly a foot in diameter. When in bloom it makes a fine show with its abundant clusters of flowers, which are white and fragrant. The fruit is very small and savagely acid. It is wholesome, however, and is eaten by birds, bears, Indians, and many other adventurers, great and small.
Passing from beneath the shadows of the woods where the trees grow close and high, we step into charming wild gardens full of lilies, orchids, heathworts, roses, etc., with colors so gay and forming such sumptuous masses of bloom, they make the gardens of civilization, however lovingly cared for, seem pathetic and silly. Around the great fire-mountains, above the forests and beneath the snow, there is a flowery zone of marvelous beauty planted with anemones, erythroniums, daisies, bryanthus, kalmia, vaccinium, cassiope, saxifrages, etc., forming one continuous garden fifty or sixty miles in circumference, and so deep and luxuriant and closely woven it seems as if Nature, glad to find an opening, were economizing space and trying to see how may of her bright-eyed darlings she can get together in one mountain wreath.
Along the slopes of the Cascades, where the woods are less dense, especially about the headwaters of the Willamette, there are miles of rhododendron, making glorious outbursts of purple bloom, and down on the prairies in rich, damp hollows the blue-flowered camassia grows in such profusion that at a little distance its dense masses appear as beautiful blue lakes imbedded in the green, flowery plains; while all about the streams and the lakes and the beaver meadows and the margins of the deep woods there is a magnificent tangle of gaultheria and huckleberry bushes with their myriads of pink bells, reinforced with hazel, cornel, rubus of many species, wild plum, cherry, and crab apple; besides thousands of charming bloomers to be found in all sorts of places throughout the wilderness whose mere names are refreshing, such as linnaea, menziesia, pyrola, chimaphila, brodiaea, smilacina, fritillaria, calochortus, trillium, clintonia, veratrum, cypripedium, goodyera, spiranthes, habenaria, and the rare and lovely “Hider of the North,” Calypso borealis, to find which is alone a sufficient object for a journey into the wilderness. And besides these there is a charming underworld of ferns and mosses flourishing gloriously beneath all the woods.
Everybody loves wild woods and flowers more or less. Seeds of all these Oregon evergreens and of many of the flowering shrubs and plants have been sent to almost every country under the sun, and they are now growing in carefully tended parks and gardens. And now that the ways of approach are open one would expect to find these woods and gardens full of admiring visitors reveling in their beauty like bees in a clover field. Yet few care to visit them. A portion of the bark of one of the California trees, the mere dead skin, excited the wondering attention of thousands when it was set up in the Crystal Palace in London, as did also a few peeled spars, the shafts of mere saplings from Oregon or Washington. Could one of these great silver firs or sugar pines three hundred feet high have been transplanted entire to that exhibition, how enthusiastic would have been the praises accorded to it!
Nevertheless, the countless hosts waving at home beneath their own sky, beside their own noble rivers and mountains, and standing on a flower-enameled carpet of mosses thousands of square miles in extent, attract but little attention. Most travelers content themselves with what they may chance to see from car windows, hotel verandas, or the deck of a steamer on the lower Columbia — clinging to the battered highways like drowning sailors to a life raft. When an excursion into the woods is proposed, all sorts of exaggerated or imaginary dangers are conjured up, filling the kindly, soothing wilderness with colds, fevers, Indians, bears, snakes, bugs, impassable rivers, and jungles of brush, to which is always added quick and sure starvation.
As to starvation, the woods are full of food, and a supply of bread may easily be carried for habit’s sake, and replenished now and then at outlying farms and camps. The Indians are seldom found in the woods, being confined mainly to the banks of the rivers, where the greater part of their food is obtained. Moreover, the most of them have been either buried since the settlement of the country or civilized into comparative innocence, industry, or harmless laziness. There are bears in the woods, but not in such numbers nor of such unspeakable ferocity as town-dwellers imagine, nor do bears spend their lives in going about the country like the devil, seeking whom they may devour. Oregon bears, like most others, have no liking for man either as meat or as society; and while some may be curious at times to see what manner of creature he is, most of them have learned to shun people as deadly enemies. They have been poisoned, trapped, and shot at until they have become shy, and it is no longer easy to make their acquaintance. Indeed, since the settlement of the country, notwithstanding far the greater portion is yet wild, it is difficult to find any of the larger animals that once were numerous and comparatively familiar, such as the bear, wolf, panther, lynx, deer, elk, and antelope.
As early as 1843, while the settlers numbered only a few thousands, and before any sort of government had been organized, they came together and held what they called “a wolf meeting,” at which a committee was appointed to devise means for the destruction of wild animals destructive to tame ones, which committee in due time begged to report as follows: —
It being admitted by all that bears, wolves, panthers, etc., are destructive to the useful animals owned by the settlers of this colony, your committee would submit the following resolutions as the sense of this meeting, by which the community may be governed in carrying on a defensive and destructive war on all such animals: —
Resolved, 1st. — That we deem it expedient for the community to take immediate measures for the destruction of all wolves, panthers, and bears, and such other animals as are known to be destructive to cattle, horses, sheep and hogs.
2d. — That a bounty of fifty cents be paid for the destruction of a small wolf, $3.00 for a large wolf, $1.50 for a lynx, $2.00 for a bear and $5.00 for a panther.
This center of destruction was in the Willamette Valley. But for many years prior to the beginning of the operations of the “Wolf Organization” the Hudson’s Bay Company had established forts and trading stations over all the country, wherever fur-gathering Indians could be found, and vast numbers of these animals were killed. Their destruction has since gone on at an accelerated rate from year to year as the settlements have been extended, so that in some cases it is difficult to obtain specimens enough for the use of naturalists. But even before any of these settlements were made, and before the coming of the Hudson’s Bay Company, there was very little danger to be met in passing through this wilderness as far as animals were concerned, and but little of any kind as compared with the dangers encountered in crowded houses and streets.
When Lewis and Clark made their famous trip across the continent in 1804-05, when all the Rocky Mountain region was wild, as well as the Pacific Slope, they did not lose a single man by wild animals, nor, though frequently attacked, especially by the grizzlies of the Rocky Mountains, were any of them wounded seriously. Captain Clark was bitten on the hand by a wolf as he lay asleep; that was one bite among more than a hundred men while traveling through eight to nine thousand miles of savage wilderness. They could hardly have been so fortunate had they stayed at home. They wintered on the edge of the Clatsop plains, on the south side of the Columbia River near its mouth. In the woods on that side they found game abundant, especially elk, and with the aid of the friendly Indians who furnished salmon and “wapatoo” (the tubers of Sagittaria variabilis), they were in no danger of starving.
But on the return trip in the spring they reached the base of the Rocky Mountains when the range was yet too heavily snow-laden to be crossed with horses. Therefore they had to wait some weeks. This was at the head of one of the northern branches of the Snake River, and, their scanty stock of provisions being nearly exhausted, the whole party was compelled to live mostly on bears and dogs; deer, antelope, and elk, usually abundant, were now scarce because the region had been closely hunted over by the Indians before their arrival.
Lewis and Clark had killed a number of bears and saved the skins of the more interesting specimens, and the variations they found in size, color of the hair, etc., made great difficulty in classification. Wishing to get the opinion of the Chopumish Indians, near one of whose villages they were encamped, concerning the various species, the explorers unpacked their bundles and spread out for examination all the skins they had taken. The Indian hunters immediately classed the white, the deep and the pale grizzly red, the grizzly dark-brown — in short, all those with the extremities of the hair of a white or frosty color without regard to the color of the ground or foil — under the name of hoh-host. The Indians assured them that these were all of the same species as the white bear, that they associated together, had longer nails than the others, and never climbed trees. On the other hand, the black skins, those that were black with white hairs intermixed or with a white breast, the uniform bay, the brown, and the light reddish-brown, were classed under the name yack-ah, and were said to resemble each other in being smaller and having shorter nails, in climbing trees, and being so little vicious that they could be pursued with safety.
Lewis and Clark came to the conclusion that all those with white-tipped hair found by them in the basin of the Columbia belonged to the same species as the grizzlies of the upper Missouri; and that the black and reddish-brown, etc., of the Rocky Mountains belong to a second species equally distinct from the grizzly and the black bear of the Pacific Coast and the East, which never vary in color.
As much as possible should be made by the ordinary traveler of these descriptions, for he will be likely to see very little of any species for himself; not that bears no longer exist here, but because, being shy, they keep out of the way. In order to see them and learn their habits one must go softly and alone, lingering long in the fringing woods on the banks of the salmon streams, and in the small openings in the midst of thickets where berries are most abundant.
As for rattlesnakes, the other grand dread of town dwellers when they leave beaten roads, there are two, or perhaps three, species of them in Oregon. But they are nowhere to be found in great numbers. In western Oregon they are hardly known at all. In all my walks in the Oregon forest I have never met a single specimen, though a few have been seen at long intervals.
When the country was first settled by the whites, fifty years ago, the elk roamed through the woods and over the plains to the east of the Cascades in immense numbers; now they are rarely seen except by experienced hunters who know their haunts in the deepest and most inaccessible solitudes to which they have been driven. So majestic an animal forms a tempting mark for the sportsman’s rifle. Countless thousands have been killed for mere amusement and they already seem to be nearing extinction as rapidly as the buffalo. The antelope also is vanishing from the Columbia plains before the farmers and cattlemen. Whether the moose still lingers in Oregon or Washington I am unable to say.
On the highest mountains of the Cascade Range the wild goat roams in comparative security, few of his enemies caring to go so far in pursuit and to hunt on ground so high and dangerous. He is a brave, sturdy shaggy mountaineer of an animal, enjoying the freedom and security of crumbling ridges and overhanging cliffs above the glaciers, oftentimes beyond the reach of the most daring hunter. They seem to be as much at home on the ice and snowfields as on the crags, making their way in flocks from ridge to ridge on the great volcanic mountains by crossing the glaciers that lie between them, traveling in single file guided by an old experienced leader, like a party of climbers on the Alps. On these ice-journeys they pick their way through networks of crevasses and over bridges of snow with admirable skill, and the mountaineer may seldom do better in such places than to follow their trail, if he can. In the rich alpine gardens and meadows they find abundance of food, venturing sometimes well down in the prairie openings on the edge of the timberline, but holding themselves ever alert and watchful, ready to flee to their highland castles at the faintest alarm. When their summer pastures are buried beneath the winter snows, they make haste to the lower ridges, seeking the wind-beaten crags and slopes where the snow cannot lie at any great depth, feeding at times on the leaves and twigs of bushes when grass is beyond reach.
The wild sheep is another admirable alpine rover, but comparatively rare in the Oregon mountains, choosing rather the drier ridges to the southward on the Cascades and to the eastward among the spurs of the Rocky Mountain chain.
Deer give beautiful animation to the forests, harmonizing finely in their color and movements with the gray and brown shafts of the trees and the swaying of the branches as they stand in groups at rest, or move gracefully and noiselessly over the mossy ground about the edges of beaver meadows and flowery glades, daintily culling the leaves and tips of the mints and aromatic bushes on which they feed. There are three species, the black-tailed, white-tailed, and mule deer; the last being restricted in its range to the open woods and plains to the eastward of the Cascades. They are nowhere very numerous now, killing for food, for hides, or for mere wanton sport, having well-nigh exterminated them in the more accessible regions, while elsewhere they are too often at the mercy of the wolves.
Gliding about in their shady forest homes, keeping well out of sight, there is a multitude of sleek fur-clad animals living and enjoying their clean, beautiful lives. How beautiful and interesting they are is about as difficult for busy mortals to find out as if their homes were beyond sight in the sky. Hence the stories of every wild hunter and trapper are eagerly listened to as being possibly true, or partly so, however thickly clothed in successive folds of exaggeration and fancy. Unsatisfying as these accounts must be, a tourist’s frightened rush and scramble through the woods yields far less than the hunter’s wildest stories, while in writing we can do but little more than to give a few names, as they come to mind, — beaver, squirrel, coon, fox, marten, fisher, otter, ermine, wildcat, — only this instead of full descriptions of the bright-eyed furry throng, their snug home nests, their fears and fights and loves, how they get their food, rear their young, escape their enemies, and keep themselves warm and well and exquisitely clean through all the pitiless weather.
For many years before the settlement of the country the fur of the beaver brought a high price, and therefore it was pursued with weariless ardor. Not even in the quest for gold has a more ruthless, desperate energy been developed. It was in those early beaver-days that the striking class of adventurers called “free trappers” made their appearance. Bold, enterprising men, eager to make money, and inclined at the same time to relish the license of a savage life, would set forth with a few traps and a gun and a hunting knife, content at first to venture only a short distance up the beaver streams nearest to the settlements, and where the Indians were not likely to molest them. There they would set their traps, while the buffalo, antelope, deer, etc., furnished a royal supply of food. In a few months their pack animals would be laden with thousands of dollars’ worth of fur.
Next season they would venture farther, and again farther, meanwhile growing rapidly wilder, getting acquainted with the Indian tribes, and usually marrying among them. Thenceforward no danger could stay them in their exciting pursuit. Wherever there were beaver they would go, however far or wild, — the wilder the better, provided their scalps could be saved. Oftentimes they were compelled to set their traps and visit them by night and lie hid during the day, when operating in the neighborhood of hostile Indians. Not then venturing to make a fire or shoot game, they lived on the raw flesh of the beaver, perhaps seasoned with wild cresses or berries. Then, returning to the trading stations, they would spend their hard earnings in a few weeks of dissipation and “good time,” and go again to the bears and beavers, until at length a bullet or arrow would end all. One after another would be missed by some friend or trader at the autumn rendezvous, reported killed by the Indians, and — forgotten. Some men of this class have, from superior skill or fortune, escaped every danger, lived to a good old age, and earned fame, and, by their knowledge of the topography of the vast West then unexplored, have been able to render important service to the country; but most of them laid their bones in the wilderness after a few short, keen seasons. So great were the perils that beset them, the average length of the life of a “free trapper” has been estimated at less than five years. From the Columbia waters beaver and beaver men have almost wholly passed away, and the men once so striking a part of the view have left scarcely the faintest sign of their existence. On the other hand, a thousand meadows on the mountains tell the story of the beavers, to remain fresh and green for many a century, monuments of their happy, industrious lives.
But there is a little airy, elfin animal in these woods, and in all the evergreen woods of the Pacific Coast, that is more influential and interesting than even the beaver. This is the Douglas squirrel (Sciurus Douglasi). Go where you will throughout all these noble forests, you everywhere find this little squirrel the master-existence. Though only a few inches long, so intense is his fiery vigor and restlessness, he stirs every grove with wild life, and makes himself more important than the great bears that shuffle through the berry tangles beneath him. Every tree feels the sting of his sharp feet. Nature has made him master-forester, and committed the greater part of the coniferous crops to his management. Probably over half of all the ripe cones of the spruces, firs, and pines are cut off and handled by this busy harvester. Most of them are stored away for food through the winter and spring, but a part are pushed into shallow pits and covered loosely, where some of the seeds are no doubt left to germinate and grow up. All the tree squirrels are more or less birdlike in voice and movements, but the Douglas is pre-eminently so, possessing every squirrelish attribute, fully developed and concentrated. He is the squirrel of squirrels, flashing from branch to branch of his favorite evergreens, crisp and glossy and sound as a sunbeam. He stirs the leaves like a rustling breeze, darting across openings in arrowy lines, launching in curves, glinting deftly from side to side in sudden zigzags, and swirling in giddy loops and spirals around the trunks, now on his haunches, now on his head, yet ever graceful and performing all his feats of strength and skill without apparent effort. One never tires of this bright spark of life, the brave little voice crying in the wilderness. His varied, piney gossip is as savory to the air as balsam to the palate. Some of his notes are almost flutelike in softness, while other prick and tingle like thistles. He is the mockingbird of squirrels, barking like a dog, screaming like a hawk, whistling like a blackbird or linnet, while in bluff, audacious noisiness he is a jay. A small thing, but filling and animating all the woods.
Nor is there any lack of wings, notwithstanding few are to be seen on short, noisy rambles. The ousel sweetens the shady glens and canyons where waterfalls abound, and every grove or forest, however silent it may seem when we chance to pay it a hasty visit, has its singers, — thrushes, linnets, warblers, — while hummingbirds glint and hover about the fringing masses of bloom around stream and meadow openings. But few of these will show themselves or sing their songs to those who are ever in haste and getting lost, going in gangs formidable in color and accoutrements, laughing, hallooing, breaking limbs off the trees as they pass, awkwardly struggling through briery thickets, entangled like blue-bottles in spider webs, and stopping from time to time to fire off their guns and pistols for the sake of the echoes, thus frightening all the life about them for miles. It is this class of hunters and travelers who report that there are “no birds in the woods or game animals of any kind larger than mosquitoes.”
Besides the singing birds mentioned above, the handsome Oregon grouse may be found in the thick woods, also the dusky grouse and Franklin’s grouse, and in some places the beautiful mountain partridge, or quail. The white-tailed ptarmigan lives on the lofty snow peaks above the timber, and the prairie chicken and sage cock on the broad Columbia plains from the Cascade Range back to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The bald eagle is very common along the Columbia River, or wherever fish, especially salmon, are plentiful, while swans, herons, cranes, pelicans, geese, ducks of many species, and water birds in general abound in the lake region, on the main streams, and along the coast, stirring the waters and sky into fine, lively pictures, greatly to the delight of wandering lovers of wildness.
[Back to chapter 21]
[Forward to chapter 23]