The young forester, p.1
Produced by Bill Brewer
THE YOUNG FORESTER
By Zane Grey
I. CHOOSING A PROFESSION
I loved outdoor life and hunting. Some way a grizzly bear would come inwhen I tried to explain forestry to my brother.
"Hunting grizzlies!" he cried. "Why, Ken, father says you've beenreading dime novels."
"Just wait, Hal, till he comes out here. I'll show him that forestryisn't just bear-hunting."
My brother Hal and I were camping a few days on the Susquehanna River,and we had divided the time between fishing and tramping. Our camp wason the edge of a forest some eight miles from Harrisburg. The propertybelonged to our father, and he had promised to drive out to see us. Buthe did not come that day, and I had to content myself with winning Halover to my side.
"Ken, if the governor lets you go to Arizona can't you ring me in?"
"Not this summer. I'd be afraid to ask him. But in another year I'll doit."
"Won't it be great? But what a long time to wait! It makes me sick tothink of you out there riding mustangs and hunting bears and lions."
"You'll have to stand it. You're pretty much of a kid, Hal--not yetfourteen. Besides, I've graduated."
"Kid!" exclaimed Hal, hotly. "You're not such a Methuselah yourself! I'mnearly as big as you. I can ride as well and play ball as well, and Ican beat you all--"
"Hold on, Hal! I want you to help me to persuade father, and if you getyour temper up you'll like as not go against me. If he lets me go I'llbring you in as soon as I dare. That's a promise. I guess I know howmuch I'd like to have you."
"All right," replied Hal, resignedly. "I'll have to hold in, I suppose.But I'm crazy to go. And, Ken, the cowboys and lions are not all thatinterest me. I like what you tell me about forestry. But who ever heardof forestry as a profession?"
"It's just this way, Hal. The natural resources have got to beconserved, and the Government is trying to enlist intelligent youngmen in the work--particularly in the department of forestry. I'm notexaggerating when I say the prosperity of this country depends uponforestry."
I have to admit that I was repeating what I had read.
"Why does it? Tell me how," demanded Hal.
"Because the lumbermen are wiping out all the timber and never thinkingof the future. They are in such a hurry to get rich that they'llleave their grandchildren only a desert. They cut and slash in everydirection, and then fires come and the country is ruined. Our riversdepend upon the forests for water. The trees draw the rain; the leavesbreak it up and let it fall in mists and drippings; it seeps into theground, and is held by the roots. If the trees are destroyed the rainrushes off on the surface and floods the rivers. The forests store upwater, and they do good in other ways."
"We've got to have wood and lumber," said Hal.
"Of course we have. But there won't be any unless we go in for forestry.It's been practiced in Germany for three hundred years."
We spent another hour talking about it, and if Hal's practical sense,which he inherited from father, had not been offset by his real love forthe forests I should have been discouraged. Hal was of an industriousturn of mind; he meant to make money, and anything that was goodbusiness appealed strongly to him. But, finally, he began to see what Iwas driving at; he admitted that there was something in the argument.
The late afternoon was the best time for fishing. For the next two hoursour thoughts were of quivering rods and leaping bass.
"You'll miss the big bass this August," remarked Hal, laughing. "Guessyou won't have all the sport."
"That's so, Hal," I replied, regretfully. "But we're talking as if itwere a dead sure thing that I'm going West. Well, I only hope so."
What Hal and I liked best about camping--of course after thefishing--was to sit around the campfire. Tonight it was more pleasantthan ever, and when darkness fully settled down it was even thrilling.We talked about bears. Then Hal told of mountain-lions and the habitthey have of creeping stealthily after hunters. There was a hoot-owlcrying dismally up in the woods, and down by the edge of the riverbright-green eyes peered at us from the darkness. When the wind came upand moaned through the trees it was not hard to imagine we were outin the wilderness. This had been a favorite game for Hal and me; onlytonight there seemed some reality about it. From the way Hal whispered,and listened, and looked, he might very well have been expecting a visitfrom lions or, for that matter, even from Indians. Finally we went tobed. But our slumbers were broken. Hal often had nightmares even onordinary nights, and on this one he moaned so much and thrashed aboutthe tent so desperately that I knew the lions were after him.
I dreamed of forest lands with snow-capped peaks rising in thebackground; I dreamed of elk standing on the open ridges, ofwhite-tailed deer trooping out of the hollows, of antelope browsingon the sage at the edge of the forests. Here was the broad track of agrizzly in the snow; there on a sunny crag lay a tawny mountain-lionasleep. The bronzed cowboy came in for his share, and the lone banditplayed his part in a way to make me shiver. The great pines, the shady,brown trails, the sunlit glades, were as real to me as if I had beenamong them. Most vivid of all was the lonely forest at night and thecampfire. I heard the sputter of the red embers and smelled the woodsmoke; I peered into the dark shadows watching and listening for I knewnot what.
On the next day early in the afternoon father appeared on the riverroad.
"There he is," cried Hal. "He's driving Billy. How he's coming."
Billy was father's fastest horse. It pleased me immensely to see thepace, for father would not have been driving fast unless he were in aparticularly good humor. And when he stopped on the bank above campI could have shouted. He wore his corduroys as if he were ready foroutdoor life. There was a smile on his face as he tied Billy, and,coming down, he poked into everything in camp and asked innumerablequestions. Hal talked about the bass until I was afraid he would want togo fishing and postpone our forestry tramp in the woods. But presentlyhe spoke directly to me.
"Well, Kenneth, are you going to come out with the truth about thatWild-West scheme of yours? Now that you've graduated you want a fling.You want to ride mustangs, to see cowboys, to hunt and shoot--all thatsort of thing."
When father spoke in such a way it usually meant the defeat of myschemes. I grew cold all over.
"Yes, father, I'd like all that--But I mean business. I want to bea forest ranger. Let me go to Arizona this summer. And in the fallI'd--I'd like to go to a school of forestry."
There! the truth was out, and my feelings were divided between reliefand fear. Before father could reply I launched into a set speech uponforestry, and talked till I was out of breath.
"There's something in what you say," replied my father. "You've beenreading up on the subject?"
"Everything I could get, and I've been trying to apply my knowledgein the woods. I love the trees. I'd love an outdoor life. But forestrywon't be any picnic. A ranger must be able to ride and pack, make trailand camp, live alone in the woods, fight fire and wild beasts. Oh! It'dbe great!"
"I dare say," said father, dryly; "particularly the riding and shooting.Well, I guess you'll make a good-enough doctor to suit me."
"Give me a square deal," I cried, jumping up. "Mayn't I have one word tosay about my future? Wouldn't you rather have me happy and successful asa forester, even if there is danger, than just an ordinary, poor doctor?Let's go over our woodland. I'll prove that you are letting your forestrun down. You've got sixty acres of hard woods that ought to be bringinga regular income. If I can't prove it, if I can't interest you, I'llagree to study medicine. But if I do you're to let me try forestry."
"Well, Kenneth, that's a fair proposition," returned father, evidentlysurprised at my earnestness "Come on. We'll go up in the w
"Ken's got a big thing in mind," replied Hal, loyally "It's justsplendid."
I never saw the long, black-fringed line of trees without joy in thepossession of them and a desire to be among them. The sixty acres oftimber land covered the whole of a swampy valley, spread over a rollinghill sloping down to the glistening river.
"Now, son? go ahead," said my father, as we clambered over a rail fenceand stepped into the edge of shade..
"Well, father--" I began, haltingly, and could not collect my thoughts.Then we were in the cool woods. It was very still, there being only afaint rustling of leaves and the mellow note of a hermit-thrush. Thedeep shadows were lightened by shafts of sunshine which, here and there,managed to pierce the canopy of foliage. Somehow, the feeling roused bythese things loosened my tongue.
"This is an old hard-wood forest," I began. "Much of the white oak,hickory, ash, maple, is virgin timber. These trees have reachedmaturity; many are dead at the tops; all of them should have been cutlong ago. They make too dense a shade for the seedlings to survive. Lookat that bunch of sapling maples. See how they reach up, trying to getto the light. They haven't a branch low down and the tops are thin. Yetmaple is one of our hardiest trees. Growth has been suppressed. Do younotice there are no small oaks or hickories just here? They can't livein deep shade. Here's the stump of a white oak cut last fall. It wasabout two feet in diameter. Let's count the rings to find its age--aboutninety years. It flourished in its youth and grew rapidly, but it had ahard time after about fifty years. At that time it was either burned, ormutilated by a falling tree, or struck by lightning."
"Now, how do you make that out?" asked father, intensely interested.
"See the free, wide rings from the pith out to about number forty-five.The tree was healthy up to that time. Then it met with an injury ofsome kind, as is indicated by this black scar. After that the rings grewnarrower. The tree struggled to live."
We walked on with me talking as fast as I could get the words out. Ishowed father a giant, bushy chestnut which was dominating all the treesaround it, and told him how it retarded their growth. On the other hand,the other trees were absorbing nutrition from the ground that would havebenefited the chestnut.
"There's a sinful waste of wood here," I said, as we climbed over andaround the windfalls and rotting tree-trunks. "The old trees die and areblown down. The amount of rotting wood equals the yearly growth. Now, Iwant to show you the worst enemies of the trees. Here's a big white oak,a hundred and fifty years old. It's almost dead. See the little holesbored in the bark. They were made by a beetle. Look!"
I swung my hatchet and split off a section of bark. Everywhere in thebark and round the tree ran little dust-filled grooves. I pried out anumber of tiny brown beetles, somewhat the shape of a pinching-bug, onlyvery much smaller.
"There! You'd hardly think that that great tree was killed by a lot oflittle bugs, would you? They girdle the trees and prevent the sap fromflowing."
I found an old chestnut which contained nests of the deadly white moths,and explained how it laid its eggs, and how the caterpillars that camefrom them killed the trees by eating the leaves. I showed how mice andsquirrels injured the forest by eating the seeds.
"First I'd cut and sell all the matured and dead timber. Then I'd thinout the spreading trees that want all the light, and the saplings thatgrow too close together. I'd get rid of the beetles, and try to checkthe spread of caterpillars. For trees grow twice as fast if they are notchoked or diseased. Then I'd keep planting seeds and shoots in the openplaces, taking care to favor the species best adapted to the soil, andcutting those that don't grow well. In this way we'll be keeping ourforest while doubling its growth and value, and having a yearly incomefrom it."
"Kenneth, I see you're in dead earnest about this business," said myfather, slowly. "Before I came out here today I had been looking upthe subject, and I believe, with you, that forestry really means thesalvation of our country. I think you are really interested, and I've amind not to oppose you."
"You'll never regret it. I'll learn; I'll work up. Then it's an outdoorlife--healthy, free--why! all the boys I've told take to the idea.There's something fine about it." "Forestry it is, then," replied he. "Ilike the promise of it, and I like your attitude. If you have learned somuch while you were camping out here the past few summers it speaks wellfor you. But why do you want to go to Arizona?"
"Because the best chances are out West. I'd like to get a line onthe National Forests there before I go to college. The work will bedifferent; those Western forests are all pine. I've a friend, DickLeslie, a fellow I used to fish with, who went West and is now a fireranger in the new National Forest in Arizona--Penetier is the name ofit. He has written me several times to come out and spend a while withhim in the woods."
"Penetier? Where is that--near what town?"
"Holston. It's a pretty rough country, Dick says; plenty of deer, bears,and lions on his range. So I could hunt some while studying the forests.I think I'd be safe with Dick, even if it is wild out there."
"All right, I'll let you go. When you return we'll see about thecollege." Then he surprised me by drawing a letter from his pocketand handing it to me. "My friend, Mr. White, got this letter from thedepartment at Washington. It may be of use to you out there."
So it was settled, and when father drove off homeward Hal and I wentback to camp. It would have been hard to say which of us was the moreexcited. Hal did a war dance round the campfire. I was glad, however,that he did not have the little twinge of remorse which I experienced,for I had not told him or father all that Dick had written about thewilderness of Penetier. I am afraid my mind was as much occupied withrifles and mustangs as with the study of forestry. But, though theadventure called most strongly to me, I knew I was sincere aboutthe forestry end of it, and I resolved that I would never slight myopportunities. So, smothering conscience, I fell to the delight ofmaking plans. I was for breaking camp at once, but Hal persuaded me tostay one more day. We talked for hours. Only one thing bothered me. Halwas jolly and glum by turns. He reveled in the plans for my outfit, buthe wanted his own chance. A thousand times I had to repeat my promise,and the last thing he said before we slept was: "Ken, you're going toring me in next summer!"
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