CHAPTER VIII. THE FORESTS
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 that 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 the camp, which I reached before dusk.... 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
This grand pine discovered under such, exciting circumstances Douglas named in honor of his friend Dr. Lambert of London.
The trunk is a smooth, round, delicately tapered shaft, mostly without limbs, and colored rich purplish-brown, usually enlivened with tufts of yellow lichen. At the top of this magnificent bole, long, curving branches sweep gracefully outward and downward, sometimes forming a palm-like crown, but far more nobly impressive than any palm crown I ever beheld. The needles are about three inches long, finely tempered and arranged in rather close tassels at the ends of slender branchlets that clothe the long, outsweeping limbs. How well they sing in the wind, and how strikingly harmonious an effect is made by the immense cylindrical cones that depend loosely from the ends of the main branches! No one knows what Nature can do in the way of pine-burs until he has seen those of the Sugar Pine. They are commonly from fifteen to eighteen inches long, and three in diameter; green, shaded with dark purple on their sunward sides. They are ripe in September and October. Then the flat scales open and the seeds take wing, but the empty cones become still more beautiful and effective, for their diameter is nearly doubled by the spreading of the scales, and their color changes to a warm yellowish-brown; while they remain swinging on the tree all the following winter and summer, and continue effectively beautiful even on the ground many years after they fall. The wood is deliciously fragrant, and fine in grain and texture; it is of a rich cream-yellow, as if formed of condensed sunbeams. Retinospora obtusa, Siebold, the glory of Eastern forests, is called "Fu-si-no-ki" (tree of the sun) by the Japanese; the Sugar Pine is the sun-tree of the Sierra. Unfortunately it is greatly prized by the lumbermen, and in accessible places is always the first tree in the woods to feel their steel. But the regular lumbermen, with their saw-mills, have been, less generally destructive thus far than the shingle-makers. The wood splits freely, and there is a constant demand for the shingles. And because an ax, and saw, and frow are all the capital required for the business, many of that drifting, unsteady class of men so large in California engage in it for a few months in the year. When prospectors, hunters, ranch hands, etc., touch their "bottom dollar" and find themselves out of employment, they say, "Well, I can at least go to the Sugar Pines and make shingles." A few posts are set in the ground, and a single length cut from the first tree felled produces boards enough for the walls and roof of a cabin; all the rest the lumberman makes is for sale, and he is speedily independent. No gardener or haymaker is more sweetly perfumed than these rough mountaineers while engaged in this business, but the havoc they make is most deplorable.
The sugar, from which the common name is derived, is to my taste the best of sweets - better than maple sugar. It exudes from the heart-wood, where wounds have been made, either by forest fires, or the ax, in the shape of irregular, crisp, candy-like kernels, which are crowded together in masses of considerable size, like clusters of resin-beads. When fresh, it is perfectly white and delicious, but, because most of the wounds on which it is found have been made by fire, the exuding sap is stained on the charred surface, and the hardened sugar becomes brown. Indians are fond of it, but on account of its laxative properties only small quantities may be eaten. Bears, so fond of sweet things in general, seem never to taste it; at least I have failed to find any trace of their teeth in this connection.