XVII. Puget Sound
Washington Territory, recently admitted into the Union as a State, lies between latitude 46 degrees and 49 degrees and longitude 117 degrees and 125 degrees, forming the northwest shoulder of the united States. The majestic range of the Cascade Mountains naturally divides the State into two distinct parts, called Eastern and Western Washington, differing greatly from each other in almost every way, the western section being less than half as large as the eastern, and, with its copious rains and deep fertile soil, being clothed with forests of evergreens, while the eastern section is dry and mostly treeless, though fertile in many parts, and producing immense quantities of wheat and hay. Few States are more fertile and productive in one way or another than Washington, or more strikingly varied in natural features or resources.
Within her borders every kind of soil and climate may be found - the densest woods and dryest plains, the smoothest levels and roughest mountains. She is rich in square miles (some seventy thousand of them), in coal, timber, and iron, and in sheltered inland waters that render these resources advantageously accessible. She also is already rich in busy workers, who work hard, though not always wisely, hacking, burning, blasting their way deeper into the wilderness, beneath the sky, and beneath the ground. The wedges of development are being driven hard, and none of the obstacles or defenses of nature can long withstand the onset of this immeasurable industry.
Puget Sound, so justly famous the world over for the surpassing size and excellence and abundance of its timber, is a long, many-fingered arm of the sea reaching southward from the head of the Strait of Juan de Fuca into the heart of the grand forests of the western portion of Washington, between the Cascade Range and the mountains of the coast. It is less than a hundred miles in length, but so numerous are the branches into which it divides, and so many its bays, harbors, and islands, that its entire shoreline is said to measure more than eighteen hundred miles. Throughout its whole vast extent ships move in safety, and find shelter from every wind that blows, the entire mountain-girt sea forming one grand unrivaled harbor and center for commerce.
The forest trees press forward to the water around all the windings of the shores in most imposing array, as if they were courting their fate, coming down from the mountains far and near to offer themselves to the axe, thus making the place a perfect paradise for the lumberman. To the lover of nature the scene is enchanting. Water and sky, mountain and forest, clad in sunshine and clouds, are composed in landscapes sublime in magnitude, yet exquisitely fine and fresh, and full of glad, rejoicing life. The shining waters stretch away into the leafy wilderness, now like the reaches of some majestic river and again expanding into broad roomy spaces like mountain lakes, their farther edges fading gradually and blending with the pale blue of the sky. The wooded shores with an outer fringe of flowering bushes sweep onward in beautiful curves around bays, and capes, and jutting promontories innumerable; while the islands, with soft, waving outlines, lavishly adorned with spruces and cedars, thicken and enrich the beauty of the waters; and the white spirit mountains looking down from the sky keep watch and ward over all, faithful and changeless as the stars.
All the way from the Strait of Juan de Fuca up to Olympia, a hopeful town situated at the head of one of the farthest-reaching of the fingers of the Sound, we are so completely inland and surrounded by mountains that it is hard to realize that we are sailing on a branch of the salt sea. We are constantly reminded of Lake Tahoe. There is the same clearness of the water in calm weather without any trace of the ocean swell, the same picturesque winding and sculpture of the shoreline and flowery, leafy luxuriance; only here the trees are taller and stand much closer together, and the backgrounds are higher and far more extensive. Here, too, we find greater variety amid the marvelous wealth of islands and inlets, and also in the changing views dependent on the weather. As we double cape after cape and round the uncounted islands, new combinations come to view in endless variety, sufficient to fill and satisfy the lover of wild beauty through a whole life.
Oftentimes in the stillest weather, when all the winds sleep and no sign of storms is felt or seen, silky clouds form and settle over all the land, leaving in sight only a circle of water with indefinite bounds like views in mid-ocean; then, the clouds lifting, some islet will be presented standing alone, with the topes of its trees dipping out of sight in pearly gray fringes; or, lifting higher, and perhaps letting in a ray of sunshine through some rift overhead, the whole island will be set free and brought forward in vivid relief amid the gloom, a girdle of silver light of dazzling brightness on the water about its shores, then darkening again and vanishing back into the general gloom. Thus island after island may be seen, singly or in groups, coming and going from darkness to light like a scene of enchantment, until at length the entire cloud ceiling is rolled away, and the colossal cone of Mount Rainier is seen in spotless white looking down over the forests from a distance of sixty miles, but so lofty and so massive and clearly outlined as to impress itself upon us as being just back of a strip of woods only a mile or two in breadth.