Down Logs


As I have viewed the great heaps of logs and sticks here and there to be burned, the open woods, cleaned and combed, dead trees removed, live trees thinned, underbrush cut out, a nationwide activity suddenly come to life, I wonder if I am the only one who is concerned. Perhaps I am alone. If so, I suppose I should not object to this country-wide cleanup in our forests, but seek some obscure corner, as yet untouched, for my enjoyment. But I do see other protests. People are beginning to be concerned over widespread interference with the wilderness picture.

A recent article in Bird Lore, ‘The Depression Army Takes to the Woods,’ quotes newspaper comments and letters from correspondents, all in the same vein. One of these writes, in part: ‘As one who has a great and enduring love for the rapidly diminishing wilderness areas of our country, I was shocked beyond measure at what I saw in one of our great National Parks of the South . . . in the Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. . . . The magnificent natural beauty of the Smokies was rapidly going, under the process of being “landscaped” by alien hands.’

He describes the ‘improvement’ of the Appalachian Trail by the CCC boys, and says, ‘No longer will the Trail serve as a sanctuary to adventurous Americans, who will seek in vain for a natural pathway on the mountain summits of this Park.’

An editorial in Nature Magazine discusses possible plans for Isle Royale and remarks: ‘When he [man] sets about to “clean up the forest” he despoils it.’

These and numerous other comments, written and spoken, indicate that those who enjoy wilderness enjoy it as it is, and any attempts to ‘pretty it up’ for their benefit are most unwelcome. The recently organized Wilderness Society is an expression of public concern over this question.


I recall boyhood experiences in a sparsely wooded section of Minnesota. A group of us boys spent all our spare time in the woods. Most of the woods along the river were open, heavily grazed by cattle, and not very wild for a group of would-be savages. But a few miles from our home was an area which had been neglected. On each side a barbed-wire fence was the boundary. On the outside was the thin, open woodland, with mostly bare ground; on the inside a dense wood with huge trees, heavy underbrush, and down logs — a delightful jungle. To the east lay a piece of original prairie. The smell of those prairie grasses and flowers lingers to this day. There the prairie chickens boomed in the spring and we watched the red foxes hunting mice.

The wood itself we called The Wilderness, a name that still remains among those of us who were chums at that time, although the wild aspect has now largely disappeared through ‘improvement.’

In that jungle we built our cave, carefully hidden from chance passersby, and there we played our bow-andarrow games. We noticed with some wonder that in The Wilderness we could find the largest flowers, the finest beds of bloodroots and violets, and some flowers we could not name and which we found nowhere else. Only here did we meet chipmunks and the colorful red-backed mouse. The other woods were too ‘clean’ for them.

But the greatest charm for us lay in the profusion of down logs and hollow trees. Raccoons lived in the big trees and we saw their tracks in the mud by the river. We were always alert for a mink and sometimes cornered one in a hollow log. We could never pass such a log without looking in, expertly, for a possible inhabitant, and adventure. Sometimes a cottontail would scuttle out. It might be a woodchuck. Once in a while we saw the shiny red of a skunk’s eyes in the dark interior, and the next hour might or might not be exciting, according to our mood. Flying squirrels could be seen on a moonlit night, soft shadows among the upper twigs, sometimes floating off to another tree and landing with an audible ‘tick’ on the bark. We listened to the screech owl in the dusk. In winter the prairie chickens sat in the elm trees or, during a blizzard, huddled up in plum thickets, or burst from the snow at our feet in the evening.

Such an assemblage of wild life was the direct result of the abundance of cover and food in this bit of woods, left in its primitive state through some accident of ownership. We never knew the legal owners, but The Wilderness was ours and is to this day. In our memories the old logs still remain and we knew most of them individually.

We always made a point of going by an old elm log, with a small cavity, lying at the foot of a large tree which had a crack in its side. We would snoop about these openings for possible adventure, but never found more than a red squirrel. Anyway, it was somehow comfortable to walk along it, perhaps reaching out to touch the crumbling bark, a gesture which I now recognize as an unconscious boyish caress.

The old reddish one that had lost its bark long ago, checked and falling apart, had never held a hollow, but we always walked by it, perhaps because it was a harmonious feature in the woods, perhaps just because it was ‘kinda fun to go past it,’ incidentally crumbling a chunk of it in our hands.

Another, a smooth one, was also without a cavity, but we would linger inquiringly in passing, perhaps swing a leg over it and scramble across, instead of going around, just to get the feel of it.

And so it went in this boys’ paradise providentially left to us through blessed neglect. We knew the trees by their bark as well as their leaves, knew many of them individually, and loved it all in our boyish way. Is it not likely that such an experience and such an environment left their imprint on us all? In my case that early life, in which The Wilderness stands out so vividly, wove a soft and mellow fabric which more than once has helped to absorb the occasional bitterness and to soften the disappointments of later years.

What parent in this complex age would not be grateful if his or her boy could have access to a bit of primitive wildwood and there find interests, perhaps deep and permanent influences, that would help to mould his life and steady him on his uncertain path through crowded civilization? A touch of solitude now and then will foster self-reliance and independent thought. Youth is often impatient of æsthetics as such and scorns to put tender thoughts into words; but, willy-nilly, youth responds to wholesome influences, absorbs them and nurtures them, to give them expression in later years, perhaps — if not otherwise, then often in the form of a serene philosophy, a capacity for deep contentment.


But the enjoyment of untouched wilderness is not the exclusive privilege of youth. The appeals heard on every side to spare the primitive charm of natural forests come from adults. Indeed, those desires and tastes that have their roots in recreation have no doubt been nurtured in the period of youth and have been handed up to adult life — somewhat modified, to be sure, sometimes enhanced by more mature capacities and understanding, sometimes confused and warped by grownup complexities. But certain it is that the yearning for simplicity is general.

A cowboy, going up a famous mountain with me, in lurid, picturesque language deplored the passing of the day before the comfortable de luxe trail had been built into the mountain fastness. A group of Eastern vacationists, gathered at dinner in a rustic cabin, regretted the artificialities that were being injected into their ‘Western wilderness.’ When a rumor arose that a road was to be built into a certain wild area the supervisor of that forest informed me that he was ‘flooded with protests.’

I have dwelt much on down logs as an attractive and essential feature of the true forest. After all, this is but an item, which I would have symbolize all the efforts that are being made to paint the lily. When well-meaning programmes to ‘improve’ the wilderness creep into the administration of public recreation lands there is great danger for the whole domain of the out-ofdoors, as we know it, especially for the areas we can still designate as somewhat primitive.

The problem is not simple. Human relationships, all the commercial accessories to the recreation industry, and numerous cross-currents of human thought and endeavor present a confusing complex for the administrator. To be sure, we must have our picnic grounds, our roads. We already have them. But we should also accommodate those who seek the solitude, who wish to ‘go places’ by their own efforts, ‘adventurous Americans.’ And there are other considerations. Wild game must have food and cover. The ruffed grouse loves his drumming log and we love to see him there. Our valuable fur bearers do not thrive on a glorified picnic ground. Here the simplest and cheapest administration is the best.

Two of us were climbing far back in the mountains one late summer day. We sat down to rest at times, for the way was steep, and we idly gazed about us, over the green slopes among the lodgepole pines, dotted with bits of color: the white of bistort and caraway, the magenta of wild geranium and yellow and red of its leaves, deep red paintbrush, purple asters, and the butterflies — little blues, gaudy yellows, and the high-ranging Parnassius. Overhead, white clouds drifted silently by in the blue. All about us was quiet and peace.

We had reached the high country, and, looking casually up at a range of cliffs, one of us had caught a movement, something stirring up there in the crags. In a moment a mountain sheep came into view, then another, and still another. We sat down and trained our glasses on them, three ewes picking their way along the ledges.

My companion was a young man of athletic type, with a zest for the far places, eager for life. He had already seen mountain sheep, semi-tame ones near a tourist road where they had been enticed by an artificial salt lick. Satisfying enough, in a way. But here on this old trail in the mountains, where, by our own efforts, we had come upon free-ranging, wild mountain sheep, how his eyes shone! Little grunts and half-spoken exclamations burst from his lips. I have seen the same earnest look on the face of one who was enjoying a great painting. I recall two young Germans, visitors to this country, who stood gazing at an illuminated capitol in one of our Western cities, in the cool freshness of evening, one of them uttering in a low, vibrant voice, ‘ Wunderschön! Artists all.

We said little, as we sat there on the mountain trail. The mountain sheep walked and ran, cool-headed and surefooted, occasionally stopping to look in our direction, statuesque, until at last they disappeared around a point. While we lingered, loath to leave that place of quiet adventure, a golden eagle soared into view and sailed across the face of those same cliffs on veering pinions as he expertly took the air currents.

That afternoon, when we at last turned back for the lowlands, we spurned the trail and took off down the mountainsides, leaping over the talus slopes, scrambling down low cliffs that barred our progress, and slanting off through the pines and spruces, exuberant, buoyant with a seven-league-boot feeling as we scrambled downward, laughing at our slips and mishaps from the sheer joy of living.


In the town of Jackson, nestled in the southern part of the historic Jackson Hole of Wyoming, is a modern hospital, built of logs. Enthusiastic Eastern visitors have assisted in its building. The operating room is spacious, well equipped, complete in all details, a blessing to the community and to many of the thousands of visitors who come into the valley on recreation bent.

The operating room was given as a memorial to a girl who came to Jackson Hole repeatedly for recreation. A hardwood tablet placed at the entrance to the room by the BC Dude Ranch bears the following significant inscription: —

AUGUST 30, 1926