IT IS hard for us to believe that trees were regarded as an enemy by the American settler. Trees stood in the way of his planting and they shut out his sunlight. The virgin forests which once covered Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio with their impenetrable gloom into which a child might disappear forever were an enemy to be burned, axed, and uprooted. So the settler won his clearing and the forests thinned out. The story is told with unforgettable fidelity in that fine short novel, The Trees, by Pulitzer Prize winner, Conrad Richter.
After the settler came the lumberman and the sawmill, cutting for the needed houses and furniture and, ever increasingly, for the wood pulp from which comes newsprint. A few of the early lumber firms, such as Weyerhaeuser, Pope & Talbot, and the Simpson Logging Company, all of which had extensive holdings in the Pacific Northwest, operated with a conscience, but they were the exception, not the rule.
The original partners, William C. Talbot and Andrew J. Pope, hailed, the one from East Machias, Maine, the other from Boston; they came West with the Forty-niners; they were experienced in shipping, and the first in San Francisco to fill the need for “windows, doors, sashes, and knees”; they prospered in the Gold Rush, their fleet doubled in the Civil War; their lumber schooners held a commanding place in the intercoastal trade, and they Shipped over 60 million feet of lumber for the rebuilding of San Francisco in 1906, the year of the Earthquake. The record of Pope & Talbot — cutting and planting— has been graphically told in their Centennial Volume, Time, Tide and Timber, by Edwin T. Coman, Jr., and Helen M. Gibbs (Stanford University Press, $5.00), but as I have said, an operation like this was the exception.
Prior to 1920, the practice was to cut all that was worth cutting, dump your sawdust into the nearest stream, and then move the sawmill to the next likeliest spot. This summer I paddled down trout streams which once held good trout, and might still were it not for the immovable, poisonous beds of sawdust dumped there forty years ago. Too often the slash was left scattered on the ground, an unregarded fire hazard. By-products from this wood waste were unthought of.
Fires on such cutover land were to he expected, and when they came were regarded as acts of God, not of man. But the scars are there to remind us, the black spindly skeletons and the brown scorched earth on which no new growth can be expected for years. It is disagreeable to remember that in ten days of October, 1947, Maine lost 210,000 acres of good forest land to fire at a cost of sixteen lives and 32 millions of dollars. Fire fighters were flown on from Washington and Oregon as there were not enough trained men available in the Northeast; destroyers were sent North to generate power for the burned-out villages. New England forest industries have increased their vigilance since then. There has been a change of heart and a farsighted betterment of operation, none more noticeable than in the Brown Company of New Hampshire under the new presidency of L. F. Whittemore.
The profession of forestry has come fast after a slow start. The first professional forester was graduated from an American college in 1900. Today there are over 12,500 of them, but they had to have time and experience before they could break down the grandfather heritage (“What my grandfather did was good enough for me!”) and really apply the brakes. Only when our virgin timber was depleted, only when the value of all forest products began to rise, did Americans realize that the growing of trees could be a profitable and continuous business.
We have not yet been able to achieve the balance between the volume taken by cutting and fire, and the new growth. The imbalance was at its worst in 1909, and it has been aggravated by our desperate need for wood in both wars: in 1944, for instance, we consumed 53 billion board feet with a new growth of approximately 35 billion. I am sorry to say that the discrepancy in 1950 may be as bad as that. Misguided cutting has been partially controlled by standardization of size and length within the industry. Weyerhaeuser and Marathon have taken the lead in converting wood waste and sawdust into products molded and bound under heat; and pressure. For the future we must depend on the new growths, and today we realize that if we protect forests from fire, inserts, and disease; if we utilize wood efficiently; and if we harvest timberlands wisely, we have the chance of balancing the economy of lumbering.
The old order passes. Legend has it that the Machias River in Maine was the first on which logs were driven, and there is a tombstone on its bank in memory of a lumberman who was crushed and drowned in the drive of 1790. Today the Machias is the last stream in the United Stales on which the long logs are still driven with the old-time skill and risk. Close to 8 million feet of long logs came down it this year, and the same may be true for another decade. Then the cycle will be complete.
At this moment of transition, when the trees close to home have become more precious, it is important to increase our control of fire and pest. See what lire has done to the magnificent slopes of upland Maine. Keep an eye out for those beauties of the woods, the white birch (there are two particularly magnificent stands, one in Gorham, New Hampshire, the other at Manchester. Vermont); the birch dieback has been killing these trees from the top throughout New England. Notice the rust in the white pine and the damage of the spruce bud worm, unquestionably the most destructive insect in the Northeast, if not in the entire country. Remember the blight that swept away every vestige of the chestnut. (Can anyone tell me of chestnuts that have taken hold again in New England?) Bear in mind that over 2 million elms have been destroyed by the Dutch elm disease. New Haven is, perhaps, the worst sufferer from this invasion, with a loss of more than two thousand trees, most of them the great pat riots of t he past. Bingham and Williamstown are the two battlegrounds where the Dutch elm disease was routed and the great trees saved. Read what the oak wilt is doing in Indiana, Kentucky, and Wisconsin. Only one stale, and that Pennsylvania, which was lightly hit, has made a complete extermination of this oak wilt.
Ruthless cutting, fire, and disease — these are the public enemies of our trees. To offset them there are two white hopes: the increasing vigilance of Americans devoted to Conservation, and the ever spreading knowledge of tree farming. Tree farming as a popular movement began in the State of Washington ten years ago in the little town of Montesano, a community that has lived on and in the forests for ninety years. People who are going into the business of growing trees need time; they need protection from fire; they need graduated taxes on their wood lots so that the seedlings will not be taxed as heavily as the growing trees twenty years later. They need mechanical planters such as are now capable of planting a thousand seedlings in an hour. Four years ago there were twenty-five such machines in operation. Today there are two thousand.
Tree farming is now being developed in thirty states; a tree farm may be a 10-acre section on a New Hampshire farm, or it may be the 500,000-acre holding of Weyerhaeuser. Every one of us stands to gain from the increase of these farms. If you are interested in reading more about them, write for the little booklet “Trees Forever,”designed and produced in Monlesano, Washington, by the Montesano Vidette, the first newspaper to publicize tree farms.
The girls who keep you coming
From that day in 1924 when she gave us her enchanting picture of the Sanger Circus in her novel The Constant Nymph,Margaret Kennedy could be counted on to do the unusual. Now in a summer when fiction is either too thin, with too much makeup, or lugubrious and full of foreboding, she presents us with Lucy Carmichael (Rinehart, $3.00), a lighthearted, urbane story of people who are attractive. and of the amenities which remain in postwar England.
She writes about two English girls, Melissa and Lucy: and seldom has a partnership in the springtime of life been more charmingly depicted. Melissa is blonde, poised, and very deliberate; men run to do her bidding, and she knows exactly what she wants. Lucy is aquiline, forthright, and capable of fury. At Oxford, Melissa gathered courage from Lucy’s gay vitality, and Lucy from Melissa learned to discriminate and relax. Together they had worked out their own code for the other sex; they had become the closest of friends, and now as the story begins they are to be separated by marriage.
But Lucy is jilted al the altar by her irresponsible Irish novelist who couldn’t quite forget his former mistress. And it is Melissa with her secure unoxcitable John who goes to the altar first. So. in what follows, Lucy is the protagonist — first as she recovers from her shock of humiliation, then as she tries to hide herself away as a dramatic coach at the Ravonsbridge Institute on the borderline of Wales. And finally, as her loyalty and her sex are freshly challenged, it is Lucy’s love story that keeps you guessing.
The girls make this story. Melissa when she is charming a roomful, or Lucy as she pours out her indignation on Lady Frances Millwood or her son Charles, the wealthy patrons of the Institute, is captivating; so are they as they decode their emotions to each other in their witty chatter or spritely letters. The men play second fiddle. John and Rickie as they contend for Melissa; Patrick, the jilter, Angera, the artist, Charles, the millionaire, Owen, the Welsh worker, and Hump, Melissa’s brother, as they pursue Lucy — each and every one of them is a one-note man. You know their attributes. Since they are predictable characters, they do the expected. I find myself most interested in Angera and Charles, for they are the two who are most tempted to rebel: I find myself skeptical of Hump, whose last-minute arrival in the story is hardly persuasive. No, it is the girls who keep you coming.
Men against the sea
The Book-of-the-Month Club has chosen for its midsummer selection The Cruel Sen (Knopf, $4.00) by Nicholas Monsarrat, who served in the Royal Navy throughout the war; and it seems to me a timely and excellent choice. “This,” begins the author, “is the story — the long and true story of one ocean, two ships, and about a hundred and fifty men. . . . The ship, the first of the two, the doomed one, . . . is a corvette, a new type of escort ship, an experiment designed to meet a desperate situation. . . . The men are the stars of this story. The only heroines nre the ships: and the only villain the cruel sea itself.”
The corvette, H.M.S. Compass Rose, 200 feet long and “not much more than a floating platform for depth charges,” makes her maiden voyage in November, 1939. Her skipper, Lieutenant-Commander George Erieson, R.N.R., is an old hand and a likable man. Her first officer, Lieutenant Bennett, is a stinker from Australia who, fortunately for all, is soon beached. The younger officers are of course untested, but your eye is drawn more and more to Lieutenant Keith Lockhart, an ex-journalist whom you will see rise to the occasion again and again.
In all weather and under constant risk the Compass Rose stands convoy duty in the Atlantic, first to the midpoint, then on the airand seaassaulted run to Gibraltar, then on the brutally exposed trip to Iceland. You know, as in a Greek tragedy, what the third act will be, and are made the more apprehensive of the doom because of your affection for and interest in this vulnerable little; community.
The author is accurate and honest in his selfanalysis. The women in this book do not count save as symbols of love, loyalty, or gratification left ashore. What he is writing about is the binding force of watchful men, manning the bridge on filthy nights, how to pick up survivors, how to stalk and counterattack the U-boat, how to bury the dead, and “how to die without wasting anyone’s time.”
As months flow into years the battle of the Atlantic, Monsarrat says, became “a very personal matter, and for the sailors involved in it there was a pride and comradeship that nothing could supplant.” Thus it is that Lieutenant Lockhart refuses a command of his own in order to stay with Erieson aboard his new ship. The story is a long stretch of powerful episodes, some of them almost more gruesome than one can bear, as when the skeletons are sighted lashed to the drifting raft. But the inner filling and dominant quality of this sturdy novel is compassion. You see the men in strength and in weakness, in laughter and in reverie, and facing death; and it is the manliness in them that makes you proud and stirs your pity as you read.