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The Writings of John Muir
Volume 8 - Chapter XIX. People and Towns of Puget Sound


As one strolls in the woods about the logging- camps, most of the lumbermen are found to be interesting people to meet, kind and obliging and sincere, full of knowledge concerning the bark and sapwood and heartwood of the trees they cut, and how to fell them without unnecessary breakage, on ground where they may be most advantageously sawed into logs and loaded for removal. The work is hard, and all of the older men have a tired, somewhat haggard appearance. Their faces are doubtful in color, neither sickly nor quite healthy-looking, and seamed with deep wrinkles like the bark of the spruces, but with no trace of anxiety. Their clothing is full of rosin and never wears out. A little of everything in the woods is stuck fast to these loggers, and their trousers grow constantly thicker with age. In all their movements and gestures they are heavy and deliberate like the trees above them, and they walk with a swaying, rocking gait altogether free from quick, jerky fussiness, for chopping and log-rolling have quenched all that. They are also slow of speech, as if partly out of breath, and when one tries to draw them out on some subject away from logs, all the fresh, leafy, outreaching branches of the mind seem to have been withered and killed with fatigue, leaving their lives little more than dry lumber. Many a tree have these old axe- men felled, but, round-shouldered and stooping, they too are beginning to lean over. Many of their companions are already beneath the moss, and among those that we see at work some are now dead at the top (bald), leafless, so to speak, and tottering to their fall.

A very different man, seen now and then at long intervals but usually invisible, is the free roamer of the wilderness - hunter, prospector, explorer, seeking he knows not what. Lithe and sinewy, he walks erect, making his way with the skill of wild animals, all his senses in action, watchful and alert, looking keenly at everything in sight, his imagination well nourished in the wealth of the wilderness, coming into contact with free nature in a thousand forms, drinking at the fountains of things, responsive to wild influences, as trees to the winds. Well he knows the wild animals his neighbors, what fishes are in the streams, what birds in the forests, and where food may be found. Hungry at times and weary, he has corresponding enjoyment in eating and resting, and all the wilderness is home. Some of these rare, happy rovers die alone among the leaves. Others half settle down and change in part into farmers; each, making choice of some fertile spot where the landscape attracts him, builds a small cabin, where, with few wants to supply from garden or field, he hunts and farms in turn, going perhaps once a year to the settlements, until night begins to draw near, and, like forest shadows, thickens into darkness and his day is done. In these Washington wilds, living alone, all sorts of men may perchance be found - poets, philosophers, and even full-blown transcendentalists, though you may go far to find them.

Indians are seldom to be met with away from the Sound, excepting about the few outlying hop-ranches, to which they resort in great numbers during the picking-season. Nor in your walks in the woods will you be likely to see many of the wild animals, however far you may go, with the exception of the Douglas squirrel and the mountain goat. The squirrel is everywhere, and the goat you can hardly fail to find if you climb any of the high mountains. The deer, once very abundant, may still be found on the islands and along the shores of the Sound, but the large gray wolves render their existence next to impossible at any considerable distance back in the woods of the mainland, as they can easily run them down unless they are near enough to the coast to make their escape by plunging into the water and swimming to the islands off shore. The elk and perhaps also the moose still exist in the most remote and inaccessible solitudes of the forest, but their numbers have been greatly reduced of late, and even the most experienced hunters have difficulty in finding them. Of bears there are two species, the black and the large brown, the former by far the more common of the two. On the shaggy bottom-lands where berries are plentiful, and along the rivers while salmon are going up to spawn, the black bear may be found, fat and at home. Many are killed every year, both for their flesh and skins. The large brown species likes higher and opener ground. He is a dangerous animal, a near relative of the famous grizzly, and wise hunters are very fond of letting him alone.

The towns of Puget Sound are of a very lively, progressive, and aspiring kind, fortunately with abundance of substance about them to warrant their ambition and make them grow. Like young sapling sequoias, they are sending out their roots far and near for nourishment, counting confidently on longevity and grandeur of stature. Seattle and Tacoma are at present far in the lead of all others in the race for supremacy, and these two are keen, active rivals, to all appearances well matched. Tacoma occupies near the head of the Sound a site of great natural beauty. It is the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and calls itself the "City of Destiny." Seattle is also charmingly located about twenty miles down the Sound from Tacoma, on Elliott Bay. It is the terminus of the Seattle, Lake-Shore, and Eastern Railroad, now in process of construction, and calls itself the "Queen City of the Sound" and the "Metropolis of Washington." What the populations of these towns number I am notable to say with anything like exactness. They are probably about the same size and they each claim to have about twenty thousand people; but their figures are so rapidly changing, and so often mixed up with counts that refer to the future that exact measurements of either of these places are about as hard to obtain as measurements of the clouds of a growing storm. Their edges run back for miles into the woods among the trees and stumps and brush which hide a good many of the houses and the stakes which mark the lots; so that, without being as yet very large towns, they seem to fade away into the distance.

But, though young and loose-jointed, they are fast taking on the forms and manners of old cities, putting on airs, as some would say, like boys in haste to be men. They are already towns "with all modern improvements, first- class in every particular," as is said of hotels. They have electric motors and lights, paved broadways and boulevards, substantial business blocks, schools, churches, factories, and foundries. The lusty, titanic clang of boiler- making may be heard there, and plenty of the languid music of pianos' mingling with the babel noises of commerce carried on in a hundred tongues. The main streets are crowded with bright, wide-awake lawyers, ministers, merchants, agents for everything under the sun; ox-drivers and loggers in stiff, gummy overalls; back-slanting dudes, well-tailored and shiny; and fashions and bonnets of every feather and color bloom gayly in the noisy throng and advertise London and Paris. Vigorous life and strife are to be seen everywhere. The spirit of progress is in the air. Still it is hard to realize how much good work is being done here of a kind that makes for civilization - the enthusiastic, exulting energy displayed in the building of new towns, railroads, and mills, in the opening of mines of coal and iron and the development of natural resources in general. To many, especially in the Atlantic States, Washington is hardly known at all. It is regarded as being yet a far wild west — a dim, nebulous expanse of woods - by those who do not know that railroads and steamers have brought the country out of the wilderness and abolished the old distances. It is now near to all the world and is in possession of a share of the best of all that civilization has to offer, while on some of the lines of advancement it is at the front.

Notwithstanding the sharp rivalry between different sections and towns, the leading men mostly pull together for the general good and glory, - building, buying, borrowing, to push the country to its place; keeping arithmetic busy in counting population present and to come, ships, towns, factories, tons of coal and iron, feet of lumber, miles of railroad, - Americans, Scandinavians, Irish, Scotch, and Germans being joined together in the white heat of work like religious crowds in time of revival who have forgotten sectarianism. It is a fine thing to see people in hot earnest about anything; therefore, however extravagant and high the brag ascending from Puget Sound, in most cases it is likely to appear pardonable and more.

Seattle was named after an old Indian chief who lived in this part of the Sound. He was very proud of the honor and lived long enough to lead his grandchildren about the streets. The greater part of the lower business portion of the town, including a long stretch of wharves and warehouses built on piles, was destroyed by fire a few months ago, [1889] with immense loss. The people, however, are in no wise discouraged, and ere long the loss will be gain, inasmuch as a better class of buildings, chiefly of brick, are being erected in place of the inflammable wooden ones, which, with comparatively few exceptions, were built of pitchy spruce.

With their own scenery so glorious ever on show, one would at first thought suppose that these happy Puget Sound people would never go sightseeing from home like less favored mortals. But they do all the same. Some go boating on the Sound or on the lakes and rivers, or with their families make excursions at small cost on the steamers. Others will take the train to the Franklin and Newcastle or Carbon River coal-mines for the sake of the thirty- or forty-mile rides through the woods, and a look into the black depths of the underworld. Others again take the steamers for Victoria, Fraser River, or Vancouver, the new ambitious town at the terminus of the Canadian Railroad, thus getting views of the outer world in a near foreign country. One of the regular summer resorts of this region where people go for fishing, hunting, and the healing of diseases, is the Green River Hot Springs, in the Cascade Mountains, sixty-one miles east of Tacoma, on the line of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Green River is a small rocky stream with picturesque banks, and derives its name from the beautiful pale-green hue of its waters.

Among the most interesting of all the summer rest and pleasure places is the famous "Hop Ranch" on the upper Snoqualmie River, thirty or forty miles eastward from Seattle. Here the dense forest opens, allowing fine free views of the adjacent mountains from a long stretch of ground which is half meadow, half prairie, level and fertile, and beautifully diversified with outstanding groves of spruces and alders and rich flowery fringes of spinea and wild roses, the river meandering deep and tranquil through the midst of it. On the portions most easily cleared some three hundred acres of hop-vines have been planted and are now in full bearing, yielding, it is said, at the rate of about a ton of hops to the acre. They are a beautiful crop, these vines of the north, pillars of verdure in regular rows, seven feet apart and eight or ten feet in height; the long, vigorous shoots sweeping round in fine, wild freedom, and the light, leafy cones hanging in loose, handsome clusters.

Perhaps enough of hops might be raised in Washington for the wants of all the world, but it would be impossible to find pickers to handle the crop. Most of the picking is done by Indians, and to this fine, clean, profitable work they come in great numbers in their canoes, old and young, of many different tribes, bringing wives and children and household goods, in some cases from a distance of five or six hundred miles, even from far Alaska. Then they too grow rich and spend their money on red cloth and trinkets. About a thousand Indians are required as pickers at the Snoquamie ranch alone, and a lively and merry picture they make in the field, arrayed in bright, showy calicoes, lowering the rustling vine-pillars with incessant song-singing and fun. Still more striking are their queer camps on the edges of the fields or over on the riverbank, with the firelight shining on their wild jolly faces. But woe to the ranch should fire, water get there!

But the chief attractions here are not found in the hops, but in trout-fishing and bearhunting, and in the two fine falls on the river. Formerly the trip from Seattle was a hard one, over corduroy roads; now it is reached in a few hours by rail along the shores of Lake Washington and Lake Squak, through a fine sample section of the forest and past the brow of the main Snoqualmie Fall. From the hotel at the ranch village the road to the fall leads down the right bank of the river through the magnificent maple woods I have mentioned elsewhere, and fine views of the fall may be had on that side, both from above and below. It is situated on the main river, where it plunges over a sheer precipice, about two hundred and forty feet high, in leaving the level meadows of the ancient lake-basin. In a general way it resembles the well-known Nevada Fall in Yosemite, having the same twisted appearance at the top and the free plunge in numberless comet-shaped masses into a deep pool seventy-five or eighty yards in diameter. The pool is of considerable depth, as is shown by the radiating well-beaten foam and mist, which is of a beautiful rose color at times, of exquisite fineness of tone, and by the heavy waves that lash the rocks in front of it.

Though to a Californian the height of this fall would not seem great, the volume of water is heavy, and all the surroundings are delightful. The maple forest, of itself worth a long journey, the beauty of the river-reaches above and below, and the views down the valley afar over the mighty forests, with all its lovely trimmings of ferns and flowers, make this one of the most interesting falls I have ever seen. The upper fall is about seventy-five feet high, with bouncing rapids at head and foot, set in a romantic deli thatched with dripping mosses and ferns and embowered in dense evergreens and blooming bushes, the distance to it from the upper end of the meadows being about eight miles. The road leads through majestic woods with ferns ten feet high beneath some of the thickets, and across a gravelly plain deforested by fire many years ago. Orange lilies are plentiful, and handsome shining mats of the kinnikinic, sprinkled with bright scarlet berries.

From a place called "Hunt's," at the end of the wagon-road, a trail leads through lush, dripping woods (never dry) to Thuja and Mertens, Menzies, and Douglas spruces. The ground is covered with the best moss-work of the moist lands of the north, made up mostly of the various species of hypnum, with some liverworts, marchantia, jungermannia, etc., in broad sheets and bosses, where never a dust- particle floated, and where all the flowers, fresh with mist and spray, are wetter than water-lilies. The pool at the foot of the fall is a place surpassingly lovely to look at, with the enthusiastic rush and song of the falls, the majestic trees overhead leaning over the brink like listeners eager to catch every word of the white refreshing waters, the delicate maidenhairs and aspleniums with fronds outspread gathering the rainbow sprays, and the myriads of hooded mosses, every cup fresh and shining.


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