Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Writings of John Muir
Volume 8 - Chapter XXI. The Physical and Climate Characteristics of Oregon


OREGON is a large, rich, compact section of the west side of the continent, containing nearly a hundred thousand square miles of deep, wet evergreen woods, fertile valleys, icy mountains, and high, rolling, wind-swept plains, watered by the majestic Columbia River and its countless branches. It is bounded on the north by Washington, on the east by Idaho, on the south by California and Nevada, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. It is a grand, hearty, wholesome, foodful wilderness and, like Washington, once a part of the Oregon Territory, abounds in bold, far-reaching contrasts as to scenery, climate, soil, and productions. Side by side there is drouth on a grand scale and overflowing moisture; flinty, sharply cut lava-beds, gloomy and forbidding, and smooth, flowery lawns; cool bogs, exquisitely plushy and soft, overshadowed by jagged crags barren as icebergs; forests seemingly boundless and plains with no tree in sight; presenting a wide range of conditions, but as a whole favorable to industry. Natural wealth of an available kind abounds nearly everywhere, inviting the farmer, the stock- raiser, the lumberman, the fisherman, the manufacturer, and the miner, as well as the free walker in search of knowledge and wildness. The scenery is mostly of a comfortable, assuring kind, grand and inspiring without too much of that dreadful overpowering sublimity and exuberance which tend to discourage effort and cast people into inaction and superstition.

Ever since Oregon was first heard of in the romantic, adventurous, hunting, trapping Wild West days, it seems to have been regarded as the most attractive and promising of all the Pacific countries for farmers. 'While yet the whole region as well as the way to it was wild, ere a single road or bridge was built, undaunted by the trackless thousand-mile distances and scalping, cattle-stealing Indians, long trains of covered wagons began to crawl wearily westward, crossing how many plains, rivers, ridges, and mountains, fighting the painted savages and weariness and famine. Setting out from the frontier of the old West in the spring as soon as the grass would support their cattle, they pushed on up the Platte, making haste slowly, however, that they might not be caught in the storms of winter ere they reached the promised land. They crossed the Rocky Mountains to Fort hail; thence followed down the Snake River for three or four hundred miles, their cattle limping and failing on the rough lava plains; swimming the streams too deep to be forded, making boats out of wagon-boxes for the women and children and goods, or where trees could be had, lashing together logs for rafts. Thence, crossing the Blue Mountains and the plains of the Columbia, they followed the river to the Dalles. here winter would be upon them, and before a wagon-road was built across the Cascade Mountains the toil-worn emigrants would be compelled to leave their cattle and wagons until the following summer, and, in the meantime, with the assistance of the Hudson's Bay Company, make their way to the Willamette Valley on the river with rafts and boats.

How strange and remote these trying times have already become! They are now dim as if a thousand years had passed over them. Steamships and locomotives with magical influence have well-nigh abolished the old distances and dangers, and brought forward the New West into near and familiar companionship with the rest of the world.

Purely wild for unnumbered centuries, a paradise of oily, salmon-fed Indians, Oregon is now roughly settled in part and surveyed, its rivers and mountain-ranges, lakes, valleys, and plains have been traced and mapped in a general way, civilization is beginning to take root, towns are springing up and flourishing vigorously like a crop adapted to the soil, and the whole kindly wilderness lies invitingly near with all its wealth open and ripe for use.

In sailing along the Oregon coast one sees but few more signs of human occupation than did Juan de Fuca three centuries ago. The shore bluffs rise abruptly from the waves, forming a wall apparently unbroken, though many short rivers from the coast range of mountains and two from the interior have made narrow openings on their way to the sea. At the mouths of these rivers good harbors have been discovered for coasting vessels, which are of great importance to the lumbermen, dairymen, and farmers of the coast region. But little or nothing of these appear in general views, only a simple gray wall nearly straight, green along the top, and the forest stretching back into the mountains as far as the eye can reach.

Going ashore, we find few long reaches of sand where one may saunter, or meadows, save the brown and purple meadows of the sea, overgrown with slippery kelp, swasbed and swirled in the restless breakers. The abruptness of the shore allows the massive waves that have come from far over the broad Pacific to get close to the bluffs ere they break, and the thundering shock shakes the rocks to their foundations. No calm comes to these shores. Even in the finest weather, when the ships off shore are becalmed and their sails hang loose against the mast, there is always a wreath of foam at the base of these bluffs. The breakers are ever in bloom and crystal brine is ever in the air.

A scramble along the Oregon sea-bluffs proves as richly exciting to lovers of wild beauty as heart could wish. Here are three hundred miles of pictures of rock and water in black and white, or gray and white, with more or less of green and yellow, purple and blue. The rocks, glistening in sunshine and foam, are never wholly dry - many of them marvels of wave-sculpture and most imposing in bulk and bearing, standing boldly forward, monuments of a thousand storms, types of permanence, holding the homes and places of refuge of multitudes of seafaring animals in their keeping, yet ever wasting away. How grand the songs of the waves about them, every wave a fine, hearty storm in itself, taking its rise on the breezy plains of the sea, perhaps thousands of miles away, traveling with majestic, slow-heaving deliberation, reaching the end of its journey, striking its blow, bursting into a mass of white and pink bloom, then falling spent and withered to give place to the next in the endless procession, thus keeping up the glorious show and glorious song through all times and seasons forever!

Terribly impressive as is this cliff and wave scenery when the skies are bright and kindly sunshine makes rainbows in the spray, it is doubly so in dark, stormy nights, when, crouching in some hollow on the top of some jutting headland, we may gaze and listen undisturbed in the heart of it. Perhaps now and then we may dimly see the tops of the highest breakers, looking ghostly in the gloom; but when the water happens to be phosphorescent, as it oftentimes is, then both the sea and the rocks are visible, and the wild, exulting, up-dashing spray burns, every particle of it, and is combined into one glowing mass of white fire; while back in the woods and along the bluffs and crags of the shore the storm-wind roars, and the rain-floods, gathering strength and coming from far and near, rush wildly down every gulch to the sea, as if eager to join the waves in their grand, savage harmony; deep calling unto deep in the heart of the great, dark night, making a sight and a song unspeakably sublime and glorious.

In the pleasant weather of summer, after the rainy season is past and only occasional refreshing showers fall, washing the sky and bringing out the fragrance of the flowers and the evergreens, then one may enjoy a fine, free walk all the way across the State from the sea to the eastern boundary on the Snake River. Many a beautiful stream we should cross in such a walk, singing through forest and meadow and deep rocky gorge, and many a broad prairie and plain, mountain and valley, wild garden and desert, presenting landscape beauty on a grand scale and in a thousand forms, and new lessons without number, delightful to learn. Oregon has three mountain-ranges which run nearly parallel with the coast, the most influential of which, in every way, is the Cascade Range. It is about six thousand to seven thousand feet in average height, and divides the State into two main sections called Eastern and Western Oregon, corresponding with the main divisions of Washington; while these are again divided, but less perfectly, by the Blue Mountains and the Coast Range. The eastern section is about two hundred and thirty miles wide, and is made up in great part of the treeless plains of the Columbia, which are green and flowery in spring, but gray, dusty, hot, and forbidding in summer. Considerable areas, however, on these plains, as well as some of the valleys countersunk below the general surface along the banks of the streams, have proved fertile and produce large crops of wheat, barley, hay, and other products.

In general views the western section seems to be covered with one vast, evenly planted forest, with the exception of the few snow- clad peaks of the Cascade Range, these peaks being the only points in the landscape that rise above the timber-line. Nevertheless, embosomed in this forest and lying in the great trough between the Cascades and coast mountains, there are some of the best bread-bearing valleys to be found in the world. The largest of these are the Willamette, Umpqua, and Rogue River Valleys. Inasmuch as a considerable portion of these main valleys was treeless, or nearly so, as well as surpassingly fertile, they were the first to attract settlers; and the Willamette, being at once the largest and nearest to tide water, was settled first of all, and now contains the greater portion of the population and wealth of the State.

The climate of this section, like the corresponding portion of Washington, is rather damp and sloppy throughout the winter months, but the summers are bright, ripening the wheat and allowing it to be garnered in good condition. Taken as a whole, the weather is bland and kindly, and like the forest trees the crops and cattle grow plump and sound in it. So also do the people; children ripen well and grow up with limbs of good size and fiber and, unless overworked in the woods, live to a good old age, hale and hearty.

But, like every other happy valley in the world, the sunshine of this one is not without its shadows. Malarial fevers are not unknown in some places, and untimely frosts and rains may at long intervals in some measure disappoint the hopes of the husbandman. Many a tale, good-natured or otherwise, is told concerning the overflowing abundance of the Oregon rains. Once an English traveler, as the story goes, went to a store to make some purchases and on leaving found that rain was falling; therefore, not liking to get wet, he stepped back to wait till the shower was over. Seeing no signs of clearing, he soon became impatient and inquired of the storekeeper how long he thought the shower would be likely to last. Going to the door and looking wisely into the gray sky and noting the direction of the wind, the latter replied that he thought the shower would probably last about six months, an opinion that of course disgusted the fact finding Briton with the "blawsted country," though in fact it is but little if at all wetter or cloudier than his own.

No climate seems the best for everybody. Many there be who waste their lives in a vain search for weather with which no fault may be found, keeping themselves and their families in constant motion, like floating seaweeds that never strike root, yielding compliance to every current of news concerning countries yet untried, believing that everywhere, anywhere, the sky is fairer and the grass grows greener than where they happen to be. Before the Oregon and California railroad was built, the overland journey between these States across the Siskiyou Mountains in the old-fashioned emigrant wagon was a long and tedious one. Nevertheless, every season dissatisfied climate-seekers, too wet and too dry, might be seen plodding along through the dust in the old "'49 style," making their way one half of them from California to Oregon, the other half from Oregon to California. The beautiful Sisson meadows at the base of Mount Shasta were a favorite halfway resting-place, where the weary cattle were turned out for a few days to gather strength for better climates, and it was curious to hear those perpetual pioneers comparing notes and seeking information around the camp-fires.

"Where are you from?" some Oregonian would ask.

"The Joaquin."

"It's dry there, ain't it?"

"Well, I should say so. No rain at all in summer and none to speak of in winter, and I'm dried out. I just told my wife I was on the move again, and I'm going to keep moving till I come to a country where it rains once in a while, like it does in every reg'lar white man's country; and that, I guess, will be Oregon, if the news be true."

"Yes, neighbor, you's heading in the right direction for rain," the Oregonian would say. "Keep right on to Yamhill and you'll soon be damp enough. It rains there more than twelve months in the year; at least, no saying but it will. I've just come from there, plumb drowned out, and I told my wife to jump into the wagon and we would start out and see if we couldn't find a dry day somewhere. Last fall the hay was out and the wood was out, and the cabin leaked, and I made up my mind to try California the first chance."

"Well, if you be a horned toad or coyote," the seeker of moisture would reply, "then maybe you can stand it. Just keep right on by the Alabama Settlement to Tulare and you can have my place on Big Dry Creek and welcome. You'll be drowned there mighty seldom. The wagon spokes and tires will rattle and tell you when you come to it."

"All right, partner, we'll swap square, you can have mine in Yainhill and the rain thrown in. Last August a painter sharp came along one day wanting to know the way to Willamette Falls, and I told him: 'Young man, just wait a little and you'll find falls enough without going to Oregon City after them. The whole dog-gone Noah's flood of a country will be a fall and melt and float away some day.'" And more to the same effect.

But no one need leave Oregon in search of fair weather. The wheat and cattle region of eastern Oregon and Washington on the upper Columbia plains is dry enough and dusty enough more than half the year. The truth is, most of these wanderers enjoy the freedom of gypsy life and seek not homes but camps. Having crossed the plains and reached the ocean, they can find no farther west within reach of wagons, and are therefore compelled now to go north and south between Mexico and Alaska, always glad to find an excuse for moving, stopping a few months or weeks here and there, the time being measured by the size of the camp-meadow, conditions of the grass, game, and other indications. Even their so-called settlements of a year or two, when they take up land and build cabins, are only another kind of camp, in no common sense homes. Never a tree is planted, nor do they plant themselves, but like good soldiers in time of war are ever ready to march. Their journey of life is indeed a journey with very matter-of-fact thorns in the way, though not wholly wanting in compensation.

One of the most influential of the motives that brought the early settlers to these shores, apart from that natural instinct to scatter and multiply which urges even sober salmon to climb the Rocky Mountains, was their desire to find a country at once fertile and winterless, where their flocks and herds could find pasture all the year, thus doing away with the long and tiresome period of haying and feeding necessary in the eastern and old western States and Territories. Cheap land and good land there was in abundance in Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa; but there the labor of providing for animals of the farm was very great, and much of that labor was crowded together into a few summer months, while to keep cool in summers and warm in the icy winters was well-nigh impossible to poor farmers.

Along the coast and throughout the greater part of western Oregon in general, snow seldom falls on the lowlands to a greater depth than a few inches, and never lies long. Grass is green all winter. The average temperature for the year in the Willamette Valley is about 52, the highest and lowest being about 100 and 20, though occasionally a much lower temperature is reached.

The average rainfall is about fifty or fifty- five inches in the Willamette Valley, and along the coast seventy-five inches, or even more at some points - figures that bring many a dreary night and day to mind, however fine the effect on the great evergreen woods and the fields of the farmers. The rainy season begins in September or October and lasts until April or May. Then the whole country is solemnly soaked and poulticed with the gray, streaming clouds and fogs, night and day, with marvelous constancy. Towards the beginning and end of the season a good many bright days occur to break the pouring gloom, but whole months of rain, continuous, or nearly so, are not at all rare. Astronomers beneath these Oregon skies would have a dull time of it. Of all the year only about one fourth of the days are clear, while three fourths have more or less of fogs, clouds, or rain.

The fogs occur mostly in the fall and spring. They are grand, far-reaching affairs of two kinds, the black and the white, some of the latter being very beautiful, and the infinite delicacy and tenderness of their touch as they linger to caress the tall evergreens is most exquisite. On farms and highways and in streets of towns, where work has to be done, there is nothing picturesque or attractive in any obvious way about the gray, serious-faced rain-storms. Mud abounds. The rain seems dismal and heedless and gets in everybody's way. Every face is turned from it, and it has but few friends who recognize its boundless beneficence. But back in the untrodden woods where no axe has been lifted, where a deep, rich carpet of brown and golden mosses covers all the ground like a garment, pressing warmly about the feet of the trees and rising in thic1 folds softly and kindly over every fallen trunk, leaving no spot naked or uncared-for, there the rain is welcomed, and every drop that falls finds a place and use as sweet and pure as itself. An excursion into the woods when the rain harvest is at its height is a noble pleasure, and may be safely enjoyed at small expense, though very few care to seek it. Shelter is easily found beneath the great trees in some hollow out of the wind, and one need carry but little provision, none at all of a kind that a wetting would spoil. The colors of the woods are then at their best, and the mighty hosts of the forest, every needle tingling in the blast, wave and sing in glorious harmony.

"'T were worth ten years of peaceful life, one glance at this array."

The snow that falls in the lowland woods is usually soft, and makes a fine show coming through the trees in large, feathery tufts, loading the branches of the firs and spruces and cedars and weighing them down against the trunks until they look slender and sharp as arrows, while a strange, muffled silence prevails, giving a peculiar solemnity to everything. But these lowland snowstorms and their effects quickly vanish; every crystal melts in a day or two, the bent branches rise again, and the rain resumes its sway.

While these gracious rains are searching the roots of the lowlands, corresponding snows are busy along the heights of the Cascade Mountains. Month after month, day and night the heavens shed their icy bloom in stormy, measureless abundance, filling the grand upper fountains of the rivers to last through the summer. Awful then is the silence that presses down over the mountain forests. All the smaller streams vanish from sight, hushed and obliterated. Young groves of spruce and pine are bowed down as by a gentle hand and put to rest, not again to see the light or move leaf or limb until the grand awakening of the springtime, while the larger animals and most of the birds seek food and shelter in the foothills on the borders of the valleys and plains.

The lofty volcanic peaks are yet more heavily snow-laden. To their upper zones no summer comes. They are white always. From the steep slopes of the summit the new-fallen snow, while yet dry and loose, descends in magnificent avalanches to feed the glaciers, making meanwhile the most glorious manifestations of power. Happy is the man who may get near them to see and hear. In some sheltered camp nest on the edge of the timberline one may lie snug and warm, but after the long shuffle on snowshoes we may have to wait more than a month ere the heavens open and the grand show is unveiled. In the mean time, bread may be scarce, unless with careful forecast a sufficient supply has been provided and securely placed during the summer. Nevertheless, to be thus deeply snowbound high in the sky is not without generous compensation for all the cost. And when we at length go down the long white slopes to the levels of civilization, the pains vanish like snow in sunshine, while the noble and exalting pleasures we have gained remain with us to enrich our lives forever.

The fate of the high-flying mountain snow- flowers is a fascinating study, though little may we see of their works and ways while their storms go on. The glinting, swirling swarms fairly thicken the blast, and all the air, as well as the rocks and trees, is as one smothering mass of bloom, through the midst of which at close intervals come the low, intense thunder-tones of the avalanches as they speed on their way to fill the vast fountain hollows. Here they seem at last to have found rest. But this rest is only apparent. Gradually the loose crystals by the pressure of their own weight are welded together into clear ice, and, as glaciers, march steadily, silently on, with invisible motion, in broad, deep currents, grinding their way with irresistible energy to the warmer lowlands, where they vanish in glad, rejoicing streams.

In the sober weather of Oregon lightning makes but little show. Those magnificent thunder-storms that so frequently adorn and glorify the sky of the Mississippi Valley are wanting here. Dull thunder and lightning may occasionally be seen and heard, but the imposing grandeur of great storms marching over the landscape with streaming banners and a network of fire is almost wholly unknown.

Crossing the Cascade Range, we pass from a green to a gray country, from a wilderness of trees to a wilderness of open plains, level or rolling or rising here and there into hills and short mountain spurs. Though well supplied with rivers in most of its main sections, it is generally dry. The annual rainfall is only from about five to fifteen inches, and the thin winter garment of snow seldom lasts more than a month or two, though the temperature in many places falls from five to twenty-five degrees below zero for a short time. That the snow is light over eastern Oregon, and the average temperature not intolerably severe, is shown by the fact that large droves of sheep, cattle, and horses live there through the winter without other food or shelter than they find for themselves on the open plains or down in the sunken valleys and gorges along the streams.

When we read of the mountain-ranges of Oregon and Washington with detailed descriptions of their old volcanoes towering snowladen and glacier-laden above the clouds, one may be led to imagine that the country is far icier and whiter and more mountainous than it is. Only in winter are the Coast and Cascade Mountains covered with snow. Then as seen from the main interior valleys they appear as comparatively low, bossy walls stretching along the horizon and making a magnificent display of their white wealth. The Coast Range in Oregon does not perhaps average more than three thousand feet in height. Its snow does not last long, most of its soil is fertile all the way to the summits, and the greater part of the range may at some time be brought under cultivation. The immense deposits on the great central uplift of the Cascade Range are mostly melted off before the middle of summer by the comparatively warm winds and rains from the coast, leaving only a few white spots on the highest ridges, where the depth from drifting has been greatest, or where the rate of waste has been diminished by specially favorable conditions as to exposure. Only the great volcanic cones are truly snow-clad all the year, and these are not numerous and make but a small portion of the general landscape.

As we approach Oregon from the coast in summer, no hint of snowy mountains can be seen, and it is only after we have sailed into the country by the Columbia, or climbed some one of the commanding summits, that the great white peaks send us greeting and make telling advertisements of themselves and of the country over which they rule. So, also, in coming to Oregon from the east the country by no means impresses one as being surpassingly mountainous, the abode of peaks and glaciers. Descending the spurs of the Rocky Mountains into the basin of the Columbia, we see hot, hundred-mile plains, roughened here and there by hills and ridges that look hazy and blue in the distance, until we have pushed well to the westward. Then one white point after another comes into sight to refresh the eye and the imagination; but they are yet a long way off, and have much to say only to those who know them or others of their kind. How grand they are, though insignificant- looking on the edge of the vast landscape! What noble woods they nourish, and emerald meadows and gardens! What springs and streams and waterfalls sing about them, and to what a multitude of happy creatures they give homes and food!

The principal mountains of the range are Mounts Pitt, Scott, and Thielson, Diamond Peak, the Three Sisters, Mounts Jefferson, Hood, St. Helen's, Adams, Rainier, Aix, and Baker. Of these the seven first named belong to Oregon, the others to Washington. They rise singly at irregular distances from one another along the main axis of the range or near it, with an elevation of from about eight thousand to fourteen thousand four hundred feet above the level of the sea. From few points in the valleys may more than three or four of them be seen, and of the more distant ones of these only the tops appear. Therefore, speaking generally, each of the lowland landscapes of the State contains only one grand snowy mountain.

The heights back of Portland command one of the best general views of the forests and also of the most famous of the great mountains both of Oregon and Washington. Mount Hood is in full view, with the summits of Mounts Jefferson, St. Helen's, Adams, and Rainier in the distance. The city of Portland is at our feet, covering a large area along both banks of the Willamette, and, with its fine streets, schools, churches, mills, shipping, parks, and gardens, makes a telling picture of busy, aspiring civilization in the midst of the green wilderness in which it is planted. The river is displayed to fine advantage in the foreground of our main view, sweeping in beautiful curves around rich, leafy islands, its banks fringed with willows.

A few miles beyond the Willamette flows the renowned Columbia, and the confluence of these two great rivers is at a point only about ten miles below the city. Beyond the Columbia extends the immense breadth of the forest, one dim, black, monotonous field, with only the sky, which one is glad to see is not forested, and the tops of the majestic old volcanoes to give diversity to the view. That sharp, white, broad-based pyramid on the south side of the Columbia, a few degrees to the south of east from where you stand, is the famous Mount Hood. The distance to it in a straight line is about fifty miles. Its upper slopes form the only bare ground, bare as to forests, in the landscape in that direction. It is the pride of Oregonians, and when it is visible is always pointed out to strangers as the glory of the country, the mountain of mountains. It is one of the grand series of extinct volcanoes extending from Lassen's Butte [Lassen Peak on recent maps. Editor.] to Mount Baker, a distance of about six hundred miles, which once flamed like gigantic watch-fires along the coast. Some of them have been active in recent times, but no considerable addition to the bulk of Mount Hood has been made for several centuries, as is shown by the amount of glacial denudation it has suffered. Its summit has been ground to a point, which gives it a rather thin, pinched appearance. It has a wide-flowing base, however, and is fairly well proportioned. Though it is eleven thousand feet high, it is too far off to make much show under ordinary conditions in so extensive a landscape. Through a great part of the summer it is invisible on account of smoke poured into the sky from burning woods, logging-camps, mills, etc., and in winter for weeks at a time, or even months, it is in the clouds. Only in spring and early summer and in what there may chance to be of bright weather in winter is it or any of its companions at all clear or telling. From the Cascades on the Columbia it may be seen at a distance of twenty miles or thereabouts, or from other points up and down the river, and with the magnificent foreground it is very impressive. It gives the supreme touch of grandeur to all the main Columbia views, rising at every turn, solitary, majestic, awe-inspiring, the ruling spirit of the landscape. But, like mountains everywhere, it varies greatly in impressiveness and apparent height at different times and seasons, not alone from differences as to the dimness or transparency of the air. Clear, or arrayed in clouds, it changes both in size and general expression. Now it looms up to an immense height and seems to draw near in tremendous grandeur and beauty, holding the eyes of every beholder in devout and awful interest. Next year or next day, or even in the same day, you return to the same point of view, perhaps to find that the glory has departed, as if .the mountain had died and the poor dull, shrunken mass of rocks and ice had lost all power to charm.

Never shall I forget my first glorious view of Mount Hood one calm evening in July, though I had seen it many times before this. I was then sauntering with a friend across the new Willamette bridge between Portland and East Portland for the sake of the river views, which are here very fine in the tranquil summer weather. The scene on the water was a lively one. Boats of every description were gliding, glinting, drifting about at work or play, and we leaned over the rail from time to time, contemplating the gay throng. Several lines of ferry-boats were making regular trips at intervals of a few minutes, and river steamers were coming and going from the wharves, laden with all sorts of merchandise, raising long diverging swells that made all the light pleasure-craft bow and nod in hearty salutation as they passed. The crowd was being constantly increased by new arrivals from both shores, sailboats, rowboats, racing-shells, rafts, were loaded with gayly dressed people, and here and there some adventurous man or boy might be seen as a merry sailor on a single plank or spar, apparently as deep in enjoyment as were any on the water. It seemed as if all the town were coming to the river, renouncing the cares and toils of the day, determined to take the evening breeze into their pulses, and be cool and tranquil ere going to bed.

Absorbed in the happy scene, given up to dreamy, random observation of what lay immediately before me, I was not conscious of anything occurring on the outer rim of the landscape. Forest, mountain, and sky were forgotten, when my companion suddenly directed my attention to the eastward, shouting, "Oh, look! look!" in so loud and excited a tone of voice that passers-by, saunterers like ourselves, were startled and looked over the bridge as if expecting to see some boat upset. Looking across the forest, over which the mellow light of the sunset was streaming, I soon discovered the source of my friend's excitement. There stood Mount Hood in all the glory of the alpenglow, looming immensely high, beaming with intelligence, and so impressive that one was overawed as if suddenly brought before some superior being newly arrived from the sky.

The atmosphere was somewhat hazy, but the mountain seemed neither near nor far. Its glaciers flashed in the divine light. The rugged, storm-worn ridges between them and the snowfields of the summit, these perhaps might have been traced as far as they were in sight, and the blending zones of color about the base. But so profound was the general impression, partial analysis did not come into play. The whole mountain appeared as one glorious manifestation of divine power, enthusiastic and benevolent, glowing like a countenance with ineffable repose and beauty, before which we could only gaze in devout and lowly admiration.

The far-famed Oregon forests cover all the western section of the State, the mountains as well as the lowlands, with the exception of a few gravelly spots and open spaces in the central portions of the great cultivated valleys. Beginning on the coast, where their outer ranks are drenched and buffeted by wind-driven scud from the sea, they press on in close, majestic ranks over the coast mountains, across the broad central valleys, and over the Cascade Range, broken and halted only by the few great peaks that rise like islands above the sea of evergreens.

In descending the eastern slopes of the Cascades the rich, abounding, triumphant exuberance of the trees is quickly subdued; they become smaller, grow wide apart, leaving dry spaces without moss covering or underbrush, and before the foot of the range is reached, fail altogether, stayed by the drouth of the interior almost as suddenly as on the western margin they are stayed by the sea. Here and there at wide intervals on the eastern plains patches of a small pine (Pinws conlorta) are found, and a scattering growth of juniper, used by the settlers mostly for fence-posts and firewood. Along the stream-bottoms there is usually more or less of cottonwood and willow, which, though yielding inferior timber, is yet highly prized in this bare region. On the Blue Mountains there is pine, spruce, fir, and larch in abundance for every use, but beyond this range there is nothing that may be called a forest in the Columbia River basin, until we reach the spurs of the Rocky Mountains; and these Rocky Mountain forests are made up of trees which, compared with the giants of the Pacific Slope, are mere saplings.


Return to Volume 8 Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast