The North American Forests
from Our National Parks by John Muir, 1901
The forests of North America, however slighted by man, must have been a
great delight to God; for they were the best he ever planted. The whole continent
was a garden, and from the beginning it seemed to be favoured above all the other wild
parks and gardens of the globe. To prepare the ground, it was rolled and sifted in
seas with infinite loving deliberation and forethought, lifted into the light, submerged
and warmed over and over again, pressed and crumpled into folds and ridges, mountains and
hills, subsoiled with heaving volcanic fires, ploughed and ground and sculptured into
scenery and soil with glaciers and rivers, every feature growing and changing from beauty
to beauty, higher and higher. And in the fullness of time it was planted in groves,
and belts, and broad, exuberant, mantling forests, with the largest, most varied, most
fruitful, and most beautiful trees in the world ....
These forests were composed of about five hundred species of trees, all of
them in some way useful to man ... For many a century after the ice-ploughs were melted,
nature fed them and dressed them every day, working like a loving, devoted, painstaking
gardener; fingering every leaf and flower and mossy furrowed bole; bending, trimming,
modeling, balancing; painting them with the loveliest colours; bringing over them now
clouds with cooling shadows and showers, now sunshine; fanning them with gentle winds and
rustling their leaves; exercising them in every fibre with storms, and pruning them;
loading them with flowers and fruit, loading them with snow, and ever making them more
beautiful as the years rolled by ....
But when the steel axe of the white man rang out on the startled air their
doom was sealed. Every tree heard the bodeful sound, and pillars of smoke gave the
sign in the sky ...
In the settlement and civilization of this continent, bread more than
timber or beauty was wanted; and in the blindness of hunger, the early settlers, claiming
Heaven as their guide, regarded God's trees as only a larger kind of pernicious weeds,
extremely hard to get rid of. Accordingly, with no eye to the future, these pious
destroyers waged interminable forest wars; chips flew thick and fast; trees in their
beauty fell crashing by the millions, smashed to confusion, and the smoke of their burning
has been rising to heaven more than two hundred years ...