The Fascinating Forest
HAVE you ever stood in a grove of young pines so thick that you could hardly see a distance of a hundred feet? What a treat that is! Overhead the wind sweeps through the pine needles, and suddenly you become aware that there is music in the air, music produced by the wind in the treetops.
Man admires trees for many reasons: for their beauty and graceful shapes, the spreading of their branches and the effects of the light and shadows created in the moving of their leaves. He is also impressed by their size. The massive trunks of some trees, set like huge boulders in the ground, and their mighty branches, some as big as trees themselves, thrill the imagination. It is true, a blue whale may measure 108 feet long, but did you know that there are a number of sequoia trees in California with trunks measuring a hundred feet in circumference and more? It would take eighteen men with their arms outstretched to encircle them. The sight of these trees fills the heart with wonderment and awe.
In the forest there are trees that are very light in weight, the wood of which is only two and three-quarters pounds per cubic foot, and other trees that are extremely heavy, weighing up to ninety-three pounds per cubic foot. Also in the forest are trees that grow fast, several feet in height a year. On the other hand, some grow less than an inch a year! This variety and change in the forest make it a fascination to man.
Man is also amazed by the versatility of the forest. More than 1,035 different species of trees thrive in the United States alone. From forests come trees that shelter homes, shade city streets and lend dignity to parks. Trees add grandeur and glory to the land. They furnish food and protective cover to wildlife, shade and firewood to campers and timber to a nation. Out of trees now come hundreds of products—from paper to lacquers and from turpentine to quinine.
Both man and wildlife are often drawn to the forest because of its hospitality. Trees provide shelter from the heat of the day and a covering from the exposure of the night. The forest is home for birds, insects and larger animals, such as deer, bear and bobcat. Orioles make nests that look like long pouches dangling from the branches of trees. Woodpeckers dig holes in the trunks of dead trees and make their homes inside. Trees are also homes for squirrels and other animals.
Even little children enjoy climbing trees and building ‘houses’ in them. In a large sequoia tree, where the entire center of the trunk was hollowed out by fire, children crawled through the tree’s doorway excitedly to explore the inside and to climb up and to peep through its window. “Boy, I’ve never been inside a tree before!” exclaimed a delighted youngster.
The hospitable forest serves man well. It protects, sustains and actually improves mankind’s supplies of available water. The floor of the forest soaks up water like a sponge, protecting the soil from erosion and filtering clear water into lakes and streams, in which fish, otter, ducks and other creatures live and play. The forest floor also feeds the underground reservoirs with water for future use.
In addition, trees purify man’s air. Within tiny leaf cells light from the sun combines with carbon dioxide taken from the air to form a simple sugar, later converted into other carbohydrates, including the cellulose of the wood itself. Trees also return to the atmosphere oxygen, which man breathes. That is one reason why air smells better in the forest, and why forests are vital to life on earth.
The Wonder of Trees
Trees are tall, majestic wonders. Some trees, like stately animals, inspire wonder simply by their grandeur. The giraffe, the world’s tallest living land animal, may stand eighteen and a half feet high. Yet redwoods in California measure well over 300 feet high! Imagine, living trees reaching thirty and more stories in the air!
The first limb of the General Grant tree in California is 130 feet above the ground and its mighty trunk has a circumference of 107 feet. The trunk of the General Sherman tree is over thirty-six feet in diameter at the base and tapers only slightly for half its 272-foot height. “Thirty-six feet!” people say to themselves as they circle the tree’s base like tiny ants. “Why, that’s wider than my house!” they may conclude. Three cars abreast could drive through it, for the trunk is as wide as many city streets. Engineers estimate that it contains 600,000 board feet of lumber, enough to build fifty, six-room houses! In the trunk alone there is enough lumber to fill 280 freight cars. These are wonders indeed!
Man is also impressed by the ages of trees. Turtles may live for 180 or 200 years, but trees live for thousands of years. “I feel so . . . infinitesimal,” murmured a young woman as she gazed upward at the giant sequoias. “I feel like a youngster,” replied a white-haired grandmother with a twinkle. When a woman was told that the General Sherman tree was believed to be about 3,500 years old, she wept. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but when you think about all the things that tree has known and faced . . .” She never finished the sentence—the impact of the ages seemed too much for her. Visitors to the giant sequoias in California often walk among these monarchs with mixed emotions: awe, wonder and disbelief.
A Sense of Gratitude
One feels profoundly thankful for all one’s senses when walking through a forest. Light streams through high branches and turns the ridged and twisted bark into Gothic-like carvings. Among the trees an awareness of quietude slips into one’s soul, and happiness is awakened by the surrounding beauty. At the edge of the forest the meadows appear like jewel boxes of wild flowers. From the banks of meadow streams one may perchance catch sight of a trout. A flick of a bushy tail reveals a squirrel that scolds trespassers. Lively chipmunks scurry about for food while inquisitive robins and noisy blue jays stand guard. How the heart rejoices at the sight of these forest creatures!
Daylight hours are one thrilling revelation after another. In the early morning a delegation of deer may trot slowly by. Soon camping sites are filled with the fragrance of wood smoke, and the morning mist diffusing the sunbeams bears the aroma of frying bacon and bubbling coffee.
But perhaps the most beautiful are the sunset hours. The long light rays redden the trunks of trees until they glow in the dark spaces of the groves. The evening light purples the carpet of blooming lupines. Dark shadows lean across the forest. A hawk glides noiselessly overhead. A deer appears quietly on the scene unannounced and modestly blends in with the surroundings. Birds begin to sing their evening songs.
Forest’s Inspirational Value
Those who appreciate God’s creation, no doubt, will always treasure the forest for its beauty and solitude, for its inspirational and spiritual value. Away from the hustle and bustle of city life, a walk through the woods, among plants and wild flowers, can be restoring indeed. How rewarding a picnic beside a clear lake or stream after wading or swimming in the cool, pure waters! What fun it is to hike or to go horseback riding in the woods! The cookouts, the camp-outs, the smell of camp fires, the thrill of seeing fish splash about in tree-shaded streams or to hear mocking birds trill are inspirational moments, memories never to be forgotten.
By and large, there is silence in the deep forests broken occasionally by a bird call, a mood that has cast deep impressions on men in all ages. Forests are discreet retreats where suffering appears to ease somewhat, where joy seems more intimate and where meditation seems to flow as easily as do streams. When one is alone deep in the forest there is solitude. There is peace. God’s handiwork is near. There are no screaming sirens, no nerve-racking sounds to rattle the mind, just the soothing rhythms of the trees. The rustle of the leaves, the trickle of brooks and streams are musical notes that cause the heart to rejoice.
Only a loving God could make so rewarding a gift, and so the Bible states: “Jehovah God made to grow out of the ground every tree desirable to one’s sight and good for food.” (Gen. 2:9) After spending time in the forest keeping company with the animals or with a burning log, after breathing in the forest’s rich air and experiencing its peace, one’s conviction is renewed that only God can make a tree.