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Did you ever fall a tree? If not, the experiment is worth your while—for the consciousness of power it awakens, and the absolute terror it inspires, as the noble and towering fabric at length yields to your assaults, amply repay the labor. The first stroke into the huge trunk sends a slight shiver through all the green top; but as stroke follows stroke, the old king of the woods seems to despise your puny efforts, and receives the blows in silent contempt. But as fibre after fibre is severed, and the heart is at last reached and pierced, a groan passes up through the lofty stem. Then comes a cracking, as if the very seat of life was broken up, and the frightened thing sways and staggers a moment, as if to steady its enormous bulk, then
bows its tall head in submission, and without another effort, and with a shock that shakes the hills around, falls to the ground. There he lies with all his great arms crushed under him, stretched a lifeless corse along the earth. His brethren nod and tremble a moment above him, as if they felt the overthrow, then all is still again. Thus the other day I brought a brave old hemlock to the ground, and when I saw the lofty green mass first begin to sway, and then heard the snapping and rending of the tough fibres of the trunk, a feeling of terror stole over me. This a backwoodsman would doubtless call transcendentalism, if he knew the meaning of the term, but there is no transcendentalism in swinging a heavy axe for an hour to fetch one of these sturdy trees down.
But felling a single tree is a small matter compared to a process called here "driving trees" ? Don't imagine a whole “Birnam” forest on the move Dunsinane,” like a flock of sheep going to market; but sit down with me here on the side-hill, and look at that opposite mountain slope. Just above that black fallow, or as they call it here “ foller," there, in that deep grove, five as good choppers as ever swung an axe, have made the woods ring for the last three hours with their steady strokes, and yet not a true has fallen. But, look! now one begins to bend-and hark, crack! crack! crash! crash! a whole forest seems falling, and a gap is made like the path of a whirlwind.
Those choppers worked both down and up the hill, cutting each tree half in two, until they got twenty or more thus partially severed. They did not cut at random, but chose each tree with reference to another. At length a sufficient number being prepared, they felled one that was certain to strike a second that was half-severed, and this a third, and so on, till fifteen or twenty came at once with that tremendous crash to the ground. Here is labor-saving without machinery. The process is called “ driving trees," and it is driving them with a vengeance.
A day or two since I made an engagement with an Indian to go out at night, deer hunting. We were sure, he said, of taking one. Having nothing in the meanwhile to do, and the pure air and bright sky tempting a stroll in the solemn woods, I shouldered my rifle and started off. After proceeding about a mile, thinking of anything but game, I was suddenly aroused from my reverie by the spring of a deer just ahead. I looked up, and there, with an arching neck
and waving tail, stood a beautiful doe. Quick as thought she darted away, but when she had gone about 25 or 30 rods stopped again. At first I could not see her, for she had halted behind a clump of bushes; but at length I observed a reddish spot, about the size of the crown of my cap, between the leaves. I hesitated to shoot, for I knew it was the broadside, and one of my small bullets (my rifle carries 83 to the pound) planted there, might not fetch her down till she had run ten miles. However, it was my only chance, so I took a steady aim, and fired. A wild spring into the open forest told me she was hit, and as she leaped madly away, the tail she carried a moment before like a plume, was hugged close to her legs. Hence I was not surprised when I came to where she had stood, to find large drops of blood on the leaves. I took the trail and followed on. It was slow work, without a dog, and how far I went I know not, but I did not give it up till the increasing darkness blotted the traces from my sight. I then turned to go back, but, alas, had not the slightest idea of the course I had traveled ; and the sun being now down, and the high trees blotting out everything but a little space of sky overhead, I was utterly at a loss which way to
go. I pushed on, however, trusting more to luck than my own knowledge or sagacity. But night having at length come down in earnest, every step was taken at random. Heavy and disheartened, I sat down on a log, and (thanks to my Alpine match-box,) soon struck a light. It was 9 o'clock. Well, thinks I to myself, it's only a little over six hours to daylight, and I may as well stop and wait as to be knocking my head against these trees without getting any nearer home, nay, perhaps, farther off. Looking around, I espied a knoll with a rock on it. Here, kindling a fire to keep off the musquitoes anú hlack flies that were devouring me at a rate that would soon leave nothing for the wolves to lunch on, I sat down and waited for
the leadan hours to wear away.
It seems a very
trifling thing when we read about it, to pass a night in the woods, especially when you know that the beasts of prey which roam the forest, dare not attack you—it is a trifling thing to a backwoodsman, but just try it yourself once. I do not affirm that you will be frightened; but as Lugarto was accustomed to say, you will “be nervous.” It was warm, and there was no danger; neither was I lost, for I knew a walk of an hour or two in the morning would bring me out yet I