The Maine Woods
Chesuncook, Part 6
H.D. Thoreau - 1864
 Humboldt has written an interesting
chapter on the primitive forest, but no one has yet described for me the
difference between that wild forest which once occupied our oldest townships,
and the tame one which I find there to-day. It is a difference which would be
worth attending to. The civilized man not only clears the land permanently to a
great extent, and cultivates open fields, but he tames and cultivates to a
certain extent the forest itself. By his mere presence, almost, he changes the
nature of the trees as no other creature does. The sun and air, and perhaps
fire, have been introduced, and grain raised where it stands. It has lost its
wild, damp, and shaggy look, the countless fallen and decaying trees are gone,
and consequently that thick coat of moss which lived on them is gone too. The
earth is comparatively bare and smooth and dry. The most primitive places left
with us are the swamps, where the spruce still grows shaggy with usnea. The
surface of the ground in the Maine woods is everywhere spongy and saturated with
moisture. I noticed that the plants which cover the forest floor there are such
as are commonly confined to swamps with us,—the Clintonia borealis,
orchises, creeping snowberry, and others; and the prevailing aster there is the
Aster acuminatus, which with us grows in damp and shady woods. The asters
cordifolius and macrophyllus also are common, asters of little or
no color, and sometimes without petals. I saw no soft, spreading, second-growth
white-pines, with smooth bark, acknowledging the presence of the wood-chopper,
but even the young white-pines were all tall and slender rough-barked trees.
 Those Maine woods differ essentially from ours. There you are never reminded that the wilderness which you are threading is, after all, some villager's familiar wood-lot, some widow's thirds, from which her ancestors have sledded fuel for generations, minutely described in some old deed which is recorded, of which the owner has got a plan too, and old bound-marks may be found every forty rods, if you will search. 'T is true, the map may inform you that you stand on land granted by the State to some academy, or on Bingham's purchase; but these names do not impose on you, for you see nothing to remind you of the academy or of Bingham. What were the "forests" of England to these? One writer relates of the Isle of Wight, that in Charles the Second's time "there were woods in the island so complete and extensive, that it is said a squirrel might have travelled in several parts many leagues together on the top of the trees." If it were not for the rivers, (and he might go round their heads,) a squirrel could here travel thus the whole breadth of the country.
 We have as yet had no adequate account of a
primitive pine-forest. I have noticed that in a physical atlas lately published
in Massachusetts, and used in our schools, the "wood land" of North America is
limited almost solely to the valleys of the Ohio and some of the Great Lakes,
and the great pine-forests of the globe are not represented. In our vicinity,
for instance, New Brunswick and Maine are exhibited as bare as Greenland. It may
be that the children of Greenville, at the foot of Moosehead Lake, who surely
are not likely to be scared by an owl, are referred to the valley of the Ohio to
get an idea of a forest; but they would not know what to do with their moose,
bear, caribou, beaver, etc., there. Shall we leave it to an Englishman to inform
us, that "in North America, both in the United States and Canada, are the most
extensive pine-forests in the world"? The greater part of New Brunswick, the
northern half of Maine, and adjacent parts of Canada, not to mention the
northeastern part of New York and other tracts farther off, are still covered
with an almost unbroken pine-forest.
 But Maine, perhaps, will soon be where Massachusetts is. A good part of her territory is already as bare and commonplace as much of our neighborhood, and her villages generally are not so well shaded as ours. We seem to think that the earth must go through the ordeal of sheep-pasturage before it is habitable by man. Consider Nahant, the resort of all the fashion of Boston,—which peninsula I saw but indistinctly in the twilight, when I steamed by it, and thought that it was unchanged since the discovery. John Smith described it in 1614 as "the Mattahunts, two pleasant isles of groves, gardens, and cornfields"; and others tell us that it was once well wooded, and even furnished timber to build the wharves of Boston. Now it is difficult to make a tree grow there, and the visitor comes away with a vision of Mr. Tudor's ugly fences, a rod high, designed to protect a few pear-shrubs. And what are we coming to in our Middlesex towns?—a bald, staring town-house, or meeting-house, and a bare liberty-pole, as leafless as it is fruitless, for all I can see. We shall be obliged to import the timber for the last, hereafter, or splice such sticks as we have;—and our ideas of liberty are equally mean with these. The very willow-rows lopped every three years for fuel or powder,—and every sizable pine and oak, or other forest tree, cut down within the memory of man! As if individual speculators were to be allowed to export the clouds out of the sky, or the stars out of the firmament, one by one. We shall be reduced to gnaw the very crust of the earth for nutriment.
 They have even descended to smaller game. They
have lately, as I hear, invented a machine for chopping up huckleberry-bushes
fine, and so converting them into fuel!—bushes which, for fruit alone, are worth
all the pear-trees in the country many times over. (I can give you a list of the
three best kinds, if you want it.) At this rate, we shall all be obliged to let
our beards grow at least, if only to hide the nakedness of the land and make a
sylvan appearance. The farmer sometimes talks of "brushing up," simply as if
bare ground looked better than clothed ground, than that which wears its natural
vesture,—as if the wild hedges, which, perhaps, are more to his children than
his whole farm beside, were dirt. I know of one who deserves to be called
the Tree-hater, and, perhaps, to leave this for a new patronymic to his
children. You would think that he had been warned by an oracle that he would be
killed by the fall of a tree, and so was resolved to anticipate them. The
journalists think that they cannot say too much in favor of such "improvements"
in husbandry; it is a safe theme, like piety; but as for the beauty of one of
these "model farms," I would as lief see a patent churn and a man turning it.
They are, commonly, places merely where somebody is making money, it may be
counterfeiting. The virtue of making two blades of grass grow where only one
grew before does not begin to be superhuman.
 Nevertheless, it was a relief to get back to our smooth, but still varied landscape. For a permanent residence, it seemed to me that there could be no comparison between this and the wilderness, necessary as the latter is for a resource and a background, the raw material of all our civilization. The wilderness is simple, almost to barrenness. The partially cultivated country it is which chiefly has inspired, and will continue to inspire, the strains of poets, such as compose the mass of any literature. Our woods are sylvan, and their inhabitants woodmen and rustics,—that is, selvaggia, and the inhabitants are salvages. A civilized man, using the word in the ordinary sense, with his ideas and associations, must at length pine there, like a cultivated plant, which clasps its fibres about a crude and undissolved mass of peat. At the extreme North, the voyagers are obliged to dance and act plays for employment. Perhaps our own woods and fields,—in the best wooded towns, where we need not quarrel about the huckleberries,—with the primitive swamps scattered here and there in their midst, but not prevailing over them, are the perfection of parks and groves, gardens, arbors, paths, vistas, and landscapes. They are the natural consequence of what art and refinement we as a people have,—the common which each village possesses, its true paradise, in comparison with which all elaborately and wilfully wealth-constructed parks and gardens are paltry imitations. Or, I would rather say, such were our groves twenty years ago. The poet's, commonly, is not a logger's path, but a woodman's. The logger and pioneer have preceded him, like John the Baptist; eaten the wild honey, it may be, but the locusts also; banished decaying wood and the spongy mosses which feed on it, and built hearths and humanized Nature for him.
 But there are spirits of a yet more liberal culture, to whom no simplicity is barren. There are not only stately pines, but fragile flowers, like the orchises, commonly described as too delicate for cultivation, which derive their nutriment from the crudest mass of peat. These remind us, that, not only for strength, but for beauty, the poet must, from time to time, travel the logger's path and the Indian's trail, to drink at some new and more bracing fountain of the Muses, far in the recesses of the wilderness.
 The kings of England formerly had their
forests "to hold the king's game," for sport or food, sometimes destroying
villages to create or extend them; and I think that they were impelled by a true
instinct. Why should not we, who have renounced the king's authority, have our
national preserves, where no villages need be destroyed, in which the bear and
panther, and some even of the hunter race, may still exist, and not be
"civilized off the face of the earth,"—our forests, not to hold the king's game
merely, but to hold and preserve the king himself also, the lord of
creation,—not for idle sport or food, but for inspiration and our own true
re-creation? or shall we, like villains, grub them all up, poaching on our own