The Forest by Stewart Edward White
The time at last arrived for departure.
Deep laden were the canoes; heavy laden were we. The Indians shot away down the current. We followed for the last time the dim blazed trail, forded for the last time the shallows of the river. At the Burned Rock Pool we caught our lunch fish from the ranks of leviathans. Then the trodden way of the Fur Trail, worn into a groove so deep and a surface so smooth that vegetation has left it as bare as ever, though the Post has been abandoned these many years. At last the scrub spruce, and the sandy soil, and the blue, restless waters of the Great Lake. With the appearance of the fish-tug early the following day the summer ended.
How often have I ruminated in the long marches the problem of the Forest! Subtle she is, and mysterious, and gifted with a charm that lures. Vast she is, and dreadful, so that man bows before her fiercer moods, a little thing. Gentle she is, and kindly, so that she denies nothing, whether of the material or spiritual, to those of her chosen who will seek. August she is, and yet of a homely, sprightly gentleness. Variable she is in her many moods. Night, day, sun, cloud, rain, snow, wind, lend to her their best of warmth and cold, of comfort and awe, of peace and of many shoutings, and she accepts them, but yet remains greater and more enduring than they. In her is all the sweetness of little things. Murmurs of water and of breeze, faint odours, wandering streams of tepid air, stray bird-songs in fragment as when a door is opened and closed, the softness of moss, the coolness of shade, the glimpse of occult affairs in the woods life, accompany her as Titania her court. How to express these things; how to fix on paper in a record, as one would describe the Capitol at Washington, what the Forest is--that is what I have asked myself often, and that is what I have never yet found out.
This is the wisdom reflection has taught. One cannot imprison the ocean in a vial of sea-water; one cannot imprison the Forest inside the covers of a book.
There remains the second best. I have thought that perhaps if I were to attempt a series of detached impressions, without relation, without sequence; if I were to suggest a little here the beauty of a moon-beam, there the humour of a rainstorm, at the last you might, by dint of imagination and sympathy, get some slight feeling of what the great woods are. It is the method of the painter. Perhaps it may suffice.
For this reason let no old camper look upon this volume as a treatise on woodcraft. Woodcraft there is in it, just as there is woodcraft in the Forest itself, but much of the simplest and most obvious does not appear. The painter would not depict every twig, as would the naturalist.
Equally it cannot be considered a book of travel nor of description. The story is not consecutive; the adventures not exciting; the landscape not denned. Perhaps it may be permitted to call it a book of suggestion. Often on the street we have had opened to us by the merest sketches of incident limitless vistas of memory. A momentary pose of the head of a passer-by, a chance word, the breath of a faint perfume--these bring back to us the entirety of forgotten scenes. Some of these essays may perform a like office for you. I cannot hope to give you the Forest. But perhaps a word or a sentence, an incident, an impression, may quicken your imagination, so that through no conscious direction of my own the wonder of the Forest may fill you, as the mere sight of a conch-shell will sometimes till you with the wonder of the sea.