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The Pines
by [?]

I do not know exactly how to make you feel the charm of that first camp in the big country. Certainly I can never quite repeat it in my own experience.

Remember that for two months we had grown accustomed to the brown of the California landscape, and that for over a week we had traveled in the Inferno. We had forgotten the look of green grass, of abundant water; almost had we forgotten the taste of cool air. So invariably had the trails been dusty, and the camping-places hard and exposed, that we had come subconsciously to think of such as typical of the country. Try to put yourself in the frame of mind those conditions would make.

Then imagine yourself climbing in an hour or so up into a high ridge country of broad cup-like sweeps and bold outcropping ledges. Imagine a forest of pine-trees bigger than any pines you ever saw before,–pines eight and ten feet through, so huge that you can hardly look over one of their prostrate trunks even from the back of your pony. Imagine, further, singing little streams of ice-cold water, deep refreshing shadows, a soft carpet of pine-needles through which the faint furrow of the trail runs as over velvet. And then, last of all, in a wide opening, clear as though chopped and plowed by some back-woodsman, a park of grass, fresh grass, green as a precious stone.

This was our first sight of the mountain meadows. From time to time we found others, sometimes a half dozen in a day. The rough country came down close about them, edging to the very hair-line of the magic circle, which seemed to assure their placid sunny peace. An upheaval of splintered granite often tossed and tumbled in the abandon of an unrestrained passion that seemed irresistibly to overwhelm the sanities of a whole region; but somewhere, in the very forefront of turmoil, was like to slumber one of these little meadows, as unconscious of anything but its own flawless green simplicity as a child asleep in mid-ocean. Or, away up in the snows, warmed by the fortuity of reflected heat, its emerald eye looked bravely out to the heavens. Or, as here, it rested confidingly in the very heart of the austere forest.

Always these parks are green; always are they clear and open. Their size varies widely. Some are as little as a city lawn; others, like the great Monache,[1] are miles in extent. In them resides the possibility of your traveling the high country; for they supply the feed for your horses.

Being desert-weary, the Tenderfoot and I cried out with the joy of it, and told in extravagant language how this was the best camp we had ever made.

“It’s a bum camp,” growled Wes. “If we couldn’t get better camps than this, I’d quit the game.”

He expatiated on the fact that this particular meadow was somewhat boggy; that the feed was too watery; that there’d be a cold wind down through the pines; and other small and minor details. But we, our backs propped against appropriately slanted rocks, our pipes well aglow, gazed down the twilight through the wonderful great columns of the trees to where the white horses shone like snow against the unaccustomed relief of green, and laughed him to scorn. What did we–or the horses for that matter–care for trifling discomforts of the body? In these intangible comforts of the eye was a great refreshment of the spirit.

The following day we rode through the pine forests growing on the ridges and hills and in the elevated bowl-like hollows. These were not the so-called “big trees,”–with those we had to do later, as you shall see. They were merely sugar and yellow pines, but never anywhere have I seen finer specimens. They were planted with a grand sumptuousness of space, and their trunks were from five to twelve feet in diameter and upwards of two hundred feet high to the topmost spear. Underbrush, ground growth, even saplings of the same species lacked entirely, so that we proceeded in the clear open aisles of a tremendous and spacious magnificence.