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front, and through all the tumblings on that field never for an instant
ceased to gnaw at one of his feelers near the root, having already
caused the other to go by the board; while the stronger black one dashed
him from side to side, and, as I saw on looking nearer, had already
divested him of several of his members. They fought with more
pertinacity than bull-dogs. Neither manifested the least disposition to
retreat. It was evident that their battle-cry was Conquer or Die. In the
meanwhile there came along a single red ant on the hill-side of this
valley, evidently full of excitement, who either had despatched his foe,
or had not yet taken part in the battle; probably the latter, for he had
lost none of his limbs; whose mother had charged him to return with his
shield or upon it. Or perchance he was some Achilles, who had nourished
his wrath apart, and had now come to avenge or rescue his Patroclus.[63]
He saw this unequal combat from afar, - for the blacks were nearly twice
the size of the reds; he drew near with rapid pace till he stood on his
guard within half an inch of the combatants; then, watching his
opportunity, he sprang upon the black warrior, and commenced his
operations near the root of his right foreleg, leaving the foe to select
among his own members; and so there were three united for life, as if a
new kind of attraction had been invented which put all other locks and
cements to shame. I should not have wondered by this time to find that
they had their respective musical bands stationed on some eminent chip,
and playing their national airs the while, to excite the slow and cheer
the dying combatants. I was myself excited somewhat even as if they had
been men. The more you think of it, the less the difference. And
certainly there is not the fight recorded in Concord history, at least,
if in the history of America, that will bear a moment's comparison with
this, whether for the numbers engaged in it, or for the patriotism and
heroism displayed. For numbers and for carnage it was an Austerlitz or
Dresden. Concord Fight! Two killed on the patriots' side, and Luther
Blanchard wounded! Why here every ant was a Buttrick, - "Fire! for God's
sake, fire!" - and thousands shared the fate of Davis and Hosmer. There
was not one hireling there. I have no doubt that it was a principle they
fought for, as much as our ancestors, and not to avoid a three-penny tax
on their tea; and the results of this battle will be as important and
memorable to those whom it concerns as those of the battle of Bunker
Hill, at least.

I took up the chip on which the three I have particularly described were
struggling, carried it into my house, and placed it under a tumbler on
my window-sill, in order to see the issue. Holding a microscope to the
first-mentioned red ant, I saw that, though he was assiduously gnawing
at the near fore-leg of his enemy, having severed his remaining feeler,
his own breast was all torn away, exposing what vitals he had there to
the jaws of the black warrior, whose breast-plate was apparently too
thick for him to pierce; and the dark carbuncles of the sufferer's eyes
shone with ferocity such as war only could excite. They struggled half
an hour longer under the tumbler, and when I looked again the black
soldier had severed the heads of his foes from their bodies, and the
still living heads were hanging on either side of him like ghastly
trophies at his saddlebow, still apparently as firmly fastened as ever,
and he was endeavoring with feeble struggles, being without feelers and
with only the remnant of a leg, and I know not how many other wounds, to
divest himself of them; which at length, after half an hour more, he
accomplished. I raised the glass, and he went off over the window-sill
in that crippled state. Whether he finally survived that combat, and
spent the remainder of his days in some Hotel des Invalides, I do not
know; but I thought that his industry would not be worth much
thereafter. I never learned which party was victorious, nor the cause of
the war; but I felt for the rest of that day as if I had had my feelings
excited and harrowed by witnessing the struggle, the ferocity and
carnage, of a human battle before my door.

Kirby and Spence tell us that the battles of ants have long been
celebrated and the date of them recorded, though they say that Huber is
the only modern author who appears to have witnessed them. "Aeneas
Sylvius," say they, "after giving a very circumstantial account of one
contested with great obstinacy by a great and small species on the trunk
of a pear tree," adds that "'This action was fought in the pontificate
of Eugenius the Fourth, in the presence of Nicholas Pistoriensis, an
eminent lawyer, who related the whole history of the battle with the
greatest fidelity.' A similar engagement between great and small ants is
recorded by Olaus Magnus, in which the small ones being victorious, are
said to have buried the bodies of their own soldiers, but left those of
their giant enemies a prey to the birds. This event happened previous to
the expulsion of the tyrant Christiern the Second from Sweden." The
battle which I witnessed took place in the Presidency of Polk, five
years before the passage of Webster's Fugitive-Slave Bill.


[Footnote 62: From Chapter XII of "Walden," 1854.]

[Footnote 63: Patroclus, in Homer's Iliad, was the friend whose death at
the hands of the Trojans roused Achilles to action.]



The mountain winds, like the dew and rain, sunshine and snow, are
measured and bestowed with love on the forests, to develop their
strength and beauty. However restricted the scope of other forest
influences, that of the winds is universal. The snow bends and trims the
upper forests every winter, the lightning strikes a single tree here and
there, while avalanches mow down thousands at a swoop as a gardener
trims out a bed of flowers. But the winds go to every tree, fingering
every leaf and branch and furrowed hole; not one is forgotten: the
Mountain Pine towering with outstretched arms on the rugged buttresses
of the icy peaks, the lowliest and most retiring tenant of the
dells - they seek and find them all, caressing them tenderly, bending
them in lusty exercise, stimulating their growth, plucking off a leaf or
limb as required, or removing an entire tree or grove, now whispering
and cooing through the branches like a sleepy child, now roaring like
the ocean; the winds blessing the forests, the forests the winds, with
ineffable beauty and harmony as the sure result.

After one has seen pines six feet in diameter bending like grasses
before a mountain gale, and ever and anon some giant falling with a
crash that shakes the hills, it seems astonishing that any, save the
lowest thick-set trees, could ever have found a period sufficiently
stormless to establish themselves; or once established, that they should
not sooner or later have been blown down. But when the storm is over,
and we behold the same forests tranquil again, towering fresh and
unscathed in erect majesty, and consider what centuries of storms have
fallen upon them since they were first planted: hail, to break the
tender seedlings; lightning, to scorch and shatter; snow, winds, and
avalanches, to crush and overwhelm, - while the manifest result of all
this wild storm-culture is the glorious perfection we behold: then faith
in Nature's forestry is established, and we cease to deplore the
violence of her most destructive gales, or of any other storm implement

There are two trees in the Sierra forests that are never blown down, so
long as they continue in sound health. These are the Juniper and the
Dwarf Pine of the summit peaks. Their stiff, crooked roots grip the
storm-beaten ledges like eagles' claws; while their lithe, cord-like
branches bend round compliantly, offering but slight holds for winds,
however violent. The other alpine conifers - the Needle Pine, Mountain
Pine, Two-leaved Pine, and Hemlock Spruce - are never thinned out by this
agent to any destructive extent, on account of their admirable toughness
and the closeness of their growth. In general the same is true of the
giants of the lower zones. The kingly Sugar Pine, towering aloft to a
height of more than two hundred feet, offers a fine mark to storm-winds;
but it is not densely foliaged, and its long horizontal arms swing round
compliantly in the blast, like tresses of green, fluent algae in a
brook: while the Silver Firs in most places keep their ranks well
together in united strength.

The Yellow or Silver Pine is more frequently overturned than any other
tree on the Sierra, because its leaves and branches form a larger mass
in proportion to its height; while in many places it is planted
sparsely, leaving open lanes through which storms may enter with full
force. Furthermore, because it is distributed along the lower portion of
the range, which was the first to be left bare on the breaking up of the
ice-sheet at the close of the glacial winter, the soil it is growing
upon has been longer exposed to post-glacial weathering, and
consequently is in a more crumbling, decayed condition than the fresher
soils farther up the range, and therefore offers a less secure anchorage
for the roots. While exploring the forest zones of Mount Shasta, I
discovered the path of a hurricane strewn with thousands of pines of
this species. Great and small had been uprooted or wrenched off by sheer
force, making a clean gap, like that made by a snow avalanche. But
hurricanes capable of doing this class of work are rare in the Sierra;
and when we have explored the forests from one extremity of the range to
the other, we are compelled to believe that they are the most beautiful
on the face of the earth, however we may regard the agents that have
made them so.

There is always something deeply exciting, not only in the sounds of
winds in the woods, which exert more or less influence over every mind,
but in their varied water-like flow as manifested by the movements of
the trees, especially those of the conifers. By no other trees are they
rendered so extensively and impressively visible; not even by the lordly
tropic palms or tree-ferns responsive to the gentlest breeze. The waving
of a forest of the giant Sequoias is indescribably impressive and
sublime; but the pines seem to me the best interpreters of winds. They
are mighty waving golden-rods, ever in tune, singing and writing
wind-music all their long century lives. Little, however, of this noble
tree-waving and tree-music will you see or hear in the strictly alpine
portion of the forests. The burly Juniper whose girth sometimes more
than equals its height, is about as rigid as the rocks on which it
grows. The slender lash-like sprays of the Dwarf Pine stream out in
wavering ripples, but the tallest and slenderest are far too unyielding
to wave even in the heaviest gales. They only shake in quick, short
vibrations. The Hemlock Spruce, however, and the Mountain Pine, and some
of the tallest thickets of the Two-leaved species, bow in storms with
considerable scope and gracefulness. But it is only in the lower and
middle zones that the meeting of winds and woods is to be seen in all
its grandeur.

One of the most beautiful and exhilarating storms I ever enjoyed in the
Sierra occurred in December, 1874, when I happened to be exploring one
of the tributary valleys of the Yuba River. The sky and the ground and
the trees had been thoroughly rain-washed and were dry again. The day
was intensely pure: one of those incomparable bits of California winter,
warm and balmy and full of white sparkling sunshine, redolent of all the
purest influences of the spring, and at the same time enlivened with one
of the most bracing wind-storms conceivable. Instead of camping out, as
I usually do, I then chanced to be stopping at the house of a friend.
But when the storm began to sound, I lost no time in pushing out into
the woods to enjoy it. For on such occasions Nature has always something
rare to show us, and the danger to life and limb is hardly greater than
one would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a roof.

It was still early morning when I found myself fairly adrift. Delicious
sunshine came pouring over the hills, lighting the tops of the pines,
and setting free a steam of summery fragrance that contrasted strangely
with the wild tones of the storm. The air was mottled with pine-tassels
and bright green plumes, that went flashing past in the sunlight like
birds pursued. But there was not the slightest dustiness; nothing less
pure than leaves, and ripe pollen, and flecks of withered bracken and
moss. I heard trees falling for hours at the rate of one every two or
three minutes: some uprooted, partly on account of the loose,
water-soaked condition of the ground; others broken straight across,
where some weakness caused by fire had determined the spot. The gestures
of the various trees made a delightful study. Young Sugar Pines, light
and feathery as squirrel-tails, were bowing almost to the ground; while
the grand old patriarchs, whose massive boles had been tried in a
hundred storms, waved solemnly above them, their long, arching branches
streaming fluently on the gale, and every needle thrilling and ringing
and shedding off keen lances of light like a diamond. The Douglas
Spruces, with long sprays drawn out in level tresses, and needles massed
in a gray, shimmering glow, presented a most striking appearance as they
stood in bold relief along the hilltops. The madroños in the dells, with
their red bark and large glossy leaves tilted every way, reflected the
sunshine in throbbing spangles like those one so often sees on the
rippled surface of a glacier lake. But the Silver Pines were now the
most impressively beautiful of all. Colossal spires two hundred feet in
height waved like supple golden-rods chanting and bowing low as if in
worship; while the whole mass of their long, tremulous foliage was
kindled into one continuous blaze of white sun-fire. The force of the
gale was such that the most steadfast monarch of them all rocked down to
its roots, with a motion plainly perceptible when one leaned against it.
Nature was holding high festival, and every fiber of the most rigid
giants thrilled with glad excitement.

I drifted on through the midst of this passionate music and motion,
across many a glen, from ridge to ridge; often halting in the lee of a
rock for shelter, or to gaze and listen. Even when the grand anthem had
swelled to its highest pitch, I could distinctly hear the varying tones
of individual trees - Spruce, and Fir, and Pine, and leafless Oak - and
even the infinitely gentle rustle of the withered grasses at my feet.
Each was expressing itself in its own way - singing its own song, and
making its own peculiar gestures - manifesting a richness of variety to
be found in no other forest I have yet seen. The coniferous woods of
Canada and the Carolinas and Florida, are made up of trees that resemble
one another about as nearly as blades of grass, and grow close together
in much the same way. Coniferous trees, in general, seldom possess
individual character, such as is manifest among Oaks and Elms. But the
California forests are made up of a greater number of distinct species
than any other in the world. And in them we find, not only a marked
differentiation into special groups, but also a marked individuality in
almost every tree, giving rise to storm effects indescribably glorious.

Toward midday, after a long, tingling scramble through copses of hazel
and ceanothus, I gained the summit of the highest ridge in the
neighborhood; and then it occurred to me that it would be a fine thing
to climb one of the trees, to obtain a wider outlook and get my ear
close to the Aeolian music of its topmost needles. But under the
circumstances the choice of a tree was a serious matter. One whose
instep was not very strong seemed in danger of being blown down, or of
being struck by others in case they should fall; another was branchless
to a considerable height above the ground, and at the same time too
large to be grasped with arms and legs in climbing; while others were
not favorably situated for clear views. After cautiously casting about,
I made choice of the tallest of a group of Douglas Spruces that were
growing close together like a tuft of grass, no one of which seemed
likely to fall unless all the rest fell with it. Though comparatively
young, they were about a hundred feet high, and their lithe, brushy tops
were rocking and swirling in wild ecstasy. Being accustomed to climb
trees in making botanical studies, I experienced no difficulty in
reaching the top of this one; and never before did I enjoy so noble an
exhilaration of motion. The slender tops fairly flapped and swished in
the passionate torrent, bending and swirling backward and forward, round
and round, tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal
curves, while I clung with muscles firm-braced, like a bobolink on a

In its widest sweeps my tree-top described an arc of from twenty to
thirty degrees; but I felt sure of its elastic temper, having seen
others of the same species still more severely tried - bent almost to the
ground indeed, in heavy snows - without breaking a fiber. I was therefore
safe, and free to take the wind into my pulses and enjoy the excited
forest from my superb outlook. The view from here must be extremely
beautiful in any weather. Now my eye roved over the piny hills and
dales as over fields of waving grain, and felt the light running in
ripples and broad swelling undulations across the valleys from ridge to
ridge, as the shining foliage was stirred by corresponding waves of air.
Oftentimes these waves of reflected light would break one another in
regular order, they would seem to bend forward in concentric curves, and
disappear on some hillside, like sea waves on a shelving shore. The
quantity of light reflected from the bent needles was so great as to
make whole groves appear as if covered with snow, while the black
shadows beneath the trees greatly enhanced the effect of the silvery

Excepting only the shadows, there was nothing somber in all this wild
sea of pines. On the contrary, notwithstanding this was the winter
season, the colors were remarkably beautiful. The shafts of the pine and
libocedrus were brown and purple, and most of the foliage was well
tinged with yellow; the laurel groves, with the pale under sides of
their leaves turned upward, made masses of gray; and then there was many
a dash of chocolate color from clumps of manzanita, and jet of vivid
crimson from the bark of the madroños; while the ground on the
hillsides, appearing here and there through openings between the groves,
displayed masses of pale purple and brown.

The sounds of the storm corresponded gloriously with this wild
exuberance of light and motion. The profound bass of the naked branches
and boles booming like waterfalls; the quick, tense vibrations of the
pine-needles, now rising to a shrill, whistling hiss, now falling to a
silky murmur; the rustling of laurel groves in the dells, and the keen
metallic click of leaf on leaf - all this was heard in easy analysis when
the attention was calmly bent.

The varied gestures of the multitude were seen to find advantage, so
that one could recognize the different species at a distance of several
miles by this means alone, as well as by their forms and colors and the
way they reflected the light. All seemed strong and comfortable, as if
really enjoying the storm, while responding to its most enthusiastic
greetings. We hear much nowadays concerning the universal struggle for
existence, but no struggle in the common meaning of the word was
manifest here; no recognition of danger by any tree; no deprecation; but
rather an invincible gladness, as remote from exultation as from fear.

I kept my lofty perch for hours, frequently closing my eyes to enjoy the
music by itself, or to feast quietly on the delicious fragrance that was
streaming past. The fragrance of the woods was less marked than that
produced during warm rain, when so many balsamic buds and leaves are
steeped like tea; but from the chafing of resiny branches against each
other, and the incessant attrition of myriads of needles, the gale was
spiced to a very tonic degree. And besides the fragrance from these
local sources, there were traces of scents brought from afar. For this
wind came first from the sea, rubbing against its fresh, briny waves,
then distilled through the redwoods, threading rich ferny gulches, and
spreading itself in broad undulating currents over many a
flower-enameled ridge of the coast mountains, then across the golden
plains, up the purple foot-hills, and into these piny woods with the
varied incense gathered by the way.

Winds are advertisements of all they touch, however much or little we
may be able to read them; telling their wanderings even by their scents
alone. Mariners detect the flowery perfume of land-winds far at sea, and
sea-winds carry the fragrance of dulce and tangle far inland, where it
is quickly recognized, though mingled with the scents of a thousand
land-flowers. As an illustration of this, I may tell here that I
breathed sea-air on the Firth of Forth, in Scotland, while a boy; then
was taken to Wisconsin, where I remained nineteen years; then, without
in all this time having breathed one breath of the sea, I walked
quietly, alone, from the middle of the Mississippi Valley to the Gulf of
Mexico, on a botanical excursion; and while in Florida, far from the
coast, my attention wholly bent on the splendid tropical vegetation
about me, I suddenly recognized a sea-breeze, as it came sifting through
the palmettos and blooming vine-tangles, which at once awakened and set
free a thousand dormant associations, and made me a boy again in
Scotland, as if all the intervening years had been annihilated.

Most people like to look at mountain rivers, and bear them in mind; but
few care to look at the winds, though far more beautiful and sublime,
and though they become at times about as visible as flowing water. When
the north winds in winter are making upward sweeps over the curving
summits of the High Sierra, the fact is sometimes published with flying
snow-banners a mile long. Those portions of the winds thus embodied can
scarce be wholly invisible, even to the darkest imagination. And when we
look around over an agitated forest, we may see something of the wind
that stirs it, by its effects upon the trees. Yonder it descends in a
rush of water-like ripples, and sweeps over the bending pines from hill
to hill. Nearer, we see detached plumes and leaves, now speeding by on
level currents, now whirling in eddies, or escaping over the edges of
the whirls, soaring aloft on grand, upswelling domes of air, or tossing
on flame-like crests. Smooth, deep currents, cascades, falls, and
swirling eddies, sing around every tree and leaf, and over all the
varied topography of the region with telling changes of form, like
mountain rivers conforming to the features of their channels.

After tracing the Sierra streams from their fountains to the plains,
marking where they bloom white in falls, glide in crystal plumes, surge
gray and foam-filled in bowlder-choked gorges, and slip through the
woods in long, tranquil reaches - after thus learning their language and
forms in detail, we may at length hear them chanting all together in one
grand anthem, and comprehend them all in clear inner vision, covering
the range like lace. But even this spectacle is far less sublime and not
a whit more substantial than what we may behold of these storm-streams
of air in the mountain woods.

We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men; but it never
occurred to me until this storm day, while swinging in the wind, that
trees are travelers, in the ordinary sense. They make many journeys; not
extensive ones, it is true; but our own little journeys, away and back
again, are only little more than tree-wavings - many of them not so much.

When the storm began to abate, I dismounted and sauntered down through
the calming woods. The storm-tones died away, and turning toward the
east, I beheld the countless hosts of the forests hushed and tranquil,
towering above one another on the slopes of the hills like a devout
audience. The setting sun filled them with amber light, and seemed to
say, while they listened, "My peace I give unto you."

As I gazed on the impressive scene, all the so-called ruin of the storm

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