Nature Notes


Mr. David H. Canfield
Acting Superintendent
Mr. Warren G. Moody
Acting Park Naturalist
Mr. Russell P. Andrews
Assistant Editor
August, 1934
Vol. VII, No. 2

Nature Notes is issued during July, August, and September of this year by the Naturalist Division. Publications using these Notes please acknowledge source by citation of author, title, and this publication.

Cover Design - Garfield Peak; Cover Design and Sketches by L. Howard Crawford, E. C. W. Artist

The Trailside Speaks
By Russell P. Andrews. Ranger-Naturalist


For those who have observant eyes and ears, the trailside speaks with many voices. Hundreds of stories of struggle and force are strewn along the ascent of Garfield. It is one thing to see the sign of the story; it is another to interpret it. On our way up the Peak this morning, let us look only for the signs of stories. As we begin the ascent, our eyes are drawn to a continuous spiral scar that encircles as a majestic hemlock from crown to base. The scar is fresh, exposing the lighter colored cambium layer. A story is here - a story of tremendous force and potential devastation, for lighting is one of the greatest foes of our forest areas. Crossing a barren ash slope further on, we find that it is dotted with Newberry's knotweed and sulphur flowers. The botanist, could he uproot one of these plants, would illustrate by means of the root system an interesting tale of adaptation to arid conditions. Swinging up to the Rim again, our eyes are arrested by white bark pines stretching out over the brink in a horizontal position. Why are these plants not growing upright? The barren slope behind us and the exposed situation give us a hint to the story here, and a winter view of this spot would make it clear, for the combination of snow and wind has contributed to the position of these trees.

Moving along up the slope, we are startled by a sharp whistle close at hand. We look in vain for the source, and the dull browns and grays of the rock slide, tell us something of the marmot's color, for surely nothing could be so close and yet invisible. We pass clusters of penstemon and potentilla side by side. A blur of motion hovers over the penstemon. We stop for a moment to observe that the potentilla holds no attraction for the humming bird. Why is this? The ornithologists could tell us the answer and it would be the story of the adaptation of plants to different means of pollenization.

Continuing upward, we pass an exposed ledge of rock whose material lies in well defined thin horizontal layers. To the ordinary observer it appears as a stack of huge plates, but the geologist knows that minerals and stresses entered into the formation of this curious mass. A few feet further on and we find ourselves with the placed Lake fourteen hundred feet below us.


Our eyes are drawn upward from the Lake along the profile of the tawny cliff that towers above us to the right. The whole scene has such an appearance of immobility that our eyes are caught by the slightest movement. Far out on the face of the cliff, standing on the top of a small upright pinnacle, a swaying pine tree attracts our attention. Miniature drama is represented in the situation, for we are observing the struggle between two forces: the forces of growth and the forces of destruction. Which will triumph? As we stand, wondering, from far below comes up to us the sound as of a snapping, crackling fire newly kindled, and we know that sound as audible proof that the forces of destruction are at work, for a rock slide is on its way to the Lake. We resume our walk, and from the rock wall that lines the side, the sun strikes back into our eyes from a small spot that shines like an opal. Here is an interesting story of the relationship between rocks and the weather, for without the winter's snows melting far above this point, these spots would not have been formed.

Glancing upward we glimpse the summit and hurry on, eager for the view from the top. Our sleeves brush a tree that appears familiar but yet strange. Is it a pine? We examine the foliage. It is a hemlock and apparently mature, yet it is but a pigmy six foot brother to the majestic hemlocks that line the trail and the base of the peak. Why is it so small? The answer might be had from the botanist, who in answering would unfold the story of vegetation adaptation from the Arctic to Mexico.

At last we reach the top. To the south we can look into California and to the north we follow the profile line of the Cascade Summit, but our eyes return each time to the blue marvel at our feet, two thousand feet below us. We do not wish to think now. We wish only to gaze at this example of titanic force from the past, and comprehend, if we can, its present, living beauty.

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