When the first soft snow begins to fall, the flakes lodge in the leaves, weighing down the branches against the trunk. Then the axis bends yet lower and lower, until the slender top touches the ground, thus forming a fine ornamental arch. The snow still falls lavishly, and the whole tree is at length buried, to sleep and rest in its beautiful grave as though dead. Entire groves of young trees, from ten to forty feet high, are thus buried every winter like slender grasses. But, like the violets and daisies which the heaviest snows crush not, they are safe. It is as though this were only Nature’s method of putting her darlings to sleep instead of leaving them exposed to the biting storms of winter.
Thus warmly wrapped they await the summer resurrection. The snow becomes soft in the sunshine, and freezes at night, making the mass hard and compact, like ice, so that during the months of April and May you can ride a horse over the prostrate groves without catching sight of a single leaf. At length the down-pouring sunshine sets them free. First the elastic tops of the arches begin to appear, then one branch after another, each springing loose with a gentle rustling sound, and at length the whole tree, with the assistance of the winds, gradually unbends and rises and settles back into its place in the warm air, as dry and feathery and fresh as young ferns just out of the coil.
Some of the finest groves I have yet found are on the southern slopes of Lassen’s Butte. There are also many charming companies on the head waters of the Tuolumne, Merced, and San Joaquin, and, in general, the species is so far from being rare that you can scarcely fail to find groves of considerable extent in crossing the range, choose what pass you may. The Mountain Pine grows beside it, and more frequently the two-leaved species; but there are many beautiful groups, numbering 1000 individuals, or more, without a single intruder.
I wish I had space to write more of the surpassing beauty of this favorite spruce. Every tree-lover is sure to regard it with special admiration; apathetic mountaineers, even, seeking only game or gold, stop to gaze on first meeting it, and mutter to themselves: “That’s a mighty pretty tree,” some of them adding, “d——d pretty!” In autumn, when its cones are ripe, the little striped tamias, and the Douglas squirrel, and the Clark crow make a happy stir in its groves. The deer love to lie down beneath its spreading branches; bright streams from the snow that is always near ripple through its groves, and bryanthus spreads precious carpets in its shade. But the best words only hint its charms. Come to the mountains and see.