This species forms the extreme edge of the timber line throughout nearly the whole extent of the range on both flanks. It is first met growing in company with Pinus contorta, var. Murrayana, on the upper margin of the belt, as an erect tree from fifteen to thirty feet high and from one to two feet in thickness; thence it goes straggling up the flanks of the summit peaks, upon moraines or crumbling ledges, wherever it can obtain a foothold, to an elevation of from 10,000 to 12,000 feet, where it dwarfs to a mass of crumpled, prostrate branches, covered with slender, upright shoots, each tipped with a short, close-packed tassel of leaves. The bark is smooth and purplish, in some places almost white. The fertile cones grow in rigid clusters upon the upper branches, dark chocolate in color while young, and bear beautiful pearly seeds about the size of peas, most of which are eaten by two species of tamias and the notable Clark crow. The staminate cones occur in clusters, about an inch wide, down among the leaves, and, as they are colored bright rose-purple, they give rise to a lively, flowery appearance little looked for in such a tree.
[Illustration: GROUP OF ERECT DWARF PINES.]
Pines are commonly regarded as sky-loving trees that must necessarily aspire or die. This species forms a marked exception, creeping lowly, in compliance with the most rigorous demands of climate, yet enduring bravely to a more advanced age than many of its lofty relatives in the sun-lands below. Seen from a distance, it would never be taken for a tree of any kind. Yonder, for example, is Cathedral Peak, some three miles away, with a scattered growth of this pine creeping like mosses over the roof and around the beveled edges of the north gable, nowhere giving any hint of an ascending axis. When approached quite near it still appears matted and heathy, and is so low that one experiences no great difficulty in walking over the top of it. Yet it is seldom absolutely prostrate, at its lowest usually attaining a height of three or four feet, with a main trunk, and branches outspread and intertangled above it, as if in ascending they had been checked by a ceiling, against which they had grown and been compelled to spread horizontally. The winter snow is indeed such a ceiling, lasting half the year; while the pressed, shorn surface is made yet smoother by violent winds, armed with cutting sand-grains, that beat down any shoot that offers to rise much above the general level, and carve the dead trunks and branches in beautiful patterns.
During stormy nights I have often camped snugly beneath the interlacing arches of this little pine. The needles, which have accumulated for centuries, make fine beds, a fact well known to other mountaineers, such as deer and wild sheep, who paw out oval hollows and lie beneath the larger trees in safe and comfortable concealment.
[Illustration: A DWARF PINE.]