The Mountains of California eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 313 pages of information about The Mountains of California.

JUNIPER, OR RED CEDAR (Juniperus occidentalis)

The Juniper is preeminently a rock tree, occupying the baldest domes and pavements, where there is scarcely a handful of soil, at a height of from 7000 to 9500 feet.  In such situations the trunk is frequently over eight feet in diameter, and not much more in height.  The top is almost always dead in old trees, and great stubborn limbs push out horizontally that are mostly broken and bare at the ends, but densely covered and embedded here and there with bossy mounds of gray foliage.  Some are mere weathered stumps, as broad as long, decorated with a few leafy sprays, reminding one of the crumbling towers of some ancient castle scantily draped with ivy.  Only upon the head waters of the Carson have I found this species established on good moraine soil.  Here it flourishes with the Silver and Two-leaved Pines, in great beauty and luxuriance, attaining a height of from forty to sixty feet, and manifesting but little of that rocky angularity so characteristic a feature throughout the greater portion, of its range.  Two of the largest, growing at the head of Hope Valley, measured twenty-nine feet three inches and twenty-five feet six inches in circumference, respectively, four feet from the ground.  The bark is of a bright cinnamon color, and, in thrifty trees, beautifully braided and reticulated, flaking off in thin, lustrous ribbons that are sometimes used by Indians for tent-matting.  Its fine color and odd picturesqueness always catch an artist’s eye, but to me the Juniper seems a singularly dull and taciturn tree, never speaking to one’s heart.  I have spent many a day and night in its company, in all kinds of weather, and have ever found it silent, cold, and rigid, like a column of ice.  Its broad stumpiness, of course, precludes all possibility of waving, or even shaking; but it is not this rocky steadfastness that constitutes its silence.  In calm, sun-days the Sugar Pine preaches the grandeur of the mountains like an apostle without moving a leaf.

[Illustration:  JUNIPER, OR RED CEDAR.]

On level rocks it dies standing, and wastes insensibly out of existence like granite, the wind exerting about as little control over it alive or dead as it does over a glacier boulder.  Some are undoubtedly over 2000 years old.  All the trees of the alpine woods suffer, more or less, from avalanches, the Two-leaved Pine most of all.  Gaps two or three hundred yards wide, extending from the upper limit of the tree-line to the bottoms of valleys and lake basins, are of common occurrence in all the upper forests, resembling the clearings of settlers in the old backwoods.  Scarcely a tree is spared, even the soil is scraped away, while the thousands of uprooted pines and spruces are piled upon one another heads downward, and tucked snugly in along the sides of the clearing in two windrows, like lateral moraines.  The pines lie with branches wilted and drooping like weeds.  Not so the burly junipers.  After braving in silence the storms of perhaps a dozen or twenty centuries, they seem in this, their last calamity, to become somewhat communicative, making sign of a very unwilling acceptance of their fate, holding themselves well up from the ground on knees and elbows, seemingly ill at ease, and anxious, like stubborn wrestlers, to rise again.

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The Mountains of California from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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