All the hundreds of acorns rolled down the slopes, Not one rolled up; and here was a law,—the law of gravitation,—in full activity. There were scores of other laws active, too; for evolution had gone a long way when we had an earth fit to be lived on, and hills in their present shape, and a tree bearing acorns that would reproduce their kind. But ever since the fiery mist this simple law of gravitation has been acting, binding the whole universe together, making a relationship between each clod and every other clod, and forcing every stone, every acorn, and every rain-drop to move down and not up.
Just as this law operates,—continuously, silently, inexorably,—so every other law makes itself felt in its own sphere. Gravitation is simple. The law according to which an acorn makes an oak—and not a pine-tree is complex. But the laws of Nature are all alike, and if we understand the simple ones, we can at least partly comprehend the more complex. They are nothing but fixed habits on a large scale.
So the acorns fell year by year and sprouted; and one out of a thousand found good soil, and was not wasted, and made a tree. And so all around (below) the tree with which we started there grew a grove of oaks like it, in fact its children; and finally the original trees died, but not without having left successors.
First of all, the green hillside is smooth and untrodden. There is nothing but grass and flowers, borne there by the winds, which leave no track. There is no animal life even in this secluded spot save the birds, and they too leave no track. By and by there comes a hard winter, or a dearth of food, and a pair of stray squirrels emigrate from their home in the valley below; and the history of our hill and its woods begins. Mere chance decides the choice of the particular oak-tree in which the squirrels make their home. From the foot of this tree they make excursions here and there for their store of winter food,—acorns and the like,—and they leave little paths on the hillside from tree to tree.
The best-marked paths run to the places where there are the most acorns. A little later on there are more squirrels in the colony,—the young of the parent pair, and other colonists from the valley. The little tracks become plainer and plainer.
Later still come other wild animals in search of food,—squirrels will do. The wild animals do not remain in the colony (there are too few squirrels, and they are too hard to catch), but they pass through it, sometimes by day but oftenest by night.
You might think it was perfectly a matter of chance along which path a bear or a wolf passed, but it was not. He could walk anywhere on the hillside; and sometimes he would be found far out of the paths that the squirrels had begun. But usually, when he was in no haste, he took the easiest path. The easiest one was that which went between the bushes and not through them; along the hillside and not straight up it; around the big rocks and not over them. The wolves and bears and foxes have new and different wants when they come; and they break new paths to the springs where they drink, to the shade where they lie, to the hollow trees where the bees swarm and store the wild honey.