W OULD you like to follow the tracks of deer and meet their neighbors? Would you like to find the big antlers that a moose has shed? Would you like to eat some spicy checkerberries? Would you like to hear a loon "laugh" early in the morning, and at dusk hear a fox bark or a great horned owl sound his hunting call?
You may have those interesting adventures, and many others, in a forest. A forest, a dictionary will tell you, is a "woodland—a large tract of land covered with trees." But the dictionary will not tell you what a very good time you and your comrades can have there. It will not say a word about the woodland hikes, nor mention the games that give you as much fun as the chipmunks have, when they chase one another round and round the roots of trees.
Where can you find a place like that to visit? If you travel north, south, east, and west, you will find that forests cover many parts of North America. There are dense growths of great trees in Alaska and on the hot sandy lowlands of Florida. Parts of what is called the "Central Hardwood Forest Region" may be found from southern Michigan to northern Alabama. You may visit many woodlands in the Atlantic States or go into the Pacific Coast Forest Region where there are more than sixty million acres of forest land. And even if you travel to all these places, there will still be some of the North American forests that you do not see. For example, there will still be the Rocky Mountain Forests. And there will still be the trees growing from northern Maine to northern Minnesota, and from New Brunswick to Manitoba—forests that we may call the "North Woods."
Before we began to write Forest Neighbors, we had to choose one of these many regions, for of course we could not include two of them in one small book. We might have chosen the Rocky Mountain Forests if we had not already told you about some of the trees and animals there in Mountain Neighbors. Indeed, any of these regions would have been interesting but we hope you will be glad that we decided to devote this book to the "North Woods."
If you visit a forest, you will see that not all the land is covered with trees. You will find water there, for a forest could not exist without it. That is why some of the forest neighbors are creatures who live in lakes or streams or swamps.
So, if you come to the North Woods, you need not be surprised to find loons there as much at home in Walloon's lake as deer are in woodland trails. And beavers busy themselves in Poplar Creek as naturally as chickadees and many other birds fly among the trees.
Though all the neighbors mentioned in this book dwell in the North Woods, creatures like most of them live in other forests, too. Mah-kay's cubs picked berries in western Ontario. But other black-bear cubs like hers, or nearly like hers, go berrying in Alaska, in Maine, in New York, in Georgia, in California, and in many other places.
You cannot meet the particular Wah-boos mentioned in this book anywhere except near his home in the North Woods, for he does not travel far. But varying hares, or snowshoe "rabbits," of the same kind (or species) leave their tracks on snowy slopes from Maine to the Rocky Mountains.
Tree frogs like Hyla Versi-color live in different parts of North America from southern Canada to some places in the Gulf States. So perhaps you yourself have heard music just like his trills. Or perhaps you have heard the different tunes of "Cricket Frogs" or "Whistling Frogs" or "Little Chorus Frogs" or "Cowbell Frogs" or "Spring-peepers" or some of the very many other tree frogs that sing in the spring, here and there. For whether you live in the southeastern State of Florida or the northwestern State of Washington, you have some interesting tree frogs for neighbors.
While you are waiting to meet some of the birds and furry animals in the forest, there are many things to interest you. For example, you may learn which of the trees and other plants you see are evergreens. An "evergreen" is a plant that has green leaves all the year round. It sheds its leaves when they are ready to drop, but it does not shed them all at one time. It waits until new leaves come before it drops the old ones. So it is green in spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
The white pine is an evergreen and a conifer.
In the North Woods, you will find partridge berries and some other low-growing evergreen plants that are covered by snow in the winter. As for the trees, all the cone-bearing trees (conifers) in these woods are evergreen, except the tamarack. The tamarack (also called "larch" and "hackmatack") belongs to the Pine Family, as do all the other conifers. But unlike its relatives, the tamarack sheds all its leaves every fall. After its clusters of narrow leaves turn yellow and drop during the autumn days, its branches remain bare until spring.
As you walk through the woods, you will notice that the leaves of most of the conifers are narrow—they are awl-shaped or needle-shaped. But when you look at an arborvitae tree (also called "northern white cedar"), you will find that its small, overlapping leaves are scale-shaped.
White cedars grow in a low, moist part of the forest.
You may make a game of collecting cones of as many sorts as you can find. A good-sized arborvitae cone is only half an inch long. White-pine cones may be any length from five to ten inches. Perhaps you can find cones of all the different conifers mentioned in this book.
Cones and needles:
When most of the trees in a forest are cone-bearers, we call it a "coniferous forest." When most of the trees around us have wide, thin leaves, we say we are in a "broadleaf forest." In some places, very often among hills, we may come into a "mixed forest"—with both conifers and broadleaf trees abundant.
Pines and moosewoods grow together in this part of the forest.
A broadleaf tree does not bear its seeds in cones. The woody fruit of the alder, to be sure, may be said to be "conelike" in shape; but it differs from the true cones as you can see by comparing them. Some of the broadleaf trees you will find in the North Woods are oaks, maples, birches, beeches, and poplars. You would find it just as interesting to collect the seeds of these and other broadleaf trees as to collect cones. Their seeds vary greatly. For example, the oaks have nuts, or acorns; the maples have plump seeds with broad wings; the poplars have small seeds with cottony fluff that takes them sailing in the wind.
As we have remarked, all the conifers in the North Woods, except the tamarack, are evergreens. In these northern forests not one of the broadleaf trees is an evergreen. Instead of staying green in the autumn, their wide, flat leaves turn yellow or red or brown and then flutter to the ground. Their bare branches wait until spring for a new set of leaves to make them green again.
Are you coming to the North Woods? When will your visit be?
AUTUMN . . . That is the gayest time, when the maple leaves glow with gorgeous reds and the beeches are clear yellow. The branches are bright overhead, but enough of the leaves have fallen to make your pathway brightly colored, too. As you walk along, perhaps you will find a place near Poplar Creek, where the beavers have been cutting a tree. So, of course, you plan to come back by moonlight, very quietly, in the hope of seeing them at work.
WINTER . . . If you enjoy a tramp on snowshoes, you may follow the tracks of the varying hare, or see what a ruffed grouse is eating for breakfast. As you pause to look at the evergreens with their boughs piled with fluffy snow, you notice how silent the woods seem. And then you hear a cheery voice greeting you. "Chick-dee-dee," your little feathered neighbor calls, as he flies very near to see what you are doing. If you tie a chunk of suet to a branch, that will make a good Christmas feast for him.
SPRING . . . The colors of the broadleaf-tree tips are as varied in their springtime budding as they are in the fall. Not so bright and vivid, but their softer tints are fully as beautiful. The stay-in-the-North birds are singing their spring tunes; and the travel-to-the-South birds are coming back and singing, too. There is Seto, the redstart, just back from South America—and very glad he seems to be here. And there go two black-bear cubs out for a sunning and a frolic, with Mother Mah-kay near by to watch them. Feathery creatures and furry creatures, all are happy. The woodland stirs with the excitement of spring.
SUMMER . . . Of course, this is the time when most of you will come, for you have your longest vacations in summer. You may go to some parts of the North Woods in trains or on boats. You also may go in automobiles, for good roads now lead to many parts of the forest. Perhaps you will drive along one of these roads through a pine forest to a lake. A black bear, picking berries beside the highway, may stand up to watch you go by. A moose may walk across the road ahead of you. No one has ever harmed him, and he walks with such slow, unhurried steps that your driver may have to stop the car to wait for him to pass.
After you have reached your hotel or camp cabin or pitched your tent in the woods, you will start for a walk in the shade. If you have come from a part of the country where the weather is very hot in summer, you will be happy to feel the comfortable air. Perhaps your first thought will be, "Why, how cool the woods look—all the way from the ferns underfoot to the branches overhead!"
Some ferns that grow in the woodland:
Weeks later, when your vacation is over and you come back from your last walk in the woods, what will you be thinking then? Very likely you will be saying to some comrade, "I hope people can always have forests. It is fun to hike and swim and watch the birds. Vacations could not be so jolly without woods like these. I hope a forest fire never spoils these trees."
And then you will remember that people are not the only creatures to enjoy the woodland. You will think of the furry and feathered dwellers there and add, "Yes, I hope these woods will always be here, so that the forest neighbors can have all the food and shelter that they need—in their own wilderness."