In the evening, when Malachi and John were, as usual, employed in cutting small trays out of the soft wood of the balsam-fir, and of which they had already prepared a large quantity, Mrs. Campbell asked Malachi how the sugar was procured. "Very easily, ma'am: we tap the trees." "Yes, so you said before; but how do you do it? Explain the whole affair to me."
The ground looked dry and mossy; and as it was nearly dark, I thought the best thing I could do was to camp for the night, for I knew it was impossible to find my way after dark. I immediately collected a large quantity of dry balsam-fir, which lay about in great profusion, and chose a cluster of spreading cedars for my camp.
To the keen nostrils of the man who was silently mounting the trail, it seemed as if these wild aromas almost enabled him to veritably see the trees which towered all about him, so clearly did they differentiate to him their several species as he passed, the hemlock, in particular, and the birch, the black poplar, and the aromatic balsam-fir.
The short cones, often not over two inches in length, the longest seldom more than four inches, stand erect on top of the small branches, and when young are of a purplish color. From Maine to Minnesota the balsam-fir grows in damp woods and mountain bogs, and you will find it southward along the Alleghany Mountains from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. =Spruce=
Our balsam-fir is the American sister of the silver fir of Europe, both having bluish-green foliage with a silvery under surface, in a single row on either side of the branches, which curve gracefully upward at the ends. The tree has a peculiarly light, airy appearance until it is old, when there is little foliage except at the ends of the branches.
They certainly went with very little noise, but they disturbed a small Hawk that flew from a Balsam-fir a "Fire tree" they now called it, since they had discovered the wonderful properties of the wood. Three arrows were shot after it and no harm done. Yan then looked into the tree and exclaimed: "A nest." "Looks to me like a fuzz-ball," said Guy. "Guess not," replied Yan.
While on the trail you will find a knowledge of trees most useful, and you should be able to recognize different species by their manner of growth, their bark and foliage. =Balsam-Fir= One of the most important trees for the trailer to know is the balsam-fir, for of this the best of outdoor beds are made. In shape the tree is like our Christmas-trees in fact, many Christmas-trees are balsam-fir.
Here, too, the rock-maple reared its verdant masses, the beech its glistening leaves and clean, smooth stem, and behind, stiff and sombre, rose the balsam-fir. Here in the tortuous channels the muskrat swam and plunged, and the splashing wild duck dived beneath the alders or among the red and matted roots of thirsty water willows.
Ordinarily I prefer balsam-fir or tamarack; in this case I used a balsam block and a spruce drill, and, although each kind failed when used with drill and block the same, I got the fire in half a minute. On June 3 we left this camp of tall timber. As we floated down we sighted a Lynx on the bank looking contemplatively into the flood.
It brought back dear memories of glorious April mornings on Long Island, when through the singing of robin and song-sparrow comes the piercing cadence of the meadowlark; and of the far northland woods in June, fragrant with the breath of pine and balsam-fir, where sweetheart sparrows sing from wet spruce thickets and rapid brooks rush under the drenched and swaying alder- boughs.