"The Trees of Mount Mitchell"

An excerpt from The Wisdom of the Forest, by Alan Anderson ©1997

Not long ago I stood near the top of Mt. Mitchell, in western North Carolina, feeling a warm wind from the west. I was waiting, along with several hundred others, for the governor, who would help us celebrate the 75th anniversary of Mt. Mitchell State Park. A group of high school students dressed in colorful shirts and dungarees tapped and stamped out the rhythms of Appalachian clog-dancing while fiddle music played over a loudspeaker.

I stood on the warm asphalt near the visitors' center and observation tower, pondering a feeling of unease. Near the tower is the grave of Elisha Mitchell, the teacher and naturalist who died in 1857 trying to confirm the altitude and location of the peak beneath our feet. In those days this was not an easy task. There were no modern altimeters; most explorers lugged some bulky version of a surveyor's theodolite with which they tried to compare their own altitude with the altitude of a known peak nearby. For Elisha Mitchell, that would have been one of the other Black Mountains, which stretched to the north and south of us, a small J-shaped range. All of them were of similar altitude, over 6,000 feet; during Mitchell's time they were difficult to see from here because of the dense trees on the summit. The range was named in the late 18th century by explorers who were impressed by canopies of spruce and fir so dense as to shut out the sun. MountMitchell itself was called the Black Dome. The thick tangles of conifer trunks and boughs made surveying not only difficult but also, as the death of Elisha Mitchell dramatized, perilous.

Today it is not nearly so dangerous to reach Mount Mitchell; the peak is accessible by a spur of road off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Gov. Jim Martin emerged without effort from a shiny Ford sedan, wearing a neatly pressed suit and dark tie. He patted his neat hair, spent some time at the snack bar, then spoke for a while in front of a TV camera, taking his time. Finally he walked to the podium where dignitaries of the Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the state park system awaited him.

As he mounted the steps I identified the source of my unease: it had to do with the bright, close sunlight that struck the summit. At this altitude it had the piercing quality of powerful movie lights placed close to an actor. A hot breeze swept uninhibited across the parking lot. What had happened to the Black Dome of Dr. Mitchell's day, the thick canopy of spruces and firs? I took off my jacket and glanced up the slope to my right where I could see the shiny gray trunks of dead firs.

The governor was saying he had come to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of North Carolina's state parks, of which Mt. Mount Mitchell State Park was the first. Given the mountain's stature (it is the highest peak east of the Rockies) and the age of the park (one of the first in the nation), it seemed an occasion to give thanks and feel proud, to celebrate the grandeur of the
Blue Ridge.

Instead, things were fairly low-key. The governor attempted a tone of pride and firm intention, but the facts were not on his side. The state of North Carolina at that moment ranked 50th in the nation in per capita spending on its state parks, which were short on exhibits, facilities, and means of access. Even worse, he confessed, were the problems of the forest; he glanced at the dead firs up the slope. Around us on the summit, on what used to be a black dome, were patches of heath, tangles of blackberries, and ragged remnants of climax forest. The governor wondered aloud if the trees would ever return, calling ad hoc for a "summit on the summit" to study "the matter." The summit, and presumably the "matter" itself, would have to be handled by volunteers, he added, reminding his audience of a large state budget deficit.

The spruce-fir forest of Mt. Mitchell is a remnant of the vast boreal forest of the last ice age. The Wisconsin ice sheet halted several hundred miles north of Mount Mitchell, and when it began to retreat around 14,000 yBP (years before the present), a dense mantle of boreal trees stretched
from what are now the mid-Atlantic states to the Ozarks. By 10,000 yBP the climate had warmed enough that deciduous forests of beech, birch, and maple could begin moving into the valleys, displacing the conifers. The conifers could not move northward so they moved upward, to the ridgetops. By 5,000 yBP, the boreal forest was confined to the high ridges between 4,500 and 6,000 feet - the spruces dominating at the lower margins, the firs at the top. There the spruce-fir ecosystem reigned in majesty over the southern Appalachians for five millennia - until two centuries ago, when the first settlers arrived. In 1835, when Elisha Mitchell reached the peak of Mount Mitchell, the forest was still so thick he was obliged to climb a tree and cut out some branches in order to see where he was.

I looked around me on the ridge. The view was clear in every direction. Fraser fir seedlings sprouted abundantly here and there, but none of them grew much taller than my shoulder -- short of cone-bearing age. I walked along the ridge with Tom Wentworth, a botany professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. As Tom took a picture of Elisha Mitchell's tomb he talked about the study he and three colleagues have done on the "disturbance" history of the Blacks. Disturbance is an ecological term used to denote some agent or event that disrupts the stability of a community. There are many kinds of disturbance, but of those listed in Wentworth's paper, only three were "natural" in the sense that humans had nothing to do with them: normal climatic fluctuations, lightning-induced fires, and native insect damage. The consequences of these three were all limited. The rest of the disturbances were caused, directly or indirectly, by human activities: logging, slash fires, tree planting, grazing, tourism, the introduction of exotic pests. Wentworth's group concluded that 59 percent of the spruce-fir forest of the Black Mountains has already been destroyed, and 100 percent has been disturbed in some manner by human activity.

This pattern of disturbance is by no means unique to the Blacks; on the contrary, it is typical of nearly every forested region of the world. In the United States, we have disturbed, altered, or eliminated nearly every forest, with the exception of the remaining old-growth communities in the
Northwest and scattered remnants of wilderness elsewhere. In most cases, our treatment of the forest has been unintentional, in the sense that we had no goal to alter or extinguish it. We have done what we have done from motives of economics, convenience, or simple negligence.

Several aspects of the Black Mountain forests are unusual, however. The first is that the spruce-fir forest is "trapped" on its high ridges; that is, it cannot migrate elsewhere because the climate at lower altitudes is too warm to allow spreading. Because it can't move in response to disturbance, the effects of any disturbance are more obvious. The second unusual feature of the Blacks is that for the last 75 years people have made a more or less conscious decision, by creating the state park, to maintain this ecosystem in a near-natural condition. And still it is dying.

One might think that across the broad and diverse earth, through all the sweep of history, there would be little consistency in the way humans respond to forest. In fact, at the risk of oversimplification, I would argue that the range of responses is small:

1) We see the forest as a physical and spiritual source of life, perhaps an abode of the gods, in which case we may preserve it with feelings of gratitude and even reverence;
2) We see the forest as a home and a practical resource, in which case we inhabit and exploit it with feelings of respect and possessiveness;
3) We see the forest as an impediment to commerce, the haunt of the bandit, and perhaps a source of danger, in which case we avoid it or attempt to remove it;
4) We see the forest simply as a source of lumber, in which case we cut it down, feeling a gratitude that is mixed with concern about locating the next forest.

The boundaries between these categories are porous and mobile. Responses also vary within any culture, and cultures tend to switch categories in response to economic and other conditions. In the Blacks, for example, humans have responded to the presence of their high forest in all four ways,
beginning and ending with 1).

In geologic terms, our relationship to the spruce-fir forest began recently -- around the end of the Wisconsin ice age. As the ice retreated, ancestors of the modern Cherokee followed it northward, reaching the Blacks around 12,000 yBP. These early inhabitants might be described as people of category 1), evolving toward 2). They were primarily participants in the natural world rather than manipulators of it: living within the forest, counting on it for shelter, clothing, and food. In small nomadic groups they hunted deer and bear, gathered chestnuts, hickory nuts, and berries, and acquired a sophisticated knowledge of herbal medicine. Anthropologists have estimated that these people used some 500 plant species for medicine, food, and dye. The resinous balsam from the Fraser fir was used to treat lung pain, kidney trouble, ulcers, colds, venereal diseases, skin wounds, and constipation. They caught trout in the clear mountain streams, fashioned tools from stone, and worshiped a number of spirits - including those of the eagle, the raven, and frost - that dwelled in the high mountains. The did cause forest disturbance by burning the woods frequently to thin out underbrush, facilitate hunting, and clear patches of ground for planting corn, squash, and beans. Overall, however, their impact on the high forest was slight.

The presence of the Cherokee delayed settlement of the area by white settlers, but by the end of the 18th century, a tide of immigrants broke into the Swannanoa Valley to the south and the Cane and Toe Valleys to the north, forcing the Indians westward. By the 1830s, the Cherokee Nation had been eliminated.

These new settlers saw the forest through different eyes. They were mostly Britons, of Scotch-Irish descent, many of them from the treeless heath of Ulster. When they gazed upon the mighty Appalachian woodland they saw at once unlimited resources and a chance for political freedom -- a new Promised Land where they could be free of the crowds, poverty, and social inequities of Europe.

They also saw physical danger. Aside from what they had learned of nature traveling southward through the Shenandoah Valley, they had no experience with woodland life, let alone with the bears, mountain lions, and poisonous snakes that dwelled in the forest. The clearing of woodland was for them both a frightening and a liberating experience.

These eager settlers had a category 2) effect on the forest, with a touch of 3). They raised large herds of livestock, loosing their swine and cattle to forage to the highest slopes and even summits. They hunted and trapped everywhere, removing large numbers of bear, elk, deer, and fox. They learned about medicinal plants from the Cherokee, and collected quantities of bloodroot, snakeroot, sassafras, dogwood, hellebore, mayapple, partridge berry, raspberry, balsam, and ginseng. Ginseng root became such an important commodity, prized by the Chinese as a tonic and aphrodisiac, that a single merchant in Burnsville bought 86,000 pounds of "sang" in one year from local gatherers. It is today considered an endangered species.

The settlers quickly became true forest people, using wood for cabins, barns, outbuildings, furniture, fence posts, sled runners, gun stocks, and toys. They felled trees for firewood, in prodigious quantities: wood to heat cabins and to cook; to heat water for washing clothes, rendering lard, making soap, distilling whiskey, dyeing fabric, boiling down maple syrup, and softening the bristly hide of slaughtered hogs.

Like the Indians, they set fires, often and for many reasons: to clear pasture, open areas for settlement, improve hunting. Many of these fires spread to the high forests, where they often killed living trees. The red spruce was particularly vulnerable, having a shallow root system, thin bark, and flammable needles. One observer reported that by the end of the nineteenth century, 10 percent of the spruce-fir forest on the east side of the Blacks had been destroyed by fires.

Early settlement was followed quickly by tourism. Vacationers yearned to experience the highest peaks, especially in the wake of Elisha Mitchell's well-publicized explorations. Even in the 1850s, visitors could take a carriage northward from Asheville into the very lap of the Blacks, just a
half-hour's hike from Mt. Mitchell. Around 1855 a second road was blazed southward from the Cane River Valley. A crude observation tower was built on the summit; boosters drew up plans for turnpikes and scenic highways. But the Civil War brought a decades-long halt to tourism before most of these plans could be enacted.

Early settlement, grazing, and tourism, however, offered only hints of the explosive changes that came with the turn-of-the- century logging boom -- when the Blacks were thrust into phase 4).
Industrial logging was not new in the nation, but it was new in Appalachia. Until the 1870s, the great lumber interests had been busy in the forests of the Northeast and the Great Lakes region. By then the easy fortunes had been made and powerful companies from as far away as Scotland and South Africa began to cast their eyes over the southern forests. Logging itself was not new to the Blacks, either - on a small scale. Since the Civil War, many mountain farm families had cut walnut, cherry, and other hardwoods in the off-season for sale to local saw mills. But the local loggers were limited in their reach, hauling logs by mule and working part-time. By as late as 1900, as much as 75 percent of the southern Appalachian forest was still untouched.

The new companies knew no such inhibitions, and they were experienced at moving timber in rough terrain. They quickly built railroad lines and logging camps into the most remote forests. They brought steam-powered equipment like Shay locomotives, overhead cableway skidders, and giant bandsaws. They cut timber not only faster but also more cheaply than any local competitors, quickly putting them out of business. Unfortunately, these great new tools, used with log slides, river flumes, and splash dams, took a heavy toll on the land, destroying streambeds and the reproductive capacities of the land, and igniting destructive woods fires along the Blue Ridge.

The Black Mountains were among the last forests of Appalachia to be logged. One observer optimistically reported as late as 1911 that the spruce-fir forests of the Blacks would be of little commercial value because they were too remote. During that same year, however, the Dickey and Campbell Company was busy acquiring timber rights on the east side of the ridge. They were a northeastern outfit well used to topographic challenges, and, to the astonishment of the general public, they were hauling logs by the end of 1912. By 1913, they had pushed a railroad track to the slopes of Clingman's Peak, at the crest of the Blacks, and by 1914 to the 5,800-foot contour line, half a mile below the summit of Mount Mitchell itself. In 1913 a pair of Pennsylvania lumber men named Fred Perley and W. H. Crockett took over the company and added a log mill capable of turning out 110,000 board feet -- about fifty carloads -- of lumber a day.

The Fraser fir is useful primarily as pulpwood, and if the fir had been alone in the forest, it might still be there. It was the red spruce that roused the fervor of the lumberman. A straight, strong, fine- grained wood, it not only made fine lumber, pilings, barrels, and boats; it was also prized as the finest source of piano sounding boards, guitars, and violin bellies. With the outbreak of World War I, it was also pronounced the best structural material to make warplanes for the fledgling Allied air forces. A mature Black Mountain spruce was a lumberman's dream: 115 feet tall and four feet in diameter. The Blacks were full of such dreams, and virtually all of them crashed to the ground in a frenzy of timbering.

By 1914 all trees as small as four inches in diameter were being cut -- spruce and fir alike. Most of the firs and the small spruces went to pulp mills. Skidding operations destroyed most of the smaller trees, and the skidways quickly eroded to bare rock. Two more lumber companies came into the Blacks from the north. Small mining operations followed, taking advantage of the war-related markets to open mica, feldspar, and garnet mines along the high slopes.

Magnifying the destruction were the frequent fires - those set by the loggers to clear the slash, often six to eight feet deep, and those ignited by sparks from the steam-powered engines. These fires were of such heat that they not only destroyed the young trees in an area, but also the organic matter and seeds within the soil. The heavy mountain rains denuded the bare slopes and silted the region's water supplies. The spruce-fir was replaced by a scrubby growth of blackberry, fire cherry and rhododendron. Most of the logged area lacks spruce-fir forest today.

This activity was praised at first for bringing employment and industrial techniques to an otherwise backward region. But soon the local mountain people, foresters, and Asheville businessmen began to understand that virtually all the spruce-fir forests of the Blacks, with the exception of the highest ridgetops and some very steep areas, would soon be gone. The Asheville Citizen confessed to being torn between a "sense of development and progress" and growing feelings of alarm and shame.

Asheville's own literary son, Thomas Wolfe, described the scene in huge prose: "The great mountain slopes and forests had been ruinously detimbered; the farm-soil on the hillsides had eroded and washed down; high up, upon the hills, one saw the raw scars of old mica pits, the dump heaps of desertedmines... It was evident that a huge compulsive greed had been at work: the whole region had been sucked and gutted, milked dry, denuded of its rich primeval treasures; something blind and ruthless had been here, grasped, and gone."

A sentiment toward preservation developed quickly, although nothing could be done about Purley and Crockett's timber rights. In 1916 the state managed to buy 525 acres of land - a tiny sliver amid the tens of thousands of acres that had been logged - and proclaimed the existence of Mt. Mitchell State Park. After the war, Perley and Crockett left, taking with them the jobs and the profits of their logging. As historian Ron Eller has written, "Like a train in the night, industrialization had come into the mountains raising aspirations and hopes, but when it left, it had taken most of the rich natural wealth out of the region, leaving little benefit to the mountain people themselves. What remained was a socially and economically depressed area which the rest of the nation would come to know as 'Appalachia'."

A variety of more limited "disturbances" continued in the Blacks. Tourism began to return, driving their Model T's along Purley and Crockett's old railroad bed. Foresters noted unusual windthrow along the high ridges, where logging and fires had exposed the remaining firs to the harsh winter winds. Camp Alice, the old logging headquarters, was converted to an outpost of the Civilian Conservation Corps, whose men planted various tree seedlings and built an all-weather camp of 36 buildings, water and sewer systems, a concession stand, and other public facilities. In the 1940s, the Blue Ridge Parkway brought a new stream of tourists which continues to expand to this day.

But none of these activities compares in consequence to the arrival of a foe invisibly small, the balsam woolly adelgid. If the loggers singled out the spruce for their attentions, the adelgid came for the fir. The insect kills almost every fir it finds by proliferating in the tree's circulatory system and choking its victim to death. And it finds virtually every fir in the forest. Like most immigrant pests - from Europe, in this case - the adelgid arrived via human agency to find a host with no resistance, in an environment free of predators.

The first place it was discovered in the southern Appalachians was on Mount Mitchell, in 1957. By 1958 it had killed 11,000 trees; by 1970, 1.75 million. It now appears that most of the mature Fraser firs in the Blacks are dead. In the early years of infestation, scientists did what they could to combat the adelgid. The sprayed for a time with various chemicals, including Lindane, a chlorinated hydrocarbon which, like its cousin DDT, persists in the environment for years and kills desirable insects as well.. Two species of beetles known to prey on the adelgid were also imported, but they did not take to the climate of the Blacks and soon disappeared. Eventually the adelgid was granted its victory - virtually total infestation of the fir population.

Though it is hard to believe, the adelgid has been joined by an even more subtle disturbance: air pollution. If pollution is not on Tom Wentworth's list, it is partly because the situation has now become so complex. It is virtually impossible to sort out the effects of pollution from those of
previous disturbances, including the adelgid. We do know that air pollution kills trees, primarily the spruces left along the highest ridges. We don't know if it kills trees all by itself. > As with the balsam woolly adelgid, there is a European connection. Bob Bruck, a colleague of Wentworth at N.C. State, recalls a pivotal trip to the Black Forest in the early 1980s where he saw vast numbers of dead and dying spruces and firs. "Then we came back," he recalls, "and found it in our own
backyard, in the same portion of the ecosystem."

"It" was described in various terms, such as forest dieback and tree decline. In the summer of l983 Bruck decided to take a close look at Mt. Mitchell. In the middle of a spruce grove he leaned backward and took a photo of the forest canopy: not the Black Dome any more, but still intact.
Beneath his feet were detritus, duff, moss, small seedlings: a soft, dark, cool forest floor. Three and a half years later he took a photo from the same spot: the topmost branches were bare. The canopy was gone and the sun had come to parch the forest floor. Conifer needles were turning yellow,
just as they had in Europe.

Bruck and other scientists and students from N.C. State set up permanent plots near Mt. Mitchell to document what was happening. The following year, 1 percent of their study trees were dead. In successive years that figure rose to 3.5 percent, 14 percent, 41 percent, and, in 1988, to over 70
percent. "And then we simply hung it up," said Bruck. "Once a stand opens up that wide, everything else and its mother is going to jump in."

Bruck and others suspected that air pollution was involved in the cause of spruce dieback, but they still had no hard evidence. "Then one day serendipity struck," Bruck recalls. "That's one of the fun
things about being a scientist. We were up on the mountain on a beautiful June day, taking pictures of bud break. That night a heavy cloud came in and sat on top of the mountain. It stayed there for the next 15 hours, through the next day. These orographic clouds are common; there is some cloud on the Blacks on at least 85 percent of all days. We sampled continuously and found the cloud had an aver age pH of 2.71. That's about 940 times more acidic than clear rain water; almost the acidity of vinegar.

"The next afternoon the sun came out again, and these young needles all over the mountain started to turn brown. We collected bushel baskets of them and took them back to the EPA lab in Raleigh. There was 17 times more sulfur in the brown areas than in the healthy areas. And the sulfur was in the form of sulfate, for which there are only two sources: the eruption of volcanoes, and the combustion of fossil fuels. And there weren't any volcanoes erupting.

"Then we were lucky again. We planted seedlings on the mountain, some beneath the trees of the study plots and others at lower altitudes. And 97 percent of the study plot seedlings were dead in 18 months. They all had black root collars and roots, primary signs of aluminum toxicity. There was
20 times more aluminum in them than in the lower-altitude seedlings. The seedlings were pulling the aluminum out of the soil. They can do that only if something is making the soil very acid, pushing the pH below 3.4. In many of the plots it was 2.6, 2.7. The soil layer is very thin, and the roots are
very shallow; there is no escape."

The source of all this acidity is not a mystery. The burning of fossil fuels has added billions of tons of sulfates, nitrates, and other compounds to the atmosphere since World War II. The Tennessee and Ohio Valleys feature a concentration of electric power plants and factories upwind of the Blacks.
The gases from these plants form acids when they meet the moisture of clouds. Additional amounts of acid-producing gases come out of the tailpipe of every car and truck. One thing we do know about the spruce-fir forest is that it depends on clouds for most of its water. Cloud moisture condenses on cool conifer needles and drips to the ground. Mt. Mitchell is one of the wettest places in North America, receiving 84 inches of rain a year. But by adding dripwater from clouds, the conifers are able to gather the equivalent of about 240 inches a year. And this is the only way the trees of Mt. Mitchell can survive at this low latitude - by creating moisture conditions that might be found in Canada, home to most of the spruces and firs of this continent. "The fog water is normally the mother's milk of the system," says Bruck. "I would submit to you that this milk has gone sour."

The scientists were also able, with the help of plastic ("Rube Goldberg") chambers, to see what the acid clouds do to the spruce needles. At low pH levels, the waxy surface that protects the needles began to fuse, especially in the area covering the stomas, or breathing holes. At pH 2.5, the stoma
are completely blocked by globs of wax. "I'm sorry if I sound dramatic," said Bruck, "but the wax was choking them to death."

The air pollution story is not as simple as acid rain; ozone has its own chapter. The concentrations of ozone on the mountain are twice what they are in nearby Fairview, 4,000 feet below. This amount of ozone slows the growth of trees to a third of normal. And the ozone damage is exacerbated by the
orographic effect. At low altitudes, ozone levels drop at night, but the high ridges catch ozone moving through the atmosphere round the clock. This means that the vegetation is stressed continuously.

Despite all the evidence about air pollution, the experimental work to date has brought ecologists more questions than answers. They aren't sure, for example, how air pollutants do their killing work: Is it by altering the physiology of the foliage, or leaching nutrients from the foliage, or altering photosynthesis and other processes, or increasing susceptibility to frost and freeze damage? There is evidence that it does all of these things. There is also evidence it kills by indirect means: by mobilizing too much toxic aluminum, or leaching away soil nutrients, or suppressing beneficial root fungi and microorganisms.

But there is an overarching question: Is air pollution damage compounded by Tom Wentworth's long list of disturbances? Was the whole ecosystem weakened long before the arrival of the adelgid and the air pollution? "What we're dealing with is a scientific enigma," said Bruck, "an interaction of many things leading to the decline. What we do know is that the tops of our most beautiful mountains are some of the most polluted places in the country."

The only way to name the culprit, says Bruck, is to catch it red- handed and eliminate the rest of the suspects. He is trying to do so, despite a shortage of funding. For example, he'd like to transport large numbers of healthy firs to the mountaintop and test their response to current conditions; and, vice-versa, to remove mountain firs to a clean environment. He even says that "if Congress would give him $15 billion, he'd prove whether or not acid rain is killing the trees." He says, half in jest, that
he'd place a huge plastic bubble over half the mountaintop - in effect, converting a patch of natural forest into a laboratory - and compare the health of its protected trees with those in the acidic clouds.

This last proposal, though only half-serious, illustrates the quandary of the ecologist: As long as an ecological system exists in nature - and they all do, by definition - its complexity is unlimited. There is nothing to prevent any event or agent from entering the system, whether it is a tiny fir-eating insect or a huge acid-bearing cloud. If a scientist wants a predictive formula for a system, he needs to know every variable that can affect that system. This is not possible with the forest. Prediction implies a kind of possession, or certainty, which nature will not grant.

The lesson of Mt. Mitchell is a hard one for us to accept. It teaches us, first, that many of our traditional activities, such as tourism, grazing, and logging, are damaging to the forest. Second, it shows us that even without those activities, our industrial culture continues to damage the trees - even when we wish otherwise. Mt. Mitchell has been protected by its state park status for 75 years. We humans want the forest to be healthy, to reflect the drama of its setting.

If the beginning of wisdom is humility, we have perhaps made a beginning. We have tried to control the forest and we have failed. But this is an exercise of value if it moves us ahead to the next question. If we cannot control the forest, or fit it into our scientific models, what can we learn from it? If we look closely at the ways it evolves and responds to change, and obtains its energy, and lives in community, we can learn a number of lessons relevant to our own survival.

After the governor's sedan whistled back down the mountain I walked up to the observation tower with Tom Wentworth, a soft-spoken young man who has studied all the high forests of the southern Appalachians. We looked for signs of the balsam woolly adelgid, and saw only a few of the cottony nests that give them their name. On the observation tower a man who had heard Tom speak the day before identified himself as a member of the old tree-planting CCC. He had been based briefly at Camp Alice, just out of view down the ridge, but confessed he had found the winter weather intolerable and left after a few days. As we looked around at the gray corpses of trees he asked
Tom if the firs and spruces would recover from "all this mess," and Tom shook his head.
"I'd be glad to tell you if I knew," he said, aiming his camera northeast along the splendid ridge. "But I don't know. No one knows."