THE USES OF TREES Imagine a stranger who has lived all his life in a desert where no trees grow, coming suddenly into our village, and looking with wonder at the trees that shade the streets. He knows only the spiny cactuses, and other plants of the desert. His first question would be, " What are these great plants that stand so tall? " The name, tree, is new to him. It would be a strange experience to take such an eager and ignorant man and show him the trees, on the streets, planted in orchards, and growing wild in the woods outside of the town. His questions set us to thinking. He wants to know why we plant trees, and how we use those that grow in forests.
First, we tell him the uses of the living trees. Up and down the streets they are set for shade, and for their beauty. Rows of evergreens set close together make a protecting wall of green against the cold winds. Low clipped hedges of many kinds of trees make living boundaries, much more beautiful than wooden or wire fences. On lawns and near houses trees are planted for their beauty and for their shade. Orchards of fruit trees are planted because they furnish food. Nut orchards are set out for the same reasons.
The trees cut down in the woods, and sawed at the mills give us lumber to build houses to live in, and furniture to make them comfortable, and the same forest furnishes the fuel that keeps us warm. There is so much to explain to a person who discovers trees for the first time. It takes a long time to tell all we know.
Do we think that we know a great deal about the uses of trees? If so, we are mistaken. The truth is that trees serve us in ways of which we have never dreamed.
We must travel over the world and read a great deal to learn how the people of other countries make use of trees. The basswood or linden which nobody cared to use except for fuel in the Middle West might pass for a useless tree, compared with those whose wood is harder and stronger. But in older countries people have quite a different opinion of the tree.
In Russia the tough bark of young lindens is used to make the shoes of peasants. Ropes,
fishing nets, and braided mats are made from the same tough " bast " fibres, which are very long and tough in this family of trees. The seeds yield oil that is declared to be quite as good as olive oil for cooking, and for the table. Perfume is distilled from the flowers. Cattle browse on the twigs and leaves. The wood is the carver's delight—soft, white, free from knots and imper fections. It is used for bureau drawers, carriage bodies, shoe soles, barrel staves and paper pulp. Its twigs make artist's charcoal pencils.
Linden trees are planted for shade in many countries, and in Europe they are often cut into grotesque shapes of animals as they grow. They are clipped into hedges, as close as box or yew. In America they are usually allowed to, grow naturally, as shade trees. European species are rather more symmetrical than our native kinds.
The Indians of the Northwest used the soft inner bark of the tamarack pine for food. They cut down the trees, strip them of bark, and scraped out this soft lining layer. With water, they mash it into a pulp, which they cook and then mould into large cakes. A hole is next dug in the ground, lined with stones, and a fire is built in it. When the stones are hot, all ashes are removed, and the cakes, wrapped in green skunk cabbage leaves, are laid in. A fire of damp moss is built on top, and thus the cakes are thoroughly baked. To insure their keeping, they are next smoked in a close tent for a week or more. This dries and cures them so that they may be safely packed away for future use. These hard, dry cakes are afterward broken into pieces and boiled. When the mass softens and cools, it is ready to eat. The fat of different animals is used for butter on this strange Alaskan bread.
Everybody knows that trees bear fruits of many kinds that are useful as food for men and beasts. Spices, such as nutmegs, mace, cloves, and allspice, may be added to this list of fruits which we have as human foods.