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Through Yale to Nancy
"How would you like to be a forester?" asked my foresighted Father one fortunate morning in the summer of 1885, just before I went to college. It was an amazing question for that day and generation—how amazing I didn't begin to understand at the time. When it was asked, not a single American had made Forestry his profession. Not an acre of timberland was being handled under the principles of Forestry anywhere in America.
Outside the tropics, American forests were the richest and most productive on earth, and the best able to repay good management. But nobody had begun to manage any part of them with an eye to the future. On the contrary, the greatest, the swiftest, the most efficient, and the most appalling wave of forest destruction in human history was then swelling to its climax in the United States; and the American people were glad of it. Nobody knew how much timberland we had left, and hardly anybody cared. More than 99 per cent of our people regarded forest perpetuation, if they thought about it at all, as needless and even ridiculous.
So far as the natural resources were concerned, we were still a nation of pioneers. The world was all before us, and there would always be plenty of everything for everybody.
Public opinion held the forests in particular to be inexhaustible and in the way. What to do with the timber? Get rid of it, of course.
Only a meager handful of men and women had any concern for the future of the forests. They spoke of Forestry, but they thought only of forest preservation, forest influences, and tree planting. The actual practice of Forestry—forest management for continuous production—if they had ever grasped what it meant, was something far outside the field of practical affairs.
At a time when the few who considered Forestry at all were discoursing, deploring, and denouncing, and nothing more, my Father, with his remarkable power of observation and his equally remarkable prophetic outlook, looked ahead farther and more wisely than the rest. While they talked, he compared the forest conditions on two continents and clothed his thoughts with action.
He had seen foresters and their work, and the results of their work, in France and elsewhere in Europe. He was fond of quoting the great saying of one of his heroes, Bernard Palissy, the inspired potter, naturalist, and philosopher, who died in the Bastille, that neglect of the forest was "not merely a blunder, but a calamity and a curse for France."
Without being himself a forester, my Father understood the relation between forests and national welfare, as another of his heroes, Colbert, minister of Louis XIV, had understood it three centuries before. He was sure that Forestry must come to America, he was convinced of the prodigious service it could render, he was confident that foresters would be needed, and he believed the time was ripe.
My Father was the first American, so far as I know, to ask his young hopeful the question with which this chapter begins. He saw what nobody else had seen, that here was a career waiting for somebody's son.
Looking back over more than sixty years, his clear vision and far-seeing action seem to me most remarkable. And equally so was his refusal to be shaken by the cold water thrown on his plan by most of his friends and substantially all the leaders of the forest movement. He was sure he was right, in spite of the general judgment against him, and because he was sure, so was I.
My Father's foresight and tenacity were responsible, in the last analysis, for bringing Forestry to this continent. That being true, he was and is fairly entitled to be called the Father of Forestry in America.
Forestry was a brand-new idea to me. I had no more conception of what it meant to be a forester than the man in the moon. Just what a forester did, since he no longer wore green cap and leather jerkin and shot cloth-yard arrows at the King's deer, was beyond my ken. But at least a forester worked in the woods and with the woods—and I loved the woods and everything about them.
As a boy it was my firm intention to be a naturalist. Camping was my delight. My pin-fire shotgun was my treasure. I had heard a panther scream in the Adirondack woods the summer my Father gave me my first rod and taught me to cast my first fly. The broken butt of that rod is in my rack to this very day.
Of course a youngster with such a background would want to be a forester. Whatever Forestry might be, I was for it.
Until that moment I had been undecided between medicine and the ministry. My Father's suggestion settled the question in favor of Forestry. There were not many tracks in that trail, and that was all the more reason for taking a chance. So simply my happy adventure began.
But how to start on my adventure—how to become a forester—was not so simple. There were no schools of Forestry in America, nor even any school where Forestry could be studied, so far as I could learn. And even if there had been, for the time being I had other fish to fry. I proposed to follow the family tradition and go to Yale. Once there, I would look around and pick up what Forestry I could. And what I could pick up turned out to be little enough.
Whoever turned his mind toward Forestry in those days thought little about the forest itself and more about its influences, and about its influence on rainfall first of all. So I took a course in meteorology, which has to do with weather and climate. And another in botany, which has to do with the vegetable kingdom—trees are unquestionably vegetable. And another in geology, for forests grow out of the earth. Also I took a course in astronomy, for it is the sun which makes trees grow. All of which was as it should be, because science underlies the forester's knowledge of the woods. So far I was headed right.
But as for Forestry itself, there wasn't even a suspicion of it at Yale. The time for teaching Forestry as a profession was years away.
Under such circumstances, with little more knowledge of what I was after than a cat has about catalysts, and with the thousand pressing interests of the undergraduate busily blocking off the future, I set out to become a professional forester.
In those days undergraduate life at Yale was strenuous enough to block off any future. Forestry was forgotten when, in a Freshman-Sophomore rush, half a dozen Sophomores got hold of my arms and pulled me across the famous Yale Fence. Half a dozen more detained my raiment, so that I came out of that rush tastefully, if not lavishly, attired in a pair of shoes and a leather belt. My Father, on a surprise visit to his serious-minded son, turned up just as a delighted Junior was covering me up with a linen duster.
My family gave me some books on Forestry, and I searched the Yale Library for others. Marsh's great work, The Earth as Modified by Human Action, led me along the path a little way. Charles S. Sargent's monumental volume on American Forests in the Tenth Census contained much information on distribution and botanical relationships, but nothing at all about forest management.
The publications of the Department of Agriculture and the American Forest Congress set me no forrarder. Indeed only one book that came my way at Yale actually discussed the application of Forestry to the forest, and that was published in Paris three years before I was born—Jules Clave's Studies in Forest Economy.
But if there was little or nothing to be learned at Yale about the practice of Forestry, there was some information to be had about forests. William H. Brewer, Professor of Agriculture in the Sheffield Scientific School, had published a highly intelligent mapping and description of the distribution of American forests in Walker's Statistical Atlas of the Ninth Census, thus antedating Sargent by ten years. I found that Brewer knew far more about forests at home and Forestry abroad than any other man at Yale.
Dear old Professor Brewer, that wise and kindly compendium of universal information, was among the very last of the great men who took all learning for their province. There appeared to be no subject upon which he was not ready to lecture, or give a whole course of lectures, at a moment's notice—forests among the rest. His service to Forestry in America should never be forgotten.
Four busy and happy years at Yale passed like a watch in the night. "We had a good time and studied, some—Fol de rol de rol rol rol." What with my work as a Class Deacon, Class committees, athletics, writing for the Yale Literary Magazine, the Grand Street Mission, and a thousand other matters, my studies got no more than half my time. And that was well enough. What I learned outside the classroom was worth at least as much as what I learned inside it.
As a sample of my economic views in college, I submit my indignation over Government regulation of railroad rates: "The railroads own the tracks and the cars, don't they? Then why shouldn't they charge what they please?" Which wasn't exactly a good start for a forester and a man who was to become and remain a Theodore Roosevelt Progressive.
The truth is that I had not yet begun to think. Like most of the glorious class of '89, I was too much absorbed and fascinated by living to do much thinking. I had a lively and deep-seated desire to be of use in the world, and occasional questionings as to whether I could serve best as a minister, a doctor, or a forester. But the why of things interested me little.
Action was what I craved. The fact that Forestry was new and strange and promised action probably had as much to do with my final choice of it as my love for the woods.
During the winter of my senior year (1888-89) I went to Washington to check my plan to be a forester against the Government forest authorities.
Dr. George B. Loring, then recently retired as United States Commissioner of Agriculture (we call them Secretaries now), and one of the leaders in advocating forest preservation, thought there was little chance to find work in Forestry, and little need for it anyhow, because "there was no centralized monarchical power," and because the country was so vast and second growth so rapid.
Dr. Bernard E. Fernow, a trained German forester, Chief of the Forestry Division, and as such head of the Government's forest work and of the forest movement in America, advised me not to take up Forestry as my profession, but only as second fiddle to something else. A few days later he wrote, "The wiser plan would be to so direct your studies that they will be useful in other directions also. The study of the sciences underlying forestry will also fit you for landscape gardening, nursery business, botanist's work, etc."
Dr. Fernow, a tall, vigorous, and very active man, spoke naturally with the voice of authority. He saw the American situation through European eyes, and one of his fundamental ideas was that under existing conditions Forestry was impracticable in the United States.
Other opinions agreed with Washington. Professor Charles S. Sargent, head of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard and publisher of Garden and Forest, the foremost advocate of forest preservation, took the same position. So did my Grandfather Eno, who had made a great fortune for himself and offered me the chance to do likewise. It was pretty unanimous.
Nevertheless and notwithstanding, my Father strongly advised me to stick to my guns. With his support I did stick to them. As I wrote him: "In spite of the unfavorable opinions of those who know, it appears to me that there must be a future for Forestry in this country."
At the end of the course at Yale I had a little new knowledge, many friends who were to last through life, and associations worth more than any riches. And I was more than ever determined to be a forester, although I had yet to learn just what it was I had started to become.
Being a convert to Forestry, I was eager to bear witness to my faith. Out of a clear sky came the chance. At Commencement, after Mark Twain, in a speech since become famous, had discussed macerated spiders, pulverized lizards, and other abominations which doctors fed to their patients in the not-so-long-ago, and after other notables had said their say before the Alumni meeting, a member of the graduation class by the name of Pinchot, sitting with his Father in a modest place, was called upon.
I had carefully prepared myself to talk, not on Forestry, but on some subject long since forgotten. But on the spur of the moment I dropped it, my future profession welled up inside me and took its place, and I made to the exalted graduates of Yale (in June of 1889) my first public statement on the importance of Forestry to the United States—and my first public declaration that I had chosen it for my lifework.
I had chosen Forestry, but still I did not know exactly what it was I had chosen. So in the fall, when the will to work came back to me after the strenuous senior year at Yale, in spite of an offer to be Secretary of the Yale Y.M.C.A. for a year, another from the University of Chicago, and still another to study in the Forestry Division at Washington, I went abroad to find out. It was my simple intention, after having done so, to buy a few books and come home—proof enough that I was still lost in the fog.
There was then in Paris a Universal Exposition, which included a special exhibit of Waters and Forests. I was on my way to see it when good fortune overtook me. What set my feet in the path was the kindness of an Englishman to an American youngster who had no possible claim upon him.
I had heard that Forestry was practiced in British India, and it occurred to me that I might get some publications on the subject if I went to India House in London and asked for them. The publications I got, but I got also what was worth infinitely more. Mr. W. N. Sturt, a high official of the Indian Civil Administration, was good enough not only to see and talk with the seeker for light, but also to take an interest in him.
Mr. Sturt got me a letter from his Chief, Sir Charles Bernard, to Sir Dietrich Brandis, founder of Forestry in British India; and another to Sir William Schlich, head of the Forest School at Cooper's Hill, where foresters were trained for the British Indian Service. Like Brandis, Schlich was a German—a man of great experience and learning, a trained forester who had succeeded Brandis as Inspector General of Forests to the Government of India.
Schlich received me most kindly; listened to my story; regretted that under the rules he could not take me as a student at Cooper's Hill; and advised me to strike for the creation of National Forests (this was before there were any in America). Also he gave me an autographed copy of Volume I of his Manual of Forestry (I have just been running over that well-thumbed book once more), and sent me with his blessing on my pilgrimage to Sir Dietrich Brandis at Bonn-on-the-Rhine.
"As I learn more of Forestry, I see more and more the need of it in the United States, and the great difficulty of carrying it into effect." So I wrote home after seeing Schlich. Sir William had done nothing to conceal the hard going ahead.
In Paris (and how glad I was to be in Paris again!) I revisited the Jardin des Plantes (where as a boy I had studied insects and snakes), saw Louis Pasteur inoculate an American friend of mine for mad-dog bite, was given letters to the French forest authorities by Whitelaw Reid, an old friend of my Father's and our Minister to France (Ambassadors came later), and met M. Daubrée, head of the French Forest Service, who in turn put me in touch with the head of the French Forest School.
I recall being introduced, also, to William M. Evarts, then a big figure in American public life, and escorting some of my French and American friends to see Buffalo Bill, the great American Scout, who was taking Paris by storm. To him I had been made known years before by William Tecumseh Sherman, General of the Army and close friend of the Pinchots. The tree the latter planted at Milford is still the finest Maple on our place. As to Buffalo Bill, for him I came to have strong liking and high respect. He remained my friend until he died.
In between many distractions I studied the Forest Exhibit; was impressed, bewildered, and discouraged by its complexity and extent ; recovered and made no end of notes upon it; and went up in a captive balloon with my best girl of that period, who happened to be in Paris with her mother.
From the Eiffel Tower, then the tallest structure ever built by human hands, I looked down upon Passy, where as a small boy I had seen streets still filled with debris, and houses cut in two, by the German bombardment of 1870; upon the Gardens of the Tuileries, whose palace was burned by the Communards after the siege; upon Saint Cloud, where I watched some of these same Communards waiting in a prison yard for their trial and the blank wall; upon the Mare d'Auteuil, where, like Peter Ibbetson, I followed the dragon flies; and upon the Arc de Triomphe, in sight of which so much of my childhood had been spent.
Excerpted from Breaking New Ground by Gifford Pinchot. Copyright © 1998 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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