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and melting of snows on such vast mountain masses ? Is not their impotence manifest?
“No; the most terrible and powerful phenomena of Nature are only the result of the multiplication of infinitesimal appliances or forces. The blade of grass or the fibre of moss performs a scarcely appreciable function, but which, when multiplied, conducts to a result of considerable importance. The drop of water which penetrates by degrees into the fissures of the hardest rocks, when crystallized as the result of a lowering of the temperature, ultimately causes mountains to crumble. In Nature there are no insignificant appliances, or, rather, the action of Nature is only the result of insignificant appliances. Man, therefore, can act in his turn, since these small means are not beyond the reach of his influence, and his intelligence enables him to calculate their effects. Yet owing to his neglect of the study of Nature—his parent and great nurturer, and thus ignorant of her procedure, man is suddenly surprised by one of the phases of her incessant work, and sees his crops and habitations swept away by an inundation. Does he proceed to examine the cause of what he calls a cataclysm, but which is only the consequence of an accumulation of phenomena ? No; he attributes it to Providence, restores his dykes, sows his fields, and rebuilds his dwellings; and then ... waits for the disaster —which is a consequence of laws he has neglected to study-to occur again. Is it not thus that things have been taking place for centuries ? --while Nature, subject to her own laws, is incessantly pursuing her work with an inflexible logical persistency. The periodical inundations which lay waste vast districts are only a consequence of the action of these laws; it is for us, therefore, to become acquainted with them, and to direct them to our advantage.
“We have seen in the preceding investigations that Nature had, at the epoch of the great glacial debacles, contrived reservoirs at successive stages, in which the torrent waters deposited the materials of all dimensions that were brought down —first in the form of drift, whence sifting them, they caused them to descend lower down; the most bulky being deposited first, and the lightest, in the form of silt, being carried as far as the low plains. We have seen that, in filling up most of these reservoirs by the deposit of material, the torrents tended to make their course more and more sinuous—to lengthen it, and thus to diminish the slopes, and consequently render their flow less rapid. We have seen that in the higher regions the torrents found points of rest-levels prepared by the disintegration of the slopes ; and that from these levels they incessantly cause debris to be precipitated, which ultimately formed cones of dejection, often permeable, and at the base of which the waters, retarded in their course and filtered, spread in rivulets through the valleys,
“Not only have men misunderstood the laws of which we mention here only certain salient points, but they have for the most part run counter to them, and have thus been paving the way for the most formidable disasters. Ascending the valleys, man has endeavoured to make the great laboratories of the mountains subservient to his requirements. To obtain pastures on the slopes, he has destroyed vast forests; to obtain fields suitable for agriculture in the valleys, he has embanked the torrents, or has obliterated their sinuosities, thus precipitating their course towards the lower regions; or, again, bringing the mud-charged waters into the marshes, he has dried up the latter by suppressing a great many accidental
The mountaineer has had but one object in view—to get rid as quickly as possible of the waters with which he is too abundantly supplied, without concerning himself with what may happen in the lower grounds. Soon, however, he becomes himself the first victim of his imprudence or ignorance. The forests having been destroyed, avalanches have rolled down in enormous masses along the slopes. These periodical avalanches have swept down in their course the humus produced by large vegetable growths; and in place of the pastures which the mountaineer thought he was providing for his flocks, he has found nothing more than the denuded rock, allowing the water produced by rain or thawing to flow in a few moments down to the lower parts, which are then rapidly submerged and desolated. To obtain a few acres by drying up a marsh or a small lake, he has often lost
double the space lower down in consequence of the more rapid discharge of pebbles and sand. As soon as vegetation has attempted to grow on the cones of dejection—the products of avalanches, and which consist entirely of débrishe will send his herds of goats there, which will destroy in a few hours the work of several years. At the terminal point of the elevated combes--where the winter causes the snows to accumulate-far from encouraging the larger vegetable growths, which would mitigate the destructive effects of the avalanches, he has been in the habit of cutting down the trees, the approach to such points being easy, and the cones of dejection favouring the sliding down of the trunks into the valley.
“This destruction of the forests appears to entail consequences vastly more disastrous than are generally supposed. Forests protect forests, and the more the work of destruction advances, the more do they incline to abandon the altitudes in which they once flourished. At the present day, around the massif of Mont Blanc, the larch, which formerly grow vigorously at an elevation of six thousand feet, and marke the limit of the larger vegetable growths, is quitting those heights, leaving isolated witnesses in the shape of venerable trunks which are not replaced by young trees.
Having frequently entered into conversation with mountaineers on those elevated plateaux, have taken occasion to explain to them these simple problems, to point out to them the foresight of Nature and the improvidence of man, and to show how by trifling efforts it was easy to restore a small lake, to render a stream less rapid, and to stop the fall of materials in those terrible couloirs. They would listen attentively, and the next day would anticipate me in remarking, “Here is a good place to make a reservoir. By moving a few large stones here, an avalanche might be arrested.'
“The herdsmen are the enemies of the forests; what they want is pasturage. As far as they can, therefore, they destroy the forests, without suspecting that their destruction is sure to entail that of the greater part of the pastures.
“We saw in the last chapter that the lowering * of the limit of the woods appears to be directly proportioned to the diminution of the glaciers ; in fact, that the smaller the volume of the glaciers, the more do the forests approach the lower (? higher ?) regions. We have found stumps of enormous larches on the beds of the ancient glaciers that surmounted La Flégère, beneath the Aiguilles Pourries and the Aiguilles Rouges—i.e., more than three hundred feet above the level of the modern Châlet de La Flégère, whereas at present the last trees are some yards below this hotel, and maintain but a feeble existence. These deserts are now covered only with stone débris, rhododendrons, and scanty pasturage. Even in summer, water is absent at many points, so that to supply their cattle the herdsmen of La Flégère have been obliged to conduct the waters of the Lacs Blancs into reservoirs by means of a small dyke which follows the slopes of the ancient moraines. Yet the bottoms of the trough-shaped hollows are sheltered, and contain a thick layer of humus, so that it would appear easy, in spite of the altitude (6600 feet), to raise larches there. But the larch is favoured by the neighbourhood of snows or ice. And on this plateau, whose summits reach an average of 8500 feet, scarcely a few patches of snow are now to be seen in August.
"Formerly these ancient glacier beds were dotted with small tarns, which have been drained off for the most part by the herdsmen themselves, who hoped thus to gain a few square yards of pasture. Such tarns, frozen from October to May, preserve the snow and form small glaciers, while their number caused
* "Raising," I think the author must have meant.1
1 [But see Letter 86, § 12, note by Mr. Willett (p. 348).]
these solitudes to preserve permanent névés, which, covering the rocky beds, retarded their disintegration. It was then also that the larches, whose stumps still remain, covered the hollows and sheltered parts of the combes. The area of pasturage was evidently limited; but the pasturage itself was good, well watered, and could not be encroached upon. Now both tarns and névés' have disappeared, and larches likewise, while we see inroads constantly made on the meadows by stony débris and sand.
“If care be not taken, the valley from Nant-Borant to Bonhomme, which still enjoys such fine pastures, protected by some remains of forests, will be invaded by débris; for these forests are already being cleared in consequence of a complete misunderstanding of the conditions imposed by the nature of the locality.
“Conifers would seem to have been created with a view to the purpose they serve on the slopes of the mountains. Their branches, which exhibit a constant verdure, arrest the snows, and are strongly enough attached to their trunk to enable them to support the load they have to carry. In winter we may see layers of snow eight inches or a foot thick on the palmated branches of the firs, yet which scarcely make them bend. Thus every fir is a shelf which receives the snow and hinders it from accumulating as a compact mass on the slopes. Under these conditions avalanches are impossible. When the thaws come, these small separate stores crumble successively into powder. The trunk of the conifer clings to the rocks by the help of its roots, which, like wide-spread talons, go far to seek their nourishment, binding together among them all the rolling stones. In fact, the conifer prefers a rock, settles on it, and envelops it with its strong roots as with a net, which, stretching far and wide, go in search of neighbouring stones, and attach them to the first as if to prevent all chance of their slipping down. In the interstices débris of leaves and branches accumulate, and a humus is formed which retains the waters and promotes the growth of herbaceous vegetation.
"It is wonderful to see how, in a few years, slopes, composed of materials of all shapes, without any appearance of vegetation, become covered with thick and vigorous fir plantations—i.e., if the goats do not tear off the young shoots, and if a little rest is left to the heaps on which they grow. Then the sterile ground is clothed, and if an avalanche occurs, it may prostrate some of the young trees and make itself a passage, but vegetation is eager to repair the damage. Does man ever aid in this work? No; he is its most dangerous enemy. Among these young conifers he sends his herds of goats, which in a few days make sad havoc, tear off the shoots, or hinder them from growing; moreover, he will cut down the slender trunks for firewood, whereas the great neighbouring forest would furnish him, in the shape of dead wood and fallen branches, with abundance of fuel.
“We have observed this struggle between man and vegetation for several years in succession. Sometimes, but rarely, the rising forest gains the victory, and, having reached a certain development, can defend itself. But most frequently it is atrophied, and presents a mass of stunted trunks, which an avalanche crushes and buries in a few moments.
“Reservoirs in steps at successive heights are the only means for preventing the destructive effects of floods, for regulating the streams, and supplying the plains during the dry seasons. If, when Nature is left to herself, she gradually fills up those she had formed, she is incessantly forming fresh ones; but here man interferes and prevents the work. He is the first to suffer from his ignorance and cupidity; and what he considers his right to the possession of the soil is too often the cause of injury to his neighbours and to himself.
* Compare the chapter on the offices of the Root, in Proserpina.'
1 [Vol. XXV. p. 221.]
“Civilized nations are aware that in the towns they build it is necessary to institute sanitary regulations—that is, regulations for the public welfare, which are a restriction imposed on the absolute rights of property. These civilized nations have also established analogous regulations respecting highways, the watercourses in the plains, the chase, and fishing ; but they have scarcely troubled themselves about mountain districts, which are the sources of all the wealth of the country (Italics mine ; but the statement needs qualification.-J. R.); for where there are no mountains there are no rivers, consequently no cultivated lands; nothing but steppes, furnishing, at best, pasturage for a few cattle distributed over immense areas.
“On the pretext that mountain regions are difficult of access, those among us who are entrusted by destiny, ambition, or ability, with the management of the national interests, find it easier to concern themselves with the plains than with the heights. (I don't find any governments, nowadays, concerning themselves even with the plains, except as convenient fields for massacre.-J. R.)
allow that in those elevated solitudes Nature is inclement, and is stronger than we are ; but it so happens that an inconsiderable number of shepherds and poor ignorant mountaineers are free to do in those altitudes what their immediate interests suggest to them. What do those good people care about that which happens in the plains ? They have timber, for which the sawmill is ready, and they fell it where the transport to that sawmill is least laborious. Is not the incline of the couloir formed expressly for sliding the trunks directly to the mill ?
“They have water in too great abundance, and they get rid of it as fast as they can. They have young fir-plants, of which the goats are fond; and to make a cheese which they sell for fifty centimes, they destroy a hundred francs' worth of timber, thereby exposing their slopes to be denuded of soil, and their own fields to be destroyed. They have infertile marshes, and they drain them by digging a ditch requiring two days' work. These marshes were filled with accumulations of peat, which, like a sponge, retained a considerable quantity of water at the time of the melting of the snows. They dry up the turf for fuel, and the rock, being denuded, sends in a few minutes into the torrents the water which that turf held in reserve for several weeks. Now and then an observer raises a cry of alarm, and calls attention to the reckless waste of territorial wealth. Who listens to what he says ? who reads what he writes? (Punch read my notes on the inundations at Rome, and did his best to render them useless.-J. R.-)
“Rigorously faithful to her laws, Nature does not carry up again the pebble which a traveller's foot has rolled down the slope-does not replant the forests which your thoughtless hands have cut down, when the naked rock appears, and the soil has been carried away by the melted snows and the rain-does not restore the meadow to the disappearance of whose soil our want of precaution has contributed. Far from comprehending the marvellous logic of these laws, you contravene their beneficent control, or at least impede their action. So much the worse for you, poor mortal ! Do not, however, complain if your lowlands are devastated, and your habitations swept away; and do not vainly impute these disasters to a vengeance or a warning on the part of Providence. For these disasters are mainly owing to your ignorance, your prejudices, and your cupidity."
? [See Punch, February 4, 1871, vol. 60, p. 52: “Ruskin's Remedy for Inundation.” For his reply to Punch, see below, Letter 86, § 10 (p. 345); for the Letters on Roman Inundations, see Letter 33, § 19 (Vol. XXVII. p. 622), and Vol. XVII. pp. 547 seq. The article in Punch—a serio-comic criticism of Ruskin's schemes-was founded more particularly on the second of the letters given in Vol. XVII.]
“ YEA, THE WORK OF OUR HANDS, ESTABLISH THOU IT"
LET US (ALL) EAT AND DRINK 1
1. In assuming that the English Bible may yet be made the rule of faith and conduct to the English people; and in placing in the Sheffield Library, for its first volume, a MS. of that Bible in its perfect form, much more is of course accepted as the basis of our future education than the reader will find taken for the ground either of argument or appeal, in any of my writings on political economy previous to the year 1875. It may partly account for the want of success of those writings, that they pleaded for honesty without praise, and for charity without reward ;that they entirely rejected, as any motive of moral action, the fear of future judgment; and—taking St. Paul in his irony at his bitterest word,—“Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,”—they merely expanded that worldly resolution into its just terms: “Yes, let us eat and drink” -what else ?-but let us all eat and drink, and not a few only, enjoining fast to the rest.
Nor do I, in the least item, now retract the assertion, so often made in my former works,* that human probity and virtue are indeed entirely independent of any hope in
* Most carefully wrought out in the preface to the Crown of Wild Olive (Vol. XVIII. pp. 392-399.]
1 [1 Corinthians xv. 32.]