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As we read Peattie's eloquent and entertaining accounts of American trees, we catch glimpses of our country's history and past daily life that no textbook could ever illuminate so vividly. Here you'll learn about everything from how a species was discovered to the part it played in our country's history. Pioneers often stabled an animal in the hollow heart of an old sycamore, and the whole family might live there until they could build a log cabin.

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The tuliptree, the tallest native hardwood, is easier to work than most softwood trees; Daniel Boone carved a sixty-foot canoe from one tree to carry his family from Kentucky into Spanish territory. In the days before the Revolution, the British and the colonists waged an undeclared war over New England's white pines, which made the best tall masts for fighting ships. It's fascinating to learn about the commercial uses of various woods -- for paper, fine furniture, fence posts, matchsticks, house framing, airplane wings, and dozens of other preplastic uses.

But we cannot read this book without the occasional lump in our throats. One in a series of reissued books that have been out of print for decades, by one of the most loved naturalists of all time. A Book of Hours contains twenty-four essays, one for each hour of the day, that seek to bridge the gap between definitive scientific philosophy and the beauty that Donald Culross Peattie envisioned in everyday life. The Boston Transcript referred to this collection as.

Search for:. Skip to content Free download. Book file PDF easily for everyone and every device. This Book have some digital formats such us :paperbook, ebook, kindle, epub, fb2 and another formats. After a fire dwindled, leaving half-burnt logs, men and oxen consolidated the fragments and reset the fire. It was, Beardsley remembered, "most dirty, smoky, disagreeable work. The fires generated heaps of hardwood ashes. In the fifth step, settlers gathered the potassium-rich hardwood ashes, either to scatter over the clearing as a fertilizer or, more commonly, to convey to the nearest merchant for sale to make potash.

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Indeed, by offering good prices for ashes, storekeepers invited settlers to accelerate their clearing and burning. James Wadsworth, a land speculator in western New York, explained:. An acre of hardwood land ordinarily yielded 60 to bushels of ashes; in a bushel was worth 6 pence at William Cooper's store in Cooperstown. A settler's son recalled that "ashes were silver and gold to the young or poor farmer. Potash-making was a process of applying increasing heat to extract the potassium salts that comprised about 5 percent of hardwood ashes.

Settlers brought bushels of ashes to a potashery and [] dumped them into a tapered, wooden hopper. The potash maker added water mixed with lime to begin the slow leaching process. Filtering slowly down through the hopper, the solution gradually dissolved the salts in the ashes and accumulated as a lye in troughs at the bottom.

The maker removed the lye for boiling in a large cast-iron kettle mounted on bricks. Bulky and expensive, the cast-iron kettle was the key implement in the production of potash. About an inch thick and forty-two to sixty inches in diameter, a potash kettle contained from to 1, pounds of metal, and had a capacity of 65 to 90 gallons.

An intense, hardwood fire heated the kettle, boiling off the water and leaving a dark, crude, crystalline residue of "black salts.


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The larger, better-capitalized makers further refined the potash by baking it in a kiln -- a process known as "pearling" -- to make "pearlash. Once the kettle or kiln had cooled, the maker tightly packed and sealed the potash or pearlash into barrels made of white-oak staves.

Wagons or sleighs bore the barrels to market in Albany, the great collection and transshipment point for the potash of upstate New York. Albany's merchants shipped the potash and pearlash down the Hudson to New York City's export merchants who gathered cargoes bound for Great Britain. During the later eighteenth century, the industrial revolution in Great Britain steadily increased the demand for potash as an alkali used to manufacture soap, saltpetre, dyes, glass, and some drugs. The especially dynamic textile industry needed potash to bleach linens, scour woolens, and print calicoes.

Responding to British demand, potash manufacture developed and boomed in the American northeast.

In Britain imported only ten tons of American potash: less than 1 percent of all the potash imported into Britain. After the interruption wrought by the American Revolution, Britain's demand for American potash continued to surge. In the United States shipped 7, tons to Britain 83 percent of imported potash. The combination of extensive hardwood forests, an unparalleled river system for internal transportation, and the best port in the new nation made New York state the preeminent potash producer in the union.


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In New York supplied almost half of the American potash exported to Britain. Otsego's trees fell and burned in ever growing numbers to supply Britain's swelling industrial demand for potash. Britain's industrial revolution, the rapid commercialization and urbanization of Albany and New York City, and the extensive development of the New York frontier were all interdependent, all linked through the potash trade. By applying fire to the hardwood forest, settlers purchased immediate advantage at the expense of the long-term fertility of the land.

By transforming trees into minerals with a cash value, settlers interrupted the circulation of energy and nutrients on their land. In a natural cycle, the trees would die, fall, and rot to enrich the topsoil with the humus that nourished living plants. By killing and burning the trees, settlers wasted much of the bio-mass which was degraded into the heat and smoke of the fires. Those settlers who kept the ashes to spread over the fields retained some of the organic nutrients to benefit their new crops of domesticated plants.

Indeed, they obtained a short-term windfall because the phosphorus and potassium in the ashes counteracted the natural acidity of the Otsego soil, enhancing crop growth for the first few years but, at a cost to the soil's durability.

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However, when settlers carted away their ashes for sale to make potash, they entirely sacrificed the fertilizing potential of their trees--and forsook a supply of future fencing, firewood, lumber, and tools. Although short-sighted from the perspective of the land and its plants, the strategy of turning trees into potash rather than fertilizer made sense to poor, transient settlers in debt for their lands. If their particular lot failed to bear up under sustained cropping and grazing, many settlers were prepared to pull up stakes and move on, confident that they could find another, better farm elsewhere on the frontier.

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In effect, potash production both derived from and perpetuated the rapid turnover of settlers and farms characteristic of the Yankee migration into and through upstate New York. As an ecological war-zone, the frontier farm was not a pretty sight. Basil Hall, a visitor to the New York frontier, found the settlers struggling to subdue a daunting mass of wood:.


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  4. Alexis de Tocqueville similarly described his impressions of a New York clearing: "Some trees cut down, trunks burnt and charred, and a few plants useful to the life of man sown in the midst of the confusion of a hundred shapes of debris, led us to the pioneer's dwelling. Although the fires consumed the smaller stumps and the roots near the surface, the larger stumps and deeper roots persisted, rendering plowing impossible for a few years.

    The clearings bristled with stumps, two-to-three feet high. After conducting their burn in their second May on the land, most settlers used hoes to turn up the exposed soil between the stumps. They made many small hills, three to four feet apart, planted with corn maize seeds in the middle and with pumpkins and beans on the side. This Indian mode of [] agriculture applied to virgin soil ordinarily provided an abundant first crop of forty bushels of corn and dozens of pumpkins per acre.

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    After harvesting the corn, pumpkins, and beans in September the settler harrowed his land, sowed grain usually winter wheat, sometimes rye , and followed with a second harrowing to bury the seed. The grain sprouted in the late fall, but remained dormant through the winter to mature during the following growing season. After about five or six years the roots had sufficiently rotted and loosed their grip for settlers to force an ox-drawn plough through the topsoil.

    A traveller in upstate New York saw "ploughs, always drawn by oxen, making their sturdy way amongst the stumps like a ship navigating through coral reefs, a difficult and tiresome operation. After about ten years, farmers could begin to pull the rotting stumps up and away with oxen and chains. To keep out deer and their own livestock, a settler fenced in his new grainfield, using the stakes and rails made from some of the dead trees.

    Settlers fenced in their crops, not their animals, who were left to roam and browse in the much larger, surrounding forest. Instead of investing the considerable labor to dig postholes settlers constructed zig-zag fences composed of stacked rails, braced at their junctures by stakes.

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    Each section of rails was fourteen feet long and stood eight rails, or about five-to-six-feet, high. These fences used massive quantities of wood, to the horror of visitors from deforested Europe; but their construction required much less labor than did posthole fences. Zig-zag fences made sense on the American frontier where wood abounded and labor was scarce. They had the additional benefit of being moveable; when a settler shifted his grain cultivation to a new field and let the old one lie fallow, he could readily disassemble, haul away, and reconstruct his fence.

    The grainfields also produced wheat straw and corn stalks and husks to feed their cattle, but too little. Until the settler could clear enough additional land to provide warm-weather pastures and meadows of hay to store and feed to the cattle through the winter, the livestock had to rely primarily on wild plants browsed from the forest. Bearing bells and an owner's mark cropped in their ears, cattle roamed through the hills, returning occasionally to the clearing's edge for salt put out by their master.

    In the warm months the cattle could largely fend for themselves, feeding heavily on wild leeks -- a widespread plant in the low, moist, shady grounds by creeks and hollows. Cows that consumed the leeks produced milk and butter that reeked of onion. Settlers were forced by necessity to consume the tainted milk and butter but they hated the stuff and considered its consumption one of the hardships of frontier life.

    In winter, when the low-lying plants died and lay under the snow-cover, settlers had to help their starving cattle by felling basswood, birch, and maple trees to bring their edible twigs and buds within reach. Prosperity required at least twenty acres of cleared land, equally subdivided into three components: grain tillage, hay fields, and pastures. At four acres a year, twenty acres was five years of work. But the settler could not then rest, for the first clearing steadily lost fertility from repeated annual grain crops because the settlers lacked sufficient manures and did not see the need to practice a rotation that alternated grains with nutrient-fixing clover.

    Instead, after about six or seven years of steady cropping for corn, wheat, and rye the settler had to let his original clearing lie fallow. A fallow field sprouted new brush for twenty years as it gradually recovered nu[]trients.