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Now, it is curious to reflect that, while every backwoodsman in America is occupying himself, as he thinks, solely for his own interest, in clearing his location, every tree—which, falling under his axe, admits a patch of sunshine to the earth—in an infinitesimal degree softens and ameliorates the climate of the vast continent around him; and yet, as the portion of cleared land in North America, compared with that which remains uncleared, has been said scarcely to exceed that which the seams of a coat bear to the whole garment, it is evident that, although the assiduity of the Anglo-Saxon race has no doubt affected the climate of North America, the axe is too weak an instrument to produce any important change.
But one of the most wonderful characteristics of Nature is the manner in which she often, unobservedly, produces great effects from causes so minute as to be almost invisible, and accordingly while the human race—so far as an alteration of climate is concerned—are labouring almost in vain, in the regions in question, swarms of little flies, strange as it may sound, are, and for many years have been, most materially altering the climate of the great continent of North America!
The manner in which they unconsciously perform this important duty is as follows:—
They sting, bite, and torment the wild animals to such a degree, that, especially in summer, the poor creatures, like those in Abyssinia, described by Bruce, become almost in a state of distraction, and to get rid of their assailants, wherever the forest happened to be on fire, they rushed to the smoke, instinctively knowing quite well that the flies would be unable to follow them there.
The wily Indian, observing these movements, shrewdly perceived that by setting fire to the forest the flies would drive to him his game, instead of his being obliged to trail in search of it; and the experiment having proved eminently successful, the Indians for many years have been, and still are, in the habit of burning tracts of wood so immense, that from very high and scientific authority I have been informed that the amount of land thus burned under the influence of the flies has exceeded many millions of acres, and that it has been, and still is, materially changing the climate of North America!
But besides the effect it is producing on the thermometer, it is simultaneously working out another great operation of Nature.
Although the game, to avoid the stings of their tiny assailants, come from distant regions to the smoke, and therein fall from the arrows and rifles of their human foes, yet this burning of the forest destroys the rabbits and small game, as well as the young of the larger game, and, therefore, just as brandy and whisky for a short time raise the spirits of the drunkard, but eventually leave him pale, melancholy, and dejected, so does this vicious, improvident mode of poaching game for a short time fatten, but eventually afflict with famine, all those who have engaged in it; and thus, for instance, the Beaver Indians, who forty years ago were a powerful and numerous tribe, are now reduced to less than one hundred men, who can scarcely find wild animals enough to keep themselves alive,—in short, the red population is diminishing in the same ratio as the destruction of the moose and wood buffalo, on which their forefathers had subsisted: and as every traveller, as well as trader, in those various regions confirms these statements, how wonderful is the dispensation of the Almighty, under which, by the simple agency of little flies, not only is the American Continent gradually undergoing a process which, with other causes, will assimilate its climate to that of Europe, but that the Indians themselves are clearing and preparing their own country for the reception of another race, who will hereafter gaze at the remains of the elk, the bear, and the beaver, .with the same feelings of astonishment with which similar vestiges are discovered in Europe — the monuments of a state of existence that has passed away!
In the mean while, however, the climate of North America forms the most remarkable feature in its physical character.
In Europe, Asia, and Africa, just as the old proverb says, "Tell me his company, and I '11 tell you the man;" so, if the latitude be given, the climate may with considerable accuracy be described; in fact, the distinction between hot climates and cold ones is little else but the difference between the distances of each from the equator or from the pole.
But in the continent of North America the climate, comparatively speaking, regardless of latitude, is both hot and cold; and thus, for instance, in Canada, while the summer is as roasting as the Mediterranean, and occasionally as broiling as the West Indies, the winter is that of the capitals of Norway and Sweden; indeed, the cold of the Canada winter must be felt to be imagined, and when felt can no more be described by words than colours to a blind man or music to a deaf one.
Even under bright sunshine, and in a most exhilarating air, the biting effect of the cold upon the portion of the face that is exposed to it resembles the application of a strong acid; and the healthy grin which the countenance assumes, requires—as I often observed on those who for many minutes had been in a warm room waiting to see me—a considerable time to relax.
In a calm almost any degree of cold is bearable, but the application of successive doses of it to the face, by wind, becomes occasionally almost intolerable; indeed I remember seeing the left cheeks of nearly twenty of our soldiers simultaneously frostbitten in marching about a hundred yards, across a bleak open space, completely exposed to a strong and bitterly cold north-west wind that was blowing upon us all.
The remedy for this intense cold, to which many Canadians and others have occasionally recourse, is—at least to my feelings it always appeared—infinitely worse than the disease. On entering, for instance, the small parlour of a little inn, a number of strong able-bodied fellows are discovered holding their hands a few inches before their faces, and sitting in silence immediately in front of a stove of such excruciating power, that it really feels as if it would roast the very eyes in their sockets, and yet, as one endures this agony, the back part is as cold as if it belonged to what is called at home "Old Father Christmas!"
Of late years English fireplaces have been introduced into many houses; and though mine at Toronto was warmed with hot air from a large oven, with fires in all our sitting-rooms, nevertheless the wood for my grate, piled close to the fire, often remained till night covered with the snow which was on it when first deposited there in the morning; and as a further instance of the climate, I may add that several times, while my mind was very warmly occupied in writing my despatches, I found my pen full of a lump of stuff that appeared to be honey, but which proved to be frozen ink; again, after washing in the morning, when I took up some money that had lain all night on my table, I at first fancied it had become sticky until I discovered that the sensation was caused by its freezing to my fingers, which in consequence of my ablutions were not perfectly dry.
Notwithstanding however this intensity of cold, the powerful circulation of the blood of large quadrupeds, like the movement of the waters in the great lakes, keeps the red fluid from freezing; but