Page:A book of the Pyrenees.djvu/15

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fertile vales, luxuriant meadows and forests, and valleys and hillsides that sparkle with villages smiling in prosperity. But on the southern slope the eye ranges over barren rocks, sunbaked, scanty pastures, and here and there at long intervals occur squalid clusters of stone hovels, scarce fit to shelter goats, yet serving as human habitations.

To the mountaineers the French side is bach, that in shadow; the Spanish is soulane, the sunny. At one time this latter slope was not as arid and desert as at present, but the thriftlessness of man has shorn down the forests and the teeth of the goats have nipped off or barked every seedling or sapling thrown up by nature to cover its nakedness and redress the evil. Thereby the rainfall has been diminished, and the soil is exposed to be carried away into the plain by every storm that breaks over the heights.[1] Trees are the patient workers that reconstitute the flesh over the bones of the mountains. They derive their elements from the air and the rock, and they perform transformations far more wonderful than those attributed to the philosopher's stone. As Victor Hugo sang:—

"Les arbres sont autant de mâchoires qui rongent
Les aliments épars dans l'air souple et vivant;
Ils dévorent la pluie, ils dévorent le vent.
Tout leur est bon: la nuit, la mort. La pourriture
Voit la rose, et lui va porter sa nourriture."

When the trees disappear from a country it shows the thriftlessness of the inhabitants—"sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof"; with the axe and the firebrand they destroy in a day what it will take centuries to replace.

Two non-French races occupy the extremities of the chain and the lowlands at its feet. In the Basses Pyrénées are

  1. É. Reclus: Géographie universelle, II. "La France."