When Lincoln Was a Boy
FEBRUARY 01, 1957 by SAMUEL B. PETTENGILL
Mr. Pettengill, noted attorney and author, was formerly a congressman from
Have you ever been alone at night in primeval wilderness? There are not many places now where virgin timber stands untouched by ax or saw.
One such place is
Toward I went in the woods alone far from sight or sound of the nearest human being. A huge harvest moon in a cloudless sky sent long pencils of light down through the foliage of the forest. The gigantic tulip trees and sycamores stood in a hush of attention as if listening for the remotest whisper from earth or sky. They reached almost as high as an eight-story building before sending off their lowest branches. The massive trunks, glistening in the moonlight, seemed like the columns of some temple of the Egyptians where men worshipped forty centuries ago.
A curious sensation came over me. I felt my utter insignificance — the merest speck in space, and yet, with that feeling of littleness, another quite different. It seemed that I could reach up past that leafy ceiling to the quiet stars; that I could reach down through the cool earth to the roots of those titans of the forest as they sought and found the sap of their sustenance.
The patience of the stars, the calmness of the sleeping earth, the massive strength of those mighty trees, the clean tang of the air, — all these entered through some window I did not know I had. I hope you have all felt these things, if only once in a lifetime.
And then, as I stood there, I thought of
The friendliness of trees! We have lost something in this age of brick and steel and concrete. Not so in 1816. Trees made the flat boat that gave safe passage across the
Trees were friendly things.
"Such were a few of the many, many things the moon might have told little Abe Lincoln, going on eight, on a winter night on Little Pigeon Creek, in the Buckhorn Valley in Southern Indiana — a high quarter-moon with a white shine of thin frost on the long open spaces of the sky." You will find this in Carl Sandburg’s "Prairie Years."
And then I thought of how little schooling the world has said Lincoln had — little Abe and Sister Sally tramping hand in hand over rough trails to school — four miles and back — eight miles a day. Not much schooling there for two little children.
But suddenly I felt less sorry for Abraham Lincoln. Everywhere he went were the trees of the primeval forest—tulips, sycamores, oaks, elms, maples, beeches, walnuts. Everywhere that sense of peace, that feeling of being close to God. And I knew then that the statement in the books that Lincoln had little schooling was false, that he was at school many and many an hour when the boy of today is teacherless, learning the patience and the strength and the toughness and tenderness of trees, a lesson from the great Book of Life that never needs revision.
I understood better then the saying of the pioneers: "The cowards never started and the weak never arrived." I understood the Rail Splitter better and