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WE rumbled over the plains and valleys, climbed the
Sierras to the clouds, and looked down upon summer-clad
California. And I will remark here, in passing, that all
scenery in California requires distance to give it its highest
charm. The mountains are imposing in their sublimity and
their majesty of form and altitude, from any point of view—
but one must have distance to soften their ruggedness and enrich
their tintings; a California forest is best at a little distance,
for there is a sad poverty of variety in species, the trees
being chiefly of one monotonous family—redwood, pine, spruce,
fir—and so, at a near view there is a wearisome sameness of
attitude in their rigid arms, stretched downward and outward
in one continued and reiterated appeal to all men to “Sh!—
don't say a word!—you might disturb somebody!” Close at
hand, too, there is a reliefless and relentless smell of pitch and
turpentine; there is a ceaseless melancholy in their sighing
and complaining foliage; one walks over a soundless carpet of
beaten yellow bark and dead spines of the foliage till he feels
like a wandering spirit bereft of a footfall; he tires of the endless
tufts of needles and yearns for substantial, shapely leaves;
he looks for moss and grass to loll upon, and finds none, for
where there is no bark there is naked clay and dirt, enemies
to pensive musing and clean apparel. Often a grassy plain
in California, is what it should be, but often, too, it is best
contemplated at a distance, because although its grass blades
are tall, they stand up vindictively straight and self-sufficient,
and are unsociably wide apart, with uncomely spots of barren
sand between.

One of the queerest things I know of, is to hear tourists


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from “the States” go into ecstasies over the loveliness of
“ever-blooming California.” And they always do go into that
sort of ecstasies. But perhaps they would modify them if they
knew how old California, with the memory full upon them
of the dust-covered and questionable summer greens of Californian
stand astonished, and
filled with worshipping
admiration,in the
presence of the lavish
richness, the brilliant
green, the infinite
freshness, the spend-thrift
variety of form
and species and foliage
that make an
Eastern landscape a
vision of Paradise itself.
The idea of a
man falling into raptures
over grave and
sombre California,
when that man has
seen New England's meadow-expanses and her maples, oaks
and cathedral-windowed elms decked in summer attire, or the
opaline splendors of autumn descending upon her forests, comes
very near being funny—would be, in fact, but that it is so
pathetic. No land with an unvarying climate can be very
beautiful. The tropics are not, for all the sentiment that is
wasted on them. They seem beautiful at first, but sameness
impairs the charm by and by. Change is the handmaiden
Nature requires to do her miracles with. The land that has
four well-defined seasons, cannot lack beauty, or pall with
monotony. Each season brings a world of enjoyment and
interest in the watching of its unfolding, its gradual, harmonious
development, its culminating graces—and just as one
begins to tire of it, it passes away and a radical change comes,
with new witcheries and new glories in its train. And I think


Page 410
that to one in sympathy with nature, each season, in its turn,
seems the loveliest.

San Francisco, a truly fascinating city to live in, is
stately and handsome at a fair distance, but close at hand
one notes that the architecture is mostly old-fashioned, many
streets are made up of decaying, smoke-grimed, wooden
houses, and the barren sand-hills toward the outskirts obtrude
themselves too prominently. Even the kindly climate is sometimes
pleasanter when read about than personally experienced,
for a lovely, cloudless sky wears out its welcome by and by,
and then when the longed for rain does come it stays. Even
the playful earthquake is better contemplated at a dis—

However there are varying opinions about that.

The climate of San Francisco is mild and singularly
equable. The thermometer stands at about seventy degrees
the year round. It hardly changes at all. You sleep under
one or two light blankets Summer and Winter, and never use
a mosquito bar. Nobody ever wears Summer clothing. You
wear black broadcloth—if you have it—in August and January,
just the same. It is no colder, and no warmer, in the one
month than the other. You do not use overcoats and you do
not use fans. It is as pleasant a climate as could well be contrived,
take it all around, and is doubtless the most unvarying
in the whole world. The wind blows there a good deal in the


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Summer months, but then you can go over to Oakland, if you
choose—three or four miles away—it does not blow there.
It has only snowed twice in San Francisco in nineteen years,
and then it only remained on the ground long enough to
astonish the children, and set them to wondering what the
feathery stuff was.

During eight months of the year, straight along, the skies
are bright and cloudless, and never a drop of rain falls. But
when the other four months come along, you will need to go
and steal an umbrella. Because you will require it. Not just
one day, but one hundred and twenty days in hardly varying
succession. When you want to go visiting, or attend church,
or the theatre, you never look up at the clouds to see whether
it is likely to rain or not—you look at the almanac. If it is
Winter, it will rain—and if it is Summer, it won't rain, and
you cannot help it. You never need a lightning-rod, because
it never thunders and it never lightens. And after you have
listened for six or eight weeks, every night, to the dismal
monotony of those quiet rains, you will wish in your heart the
thunder would leap and crash and roar along those drowsy
skies once, and make everything alive—you will wish the
prisoned lightnings would cleave the dull firmament asunder
and light it with a blinding glare for one little instant. You
would give anything to hear the old familiar thunder again
and see the lightning strike somebody. And along in the
Summer, when you have suffered about four months of
lustrous, pitiless sunshine, you are ready to go down on your
knees and plead for rain—hail—snow—thunder and lightning
—anything to break the monotony—you will take an earthquake,
if you cannot do any better. And the chances are
that you'll get it, too.

San Francisco is built on sand hills, but they are prolific
sand hills. They yield a generous vegetation. All the rare
flowers which people in “the States” rear with such patient
care in parlor flower-pots and green-houses, flourish luxuriantly
in the open air there all the year round. Calla lilies, all
sorts of geraniums, passion flowers, moss roses—I do not know
the names of a tenth part of them. I only know that while


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New Yorkers are burdened with banks and drifts of snow,
Californians are burdened with banks and drifts of flowers, if
they only keep their hands off and let them grow. And I
have heard that they have also that rarest and most curious of
all the flowers, the beautiful Espiritu Santo, as the Spaniards
call it—or flower of the Holy Spirit—though I thought it
grew only in Central America—down on the Isthmus. In its
cup is the daintiest little fac-simile of a dove, as pure as snow.
The Spaniards have a superstitious reverence for it. The
blossom has been conveyed to the States, submerged in ether;
and the bulb has been taken thither also, but every attempt to
make it bloom after it arrived, has failed.

I have elsewhere spoken of the endless Winter of Mono,
California, and but this moment of the eternal Spring of San
Francisco. Now if we travel a hundred miles in a straight
line, we come to the eternal Summer of Sacramento. One
never sees Summer-clothing or mosquitoes in San Francisco—
but they can be found in Sacramento. Not always and
unvaryingly, but about one hundred and forty-three months
out of twelve years, perhaps. Flowers bloom there, always,
the reader can easily believe—people suffer and sweat, and
swear, morning, noon and night, and wear out their stanchest
energies fanning themselves. It gets hot there, but if you go
down to Fort Yuma you will find it hotter. Fort Yuma is
probably the hottest place on earth. The thermometer stays at
one hundred and twenty in the shade there all the time—except
when it varies and goes higher. It is a U. S. military post,
and its occupants get so used to the terrific heat that they
suffer without it. There is a tradition (attributed to John
Phenix[1]) that a very, very wicked soldier died there, once, and
of course, went straight to the hottest corner of perdition,—and
the next day he telegraphed back for his blankets. There is
no doubt about the truth of this statement—there can be no
doubt about it. I have seen the place where that soldier used
to board. In Sacramento it is fiery Summer always, and you
can gather roses, and eat strawberries and ice-cream, and wear


Page 413


[Description: 504EAF. Page 413. In-line image of a leisurely man who is hot, and another man in winter clothing.]
white linen clothes, and pant and perspire, at eight or nine
o'clock in the morning, and then take the cars, and at noon
put on your furs and your skates, and go skimming over frozen
Donner Lake, seven thousand feet above the valley, among
snow banks fifteen feet deep, and in the shadow of grand
mountain peaks that lift their frosty crags ten thousand feet
above the level of the sea. There is a transition for you!
Where will you find another like it in the Western hemisphere?
And some of us have swept around snow-walled
curves of the Pacific Railroad in that vicinity, six thousand
feet above the sea, and looked down as the birds do, upon the
deathless Summer of the Sacramento Valley, with its fruitful
fields, its feathery foliage, its silver streams, all slumbering in
the mellow haze of its enchanted atmosphere, and all infinitely
softened and spiritualized by distance—a dreamy, exquisite
glimpse of fairyland, made all the more charming and striking
that it was caught through a forbidden gateway of ice and
snow, and savage crags and precipices.


It has been purloined by fifty different scribblers who were too poor to
invent a fancy but not ashamed to steal one.—M. T.