Tuesday, August 20, 2013
LOTOS-LAND – PART III
Then the ocean-seeking stream emerges upon a hilly bench sloping roughly toward the plain, and covered with red metalliferous earth, blushingly conscious of its embosomed treasures. Here along this western base of the Sierra, from Siskiyou to San Diego, stretches the famous gold belt of California, with its thousands of dead streams, soon to be flooded by currents of human toilers inflowing from every corner of a tributary world. A general dryness characterizes this region^ as if nature, exhausted in her mightier efforts above, paused before entering upon the more delicate tracery of the valley. Rising duskily from the plain, and fringing the background wall of dark green firs with golden-berried manzanita and polished madrono, with antlered maple and dogwood, the Sierra foothills present their own peculiar aspect. Their rusty vegetation and dull gray undergrowth, their groves of dwarfed pine trimmed with large broad-spreading oak, accord well with the scorched soil and lurid, coppery tone. Even air and sky seem significant of the metallurgical processes which have here been going on since time began.
Much of the barrenness is due to the age of frost, which in the building of the Sierra succeeded the age of fire. Slowly creeping down the mountain, its monster glaciers forced their way through earth and solid rock, and ribbed the western slope from top to bottom, at intervals of twenty or thirty miles, with eroded canons and serpentine chasms. Lesser furrows were ploughed between, and thus the Sierra's base was sculptured into a maze of foothills. Then there was the widening process by the rains of winter and the melted snow of summer, which came in rushing brooks and vaulting torrents, freighted with earth and rock and gold, heaping up the old moraine, and making ready for the grand carnival.
A little farther and the streams enter the level plain, gliding dreamily past old and festooned oaks along the grassy banks, finally to merge and enter all together into the great receptacle. The course of the two main rivers differs more than that of the tributaries. The San Joaquin, rising in a vast expanse of morass centring round Tulare Lake, flows through marshy soil, somewhat turbid, yet still free from the yellow tinge that after 1848 testified to the disembowelling alonog the eastern base. The Sacramento runs for a long distance in the midst of striking mountain scenery ere it enters the broad plain to expand between the fenny banks.
The space enclosed by the two ranges is characterized by grand beauty of topography, of uneven harmony, and uniform irregularities of surface. For hundreds of miles the great central plain, fertile as the valley of the Nile, extends flat as a prairie and almost wdthout a break, swaying from side to side, narrowing between the low red hills and bolder headlands thrown out from either range : then widening so as to embrace the ever-moving landscapes, the rusty ridges and fluviatile ravines, and clusters of piquant, saucy hills and circular glens. Mark its meandering watercourses winding round the green-enamelled glacis, and creeping with gentle murmurs through the tules, or round solitary buttes, with crests wreathed in soft silvery cloudmantles, which rise abruptly from a plain carpeted with long, wavy grass ! It sweeps round the arena, rising here and there in long undulations, and throwing itself in angry waves upon the base of the Sierra, and finally breaks into a chain of open plains whose links are formed by forest-clad promontories, which sometimes extend half-way across the valley, and cut it into transverse sections of successive ridges and intervening glades, their sides fretted with rivulets and flashing cascades winding in successive leaps and rests down to a base garnished with blazing yellow and purple flowers, and expanding into smiling vales, like isle-dotted estuaries of the ocean. The Coast Range with its series of ranges is full of these long valleys, running parallel with the coast, some exposed to the winds and fogs of the ocean, others so sheltered as to enjoy an almost tropical climate. All of them may be classed among the loveliest spots of earth, our lotos-land still remaining apart, unapproachable.
Round the whole circumference of the valley of California, clustered like a great diamond set in a circle of diamonds, this system of minor valleys extends, intricate and confusing at the northern end, but more simple toward the south. Most of the smaller ones are oblong in shape, and have a level surface. Far up the sides of the Sierra, even, hundreds of them are found, wellwatered, fertile, and exceedingly beautiful. The soil in the great valley consists chiefly of rich, deep loam, covered in places by beds of drift. At the northern end, where the plain rises and blends with the foothills, the surface is red and gravelly ; but southward, and throughout almost the entire area of the great and small valleys, for purposes of agriculture the soil exceeds in richness the most favored districts of France, Italy, or the Rhine.
Much is idyllic, park-like land, with natural meadows arabesque with tawny wild-oat fields, patches of blossoming pea, and golden mustard beds sown and husbanded by nature, and interspersed with indigenous vineyards, fruit thickets, and fairy flower-gardens laid out in exquisite pattern, stars and crosses and chaplets of yellow, purple, white, and red; all variegated with scraggy, scattering oaks, clustering groves, and clumps of undergrowth, freckled by the shadows of floating clouds, and lighted by trembling lakes and lakelets, shining tule lagoons, a ad rivers which now race through the canons like frightened herds, then with muffled feet roam the low-lying Lombardy plains; canopies of glistening foliage flushed with misty sunshine, with branches densely matted into a smooth, continuous belt of russet gold and green. Warm, sensuous life is filling lowland, lawn, and meadow, and fringing the foothills which here and there crop out in little zones of timbered land, crowned by beech and birch, ash, myrtle, and laurel, or garlanding with tulips and wild onion, flax and prickly chaparral, the smooth-browed hills that rise from these seas of verdure.
The foggy district, or seaward side of the northern section of the Coast Range, is clad in majestic forests of redwood, which overspread its sides like the shadow of the Eternal ; while the southern section, and inner ridges and valleys of the range, are smooth and bare, and dotted at intervals with orchard-like oak gatherings, groves of stately arbutus, azalea, and royal laurel, and red hills covered with maple, hazel, berrybearing bushes, red-stalked, glistening manzanita, subdued pines of balsamic odor, and tangled solitudes of annual and perennial plants and sweet-smelling shrubs, mustard plains, heather wastes, and meadows, all drinking in the morning vapors. Trailing through the valleys are long lines of sycamore, garnished with mistletoe, and on every side lakelets of blue lupine, golden buttercups, fleurs-de-lis, white lilies, and dainty hare-bells, tessallated beds of purple larkspur and thistle-blossoms, white and variegated convallaria and wild honeysuckles woven in fairy network, cryptogamousand delicate ferns, and over all presiding venerable oaks, bearded with long flowing moss of silvergray. The madrono, with its smooth bronze trunk and curling bark, its blood-red branches and varnished, waxen leaves, fit garniture for a murderer's grave, is at Monterey a stately tree, but northward dwindle i to a shrub. Here, also, nature spreads her green carpet in autumn and takes it up in summer.
The animal kingdom is no less profuse. Pelican and sea-gull fish together m the bays; seals and sealions bask and bark upon the islands of the shore; myriads of noisy wild fowl fill the lakes and tulemarshes ; the streams and ocean swarm with salmon, trout and cod and herring; lions, panthers, and the great grizzly bear roam the forests, preying upon elk and deer; hares and rabbits fill the underbrush; coyotes howl upon the hillside at night, and by day sneak around the edges of watercourses; the plains are perforated by ground-squirrels; and larks, robins, and tufted quail make the luxuriant wild oats their covert.
Here birds and. beasts may rest content and never migrate, their little journeys between valley and mountain being scarcely more than an afternoon's ramble. Piping on the tangled hillside is heard the soft note of the curlew, likewise the rustling of the pheasant, the chirrup of the blackbird, the whistling of the partridge, and the sweet songs of the robin and meadowlark. Even the prudent bee, careless for the future, sometimes leaves neglected the honey-bearing flowers and fails to lay in a winter's store. To elk and antelope, deer and bear, hill and plain, scorched by summer sun or freshened by winter rains, are one; bounteous nature brings forth the tender verdure, cures the grass, and provides the acorns. Here is no frozen winter, and before the white man came to stir the ground, no damp, malarious summer; cool, invigorating nights succeed the warmest days. Ice and snow, banished hence, sit cold and stolid on distant peaks, staring back into the face of the sun his impotent rays, and throwing its eternal glare over the perspiring earth and back to mother ocean.