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EASY LIFE IN THE VALLEY—INDIAN NAMES—MINERS’ NAMES—PLANTS AND FLOWERS—HURRIED TRAVELLERS—GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!—SUNDAY SERVICES.
Barnard’s Hotel, 22d May.
You can scarcely realise how strange it feels to go on writing to you, when never an answering word comes back. And I cannot possibly get a letter for a month to come! I see every one else rush to the post-office when the mail-bags are opened; but as I know there can be none for me, I escape that excitement.
After a long spell of fine weather, we have had three real rainy days, greatly to the misery of the tourists. I suppose the rain has accelerated the melting of the snows, for the Yō-semitÚ and Merced, which were in flood a week ago, have now passed all bounds, and the latter has washed away the strong carriage-bridge just above this house. All the flat parts of the valley are under water, so that there are broad mirror-lakes in every direction—and most lovely they are. These, with the temporary spring falls, add greatly to the beauty of this grand spot, which certainly is the veriest paradise that artist ever dreamt of. No need to go in search of subjects, for they meet you at every turn, and you long for many hands and eyes and minds, to work a dozen sketches at a time!
Here, as I sit in my own cosy little room, I look right down into the clear peaceful river Merced, which here glides along almost imperceptibly, while an upward glance, through a frame of pines and most fragrant poplars, reveals the exquisite Yō-semitÚ Falls, whose waters join the Merced a little below this reach. So at all times and seasons I can watch this most fascinating of shaggy “Grizzly Bears” (such is the meaning of its name)—the ghost of a bear surely, for it is often an ethereal floating thing.
In strong gales the wind carries the whole body of water high in air like a snowstorm or a white dust-storm, and sprinkles the mountain-summits; and at all times the spray flies like clouds of glittering dust, as if the granite walls were powdered by constant friction.
In a direct line the falls are only about a quarter of a mile from here, and sometimes their noise is like the roar of distant thunder; then it comes softened and subdued. It is not quite continuous, but seems to pulsate at short regular intervals—a throbbing sound, as if the waters fell in successive leaps.
Sometimes the music of the waters sounds to me like the tremulous tones of some melodious harp—each vibration of the mighty strings heard separately in everlasting cadence; at other times, varying with the direction of the breeze, only a low musical murmur reaches me like the humming of a bustling busy bee. Then perhaps a rattle, as if of musketry, suggests the crash of loosened fragments of rock—though the sound is often produced by the mere concussion of air and water. To the same concussion is due the quivering and trembling of the ground, of which you are conscious when standing close to the falls, as though the very earth were overawed by the might of the rushing waters.
Like a true worshipper, I like to keep as much as possible within sight of this vision of beauty; so at meals I always occupy the same corner of the same table, next a window which commands a capital view both of it and of the quiet river. So, although “men may come and men may go,” I retain undisputed possession of this pet corner.
I observe that all dwellers in the valley become its faithful worshippers. They speak of it reverently, with a personal love; and, like the Indians, more than half believe in spirits of winds and waters, mountains and forest.
I am not likely to prove an exception, as I have made all my arrangements to stay here for a couple of months longer. Already I feel quite at home in my granite prison, and love its walls and every corner within them, each day revealing new beauties and interests, and of course I have made friends with all the inhabitants.
Mr David remained here three weeks, and proved an invaluable escort—always ready for everything, never confessing to being tired, even when burdened with my heavy sketching-gear, which he sometimes carried for miles over most difficult ground. And then, when I had found the best point to draw from, he would leave me to work, while he explored the tops of a few neighbouring mountains in search of fresh subjects, returning in time to bring me safely back here to dinner. Thanks to this systematic method of exploring, I know my ground fairly well, and can now moon about at my leisure, and work out studies already begun.
To me half the charm of this place is, that though there are now a great number of people in the valley—including some who are very pleasant—there is not the slightest occasion ever to see any one, except at meals; and then only supposing you happen to come in at orthodox hours, which is quite voluntary.
Speaking of meals and accommodation, it is very amusing to hear the comments of some of the rich Americans, whose ideas of hotels are all of palaces, and who had not realised that the end of their journey to the wilderness would land them in so simple a place as this. To me the wonder is, how well so large an influx of visitors is provided for.
Though there is nothing fine, there is always abundance of good wholesome food—beef and mutton, milk and butter, fresh vegetables, and excellent bread—all the produce of the valley; besides all manner of good things imported from the plains—“canned” fruits and so forth. A standing dish is so-called green corn (which is yellow maize canned in its youth). It is de rŔgle here for each person to have a separate little plate for each kind of vegetable, so that each large plate is encircled by a necklace of little ones.
I am told that the pastry is capital; but I eschew it, not liking the Chinese cook’s method of preparing it! I know he makes the bread in the same way, but I have to forget that! In case you are not “up” in this pleasant topic, I may tell you that a Chinese baker or washerman has one unvarying method of damping his bread or his linen. He keeps a bowl of water beside him, and with his long thin lips draws up a mouthful, which he then spurts forth in a cloud of the finest spray. Having thus damped the surface evenly, and quite to his own satisfaction, he proceeds to roll his pastry or iron his table-cloth to that of all beholders. It does not do in this world to pry too carefully into antecedents. Results are the main point!
Some folk are so prejudiced, that they dislike John Chinaman’s method of getting up snowy linen, and are content to pay a far higher price to have their washing done by any other race; so that a family of half-caste Spanish washerwomen who have settled here make a very good thing of it.
Bar this peculiarity, there is much to be said in favour of servants who are always ready, always obliging, at work early and late, and always trig and tidy, their hair as smooth as their calm faces, their clothes spotless.
The servants here are a scratch team of various nations. You would wonder how so few can get through the work, till you see how much people in this country do for themselves. For instance, to obtain such a superfluity as hot water at bedtime, I must go to the main house, find a candle in one place and a jug in another, and draw for myself from the kitchen boiler. It is all very primitive, but far more to my taste than a “Palace Hotel” would be. You see so much more of life and character.
This morning I sympathetically asked the housemaid, who was rapidly making the beds, whether she didn’t find the sudden rush of work rather severe. “Oh no!” she answered. “You see, there is the Italian gentleman, who helps me with the slops!” Every one is “a gentleman” in this country—though, so far as I can judge, it strikes me that the much-vaunted equality of all men consists in the inferiors deeming themselves equal to their superiors, who by no means tolerate the assumption!
There are a great many people in the valley now, of all sorts and kinds, but all are in their happiest holiday frame of mind. Good temper must be infectious, for no one ever seems put out about anything, and every one exchanges kindly greetings, in the most easy unstiff manner. Any one who keeps entirely aloof is either set down as an Englishman, or is said to be “putting on frills.” My own speech is rapidly becoming seasoned with new phrases. I am convinced that when I come home I shall talk of shotguns and scatter-guns as distinguished from rifles, and shall call the retrievers “smell-dogs,” and ask my friends if they are going out for a day’s gunning, or to hunt grouse? And I know I shall always say “how?” instead of “what?” and bid you “hurry up,” and startle you by many other newly acquired expressions: “Why! certainly; you bet!!” But on one point I stand firm: I will never call fireflies “lightning-bugs”! nor bees “sting-bugs”!
One thing I really cannot attain to, is the invariable custom of addressing one another as “Ma’am” and “Sir.” I know they think me very ill-bred, but there are limits beyond which assimilation cannot go. I try to excuse myself on the plea that we reserve such honour for royalties, but I doubt if the excuse is considered valid; and yet I have no doubt that this is another instance in which the practice of our great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers has been handed down unchanged to their descendants, and that this is really a relic of the studied courtesies of the last century. But numerous so-called Americanisms are simply old English phrases, which were in common use in the days of Queen Elizabeth: such are “to be mad,” in the sense of being angry; “to be sick,” as used to describe any illness; and “clever,” to describe good-nature.
What we consider the peculiarly American use of the word “guess” is sanctioned by no less authorities than Chaucer, Locke, Milton, Spenser, and Shakespeare. The latter is quoted as the authority not only for the frequent use of “guess” in this sense, but also for that of the much-criticised American expletive “well”—as, for instance, in Richard III., act iv. scene 4, where King Richard replies to Stanley in what we should call pure Yankee phraseology—
“Well, as you guess?”
But strangest of all is it to learn that even the verb to skedaddle is our own by birthright—a heritage from our Scandinavian ancestors. And while Sweden retains the original word skuddadahl, and Denmark the kindred skyededehl, the milkmaids of Ayrshire and Dumfries still use the word in its old meaning— e.g., “You are skedaddling all your milk.” The word is to be heard in various other counties, and is even to be found in an old Irish version of the New Testament, which runs thus,—“I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be ‘sgedad-ol.’”
In the same way, our American cousins commonly use the old Saxon termination in such words as “gotten” and “waxen,” which we only retain in the Bible, or in some of the most primitive of our rural districts—as, for instance, on the Northumbrian coast, where I well remember a fisher-wife greeting me, after an interval of some years, with the exclamation, “Eh! but ye are sair waxen,” thereby implying that I was much grown. And in Scotland, “Hae ye gotten ony?” is the popular equivalent for “Have you got any?”
Very strange to English ears is the application of the word “lunch,” which here describes any irregular meal, whether eaten at daybreak or at midnight. On our way here we halted for “lunch” at 7 p.m. A man was carving some horribly underdone beef, and asked me whether I liked it “rare.” I supposed he meant “raw,” but I find that this is the correct term here. On referring to Johnson’s Dictionary I find that “rare” does mean “raw,” and that “lunch” is defined as “a handful of food”!
But on the other hand, this admirable conservatism does not extend to modern language, and some of our commonest colloquial phrases, here convey a totally different meaning to that which we intend to express, or should wish to utter—a point on which I was warned by an English lady long resident in the country. Thus the ignorant Briton who confesses to fatigue, in the ordinary schoolboy phraseology of “being quite knocked up,” can scarcely fail to perceive, by the awkward pause that ensues, and by the scared faces of all within earshot, that this commonly accepted vulgarism, is here considered quite inadmissible.
Then, again, there are various words not recognised by Dr Johnson, which, though in use in the New World as well as in the Old, express wholly different ideas. Thus, the sense of failure conveyed to the ear of an English schoolboy by the expression “having bossed his work,” or of a sportsman having made a “boss” shot, would be the last thought suggested in a country where to be “boss” is to be master and superior.
But apart from phrases bordering on slang, many simple adjectives convey very different ideas to what they do in England. Here, to say a person is “homely” is no praise—it implies personal ugliness; while to say he is “ugly” means that he is in a bad temper; and the most hideous woman may be described as “lovely” to express mental charms. Then, again, “cunning” conveys no fox-like sneaking; on the contrary, it is high praise. It may be applied to a pretty bonnet, or any other attractive object; while to speak of a cunning little child does not even imply the much-esteemed sharpness, but just that it is a winsome child—the very last idea which the word would convey to English ears. And yet our grandparents described skilful workmen as cunning craftsmen.
The same distinction is to be observed with respect to various objects. Thus, supposing you ask for a biscuit, you will be supplied with a hot roll, and will then learn that you should have asked for a cracker. The hungry American who calls for crackers at an English restaurant must feel somewhat aggrieved at being supplied with jocular sugar-plums!
So it is, if you enter a draper’s “store” intending to purchase muslins, calicoes, or cottons, you find that each name means one of the others, and the shopkeepers look as if they thought you an ignoramus. Your tailor would likewise be much perplexed should you order a waistcoat instead of calling it a vest, or, per contra, “a vest” when you require a flannel waistcoast.
The frequent use of the word “elegant,” as applied to such objects as the moon or its light, is also somewhat startling to the unaccustomed ear—especially when preceded by the word “real.” Imagine these majestic waterfalls, half revealed by the pale spiritual moonbeams, being described as “real elegant”!
Speaking of loyally adhering to the practice of one’s ancestors, I have just had the pleasure of making acquaintance with a New England family who have done so faithfully. We have often noticed the talent possessed by the great family of Smith for devising distinctive prefixes, from the days of the Diphthong Smiths (the Ăsops, the Ăneas, the Ăgon, the Ăthon, and all the other Smiths) onwards. But here my attention was riveted by a prefix altogether new to me—namely, the Preserved Smith.1
[1Should these pages ever chance to come under the notice of any member of this family, I am sure they will forgive my quoting this singular and interesting origin of the name they bear.]
Feeling convinced that the name must have reference to some event of interest, I took an opportunity of making friends with the mother of the family (a pleasant lady, with pretty silvery hair), and asked her its origin. She told me that about four generations back, a stanch Puritan, of the name of Smith, came out from England with his wife. They had a fearfully tempestuous voyage, and were much knocked about, and in great peril. The exposure and danger to which they were subjected were such as to make it a matter of unusual congratulation when, soon after their landing in New England, a son was born, to whom, in memory of what seemed their almost miraculous preservation, they gave the name of “Preserved”; and this very characteristic title has ever since been transmitted from father to son! The wife and mother of the present owners of the name gave me most interesting accounts of those olden days.
I have several times been very much amused by listening to the general conversation in the public sitting-room or the open verandah. One day recently it turned on the divorce laws of the United States, which certainly must rank among the legal curiosities of the world. Each State has its own particular law, quite irrespective of that of its next neighbour. Thus a man who has divorced several wives in succession in one State, and considers himself a gay bachelor, may, on moving into another, be followed by all the wives, and find himself, in American phrase, “very much married”! So diverse are the marriage laws, that, without ever leaving the Eastern States, a couple travelling from north to south (say from Maine to Louisiana, which they might do in thirty hours) would pass through twelve States, in each of which they would be subject to distinct and very different laws.
In some States fourteen separate causes are recognised, any one of which is sufficient ground for divorce. The Tennessee law courts grant a divorce to any man who chooses to settle there, and whose wife objects to accompany him; while in Indiana the power of the judge is practically unlimited, as he can grant a divorce in any case in which he considers the petition “reasonable and proper.” But the climax of judicial authority was attained by a judge in Missouri, who brought his domestic troubles for trial at his own bar, and formally sat in judgment on his own suit. Having satisfactorily proved that his wife had been in “the mad dumps silently, for three days,” he ruled in his own favour, and pronounced his own divorce to his entire satisfaction!!
After a morning of heavy rain, the sky suddenly brightened, and I joined a party to drive to the Bridal Veil Falls, at the entrance to the valley. They are now a grand sight; but indeed the whole expedition was beautiful. The atmosphere seemed even clearer than is its wont, the brilliant sunlight casting sharp shadows, and bringing out the rich colouring of the spring verdure. Now all the trees are bursting into leaf; each willow is a misty cloud of delicate young foliage, and the showers of white down from the cotton-wood are wafted by every breath of air, like feathery snow-flakes.
But the green meadows have vanished, and in their place lies a tranquil lake, calm and still, reflecting the clumps of dark pine and oak. The ordinary course of the river is only to be traced by the fringe of alders, willows, and poplars, cotton-wood, and balm of Gilead, which love its banks.
There are waterfalls in all directions. Down every steep ravine they come, flashing in brightness—clouds of white vapour, and rockets that seem to fall from heaven. All the water-nymphs are keeping holiday, and a thousand rainbows tremble on the columns of sparkling spray which flash in and out among the tall pines—such fine spray, that as you pass near, it soaks you unawares. These extempore falls merely flow across the main road in sparkling rills and rivulets; but the regular falls form roaring, foaming torrents, through which, even at the fords, horses have considerable difficulty in passing, and the heavily laden coaches cause their drivers some anxious moments when the waters are rushing with more than their wonted force.
Loveliest of all the temporary falls is that which is now playing round the summit of El Capitan—an ethereal foam-cloud, which is caught up by the wind, and borne aloft high in mid-air, a filmy veil of the finest mist, white as steam, floating above the grim rock.
On the opposite side of the valley, the so-called Bridal Veil is now a thundering cataract of surging waters, raging tumultuously, and rushing down across the green meadows in a perfect network of streams, all hurrying to pay their tribute to the Merced.
Keeping well to the left of these extempore torrents, we picked our way through the pine-woods, and after a stiff scramble among the fallen rocks at the base of the crags, we reached a point whence we obtained a magnificent view of the falls, shooting past us sideways, which is always the finest aspect of a heavy fall. These rushing waters have an indescribable fascination, which held us riveted—till at last, giddy with their noise and motion, and drenched with spray, we returned on our downward scramble, half envying the streams which leaped so lightly from rock to rock.
Grand as these falls now are in flood, I thought them more graceful when they were less full. Then they really were suggestive of a gossamer veil of light and mist, woven by the fairies for the bride of the Sierras; for never was fall more exquisite than this cloud of tremulous vapour, silently swayed by every breath of air enfolding the rock, sometimes entwining its feet, then tossed aloft as a gauze-like cloud, far above the brink, blending with the white clouds of heaven, the rainbows playing on the spray like the light from flashing diamonds—a cincture of gems, ever in motion.
So, perhaps, in this instance we may be content to accept the modern name, though the Indians still call it Pohono, “the Spirit of the Evil Wind.”
I do think it is a thousand pities that wherever the Anglo-Saxon race settles, it uproots the picturesque and generally descriptive native names of mountains and streams, and in their stead bestows some new name, which at best is commonplace, and too often vulgar.
Happily this majestic valley has fared better in this respect than many humbler districts, though I am sure you will agree with me in thinking that even here many names would have been better left unchanged. For instance, “Pi-wa-ack,” which means “the glittering waters,” surely better describes a singularly sparkling waterfall than the senseless word “Vernal.”
The highest fall in the valley, reckoned at 3300 feet, is called by the Indians Lung-oo-too-koo-ya, which means “long-drawn-out,” and exactly describes the very narrow stream which leaps from so great a height. It is also said to mean “the pigeon’s creek,” and to be descriptive of their plaintive note. But to white men these poetic meanings are alike lost, and replaced by the Ribbon Fall or the Virgin’s Tears.
The To-lool-weack, or Rushing Water, is now known as the South Fork, or the Illillouette; while the Yo-wi-ye, or Great Twisted Water—a singularly descriptive name—was changed by some Spanish priest to Nevada, i.e. snow. The Sentinel Rock is still known to the Indian as Loya, the signal station; and the great overhanging rocks which bear the name of Royal Arches, are dear to Indian mothers as To-coy-oe— i.e., the projecting cover which shades the head of the papoose in its basket-cradle.
Tis-sa-ack, called after a beautiful pale spirit whom the Indians believe to have rested thereon, is now only the South Dome—a granite mountain, and nothing more.
The stupendous crag which guards the entrance to the valley, and which is now known as El Capitan, was called by the Indians To-tok-o-nula, in imitation of the wild cries uttered by the to-tok-an, or sandhill-crane, when, flying over the rock, it enters the valley in search of winter quarters. The west side of the crag was called Ajemu (by which name the Indians call the manzanita), this being a spot where they resorted to gather its berries.
The two triple groups of hills towering above the entrance of the valley on the right hand and on the left—formerly Wah-wah-lena and Pom-pom-pasus, or the leaping-frogs—are now the Three Brothers and the Three Graces. Formerly, Mount Watkins was called Wai-you, meaning the Juniper Mountain. The Glacier Point was Pa-tillima. The splintered rock near the Great Fall was Ummo, the lost arrow. A quiet streamlet near was Ollenya—namely, the frog’s brook. I am not sure that I regret the substitution of “Cathedral Spires” for “Po-see-nah-chuck-ka,” which means “the mouse’s acorn-basket”; the new name is in itself strikingly descriptive of the massive pinnacles, and the train of association infinitely preferable.
But it is in the neighbourhood of mining districts that names bestowed by white men convey the least pleasant suggestions. I heard a vast number of these quoted to-day by some gentlemen engaged in superintending mining work, whose wanderings have led them to many a wild settlement, where the diggers have pitched their camps at various times, and then moved off in search of richer fields: needless to remark that such names were generally as rough-and-ready as the nicknames applied to one another.
A pleasantly suggestive name was Hell’s Delight; nor were Mad Canyon, Git-up-and-Git, Devil’s Basin, Rattle-snake Bar, or Gouge Eye specially attractive. Jackass Gulch, Greaser’s Camp, Loafer Hill, Rag-town, Chuckle-head Diggings, Greenhorn Canyon, Petticoat Slide, and Shirt-tail Canyon, doubtless each commemorates some rough adventure or coarse jest.
Perhaps Hog’s Diggings, Hungry Camp, Last Chance, Love-letter Camp, Poverty Hill, and Graveyard Canyon had stories as intensely pathetic as the ‘Luck of Roaring Camp,’ and only need a Bret Harte to bring them home to our sympathies.
Coon Hollow, Skunk Gulch, Wildcat Bar, Centipede Hollow, Grizzly Flat, and Wild Goose Flat give a hint of some small sport; while Humbug Canyon, Quack Hill, Gospel Gulch, Gospel Swamp, Piety Hill, and Christian Flat may perhaps record some struggling ray of better things, which all the scoffing and sneers of “Hell’s Delight” could not wholly exclude.
I suppose Seventy-Six, Seven-Up Valley, and Seven-by-Nine Valley refer to some gambling transaction, related to Brandy Gulch and Whisky Bar. But there is a savour of comfort in Pancake Ravine and Slap-Jack Bar. Perhaps one of the quaintest of these traces of the gold fever is the name “Tin Cup,” which was given to a district so rich in gold that the lucky miners measured their wealth in pint tin-cups!
I am becoming daily more and more enamoured of the valley. The grandeur impresses one more and more every day one stays in it, becoming more familiar with the endless loveliness of all its details. Moreover, I delight in its free and independent life, with abundant comfort and no stiffness; with plenty of kindly folk always ready to be friendly, if one is inclined for society, but who never think of intruding uninvited.
And the valley with its surroundings is so vast that, though there are now fully two hundred white people in it, and about fifty ponies start every morning from the hotels, one may roam about from morning till night and never meet a living soul, except, perhaps, a few tame Indians. I do not think that on all my solitary sketching-days put together, I have seen half-a-dozen white faces; and the Indians do not count for much, as they cannot speak a word of English.
I constantly come down at about five in the morning—sometimes earlier. The waiters know my manners and customs, so they leave bread and butter and cold meat where I can find them; and as the kitchen-fire seems never to go out, and the coffee is always on the boil, whether John Chinaman is at his post or not, I forage for myself, and after a comfortable breakfast, prepare my luncheon, shoulder my sketching-gear, and start for the day, with the delightful conviction that I can work or be idle, as inclination prompts, from dawn till sunset, unmolested.
Early rising here is really no exertion, and it brings its own reward, for there is an indescribable charm in the early gloaming as it steals over the Sierras—a freshness and an exquisite purity of atmosphere which thrills through one’s being like a breath of the life celestial.
If you would enjoy it to perfection, you must steal out alone ere the glory of the starlight has paled,—as I did this morning, following a devious pathway between thickets of azalea, whose heavenly fragrance perfumed the valley. Then, ascending a steep track through the pine-forest, I reached a bald grey crag, commanding a glorious view of the valley, and of some of the high peaks beyond. And thence I watched the coming of the dawn.
A pale daffodil light crept upward, and the stars faded from heaven. Then the great ghostly granite domes changed from deep purple to a cold dead white, and the far-distant snow-capped peaks stood out in glittering light, while silvery-grey mists floated upward from the canyons, as if awakening from their sleep. Here, just as in our own Highlands, a faint chill breath of some cold current invariably heralds the daybreak, and the tremulous leaves quiver, and whisper a greeting to the dawn.
Suddenly a faint flush of rosy light just tinged the highest snow-peaks, and, gradually stealing downward, overspread range beyond range; another moment, and the granite domes and the great Rock Sentinel alike blazed in the fiery glow, which deepened in colour till all the higher crags seemed aflame, while the valley still lay shrouded in purple gloom, and a great and solemn stillness brooded over all.
I spent most of the day at that grand watch-post, till the purple clouds, gathering on every side, warned me of an approaching storm, when I hurried down, and (wading knee-deep across a flooded rivulet) reached a cattle-shed just in time to get into its shelter, when a tremendous thunderstorm burst right overhead, followed by a rattling hailstorm, each hailstone the size of a large pea. Then the sky cleared, and the evening was radiant as the morning.
In the month that I have already spent here, I have watched the magic change from winter to summer—from melting snows to sheets of flowers—and the fields of wild strawberries have gone a step further, and have changed from blossom to berry. I have watched the chaparral— i.e., flowery brushwood—which clothes the base of the crags, change from wintry undress to the richest summer beauty. First came a veil of freshest spring-green, and now a wealth of delicate blossoms perfumes the whole air.
There is the Californian lilac, here called “The Beauty of the Sierras,”1 which bears thick brush-like clusters of fragrant pale-blue blossom, consisting chiefly of stamens, with very little calyx. Then there is the Buck-eye or California chestnut,2 and the Blackthorn, and the silvery-leaved manzanita,3 which is a kind of arbutus (akin, I suppose, to the madro˝a of the Coast Range).
This bears waxy pink bells, and is the most characteristic shrub of California. It is a small shrub, but mighty in strength, for it works its way through cracks and crevices, and splits the solid rock as silently but as effectually as does the frost. On the bleakest exposures, where soil is scantiest, there above all it flourishes; and its smooth, rich maroon-coloured bark gives a point of warm colour to the cold grey cliffs. Walking-sticks made of its curiously twisted ruddy branches find great favour with travellers as mementoes of the valley.
It seemed like a dream of English shrubberies when, in many a sunny nook, I came on banks of crimson ribes, and white bird-cherry, and day by day watched them first bud, and then burst into bloom.
One shrub new to me is the dogwood,4 —a small tree, literally covered with starry blossoms like large scentless roses, snow-white, and about three inches in diameter. But far above all, in this realm of delight, I have watched the dense thickets of azalea all along the river, and at the base of the crags, transform themselves from leafless sticks into sheets of fragrant yellow blossom—the most heavenly of all delicate perfumes. A sunny corner among the mossy rocks, in an azalea thicket, is a foretaste of Paradise!
Then wherever you turn, in the meadows or the canyons, there has sprung up a carpet of flowers of every hue, in amazing profusion. It is as if all the glory of which I had a glimpse in Easter-week on the seaboard had been transferred to this upper world, where every valley is now flower-strewn. Sweet wild-roses, blue and yellow lupines, scarlet columbine and painter’s brush, blue nemophila, purple-spotted nemophila, blue larkspur, scarlet lychnis, yellow eschscholtzia, scarlet and blue pentstemon, golden rod, Mariposa lilies, fritillaria, heart’s-ease, dandelion, blue gentian, bluebells, phloxes, white ranunculus, yellow mimulus, marigold, and many another lovely blossom, each add their mite of gay colouring to the perfect scene, like threads in some rich tapestry.
Every evening I carry home a handful of the loveliest, to adorn my special table in the dining-room, at which the excellent landlord takes care always to place such new arrivals as he thinks likely to prove most agreeable to me. And I am bound to say he has provided a succession of very pleasant companions—some from England, some from the Eastern States. And there is no denying that after a long day alone with the bees and the squirrels, it is cheery to find nice neighbours at dinner.
Of course every one who comes here is on the travel. They have either been exploring South or Central America or New Zealand, or they have just arrived from India, China, and Japan, or from the Eastern United States. The latter seem to consider a journey here, a far more serious undertaking than a tour over the whole continent of Europe. Two gentlemen arrived here straight from Fiji, bringing me the latest news of all my friends there.1
[1A third gentleman from Fiji arrived a few days later.]
Altogether this strange chasm in the mighty mass of granite mountains is really quite a large little world. Heads of department—legal, military, and medical, from various British colonies—stray members of foreign embassies, Oxford and Cambridge men on vacation tours, ecclesiastical authorities of all denominations, mighty hunters, actors, artists, farmers, miners, men who have lived through California’s stormy days, when derringers and revolvers were the lawgivers,—these are but a sample of the mixed multitude who meet here with one object in common, and who, one and all, confess that their expectations are surpassed.
I know of no other “sight”—save the Taj Mahal—which so invariably exceeds the fancy-pictures of its pilgrims.
The worst of it is, that the majority of “bonÔ fide travellers,” ignorant of the country, arrive here, having made their irrevocable plans, by the advice of coach-agents, on certain cut-and-dry calculations of time, which generally assume that three days in the valley is ample allowance. So they spend their three days rushing from point to point, missing half the finest scenes, and then resume their dust-coats, and rattle away again, with a general impression of fuss and exhaustion.1
[1A most aggravating instance of such miscalculation was that of two English gentlemen who arrived a few days later, being bound to catch a particular steamer at San Francisco, discovered, on reaching the valley, that they had exactly two hours to remain in it, and must start by the afternoon coach. Like true Britons, they devoted their short visit to a refreshing bathe in the ice-cold waters of the Merced, followed by a hasty luncheon, and then bade a regretful farewell to the scenes they would so fain have explored at leisure.]
Some of these travellers have so recently left England that they bring me much welcome home-news; for some prove to be old acquaintances, and others are friends’ friends, a title which (however little it may mean in England) is a great reality in far countries. So you can perhaps understand with what true interest I look at the Hotel Register every evening to see who may have arrived by the three daily coaches.
Very different coaches, by the way, to the extremely uncomfortable one in which we jolted all the way here in the early spring. Now, the roads are in good order, and large luxurious open coaches rattle over the ground. I am bound to say, however, that this season has one terrible disadvantage in the clouds of dust. The wretched travellers arrive half suffocated, and looking very much as if they had walked out of flour-bags; but the flour is finely sifted granite-dust, most cutting to the eyes.
As the coach draws up, out rush the waiters and other attendants armed with feather-brushes, which they apply vigorously to the heads of the new-comers, and then help to pull off their large dust-coats—most necessary garments in this country.
I notice with interest and curiosity the number of ladies, both English and American, who find their way here. In all my previous wanderings (in India, Ceylon, New Zealand, Australia, and the other South Pacific Isles, extending over a period of eight years) I have only met one woman travelling absolutely for pleasure. Here there are many—amongst whom I am especially attracted by a very nice, gentle, little old lady, who, at the age of sixty-eight, has taken a craving to see the world before she dies; and although her means are so restricted that she has to study economy at every turn, she is exploring the earth in the most systematic and plucky manner, like a second Ida Pfeiffer.
Among our most attractive inmates is a very piquante little French lady, who warbles like a nightingale, and sings us ravissantes little French ballads, as we sit out in the moonlight or starlight, beside the river, among the fragrant azaleas.
But the most interesting of my new acquaintances is a very handsome young American doctor, to whom I honestly confess I should lose my heart were I a young patient! A good linguist, a good musician, clever and intellectual. So good-looking and attractive a doctor should act as a charm on the sufferers.
The most curious thing about it is, that my doctor wears the most dainty little feminine garments, and first attracted my attention by the charm of a pensive Madonna-like beauty. In short, she is a handsome, well-educated American girl, travelling with her parents, who are pleasant as herself.
Judge of my astonishment when she told me that she hoped I would look her up . . . at the medical college in Philadelphia! I then learned that she had recently graduated at Vassa College, and hopes very soon to start in regular practice, in which she tells me many women are now making their ten or fifteen thousand a-year (dollars, not pounds). This is indeed a case of “sweet girl graduates”! You see, I have been living among savages, so am not up to the progress of the age. To hear my pretty friend talking familiarly of Professor This or That (all women), and of its being a relic of barbarism for women to be attended by male doctors, was to me really quite a curiosity.1
[1Still stranger did it seem to me to hear of the women lawyers in America. It appears that the Supreme Court of Massachusetts having decided that only men were entitled to practise in the courts of that State, the Legislature is to be appealed to, and a bill has been introduced to admit women on equal terms with men. It may be added that they are so admitted already in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Further, by an Act of Congress passed in 1879, those women who have been for three years members of the bar of the highest court of any State or territory, or of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, may be admitted to practise in the United States Supreme Court.]
For a few days there was rather a noisy invasion—a large family party from Southern California, overflowing with exuberant life, which could not be quelled even by the toilsome ascent of every high point, but had to find vent in the evenings by riotous infantile games, in which all around were urged to join. One evening they sang prettily in chorus. Suddenly my patriotic soul was thrilled by the sound of “God save the Queen!” (which I have only heard once in the last two years, played by the French band at Tahiti)—so I drew near to listen, and heard unknown words. Wondering, I asked what they were singing. They looked amazed at such ignorance, and answered—
“My country, ‘tis of thee,
Sweet Land of Liberty!”
On my being unable to refrain from a slight expression not altogether sympathetic, my informant added, “Well, I reckon we’ve as good a right to sing American words to ‘God save the Queen!’ as you Britons have to call our Sequoias Wellingtonias!”—which was just, if not generous.
This storming-party held the valley for a week, and then departed, saying they had had “a real good time”!
Happily most folk seem rather hushed by the solemn beauty of the place, and the awful stillness of the mountains. Boisterous merriment seems as much out of place as it would be in a grand cathedral—indeed there are few who do not unconsciously shrink from loud mirth as almost irreverent.
On several Sundays we have had very interesting services held in a large room1 by representatives of sundry and divers denominations. Curiously enough, the first was conducted by the Rev. George MŘller, of the Bristol Orphanage, whose name is so familiar to English ears. On Whitsunday the valley was found to contain parsons of all manner of sects; so they agreed to hold a joint service in the “Cosmopolitan Hall,” where Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and a Unitarian minister gave addresses by turns, interspersed with exceedingly pretty part-singing in the Moody and Sankey style, most of the congregation being apparently trained singers. I doubt whether a similar promiscuous gathering in England could produce as pleasant music. It struck me that this good hymn-singing seemed a great promoter of harmony among these preachers of divers creeds.
[1The valley now possesses a real church.]
Of course the natural loveliness of this rock-girt shrine affords ample material for illustration, and the texts which naturally suggest themselves are those which draw their imagery from the mountains. “As the hills stand about Jerusalem, so standeth the Lord round about His people.” “The strength of the hills is His.” “The earth is full of His praise.” “The Lord shall rejoice in His works. He clave the hard rocks in the wilderness; He brought waters out of the stony rock.” “Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers; the mountains saw Thee and they trembled; the overflowing of the water passed by.” “His voice is as the sound of many waters.” “Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.”
Such words as these seem fitting as we look up to the sheer granite cliffs and massive rock-towers gleaming in dazzling brightness against the azure sky, and the water-floods pouring down in snow-white cataracts.
I have been much struck with the extreme fluency of most of the speakers, and am told it is an ordinary characteristic of the American clergy—a very pleasant one for their hearers, who, however, do not seem far ahead of ourselves in practising the precepts so ably taught. One of our parsons remarked that preaching the Gospel to some folk was like pouring water over a sponge, which drank it in and retained it; but to others it was like the wind blowing through a hen-coop,—and his experience of preaching led him to believe that his congregations numbered many hen-coops, but few sponges!
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