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Zanita: A Tale of the Yo-semite (1872) by Thérèse Yelverton


Where was I? Was it all a midsummer night’s dream? The question was answered by a little sharp voice snapping out,—

“Don’t you want to come and bathe? The river is just deep enough to drown father in some places; but you can take your shoes and stockings off.” And through my half-closed lids I saw my fairy of the previous evening, with the miniature frown still on her face, and a worried look, as though she had the cares of the world on her slender shoulders.

“Hurry up!” she said; “we have to catch the fish for breakfast. I can hook five or a dozen” (her conception of numbers was not very profound), “and if that is not enough we can get them from the Indians. You need not be afraid of that Indian squatting on the rock with his bow drawn; he’ll not shoot you unless you cross their trail. He’s waiting for a Payute to come; they’ve been at war. I’ll take care of you. They always shoot with poisoned arrows; do you know it? I’m not a bit afraid of them,” she said, and the same uncanny light, which symbolized a smile, shot from her eyes.

Upon the most positive promise that I would prepare immediately if she would leave me, I succeeded in sending her forth to collect fishing tackle; and shortly after breakfast was announced by the sweet voice of Madonna.

Looking through my trellis work of vine leaves, my eyes wandered up what appeared a mile of perpendicular rock, without ever meeting the sky. The morning sun was bringing out upon it the softest gray tints streaked with burnished silver. Here and there a tuft of spirea was clinging, by some occult process, to the smooth rock; and the feathery branches of the spruce and tamarack were defined against its glistening surface, as though they had been frescoed there. I could hear the booming of the great Yo-semite fall like a distant park of artillery.

The breakfast did as much honor to the housekeeping as the supper of the previous evening. Fresh trout, poached eggs, fried ham, straw-berries with the morning dew upon them, and delicious cream and butter, made a meal for a sybarite.

Then arose the different proposals for the day’s entertainment. Mr. Naunton offered to saddle my horse and convey me to a near view of the magnificent double waterfalls, the Py-wy-ack and the Yo-wee-ye, which I had seen in the distance the day before. Kenmuir was full of some aeronaut scheme to the clouds somewhere between Tis-sa-ack and the moon. Mrs. Naunton insinuated that as I must feel fatigued after my long journey, we had better meander round the pleasant meadows, and curves of the river, and watch the trout if we could not catch them.

Miss Zanita was eagerly bent upon a bear hunt, herself to be armed with a double-barreled rifle. Cozy prattled off that portion of each proposal that her coral lips could turn the easiest, and lisped out, “saddle horse, fissis, big bear, and sifle,” at which her great blue eyes sparkled with rapture, and she clapped her little dimpled hands and laughed like the ripple of summer water.

Amongst all these inviting tenders of amusement it was difficult to choose. Kenmuir’s celestial trip, as being the most impracticable, was the first to fall through.

Zanita paced to and fro in the heat of her argument in favor of the bear hunt, urging how easy it was to kill the bear before he could come upon us.

Mr. Naunton’s journey having been reckoned at fourteen miles, there and back, besides a good deal of hard climbing, was voted too fatiguing for the second day’s excursion; and the Madonna, like all quiet, soft spoken women, gained her point.

Zanita was pacified by the offer of the porter’s place in bearing a long fishing-rod and basket.

And there tantalizingly, skimming from pool to pool in the limpid water, were scores of speckled trout, all singularly cognizant of the fact that our admiration for them was of that ardent nature that we longed to eat them.

As Mrs. Naunton, whom we shall call by her given name of Placida, glided gracefully on with one golden haired child in her arms, and the other with its deep midnight gaze clinging to her dress, she seemed to me the model for the poet’s lines:

“And dark against day’s golden death
She moved where Irudis wandereth.

A sweeter woman ne’er drew breath
Than my son’s wife Elizabeth.”

“Very probably,” replied Mr. Naunton, amused by this suggestion, and a humorous twinkle came in his bright eyes, “with the slight difference that she is my wife, not my son’s.”

This matter of relationship having been settled, we set forth upon one of those delightful strolls which must live in the twilight remembrance of every one, unless a Cockney or a Parisian, who have never been outside of their capital, who are so satisfied to see their peas ready shelled and their chickens ready trussed, that they are contented to believe they actually grew that way.

A pious London cook once remarked to her mistress, as she was about placing a large turkey to the fire, “Ain’t this a blessing of Providence, ma’am, for this here skiver to grow right in the middle of this fine fat turkey? Why without that I never could get him all roasted.” She had never seen a live turkey in her life, though she had roasted five hundred.

But outside the Cockney and Parisian world, every man, woman, and child ought to remember a holiday in the country, when they gathered wild flowers for their sweethearts, and wild berries for their children. Who has not felt as if translated into a new state of being, to a higher existence, when suddenly transported from the noise and turmoil and worry of a city, the incessant clang of machinery or the monotonous roll of street cars, to some peaceful Arcadia. And then what ecstasy to breathe in the stillness of the country, to listen only to those ethereal tones which may be the whispering of beatified spirits around us, or the tread of angels. There is a music in the hushed calm which speaks to the soul with an intensity of vibration, unaroused by the most stirring scenes of city life; awakening emotions too deep and spiritualized to be interpreted to the outer world, and which, though never appearing in garish day, dwell ever in the chiaroscuro of that dreaming spirit within us, to whom we all how down in reverence. And on such days as these we commune with this mystic indweller of our interior life as with our guardian angel, and sweet and holy is the converse.

We walked upon a carpet of greenest sward, besprinkled with blossoms of nature’s brightest dye. Many of the valley flowers were as yet unknown to botanists; and it was amusing to hear Kenmuir disputing with himself as to what genus they appertained.

“Now, you would never believe, madam, that this tiny fellow belonged to the family of the composite! and et you perceive”—

“O, I am credulous to any extent,” I interrupted, “and am prepared to believe any proposition you may lay before me to-day. I feel in too placid a state of mind to dispute on any topic; but when we get the Professor here, he will fight you tooth and nail as to the origin of every-thing. There never was such a man for doubting; he is not satisfied yet whether he is dreaming a life, or living a dream! You will find him delightful company.”

“I am sure I shall,” replied Kenmuir.

“I hope,” said Mr. Naunton, “that he will give us some satisfactory theory about the formation of the Valley.”

“O, I can tell you his opinion about that. He believes it was the bed of a great river from which the bottom fell out in the wreck of creation; the water subsided to the present level, and gradually dried off to this little river, vegetation taking its place everywhere.”

“Good gracious!” exclaimed Kenmuir, “there never was a ‘wreck of creation.’ As though the Lord did not know how to navigate. No bottom He made ever fell out by accident. These learned men pretend to talk of a catastrophe happening to the Lord’s works, as though it were some poor trumpery machine of their own invention. As it is, it was meant to be.

“Why! I can show the Professor where the mighty cavity has been grooved and wrought out for millions of years. A day and eternity are as one in His mighty workshop. I can take you where you can see for yourself how the glaciers have labored, and cut and carved, and elaborated, until they have wrought out this royal road.”

Here Placida come to the rescue with a delicate perception, that I might feel hurt by this wholesale destruction of my husband’s theory.

“Do you notice the peculiar spring of the branches out of the cedar? Unlike other trees, they appear as though a hole had been made in the main trunk, and the bough fitted in like the socket of a Dutch doll’s arm.”

“Yes,” I replied, “and also how singular is the horizontal growth of the limbs, while the main body is so perpendicular.”

“Some of these trees are little short of three thousand years old,” said Mr. Naunton. “And if we understood the low murmuring of their branches, they could doubtless explain many a mystery we now puzzle our brains over.”

“They tell it to the birds,” put in Zanita, “and the birds will tell it to me. I know what the birds say; Mu-wah, our Indian, teaches me.”

“Well, what is that bird saying now? That bright little fellow,” I said, pointing, “with the top-knot of blue plumes.”

Her eyebrows contracted as she looked earnestly at him, and I thought for a moment the little sorceress was at fault. I was mistaken.

“He says,” she interpreted, “‘Yonder is a strawberry patch with fine ripe strawberries.’ Don’t you hear him? It’s real plain.”

The same dark twinkle shot from her eyes; she knew well she had triumphed. We all laughed, and asked to be escorted to the patch of fresh fruit whose fragrant bed she needed no bird to help her to find; in fact there was scarcely a spot high or low that those venturesome little feet had not explored.

The Valley was some eight miles long, and about a mile and a half in width, inclosed by immense bulwarks of granite, always precipitous, and sometimes ascending vertically a mile in height; occasionally advancing into the greensward in a stupendous colonnade, or massive single tower; sometimes receding into a cavernous amphitheatre, like the interior quadrangle of some ancient chateau-fort, simulating the domes of cathedrals, and minarets of mosques, and Chinese pagodas. Both ends of the Valley were closed by a cañon, or deep ravine; on the one end the river entered from the top. It came with a leap from the Cloud’s Rest, the highest point seen from the Valley, and dashed down in two falls and a series of cataracts into the plain below, where it meandered round white sandy banks, the most tranquil and peace-loving little river in the world, shimmering coyly as for the sole benefit and habitation of the speckled trout jumping in its limpid waters. At the other end it stole quietly out through a rugged fastness, and was lost sight of in the deep cañon.

Upon which ever side we gazed, these towering battlements met the skies. Their jagged summits cutting the horizon in clear, pointed slants and zigzags, carved it into the curious form of a dandelion leaf. The blue vault above was the exact size and shape of the green valley below; so much of earth and heaven was encompassed by the granite walls, and all the rest of the great world was excluded. No sound but of Nature’s broke the stillness.

“And yet one might fancy there were a number of carpenters at work,” I said, as we paused to listen to the rap-a-tap-tap of the wood-pecker.

“There he goes,” said my host; “you can see him at work with his long chisel beak and scarlet hammerhead, working away faster than you can count the evolutions; he has bored a hole in that tree as rapidly as a joiner with his auger, and he has made it the exact size to fit in his acorn. I can show you trees perforated with a thousand holes as close as a honeycomb; for these little birds have not only to provide their own winter food, but are fully conscious of the fact that the squirrels will rob them of the greater portion of their stores. And so it is in human nature,” continued Mr. Naunton; “one half the world labors from dawn to dewy eve, and often by midnight oil, that the other half may prey upon them, and despoil them of the fruits of their labor. It is a common saying, that one half the world does not know how the other half lives; but it is a problem easily solved. They live upon the said other half, as do the squirrels on the woodpeckers. Take the father of a family. For years he has passed six days of every seven sitting on that hard stool in that dismal counting-house, and has induced five or six young men, upon the alternative of keeping their spirit within their body, to do likewise; for the sole end and object that his lady wife and elegant daughters may sweep the street with their silks and velvets. He takes a hurried meal at a chop-house on week-days, and a cold slice on Sundays, in order that the servants may get out the sooner. Upon that day of rest he leaves his hard stool and perambulates to church, and during the service has a quiet time to himself, to arrange for the coming week, and speculate how he can best utilize his time by making a review of the past, and prudential resolves for the future. Yet he is an independent merchant, with a heavy account at his bankers. There is no difficulty in discerning that he is the woodpecker, and his lady wife and daughters are the squirrels. There is ‘the man of enterprise,’ fashionably dressed, with the weightiest diamonds in his shirt-front; his buggy, or saddle-horse, awaiting his pleasure. He has started every sort of ‘company’ that a high-sounding name could be tacked to. He is a great talker, with an immense flow of language, and delights in the display of it. He has talked every one’s money out of their pockets to supply his need. He never did one hour’s labor, mentally or physically, but has lived all his life in affluence on his neighbors’ acorns. Sometimes it falls pretty hard on the woodpeckers; some ravenous squirrels will not only help themselves to the superfluities laid by, but eat up the hard-earned share of the laborer. Look into that wretched garret, where dwells a mother, a son, and two daughters. The son, with his hands in his pockets, is loafing round the corner of the street, waiting for acorns to turn up without the seeking. The mother is trimming her pretty taper nails, and explaining to her daughters how she always kept them unsplit, and of perfect filbert shape. The elder daughter is arranging dead men’s beards into pads in her hair, to give her head the proportions of an idiot’s. But the second daughter, who is the woodpecker of the family, is stitching away at the bodice of a dress, others lying about half completed. Her nimble fingers, filbert nails all cut short, go as fast as the head of the little woodpecker boring his holes, to complete those seams, and bring home the acorns, upon which the rest of the family live idly; the share remaining for the woodpecker is infinitesimally small.

“‘Jane, how can you sit over those seams and flounces day after day, and night after night? I am sure it would kill me. I would let the people wait!’ exclaims the sister.

“She may be quite sure in process of time it will kill Jane, and she will wait for her acorns. But they soon look out for another woodpecker, for people never change their natures, anymore than the Ethiopian his skin.”

Whilst Mr. Naunton had been speaking, we had all gathered round the strawberry patch, and been fed by Zanita and Rosalind with the choicest morsels. But here the dulcet voice of Placida broke in with the suggestion that if we were going to continue such disquisitions, we had better adjourn to a seat near the Yosemite Fall, “where the roar,” she added, naïvely, “would serve for applause at the end of Oswald’s speech.”

“There is Zanita, like a tricksy squirrel, far away up the rocks already,” I exclaimed.

“I hope she is not in search of that polecat she promised you,” said her father, laughing, “for it would be the most uncomfortable present I ever heard of.”

Next: SquirrelismContentsPrevious: Daughters of Ah-wah-nee

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management