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Full text of "The land of little rain"

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LITTLE-RAIN 











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BANCROFT 
LIBRARY 

O 

THE LIBRARY 

OF 

THE UNIVERSITY 
OF CALIFORNIA 









3 




THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 




PETITE PETE (Page 157) 



THE LAND 

OF 

LITTLE R AI N 



BY 



MARY AUSTIN 




BOSTON AND NEW YORK 
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY 



1903 




A bo 7 



COPYRIGHT igoj BY MARY AUSTIN 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 



Published October iqO3 



I I |: UAUY 



TO EVE 
"THE COMFORTRESS OF UNSUCCESS" 



PREFACE 

T CONFESS to a great liking for the 
* Indian fashion of name-giving: every 
man known by that phrase which best ex- 
presses him to whoso names him. Thus 
he may be Mighty-Hunter, or Man-Afraid- 
of-a-Bear, according as he is called by 
friend or enemy, and Scar-Face to those 
who knew him by the eye's grasp only. 
No other fashion, I think, sets so well with 
the various natures that inhabit in us, and 
if you agree with me you will understand 
why so few names are written here as they 
appear in the geography. For if I love a 
lake known by the name of the man who 
discovered it, which endears itself by reason 
vii 



PREFACE 

of the close-locked pines it nourishes about 
its borders, you may look in my account to 
find it so described. But if the Indians 
have been there before me, you shall have 
their name, which is always beautifully fit 
and does not originate in the poor human 
desire for perpetuity. 

Nevertheless there are certain peaks, ca- 
nons, and clear meadow spaces which are 
above all compassing of words, and have a 
certain fame as of the nobly great to whom 
we give no familiar names. Guided by 
these you may reach my country and find 
or not find, according as it lieth in you, 
much that is set down here. And more. 
The earth is no wanton to give up all her 
best to every comer, but keeps a sweet, 
separate intimacy for each. But if you do 
viii 



PREFACE 

not find it all as I write, think me not less 
dependable nor yourself less clever. There 
is a sort of pretense allowed in matters of 
the heart, as one should say by way of 
illustration, " I know a man who . . . ," 
and so give up his dearest experience with- 
out betrayal. And I am in no mind to 
direct you to delectable places toward 
which you will hold yourself less tenderly 
than I. So by this fashion of naming I 
keep faith with the land and annex to my 
own estate a very great territory to which 
none has a surer title. 

The country where you may have sight 
and touch of that which is written lies 
between the high Sierras south from Yo- 
semite east and south over a very great 
assemblage of broken ranges beyond Death 
ix 



PREFACE 

Valley, and on inimitably into the Mojave 
Desert. You may come into the borders 
of it from the south by a stage journey that 
has the effect of involving a great lapse of 
time, or from the north by rail, dropping 
out of the overland route at Reno. The 
best of all ways is over the Sierra passes 
by pack and trail, seeing and believing. 
But the real heart and core of the country 
are not to be come at in a month's vacation. 
One must summer and winter with the land 
and wait its occasions. Pine woods that 
take two and three seasons to the ripening 
of cones, roots that lie by in the sand seven 
years awaiting a growing rain, firs that 
grow fifty years before flowering, these 
do not scrape acquaintance. But if ever 
you come beyond the borders as far as the 



PREFACE 

town that lies in a hill dimple at the foot 
of Kearsarge, never leave it until you have 
knocked at the door of the brown house 
under the willow-tree at the end of the 
village street, and there you shall have 
such news of the land, of its trails and 
what is astir in them, as one lover of it can 
give to another. 



XI 



NOTE ON THE ILLUSTRATIONS 

THE Publishers feel that they have been pecul- 
iarly fortunate in securing Mr. E. Boyd Smith 
as the illustrator and interpreter of Mrs. Austin's 
charming sketches of the " Land of Little Rain." 
His familiarity with the region and his rare ar- 
tistic skill have enabled him to give the very 
atmosphere of the desert, and graphically to por- 
tray its life, animal and human. This will be felt 
not only in the full-page compositions, but in the 
delightful marginal sketches, which are not less 
illustrative, although, from their nature, it is im- 
practicable to enumerate them in a formal list. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN i 

WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO ... 23 

THE SCAVENGERS 45 

THE POCKET HUNTER . . . . 61 

SHOSHONE LAND 81 

JIMVILLE A BRET HARTE TOWN . . 103 

MY NEIGHBOR'S FIELD ..... 123 

THE MESA TRAIL 141 

THE BASKET MAKER . . . . .161 

THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS . . 181 
WATER BORDERS . . . . . .203 

OTHER WATER BORDERS . . . . 223 

NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 243 

THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES . 263 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 




THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

EAST away from the Sierras, south 
from Panamint and Amargosa, east 
and south many an uncounted mile, is the 
Country of Lost Borders. 

Ute, Paiute, Mojave, and Shoshone in- 
habit its frontiers, and as far into the heart 
of it as a man dare go. Not the law, but 
the land sets the limit. Desert is the name 
it wears upon the maps, but the Indian's 

is the better word. Desert is a loose term 

v h 

to indicate land that supports no man; 
whether the land can be bitted and broken 
to that purpose is not proven. Void of life 
it never is, however dry the air and villain- 
ous the soil. 

This is the nature of that country. 
There are hills, rounded, blunt, burned, 
3 




THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

squeezed up out of chaos, chrome and ver- 
milion painted, aspiring to the snow-line. 
Between the hills lie high level-looking 
plains full of intolerable sun glare, or nar- 
row valleys drowned in a blue haze. The 
hill surface is streaked with ash drift and 
black, unweathered lava flows. After rains 
water accumulates in the hollows of small 
closed valleys, and, evaporating, leaves hard 
dry levels of pure desertness that get the 
local name of dry lakes. Where the moun- 
tains are steep and the rains heavy, the pool 
is never quite dry, but dark and bitter, 
rimmed about with the efflorescence of al- 
kaline deposits. A thin crust of it lies along 
the marsh over the vegetating area, which 
has neither beauty nor freshness. In the 
broad wastes open to the wind the sand 
drifts in hummocks about the stubby shrubs, 
and between them the soil shows saline 
4 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

traces. The sculpture of the hills here is 
more wind than water work, though the 
quick storms do sometimes scar them past 
many a year's redeeming. In all the West- 
ern desert edges there are essays in min- 
iature at the famed, terrible Grand Canon, 
to which, if you keep on long enough in 
this country, you will come at last. 

Since this is a hill country one expects 
to find springs, but not to depend upon 
them ; for when found they are often brack- 
ish and unwholesome, or maddening, slow 
dribbles in a thirsty soil. Here you find 
the hot sink of Death Valley, or high roll- 
ing districts where the air has always a 
tang of frost. Here are the long heavy 
winds and breathless calms on the tilted 
mesas where dust devils dance, whirling up 
into a wide, pale sky. Here you have no 
rain when all the earth cries for it, or quick 
5 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

downpours called cloud-bursts for violence. 
A land of lost rivers, with little in it to love ; 
yet a land that once visited must be come 
back to inevitably. If it were not so there 
would be little told of it. 

This is the country of three seasons. 
From June on to November it lies hot, 
still, and unbearable, sick with violent 
unrelieving storms ; then on until April, 
chill, quiescent, drinking its scant rain and 
scanter snows ; from April to the hot season 
again, blossoming, radiant, and seductive. 
These months are only approximate ; later 
or earlier the rain-laden wind may drift up 
the water gate of the Colorado from the 
Gulf, and the land sets its seasons by the 
rain. 

The desert floras shame us with their 
cheerful adaptations to the seasonal limita- 
tions. Their whole duty is to flower and 
6 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

fruit, and they do it hardly, or with tropi- 
cal luxuriance, as the rain admits. It is 
recorded in the report of the Death Valley 
expedition that after a year of abundant 
rains, on the Colorado desert was found a 
specimen of Amaranthus ten feet high. A 
year later the same species in the same 
place matured in the drought at four 
inches. One hopes the land may breed 
like qualities in her human offspring, not 
tritely to " try," but to do. Seldom does 
the desert herb attain the full stature of 
the type. Extreme aridity and extreme 
altitude have the same dwarfing effect, so 
that we find in the high Sierras and in 
Death Valley related species in miniature 
that reach a comely growth in mean tem- 
peratures. Very fertile are the desert plants 
in expedients to prevent evaporation, turn- 
ing their foliage edgewise toward the sun, 
7 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

growing silky hairs, exuding viscid gum. 
The wind, which has a long sweep, harries 
and helps them. It rolls up dunes about 
the stocky stems, encompassing and pro- 
tective, and above the dunes, which may 
be, as with the mesquite, three times as 
high as a man, the blossoming twigs flour- 
ish and bear fruit. 

There are many areas in the desert 
where drinkable water lies within a few 
feet of the surface, indicated by the mes- 
quite and the bunch grass (Sporobolus airo- 
ides). It is this nearness of unimagined 
help that makes the tragedy of desert 
deaths. It is related that the final break- 
down of that hapless party that gave Death 
Valley its forbidding name occurred in a 
locality where shallow wells would have 
saved them. But how were they to know 
that ? Properly equipped it is possible to 
8 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

go safely across that ghastly sink, yet every 
year it takes its toll of death, and yet men 
find there sun-dried mummies, of whom 
no trace or recollection is preserved. To 
underestimate one's thirst, to pass a given 
landmark to the right or left, to find a dry 
spring where one looked for running water 
there is no help for any of these things. 
Along springs and sunken watercourses 
one is surprised to find such water-loving 
plants as grow widely in moist ground, but 
the true desert breeds its own kind, each 
in its particular habitat. The angle of the 
slope, the frontage of a hill, the structure 
of the soil determines the plant. South- 
looking hills are nearly bare, and the lower 
tree-line higher here by a thousand feet. 
Canons running east and west will have 
one wall naked and one clothed. Around 
dry lakes and marshes the herbage pre- 
9 




THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

serves a set and orderly arrangement. Most 
species have well-defined areas of growth, 
the best index the voiceless land can give 
the traveler of his whereabouts. 

If you have any doubt about it, know 
that the desert begins with the creosote. 
This immortal shrub spreads down into 
Death Valley and up to the lower tim- 
ber-line, odorous and medicinal as you 
might guess from the name, wandlike, with 
shining fretted foliage. Its vivid green is 
grateful to the eye in a wilderness of gray 
and greenish white shrubs. In the spring 
it exudes a resinous gum which the In- 
dians of those parts know how to use with 
pulverized rock for cementing arrow points 
to shafts. Trust Indians not to miss any 
virtues of the plant world ! 

Nothing the desert produces expresses 
it better than the unhappy growth of the 
10 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

tree yuccas. Tormented, thin forests of it 
stalk drearily in the high mesas, particu- 
larly in that triangular slip that fans out 
eastward from the meeting of the Sierras 
and coastwise hills where the first swings 
across the southern end of the San Joaquin 
Valley. The yucca bristles with bayonet- 
pointed leaves, dull green, growing shaggy 
with age, tipped with panicles of fetid, 
greenish bloom. After death, which is 
slow, the ghostly hollow network of its 
woody skeleton, with hardly power to rot, 
makes the moonlight fearful. Before the 
yucca has come to flower, while yet its 
bloom is a creamy cone-shaped bud of the 
size of a small cabbage, full of sugary sap, 
the Indians twist it deftly out of its fence 
of daggers and roast it for their own delec- 
tation. So it is that in those parts where 
man inhabits one sees young plants of 
ii 




THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

Yucca arborensis infrequently. Other yuc- 
cas, cacti, low herbs, a thousand sorts, one 
finds journeying east from the coastwise 
hills. There is neither poverty of soil nor 
species to account for the sparseness of 
desert growth, but simply that each plant 
requires more room. So much earth must 
be preempted to extract so much moisture. 
The real struggle for existence, the real 
brain of the plant, is underground ; above 
there is room for a rounded perfect growth. 
In Death Valley, reputed the very core of 
desolation, are nearly two hundred identi- 
fied species. 

Above the lower tree-line, which is also 
the snow-line, mapped out abruptly by the 
sun, one finds spreading growth of pinon, 
juniper, branched nearly to the ground, lilac 
and sage, and scattering white pines. 

There is no special preponderance of 
12 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

self-fertilized or wind-fertilized plants, but 
everywhere the demand for and evidence 
of insect life. Now where there are seeds 
and insects there will be birds and small 
mammals, and where these are, will come 
the slinking, sharp-toothed kind that prey 
on them. Go as far as you dare in the 
heart of a lonely land, you cannot go so 
far that life and death are not before you. 
Painted lizards slip in and out of rock 
crevices, and pant on the white hot sands. 
Birds, hummingbirds even, nest in the 
cactus scrub ; woodpeckers befriend the 
demoniac yuccas ; out of the stark, treeless 
waste rings the music of the night-singing 
mockingbird. If it be summer and the 
sun well down, there will be a burrowing 
owl to call. Strange, furry, tricksy things 
dart across the open places, or sit motion- 
less in the conning towers of the creosote. 
13 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

The poet may have " named all the birds 
without a gun," but not the fairy-footed, 
ground-inhabiting, furtive, small folk of the 
rainless regions. They are too many and 
too swift ; how many you would not believe 
without seeing the footprint tracings in the 
sand. They are nearly all night workers, 
finding the days too hot and white. In 
mid-desert where there are no cattle, there 
are no birds of carrion, but if you go far 
in that direction the chances are that you 
will find yourself shadowed by their tilted 
wings. Nothing so large as a man can 
move unspied upon in that country, and 
they know well how the land deals with 
strangers. There are hints to be had here 
of the way in which a land forces new hab- 
its on its dwellers. The quick increase of 
suns at the end of spring sometimes over- 
takes birds in their nesting and effects a 
14 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 



reversal of the ordinary manner of incuba- 
tion. It becomes necessary to keep eggs 
cool rather than warm. One hot, stifling 
spring in the Little Antelope I had occa- 
sion to pass and repass frequently the nest 
of a pair of meadowlarks, located unhap- 
pily in the shelter of a very slender weed. 
I never caught them sitting except near 
night, but at midday they stood, or drooped 
above it, half fainting with pitifully parted 
bills, between their treasure and the sun. 
Sometimes both of them together with 
wings spread and half lifted continued a 
spot of shade in a temperature that con- 
strained me at last in a fellow feeling to 
spare them a bit of canvas for permanent 
shelter. There was a fence in that country 
shutting in a cattle range, and along its 
fifteen miles of posts one could be sure 
of finding a bird or two in every strip of 
15 




THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

shadow ; sometimes the sparrow and the 
hawk, with wings trailed and beaks parted, 
drooping in the white truce of noon. 

If one is inclined to wonder at first how 
so many dwellers came to be in the lone- 
liest land that ever came out of God's 
hands, what they do there and why stay, 
one does not wonder so much after having 
lived there. None other than this long 
brown land lays such a hold on the affec- 
tions. The rainbow hills, the tender blu- 
ish mists, the luminous radiance of the 
spring, have the lotus charm. They trick 
the sense of time, so that once inhabiting 
there you always mean to go away without 
quite realizing that you have not done it. 
Men who have lived there, miners and cat- 
tle-men, will tell you this, not so fluently, 
but emphatically, cursing the land and go- 
ing back to it. For one thing there is the 
16 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

divinest, cleanest air to be breathed any- 
where in God's world. Some day the 
world will understand that, and the little 
oases on the windy tops of hills will har- 
bor for healing its ailing, house -weary 
broods. There is promise there of great 
wealth in ores and earths, which is no 
wealth by reason of being so far removed 
from water and workable conditions, but 
men are bewitched by it and tempted to 
try the impossible. 

You should hear Salty Williams tell how 
he used to drive eighteen and twenty-mule 
teams from the borax marsh to Mojave, 
ninety miles, with the trail wagon full of 
water barrels. Hot days the mules would 
go so mad for drink that the clank of the 
water bucket set them into an uproar of 
hideous, maimed noises, and a tangle of 
harness chains, while Salty would sit on 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

the high seat with the sun glare heavy in 
his eyes, dealing out curses of pacification 
in a level, uninterested voice until the 
clamor fell off from sheer exhaustion. 
There was a line of shallow graves along 
that road ; they used to count on dropping 
a man or two of every new gang of coolies 
brought out in the hot season. But when 
he lost his swamper, smitten without warn- 
ing at the noon halt, Salty quit his job ; he 
said it was " too durn hot." The swamper 
he buried by the way with stones upon him 
to keep the coyotes from digging him up, 
and seven years later I read the penciled 
lines on the pine headboard, still bright 
and unweathered. 

But before that, driving up on the 

Mojave stage, I met Salty again crossing 

Indian Wells, his face from the high seat, 

tanned and ruddy as a harvest moon, lobm- 

18 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

ing through the golden dust above his eigh- 
teen mules. The land had called him. 

The palpable sense of mystery in the 
desert air breeds fables, chiefly of lost trea- 
sure. Somewhere within its stark borders, 
if one believes report, is a hill strewn with 
nuggets ; one seamed with virgin silver ; 
an old clayey water-bed where Indians 
scooped up earth to make cooking pots 
and shaped them reeking with grains of 
pure gold. Old miners drifting about the 
desert edges, weathered into the semblance 
of the tawny hills, will tell you tales like 
these convincingly. After a little sojourn 
in that land you will believe them on their 
own account. It is a question whether it 
is not better to be bitten by the little horned 
snake of the desert that goes sidewise and 
strikes without coiling, than by the tradition 
of a lost mine. 

19 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

And yet and yet is it not perhaps 
to satisfy expectation that one falls into the 
tragic key in writing of desertness ? The 
more you wish of it the more you get, and 
in the mean time lose much of pleasantness. 
In that country which begins at the foot of 
the east slope of the Sierras and spreads 
out by less and less lofty hill ranges toward 
the Great Basin, it is possible to live with 
great zest, to have red blood and delicate 
joys, to pass and repass about one's daily 
performance an area that would make an 
Atlantic seaboard State, and that with no 
peril, and, according to our way of thought, 
no particular difficulty. At any rate, it was 
not people who went into the desert merely 
to write it up who invented the fabled 
Hassaympa, of whose waters, if any drink, 
they can no more see fact as naked fact, 
but all radiant with the color of romance. 
20 



THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN 

I, who must have drunk of it in my twice 
seven years' wanderings, am assured that it 
is worth while. 

For all the toll the desert takes of a man 
it gives compensations, deep breaths, deep 
sleep, and the communion of the stars. It 
comes upon one with new force in the 
pauses of the night that the Chaldeans 
were a desert-bred people. It is hard to 
escape the sense of mastery as the stars 
move in the wide clear heavens to risings 
and settings unobscured. They look large 
and near and palpitant ; as if they moved 
on some stately service not needful to de- 
clare. Wheeling to their stations in the 
sky, they make the poor world-fret of no 
account. Of no account you who lie out 
there watching, nor the lean coyote that 
stands off in the scrub from you and howls 
and howls. 

21 




WATER TRAILS OF THE 
CERISO 




WATER TRAILS OF THE 
CERISO 

BY the end of the dry season the water 
trails of the Ceriso are worn to a white 
ribbon in the leaning grass, spread out faint 
and fan wise toward the homes of gopher 
and ground rat and squirrel. But how- 
ever faint to man-sight, they are sufficiently 
plain to the furred and feathered folk who 
travel them. Getting down to the eye level 
of rat and squirrel kind, one perceives what 
might easily be wide and winding roads to 
us if they occurred in thick plantations of 
trees three times the height of a man. It 
needs but a slender thread of barrenness to 
make a mouse trail in the forest of the sod. 
To the little people the water trails are as 
country roads, with scents as signboards. 
25 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

It seems that man-height is the least 
fortunate of all heights from which to study 
trails. It is better to go up the front of 
some tall hill, say the spur of Black Moun- 
tain, looking back and down across the 
hollow of the Ceriso. Strange how long 
the soil keeps the impression of any con- 
tinuous treading, even after grass has over- 
grown it. Twenty years since, a brief hey- 
day of mining at Black Mountain made a 
stage road across the Ceriso, yet the par- 
allel lines that are the wheel traces show 
from the height dark and well defined. 
Afoot in the Ceriso one looks in vain for 
any sign of it. So all the paths that wild 
creatures use going down to the Lone Tree 
Spring are mapped out whitely from this 
level, which is also the level of the hawks. 

There is little water in the Ceriso at the 
best of times, and that little brackish and 
26 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

smelling vilely, but by a lone juniper where 
the rim of the Ceriso breaks away to the 
lower country, there is a perpetual rill of 
fresh sweet drink in the midst of lush grass 
and watercress. In the dry season there 
is no water else for a man's long journey 
of a day. East to the foot of Black Moun- 
tain, and north and south without count- 
ing, are the burrows of small rodents, rat 
and squirrel kind. Under the sage are 
the shallow forms of the jackrabbits, and in 
the dry banks of washes, and among the 
strewn fragments of black rock, lairs of 
bobcat, fox, and coyote. 

The coyote is your true water-witch, one 
who snuffs and paws, snuffs and paws 
again at the smallest spot of moisture- 
scented earth until he has freed the blind 
water from the soil. Many water -holes 
are no more than this detected by the lean 
27 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

hobo of the hills in localities where not 
even an Indian would look for it. 

It is the opinion of many wise and busy 
people that the hill-folk pass the ten-month 
interval between the end and renewal of 
winter rains, with no drink ; but your true 
idler, with days and nights to spend beside 
the water trails, will not subscribe to it. 
The trails begin, as I said, very far back in 
the Ceriso, faintly, and converge in one 
span broad, white, hard-trodden way in the 
gully of the spring. And why trails if 
there are no travelers in that direction ? 

I have yet to find the land not scarred 
by the thin, far roadways of rabbits and 
what not of furry folks that run in them. 
Venture to look for some seldom-touched 
water-hole, and so long as the trails run 
with your general direction make sure you 
are right, but if they begin to cross yours 
28 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

at never so slight an angle, to converge 
toward a point left or right of your objec- 
tive, no matter what the maps say, or your 
memory, trust them ; they know. 

It is very still in the Ceriso by day, so 
that were it not for the evidence of those 
white beaten ways, it might be the desert 
it looks. The sun is hot in the dry season, 
and the days are filled with the glare of it. 
Now and again some unseen coyote signals 
his pack in a long-drawn, dolorous whine 
that comes from no determinate point, but 
nothing stirs much before mid-afternoon. 
It is a sign when there begin to be hawks 
skimming above the sage that the little 
people are going about their business. 

We have fallen on a very careless usage, 

speaking of wild creatures as if they were 

bound by some such limitation as hampers 

clockwork. When we say of one and an- 

29 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

other, they are night prowlers, it is perhaps 
true only as the things they feed upon are 
more easily come by in the dark, and they 
know well how to adjust themselves to con- 
ditions wherein food is more plentiful by 
day. And their accustomed performance 
is very much a matter of keen eye, keener 
scent, quick ear, and a better memory of 
sights and sounds than man dares boast. 
Watch a coyote come out of his lair and 
cast about in his mind where he will go 
for his daily killing. You cannot very well 
tell what decides him, but very easily that 
he has decided. He trots or breaks into 
short gallops, with very perceptible pauses 
to look up and about at landmarks, alters 
his tack a little, looking forward and back 
to steer his proper course. I am persuaded 
that the coyotes in my valley, which is nar- 
row and beset with steep, sharp hills, in 
30 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

long passages steer by the pinnacles of the 
sky-line, going with head cocked to one 
side to keep to the left or right of such and 
such a promontory. 

I have trailed a coyote often, going across 
country, perhaps to where some slant- 
winged scavenger hanging in the air sig- 
naled prospect of a dinner, and found his 
track such as a man, a very intelligent man 
accustomed to a hill country, and a little 
cautious, would make to the same point. 
Here a detour to avoid a stretch of too 
little cover, there a pause on the rim of a 
gully to pick the better way, and it is usu- 
ally the best way, and making his point 
with the greatest economy of effort. Since 
the time of Seyavi the deer have shifted 
their feeding ground across the valley at 
the beginning of deep snows, by way of the 
Black Rock, fording the river at Charley's 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

Butte, and making straight for the mouth 
of the canon that is the easiest going to the 
winter pastures on Waban. So they still 
cross, though whatever trail they had has 
been long broken by ploughed ground ; but 
from the mouth of Tinpah Creek, where the 
deer come out of the Sierras, it is easily seen 
that the creek, the point of Black Rock, 
and Charley's Butte are in line with the 
wide bulk of shade that is the foot of Wa- 
ban Pass. And along with this the deer 
have learned that Charley's Butte is almost 
the only possible ford, and all the shortest 
crossing of the valley. It seems that the 
wild creatures have learned all that is im- 
portant to their way of life except the 
changes of the moon. I have seen some 

o 

prowling fox or coyote, surprised by its 

sudden rising from behind the mountain 

wall, slink in its increasing glow, watch it 

32 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

furtively from the cover of near-by brush, 
unprepared and half uncertain of its identity 
until it rode clear of the peaks, and finally 
make off with all the air of one caught nap- 
ping by an ancient joke. The moon in its 
wanderings must be a sort of exasperation 
to cunning beasts, likely to spoil by un- 
timely risings some fore-planned mischief. 
But to take the trail again ; the coyotes 
that are astir in the Ceriso of late after- 
noons, harrying the rabbits from their 
shallow forms, and the hawks that sweep 
and swing above them, are not there from 
any mechanical promptings of instinct, 
but because they know of old experience 
that the small fry are about to take to seed 
gathering and the water trails. The rabbits 
begin it, taking the trail with long, light 
leaps, one eye and ear cocked to the hills 
from whence a coyote might descend upon 
33 





WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

them at any moment. Rabbits are a fool- 
ish people. They do not fight except with 
their own kind, nor use their paws except 
for feet, and appear to have no reason for 
existence but to furnish meals for meat- 
eaters. In flight they seem to rebound from 
the earth of their own elasticity, but keep 
a sober pace going to the spring. It is the 
young watercress that tempts them and the 
pleasures of society, for they seldom drink. 
Even in localities where there are flowing 
streams they seem to prefer the moisture 
that collects on herbage, and after rains 
may be seen rising on their haunches to 
drink delicately the clear drops caught in 
the tops of the young sage. But drink 
they must, as I have often seen them morn- 
ings and evenings at the rill that goes by 
my door. Wait long enough at the Lone 
Tree Spring and sooner or later they will 
34 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

all come in. But here their matings are 
accomplished, and though they are fearful 
of so little as a cloud shadow or blown leaf, 
they contrive to have some playful hours. 
At the spring the bobcat drops down upon 
them from the black rock, and the red fox 
picks them up returning in the dark. By 
day the hawk and eagle overshadow them, 
and the coyote has all times and seasons 
for his own. 

Cattle, when there are any in the Ceriso, 
drink morning and evening, spending the 
night on the warm last lighted slopes of 
neighboring hills, stirring with the peep o' 
day. In these half wild spotted steers the 
habits of an earlier lineage persist. It must 
be long since they have made beds for them- 
selves, but before lying down they turn 
themselves round and round as dogs do. 
They choose bare and stony ground, ex- 
35 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

posed fronts of westward facing hills, and 
lie down in companies. Usually by the end 
of the summer the cattle have been driven 
or gone of their own choosing to the moun- 
tain meadows. One year a maverick year- 
ling, strayed or overlooked by the vaqueros, 
kept on until the season's end, and so be- 
trayed another visitor to the spring that 
else I might have missed. On a certain 
morning the half-eaten carcass lay at the 
foot of the black rock, and in moist earth 
by the rill of the spring, the foot-pads of a 
cougar, puma, mountain lion, or whatever 
the beast is rightly called. The kill must 
have been made early in the evening, for it 
appeared that the cougar had been twice to 
the spring ; and since the meat-eater drinks 
little until he has eaten, he must have fed 
and drunk, and after an interval of lying 
up in the black rock, had eaten and drunk 
36 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

again. There was no knowing how far he 
had come, but if he came again the second 
night he found that the coyotes had left him 
very little of his kill. 

Nobody ventures to say how infrequently 
and at what hour the small fry visit the 
spring. There are such numbers of them 
that if each came once between the last of 
spring and the first of winter rains, there 
would still be water trails. I have seen 
badgers drinking about the hour when the 
light takes on the yellow tinge it has from 
coming slantwise through the hills. They 
find out shallow places, and are loath to wet 
their feet. Rats and chipmunks have been 
observed visiting the spring as late as nine 
o'clock mornings. The larger spermophiles 
that live near the spring and keep awake to 
work all day, come and go at no particular 
hour, drinking sparingly. At long inter- 
37 




WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 



vals on half-lighted days, meadow and field 
mice steal delicately along the trail. These 
visitors are all too small to be watched 
carefully at night, but for evidence of their 
frequent coming there are the trails that 
may be traced miles out among the crisp- 
ing grasses. On rare nights, in the places 
where no 'grass grows between the shrubs, 
and the sand silvers whitely to the moon, 
one sees them whisking to and fro on in- 
numerable errands of seed gathering, but 
the chief witnesses of their presence near 
the spring are the elf owls. Those bur- 
row-haunting, speckled fluffs of greediness 
begin a twilight flitting toward the spring, 
feeding as they go on grasshoppers, lizards, 
and small, swift creatures, diving into bur- 
rows to catch field mice asleep, battling 
with chipmunks at their own doors, and 
getting down in great numbers toward the 
38 






WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

lone juniper. Now owls do not love water 
greatly on its own account. Not to my 
knowledge have I caught one drinking or 
bathing, though on night wanderings across 
the mesa they flit up from under the horse's 
feet along stream borders. Their presence 
near the spring in great numbers would 
indicate the presence of the things they 
feed upon. All night the rustle and soft 
hooting keeps on in the neighborhood of 
the spring, with seldom small shrieks of 
mortal agony. It is clear day before they 
have all gotten back to their particular 
hummocks, and if one follows cautiously, 
not to frighten them into some near-by 
burrow, it is possible to trail them far up 
the slope. 

The crested quail that troop in the 
Ceriso are the happiest frequenters of the 
water trails. There is no furtiveness about 
39 




WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

their morning drink. About the time the 
burrowers and all that feed upon them are 
addressing themselves to sleep, great flocks 
pour down the trails with that peculiar 
melting motion of moving quail, twitter- 
ing, shoving, and shouldering. They splat- 
ter into the shallows, drink daintily, shake 
out small showers over their perfect coats, 
and melt away again into the scrub, preen- 
ing and pranking, with soft contented 
noises. 

After the quail, sparrows and ground- 
inhabiting birds bathe with the utmost 
frankness and a great deal of splutter ; and 
here in the heart of noon hawks resort, sit- 
ting panting, with wings aslant, and a truce 
to all hostilities because of the heat. One 
summer there came a road-runner up from 
the lower valley, peeking and prying, and 
he had never any patience with the water 
40 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CER1SO 

baths of the sparrows. His own ablutions 
were performed in the clean, hopeful dust 
of the chaparral ; and whenever he hap- 
pened on their morning splatterings, he 
would depress his glossy crest, slant his 
shining tail to the level of his body, until 
he looked most like some bright venomous 
snake, daunting them with shrill abuse and 
feint of battle. Then suddenly he would 
go tilting and balancing down the gully in 
fine disdain, only to return in a day or two 
to make sure the foolish bodies were still 
at it. 

Out on the Ceriso about five miles, and 
wholly out of sight of it, near where the 
immemorial foot trail goes up from Saline 
Flat toward Black Mountain, is a water 
sign worth turning out of the trail to see. 
It is a laid circle of stones large enough 
not to be disturbed by any ordinary hap, 




WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

with an opening flanked by two parallel 
rows of similar stones, between which were 




FIG. i. 

an arrow placed, touching the opposite rim 
of the circle, thus (Fig. i), it would point 
as the crow flies to the spring. It is the 
old, indubitable water mark of the Sho- 
shones. One still finds it in the desert 
ranges in Salt Wells and Mesquite valleys, 
and along the slopes of Waban. On the 
other side of Ceriso, where the black rock 
begins, about a mile from the spring, is the 
work of an older, forgotten people. The 
rock hereabout is all volcanic, fracturing 
with a crystalline whitish surface, but weath- 
42 



WATER TRAILS OF THE CERISO 

ered outside to furnace blackness. Around 
the spring, where must have been a gath- 
ering place of the tribes, it is scored over 
with strange pictures and symbols that 
have no meaning to the Indians of the pre- 
sent day ; but out where the rock begins, 
there is carved into the white heart of it a 




FIG. 2. 



pointing arrow over the symbol for dis- 
tance and a circle full of wavy lines (Fig. 
2) reading thus : " In this direction three 
[units of measurement unknown] is a 
spring of sweet water ; look for it." 
43 



THE SCAVENGERS 





THE SCAVENGERS 

FIFTY-SEVEN buzzards, one on each 
of fifty-seven fence posts at the rancho 
El Tejon, on a mirage-breeding September 
morning, sat solemnly while the white 
tilted travelers' vans lumbered down the 
Canada de los Uvas. After three hours 
they had only clapped their wings, or ex- 
changed posts. The season's end in the 
vast dim valley of the San Joaquin is pal- 
pitatingly hot, and the air breathes like 
cotton wool. Through it all the buzzards 
sit on the fences and low hummocks, with 
wings spead fanwise for air. There is no 
end to them, and they smell to heaven. 
Their heads droop, and all their communi- 
cation is a rare, horrid croak. 

The increase of wild creatures is in pro- 
47 



THE SCAVENGERS 

portion to the things they feed upon : the 
more carrion the more buzzards. The end 
of the third successive dry year bred them 
beyond belief. The first year quail mated 
sparingly; the second year the wild oats 
matured no seed ; the third, cattle died in 
their tracks with their heads towards the 
stopped watercourses. And that year the 
scavengers were as black as the plague all 
across the mesa and up the treeless, tumbled 
hills. On clear days they betook them- 
selves to the upper air, where they hung 
motionless for hours. That year there 
were vultures among them, distinguished 
by the white patches under the wings. All 
their offensiveness notwithstanding, they 
have a stately flight. They must also have 
what pass for good qualities among them- 
selves, for they are social, not to say clan- 
nish. 

48 



THE SCAVENGERS 

It is a very squalid tragedy, that of 
the dying brutes and the scavenger birds. 
Death by starvation is slow. The heavy- 
headed, rack-boned cattle totter in the fruit- 
less trails ; they stand for long, patient 
intervals ; they lie down and do not rise. 
There is fear in their eyes when they are 
first stricken, but afterward only intol- 
erable weariness. I suppose the dumb 
creatures know nearly as much of death 
as do their betters, who have only the more 
imagination. Their even-breathing sub- 
mission after the first agony is their trib- 
ute to its inevitableness. It needs a nice 
discrimination to say which of the basket- 
ribbed cattle is likest to afford the next 
meal, but the scavengers make few mis- 
takes. One stoops to the quarry and the 
flock follows. 

Cattle once down may be days in dying. 
49 




THE SCAVENGERS 

They stretch out their necks along the 
ground, and roll up their slow eyes at longer 
intervals. The buzzards have all the time, 
and no beak is dropped or talon struck un- 
til the breath is wholly passed. It is doubt- 
less the economy of nature to have the 
scavengers by to clean up the carrion, but 
a wolf at the throat would be a shorter 
agony than the long stalking and sometime 
perchings of these loathsome watchers. 
Suppose now it were a man in this long- 
drawn, hungrily spied upon distress ! 
When Timmie O'Shea was lost on Armo- 
gossa Flats for three days without water, 
Long Tom Basset found him, not by any 
trail, but by making straight away for the 
points where he saw buzzards stooping. 
He could hear the beat of their wings, 
Tom said, and trod on their shadows, but 
O'Shea was past recalling what he thought 
50 





LOST FOR THREE DAYS IN THE DESERT 



THE SCAVENGERS 

about things after the second day. My 
friend Ewan told me, among other things, 
when he came back from San Juan Hill, 
that not all the carnage of battle turned 
his bowels as the sight of slant black wings 
rising flockwise before the burial squad. 

There are three kinds of noises buzzards 
make, it is impossible to call them notes, 
raucous and elemental. There is a short 
croak of alarm, and the same syllable in a 
modified tone to serve all the purposes of 
ordinary conversation. The old birds make 
a kind of throaty chuckling to their young, 
but if they have any love song I have not 
heard it. The young yawp in the nest a 
little, with more breath than noise. It is 
seldom one finds a buzzard's nest, seldom 
that grown-ups find a nest of any sort ; it 
is only children to whom these things hap- 
pen by right. But by making a business 



THE SCAVENGERS 

of it one may come upon them in wide, 
quiet canons, or on the lookouts of lonely, 
table-topped mountains, three or four to- 
gether, in the tops of stubby trees or on 
rotten cliffs well open to the sky. 

It is probable that the buzzard is grega- 
rious, but it seems unlikely from the small 
number of young noted at any time that 
every female incubates each year. The 
young birds are easily distinguished by 
their size when feeding, and high up in air 
by the worn primaries of the older birds. 
It is when the young go out of the nest 
on their first foraging that the parents, 
full of a crass and simple pride, make their 
indescribable chucklings of gobbling, glut- 
tonous delight. The little ones would be 
amusing as they tug and tussle, if one 
could forget what it is they feed upon. 

One never comes any nearer to the vul- 
52 



THE SCAVENGERS 

ture's nest or nestlings than hearsay. They 
keep to the southerly Sierras, and are bold 
enough, it seems, to do killing on their own 
account when no carrion is at hand. They 
dog the shepherd from camp to camp, the 
hunter home from the hill, and will even 
carry away offal from under his hand. 

The vulture merits respect for his big- 
ness and for his bandit airs, but he is a 
sombre bird, with none of the buzzard's 
frank satisfaction in his offensiveness. 

The least objectionable of the inland 
scavengers is the raven, frequenter of the 
desert ranges, the same called locally " car- 
rion crow." He is handsomer and has such 
an air. He is nice in his habits and is 
said to have likable traits. A tame one in 
a Shoshone camp was the butt of much 
sport and enjoyed it. He could all but 
talk and was another with the children, 
53 





THE SCAVENGERS 

but an arrant thief. The raven will eat 
most things that come his way, eggs and 
young of ground-nesting birds, seeds even, 
lizards and grasshoppers, which he catches 
cleverly ; and whatever he is about, let a 
coyote trot never so softly by, the raven 
flaps up and after; for whatever the coyote 
can pull down or nose out is meat also 
for the carrion crow. 

And never a coyote comes out of his 
lair for killing, in the country of the car- 
rion crows, but looks up first to see where 
they may be gathering. It is a sufficient 
occupation for a windy morning, on the 
lineless, level mesa, to watch the pair of 
them eying each other furtively, with a 
tolerable assumption of unconcern, but no 
doubt with a certain amount of good un- 
derstanding about it. Once at Red Rock, 
in a year of green pasture, which is a bad 
54 



THE SCAVENGERS 

time for the scavengers, we saw two buz- 
zards, five ravens, and a coyote feeding 
on the same carrion, and only the coyote 
seemed ashamed of the company. 

Probably we never fully credit the inter- 
dependence of wild creatures, and their 
cognizance of the affairs of their own kind. 
When the five coyotes that range the Te- 
jon from Pasteria to Tunawai planned a 
relay race to bring down an antelope 
strayed from the band, beside myself to 
watch, an eagle swung down from Mt. 
Pinos, buzzards materialized out of invis- 
ible ether, and hawks came trooping like 
small boys to a street fight. Rabbits sat 
up in the chaparral and cocked their ears, 
feeling themselves quite safe for the once 
as the hunt swung near them. Nothing 
happens in the deep wood that the blue 
jays are not all agog to tell. The hawk 
55 



THE SCAVENGERS 

follows the badger, the coyote the carrion 
crow, and from their aerial stations the 
buzzards watch each other. What would 
be worth knowing is how much of their 
neighbor's affairs the new generations 
learn for themselves, and how much they 
are taught of their elders. 

So wide is the range of the scavengers 
that it is never safe to say, eyewitness to 
the contrary, that there are few or many in 
such a place. Where the carrion is, there 
will the buzzards be gathered together, and 
in three days' journey you will not sight 
another one. The way up from Mojave to 
Red Butte is all desertness, affording no 
pasture and scarcely a rill of water. In a 
year of little rain in the south, flocks and 
herds were driven to the number of thou- 
sands along this road to the perennial pas- 
tures of the high ranges. It is a long, slow 
56 



THE SCAVENGERS 

trail, ankle deep in bitter dust that gets 
up in the slow wind and moves along the 
backs of the crawling cattle. In the worst 
of times one in three will pine and fall out 
by the way. In the defiles of Red Rock, 
the sheep piled up a stinking lane ; it was 
the sun smiting by day. To these sham- 
bles came buzzards, vultures, and coyotes 
from all the country round, so that on the 
Tejon, the Ceriso, and the Little Antelope 
there were not scavengers enough to keep 
the country clean. All that summer the 
dead mummified in the open or dropped 
slowly back to earth in the quagmires of 
the bitter springs. Meanwhile from Red 
Rock to Coyote Holes, and from Coyote 
Holes to Haiwai the scavengers gorged 
and gorged. 

The coyote is not a scavenger by choice, 
preferring his own kill, but being on the 
57 



THE SCAVENGERS 

whole a lazy dog, is apt to fall into carrion 
eating because it is easier. The red fox 
and bobcat, a little pressed by hunger, will 
eat of any other animal's kill, but will not 
ordinarily touch what dies of itself, and are 
exceedingly shy of food that has been man- 
handled. 

Very clean and handsome, quite bely- 
ing his relationship in appearance, is 
Clark's crow, that scavenger and plunderer 
of mountain camps. It is permissible to 
call him by his common name, " Camp 
Robber : " he has earned it. Not content 
with refuse, he pecks open meal sacks, 
filches whole potatoes, is a gormand for 
bacon, drills holes in packing cases, and is 
daunted by nothing short of tin. All the 
while he does not neglect to vituperate 
the chipmunks and sparrows that whisk 
off crumbs of comfort from under the 
58 



THE SCAVENGERS 

camper's feet. The Camp Robber's gray 
coat, black and white barred wings, and 
slender bill, with certain tricks of perching, 
accuse him of attempts to pass himself off 
among woodpeckers ; but his behavior is 
all crow. He frequents the higher pine 
belts, and has a noisy strident call like a 
jay's, and how clean he and the frisk-tailed 
chipmunks keep the camp! No crumb or 
paring or bit of eggshell goes amiss. 

High as the camp may be, so it is not 
above timber-line, it is not too high for 
the coyote, the bobcat, or the wolf. It is 
the complaint of the ordinary camper that 
the woods are too still, depleted of wild 
life. But what dead body of wild thing, or 
neglected game untouched by its kind, do 
you find ? And put out offal away from 
camp over night, and look next day at the 
foot tracks where it lay. 
59 






THE SCAVENGERS 

Man is a great blunderer going about 
in the woods, and there is no other except 
the bear makes so much noise. Being so 
well warned beforehand, it is a very stupid 
animal, or a very bold one, that cannot 
keep safely hid. The cunningest hunter is 
hunted in turn, and what he leaves of his 
kill is meat for some other. That is the 
economy of nature, but with it all there is 
not sufficient account taken of the works 
of man. There is no scavenger that eats 
tin cans, and no wild thing leaves a like 
disfigurement on the forest floor. 





THE POCKET HUNTER 




THE POCKET HUNTER 

I REMEMBER very well when I first 
met him. Walking in the evening glow 
to spy the marriages of the white gilias, I 
sniffed the unmistakable odor of burning 
sage. It is a smell that carries far and indi- 
cates usually the nearness of a campoodie, 
but on the level mesa nothing taller showed 
than Diana's sage. Over the tops of it, be- 
ginning to dusk under a young white moon, 
trailed a wavering ghost of smoke, and at 
the end of it I came upon the Pocket 
Hunter making a dry camp in the friendly 
scrub. He sat tailorwise in the sand, with 
his coffee-pot on the coals, his supper ready 
to hand in the frying pan, and himself in a 
mood for talk. His pack burros in hobbles 
strayed off to hunt for a wetter mouthful 
63 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

than the sage afforded, and gave him no 
concern. 

We came upon him often after that, 
threading the windy passes, or by water- 
holes in the desert hills, and got to know 
much of his way of life. He was a small, 
bowed man, with a face and manner and 
speech of no character at all, as if he had 
that faculty of small hunted things of tak- 
ing on the protective color of his surround- 
ings. His clothes were of no fashion that 
I could remember, except that they bore 
liberal markings of pot black, and he had 
a curious fashion of going about with his 
mouth open, which gave him a vacant look 
until you came near enough to perceive 
him busy about an endless hummed, word- 
less tune. He traveled far and took a long 
time to it, but the simplicity of his kitchen 
arrangements was elemental. A pot for 
64 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

beans, a coffee-pot, a frying-pan, a tin to 
mix bread in he fed the burros in this 
when there was need with these he had 
been half round our western world and 
back. He explained to me very early in our 
acquaintance what was good to take to 
the hills for food : nothing sticky, for that 
"dirtied the pots ;" nothing with "juice" 
to it, for that would not pack to advantage ; 
and nothing likely to ferment. He used no 
gun, but he would set snares by the water- 
holes for quail and doves, and in the trout 
country he carried a line. Burros he kept, 
one or two according to his pack, for this 
chief excellence, that they would eat potato 
parings and firewood. He had owned a 
horse in the foothill country, but when he 
came to the desert with no forage but mes- 
quite, he found himself under the neces- 
sity of picking the beans from the briers, 
65 




THE POCKET HUNTER 

a labor that drove him to the use of pack 
animals to whom thorns were a relish. 

I suppose no man becomes a pocket 
hunter by first intention. He must be born 
with the faculty, and along comes the occa- 
sion, like the tap on the test tube that in- 
duces crystallization. My friend had been 
several things of no moment until he struck 
a thousand-dollar pocket in the Lee District 
and came into his vocation. A pocket, you 
must know, is a small body of rich ore oc- 
curring by itself, or in a vein of poorer stuff. 
Nearly every mineral ledge contains such, 
if only one has the luck to hit upon them 
without too much labor. The sensible 
thing for a man to do who has found a good 
pocket is to buy himself into business and 
keep away from the hills. The logical thing 
is to set out looking for another one. My 
friend the Pocket Hunter had been looking 
66 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

twenty years. His working outfit was a 
shovel, a pick, a gold pan which he kept 
cleaner than his plate, and a pocket mag- 
nifier. When he came to a watercourse 
he would pan out the gravel of its bed for 
" colors," and under the glass determine if 
they had come from far or near, and so spy- 
ing he would work up the stream until he 
found where the drift of the gold-bearing 
outcrop fanned out into the creek ; then 
up the side of the canon till he came to 
the proper vein. I think he said the best 
indication of small pockets was an iron 
stain, but I could never get the run of 
miner's talk enough to feel instructed for 
pocket hunting. He had another method 
in the waterless hills, where he would work 
in and out of blind gullies and all windings 
of the manifold strata that appeared not 
to have cooled since they had been heaved 
67 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

up. His itinerary began with the east 
slope of the Sierras of the Snows, where 
that range swings across to meet the coast 
hills, and all up that slope to the Truckee 
River country, where the long cold forbade 
his progress north. Then he worked back 
down one or another of the nearly parallel 
ranges that lie out desertward, and so down 
to the sink of the Mojave River, burrowing 
to oblivion in the sand, a big mysterious 
land, a lonely, inhospitable land, beautiful, 
terrible. But he came to no harm in it ; the 
land tolerated him as it might a gopher or 
a badger. Of all its inhabitants it has the 
least concern for man. 

There are many strange sorts of humans 
bred in a mining country, each sort despis- 
ing the queernesses of the other, but of them 
all I found the Pocket Hunter most accept- 
able for his clean, companionable talk. 
68 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

There was more color to his reminiscences 
than the faded sandy old miners " kyote- 
ing," that is, tunneling like a coyote (kyote 
in the vernacular) in the core of a lonesome 
hill. Such a one has found, perhaps, a body 
of tolerable ore in a poor lead, remember 
that I can never be depended on to get the 
terms right, and followed it into the heart 
of country rock to no profit, hoping, bur- 
rowing, and hoping. These men go harm- 
lessly mad in time, believing themselves 
just behind the wall of fortune most lik- 
able and simple men, for whom it is well 
to do any kindly thing that occurs to you 
except lend them money. I have known 
" grub stakers " too, those persuasive sin- 
ners to whom you make allowances of flour 
and pork and coffee in consideration of the 
ledges they are about to find ; but none of 
these proved so much worth while as the 
69 





THE POCKET HUNTER 

Pocket Hunter. He wanted nothing of 
you and maintained a cheerful preference 
for his own way of life. It was an excellent 
way if you had the constitution for it. The 
Pocket Hunter had gotten to that point 
where he knew no bad weather, and all 
places were equally happy so long as they 
were out of doors. I do not know just 
how long it takes to become saturated with 
the elements so that one takes no account 
of them. Myself can never get past the 
glow and exhilaration of a storm, the wrestle 
of long dust-heavy winds, the play of live 
thunder on the rocks, nor past the keen 
fret of fatigue when the storm outlasts 
physical endurance. But prospectors and 
Indians get a kind of a weather shell that 
remains on the body until death. 

The Pocket Hunter had seen destruction 
by the violence of nature and the violence 
70 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

of men, and felt himself in the grip of an 
All-wisdom that killed men or spared them 
as seemed for their good ; but of death by 
sickness he knew nothing except that he 
believed he should never suffer it. He had 
been in Grape-vine Canon the year of storms 
that changed the whole front of the moun- 
tain. All day he had come down under 
the wing of the storm, hoping to win past it, 
but finding it traveling with him until night. 
It kept on after that, he supposed, a steady 
downpour, but could not with certainty 
say, being securely deep in sleep. But the 
weather instinct does not sleep. In the 
night the heavens behind the hill dissolved 
in rain, and the roar of the storm was borne 
in and mixed with his dreaming, so that it 
moved him, still asleep, to get up and out 
of the path of it. What finally woke him 
was the crash of pine logs as they went down 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

before the unbridled flood, and the swirl of 
foam that lashed him where he clung in the 
tangle of scrub while the wall of water went 
by. It went on against the cabin of Bill 
Gerry and laid Bill stripped and broken on 
a sand bar at the mouth of the Grape-vine, 
seven miles away. There, when the sun 
was up and the wrath of the rain spent, the 
Pocket Hunter found and buried him; but 
he never laid his own escape at any door 
but the unintelligible favor of the Powers. 
The journeyings of the Pocket Hunter 
led him often into that mysterious country 
beyond Hot Creek where a hidden force 
works mischief, mole-like, under the crust 
of the earth. Whatever agency is at work 
in that neighborhood, and it is popularly 
supposed to be the devil, it changes means 
and direction without time or season. It 
creeps up whole hillsides with insidious 
72 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

heat, unguessed until one notes the pine 
woods dying at the top, and having scorched 
out a good block of timber returns to steam 
and spout in caked, forgotten crevices of 
years before. It will break up sometimes 
blue-hot and bubbling, in the midst of a 
clear creek, or make a sucking, scalding 
quicksand at the ford. These outbreaks 
had the kind of morbid interest for the 
Pocket Hunter that a house of unsavory 
reputation has in a respectable neighbor- 
hood, but I always found the accounts he 
brought me more interesting than his 
explanations, which were compounded of 
fag ends of miner's talk and superstition. 
He was a perfect gossip of the woods, this 
Pocket Hunter, and when I could get him 
away from " leads " and " strikes " and 
" contacts," full of fascinating small talk 
about the ebb and flood of creeks, the 
73 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

pifion crop on Black Mountain, and the 
wolves of Mesquite Valley. I suppose he 
never knew how much he depended for 
the necessary sense of home and compan- 
ionship on the beasts and trees, meeting 
and finding them in their wonted places, 
the bear that used to come down Pine 
Creek in the spring, pawing out trout 
from the shelters of sod banks, the juniper 
at Lone Tree Spring, and the quail at 
Paddy Jack's. 

There is a place on Waban, south of 
White Mountain, where flat, wind-tilted 
cedars make low tents and coves of shade 
and shelter, where the wild sheep winter 
in the snow. Woodcutters and prospectors 
had brought me word of that, but the 
Pocket Hunter was accessory to the fact. 
About the opening of winter, when one 
looks for sudden big storms, he had at- 
74 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

tempted a crossing by the nearest path, 
beginning the ascent at noon. It grew 
cold, the snow came on thick and blind- 
ing, and wiped out the trail in a white 
smudge ; the storm drift blew in and cut 
off landmarks, the early dark obscured 
the rising drifts. According to the Pocket 
Hunter's account, he knew where he was, 
but could n't exactly say. Three days be- 
fore he had been in the west arm of Death 
Valley on a short water allowance, ankle- 
deep in shifty sand ; now he was on the 
rise of Waban, knee-deep in sodden snow, 
and in both cases he did the only allow- 
able thing he walked on. That is the 
only thing to do in a snowstorm in any 
case. It might have been the creature 
instinct, which in his way of life had room 
to grow, that led him to the cedar shelter ; 
at any rate he found it about four hours 
75 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

after dark, and heard the heavy breathing 
of the flock. He said that if he thought at 
all at this juncture he must have thought 
that he had stumbled on a storm-belated 
shepherd with his silly sheep ; but in fact 
he took no note of anything but the warmth 
of packed fleeces, and snuggled in be- 
tween them dead with sleep. If the flock 
stirred in the night he stirred drowsily to 
keep close and let the storm go by. That 
was all until morning woke him shining 
on a white world. Then the very soul of 
him shook to see the wild sheep of God 
stand up about him, nodding their great 
horns beneath the cedar roof, looking out 
on the wonder of the snow. They had 
moved a little away from him with the 
coming of the light, but paid him no more 
heed. The light broadened and the white 
pavilions of the snow swam in the hea- 
76 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

venly blueness of the sea from which 
they rose. The cloud drift scattered and 
broke billowing in the canons. The leader 
stamped lightly on the litter to put the 
flock in motion, suddenly they took the 
drifts in those long light leaps that are 
nearest to flight, down and away on the 
slopes of Waban. Think of that to hap- 
pen to a Pocket Hunter! But though he 
had fallen on many a wished-for hap, he 
was curiously inapt at getting the truth 
about beasts in general. He believed in 
the venom of toads, and charms for snake 
bites, and for this I could never forgive 
him had all the miner's prejudices against 
my friend the coyote. Thief, sneak, and 
son of a thief were the friendliest words 
he had for this little gray dog of the wil- 
derness. 

Of course with so much seeking he came 
77 



THE POCKET HUNTER 

occasionally upon pockets of more or less 
value, otherwise he could not have kept up 
his way of life ; but he had as much luck 
in missing great ledges as in finding small 
ones. He had been all over the Tonopah 
country, and brought away float without 
happening upon anything that gave pro- 
mise of what that district was to become in 
a few years. He claimed to have chipped 
bits off the very outcrop of the California 
Rand, without finding it worth while to 
bring away, but none of these things put 
him out of countenance. 

It was once in roving weather, when 
we found him shifting pack on a steep 
trail, that I observed certain of his be- 
longings done up in green canvas bags, 
the veritable " green bag " of English nov- 
els. It seemed so incongruous a reminder 
in this untenanted West that I dropped 
78 



THE POCKET HUNTER 



down beside the trail overlooking the vast 
dim valley, to hear about the green canvas. 
He had gotten it, he said, in London years 
before, and that was the first I had known 
of his having been abroad. It was after 
one of his " big strikes " that he had made 
the Grand Tour, and had brought nothing 
away from it but the green canvas bags, 
which he conceived would fit his needs, 
and an ambition. This last was nothing 
less than to strike it rich and set himself 
up among the eminently bourgeois of Lon- 
don. It seemed that the situation of the 
wealthy English middle class, with just 
enough gentility above to aspire to, and 
sufficient smaller fry to bully and patronize, 
appealed to his imagination, though of 
course he did not put it so crudely as that. 
It was no news to me then, two or three 
years after, to learn that he had taken ten 
79 




THE POCKET HUNTER 

thousand dollars from an abandoned claim, 
just the sort of luck to have pleased him, 
and gone to London to spend it. The 
land seemed not to miss him any more 
than it had minded him, but I missed him 
and could not forget the trick of expecting 
him in least likely situations. Therefore 
it was with a pricking sense of the familiar 
that I followed a twilight trail of smoke, a 
year or two later, to the swale of a drip- 
ping spring, and came upon a man by the 
fire with a coffee-pot and frying-pan. I 
was not surprised to find it was the Pocket 
Hunter. No man can be stronger than 
his destiny. 





SHOSHONE LAND 




IT is true I have been in Shoshone Land, 
but before that, long before, I had seen it 
through the eyes of Winnenap' in a rosy 
mist of reminiscence, and must always see 
it with a sense of intimacy in the light that 
never was. Sitting on the golden slope at 
the campoodie, looking across the Bitter 
Lake to the purple tops of Mutarango, the 
medicine-man drew up its happy places 
one by one, like little blessed islands in a 
sea of talk. For he was born a Shoshone, 
was Winnenap' ; and though his name, his 
wife, his children, and his tribal relations 
were of the Paiutes, his thoughts turned 
homesickly toward Shoshone Land. Once 
a Shoshone always a Shoshone. Winne- 
nap' lived gingerly among the Paiutes and 
83 




SHOSHONE LAND 

in his heart despised them. But he could 
speak a tolerable English when he would, 
and he always would if it were of Shoshone 
Land. 

He had come into the keeping of the 
Paiutes as a hostage for the long peace 
which the authority of the whites made 
interminable, and, though there was now 
no order in the tribe, nor any power that 
could have lawfully restrained him, kept 
on in the old usage, to save his honor and 
the word of his vanished kin. He had 
seen his children's children in the borders 
of the Paiutes, but loved best his own 
miles of sand and rainbow-painted hills. 
Professedly he had not seen them since 
the beginning of his hostage; but every 
year about the end of the rains and before 
the strength of the sun had come upon us 
from the south, the medicine-man went 
84 



SHOSHONE LAND 

apart on the mountains to gather herbs, 
and when he came again I knew by the 
new fortitude of his countenance and the 
new color of his reminiscences that he had 
been alone and unspied upon in Shoshone 
Land. 

To reach that country from the cam- 
poodie, one goes south and south, within 
hearing of the lip-lip-lapping of the great 
tideless lake, and south by east over a 
high rolling district, miles and miles of 
sage and nothing else. So one comes to 
the country of the painted hills, old red 
cones of craters, wasteful beds of mineral 
earths, hot, acrid springs, and steam jets 
issuing from a leprous soil. After the 
hills the black rock, after the craters the 
spewed lava, ash strewn, of incredible 
thickness, and full of sharp, winding rifts. 
There are picture writings carved deep in 
85 



SHOSHONE LAND 

the face of the cliffs to mark the way for 
those who do not know it. On the very 
edge of the black rock the earth falls away 
in a wide sweeping hollow, which is Sho- 
shone Land. 

South the land rises in very blue hills, 
blue because thickly wooded with ceano- 
thus and manzanita, the haunt of deer and 
the border of the Shoshones. Eastward 
the land goes very far by broken ranges, 
narrow valleys of pure desertness, and 
huge mesas uplifted to the sky-line, east 
and east, and no man knows the end of it. 

It is the country of the bighorn, the 
wapiti, and the wolf, nesting place of buz- 
zards, land of cloud-nourished trees and 
wild things that live without drink. Above 
all, it is the land of the creosote and the 
mesquite. The mesquite is God's best 
thought in all this desertness. It grows 
86 



SHOSHONE LAND 

in the open, is thorny, stocky, close grown, 
and iron-rooted. Long winds move in the 
draughty valleys, blown sand fills and fills 
about the lower branches, piling pyramidal 
dunes, from the top of which the mesquite 
twigs flourish greenly. Fifteen or twenty 
feet under the drift, where it seems no rain 
could penetrate, the main trunk grows, 
attaining often a yard's thickness, resist- 
ant as oak. In Shoshone Land one digs 
for large timber ; that is in the southerly, 
sandy exposures. Higher on the table- 
topped ranges low trees of juniper and 
pifion stand each apart, rounded and 
spreading heaps of greenness. Between 
them, but each to itself in smooth clear 
spaces, tufts of tall feathered grass. 

This is the sense of the desert hills, that 
there is room enough and time enough. 
Trees grow to consummate domes ; every 
87 



SHOSHONE LAND 

plant has its perfect work. Noxious weeds 
such as come up thickly in crowded fields 
do not flourish in the free spaces. Live 
long enough with an Indian, and he or 
the wild things will show you a use for 
everything that grows in these borders. 

The manner of the country makes the 
usage of life there, and the land will not 
be lived in except in its own fashion. The 
Shoshones live like their trees, with great 
spaces between, and in pairs and in family 
groups they set up wattled huts by the in- 
frequent springs. More wickiups than two 
make a very great number. Their shelters 
are lightly built, for they travel much and 
far, following where deer feed and seeds 
ripen, but they are not more lonely than 
other creatures that inhabit there. 

The year's round is somewhat in this 
fashion. After the pinon harvest the 



SHOSHONE LAND 

clans foregather on a warm southward 
slope for the annual adjustment of tribal 
difficulties and the medicine dance, for 
marriage and mourning and vengeance, 
and the exchange of serviceable informa- 
tion ; if, for example, the deer have shifted 
their feeding ground, if the wild sheep 
have come back to Waban, or certain 
springs run full or dry. Here the Sho- 
shones winter flockwise, weaving baskets 
and hunting big game driven down from 
the country of the deep snow. And this 
brief intercourse is all the use they have of 
their kind, for now there are no wars, and 
many of their ancient crafts have fallen 
into disuse. The solitariness of the life 
breeds in the men, as in the plants, a cer- 
tain well-roundedness and sufficiency to its 
own ends. Any Shoshone family has in 
itself the man-seed, power to multiply and 
89 



SHOSHONE LAND 

replenish, potentialities for food and cloth- 
ing and shelter, for healing and beautify- 
ing. 

When the rain is over and gone they 
are stirred by the instinct of those that 
journeyed eastward from Eden, and go up 
each with his mate and young brood, like 
birds to old nesting places. The begin- 
ning of spring in Shoshone Land oh 
the soft wonder of it ! is a mistiness as 
of incense smoke, a veil of greenness over 
the whitish stubby shrubs, a web of color 
on the silver sanded soil. No counting 
covers the multitude of rayed blossoms 
that break suddenly underfoot in the brief 
season of the winter rains, with silky furred 
or prickly viscid foliage, or no foliage at all. 
They are morning and evening bloomers 
chiefly, and strong seeders. Years of scant 
rains they lie shut and safe in the win- 
90 



SHOSHONE LAND 

nowed sands, so that some species appear 
to be extinct. Years of long storms they 
break so thickly into bloom that no horse 
treads without crushing them. These 
years the gullies of the hills are rank with 
fern and a great tangle of climbing vines. 

Just as the mesa twilights have their 
vocal note in the love call of the burrow- 
ing owl, so the desert spring is voiced by 
the mourning doves. Welcome and sweet 
they sound in the smoky mornings before 
breeding time, and where they frequent in 
any great numbers water is confidently 
looked for. Still by the springs one finds 
the cunning brush shelters from which the 
Shoshones shot arrows at them when the 
doves came to drink. 

Now as to these same Shoshones there 
are some who claim that they have no right 
to the name, which belongs to a more north- 



SHOSHONE LAND 

erly tribe ; but that is the word they will be 
called by, and there is no greater offense 
than to call an Indian out of his name. 
According to their traditions and all proper 
evidence, they were a great people occu- 
pying far north and east of their present 
bounds, driven thence by the Paiutes. Be- 
tween the two tribes is the residuum of old 
hostilities. 

Winnenap', whose memory ran to the 
time when the boundary of the Paiute coun- 
try was a dead-line to Shoshones, told me 
once how himself and another lad, in an 
unforgotten spring, discovered a nesting 
place of buzzards a bit of a way beyond the 
borders. And they two burned to rob those 
nests. Oh, for no purpose at all except as 
boys rob nests immemorially, for the fun 
of it, to have and handle and show to other 
lads as an exceeding treasure, and after- 
92 



SHOSHONE LAND 

wards discard. So, not quite meaning to, 
but breathless with daring, they crept up a 
gully, across a sage brush flat and through 
a waste of boulders, to the rugged pines 
where their sharp eyes had made out the 
buzzards settling. 

The medicine-man told me, always with 
a quaking relish at this point, that while 
they, grown bold by success, were still in 
the tree, they sighted a Paiute hunting 
party crossing between them and their 
own land. That was mid-morning, and all 
day on into the dark the boys crept and 
crawled and slid, from boulder to bush, 
and bush to boulder, in cactus scrub and 
on naked sand, always in a sweat of fear, 
until the dust caked in the nostrils and 
the breath sobbed in the body, around 
and away many a mile until they came to 
their own land again. And all the time 
93 



SHOSHONE LAND 

Winnenap' carried those buzzard's eggs in 
the slack of his single buckskin garment ! 
Young Shoshones are like young quail, 
knowing without teaching about feeding 
and hiding, and learning what civilized chil- 
dren never learn, to be still and to keep on 
being still, at the first hint of danger or 
strangeness. 

As for food, that appears to be chiefly a 
matter of being willing. Desert Indians all 
eat chuck-wallas, big black and white liz- 
ards that have delicate white flesh savored 
like chicken. Both the Shoshones and the 
coyotes are fond of the flesh of Gopherus 
agassizii, the turtle that by feeding on 
buds, going without drink, and burrowing 
in the sand through the winter, contrives 
to live a known period of twenty-five years. 
It seems that most seeds are foodful in the 
arid regions, most berries edible, and many 
94 



SHOSHONE LAND 

shrubs good for firewood with the sap in 
them. The mesquite bean, whether the 
screw or straight pod, pounded to a meal, 
boiled to a kind of mush, and dried in 
cakes, sulphur-colored and needing an axe 
to cut it, is an excellent food for long jour- 
neys. Fermented in water with wild honey 
and the honeycomb, it makes a pleasant, 
mildly intoxicating drink. 

Next to spring, the best time to visit 
Shoshone Land is when the deer-star hangs 
low and white like a torch over the morn- 
ing hills. Go up past Winnedumah and 
down Saline and up again to the rim of 
Mesquite Valley. Take no tent, but if you 
will, have an Indian build you a wickiup, 
willows planted in a circle, drawn over to 
an arch, and bound cunningly with withes, 
all the leaves on, and chinks to count the 
stars through. But there was never any 
95 




SHOSHONE LAND 

but Winnenap' who could tell and make 
it worth telling about Shoshone Land. 

And Winnenap' will not any more. He 
died, as do most medicine-men of the 
Paiutes. 

Where the lot falls when the campoodie 
chooses a medicine-man there it rests. It 
is an honor a man seldom seeks but must 
wear, an honor with a condition. When 
three patients die under his ministrations, 
the medicine-man must yield his life and 
his office. Wounds do not count ; broken 
bones and bullet holes the Indian can 
understand, but measles, pneumonia, and 
smallpox are witchcraft. Winnenap' was 
medicine-man for fifteen years. Besides 
considerable skill in healing herbs, he used 
his prerogatives cunningly. It is permit- 
ted the medicine-man to decline the case 
when the patient has had treatment from 
96 



SHOSHONE LAND 

any other, say the white doctor, whom 
many of the younger generation consult. 
Or, if before having seen the patient, he 
can definitely refer his disorder to some 
supernatural cause wholly out of the medi- 
cine-man's jurisdiction, say to the spite of 
an evil spirit going about in the form of 
a coyote, and states the case convincingly, 
he may avoid the penalty. But this must 
not be pushed too far. All else failing, he 
can hide. Winnenap' did this the time of 
the measles epidemic. Returning from his 
yearly herb gathering, he heard of it at 
Black Rock, and turning aside, he was not 
to be found, nor did he return to his own 
place until the disease had spent itself, 
and half the children of the campoodie 
were in their shallow graves with beads 
sprinkled over them. 

It is possible the tale of Winnenap"s 
97 



SHOSHONE LAND 

patients had not been strictly kept. There 
had not been a medicine-man killed in 
the valley for twelve years, and for that the 
perpetrators had been severely punished 
by the whites. The winter of the Big 
Snow an epidemic of pneumonia carried 
off the Indians with scarcely a warning ; 
from the lake northward to the lava flats 
they died in the sweat-houses, and under 
the hands of the medicine-men. Even the 
drugs of the white physician had no power. 
After two weeks of this plague the Pai- 
utes drew to council to consider the re- 
missness of their medicine-men. They 
were sore with grief and afraid for them- 
selves ; as a result of the council, one in 
every campoodie was sentenced to the an- 
cient penalty. But schooling and native 
shrewdness had raised up in the younger 
men an unfaith in old usages, so judgment 
98 




ARRIVAL OF THE EXECUTIONERS 



SHOSHONE LAND 

halted between sentence and execution. 
At Three Pines the government teacher 
brought out influential whites to threaten 
and cajole the stubborn tribes. At Tuna- 
wai the conservatives sent into Nevada for 
that pacific old humbug, Johnson Sides, 
most notable of Paiute orators, to harangue 
his people. Citizens of the towns turned 
out with food and comforts, and so after a 
season the trouble passed. 

But here at Maverick there was no 
school, no oratory, and no alleviation. 
One third of the campoodie died, and the 
rest killed the medicine-men. Winnenap' 
expected it, and for days walked and sat a 
little apart from his family that he might 
meet it as became a Shoshone, no doubt 
suffering the agony of dread deferred. 
When finally three men came and sat at 
his fire without greeting he knew his time. 
99 



SHOSHONE LAND 

He turned a little from them, dropped his 
chin upon his knees, and looked out over 
Shoshone Land, breathing evenly. The 
women went into the wickiup and covered 
their heads with their blankets. 

So much has the Indian lost of savage- 
ness by merely desisting from killing, that 
the executioners braved themselves to their 
work by drinking and a show of quarrel- 
someness. In the end a sharp hatchet- 
stroke discharged the duty of the cam- 
poodie. Afterward his women buried him, 
and a warm wind coming out of the south, 
the force of the disease was broken, and 
even they acquiesced in the wisdom of 
the tribe. That summer they told me all 
except the names of the Three. 

Since it appears that we make our own 
heaven here, no doubt we shall have a 
hand in the heaven of hereafter; and I 

100 



SHOSHONE LAND 

know what Winnenap"s will be like: 
worth going to if one has leave to live in 
it according to his liking. It will be tawny 
gold underfoot, walled up with jacinth and 
jasper, ribbed with chalcedony, and yet no 
hymn-book heaven, but the free air and 
free spaces of Shoshone Land. 

,^S Jr\ 

-__^^-^^^^^ : ^-^___ 

j^iw^s^Ei^k. 




JIMVILLE 

A BRET HARTE TOWN 




JIMVILLE 

A BRET HARTE TOWN 

WHEN Mr. Harte found himself with 
a fresh palette and his particular 
local color fading from the West, he did 
what he considered the only safe thing, and 
carried his young impression away to be 
worked out untroubled by any newer fact. 
He should have gone to Jimville. There he 
would have found cast up on the ore-ribbed 
hills the bleached timbers of more tales, and 
better ones. 

You could not think of Jimville as any- 
thing more than a survival, like the herb- 
eating, bony-cased old tortoise that pokes 
cheerfully about those borders some thou- 
sands of years beyond his proper epoch. 
105 



JIMVILLE 

Not that Jimville is old, but it has an at- 
mosphere favorable to the type of a half 
century back, if not " forty-niners," of that 
breed. It is said of Jimville that getting 
away from it is such a piece of work that it 
encourages permanence in the population ; 
the fact is that most have been drawn there 
by some real likeness or liking. Not how- 
ever that I would deny the difficulty of get- 
ting into or out of that cove of reminder, I 
who have made the journey so many times 
at great pains of a poor body. Any way 
you go at it, Jimville is about three days 
from anywhere in particular. North or 
south, after the railroad there is a stage 
journey of such interminable monotony as 
induces forgetfulness of all previous states 
of existence. 

The road to Jimville is the happy hunt- 
ing ground of old stage-coaches bought 
106 



JIMVILLE 

up from superseded routes the West over, 
rocking, lumbering, wide vehicles far gone 
in the odor of romance, coaches that Vas- 
quez has held up, from whose high seats 
express messengers have shot or been shot 
as their luck held. This is to comfort you 
when the driver stops to rummage for wire 
to mend a failing bolt. There is enough 
of this sort of thing to quite prepare you 
to believe what the driver insists, namely, 
that all that country and Jimville are held 
together by wire. 

First on the way to Jimville you cross a 
lonely open land, with a hint in the sky of 
things going on under the horizon, a pal- 
pitant, white, hot land where the wheels 
gird at the sand and the midday heaven 
shuts it in breathlessly like a tent. So in 
still weather ; and when the wind blows 
there is occupation enough for the passen- 
107 




JIMVILLE 

gers, shifting seats to hold down the wind- 
ward side of the wagging coach. This is 
a mere trifle. The Jimville stage is built 
for five passengers, but when you have 
seven, with four trunks, several parcels, 
three sacks of grain, the mail and express, 
you begin to understand that proverb 
about the road which has been reported 
to you. In time you learn to engage the 
high seat beside the driver, where you 
get good air and the best company. Be- 
yond the desert rise the lava flats, scoriae 
strewn ; sharp-cutting walls of narrow ca- 
nons ; league-wide, frozen puddles of black 
rock, intolerable and forbidding. Beyond 
the lava the mouths that spewed it out, 
ragged-lipped, ruined craters shouldering 
to the cloud-line, mostly of red earth, as 
red as a red heifer. These have some 
comforting of shrubs and grass. You get 
1 08 



JIMVILLE 

the very spirit of the meaning of that 
country when you see Little Pete feeding 
his sheep in the red, choked maw of an old 
vent, a kind of silly pastoral gentleness 
that glozes over an elemental violence. 
Beyond the craters rise worn, auriferous 
hills of a quiet sort, tumbled together; a 
valley full of mists ; whitish green scrub ; 
and bright, small, panting lizards ; then 
Jimville. 

The town looks to have spilled out of 
Squaw Gulch, and that, in fact, is the se- 
quence of its growth. It began around 
the Bully Boy and Theresa group of mines 
midway up Squaw Gulch, spreading down 
to the smelter at the mouth of the ravine. 
The freight wagons dumped their loads as 
near to the mill as the slope allowed, and 
Jimville grew in between. Above the 
Gulch begins a pine wood with sparsely 
109 



JIMVILLE 

grown thickets of lilac, azalea, and odorous 
blossoming shrubs. 

Squaw Gulch is a very sharp, steep, 
ragged-walled ravine, and that part of Jim- 
ville which is built in it has only one 
street, in summer paved with bone- 
white cobbles, in the wet months a frothy 
yellow flood. All between the ore dumps 
and solitary small cabins, pieced out with 
tin cans and packing cases, run footpaths 
drawing down to the Silver Dollar saloon. 
When Jimville was having the time of its 
life the Silver Dollar had those same coins 
let into the bar top for a border, but the 
proprietor pried them out when the glory 
departed. There are three hundred in- 
habitants in Jimville and four bars, though 
you are not to argue anything from that. 

Hear now how Jimville came by its 
name. Jim Calkins discovered the Bully 
no 



JIMVILLE 

Boy, Jim Baker located the Theresa. 
When Jim Jenkins opened an eating- 
house in his tent he chalked up on the 
flap, " Best meals in Jimville, $1.00," and 
the name stuck. 

There was more human interest in the 
origin of Squaw Gulch, though it tickled 
no humor. It was Dimmick's squaw from 
Aurora way. If Dimmick had been any- 
thing except New Englander he would 
have called her a mahala, but that would 
not have bettered his behavior. Dimmick 
made a strike, went East, and the squaw 
who had been to him as his wife took to 
drink. That was the bald way of stating 
it in the Aurora country. The milk of 
human kindness, like some wine, must not 
be uncorked too much in speech lest it 
lose savor. This is what they did. The 
woman would have returned to her own 
in 




JIMVILLE 

people, being far gone with child, but the 
drink worked her bane. By the river of 
this ravine her pains overtook her. There 
Jim Calkins, prospecting, found her dying 
with a three days' babe nozzling at her 
breast. Jim heartened her for the end, 
buried her, and walked back to Poso, 
eighteen miles, the child poking in the 
folds of his denim shirt with small mewing 
noises, and won support for it from the 
rough-handed folks of that place. Then 
he came back to Squaw Gulch, so named 
from that day, and discovered the Bully 
Boy. Jim humbly regarded this piece of 
luck as interposed for his reward, and I 
for one believed him. If it had been in 
mediaeval times you would have had a 
legend or a ballad. Bret Harte would 
have given you a tale. You see in me a 
mere recorder, for I know what is best for 
112 



JIMVILLE 

you ; you shall blow out this bubble from 
your own breath. 

You could never get into any proper re- 
lation to Jimville unless you could slough 
off and swallow your acquired prejudices 
as a lizard does his skin. Once wanting 
some womanly attentions, the stage-driver 
assured me I might have them at the Nine- 
Mile House from the lady barkeeper. The 
phrase tickled all my after-dinner-coffee 
sense of humor into an anticipation of 
Poker Flat. The stage-driver proved him- 
self really, right, though you are not to sup- 
pose from this that Jimville had no conven- 
tions and no caste. They work out these 
things in the personal equation largely. 
Almost every latitude of behavior is al- 
lowed a good fellow, one no liar, a free 
spender, and a backer of his friends' quar- 
rels. You are respected in as much 




JIMVILLE 

ground as you can shoot over, in as many 
pretensions as you can make good. 

That probably explains Mr. Fanshawe, 
the gentlemanly faro dealer of those parts, 
built for the role of Oakhurst, going white- 
shirted and frock-coated in a community 
of overalls ; and persuading you that what- 
ever shifts and tricks of the game were 
laid to his deal, he could not practice them 
on a person of your penetration. But he 
does. By his own account and the evi- 
dence of his manners he had been bred 
for a clergyman, and he certainly has gifts 
for the part. You find him always in pos- 
session of your point of view, and with 
an evident though not obtrusive desire to 
stand well with you. For an account of 
his killings, for his way with women and 
the way of women with him, I refer you 
to Brown of Calaveras and some others of 
114 



JIMVILLE 

that stripe. His improprieties had a cer- 
tain sanction of long standing not accorded 
to the gay ladies who wore Mr. Fanshawe's 
favors. There were perhaps too many of 
them. On the whole, the point of the 
moral distinctions of Jimville appears to 
be a point of honor, with an absence 
of humorous appreciation that strangers 
mistake for dullness. At Jimville they 
see behavior as history and judge it by 
facts, untroubled by invention and the dra- 
matic sense. You glimpse a crude equity 
in their dealings with Wilkins, who had 
shot a man at Lone Tree, fairly, in an 
open quarrel. Rumor of it reached Jim- 
ville before Wilkins rested there in flight. 
I saw Wilkins, all Jimville saw him ; in 
fact, he came into the Silver Dollar when 
we were holding a church fair and bought 
a pink silk pincushion. I have often 
"5 



JIMVILLE 

wondered what became of it. Some of us 
shook hands with him, not because we did 
not know, but because we had not been 
officially notified, and there were those 
present who knew how it was themselves. 
When the sheriff arrived Wilkins had 
moved on, and Jimville organized a posse 
and brought him back, because the sheriff 
was a Jimville man and we had to stand 
by him. 

I said we had the church fair at the 
Silver Dollar. We had most things there, 
dances, town meetings, and the kineto- 
scope exhibition of the Passion Play. The 
Silver Dollar had been built when the 
borders of Jimville spread from Minton to 
the red hill the Defiance twisted through. 
"Side-Winder" Smith scrubbed the floor 
for us and moved the bar to the back room. 
The fair was designed for the support of 
116 



JIMVILLE 

the circuit rider who preached to the few 
that would hear, and buried us all in turn. 
He was the symbol of Jimville's respecta- 
bility, although he was of a sect that held 
dancing among the cardinal sins. The 
management took no chances on offending 
the minister; at 11.30 they tendered him 
the receipts of the evening in the chair- 
man's hat, as a delicate intimation that the 
fair was closed. The company filed out of 
the front door and around to the back. 
Then the dance began formally with no 
feelings hurt. These w r ere the sort of cour- 
tesies, common enough in Jimville, that 
brought tears of delicate inner laughter. 

There were others besides Mr. Fanshawe 
who had walked out of Mr. Harte's demesne 
to Jimville and wore names that smacked 
of the soil, "Alkali Bill," "Pike" Wil- 
son, " Three Finger," and " Mono Jim ; " 
117 



JIMVILLE 

fierce, shy, profane, sun-dried derelicts of 
the windy hills, who each owned, or had 
owned, a mine and was wishful to own one 
again. They laid up on the worn benches 
of the Silver Dollar or the Same Old Luck 
like beached vessels, and their talk ran on 
endlessly of " strike " and " contact " and 
" mother lode," and worked around to 
fights and hold-ups, villainy, haunts, and 
the hoodoo of the Minietta, told austerely 
without imagination. 

Do not suppose I am going to repeat it 
all ; you who want these things written up 
from the point of view of people who do 
not do them every day would get no savor 
in their speech. 

Says Three Finger, relating the history 
of the Mariposa, " I took it off'n Tom 
Beatty, cheap, after his brother Bill was 
shot." 

118 



JIMVILLE 

Says Jim Jenkins, " What was the mat- 
ter of him ? " 

" Who ? Bill ? Abe Johnson shot him ; 
he was fooling around Johnson's wife, an' 
Tom sold me the mine dirt cheap." 

" Why did n't he work it himself? " 

" Him ? Oh, he was laying for Abe and 
calculated to have to leave the country 
pretty quick." 

" Huh ! " says Jim Jenkins, and the tale 
flows smoothly on. 

Yearly the spring fret floats the loose 
population of Jimville out into the desolate 
waste hot lands, guiding by the peaks and 
a few rarely touched water-holes, always, 
always with the golden hope. They de- 
velop prospects and grow rich, develop oth- 
ers and grow poor but never embittered. 
Say the hills, It is all one, there is gold 
enough, time enough, and men enough to 
119 



JIMVILLE 

come after you. And at Jimville they 
understand the language of the hills. 

Jimville does not know a great deal about 
the crust of the earth, it prefers a " hunch." 
That is an intimation from the gods that 
if you go over a brown back of the hills, by 
a dripping spring, up Coso way, you will 
find what is worth while. I have never 
heard that the failure of any particular 
hunch disproved the principle. Somehow 
the rawness of the land favors the sense 
of personal relation to the supernatural. 
There is not much intervention of crops, 
cities, clothes, and manners between you 
and the organizing forces to cut off com- 
munication. All this begets in Jimville a 
state that passes explanation unless you will 
accept an explanation that passes belief. 
Along with killing and drunkenness, covet- 
ing of women, charity, simplicity, there is 
1 20 



JIMVILLE 

a certain indifference, blankness, emptiness 
if you will, of all vaporings, no bubbling of 
the pot, it wants the German to coin a 
word for that, no bread-envy, no brother- 
fervor. Western writers have not sensed 
it yet; they smack the savor of lawlessness 
too much upon their tongues, but you have 
these to witness it is not mean-spiritedness. 
It is pure Greek in that it represents the 
courage to sheer off what is not worth while. 
Beyond that it endures without sniveling, 
renounces without self-pity, fears no death, 
rates itself not too great in the scheme of 
things ; so do beasts, so did St. Jerome in 
the desert, so also in the elder day did gods. 
Life, its performance, cessation, is no new 
thing to gape and wonder at. 

Here you have the repose of the per- 
fectly accepted instinct which includes pas- 
sion and death in its perquisites. I suppose 
121 



JIMVILLE 

that the end of all our hammering and 
yawping will be something like the point 
of view of Jimville. The only difference 
will be in the decorations. 



MY NEIGHBOR'S FIELD 




MY NEIGHBOR'S FIELD 

IT is one of those places God must have 
meant for a field from all time, lying 
very level at the foot of the slope that 
crowds up against Kearsarge, falling slight- 
ly toward the town. North and south it 
is fenced by low old glacial ridges, boulder 
strewn and untenable. Eastward it butts 
on orchard closes and the village gardens, 
brimming over into them by wild brier and 
creeping grass. The village street, with its 
double row of unlike houses, breaks off ab- 
ruptly at the edge of the field in a foot- 
path that goes up the streamside, beyond 
it, to the source of waters. 

The field is not greatly esteemed of the 
town, not being put to the plough nor af- 
fording firewood, but breeding all manner 
125 



MY NEIGHBOR S FIELD 

of wild seeds that go down in the irrigating 
ditches to come up as weeds in the gar- 
dens and grass plots. But when I had no 
more than seen it in the charm of its spring 
smiling, I knew I should have no peace 
until I had bought ground and built me a 
house beside it, with a little wicket to go 
in and out at all hours, as afterward came 
about. 

Edswick, Roeder, Connor, and Ruffin 
owned the field before it fell to my neigh- 
bor. But before that the Paiutes, mesne 
lords of the soil, made a campoodie by the 
rill of Pine Creek ; and after, contesting the 
soil with them, cattle-men, who found its 
foodful pastures greatly to their advantage ; 
and bands of blethering flocks shepherded 
by wild, hairy men of little speech, who at- 
tested their rights to the feeding ground 
with their long staves upon each other's 
126 



MY NEIGHBORS FIELD 

skulls. Edswick homesteaded the field 
about the time the wild tide of mining life 
was roaring and rioting up Kearsarge, and 
where the village now stands built a stone 
hut, with loopholes to make good his claim 
against cattle-men or Indians. But Eds- 
wick died and Roeder became master of the 
field. Roeder owned cattle on a thousand 
hills, and made it a recruiting ground for 
his bellowing herds before beginning the 
long drive to market across a shifty desert. 
He kept the field fifteen years, and after- 
ward falling into difficulties, put it out as 
security against certain sums. Connor, 
who held the securities, was cleverer than 
Roeder and not so busy. The money fell 
due the winter of the Big Snow, when all 
the trails were forty feet under drifts, and 
Roeder was away in San Francisco selling 
his cattle. At the set time Connor took 
127 



MY NEIGHBORS FIELD 




the law by the forelock and was adjudged 
possession of the field. Eighteen days 
later Roeder arrived on snowshoes, both 
feet frozen, and the money in his pack. 
In the long suit at law ensuing, the field 
fell to Ruffin, that clever one-armed lawyer 
with the tongue to wile a bird out of the 
bush, Connor's counsel, and was sold by 
him to my neighbor, whom from envying 
his possession I call Naboth. 

Curiously, all this human occupancy of 
greed and mischief left no mark on the 
field, but the Indians did, and the unthink- 
ing sheep. Round its corners children 
pick up chipped arrow points of obsidian, 
scattered through it are kitchen middens 
and pits of old sweat - houses. By the 
south corner, where the campoodie stood, 
is a single shrub of "hoopee" (LyciumAn- 
dersonii), maintaining itself hardly among 
128 



MY NEIGHBORS FIELD 

alien shrubs, and near by, three low rakish 
trees of hackberry, so far from home that 
no prying of mine has been able to find an- 
other in any canon east or west. But the 
berries of both were food for the Paiutes, 
eagerly sought and traded for as far south 
as Shoshone Land. By the fork of the 
creek where the shepherds camp is a single 
clump of mesquite of the variety called 
" screw bean." The seed must have shaken 
there from some sheep's coat, for this is 
not the habitat of mesquite, and except for 
other single shrubs at sheep camps, none 
grows freely for a hundred and fifty miles 
south or east. 

Naboth has put a fence about the best 
of the field, but neither the Indians nor 
the shepherds can quite forego it. They 
make camp and build their wattled huts 
about the borders of it, and no doubt they 
129 



MY NEIGHBORS FIELD 

have some sense of home in its familiar 
aspect 

As I have said, it is a low-lying field, 
between the mesa and the town, with no 
hillocks in it, but a gentle swale where 
the waste water of the creek goes down to 
certain farms, and the hackberry-trees, of 
which the tallest might be three times the 
height of a man, are the tallest things in 
it. A mile up from the water gate that 
turns the creek into supply pipes for the 
town, begins a row of long-leaved pines, 
threading the watercourse to the foot of 
Kearsarge. These are the pines that puz- 
zle the local botanist, not easily determined, 
and unrelated to other conifers of the Si- 
erra slope ; the same pines of which the 
Indians relate a legend mixed of brother- 
liness and the retribution of God. Once 
the pines possessed the field, as the worn 
130 



MY NEIGHBORS FIELD 

stumps of them along the streamside show, 
and it would seem their secret purpose 
to regain their old footing. Now and 
then some seedling escapes the devastating 
sheep a rod or two down-stream. Since I 
came to live by the field one of these has 
tiptoed above the gully of the creek, beck- 
oning the procession from the hills, as if 
in fact they would make back toward that 
skyward-pointing finger of granite on the 
opposite range, from which, according to 
the legend, when they were bad Indians 
and it a great chief, they ran away. This 
year the summer floods brought the round, 
brown, fruitful cones to my very door, and 
I look, if I live long enough, to see them 
come up greenly in my neighbor's field. 

It is interesting to watch this retaking 
of old ground by the wild plants, banished 
by human use. Since Naboth drew his 



MY NEIGHBOR'S FIELD 

fence about the field and restricted it to a 
few wild-eyed steers, halting between the 
hills and the shambles, many old habitues 
of the field have come back to their haunts. 
The willow and brown birch, long ago cut 
off by the Indians for wattles, have come 
back to the streamside, slender and vir- 
ginal in their spring greenness, and leaving 
long stretches of the brown water open to 
the sky. In stony places where no grass 
grows, wild olives sprawl ; close-twigged, 
blue-gray patches in winter, more translu- 
cent greenish gold in spring than any 
aureole. Along with willow and birch and 
brier, the clematis, that shyest plant of 
water borders, slips down season by season 
to within a hundred yards of the village 
street. Convinced after three years that 
it would come no nearer, we spent time 
fruitlessly pulling up roots to plant in the 
132 



MY NEIGHBOR S FIELD 

garden. All this while, when no coaxing 
or care prevailed upon any transplanted 
slip to grow, one was coming up silently 
outside the fence near the wicket, coiling 
so secretly in the rabbit-brush that its pre- 
sence was never suspected until it flowered 
delicately along its twining length. The 
horehound comes through the fence and 
under it, shouldering the pickets off the 
railings ; the brier rose mines under the 
horehound ; and no care, though I own I 
am not a close weeder, keeps the small 
pale moons of the primrose from rising to 
the night moth under my apple-trees. The 
first summer in the new place, a clump of 
cypripediums came up by the irrigating 
ditch at the bottom of the lawn. But the 
clematis will not come inside, nor the wild 
almond. 

I have forgotten to find out, though I 
133 



MY NEIGHBORS FIELD 

meant to, whether the wild almond grew 
in that country where Moses kept the 
flocks of his father-in-law, but if so one can 
account for the burning bush. It comes 
upon one with a flame-burst as of revela- 
tion ; little hard red buds on leafless twigs, 
swelling unnoticeably, then one, two, or 
three strong suns, and from tip to tip one 
soft fiery glow, whispering with bees as a 
singing flame. A twig of finger size will 
be furred to the thickness of one's wrist 
by pink five-petaled bloom, so close that 
only the blunt-faced wild bees find their 
way in it. In this latitude late frosts cut 
off the hope of fruit too often for the wild 
almond to multiply greatly, but the spiny, 
tap-rooted shrubs are resistant to most 
plant evils. 

It is not easy always to be attentive to 
the maturing of wild fruit. Plants are so 
134 



MY NEIGHBORS FIELD 

unobtrusive in their material processes, and 
always at the significant moment some 
other bloom has reached its perfect hour. 
One can never fix the precise moment 
when the rosy tint the field has from the 
wild almond passes into the inspiring blue 
of lupines. One notices here and there a 
spike of bloom, and a day later the whole 
field royal and ruffling lightly to the wind. 
Part of the charm of the lupine is the con- 
tinual stir of its plumes to airs not sus- 
pected otherwhere. Go and stand by any 
crown of bloom and the tall stalks do but 
rock a little as for drowsiness, but look off 
across the field, and on the stillest days 
there is always a trepidation in the purple 
patches. 

From midsummer until frost the pre- 
vailing note of the field is clear gold, pass- 
ing into the rusty tone of bigelovia going 
135 



MY NEIGHBOR S FIELD 

into a decline, a succession of color 
schemes more admirably managed than 
the transformation scene at the theatre. 
Under my window a colony of cleome 
made a soft web of bloom that drew me 
every morning for a long still time ; and 
one day I discovered that I was looking 
into a rare fretwork of fawn and straw col- 
ored twigs from which both bloom and 
leaf had gone, and I could not say if it had 
been for a matter of weeks or days. The 
time to plant cucumbers and set out cab- 
bages may be set down in the almanac, 
but never seed-time nor blossom in Na- 
both's field. 

Certain winged and mailed denizens of 
the field seem to reach their heyday along 
with the plants they most affect. In June 
the leaning towers of the white milkweed 
are jeweled over with red and gold beetles, 
136 



MY NEIGHBORS FIELD 

climbing dizzily. This is that milkweed 
from whose stems the Indians flayed fibre 
to make snares for small game, but what 
use the beetles put it to except for a dis- 
playing ground for their gay coats, I could 
never discover. The white butterfly crop 
comes on with the bigelovia bloom, and on 
warm mornings makes an airy twinkling 
all across the field. In September young 
linnets grow out of the rabbit-brush in the 
night. All the nests discoverable in the 
neighboring orchards will not account for 
the numbers of them. Somewhere, by the 
same secret process by which the field 
matures a million more seeds than it 
needs, it is maturing red-hooded linnets 
for their devouring. All the purlieus of 
bigelovia and artemisia are noisy with 
them for a month. Suddenly as they come 
as suddenly go the fly-by-nights, that pitch 
i37 



MY NEIGHBORS FIELD 

and toss on dusky barred wings above the 
field of summer twilights. Never one of 
these nighthawks will you see after linnet 
time, though the hurtle of their wings 
makes a pleasant sound across the dusk in 
their season. 

For two summers a great red-tailed 
hawk has visited the field every afternoon 
between three and four o'clock, swooping 
and soaring with the airs of a gentleman 
adventurer. What he finds there is chiefly 
conjectured, so secretive are the little peo- 
ple of Naboth's field. Only when leaves 
fall and the light is low and slant, one sees 
the long clean flanks of the jackrabbits, 
leaping like small deer, and of late after- 
noons little cotton-tails scamper in the 
runways. But the most one sees of the 
burrowers, gophers, and mice is the fresh 
earthwork of their newly opened doors, or 
138 



MY NEIGHBORS FIELD 



the pitiful small shreds the butcher-bird 
hangs on spiny shrubs. 

It is a still field, this of my neighbor's, 
though so busy, and admirably com- 
pounded for variety and pleasantness, 
a little sand, a little loam, a grassy plot, a 
stony rise or two, a full brown stream, a 
little touch of humanness, a footpath trod- 
den out by moccasins. Naboth expects to 
make town lots of it and his fortune in 
one and the same day; but when I take 
the trail to talk with old Seyavi at the 
campoodie, it occurs to me that though 
the field may serve a good turn in those 
days it will hardly be happier. No, cer- 
tainly not happier. 




THE MESA TRAIL 





THE MESA TRAIL 

THE mesa trail begins in the cam- 
poodie at the corner of Naboth's field, 
though one may drop into it from the wood 
road toward the canon, or from any of the 
cattle paths that go up along the stream- 
side; a clean, pale, smooth -trodden way 
between spiny shrubs, comfortably wide 
for a horse or an Indian. .It begins, I say, 
at the campoodie, and goes on toward the 
twilight hills and the borders of Shoshone 
Land. It strikes diagonally across the foot 
of the hill -slope from the field until it 
reaches the larkspur level, and holds south 
along the front of Oppapago, having the 
high ranges to the right and the foothills 
and the great Bitter Lake below it on the 
left. The mesa holds very level .here, cut 
143 



THE MESA TRAIL 

across at intervals by the deep washes of 
dwindling streams, and its treeless spaces 
uncramp the soul. 

Mesa trails were meant to be traveled 
on horseback, at the jigging coyote trot 
that only western-bred horses learn suc- 
cessfully. A foot-pace carries one too 
slowly past the units in a decorative 
scheme that is on a scale with the country 
round for bigness. It takes days' jour- 
neys to give a note of variety to the 
country of the social shrubs. These chiefly 
clothe the benches and eastern foot-slopes 
of the Sierras, great spreads of artemisia, 
coleogyne, and spinosa, suffering no other 
woody stemmed thing in their purlieus ; 
this by election apparently, with no el- 
bowing ; and the several shrubs have each 
their clientele of flowering herbs. It would 
be worth knowing how much the devastat- 
144 




THE MESA TRAIL 

ing sheep have had to do with driving the 
tender plants to the shelter of the prickle- 
bushes. It might have begun earlier, in 
the time Seyavi of the campoodie tells of, 
when antelope ran on the mesa like sheep 
for numbers, but scarcely any foot-high 
herb rears itself except from the midst of 
some stout twigged shrub ; larkspur in the 
coleogyne, and for every spinosa the pur- 
pling coils of phacelia. In the shrub shel- 
ter, in the season, flock the little stemless 
things whose blossom time is as short as a 
marriage song. The larkspurs make the 
best showing, being tall and sweet, sway- 
ing a little above the shrubbery, scattering 
pollen dust which Navajo brides gather to 
fill their marriage baskets. This were an 
easier task than to find two of them of a 
shade. Larkspurs in the botany are blue, 
but if you were to slip rein to the stub of 
MS 





THE MESA TRAIL 

some black sage and set about proving it 
you would be still at it by the hour when 
the white gilias set their pale disks to the 
westering sun. This is the gilia the chil- 
dren call " evening snow," and it is no use 
trying to improve on children's names for 
wild flowers. 

From the height of a horse you look 
down to clean spaces in a shifty yellow 
soil, bare to the eye as a newly sanded 
floor. Then as soon as ever the hill shad- 
ows begin to swell out from the sidelong 
ranges, come little flakes of whiteness flut- 
tering at the edge of the sand. By dusk 
there are tiny drifts in the lee of every 
strong shrub, rosy-tipped corollas as riot- 
ous in the sliding mesa wind as if they 
were real flakes shaken out of a cloud, not 
sprung from the ground on wiry three- 
inch stems. They keep awake all night, 
146 



THE MESA TRAIL 

and all the air is heavy and musky sweet 
because of them. 

Farther south on the trail there will be 
poppies meeting ankle deep, and singly, 
peacock-painted bubbles of calochortus 
blown out at the tops of tall stems. But 
before the season is in tune for the gayer 
blossoms the best display of color is in the 
lupin wash. There is always a lupin wash 
somewhere on a mesa trail, a broad, shal- 
low, cobble-paved sink of vanished waters, 
where the hummocks of Lupinus ornatus 
run a delicate gamut from silvery green of 
spring to silvery white of winter foliage. 
They look in fullest leaf, except for color, 
most like the huddled huts of the cam- 
poodie, and the largest of them might be a 
man's length in diameter. In their season, 
which is after the gilias are at their best, 
and before the larkspurs are ripe for pollen 
147 



THE MESA TRAIL 

gathering, every terminal whorl of the 
lupin sends up its blossom stalk, not hold- 
ing any constant blue, but paling and 
purpling to guide the friendly bee to vir- 
ginal honey sips, or away from the per- 
fected and depleted flower. The length of 
the blossom stalk conforms to the rounded 
contour of the plant, and of these there 
will be a million moving indescribably in 
the airy current that flows down the swale 
of the wash. 

There is always a little wind on the 
mesa, a sliding current of cooler air going 
down the face of the mountain of its own 
momentum, but not to disturb the silence 
of great space. Passing the wide mouths of 
canons, one gets the effect of whatever is 
doing in them, openly or behind a screen of 
cloud, thunder of falls, wind in the pine 
leaves, or rush and roar of rain. The rumor 
148 



THE MESA TRAIL 

of tumult grows and dies in passing, as 
from open doors gaping on a village street, 
but does not impinge on the effect of soli- 
tariness. In quiet weather mesa days have 
no parallel for stillness, but the night silence 
breaks into certain mellow or poignant 
notes. Late afternoons the burrowing owls 
may be seen blinking at the doors of their 
hummocks with perhaps four or five elf- 
ish nestlings arow, and by twilight begin a 
soft whoo-oo-ing, rounder, sweeter, more in- 
cessant in mating time. It is not possible 
to disassociate the call of the burrowing 
owl from the late slant light of the mesa. 
If the fine vibrations which are the golden- 
violet glow of spring twilights were to 
tremble into sound, it would be just that 
mellow double note breaking along the 
blossom-tops. While the glow holds one 
sees the thistle-down flights and pouncings 
149 




THE MESA TRAIL 

after prey, and on into the dark hears their 
svit pus-ssk ! clearing out of the trail ahead. 
Maybe the pin-point shriek of field mouse 
or kangaroo rat that pricks the wakeful 
pauses of the night is extorted by these 
mellow-voiced plunderers, though it is just 
as like to be the work of the red fox on his 
twenty-mile constitutional. 

Both the red fox and the coyote are free 
of the night hours, and both killers for the 
pure love of slaughter. The fox is no great 
talker, but the coyote goes garrulously 
through the dark in twenty keys at once, 
gossip, warning, and abuse. They are light 
treaders, the split-feet, so that the solitary 
camper sees their eyes about him in the 
dark sometimes, and hears the soft intake 
of breath when no leaf has stirred and no 
twig snapped underfoot. The coyote is 
your real lord of the mesa, and so he makes 
150 



THE MESA TRAIL 

sure you are armed with no long black in- 
strument to spit your teeth into his vitals at 
a thousand yards, is both bold and curious. 
Not so bold, however, as the badger and 
not so much of a curmudgeon. This short- 
legged meat-eater loves half lights and 
lowering days, has no friends, no enemies, 
and disowns his offspring. Very likely if 
he knew how hawk and crow dog him for 
dinners, he would resent it. But the badger 
is not very well contrived for looking up 
or far to either side. Dull afternoons he 
may be met nosing a trail hot-foot to the 
home of ground rat or squirrel, and is with 
difficulty persuaded to give the right of 
way. The badger is a pot-hunter and no 
sportsman. Once at the hill, he dives for 
the central chamber, his sharp-clawed, 
splayey feet splashing up the sand like a 
bather in the surf. He is a swift trailer, 




THE MESA TRAIL 

but not so swift or secretive but some small 
sailing hawk or lazy crow, perhaps one or 
two of each, has spied upon him and come 
drifting down the wind to the killing. 

No burrower is so unwise as not to have 
several exits from his dwelling under pro- 
tecting shrubs. When the badger goes 
down, as many of the furry people as are 
not caught napping come up by the back 
doors, and the hawks make short work of 
them. I suspect that the crows get no- 
thing but the gratification of curiosity and 
the pickings of some secret store of seeds 
unearthed by the badger. Once the ex- 
cavation begins they walk about expec- 
tantly, but the little gray hawks beat slow 
circles about the doors of exit, and are 
wiser in their generation, though they do 
not look it. 

There are always solitary hawks sailing 
152 



THE MESA TRAIL 

above the mesa, and where some blue tower 
of silence lifts out of the neighboring range, 
an eagle hanging dizzily, and always buz- 
zards high up in the thin, translucent air 
making a merry-go-round. Between the 
coyote and the birds of carrion the mesa is 
kept clear of miserable dead. 

The wind, too, is a besom over the tree- 
less spaces, whisking new sand over the lit- 
ter of the scant-leaved shrubs, and the little 
doorways of the burro we rs are as trim as 
city fronts. It takes man to leave unsightly 
scars on the face of the earth. Here on 
the mesa the abandoned campoodies of the 
Paiutes are spots of desolation long after 
the wattles of the huts have warped in the 
brush heaps. The campoodies are near 
the watercourses, but never in the swale 
of the stream. The Paiute seeks rising 
ground, depending on air and sun for puri- 
153 



THE MESA TRAIL 

fication of his dwelling, and when it be- 
comes wholly untenable, moves. 

A campoodie at noontime, when there 
is no smoke rising and no stir of life, re- 
sembles nothing so much as a collection 
of prodigious wasps' nests. The huts are 
squat and brown and chimneyless, facing 
east, and the inhabitants have the faculty 
of quail for making themselves scarce in 
the underbrush at the approach of stran- 
gers. But they are really not often at 
home during midday, only the blind and 
incompetent left to keep the camp. These 
are working hours, and all across the mesa 
one sees the women whisking seeds of chia 
into their spoon-shaped baskets, these emp- 
tied again into the huge conical carriers, 
supported on the shoulders by a leather 
band about the forehead. 

Mornings and late afternoons one meets 



THE MESA TRAIL 

the men singly and afoot on unguessable er- 
rands, or riding shaggy, browbeaten ponies, 
with game slung across the saddle-bows. 
This might be deer or even antelope, rab- 
bits, or, very far south towards Shoshone 
Land, lizards. 

There are myriads of lizards on the mesa, 
little gray darts, or larger salmon-sided ones 
that may be found swallowing their skins in 
the safety of a prickle-bush in early spring. 
Now and then a palm's breadth of the trail 
gathers itself together and scurries off with 
a little rustle under the brush, to resolve 
itself into sand again. This is pure witch- 
craft. If you succeed in catching it in 
transit, it loses its power and becomes a 
flat, horned, toad-like creature, horrid look- 
ing and harmless, of the color of the soil ; 
and the curio dealer will give you two bits 
for it, to stuff. 




THE MESA TRAIL 

Men have their season on the mesa as 
much as plants and four-footed things, and 
one is not like to meet them out of their 
time. For example, at the time of rodeos, 
which is perhaps April, one meets free rid- 
ing vaqueros who need no trails and can 
find cattle where to the layman no cattle 
exist. As early as February bands of sheep 
work up from the south to the high Si- 
erra pastures. It appears that shepherds 
have not changed more than sheep in the 
process of time. The shy hairy men who 
herd the tractile flocks might be, except 
for some added clothing, the very brethren 
of David. Of necessity they are hardy, 
simple livers, superstitious, fearful, given to 
seeing visions, and almost without speech. 
It needs the bustle of shearings and copi- 
ous libations of sour, weak wine to re- 
store the human faculty. Petite Pete, who 
156 



THE MESA TRAIL 

works a circuit up from the Ceriso to Red 
Butte and around by way of Salt Flats, 
passes year by year on the mesa trail, 
his thick hairy chest thrown open to all 
weathers, twirling his long staff, and deal- 
ing brotherly with his dogs, who are pos- 
sibly as intelligent, certainly handsomer. 

A flock's journey is seven miles, ten if 
pasture fails, in a windless blur of dust, 
feeding as it goes, and resting at noons. 
Such hours Pete weaves a little screen of 
twigs between his head and the sun the 
rest of him is as impervious as one of his 
own sheep and sleeps while his dogs 
have the flocks upon their consciences. At 
night, wherever he may be, there Pete 
camps, and fortunate the trail-weary trav- 
eler who falls in with him. When the 
fire kindles and savory meat seethes in the 
pot, when there is a drowsy blether from 
157 



THE MESA TRAIL 

the flock, and far down the mesa the twi- 
light twinkle of shepherd fires, when there 
is a hint of blossom underfoot and a hea- 
venly whiteness on the hills, one harks back 
without effort to Judaea and the Nativity. 
But one feels by day anything but good 
will to note the shorn shrubs and cropped 
blossom-tops. So many seasons' effort, so 
many suns and rains to make a pound of 
wool ! And then there is the loss of 
ground-inhabiting birds that must fail from 
the mesa when few herbs ripen seed. 

Out West, the west of the mesas and 
the unpatented hills, there is more sky 
than any place in the world. It does not 
sit flatly on the rim of earth, but begins 
somewhere out in the space in which the 
earth is poised, hollows more, and is full 
of clean winey winds. There are some 
odors, too, that get into the blood. There 
158 



THE MESA TRAIL 

is the spring smell of sage that is the 
warning that sap is beginning to work in 
a soil that looks to have none of the juices 
of life in it; it is the sort of smell that 
sets one thinking what a long furrow the 
plough would turn up here, the sort of 
smell that is the beginning of new leafage, 
is best at the plant's best, and leaves a pun- 
gent trail where wild cattle crop. There is 
the smell of sage at sundown, burning sage 
from campoodies and sheep camps, that 
travels on the thin blue wraiths of smoke ; 
the kind of smell that gets into the hair 
and garments, is not much liked except 
upon long acquaintance, and every Paiute 
and shepherd smells of it indubitably. 
There is the palpable smell of the bitter 
dust that comes up from the alkali flats at 
the end of the dry seasons, and the smell 
of rain from the wide-mouthed canons. 
159 



THE MESA TRAIL 



And last the smell of the salt grass coun- 
try, which is the beginning of other things 
that are the end of the mesa trail. 



THE BASKET MAKER 




THE BASKET MAKER 

A MAN," says Seyavi of the campoodie, 
" must have a woman, but a woman 
who has a child will do very well." 

That was perhaps why, when she lost 
her mate in the dying struggle of his race, 
she never took another, but set her wit to 
fend for herself and her young son. No 
doubt she was often put to it in the begin- 
ning to find food for them both. The 
Paiutes had made their last stand at the 
border of the Bitter Lake ; battle-driven 
they died in its waters, and the land filled 
with cattle-men and adventurers for gold : 
this while Seyavi and the boy lay up in 
the caverns of the Black Rock and ate tule 
roots and fresh-water clams that they dug 
out of the slough bottoms with their toes. 
163 



THE BASKET MAKER 

In the interim, while the tribes swallowed 
their defeat, and before the rumor of war 
died out, they must have come very near 
to the bare core of things. That was the 
time Seyavi learned the sufficiency of 
mother wit, and how much more easily one 
can do without a man than might at first 
be supposed. 

To understand the fashion of any life, 
one must know the land it is lived in and 
the procession of the year. This valley is 
a narrow one, a mere trough between hills, 
a draught for storms, hardly a crow's flight 
from the sharp Sierras of the Snows to the 
curled, red and ochre, uncomforted, bare 
ribs of Waban. Midway of the groove runs 
a burrowing, dull river, nearly a hundred 
miles from where it cuts the lava flats of 
the north to its widening in a thick, tide- 
less pool of a lake. Hereabouts the ranges 
164 



THE BASKET MAKER 

have no foothills, but rise up steeply from 
the bench lands above the river. Down 
from the Sierras, for the east ranges have 
almost no rain, pour glancing white floods 
toward the lowest land, and all beside them 
lie the campoodies, brown wattled brush 
heaps, looking east. 

In the river are mussels, and reeds that 
have edible white roots, and in the soddy 
meadows tubers of joint grass ; all these at 
their best in the spring. On the slope the 
summer growth affords seeds ; up the steep 
the one-leafed pines, an oily nut. That 
was really all they could depend upon, and 
that only at the mercy of the little gods of 
frost and rain. For the rest it was cunning 
against cunning, caution against skill, 
against quacking hordes of wild-fowl in the 
tulares, against pronghorn and bighorn and 
deer. You can guess, however, that all 
165 




THE BASKET MAKER 

this warring of rifles and bowstrings, this 
influx of overlording whites, had made 
game wilder and hunters fearful of being 
hunted. You can surmise also, for it was 
a crude time and the land was raw, that the 
women became in turn the game of the 
conquerors. 

There used to be in the Little Antelope 
a she dog, stray or outcast, that had a lit- 
ter in some forsaken lair, and ranged and 
foraged for them, slinking savage and 
afraid, remembering and mistrusting hu- 
mankind, wistful, lean, and sufficient for 
her young. I have thought Seyavi might 
have had days like that, and have had per- 
fect leave to think, since she will not talk 
of it. Paiutes have the art of reducing 
life to its lowest ebb and yet saving it alive 
on grasshoppers, lizards, and strange herbs; 
and that time must have left no shift un- 
166 



THE BASKET MAKER 

tried. It lasted long enough for Seyavi to 
have evolved the philosophy of life which 
I have set down at the beginning. She 
had gone beyond learning to do for her son, 
and learned to believe it worth while. 

In our kind of society, when a woman 
ceases to alter the fashion of her hair, you 
guess that she has passed the crisis of her 
experience. If she goes on crimping and 
uncrimping with the changing mode, it is 
safe to suppose she has never come up 
against anything too big for her. The In- 
dian woman gets nearly the same personal 
note in the pattern of her baskets. Not 
that she does not make all kinds, carriers, 
water - bottles, and cradles, these are 
kitchen ware, but her works of art are 
all of the same piece. Seyavi made flaring, 
flat-bottomed bowls, cooking pots really, 
when cooking was done by dropping hot 
167 



THE BASKET MAKER 

stones into water-tight food baskets, and 
for decoration a design in colored bark of 
the procession of plumed crests of the valley 
quail. In this pattern she had made cook- 
ing pots in the golden spring of her wed- 
ding year, when the quail went up two and 
two to their resting places about the foot 
of Oppapago. In this fashion she made 
them when, after pillage, it was possible to 
reinstate the housewifely crafts. Quail ran 
then in the Black Rock by hundreds, 
so you will still find them in fortunate 
years, and in the famine time the women 
cut their long hair to make snares when 
the flocks came morning and evening to 
the springs. 

Seyavi made baskets for love and sold 
them for money, in a generation that pre- 
ferred iron pots for utility. Every Indian 
woman is an artist, sees, feels, creates, 
1 68 



THE BASKET MAKER 

but does not philosophize about her pro- 
cesses. Seyavi's bowls are wonders of 
technical precision, inside and out, the 
palm finds no fault with them, but the 
subtlest appeal is in the sense that warns 
us of humanness in the way the design 
spreads into the flare of the bowl. There 
used to be an Indian woman at Olancha 
who made bottle-neck trinket baskets in 
the rattlesnake pattern, and could accom- 
modate the design to the swelling bowl and 
flat shoulder of the basket without sensible 
disproportion, and so cleverly that you 
might own one a year without thinking how 
it was done ; but Seyavi's baskets had a 
touch beyond cleverness. The weaver and 
the warp lived next to the earth and were 
saturated with the same elements. Twice 
a year, in the time of white butterflies and 
again when young quail ran neck and neck 
169 




THE BASKET MAKER 

in the chaparral, Seyavi cut willows for 
basketry by the creek where it wound to- 
ward the river against the sun and sucking 
winds. It never quite reached the river 
except in far-between times of summer 
flood, but it always tried, and the willows 
encouraged it as much as they could. You 
nearly always found them a little farther 
down than the trickle of eager water. The 
Paiute fashion of counting time appeals 
to me more than any other calendar. They 
have no stamp of heathen gods nor great 
ones, nor any succession of moons as have 
red men of the East and North, but count 
forward and back by the progress of the 
season ; the time of taboose, before the trout 
begin to leap, the end of the pinon harvest, 
about the beginning of deep snows. So 
they get nearer the sense of the season, 
which runs early or late according as the 
170 



THE BASKET MAKER 

rains are forward or delayed. But when- 
ever Seyavi cut willows for baskets was al- 
ways a golden time, and the soul of the 
weather went into the wood. If you had 
ever owned one of Seyavi's golden russet 
cooking bowls with the pattern of plumed 
quail, you would understand all this with- 
out saying anything. 

Before Seyavi made baskets for the sat- 
isfaction of desire, for that is a house-bred 
theory of art that makes anything more of 
it, she danced and dressed her hair. In 
those days, when the spring was at flood 
and the blood pricked to the mating fever, 
the maids chose their flowers, wreathed 
themselves, and danced in the twilights, 
young desire crying out to young desire. 
They sang what the heart prompted, what 
the flower expressed, what boded in the 
mating weather. 

171 



THE BASKET MAKER 



" And what flower did you wear, Se- 
yavi?" 

" I, ah, the white flower of twining 
(clematis), on my body and my hair, and so 
I sang : 

" I am the white flower of twining, 
Little white flower by the river, 
Oh, flower that twines close by the river; 
Oh, trembling flower ! 
So trembles the maiden heart." 

So sang Seyavi of the campoodie before 
she made baskets, and in her later days 
laid her arms upon her knees and laughed 
in them at the recollection. But it was 
not often she would say so much, never 
understanding the keen hunger I had for 
bits of lore and the " fool talk " of her peo- 
ple. She had fed her young son with 
meadowlarks' tongues, to make him quick 
of speech ; but in late years was loath to 
172 



THE BASKET MAKER 

admit it, though she had come through 
the period of unfaith in the lore of the clan 
with a fine appreciation of its beauty and 
significance. 

" What good will your dead get, Seyavi, 
of the baskets you burn ? " said I, coveting 
them for my own collection. 

Thus Seyavi, " As much good as yours 
of the flowers you strew." 

Oppapago looks on Waban, and Waban 
on Coso and the Bitter Lake, and the cam- 
poodie looks on these three ; and more, 
it sees the beginning of winds along the 
foot of Coso, the gathering of clouds be- 
hind the high ridges, the spring flush, the 
soft spread of wild almond bloom on the 
mesa. These first, you understand, are 
the Paiute's walls, the other his furnishings. 
Not the wattled hut is his home, but the 
land, the winds, the hill front, the stream. 




THE BASKET MAKER 

These he cannot duplicate at any furbish- 
er's shop as you who live within doors, 
who, if your purse allows, may have the 
same home at Sitka and Samarcand. So 
you see how it is that the homesickness 
of an Indian is often unto death, since he 
gets no relief from it; neither wind nor 
weed nor sky-line, nor any aspect of the 
hills of a strange land sufficiently like his 
own. So it was when the government 
reached out for the Paiutes, they gathered 
into the Northern Reservation only such 
poor tribes as could devise no other end of 
their affairs. Here, all along the river, and 
south to Shoshone Land, live the clans who 
owned the earth, fallen into the deplorable 
condition of hangers-on. Yet you hear 
them laughing at the hour when they 
draw in to the campoodie after labor, 
when there is a smell of meat and the 



THE BASKET MAKER 



steam of the cooking pots goes up against 
the sun. Then the children lie with their 
toes in the ashes to hear tales ; then they 
are merry, and have the joys of repletion 
and the nearness of their kind. They have 
their hills, and though jostled are suffi- 
ciently free to get some fortitude for what 
will come. For now you shall hear of the 
end of the basket maker. 

In her best days Seyavi was most like 
Deborah, deep bosomed, broad in the hips, 
quick in counsel, slow of speech, esteemed 
of her people. This was that Seyavi who 
reared a man by her own hand, her own 
wit, and none other. When the towns- 
people began to take note of her and it 
was some years after the war before there 
began to be any towns she was then in 
the quick maturity of primitive women ; but 
when I knew her she seemed already old. 




THE BASKET MAKER 

Indian women do not often live to great 
age, though they look incredibly steeped 
in years. They have the wit to win sus- 
tenance from the raw material of life with- 
out intervention, but they have not the 
sleek look of the women whom the social 
organization conspires to nourish. Seyavi 
had somehow squeezed out of her daily 
round a spiritual ichor that kept the skill 
in her knotted fingers long after the ac- 
customed time, but that also failed. By 
all counts she would have been about 
sixty years old when it came her turn to 
sit in the dust on the sunny side of the 
wickiup, with little strength left for any- 
thing but looking. And in time she paid 
the toll of the smoky huts and became 
blind. This is a thing so long expected 
by the Paiutes that when it comes they 
find it neither bitter nor sweet, but toler- 
176 



THE BASKET MAKER 

able because common. There were three 
other blind women in the campoodie, with- 
ered fruit on a bough, but they had mem- 
ory and speech. By noon of the sun there 
were never any left in the campoodie but 
these or some mother of weanlings, and 
they sat to keep the ashes warm upon the 
hearth. If it were cold, they burrowed in 
the blankets of the hut ; if it were warm, 
they followed the shadow of the wickiup 
around. Stir much out of their places 
they hardly dared, since one might not 
help another; but they called, in high, old 
cracked voices, gossip and reminder across 
the ash heaps. 

Then, if they have your speech or you 
theirs, and have an hour to spare, there 
are things to be learned of life not set 
down in any books, folk tales, famine tales, 
love and long-suffering and desire, but no 
177 



THE BASKET MAKER 

whimpering. Now and then one or an- 
other of the blind keepers of the camp will 
come across to where you sit gossiping, 
tapping her way among the kitchen mid- 
dens, guided by your voice that carries far 
in the clearness and stillness of mesa after- 
noons. But suppose you find Seyavi re- 
tired into the privacy of her blanket, you 
will get nothing for that day. There is 
no other privacy possible in a campoodie. 
All the processes of life are carried on out 
of doors or behind the thin, twig-woven 
walls of the wickiup, and laughter is the 
only corrective for behavior. Very early 
the Indian learns to possess his counte- 
nance in impassivity, to cover his head with 
his blanket. Something to wrap around 
him is as necessary to the Paiute as to 
you your closet to pray in. 

So in her blanket Seyavi, sometime 
178 



THE BASKET MAKER 

basket maker, sits by the unlit hearths of 
her tribe and digests her life, nourishing 
her spirit against the time of the spirit's 
need, for she knows in fact quite as much 
of these matters as you who have a larger 
hope, though she has none but the cer- 
tainty that having borne herself coura- 
geously to this end she will not be reborn 
a coyote. 




THE STREETS OF THE 
MOUNTAINS 




THE STREETS OF THE 
MOUNTAINS 

ALL streets of the mountains lead to 
the citadel; steep or slow they go 
up to the core of the hills. Any trail that 
goes otherwhere must dip and cross, sidle 
and take chances. Rifts of the hills open 
into each other, and the high meadows 
are often wide enough to be called valleys 
by courtesy; but one keeps this distinction 
in mind, valleys are the sunken places 
of the earth, canons are scored out by 
the glacier ploughs of God. They have a 
better name in the Rockies for these hill- 
fenced open glades of pleasantness ; they 
call them parks. Here and there in the 
hill country one comes upon blind gullies 
fronted by high stony barriers. These 
183 




THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

head also for the heart of the mountains; 
their distinction is that they never get any- 
where. 

All mountain streets have streams to 
thread them, or deep grooves where a 
stream might run. You would do well to 
avoid that range uncomforted by singing 
floods. You will find it forsaken of most 
things but beauty and madness and death 
and God. Many such lie east and north 
away from the mid Sierras, and quicken 
the imagination with the sense of pur- 
poses not revealed, but the ordinary trav- 
eler brings nothing away from them but 
an intolerable thirst. 

The river canons of the Sierras of the 
Snows are better worth while than most 
Broadways, though the choice of them is 
like the choice of streets, not very well de- 
termined by their names. There is always 
184 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

an amount of local history to be read in 
the names of mountain highways where 
one touches the successive waves of occu- 
pation or discovery, as in the old villages 
where the neighborhoods are not built 
but grow. Here you have the Spanish 
Californian in Cero Gordo and pinon ; 
Symmes and Shepherd, pioneers both ; 
Tunawai, probably Shoshone ; Oak Creek, 
Kearsarge, easy to fix the date of that 
christening, Tinpah, Paiute that; Mist 
Canon and Paddy Jack's. The streets of 
the west Sierras sloping toward the San 
Joaquin are long and winding, but from 
the east, my country, a day's ride carries 
one to the lake regions. The next day 
reaches the passes of the high divide, but 
whether one gets passage depends a little 
on how many have gone that road before, 
and much on one's own powers. The 
185 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

passes are steep and windy ridges, though 
not the highest. By two and three thou- 
sand feet the snow-caps overtop them. It 
is even possible to win through the Sierras 
without having passed above timber-line, 
but one misses a great exhilaration. 

The shape of a new mountain is roughly 
pyramidal, running out into long shark- 
finned ridges that interfere and merge into 
other thunder-splintered sierras. You get 
the saw-tooth effect from a distance, but 
the near-by granite bulk glitters with the 
terrible keen polish of old glacial ages. I 
say terrible ; so it seems. When those 
glossy domes swim into the alpenglow, 
wet after rain, you conceive how long and 
imperturbable are the purposes of God. 

Never believe what you are told, that 
midsummer is the best time to go up the 
streets of the mountain well perhaps 
1 86 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

for the merely idle or sportsmanly or sci- 
entific; but for seeing and understanding, 
the best time is when you have the longest 
leave to stay. And here is a hint if you 
would attempt the stateliest approaches ; 
travel light, and as much as possible live 
off the land. Mulligatawny soup and 
tinned lobster will not bring you the favor 
of the woodlanders. 

Every canon commends itself for some 
particular pleasantness ; this for pines, an- 
other for trout, one for pure bleak beauty 
of granite buttresses, one for its far-flung 
irised falls ; and as I say, though some are 
easier going, leads each to the cloud shoul- 
dering citadel. First, near the canon mouth 
you get the low-heading full-branched, 
one-leaf pines. That is the sort of tree 
to know at sight, for the globose, resin- 
dripping cones have palatable, nourishing 
187 




THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

kernels, the main harvest of the Paiutes. 
That perhaps accounts for their growing 
accommodatingly below the limit of deep 
snows, grouped sombrely on the valley- 
ward slopes. The real procession of the 
pines begins in the rifts with the long- 
leafed Pinus Jeffrey i, sighing its soul away 
upon the wind. And it ought not to sigh 
in such good company. Here begins the 
manzanita, adjusting its tortuous stiff stems 
to the sharp waste of boulders, its pale olive 
leaves twisting edgewise to the sleek, ruddy, 
chestnut stems ; begins also the meadow- 
sweet, burnished laurel, and the million 
unregarded trumpets of the coral-red pent- 
stemon. Wild life is likely to be busiest 
about the lower pine borders. One looks 
in hollow trees and hiving rocks for wild 
honey. The drone of bees, the chatter of 
jays, the hurry and stir of squirrels, is in- 
188 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

cessant ; the air is odorous and hot. The 
roar of the stream fills up the morning 
and evening intervals, and at night the 
deer feed in the buckthorn thickets. It 
is worth watching the year round in the 
purlieus of the long-leafed pines. One 
month or another you get sight or trail of 
most roving mountain dwellers as they fol- 
low the limit of forbidding snows, and more 
bloom than you can properly appreciate. 

Whatever goes up or comes down the 
streets of the mountains, water has the 
right of way; it takes the lowest ground 
and the shortest passage. Where the 
rifts are narrow, and some of the Sierra 
canons are not a stone's throw from wall 
to wall, the best trail for foot or horse 
winds considerably above the watercourses ; 
but in a country of cone-bearers there is 
usually a good strip of swardy sod along 
189 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

the canon floor. Pine woods, the short- 
leafed Balfour and Murryana of the high 
Sierras, are sombre, rooted in the litter of 
a thousand years, hushed, and corrective 
to the spirit. The trail passes insensibly 
into them from the black pines and a thin 
belt of firs. You look back as you rise, 
and strain for glimpses of the tawny val- 
ley, blue glints of the Bitter Lake, and 
tender cloud films on the farther ranges. 
For such pictures the pine branches make 
a noble frame. Presently they close in 
wholly; they draw mysteriously near, cov- 
ering your tracks, giving up the trail indif- 
ferently, or with a secret grudge. You get 
a kind of impatience with their locked 
ranks, until you come out lastly on some 
high, windy dome and see what they are 
about. They troop thickly up the open 
ways, river banks, and brook borders ; up 
190 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

open swales of dribbling springs; swarm 
over old moraines ; circle the peaty swamps 
and part and meet about clean still lakes ; 
scale the stony gullies ; tormented, bowed, 
persisting to the door of the storm cham- 
bers, tall priests to pray for rain. The 
spring winds lift clouds of pollen dust, finer 
than frankincense, and trail it out over high 
altars, staining the snow. No doubt they 
understand this work better than we ; in 
fact they know no other. " Come," say 
the churches of the valleys, after a season 
of dry years, " let us pray for rain." They 
would do better to plant more trees. 

It is a pity we have let the gift of lyric 
improvisation die out. Sitting islanded on 
some gray peak above the encompassing 
wood, the soul is lifted up to sing the Iliad 
of the pines. They have no voice but the 
wind, and no sound of them rises up to the 
191 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

high places. But the waters, the evidences 
of their power, that go down the steep and 
stony ways, the outlets of ice-bordered 
pools, the young rivers swaying with the 
force of their running, they sing and shout 
and trumpet at the falls, and the noise of it 
far outreaches the forest spires. You see 
from these conning towers how they call 
and find each other in the slender gorges ; 
how they fumble in the meadows, needing 
the sheer nearing walls to give them coun- 
tenance and show the way; and how the 
pine woods are made glad by them. 

Nothing else in the streets of the moun- 
tains gives such a sense of pageantry as the 
conifers ; other trees, if there are any, are 
home dwellers, like the tender fluttered, 
sisterhood of quaking asp. They grow in 
clumps by spring borders, and all their 
stems have a permanent curve toward the 
192 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

down slope, as you may also see in hill- 
side pines, where they have borne the 
weight of sagging drifts. 

Well up from the valley, at the conflu- 
ence of canons, are delectable summer 
meadows. Fireweed flames about them 
against the gray boulders ; streams are 
open, go smoothly about the glacier slips 
and make deep bluish pools .for trout. 
Pines raise statelier shafts and give them- 
selves room to grow, gentians, shinleaf, 
and little grass of Parnassus in their 
golden checkered shadows ; the meadow is 
white with violets and all outdoors keeps 
the clock. For example, when the ripples 
at the ford of the creek raise a clear half 
tone, sign that the snow water has come 
down from the heated high ridges, it is 
time to light the evening fire. When it 
drops off a note but you will not know 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

it except the Douglas squirrel tells you 
with his high, fluty chirrup from the 
pines' aerial gloom sign that some star 
watcher has caught the first far glint of 
the nearing sun. Whitney cries it from 
his vantage tower; it flashes from Oppa- 
pago to the front of Williamson ; LeConte 
speeds it to the westering peaks. The 
high rills wake and run, the birds begin. 
But down three thousand feet in the 
canon, where you stir the fire under the 
cooking pot, it will not be day for an hour. 
It goes on, the play of light across the 
high places, rosy, purpling, tender, glint 
and glow, thunder and windy flood, like 
the grave, exulting talk of elders above a 
merry game. 

Who shall say what another will find 
most to his liking in the streets of the 
mountains. As for me, once set above the 
194 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

country of the silver firs, I must go on 
until I find white columbine. Around the 
amphitheatres of the lake regions and above 
them to the limit of perennial drifts they 
gather flock-wise in splintered rock wastes. 
The crowds of them, the airy spread of 
sepals, the pale purity of the petal spurs, 
the quivering swing of bloom, obsesses the 
sense. One must learn to spare a little of 
the pang of inexpressible beauty, not to 
spend all one's purse in one shop. There 
is always another year, and another. 

Lingering on in the alpine regions until 
the first full snow, which is often before 
the cessation of bloom, one goes down in 
good company. First snows are soft and 
clogging and make laborious paths. Then 
it is the roving inhabitants range down to 
the edge of the wood, below the limit of 
early storms. Early winter and early 
195 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

spring one may have sight or track of deer 
and bear and bighorn, cougar and bobcat, 
about the thickets of buckthorn on open 
slopes between the black pines. But when 
the ice crust is firm above the twenty foot 
drifts, they range far and forage where 
they will. Often in midwinter will come, 
now and then, a long fall of soft snow pil- 
ing three or four feet above the ice crust, 
and work a real hardship for the dwellers 
of these streets. When such a storm por- 
tends the weather-wise black-tail will go 
down across the valley and up to the pas- 
tures of Waban where no more snow falls 
than suffices to nourish the sparsely grow- 
ing pines. But the bighorn, the wild 
sheep, able to bear the bitterest storms 
with no signs of stress, cannot cope with 
the loose shifty snow. Never such a 
storm goes over the mountains that the 
196 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 



Indians do not catch them floundering 
belly deep among the lower rifts. I have 
a pair of horns, inconceivably heavy, that 
were borne as late as a year ago by a very 
monarch of the flock whom death over- 
took at the mouth of Oak Creek after a 
week of wet snow. He met it as a king 
should, with no vain effort or trembling, 
and it was wholly kind to take him so with 
four of his following rather than that the 
night prowlers should find him. 

There is always more life abroad in the 
winter hills than one looks to find, and 
much more in evidence than in summer 
weather. Light feet of hare that make no 
print on the forest litter leave a wondrously 
plain track in the snow. We used to look 
and look at the beginning of winter for 
the birds to come down from the pine 
lands ; looked in the orchard and stubble ; 
197 




THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

looked north and south on the mesa for 
their migratory passing, and wondered that 
they never came. Busy little grosbeaks 
picked about the kitchen doors, and wood- 
peckers tapped the eves of the farm build- 
ings, but we saw hardly any other of the 
frequenters of the summer canons. After 
a while when we grew bold to tempt the 
snow borders we found them in the street 
of the mountains. In the thick pine woods 
where the overlapping boughs hung with 
snow - wreaths make wind - proof shelter 
tents, in a very community of dwelling, 
winter the bird-folk who get their living 
from the persisting cones and the larvae 
harboring bark. Ground inhabiting spe- 
cies seek the dim snow chambers of the 
chaparral. Consider how it must be in a 
hill-slope overgrown with stout - twigged, 
partly evergreen shrubs, more than man 
198 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

high, and as thick as a hedge. Not all the 
canon's sifting of snow can fill the intri- 
cate spaces of the hill tangles. Here and 
there an overhanging rock, or a stiff arch 
of buckthorn, makes an opening to com- 
municating rooms and runways deep under 
the snow. 

The light filtering through the snow walls 
is blue and ghostly, but serves to show 
seeds of shrubs and grass, and berries, and 
the wind-built walls are warm against the 
wind. It seems that live plants, especially 
if they are evergreen and growing, give off 
heat; the snow wall melts earliest from 
within and hollows to thinness before there 
is a hint of spring in the air. But you 
think of these things afterward. Up in 
the street it has the effect of being done 
consciously ; the buckthorns lean to each 
other and the drift to them, the little birds 
199 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

run in and out of their appointed ways 
with the greatest cheerfulness. They give 
almost no tokens of distress, and even if 
the winter tries them too much you are 
not to pity them. You of the house habit 
can hardly understand the sense of the 
hills. No doubt the labor of being com- 
fortable gives you an exaggerated opinion 
of yourself, an exaggerated pain to be set 
aside. Whether the wild things under- 
stand it or not they adapt themselves to its 
processes with the greater ease. The busi- 
ness that goes on in the street of the moun- 
tain is tremendous, world-formative. Here 
go birds, squirrels, and red deer, children 
crying small wares and playing in the 
street, but they do not obstruct its affairs. 
Summer is their holiday ; " Come now," 
says the lord of the street, " I have need of 
a great work and no more playing." 
200 



THE STREETS OF THE MOUNTAINS 

But they are left borders and breathing- 
space out of pure kindness. They are not 
pushed out except by the exigencies of the 
nobler plan which they accept with a dig- 
nity the rest of us have not yet learned. 




WATER BORDERS 




WATER BORDERS 

I LIKE that name the Indians give to 
the mountain of Lone Pine, and find it 
pertinent to my subject, Oppapago, The 
Weeper. It sits eastward and solitary from 
the lordliest ranks of the Sierras, and above 
a range of little, old, blunt hills, and has a 
bowed, grave aspect as of some woman 
you might have known, looking out across 
the grassy barrows of her dead. From twin 
gray lakes under its noble brow stream 
down incessant white and tumbling waters. 
" Mahala all time cry," said Winnenap', 
drawing furrows in his rugged, wrinkled 
cheeks. 

The origin of mountain streams is like 
the origin of tears, patent to the under- 
standing but mysterious to the sense. 
205 



WATER BORDERS 

They are always at it, but one so seldom 
catches them in the act. Here in the val- 
ley there is no cessation of waters even in 
the season when the niggard frost gives 
them scant leave to run. They make the 
most of their midday hour, and tinkle all 
night thinly under the ice. An ear laid to 
the snow catches a muffled hint of their 
eternal busyness fifteen or twenty feet 
under the canon drifts, and long before 
any appreciable spring thaw, the sagging 
edges of the snow bridges mark out the 
place of their running. One who ventures 
to look for it finds the immediate source of 
the spring freshets all the hill fronts fur- 
rowed with the reek of melting drifts, all 
the gravelly flats in a swirl of waters. But 
later, in June or July, when the camping 
season begins, there runs the stream away 
full and singing, with no visible reinforce- 
206 



WATER BORDERS 

ment other than an icy trickle from some 
high, belated clot of snow. Oftenest the 
stream drops bodily from the bleak bowl 
of some alpine lake ; sometimes breaks out 
of a hillside as a spring where the ear can 
trace it under the rubble of loose stones to 
the neighborhood of some blind pool. But 
that leaves the lakes to be accounted for. 

The lake is the eye of the mountain, jade 
green, placid, unwinking, also unfathom- 
able. Whatever goes on under the high 
and stony brows is guessed at. It is always 
a favorite local tradition that one or an- 
other of the blind lakes is bottomless. Of- 
ten they lie in such deep cairns of broken 
boulders that one never gets quite to them, 
or gets away unhurt. One such drops be- 
low the plunging slope that the Kearsarge 
trail winds over, perilously, nearing the pass. 
It lies still and wickedly green in its sharp- 
207 



WATER BORDERS 

lipped cup, and the guides of that region 
love to tell of the packs and pack animals 
it has swallowed up. 

But the lakes of Oppapago are perhaps 
not so deep, less green than gray, and better 
befriended. The ousel haunts them, while 
still hang about their coasts the thin under- 
cut drifts that never quite leave the high 
altitudes. In and out of the bluish ice 
caves he flits and sings, and his singing 
heard from above is sweet and uncanny 
like the Nixie's chord. One finds butter- 
flies, too, about these high, sharp regions 
which might be called desolate, but will not 
by me who love them. This is above tim- 
ber-line but not too high for comforting by 
succulent small herbs and golden tufted 
grass. A granite mountain does not 
crumble with alacrity, but once resolved to 
soil makes the best of it. Every handful 
208 



WATER BORDERS 

of loose gravel not wholly water leached 
affords a plant footing, and even in such 
unpromising surroundings there is a choice 
of locations. There is never going to be 
any communism of mountain herbage, their 
affinities are too sure. Full in the runnels 
of snow water on gravelly, open spaces in 
the shadow of a drift, one looks to find 
buttercups, frozen knee-deep by night, and 
owning no desire but to ripen their fruit 
above the icy bath. Soppy little plants of 
the portulaca and small, fine ferns shiver 
under the drip of falls and in dribbling 
crevices. The bleaker the situation, so it 
is near a stream border, the better the cas- 
siope loves it. Yet I have not found it 
on the polished glacier slips, but where 
the country rock cleaves and splinters in 
the high windy headlands that the wild 
sheep frequents, hordes and hordes of the 
209 




WATER BORDERS 

white bells swing over matted, mossy foli- 
age. On Oppapago, which is also called 
Sheep Mountain, one finds not far from the 
beds of cassiope the ice-worn, stony hollows 
where the bighorns cradle their young. 
These are above the wolf's quest and the 
eagle's wont, and though the heather beds 
are softer, they are neither so dry nor so 
warm, and here only the stars go by. No 
other animal of any pretensions makes a 
habitat of the alpine regions. Now and 
then one gets a hint of some small, brown 
creature, rat or mouse kind, that slips 
secretly among the rocks ; no others adapt 
themselves to desertness of aridity or alti- 
tude so readily as these ground inhabiting, 
graminivorous species. If there is an open 
stream the trout go up the lake as far as 
the water breeds food for them, but the 
ousel goes farthest, for pure love of it. 
210 



WATER BORDERS 

Since no lake can be at the highest 
point, it is possible to find plant life higher 
than the water borders ; grasses perhaps 
the highest, gilias, royal blue trusses of po- 
lymonium, rosy plats of Sierra primroses. 
What one has to get used to in flowers at 
high altitudes is the bleaching of the sun. 
Hardly do they hold their virgin color for 
a day, and this early fading before their 
function is performed gives them a pitiful 
appearance not according with their hardi- 
hood. The color scheme runs along the 
high ridges from blue to rosy purple, car- 
mine and coral red ; along the water borders 
it is chiefly white and yellow where the 
mimulus makes a vivid note, running into 
red when the two schemes meet and mix 
about the borders of the meadows, at the 
upper limit of the columbine. 

Here is the fashion in which a mountain 



211 




WATER BORDERS 

stream gets down from the perennial pas- 
tures of the snow to its proper level and 
identity as an irrigating ditch. It slips 
stilly by the glacier scoured rim of an ice 
bordered pool, drops over sheer, broken 
ledges to another pool, gathers itself, 
plunges headlong on a rocky ripple slope, 
finds a lake again, reinforced, roars down- 
ward to a pot-hole, foams and bridles, glides 
a tranquil reach in some still meadow, 
tumbles into a sharp groove between hill 
flanks, curdles under the stream tangles, 
and so arrives at the open country and 
steadier going. Meadows, little strips of 
alpine freshness, begin before the timber- 
line is reached. Here one treads on a 
carpet of dwarf willows, downy catkins of 
creditable size and the greatest economy 
of foliage and stems. No other plant of 
high altitudes knows its business so well. 
212 



WATER BORDERS 

It hugs the ground, grows roots from stem 
joints where no roots should be, grows a 
slender leaf or two and twice as many erect 
full catkins that rarely, even in that short 
growing season, fail of fruit. Dipping over 
banks in the inlets of the creeks, the fortu- 
nate find the rosy apples of the miniature 
manzanita, barely, but always quite suffi- 
ciently, borne above the spongy sod. It 
does not do to be anything but humble in 
the alpine regions, but not fearful. I have 
pawed about for hours in the chill sward 
of meadows where one might properly ex- 
pect to get one's death, and got no harm 
from it, except it might be Oliver Twist's 
complaint. One comes soon after this to 
shrubby willows, and where willows are 
trout may be confidently looked for in 
most Sierra streams. There is no account- 
ing for their distribution ; though provident 
213 



WATER BORDERS 

anglers have assisted nature of late, one 
still comes upon roaring brown waters 
where trout might very well be, but are 
not. 

The highest limit of conifers in the 
middle Sierras, the white bark pine is 
not along the water border. They come 
to it about the level of the heather, but 
they have no such affinity for dampness as 
the tamarack pines. Scarcely any bird- 
note breaks the stillness of the timber-line, 
but chipmunks inhabit here, as may be 
guessed by the gnawed ruddy cones of the 
pines, and lowering hours the woodchucks 
come down to the water. On a little spit 
of land running into Windy Lake we found 
one summer the evidence of a tragedy ; a 
pair of sheep's horns not fully grown caught 
in the crotch of a pine where the living 
sheep must have lodged them. The trunk 
214 



WATER BORDERS 

of the tree had quite closed over them, and 
the skull bones crumbled away from the 
weathered horn cases. We hoped it was 
not too far out of the running of night 
prowlers to have put a speedy end to the 
long agony, but we could not be sure. I 
never liked the spit of Windy Lake again. 
It seems that all snow nourished plants 
count nothing so excellent in their kind as 
to be forehanded with their bloom, work- 
ing secretly to that end under the high 
piled winters. The heathers begin by the 
lake borders, while little sodden drifts still 
shelter under their branches. I have seen 
the tiniest of them (Kalmia glaucd) bloom- 
ing, and with well-formed fruit, a foot away 
from a snowbank from which it could 
hardly have emerged within a week. Some- 
how the soul of the heather has entered 
into the blood of the English-speaking. 
215 



WATER BORDERS 

"And oh! is that heather?" they say; 
and the most indifferent ends by picking 
a sprig of it in a hushed, wondering way. 
One must suppose that the root of their 
respective races issued from the glacial 
borders at about the same epoch, and re- 
member their origin. 

Among the pines where the slope of the 
land allows it, the streams run into smooth, 
brown, trout-abounding rills across open 
flats that are in reality filled lake basins. 
These are the displaying grounds of the 
gentians blue blue eye - blue, per- 
haps, virtuous and likable flowers. One is 
not surprised to learn that they have tonic 
properties. But if your meadow should be 
outside the forest reserve, and the sheep 
have been there, you will find little but the 
shorter, paler G. Newberryii, and in the 
matted sods of the little tongues of green- 
216 



WATER BORDERS 

ness that lick up among the pines along 
the watercourses, white, scentless, nearly 
stemless, alpine violets. 

At about the nine thousand foot level 
and in the summer there will be hosts of 
rosy-winged dodecatheon, called shooting- 
stars, outlining the crystal runnels in the 
sod. Single flowers have often a two-inch 
spread of petal, and the full, twelve blos- 
somed heads above the slender pedicels 
have the airy effect of wings. 

It is about this level one looks to find 
the largest lakes with thick ranks of pines 
bearing down on them, often swamped in 
the summer floods and paying the inevita- 
ble penalty for such encroachment. Here 
in wet coves of the hills harbors that crowd 
of bloom that makes the wonder of the Si- 
erra canons. 

They drift under the alternate flicker 
217 



WATER BORDERS 

and gloom of the windy rooms of pines, in 
gray rock shelters, and by the ooze of blind 
springs, and their juxtapositions are the 
best imaginable. Lilies come up out of 
fern beds, columbine swings over meadow- 
sweet, white rein-orchids quake in the lean- 
ing grass. Open swales, where in wet years 
may be running water, are plantations of 
false hellebore ( Veratrum Califoruicum), 
tall, branched candelabra of greenish bloom 
above the sessile, sheathing, boat-shaped 
leaves, semi - translucent in the sun. A 
stately plant of the lily family, but why 
"false?" It is frankly offensive in its 
character, and its young juices deadly as 
any hellebore that ever grew. 

Like most mountain herbs it has an 

uncanny haste to bloom. One hears by 

night, when all the wood is still, the crepi- 

tatious rustle of the unfolding leaves and 

218 



WATER BORDERS 



the pushing flower-stalk within, that has 
open blossoms before it has fairly un- 
cramped from the sheath. It commends 
itself by a certain exclusiveness of growth, 
taking enough room and never elbowing; 
for if the flora of the lake region has a fault 
it is that there is too much of it. We have 
more than three hundred species from 
Kearsarge Canon alone, and if that does 
not include them all it is because they were 
already collected otherwhere. 

One expects to find lakes down to about 
nine thousand feet, leading into each other 
by comparatively open ripple slopes and 
white cascades. Below the lakes are filled 
basins that are still spongy swamps, or 
substantial meadows, as they get down and 
down. 

Here begin the stream tangles. On 
the east slopes of the middle Sierras the 
219 




WATER BORDERS 

pines, all but an occasional yellow variety, 
desert the stream borders about the level 
of the lowest lakes, and the birches and 
tree-willows begin. The firs hold on al- 
most to the mesa levels, there are no 
foothills on this eastern slope, and who- 
ever has firs misses nothing else. It goes 
without saying that a tree that can afford 
to take fifty years to its first fruiting will 
repay acquaintance. It keeps, too, all that 
half century, a virginal grace of outline, 
but having once flowered, begins quietly 
to put away the things of its youth. Year 
by year the lower rounds of boughs are 
shed, leaving no scar; year by year the 
star-branched minarets approach the sky. 
A fir-tree loves a water border, loves a long 
wind in a draughty canon, loves to spend 
itself secretly on the inner finishings of its 
burnished, shapely cones. Broken open 
220 



WATER BORDERS 

in mid-season the petal-shaped scales show 
a crimson satin surface, perfect as a rose. 

The birch the brown -bark western 
birch characteristic of lower stream tangles 
is a spoil sport. It grows thickly to 
choke the stream that feeds it ; grudges it 
the sky and space for angler's rod and fly. 
The willows do better; painted-cup, cypri- 
pedium, and the hollow stalks of span-broad 
white umbels, find a footing among their 
stems. But in general the steep plunges, 
the white swirls, green and tawny pools, 
the gliding hush of waters between the 
meadows and the mesas afford little fish- 
ing and few flowers. 

One looks for these to begin again when 
once free of the rifted canon walls ; the 
high note of babble and laughter falls off 
to the steadier mellow tone of a stream 
that knows its purpose and reflects the sky. 
221 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 




OTHER WATER BORDERS 

IT is the proper destiny of every consid- 
erable stream in the west to become an 
irrigating ditch. It would seem the streams 
are willing. They go as far as they can, 
or dare, toward the tillable lands in their 
own boulder fenced gullies but how 
much farther in the man-made waterways. 
It is difficult to come into intimate relations 
with appropriated waters ; like very busy 
people they have no time to reveal them- 
selves. One needs to have known an irri- 
gating ditch when it was a brook, and to 
have lived by it, to mark the morning and 
evening tone of its crooning, rising and 
falling to the excess of snow water ; to have 
watched far across the valley, south to the 
Eclipse and north to the Twisted Dyke, 
225 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 

the shining wall of the village water gate ; 
to see still blue herons stalking the little 
glinting weirs across the field. 

Perhaps to get into the mood of the 
waterways one needs to have seen old 
Amos Judson asquat on the headgate with 
his gun, guarding his water-right toward 
the end of a dry summer. Amos owned 
the half of Tule Creek and the other half 
pertained to the neighboring Greenfields 
ranch. Years of a " short water crop," that 
is, when too little snow fell on the high 
pine ridges, or, falling, melted too early, 
Amos held that it took all the water that 
came down to make his half, and maintained 
it with a Winchester and a deadly aim. 
Jesus Montana, first proprietor of Green- 
fields, you can see at once that Judson 
had the racial advantage, contesting the 
right with him, walked into five of Judson's 
226 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 



bullets and his eternal possessions on the 
same occasion. That was the Homeric 
age of settlement and passed into tradition. 
Twelve years later one of the Clarks, hold- 
ing Greenfields, not so very green by now, 
shot one of the Judsons. Perhaps he hoped 
that also might become classic, but the jury 
found for manslaughter. It had the effect 
of discouraging the Greenfields claim, but 
Amos used to sit on the headgate just the 
same, as quaint and lone a figure as the 
sandhill crane watching for water toads 
below the Tule drop. Every subsequent 
owner of Greenfields bought it with Amos 
in full view. The last of these was Die- 
drick. Along in August of that year came 
a week of low water. Judson's ditch failed 
and he went out with his rifle to learn why. 
There on the headgate sat Diedrick's frau 
with a long-handled shovel across her lap 
227 





OTHER WATER BORDERS 

and all the water turned into Diedrick's 
ditch ; there she sat knitting through the 
long sun, and the children brought out her 
dinner. It was all up with Amos ; he was 
too much of a gentleman to fight a lady 
that was the way he expressed it. She was 
a very large lady, and a long-handled shovel 
is no mean weapon. The next year Judson 
and Diedrick put in a modern water gauge 
and took the summer ebb in equal inches. 
Some of the water-right difficulties are 
more squalid than this, some more tragic ; 
but unless you have known them you can- 
not very well know what the water thinks 
as it slips past' the gardens and in the long 
slow sweeps of the canal. You get that 
sense of brooding from the confined and 
sober floods, not all at once but by de- 
grees, as one might become aware of a mid- 
dle-aged and serious neighbor who has had 
228 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 

that in his life to make him so. It is the 
repose of the completely accepted instinct. 
With the water runs a certain following 
of thirsty herbs and shrubs. The willows 
go as far as the stream goes, and a bit far- 
ther on the slightest provocation. They 
will strike root in the leak of a flume, or 
the dribble of an overfull bank, coaxing 
the water beyond its appointed bounds. 
Given a new waterway in a barren land, 
and in three years the willows have fringed 
all its miles of banks ; three years more and 
they will touch tops across it. It is perhaps 
due to the early usurpation of the willows 
that so little else finds growing-room along 
the large canals. The birch beginning far 
back in the canon tangles is more conser- 
vative ; it is shy of man haunts and needs 
to have the permanence of its drink assured. 
It stops far short of the summer limit of 
229 






OTHER WATER BORDERS 

waters, and I have never known it to take 
up a position on the banks beyond the 
ploughed lands. There is something almost 
like premeditation in the avoidance of cul- 
tivated tracts by certain plants of water 
borders. The clematis, mingling its foliage' 
secretly with its host, comes down with the 
stream tangles to the village fences, skips 
over to corners of little used pasture lands 
and the plantations that spring up about 
waste water pools ; but never ventures a 
footing in the trail of spade or plough ; will 
not be persuaded to grow in any garden 
plot. On the other hand, the horehound, 
the common European species imported 
with the colonies, hankers after hedgerows 
and snug little borders. It is more widely 
distributed than many native species, and 
may be always found along the ditches in 
the village corners, where it is not appre- 
230 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 

ciated. The irrigating ditch is an impartial 
distributer. It gathers all the alien weeds 
that come west in garden and grass seeds 
and affords them harbor in its banks. 
There one finds the European mallow 
(Malva rotundifolid) spreading out to the 
streets with the summer overflow, and every 
spring a dandelion or two, brought in with 
the blue grass seed, uncurls in the swardy 
soil. Farther than either of these have 
come the lilies that the Chinese coolies 
cultivate in adjacent mud holes for their 
foodful bulbs. The seegoo establishes it- 
self very readily in swampy borders, and 
the white blossom spikes among the arrow- 
pointed leaves are quite as acceptable to 
the eye as any native species. 

In the neighborhood of towns founded 
by the Spanish Calif ornians, whether this 
plant is native to the locality or not, one can 
231 




OTHER WATER BORDERS 

always find aromatic clumps oiyerba buena, 
the " good herb " (Micromeria Douglas sii). 
The virtue of it as a febrifuge was taught 
to the mission fathers by the neophytes, 
and wise old dames of my acquaintance have 
worked astonishing cures with it and the 
succulent yerba mansa. This last is native 
to wet meadows and distinguished enough 
to have a family all to itself. 

Where the irrigating ditches are shallow 
and a little neglected, they choke quickly 
with watercress that multiplies about the 
lowest Sierra springs. It is characteristic 
of the frequenters of water borders near 
man haunts, that they are chiefly of the 
sorts that are useful to man, as if they made 
their services an excuse for the intrusion. 
The joint-grass of soggy pastures produces 
edible, nut-flavored tubers, called by the 
Indians taboose. The common reed of the 
232 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 

ultramontane marshes (here Phragmites 
vulgaris\ a very stately, whispering reed, 
light and strong for shafts or arrows, affords 
sweet sap and pith which makes a passable 
sugar. 

It seems the secrets of plant powers and 
influences yield themselves most readily to 
primitive peoples, at least one never hears 
of the knowledge coming from any other 
source. The Indian never concerns him- 
self, as the botanist and the poet, with the 
plant's appearances and relations, but with 
what it can do for him. It can do much, 
but how do you suppose he finds it out ; 
what instincts or accidents guide him ? 
How does a cat know when to eat catnip ? 
Why do western bred cattle avoid loco 
weed, and strangers eat it and go mad? 
One might suppose that in a time of famine 
the Paiutes digged wild parsnip in meadow 
233 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 

corners and died from eating it, and so 
learned to produce death swiftly and at 
will. But how did they learn, repenting 
in the last agony, that animal fat is the best 
antidote for its virulence ; and who taught 
them that the essence of joint pine (Ephe- 
dra nevadensis), which looks to have no 
juice in it of any sort, is efficacious in 
stomachic disorders. But they so under- 
stand and so use. One believes it to be a 
sort of instinct atrophied by disuse in a 
complexer civilization. I remember very 
well when I came first upon a wet meadow 
of yerba mansa, not knowing its name or 
use. It looked potent ; the cool, shiny 
leaves, the succulent, pink stems and fruity 
bloom. A little touch, a hint, a word, and 
I should have known what use to put them 
to. So I felt, unwilling to leave it until we 
had come to an understanding. So a mu- 
234 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 

sician might have felt in the presence of 
an instrument known to be within his pro- 
vince, but beyond his power. It was with 
the relieved sense of having shaped a long 
surmise that I watched the Senora Ro- 
mero make a poultice of it for my burned 
hand. 

On, down from the lower lakes to the 
village weirs, the brown and golden disks of 
helenum have beauty as a sufficient excuse 
for being. The plants anchor out on tiny 
capes, or mid-stream islets, with the nearly 
sessile radicle leaves submerged. The 
flowers keep up a constant trepidation in 
time with the hasty water beating at their 
stems, a quivering, instinct with life, that 
seems always at the point of breaking into 
flight ; just as the babble of the water- 
courses always approaches articulation but 
never quite achieves it. Although of wide 
235 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 

range the helenum never makes itself com- 
mon through profusion, and may be looked 
for in the same places from year to year. 
Another lake dweller that comes down to 
the ploughed lands is the red columbine (C. 
truncatd). It requires no encouragement 
other than shade, but grows too rank in the 
summer heats and loses its wildwood grace. 
A common enough orchid in these parts is 
the false lady's slipper (Epipactis giganted], 
one that springs up by any water where 
there is sufficient growth of other sorts to 
give it countenance. It seems to thrive 
best in an atmosphere of suffocation. 

The middle Sierras fall off abruptly east- 
ward toward the high valleys. Peaks of 
the fourteen thousand class, belted with 
sombre swathes of pine, rise almost direct- 
ly from the bench lands with no foothill 
approaches. At the lower edge of the 
236 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 

bench or mesa the land falls away, often 
by a fault, to the river hollows, and along 
the drop one looks for springs or intermit- 
tent swampy swales. Here the plant world 
resembles a little the lake gardens, modified 
by altitude and the use the town folk put 
it to for pasture. Here are cress, blue 
violets, potentilla, and, in the damp of the 
willow fence-rows, white false asphodels. 
I am sure we make too free use of this word 
false in naming plants false mallow, false 
lupine, and the like. The asphodel is at 
least no falsifier, but a true lily by all the 
heaven-set marks, though small of flower 
and run mostly to leaves, and should have 
a name that gives it credit for growing up 
in such celestial semblance. Native to the 
mesa meadows is a pale iris, gardens of it 
acres wide, that in the spring season of full 
bloom make an airy fluttering as of azure 
237 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 

wings. Single flowers are too thin and 
sketchy of outline to affect the imagination, 
but the full fields have the misty blue of 
mirage waters rolled across desert sand, 
and quicken the senses to the anticipation 
of things ethereal. A very poet's flower, I 
thought; not fit for gathering up, and 
proving a nuisance in the pastures, there- 
fore needing to be the more loved. And 
one day I caught Winnenap' drawing out 
from mid leaf a fine strong fibre for making 
snares. The borders of the iris fields are 
pure gold, nearly sessile buttercups and a 
creeping-stemmed composite of a redder 
hue. I am convinced that English-speak- 
ing children will always have buttercups. 
If they do not light upon the original com- 
panion of little frogs they will take the next 
best and cherish it accordingly. I find five 
unrelated species loved by that name, and 
238 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 

as many more and as inappropriately called 
cowslips. 

By every mesa spring one may expect to 
find a single shrub of the buckthorn, called 
of old time Cascara sagrada the sacred 
bark. Up in the canons, within the limit 
of the rains, it seeks rather a stony slope, 
but in the dry valleys is not found away 
from water borders. 

In all the valleys and along the desert 
edges of the west are considerable areas of 
soil sickly with alkali-collecting pools, black 
and evil-smelling like old blood. Very little 
grows hereabout but thick-leaved pickle 
weed. Curiously enough, in this stiff mud, 
along roadways where there is frequently 
a little leakage from canals, grows the only 
western representative of the true helio- 
tropes (Heliotropium curassavicum). It has 
flowers of faded white, foliage of faded 
239 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 

green, resembling the " live-for-ever " of old 
gardens and graveyards, but even less at- 
tractive. After so much schooling in the 
virtues of water-seeking plants, one is not 
surprised to learn that its mucilaginous sap 
has healing powers. 

Last and inevitable resort of overflow 
waters is the tulares, great wastes of reeds 
(Juncus} in sickly, slow streams. The 
reeds, called tules, are ghostly pale in 
winter, in summer deep poisonous-looking 
green, the waters thick and brown; the 
reed beds breaking into dingy pools, clumps 
of rotting willows, narrow winding water 
lanes and sinking paths. The tules grow 
inconceivably thick in places, standing man- 
high above the water; cattle, no, not any 
fish nor fowl can penetrate them. Old 
stalks succumb slowly ; the bed soil is quag- 
mire, settling with the weight as it fills 
240 



OTHER WATER BORDERS 

and fills. Too slowly for counting they 
raise little islands from the bog and reclaim 
the land. The waters pushed out cut 
deeper channels, gnaw off the edges of the 
solid earth. 

The tulares are full of mystery and ma- 
laria. That is why we have meant to 
explore them and have never done so. It 
must be a happy mystery. So you would 
think to hear the redwinged blackbirds 
proclaim it clear March mornings. Flocks 
of them, and every flock a myriad, shelter 
in the dry, whispering stems. They make 
little arched runways deep into the heart 
of the tule beds. Miles across the valley 
one hears the clamor of their high, keen 
flutings in the mating weather. 

Wild fowl, quacking hordes of them, nest 
in the tulares. Any day's venture will 
raise from open shallows the great blue 
241 




OTHER WATER BORDERS 

heron on his hollow wings. Chill evenings 
the mallard drakes cry continually from the 
glassy pools, the bittern's hollow boom rolls 
along the water paths. Strange and far- 
flown fowl drop down against the saffron, 
autumn sky. All day wings beat above it 
hazy with speed ; long flights of cranes 
glimmer in the twilight. By night one 
wakes to hear the clanging geese go over. 
One wishes for, but gets no nearer speech 
from those the reedy fens have swallowed 
up. What they do there, how fare, what 
find, is the secret of the tulares. 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 





NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

CHOOSE a hill country for storms. 
There all the business of the weather 
is carried on above your horizon and loses 
its terror in familiarity. When you come 
to think about it, the disastrous storms are 
on the levels, sea or sand or plains. There 
you get only a hint of what is about to hap- 
pen, the fume of the gods rising from their 
meeting place under the rim of the world ; 
and when it breaks upon you there is no 
stay nor shelter. The terrible mewings 
and mouthings of a Kansas wind have the 
added terror of viewlessness. You are 
lapped in them like uprooted grass ; sus- 
pect them of a personal grudge. But the 
storms of hill countries have other busi- 
ness. They scoop watercourses, manure 
245 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

the pines, twist them to a finer fibre, fit the 
firs to be masts and spars, and, if you keep 
reasonably out of the track of their affairs, 
do you no harm. 

They have habits to be learned, appointed 
paths, seasons, and warnings, and they leave 
you in no doubt about their performances. 
One who builds his house on a water scar 
or the rubble of a steep slope must take 
chances. So they did in Overtown who 
built in the wash of Argus water, and at 
Kearsarge at the foot of a steep, treeless 
swale. After twenty years Argus water rose 
in the wash against the frail houses, and 
the piled snows of Kearsarge slid down 
at a thunder peal over the cabins and the 
camp, but you could conceive that it was 
the fault of neither the water nor the snow. 

The first effect of cloud study is a sense 
of presence and intention in storm pro- 
246 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

cesses. Weather does not happen. It is 
the visible manifestation of the Spirit mov- 
ing itself in the void. It gathers itself to- 
gether under the heavens ; rains, snows, 
yearns mightily in wind, smiles; and the 
Weather Bureau, situated advantageously 
for that very business, taps the record on 
his instruments and going out on the 
streets denies his God, not having gathered 
the sense of what he has seen. Hardly 
anybody takes account of the fact that 
John Muir, who knows more of mountain 
storms than any other, is a devout man. 

Of the high Sierras choose the neigh- 
borhood of the splintered peaks about the 
Kern and King's river divide for storm 
study, or the short, wide-mouthed canons 
opening eastward on high valleys. Days 
when the hollows are steeped in a warm, 
winey flood the clouds come walking on 
247 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

the floor of heaven, flat and pearly gray 
beneath, rounded and pearly white above. 
They gather flock-wise, moving on the level 
currents that roll about the peaks, lock 
hands and settle with the cooler air, draw- 
ing a veil about those places where they do 
their work. If their meeting or parting 
takes place at sunrise or sunset, as it often 
does, one gets the splendor of the apoca- 
lypse. There will be cloud pillars miles 
high, snow-capped, glorified, and preserv- 
ing an orderly perspective before the un- 
barred door of the sun, or perhaps mere 
ghosts of clouds that dance to some pied 
piper of an unfelt wind. But be it day or 
night, once they have settled to their work, 
one sees from the valley only the blank 
wall of their tents stretched along the 
ranges. To get the real effect of a moun- 
tain storm you must be inside. 
248 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

One who goes often into a hill country 
learns not to say : What if it should rain ? 
It always does rain somewhere among the 
peaks: the unusual thing is that one should 
escape it. You might suppose that if you 
took any account of plant contrivances to 
save their pollen powder against showers. 
Note how many there are deep-throated 
and bell-flowered like the pentstemons, how 
many have nodding pedicels as the colum- 
bine, how many grow in copse shelters and 
grow there only. There is keen delight in 
the quick showers of summer canons, with 
the added comfort, born of experience, of 
knowing that no harm comes of a wetting 
at high altitudes. The day is warm ; a 
white cloud spies over the canon wall, slips 
up behind the ridge to cross it by some 
windy pass, obscures your sun. Next you 
hear the rain drum on the broad-leaved 
249 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

hellebore, and beat down the mimulus be- 
side the brook. You shelter on the lee of 
some strong pine with shut-winged butter- 
flies and merry, fiddling creatures of the 
wood. Runnels of rain water from the 
glacier-slips swirl through the pine needles 
into rivulets ; the streams froth and rise in 
their banks. The sky is white with cloud ; 
the sky is gray with rain ; the sky is clear. 
The summer showers leave no wake. 

Such as these follow each other day by 
day for weeks in August weather. Some- 
times they chill suddenly into wet snow 
that packs about the lake gardens clear to 
the blossom frills, and melts away harm- 
lessly. Sometimes one has the good for- 
tune from a heather -grown headland to 
watch a rain -cloud forming in mid-air. 
Out over meadow or lake region begins a 
little darkling of the sky, no cloud, no 
250 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

wind, just a smokiness such as spirits ma- 
terialize from in witch stories. 

It rays out and draws to it some floating 
films from secret canons. Rain begins, 
"slow dropping veil of thinnest lawn;" a 
wind comes up and drives the formless 
thing across a meadow, or a dull lake pit- 
ted by the glancing drops, dissolving as it 
drives. Such rains relieve like tears. 

The same season brings the rains that 
have work to do, ploughing storms that 
alter the face of things. These come with 
thunder and the play of live fire along the 
rocks. They come with great winds that 
try the pines for their work upon the seas 
and strike out the unfit. They shake 
down avalanches of splinters from sky-line 
pinnacles and raise up sudden floods like 
battle fronts in the canons against towns, 
trees, and boulders. They would be kind 
251 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

if they could, but have more important 
matters. Such storms, called cloud-bursts 
by the country folk, are not rain, rather 
the spillings of Thor's cup, jarred by the 
Thunderer. After such a one the water 
that comes up in the village hydrants miles 
away is white with forced bubbles from the 
wind-tormented streams. 

All that storms do to the face of the 
earth you may read in the geographies, but 
not what they do to our contemporaries. 
I remember one night of thunderous rain 
made unendurably mournful by the house- 
less cry of a cougar whose lair, and perhaps 
his family, had been buried under a slide of 
broken boulders on the slope of Kearsarge. 
We had heard the heavy denotation of 
the slide about the hour of the alpenglow, 
a pale rosy interval in a darkling air, and 
judged he must have come from hunting 
252 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

to the ruined cliff and paced the night out 
before it, crying a very human woe. I re- 
member, too, in that same season of storms, 
a lake made milky white for days, and 
crowded out of its bed by clay washed into 
it by a fury of rain, with the trout floating 
in it belly up, stunned by the shock of the 
sudden flood. But there were trout enough 
for what was left of the lake next year and 
the beginning of a meadow about its upper 
rim. What taxed me most in the wreck 
of one of my favorite canons by cloud- 
burst was to see a bobcat mother mouth- 
ing her drowned kittens in the ruined lair 
built in the wash, far above the limit of ac- 
customed waters, but not far enough for 
the unexpected. After a time you get the 
point of view of gods about these things to 
save you from being too pitiful. 

The great snows that come at the be- 
253 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

ginning of winter, before there is yet any 
snow except the perpetual high banks, are 
best worth while to watch. These come 
often before the late bloomers are gone 
and while the migratory birds are still in 
the piney woods. Down in the valley you 
see little but the flocking of blackbirds in 
the streets, or the low flight of mallards 
over the tulares, and the gathering of 
clouds behind Williamson. First there is 
a waiting stillness in the wood; the pine- 
trees creak although there is no wind, the 
sky glowers, the firs rock by the water 
borders. The noise of the creek rises in- 
sistently and falls off a full note like a child 
abashed by sudden silence in the room. 
This changing of the stream-tone following 
tardily the changes of the sun on melting 
snows is most meaningful of wood notes. 
After it runs a little trumpeter wind to cry 
254 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

the wild creatures to their holes. Some- 
times the warning hangs in the air for days 
with increasing stillness. Only Clark's 
crow and the strident jays make light of it ; 
only they can afford to. The cattle get 
down to the foothills and ground inhabit- 
ing creatures make fast their doors. It 
grows chill, blind clouds fumble in the 
canons; there will be a roll of thunder, 
perhaps, or a flurry of rain, but mostly the 
snow is born in the air with quietness and 
the sense of strong white pinions softly 
stirred. It increases, is wet and clogging, 
and makes a white night of midday. 

There is seldom any wind with first 
snows, more often rain, but later, when 
there is already a smooth foot or two over 
all the slopes, the drifts begin. The late 
snows are fine and dry, mere ice granules 
at the wind's will. Keen mornings after 
255 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

a storm they are blown out in wreaths and 
banners from the high ridges sifting into 
the canons. 

Once in a year or so we have a " big 
snow." The cloud tents are widened out 
to shut in the valley and an outlying range 
or two and are drawn tight against the sun. 
Such a storm begins warm, with a dry white 
mist that fills and fills between the ridges, 
and the air is thick with formless groaning. 
Now for days you get no hint of the neigh- 
boring ranges until the snows begin to 
lighten and some shouldering peak lifts 
through a rent. Mornings after the heavy 
snows are steely blue, two-edged with cold, 
divinely fresh and still, and these are times 
to go up to the pine borders. There you 
may find floundering in the unstable drifts 
" tainted wethers " of the wild sheep, faint 
from age and hunger ; easy prey. Even the 
256 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 



deer make slow going in the thick fresh 
snow, and once we found a wolverine going 
blind and feebly in the white glare. 

No tree takes the snow stress with such 
ease as the silver fir. The star-whorled, 
fan-spread branches droop under the soft 
wreaths droop and press flatly to the 
trunk; presently the point of overloading 
is reached, there is a soft sough and muf- - 



fled dropping, the boughs recover, and the -^j 
weighting goes on until the drifts have I 
reached the midmost whorls and covered I 
up the branches. When the snows are ? 
particularly wet and heavy they spread 
over the young firs in green-ribbed tents 
wherein harbor winter loving birds. 

All storms of desert hills, except wind 

storms, are impotent. East and east of the 

Sierras they rise in nearly parallel ranges, 

desertward, and no rain breaks over them, 

257 





NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 




except from some far -strayed cloud or 
roving wind from the California Gulf, and 
these only in winter. In summer the sky 
travails with thunderings and the flare of 
sheet lightnings to win a few blistering big 
drops, and once in a lifetime the chance of 
a torrent. But you have not known what 
force resides in the mindless things until 
you have known a desert wind. One 
expects it at the turn of the two seasons, 
wet and dry, with electrified tense nerves. 
Along the edge of the mesa where it drops 
off to the valley, dust devils begin to rise 
white and steady, fanning out at the top 
like the genii out of the Fisherman's bot- 
tle. One supposes the Indians might have 
learned the use of smoke signals from 
these dust pillars as they learn most things 
direct from the tutelage of the earth. The 
air begins to move fluently, blowing hot 
258 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

and cold between the ranges. Far south 
rises a murk of sand against the sky; it 
grows, the wind shakes itself, and has a 
smell of earth. The cloud of small dust 
takes on the color of gold and shuts out 
the neighborhood, the push of the wind is 
unsparing. Only man of all folk is fool- 
ish enough to stir abroad in it. But being 
in a house is really much worse ; no relief 
from the dust, and a great fear of the 
creaking timbers. There is no looking 
ahead in such a wind, and the bite of the 
small sharp sand on exposed skin is keener 
than any insect sting. One might sleep, 
for the lapping of the wind wears one to 
the point of exhaustion very soon, but 
there is dread, in open sand stretches some- 
times justified, of being over blown by the 
drift. It is hot, dry, fretful work, but by 
going along the ground with the wind 
259 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

behind, one may come upon strange things 
in its tumultuous privacy. I like these 
truces of wind and heat that the desert 
makes, otherwise I do not know how I 
should come by so many acquaintances 
with furtive folk. I like to see hawks sit- 
ting daunted in shallow holes, not daring 
to spread a feather, and doves in a row by 
the prickle bushes, and shut-eyed cattle, 
turned tail to the wind in a patient doze. 
I like the smother of sand among the 
dunes, and finding small coiled snakes in 
open places, but I never like to come in a 
wind upon the silly sheep. The wind robs 
them of what wit they had, and they seem 
never to have learned the self-induced hyp- 
notic stupor with which most wild things 
endure weather stress. I have never heard 
that the desert winds brought harm to any 
other than the wandering shepherds and 
260 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

their flocks. Once below Pastaria Little 
Pete showed me bones sticking out of the 
sand where a flock of two hundred had 
been smothered in a bygone wind. In 
many places the four-foot posts of a cattle 
fence had been buried by the wind-blown 
dunes. 

It is enough occupation, when no storm 
is brewing, to watch the cloud currents and 
the chambers of the sky. From Kearsarge, 
say, you look over Inyo and find pink soft 
cloud masses asleep on the level desert air; 
south of you hurries a white troop late to 
some gathering of their kind at the back 
of Oppapago ; nosing the foot of Waban, 
a woolly mist creeps south. In the clean, 
smooth paths of the middle sky and highest 
up in air, drift, unshepherded, small flocks 
ranging contrarily. You will find the 
proper names of these things in the reports 
261 



NURSLINGS OF THE SKY 

of the Weather Bureau cirrus, cumulus, 
and the like and charts that will teach by 
study when to sow and take up crops. It is 
astonishing the trouble men will be at to 
find out when to plant potatoes, and gloze 
over the eternal meaning of the skies. 
You have to beat out for yourself many 
mornings on the windly headlands the 
sense of the fact that you get the same 
rainbow in the cloud drift over Waban and 
the spray of your garden hose. And not 
necessarily then do you live up to it. 



THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE 
GRAPE VINES 




THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE 
GRAPE VINES 

THERE are still some places in the 
west where the quails cry " cuidado"\ 
where all the speech is soft, all the man- 
ners gentle ; where all the dishes have 
chile in them, and they make more of the 
Sixteenth of September than they do of 
the Fourth of July. I mean in particular 
El Pueblo de Las Uvas. Where it lies, 
how to come at it, you will not get from 
me; rather would I show you the heron's 
nest in the tulares. It has a peak behind 
it, glinting above the tamarack pines, above 
a breaker of ruddy hills that have a long 
slope valley-wards and the shoreward steep 
of waves toward the Sierras. 

Below the Town of the Grape Vines, 
265 



THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

which shortens to Las Uvas for common 
use, the land dips away to the river pas- 
tures and the tulares. It shrouds under 
a twilight thicket of vines, under a dome of 
cottonwood-trees, drowsy and murmurous 
as a hive. Hereabouts are some strips of 
tillage and the headgates that dam up the 
creek for the village weirs ; upstream you 
catch the growl of the arrastra. Wild vines 
that begin among the willows lap over to 
the orchard rows, take the trellis and roof- 
tree. 

There is another town above Las Uvas 
that merits some attention, a town of arches 
and airy crofts, full of linnets, blackbirds, 
fruit birds, small sharp hawks, and mock- 
ingbirds that sing by night. They pour 
out piercing, unendurably sweet cavatinas 
above the fragrance of bloom and musky 
smell of fruit. Singing is in fact the busi- 
266 



THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

ness of the night at Las Uvas as sleeping 
is for midday. When the moon comes 
over the mountain wall new-washed from 
the sea, and the shadows lie like lace on 
the stamped floors of the patios, from recess 
to recess of the vine tangle runs the thrum 
of guitars and the voice of singing. 

At Las Uvas they keep up all the good 
customs brought out of Old Mexico or 
bred in a lotus-eating land ; drink, and are 
merry and look out for something to eat 
afterward ; have children, nine or ten to a 
family, have cock-fights, keep the siesta, 
smoke cigarettes and wait for the sun to 
go down. And always they dance ; at dusk 
on the smooth adobe floors, afternoons 
under the trellises where the earth is damp 
and has a fruity smell. A betrothal, a 
wedding, or a christening, or the mere 
proximity of a guitar is sufficient occasion; 
267 



THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

and if J:he occasion lacks, send for the 
guitar and dance anyway. 

All this requires explanation. Antonio 
Sevadra, drifting this way from Old Mexico 
with the flood that poured into the Tappan 
district after the first notable strike, dis- 
covered La Golondrina. It was a gener- 
ous lode and Tony a good fellow ; to work 
it he brought in all the Sevadras, even to 
the twice-removed ; all the Castros who 
were his wife's family, all the Saises, Ro- 
meros, and Eschobars, the relations of 
his relations-in-law. There you have the 
beginning of a pretty considerable town. 
To these accrued much of the Spanish 
California float swept out of the southwest 
by eastern enterprise. They slacked away 
again when the price of silver went down, 
and the ore dwindled in La Golondrina. 
All the hot eddy of mining life swept away 
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THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

from that corner of the hills, but there 
were always those too idle, too poor to 
move, or too easily content with El Pueblo 
de Las Uvas. 

Nobody comes nowadays to the town of 
the grape vines except, as we say, " with 
the breath of crying," but of these enough. 
All the low sills run over with small heads. 
Ah, ah ! There is a kind of pride in that 
if you did but know it, to have your baby 
every year or so as the time sets, and keep 
a full breast. So great a blessing as mar- 
riage is easily come by. It is told of Ruy 
Garcia that when he went for his marriage 
license he lacked a dollar of the clerk's 
fee, but borrowed it of the sheriff, who ex- 
pected reelection and exhibited thereby a 
commendable thrift. 

Of what account is it to lack meal or 
meat when you may have it of any neigh- 
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THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

bor? Besides, there is sometimes a point 
of honor in these things. Jesus Romero, 
father of ten, had a job sacking ore in the 
Marionette which he gave up of his own 
accord. " Eh, why ? " said Jesus, " for my 
fam'ly." 

" It is so, senora," he said solemnly, " I 
go to the Marionette, I work, I eat meat 
pie frijoles good, ver' good. I come 
home sad'day nigh' I see my fam'ly. I play 
HI' game poker with the boys, have HI' drink 
wine, my money all gone. My family have 
no money, nothing eat. All time I work at 
mine I eat, good, ver' good grub. I think 
sorry for my fam'ly. No, no, senora, I no 
work no more that Marionette, I stay with 
my fam'ly." The wonder of it is, I think, 
that the family had the same point of view. 

Every house in the town of the vines has 
its garden plot, corn and brown beans and 
270 



THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

a row of peppers reddening in the sun ; and 
in damp borders of the irrigating ditches 
clumps of yerba santa, horehound, catnip, 
and spikenard, wholesome herbs and cura- 
tive, but if no peppers then nothing at all. 
You will have for a holiday dinner, in Las 
Uvas, soup with meat balls and chile in it, 
chicken with chile, rice with chile, fried 
beans with more chile, enchilada, which is 
corn cake with a sauce of chile and to- 
matoes, onion, grated cheese, and olives, 
and for a relish chile tepines passed about 
in a dish, all of which is comfortable and 
corrective to the stomach. You will have 
wine which every man makes for himself, 
of good body and inimitable bouquet, and 
sweets that are not nearly so nice as they 
look. 

There are two occasions when you may 
count on that kind of a meal ; always on 
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THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

the Sixteenth of September, and on the 
two-yearly visits of Father Shannon. It 
is absurd, of course, that El Pueblo de 
Las Uvas should have an Irish priest, but 
Black Rock, Minton, Jimville, and all that 
country round do not find it so. Father 
Shannon visits them all, waits by the Red 
Butte to confess the shepherds who go 
through with their flocks, carries blessing 
to small and isolated mines, and so in the 
course of a year or so works around to 
Las Uvas to bury and marry and christen. 
Then all the little graves in the Campo 
Santo are brave with tapers, the brown pine 
headboards blossom like Aaron's rod with 
paper roses and bright cheap prints of 
Our Lady of Sorrows. Then the Senora 
Sevadra, who thinks herself elect of heaven 
for that office, gathers up the original sin- 
ners, the little Elijias, Lolas, Manuelitas, 
272 



THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

Joses, and Felipes, by dint of adjurations 
and sweets smuggled into small perspiring 
palms, to fit them for the Sacrament. 

I used to peek in at them, never so softly, 
in Dona Ina's living-room ; Raphael-eyed 
little imps, going sidewise on their knees 
to rest them from the bare floor, candles 
lit on the mantel to give a religious air, 
and a great sheaf of wild bloom before the 
Holy Family. Come Sunday they set out 
the altar in the schoolhouse, with the fine- 
drawn altar cloths, the beaten silver candle- 
sticks, and the wax images, chief glory of 
Las Uvas, brought up mule-back from Old 
Mexico forty years ago. All in white the 
communicants go up two and two in a 
hushed, sweet awe to take the body of their 
Lord, and Tomaso, who is priest's boy, tries 
not to look unduly puffed up by his office. 
After that you have dinner and a bottle of 
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THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

wine that ripened on the sunny slope of 
Escondito. All the week Father Shannon 
has shriven his people, who bring clean 
conscience to the betterment of appetite, 
and the Father sets them an example. 
Father Shannon is rather big about the 
middle to accommodate the large laugh that 
lives in him, but a most shrewd searcher 
of hearts. It is reported that one derives 
comfort from his confessional, and I for 
my part believe it. 

The celebration of the Sixteenth, though 
it comes every year, takes as long to pre- 
pare for as Holy Communion. The senor- 
itas have each a new dress apiece, the 
senoras a new rebosa. The young gentle- 
men have new silver trimmings to their 
sombreros, unspeakable ties, silk handker- 
chiefs, and new leathers to their spurs. At 
this time when the peppers glow in the 
274 



THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

gardens and the young quail cry " cuidado? 
" have a care ! " you can hear the plump, 
plump of the metate from the alcoves of the 
vines where comfortable old dames, whose 
experience gives them the touch of art, are 
pounding out corn for tamales. 

School-teachers from abroad have tried 
before now at Las Uvas to have school 
begin on the first of September, but got 
nothing else to stir in the heads of the little 
Castros, Garcias, and Romeros but feasts 
and cock-fights until after the Sixteenth. 
Perhaps you need to be told that this is 
the anniversary of the Republic, when 
liberty awoke and cried in the provinces 
of Old Mexico. You are aroused at mid- 
night to hear them shouting in the streets, 
"Vive la Libertad!" answered from the 
houses and the recesses of the vines, " Vive 
la Mexico!" At sunrise shots are fired 
275 



THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

commemorating the tragedy of unhappy 
Maximilian, and then music, the noblest of 
national hymns, as the great flag of Old 
Mexico floats up the flag-pole in the bare 
little plaza of shabby Las Uvas. The sun 
over Pine Mountain greets the eagle of 
Montezuma before it touches the vineyards 
and the town, and the day begins with a 
great shout. By and by there will be a 
reading of the Declaration of Independ- 
ence and an address punctured by vives ; 
all the town in its best dress, and some ex- 
hibits of horsemanship that make lathered 
bits and bloodly spurs ; also a cock-fight. 

By night there will be dancing, and such 
music ! old Santos to play the* flute, a little 
lean man with a saintly countenance, young 
Garcia whose guitar has a soul, and Car- 
rasco with the violin. They sit on a high 
platform above the dancers in the candle 
276 




BY NIGHT THERE WILL BE DANCING 



THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

flare, backed by the red, white, and green of 
Old Mexico, and play fervently such music 
as you will not hear otherwhere. 

At midnight the flag comes down. Count 
yourself at a loss if you are not moved by 
that performance. Pine Mountain watches 
whitely overhead, shepherd fires glow 
strongly on the glooming hills. The plaza, 
the bare glistening pole, the dark folk, the 
bright dresses, are lit ruddily by a bonfire. 
It leaps up to the eagle flag, dies down, the 
music begins softly and aside. They play 
airs of old longing and exile ; slowly out of 
the dark the flag drops down, bellying and 
falling with the midnight draught. Some- 
times a hymn is sung, always there are 
tears. The flag is down ; Tony Sevadra 
has received it in his arms. The music 
strikes a barbaric swelling tune, another 
flag begins a slow ascent, it takes a 
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THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

breath or two to realize that they are both, 
flag and tune, the Star Spangled Banner, 
a volley is fired, we are back, if you 
please, in California of America. Every 
youth who has the blood of patriots in him 
lays ahold on Tony Sevadra's flag, happiest 
if he can get a corner of it. The music 
goes before, the folk fall in two and two, 
singing. They sing everything, America, 
the Marseillaise, for the sake of the French 
shepherds hereabout, the hymn of Cuba, 
and the Chilian national air to comfort 
two families of that land. The flag goes 
to Dona Ina's, with the candlesticks and 
the altar cloths, then Las Uvas eats tamales 
and dances the sun up the slope of Pine 
Mountain. 

You are not to suppose that they do not 
keep the Fourth, Washington's Birthday, 
and Thanksgiving at the town of the grape 
278 



THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

vines. These make excellent occasions 
for quitting work and dancing, but the 
Sixteenth is the holiday of the heart. On 
Memorial Day the graves have garlands 
and new pictures of the saints tacked to 
the headboards. There is great virtue in 
an Ave said in the Camp of the Saints. 
I like that name which the Spanish speak- 
ing people give to the garden of the dead, 
Campo Santo, as if it might be some bed 
of healing from which blind souls and 
sinners rise up whole and praising God. 
Sometimes the speech of simple folk hints 
at truth the understanding does not reach. 
I am persuaded only a complex soul can get 
any good of a plain religion. Your earth- 
born is a poet and a symbolist. We breed 
in an environment of asphalt pavements 
a body of people whose creeds are chiefly 
restrictions against other people's way of 
279 



THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

life, and have kitchens and latrines under 
the same roof that houses their God. Such 
as these go to church to be edified, but at 
Las Uvas they go for pure worship and to 
entreat their God. The logical conclusion 
of the faith that every good gift cometh 
from God is the open hand and the finer 
courtesy. The meal done without buys a 
candle for the neighbor's dead child. . You 
do foolishly to suppose that the candle does 
no good. 

At Las Uvas every house is a piece of 
earth thick walled, whitewashed adobe 
that keeps the even temperature of a cave ; 
every man is an accomplished horseman 
and consequently bow-legged ; every family 
keeps dogs, flea-bitten mongrels that loll 
on the earthen floors. They speak a purer 
Castilian than obtains in like villages of 
Mexico, and the way they count relationship 
280 



THE LITTLE TOWN OF THE GRAPE VINES 

everybody is more or less akin. There is 
not much villainy among them. What in- 
centive to thieving or killing can there be 
when there is little wealth and that to be 
had for the borrowing ! If they love too 
hotly, as we say " take their meat before 
grace," so do their betters. Eh, what! shall 
a man be a saint before he is dead ? And 
besides, Holy Church takes it out of you 
one way or another before all is done. 
Come away, you who are obsessed with 
your own importance in the scheme of 
things, and have got nothing you did not 
sweat for, come away by the brown valleys 
and full-bosomed hills to the even-breathing 
days, to the kindliness, earthiness, ease of 
El Pueblo de Las Uvas. 




Electrotyped and printed 6y H. O. Houghton & Co. 
Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A.