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    Chapter LVI

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    Chapter 60
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    We rumbled over the plains and valleys, climbed the Sierras to the
    clouds, and looked down upon summer-clad California. And I will remark
    here, in passing, that all scenery in California requires distance to
    give it its highest charm. The mountains are imposing in their sublimity
    and their majesty of form and altitude, from any point of view--but one
    must have distance to soften their ruggedness and enrich their tintings;
    a Californian forest is best at a little distance, for there is a sad
    poverty of variety in species, the trees being chiefly of one monotonous
    family--redwood, pine, spruce, fir--and so, at a near view there is a
    wearisome sameness of attitude in their rigid arms, stretched down ward
    and outward in one continued and reiterated appeal to all men to "Sh!--
    don't say a word!--you might disturb somebody!" Close at hand, too,
    there is a reliefless and relentless smell of pitch and turpentine; there
    is a ceaseless melancholy in their sighing and complaining foliage; one
    walks over a soundless carpet of beaten yellow bark and dead spines of
    the foliage till he feels like a wandering spirit bereft of a footfall;
    he tires of the endless tufts of needles and yearns for substantial,
    shapely leaves; he looks for moss and grass to loll upon, and finds none,
    for where there is no bark there is naked clay and dirt, enemies to
    pensive musing and clean apparel. Often a grassy plain in California, is
    what it should be, but often, too, it is best contemplated at a distance,
    because although its grass blades are tall, they stand up vindictively
    straight and self-sufficient, and are unsociably wide apart, with
    uncomely spots of barren sand between.

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

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

    However there are varying opinions about that.

    The climate of San Francisco is mild and singularly equable. The
    thermometer stands at about seventy degrees the year round. It hardly
    changes at all. You sleep under one or two light blankets Summer and
    Winter, and never use a mosquito bar. Nobody ever wears Summer clothing.
    You wear black broadcloth--if you have it--in August and January, just
    the same. It is no colder, and no warmer, in the one month than the
    other. You do not use overcoats and you do not use fans. It is as
    pleasant a climate as could well be contrived, take it all around, and is
    doubtless the most unvarying in the whole world. The wind blows there a
    good deal in the summer months, but then you can go over to Oakland, if
    you choose--three or four miles away--it does not blow there. It has
    only snowed twice in San Francisco in nineteen years, and then it only
    remained on the ground long enough to astonish the children, and set them
    to wondering what the feathery stuff was.

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

    San Francisco is built on sand hills, but they are prolific sand hills.
    They yield a generous vegetation. All the rare flowers which people in
    "the States" rear with such patient care in parlor flower-pots and green-
    houses, flourish luxuriantly in the open air there all the year round.
    Calla lilies, all sorts of geraniums, passion flowers, moss roses--I do
    not know the names of a tenth part of them. I only know that while New
    Yorkers are burdened with banks and drifts of snow, Californians are
    burdened with banks and drifts of flowers, if they only keep their hands
    off and let them grow. And I have heard that they have also that rarest
    and most curious of all the flowers, the beautiful Espiritu Santo, as the
    Spaniards call it--or flower of the Holy Spirit--though I thought it grew
    only in Central America--down on the Isthmus. In its cup is the
    daintiest little facsimile of a dove, as pure as snow. The Spaniards
    have a superstitious reverence for it. The blossom has been conveyed to
    the States, submerged in ether; and the bulb has been taken thither also,
    but every attempt to make it bloom after it arrived, has failed.

    I have elsewhere spoken of the endless Winter of Mono, California, and
    but this moment of the eternal Spring of San Francisco. Now if we travel
    a hundred miles in a straight line, we come to the eternal Summer of
    Sacramento. One never sees Summer-clothing or mosquitoes in San
    Francisco--but they can be found in Sacramento. Not always and
    unvaryingly, but about one hundred and forty-three months out of twelve
    years, perhaps. Flowers bloom there, always, the reader can easily
    believe--people suffer and sweat, and swear, morning, noon and night, and
    wear out their stanchest energies fanning themselves. It gets hot there,
    but if you go down to Fort Yuma you will find it hotter. Fort Yuma is
    probably the hottest place on earth. The thermometer stays at one
    hundred and twenty in the shade there all the time--except when it varies
    and goes higher. It is a U.S. military post, and its occupants get so
    used to the terrific heat that they suffer without it. There is a
    tradition (attributed to John Phenix [It has been purloined by fifty
    different scribblers who were too poor to invent a fancy but not ashamed
    to steal one.--M. T.]) that a very, very wicked soldier died there,
    once, and of course, went straight to the hottest corner of perdition,--
    and the next day he telegraphed back for his blankets. There is no doubt
    about the truth of this statement--there can be no doubt about it. I
    have seen the place where that soldier used to board. In Sacramento it
    is fiery Summer always, and you can gather roses, and eat strawberries
    and ice-cream, and wear white linen clothes, and pant and perspire, at
    eight or nine o'clock in the morning, and then take the cars, and at noon
    put on your furs and your skates, and go skimming over frozen Donner
    Lake, seven thousand feet above the valley, among snow banks fifteen feet
    deep, and in the shadow of grand mountain peaks that lift their frosty
    crags ten thousand feet above the level of the sea.

    There is a transition for you! Where will you find another like it in
    the Western hemisphere? And some of us have swept around snow-walled
    curves of the Pacific Railroad in that vicinity, six thousand feet above
    the sea, and looked down as the birds do, upon the deathless Summer of
    the Sacramento Valley, with its fruitful fields, its feathery foliage,
    its silver streams, all slumbering in the mellow haze of its enchanted
    atmosphere, and all infinitely softened and spiritualized by distance--a
    dreamy, exquisite glimpse of fairyland, made all the more charming and
    striking that it was caught through a forbidden gateway of ice and snow,
    and savage crags and precipices.
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