The Mountains of California
John Muir

Part 4 out of 5

level currents, now whirling in eddies, or, escaping over the edges of
the whirls, soaring aloft on grand, upswelling domes of air, or tossing
on flame-like crests. Smooth, deep currents, cascades, falls, and
swirling eddies, sing around every tree and leaf, and over all the
varied topography of the region with telling changes of form, like
mountain rivers conforming to the features of their channels.

After tracing the Sierra streams from their fountains to the plains,
marking where they bloom white in falls, glide in crystal plumes, surge
gray and foam-filled in boulder-choked gorges, and slip through the
woods in long, tranquil reaches--after thus learning their language and
forms in detail, we may at length hear them chanting all together in one
grand anthem, and comprehend them all in clear inner vision, covering
the range like lace. But even this spectacle is far less sublime and not
a whit more substantial than what we may behold of these storm-streams
of air in the mountain woods.

We all travel the milky way together, trees and men; but it never
occurred to me until this storm-day, while swinging in the wind, that
trees are travelers, in the ordinary sense. They make many journeys, not
extensive ones, it is true; but our own little journeys, away and back
again, are only little more than tree-wavings--many of them not so much.

When the storm began to abate, I dismounted and sauntered down through
the calming woods. The storm-tones died away, and, turning toward the
east, I beheld the countless hosts of the forests hushed and tranquil,
towering above one another on the slopes of the hills like a devout
audience. The setting sun filled them with amber light, and seemed to
say, while they listened, "My peace I give unto you."

As I gazed on the impressive scene, all the so-called ruin of the storm
was forgotten, and never before did these noble woods appear so fresh,
so joyous, so immortal.



The Sierra rivers are flooded every spring by the melting of the snow as
regularly as the famous old Nile. They begin to rise in May, and in June
high-water mark is reached. But because the melting does not go on
rapidly over all the fountains, high and low, simultaneously, and the
melted snow is not reinforced at this time of year by rain, the spring
floods are seldom very violent or destructive. The thousand falls,
however, and the cascades in the canons are then in full bloom, and sing
songs from one end of the range to the other. Of course the snow on the
lower tributaries of the rivers is first melted, then that on the higher
fountains most exposed to sunshine, and about a month later the cooler,
shadowy fountains send down their treasures, thus allowing the main
trunk streams nearly six weeks to get their waters hurried through the
foot-hills and across the lowlands to the sea. Therefore very violent
spring floods are avoided, and will be as long as the shading,
restraining forests last. The rivers of the north half of the range are
still less subject to sudden floods, because their upper fountains in
great part lie protected from the changes of the weather beneath thick
folds of lava, just as many of the rivers of Alaska lie beneath folds of
ice, coming to the light farther down the range in large springs, while
those of the high Sierra lie on the surface of solid granite, exposed to
every change of temperature. More than ninety per cent. of the water
derived from the snow and ice of Mount Shasta is at once absorbed and
drained away beneath the porous lava folds of the mountain, where
mumbling and groping in the dark they at length find larger fissures and
tunnel-like caves from which they emerge, filtered and cool, in the form
of large springs, some of them so large they give birth to rivers that
set out on their journeys beneath the sun without any visible
intermediate period of childhood. Thus the Shasta River issues from a
large lake-like spring in Shasta Valley, and about two thirds of the
volume of the McCloud River gushes forth suddenly from the face of a
lava bluff in a roaring spring seventy-five yards wide.

These spring rivers of the north are of course shorter than those of the
south whose tributaries extend up to the tops of the mountains. Fall
River, an important tributary of the Pitt or Upper Sacramento, is only
about ten miles long, and is all falls, cascades, and springs from its
head to its confluence with the Pitt. Bountiful springs, charmingly
embowered, issue from the rocks at one end of it, a snowy fall a hundred
and eighty feet high thunders at the other, and a rush of crystal rapids
sing and dance between. Of course such streams are but little affected
by the weather. Sheltered from evaporation their flow is nearly as full
in the autumn as in the time of general spring floods. While those of
the high Sierra diminish to less than the hundredth part of their
springtime prime, shallowing in autumn to a series of silent pools among
the rocks and hollows of their channels, connected by feeble, creeping
threads of water, like the sluggish sentences of a tired writer,
connected by a drizzle of "ands" and "buts." Strange to say, the
greatest floods occur in winter, when one would suppose all the wild
waters would be muffled and chained in frost and snow. The same long,
all-day storms of the so-called Rainy Season in California, that give
rain to the lowlands, give dry frosty snow to the mountains. But at rare
intervals warm rains and warm winds invade the mountains and push back
the snow line from 2000 feet to 8000, or even higher, and then come the
big floods.

I was usually driven down out of the High Sierra about the end of
November, but the winter of 1874 and 1875 was so warm and calm that I
was tempted to seek general views of the geology and topography of the
basin of Feather River in January. And I had just completed a hasty
survey of the region, and made my way down to winter quarters, when one
of the grandest flood-storms that I ever saw broke on the mountains. I
was then in the edge of the main forest belt at a small foot-hill town
called Knoxville, on the divide between the waters of the Feather and
Yuba rivers. The cause of this notable flood was simply a sudden and
copious fall of warm wind and rain on the basins of these rivers at a
time when they contained a considerable quantity of snow. The rain was
so heavy and long-sustained that it was, of itself, sufficient to make a
good wild flood, while the snow which the warm wind and rain melted on
the upper and middle regions of the basins was sufficient to make
another flood equal to that of the rain. Now these two distinct harvests
of flood waters were gathered simultaneously and poured out on the plain
in one magnificent avalanche. The basins of the Yuba and Feather, like
many others of the Sierra, are admirably adapted to the growth of floods
of this kind. Their many tributaries radiate far and wide, comprehending
extensive areas, and the tributaries are steeply inclined, while the
trunks are comparatively level. While the flood-storm was in progress
the thermometer at Knoxville ranged between 44 deg. and 50 deg.; and when warm
wind and warm rain fall simultaneously on snow contained in basins like
these, both the rain and that portion of the snow which the rain and
wind melt are at first sponged up and held back until the combined mass
becomes sludge, which at length, suddenly dissolving, slips and descends
all together to the trunk channel; and since the deeper the stream the
faster it flows, the flooded portion of the current above overtakes the
slower foot-hill portion below it, and all sweeping forward together
with a high, overcurling front, debouches on the open plain with a
violence and suddenness that at first seem wholly unaccountable. The
destructiveness of the lower portion of this particular flood was
somewhat augmented by mining gravel in the river channels, and by levees
which gave way after having at first restrained and held back the
accumulating waters. These exaggerating conditions did not, however,
greatly influence the general result, the main effect having been caused
by the rare combination of flood factors indicated above. It is a pity
that but few people meet and enjoy storms so noble as this in their
homes in the mountains, for, spending themselves in the open levels of
the plains, they are likely to be remembered more by the bridges and
houses they carry away than by their beauty or the thousand blessings
they bring to the fields and gardens of Nature.

On the morning of the flood, January 19th, all the Feather and Yuba
landscapes were covered with running water, muddy torrents filled every
gulch and ravine, and the sky was thick with rain. The pines had long
been sleeping in sunshine; they were now awake, roaring and waving with
the beating storm, and the winds sweeping along the curves of hill and
dale, streaming through the woods, surging and gurgling on the tops of
rocky ridges, made the wildest of wild storm melody.

It was easy to see that only a small part of the rain reached the ground
in the form of drops. Most of it was thrashed into dusty spray like that
into which small waterfalls are divided when they dash on shelving
rocks. Never have I seen water coming from the sky in denser or more
passionate streams. The wind chased the spray forward in choking drifts,
and compelled me again and again to seek shelter in the dell copses and
back of large trees to rest and catch my breath. Wherever I went, on
ridges or in hollows, enthusiastic water still flashed and gurgled about
my ankles, recalling a wild winter flood in Yosemite when a hundred
waterfalls came booming and chanting together and filled the grand
valley with a sea-like roar.

After drifting an hour or two in the lower woods, I set out for the
summit of a hill 900 feet high, with a view to getting as near the heart
of the storm as possible. In order to reach it I had to cross Dry Creek,
a tributary of the Yuba that goes crawling along the base of the hill on
the northwest. It was now a booming river as large as the Tuolumne at
ordinary stages, its current brown with mining-mud washed down from many
a "claim," and mottled with sluice-boxes, fence-rails, and logs that had
long lain above its reach. A slim foot-bridge stretched across it, now
scarcely above the swollen current. Here I was glad to linger, gazing
and listening, while the storm was in its richest mood--the gray
rain-flood above, the brown river-flood beneath. The language of the
river was scarcely less enchanting than that of the wind and rain; the
sublime overboom of the main bouncing, exulting current, the swash and
gurgle of the eddies, the keen dash and clash of heavy waves breaking
against rocks, and the smooth, downy hush of shallow currents feeling
their way through the willow thickets of the margin. And amid all this
varied throng of sounds I heard the smothered bumping and rumbling of
boulders on the bottom as they were shoving and rolling forward against
one another in a wild rush, after having lain still for probably 100
years or more.

The glad creek rose high above its banks and wandered from its channel
out over many a briery sand-flat and meadow. Alders and willows
waist-deep were bearing up against the current with nervous trembling
gestures, as if afraid of being carried away, while supple branches
bending confidingly, dipped lightly and rose again, as if stroking the
wild waters in play. Leaving the bridge and passing on through the
storm-thrashed woods, all the ground seemed to be moving. Pine-tassels,
flakes of bark, soil, leaves, and broken branches were being swept
forward, and many a rock-fragment, weathered from exposed ledges, was
now receiving its first rounding and polishing in the wild streams of
the storm. On they rushed through every gulch and hollow, leaping,
gliding, working with a will, and rejoicing like living creatures.

Nor was the flood confined to the ground. Every tree had a water system
of its own spreading far and wide like miniature Amazons and

Toward midday, cloud, wind, and rain reached their highest development.
The storm was in full bloom, and formed, from my commanding outlook on
the hilltop, one of the most glorious views I ever beheld. As far as the
eye could reach, above, beneath, around, wind-driven rain filled the air
like one vast waterfall. Detached clouds swept imposingly up the valley,
as if they were endowed with independent motion and had special work to
do in replenishing the mountain wells, now rising above the pine-tops,
now descending into their midst, fondling their arrowy spires and
soothing every branch and leaf with gentleness in the midst of all the
savage sound and motion. Others keeping near the ground glided behind
separate groves, and brought them forward into relief with admirable
distinctness; or, passing in front, eclipsed whole groves in succession,
pine after pine melting in their gray fringes and bursting forth again
seemingly clearer than before.

The forms of storms are in great part measured, and controlled by the
topography of the regions where they rise and over which they pass.
When, therefore, we attempt to study them from the valleys, or from gaps
and openings of the forest, we are confounded by a multitude of separate
and apparently antagonistic impressions. The bottom of the storm is
broken up into innumerable waves and currents that surge against the
hillsides like sea-waves against a shore, and these, reacting on the
nether surface of the storm, erode immense cavernous hollows and canons,
and sweep forward the resulting detritus in long trains, like the
moraines of glaciers. But, as we ascend, these partial, confusing
effects disappear and the phenomena are beheld united and harmonious.

The longer I gazed into the storm, the more plainly visible it became.
The drifting cloud detritus gave it a kind of visible body, which
explained many perplexing phenomena, and published its movements in
plain terms, while the texture of the falling mass of rain rounded it
out and rendered it more complete. Because raindrops differ in size they
fall at different velocities and overtake and clash against one another,
producing mist and spray. They also, of course, yield unequal compliance
to the force of the wind, which gives rise to a still greater degree of
interference, and passionate gusts sweep off clouds of spray from the
groves like that torn from wave-tops in a gale. All these factors of
irregularity in density, color, and texture of the general rain mass
tend to make it the more appreciable and telling. It is then seen as one
grand flood rushing over bank and brae, bending the pines like weeds,
curving this way and that, whirling in huge eddies in hollows and dells,
while the main current pours grandly over all, like ocean currents over
the landscapes that lie hidden at the bottom of the sea.

I watched the gestures of the pines while the storm was at its height,
and it was easy to see that they were not distressed. Several large
Sugar Pines stood near the thicket in which I was sheltered, bowing
solemnly and tossing their long arms as if interpreting the very words
of the storm while accepting its wildest onsets with passionate
exhilaration. The lions were feeding. Those who have observed sunflowers
feasting on sunshine during the golden days of Indian summer know that
none of their gestures express thankfulness. Their celestial food is too
heartily given, too heartily taken to leave room for thanks. The pines
were evidently accepting the benefactions of the storm in the same
whole-souled manner; and when I looked down among the budding hazels,
and still lower to the young violets and fern-tufts on the rocks, I
noticed the same divine methods of giving and taking, and the same
exquisite adaptations of what seems an outbreak of violent and
uncontrollable force to the purposes of beautiful and delicate life.
Calms like sleep come upon landscapes, just as they do on people and
trees, and storms awaken them in the same way. In the dry midsummer of
the lower portion of the range the withered hills and valleys seem to
lie as empty and expressionless as dead shells on a shore. Even the
highest mountains may be found occasionally dull and uncommunicative as
if in some way they had lost countenance and shrunk to less than half
their real stature. But when the lightnings crash and echo in the
canons, and the clouds come down wreathing and crowning their bald snowy
heads, every feature beams with expression and they rise again in all
their imposing majesty.

Storms are fine speakers, and tell all they know, but their voices of
lightning, torrent, and rushing wind are much less numerous than the
nameless still, small voices too low for human ears; and because we are
poor listeners we fail to catch much that is fairly within reach. Our
best rains are heard mostly on roofs, and winds in chimneys; and when by
choice or compulsion we are pushed into the heart of a storm, the
confusion made by cumbersome equipments and nervous haste and mean fear,
prevent our hearing any other than the loudest expressions. Yet we may
draw enjoyment from storm sounds that are beyond hearing, and storm
movements we cannot see. The sublime whirl of planets around their suns
is as silent as raindrops oozing in the dark among the roots of plants.
In this great storm, as in every other, there were tones and gestures
inexpressibly gentle manifested in the midst of what is called violence
and fury, but easily recognized by all who look and listen for them. The
rain brought out the colors of the woods with delightful freshness, the
rich brown of the bark of the trees and the fallen burs and leaves and
dead ferns; the grays of rocks and lichens; the light purple of swelling
buds, and the warm yellow greens of the libocedrus and mosses. The air
was steaming with delightful fragrance, not rising and wafting past in
separate masses, but diffused through all the atmosphere. Pine woods are
always fragrant, but most so in spring when the young tassels are
opening and in warm weather when the various gums and balsams are
softened by the sun. The wind was now chafing their innumerable needles
and the warm rain was steeping them. Monardella grows here in large beds
in the openings, and there is plenty of laurel in dells and manzanita on
the hillsides, and the rosy, fragrant chamoebatia carpets the ground
almost everywhere. These, with the gums and balsams of the woods, form
the main local fragrance-fountains of the storm. The ascending clouds of
aroma wind-rolled and rain-washed became pure like light and traveled
with the wind as part of it. Toward the middle of the afternoon the main
flood cloud lifted along its western border revealing a beautiful
section of the Sacramento Valley some twenty or thirty miles away,
brilliantly sun-lighted and glistering with rain-sheets as if paved with
silver. Soon afterward a jagged bluff-like cloud with a sheer face
appeared over the valley of the Yuba, dark-colored and roughened with
numerous furrows like some huge lava-table. The blue Coast Range was
seen stretching along the sky like a beveled wall, and the somber,
craggy Marysville Buttes rose impressively out of the flooded plain like
islands out of the sea. Then the rain began to abate and I sauntered
down through the dripping bushes reveling in the universal vigor and
freshness that inspired all the life about me. How clean and unworn and
immortal the woods seemed to be!--the lofty cedars in full bloom laden
with golden pollen and their washed plumes shining; the pines rocking
gently and settling back into rest, and the evening sunbeams spangling
on the broad leaves of the madronos, their tracery of yellow boughs
relieved against dusky thickets of Chestnut Oak; liverworts,
lycopodiums, ferns were exulting in glorious revival, and every moss
that had ever lived seemed to be coming crowding back from the dead to
clothe each trunk and stone in living green. The steaming ground seemed
fairly to throb and tingle with life; smilax, fritillaria, saxifrage,
and young violets were pushing up as if already conscious of the summer
glory, and innumerable green and yellow buds were peeping and smiling

As for the birds and squirrels, not a wing or tail of them was to be
seen while the storm was blowing. Squirrels dislike wet weather more
than cats do; therefore they were at home rocking in their dry nests.
The birds were hiding in the dells out of the wind, some of the
strongest of them pecking at acorns and manzanita berries, but most were
perched on low twigs, their breast feathers puffed out and keeping one
another company through the hard time as best they could.

When I arrived at the village about sundown, the good people bestirred
themselves, pitying my bedraggled condition as if I were some benumbed
castaway snatched from the sea, while I, in turn, warm with excitement
and reeking like the ground, pitied them for being dry and defrauded of
all the glory that Nature had spread round about them that day.



The weather of spring and summer in the middle region of the Sierra is
usually well flecked with rains and light dustings of snow, most of
which are far too obviously joyful and life-giving to be regarded as
storms; and in the picturesque beauty and clearness of outlines of their
clouds they offer striking contrasts to those boundless, all-embracing
cloud-mantles of the storms of winter. The smallest and most perfectly
individualized specimens present a richly modeled cumulous cloud rising
above the dark woods, about 11 A.M., swelling with a visible motion
straight up into the calm, sunny sky to a height of 12,000 to 14,000
feet above the sea, its white, pearly bosses relieved by gray and pale
purple shadows in the hollows, and showing outlines as keenly defined as
those of the glacier-polished domes. In less than an hour it attains
full development and stands poised in the blazing sunshine like some
colossal mountain, as beautiful in form and finish as if it were to
become a permanent addition to the landscape. Presently a thunderbolt
crashes through the crisp air, ringing like steel on steel, sharp and
clear, its startling detonation breaking into a spray of echoes against
the cliffs and canon walls. Then down comes a cataract of rain. The big
drops sift through the pine-needles, plash and patter on the granite
pavements, and pour down the sides of ridges and domes in a network of
gray, bubbling rills. In a few minutes the cloud withers to a mesh of
dim filaments and disappears, leaving the sky perfectly clear and
bright, every dust-particle wiped and washed out of it. Everything is
refreshed and invigorated, a steam of fragrance rises, and the storm is
finished--one cloud, one lightning-stroke, and one dash of rain. This is
the Sierra mid-summer thunder-storm reduced to its lowest terms. But
some of them attain much larger proportions, and assume a grandeur and
energy of expression hardly surpassed by those bred in the depths of
winter, producing those sudden floods called "cloud-bursts," which are
local, and to a considerable extent periodical, for they appear nearly
every day about the same time for weeks, usually about eleven o'clock,
and lasting from five minutes to an hour or two. One soon becomes so
accustomed to see them that the noon sky seems empty and abandoned
without them, as if Nature were forgetting something. When the glorious
pearl and alabaster clouds of these noonday storms are being built I
never give attention to anything else. No mountain or mountain-range,
however divinely clothed with light, has a more enduring charm than
those fleeting mountains of the sky--floating fountains bearing water
for every well, the angels of the streams and lakes; brooding in the
deep azure, or sweeping softly along the ground over ridge and dome,
over meadow, over forest, over garden and grove; lingering with cooling
shadows, refreshing every flower, and soothing rugged rock-brows with a
gentleness of touch and gesture wholly divine.

The most beautiful and imposing of the summer storms rise just above the
upper edge of the Silver Fir zone, and all are so beautiful that it is
not easy to choose any one for particular description. The one that I
remember best fell on the mountains near Yosemite Valley, July 19, 1869,
while I was encamped in the Silver Fir woods. A range of bossy cumuli
took possession of the sky, huge domes and peaks rising one beyond
another with deep canons between them, bending this way and that in long
curves and reaches, interrupted here and there with white upboiling
masses that looked like the spray of waterfalls. Zigzag lances of
lightning followed each other in quick succession, and the thunder was
so gloriously loud and massive it seemed as if surely an entire mountain
was being shattered at every stroke. Only the trees were touched,
however, so far as I could see,--a few firs 200 feet high, perhaps, and
five to six feet in diameter, were split into long rails and slivers
from top to bottom and scattered to all points of the compass. Then came
the rain in a hearty flood, covering the ground and making it shine with
a continuous sheet of water that, like a transparent film or skin,
fitted closely down over all the rugged anatomy of the landscape.

It is not long, geologically speaking, since the first raindrop fell on
the present landscapes of the Sierra; and in the few tens of thousands
of years of stormy cultivation they have been blest with, how beautiful
they have become! The first rains fell on raw, crumbling moraines and
rocks without a plant. Now scarcely a drop can fail to find a beautiful
mark: on the tops of the peaks, on the smooth glacier pavements, on the
curves of the domes, on moraines full of crystals, on the thousand forms
of yosemitic sculpture with their tender beauty of balmy, flowery
vegetation, laving, plashing, glinting, pattering; some falling softly
on meadows, creeping out of sight, seeking and finding every thirsty
rootlet, some through the spires of the woods, sifting in dust through
the needles, and whispering good cheer to each of them; some falling
with blunt tapping sounds, drumming on the broad leaves of veratrum,
cypripedium, saxifrage; some falling straight into fragrant corollas,
kissing the lips of lilies, glinting on the sides of crystals, on
shining grains of gold; some falling into the fountains of snow to swell
their well-saved stores; some into the lakes and rivers, patting the
smooth glassy levels, making dimples and bells and spray, washing the
mountain windows, washing the wandering winds; some plashing into the
heart of snowy falls and cascades as if eager to join in the dance and
the song and beat the foam yet finer. Good work and happy work for the
merry mountain raindrops, each one of them a brave fall in itself,
rushing from the cliffs and hollows of the clouds into the cliffs and
hollows of the mountains; away from the thunder of the sky into the
thunder of the roaring rivers. And how far they have to go, and how many
cups to fill--cassiope-cups, holding half a drop, and lake basins
between the hills, each replenished with equal care--every drop God's
messenger sent on its way with glorious pomp and display of
power--silvery new-born stars with lake and river, mountain and
valley--all that the landscape holds--reflected in their crystal depths.



The waterfalls of the Sierra are frequented by only one bird,--the Ouzel
or Water Thrush (_Cinclus Mexicanus_, SW.). He is a singularly
joyous and lovable little fellow, about the size of a robin, clad in a
plain waterproof suit of bluish gray, with a tinge of chocolate on the
head and shoulders. In form he is about as smoothly plump and compact as
a pebble that has been whirled in a pot-hole, the flowing contour of his
body being interrupted only by his strong feet and bill, the crisp
wing-tips, and the up-slanted wren-like tail. Among all the countless
waterfalls I have met in the course of ten years' exploration in the
Sierra, whether among the icy peaks, or warm foot-hills, or in the
profound yosemitic canons of the middle region, not one was found
without its Ouzel. No canon is too cold for this little bird, none too
lonely, provided it be rich in falling water. Find a fall, or cascade,
or rushing rapid, anywhere upon a clear stream, and there you will
surely find its complementary Ouzel, flitting about in the spray, diving
in foaming eddies, whirling like a leaf among beaten foam-bells; ever
vigorous and enthusiastic, yet self-contained, and neither seeking nor
shunning your company.


If disturbed while dipping about in the margin shallows, he either sets
off with a rapid whir to some other feeding-ground up or down the
stream, or alights on some half-submerged rock or snag out in the
current, and immediately begins to nod and courtesy like a wren, turning
his head from side to side with many other odd dainty movements that
never fail to fix the attention of the observer.

He is the mountain streams' own darling, the humming-bird of blooming
waters, loving rocky ripple-slopes and sheets of foam as a bee loves
flowers, as a lark loves sunshine and meadows. Among all the mountain
birds, none has cheered me so much in my lonely wanderings,--none so
unfailingly. For both in winter and summer he sings, sweetly, cheerily,
independent alike of sunshine and of love, requiring no other
inspiration than the stream on which he dwells. While water sings, so
must he, in heat or cold, calm or storm, ever attuning his voice in sure
accord; low in the drought of summer and the drought of winter, but
never silent.

During the golden days of Indian summer, after most of the snow has been
melted, and the mountain streams have become feeble,--a succession of
silent pools, linked together by shallow, transparent currents and
strips of silvery lacework,--then the song of the Ouzel is at its lowest
ebb. But as soon as the winter clouds have bloomed, and the mountain
treasuries are once more replenished with snow, the voices of the
streams and ouzels increase in strength and richness until the flood
season of early summer. Then the torrents chant their noblest anthems,
and then is the flood-time of our songster's melody. As for weather,
dark days and sun days are the same to him. The voices of most
song-birds, however joyous, suffer a long winter eclipse; but the Ouzel
sings on through all the seasons and every kind of storm. Indeed no
storm can be more violent than those of the waterfalls in the midst of
which he delights to dwell. However dark and boisterous the weather,
snowing, blowing, or cloudy, all the same he sings, and with never a
note of sadness. No need of spring sunshine to thaw _his_ song, for
it never freezes. Never shall you hear anything wintry from _his_
warm breast; no pinched cheeping, no wavering notes between sorrow and
joy; his mellow, fluty voice is ever tuned to downright gladness, as
free from dejection as cock-crowing.

It is pitiful to see wee frost-pinched sparrows on cold mornings in the
mountain groves shaking the snow from their feathers, and hopping about
as if anxious to be cheery, then hastening back to their hidings out of
the wind, puffing out their breast-feathers over their toes, and
subsiding among the leaves, cold and breakfastless, while the snow
continues to fall, and there is no sign of clearing. But the Ouzel never
calls forth a single touch of pity; not because he is strong to endure,
but rather because he seems to live a charmed life beyond the reach of
every influence that makes endurance necessary.

One wild winter morning, when Yosemite Valley was swept its length from
west to east by a cordial snow-storm, I sallied forth to see what I
might learn and enjoy. A sort of gray, gloaming-like darkness filled the
valley, the huge walls were out of sight, all ordinary sounds were
smothered, and even the loudest booming of the falls was at times buried
beneath the roar of the heavy-laden blast. The loose snow was already
over five feet deep on the meadows, making extended walks impossible
without the aid of snow-shoes. I found no great difficulty, however, in
making my way to a certain ripple on the river where one of my ouzels
lived. He was at home, busily gleaning his breakfast among the pebbles
of a shallow portion of the margin, apparently unaware of anything
extraordinary in the weather. Presently he flew out to a stone against
which the icy current was beating, and turning his back to the wind,
sang as delightfully as a lark in springtime.

After spending an hour or two with my favorite, I made my way across the
valley, boring and wallowing through the drifts, to learn as definitely
as possible how the other birds were spending their time. The Yosemite
birds are easily found during the winter because all of them excepting
the Ouzel are restricted to the sunny north side of the valley, the
south side being constantly eclipsed by the great frosty shadow of the
wall. And because the Indian Canon groves, from their peculiar exposure,
are the warmest, the birds congregate there, more especially in severe

I found most of the robins cowering on the lee side of the larger
branches where the snow could not fall upon them, while two or three of
the more enterprising were making desperate efforts to reach the
mistletoe berries by clinging nervously to the under side of the
snow-crowned masses, back downward, like woodpeckers. Every now and then
they would dislodge some of the loose fringes of the snow-crown, which
would come sifting down on them and send them screaming back to camp,
where they would subside among their companions with a shiver, muttering
in low, querulous chatter like hungry children.

Some of the sparrows were busy at the feet of the larger trees gleaning
seeds and benumbed insects, joined now and then by a robin weary of his
unsuccessful attempts upon the snow-covered berries. The brave
woodpeckers were clinging to the snowless sides of the larger boles and
overarching branches of the camp trees, making short nights from side to
side of the grove, pecking now and then at the acorns they had stored in
the bark, and chattering aimlessly as if unable to keep still, yet
evidently putting in the time in a very dull way, like storm-bound
travelers at a country tavern. The hardy nut-hatches were threading the
open furrows of the trunks in their usual industrious manner, and
uttering their quaint notes, evidently less distressed than their
neighbors. The Steller jays were of course making more noisy stir than
all the other birds combined; ever coming and going with loud bluster,
screaming as if each had a lump of melting sludge in his throat, and
taking good care to improve the favorable opportunity afforded by the
storm to steal from the acorn stores of the woodpeckers. I also noticed
one solitary gray eagle braving the storm on the top of a tall
pine-stump just outside the main grove. He was standing bolt upright
with his back to the wind, a tuft of snow piled on his square shoulders,
a monument of passive endurance. Thus every snow-bound bird seemed more
or less uncomfortable if not in positive distress.

The storm was reflected in every gesture, and not one cheerful note, not
to say song, came from a single bill; their cowering, joyless endurance
offering a striking contrast to the spontaneous, irrepressible gladness
of the Ouzel, who could no more help exhaling sweet song than a rose
sweet fragrance. He _must_ sing though the heavens fall. I remember
noticing the distress of a pair of robins during the violent earthquake
of the year 1872, when the pines of the Valley, with strange movements,
flapped and waved their branches, and beetling rock-brows came
thundering down to the meadows in tremendous avalanches. It did not
occur to me in the midst of the excitement of other observations to look
for the ouzels, but I doubt not they were singing straight on through it
all, regarding the terrible rock-thunder as fearlessly as they do the
booming of the waterfalls.

What may be regarded as the separate songs of the Ouzel are exceedingly
difficult of description, because they are so variable and at the same
time so confluent. Though I have been acquainted with my favorite ten
years, and during most of this time have heard him sing nearly every
day, I still detect notes and strains that seem new to me. Nearly all of
his music is sweet and tender, lapsing from his round breast like water
over the smooth lip of a pool, then breaking farther on into a sparkling
foam of melodious notes, which, glow with subdued enthusiasm, yet
without expressing much of the strong, gushing ecstasy of the bobolink
or skylark.

The more striking strains are perfect arabesques of melody, composed of
a few full, round, mellow notes, embroidered with delicate trills which
fade and melt in long slender cadences. In a general way his music is
that of the streams refined and spiritualized. The deep booming notes of
the falls are in it, the trills of rapids, the gurgling of margin
eddies, the low whispering of level reaches, and the sweet tinkle of
separate drops oozing from the ends of mosses and falling into tranquil

The Ouzel never sings in chorus with other birds, nor with his kind, but
only with the streams. And like flowers that bloom beneath the surface
of the ground, some of our favorite's best song-blossoms never rise
above the surface of the heavier music of the water. I have often
observed him singing in the midst of beaten spray, his music completely
buried beneath the water's roar; yet I knew he was surely singing by his
gestures and the movements of his bill.

His food, as far as I have noticed, consists of all kinds of water
insects, which in summer are chiefly procured along shallow margins.
Here he wades about ducking his head under water and deftly turning over
pebbles and fallen leaves with his bill, seldom choosing to go into deep
water where he has to use his wings in diving.

He seems to be especially fond of the larvae; of mosquitos, found in
abundance attached to the bottom of smooth rock channels where the
current is shallow. When feeding in such places he wades up-stream, and
often while his head is under water the swift current is deflected
upward along the glossy curves of his neck and shoulders, in the form of
a clear, crystalline shell, which fairly incloses him like a bell-glass,
the shell being broken and re-formed as he lifts and dips his head;
while ever and anon he sidles out to where the too powerful current
carries him off his feet; then he dexterously rises on the wing and goes
gleaning again in shallower places.

But during the winter, when the stream-banks are embossed in snow, and
the streams themselves are chilled nearly to the freezing-point, so that
the snow falling into them in stormy weather is not wholly dissolved,
but forms a thin, blue sludge, thus rendering the current opaque--then
he seeks the deeper portions of the main rivers, where he may dive to
clear water beneath the sludge. Or he repairs to some open lake or
mill-pond, at the bottom of which he feeds in safety.

When thus compelled to betake himself to a lake, he does not plunge into
it at once like a duck, but always alights in the first place upon some
rock or fallen pine along the shore. Then flying out thirty or forty
yards, more or less, according to the character of the bottom, he
alights with a dainty glint on the surface, swims about, looks down,
finally makes up his mind, and disappears with a sharp stroke of his
wings. After feeding for two or three minutes he suddenly reappears,
showers the water from his wings with one vigorous shake, and rises
abruptly into the air as if pushed up from beneath, comes back to his
perch, sings a few minutes, and goes out to dive again; thus coming and
going, singing and diving at the same place for hours.


The Ouzel is usually found singly; rarely in pairs, excepting during the
breeding season, and _very_ rarely in threes or fours. I once
observed three thus spending a winter morning in company, upon a small
glacier lake, on the Upper Merced, about 7500 feet above the level of
the sea. A storm had occurred during the night, but the morning sun
shone unclouded, and the shadowy lake, gleaming darkly in its setting of
fresh snow, lay smooth and motionless as a mirror. My camp chanced to be
within a few feet of the water's edge, opposite a fallen pine, some of
the branches of which leaned out over the lake. Here my three dearly
welcome visitors took up their station, and at once began to embroider
the frosty air with their delicious melody, doubly delightful to me that
particular morning, as I had been somewhat apprehensive of danger in
breaking my way down through the snow-choked canons to the lowlands.

The portion of the lake bottom selected for a feeding-ground lies at a
depth of fifteen or twenty feet below the surface, and is covered with a
short growth of algae and other aquatic plants,--facts I had previously
determined while sailing over it on a raft. After alighting on the
glassy surface, they occasionally indulged in a little play, chasing one
another round about in small circles; then all three would suddenly dive
together, and then come ashore and sing.

The Ouzel seldom swims more than a few yards on the surface, for, not
being web-footed, he makes rather slow progress, but by means of his
strong, crisp wings he swims, or rather flies, with celerity under the
surface, often to considerable distances. But it is in withstanding the
force of heavy rapids that his strength of wing in this respect is most
strikingly manifested. The following may be regarded as a fair
illustration of his power of sub-aquatic flight. One stormy morning in
winter when the Merced River was blue and green with unmelted snow, I
observed one of my ouzels perched on a snag out in the midst of a
swift-rushing rapid, singing cheerily, as if everything was just to his
mind; and while I stood on the bank admiring him, he suddenly plunged
into the sludgy current, leaving his song abruptly broken off. After
feeding a minute or two at the bottom, and when one would suppose that
he must inevitably be swept far down-stream, he emerged just where he
went down, alighted on the same snag, showered the water-beads from his
feathers, and continued his unfinished song, seemingly in tranquil ease
as if it had suffered no interruption.


The Ouzel alone of all birds dares to enter a white torrent. And though
strictly terrestrial in structure, no other is so inseparably related
to water, not even the duck, or the bold ocean albatross, or the
stormy-petrel. For ducks go ashore as soon as they finish feeding in
undisturbed places, and very often make long flights over land from lake
to lake or field to field. The same is true of most other aquatic birds.
But the Ouzel, born on the brink of a stream, or on a snag or boulder
in the midst of it, seldom leaves it for a single moment. For,
notwithstanding he is often on the wing, he never flies overland, but
whirs with, rapid, quail-like beat above the stream, tracing all its
windings. Even when the stream is quite small, say from five to ten feet
wide, he seldom shortens his flight by crossing a bend, however abrupt
it may be; and even when disturbed by meeting some one on the bank, he
prefers to fly over one's head, to dodging out over the ground. When,
therefore, his flight along a crooked stream is viewed endwise, it
appears most strikingly wavered--a description on the air of every curve
with lightning-like rapidity.

The vertical curves and angles of the most precipitous torrents he
traces with the same rigid fidelity, swooping down the inclines of
cascades, dropping sheer over dizzy falls amid the spray, and ascending
with the same fearlessness and ease, seldom seeking to lessen the
steepness of the acclivity by beginning to ascend before reaching the
base of the fall. No matter though it may be several hundred feet in
height he holds straight on, as if about to dash headlong into the
throng of booming rockets, then darts abruptly upward, and, after
alighting at the top of the precipice to rest a moment, proceeds to feed
and sing. His flight is solid and impetuous, without any intermission of
wing-beats,--one homogeneous buzz like that of a laden bee on its way
home. And while thus buzzing freely from fall to fall, he is frequently
heard giving utterance to a long outdrawn train of unmodulated notes, in
no way connected with his song, but corresponding closely with his
flight in sustained vigor.

Were the flights of all the ouzels in the Sierra traced on a chart, they
would indicate the direction of the flow of the entire system of ancient
glaciers, from about the period of the breaking up of the ice-sheet
until near the close of the glacial winter; because the streams which
the ouzels so rigidly follow are, with the unimportant exceptions of a
few side tributaries, all flowing in channels eroded for them out of the
solid flank of the range by the vanished glaciers,--the streams tracing
the ancient glaciers, the ouzels tracing the streams. Nor do we find so
complete compliance to glacial conditions in the life of any other
mountain bird, or animal of any kind. Bears frequently accept the
pathways laid down by glaciers as the easiest to travel; but they often
leave them and cross over from canon to canon. So also, most of the
birds trace the moraines to some extent, because the forests are growing
on them. But they wander far, crossing the canons from grove to grove,
and draw exceedingly angular and complicated courses.

The Ouzel's nest is one of the most extraordinary pieces of bird
architecture I ever saw, odd and novel in design, perfectly fresh and
beautiful, and in every way worthy of the genius of the little builder.
It is about a foot in diameter, round and bossy in outline, with a
neatly arched opening near the bottom, somewhat like an old-fashioned
brick oven, or Hottentot's hut. It is built almost exclusively of green
and yellow mosses, chiefly the beautiful fronded hypnum that covers the
rocks and old drift-logs in the vicinity of waterfalls. These are deftly
interwoven, and felted together into a charming little hut; and so
situated that many of the outer mosses continue to flourish as if they
had not been plucked. A few fine, silky-stemmed grasses are occasionally
found interwoven with the mosses, but, with the exception of a thin
layer lining the floor, their presence seems accidental, as they are of
a species found growing with the mosses and are probably plucked with
them. The site chosen for this curious mansion is usually some little
rock-shelf within reach of the lighter particles of the spray of a
waterfall, so that its walls are kept green and growing, at least during
the time of high water.

No harsh lines are presented by any portion of the nest as seen in
place, but when removed from its shelf, the back and bottom, and
sometimes a portion of the top, is found quite sharply angular, because
it is made to conform to the surface of the rock upon which and against
which it is built, the little architect always taking advantage of
slight crevices and protuberances that may chance to offer, to render
his structure stable by means of a kind of gripping and dovetailing.

In choosing a building-spot, concealment does not seem to be taken into
consideration; yet notwithstanding the nest is large and guilelessly
exposed to view, it is far from being easily detected, chiefly because
it swells forward like any other bulging moss-cushion growing naturally
in such situations. This is more especially the case where the nest is
kept fresh by being well sprinkled. Sometimes these romantic little huts
have their beauty enhanced by rock-ferns and grasses that spring up
around the mossy walls, or in front of the door-sill, dripping with
crystal beads.

Furthermore, at certain hours of the day, when the sunshine is poured
down at the required angle, the whole mass of the spray enveloping the
fairy establishment is brilliantly irised; and it is through so glorious
a rainbow atmosphere as this that some of our blessed ouzels obtain
their first peep at the world.

Ouzels seem so completely part and parcel of the streams they inhabit,
they scarce suggest any other origin than the streams themselves; and
one might almost be pardoned in fancying they come direct from the
living waters, like flowers from the ground. At least, from whatever
cause, it never occurred to me to look for their nests until more than a
year after I had made the acquaintance of the birds themselves, although
I found one the very day on which I began the search. In making my way
from Yosemite to the glaciers at the heads of the Merced and Tuolumne
rivers, I camped in a particularly wild and romantic portion of the
Nevada canon where in previous excursions I had never failed to enjoy
the company of my favorites, who were attracted here, no doubt, by the
safe nesting-places in the shelving rocks, and by the abundance of food
and falling water. The river, for miles above and below, consists of a
succession of small falls from ten to sixty feet in height, connected by
flat, plume-like cascades that go flashing from fall to fall, free and
almost channelless, over waving folds of glacier-polished granite.

On the south side of one of the falls, that portion of the precipice
which is bathed by the spray presents a series of little shelves and
tablets caused by the development of planes of cleavage in the granite,
and by the consequent fall of masses through the action of the water.
"Now here," said I, "of all places, is the most charming spot for an
Ouzel's nest." Then carefully scanning the fretted face of the precipice
through the spray, I at length noticed a yellowish moss-cushion, growing
on the edge of a level tablet within five or six feet of the outer folds
of the fall. But apart from the fact of its being situated where one
acquainted with the lives of ouzels would fancy an Ouzel's nest ought to
be, there was nothing in its appearance visible at first sight, to
distinguish it from other bosses of rock-moss similarly situated with
reference to perennial spray; and it was not until I had scrutinized it
again and again, and had removed my shoes and stockings and crept along
the face of the rock within eight or ten feet of it, that I could decide
certainly whether it was a nest or a natural growth.

In these moss huts three or four eggs are laid, white like foam-bubbles;
and well may the little birds hatched from them sing water songs, for
they hear them all their lives, and even before they are born.

I have often observed the young just out of the nest making their odd
gestures, and seeming in every way as much at home as their experienced
parents, like young bees on their first excursions to the flower fields.
No amount of familiarity with people and their ways seems to change them
in the least. To all appearance their behavior is just the same on
seeing a man for the first time, as when they have seen him frequently.

[Illustration: THE OUZEL AT HOME.]

On the lower reaches of the rivers where mills are built, they sing on
through the din of the machinery, and all the noisy confusion of dogs,
cattle, and workmen. On one occasion, while a wood-chopper was at work
on the river-bank, I observed one cheerily singing within reach of the
flying chips. Nor does any kind of unwonted disturbance put him in bad
humor, or frighten him out of calm self-possession. In passing through a
narrow gorge, I once drove one ahead of me from rapid to rapid,
disturbing him four times in quick succession where he could not very
well fly past me on account of the narrowness of the channel. Most birds
under similar circumstances fancy themselves pursued, and become
suspiciously uneasy; but, instead of growing nervous about it, he made
his usual dippings, and sang one of his most tranquil strains. When
observed within a few yards their eyes are seen to express remarkable
gentleness and intelligence; but they seldom allow so near a view unless
one wears clothing of about the same color as the rocks and trees, and
knows how to sit still. On one occasion, while rambling along the shore
of a mountain lake, where the birds, at least those born that season,
had never seen a man, I sat down to rest on a large stone close to the
water's edge, upon which it seemed the ouzels and sandpipers were in the
habit of alighting when they came to feed on that part of the shore, and
some of the other birds also, when they came down to wash or drink. In a
few minutes, along came a whirring Ouzel and alighted on the stone
beside me, within reach of my hand. Then suddenly observing me, he
stooped nervously as if about to fly on the instant, but as I remained
as motionless as the stone, he gained confidence, and looked me steadily
in the face for about a minute, then flew quietly to the outlet and
began to sing. Next came a sandpiper and gazed at me with much the same
guileless expression of eye as the Ouzel. Lastly, down with a swoop came
a Steller's jay out of a fir-tree, probably with the intention of
moistening his noisy throat. But instead of sitting confidingly as my
other visitors had done, he rushed off at once, nearly tumbling heels
over head into the lake in his suspicious confusion, and with loud
screams roused the neighborhood.

Love for song-birds, with their sweet human voices, appears to be more
common and unfailing than love for flowers. Every one loves flowers to
some extent, at least in life's fresh morning, attracted by them as
instinctively as humming-birds and bees. Even the young Digger Indians
have sufficient love for the brightest of those found growing on the
mountains to gather them and braid them, as decorations for the hair.
And I was glad to discover, through the few Indians that could be
induced to talk on the subject, that they have names for the wild rose
and the lily, and other conspicuous flowers, whether available as food
or otherwise. Most men, however, whether savage or civilized, become
apathetic toward all plants that have no other apparent use than the use
of beauty. But fortunately one's first instinctive love of song-birds is
never wholly obliterated, no matter what the influences upon our lives
may be. I have often been delighted to see a pure, spiritual glow come
into the countenances of hard business-men and old miners, when a
song-bird chanced to alight near them. Nevertheless, the little mouthful
of meat that swells out the breasts of some song-birds is too often the
cause of their death. Larks and robins in particular are brought to
market in hundreds. But fortunately the Ouzel has no enemy so eager to
eat his little body as to follow him into the mountain solitudes. I
never knew him to be chased even by hawks.

An acquaintance of mine, a sort of foot-hill mountaineer, had a pet cat,
a great, dozy, overgrown creature, about as broad-shouldered as a lynx.
During the winter, while the snow lay deep, the mountaineer sat in his
lonely cabin among the pines smoking his pipe and wearing the dull time
away. Tom was his sole companion, sharing his bed, and sitting beside
him on a stool with much the same drowsy expression of eye as his
master. The good-natured bachelor was content with his hard fare of
soda-bread and bacon, but Tom, the only creature in the world
acknowledging dependence on him, must needs be provided with fresh meat.
Accordingly he bestirred himself to contrive squirrel-traps, and waded
the snowy woods with his gun, making sad havoc among the few winter
birds, sparing neither robin, sparrow, nor tiny nuthatch, and the
pleasure of seeing Tom eat and grow fat was his great reward.

One cold afternoon, while hunting along the river-bank, he noticed a
plain-feathered little bird skipping about in the shallows, and
immediately raised his gun. But just then the confiding songster began
to sing, and after listening to his summery melody the charmed hunter
turned away, saying, "Bless your little heart, I can't shoot you, not
even for Tom."


Even so far north as icy Alaska, I have found my glad singer. When I was
exploring the glaciers between Mount Fairweather and the Stikeen River,
one cold day in November, after trying in vain to force a way through
the innumerable icebergs of Sum Dum Bay to the great glaciers at the
head of it, I was weary and baffled and sat resting in my canoe
convinced at last that I would have to leave this part of my work for
another year. Then I began to plan my escape to open water before the
young ice which was beginning to form should shut me in. While I thus
lingered drifting with the bergs, in the midst of these gloomy
forebodings and all the terrible glacial desolation and grandeur, I
suddenly heard the well-known whir of an Ouzel's wings, and, looking up,
saw my little comforter coming straight across the ice from the shore.
In a second or two he was with me, flying three times round my head with
a happy salute, as if saying, "Cheer up, old friend; you see I'm here,
and all's well." Then he flew back to the shore, alighted on the topmost
jag of a stranded iceberg, and began to nod and bow as though he were on
one of his favorite boulders in the midst of a sunny Sierra cascade.

The species is distributed all along the mountain-ranges of the Pacific
Coast from Alaska to Mexico, and east to the Rocky Mountains.
Nevertheless, it is as yet comparatively little known. Audubon and
Wilson did not meet it. Swainson was, I believe, the first naturalist to
describe a specimen from Mexico. Specimens were shortly afterward
procured by Drummond near the sources of the Athabasca River, between
the fifty-fourth and fifty-sixth parallels; and it has been collected by
nearly all of the numerous exploring expeditions undertaken of late
through our Western States and Territories; for it never fails to engage
the attention of naturalists in a very particular manner.

Such, then, is our little cinclus, beloved of every one who is so
fortunate as to know him. Tracing on strong wing every curve of the most
precipitous torrents from one extremity of the Sierra to the other; not
fearing to follow them through their darkest gorges and coldest
snow-tunnels; acquainted with every waterfall, echoing their divine
music; and throughout the whole of their beautiful lives interpreting
all that we in our unbelief call terrible in the utterances of torrents
and storms, as only varied expressions of God's eternal love.


(_Ovis montana_)

The wild sheep ranks highest among the animal mountaineers of the
Sierra. Possessed of keen sight and scent, and strong limbs, he dwells
secure amid the loftiest summits, leaping unscathed from crag to crag,
up and down the fronts of giddy precipices, crossing foaming torrents
and slopes of frozen snow, exposed to the wildest storms, yet
maintaining a brave, warm life, and developing from generation to
generation in perfect strength and beauty.

Nearly all the lofty mountain-chains of the globe are inhabited by wild
sheep, most of which, on account of the remote and all but inaccessible
regions where they dwell, are imperfectly known as yet. They are
classified by different naturalists under from five to ten distinct
species or varieties, the best known being the burrhel of the Himalaya
(_Ovis burrhel_, Blyth); the argali, the large wild sheep of
central and northeastern Asia (_O. ammon_, Linn., or _Caprovis
argali_); the Corsican mouflon (_O. musimon_, Pal.); the aoudad
of the mountains of northern Africa (_Ammotragus tragelaphus_); and
the Rocky Mountain bighorn (_O. montana_, Cuv.). To this last-named
species belongs the wild sheep of the Sierra. Its range, according to
the late Professor Baird of the Smithsonian Institution, extends "from
the region of the upper Missouri and Yellowstone to the Rocky Mountains
and the high grounds adjacent to them on the eastern slope, and as far
south as the Rio Grande. Westward it extends to the coast ranges of
Washington, Oregon, and California, and follows the highlands some
distance into Mexico."[1] Throughout the vast region bounded on the east
by the Wahsatch Mountains and on the west by the Sierra there are more
than a hundred subordinate ranges and mountain groups, trending north
and south, range beyond range, with summits rising from eight to twelve
thousand feet above the level of the sea, probably all of which,
according to my own observations, is, or has been, inhabited by this

Compared with the argali, which, considering its size and the vast
extent of its range, is probably the most important of all the wild
sheep, our species is about the same size, but the horns are less
twisted and less divergent. The more important characteristics are,
however, essentially the same, some of the best naturalists maintaining
that the two are only varied forms of one species. In accordance with
this view, Cuvier conjectures that since central Asia seems to be the
region where the sheep first appeared, and from which it has been
distributed, the argali may have been distributed over this continent
from Asia by crossing Bering Strait on ice. This conjecture is not so
ill founded as at first sight would appear; for the Strait is only about
fifty miles wide, is interrupted by three islands, and is jammed with
ice nearly every winter. Furthermore the argali is abundant on the
mountains adjacent to the Strait at East Cape, where it is well known to
the Tschuckchi hunters and where I have seen many of their horns.

On account of the extreme variability of the sheep under culture, it is
generally supposed that the innumerable domestic breeds have all been
derived from the few wild species; but the whole question is involved in
obscurity. According to Darwin, sheep have been domesticated from a very
ancient period, the remains of a small breed, differing from any now
known, having been found in the famous Swiss lake-dwellings.

Compared with the best-known domestic breeds, we find that our wild
species is much larger, and, instead of an all-wool garment, wears a
thick over-coat of hair like that of the deer, and an under-covering of
fine wool. The hair, though rather coarse, is comfortably soft and
spongy, and lies smooth, as if carefully tended with comb and brush. The
predominant color during most of the year is brownish-gray, varying to
bluish-gray in the autumn; the belly and a large, conspicuous patch on
the buttocks are white; and the tail, which is very short, like that of
a deer, is black, with a yellowish border. The wool is white, and grows
in beautiful spirals down out of sight among the shining hair, like
delicate climbing vines among stalks of corn.

The horns of the male are of immense size, measuring in their greater
diameter from five to six and a half inches, and from two and a half to
three feet in length around the curve. They are yellowish-white in
color, and ridged transversely, like those of the domestic ram. Their
cross-section near the base is somewhat triangular in outline, and
flattened toward the tip. Rising boldly from the top of the head, they
curve gently backward and outward, then forward and outward, until about
three fourths of a circle is described, and until the flattened, blunt
tips are about two feet or two and a half feet apart. Those of the
female are flattened throughout their entire length, are less curved
than those of the male, and much smaller, measuring less than a foot
along the curve.

A ram and ewe that I obtained near the Modoc lava-beds, to the northeast
of Mount Shasta, measured as follows:

_Ram. Ewe._
_ft. in. ft. in._
Height at shoulders 3 6 3 0
Girth around shoulders 3 11 3 3-3/4
Length from nose to root of tail 5 10-1/4 4 3-1/2
Length of ears 0 4-3/4 0 5
Length of tail 0 4-1/2 0 4-1/2
Length of horns around curve 2 9 0 11-1/2
Distance across from tip to tip of horns 2 5-1/2
Circumference of horns at base 1 4 0 6

The measurements of a male obtained in the Rocky Mountains by Audubon
vary but little as compared with the above. The weight of his specimen
was 344 pounds,[2] which is, perhaps, about an average for full-grown
males. The females are about a third lighter.

Besides these differences in size, color, hair, etc., as noted above, we
may observe that the domestic sheep, in a general way, is expressionless,
like a dull bundle of something only half alive, while the wild is as
elegant and graceful as a deer, every movement manifesting admirable
strength and character. The tame is timid; the wild is bold. The tame
is always more or less ruffled and dirty; while the wild is as smooth
and clean as the flowers of his mountain pastures.

The earliest mention that I have been able to find of the wild sheep in
America is by Father Picolo, a Catholic missionary at Monterey, in the
year 1797, who, after describing it, oddly enough, as "a kind of deer
with a sheep-like head, and about as large as a calf one or two years
old," naturally hurries on to remark: "I have eaten of these beasts;
their flesh is very tender and delicious." Mackenzie, in his northern
travels, heard the species spoken of by the Indians as "white buffaloes."
And Lewis and Clark tell us that, in a time of great scarcity on the
head waters of the Missouri, they saw plenty of wild sheep, but they
were "too shy to be shot."

A few of the more energetic of the Pah Ute Indians hunt the wild sheep
every season among the more accessible sections of the High Sierra, in
the neighborhood of passes, where, from having been pursued, they have
become extremely wary; but in the rugged wilderness of peaks and canons,
where the foaming tributaries of the San Joaquin and King's rivers take
their rise, they fear no hunter save the wolf, and are more guileless
and approachable than their tame kindred.

While engaged in the work of exploring high regions where they delight
to roam I have been greatly interested in studying their habits. In the
months of November and December, and probably during a considerable
portion of midwinter, they all flock together, male and female, old and
young. I once found a complete band of this kind numbering upward of
fifty, which, on being alarmed, went bounding away across a jagged
lava-bed at admirable speed, led by a majestic old ram, with the lambs
safe in the middle of the flock.

In spring and summer, the full-grown rams form separate bands of from
three to twenty, and are usually found feeding along the edges of
glacier meadows, or resting among the castle-like crags of the high
summits; and whether quietly feeding, or scaling the wild cliffs, their
noble forms and the power and beauty of their movements never fail to
strike the beholder with lively admiration.

Their resting-places seem to be chosen with reference to sunshine and a
wide outlook, and most of all to safety. Their feeding-grounds are among
the most beautiful of the wild gardens, bright with daisies and gentians
and mats of purple bryanthus, lying hidden away on rocky headlands and
canon sides, where sunshine is abundant, or down in the shady glacier
valleys, along the banks of the streams and lakes, where the plushy sod
is greenest. Here they feast all summer, the happy wanderers, perhaps
relishing the beauty as well as the taste of the lovely flora on which
they feed.


When the winter storms set in, loading their highland pastures with
snow, then, like the birds, they gather and go to lower climates,
usually descending the eastern flank of the range to the rough, volcanic
table-lands and treeless ranges of the Great Basin adjacent to the
Sierra. They never make haste, however, and seem to have no dread of
storms, many of the strongest only going down leisurely to bare,
wind-swept ridges, to feed on bushes and dry bunch-grass, and then
returning up into the snow. Once I was snow-bound on Mount Shasta for
three days, a little below the timber line. It was a dark and stormy
time, well calculated to test the skill and endurance of mountaineers.
The snow-laden gale drove on night and day in hissing, blinding floods,
and when at length it began to abate, I found that a small band of wild
sheep had weathered the storm in the lee of a clump of Dwarf Pines a few
yards above my storm-nest, where the snow was eight or ten feet deep. I
was warm back of a rock, with blankets, bread, and fire. My brave
companions lay in the snow, without food, and with only the partial
shelter of the short trees, yet they made no sign of suffering or

In the months of May and June, the wild sheep bring forth their young in
solitary and almost inaccessible crags, far above the nesting-rocks of
the eagle. I have frequently come upon the beds of the ewes and lambs at
an elevation of from 12,000 to 13,000 feet above sea-level. These beds
are simply oval-shaped hollows, pawed out among loose, disintegrating
rock-chips and sand, upon some sunny spot commanding a good outlook, and
partially sheltered from the winds that sweep those lofty peaks almost
without intermission. Such is the cradle of the little mountaineer,
aloft in the very sky; rocked in storms, curtained in clouds, sleeping
in thin, icy air; but, wrapped in his hairy coat, and nourished by a
strong, warm mother, defended from the talons of the eagle and the teeth
of the sly coyote, the bonny lamb grows apace. He soon learns to nibble
the tufted rock-grasses and leaves of the white spirsea; his horns begin
to shoot, and before summer is done he is strong and agile, and goes
forth with the flock, watched by the same divine love that tends the
more helpless human lamb in its cradle by the fireside.

Nothing is more commonly remarked by noisy, dusty trail-travelers in
the Sierra than the want of animal life--no song-birds, no deer, no
squirrels, no game of any kind, they say. But if such could only go away
quietly into the wilderness, sauntering afoot and alone with natural
deliberation, they would soon learn that these mountain mansions are not
without inhabitants, many of whom, confiding and gentle, would not try
to shun their acquaintance.


In the fall of 1873 I was tracing the South Fork of the San Joaquin up
its wild canon to its farthest glacier fountains. It was the season of
alpine Indian summer. The sun beamed lovingly; the squirrels were
nutting in the pine-trees, butterflies hovered about the last of the
goldenrods, the willow and maple thickets were yellow, the meadows
brown, and the whole sunny, mellow landscape glowed like a countenance
in the deepest and sweetest repose. On my way over the glacier-polished
rocks along the river, I came to an expanded portion of the canon, about
two miles long and half a mile wide, which formed a level park inclosed
with picturesque granite walls like those of Yosemite Valley. Down
through the middle of it poured the beautiful river shining and
spangling in the golden light, yellow groves on its banks, and strips of
brown meadow; while the whole park was astir with wild life, some of
which even the noisiest and least observing of travelers must have seen
had they been with me. Deer, with their supple, well-grown fawns,
bounded from thicket to thicket as I advanced; grouse kept rising from
the brown grass with a great whirring of wings, and, alighting on the
lower branches of the pines and poplars, allowed a near approach, as if
curious to see me. Farther on, a broad-shouldered wildcat showed
himself, coming out of a grove, and crossing the river on a flood-jamb
of logs, halting for a moment to look back. The bird-like tamias frisked
about my feet everywhere among the pine-needles and seedy grass-tufts;
cranes waded the shallows of the river-bends, the kingfisher rattled
from perch to perch, and the blessed ouzel sang amid the spray of every
cascade. Where may lonely wanderer find a more interesting family of
mountain-dwellers, earth-born companions and fellow-mortals? It was
afternoon when I joined them, and the glorious landscape began to fade
in the gloaming before I awoke from their enchantment. Then I sought a
camp-ground on the river-bank, made a cupful of tea, and lay down to
sleep on a smooth place among the yellow leaves of an aspen grove. Next
day I discovered yet grander landscapes and grander life. Following the
river over huge, swelling rock-bosses through a majestic canon, and past
innumerable cascades, the scenery in general became gradually wilder and
more alpine. The Sugar Pine and Silver Firs gave place to the hardier
Cedar and Hemlock Spruce. The canon walls became more rugged and bare,
and gentians and arctic daisies became more abundant in the gardens and
strips of meadow along the streams. Toward the middle of the afternoon I
came to another valley, strikingly wild and original in all its
features, and perhaps never before touched by human foot. As regards
area of level bottom-land, it is one of the very smallest of the
Yosemite type, but its walls are sublime, rising to a height of from
2000 to 4000 feet above the river. At the head of the valley the main
canon forks, as is found to be the case in all yosemites. The formation
of this one is due chiefly to the action of two great glaciers, whose
fountains lay to the eastward, on the flanks of Mounts Humphrey and
Emerson and a cluster of nameless peaks farther south.


The gray, boulder-chafed river was singing loudly through the valley,
but above its massy roar I heard the booming of a waterfall, which drew
me eagerly on; and just as I emerged from the tangled groves and
brier-thickets at the head of the valley, the main fork of the river
came in sight, falling fresh from its glacier fountains in a snowy
cascade, between granite walls 2000 feet high. The steep incline down
which the glad waters thundered seemed to bar all farther progress. It
was not long, however, before I discovered a crooked seam in the rock,
by which I was enabled to climb to the edge of a terrace that crosses
the canon, and divides the cataract nearly in the middle. Here I sat
down to take breath and make some entries in my note-book, taking
advantage, at the same time, of my elevated position above the trees to
gaze back over the valley into the heart of the noble landscape, little
knowing the while what neighbors were near.

After spending a few minutes in this way, I chanced to look across the
fall, and there stood three sheep quietly observing me. Never did the
sudden appearance of a mountain, or fall, or human friend more forcibly
seize and rivet my attention. Anxiety to observe accurately held me
perfectly still. Eagerly I marked the flowing undulations of their firm,
braided muscles, their strong legs, ears, eyes, heads, their graceful
rounded necks, the color of their hair, and the bold, upsweeping curves
of their noble horns. When they moved I watched every gesture, while
they, in no wise disconcerted either by my attention or by the
tumultuous roar of the water, advanced deliberately alongside the
rapids, between the two divisions of the cataract, turning now and then
to look at me. Presently they came to a steep, ice-burnished acclivity,
which they ascended by a succession of quick, short, stiff-legged leaps,
reaching the top without a struggle. This was the most startling feat of
mountaineering I had ever witnessed, and, considering only the mechanics
of the thing, my astonishment could hardly have been greater had they
displayed wings and taken to flight. "Surefooted" mules on such ground
would have fallen and rolled like loosened boulders. Many a time, where
the slopes are far lower, I have been compelled to take off my shoes and
stockings, tie them to my belt, and creep barefooted, with the utmost
caution. No wonder then, that I watched the progress of these animal
mountaineers with keen sympathy, and exulted in the boundless
sufficiency of wild nature displayed in their invention, construction,
and keeping. A few minutes later I caught sight of a dozen more in one
band, near the foot of the upper fall. They were standing on the same
side of the river with me, only twenty-five or thirty yards away,
looking as unworn and perfect as if created on the spot. It appeared by
their tracks, which I had seen in the Little Yosemite, and by their
present position, that when I came up the canon they were all feeding
together down in the valley, and in their haste to reach high
ground, where they could look about them to ascertain the nature of the
strange disturbance, they were divided, three ascending on one side the
river, the rest on the other.

The main band, headed by an experienced chief, now began to cross the
wild rapids between the two divisions of the cascade. This was another
exciting feat; for, among all the varied experiences of mountaineers,
the crossing of boisterous, rock-dashed torrents is found to be one of
the most trying to the nerves. Yet these fine fellows walked fearlessly
to the brink, and jumped from boulder to boulder, holding themselves in
easy poise above the whirling, confusing current, as if they were doing
nothing extraordinary.


In the immediate foreground of this rare picture there was a fold of
ice-burnished granite, traversed by a few bold lines in which rock-ferns
and tufts of bryanthus were growing, the gray canon walls on the sides,
nobly sculptured and adorned with brown cedars and pines; lofty peaks in
the distance, and in the middle ground the snowy fall, the voice and
soul of the landscape; fringing bushes beating time to its
thunder-tones, the brave sheep in front of it, their gray forms slightly
obscured in the spray, yet standing out in good, heavy relief against
the close white water, with their huge horns rising like the upturned
roots of dead pine-trees, while the evening sunbeams streaming up the
canon colored all the picture a rosy purple and made it glorious. After
crossing the river, the dauntless climbers, led by their chief, at once
began to scale the canon wall, turning now right, now left, in long,
single file, keeping well apart out of one another's way, and leaping in
regular succession from crag to crag, now ascending slippery
dome-curves, now walking leisurely along the edges of precipices,
stopping at times to gaze down at me from some flat-topped rock, with
heads held aslant, as if curious to learn what I thought about it, or
whether I was likely to follow them. After reaching the top of the wall,
which, at this place, is somewhere between 1500 and 2000 feet high, they
were still visible against the sky as they lingered, looking down in
groups of twos or threes.

Throughout the entire ascent they did not make a single awkward step, or
an unsuccessful effort of any kind. I have frequently seen tame sheep in
mountains jump upon a sloping rock-surface, hold on tremulously a few
seconds, and fall back baffled and irresolute. But in the most trying
situations, where the slightest want or inaccuracy would have been
fatal, these always seemed to move in comfortable reliance on their
strength and skill, the limits of which they never appeared to know.
Moreover, each one of the flock, while following the guidance of the
most experienced, yet climbed with intelligent independence as a perfect
individual, capable of separate existence whenever it should wish or be
compelled to withdraw from the little clan. The domestic sheep, on the
contrary, is only a fraction of an animal, a whole flock being required
to form an individual, just as numerous flowerets are required to make
one complete sunflower.

Those shepherds who, in summer, drive their flocks to the mountain
pastures, and, while watching them night and day, have seen them
frightened by bears and storms, and scattered like wind-driven chaff,
will, in some measure, be able to appreciate the self-reliance and
strength and noble individuality of Nature's sheep.

Like the Alp-climbing ibex of Europe, our mountaineer is said to plunge
headlong down the faces of sheer precipices, and alight on his big
horns. I know only two hunters who claim to have actually witnessed this
feat; I never was so fortunate. They describe the act as a diving
head-foremost. The horns are so large at the base that they cover the
upper portion of the head down nearly to a level with the eyes, and the
skull is exceedingly strong. I struck an old, bleached specimen on Mount
Ritter a dozen blows with my ice-ax without breaking it. Such skulls
would not fracture very readily by the wildest rock-diving, but other
bones could hardly be expected to hold together in such a performance;
and the mechanical difficulties in the way of controlling their
movements, after striking upon an irregular surface, are, in themselves,
sufficient to show this boulder-like method of progression to be
impossible, even in the absence of all other evidence on the subject;
moreover, the ewes follow wherever the rams may lead, although their
horns are mere spikes. I have found many pairs of the horns of the old
rams considerably battered, doubtless a result of fighting. I was
particularly interested in the question, after witnessing the
performances of this San Joaquin band upon the glaciated rocks at the
foot of the falls; and as soon as I procured specimens and examined
their feet, all the mystery disappeared. The secret, considered in
connection with exceptionally strong muscles, is simply this: the wide
posterior portion of the bottom of the foot, instead of wearing down and
becoming flat and hard, like the feet of tame sheep and horses, bulges
out in a soft, rubber-like pad or cushion, which not only grips and
holds well on smooth rocks, but fits into small cavities, and down upon
or against slight protuberances. Even the hardest portions of the edge
of the hoof are comparatively soft and elastic; furthermore, the toes
admit of an extraordinary amount of both lateral and vertical movement,
allowing the foot to accommodate itself still more perfectly to the
irregularities of rock surfaces, while at the same time increasing the
gripping power.

At the base of Sheep Rock, one of the winter strongholds of the Shasta
flocks, there lives a stock-raiser who has had the advantage of
observing the movements of wild sheep every winter; and, in the course
of a conversation with him on the subject of their diving habits, he
pointed to the front of a lava headland about 150 feet high, which is
only eight or ten degrees out of the perpendicular. "There," said he, "I
followed a band of them fellows to the back of that rock yonder, and
expected to capture them all, for I thought I had a dead thing on them.
I got behind them on a narrow bench that runs along the face of the wall
near the top and comes to an end where they couldn't get away without
falling and being killed; but they jumped off, and landed all right, as
if that were the regular thing with them."

"What!" said I, "jumped 150 feet perpendicular! Did you see them do it?"

"No," he replied, "I didn't see them going down, for I was behind them;
but I saw them go off over the brink, and then I went below and found
their tracks where they struck on the loose rubbish at the bottom. They
just _sailed right off_, and landed on their feet right side up.
That is the kind of animal _they_ is--beats anything else that goes
on four legs."


On another occasion, a flock that was pursued by hunters retreated to
another portion of this same cliff where it is still higher, and, on
being followed, they were seen jumping down in perfect order, one behind
another, by two men who happened to be chopping where they had a fair
view of them and could watch their progress from top to bottom of the
precipice. Both ewes and rams made the frightful descent without
evincing any extraordinary concern, hugging the rock closely, and
controlling the velocity of their half falling, half leaping movements
by striking at short intervals and holding back with their cushioned,
rubber feet upon small ledges and roughened inclines until near the
bottom, when they "sailed off" into the free air and alighted on their
feet, but with their bodies so nearly in a vertical position that they
appeared to be diving.

It appears, therefore, that the methods of this wild mountaineering
become clearly comprehensible as soon as we make ourselves acquainted
with the rocks, and the kind of feet and muscles brought to bear upon

The Modoc and Pah Ute Indians are, or rather have been, the most
successful hunters of the wild sheep in the regions that have come under
my own observation. I have seen large numbers of heads and horns in the
caves of Mount Shasta and the Modoc lava-beds, where the Indians had
been feasting in stormy weather; also in the canons of the Sierra
opposite Owen's Valley; while the heavy obsidian arrow-heads found on
some of the highest peaks show that this warfare has long been going on.

In the more accessible ranges that stretch across the desert regions of
western Utah and Nevada, considerable numbers of Indians used to hunt in
company like packs of wolves, and being perfectly acquainted with the
topography of their hunting-grounds, and with the habits and instincts
of the game, they were pretty successful. On the tops of nearly every
one of the Nevada mountains that I have visited, I found small,
nest-like inclosures built of stones, in which, as I afterward learned,
one or more Indians would lie in wait while their companions scoured the
ridges below, knowing that the alarmed sheep would surely run to the
summit, and when they could be made to approach with the wind they were
shot at short range.


Still larger bands of Indians used to make extensive hunts upon some
dominant mountain much frequented by the sheep, such as Mount Grant on
the Wassuck Range to the west of Walker Lake. On some particular spot,
favorably situated with reference to the well-known trails of the sheep,
they built a high-walled corral, with long guiding wings diverging from
the gateway; and into this inclosure they sometimes succeeded in driving
the noble game. Great numbers of Indians were of course required, more,
indeed, than they could usually muster, counting in squaws, children,
and all; they were compelled, therefore, to build rows of dummy hunters
out of stones, along the ridge-tops which they wished to prevent the
sheep from crossing. And, without discrediting the sagacity of the game,
these dummies were found effective; for, with a few live Indians moving
about excitedly among them, they could hardly be distinguished at a
little distance from men, by any one not in the secret. The whole
ridge-top then seemed to be alive with hunters.

The only animal that may fairly be regarded as a companion or rival of
the sheep is the so-called Rocky Mountain goat (_Aplocerus montana_,
Rich.), which, as its name indicates, is more antelope than goat. He,
too, is a brave and hardy climber, fearlessly crossing the wildest
summits, and braving the severest storms, but he is shaggy, short-legged,
and much less dignified in demeanor than the sheep. His jet-black horns
are only about five or six inches in length, and the long, white hair
with which he is covered obscures the expression of his limbs. I have
never yet seen a single specimen in the Sierra, though possibly a few
flocks may have lived on Mount Shasta a comparatively short time ago.

The ranges of these two mountaineers are pretty distinct, and they see
but little of each other; the sheep being restricted mostly to the dry,
inland mountains; the goat or chamois to the wet, snowy glacier-laden
mountains of the northwest coast of the continent in Oregon, Washington,
British Columbia, and Alaska. Probably more than 200 dwell on the icy,
volcanic cone of Mount Rainier; and while I was exploring the glaciers
of Alaska I saw flocks of these admirable mountaineers nearly every day,
and often followed their trails through the mazes of bewildering
crevasses, in which they are excellent guides.

Three species of deer are found in California,--the black-tailed,
white-tailed, and mule deer. The first mentioned (_Cervus Columbianus_)
is by far the most abundant, and occasionally meets the sheep during
the summer on high glacier meadows, and along the edge of the timber
line; but being a forest animal, seeking shelter and rearing its young
in dense thickets, it seldom visits the wild sheep in its higher homes.
The antelope, though not a mountaineer, is occasionally met in winter
by the sheep while feeding along the edges of the sage-plains and bare
volcanic hills to the east of the Sierra. So also is the mule deer,
which is almost restricted in its range to this eastern region. The
white-tailed species belongs to the coast ranges.

Perhaps no wild animal in the world is without enemies, but highlanders,
as a class, have fewer than lowlanders. The wily panther, slipping and
crouching among long grass and bushes, pounces upon the antelope and
deer, but seldom crosses the bald, craggy thresholds of the sheep.
Neither can the bears be regarded as enemies; for, though they seek to
vary their every-day diet of nuts and berries by an occasional meal of
mutton, they prefer to hunt tame and helpless flocks. Eagles and
coyotes, no doubt, capture an unprotected lamb at times, or some
unfortunate beset in deep, soft snow, but these cases are little more
than accidents. So, also, a few perish in long-continued snow-storms,
though, in all my mountaineering, I have not found more than five or six
that seemed to have met their fate in this way. A little band of three
were discovered snow-bound in Bloody Canon a few years ago, and were
killed with an ax by mountaineers, who chanced to be crossing the range
in winter.

Man is the most dangerous enemy of all, but even from him our brave
mountain-dweller has little to fear in the remote solitudes of the High
Sierra. The golden plains of the Sacramento and San Joaquin were lately
thronged with bands of elk and antelope, but, being fertile and
accessible, they were required for human pastures. So, also, are many of
the feeding-grounds of the deer--hill, valley, forest, and meadow--but
it will be long before man will care to take the highland castles of the
sheep. And when we consider here how rapidly entire species of noble
animals, such as the elk, moose, and buffalo, are being pushed to the
very verge of extinction, all lovers of wildness will rejoice with me in
the rocky security of _Ovis montana_, the bravest of all the Sierra

[1] Pacific Railroad Survey, Vol. VIII, page 678.

[2] Audubon and Bachman's "Quadrupeds of North America."



Murphy's camp is a curious old mining-town in Calaveras County, at an
elevation of 2400 feet above the sea, situated like a nest in the center
of a rough, gravelly region, rich in gold. Granites, slates, lavas,
limestone, iron ores, quartz veins, auriferous gravels, remnants of dead
fire-rivers and dead water-rivers are developed here side by side within
a radius of a few miles, and placed invitingly open before the student
like a book, while the people and the region beyond the camp furnish
mines of study of never-failing interest and variety.

When I discovered this curious place, I was tracing the channels of the
ancient pre-glacial rivers, instructive sections of which have been laid
bare here and in the adjacent regions by the miners. Rivers, according
to the poets, "go on forever"; but those of the Sierra are young as yet
and have scarcely learned the way down to the sea; while at least one
generation of them have died and vanished together with most of the
basins they drained. All that remains of them to tell their history is a
series of interrupted fragments of channels, mostly choked with gravel,
and buried beneath broad, thick sheets of lava. These are known as the
"Dead Rivers of California," and the gravel deposited in them is
comprehensively called the "Blue Lead." In some places the channels of
the present rivers trend in the same direction, or nearly so, as those
of the ancient rivers; but, in general, there is little correspondence
between them, the entire drainage having been changed, or, rather, made
new. Many of the hills of the ancient landscapes have become hollows,
and the old hollows have become hills. Therefore the fragmentary
channels, with their loads of auriferous gravel, occur in all kinds of
unthought-of places, trending obliquely, or even at right angles to the
present drainage, across the tops of lofty ridges or far beneath them,
presenting impressive illustrations of the magnitude of the changes
accomplished since those ancient streams were annihilated. The last
volcanic period preceding the regeneration of the Sierra landscapes
seems to have come on over all the range almost simultaneously, like the
glacial period, notwithstanding lavas of different age occur together in
many places, indicating numerous periods of activity in the Sierra
fire-fountains. The most important of the ancient river-channels in this
region is a section that extends from the south side of the town beneath
Coyote Creek and the ridge beyond it to the Canon of the Stanislaus; but
on account of its depth below the general surface of the present valleys
the rich gold gravels it is known to contain cannot be easily worked on
a large scale. Their extraordinary richness may be inferred from the
fact that many claims were profitably worked in them by sinking shafts
to a depth of 200 feet or more, and hoisting the dirt by a windlass.
Should the dip of this ancient channel be such as to make the Stanislaus
Canon available as a dump, then the grand deposit might be worked by the
hydraulic method, and although a long, expensive tunnel would be
required, the scheme might still prove profitable, for there is
"millions in it."

The importance of these ancient gravels as gold fountains is well known
to miners. Even the superficial placers of the present streams have
derived much of their gold from them. According to all accounts, the
Murphy placers have been very rich--"terrific rich," as they say here.
The hills have been cut and scalped, and every gorge and gulch and
valley torn to pieces and disemboweled, expressing a fierce and
desperate energy hard to understand. Still, any kind of effort-making is
better than inaction, and there is something sublime in seeing men
working in dead earnest at anything, pursuing an object with
glacier-like energy and persistence. Many a brave fellow has recorded a
most eventful chapter of life on these Calaveras rocks. But most of the
pioneer miners are sleeping now, their wild day done, while the few
survivors linger languidly in the washed-out gulches or sleepy village
like harried bees around the ruins of their hive. "We have no industry
left _now_," they told me, "and no men; everybody and everything
hereabouts has gone to decay. We are only bummers--out of the game, a
thin scatterin' of poor, dilapidated cusses, compared with what we used
to be in the grand old gold-days. We were giants then, and you can look
around here and see our tracks." But although these lingering pioneers
are perhaps more exhausted than the mines, and about as dead as the dead
rivers, they are yet a rare and interesting set of men, with much gold
mixed with the rough, rocky gravel of their characters; and they
manifest a breeding and intelligence little looked for in such
surroundings as theirs. As the heavy, long-continued grinding of the
glaciers brought out the features of the Sierra, so the intense
experiences of the gold period have brought out the features of these
old miners, forming a richness and variety of character little known as
yet. The sketches of Bret Harte, Hayes, and Miller have not exhausted
this field by any means. It is interesting to note the extremes possible
in one and the same character: harshness and gentleness, manliness and
childishness, apathy and fierce endeavor. Men who, twenty years ago,
would not cease their shoveling to save their lives, now play in the
streets with children. Their long, Micawber-like waiting after the
exhaustion of the placers has brought on an exaggerated form of dotage.
I heard a group of brawny pioneers in the street eagerly discussing the
quantity of tail required for a boy's kite; and one graybeard undertook
the sport of flying it, volunteering the information that he was a boy,
"always was a boy, and d--n a man who was not a boy inside, however
ancient outside!" Mines, morals, politics, the immortality of the soul,
etc., were discussed beneath shade-trees and in saloons, the time for
each being governed apparently by the temperature. Contact with Nature,
and the habits of observation acquired in gold-seeking, had made them
all, to some extent, collectors, and, like wood-rats, they had gathered
all kinds of odd specimens into their cabins, and now required me to
examine them. They were themselves the oddest and most interesting
specimens. One of them offered to show me around the old diggings,
giving me fair warning before setting out that I might not like him,
"because," said he, "people say I'm eccentric. I notice everything, and
gather beetles and snakes and anything that's queer; and so some don't
like me, and call me eccentric. I'm always trying to find out things.
Now, there's a weed; the Indians eat it for greens. What do you call
those long-bodied flies with big heads?" "Dragon-flies," I suggested.
"Well, their jaws work sidewise, instead of up and down, and
grasshoppers' jaws work the same way, and therefore I think they are the
same species. I always notice everything like that, and just because I
do, they say I'm eccentric," etc.

Anxious that I should miss none of the wonders of their old gold-field,
the good people had much to say about the marvelous beauty of Cave City
Cave, and advised me to explore it. This I was very glad to do, and
finding a guide who knew the way to the mouth of it, I set out from
Murphy the next morning.

The most beautiful and extensive of the mountain caves of California
occur in a belt of metamorphic limestone that is pretty generally
developed along the western flank of the Sierra from the McCloud River
on the north to the Kaweah on the south, a distance of over 400 miles,
at an elevation of from 2000 to 7000 feet above the sea. Besides this
regular belt of caves, the California landscapes are diversified by long
imposing ranks of sea-caves, rugged and variable in architecture, carved
in the coast headlands and precipices by centuries of wave-dashing; and
innumerable lava-caves, great and small, originating in the unequal
flowing and hardening of the lava sheets in which they occur, fine
illustrations of which are presented in the famous Modoc Lava Beds, and
around the base of icy Shasta. In this comprehensive glance we may also
notice the shallow wind-worn caves in stratified sandstones along the
margins of the plains; and the cave-like recesses in the Sierra slates
and granites, where bears and other mountaineers find shelter during the
fall of sudden storms. In general, however, the grand massive uplift of
the Sierra, as far as it has been laid-bare to observation, is about as
solid and caveless as a boulder.

Fresh beauty opens one's eyes wherever it is really seen, but the very
abundance and completeness of the common beauty that besets our steps
prevents its being absorbed and appreciated. It is a good thing,
therefore, to make short excursions now and then to the bottom of the
sea among dulse and coral, or up among the clouds on mountain-tops, or
in balloons, or even to creep like worms into dark holes and caverns
underground, not only to learn something of what is going on in those
out-of-the-way places, but to see better what the sun sees on our return
to common every-day beauty.

Our way from Murphy's to the cave lay across a series of picturesque,
moory ridges in the chaparral region between the brown foot-hills and
the forests, a flowery stretch of rolling hill-waves breaking here and
there into a kind of rocky foam on the higher summits, and sinking into
delightful bosky hollows embowered with vines. The day was a fine
specimen of California summer, pure sunshine, unshaded most of the time
by a single cloud. As the sun rose higher, the heated air began to flow
in tremulous waves from every southern slope. The sea-breeze that
usually comes up the foot-hills at this season, with cooling on its
wings, was scarcely perceptible. The birds were assembled beneath leafy
shade, or made short, languid flights in search of food, all save the
majestic buzzard; with broad wings outspread he sailed the warm air
unwearily from ridge to ridge, seeming to enjoy the fervid sunshine like
a butterfly. Squirrels, too, whose spicy ardor no heat or cold may
abate, were nutting among the pines, and the innumerable hosts of the
insect kingdom were throbbing and wavering unwearied as sunbeams.

This brushy, berry-bearing region used to be a deer and bear pasture,
but since the disturbances of the gold period these fine animals have
almost wholly disappeared. Here, also, once roamed the mastodon and
elephant, whose bones are found entombed in the river gravels and
beneath thick folds of lava. Toward noon, as we were riding slowly over
bank and brae, basking in the unfeverish sun-heat, we witnessed the
upheaval of a new mountain-range, a Sierra of clouds abounding in
landscapes as truly sublime and beautiful--if only we have a mind to
think so and eyes to see--as the more ancient rocky Sierra beneath it,
with its forests and waterfalls; reminding us that, as there is a lower
world of caves, so, also, there is an upper world of clouds. Huge, bossy
cumuli developed with astonishing rapidity from mere buds, swelling with
visible motion into colossal mountains, and piling higher, higher, in
long massive ranges, peak beyond peak, dome over dome, with many a
picturesque valley and shadowy cave between; while the dark firs and
pines of the upper benches of the Sierra were projected against their
pearl bosses with exquisite clearness of outline. These cloud mountains
vanished in the azure as quickly as they were developed, leaving no
detritus; but they were not a whit less real or interesting on this
account. The more enduring hills over which we rode were vanishing as
surely as they, only not so fast, a difference which is great or small
according to the standpoint from which it is contemplated.

At the bottom of every dell we found little homesteads embosomed in wild
brush and vines wherever the recession of the hills left patches of
arable ground. These secluded flats are settled mostly by Italians and
Germans, who plant a few vegetables and grape-vines at odd times, while
their main business is mining and prospecting. In spite of all the
natural beauty of these dell cabins, they can hardly be called homes.
They are only a better kind of camp, gladly abandoned whenever the
hoped-for gold harvest has been gathered. There is an air of profound
unrest and melancholy about the best of them. Their beauty is thrust
upon them by exuberant Nature, apart from which they are only a few logs
and boards rudely jointed and without either ceiling or floor, a rough
fireplace with corresponding cooking utensils, a shelf-bed, and stool.
The ground about them is strewn with battered prospecting-pans, picks,
sluice-boxes, and quartz specimens from many a ledge, indicating the
trend of their owners' hard lives.

The ride from Murphy's to the cave is scarcely two hours long, but we
lingered among quartz-ledges and banks of dead river gravel until long
after noon. At length emerging from a narrow-throated gorge, a small
house came in sight set in a thicket of fig-trees at the base of a
limestone hill. "That," said my guide, pointing to the house, "is Cave
City, and the cave is in that gray hill." Arriving at the one house of
this one-house city, we were boisterously welcomed by three drunken men
who had come to town to hold a spree. The mistress of the house tried to
keep order, and in reply to our inquiries told us that the cave guide
was then in the cave with a party of ladies. "And must we wait until he
returns?" we asked. No, that was unnecessary; we might take candles and
go into the cave alone, provided we shouted from time to time so as to
be found by the guide, and were careful not to fall over the rocks or
into the dark pools. Accordingly taking a trail from the house, we were
led around the base of the hill to the mouth of the cave, a small
inconspicuous archway, mossy around the edges and shaped like the door
of a water-ouzel's nest, with no appreciable hint or advertisement of
the grandeur of the many crystal chambers within. Lighting our candles,
which seemed to have no illuminating power in the thick darkness, we
groped our way onward as best we could along narrow lanes and alleys,
from chamber to chamber, around rustic columns and heaps of fallen
rocks, stopping to rest now and then in particularly beautiful
places--fairy alcoves furnished with admirable variety of shelves and
tables, and round bossy stools covered with sparkling crystals. Some of
the corridors were muddy, and in plodding along these we seemed to be in
the streets of some prairie village in spring-time. Then we would come
to handsome marble stairways conducting right and left into upper
chambers ranged above one another three or four stories high, floors,
ceilings, and walls lavishly decorated with innumerable crystalline
forms. After thus wandering exploringly, and alone for a mile or so,
fairly enchanted, a murmur of voices and a gleam of light betrayed the
approach of the guide and his party, from whom, when they came up, we
received a most hearty and natural stare, as we stood half concealed in
a side recess among stalagmites. I ventured to ask the dripping,
crouching company how they had enjoyed their saunter, anxious to learn
how the strange sunless scenery of the underworld had impressed them.
"Ah, it's nice! It's splendid!" they all replied and echoed. "The Bridal
Chamber back here is just glorious! This morning we came down from the
Calaveras Big Tree Grove, and the trees are nothing to it." After making
this curious comparison they hastened sunward, the guide promising to
join us shortly on the bank of a deep pool, where we were to wait for
him. This is a charming little lakelet of unknown depth, never yet
stirred by a breeze, and its eternal calm excites the imagination even
more profoundly than the silvery lakes of the glaciers rimmed with
meadows and snow and reflecting sublime mountains.

Our guide, a jolly, rollicking Italian, led us into the heart of the
hill, up and down, right and left, from chamber to chamber more and more
magnificent, all a-glitter like a glacier cave with icicle-like
stalactites and stalagmites combined in forms of indescribable beauty.
We were shown one large room that was occasionally used as a
dancing-hall; another that was used as a chapel, with natural pulpit and
crosses and pews, sermons in every stone, where a priest had said mass.
Mass-saying is not so generally developed in connection with natural
wonders as dancing. One of the first conceits excited by the giant
Sequoias was to cut one of them down and dance on its stump. We have
also seen dancing in the spray of Niagara; dancing in the famous Bower
Cave above Coulterville; and nowhere have I seen so much dancing as in
Yosemite. A dance on the inaccessible South Dome would likely follow the
making of an easy way to the top of it.

It was delightful to witness here the infinite deliberation of Nature,
and the simplicity of her methods in the production of such mighty
results, such perfect repose combined with restless enthusiastic energy.
Though cold and bloodless as a landscape of polar ice, building was
going on in the dark with incessant activity. The archways and ceilings
were everywhere hung with down-growing crystals, like inverted groves of
leafless saplings, some of them large, others delicately attenuated,
each tipped with a single drop of water, like the terminal bud of a
pine-tree. The only appreciable sounds were the dripping and tinkling of
water failing into pools or faintly plashing on the crystal floors.

In some places the crystal decorations are arranged in graceful flowing
folds deeply plicated like stiff silken drapery. In others straight
lines of the ordinary stalactite forms are combined with reference to
size and tone in a regularly graduated system like the strings of a harp
with musical tones corresponding thereto; and on these stone harps we
played by striking the crystal strings with a stick. The delicious
liquid tones they gave forth seemed perfectly divine as they sweetly
whispered and wavered through the majestic halls and died away in
faintest cadence,--the music of fairy-land. Here we lingered and
reveled, rejoicing to find so much music in stony silence, so much
splendor in darkness, so many mansions in the depths of the mountains,
buildings ever in process of construction, yet ever finished, developing
from perfection to perfection, profusion without overabundance; every
particle visible or invisible in glorious motion, marching to the music
of the spheres in a region regarded as the abode of eternal stillness
and death.

The outer chambers of mountain caves are frequently selected as homes by
wild beasts. In the Sierra, however, they seem to prefer homes and
hiding-places in chaparral and beneath shelving precipices, as I have
never seen their tracks in any of the caves. This is the more remarkable
because notwithstanding the darkness and oozing water there is nothing
uncomfortably cellar-like or sepulchral about them.

When we emerged into the bright landscapes of the sun everything looked
brighter, and we felt our faith in Nature's beauty strengthened, and saw
more clearly that beauty is universal and immortal, above, beneath, on
land and sea, mountain and plain, in heat and cold, light and darkness.



When California was wild, it was one sweet bee-garden throughout its
entire length, north and south, and all the way across from the snowy
Sierra to the ocean.

Wherever a bee might fly within the bounds of this virgin
wilderness--through the redwood forests, along the banks of the rivers,
along the bluffs and headlands fronting the sea, over valley and plain,
park and grove, and deep, leafy glen, or far up the piny slopes of the
mountains--throughout every belt and section of climate up to the timber
line, bee-flowers bloomed in lavish, abundance. Here they grew more or
less apart in special sheets and patches of no great size, there in
broad, flowing folds hundreds of miles in length--zones of polleny
forests, zones of flowery chaparral, stream-tangles of rubus and wild
rose, sheets of golden composite, beds of violets, beds of mint, beds of
bryanthus and clover, and so on, certain species blooming somewhere all
the year round.

But of late years plows and sheep have made sad havoc in these glorious
pastures, destroying tens of thousands of the flowery acres like a fire,
and banishing many species of the best honey-plants to rocky cliffs and
fence-corners, while, on the other hand, cultivation thus far has given
no adequate compensation, at least in kind; only acres of alfalfa for
miles of the richest wild pasture, ornamental roses and honeysuckles
around cottage doors for cascades of wild roses in the dells, and small,
square orchards and orange-groves for broad mountain-belts of chaparral.

The Great Central Plain of California, during the months of March,
April, and May, was one smooth, continuous bed of honey-bloom, so
marvelously rich that, in walking from one end of it to the other, a
distance of more than 400 miles, your foot would press about a hundred
flowers at every step. Mints, gilias, nemophilas, castilleias, and
innumerable compositae were so crowded together that, had ninety-nine
per cent. of them been taken away, the plain would still have seemed to
any but Californians extravagantly flowery. The radiant, honeyful
corollas, touching and overlapping, and rising above one another, glowed
in the living light like a sunset sky--one sheet of purple and gold,
with the bright Sacramento pouring through the midst of it from the
north, the San Joaquin from the south, and their many tributaries
sweeping in at right angles from the mountains, dividing the plain into
sections fringed with trees.

Along the rivers there is a strip of bottom-land, countersunk beneath
the general level, and wider toward the foot-hills, where magnificent
oaks, from three to eight feet in diameter, cast grateful masses of
shade over the open, prairie-like levels. And close along the water's
edge there was a fine jungle of tropical luxuriance, composed of
wild-rose and bramble bushes and a great variety of climbing vines,
wreathing and interlacing the branches and trunks of willows and alders,
and swinging across from summit to summit in heavy festoons. Here the
wild bees reveled in fresh bloom long after the flowers of the drier
plain had withered and gone to seed. And in midsummer, when the
"blackberries" were ripe, the Indians came from the mountains to
feast--men, women, and babies in long, noisy trains, often joined by the
farmers of the neighborhood, who gathered this wild fruit with
commendable appreciation of its superior flavor, while their home
orchards were full of ripe peaches, apricots, nectarines, and figs, and
their vineyards were laden with grapes. But, though these luxuriant,
shaggy river-beds were thus distinct from the smooth, treeless plain,
they made no heavy dividing lines in general views. The whole appeared
as one continuous sheet of bloom bounded only by the mountains.

When I first saw this central garden, the most extensive and regular of
all the bee-pastures of the State, it seemed all one sheet of plant
gold, hazy and vanishing in the distance, distinct as a new map along
the foot-hills at my feet.

Descending the eastern slopes of the Coast Range through beds of gilias
and lupines, and around many a breezy hillock and bush-crowned headland,
I at length waded out into the midst of it. All the ground was covered,
not with grass and green leaves, but with radiant corollas, about
ankle-deep next the foot-hills, knee-deep or more five or six miles out.
Here were bahia, madia, madaria, burrielia, chrysopsis, corethrogyne,
grindelia, etc., growing in close social congregations of various shades
of yellow, blending finely with the purples of clarkia, orthocarpus, and
oenothera, whose delicate petals were drinking the vital sunbeams
without giving back any sparkling glow.


Because so long a period of extreme drought succeeds the rainy season,
most of the vegetation is composed of annuals, which spring up
simultaneously, and bloom together at about the same height above the
ground, the general surface being but slightly ruffled by the taller
phacelias, pentstemons, and groups of _Salvia carduacea_, the king of
the mints.

Sauntering in any direction, hundreds of these happy sun-plants brushed
against my feet at every step, and closed over them as if I were wading
in liquid gold. The air was sweet with fragrance, the larks sang their
blessed songs, rising on the wing as I advanced, then sinking out of
sight in the polleny sod, while myriads of wild bees stirred the lower
air with their monotonous hum--monotonous, yet forever fresh and sweet
as every-day sunshine. Hares and spermophiles showed themselves in
considerable numbers in shallow places, and small bands of antelopes
were almost constantly in sight, gazing curiously from some slight
elevation, and then bounding swiftly away with unrivaled grace of
motion. Yet I could discover no crushed flowers to mark their track,
nor, indeed, any destructive action of any wild foot or tooth whatever.

The great yellow days circled by uncounted, while I drifted toward the
north, observing the countless forms of life thronging about me, lying
down almost anywhere on the approach of night. And what glorious
botanical beds I had! Oftentimes on awaking I would find several new
species leaning over me and looking me full in the face, so that my
studies would begin before rising.

About the first of May I turned eastward, crossing the San Joaquin River
between the mouths of the Tuolumne and Merced, and by the time I had
reached the Sierra foot-hills most of the vegetation had gone to seed
and become as dry as hay.

All the seasons of the great plain are warm or temperate, and
bee-flowers are never wholly wanting; but the grand springtime--the
annual resurrection--is governed by the rains, which usually set in
about the middle of November or the beginning of December. Then the
seeds, that for six months have lain on the ground dry and fresh as if
they had been gathered into barns, at once unfold their treasured life.
The general brown and purple of the ground, and the dead vegetation of
the preceding year, give place to the green of mosses and liverworts and
myriads of young leaves. Then one species after another comes into
flower, gradually overspreading the green with yellow and purple, which
lasts until May.

The "rainy season" is by no means a gloomy, soggy period of constant
cloudiness and rain. Perhaps nowhere else in North America, perhaps in
the world, are the months of December, January, February, and March so
full of bland, plant-building sunshine. Referring to my notes of the
winter and spring of 1868-69, every day of which I spent out of doors,
on that section of the plain lying between the Tuolumne and Merced
rivers, I find that the first rain of the season fell on December 18th.
January had only six rainy days--that is, days on which rain fell;
February three, March five, April three, and May three, completing the
so-called rainy season, which was about an average one. The ordinary
rain-storm of this region is seldom very cold or violent. The winds,
which in settled weather come from the northwest, veer round into the
opposite direction, the sky fills gradually and evenly with one general
cloud, from which, the rain falls steadily, often for days in
succession, at a temperature of about 45 deg. or 50 deg..

More than seventy-five per cent. of all the rain of this season came
from the northwest, down the coast over southeastern Alaska, British
Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, though the local winds of these
circular storms blow from the southeast. One magnificent local storm
from the northwest fell on March 21. A massive, round-browed cloud came
swelling and thundering over the flowery plain in most imposing majesty,
its bossy front burning white and purple in the full blaze of the sun,
while warm rain poured from its ample fountains like a cataract, beating
down flowers and bees, and flooding the dry watercourses as suddenly as
those of Nevada are flooded by the so-called "cloudbursts." But in less
than half an hour not a trace of the heavy, mountain-like cloud-structure
was left in the sky, and the bees were on the wing, as if nothing more
gratefully refreshing could have been sent them.

By the end of January four species of plants were in flower, and five or
six mosses had already adjusted their hoods and were in the prime of
life; but the flowers were not sufficiently numerous as yet to affect
greatly the general green of the young leaves. Violets made their
appearance in the first week of February, and toward the end of this
month the warmer portions of the plain were already golden with myriads
of the flowers of rayed composite.

This was the full springtime. The sunshine grew warmer and richer, new
plants bloomed every day; the air became more tuneful with humming
wings, and sweeter with the fragrance of the opening flowers. Ants and
ground squirrels were getting ready for their summer work, rubbing their
benumbed limbs, and sunning themselves on the husk-piles before their
doors, and spiders were busy mending their old webs, or weaving new

In March, the vegetation was more than doubled in depth and color;
claytonia, calandrinia, a large white gilia, and two nemophilas were in
bloom, together with a host of yellow composite, tall enough now to bend
in the wind and show wavering ripples of shade.

In April, plant-life, as a whole, reached its greatest height, and the
plain, over all its varied surface, was mantled with a close, furred
plush of purple and golden corollas. By the end of this month, most of
the species had ripened their seeds, but undecayed, still seemed to be
in bloom from the numerous corolla-like involucres and whorls of chaffy
scales of the composite. In May, the bees found in flower only a few
deep-set liliaceous plants and eriogonums.

June, July, August, and September is the season of rest and sleep,--a
winter of dry heat,--followed in October by a second outburst of bloom
at the very driest time of the year. Then, after the shrunken mass of
leaves and stalks of the dead vegetation crinkle and turn to dust
beneath the foot, as if it had been baked in an oven, _Hemizonia
virgata_, a slender, unobtrusive little plant, from six inches to three
feet high, suddenly makes its appearance in patches miles in extent,
like a resurrection of the bloom of April. I have counted upward of 3000
flowers, five eighths of an inch in diameter, on a single plant. Both


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