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California and the Californians   By: (1851-1931)

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California and the Californians

By

David Starr Jordan

President Stanford University

The Californian loves his state because his state loves him. He returns her love with a fierce affection that to men who do not know California is always a surprise. Hence he is impatient of outside criticism. Those who do not love California cannot understand her, and, to his mind, their shafts, however aimed, fly wide of the mark. Thus, to say that California is commercially asleep, that her industries are gambling ventures, that her local politics is in the hands of professional pickpockets, that her small towns are the shabbiest in Christendom, that her saloons control more constituents than her churches, that she is the slave of corporations, that she knows no such thing as public opinion, that she has not yet learned to distinguish enterprise from highway robbery, nor reform from blackmail, all these statements, and others even more unpleasant, the Californian may admit in discussion, or may say for himself, but he does not find them acceptable from others. They may be more or less true, in certain times and places, but the conditions which have permitted them will likewise mend them. It is said in the Alps that "not all the vulgar people who come to Chamouny can ever make Chamouny vulgar." For similar reasons, not all the sordid people who drift overland can ever vulgarize California. Her fascination endures, whatever the accidents of population.

The charm of California has, in the main, three sources scenery, climate, and freedom of life.

To know the glory of California scenery, one must live close to it through the changing years. From Siskiyou to San Diego, from Alturas to Tia Juana, from Mendocino to Mariposa, from Tahoe to the Farallones, lake, crag, or chasm, forest, mountain, valley, or island, river, bay, or jutting headland, every one bears the stamp of its own peculiar beauty, a singular blending of richness, wildness and warmth. Coastwise everywhere sea and mountains meet, and the surf of the cold Japanese current breaks in turbulent beauty against tall "rincones" and jagged reefs of rock. Slumbering amid the hills of the Coast Range,

"A misty camp of mountains pitched tumultuously",

lie golden valleys dotted with wide limbed oaks, or smothered under over weighted fruit trees. Here, too, crumble to ruins the old Franciscan missions, each in its own fair valley, passing monuments of California's first page of written history.

Inland rises the great Sierra, with spreading ridge and foothill, like some huge, sprawling centipede, its granite back unbroken for a thousand miles. Frost torn peaks, of every height and bearing, pierce the blue wastes above. Their slopes are dark with forests of sugar pines and giant sequoias, the mightiest of trees, in whose silent aisles one may wander all day long and see no sign of man. Dropped here and there rest turquoise lakes which mark the craters of dead volcanoes, or which swell the polished basins where vanished glaciers did their last work. Through mountain meadows run swift brooks, over peopled with trout, while from the crags leap full throated streams, to be half blown away in mist before they touch the valley floor. Far down the fragrant caƱons sing the green and troubled rivers, twisting their way lower and lower to the common plains, each larger stream calling to all his brooks to follow him as down they go headforemost to the sea. Even the hopeless stretches of alkali and sand, sinks of lost streams, in the southeastern counties, are redeemed by the delectable mountains that on all sides shut them in. Everywhere the landscape swims in crystalline ether, while over all broods the warm California sun. Here, if anywhere, life is worth living, full and rich and free.

As there is from end to end of California scarcely one commonplace mile, so from one end of the year to the other there is hardly a tedious day... Continue reading book >>




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