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This etext was produced by David A. Schwan, email@example.com.
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 caņons 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. Two seasons only has California, but two are enough if each in its way be perfect. Some have called the climate "monotonous," but so, equally, is good health. In terms of Eastern, experience, the seasons may be defined as "late in the spring and early in the fall";
"Half a year of clouds and flowers, half a year of dust and sky,"
according to Bret Harte. But with the dust and sky come the unbroken succession of days of sunshine, the dry invigorating air, scented by the resin of the tarweed, and the boundless overflow of vine and orchard. Each season in its turn brings its fill of satisfaction, and winter or summer we regret to look forward to change, because we feel never quite sure that the season which is coming will be half so attractive as the season which we now enjoy. If one must choose, in all the fragrant California year the best month is June, for then the air is softest, and a touch of summer's gold overlies the green of winter. But October, when the first swift rains
"dash the whole long slope with color,"
and leave the clean-washed atmosphere so absolutely transparent that even distance is no longer blue, has a charm not less alluring.
So far as man is concerned, the one essential fact is that he is never the climate's slave; he is never beleaguered by the powers of the air. Winter and summer alike call him out of doors. In summer he is not languid, for the air is never sultry. In most regions he is seldom hot, for in the shade or after nightfall the dry air is always cool. When it rains the air may be chilly, in doors or out, but it is never cold enough to make the remorseless base-burner a welcome alternative. The habit of roasting one's self all winter long is unknown in California. The old Californian seldom built a fire for warmth's sake. When he was cold in the house he went out of doors to get warm. The house was a place for storing food and keeping one's belongings from the wet. To hide in it from the weather is to abuse the normal function.
The climate of California is especially kind to childhood and old age. Men live longer there, and, if unwasted by dissipation, strength of body is better conserved. To children the conditions of life are particularly favorable. California could have no better advertisement at some world's fair than a visible demonstration of this fact. A series of measurements of the children of Oakland has recently been taken, in the interest of comparative child study; and should the average of these from different ages be worked into a series of models from Eastern cities, the result would surprise. The children of California, other things being equal, are larger, stronger and better formed than their Eastern cousins of the same age. This advantage of development lasts, unless cigarettes, late hours, or grosser forms of dissipation come in to destroy it. A wholesome, sober, out-of-door life in California invariably means a vigorous maturity.
A third element of charm in California is that of personal freedom. The dominant note in the social development of the state is individualism, with all that it implies of good or evil. Man is man in California: he exists for his own sake, not as part of a social organism. He is, in a sense, superior to society. In the first place, it is not his society; he came from some other region on his own business. Most likely, he did not intend to stay; but, having summered and wintered in California, he has become a Californian, and now he is not contented anywhere else. Life on the coast has, for him, something of the joyous irresponsibility of a picnic. The feeling of children released from school remains with the grown people.
'A Western man," says Dr. Amos Griswold Warner, "is an Eastern man who has had some additional experiences." The Californian is a man from anywhere in America or Europe, typically from New England, perhaps, who has learned a thing or two he did not know in the East, and perhaps, has forgotten some things it would have been as well to remember. The things he has learned relate chiefly to elbow room, nature at first hand and "the unearned increment." The thing that he is most likely to forget is that the escape from public opinion is not escape from the consequences of wrong action.
Of elbow room California offers abundance. In an old civilization men grow like trees in a close-set forest. Individual growth and symmetry give way to the necessity of crowding. Every man spends some large part of his strength in being not himself, but what some dozens of other people expect him to be. There is no room for spreading branches, and the characteristic qualities and fruitage develop only at the top. On the frontier men grow as the California white oak, which, in the open field, sends its branches far and wide.
With plenty of elbow-room the Californian works out his own inborn character. If he is greedy, malicious, intemperate, by nature, his bad qualities rise to the second degree in California, and sometimes to the third. The whole responsibility rests on himself. Society has no part of it, and he does not pretend to be what he is not, out of deference to society. "Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue," but in California no such homage is demanded or accepted. In like manner, the virtues become intensified in freedom. Nowhere in the world can one find men and women more hospitable, more refined, more charming than in the homes of prosperous California. And these homes, whether in the pine forests of the Sierras, in the orange groves of the south, in the peach orchards of the Coast range, or on the great stock ranches, are the delight of all visitors who enter their open doors. To be sure, the bewildering hospitality of the great financiers and greater gamblers of the sixties and seventies is a thing of the past. We shall never again see such prodigal entertainment as that which Ralston, bankrupt, cynical, and magnificent, once dispensed in Belmont Caņon. Nor do we find, nowadays, such lavish outgiving of fruit and wine, or such rushing of tally-hos, as once preceded the auction sale of town lots in paper cities. These gorgeous "spreads" were not hospitality, and disappeared when the traveler had learned his lesson. Their avowed purpose was "the sale of worthless land to old duffers from the East." But real hospitality is characteristic of all parts of California where men and women have an income beyond the needs of the day.
To a very unusual degree the Californian forms his own opinions on matters of politics, religion, and human life, and these views he expresses without reserve. His own head he "carries under his own hat," and whether this be silk or a sombrero is a matter of his own choosing. The dictates of church and party have no binding force on him. The Californian does not confine his views to abstractions. He has his own opinions of individual men and women. If need be, he will analyze the character, motives and actions of his neighbor in a way which will horrify the traveler who has grown up in the shadow of the libel law. The Californian is peculiarly sensitive as to his own personal freedom of action. Toward public rights or duties, he is correspondingly
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