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- The Native Son - 2/6 -
- Californiacs read every word, Easterners skip this paragraph -
Man helped nature to place Italy, Spain, Japan among the wonder regions of the world; but nature placed California there without assistance from anybody. I do not refer alone to the scenery of California which is duplicated in no other spot of the sidereal system; nor to the climate which matches it; nor to its super-mundane fertility, nor to its super-solar fecundity. The railroad folder with its voluble vocabulary has already beaten me to it. I do not refer solely to that rich yellow-and-violet, springtime bourgeoning which turns California into one huge Botticelli background of flower colors and sheens. I do not refer to that heavy purple-and-gold, autumn fruitage, which changes it to a theme for Titian and Veronese. I am thinking particularly of those surprising phenomena left over from pre-historic eras; the "big" trees - the sequoia gigantea, which really belong to the early fairy-tales of H. G. Wells, and to those other trees, not so big but still giants - the sequoia sempivirens or redwoods, which make of California forests black-and-silver compositions of filmy fluttering light and solid bedded shade. I am thinking also of that patch of pre-historic cypresses in Monterey. These differ from the straight, symmetrical classic redwoods as Rodin's "Thinker" differs from the Apollo. Monstrous, contorted shapes - those Monterey cypresses look like creatures born underground, who, at the price of almost unbearable torture, have torn through the earth's crust, thrusting and twisting themselves airward. I refer even to that astonishing detail in the general Californian sulphitism, the seals which frequent beach rocks close to the shore, a short car ride from the heart of a city as big as San Francisco.
- and this -
California, because of rich gold deposits, and a richer golden, sunshine, its golden spring poppy and its golden summer verdure, seems both literally and figuratively, a golden land golden and gay. It is a land full of contradictions however. For those amazing memorials from a prehistoric past give it in places a strange air of tragedy. I challenge this grey old earth to produce a strip of country more beautiful, also more poignant and catastrophic in natural connotation, than the one which includes these cypresses of Monterey. Yet this same mordant area holds Point Lobos, a headland which displays in moss and lichens all the minute delicacy of a gleeful, elfin world. I challenge the earth to produce a region more beautiful, yet also more gay and debonair in natural connotation, than the one which enfolds San Francisco. For here the water presents gorgeous, plastic color, alternating blue and gold. Here Mount Tamalpais lifts its long straight slopes out of the sea and thrusts them high in the sky. Here Marin County offers contours of dimpled velvet bursting with a gay irridescence of wildflowers. Yet that same gracious area frames the grim cliff-cup which holds San Francisco bay - a spot of Dantesque sheerness and bareness.
- and this.
This is what nature has done. But man has added his deepening touch in one direction and his enlivening touch in another. The early fathers - Spanish - erected Missions from one end of the State to the other. These are time-mellowed, mediaeval structures with bell-towers, cloisters and gardens, sunbaked, shadow-colored; and in spots they make California as old and sad as Spain. Later emigrants - French - have built in the vicinity of San Francisco many tiny roadside inns where one can drink the soft wines of the country. Framed in hills that are garlanded with vineyards, these inns are often mere rose-hidden bowers. They make California seem as gay as France. I can best put it by saying that I know of no place so "haunted" in every poetic and plaintive sense as California; yet I know of no place so perfectly suited to carnival and festival.
All of this is part of the reason why you can't surprise a Californian.
This looks like respite, but there's no real relief in sight Easterners. Keep right on reading, Californiacs!
Yes, California is beautiful.
Once upon a time, a Native Son lay dying. He did not know that he was going to die. His physician had to break the news to him. He told the Californian that the process would not be long or painful. He would go to sleep presently and when he woke up, the great journey would have been accomplished. His words fulfilled themselves. Soon the Native Son fell into a coma. When he opened his eyes he was in Paradise. He raised himself up, gave one look about and exclaimed, "What a boob that doctor was! Whad'da he mean - Paradise! Here I am still in California."
Man has of course, here as elsewhere, chained nature; set her to toil for him. She is a willing worker everywhere, but in California she puts no stay nor stint on her productive efforts. California produces - Now up to this moment I have held myself in. Looking back on my copy I see only such meager words as "beauty", "glory", "splendor", such pale, inadequate phrases as "super-mundane fertility" and "super-solar fecundity". What use are words and phrases when one speaks of California. It is time for us to abandon them both and resort to some bright, snappy sparkling statistics.
Reader, I had to soft-pedal here. If I gave you the correct statistics, You wouldn't believe me.
So here goes!
California produces forty per cent of the gold, fifty per cent of the wheat, sixty per cent of the oranges, seventy per cent of the prunes, eighty per cent of the asparagus and (including the Native Daughters) ninety-nine and ninety-nine one-hundredths per cent of the peaches of the world. I pause to say here that none of these figures is true. They are all made up for the occasion. But don't despair! I am sure that they don't do California justice by half. Any other Californiac - with the mathematical memory which I unfortunately lack - will provide the correct data. Somebody told me once, I seem to recall, that the Santa Clara valley produces sixty per cent of the worlds prunes. But I may be mistaken. What I prefer to remember is one day's trip in that springtide of prune bloom. For hours and hours of motor speed, we glided through a snowy world that showed no speck of black bark or fleck of green leaf; a world in which the sole relief from a silent white blizzard of blossom was the blue of the sky arch, the purple of distant lupines alternating with the gold of blood-centered poppies, pouring like avalanches down hills of emerald green.
Getting out of the scenery zone only to fall into the climate zone. Reader, it's just the same with the climate as the scenery. It's got to be done some time, so why not now?
That's what California produces in the way of scenery and fodder. So now, let's consider the climate, even if I am invading Jesse Williams's territory. For it has magical properties - that climate of California. It makes people grow big and beautiful and strenuous; it makes flowers grow big and beautiful; it makes fleas grow big and - strenuous. It offers, except in the most southern or the most mountainous regions, no such extremes of heat or cold as are found elsewhere in the country. Its marvel is of course the season which corresponds to our winter. The visitor coming, let us say in February, from the ice-bound and frost-locked East through the flat, dreary Middle West, and stalled possibly on the way, remains glued in stupefaction to the car window. In a very few hours he slides from the white, glittering snow-covered heights of the evergreen-packed Sierras through their purple, hazy, snow-filled depths into the sudden warmth of California.
It is like waking suddenly from a nightmare of winter to a poets or a painter's vision of spring.
Who, having seen this picture in January, could resist describing it? Easterners, I appeal to your sense of justice.
At one side, perhaps close to the train, near hills, on which the live oaks spread big, ebon-emerald umbrellas, serpentine endlessly into the distance. On the other side, far hills, bathed in an amethystine mist, invade the horizon. Between stretches the flat green field of the valley, gashed with tawny streaks that are roads and dotted with soft, silvery bunches that are frisking new-born lambs. Little white houses, with a coquettish air of perpetual summer, flaunt long windows and wooden-lace balconies, Early roses flask pink flames here and there. The green-black meshes of the eucalyptus hedges film the distance. The madrone, richly leaved like the laurel, reflects the sunlight from a bole glistening as though freshly carved from wet gold.
Cheer up! We're getting out of scenery and climate into
The race - a blend of many rich bloods - that California has evolved with the help of this scenery and climate is a rare brew. The physical background is Anglo-Saxon of course; and it still breaks through in the prevailing Anglo-Saxon type. To this, the Celt has brought his poetry and mysticism. To it, the Latin has contributed his art instinct; and not art instinct alone but in an infinity of combinations, the dignity of the Spaniard, the spirit of the French, the passion of the Italian.
- into -
All the foregoing is put in, not to make it harder, but because - as a Californiac - I couldn't help it, and to show you what, in the way of a State, the Native Son is accustomed to. You will have to admit that it is some State. The emblem on the California flag is singularly apposite - it's a bear.
- oh boy! - San Francisco!
And if, in addition to being a Californian, this Native Son visiting the East for the first time, is also a San Franciscan, he has come from a city which is, with the exception of peacetime Paris, the gayest and with the exception of none, the happiest city in the world; a city of extraordinary picturesqueness of situation and an equally notable cosmopolitanism of atmosphere; a city which is, above all cities, a paradise for men.
San Francisco, which invents much American slang, must have provided that phrase - "this man's town." For that is what San Francisco is - a mans town.
I dare not appeal to Easterners; but Californiacs, I ask you how could I forbear to say something about "the city"?
San Francisco, or "the city"', as Californians so proudly and lovingly term her, is peculiarly fortunate in her situation and her weather. Riding a series of hills as lightly as a ship the waves, she makes real exercise of any walking within her limits. Moreover the streets are tied so intimately and inextricably to seashore and country that San Francisco's life is, in one sense, less like city life than that of any other city in the United States. Yet by the curious paradox of her climate, which compels much indoor night entertainment, reinforced by that cosmopolitanism of atmosphere, life there is city life raised to the highest limit. Last of all, its size - and personally I think there should be a federal law forbidding cities to grow any bigger than San Francisco - makes it an engaging combination of provincialism and cosmopolitanism.
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