CALIFORNIA COAST TRAILS
CHAPTER XIX

Tomales Bay — Wind, dust, oysters, and chickens — Drab and blue — Camp and coyote concert — Russian River — Fine scenic country, and a sunset — Old Fort Ross: an excerpt from history — A new pine — Camp among weird surroundings — A gale and a fine sea — Stewart's Point, a lumbering settlement — A place of gloom, Gualala.

SEVEN miles northeast of Drake's Bay is the little town of Olema, where I arrived at dusk. At the hotel I found the two officers, with whom I exchanged experiences of the day. Early next morning I took the road that follows the north side of Tomales Bay, a long narrow inlet bordered on the south by a timbered ridge which I would willingly have explored but that I could get no certainty of a ferry at the lower end of the bay. Each person I questioned on the matter contradicted the opinion of the last.

At Point Reyes Station, a settlement at the head of the bay, I met the narrow-gauge railroad that runs for a short distance up the coast at a few miles inland. A disagreeable wind blew from the northwest, and raised quite a respectable sea on the estuary. Near the head I noticed an oyster fishery, where the railroad has a station with the serio-comic name of Bivalve. I suppose that only the need of brevity hindered them from calling it Toothsome, as well. Two or three other small places line the bay-side, and did something, though not much, to break the dreary brown monotony of the country that rolls away northward. One tiny settlement has with unusual modesty named itself Hamlet.

The wind was cold, and neither of us was in very cheerful humor. The very farmhouses seemed to shiver in company with us and the pessimistic cattle that nosed about the withered pastures. I suppose my voice betrayed my feelings to Anton, for such remarks as "It's dogged as does it, boy," or "Faint yet pursuing, eh, old chap?" failed to bring the usual good-humored response. It was a relief when, at mid-afternoon, we reached the small town of Tomales, and exchanged the vague discomforts of the road for the concrete misery of a typical country hotel.

The region we travelled next day was still the eternal brown, so brown as to appear actually rusty. It looked as if it must be dry for ten miles below the surface. The road was deep in dust, and still treeless; but the weather was better, and that repulsive wind had ceased to blow or had gone to blow elsewhere. Apples shone from roadside orchards, and refulgent pumpkins gleamed redder for the first touch of frost. I bought a hatful of apples at a farm, took off Anton's bridle, and we lounged and munched along all the morning, the best of comrades.

At the village of Valley Ford we entered Sonoma County, and at the same time bade adieu once more to sight and sound of railways for two hundred miles or so. Some distance up the coast I saw a dark ridge of timber which I guessed to mark the commencement of that great tree belt which lines the shores of northern California and merges in the colossal forests of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

The country I was now passing through is preëminently the land of chickens. At each farm I saw rows of little structures like English bathing-machines, and the hillsides about these chicken villages were all alive with the cackling and shouting citizens. The white varieties of poultry seem to have all the preference, and they make an interesting show. A few miles to the east is the city of Petaluma, the California metropolis of fowls.

A circuitous hilly road brought us round to the head of Bodega Bay, — a lagoon rather than a bay, and all but landlocked; and in another mile, after crossing a stream called Salmon Creek, we emerged at ocean edge. The coast was of low cliffs with a fringe of seaweed-covered rocks that were crowded with gulls and pelicans, these last in their usual state of profound dyspepsia.

The color-scheme in general had become of late one vast simplicity of drab and blue. The last tinge of verdure had vanished months ago, except in cultivated spots or small damp areas, and barren hills and clear sky shared the universe between them, or admitted the sea into partnership without breaking the duality of color. It was becoming almost an obsession with me, and I looked forward with zest to the coming in of the forest element.

It was getting late, and there was no prospect of finding a lodging, when a little creek with a faint trickle of water and a trifle of pasturage offered the chance of camping for the night. This was now an unusual boon, and I did not let it escape. I ate my supper by the light of a moon near the full, and with a first-rate coyote concert for entertainment. This was like old times, and seemed almost touching, so long was it since I had heard one. The night was cold, with a very heavy dew, but I found a few stumps of buckeye and made a fair camp-fire. Then, blanketing and picketing Anton, I turned in with my feet to the fire, and peacefully smoked myself to sleep.

IMAGE: On Russian River

ON RUSSIAN RIVER
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

We were early on the road next day, for I was eager to reach that timbered ridge that had been slowly coming nearer. I guessed that the Russian River must run on the nearer side, and an hour's travel brought us to a high bank overlooking this fine stream. It was much the largest river that I had met on the way up the coast, and seemed to mark the clear climatic difference between the central and southern regions of the State, and the northern, which may be considered as beginning in this latitude. The scene had an additional interest from its connection with the brief adventure of the Russians on this part of the Pacific seaboard, a century ago. At the mouth of this river, which they called the Slavianka, was a settlement of theirs subsidiary to the principal one at Fort Ross. I sat some time enjoying the fine views up and down the handsome winding stream, whose gleaming surface was broken every moment by the flash of leaping fish.

A mile upstream I found a platform ferry by which we crossed. This was another experience for Anton. He was particularly interested in a row-boat that happened to come near us, thinking, no doubt, that a creature who moved his legs in that extraordinary horizontal fashion must be an unmitigated monster, whom it would be wise to keep an eye upon until we got ashore.

A road along the north bank of the river brought us soon back to the shore. The usual sand-bar blocked the mouth of the stream, and huge tree-trunks lay strewed about the beach or were churning among the sharp rocks that guard the coast. At a microscopic settlement called Jenner, consisting of a small lumber concern and a post-office, the road began to climb a long ascent. Dairy-ranches appeared at long intervals, and at one of these, where I got into conversation with the Italian proprietor, I was invited to share in the midday macaroni. When it appeared that I had stayed with relatives of theirs down the coast, a flask of their best Chianti was produced in my honor.

Fine vistas opened to north and south as we climbed. The coast here is quite similar to that of the Santa Lucia region. There are the same broad slopes of mountain, marked with isolated blocks of timber; the same broken line of bay and cape, fringed everywhere with islets; the same almost oppressive sense of the ocean, whether seen or unseen, stretching ever in vast uniformity away to the west. Here, however, there was less of fog: for days together the sea lay under a sky of clearest blue, and evening after evening the setting sun drew a sword of blazing brass across the infinite plain of water.

We had a long and tiring climb before we came at length to the timber. Then we stopped and rested long and deeply. The view was almost impossibly perfect. All about were grouped redwoods, oaks, bays, madroños, and spruces of magnificent growth. Between their red and green and purple stems there stretched to east and north a wide extent of hilly country golden with sun-bleached grass or dark with purple areas of forest. To the west I caught glimpses of dazzling sea; and southward I looked down upon the coast I had travelled during that and the previous day, brilliant with blue of deep and green of shoal water, or flashing to sudden blaze of surf on headland, cape, and bay. Before I was ready to move on, the sun had set in an effulgence of noble color, rosying the golden hills, reddening the great shafts of the trees, and for a few wonderful moments deepening the plain of the sea to an imperial splendor of purple. High over all, masses of flaming crimson, like banners of archangels, floated across the western sky.

In the gathering dusk I rode on through the forest, and came at dark to a comfortable wayside inn at a hamlet called Seaview. Here I stayed the night, and the next morning took the cross-road down to the coast. It was another glorious morning of Indian summer. The ocean lay far below under a cool stratum of fog, while around us shone a powerful sun that called out the forest scents in unusual variety. Golden showers of seed from the spruces drifted down the shafts of sunlight; squirrels, jays, and quail were abroad on pleasure or business; and the world looked as young as if it had been created overnight.

Three miles at a steep descent brought us to the coast at Old Fort Ross. This was the principal settlement made by the Russians on the California sea-board. That brief but interesting passage of history began with the building here, in 1812, of a fortified trading-post by the Russian-American Fur Company. It seems plain, from the strength of the fort, and its furnishing with something like forty cannon, that there was a purpose of holding the region permanently for Russia, against the nominal sovereignty of Spain, whose rule to the north of San Francisco had not at that time become effective by actual settlement. The history of Fort Ross was marked by constant protests from first the Spanish and then the Mexican Government, who were naturally suspicious of the intentions of the Russians. The friction continued long after the Russian Government, by the treaty of 1824, had bound itself against any acquisition of territory on this coast south of the memorable "fifty-four forty"; and at last, in 1841, the adventurers were glad to find in Captain Sutter a purchaser for their troublesome claims, and to retire to their northern possessions in Alaska.

Some reminders of the Russian incident are to be seen. A part of the heavy twelve-foot stockade is still standing, and the old church was in fair condition until the great earthquake of 1906 shook it down. I found the roof, with its quaint cupola and belfry, intact, though fallen and resting on the ground. The great hewn joists and rafters are sound, and the hand-wrought nails that spike them together are still doing duty. The commandant's house (which now serves as a hotel for chance visitors), with a diminutive post-office, a small wharf, and half a dozen miscellaneous dwellings, make up the whole of the place. The population consists of some two or three dozen people, about one-third as many as vacated it seventy years ago when the Russians departed.

A pious Fort Rossian, whose boyhood had been spent here, had undertaken to try to repair the old church, and had called upon the people of the locality to assemble, on the day that I was there, for the purpose of starting the work. The appeal seemed to be in vain, for only two or three had arrived before I left, and those had come, I fear, mainly with an eye to the dance which had been promised to wind up the event in the evening.

About noon I took the road, which now again closely followed the coast. Picturesque pines of the muricata species appeared, standing gaunt and wind-blown on the cliffs or kneeling in odd postures on rocky coigns and headlands. At Timber Cove quantities of railway ties and tan-bark were piled on the bluff awaiting shipment, and in another pretty little bay a steam schooner was loading with lumber for the south. Without warning a cold fog came driving in, bringing a drop of thirty degrees of temperature in a few moments. The sea rose under a strong northwest wind, and through rifts of the fog I could dimly see a turmoil of surf arising beyond the black forms of rock and pine.

The road was over a bracken-covered moorland with a sprinkling of small oaks and madroños, and broken by frequent cañons dark with twisted and tousled redwoods. This tree has a way of throwing out, when stunted, a thatch of foliage so close and matted as to be quite impervious to light. The effect of a company of these freakish individuals, under conditions of storm or half-light, is weird in the extreme.

Towards evening we entered a dense growth of pines, and finding water and a little pasturage I determined to camp. The fog was raw and the wind chilly, but I set up my little shelter tent, made a rousing fire, and spent a delightful evening, with a symphony of wind and water that was really quite Wagnerian. The effect was heightened by the fantastic appearance of the pines, which showed in blackest silhouette against a sky of murky gray (for the moon was full, though obscured). Their uncanny shapes, together with the boom of surf, the roar of wind, the croaking of frogs, and the dismal predictions of the owls, combined to form a sort of Walpurgis Night, that made a background for the wildest of dreams when at last I turned in and got to sleep.

I broke camp early, meaning to make up to Anton for his rather meagre forage by a good feed at Stewart's Point, a few miles farther on. The morning was foggy, but the wind had changed to south and smelled decidedly like rain. It was not long before we were enveloped in a thick drizzle. The road led along the cliff, and as the sea rose with the increasing wind the scene became constantly more fascinating, and the downpour of rain which soon developed could not damp my admiration, though my poor Anton showed plainly that he found it depressing. The surges came swinging in with sullen magnificence of gray, to burst like bombs against the cliffs, rush wildly up their faces, and fall back in torrents of hail-like spray. The waves came from the northwest, and the wind, now blowing from the opposite quarter, stripped off the crest of each succeeding roller in a wavering veil of spume. Half a mile offshore two little steamers were beating doggedly southward, their bows plunging every moment into a smother of white water. In spite of the heavy rain I was fain to halt from time to time and rejoice in the uproar, while my companion, with no such inward glows, stood dripping, drooping, and disgusted.

On my right, timbered mountains showed momentarily through the wrack, and were hardly less attractive than the tumult of the sea. How much more interesting this world becomes when for a time it throws off the placidity of age and returns to the passion and stress of its younger nature! Few of us see enough of those episodes, I am sure, though we may think we do. Whenever I meet one I find myself hoping that it may yet be my lot to pass a year or two in some region of almost perpetual storm; where sunshine will be a phenomenon, color will be reduced to the all-satisfying range of the grays, and sound limited to the solemn fugue of wind and sweeping rain.

An unpleasant result of the present rain, however, was that it soon made the road almost impassable. The soil happened to be the stiffest kind of clay, which balled up on Anton's feet, and made the travelling slow, difficult, and annoying. I dismounted, and led him mile after mile, while the rain poured down without cessation, and soaked man, beast, blankets, saddle-bags, and all. It was nearly noon when we reached Stewards Point, where there is a fair-sized settlement, with store, inn, and cable-landing. I saw my horse dry and happy with his hay, and then spent an hour revolving and steaming before the bar-room fire.

The industry of this place, as of all the country hereabout, is lumbering. As it was Sunday, no work was going on, and the rain had sent the entire population to the saloon, where three poker games were in progress. Money passed freely, and by no means all I saw was as low as silver. They were a cosmopolitan lot. I could distinguish Mexicans, Indians, Irishmen, Germans, and Swedes, besides Americans. The thirst was general and unremitting, and the language frightful, even for "lumber-jacks." I suppose that most of these poor fellows saw no more harm in the hideous oaths they rapped out every moment than we see in reading the newspaper. Rheumatic twinges sent me early to bed, and I awoke to find a clear sun shining and an Indian squaw looking seriously in at my window.

I left early, but not before a mild game of poker was under way. The wind was still rough, and the sea made a fine spectacle, though now a glory of blue had succeeded to the greater splendor of gray. There were lovely little bays with bright seas thundering in; vistas of headland beyond headland where the white sea-wolves were tearing incessantly at the land; and everywhere the cliffs were ranked with green and singing pines. I passed one or two cottages gay with cosmos and chrysanthemums, these latter not the gorgeous triumphs of the up-to-date florist, but the old, simple, heart-entangling clusters of yellow, magenta, and golden brown.

Twelve miles, and I came to a handsome stream, deep, slow, wide, and green, the Gualala River. The little town of the same name, on the north bank, was depressed and depressing, most of its buildings closed and decaying. Five years ago the lumber-mill, which was the be-all and end-all of the place, was burned down, and Gualala threw up its hands and sank into despair. The barber-postmaster-shoe-maker, with whom I had business in his official capacity, observed as he lathered a gloomy patron that this was the last time: he had "had enough of this denied place." and was going to "light out for some liver burg." When I inquired where he meant to go he paused a moment with suspended razor to consider: then answered, with sardonic emphasis, that he guessed he would go to Greenland.