CALIFORNIA COAST TRAILS
CHAPTER VIII

Arboreal strangers — A squally evening — Roadside camp and company — An incongruity: church as barn — The village of Naples — The Refugio Pass — More pleasant Mexicans: Bernardito the Jolly — Crossing the Santa Ynez Mountains — A wonderful landscape — Wild flowers, and the madroño — Las Lomas de la Purificacion — A land of great oaks — Fording the Santa Ynez River.

WE left Santa Barbara on a Monday afternoon, both man and horse well rested. From here the coast runs almost due westerly for fifty miles to Point Conception, the elbow, or, as Dana calls it, "the Cape Horn of California, where it begins to blow the first of January, and blows all the year round." Here again I found it advisable to take the county road, a short distance inland, for a few miles, to escape some extensive sloughs that occur in the neighborhood of Goleta Point, and in winter furnish the sportsmen of Santa Barbara with goodly bags of ducks.

A few miles out, at the village of La Patera, I was overtaken by a young fellow on horseback who was leading three other horses. One of them was a handsome three-year-old, full of fire and nerves, who danced about in excitement at every automobile that passed, and seemed likely to drag the rider out of his saddle. I offered to take the halter-ropes of the other two animals, so we rode on together and fell into conversation.

Miles of eucalyptus trees have been planted hereabouts, in groves and along the roadsides, and I learned from my companion that we were passing through the ranch of Mr. Elwood Cooper, to whom California is indebted as the pioneer both of this useful tree and also largely of the olive. One of the attractions of travel in this State is that so many of its products have a geographical association with some distant land of origin. It is as pleasant — perhaps more so — to encounter constantly some arboreal Australian, or Greek, or Persian, or Algerine, as it would be to meet the human representatives of those countries. When you see a pomegranate you are likely to think of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; and the "green-bursting figs" among their broad dark leaves remind one of Matthew Arnold's "merry Grecian coasters," or the "grave Tyrian trader," who

                    "unbent sails
There, where down cloudy cliffs, through sheets of foam,
Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians come;
      And on the beach undid his corded bales."

The day had been partly cloudy, with a gusty wind and the possibility of a sprinkle of rain. As we rode down a long avenue of eucalyptus, a squall of wind came from the west, rushing like something solid down the tunnel-like road, and filling the air with dust, twigs, and even sizable branches. Following it came a lively spatter of rain, and as it was nearly evening the question of a camp became interesting. My companion was bound for a ranch in one of the canons a few miles ahead: my business was to find the best shelter I could, subject to Chino's necessities of water and pasturage.

A mile or two farther on we came to Tecolote Cañon, where a good stream crossed the road, and a broken fence gave access to a triangle of grass beneath some sycamores. Here I handed the horses over to my friend, and proceeded to such acts of trespass as were necessary to my comfort. My poncho, stretched between two trees, made a fair wind-break for myself, and Chino was quartered in a sheltered spot among good feed. The rain ceased about sundown, and I ate supper quite comfortably, amused by the remarks of two parties of automobilists who exclaimed at the phenomenon of a tramp reading a book by candlelight while he ate his (of course) stolen victuals. As a rule the sight of Chino as a part of my belongings gave me a better standing in the eyes of passers-by when my camp was near the road; but this time he was not in view, and I had to bear all the odium that justly falls to the man who eats and sleeps by roadsides.

A camp-fire here was not practicable, so I turned in early and lay smoking and listening to a symposium of the owls which have given the cañon its name. The wind had ceased, and a few drops of rain had fallen again as I was spreading my blankets, so my dispositions were made with a view to a possible wet night. However, the first thing that came to my eyes when I awoke after sleeping some hours was the friendly twinkle of stars between the leaves overhead.

I was up at the first sign of dawn, and found that during the night another traveller had arrived, and was now sleeping diligently under a tree on the other side of the creek. He — I supposed it was a he — was wrapped in an old red quilt, and an antique straw hat covered his face. A small tin pail lay near by, and his pillow was the sack which held his remaining effects. I was careful not to awake him by my manoeuvres with the coffee-pot, but made an extra allowance of the beverage; and seeing that he was still sleeping when I was ready to march, I quietly crept over and left a pint or so of hot coffee in his pail, with a "whang" (as Stevenson would say) of bread, a couple of apples, and part of a can of tobacco alongside. As I was turning away it occurred to me to leave my card beside the little legacy; and to round out the matter I pencilled on the back Whitman's lines —

"Camarado . . .
Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
It is to grow in the open air and eat and sleep with the earth."

I reckon my friend had some puzzled moments over his breakfast.

It was a delicious morning. The road passed among rolling hills of freshly cut grain, broken by frequent cañons dark with oaks and dotted with notable sycamores. In one deep cañon a giant laurel, more than two feet in diameter of stem, filled the whole air with a stimulating scent of bay, and everywhere a multitude of aromatic herbs and shrubs diffused sweet or pungent odors. The purple sea lay to the left at a quarter-mile distance, and on the right the long wall of the Santa Ynez Mountains supplied a constant entertainment of light and color.

As we approached the village of Naples a novelty appeared in the landscape in the shape of a square church tower, of Norman style, and apparently built of stone. Standing on a hill-top it was strikingly visible long before the village, which lies in a hollow, came in view. I made up my mind that it would turn out to be of cunningly painted wood, or else of plaster; but on a near approach it proved to be of veritable stone, and point-device even to the gargoyles. It had an incongruous look, standing there in a sea of yellow mustard. I was told that it had been built by a former resident of the locality, and that its present use was as a storage place for hay!

The village of Naples was a pleasant surprise. From its ambitious name I expected to see some spick-and-span modern resort. I found instead a half-score of old whitewashed buildings, the cottages smothered in flowers, and the hotel so engagingly simple and out-of-date that I longed to put up there. A brook runs down to the sea through a verdurous cañon of willows and sycamores, and the road up the hill beyond was bordered with giant prickly-pears looped with pink and white convolvulus. The mowers were at work on the hillsides, working round and round the knolls like barbers. I never felt any special calling to a farmer's life; yet now I felt that I could be brought to accept one of these generous, slumberous, oak-shaded estates, with sea and mountains handy for purposes of recreation.

We travelled all the morning through this dreamy landscape. Houses were few, and population appeared to be almost nil. The sea seemed unpopulated, too; no sail or streamer of smoke broke the infinite creep of the water, and the surf, half a mile away, made only a vague, wide murmur, that filled the air like a thicker kind of sunlight. At long intervals I saw a ranch-hand or two at work in the fields, but seldom within hailing distance, and I passed, like "the lonely seabird, . . . with one waft of the wing."

A few miles to the north, beyond the ridge of mountains whose foothills now rose close upon the water's edge, was the Mission of Santa Ines. I wished to see all of these relics of California's early days that lay near my route, so, finding here a road that crossed the mountains by way of the Refugio Pass, I struck inland. A good stream ran down the cañon, and as evening was near I kept a watch for a camping-place. Barbed-wire fences held me to the road for a mile or two, but at last I came to a path that led to a lonely school-house. Remembering my rights as a taxpayer I entered the gate and found, a little distance upstream, a good spot under sycamores, with abundant fodder adjacent. I earned my supper from the stream, and cooked and ate it heartlessly on the bank in plain view of the relatives of the eaten, while doves cooed melodiously and coyotes raised doleful hymns to the rising moon.

Next morning I continued up the cañon, which is a winding and very beautiful one, shaded with oaks and sycamores of the finest. After a few miles the road leaves the bottom and begins the long climb to the ridge. Just where the ascent commences I found a mountain farm. On the window of the house was painted the proprietor's name and the word Comidas, signifying "Meals." The place was rustic and inviting, and I tied Chino to the gatepost and entered.

A pleasant Mexican woman with a rollicking baby answered my knock. Certainly she could cook me a meal, but, "Ay,señor! nothing is there in the house but eggs, with bread and coffee." I wanted nothing better, and seated myself at the table for proof. In a few minutes she returned with my eggs, deliciously cooked in oil that came, I learned, from the olive trees in the hillside orchard. Presently the husband came in, carrying Bernardito the Jolly, and they all sat down for a chat while I ate.

They were both of middle age, but had only been married a year or two, and it was delightful to see his pride in her and their love and enthusiasm for the baby. His admirable qualities — and he was all admirable — were pointed out carefully to me, and I was charged to report them every one to a compatriot of the husband's who lived in the next county: — how strong he was, and how big! his hair, so long for only ten months! his three small teeth with which already he would bite his father's work-hardened finger, behold! as if he were a little pig, the chica! And so on, pouring out their simple love in all friendliness. Altogether, I do not know when I have more enjoyed a meal than my dish of eggs at that rough plank table with these good people.

We now took our way up the steep slope. The mountain-side faced the south, and had no shade. and the sun was at its hottest. Not so hot, however, as the desert sun of our previous summer, as I reminded Chino when we halted for breath. As we climbed, the view opened finely and became constantly more striking. Even in California it would not be easy to match that superb panorama. A foreground of flowery brush fell away steeply into a purple mystery of mountain and cañon, dreaming in the wistful haze of summer: at five miles' distance the infinite plain of sea shone softly under the southern sun; far out the islands of the channel showed like fairy isles, mere shadow shapes of darker tone against the pallid blue of the horizon. Right and left ran the high, wavering crest of the Santa Ynez, with here and there a sentinel pine breaking the ease of the long undulations.

On nearing the summit oaks began to appear, often surrounded with lakelets of tender grass, interesting to Chino. Here I found growing freely the lovely globe-tulip (Calochortus albus), a white saint of a flower, all ethereal gentleness and tranquillity, the purest looking blossom I know. I think a pirate would look at it with reverence. With it grew many other flowering plants, — nemophilas, geraniums, marguerites, brodiæas, anemones, collinsias, making little floral sanctuaries among the rough and thorny world of the brush. About the pass the oaks became larger, and among them grew a few beautiful madroños. This great arbutus is one of the most striking of Western trees, handsome in leaf, blossom, and fruit, and especially noticeable for its smooth stem of satiny buff or red. The long, gleaming arms make a gallant appearance amid the sombre olive of oak and pine, and with its tassels of scarlet berries the tree looks well equal to the part of "Captain of the Western Wood," for which Bret Harte nominated it.

While I rested by a spring, eating wild strawberries and noting where the deer had lately left their imprints, four Mexican children came by on their way from school, as they told me. Their temple of learning must be of the smallest, for I had seen no house except one deserted adobe since I left my lunch place, three hours before.

Crossing the divide, we turned down the northern face of the mountain through a splendid woodland of oak, laurel, madroño, and maple. A roaring stream, Ballard Creek, ran in a deep cañon below the road. We marched rapidly down the steep descent. The sun was setting, and pools of solemn shadow crept in among the golden hills, the Lomas de la Purificacion, that opened before me. How beautiful are these Spanish names! They seem to throw a cloistral quiet, an eremitical calm, over the wide, sunny landscapes. One would think that angels had chosen them.

I found an excellent camping-place on a little bench of land above the stream. The moon was full, with light of that warm, almost orange, color that one sometimes sees in summer. It was late before I could bring myself to turn in, and then I lay for a long time enjoying a moon-bath, and watching the swaying pennons of Spanish moss that hung from the great oak overhead. Chino was tethered in a foot-high growth of clover, and put me to sleep at last with the rhythm of his molars.

This part of California is preëminently the land of oaks. My road next day, following the same cañon a few miles farther, passed through a park-like country where every oak seemed to reach the full magnificence of its type. The foliage swelled out in exuberance of glossiest green, and the convex of every leaf was burnished like metal. Between the trees the ground was covered with heavy-headed grasses, and the cattle stood gazing helplessly out over leagues of waving pasturage.

The cañon at length opened into the valley of the Santa Ynez River, which here, thirty miles from its mouth, and after two months of the rainless summer, was a small stream, twenty yards or so in width, winding from side to side of a sandy waste which in time of heavy rain fills to a torrent. I spent an hour in searching for the road which my map showed as following the south bank. It had been washed away in the spring floods, and we made six fords before finding a place where we could climb the opposite bank. Good luck led me to the very spot I wanted. We scrambled up a thirty-foot cliff of crumbling soil, and in a few minutes I dismounted at the door of the Mission.