CALIFORNIA COAST TRAILS
CHAPTER IX

Mission Santa Ines — Mission hospitality — Quaint relics — An operatic departure — The Gaviota Pass — Magnificent oaks and sycamores — The Nojogui waterfall — Sea-fogs — A travelling emporium — Las Cruces — An adventure with quicksand — Voices of the sea — Evicted by the tide — Sea-birds, and a rattlesnake — A sunset island.

AT Mission Santa Ines (to give the name its proper form) I proved for myself one virtue for which the Catholic Church has always been famed, — its hospitality to travellers. The Mission is under the charge of Father Alexander Buckler, a whole-souled Teuton from the Lower Rhine. His extensive parish keeps him much on the move, but, luckily for the Mission, the Father is a man of taste, and has chosen for headquarters this lonely old church, where he has fitted up a suite of the dusky, cell-like rooms for his dwelling. I found him among the roses of the tiled corridor, explained my presence, and asked permission to camp for the night in the meadow near by. "Camp!" he echoed; "why, can't you sleep in a bed?" And straightway led me off to a plainly but comfortably fitted room, and detailed Chino to the stable and a well-filled manger. Then he was sure I must be hungry, so, his housekeeper being away, he ransacked the larder to find me a meal. Whether I were Catholic, Protestant, or Mohammedan, Quaker, Shaker, or Supra-lapsarian, was all one to him: I was a traveller, and a guest of St. Agnes I must be.

I learned that the room assigned to me had once been the quarters of the comandante, when, after the secularization of the Mission, one half of the then remaining building had been taken by the civil authorities and put to the use of jail, blacksmith-shop, or whatever other purpose it would serve. I heard also that in my bed an Indian who was murdered a few years ago near by had breathed his last. But no ghost disturbed my sleep, and I awoke next morning to the strains of the "Romance in F," played by the good Father out of compliment, because I had happened to mention a special liking for Schumann. (The Father is an enthusiast in music. He played the organ when four years of age, and performed in public at twelve; and often his piano is heard by the owls of Santa Ines at the most abnormal hours.)

I was able to be of some service to the Father in photographic matters, and spent three days in his cheerful society. Lying, as this Mission does, away from the main lines of travel, it has suffered less than many of its sisters from the vandals, and is a veritable museum of objects historical, ecclesiastical, and quaint. Here are rusty little cannon, with obsolete muskets, pistols, and swords; branding-irons that once marked St. Agnes's flocks and herds; candlesticks in formidable array; portentous locks and complicated keys; parchment scores of church music, with the old square notes; antique tomes of baptisms, marriages, and burials, adorned with wonderful rubrics and bound in rawhide; and a host of vessels of ritual and clerical what-not.

I was amused at a vast umbrella of yellow silk, with which the padres of bygone days shielded their reverend pates from the sun on their long marches afoot (for the strict Franciscan rule debarred the use of horse or ass). Still more droll was a little Madonna of wood, a foot or so high, with a painfully commonplace expression of face, but a quizzical look in the eye that was highly comic. She was dressed in stiff figured damask, with a kind of hilarious little cloak that stood out all about her, and a battered straw hat one or two sizes too large. The good Father was not a whit offended at my mirth over the absurd little figure, and explained that it was the special pride of his Indian flock. When he removed it once from its place in the church, where it had stood for many years, they objected strenuously, and would not rest until it was brought back. After all, perhaps one might better envy than laugh at such admirable simplicity.

Of the building itself there remains, as in the case of most of the Missions, only enough to suggest the extent and beauty of the original structure. Santa Ines suffered an additional disaster when, in the heavy rains of the spring of 1911, the bell-tower and several of the buttresses of the church wall suddenly crumbled away and fell in a chaos of adobes and tiling into the little cemetery. The bells themselves, all of dates early in the last century, fortunately were unharmed, even to their huge ornamental caps of sycamore. Through the energy of Father Buckler the damage has already been repaired, and in enduring concrete. At Easter of this year a special service, ushered in with a great ringing of the bells. was held to celebrate the event.

My departure from Santa Ines was in the operatic manner, for I rode away to the imposing strains of the "Pilgrims' Chorus," which the Father thought an appropriate valedictory. It was a superb morning. with the highlands of the San Rafael Range to the north glowing like a wall of opal under a sky of ethereal blue. I now turned again toward the coast, taking a road which crosses the mountains by the Gaviota Pass. a few miles to the west of the one by which I had come.

I was more than ever delighted by the beauty of this region, which for mile on mile is a literal park of undulating hill-land decorated with kingly oaks many of which must be full twenty feet in girth of stem. Along the watercourses grew sycamores commensurate in size. which gave the name of Alisal to this grant. A mild wind blew from the north, and before it the waves of shining grass flowed past in rich volume. Doves called and jays chuckled from every tree, and quail ran nimbly before us down the road. Chino, well rested and fortified with hay and grain, was in good fettle, and marched along gaily, noting the green landscape with an approving eye.

I had been told of a pretty waterfall on the Nojogui, a tributary of the Santa Ynez, and turned aside to see it. It is in a deep wooded cañon, half a mile to the south of the road: a straight, perpendicular, slender drop of about one hundred feet, such as in England would be called a "ghyll," or "force." With its bordering of dripping maidenhair fern it makes a charming sight. "Nojogui," I have been told, is Indian for honeymoon, and there is a legend of an Indian brave who, honeymooning here with his bride, was carried over the fall and killed. I never find that these stories that go with waterfalls like premiums with magazines add much to the beauty of the scene; and, moreover, this particular stream is such a slight affair that one cannot help thinking the brave must have been something of a duffer. However, as waterfall pure and simple the sight is pretty enough.

We had travelled so easily that it was close upon sunset when we reached the pass. Just beyond the summit I made camp under some oaks in a hollow where a small stream ran. The forage was unusually good, a thick mat of burr-clover almost a foot high. Chino affectionately rubbed his nose about in it in sheer joy, and ripped away with sighs of pleasure. I was not so well provided. The stream was so strong of alkali that the tea curdled in the boiling water; the best place I could find for sleeping slanted unpleasantly; and the south wind brought in such a dense fog from the sea that by morning my oilskin top-covering was like a hydrographic model, with watersheds, creeks, main streams, and reservoirs all in detail. However, I made my morning coffee doubly strong to offset the alkali and ward off what people used to call the "humours."

It must be by virtue of these dense and frequent fogs that the oaks of this coast region grow to such rare perfection. By this means they not only receive the necessary moisture for growth, which the roots would supply, but are enabled often actually to bathe and revel in it. They have not only bread, but wine; are comforted as well as fed; and their plump and cheerful faces reflect their enjoyment.

Soon after we took the road I saw two wagons toiling toward me up the grade. When we met, the drivers pulled up their horses for a chat. They had come from Ventura, where they had a saddlery-shop, and were "just taking in the country" (a peculiar idiom that always amuses me) and doing a little business as they went, to pay expenses. With this in view, they offered to sell me, in turn, a horse, oranges, a horsehair riata, a revolver, neckties, a saddle, a brace of rabbits, and, finally, some astounding chromographs. Then they inquired my own "line," and at once suggested that I should do a little advertising for them in my books. For this they were willing to pay (I suppose in rabbits or neckties). They were puzzled, but not offended. when I replied that that would be impossible, but supplied me with some printed cards which I was to "kinder drop around in hotels and sich places." I made a half-hearted promise, bought a few oranges, and so escaped.

At the village of Las Cruces, where I arrived about midday, I got an excellent meal at the cottage of an old Spanish woman where I had been told I might purchase bread. Her heart was enlarged over me when she heard that I had been the guest of the good Father at Santa Ines, to whom she is parishioner and friend. I am always glad when I can get entertainment with these friendly Spanish and Mexican folk, and relish it far beyond the pretentious hotel "hospitality" of towns.

From Las Cruces the road turned directly south, following a picturesque gorge whose precipitous walls carried a wonderful growth of ferns, flowering shrubs, and herbage, mingled with huge creamy candle-flames of yucca. A lively stream rushes among rocks and boulders that break it into pleasant music. A pipe-line, carrying oil from the wells some miles inland to the refinery at Alcatraz, near by on the coast, does its best to spoil the cañon at its prettiest point, though I suppose it seems an adornment to the gentlemen who own stock in the concern.

A turn of the road brought me rather unexpectedly within sight of the sea, and I soon came again to the shore at Gaviota, not many miles west of the spot where I had left it. A group of farm buildings and a dingy house showing the sign "Gaviota Hotel and Store" stood at the mouth of the cañon, but I saw no living being except a melancholy hound and, in the distance, a mounted man charging about as he rounded up a band of horses.

The coast road from this point west for ten or twelve miles is little more than a track, and that of the roughest kind, quite impossible for wheeled vehicles. There was a fence across the path, and a notice was posted that travellers must take the beach. I rode down to the shore, but when I saw that a little farther on the tide was washing up to the base of the cliffs I turned back, found a way through the fence, and trespassed on my way.

The country hereabout is monotonous and unattractive. Low undulating hills run for mile on mile, treeless, and scanty even of brush, and the cañons are dry and shadeless. We marched some miles before finding water, and I resolved to camp at the first creek I should see. At last I came to one, which afforded good pasturage also; and, dismounting, I led Chino down toward the beach, where I noticed a little bench of green grass at the mouth of the cañon and on the very edge of the shore sand.

Here the expedition narrowly escaped disaster. The inwash of the tide, meeting the water of the creek, had formed an area, a sort of pit, of quicksand. This we had to cross in order to reach the beach, and in a moment, without warning, I was up to my middle, and Chino, following close behind. plunged in beside and almost upon me. On the instant I threw myself backward, and tried to work myself out, but the sand clogged me as if it were liquid, lead, and I could not reach back with my hands to where the solid ground would give me support. Chino, meanwhile, was struggling desperately but helplessly, the heavy saddle-bags and other articles of his load weighing him down so that he was already half covered.

By great good fortune the cañon wall was near by, not over eight feet away. It was of weathered rock, soft and shaly, and I thought that if I could anyhow work over to it I could get grip enough on it to support myself. It seemed an impossible thing to do, with that fatal sand clasping and weighing me down. but I attempted it.

I remember that, as I struggled, a horror of the commonplace sunlit evening flashed over me, and, with it, the thought that no one would ever know what had happened to me, for there would be no trace, no clue. That horrible sand would close over me, the sun would shine on the spot, the roar of waves would go on unbroken; I should simply cease to be. I think I wondered whether there would not be any way of telling my friends; but I am not sure whether that thought came then, or in thinking it over afterwards.

All this can only have taken a very short time. during which I was struggling to reach the rocky wall. At last my fingers scraped the rock, and gradually I was able to draw myself backwards to firm ground. Then I ran round by the solid beach sand, crossing the creek, and came back to Chino. He had stopped struggling, but lay over on his side, and had sunk so that one of the saddle-bags was quite out of sight. Blood, too, was spattered all about him.

Coming as close as was safe behind him, I gradually loosened as much of his load as I could reach. Then I caught his rope and tried to get him to exert himself. For some time he made no move, and I thought he must have broken his off-side foreleg on a half-buried snag of dead wood that projected above the sand. Again and again I tried to get him to move, but he still lay on his side, drawing great gasping breaths, and I about decided I should have to shoot him where he lay. But I made a last effort, shouting and hauling at him with all my strength, until I literally forced him to bestir himself: when, putting my last ounce into it, I pulled and shouted, refusing to allow him to relax his efforts for a moment, and gradually working his head round somewhat toward where I stood. With a final wild spasm he scrambled up on to the dry, hard sand, and stood snorting and trembling pitifully, bespattered with blood and utterly exhausted.

I was vastly relieved to find that the blood was coming from his mouth and nostrils. He had broken some small blood-vessel in his first struggles. I took off the saddle and led him carefully over to a grassy spot, where I washed out his mouth and then gave him a thorough rubbing-down; and within half an hour I had the satisfaction of seeing my staunch companion of so many days and nights feeding with equanimity and even enthusiasm.

The incident was sufficiently dangerous to give me a lesson in caution, as well as cause for hearty thankfulness. There was not the slightest hint of treachery in the appearance of the sand, but thereafter I went warily in all doubtful places. I ransacked my rescued saddle-bags and made a rare supper to celebrate the adventure. As the bags were strongly made, and waterproofed, the contents had not been much damaged. Then I ran up my sleeping-tent, in view of the fog which I could see advancing from the sea. I chose a place on a little shelf of dry sand, sheltered by the angle of the cañon wall, and apparently above high-water mark by a safe though narrow margin. Then in the dusk I gathered a pile of driftwood and made a royal fire, by which I sat until long after dark, listening with more than usual enjoyment to the tinkle of Chino's bell and the manifold voices of the sea.

There seemed that night to be an unusual variety in the sound of the surf. Intervals of dramatic silence were broken suddenly by roars as if huge bodies of water were being dropped from some great height. Then would come a long, sibilant swish, which, after subsiding to rippling murmurs, ended startlingly with a thump, fortissimo. Occasionally, in the midst of a long whisper there would come a smart clap, followed by little quarrellings, and shudderings, and sighs, almost of human quality of tone. The ordinary sounds of the breakers, the steady pound, boom, and clatter, pound, boom, and clatter, seemed not to be in evidence.

The entertainment was so interesting that it drew me down to the water's edge. When I passed beyond the light of the fire, I found a new fascination in the pale sea-flame that hovered and raced up and down my quarter-mile of beach as the rollers broke in ghostly phosphorescence. Then a steamer, three or four miles out, passed on her way up coast, her lights shining genially across the black void of water. I fancied that some lover and lass, leaning together over the bulwarks, might be watching my twinkling beacon, and I went back and threw on another log to brighten the blaze, in the hope that the beam might stimulate my swain to some urgency, or some pretty fancy, that should bring a happy climax to his wooing.

When at last I felt in mood to turn in, I noticed that the tide had made a long advance toward my tent; but I felt sure that it was close upon its turn and that I could hold my ground. Still, as there seemed just a possibility of trouble, I did not undress to my usual camping limit, but got into my blankets partly dressed, and soon fell asleep. I suppose I had slept about half an hour when I awoke with an uneasy feeling that the water was coming too near. Looking out, I saw that the stronger waves were sending their fans of foam quietly up to within a few feet of me, leaving a very slight rise of beach before they would wash against and undermine my little shelf of sand. There seemed to be still a "sporting chance" that I should be safe, and I lay down again; but the thought of awaking next time to find myself swamped and the tent collapsing over me was so annoying that I could not sleep and resolved to move.

To go farther back was impossible, for the stream ran only a few yards behind me, so I gathered an armful of my traps and made a bolt in the darkness across the creek, which was already flooding with sea-water, and found a level place among the grass near my horse. I had to make two more flights to and fro to bring over the rest of my belongings, and then. too disgusted to set up the tent again, I made a wind-break of the saddle-bags, rolled myself up in the blankets, and finally got to sleep. My last glance across at the red embers of the fire showed an ambitious wave in the act of washing it out of existence.

In spite of mishaps, the place was so attractive, in its close proximity to the sea and its complete retirement, that I decided to remain for another day. The swallows that haunted the cliffs made the pleasantest of company, flying happily about me, and pursuing the sand-flies almost into the coffee. The weather, too, supplied the one desirable thing, namely, shade, which the camp otherwise lacked; for the fog of the night, lifting but not passing off all day, afforded a delightful temperature, with restful tones of color. It is so that I best love the sea. Its grandeur, its significance, its solemnity, are far more felt than "'neath the all-revealing sun"; and the water itself, deeply, darkly clear, seems more aqueous and elemental.

There was an unusual number of sea-birds hereabouts, and in a walk down the beach I came upon the rocky point which was their home. Hundreds of them sat ranked in demure hierarchy, the shags, who were the most numerous, taking the lowest place, then the white-backed gulls, and, presiding over all with an air of burlesque dignity, a dozen or so pelicans. At my approach the whole company took flight, and in a moment "the winged air was darked with plumes." The clatter of wings was bewildering as they circled once or twice and then streamed off to settle on the belt of kelp which here forms a floating reef unbroken for mile on mile. The flight of the pelican is a wonderful exhibition of ease in motion. I was never tired of watching them gliding in file, smooth, swift, and silent, with no movement of wing for great distances. If ever men attain to such perfection of aeronautics (though that is impossible), I mean to sell my belongings, to my boots, if necessary, and purchase the magic machine.

Returning from my walk, I almost stepped upon a rattlesnake that lay coiled among the driftwood which I had been drawing upon for my fire. He was not a large one, and the calendar in his tail marked only four changes of skin; but I judged that he must die. Mr. Muir, I remember, deprecates killing these creatures, and says that, having once put one to death, he felt himself "degraded by the killing business, farther from heaven." On the other hand, I recalled that when, on the island called Melita, a viper bit the shipwrecked apostle in the hand, he unceremoniously "shook off the beast into the fire." My little reptile was a potential evil-doer also, and on the whole I saw no reason for trying to better such a notable example as that of St. Paul.

At evening the cloud curtain to the south lifted a little from the horizon, and one of the islands of the Channel Group shone out like a great jewel in the light of the setting sun. It was very beautiful, and rather solemn, — the slow lifting of the veil; the magic of the revelation; the silent passage through tone on tone of ethereal color until, when the sun had sunk, the distant isle stood marked in soft, dense purple on a glowing belt of yellow, the only object between gray of cloud and gray of sea. Then came the gradual lowering of the veil again over all. There was something unearthly in the quiet color-action, as if an angel had managed the heavenly display. Indeed, perhaps one had.