Chapter I. The Land and the Name

Once upon a time, about four hundred years ago, there was published in old Spain a novel which soon became unusually popular. The successful story of those days was one which caught the fancy of the men, was read by them, discussed at their gatherings, and often carried with them when they went to the wars or in search of adventures. This particular story would not interest readers of to-day save for this passage: "Know that on the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California, very near the Terrestrial Paradise, and it is peopled by black women who live after the fashion of Amazons. This island is the strongest in the world, with its steep rocks and great cliffs, and there is no metal in the island but gold."

There is no doubt that some bold explorer, crossing over from Spain to Mexico and enlisting under the leadership of the gallant Cortez, sailed the unknown South Sea (the Pacific) and gave to the new land discovered by one of Cortez's pilots the name of the golden island in this favorite story.

This land, thought to be an island, is now known to us as the peninsula of Lower California. The name first appeared in 1542 on the map of Domingo Castillo, and was soon applied to all the land claimed by Spain from Cape San Lucas up the coast as far north as 441, which was probably a little higher than any Spanish explorer had ever sailed.

"Sir Francis Drake," says the old chronicle, "was the first Englishman to sail on the back side of America," and from that time until now California has been considered the back door of the country. This was natural because the first settlements in the United States were along the Atlantic seacoast. The people who came from England kept their faces turned eastward, looking to the Mother Country for help, and watching Europe, and later England herself, as a quarter from which danger might come, as indeed it did in the war of the Revolution and that of 1812.

During the last few years, however, various events have happened to change this attitude. Through its success in the late Spanish war the United States gained confidence in its own powers, while the people of the old world began to realize that the young republic of the western hemisphere, since it did not hesitate to make war in the interests of humanity, would not be apt to allow its own rights to be imposed upon. The coming of the Philippine and Hawaiian Islands under the protection of the United States, the Russo-Japanese war, which opened the eyes of the world to the strength of Japan and the wisdom of securing its trade, and the action of the United States in undertaking the building of the Panama Canal, are indications that the Pacific will in the future support a commerce the greatness of which we of to-day cannot estimate. With danger from European interference no longer pressing closely upon the nation, President Roosevelt in 1907 took a decided step in recognizing the importance of the Pacific when he sent to that coast so large a number of the most modern vessels of the navy. In fact, the nation may now be said to have faced about, California becoming the front door of our country.

It is well, then, to ask ourselves what we know about the state which is to form part of the reception room of one of the leading nations of the world.

It is a long strip of territory, bounded on one side by the ocean so well named Pacific, which gives freshness and moisture to the ever-blowing westerly winds.

On the other side is a mountain range, one thousand miles long, with many of its peaks covered with perpetual snow, holding in its lofty arms hundreds of ice-cold lakes, its sides timbered with the most wonderful forests of the world.

Few regions of the same size have so great a range of altitude as California, some portions of its desert lands being below sea level, while several of its mountains are over ten thousand feet in height. In its climate, too, there are wide differences as regards heat and cold, although its coast lands, whether north or south, are much more temperate than the corresponding latitudes on the Atlantic coast. The difference in the climate of the northern and southern portions of the state is more marked in the matter of moisture. Most of the storms of California have their beginning out in the North Pacific Ocean. They travel in a southeasterly direction, striking the coast far to the north in summer, but in winter extending hundreds of miles farther south. During November, December, January, and February they often reach as far south as the Mexican line. Then, only, does southern California have rain. The water necessary for use in the summer time is gained by irrigation from the mountain streams, which are supplied largely from the melting snows on the Sierras.

The home lands of the state may be divided into two portions: the beautiful border country rising from the Pacific in alternate valleys and low rolling foothills to the edge of the Coast Range; and the great central valley or basin, which lies like a vast pocket almost entirely encircled by mountains the high Sierras on the east, on the west the low Coast Range. Two large rivers with their tributaries drain this valley: the San Joaquin, flowing from the south; and the Sacramento, flowing from the north. Joining near the center of the state, they cut their way through the narrow passage, the Strait of Carquinez, and casting their waters into the beautiful Bay of San Francisco, finally reach the ocean through the Golden Gate.

Down from the Sierras, mighty glaciers carried the soil for this central valley, grinding and pulverizing it as it was rolled slowly along. Many years this process continued. The rain, washing the mountain sides, brought its tribute in the rich soil and decayed vegetation of the higher region, until a natural seed bed was formed, where there can be raised in abundance a wonderful variety of plants and trees. In the coast valleys the soil is alluvial, the fine washing of mountain rocks; this is mixed in some places with a warmer, firmer loam and in others with a gravelly soil, which is the best known for orange raising.

The state owes much to her mountains, for not only have they contributed to her fertile soil, but they hold in their rocky slopes the gold and silver mines which have transformed the whole region from an unknown wilderness to a land renowned for its riches and beauty. They lift their lofty peaks high in the air like mighty strongholds, and, shutting out the desert winds, catch the clouds as they sail in from the ocean, making them pay heavy tribute in fertilizing rain to the favored land below.

The climate, which of all the precious possessions of California is the most valuable, is best described by Bret Harte in the lines, "Half a year of clouds and flowers; half a year of dust and sky." Either half is enjoyable, for in the summer, or dry season, fogs or delightful westerly winds soon moderate a heated spell, and in nearly all parts of the state the nights are cool; while the rainy, or winter season, changes to balmy springtime as soon as the storm is over.

In a large portion of the state the climate is such that the inhabitants may spend much of their time out of doors. As a rule few duties are attended to in the house which can possibly be performed in the open air. It is growing to be more and more the custom to have, in connection with a Californian home, a tent bedroom where the year round one or more of the members of the family sleep, with only a wall of canvas between them and nature.

The vacation time is spent largely in summer camps, at either mountain or seashore, or, quite often, a pleasant party of one or two families live together, very simply, under the greenwood tree beside some spring or stream, spending a few weeks in gypsy fashion. While the young folk grow sturdy and beautiful, the older members of the party become filled with strength and a joy of living which helps them through the cares and struggles of the rest of the year. This joy in outdoor life is not, however, a discovery of to-day. The old Spanish families spent as much time as possible in the courtyard, the house being deserted save at night. When upon journeys, men, women, and children slept in the open air. Even the clothes-washing period was turned into a kind of merrymaking. Whole families joined together to spend days in the vicinity of some stream, where they picnicked while the linen was being cleansed in the running water and dried on the bushes near by.

Once before, when the world was younger, there was a land similar to this, - sea-kissed, mountain-guarded, with such gentle climate and soft skies. Its people, who also lived much out of doors at peace with nature, became almost perfect in health and figure, with mental qualities which enabled them to give to the world the best it has known in literature and art. What the ancient Greeks were, the people of California may become; but with an advancement in knowledge and loving-kindness of man toward man which heathen Athens never knew.

What will be the result of this outdoor life cannot yet be told; climate has always had an active influence in shaping the character and type of a people. With a climate mild and healthful, yet bracing; with a soil so rich that the touch of irrigation makes even the sandiest places bloom with the highest beauty of plant, tree, and vine; with an ocean warm and gentle, and skies the kindliest in the world, - there is, if we judge by the lesson history teaches, a promise of a future for California greater and more noble than the world has yet known.