II. Santa Clara Valley

A letter to brother David: July 1868

 

A letter to the Merrills: July 1868…

 

Letter to Mrs. Carr: July 1868

…I followed the Diablo foothills along the San Josť Valley to Gilroy, thence over the Diablo Mountains to valley of San Joaquin by the Pacific pass, thence down the valley opposite the mouth of the Merced River, thence across the San Joaquin, and up into the Sierra Nevada to the mammoth trees of Mariposa and the glorious Yosemite, thence down the Merced to this place.

The goodness of the weather as I journeyed towards Pacheco was beyond all praise and description, fragrant end mellow and bright. The air was perfectly delicious, sweet enough for the breath of angels; every draught of it gave a separate and distinct piece of pleasure. I do not believe that Adam and Eve ever tasted better in their balmiest nook.

The last of the Coast Range foothills were in near view all the way to Gilroy. Their union with the valley is by curves and slopes of inimitable beauty, and they were robed with the greenest grass and richest light I ever beheld, and colored and shaded with millions of flowers of every hue, chiefly of purple and golden yellow; and hundreds of crystal rills joined songs with the larks, filling all the valley with music like a sea, making it an Eden from end to end…

Rambles of a Botanist: 1872

…and proceeded up the valley of San Jose. This is one of the most fertile of the may small valleys of the coast; its rich bottoms are filled with wheat fields and orchards and vineyards, and alfalfa meadows. It was now spring-time, and the weather was the best that we ever enjoyed. Larks and streams sang everywhere; the sky was cloudless, and whole valley was a lake of light. The atmosphere was spicy and exhilarating; my companion acknowledging over his national prejudices that it was the best he ever breathed, - more deliciously fragrant that the hawthorn hedges of England. This San Jose sky was not simply pure and bright, and mixed with plenty of well tempered sunshine, but it possessed a positive flavor, - a taste, that thrilled from the lungs throughout every tissue of the body; every inspiration yielded a corresponding well-defined piece of pleasure, that awakened thousands of new palates everywhere. Both my companion and myself had lived and dozed on common air for nearly thirty years, and never before this discovered that our bodies contained such multitudes of palates or that this mortal flesh, so little valued by philosophers and teachers, was possessed of so vast a capacity for happiness.

We emerged from this ether baptism new creatures, born again; and truly not until this time were we fairly conscious that we were born at all. Never more, thought I, as we strode forward at faster speed, never more shall I sentimentalize about getting out of the mortal coil: this flesh is not a coil, it is a sponge steeped in immortality.

The foothills (that form the sides of our blessed font) are in near view all the way to Gilroy; those of the Monte Diablo range on our left, those of Santa Cruz on our right; they are smooth and flowing, and come down to the bottom levels in curves of most surpassing beauty; they still wear natural flowers, which do not occur singly or in handfuls, scattered about in the grass, but they grow close together, in smooth, cloud-shaped companies, acres and hill-sides in size, white, purple, and yellow, separate, yet blending to each other like the hills upon which they grow. Besides the white, purple, and yellow clouds, we occasionally saw a thicket of scarlet castilleias and silvery-leaved lupines, also splendid fields of wild oats (Avena fatua). The delightful Gilia (G. tricolor) was very abundant in sweeping hill-side sheets, and a Leptosiphon (L. androsca) and Claytonias were everywhere by the roadsides, and lilies and dodecatheons by the streams: no wonder the air was so good, waving and rubbing on such a firmament of flowers! I tried to decide which of the plant-clouds was most fragrant: perhaps it was the white, composed mostly of a delicate Boragewort; but doubtless all had a hand in balming the sky. Among trees we observed the laurel (Oreodaphne Californica), and magnificent groves and tree-shaped groups of oaks, some specimens over seven feet in diameter; the white oaks (Quercus lobata) and (Q. Douglasii), the black oak (Q. sonomensis), live-oak (Q. agrifolia), together with several dwarfy species on the hills, whose names we do not know. The prevailing north-west wind has permanently swayed all unsheltered trees up the valley; groves upon the more exposed hillsides lean forward like patches of lodged wheat. The Santa Cruz Mountains have grand forests of red-wood (Sequoia sempervirens), some specimens near fifty feet in circumference…

The Yosemite: 1912

So on the first of April, 1868, I set out afoot for Yosemite. It was the bloom-time of the year over the lowlands and coast ranges the landscapes of the Santa Clara Valley were fairly drenched with sunshine, all the air was quivering with the songs of the meadow-larks, and the hills were so covered with flowers that they seemed to be painted. Slow indeed was my progress through these glorious gardens, the first of the California flora I had seen. Cattle and cultivation were making few scars as yet, and I wandered enchanted in long wavering curves, knowing by my pocket map that Yosemite Valley lay to the east and that I should surely find it.

1000 Mile Walk: 1916

…I followed the Diablo foothills along the San Jose Valley to Gilroy, thence over the Diablo Mountains…

…The goodness of the weather as I journeyed toward Pacheco was beyond all praise and description - fragrant, mellow, and bright. The sky was perfectly delicious, sweet enough for the breath of angels; every draught of it gave a separate and distinct piece of pleasure. I do not believe that Adam and Eve ever tasted better in their balmiest nook.

The last of the Coast Range foothills were in near view all the way to Gilroy. Their union with the valley is by curves and slopes of inimitable beauty. They were robed with the greenest grass and richest light I ever beheld, and were colored and shaded with myriads of flowers of every hue, chiefly of purple and golden yellow. Hundreds of crystal rills joined song with the larks, filling all the valley with music like a sea, making it Eden from end to end…

Life and Letters: 1924

…We crossed the bay by the Oakland Ferry and proceeded up the Santa Clara valley to San Jose. This is one of the most fertile of the many small valleys of the coast; its rich bottoms are filled with wheat-fields, and orchards, and vineyards, and alfalfa meadows.

It was now spring-time, and the weather was the best we ever enjoyed. Larks and streams sang everywhere; the sky was cloudless, and the whole valley was a lake of light. The atmosphere was spicy and exhilarating, my companion acknowledging over his national prejudices that it was the best he ever breathed--more deliciously fragrant than that which streamed over the hawthorn hedges of England. This San Jose sky was not simply pure and bright, and mixed with plenty of well-tempered sunshine, but it possessed a positive flavor, a taste that thrilled throughout every tissue of the body. Every inspiration yielded a well-defined piece of pleasure that awakened thousands of new palates everywhere. Both my companion and myself had lived on common air for nearly thirty years, and never before this discovered that our bodies contained such multitudes of palates, or that this mortal flesh, so little valued by philosophers and teachers, was possessed of so vast a capacity for happiness.

We were new creatures, born again; and truly not until this time were we fairly conscious that we were born at all. Never more, thought I as we strode forward at faster speed, never more shall I sentimentalize about getting free from the flesh, for it is steeped like a sponge in immortal pleasure.

The foothills of the valley are in near view all the way to Gilroy, those of the Monte Diablo range on our left, those of Santa Cruz on our right; they are smooth and flowing, and come down to the bottom levels in curves of most surpassing beauty. They are covered with flowers growing close together in cloud-shaped companies, acres and hillsides in size, white, purple, and yellow, separate, yet blending like the hills upon which they grow…

Son of the Wilderness: 1945

Exultant at being now "on the wild side of the continent," Muir with his companion, was soon tramping southward from Oakland among the green, rounded, oak-clothed hills toward the Santa Clara Valley.

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