Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The Mountains of California by John Muir

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

its leaves and stems are so slender as to be nearly invisible, at a
distance of a few yards, amid so showy a multitude of flowers. The ray
and disk flowers are both yellow, the stamens purple, and the texture of
the rays is rich and velvety, like the petals of garden pansies. The
prevailing wind turns all the heads round to the southeast, so that in
facing northwestward we have the flowers looking us in the face. In my
estimation, this little plant, the last born of the brilliant host of
compositae that glorify the plain, is the most interesting of all. It
remains in flower until November, uniting with two or three species of
wiry eriogonums, which continue the floral chain around December to the
spring flowers of January. Thus, although the main bloom and honey
season is only about three months long, the floral circle, however thin
around some of the hot, rainless months, is never completely broken.

How long the various species of wild bees have lived in this
honey-garden, nobody knows; probably ever since the main body of the
present flora gained possession of the land, toward the close of the
glacial period. The first brown honey-bees brought to California are
said to have arrived in San Francisco in March, 1853. A bee-keeper by
the name of Shelton purchased a lot, consisting of twelve swarms, from
some one at Aspinwall, who had brought them from New York. When landed
at San Francisco, all the hives contained live bees, but they finally
dwindled to one hive, which was taken to San Jose. The little immigrants
flourished and multiplied in the bountiful pastures of the Santa Clara
Valley, sending off three swarms the first season. The owner was killed
shortly afterward, and in settling up his estate, two of the swarms were
sold at auction for $105 and $110 respectively. Other importations were
made, from time to time, by way of the Isthmus, and, though great pains
were taken to insure success, about one half usually died on the way.
Four swarms were brought safely across the plains in 1859, the hives
being placed in the rear end of a wagon, which was stopped in the
afternoon to allow the bees to fly and feed in the floweriest places
that were within reach until dark, when the hives were closed.

In 1855, two years after the time of the first arrivals from New York, a
single swarm was brought over from San Jose, and let fly in the Great
Central Plain. Bee-culture, however, has never gained much attention
here, notwithstanding the extraordinary abundance of honey-bloom, and
the high price of honey during the early years. A few hives are found
here and there among settlers who chanced to have learned something
about the business before coming to the State. But sheep, cattle, grain,
and fruit raising are the chief industries, as they require less skill
and care, while the profits thus far have been greater. In 1856 honey
sold here at from one and a half to two dollars per pound. Twelve years
later the price had fallen to twelve and a half cents. In 1868 I sat
down to dinner with a band of ravenous sheep-shearers at a ranch on the
San Joaquin, where fifteen or twenty hives were kept, and our host
advised us not to spare the large pan of honey he had placed on the
table, as it was the cheapest article he had to offer. In all my walks,
however, I have never come upon a regular bee-ranch in the Central
Valley like those so common and so skilfully managed in the southern
counties of the State. The few pounds of honey and wax produced are
consumed at home, and are scarcely taken into account among the coarser
products of the farm. The swarms that escape from their careless owners
have a weary, perplexing time of it in seeking suitable homes. Most of
them make their way to the foot-hills of the mountains, or to the trees
that line the banks of the rivers, where some hollow log or trunk may be
found. A friend of mine, while out hunting on the San Joaquin, came upon
an old coon trap, hidden among some tall grass, near the edge of the
river, upon which he sat down to rest. Shortly afterward his attention
was attracted to a crowd of angry bees that were flying excitedly about
his head, when he discovered that he was sitting upon their hive, which
was found to contain more than 200 pounds of honey. Out in the broad,
swampy delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, the little
wanderers have been known to build their combs in a bunch of rushes, or
stiff, wiry grass, only slightly protected from the weather, and in
danger every spring of being carried away by floods. They have the
advantage, however, of a vast extent of fresh pasture, accessible only
to themselves.

The present condition of the Grand Central Garden is very different from
that we have sketched. About twenty years ago, when the gold placers had
been pretty thoroughly exhausted, the attention of fortune-seekers--not
home-seekers--was, in great part, turned away from the mines to the
fertile plains, and many began experiments in a kind of restless, wild
agriculture. A load of lumber would be hauled to some spot on the free
wilderness, where water could be easily found, and a rude box-cabin
built. Then a gang-plow was procured, and a dozen mustang ponies, worth
ten or fifteen dollars apiece, and with these hundreds of acres were
stirred as easily as if the land had been under cultivation for years,
tough, perennial roots being almost wholly absent. Thus a ranch was
established, and from these bare wooden huts, as centers of desolation,
the wild flora vanished in ever-widening circles. But the arch
destroyers are the shepherds, with their flocks of hoofed locusts,
sweeping over the ground like a fire, and trampling down every rod that
escapes the plow as completely as if the whole plain were a cottage
garden-plot without a fence. But notwithstanding these destroyers, a
thousand swarms of bees may be pastured here for every one now gathering
honey. The greater portion is still covered every season with a
repressed growth of bee-flowers, for most of the species are annuals,
and many of them are not relished by sheep or cattle, while the rapidity
of their growth enables them to develop and mature their seeds before
any foot has time to crush them. The ground is, therefore, kept sweet,
and the race is perpetuated, though only as a suggestive shadow of the
magnificence of its wildness.

The time will undoubtedly come when the entire area of this noble valley
will be tilled like a garden, when the fertilizing waters of the
mountains, now flowing to the sea, will be distributed to every acre,
giving rise to prosperous towns, wealth, arts, etc. Then, I suppose,
there will be few left, even among botanists, to deplore the vanished
primeval flora. In the mean time, the pure waste going on--the wanton
destruction of the innocents--is a sad sight to see, and the sun may
well be pitied in being compelled to look on.

The bee-pastures of the Coast Ranges last longer and are more varied
than those of the great plain, on account of differences of soil and
climate, moisture, and shade, etc. Some of the mountains are upward of
4000 feet in height, and small streams, springs, oozy bogs, etc., occur
in great abundance and variety in the wooded regions, while open parks,
flooded with sunshine, and hill-girt valleys lying at different
elevations, each with its own peculiar climate and exposure, possess the
required conditions for the development of species and families of
plants widely varied.

Next the plain there is, first, a series of smooth hills, planted with a
rich and showy vegetation that differs but little from that of the plain
itself--as if the edge of the plain had been lifted and bent into
flowing folds, with all its flowers in place, only toned down a little
as to their luxuriance, and a few new species introduced, such as the
hill lupines, mints, and gilias. The colors show finely when thus held
to view on the slopes; patches of red, purple, blue, yellow, and white,
blending around the edges, the whole appearing at a little distance like
a map colored in sections.

Above this lies the park and chaparral region, with oaks, mostly
evergreen, planted wide apart, and blooming shrubs from three to ten
feet high; manzanita and ceanothus of several species, mixed with
rhamnus, cercis, pickeringia, cherry, amelanchier, and adenostoma, in
shaggy, interlocking thickets, and many species of hosackia, clover,
monardella, castilleia, etc., in the openings.

The main ranges send out spurs somewhat parallel to their axes,
inclosing level valleys, many of them quite extensive, and containing a
great profusion of sun-loving bee-flowers in their wild state; but these
are, in great part, already lost to the bees by cultivation.

Nearer the coast are the giant forests of the redwoods, extending from
near the Oregon line to Santa Cruz. Beneath the cool, deep shade of
these majestic trees the ground is occupied by ferns, chiefly woodwardia
and aspidiums, with only a few flowering plants--oxalis, trientalis,
erythronium, fritillaria, smilax, and other shade-lovers. But all along
the redwood belt there are sunny openings on hill-slopes looking to the
south, where the giant trees stand back, and give the ground to the
small sunflowers and the bees. Around the lofty redwood walls of these
little bee-acres there is usually a fringe of Chestnut Oak, Laurel, and
Madrono, the last of which is a surpassingly beautiful tree, and a great
favorite with the bees. The trunks of the largest specimens are seven or
eight feet thick, and about fifty feet high; the bark red and chocolate
colored, the leaves plain, large, and glossy, like those of _Magnolia
grandiflora_, while the flowers are yellowish-white, and urn-shaped, in
well-proportioned panicles, from five to ten inches long. When in full
bloom, a single tree seems to be visited at times by a whole hive of
bees at once, and the deep hum of such a multitude makes the listener
guess that more than the ordinary work of honey-winning must be going

How perfectly enchanting and care-obliterating are these withdrawn
gardens of the woods--long vistas opening to the sea--sunshine sifting
and pouring upon the flowery ground in a tremulous, shifting mosaic, as
the light-ways in the leafy wall open and close with the swaying
breeze--shining leaves and flowers, birds and bees, mingling together in
springtime harmony, and soothing fragrance exhaling from a thousand
thousand fountains! In these balmy, dissolving days, when the deep
heart-beats of Nature are felt thrilling rocks and trees and everything
alike, common business and friends are happily forgotten, and even the
natural honey-work of bees, and the care of birds for their young, and
mothers for their children, seem slightly out of place.

To the northward, in Humboldt and the adjacent counties, whole hillsides
are covered with rhododendron, making a glorious melody of bee-bloom in
the spring. And the Western azalea, hardly less flowery, grows in massy
thickets three to eight feet high around the edges of groves and woods
as far south as San Luis Obispo, usually accompanied by manzanita; while
the valleys, with their varying moisture and shade, yield a rich variety
of the smaller honey-flowers, such as mentha, lycopus, micromeria,
audibertia, trichostema, and other mints; with vaccinium, wild
strawberry, geranium, calais, and goldenrod; and in the cool glens along
the stream-banks, where the shade of trees is not too deep, spiraea,
dog-wood, heteromeles, and calycanthus, and many species of rubus form
interlacing tangles, some portion of which continues in bloom for

Though the coast region was the first to be invaded and settled by white
men, it has suffered less from a bee point of view than either of the
other main divisions, chiefly, no doubt, because of the unevenness of
the surface, and because it is owned and protected instead of lying
exposed to the flocks of the wandering "sheepmen." These remarks apply
more particularly to the north half of the coast. Farther south there is
less moisture, less forest shade, and the honey flora is less varied.

The Sierra region is the largest of the three main divisions of the
bee-lands of the State, and the most regularly varied in its
subdivisions, owing to their gradual rise from the level of the Central
Plain to the alpine summits. The foot-hill region is about as dry and
sunful, from the end of May until the setting in of the winter rains, as
the plain. There are no shady forests, no damp glens, at all like those
lying at the same elevations in the Coast Mountains. The social
compositae of the plain, with a few added species, form the bulk of the
herbaceous portion of the vegetation up to a height of 1500 feet or
more, shaded lightly here and there with oaks and Sabine Pines, and
interrupted by patches of ceanothus and buckeye. Above this, and just
below the forest region, there is a dark, heath-like belt of chaparral,
composed almost exclusively of _Adenostoma fasciculata_, a bush
belonging to the rose family, from five to eight feet high, with small,
round leaves in fascicles, and bearing a multitude of small white
flowers in panicles on the ends of the upper branches. Where it occurs
at all, it usually covers all the ground with a close, impenetrable
growth, scarcely broken for miles.

Up through the forest region, to a height of about 9000 feet above
sea-level, there are ragged patches of manzanita, and five or six
species of ceanothus, called deer-brush or California lilac. These are
the most important of all the honey-bearing bushes of the Sierra.
_Chamaebatia foliolosa_, a little shrub about a foot high, with flowers
like the strawberry, makes handsome carpets beneath the pines, and seems
to be a favorite with the bees; while pines themselves furnish unlimited
quantities of pollen and honey-dew. The product of a single tree,
ripening its pollen at the right time of year, would be sufficient for
the wants of a whole hive. Along the streams there is a rich growth of
lilies, larkspurs, pedicularis, castilleias, and clover. The alpine
region contains the flowery glacier meadows, and countless small gardens
in all sorts of places full of potentilla of several species, spraguea,
ivesia, epilobium, and goldenrod, with beds of bryanthus and the
charming cassiope covered with sweet bells. Even the tops of the
mountains are blessed with flowers,--dwarf phlox, polemonium, ribes,
hulsea, etc. I have seen wild bees and butterflies feeding at a height
of 13,000 feet above the sea. Many, however, that go up these dangerous
heights never come down again. Some, undoubtedly, perish in storms, and
I have found thousands lying dead or benumbed on the surface of the
glaciers, to which they had perhaps been attracted by the white glare,
taking them for beds of bloom.

From swarms that escaped their owners in the lowlands, the honey-bee is
now generally distributed throughout the whole length of the Sierra, up
to an elevation of 8000 feet above sea-level. At this height they
flourish without care, though the snow every winter is deep. Even higher
than this several bee-trees have been cut which contained over 200
pounds of honey.

The destructive action of sheep has not been so general on the mountain
pastures as on those of the great plain, but in many places it has been
more complete, owing to the more friable character of the soil, and its
sloping position. The slant digging and down-raking action of hoofs on
the steeper slopes of moraines has uprooted and buried many of the
tender plants from year to year, without allowing them time to mature
their seeds. The shrubs, too, are badly bitten, especially the various
species of ceanothus. Fortunately, neither sheep nor cattle care to feed
on the manzanita, spiraea, or adenostoma; and these fine honey-bushes
are too stiff and tall, or grow in places too rough and inaccessible, to
be trodden under foot. Also the canon walls and gorges, which form so
considerable a part of the area of the range, while inaccessible to
domestic sheep, are well fringed with honey-shrubs, and contain
thousands of lovely bee-gardens, lying hid in narrow side-canons and
recesses fenced with avalanche taluses, and on the top of flat,
projecting headlands, where only bees would think to look for them.

But, on the other hand, a great portion of the woody plants that escape
the feet and teeth of the sheep are destroyed by the shepherds by means
of running fires, which are set everywhere during the dry autumn for the
purpose of burning off the old fallen trunks and underbrush, with a view
to improving the pastures, and making more open ways for the flocks.
These destructive sheep-fires sweep through nearly the entire forest
belt of the range, from one extremity to the other, consuming not only
the underbrush, but the young trees and seedlings on which the
permanence of the forests depends; thus setting in motion a long train
of evils which will certainly reach far beyond bees and beekeepers.

[Illustration: WILD BEE GARDEN.]

The plow has not yet invaded the forest region to any appreciable
extent, neither has it accomplished much in the foot-hills. Thousands of
bee-ranches might be established along the margin of the plain, and up
to a height of 4000 feet, wherever water could be obtained. The climate
at this elevation admits of the making of permanent homes, and by moving
the hives to higher pastures as the lower pass out of bloom, the annual
yield of honey would be nearly doubled. The foot-hill pastures, as we
have seen, fail about the end of May, those of the chaparral belt and
lower forests are in full bloom in June, those of the upper and alpine
region in July, August, and September. In Scotland, after the best of
the Lowland bloom is past, the bees are carried in carts to the
Highlands, and set free on the heather hills. In France, too, and in
Poland, they are carried from pasture to pasture among orchards and
fields in the same way, and along the rivers in barges to collect the
honey of the delightful vegetation of the banks. In Egypt they are taken
far up the Nile, and floated slowly home again, gathering the
honey-harvest of the various fields on the way, timing their movements
in accord with the seasons. Were similar methods pursued in California
the productive season would last nearly all the year.

The average elevation of the north half of the Sierra is, as we have
seen, considerably less than that of the south half, and small streams,
with the bank and meadow gardens dependent upon them, are less abundant.
Around the head waters of the Yuba, Feather, and Pitt rivers, the
extensive tablelands of lava are sparsely planted with pines, through
which the sunshine reaches the ground with little interruption. Here
flourishes a scattered, tufted growth of golden applopappus, linosyris,
bahia, wyetheia, arnica, artemisia, and similar plants; with manzanita,
cherry, plum, and thorn in ragged patches on the cooler hill-slopes. At
the extremities of the Great Central Plain, the Sierra and Coast Ranges
curve around and lock together in a labyrinth of mountains and valleys,
throughout which their floras are mingled, making at the north, with its
temperate climate and copious rainfall, a perfect paradise for bees,
though, strange to say, scarcely a single regular bee-ranch has yet been
established in it.

Of all the upper flower fields of the Sierra, Shasta is the most
honeyful, and may yet surpass in fame the celebrated honey hills of
Hybla and hearthy Hymettus. Regarding this noble mountain from a bee
point of view, encircled by its many climates, and sweeping aloft from
the torrid plain into the frosty azure, we find the first 5000 feet from
the summit generally snow-clad, and therefore about as honeyless as the
sea. The base of this arctic region is girdled by a belt of crumbling
lava measuring about 1000 feet in vertical breadth, and is mostly free
from snow in summer. Beautiful lichens enliven the faces of the cliffs
with their bright colors, and in some of the warmer nooks there are a
few tufts of alpine daisies, wall-flowers and pentstemons; but,
notwithstanding these bloom freely in the late summer, the zone as a
whole is almost as honeyless as the icy summit, and its lower edge may
be taken as the honey-line. Immediately below this comes the forest
zone, covered with a rich growth of conifers, chiefly Silver Firs, rich
in pollen and honey-dew, and diversified with countless garden openings,
many of them less than a hundred yards across. Next, in orderly
succession, comes the great bee zone. Its area far surpasses that of the
icy summit and both the other zones combined, for it goes sweeping
majestically around the entire mountain, with a breadth of six or seven
miles and a circumference of nearly a hundred miles.

Shasta, as we have already seen, is a fire-mountain created by a
succession of eruptions of ashes and molten lava, which, flowing over
the lips of its several craters, grew outward and upward like the trunk
of a knotty exogenous tree. Then followed a strange contrast. The
glacial winter came on, loading the cooling mountain with ice, which
flowed slowly outward in every direction, radiating from the summit in
the form of one vast conical glacier--a down-crawling mantle of ice upon
a fountain of smoldering fire, crushing and grinding for centuries its
brown, flinty lavas with incessant activity, and thus degrading and
remodeling the entire mountain. When, at length, the glacial period
began to draw near its close, the ice-mantle was gradually melted off
around the bottom, and, in receding and breaking into its present
fragmentary condition, irregular rings and heaps of moraine matter were
stored upon its flanks. The glacial erosion of most of the Shasta lavas
produces detritus, composed of rough, sub-angular boulders of moderate
size and of porous gravel and sand, which yields freely to the
transporting power of running water. Magnificent floods from the ample
fountains of ice and snow working with sublime energy upon this prepared
glacial detritus, sorted it out and carried down immense quantities from
the higher slopes, and reformed it in smooth, delta-like beds around the
base; and it is these flood-beds joined together that now form the main
honey-zone of the old volcano.

Thus, by forces seemingly antagonistic and destructive, has Mother
Nature accomplished her beneficent designs--now a flood of fire, now a
flood of ice, now a flood of water; and at length an outburst of organic
life, a milky way of snowy petals and wings, girdling the rugged
mountain like a cloud, as if the vivifying sunbeams beating against its
sides had broken into a foam of plant-bloom and bees, as sea-waves break
and bloom on a rock shore.

In this flowery wilderness the bees rove and revel, rejoicing in the
bounty of the sun, clambering eagerly through bramble and hucklebloom,
ringing the myriad bells of the manzanita, now humming aloft among
polleny willows and firs, now down on the ashy ground among gilias and
buttercups, and anon plunging deep into snowy banks of cherry and
buckthorn. They consider the lilies and roll into them, and, like
lilies, they toil not, for they are impelled by sun-power, as
water-wheels by water-power; and when the one has plenty of
high-pressure water, the other plenty of sunshine, they hum and quiver
alike. Sauntering in the Shasta bee-lands in the sun-days of summer, one
may readily infer the time of day from the comparative energy of
bee-movements alone--drowsy and moderate in the cool of the morning,
increasing in energy with the ascending sun, and, at high noon,
thrilling and quivering in wild ecstasy, then gradually declining again
to the stillness of night. In my excursions among the glaciers I
occasionally meet bees that are hungry, like mountaineers who venture
too far and remain too long above the bread-line; then they droop and
wither like autumn leaves. The Shasta bees are perhaps better fed than
any others in the Sierra. Their field-work is one perpetual feast; but,
however exhilarating the sunshine or bountiful the supply of flowers,
they are always dainty feeders. Humming-moths and hummingbirds seldom
set foot upon a flower, but poise on the wing in front of it, and reach
forward as if they were sucking through straws. But bees, though, as
dainty as they, hug their favorite flowers with profound cordiality, and
push their blunt, polleny faces against them, like babies on their
mother's bosom. And fondly, too, with eternal love, does Mother Nature
clasp her small bee-babies, and suckle them, multitudes at once, on her
warm Shasta breast.

Besides the common honey-bee there are many other species here--fine
mossy, burly fellows, who were nourished on the mountains thousands of
sunny seasons before the advent of the domestic species. Among these are
the bumblebees, mason-bees, carpenter-bees, and leaf-cutters.
Butterflies, too, and moths of every size and pattern; some broad-winged
like bats, flapping slowly, and sailing in easy curves; others like
small, flying violets, shaking about loosely in short, crooked flights
close to the flowers, feasting luxuriously night and day. Great numbers
of deer also delight to dwell in the brushy portions of the

Bears, too, roam the sweet wilderness, their blunt, shaggy forms
harmonizing well with the trees and tangled bushes, and with the bees,
also, notwithstanding the disparity in size. They are fond of all good
things, and enjoy them to the utmost, with but little troublesome
discrimination--flowers and leaves as well as berries, and the bees
themselves as well as their honey. Though the California bears have as
yet had but little experience with honeybees, they often succeed in
reaching their bountiful stores, and it seems doubtful whether bees
themselves enjoy honey with so great a relish. By means of their
powerful teeth and claws they can gnaw and tear open almost any hive
conveniently accessible. Most honey-bees, however, in search of a home
are wise enough to make choice of a hollow in a living tree, a
considerable distance above the ground, when such places are to be had;
then they are pretty secure, for though the smaller black and brown
bears climb well, they are unable to break into strong hives while
compelled to exert themselves to keep from falling, and at the same time
to endure the stings of the fighting bees without having their paws free
to rub them off. But woe to the black bumblebees discovered in their
mossy nests in the ground! With a few strokes of their huge paws the
bears uncover the entire establishment, and, before time is given for a
general buzz, bees old and young, larvae, honey, stings, nest, and all
are taken in one ravishing mouthful.

Not the least influential of the agents concerned in the superior
sweetness of the Shasta flora are its storms--storms I mean that are
strictly local, bred and born on the mountain. The magical rapidity with
which they are grown on the mountain-top, and bestow their charity in
rain and snow, never fails to astonish the inexperienced lowlander.
Often in calm, glowing days, while the bees are still on the wing, a
storm-cloud may be seen far above in the pure ether, swelling its pearl
bosses, and growing silently, like a plant. Presently a clear, ringing
discharge of thunder is heard, followed by a rush of wind that comes
sounding over the bending woods like the roar of the ocean, mingling
raindrops, snow-flowers, honey-flowers, and bees in wild storm harmony.

Still more impressive are the warm, reviving days of spring in the
mountain pastures. The blood of the plants throbbing beneath the
life-giving sunshine seems to be heard and felt. Plant growth goes on
before our eyes, and every tree in the woods, and every bush and flower
is seen as a hive of restless industry. The deeps of the sky are mottled
with singing wings of every tone and color; clouds of brilliant
chrysididae dancing and swirling in exquisite rhythm, golden-barred
vespidae, dragon-flies, butterflies, grating cicadas, and jolly,
rattling grasshoppers, fairly enameling the light.


On bright, crisp mornings a striking optical effect may frequently be
observed from the shadows of the higher mountains while the sunbeams are
pouring past overhead. Then every insect, no matter what may be its own
proper color, burns white in the light. Gauzy-winged hymenoptera,
moths, jet-black beetles, all are transfigured alike in pure, spiritual
white, like snowflakes.

In Southern California, where bee-culture has had so much skilful
attention of late years, the pasturage is not more abundant, or more
advantageously varied as to the number of its honey-plants and their
distribution over mountain and plain, than that of many other portions
of the State where the industrial currents flow in other channels. The
famous White Sage (_Audibertia_), belonging to the mint family,
flourishes here in all its glory, blooming in May, and yielding great
quantities of clear, pale honey, which is greatly prized in every market
it has yet reached. This species grows chiefly in the valleys and low
hills. The Black Sage on the mountains is part of a dense, thorny
chaparral, which is composed chiefly of adenostoma, ceanothus,
manzanita, and cherry--not differing greatly from that of the southern
portion of the Sierra, but more dense and continuous, and taller, and
remaining longer in bloom. Stream-side gardens, so charming a feature of
both the Sierra and Coast Mountains, are less numerous in Southern
California, but they are exceedingly rich in honey-flowers, wherever
found,--melilotus, columbine, collinsia, verbena, zauschneria, wild
rose, honeysuckle, philadelphus, and lilies rising from the warm, moist
dells in a very storm of exuberance. Wild buckwheat of many species is
developed in abundance over the dry, sandy valleys and lower slopes of
the mountains, toward the end of summer, and is, at this time, the main
dependence of the bees, reinforced here and there by orange groves,
alfalfa fields, and small home gardens.

The main honey months, in ordinary seasons, are April, May, June, July,
and August; while the other months are usually flowery enough to yield
sufficient for the bees.

According to Mr. J.T. Gordon, President of the Los Angeles County
Bee-keepers' Association, the first bees introduced into the county were
a single hive, which cost $150 in San Francisco, and arrived in
September, 1854.[1] In April, of the following year, this hive sent out
two swarms, which were sold for $100 each. From this small beginning the
bees gradually multiplied to about 3000 swarms in the year 1873. In 1876
it was estimated that there were between 15,000 and 20,000 hives in the
county, producing an annual yield of about 100 pounds to the hive--in
some exceptional cases, a much greater yield.

In San Diego County, at the beginning of the season of 1878, there were
about 24,000 hives, and the shipments from the one port of San Diego for
the same year, from July 17 to November 10, were 1071 barrels, 15,544
cases, and nearly 90 tons. The largest bee-ranches have about a thousand
hives, and are carefully and skilfully managed, every scientific
appliance of merit being brought into use. There are few bee-keepers,
however, who own half as many as this, or who give their undivided
attention to the business. Orange culture, at present, is heavily
overshadowing every other business.

A good many of the so-called bee-ranches of Los Angeles and San Diego
counties are still of the rudest pioneer kind imaginable. A man
unsuccessful in everything else hears the interesting story of the
profits and comforts of bee-keeping, and concludes to try it; he buys a
few colonies, or gets them, from some overstocked ranch on shares, takes
them back to the foot of some canon, where the pasturage is fresh,
squats on the land, with, or without, the permission of the owner, sets
up his hives, makes a box-cabin for himself, scarcely bigger than a
bee-hive, and awaits his fortune.

Bees suffer sadly from famine during the dry years which occasionally
occur in the southern and middle portions of the State. If the rainfall
amounts only to three or four inches, instead of from twelve to twenty,
as in ordinary seasons, then sheep and cattle die in thousands, and so
do these small, winged cattle, unless they are carefully fed, or removed
to other pastures. The year 1877 will long be remembered as
exceptionally rainless and distressing. Scarcely a flower bloomed on the
dry valleys away from the stream-sides, and not a single grain-field
depending upon rain was reaped. The seed only sprouted, came up a little
way, and withered. Horses, cattle, and sheep grew thinner day by day,
nibbling at bushes and weeds, along the shallowing edges of streams,
many of which were dried up altogether, for the first time since the
settlement of the country.


In the course of a trip I made during the summer of that year through
Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles
counties, the deplorable effects of the drought were everywhere
visible--leafless fields, dead and dying cattle, dead bees, and
half-dead people with dusty, doleful faces. Even the birds and squirrels
were in distress, though their suffering was less painfully apparent
than that of the poor cattle. These were falling one by one in slow,
sure starvation along the banks of the hot, sluggish streams, while
thousands of buzzards correspondingly fat were sailing above them, or
standing gorged on the ground beneath the trees, waiting with easy faith
for fresh carcasses. The quails, prudently considering the hard times,
abandoned all thought of pairing. They were too poor to marry, and so
continued in flocks all through the year without attempting to rear
young. The ground-squirrels, though an exceptionally industrious and
enterprising race, as every farmer knows, were hard pushed for a living;
not a fresh leaf or seed was to be found save in the trees, whose bossy
masses of dark green foliage presented a striking contrast to the ashen
baldness of the ground beneath them. The squirrels, leaving their
accustomed feeding-grounds, betook themselves to the leafy oaks to gnaw
out the acorn stores of the provident woodpeckers, but the latter kept
up a vigilant watch upon their movements. I noticed four woodpeckers in
league against one squirrel, driving the poor fellow out of an oak that
they claimed. He dodged round the knotty trunk from side to side, as
nimbly as he could in his famished condition, only to find a sharp bill
everywhere. But the fate of the bees that year seemed the saddest of
all. In different portions of Los Angeles and San Diego counties, from
one half to three fourths of them died of sheer starvation. Not less
than 18,000 colonies perished in these two counties alone, while in the
adjacent counties the death-rate was hardly less.


Even the colonies nearest to the mountains suffered this year, for the
smaller vegetation on the foot-hills was affected by the drought almost
as severely as that of the valleys and plains, and even the hardy,
deep-rooted chaparral, the surest dependence of the bees, bloomed
sparingly, while much of it was beyond reach. Every swarm could have
been saved, however, by promptly supplying them with food when their own
stores began to fail, and before they became enfeebled and discouraged;
or by cutting roads back into the mountains, and taking them into the
heart of the flowery chaparral. The Santa Lucia, San Rafael, San
Gabriel, San Jacinto, and San Bernardino ranges are almost untouched as
yet save by the wild bees. Some idea of their resources, and of the
advantages and disadvantages they offer to bee-keepers, may be formed
from an excursion that I made into the San Gabriel Range about the
beginning of August of "the dry year." This range, containing most of
the characteristic features of the other ranges just mentioned,
overlooks the Los Angeles vineyards and orange groves from the north,
and is more rigidly inaccessible in the ordinary meaning of the word
than any other that I ever attempted to penetrate. The slopes are
exceptionally steep and insecure to the foot, and they are covered with
thorny bushes from five to ten feet high. With the exception of little
spots not visible in general views, the entire surface is covered with
them, massed in close hedge growth, sweeping gracefully down into every
gorge and hollow, and swelling over every ridge and summit in shaggy,
ungovernable exuberance, offering more honey to the acre for half the
year than the most crowded clover-field. But when beheld from the open
San Gabriel Valley, beaten with dry sunshine, all that was seen of the
range seemed to wear a forbidding aspect. From base to summit all seemed
gray, barren, silent, its glorious chaparral appearing like dry moss
creeping over its dull, wrinkled ridges and hollows.

Setting out from Pasadena, I reached the foot of the range about
sundown; and being weary and heated with my walk across the shadeless
valley, concluded to camp for the night. After resting a few moments, I
began to look about among the flood-boulders of Eaton Creek for a
camp-ground, when I came upon a strange, dark-looking man who had been
chopping cord-wood. He seemed surprised at seeing me, so I sat down with
him on the live-oak log he had been cutting, and made haste to give a
reason for my appearance in his solitude, explaining that I was anxious
to find out something about the mountains, and meant to make my way up
Eaton Creek next morning. Then he kindly invited me to camp with him,
and led me to his little cabin, situated at the foot of the mountains,
where a small spring oozes out of a bank overgrown with wild-rose
bushes. After supper, when the daylight was gone, he explained that he
was out of candles; so we sat in the dark, while he gave me a sketch of
his life in a mixture of Spanish and English. He was born in Mexico, his
father Irish, his mother Spanish. He had been a miner, rancher,
prospector, hunter, etc., rambling always, and wearing his life away in
mere waste; but now he was going to settle down. His past life, he said,
was of "no account," but the future was promising. He was going to "make
money and marry a Spanish woman." People mine here for water as for
gold. He had been running a tunnel into a spur of the mountain back of
his cabin. "My prospect is good," he said, "and if I chance to strike a
good, strong flow, I'll soon be worth $5000 or $10,000. For that flat
out there," referring to a small, irregular patch of bouldery detritus,
two or three acres in size, that had been deposited by Eaton Creek
during some flood season,--"that flat is large enough for a nice
orange-grove, and the bank behind the cabin will do for a vineyard, and
after watering my own trees and vines I will have some water left to
sell to my neighbors below me, down the valley. And then," he continued,
"I can keep bees, and make money that way, too, for the mountains above
here are just full of honey in the summer-time, and one of my neighbors
down here says that he will let me have a whole lot of hives, on shares,
to start with. You see I've a good thing; I'm all right now." All this
prospective affluence in the sunken, boulder-choked flood-bed of a
mountain-stream! Leaving the bees out of the count, most fortune-seekers
would as soon think of settling on the summit of Mount Shasta. Next
morning, wishing my hopeful entertainer good luck, I set out on my
shaggy excursion.


About half an hour's walk above the cabin, I came to "The Fall," famous
throughout the valley settlements as the finest yet discovered in the
San Gabriel Mountains. It is a charming little thing, with a low, sweet
voice, singing like a bird, as it pours from a notch in a short ledge,
some thirty-five or forty feet into a round mirror-pool. The face of the
cliff back of it, and on both sides, is smoothly covered and embossed
with mosses, against which the white water shines out in showy relief,
like a silver instrument in a velvet case. Hither come the San Gabriel
lads and lassies, to gather ferns and dabble away their hot holidays in
the cool water, glad to escape from their commonplace palm-gardens and
orange-groves. The delicate maidenhair grows on fissured rocks within
reach of the spray, while broad-leaved maples and sycamores cast soft,
mellow shade over a rich profusion of bee-flowers, growing among
boulders in front of the pool--the fall, the flowers, the bees, the
ferny rocks, and leafy shade forming a charming little poem of wildness,
the last of a series extending down the flowery slopes of Mount San
Antonio through the rugged, foam-beaten bosses of the main Eaton Canon.

From the base of the fall I followed the ridge that forms the western
rim of the Eaton basin to the summit of one of the principal peaks,
which is about 5000 feet above sea-level. Then, turning eastward, I
crossed the middle of the basin, forcing a way over its many subordinate
ridges and across its eastern rim, having to contend almost everywhere
with the floweriest and most impenetrable growth of honey-bushes I had
ever encountered since first my mountaineering began. Most of the Shasta
chaparral is leafy nearly to the ground; here the main stems are naked
for three or four feet, and interspiked with dead twigs, forming a stiff
_chevaux de frise_ through which even the bears make their way with
difficulty. I was compelled to creep for miles on all fours, and in
following the bear-trails often found tufts of hair on the bushes where
they had forced themselves through.

For 100 feet or so above the fall the ascent was made possible only by
tough cushions of club-moss that clung to the rock. Above this the ridge
weathers away to a thin knife-blade for a few hundred yards, and thence
to the summit of the range it carries a bristly mane of chaparral. Here
and there small openings occur on rocky places, commanding fine views
across the cultivated valley to the ocean. These I found by the tracks
were favorite outlooks and resting-places for the wild animals--bears,
wolves, foxes, wildcats, etc.--which abound here, and would have to be
taken into account in the establishment of bee-ranches. In the deepest
thickets I found wood-rat villages--groups of huts four to six feet
high, built of sticks and leaves in rough, tapering piles, like musk-rat
cabins. I noticed a good many bees, too, most of them wild. The tame
honey-bees seemed languid and wing-weary, as if they had come all the
way up from the flowerless valley.

After reaching the summit I had time to make only a hasty survey of the
basin, now glowing in the sunset gold, before hastening down into one of
the tributary canons in search, of water. Emerging from a particularly
tedious breadth of chaparral, I found myself free and erect in a
beautiful park-like grove of Mountain Live Oak, where the ground was
planted with aspidiums and brier-roses, while the glossy foliage made a
close canopy overhead, leaving the gray dividing trunks bare to show the
beauty of their interlacing arches. The bottom of the canon was dry
where I first reached it, but a bunch of scarlet mimulus indicated water
at no great distance, and I soon discovered about a bucketful in a
hollow of the rock. This, however, was full of dead bees, wasps,
beetles, and leaves, well steeped and simmered, and would, therefore,
require boiling and filtering through fresh charcoal before it could be
made available. Tracing the dry channel about a mile farther down to its
junction with a larger tributary canon, I at length discovered a lot of
boulder pools, clear as crystal, brimming full, and linked together by
glistening streamlets just strong enough to sing audibly. Flowers in
full bloom adorned their margins, lilies ten feet high, larkspur,
columbines, and luxuriant ferns, leaning and overarching in lavish
abundance, while a noble old Live Oak spread its rugged arms over all.
Here I camped, making my bed on smooth cobblestones.


Next day, in the channel of a tributary that heads on Mount San Antonio,
I passed about fifteen or twenty gardens like the one in which I
slept--lilies in every one of them, in the full pomp of bloom. My third
camp was made near the middle of the general basin, at the head of a
long system of cascades from ten to 200 feet high, one following the
other in close succession down a rocky, inaccessible canon, making a
total descent of nearly 1700 feet. Above the cascades the main stream
passes through a series of open, sunny levels, the largest of which are
about an acre in size, where the wild bees and their companions were
feasting on a showy growth of zauschneria, painted cups, and monardella;
and gray squirrels were busy harvesting the burs of the Douglas Spruce,
the only conifer I met in the basin.

The eastern slopes of the basin are in every way similar to those we
have described, and the same may be said of other portions of the range.
From the highest summit, far as the eye could reach, the landscape was
one vast bee-pasture, a rolling wilderness of honey-bloom, scarcely
broken by bits of forest or the rocky outcrops of hilltops and ridges.

Behind the San Bernardino Range lies the wild "sage-brush country,"
bounded on the east by the Colorado River, and extending in a general
northerly direction to Nevada and along the eastern base of the Sierra
beyond Mono Lake.

The greater portion of this immense region, including Owen's Valley,
Death Valley, and the Sink of the Mohave, the area of which is nearly
one fifth that of the entire State, is usually regarded as a desert, not
because of any lack in the soil, but for want of rain, and rivers
available for irrigation. Very little of it, however, is desert in the
eyes of a bee.

Looking now over all the available pastures of California, it appears
that the business of beekeeping is still in its infancy. Even in the
more enterprising of the southern counties, where so vigorous a
beginning has been made, less than a tenth of their honey resources have
as yet been developed; while in the Great Plain, the Coast Ranges, the
Sierra Nevada, and the northern region about Mount Shasta, the business
can hardly be said to exist at all. What the limits of its developments
in the future may be, with the advantages of cheaper transportation and
the invention of better methods in general, it is not easy to guess.
Nor, on the other hand, are we able to measure the influence on bee
interests likely to follow the destruction of the forests, now rapidly
falling before fire and the ax. As to the sheep evil, that can hardly
become greater than it is at the present day. In short, notwithstanding
the wide-spread deterioration and destruction of every kind already
effected, California, with her incomparable climate and flora, is still,
as far as I know, the best of all the bee-lands of the world.

[1] Fifteen hives of Italian bees were introduced into Los Angeles
County in 1855, and in 1876 they had increased to 500. The marked
superiority claimed for them over the common species is now attracting
considerable attention.

Book of the day: