Read Moonlight of Byways Around San Francisco Bay, free online book, by William E. Hutchinson, on

The beautiful California days, with warm sunshine tempered by the cool winds from the bay, are not surpassed in any country under the sun. But if the days are perfect, the brilliant moonlight nights lose nothing by comparison.

To tramp the hills and woods, or climb the rugged mountains by day, is a joy to the nature lover. But the same trip by moonlight has an interest and charm entirely its own, and mysteries of nature are revealed undreamed of at noonday.

The wind, that has run riot during the day, has blown itself out by evening, and the birds have gone to sleep with heads tucked under their wings, or settled with soft breasts over nestlings that twitter soft “good nights” to mother love. The dark shadows of evening steal the daylight, and canon and ravine lose their rugged outlines, blending into soft, shadowy browns and purples. The moon peeps over the hilltop, the stars come out one by one, the day is swallowed up in night, and the moonlight waves its pale wand over the landscape.

In the deep woods it flickers through the branches, mottling the ground with silver patches, and throwing into grand relief the trunks of trees, like sentinels on duty. It touches the little brook as softly as a baby’s kiss, and transforms it into a sheen of gold. It drops its yellow light upon a bed of ferns until each separate frond stands out like a willow plume nodding up and down in the mellow gleam. A flowering dogwood bathed in its ethereal light shimmers like a bridal veil adorning a wood nymph. It lays its gentle touch on the waterfall, transforming it into a torrent of molten silver, and causing each drop to glisten like topaz under its witching light.

Overhead fleecy clouds, like white-winged argosies, sail high amid the blue, or, finer spun, like a lady’s veil, are drawn, gauzelike, across the sky, through which the stars peep out with twinkling brilliancy. The scent of new-mown hay laden with falling dew comes floating up from the valley with an intoxicating sweetness, a sweetness to which the far-famed perfume of Arabia is not to be compared.

The crickets, those little black minstrels of the night, chirp under the log upon which you are resting, and the katydids repeat over and over again “Katy’s” wonderful achievement, though just what this amazing conquest was no one has been able to discover. The cicadas join the chorus with their strident voices, their notes fairly tumbling over each other in their exuberance, and in their hurry to sing their solos. Tree toads tune up for the evening concert, a few short notes at first, like a violinist testing the strings, then, the pitch ascertained, the air fairly vibrates with their rhapsody.

Fireflies light their tiny lanterns and flash out their signals, like beacon lights in the darkness, while, ringing up from the valley, the call of the whip-poor-will echoes clear and sweet, each syllable pronounced as distinctly as if uttered by a human voice. In a tree overhead a screech owl emits his evening call in a clear, vibrating tremolo, as if to warn the smaller birds that he is on watch, and considers them his lawful prey. The night hawk wheels in his tireless flight, graceful as a thistledown, soaring through space without a seeming motion of the wings, emitting a whirring sound from wings and tail feathers, and darting, now and again, with the swiftness of light after some insect that comes under his keen vision.

If you remain quite still, you may perchance detect a cotton-tail peeping at you from some covert. Watch him closely, and do not move a muscle, and when his curiosity is somewhat appeased, see him thump the ground with his hind foot, trying to scare you into revealing your identity. If not disturbed, his fear will vanish, and he will gambol almost at your feet.

You are fortunate indeed, if, on your nightly rambles, you find one of the large night moths winging its silent flight over the moonlit glade, resting for an instant on a mullein-stalk, then dancing away in his erratic flight, like some pixy out for a lark.

O the witchery of moonlight nights, when tree, shrub, and meadow are bathed in a sheen of silver; when lovers walk arm in arm, and in soft whisperings build air castles for the days to come, when the honeysuckle shall twine around their doorway, and the moonlight rest like a benediction on their own home nest; when you sit on the porch with day’s work done, and the fireflies dance over the lawn, and the voice of the whip-poor-will floats up from the meadow, and you dream dreams, and weave strange fancies, under the witching spell of the silver moonlight!