Over the second range of hills that
shut in San Francisco Bay on the east is a delightful
little trout brook known as Bear Creek. With my
camera, a frugal lunch, and an assortment of trout
flies carefully stowed away in my knapsack, I started
in quest of this little stream that follows the windings
of the canon.
If bears had ever inhabited this locality,
and posed as its godfathers, they had long since disappeared,
and many years had passed since they had slaked their
thirst with its sparkling waters. Only the name
remained to remind one of other days, and one name
is as good as another to a trout brook.
My object was not so much to tempt
the speckled trout with gaudy fly from quiet pool
or swirling riffle, as to follow the windings of the
stream, and spy out the quiet nooks, where the sun
comes filtering through the trees, dappling the water;
or resting in the shadows where the thick foliage
defies its penetrating rays, and spreads a somber
hue on mossy rock or bed of ferns. At one place,
perhaps a rod from the margin of the brook, was a
sort of amphitheater among the trees, where nature
had been prodigal with her colors, touching the woods
in spots here and there with ocher, umber, and vermilion.
She had even brushed with scarlet many of the shrubs
and vines, until they glowed with a warm color against
the green background.
The pine trees had shed their needles,
making a carpet soft as velvet, where woodland elves
might revel or the god Pan practice upon his pipes,
laughing nymphs dancing to the music.
Is there anything in nature more companionable
than a mountain brook? It has its moods both
grave and gay, and is as fickle as a schoolgirl.
At times it chuckles at you in a musical undertone
as you walk along its banks, and again it seems to
warn you from trespassing on its preserves, scolding
in a shrill falsetto as it dodges under the roots
of a fallen tree, or dives among the lilypads, as if
to hide from your sight. But when it swirls down
the eddy, and comes to rest by an overhanging rock,
where the shadows are dark and the water deep, its
song is hushed, as if in fear of disturbing the wary
trout that lie in hiding in the depths of the pool.
This is a likely place for fish, and
I put my rod together and cast my flies, dropping
them as lightly as a thistledown, and using all my
skill, but no trout rise to my lure; this is evidently
their day off, or my flies are too palpable a subterfuge
to tempt a self-respecting trout.
Sitting on a log, one end of which
projects over the stream, I watch a dragon-fly, or
darning needle, float over the water, his flight so
swift my eyes can hardly follow it. At last it
stops in front of me, perfectly poised for a second,
but with wings in rapid motion, then darts away to
perform its acrobatic feat of standing on its head
on a lilypad, or to feast on the gnats and other insects
that it captures while on the wing. Truly it
is rightly named a dragon.
The whirligig-beetles, those social
little black fellows, gather in large numbers and
chase each other round and round in graceful curves,
skating over the water as if enjoying a game of tag.
Leaving the beetles at their game,
I come to a place where the brook seems to hesitate
on the brink of a mimic waterfall, as if afraid to
take the dive, but like a boy unwilling to take a dare,
it plunges over the brink to the pool below, with
gurgling laughter, in a perfect ecstasy of bravado.
A leaf drops from an overhanging bough,
falling so lightly that it barely makes a ripple,
then sails away like a mimic ship to far-off ports,
dancing along at every caprice of the fitful current;
only to be stranded at last, cast away like a shipwrecked
galleon, on some distant island.
In the shadows the brook seems to
have a more solemn tone, in keeping with its somber
surroundings, singing its song to the white-petaled
saxifrage that peeps out at it over the bed of maidenhair
fern, or the bright-leaved water cress; then flashing
out into the sunlight, and, like a boy out of school,
romping and laughing in utter abandon.
Flowering currants, with rose-pink
clusters of blossoms, line the banks, scattering their
fragrance far and near. The rancorous cry of
the catbird, and the rattling call of the kingfisher,
that feathered spirit of the stream, are left behind;
the clear flutelike notes of the meadow lark take
their place, and the hills, covered with wild flowers,
roll back from its margin, as if to make room for its
The Western bluebird floats across
the meadow like a flashing sapphire, and the lark-sparrow
pours forth his melody, as he teeters up and down
on a weed stalk.
But at night the brook is heard at
its best, when it performs its symphonies for the
flickering moonlight that nestles upon its bosom,
and the stars that reflect their lamps on its surface.
Make your camp on its margin and when
your fire burns low, and you draw your blanket around
you, with the mountain brook singing its lullaby,
and the vesper sparrow chanting its melodious vesper
hymn, you can say with the psalmist, “I will
both lay me down in peace and sleep,” and you
might add, “lulled by the song of the mountain