Read Bear Creek of Byways Around San Francisco Bay, free online book, by William E. Hutchinson, on ReadCentral.com.

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 uninterrupted flow.

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 brook.”