Read The Old Road of Byways Around San Francisco Bay, free online book, by William E. Hutchinson, on ReadCentral.com.

There is an old road that I love to follow. If one may judge by appearances, it is but slightly used by travelers, for it seems to lead nowhere, and is quite content in its wanderings, winding through canons, over hills, and down valleys. I am told by one who ought to know for he is an old resident that if you follow its tortuous course far enough, it will lead you to a town called Walnut Creek, but I cannot vouch for the truth of this assertion, as I have never found a town or hamlet along its winding course. In fact, I remember but one place of abode along its entire length, and this, a weather-beaten cottage nearly hidden by the pepper and acacia trees that surround it.

It is a quaint little place, and might have inspired the poet to write that beautiful poem containing the lines,

Let me live in a house by the side of the road,
And be a friend to man,

for the cooling draught passed out to me one hot afternoon from this house would certainly class the occupant as a benefactor.

The dew was sparkling on the grass when I set out in the early morning, gossamer spider webs strung from leaf and stem glistened in the sunlight, and up from a tuft of grass a meadow lark sprang on silent wing, scattering his silvery notes, a pæan of praise to the early dawn.

A bluebird’s notes blend with those of the song sparrow, and a robin swinging on the topmost branch of a eucalyptus, after a few short notes as a prelude, pours forth a perfect rhapsody of melody.

At this place a hill encroaches upon the road at the right, covered thickly with underbrush and blackberry vines, its crest surmounted with a stately grove of eucalyptus trees, while on the left there is an almost perpendicular drop to the valley below. So narrow is the road that teams can hardly pass each other. Why it should crowd itself into such narrow quarters when there is room to spare is its own secret.

Stretching its dusty length along, it soon broadens out as if glad to escape from its cramped quarters, and glides under the wide spreading branches of a California buckeye, which stands kneedeep in the beautiful clarkia, with its rose-pink petals, and wand-like stalks of the narrow-leaved milkweed, with silken pods bursting with fairy sails ready to start out on unknown travels.

Leaving the shade, it climbs the hill for a broader view of the surrounding landscape, and looks down on the bay on one side, and the rolling hills and valleys on the other. Yellow buttercups nod to it from the meadow, and the lavender snap dragons wave their threadlike fingers in silent greeting. Tall, stately teasels stand like sentinels along the way, and the balsamic tarweed spreads its fragrance along the outer edge.

Threading its way down a steep hill; through a wealth of tangled grasses; past a grove of live oaks, from whose twisted and contorted limbs the gray moss hangs in long festoons, by Indian paintbrush and scarlet bugler gleaming like sparks of fire amid the green and bronze foliage, it glides at last into a somber canon. There a bridge spans the brook that gurgles its elfin song to cheer the dusty traveler on its way.

The laurel, madrone, and manzanitas keep it company for some distance on either side, and a catbird mews and purrs from a clump of willows on the margin of the stream. A dozen or more yellow-winged butterflies gathered at a moist spot, scatter like autumn leaves before a gust of wind at my approach, dancing away on fairy wings like golden sunbeams.

At a place where the road makes a bend to the right, and the cat-tails and rushes grow in profusion, a blue heron, that spirit of the marsh, stands grotesque and sedate, and gazes with melancholy air into the water. Bullfrogs pipe, running the whole gamut of tones from treble to bass, hidden away amid the water grasses. Darning needles dodge in and out among the rushes in erratic flight, and a blackbird teeters up and down on a tulle stem while repeating over and over his pleasant “O-ko-lee.”

But the road does not stop to look or listen, and once more it climbs the hill where the golden poppy basks in the sunshine, and the dandelions spread their yellow carpet for it to pass over, or, nodding silken heads scatter their tiny fleet of a hundred fairy balloons upon the wings of the summer winds.

Down the road, whistling blithely, comes a slip of a boy, with fishing rod, cut from the adjacent thicket, over his shoulder and a can of bait tucked securely under his arm, happy as a king in anticipation of the fish he may never catch. At his heels trots contentedly a yellow dog. True companions of the highway are they, for no country road would be complete without its boy and dog, and as I pass them I call back, “Good luck, my doughty fisherman,” and the road answers or was it an echo? “Good luck, good luck.”

But at last the shadows creep down canon and hillside, the soft light of evening touches the tops of tree and shrub with a rosy splendor, shading from green to gold, from gold to purple; and through the gathering dusk the road sinks into the surrounding gloom, toiling on in silence with only the stars for company, and the lights from firefly lanterns to guide it on its lonely way.