Charles Frederick Holder.

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As I said above, he did not take
extended notes. He wanted only a
few words. "Let me get that," he
would say, and down went the ex-
pression that had struck him, with the
name of the place. For the rest he
trusted to his memory. In a few
words he was able to give the local
color of a place. In leaving Aspin-
wall it is — " Adios, Americanos ! "

On the Panama Railroad — "There
are huts all along the route, and half-
naked savages gaze patronizingly upon
us from their doorways."

Central America — " The Central
American is lazy. The only exercise
he ever takes is to occasionally pro-
duce a revolution."

Acapulco — " The pretty peasant
girls peddle necklaces made of shells."

Arriving at San Francisco it was —
"Kihi-hi ki ! Shoolah!"

Stockton — " A vivacious maniac in-
vites me to ride in a chariot drawn by
eight lions and a rhinoceros."

Carson City — " I hain't killed a man
for over two weeks ! What' 11 yer
jpoison yourself with ? ' '

Virginia City — "It's splendid streets
paved with silver."

Artemus Ward was fond of theatri-
cals and theatrical people. His head
was full of scraps of plays, which he
constantly quoted in a comical way.
While in Virginia City he blackened
his face one night and appeared as
"end man " in a minstrel show that
was performing at Niagara Hall on B
street. He happened to be acquainted
with some of the leading members of
the company and good-naturedly vol-
unteered in order to help them along.
Also he probably wished to see what
he could do in that line. He made a
good deal of fun, and of a kjnd that
was fresh and "droll. Though he ap-
peared among them but once, Artemus
gave the company many telling jokes
and funny little stories.

Artemus at times contemplated tak-
ing to the stage as a comedian, but
feared he was too old. He was of the
opinion that he ought to have a
beginning when he was about nineteen
or twenty years of age. Yet at the
time of his visit to the Comstock he
thought quite seriously of writing a
play for himself; one that could be
performed by a small company and
in which he would have appeared in
his great character of showman. His
play would have introduced "Betsy
Jane " and other " Baldinville " folk,
also some of the "wax Aggers." His
show, with the characters he intended
using, would undoubtedly have been
a success on the stage, as it had been
thoroughly advertised throughout the
country by his letters and sketches,
and would have added new luster to
the career of the gifted humorist.


OR beauty we turn most readily to those forms of plant life that hear
luxurious flowers, of such size and variegated hues that they demand
attention and homage. But even as the greatest intellects and souls
often conceal themselves beneath the most unassuming exteriors, so
amongst the most humble surroundings may be found some of natir
greatest wonders and rarest beauties. If we should go forth in the
fields with as keen susceptibilities as little children, but with out
maturer discrimination and knowledge, and examine those well-
known forms of plant life, whose very familiarity has rendered them worthless
in our estimation, we would be rewarded by many surprising discoveries.

On account of the great diversities of climate, altitude, soil, and geological
formations there are in our country many varieties of interesting and beautiful
grasses, whose artistic value does not seem to be thoroughly appreciated. In
plant life we seldom realize or understand beauty save in its concentrated
essence. The Japanese have a higher and more artistic conception of floral
beauty. They do not value it for the individual attraction of a flower alone,
nor for the rarity of a plant, but for its artistic aspects and in its relation to
the plant which bears the flower. They thereby get the benefit of a continuous
and successive grace and beauty of a higher order than that possessed by the
flower alone, for in connection with the stems and leaves it is capable of
greater expression. The wild grasses possess this grace and beauty, which
render 'them fit subjects for house decorations and artistic decorative de-
signs. But in their native homes they are even more interesting and
attractive, both for their artistic value and their habits and
manner of growth. When they are widely scattered over a
field or bank they display to advantage the individuality of
the plant, the grace and texture of the stems, leaves and
flower-stalks, while growing close together, a habit of
many of the grasses, they often form masses of effective
coloring, which varies according to the kind of grass,
and the angle at which the light strikes it. The writer
has often watched great fields of tall grasses and noted
that they sometimes -produce brilliant, at others, cool
and restful effects in relation to the surrounding land-
scape. When a light wind passes over them, there is a
gentle undulatory motion as they bend before it,
not unlike that of the bosom of the ocean, while
during a storm one could almost imagine there
were angry w T aves racing on, and losing them-
selves beyond the distant limits of the field.
Such a field of grass bending in the breeze,




flashing back the rays of the sum-
mer sun, is a world in itself, and
as the stalks bow and bend, chameleon
like, the entire mass changes tint and
hue — shades of green following one
another in bewildering confusion over
the surface.

Lying among the grasses, their deli-
cate forms take on a deeper meaning;
every blade has its beauties; every
leaf is a masterpiece of coloring. The
wild oat, rich in yellow, dangles from
its delicate stem a fairy bell that
jangles music so soft that it is scarcely
heard save by the quickened sen si
bility of the imagination, and it is at
intervals rudely interrupted by the
more realistic sounds produced, may-
hap, by the bees that dash here and there
in the Lilliputian forest. Overhead,
swing forms of a delicate feathery ap-
pearance, others are crowned with sharp
spines, each seed armed cap a pi(\ while
away against the sky the par-
achutes of the dandelion sail,
wafted from their light beds at
the whispering of the mildest
breeze, catching an ethereal
silver glow from the sunlight,
which, as it floods the openings in the
grass, discloses wonders yet untold.
From where we lie a broad band of
light illumines a little vale, and above
the grasstops unnumbered insect forms
are brought into strong relief, mov- 4
ing in some mysterious dance. They
apparently float on the beams of light,
rising and falling in unison as if to
the measure of the cricket's chirp be-
neath the leaves, or the shrill clarion
of the grasshopper. The very grass
makes music, the rustling and clash-
ing of the leaves,. the sensuous mur-
mur of the wind appeals to the poetic
and aesthetic senses, and here, in com-
plete touch with "the very simplest
and lowest of God's creatures, one
feels that ineffable longing to know all
the secrets of nature and to rise above
the limitations of human life.

Presently a grass blade is seen to
bend as though under some unusual
weight, and turning we see a spider
standing in the attitude of a gymnast,

the rear part of his body and spineret
elevated in the air. A tiny silken
thread is being industriously spun,
which gradually lengthens itself until
it extends about a foot above the
spider, swaying and curving in the
sunshine. Suddenly a breeze catches
it, and away it flies, carrying w T ith it
the aeronaut. This is his vehicle of
locomotion. Whether he has a rud-
der by which to steer his course has
not been ascertained, but he finally
alights somewhere, his silk-
en threads gathered into a
little raft upon which he is
comfortably ensconced.
The attention is now
startled by a
quick click
and a grass-
hopper darts
by, straight
towards the

point of one of
the tall grass-
es. He rashly

dashes upon it, and before he
realizes what has happened,
the sharp spear has pierced
his head, and to his horror he
finds himself hopelessly impaled,
his wings and legs vainly waving
and struggling in the air. He
has made his last journey
There is no one to mourn your
tragic fate, little rover. The in-
sect and plant life is just as full
of joyous life and color as it was
a moment ago, and the sun
shines just as brightly. The
butterflies, unmindful, flit about,




vaunting their infinite varie-
ties of delicate, rich and gor-
geous colors, and the insects still
dance their lively mysterious

Nature demonstrates in
he beauty of her fields that
she is an accomplished ar-
tist. She never produces /jk
or combines form or color '»
that will violate the laws fr
of harmony. In the mass-
es of grasses there is a unison of color
and grace, and the flowers that creep in among
them never in any way produce a jarring tone. The
insect and animal life often heightens or sub-
dues its own color, according to the surrounding
tints, or w 7 hen it is unchangeable, it is usually of
the uncertain shades that harmonize easily. Colors
that are often crude and inharmonious when posi-
tively reproduced by man, are so deftly and won-
derfully handled by nature, and so blended by
her great mediums, the different gradations of
light and shadow and atmosphere, that
she may indulge in the most daring com-
binations without violating the laws of
Regretfully, it must be said the
grasses are generally little valued or ap-
preciated excepting for utilitarian pur-
poses. They are simply of economic
importance to the farmer as furnishing ^j=g
food and fodder, and to the In-
dians, Japanese, and other races,
for the plating of mats, water jars, <■
baskets, and various other objects;

while in the tropical regions, certain kinds, as the bamboo of China,
Japan and India, attain such height and thickness that they may
be used in building houses and masts for vessels. Even the wild
birds find little use for the grasses more than the building of
their homes, or feeding upon it when the grains are ripe. The children,
perhaps, have a greater appreciation of the beauties and virtues of a field of
grass, and take more pleasure in it than in the most royal floral display. They
may romp in it without fear of destroying its pleasing aspects, and experience
Vol. IV— 27







a delight
only known
to childhood
when they
are c o m -
pletely hid-
den by the
tall grass
stalks, or
make little
nests where
they sit and talk through
the long August afternoons,
or lie with the bending stalks
lightly touching their faces,
half asleep, listening to the
droning of the bees and locusts,
until the piping of the tree frog
warns them that evening is ap-
proaching, and they return home
with flushed and happy faces .and
hands lull of the long slender
fl.OWer tipped stalks that have
shaded and cooled them during
the heat of the day.

Nature must have had some
hidden scheme which we are
unable to understand in con-
structing so many of her creations
on almost parallel lines, the slight
divergence of which the purely poetic
or artistic temperament, that ab-
sorbs great things with a fine disre-
gard of details, fails to discern, but
which the scientific mind will at once
discover, for it is his nature to inves-
tigate and dissect. Perhaps if the
scientist were to trace the lineage of
some of these plants, so like in appear-
ance, but of distinctly different fami-
lies, he would be rewarded by some
interesting discoveries. There is never
anything unreasonable in nature — her
laws are invariable, though sometimes

Grasses, scientifically speaking, con-


& stitute the family Gram-

* ineae. They are flower-
ing plants, having but
one lobe or seminal leaf.
The roots are generally
spreading and of great
length, the root stock
being well developed,
sturdy and far-reaching. The flower
is characterized by an almost in-
variable uniformity. Belonging to
the family are the many familiar
cereals, wheat, barley, rye, oats and
also the lesser plants forming the prin-
cipal factor of turf of natural down.
The rice, maize, millet, sorgho and
sugar cane of warmer climates, and
also the bamboo are less familiar
types, but they all constitute a part
of this indispensable species of vegeta-

A common form is the Elymus or
Perennial rye grass, which was first
cultivated in the 7th century, and
which is now cultivated extensively
throughout our country. In its wild
state its habits of growth are most
interesting. There are several varie-
ties, alike in general construction and
habits, but differing in some few par-
ticulars. It is generally heavy rooted,
strong and coarse, often attaining a
great height, growing in clumps on
the banks of rivers and creeks or on
moist prairies. The plant of the
Elymus tricoides differs from the other
varieties in its strong runners and its
manner of growth, which is not in
thick masses, but scattering and

The Lolima perenne or Italian
rye grass, which was introduced from
Europe is quite graceful, the flower
masses growing solitary on each joint
of the simple spike. The culms,
from two to three feet high, are very
leafy, and terminate in a loose spike-
like panicle about six inches long.
The Poison Darnel is of the same
family. On account of its poisonous
tendencies it is usually exterminated
from fields. It is to be regretted that
among species of plants that are sup-
posed to be the embodiment of health-



fulness, poison should exist, and in such a deceptive form, **i-
that unless the farmer well knows and understands the plant, \
he is likely to use it as the other forage products. Perhaps ^^
Milton, with his extraordinary, beautiful extra vagaii
might have accounted for its presence by saying that at the
fall in the Garden of Eden, when the animals became savage,
antagonistic and treacherous to each other and towards men,
venom of their ire crept subtly into its veins to react upon the
source from which the poison came.

The Triticum or wheat family is the most widely distributed of
annual cereal grasses. In structure it is very similar to the
Klymus. It is a prevalent opinion among botanists that wheat
is nowhere found wild, though M. Frederic Houssay is alleged
to have discovered the plant wild in the mountains east of
Kurdistan. There are many variations in the cultivated forms, but
the principal genus from which they derive their characteristics are,
according to Hseckel, their latest monographer, the Triticum mon-
ococcum or beardless wheat, which undoubtedly grows wild

Greece and Mesopotamia and is cul-
tivated in other countries, the Triti-
cum sativum, one species of which, the
spelta, was first cultivated by the
Aboriginal Swiss, the ancient Egyptians
mid throughout the Roman Empire, and
another species, the dicoccum, also cultivated
| > in pre-historic times and now throughout
'"■'■] 1 Southern Europe. The origin of the
Triticum polonicum, or Polish
%/ ;Al2S^ wheat is not known.

The A vena fatua or wild oat is com-
mon in California. It is believed to be the original
of the Avena sativa or cultivated oat, as the lat-
ter, when neglected, degenerates into a plant simi-
lar to the wild oat, and the wild oat when culti-
vated develops into a plant similar to the Avena sativa.
There is a peculiar motion manifested in some of these plants
under certain conditions, apart from their usual manner
of growth, which is startling to one who does not under-
stand it, ai;d even when it is explained one cannot rid
himself of the idea that there exist responsive electric
currents between animal and plant life. The awn of the wild oat, on
account of this peculiar phenomena, which it exhibits, was sometime
ago used by j ugglers to predict events and tell fortunes. They called
it the leg of an Arabian Spider, or "enchanted fly." The awn is
twisted in its lower portion, and is so susceptible to heat and moisture
that when breathed upon, or placed in the palm of
the hand, it moves seemingly spontaneously, as if
endowed with animal life. This is caused by the
size, form and density of the subjacent series of
cells, which expand and contract according to the
absorption or loss of moisture, producing twisting,
curving or contortion in alternate directions.
Hooke, one of the early writers on microscopical
objects, says of the awn, u Its sensibility to changes
timqthy-qrass. j n fa e atmosphere seems to depend on the different

KI'MI\ \< I mi-

4 I2


textures of its
parts, for the awn
is composed of
two kinds of sub-
stances, one that
is very porous,
loose and spongy,
into which the watery streams of the air may be very
easily forced, which will be thereby swelled and
extended in its dimensions ; and a second that is
more hard and close, into which the water can very
little, or not at all penetrate, this, therefore, retain-
ing- always very near the same dimensions, and the
other stretching and shrinking, according as there
is more or less moisture or water in its pores, by rea-
son of the make and shape of the parts the whole body
must necessarily unwreath and wreath itself." Hygros-
copism is also exhibited in many other forms of plant life.
A species of wild oat grass is the Chrysopozon nutans or
wood grass. The stalks grow from four to six feet high, and
the graceful drooping flowers are of a warm brownish straw color.
The spikelcts, of a yellow tint, are at the ends of the slender
branches of the loose panicle. It grows rather sparsely, forming
a thin bed of grass, and is more beautiful for the individual grace
of each plant than when en »iasse.
The Hordeum or wild barley is a very coarse plant when it
reaches maturity, and is injurious to the flesh, eyes and throats
of animals on account of its barbed awns. The sharp rigid
points of the seeds enter and bury themselves in the wool of the
sheep with which the grass comes in contact, and .sometimes
even penetrate the skin of the animals by their screwlike move-
ment, often causing death.

A very delicate and artistic grass is that of the wild rice,
Zizania aquatica. As the name would indicate it only
thrives in marshy grounds or on the wet banks of rivers
and lakes. It is allied to the eomihou commercial rice,
but, is vastly different in appearance. The leaves are
shorter and thicker than those of most grasses. The
upper branches are somewhat oppressed, containing the
fertile flowers, and the low r er ones, spreading delicately
outward, contain those that are staminate.

A blue grass of Texas is the Panicum texanum or
Texas millet. It grows from two to four feet high,
thriving best on rich alluvial soil, though it stands drought well.
It has many short broad leaves and numbers of stems are produced
from a single root. Another species of the Texas blue grass,
Poa a'rachnifera, is much daintier and more graceful' than that of
the family Panicum. The leaves are slender, profuse webby
hairs growing about the flowers.

The English blue grass, Poa coinpressa has sometimes been
confounded with the Kentucky blue grass. It differs from the
latter however, in its flattened, decumbent, wiry stems, and its
leaves of a dark bluish green color, are shorter and narrower.
The panicle, is more scanty, and the outer stems of the plant grow-
diagonally outward from the root, wild rice




The real Kentucky blue grass,
Poa Pratensis, also called June
grass, and spear grass, is indige-
nous to the mountainous regions
of this country as well as of
Europe, and has been introduced
into cultivation in many countries.
It grows from one and a half to
two feet high with a luxurious pro-
fusion of long, soft radical leaves.
It is of a rich, soft color, and the panicle,
pyramidal, or oblong in outline. It
bears but one flower stem a } r ear. This
is the grass that produces lawns, which,
when closely mown, are like smooth
green velvet upon which the minutest
shadow is faithfully reproduced with ex-
quisite softness.

Timothy, fowl meadow, and red top are extensively cultivated.
The timothy is stiff, its thickly flowered cylindrical spike mak-
ing it seem top-heavy. It is a healthy plant, one of the com
monest and best known of grasses. It is often sown with
■ clover, whose round pink heads, when well grown, peep up
\ at intervals through the sea of green. The fowl meadow
grass has narrow linear leaves, and the branches of the pani-
cle, mostly in fives or more, are numerous and nearly
erect. The red top is not entirely unlike
it in appearance, though the branches of
the panicle in some species are more

A peculiar plant known as pin-clover or pin-grass,
but not properly belonging to either family, is the
•Alfileria or Alfilerilla. It is really a member of the
geranium family. The plant is very healthy and need
never be re-sown, as it reproduces itself. It throws out
its carples, which, by means of the sharp points and
twisted beaks bury themselves in the soil, and spring up
thickly the following year. Many of the grasses have
a similar method of reproducing themselves, throwing
out their little sharp arrows, that snuggle down closely
into the warm earth for protection and nourishment.
Nature does not seem to forget one of her newborn
children, for. she provides them all with a nurse as well
as a mother.

There are still other plants that have been commonly
classed among grasses, but which are not of the fl
family, and there are also many other varieties outside

of those that have been
named and described, dif-
_ fering infinitely in details
of habit and development.
Volumes could be filled
with descriptions of them
in their different phases,



which, if closely examined, will be
found of sufficient variation to be
almost as interesting as the human
family in this respect. There is a
grass known as the Tussock, which
grows in sandy places and on the
sea-shore. It is peculiarly useful

during a storm in preventing, to some extent, the sand
from being blown about. It grows in clumps which are
sometimes set closely together and sometimes stray
sparsely over the sands. They have long supple
blades with pointed ends, and are very tough and
pliant, bending easily before the heavy winds
that sweep over them, but not
easily breaking. Sometimes it
happens that during a heavy
storm their blades are so bent as
to form two sides of a triangle,
the point hanging downward
and lightly touching the sands,
and when they are stirred by a
passing breeze they imprint pecu-
liar marks on the smooth sur-
face. Wandering by chance to
some solitary spot on the beach,
rarely frequented by human foot-
steps, one experiences a peculiar
sensation upon seeing the lonely
footprints of some sea-bird, or the
long weary trail of a snail, and
these curious marks of the
grasses, often resembling an-
cient hieroglyphics. One is
apt to find himself pondering
over them, and wondering
if they possess some hidden
meaning, and a multitude of
fantastic imaginings and
speculations throng his mind.

Animals have their means of communication with each other
and even with mankind, and it seems but just that plants
should be endowed with the same privilege. If it is not so, of
what avail are the sweet and sensuous song and odor of the
pines, the lightening phosphorescent interchanges of the
nasturtium, the double marigold, the red poppy, and also all the infinite
variations of form and color and the subtle power and insinuation of other
plants and flowers ? And perhaps these humble .sand-grasses, that do not
seem to be well endowed with the attractions and powers possessed by other
forms of plant life, are mutely communicating with one another, or even seek-
ing to convey their meaning to human kind through their writings on the




NE hot day in Septem-
ber, I journeyed
down the sandy val-
ley of the Rio Grande
del Norte. I was tak-
ing a vacation, seek-
ing rest and such
adventure as might
be found by wander-
ing in the quaint land of the old
Soutliwest. I had started from an
old Indian pueblo on a slow freight
train. We saw Oriental-looking In-
dian women with water jars on their

Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderThe Californian (Volume 4) → online text (page 54 of 120)