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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsOur Italy - Chapter 1. How Our Italy Is Made
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Our Italy - Chapter 1. How Our Italy Is Made Post by :freebie Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :893

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Our Italy - Chapter 1. How Our Italy Is Made


The traveller who descends into Italy by an Alpine pass never forgets the surprise and delight of the transition. In an hour he is whirled down the slopes from the region of eternal snow to the verdure of spring or the ripeness of summer. Suddenly--it may be at a turn in the road--winter is left behind; the plains of Lombardy are in view; the Lake of Como or Maggiore gleams below; there is a tree; there is an orchard; there is a garden; there is a villa overrun with vines; the singing of birds is heard; the air is gracious; the slopes are terraced, and covered with vineyards; great sheets of silver sheen in the landscape mark the growth of the olive; the dark green orchards of oranges and lemons are starred with gold; the lusty fig, always a temptation as of old, leans invitingly over the stone wall; everywhere are bloom and color under the blue sky; there are shrines by the way-side, chapels on the hill; one hears the melodious bells, the call of the vine-dressers, the laughter of girls.

The contrast is as great from the Indians of the Mojave Desert, two types of which are here given, to the vine-dressers of the Santa Ana Valley.

Italy is the land of the imagination, but the sensation on first beholding it from the northern heights, aside from its associations of romance and poetry, can be repeated in our own land by whoever will cross the burning desert of Colorado, or the savage wastes of the Mojave wilderness of stone and sage-brush, and come suddenly, as he must come by train, into the bloom of Southern California. Let us study a little the physical conditions.

The bay of San Diego is about three hundred miles east of San Francisco. The coast line runs south-east, but at Point Conception it turns sharply east, and then curves south-easterly about two hundred and fifty miles to the Mexican coast boundary, the extreme south-west limits of the United States, a few miles below San Diego. This coast, defined by these two limits, has a southern exposure on the sunniest of oceans. Off this coast, south of Point Conception, lies a chain of islands, curving in position in conformity with the shore, at a distance of twenty to seventy miles from the main-land. These islands are San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, San Nicolas, Santa Catalina, San Clemente, and Los Coronados, which lie in Mexican waters. Between this chain of islands and the main-land is Santa Barbara Channel, flowing northward. The great ocean current from the north flows past Point Conception like a mill-race, and makes a suction, or a sort of eddy. It approaches nearer the coast in Lower California, where the return current, which is much warmer, flows northward and westward along the curving shore. The Santa Barbara Channel, which may be called an arm of the Pacific, flows by many a bold point and lovely bay, like those of San Pedro, Redondo, and Santa Monica; but it has no secure harbor, except the magnificent and unique bay of San Diego.

(Illustration: MOJAVE DESERT.)

The southern and western boundary of Southern California is this mild Pacific sea, studded with rocky and picturesque islands. The northern boundary of this region is ranges of lofty mountains, from five thousand to eleven thousand feet in height, some of them always snow-clad, which run eastward from Point Conception nearly to the Colorado Desert. They are parts of the Sierra Nevada range, but they take various names, Santa Ynes, San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and they are spoken of all together as the Sierra Madre. In the San Gabriel group, "Old Baldy" lifts its snow-peak over nine thousand feet, while the San Bernardino "Grayback" rises over eleven thousand feet above the sea. Southward of this, running down into San Diego County, is the San Jacinto range, also snow-clad; and eastward the land falls rapidly away into the Salt Desert of the Colorado, in which is a depression about three hundred feet below the Pacific.

The Point Arguilles, which is above Point Conception, by the aid of the outlying islands, deflects the cold current from the north off the coast of Southern California, and the mountain ranges from Point Conception east divide the State of California into two climatic regions, the southern having more warmth, less rain and fog, milder winds, and less variation of daily temperature than the climate of Central California to the north.(A) Other striking climatic conditions are produced by the daily interaction of the Pacific Ocean and the Colorado Desert, infinitely diversified in minor particulars by the exceedingly broken character of the region--a jumble of bare mountains, fruitful foot-hills, and rich valleys. It would be only from a balloon that one could get an adequate idea of this strange land.

(Footnote A: For these and other observations upon physical and climatic conditions I am wholly indebted to Dr. P. C. Remondino and Mr. T. S. Van Dyke, of San Diego, both scientific and competent authorities.)

The United States has here, then, a unique corner of the earth, without its like in its own vast territory, and unparalleled, so far as I know, in the world. Shut off from sympathy with external conditions by the giant mountain ranges and the desert wastes, it has its own climate unaffected by cosmic changes. Except a tidal wave from Japan, nothing would seem to be able to affect or disturb it. The whole of Italy feels more or less the climatic variations of the rest of Europe. All our Atlantic coast, all our interior basin from Texas to Manitoba, is in climatic sympathy. Here is a region larger than New England which manufactures its own weather and refuses to import any other.

With considerable varieties of temperature according to elevation or protection from the ocean breeze, its climate is nearly, on the whole, as agreeable as that of the Hawaiian Islands, though pitched in a lower key, and with greater variations between day and night. The key to its peculiarity, aside from its southern exposure, is the Colorado Desert. That desert, waterless and treeless, is cool at night and intolerably hot in the daytime, sending up a vast column of hot air, which cannot escape eastward, for Arizona manufactures a like column. It flows high above the mountains westward till it strikes the Pacific and parts with its heat, creating an immense vacuum which is filled by the air from the coast flowing up the slope and over the range, and plunging down 6000 feet into the desert. "It is easy to understand," says Mr. Van Dyke, making his observations from the summit of the Cuyamaca, in San Diego County, 6500 feet above the sea-level, "how land thus rising a mile or more in fifty or sixty miles, rising away from the coast, and falling off abruptly a mile deep into the driest and hottest of American deserts, could have a great variety of climates.... Only ten miles away on the east the summers are the hottest, and only sixty miles on the west the coolest known in the United States (except on this coast), and between them is every combination that mountains and valleys can produce. And it is easy to see whence comes the sea-breeze, the glory of the California summer. It is passing us here, a gentle breeze of six or eight miles an hour. It is flowing over this great ridge directly into the basin of the Colorado Desert, 6000 feet deep, where the temperature is probably 120 deg., and perhaps higher. For many leagues each side of us this current is thus flowing at the same speed, and is probably half a mile or more in depth. About sundown, when the air on the desert cools and descends, the current will change and come the other way, and flood these western slopes with an air as pure as that of the Sahara and nearly as dry.


"The air, heated on the western slopes by the sea, would by rising produce considerable suction, which could be filled only from the sea, but that alone would not make the sea-breeze as dry as it is. The principal suction is caused by the rising of heated air from the great desert.... On the top of old Grayback (in San Bernardino) one can feel it (this breeze) setting westward, while in the canons, 6000 feet below, it is blowing eastward.... All over Southern California the conditions of this breeze are about the same, the great Mojave Desert and the valley of the San Joaquin above operating in the same way, assisted by interior plains and slopes. Hence these deserts, that at first seem to be a disadvantage to the land, are the great conditions of its climate, and are of far more value than if they were like the prairies of Illinois. Fortunately they will remain deserts forever. Some parts will in time be reclaimed by the waters of the Colorado River, but wet spots of a few hundred thousand acres would be too trifling to affect general results, for millions of acres of burning desert would forever defy all attempts at irrigation or settlement."

This desert-born breeze explains a seeming anomaly in regard to the humidity of this coast. I have noticed on the sea-shore that salt does not become damp on the table, that the Portuguese fishermen on Point Loma are drying their fish on the shore, and that while the hydrometer gives a humidity as high as seventy-four, and higher at times, and fog may prevail for three or four days continuously, the fog is rather "dry," and the general impression is that of a dry instead of the damp and chilling atmosphere such as exists in foggy times on the Atlantic coast.

"From the study of the origin of this breeze we see," says Mr. Van Dyke, "why it is that a wind coming from the broad Pacific should be drier than the dry land-breezes of the Atlantic States, causing no damp walls, swelling doors, or rusting guns, and even on the coast drying up, without salt or soda, meat cut in strips an inch thick and fish much thicker."

At times on the coast the air contains plenty of moisture, but with the rising of this breeze the moisture decreases instead of increases. It should be said also that this constantly returning current of air is always pure, coming in contact nowhere with marshy or malarious influences nor any agency injurious to health. Its character causes the whole coast from Santa Barbara to San Diego to be an agreeable place of residence or resort summer and winter, while its daily inflowing tempers the heat of the far inland valleys to a delightful atmosphere in the shade even in midsummer, while cool nights are everywhere the rule. The greatest surprise of the traveller is that a region which is in perpetual bloom and fruitage, where semi-tropical fruits mature in perfection, and the most delicate flowers dazzle the eye with color the winter through, should have on the whole a low temperature, a climate never enervating, and one requiring a dress of woollen in every month.

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