Jack London's Description of the View from Sonoma Mountain

Jack London on horseback on Sonoma MountainEditor's note: In the early years of this century, writer Jack London owned and lived on a ranch near Glen Ellen which extended to the top of Sonoma Mountain. Much of this ranch now makes up Jack London State Historic Park. The "southern edge of the peak" mentioned in this excerpt would be at or very near Lafferty's upper meadow.


There were no houses in the summit of Sonoma Mountain, and, all alone under the azure California sky, he reined in on the southern edge of the peak. He saw open pasture country, intersected with wooded canons, descending to the south and west from his feet, crease on crease and roll on roll, from lower level to lower level, to the floor of Petaluma Valley, flat as a billiard-table, a cardboard affair, all patches and squares of geometrical regularity where the fat freeholds were farmed. Beyond, to the west, rose range on range of mountains cuddling purple mists of atmosphere in their valleys; and still beyond, over the last range of all, he saw the silver sheen of the Pacific. Swinging his horse, he surveyed the west and north, from Santa Rosa to St. Helena, and on to the east, across Sonoma to the chaparral-covered range that shut off the view of Napa Valley. Here, part way up the eastern wall of Sonoma Valley, in range of a line intersecting the little village of Glen Ellen, he made out a scar upon a hillside. His first thought was that it was the dump of a mine tunnel, but remembering that he was not in gold-bearing country, he dismissed the scar from his mind and continued the circle of his survey to the southeast, where, across the waters of San Pablo Bay, he could see, sharp and distant, the twin peaks of Mount Diablo. To the south was Mount Tamalpais, and, yes, he was right, fifty miles away, where the draughty winds of the Pacific blew in the Golden Gate, the smoke of San Francisco made a low-lying haze against the sky.

"I ain't seen so much country all at once in many a day," he thought aloud.

From Part II, Chapter 8 of Burning Daylight, serialized in The New York Herald, June-August, 1910.

View of Petaluma from Lafferty Ranch.  Photo by Scott Hess.

Spring view today from Lafferty Ranch on Sonoma Mountain
toward Petaluma and beyond. Photograph by Scott Hess.

Robert Louis Stevenson's description of ascending
a nearby Sonoma or Napa county ridge

A rough smack of resin was in the air, and a crystal mountain purity. It came pouring over these green slopes by the oceanful. The woods sang aloud, and gave largely of their healthful breath. Gladness seemed to inhabit these upper zones, and we had left indifference behind us in the valley. "I to the hills lift mine eyes!" There are days in a life when thus to climb out of the lowlands, seems like scaling heaven.  

From Chapter II, "First Impressions of Silverado" of Silverado Squatters by Robert Louis Stevenson

Henry David Thoreau
on our need to walk in nature

No Trespassing signAt present, in this vicinity, the best part of the land is not private property; the landscape is not owned, and the walker enjoys comparative freedom. But possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only--when fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps and other engines invented to confine men to the PUBLIC road, and walking over the surface of God's earth shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman's grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoyment of it. Let us improve our opportunities, then, before the evil days come.

From "Walking" by Henry David Thoreau


     So, if there is any central and commanding hilltop, it should be reserved for the public use. Think of a mountaintop in the township, even to the Indians a sacred place, only accessible through private grounds. A temple, as it were, which you cannot enter without trespassing—nay, the temple itself private property and standing in a man’s cow-yard, for such is commonly the case. ... That area should be left unappropriated for modesty and reverence’s sake—if only to suggest that the traveller who climbs thither in a degree rises above himself, as well as his native valley, and leaves some of his grovelling habits behind.
      I know it is a mere figure of speech to talk about temples nowadays, when men recognize none and associate the word with heathenism. Most men, it appears to me, do not care for Nature and would sell their share in all her beauty for as long as they may live for a stated and not very large sum. ... It is for the very reason that some do not care for these things that we need to combine to protect all from the vandalism of a few.
        ... I think that each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or a thousand acres, either in one body or several—a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation. ... It frequently happens that what the city prides itself on most is its park, those acres which require to be the least altered from their original condition.

From "Wild Fruits" by Henry David Thoreau


Beckoning trail

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