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Local History Lesson: 11/01/2013

Mountain Magic

The way led on through rolling uplands and across small dips and canyons, all well wooded and a-drip with water. In places the road was muddy from wayside springs.

“The mountain’s a sponge,” said Billy. “Here it is, the tail-end of dry summer, an’ the ground’s just leakin’ everywhere.”

Jack London, The Valley of the Moon

In the beginning, according to the Coast Miwok account, o-ye, the Coyote Man, landed his boat on top of oona-pa’is (Sonoma Mountain). Pulling his craft from the ocean, which at that time covered the rest of the world, he flipped it upside down to let the water run out. Then he set his boat so that the long way went from north to south and the narrow way from east to west.

This fragment of a longer tale accounts for the shape of Sonoma Mountain, which resembles an overturned boat. It also explains the shape of Sonoma County’s landscape, where valleys tend to be long from north to south and narrow from east to west. Extending the image, we might imagine the creeks pouring off Sonoma Mountain – Carriger, Graham, Yulupa, Crane, Copeland and dozens of others – as rivulets draining from o-ye’s boat. Rivulets drawn from the salty ocean, magically purified to run fresh down the sides of the mountain.

As London writes, even at the end of summer, the mountain’s springs and creeks continue flowing. Bill Murray, former Glen Ellen fire chief, described how during the drought in the 1970s “people weren’t getting much water.” Yet near Hayfields, “almost at the top of the mountain, there’s a spring. That spring never stopped running all through the drought…the pigs used to sometimes get stuck in the mud there.” A resident who lived in a house on the summit plateau remembers how near her home was “an unusual spring…which had a pipe stuck into it vertically. Out poured gallons of cold, clear water which fed into the old bathtubs for the cattle. It was a magic place.”

A spring gushing from the top of a mountain stretches the imagination and inspired folk tales and explanations. Longtime resident Milo Shepard described how people thought that the water on the upper slopes of Sonoma Mountain came from as far away as Shasta County. They reasoned that you had “to have a body of water higher to force it up to twenty-one hundred [feet] where these springs are on the top…” (Geologists now attribute the existence of springs high on the mountain to ‘perched’ water tables.)

London described another mountain phenomenon in his play The Acorn-Planter. One of the characters notices how, after an earthquake, “springs in some places dry up, and in other places where there were no springs, springs burst forth.” Bill Murray described how the spring supplying Waldruhe Heights went dry after an earthquake. The opposite occurred in 2006. That summer, just before a moderate quake shook Sonoma Mountain, at least one creek, which had already gone dry, began flowing again. The additional water from this creek, and others, tripled the flow in Sonoma Creek before slowly declining over several weeks. Tectonic forces were apparently squeezing the mountain like a sponge.

The mountain has a number of artesian wells – places where the water pressure is high enough to push it to the surface. Milo recalled that “The first underground spring, underground artesian well that was hit was up on Sonoma Mountain on the Bruning property” (on Sonoma Mountain Road near Waldruhe Heights). “It blew the bit out of the ground.”

Where can you sample a drink of Sonoma Mountain water? My favorite place is the fountain by the picnic tables above the upper parking lot at Jack London State Park. It comes out cold and fresh, tasting pleasantly of minerals deep underground, of flavors hidden at the heart of the mountain.

This article originally appeared in the Sonoma Mountain Preservation Group's Sonoma Mountain Journal.


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