Over a century ago, Theodore S. Van Dyke wrote about outdoor life in California. In this post, I present examples of what he had to say about the California condor.
Van Dyke’s 1881 novel Flirtation Camp: or, The Rifle, Rod, and Gun in California is billed as “a sporting romance”. Here is an excerpt concerning the California condor:
Far above the towering head of the mountain some dark birds were winding with outstretched, motionless wing in graceful curves through the soft blue air.
“How beautifully those eagles sail!” said Laura.
“Quite a natural mistake”, said Belville.
“What do you mean? Are they not eagles?” …
“The Californians, who love to dignify all of the productions of their native State with imposing names, call them vultures; but they are in fact buzzards differing from the common buzzard only in color and size, being the largest bird in the world next to the condor of the Andes. But of all birds that fly their motions are the most beautiful and – ”
”They are not either. I don’t like them a bit”, said Laura …
“You change your opinon suddenly. A rose by any other name should smell as sweet.”
I have not read all of Flirtation Camp so I do not know what comes of Laura and Belville.
Five years later, Van Dyke switched to non-fiction.
The California condor makes 3 appearances in this book. Here is a portion of one of these:
The condor, which is quite as often called “vulture”, is generally seen only in the high mountains, though it used often to be seen in the lowlands before their settlement… In the high thin air above the highest mountains, it spends hours with outstretched wings without making the slightest motion that can be detected, even by the strongest glass, and it probably spends the whole day without resting upon the earth or flapping its wings in the sky.
The November 1895 issue of Land of Sunshine magazine included an article by Van Dyke titled “The California Condor”. This is the opening paragraph:
California would rather be expected to have the largest of our birds. So it has, though the fact is not generally known; for the condor of North America floats only over the dreamy hills of the Pacific Coast. Miles above sea-level, winding in long curves through the topmost blue, this condor may yet be seen above the highest mountains, descending toward evening in immense spirals till, on some sharp crag or storm-beaten trunk, he folds his wings for the night.
The 12 September 1912 issue of Youth’s Companion magazine included Van Dyke’s “The Condor of the United States”. This is the concluding paragraph:
When I have been well hidden among the rocks, I have seen a condor within a few yards hanging on the air for many seconds at a time, not like the hawk balancing itself to fall upon some bird below, but seeming to sleep there as peacefully and quietly as a summer cloud. Then, suddenly, the bird has turned half-over and cleft the air with a sharp hiss of wing-feathers, for which there was not the slightest motion of a wing to account. And all this time the condor has been rising instead of falling; and I have vainly watched the fringed tips of the great wings for the slightest sign of motion.
Clearly, Van Dyke was enchanted by the soaring flight of the California condor. His words on that subject are among the finest that I have read.