Preserving “The Land of Poco Tiempo”

For generations, travelers and locals alike have drawn inspiration from the historic structures and cultural landscapes left behind by earlier Californians.  Here, Wayne Sherman hearkens back to turn-of-the twentieth century writers, who, like many of us today, sought to recapture the spirit of Hispanic California.  As Wayne reminds us, the echoes of this past sound just a bit louder in beautiful pastoral setting like that of the Santa Inés Mission Mills.

by Wayne Sherman

In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.

— Joshua L. Chamberlain

Charles "Carlos" Jenkins. Courtesy of Wayne Sherman.

I first encountered the expression “poco tiempo” while researching a collection once belonging to an American Civil War veteran from Los Angeles. His name was Charles “Carlos” Jenkins and, in his day, he was a well known character around the Los Angeles area. He had arrived in the area from Ohio with his stepfather George Dalton in 1850. George Dalton was the brother of Henry “Don Enrique” Dalton, the largest landowner in the San Gabriel Valley.

Author Susanna Bryant Dakin interviewed Charles for her book A Scotch Paisano: Hugo Reid’s Life in California, 1832-1852 because, at the time of the interview in the late 1920’s or early 30’s, Charles was the last of the Pioneer Angelinos living to have personally known Hugo Reid. Bryant titles one of the chapters in her book “The Land of Poco Tiempo” and tries to describe the idiomatic expression: “poco tiempo was an expression often used by those paisanos who were living a pastoral life in Alta California… Freely translated it meant “Too little time” – too little time today to do anything that can be done tomorrow.”

Predating Bryant’s 1939 work by 46 years is Charles Fletcher Lummis’ work, The Land of Poco Tiempo. At the time of writing, Lummis worked for Harrison Gray Otis as the City Editor at The Los Angeles Times. After suffering a stroke and mild paralysis, Lummis left the hustle and bustle of the city for New Mexico and became enamored by a vision of life while the Southwest was part of New Spain. On page 3 he states;

Here is the Land of Poco Tiempo – the home of “Pretty Soon.” Why hurry with the hurrying world? The “Pretty Soon” of New Spain is better than the “Now! Now!” of the haggard States. The opiate sun soothes to rest, the adobe is made to lean against, the hush of day-long noon would not be broken. Let us not hasten – manana will do. Better still, pasado manana.

As with most idiomatic translations, it is hard to put a finger on the exact meaning. To listen to the above descriptions alone one would think poco tiempo a synonym for “lazy.” It is not; the historical record notes the industry of the paisanos. Let’s just say there was no rubber stamp marked “Rush!” in the “Land of Poco Tiempo” post office. I found this expression inviting and intriguing. And, although the goal of my research was to bring a forgotten local hero back into the present for recognition, he reached out from the grave, through Susanna Dakin, and pulled me into “The Land of Poco Tiempo” with the words she recorded.

Carreta at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. Photo by Anne Petersen.

Fourteen of them . . . had made a midmorning start from Don Enrique’s [Los Angeles] townhouse [for Hugo Reid’s “Uva Espina” at San Gabriel].  They traveled in two carretas, and the oxen were leisurely in pace; so lunchtime overtook them not many miles from the center of town at Rosa de Castilla where there were shade trees and water.  They had a delicious bastamiento of fourteen squab chickens with old-time trimmings, followed by a siesta.  The sun had set before they reached San Gabriel.

Evening saw a merry company gathered under the Reid roof.  A rare feast was spread of old-time lavishness, including roast turkey, tortillas, enchiladas, dulces, fruit, and Hugo’s own wine. Presently, mission bells called everyone to prayers across the way; then home under the pepper trees to talk and sing Mexican love songs.  The timbre of Hugo’s flexible voice and tinkling of Felipe’s [Hugo’s son] guitar carried each tune over passages that were unfamiliar to the English guests.  Soon everyone was singing and dancing with complete lack of self consciousness . . . . . Next morning the Daltons all piled into their carretas and creaked on up the dusty road to their home by the cool green lake at Santa Anita.

I was hooked. I had to find this place called “Poco Tiempo.” And Don Carlos, as Charles Jenkins was known locally, had given me the first clue where to find it; “the cool green lake at Santa Anita.” 

Hugo Reid Adobe at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden. Courtesy http://www.arboretum.org/

Arriving early one morning I made my way into the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia and made a bee line for where the map said the lake was. Rounding Lucky Baldwin’s Queen Anne “Guest House,” I finally came upon the site of Hugo Reid’s reconstructed adobe. No one else was there and fog still lay heavy on the ground making it easy to imagine the ghosts of the past. I looked into the bed chamber, which was once occupied by Hugo and Victoria, later by George and Elizabeth Dalton, then the Wolfskills and, finally, was also the location where Lucky Baldwin died in 1909. I was thrilled with whoever saw fit to preserve this site. Then I went to the lake to skip a stone and it happened. It was the same eerie feeling I have had come over me on some battlefields. That connect with the past, fleeting as a static spark, but undeniable as the goose bumps it produces upon the skin. “Hello Charles” I thought imagining him as that 10 year old in a strange land standing beside me and skipping stones; my stones sinking into the lake to join those skipped by Charles and every “kid at heart” that ever stood on that shore.

San Juan Bautista State Historic Park. Photo by Wayne Sherman.

It happened again a few years latter on a return trip from San Francisco. My wife and I stopped in San Juan Bautista for the night on a friend’s advice. Very early the next morning I made my way to the Plaza. Anyone who has ever been to San Juan Bautista can tell you what a wonderfully preserved piece of California’s past this state historic park is. The early morning mist, along with the free ranging chickens, made for a very pleasant experience on the deserted Plaza. However, it was on the unpaved piece of the original Calle Real, located on a terrace below the Mission, that I had my next brush up against the “Land of Poco Tiempo” when I turned a corner and before me was a simple sign painted on a peeling picket fence saying “norte.” Again with the goose bumps!

Santa Inés Mission Mills. Photo by Wayne Sherman.

Nowadays, as steward for the Santa Inés Mission Mills, it happens to me quite regularly. When I am cutting weeds I might hear the sound of running water behind me in the mill only to find it was the wind through the tall Eucalyptus on the hill. Another time, on one of those vapor-shrouded days, the only sound I could hear at the mill, while making rounds, was the choir at the Mission. It made me stop to listen for the creak of a carreta. “Carlos?”

As a resident of the Santa Ynez Valley I feel indebted to the membership and staff of The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation for having the vision to preserve this long-overlooked, local jewel from the “Land of Poco Tiempo.” I am also quite honored to have been chosen steward for such a historic piece of California’s unique past and stand ready to preserve it for “generations that know us not” that “the power of the vision pass into their souls” too.

Gracias!

Wayne Sherman is the steward for the Santa Inés Mission Mills.

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