As a “Teaser” for the reader comes the following short story contained in the book.
A GRAVE ON SONOMA MOUNTAIN
(from the “California” chapter)
They didn’t name the school after him because he was a socialist and died from the drink. Even when the children voted him to be their hero for the worth of his famous novels, the haute societe’ in the valley mentioned again the false rumor that he was not kind to his wife. His carousing around and radical viewpoints seventy years ago were all that was of import. It didn’t matter that a legion of admirers raved about his writings, even in Russia, nor that the local merchants now about in Glen Ellen, Sonoma and far-off Oakland plastered his name on their shop signs in fondest memories. What mattered was those other things. The cronies in charge argued against him. “After all, if he was any good, he’d be buried in a cemetery, like normal folks, instead of under that stupid stone on the ridge.” They muttered in their cups of tea in secret envy of that mossy place on Sonoma Mountain. ”The school had better be named after someone else.”
Whenever I was depressed, I’d make pilgrimages to Jack London’s grave. I’d hike down from our cabin on the top of the mountain, usually just before the end of the rainy season. Then, the endless grey January storms would only occasionally break to sunshine. The sheen of green pastures and rangelands below made an emerald foreground for a crystal view of Mount St. Helena, the lone volcanic peak jutting up on the northeastern horizon from the long gradual ridges of the Mayacamas Mountains. In the winter it was impossible to stay dry while hiking, because you had to forge so many creeks. They dashed down the mountain flanks in white foam, frothing over the waterfalls against the grey basalt on their way to Sonoma Creek. The cattle below on the pastures were like Swiss miniatures, munching tender oats and swaying their heads back and forth from long necked pendulums. A bell on the mama cow located the center of the herd. The bulls hid in the bushes, but revealed their locations by pounding the sod with their hooves. Then briefly, on the way to Jack London’s grave, I’d pass through the redwood groves, whose columns against the shadows pole vault you to heaven. Finally, when I reached the edge of the property, the trail led past a lake, where the author had perfectly hewn a stone dam, which kept the reservoir safe. The lake was placid and was filled with circles of rising bass in the shallows by the cattails.
Midway to his grave stands a roughly carved tile-roofed mansion in the oak woodlands. The mansion was built by his wife Charmaine in his memory, and when she died, the place became a state museum. Hurrying up the steps to the foyer, I always visited a glass-topped case first. It was about a meter squared in size, but only about a foot deep. Inside, beneath the smooth yellow glass, stood a semicircle of books – some fifty or so it seemed. Those editions with familiar titles brought back emotions of past adventures and troubles within; the explanations of reality from the author. To think that any one person could write so much was mind-boggling. Now the museum has been reorganized and shuffled from what it used to be. But then, as I recall, straight across from the main case holding his published works, was another glass case. This case was more upright, but had no shelves. On the bottom was a loose pile of ancient opened envelopes and half-folded letters and cards. In the corner of the case a small sign read “Jack London received over three hundred rejections of his work before his first manuscript was accepted for publication.”
Outside, the quiet meandering trail to his grave continued down the mountain ridge through dripping madrone groves. Raindrops fell like tears across their smooth ochre bark and stained it a deeper cinnamon. The red larkspurs danced on a gentle wind in the poison oak thickets. Two brooks slowly carved their canyons, mirroring unsettledness; rivulets of harmony. The white Harbinger of Spring, blue Cynoglossums, and early robins warbling guided me further to the visiting place. I always began to feel better on the way to Jack London’s grave. The woods and arroyos of the mountain clarified me, and settled self-doubt. Disappointment and anxiety went away, erased, as they should be. But I was always apprehensive about getting closer to the burial site. So I looked for some sort of offering. I gathered bright berries, seeds of trees or rare species; something to give back to his memory. I planted them and my worries at the grave of Jack London.
The moss-covered stone above him was grown over by grizzly ferns. Their green glow emanated from the boulder. There was a strange resonance coming from the stone that spoke the same message as does the wind through the oaks. He has converted into the wilderness and his essence is deep in the dirt. When I was at Jack London’s grave, I could feel the adventures he portrayed in his novels. The howl of the ice wind, the waft of a tropical breeze, the anguish of the oppressed, and the innocence of a yearning for first love found at last. All these things came from beneath the stone. They must have left the ruins of Wolf House caught along the path to the Valley of the Moon at the headstone of the author. I could feel them there. The hike back up the mountain to the cabin was always easier in the late afternoon.