"A Life Lived Large" – by Georgia I. Hesse

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Jack's Garden, Jack London SHP ©Jim Nevill
Jack’s Garden, Jack London SHP ©Jim Nevill

“A Life Lived Large”

By Georgia I. Hesse
 
I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather
            that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze
            than it should be stifled by dry rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor,
            every atom of me in magnificent glow,
            than a sleepy and permanent planet.
            The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.
If the soul of Jack London strides the lovely lands at the foot of Sonoma Mountain these summer evenings, it must enjoy a sense of contentment. Beauty Ranch is being returned to itself.
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Benziger Family Winery
Benziger Family Winery

Just more than two years ago, in June of 2011, the State of California laid down the law: The three parks maintained by Valley of the Moon Natural History Association were to be closed to the public as of June 2012. (In addition to Jack London State Historic Park at Glen Ellen, that meant Annadel State Park to the east of Santa Rosa and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park to the north along Highway 29.)
Unacceptable, the people declared. The spirit of Jack London was roused. By November of 2011, a project had been submitted to the state by VMNHA: Project Jack London Park Partners (JLPP) would be created and funded to manage day-to-day operations.
And so it came to be.
On July 20, a meeting of BATW was called to order under the shadowing oak and black locust trees near the cottage where Jack and Charmian London lived, wrote, and farmed. Inga Aksamit and Steve Mullen had seen to it that the stars were aligned to produce a perfect day. In the absence of president Ginny Prior, VP Karen Misuraca swiftly handled the housekeeping details, then introduced Anne Abrams, public relations rep, who in turn called upon executive director Tjiska Van Wyk to tell us the splendid story of the survival – nay, the rebirth – of the park since its “adoption” by JLPP.
Docent Lou Leal then reintroduced us to the author-adventurer-farmer that London became; at one point he was the most translated English-language novelist and short story writer in the world. Divided into two groups, members were conducted around Beauty Ranch by Leal and docent Stewart Hume, from the restored and refurbished cottage where the Londons lived and worked to the famous Pig Palace and to stables, stone barns, silos, and the ruins of the Kohler & Frohling Winery. The walk was an amble through history studded with enticing trivia: Did you know that Jack liked to eat undercooked duck, or that the prolific writer bought 14 storylines from Sinclair Lewis, or that Charmian had 27 pairs of slippers in all colors?
In the past, most trips to the park have concentrated on the House of Happy Walls (the museum in a stupendous stone structure built by Charmian after Jack’s death at age 40 on Nov. 22, 1916), and to the ruins of Wolf House, the writer’s dream home that burned down on Aug. 22, 1913. Usually, they end where the Londons lie (together after 39 years apart) under a massive, mossy boulder atop a tree-shaded knoll just off the trail between the sad remains of Wolf House and the House of Happy Walls.
On this day, though, BATW focused on the park’s future as firmly as upon its past. Already, it is a stunning success. Throughout the 1,400 acres, hiking and biking trails have been cleared and upgraded and horseback tours introduced. At-risk children, many of them introduced to the outdoors for the first time in their lives, work at on-going maintenance. Some 350 volunteers busy themselves at everything from cleaning up the grounds to driving the electric cart known as the Wolf House Express for seniors or a horse-drawn carriage for weddings.
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Benziger Family Winery
Benziger Family Winery

New themed tours abound: the Charmian London tour, the moonlight tour of Wolf House, wine tours and tastings, etc. On Sept. 21 a Teachers Workshop will present to teachers of English, social studies, and science several literary, political, and environmental aspects of London’s work.
Beginning on June 28, performances of “Broadway Under the Stars” given by the Transcendence Theatre Company have become a succès fou that will continue through Aug. 31.
Nota bene: For descriptions of how, what, when, and where within the park, peruse the outstanding web site: www.jacklondonpark.com, or call 707-938-5216. Send e-mails to info@jacklondonpark.com. For PR rep Anne Abrams, contact her at aabrams@jacklondonpark.com.
I very much enjoyed last year’s article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat about Executive Director Tjiska Van Wyk by BATW member Suzie Rodriguez that came up first when I Googled Van Wyk’s name.
And then we left…but only because it was time for a lunch and wine tasting at just-down-the-hill Benziger Family Winery. We had learned how the elements of community involvement can save, can even dramatically improve, a treasured landmark

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One enchanted afternoon, many moons ago when Biodynamic came with a lower case “b” and was used in reference to Olympics athletes, a friend and I idylled an afternoon away (I spell the verb that way intentionally) at Benziger in the shadow of Sonoma Mountain, a dormant volcano dressed in green. The atmosphere was laid-back; the very air seemed lazy.
This time things were different. The welcome mat was out and supercharged for BATW. On the Vineyard Tram Tour I heard about microclimates, root systems, soils and sunlight, healing herbs, and sustainable farming arts, and I put adjectives in my notebook: powerful mouth feel, bright acidity, and (perhaps my favorite) ethereal.
Then, back to the tasting room. I swirled in my glass a rosé from Dragonsleaf Vineyard to accompany a delicious, thin-crusted pizza. Then they opened the portfolio. Visions of sun clusters danced in my head. Two Pinot Noirs appeared, earthy yet elegant. A bevy of Benzigers, all gorgeous and generous, materialized. (More than a dozen of them constitute the concept of Family Winery. It is, indeed.)
I sipped a bit of Bella Luna Pinot Noir and hummed: “Here a Benziger; there a Benziger; everywhere a bene Ziger.” I shall return.
Nota bene: Benziger Family Winery is at home at 1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442; Tel: 888-490-2739; www.benziger.com.

 

 

 
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