jayellebee's Blog

March 9, 2014

Christmas in March

     What do you give people who can buy anything they really want for themselves? Finding the perfect gift for either my parents or in-laws was always one of the highest hurdles to clear each year as Christmas approached. I remember the challenge well.    

Jack London State Park 005      So, I was duly impressed this past December when our kids presented Ken and me with a two night stay in Glen Ellen. This quaint little town is located in the heart of Sonoma’s wine country. You’d have to make an effort to avoid all the tasting rooms in the area, and even then you’d most likely trip over a few anyway.Jack London State Park 006

      But wine wasn’t the motivation for sending us to this destination. Nope.

     Glen Ellen happens to be the site of California’s Jack London State Park. Without doing any due diligence or fact checking, I’m willing to wager it is also one of our smallest state parks. This is one of those times when size doesn’t matter.

      The kiddos remembered I have a thing for Jack London. I’m old, and a mother. The nature of my interest in this legendary man might not have been crystal clear to them. But the mere fact they know something goes on in my head besides remembering to separate the whites from the colors and making sure we don’t run out of toilet paper makes me happy.

     This past week Ken and I took the three-hour road trip west to collect on our gift.

Jack London State Park 013      Perched atop a hill overlooking the Valley of the Moon, the park offers multiple short hikes through redwood groves, clusters of oak, magnificent madrone and enough eucalyptus to sate a clutch of koalas. Our first stop was the “House of Happy Walls,” built by Jack’s widow to serve as her residence and an eventual museum. Visitors are treated to rooms filled with memorabilia from Jack and Charmian’s world travels, as well as a glimpse into her personal closet where vintage dresses still hang.

      I’m always amused how Ken and I notice different things even as we stand side-by-side. He was enthralled with the massive redwood beams spanning the main room of the museum. The compass from the Londons’ sailing ketch, “Snark,” and other maritime treasures Jack London State Park 015 validated Ken’s time in the museum.

      Meanwhile, I read some of Jack’s 600+ rejection letters. One, written in 1901, told the author his work was “too tragic,” and asked if he might have anything more cheerful. Another was signed by M. H. deYoung, then editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. Perhaps my paltry pile of 100 or so rejection letters isn’t such a big deal after all….

      In this age of self publishing, print on demand books and e-books, it is easy to believe catching the attention of a literary agent and/or traditional publishing house has never been more difficult. Keeping in mind that Jack London died at the age of 40 in 1916 makes this quote all the more poignant for frustrated, wanna-be writers like me:

              For one clever writer twenty years ago, there are, today, five hundred clever

             writers. Today excellent writing is swamped in a sea of excellent writing. Or

             so it seems to me.

Jack London State Park 028      Leaving the museum, we followed a path to the ruins of the Londons’ dream house. After three years of construction, and mere weeks before they would have moved in, the 14,000 square foot, four story masterpiece caught fire during the night and was destroyed. Jack London’s death the following year aborted a brief attempt to rebuild. Today, the imposing rock walls serve as nurseries for moss and delicate ferns. A pinch of imagination allows the laughter and conversations which might have been but never were to echo through the silence.

      Jack’s ashes were buried on the park’s grounds in a location he chose himself. Following his wishes, aJack London State Park 023 large boulder was placed above the ashes. Later, Charmian’s ashes were intermingled with his. The lichen-covered, white picket enclosure speaks to the time that has passed. Jack London has been dead more than twice as many years as he lived.

      And yet his writing lives on. I am in awe.

      You need not be a fan of White Fang or The Call of the Wild to enjoy a visit to Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen. You’ll be glad you went if you enjoy nature. Or architecture. Or even jack rabbits – the park is teeming with them. And, for the truly hard-to-please tourist, there’s also a manure shed.

      Hopefully Ken’s and my parents enjoyed one or two of their Christmas presents from us as much as we enjoyed this gift from our children. Christmas celebrated in March. What a treat.

Jack London State Park 022

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