As I write this, the rains have finally returned to Glen Ellen, and to Jack London Village. The water has risen quickly where Asbury Creek flows into Sonoma Creek, just beyond the old mill. Our annual false spring haunted us all February, troubling our fears of a prolonged drought – but, thankfully, the rains have at last returned.
I like to arrive at my cabin in the Village early in the morning, before the restaurant workers and the shopkeepers do, and before the deliveries and the visitors. The overture for the day is clearly heard before the sounds of human enterprise join in – the calls of all the birds above, and the music of Sonoma Creek below: the tumbling tones of the confluence upstream, and the melody of water cascading across the shallows farther downstream.
I know this thrilling tide of vitality that flows about me also flows within me – with the air that I breathe in to enrich the blood that circulates throughout my body, and with the flux of thoughts and feelings that I have toward the people and events that find their place in my life, reminding me of my place in the world.
I listen closely to the sounds of nature each morning so they can be heard throughout the day, while the sounds of traffic from the county road and the voices of people passing by become added in as variations on the theme of a burgeoning life. I listen for this song within the story each visitor brings to my cabin: the desire to thrive and triumph in the face of sometimes hard situations and pressing circumstances.
I look up at the hill beyond, presiding over the stream, where small animals are busily searching for food, and where grasses and trees in so many shades of gray and green reach out from the dark earth into the sun – all showing the natural thriving urge to survive, endure, and flourish. This flow brings life to the ambience of the Village, its terroir.
This winemaker’s term “terroir” names more than local geologies and microclimates. Just as a glass of wine contains more than a sum of its ingredients, so life is more than a collection of events, and a person is more than a bag of meat. Anthropologist Keith Basso wrote, in Wisdom Sits in Places, that what takes place is recorded as a sense of place – and what is remembered is recalled in its every expression. Terroir resides within the landscape in the same way that a home resides within a house, and the soul within the person. It takes place here, giving purpose and meaning to this place.
Charles Beardsley recognized that significance when he first purchased this place in 1969. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat noted the event this way: “Do those who have passed through the pages of history look on from their world in dismay at earthly happenings, or do they nod in approval when they note their successors preserving, restoring and creating a bit of sylvan beauty, as in the confines of this fabled Valley of the Moon? If the latter, they must be looking with favor at Charles Beardsley.”
Originally Beardsley had named this place the Glen Ellen Mill & Wine Village, braiding together two strands of history: the sawmill built by General Vallejo in 1839, and the winery Joshua Chauvet established in 1875. When Russ Kingman brought his Jack London museum and bookstore here a few years later, the name was changed to the Jack London Mill & Wine Village; usage reduced this in time to Jack London Village. I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with that name – for me, this place has simply been The Village, and often, more simply, This Place.
When Robert Dawson – a friend from my youth – found me here just a few weeks ago, he wrote how we were once “both poets, civil rights strugglers, and (lest we forget) both teenagers. Then I left town, went to Harvard, went to Europe, went and went. Jim went also, to Berkeley, where he had a successful therapy practice. But Sonoma County was Home for him, in a way that I could never have experienced Home, and he moved back, embedded himself and his family in locality, set up a practice in the rustic Valley of the Moon, in the town of Glen Ellen.”
It’s true; this place is my home. I’ve been elsewhere, and considered living there, but I cannot. This is where my grandfather’s grandfather had come from the goldfields to stay – and where I myself would leave occasionally, only to return and, finally, to stay.
As I stood on the porch of my cabin a few mornings ago, gazing down upon the stream below and up at the hill beyond, thinking about the people I’ve known here and know now, I remembered the poem of praise about place that Dylan Thomas gave Reverend Jenkins to recite in Under Milkwood. I remember now the closing lines, and would rephrase them here to read:
…let me choose, and oh! I should
Love all my life and longer
To stroll among our trees and stray
along our roads in serenity and grace,
And hear our streams sing all the day,
And never, never leave this place.