Friday, October 16, 2009

Quail Hollow Ranch

Quail Hollow preserves an 1866 homestead, a ranch bought by the Lane family of "Sunset: The Magazine of Western Living" fame. Any Californian of a certain age, at least a native, should recognize it. Full of trimmed horticultured beauty. Food, excursions, and an elegant, yet outdoor lifestyle of patios, barbeques, arboretum, and garden party. For the postwar generation that flooded into the Golden State, ah, this was the life.

I admire Santa Cruz County for restoring the ranch house, the willow-fronted pond, and the chaparral trails surrounding this park north of Felton. The pond, by the way given my last entry and the admiration for Thomas Merton Bob and I share, reminded me of the Oregon Trappist abbey I'd literally stumbled upon when driving two years ago outside of Portland. There briefly three Octobers earlier almost to the day, I circumambulated a greater but similarly situated lake on its own peaceful grounds. I'd taken Merton with me to read on this new trip thanks to Bob's reminder.

Excerpt I'd read the next day on the long ride down the 5 home:
"You need not hear the momentary rumors of the road/ Where cities pass and vanish in a single car/ Filling the cut beside the mill/ With roar and radio,/ Hurling the air into the wayside branches/ Leaving the leaves alive with panic." ("The Trappist Cemetery--Gethsemani" ca. 1946.)

I looked out alone over the willow pond before the ceremony. I saw a bench with (more or less) a small plaque: "Janet Gaye Smith, 1954-2006. Do not weep for me. Do not feel sad. I am in a thousand winds that blow." She must have sat at her favorite vista point. The breeze did hint a bit, and managed to overcome the road's steady traffic. I sought a few minutes of quiet there. I thought of love and loss and those I loved. I wished her spirit the peace I felt she had left behind for me and for them.

Many times I have written here of my longing for this area in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This post follows yesterday's about one more nook in this neck of the woods, "Fern River Resort" where we stayed this trip north. But this is the first time we'd been up the road north of town to loop around down up the gravel road into the park, and then down Zayante Road that took us nearly straight past our familiar haunt, Bob and Chris' own "hollow" on Mount Hermon. My family drove up here to celebrate amidst about sixty people invited to commemorate Bob and Chris, after their first year together as a married couple.

Although a longtime pair, they got hitched quickly, in the state window legally allowed before the passage of Prop. 8 denied same-sex couples the rights I enjoy alongside most of those gathered to affirm Bob and Chris in their partnership. This disparity's telling. It gained righteous attention during my own partner's speech.

My wife, who was their witness at their quick legalizing ceremony last year, now regaled the crowd out under the ranch house arbor with her own tales of the couple. She was preceded by The Scholar, who combined Lakota with Jewish traditions in his recounting of the eclectic interests that so many of us shared as representatives of a "certain type" of Californian. Followed by Tsering, The Singer-- who gave my older son when a baby his one and only real Tibetan kiss-- calling out to us all in her native language a chant of blessing and one of lovers united.

After my wife-- designated by Bob who must apparently categorize diversity into unity as The Witness-- did so both for "scary Bob" of a past I never knew much of as it was largely before I knew him or her, and of the Bob now who acts like his upright half of the old married couple, we heard Sally The Poet tell of how Chris washed clothes with a dog rug mixed in with the fastidious Bob's attire. Then, Bob's brother John-- with whom along with his wife Frances and his family I enjoyed a stay five summers ago in Oughterard-- and Chris' sister and mother spoke of their love for the couple, who then exchanged their own vows again. Bob was more taciturn than usual, his preacher-father's Free Methodist no necktie background telling; Chris strung together a farrago of lyrics from not only the Dead and Wilco and Neil Young (all givens) but some hip-hop my sons (all givens) recognized attentively. Better that than the Desiderata.

Our family tried to play badminton. We puzzled over bocce as another family played it apparently well enough. We made small talk, Niall with a real sportswriter and Leo and I with our back-home near-neighbor. My wife ( see her own entry, "More More"), at ease, had real conversations with old friends that from her non-verbal expressions well transcended small talk.

I drank local red wine and ate vegetarian ricotta. Inside the ranch house, I stood staring up at the stuffed owl in the blotchy flash photo taken by Leo of me above. (I apologize, but the camera was on the fritz all weekend; no scenic ones at all. By the time we got it to work, it was night.) We saw a black horse get hosed down. A white one caparisoned across a field in splendor. Our neighbor up the hill, who lives about a half-mile from us, chatted about the new homes being built on another outpost, less able to protect itself against houses if not horses.

We all press around the terrain we enjoy. Over the range, Lawrence Lane must have driven down into the valley where he founded "Sunset" in Menlo Park around the time he bought the ranch in 1937. Sixty years later, Google was founded in Menlo Park, attracting another surge of settlers into the Santa Clara valley were once orchards and fields blossomed. Renamed after Silicon, no longer after "Heart's Delight." The personal gets replaced, at first glance, by the technological, but we all "google" now as a verb, and we still make friends and find information to keep connected, as you and I may have met through this blog.

Still, even if I suppose my wife checked her BlackBerry during the reception, it's comforting to have such retreats. Bob runs an enormous adult ed program in Salinas, a massive center of agribusiness celebrated and chastised by its native son John Steinbeck, where Dr. Bob educates farmworkers, their children, and us about the land and our ties to it in the food we eat and the air we breathe, along with a lot of ESL, not to mention classes in sustainable living off this fertile yet threatened soil. Chris works for the County, preserving its watershed and ensuring its health. Both labor to keep this land and its people thriving within a precious terrain that we all cherish. They chose quite an appropriate place to commemorate their marriage. Even if as Layne joked (and she helped pick the naturally organic vegan etc. Santa Cruz caterer from as you'd imagine many competitors), they probably paid at least as much attention to the music they played on the mix tape as the sustainable, locally grown, and abundant cuisine. We all ate well, and Niall and I colluded for extra berry cobbler plates as twilight fell, chill came on, and we all prepared to part.

We return to our innate need for open space and pristine sights in our state. There we enter to find ourselves rooted in the common grace that calls us to find each other. We can cling and chant to affirm our fragile nature's determination to stand together, in California's gentle outdoors under autumn's evening breezes. There in a thousand whispers we hear the same soft wind.

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