Sunday, August 29, 2010

#743 - Jack London State Historical Park

Visit Date: July 12, 2010

Jack London's Ranch Home
If you grew up in America, you probably had to read The Call of the Wild by Jack London at some point during your education. Inexplicably, Alisa and I avoided this fate though I have since read a few of Jack London's books. Jack London (1876 - 1916) was amazingly prolific, writing more than twenty novels and scores of short stories in a span of about two decades. Many of these works were written at his home in the Valley of the Moon, which is now the Jack London State Historical Park located near Glen Ellen, a short drive from Sonoma.

The park is beautiful. Even without the historical connection to Jack London, the park would make for a pleasant visit of picnicking and hiking. As with most all state parks, there is a use fee ($8 per car). Considering we had just been to The Petrified Forest in the morning ($8 per person for a half-mile trail), this fee seemed very reasonable given the miles of hiking trails, well preserved historical buildings filled with artifacts from London's life of travel, and friendly rangers willing to answer questions.

The Jack London sites to visit in the park can divided into three parts: The Londons' ranch home, the Museum where the historical landmark plaque is located, and the ruins of Wolf House. The ranch home is staged with many of the Londons' furnishings and you can see his office where he wrote many of his later works. The museum contains many artifacts from Jack Londons' world travels. From the museum, one can hike to the Wolf House ruins. The Wolf House was intended to replace the ranch home as the Londons' residence. Unfortunately, it burned during construction and Jack London passed away before any reconstruction could begin. On the way to Wolf House, there is a short path to Jack London's grave site where his ashes rest under a mossy rock.

Side Note: In The Valley of the Moon
Having visited London's ranch in the Valley of the Moon, I decided to read one of the books he wrote while residing there: The Valley of the Moon. I found it a curious book about Saxon and Billy, wife and husband, who find it hard going in Oakland and take to the road in search of a rural utopia. The first half of the book is about the challenges of urban life and the travails of unionized labor of the day. The second half is an agrarian journey around the Bay Area during which the hapless protagonists encounter farmers that are taking a more sustainable approach to the land and who are more than happy to share their thoughts on good agricultural practices. Many displays of didactic text around the Jack London State Historical Park emphasize London's interest in soil conservation and more sustainable farming practices. The second half of The Valley of the Moon is really a novelized treatise on the right way to farm and make a go of it on the land. Jack Hastings, a Sonoma Valley sustainable farmer who helps guide Saxon and Billy on their journey, is a barely disguised Jack London. And, not surprisingly, just like Jack London, our protagonists find their true happiness in The Valley of the Moon.

The Marker
This is the "House of Happy Walls," built in 1919 by Charmian K. London in memory of her husband, Jack London, renowned author. Here are housed many of his works and the collection gathered in their travels throughout the world. Charmian's house, the ruins of Jack's "Wolf House," and his grave were presented in 1960 to the State of California by his nephew, Irving Shepard.
California Registered Historical Landmark No. 743
Dedicated by the California State Park Commission in cooperation with the citizens of Sonoma County, September 24, 1960.  

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