Jack and Charmian London's "Beauty Ranch" in Glen Ellen, California

I fell in love with Jack London when I visited his home in this magnificent part of the world.  He was a dreamer and a visionary and a romantic.  He was also a man who had great physical and emotional pain in his life.  He never knew his father and grew up in poverty in Oakland, California.  At 21, he sailed to Alaska to join the gold rush and experienced such physical deprivation that he had to return home after 11 months.  Education and writing were his ticket out of poverty, but farming was the love of his live.  You can see the hard physical labor in his many stone building, which at one time housed 50 horses, and the way he shaped the land.  He preferred to farm with horses and refused to buy commercial fertilizer, using horse manure instead.  He was always experimenting, trying to find new and better ways to serve the land.  The Hawaiian's used cactus to feed their livestock.  London developed a thornless variety with horticulturalist Luther Burbank, but the cactus needed too much water to thrive.  A "demonstration plot" of cactus duplicates London's experiment using cuttings from Burbank's Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa.

Charmian Kittredge was the love of his life, his "mate-woman."  Since he wrote 1000 words a day, every day of the week, he used a charming sleeping porch near his desk so that he wouldn't disturb her.  It's also the place where he died at the age of 40, having packed several lifetimes into his brief existence.  He was a war correspondent, gold prospector, oyster pirate, candidate for mayor, writer of plays, poems, memoirs and novels, expert sailor, hobo, farmer, rancher, husband, father and a courageous lover of life.  He was also an alcoholic.

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 function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”  Jack London

 

Beatrice Wood's Home in Ojai, California

I recently drove out to see Beatrice Wood's home about 20 minutes outside of Ojai.  Woods was a flamboyant potter who continued to create until her death at 105.  I was struck by the remoteness of her choice.  The grandeur of the surroundings in Happy Valley also felt so removed from civilization.  In 1963 she wrote to Krisnamurti: "It does not seem possible that one can live and breathe such beauty, have freedom to do the work one wishes, yet that thoughts at times are so dark one has to hang on to touch the will of living."

On the occasion of her 100th birthday, Senator Dianne Feinstein sent her a letter that contains one of the best descriptions of the artistic drive that I've read.  Feinstein was quoting Willa Cather:  "What was any art but a mold to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself - life hurrying past us running away, too strong to stop, to0 sweet to lose."  

Brene Brown's Ted Talk on Vulnerability from 2011

Making art is a lonely, vulnerable path.  An artist's life is the essence out of which she constructs meaning and putting her work out in the world to be examined, judged and potentially rejected is excruciating.  That's why I love Brene Brown's Ted Talk on vulnerability.  Living in a "whole hearted" way requires "connection" and there is no connection without a willingness to be vulnerable.  As she says "vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love."