Jack London: a Visit to the Valley of the Moon.

Jack London may be the greatest author I’ve never read. Well, almost never – I did read Call of the Wild and yes, it is terrific. But I steadfastly refuse to pick up another of London’s books because he fills those books with the most noble of dogs and then terrible cruelty befalls those dogs. I just can’t go there.

Jack London at age nine with his dog, Rollo (wikipedia image)

Jack London at age nine with his dog, Rollo (wikipedia image)

For instance, in the Wikipedia synopsis of White Fang, we learn that early on, a pair of men and their team of dogs are devoured by a pack of starving wolves. Please. It’s not as if I ever sleep at night anyway, but I don’t need those kind of nightmares. The pair of men, maybe, but please, not the dogs!

Anyone for sleepless nights? (wikipedia image)

Anyone for sleepless nights? (wikipedia image)

The CE, however, is made of tougher stuff than me. He loves dogs, too, but he reveres Jack London and has read a whopping twenty-five of London’s books. I know this because yesterday morning, finding ourselves in Sonoma, CA at an hour far too early to drink wine, we discovered that we were just a fifteen-minute drive away from Jack London State Historic Park., site of London’s beloved “Beauty Ranch” where he built his doomed dream home, Wolf House, here in the “Valley of the Moon”.

The ruins of London's 15,000 square foot Wolf House, which burned to the ground just as construction was finished in 1913.(image from parks.sonoma.net)

The ruins of London’s 15,000 square foot Wolf House, which burned to the ground just as construction was finished in 1913.(image from parks.sonoma.net)

As we entered the park we were cheerily greeted at the kiosk by a staffer who asked if we were London fans. When she heard that the CE was a big fan, cars queued up behind us while the two of them conversed about their favorites. For the CE, The Sea-Wolf is at the top of his list. The Park staffer prefers The People of the Abyss, London’s account of the travails of London’s working-class poor.

Jack London is my husband’s favorite socialist. This is noteworthy because my husband’s politics lean well to the right, and yet he adores Jack London. When I asked him about this seeming anomaly, he pointed out that the conditions London deplored were indeed, absolutely deplorable and that London’s response was appropriate. He also mentioned that London was a notoriously hard worker during his brief life, citing the brutal conditions under which London labored in his early life as described in his autobiographical work, Martin Eden. According to the CE, London sought fairness and opportunity and was contemptuous of anyone who sought to coast on a free ride. London frequently quarreled with other socialists and has actually been described variously as a meritocracist and an individualist, which puts him squarely in the company of the CE.

Jack London, along with Upton Sinclair and Clarence Darrow, formed Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) in New York in 1905.

Jack London, along with Upton Sinclair and Clarence Darrow, formed Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) in New York in 1905.

Politics were, blessedly, the furthest thing from our minds as we stepped out of the car and surveyed the sheer beauty of the retreat where London developed his progressive theories about farming and animal husbandry, many of which are detailed in his book The Little Lady of the Big House. As his literary star soared, London added parcels to the ranch. He died there three years after “Wolf House” burned. He was just forty years old.

During his tragically too-short life, armed with only an eighth-grade education, he had ridden trains as a hobo, pirated oysters, shoveled coal, labored in a laundry, worked on a sealing ship on the Pacific and at an Oakland cannery. Along the way, he wrote some of the most admired books in the canon of American literature.

Jack London's gravesite at Jack London State Historic Park (image from jacklondonpark.com)

Jack London’s gravesite at Jack London State Historic Park (image from jacklondonpark.com)

Jack London's Press Democrat death announcement .

Jack London’s Press Democrat death announcement .

The highlight of our visit to the Park was the tour of “The House of Happy Walls” museum. London’s widow, Charmian, built the house after London’s death and filled it with artifacts from hers and London’s world travels. It was her intention that the home would become a shrine to London’s genius: “…I am begging you now, with all my heart, not to let the world forget that he laid his hand upon the hills of California with the biggest writing of all his writing and imagination and wisdom…just don’t let all who listen and read and run, forget Jack London’s biggest dream.” ~Charmian London, 1916

The "House of Happy Walls" museum (image from jacklondonpark.com)

The “House of Happy Walls” museum (image from jacklondonpark.com)

London and Charmian on their ketch "The Snark"

London and Charmian on their ketch “The Snark”

The museum is filled with London's books and mementos from his travels.

The museum is filled with London’s books and mementos from his travels.

The Park is comprised of 1,400 transcendently beautiful acres and boasts twenty-six miles of hiking trails. It was a highlight of our visit and is a marvelous and fitting testament to the author who considered it “a quiet place in the counry to write and loaf in and get out of Nature that something which we all need, only the most of us don’t know it.

The CE under the redwoods at Jack London State Historic Park

The CE under the redwoods at Jack London State Historic Park

A copy of Jack London's "credo" hangs in the "House of Happy Walls" museum.

A copy of Jack London’s “credo” hangs in the “House of Happy Walls” museum.

About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
This entry was posted in Music/Art/Literature/Culture, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Jack London: a Visit to the Valley of the Moon.

  1. Phyllis says:

    You two always find such interesting things to do with your travels. Such a beautiful spot to visit and enjoy, plus plenty of nice wine!!!

  2. dizzyguy says:

    Such a pleasure to spend a half day with Jack at the beautiful ranch he so enjoyed. The museum was filled with great artifacts so lovingly preserved by Charmian. His was the classic up-from-the-bootstraps American story, complete with resounding failures (started writing career with 600 rejection slips) to soaring heights as the world’s first internationally famous writer achieving economic success. A true legend and an important part of this country’s history in the 20th C. So great to share that experience with CCL and then have her write so well about it. Loved it.

  3. alexandra says:

    Wow, I had no idea this existed. Now I definitely want to visit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s