22 May, 2011
Jack London State Historic Park
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
Annadel State Park
Wolf House, Jack London SHP
With the ever increasing homogenization of landscape of the contemporary and globalized world, national, state, and regional parks play a vital part in our sense of place. They provide a vehicle for our experience with unique and local landscapes and ground us in both space and time.
Our contemporary stories (literature, movies, and television) no longer resonate with place, but instead maintain a tight foucs on human centered spheres and abstractions. Settings for modern drama typically involve urban, industrial and increasingly cyber landscapes. Just think about how much time you spend watching people stare at computer screens and talk into cell phones when you watch television and movies. It’s kind of scary. Don’t get me wrong, I love science fiction and crime solving capers as much as the next person; I just think there is a serious imbalance between abstract and physical reality in the contemporary psyche.
I haven’t spent too much time at historical parks; however, after spending an afternoon at Olompali and Jack London State Historic Parks the power of historic parks to story (and restory) landscape really hit me. These are intentionally storied landscape, and in an age in which we are bombarded my information from the newly created spaces of the cyber world, these parks help us remember our history and relationship to real physical places rather than abstractions.
Leslie Marmon Silko writes that landscape contains the stories of the tribes of the Southwest. In conjunction with the communal and collective memory of the oral stories held by the people (each person being responsible for a specific story or segment of story), the landscape behaves like a library, bookmark, and perhaps even a card catalogue. When people pass by, they remember and tell the story. The relationship of landscape and story does not end here. The landscape does not simply contain the stories of the people like a book holds the written word, but it also plays an active role as a character in the stories. Often this character is more important than the people in the story.
I recognize a very similar relationship between story and place at Jack London and Olompali historic parks. Olompali alone holds over 8000 years of stories. What a library! The community of people who create and maintain historic parks combine oral interpretation and recitation of stories, written signs and literature, art and museum exhibits, and landscape to tell a story to a large and seemingly disjointed community. These stories and places work together to reveal a deep and intrinsic connection between people, place, and identity.
Additionally, the physical aspects of parks, Jack London’s grave, the ruins of Wolf House, and the carefully crafted and well worn trails in the park, tell their own stories.
I stood at the grave of the two children of a man who lived in this spot before Jack London. Their headstones were not made of stone but were carved into wood. Only the inscription on “Little David[’s]” markers could still be read. A giant tree stood at the foot of the graves, so close in fact that roots and graves must intermingle. I imagined the children transformed becoming part of that tree. In a way, standing with the tree seemed like standing in the presence of the children also.
A few feet away at the spot where Jack and Charmian London’s ashes were spread and rolled under a great moss covered rock, a lizard basked in the sunlight. It is hard not to imagine that Jack and his wife basking as well.
Jack London SHP was filled with visitors young, elderly, white, Middle Eastern, African American… I spoke with briefly with the woman running the kiosk who told that she has a deep family connection with the park but was so busy helping park visitors that I didn’t get a chance to speak with her about that history.
At Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, I spoke with a passionate and animated volunteer in the Visitors Center. “People come from all over the world to experience these parks” she said. She continued on that many people come to Jack London State Historic Park from Eastern European countries; they actually know more about Jack London than we do here in the states. For them, a political as well as literary history is written into the landscape at Jack London SHP.
She provided me with a plethora of ideas and contacts to help with this project as well as retold a story brought to her by visitors that came to the park from the East Coast:
In the 1970’s New Yorkers could not walk through Central Park, it was too dangerous. Eventually, non-profits took over management of Eastern parks (including Central Park), and allowed them to become the iconic destinations we know today.
This could potentially serve as a model to save California’s parks by transferring them into the hands of non-profits.
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
The parking lot at Sugarloaf Ridge was full. There more than fifty cars parked next to trailheads along the road before making it to the park entrance. A experienced hiker raring to take on a intense hike spoke to a volunteer to find the best trail and finally decided on the five hour hike, while families with young children played by the stream, and a group of 15 to 20 girls and their chaperones prepared to have a picnic.
I saw an unusual amount of wildlife in pairs of two: two quail, two ravens, two fawns sprung up from the brush and bounded away as I sauntered passed.
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
At the end of the day after I stopped at the East West Café in Santa Rosa (they have the most incredible basil vinaigrette) for dinner, I made my way to Annadel State Park. This park is very special to me and I realized quickly that I would have to return when I have the entire day to hike and explore; however, I did manage to snap a few photos of wildlife while I was there.