Keeping warm, 137 years of Jack London, fire house news
Rise and Shine
These chilly evenings and frosty nights have helped me to form a few new and pleasant habits. First up: keep moving. Well, that is, once you’ve waked.
For that waking, of late, I’ve started my morning with a bowl of butternut squash soup. Odd choice for early eating? Well, initially, I thought so, too. But I’ve discovered that the thick and creamy taste and texture of this all-vegetarian delight is a true stick-to-your-tummy warmer. Its viscosity is such that its temperature warms all the way down and then, blessedly, stays.
I’ve taken to sitting in my floral wing chair, close by my fake fire, across from Sweetie, who nurses his cream-infused coffee and jam-slathered toast, while I imbibe my naturally creamy soup (sans any dairy product). We watch the raucous squirrels out the window, as they race through the upper branches of the huge valley oak that graces our front yard.
Let me amend that: our venerable oak (who has occupied this place way back in the beforetime when the native peoples loved this land) may well be a hybrid, but she behaves mostly like a valley oak. As for the squirrels, they behave mostly like preschool children on sugar, seemingly able to fly from rooftop to treetop with grace and speed that I can’t muster even on flat ground. Especially in the morning.
Yet, my warming bowl of soup, sometimes flavored with apples, or onions, leeks or carrots never fails to help me greet the day with equanimity, or at least something close, which Sweetie appreciates.
These freezing mornings, I’ve alternated that luscious thick soup with a simple breakfast of steel-cut oats fancied-up with walnuts, figs, ginger and sometimes blueberries.
Next, it’s time for the “keep moving” part of staying warm these freezing mornings. That means pleasant walks, mostly in the Regional Park, occasionally at my beloved Bouverie Preserve, and this coming week at a special birthday site. More on that later.
Since I’ve found that soup keeps my internal temperature burning, afternoons have found me trying a multitude of variations of homemade chicken soup, mostly featuring every vegetable that looks promising in my frig. Chicken soup is a process. I start one day early with an organic hen fresh from the Glen Ellen Village Market, the best that Barry Shone can recommend. Not too large, roasted with a lemon inside. Skip the salt, skip the oiled skin, just pop her in the oven at 350 for an hour, or more. Usually that first night we have brown rice (leftovers easily added to the next day’s soup pot) and salad with the roasted chicken. After dinner, it’s a quick job to pull all the remaining meat off the bones, which then end up in a pot with onions, celery, garlic. The meat is refrigerated to become sandwiches with some small bits added to the soup pot later. The boiled bones become the base for a broth that is worthy of the time. Adding plenty of water, we let the bones gently bubble through the night, adding a welcoming aroma to our morning.
Morning, it’s Sweetie’s job to pour the resulting broth through a fine sieve, and refrigerate the remaining rich, brown liquid in a tall snap-lidded pitcher, several gallon size.
Get the Fat Out
Those ladies of my age among my readers may well remember a phys-ed routine called chicken fat, an arm-wiggling sort of aerobic dance of the early 60s, beloved by gym teachers. Well, there’s a reason for that song (and not just the problem evidenced by my saggy, baggy underarms). Chickens produce lots of fat. Too much, in fact, to be healthy. But that’s easily remedied. By late afternoon, the thick gelatinous layer of yellow fat has risen to the top and it’s easy to skim off, completely and cleanly. While the defatted broth heats, I sauté more onions, celery, carrots, parsley, and garlic employing the John McDougall method (only water, caramelizing the onions to a rich and mellow gold, adding flavor and color to the broth). After the basic veggies are added, I scan the frig for bits of broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, frozen corn, chile peppers, and more. The cupboard is scanned for tomatoes, pasta, beans and more. Each batch of chicken soup is slightly different, always savory and very satisfying. With the added rice, it becomes a more than average meal.
Get the Lead Out
However, despite chicken soup’s reputation as ethnic penicillin, we haven’t entirely evaded the travelling cold/flu that’s made the rounds of our valley. Still, it eases the symptoms. Just holding one’s aching swollen head over the bubbling broth seems to revive and the clear the brain, not to mention sinuses. While the soup finishes up, another short jaunt to the park or up the lane is warranted as part of our stay-warm and stay-well program.
The key concept is to keep moving.
Lately Sweetie and I have been making a late afternoon round in the regional park, come rain or frost, cold winds, or pale sun. As long as one doesn’t stay static, the wintery walks provide the necessary warmth. Often our walks coincide with runs taken by Arthur Dawson and friends, as well as longer walks by Jim Tonery. As for Neon, and his human, Mike Witkowski, they roam the park when we’ve barely had our first coffee. Maybe it’s the early morning antics of the squirrels that rouse Neon to hit the trails.
I’d share more of my tricks for keeping warm, but a recital of my grossly unfashionable flannel nightwear, for instance, is not worthy of this space. I’d rather hear your tricks to survive the cold. Or maybe by the time this column appears, the weather will have shifted and we can all experience a winter thaw. That’s not such a common concept in the North Bay Area. But when Sweetie and I lived in frigid upstate New York, the midwinter thaw was a miraculous blessing. Almost as miraculous as April snowstorms (which we actually witnessed one year on Sweetie’s April 16th birthday. Brrr).
Meanwhile, I find winter a perfect time for expanding one’s mind. Learning is the key to happiness. To learn something new is to give life and energy to your days. As Merlyn (the great trickster teacher of King Arthur) says in T.H. White’s Once and Future King, “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
Remember Ed Stolman
That quest for life-long learning is one of the goals that motivated Glen Ellen resident, Ed Stolman, who recently died. Ed’s own enthusiasm and love of learning helped create the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Sonoma State University, along with other institutes throughout the country. As long as he was able, Ed continued to take OLLI classes at SSU along with scores of other folks from our valley.
Now the university will be hosting a celebration of Ed’s life on Monday, January 28, from four to six in the afternoon in Weill Hall on the Sonoma State University campus. Speakers will include Ed’s friends Ruben Armiñana, Nancy Cline and Les Adler. (A personal aside: Les was one of the professors at SSU that I credit with opening my mind to a whole range of environmental and nature writings that continue to enhance my life.)
As most of the folks of Glen Ellen know, Ed Stolman was also important in helping establish Glen Ellen’s first olive press. Though now in classier digs at the beautiful Jacuzzi Winery, the Olive Press, which counts its humble beginning in Deborah Roger’s bathtub, found its first public home at the Jack London Village, just down the wooden walkway from the rolling Grist Mill. Because of Deborah and Ed’s energy in that fledgling business, the entire complex of the Jack London Village took on a new life. We were sorry to see them leave, but understand it was a wise business decision.
Meanwhile, the new owners of the Jack London Village are moving things along at this historic site, less than a mile south of Glen Ellen’s downtown. The venerable 19th century buildings, the original mill built by Joshua Chauvet, the winery owned for a time by Mariano Vallejo and the tiny scattered shops (from Jim Shere’s multi-paned, one-man office in the complex to Massage Magic in another wine barrel across the way) are thriving.
Jim tells me that his current historical project is researching the recording studio and music scene that thrived in the old winery building from 1973 to (he believes) 1998. From the resident ghost (that would be Old Charlie, who still apparently roams the site) to notables like Janis Joplin, Van Morrison, Credence Clearwater and we suspect, our own beloved and late Norton Buffalo, the rumors of the folks who gathered at that site is legendary. Eventually we’ll get the full story from Jim, but if you have any experience with that whole era of music in Glen Ellen, contact Jim at email@example.com.
We are grateful now to Stephen Coates who, once again, is reviving those neglected buildings at Jack London Village. My dream for that site? It’s always been the same. To see a stable and safe pedestrian bridge from the Regional Park’s paved path, across Sonoma Creek, connecting the Grist Mill complex to the park and hence, our town. It would increase our town’s walkability rating by scores. What do you think, Stephen?
Meanwhile many folks, and definitely I am among them, praise Mr. Coates for the new footbridge currently being built, connecting the parking lot to the buildings. We’ve previously named that shaky span the Thornton Wilder Memorial Bridge in remembrance of his famous Bridge Over San Luis Rey. We’ll be happy to see the new bridge. Next up: new decking around the old mill. Hurray for these much-needed safety measures.
Meanwhile, Jim Shere also sends news about the board of Glen Ellen Historical Society’s annual brownbag organizational retreat at Mayflower Hall from ten to two on Saturday, January 19th, 2013. All members in good standing (that means those whose dues are paid) are encouraged to attend as non-voting guests to help with the discussion. The new board will be seated and the budget, projects, and events for the year will be planned. If you want to learn more about the GEHS, check out their website, http://glenellenhistoricalsociety.org or look them up on Facebook.
Mention above of our late Glen Ellen crooner, Norton, reminds me of one of my favorite YouTube musical treats. That would be Buffalo’s famous version of “Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox,” a hymn for our times. We love watching Norton and all of his (and our) Sonoma Valley friends in this rendition of the bluesy hit. Check it out online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2u9api6tQEA.
137 Years Young
Of course, in all this discourse about Jack London Village, we can’t fail to note the man whose moniker that is. Our most famous resident, Jack Griffith London, writer, adventurer, radical social activist, and in our neck-of-the-woods, a back-to-the land farmer, who also sailed the South Seas. His life will be celebrated this January in honor of his 137th birthday, which was January 12, but continues to be celebrated in this month. Making his home here, Jack London has given our town more than a bit of panache and a lingering positive literary history.
My way of honoring Jack’s natal day will be to heft my carcass up the hill, to visit Charmian’s house of Happy Walls and maybe his Wolf House, as well, depending upon arthritis and will. A stop along the way at the pioneer children’s graves adds a little gravitas.
The first I ever knew of London was when I visit visited Glen Ellen as a teenager, with a wild boyfriend of the time who drove me up to the park on his motorcycle. While I clutched his denim jacket, holding on through all the curves, I felt vulnerable and lost. Once off the bike and at the park, I loved the site, and was captured by the romantic writer’s adventurous life, embodied in his famous words posted on a prominent sign at the park, “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 proper function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.” Honest sentiments for an adventurer, and romantic wishful thoughts for me as a teenager.
As for this homebody today, I’ve found that my prolonged days (more than I ever dreamt to have back in the day when hitting thirty was a much-dreaded watershed) have provided their own satisfaction. I’m far more the “sleepy permanent planet” than the “flash of meteor,” but like so many others before me, I appreciate and admire that verve and nerve that London so forcefully exhibited.
If you have in mind a more rigorous or celebratory occasion to honor Jack London’s birthday, here are two suggestions.
Celebratory: The Jack London Foundation will be holding a banquet at Ramekins in Sonoma on January 19, 2013. The featured speaker will be Jonah Raskin, Jack London scholar and author of The Radical Jack London. Those fortunate folks who heard Raskin speak at last year’s Glen Ellen Historical Society meeting, know that will be a treat. Jonah adopts a rather “Londonish” manner as he relates stories of the writer whose social activism Raskin clearly admires. His talk that evening will be, “The Valley of the Moon: Jack London’s Masterpiece of Modern Love.”
Hike the Beauty Ranch
The Jack London State Historic Park and neighboring Benziger Winery celebrate Jack London’s birthday with a special docent-led hike followed by a wine tasting. From their brochure: “This tour of Jack’s Beauty Ranch will focus on London’s pioneering experiments in sustainable agriculture. Jack London began this innovative work in 1911, truly ahead of his time and sowing seeds for the sustainable concepts that have since become a natural part of life and work in Sonoma Valley, including Benziger Family Winery, a leader in biodynamic viticulture and farming.”
Jack London, famous adventurer and writer traveled all over the world but came to settle in Glen Ellen at his Beauty Ranch, which is now part of the 1400-acre Jack London State Historic Park. Jack described Beauty Ranch: “When I first came here, tired of cities and people, I settled down on a little farm... 130 acres of the most beautiful, primitive land to be found in California.” We’re not so sure the primitive still applies, but beautiful? You bet.
The hike and tasting will be held on Sunday, January 20, 2013 beginning in the upper parking lot past the kiosk. Tasting follows the hike just a short jaunt down the hill at Benziger Winery, beginning at 11:30. For more information, call (707) 938-5216.
Meanwhile, if you’re considering a birthday gift for the fellow. from a good source I hear that his spirit would appreciate a donation to the restoration of the Jack London Lake. You can watch a video about it and read all the details at jacklondonlake.org. Elisa Stancil is working hard to revive the lake. Your donation in honor of Jack’s birthday will be well used.
Another way, for couch potatoes (a winter afflication I must avoid, lest all my creaky joints freeze permanently) to celebrate Jack’s 137th birthday is with a new double DVD set from the Glen Ellen Historical Society. Part one features a tour of the park, that was once his ranch, while part two focuses on the panel discussion of Jack London given last August, including Jonah Raskin’s speech.
Meanwhile Back at the Fire House
Good news briefly from the Glen Ellen Fire House. Last week driving by the sign that graces the corner of the firehouse property and often features a pithy aphorism, I was happy to see Chuck Palenchar installing a new saying. The previous week had focused on an anachronistic, sexist saying by Za Za Gabor that was destined to insult just about anybody who read it. Slandering wives as worthless and husbands as wanderers, I was glad to see it gone. However, I enjoyed the reminder awhile back to test my joke detector. Not sure what this week’s sign will show, but I thank Chuck for making the change. As my old friend, fishmonger Bertie (of Bertie and Gus, of course) used to say, “The change will do you good.” And so it does.
Other good news from the Glen Ellen Fire House is the honor given to Will Powers, Jr. for 2012. He was chosen as the Glen Ellen Firefighter of the year. Will has been with the department since 2009 and is now trained as an Emergency Medical Technician and an equipment operator. He is a valuable member of the team and is appropriately lauded by his fellow firefighters. Congrats Will.
While mentioning Chuck it makes me recall a funny discovery that I recently happened upon when mapping Arnold Drive. As I led my cursor up Arnold Drive from the Warm Springs stop sign, I caught a glimpse of a runner in front of that spooky tower house adjacent to the Glen Ellen Square parking lot. Turns out that runner, caught by Google earth as the satellite slipped by, is Christina Palenchar, Sweetie to aforementioned Chuck. You two should check it out. Keeping moving becomes you.
Brewster T. Rooster
Now we wind back around to a bit of an earlier time in the Jack London Village. Russ and Winnie Kingman ran the little bookstore near where Magical Massage, the business of Carolyn Manzi and Martha Paul, now stands. Russ was the pre-eminent London scholar having written the encyclopedic Jack London, A Pictoral Biography. Back in the day, when Winnie and Russ reigned at the helm of the tiny research center and book store, jam-packed with voluminous files annotating every minute event of Jack’s life, folks were often greeted (if not frightened away) by Brewster T. Rooster. Believing that the spirit of Brewster would not appreciate my soup recipe near the beginning of this column, I end now, content to dream of roosters, hens, happy days and delightful nights, warm in my snuggly flannels, awaiting the wake-up we’ve now named Brewster’s Calabazas Creek special, that’s the superb Butternut Squash soup I began this column describing. We shan’t mention the other soup, the so-called Eastern European penicillin, in the same paragraph with Brewster T. R. Good night.
Next week I have good news about some excellent film offerings from Terry Ebinger. Back then.
Share your good news with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 707 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me @ Creekbottom@earthlink.net. Glen Ellen chatter rarely requires timeliness; however, if your news does, please be sure to contact me at least two weeks before the run date.