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Notes from Glen Ellen: Jim Shere – a man for all seasons

A man is more than he seems. Take Glen Ellen’s Jim Shere. The robust, handsome almost-80-year-old is known in Glen Ellen as the town historian, a prolific newspaper columnist for the Kenwood Press, a wise psychotherapist in private practice, an enthusiastic community leader, and more. This Oct. 13, Shere will be honored as Grand Marshall of the Glen Ellen Village Fair Parade where he will be celebrated atop Neil Shepard’s horse-drawn wagon.

Shere’s life starts in 1940s Berkeley. His mother married an Okie fleeing the Dust Bowl who had arrived in the West by freight train during the Depression. Jobs were plentiful in California, and both parents worked at the Richmond shipyards in the “war effort.”

By 1944 there were general fears of a West Coast invasion from Japan, and with the need to do upgrades on Grandmother’s farm, the young family moved inland to the family farm in rural Oklahoma. Here the boy Jim experienced a very different country life of dusty roads, folk songs around a campfire, and hardship.

After the war, the family returned and lived at the end of the mile-long dirt road – now known as Shere Road – in a crossroads named Hassel near Sebastopol. They lived in a “rambling, half-wrecked farmhouse, far from electricity or neighbors, with dinners prepared on a wood cookstove and eaten by coal oil lamp light.” Shere remembers it as “a primitive and pastoral life, and one that nourished my romantic, mystical appreciation of the natural world in which I lived.”

And it was in here that the 8-year-old Shere was laid up for two years with pulmonary tuberculosis draining his energy and health but not his curiosity. Lying in bed alone, Shere read the classics from his parents’ bookshelves: Shakespeare, Tennyson, Thurber, Steinbeck. When this meditative small-town boy recovered from TB and, having graduated from Analy Union High School, finally left Sonoma County, his eyes were abruptly opened to the thrill and opportunities of San Francisco in the late 1950s and ‘60s.

Shere lived as a Beat poet and inhabited North Beach when it was hopping. Creativity flowing, he wrote poetry and wrote for the stage, and hung out on Grant Avenue – in black jeans, beret and pea coat.

Across the bay at UC Berkeley, all hell was breaking loose politically. Shere was swept up in movements that promoted free speech, racial equality and ending the Vietnam War. He roomed in a commune called the Buster Brown Shoe above a storefront at Shattuck and Berkeley Way, with Augustus Owsley Stanley III (“an odd kid but really smart and making acid in the campus labs”), and “a bunch of Trotskyites” supporting armed revolution. Later Richard Aoki, a Black Panther “Field Officer” and probable FBI informant, lived at Buster Brown. Shere was present at the Berkeley home of his brother Charles when a group of friends, including Alice Waters, sat around and agreed to open a restaurant together, and call it Chez Panisse.

At this time, Shere’s great sense of spiritual values took root and astrology and philosophy became his interests. He saw the use of astrology as a poetic language in Chaucer, Shakespeare and William Blake, and went on to become a professional astrologer for a few years.

Jungian friends suggested graduate school to formalize his natural counseling abilities, and he completed his education at the University of San Francisco with a graduate degree in clinical psychology.

When a young Maria Schneider showed up at his front door in Berkeley 40 years ago, Shere was instantly certain of his love for her, and they decided to marry within three days. In time they moved to Sonoma County to start a family and raise their children. After moving his psychotherapy practice into a cabin at Glen Ellen’s Jack London Village in 2003, Shere began studying the history of the area, speaking and writing articles about the Valley of the Moon. In 2010, he became the executive director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society, and three years ago helped establish the Glen Ellen Forum to focus upon the future of the village as it faces massive changes.

Although he is retiring this year from community projects, Shere’s psychotherapy practice continues. It is housed in his sun-dappled “cabin” at Jack London Village on the banks of Sonoma Creek. On the outside of the cabin is a striking mandala made by Glen Ellen’s Chuck Gillet of found objects by including many surviving the fires of 2017, symbolizing the recovery of life and its meaning. It’s worth a look when you are next wandering around the blooming Jack London Village.

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