Visit the Jack London State Historic Park and set out on an exciting journey back in time into the inspirations, the world and the novels of one among the most loved and read American authors ever, the wonderful author of “Call to the Wild”: Jack London.
I want to tell you once again about another surprising America, which many people imagine but that only few ones really know.
I want to talk to you about the Klondike gold diggers, the hobos, the first real on the roads and about the seed of the Beat Generation.
I want to tell you about adventures, men and wolves tales, half way between reality and fantasy.
And about a little big man, traveller and enthusiast, that over his short and intense existence was able to make up an unmistakable plot made of passions, explorations, adventure and living art, entrusting its books the task to make it immortal.
Among the sweet hills of the Sonoma County, in the Northern California, near the nice small town of Glen Ellen, it’s possible to visit the Jack London Sate Historic Park, the writer’s private estate, also known as Beauty Ranch.
And inside it there’s The Cottage, the house where he lived (and died) and worked together with his second and beloved wife Charmian, his grave, the unfinished and unlucky Wolf House. And the House of Happy Walls, the dwelling built by his wife after his death: today it’s a museum rich in relics – mostly from his travels all over the world – and in first published editions of his books in several languages, Italian included.
A real, intense and great emotion.
Because he, Jack – the old guide welcoming me inside his cottage is certain about that – is still there, writing to and trick on his guest, exactly like it happened over a century ago.
The Jack London State Historic Park is in all respects a literary park placed in the centre of an idyllic landscape, lying on a calm and luxuriant nature, which tells through the life and works of one among the most prolific and original USA authors.
Another slice of a lively, real, authentic and captivating America.
The trail develops inside a boundless park, where a series of trails for excursions lovers is included.
“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that any spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. (…)
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”
My visit begins like that.
With this short and intense words by Jack London written in his last years and recited for me with a bit of emotion by Alice, my guide.
We are in front of his grave – where today also Charmian rests (she died several years after, in 1955) – in cloudy day alternating with sudden sunrays.
Alice is almost moved looking up to admire them, then she turns to me and says that the day when his ashes were buried – occurred under a big stone coming from his beloved Wolf House upon Jack’s request – the sky opened in the middle of the thunder allowing the sun to burst into the scene, as if he wanted to say “goodbye” one last time.
The Wolf House’s building – about 1km far from his grave – was the realization of a dream for Jack.
It was the house he had desired since he was poor and a teenager: as a regular visitor of the old Oakland Library, looking around the travel and adventure books, he had read about a very beautiful and huge dwelling. And he had dreamt about that over years.
He had named it after the nickname he was used to be called by his most intimate friends: a clear reference to the creature – the wolf – of one among his most famous books, “White Fang”.
Unfortunately the dwelling was completely burnt down in a terrible fire which left only the main walls: it was one of the most devastating moments as for the man as for the writer. Rebuilding it would have been impossible, considered the quantity of money and time spent.
So Jack kept living and working next to his beloved Charmian in the old Cottage, today completely neighbored by vineyards.
And it’s right here that it’s possible to relive the most important moments of his life and his art, to sense the shades, to read behind his most famous novels’ lines, to glance at his notes scattered everywhere, to perceive almost his presence. And to understand the reason why a man like him, adventurer, fond of travel and explorations, discovery and movement chose to stop and live in a such heaven of peace, nature and reflexion.
Jack London died in this cottage, in his wife’s bedroom on November 22nd, 1916: he was only 40 and died due to the painful consequences of mercury poisoning after have taken too much of it to cure the mosquito bites during a journey to Solomon Islands.
The estate with his real life moments (he was a firm ecologist), his over 50 books – the adventures of the Klondike Gold Run which himself took part into, the autobiographic tales, the birth of the most pure and authentic sense of what would be then become the Beat Generation, his extreme “socialism” – are his boundless and everlasting spiritual will.
“American as far as the marrow, London is still today with Edgar A. Poe, the most universal among the American writers, he mixes in his work, with the same power and hope, his real and idealized life together with the blaze for the future.”
The Jack London State Historic Park is located at 2400, London Ranch Rd, one and half km far from the small town of Glen Ellen, California.
My tip is to have the tour in the morning so that then you can have lunch at the Glen Ellen Village Market’s with a specialties and local food tasting. Keep in mind we are in the fertile and generous Sonoma County.
The park is located about 85km far from San Francisco, it takes about one hour by car.
But if you want to complete the itinerary dedicated to Jack London so then go on as far as Oakland, 85km, in the East Bay.
You can choose eventually to stay overnight here (we are few stops far from Frisco by BART or Ferry) and visit the famous Jack’s Cabin (near the Jack London Square) reconstructed with the original wood moved directly from the Klondike one. And stop to have a beer at the near and legendary Heinold’s First and Last Chance – renamed “Rendezvous” by Jack London.
An historic pub which survived miraculously the terrible earthquake of the San Francisco Bay in 1906 (for this reason his floor is under the road surface, with a 20% slope about): the author went there during his stays in Oakland. It gave really many cues and locations for some of his first novels, among them “John Barleycorn” and “Tales of Fish Patrol”.