Once Upon A Time At Stonehedge – You Could See Forever

| April 8, 2011 | Comments (1)

 Stone Wall by MPOBrien

This past week was spent in the City by the Bay otherwise known as San Francisco.  Our trip was made to say goodbye to two old friends, old both in age and duration of friendship.

We first met Pete and Stan nearly 40 years ago when I was working in what used to be called Burma.  Friendly acquaintances, our rapport ripened into close friendship and we became  regular visitors to their ranch in the sky in Sonoma County, California. They called their property “Stonehedge” after the remnants of stone walls that snaked through their acres, constructed they were told, by Chinese coolie laborers  at the beginning of  the 20th century.

In the valley behind them – truly a hidden valley – lived farmer Clive Duwerson – then in his 80s. He had been tilling the soil and ranching there all of his life and Pete told me the inside of Clive’s hacienda was like it had been when he was a child – old wood stove, ancient wooden sink, no mod cons. I longed to pay Clive a visit and take a peek at the past, sitting in his kitchen,  but it never happened because Pete was not as pushy as I am and didn’t want to breach the old man’s privacy. I had to content myself with peering down the ridge into Clive’s valley and watch  from a distance as  smoke curled up from his chimney, his sheep dog barking at us.

On clear days from Stonehedge’s heights, when the fog cleared over the Pacific, we could see the ocean a hundred miles away. We would stand on the promontory, a field of long California grass behind us with the wind in our faces inhaling the perfume of  laurel trees  and wild  rosemary bushes that surrounded us in twisted van Gogh-esque profusion.  It was as close to heaven as I ever  got.

Sometimes we would drive  down to Bodega Bay and buy a fish fresh off the boat after sipping a coffee  in the diner that figured in Hitchcock’s  film, “The Birds.” Bodega Bay was a delightfully menacing place. I could still see Tippie Hedren stylishly screaming her way out of the diner as disgruntled blackbirds circled overhead.

As we climbed back up the winding hill to Stonehedge to cook our lunch, we  stopped the car and walked a few steps into the field to pull off a  stalk of  fragrant  fennel to bake with our fish. To me California  will always be God’s country.

When they approached their four-score years, Pete and Stan decided to sell Stonehedge and move to the city.  Adventurers, they were imminently practical  people  when it came to  needed life style changes and they realized it was time to down-size. I wondered if they would have any luck unloading the property because, delightful as it was, it was idiosyncratic, to say the least. How do you advertise a house that has three kitchens, three bathrooms and one bedroom ? I guess the only appropriate  modifier for Stonehedge would  be “room to expand.”

But contrary to my fears, the place and its 20-some acres sold quickly and for a good price. A couple of years ago  after they had sold Stonehedge, I nagged Pete into driving up from San Francisco to Sonoma for a nostalgia visit. As we climbed the hills from Penngrove, I was amazed at how similar everything was:   cows were still munching in pastures and sleek horses pranced over clover fields. It was just like it had been in the early 80s when we first visited, when the top floor of Stonehedge was still being built and we called the unfinished space that would be the great room the Citizen Kane Room after Orson Well’s fantasy house in the film. But when we approached the split rail gate that opened onto Stonehedge’s meadow, I caught my breath. Where there had been one house and undisturbed fields of waving savannah grass, now the acres were dotted with numerous dwellings. My beloved Stonehedge had become a surburban sprawl.

The new owner of the property happened to be there and seemed friendly enough. He  invited us to have a look around, not knowing  Pete had built the house forty years before. He told us the property was for sale. In fact, he confided, he had never planned to live there, but had bought the place and ware-housed it, waiting for the right time to sell it  and make a killing. Although the house and grounds were well-maintained, it was not the same place.  And there were strange touches we didn’t notice at first – several large Buddha statues placed on the ground as garden decorations. To people who had lived most of their lives in Buddhist Asia, we found this  landscaping an inappropriate coup de l’oeil, to say the least.  Moral to story: You can never go home again.

One evening after dinner a few weeks ago, we talked on the phone to Pete and Stan. After we rang off my partner looked at me and said, “We have to go to San Francisco.” Although they were cheerful and happy-sounding when we chatted, we knew the time had come for a final visit.

Our trip to the Coast went well. On the advice of their home attendant, we only stayed half an hour with Stan and Pete because  they tired easily. We reminisced about a thousand things and had a few laughs and then after hugs, left them, saying, “See ya soon.” I looked back at our friends  before exiting their front door. Pete was standing next to Stan who was seated in his wheelchair.  Actually Pete was holding onto the wheel chair for support as he stood; nearly two centuries worth of  life clinging to each other in loving support. They were already engaged in deep conversation, Pete admonishing Stan about something. They were still taking care of each other.

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  1. Anne (Freimuth) Statland says:

    Oh, Sam — what a story! Loved reading it with a bit of a tear in my eye. Time has marched on hasn’t it?
    All th best — Anne

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