Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Time On Tomales Point

 When I moved out to Tomales Point in 1983 with infant daughter Alison and my then-wife Jeanne, the old Pierce Ranch was still being restored by the National Park Service.  The main house and the eighteen out buildings would materialize out of the ever present fog like ghostly apparitions, their exteriors grayer than the surrounding sky.  With the exception of the ranch house, only traces of the exterior whitewash remained on the remaining wooden structures which included two large barns, a creamery, bunkhouses, chicken coops, and a one room school house.  Other objects of interest included one rusted gas pump , a broken thresher, and several weathered porcelain bath tubs that had served as cattle troughs.  Our nearest neighbors were the Kehoes who operated a dairy ranch three miles away.

A line of gnarled cypress trees stood guard along the western edge of the ranch, many of their branches broken and hanging from recent storms.  On the eastern edge, a forest of eucalyptus funneled down slope to the shores of Tomales Bay.  Just behind the ranch is where eucalyptus and cypress mingled in an unkempt tangle of limbs, shredded bark and downed trees.  A cistern on a nearby hilltop provided the only source of fresh water. The paved road ended near the ranch providing access to McClures Beach.  For the most part, this was a wild and lonely outpost on the edge of the continent.

The main house had been largely restored and occupied for several years by a series of seasonal park rangers, mostly single males.  But the Park Service was looking for a more permanent and reliable resident to occupy the site to guard against vandalism or other nefarious activities that might be occurring seven or eight miles from the nearest ranger station.  So I volunteered even though it would mean a daily commute of eighteen miles to the Bear Valley headquarters where I worked.  I was trading my little apartment over the Olema Store for a 12-room, Victorian era farmhouse with a long and rugged history.

The ranch had weathered the 1906 earthquake with only minor damage, sited as it was on the hard granites of the Pacific Plate.  But for all its ruggedness, there was a sense of isolation and vulnerability, hunkering down against the winds in the swales and hummocks of Tomales Point, its foundations teetering on the narrow ridgeline.  The main house had been built in the 1860s with various alterations along the way.  Now its floors sagged and the damp air seeped in through the walls.  It was a large house for three small people to inhabit.  And without the daily hum and drum of cow milking and butter making, the ranch complex often took on the air of a ghost town.

Still, it was a remarkable home for nearly four years.  I could walk down to White’s Cove on the Tomales Bay side and watch pelicans diving into the shallows.  Collect fresh mussels at McClures Beach to barbeque or steam.  Hear the Great Horned Owls in the cypress forest, or the occasional bark of a sea lion in the early morning.  And in the fall the tule elk began the rut, the big bulls screeching in the fog, swinging their antlers through the scrub and pawing the earth.  In those magical moments, I could see deep into a primal past where the headlands held the ocean at bay and the bay fed its bounty into the ocean.  And life was inextricably linked with the ebb and flow of the tides.

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