"There will always be London"

In the generation of Californians alive at the turn of the 20th century, three names have stood out and have far outlived their times: Jack London, John Muir and Lincoln Steffens. London, the great writer of fiction, journalism and socialist tracts; Muir, the father of the world conservation movement; Steffens, the great muckraker.
New York Times columnist Timothy Egan describes below what the frat boys and sorority sisters up at the state Capitol are doing to one historical monument to of the figures, Jack London. Those of us of a certain age, with roots in Sonoma County, remember the time before London's Beauty Ranch in the Valley of the Moon was made into a state historical park. Governor Pat Brown, father of the present governor, was in office then and lived with his family on H Street in downtown Sacramento in a Victorian mansion built in the 1870s. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles lamented the rundown condition of London's beautiful ranch and pilgrimages to the ruins of Wolf House were important educational outings, followed by readings of London's short stories to the young. My father gave me a collection published by Hanover House, "Jack London's Tales of Adventure," when I was 13. "There will always be London," he inscribed. It is one of the few books I have carried around for 55 years, wherever I've gone.
When London drove his buckboard into Santa Rosa for supplies on Saturdays, my father's older brothers would sometimes go down to the tavern where London regaled the locals with his stories. It's hard to imagine now what an incredible impression he must have made on people who rarely got as far as the ferry dock to San Francisco or even the electric train ride to Sebastopol. My uncles were dazzled. My grandfather, however, who managed a fleet of buckboards sending freight throughout Sonoma County, was not impressed because he felt London treated his horses badly and therefore couldn't have much of anything useful to say, would not be a good influence on his sons, etc. Yet, echoing down through the memories of family stories I hear the uncles: "But Dad, it's JACK LONDON!"
Recalling how rundown London's ranch in Valley of the Moon was before it was made a state historical park, and realizing how much the population of the state has grown since 1960, I have to agree with Egan that prospects are not good for the Beauty Ranch. However, in keeping with California's Third World failed state status, perhaps the state can sell it to a billionaire who will save it from ruin by deep-ripping the ranch and planting grapes. Imagine: "Iron Heel Chardonnay," "Pinot Snark," "Sirrah Loupe," and "Call of the Wild Cabernet."
Another historical landmark that will be permanently closed by the state Legislature is the Governor's Mansion, which has been a museum since the present governor's father lost an election to Ronald Reagan, who refused to live there. The Governor's Mansion was purchased by the state in 1903 from the Steffens family, parents of the great muckraker, Lincoln, who also had a strong socialist strain in him, displayed in books like Red Moses. My grandfather preferred Steffens to London because they had been neighbors in childhood.
Finally, if the finance, insurance and real estate plutocracy gains complete control of Congress, Yosemite National Park will also be on the block for privatization, which brings us to John Muir.
The present plutocratic culture of the United State is intent on destroying the memory of any history by replacing it with its own bubbly fables. Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, a man of my grandfather's era known in America, where he taught history at Harvard, as George Santayana, is often quoted as saying,  "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Another man of that era, Samuel Clemens whose pen name was Mark Twain, corrected the great Santayana by noting that history did not ever repeat itself, but it did at times rhyme.
Given the present, dominant business and political drive to obliterate all we have ever known about ourselves as a people, we may in fact be setting ourselves up for a little rhyming with London, Muir and Steffens, because the Gilded Age resembles something Egan noted below: "The nuclear option is being executed to reach a (state) budget cut of $22 million mandated by a failed state that is forcing lethal whacks for all, even with an improved budget forecast. That’s right, $22 million — one-fifth the price of a recent sale of a single private mansion in Los Altos..."
But, in any event, there will always be London, Steffens and Muir. 
Bill Hatch
New York Times
Fall of the Wild
Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.
GLEN ELLEN, Calif. — Dead at the age of 40, Jack London left behind more than 50 books produced by his fevered pen, a string of opinionated lovers and a Sonoma Valley ranch he described as heaven on earth.
For a few months, still, you can see the sunlit room where the author of “Call of the Wild” wrote his daily thousand words before noon, and walk under redwoods and wild oaks on his 1,400-acre Beauty Ranch, where he pioneered “sustainability” before anyone was pushing $20 plates of arugula with a such a claim.
It belongs to you and me — the ranch, the cottage, the pond, the stone scraps of an old winery — an inheritance that is now being dismantled. California created the state park idea with Yosemite in 1864, before it was a federal reserve; it is destroying it in 2011 with a plan to permanently close one-fourth of its parks.
Along with 69 other sites, Jack London State Historic Park will be shuttered, gates locked, and left to meth labs, garbage outlaws and assorted feral predators. Nearly 50 percent of all of California’s historic parks are on the closure list. This is not a scare tactic from the state. Parks go dark starting in September.
Even during the Great Depression, when this state had 30 million fewer people, California somehow found a way to keep its parks and heritage sites open.
The nuclear option is being executed to reach a budget cut of $22 million mandated by a failed state that is forcing lethal whacks for all, even with an improved budget forecast. That’s right, $22 million — one-fifth the price of a recent sale of a single private mansion in Los Altos. It’s a broken California, sadder by the day, that is not only padlocking parks but may soon release thousands of prisoners, per a Supreme Court order.
In the great scheme of things, a park and a place that shows off the guiding passion of the most popular novelist of his day are small potatoes, yes. Who needs history and open space when a child may go hungry or a bridge may collapse? But what is happening now, the death of American life by a thousand cuts, is the collateral damage of our frozen politics. We don’t have to commit suicide, as California is doing.
These parks already charge user fees to enter. They are popular: the places put on the executioner’s list draw nearly 6 million visitors a year. On the recent Sunday I strolled through Jack London’s ranch, the park was packed with picnickers, hikers, birders, history buffs, people “trying to get out of nature that something which we all need,” as London said.
And, you can argue, people had their chance to save the parks. Last year, Californians voted down a measure that would have slightly raised their auto license fees to add $500 million for the parks. A majority felt — not without good reason — that lawmakers who created an unsustainable pension system could not be trusted to keep their hands out of a park fund.
The still-life of this political insanity includes not just reckless big-spenders at the table, but mindless short-sighters who refuse to raise taxes under any circumstances. So, in Sacramento, minority Republicans will not allow the people to vote on basic tax extensions which could prevent more parks from closing.
The above is reason to hate contemporary politicians, who show all the creativity of Soviet-era dress designers. In the meantime, our heritage — in the natural world and in preservation of the stories and people who came before us — is being erased.
Jack London’s credo, as he told a reporter two weeks before his death of a kidney-related failure in 1916, is worth repeating here, as a courage nudge.
“I would rather my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot,” said London, who looked like a young Warren Beatty. “The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time!”
He wrote adventure stories, social tracts and one of the best short stories ever, “To Build a Fire.” In his brief life, the illegitimate boy who was raised by an ex-slave became an oyster pirate, a South Pacific sailor, a dock worker, a prospector of gold mine stories in the Yukon and, in his happiest mode, a country farmer in the Valley of the Moon.
“I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me,” he said once he’d moved to the Valhalla above Glen Ellen. On the ranch, “I have everything to make me glad I am alive.”
Dry-rot is what awaits London’s home, with its glassed sleeping porch where he took his last breath, with its views of the terraced hillside where he learned to till the ground in a place of limited water. A few miles below is a big old wooden water wheel, at a tourist spot called Jack London Village. It churns away, without explanation.
A few years from now, people will stumble upon the overgrown remains of London’s home and wonder, as I did looking at the water wheel: what was that all about?