One weekend when I couldn’t stand another day of San Francisco’s summer fog, I asked my old friend Jeff if he’d drive me up to Glen Ellen to visit Jack London’s grave. It suited him, since he was looking for a reason to take a drive in his ’65 Barracuda, to blast AC/DC on the CD player and absorb some heat.
I don’t think either of us realized how hot Sonoma Valley in September can be until we stepped out of the un-air conditioned car in the parking lot at the Jack London State Historic Park. Dust hung suspended in the breathless air. Nothing moved: not a bird, not a grasshopper. Gratefully we ducked onto the oak-shaded path and strolled up the trail to the House of Happy Walls, the cottage built by his wife after his death.
We moved through the museum more quickly than I would have liked, then left the air-conditioned building to visit the gravesite. The woodland canopy gave us a welcome respite from the sun, but the shade barely cooled the stagnant air. I was glad we’d brought water with us as we hiked up the powdery trail to the slight ridge where London finally found rest under a boulder salvage from the ruin of his dream house.
I framed a couple of quick sun-struck photos while Jeff loitered under an oak tree.
When we returned to the main path, a ranger pulled up to us on a little flatbed pickup.
“How are you?” he asked.
“Fine,” Jeff answered skeptically.
“I’ve been offering people a ride back to the parking lot,” the ranger continued. “It’s too hot to walk.”
“We’re okay,” Jeff said, looking to me for confirmation.
“It isn’t much farther, is it?” I asked. “We’ve got water.” I held up my bottle.
“Not too far. Look, I’m going to drive up to the ruins, see if there’s anyone up there that needs help. Don’t want anyone keeling over from heatstroke. If you’re still on the trail, I’ll pick you up on the way back.”
“Sounds good,” I said.
Jeff and I didn’t talk about fame or isolation as we ambled back to the car. The heat made it difficult to talk at all as we trudged through the dust.
This comes from a larger essay called “Not Fade Away,” published in Eleven Eleven last year.