Interviews to interviews
Robert Beck - with a bit from his former wife, Anna, and their son Adam.
February 19, 2002
Interview by DC follows a few entries placed here after his passing to the other shore.
3-2-07 - A Memorial website for Robert Beck was created by Natalie Carpenter. You can visit the site by going to http://Robert-Beck.virtual-memorials.com. At this site, you can read about Robert Beck, post a greeting, share in the guestbook, view a photo album and more.
There's more on Bob from the What's New 2-26-07 announcement of his passing.
2-26-07 -Robert Beck who, along with his former wife Anna, sold Tassajara Springs to the SFZC, died Saturday evening, February 24, 2007 in a Bay Area veteran's hospital.
Bob had been diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. According to an email from Nancy Roscoe, his friend and also once Tassajara owner, " His last day was peaceful. He was coherent, talkative, and cheerful. His last request was for lemon bars and vegetable soup."
I talked to Bob a few times recently after I'd heard from his son, Adam. Bob wanted me to visit but didn't feel well enough when I tried. I thought this was going to be some long drawn out illness and was shocked to receive Adam's call tonight. I really liked Bob. He was a fascinating person and he and Anna were really generous with the ZC in the terms of the sale of Tassajara which they could have sold for more to others. Thanks Bob. I'll miss you. Many of us will. - DC
3-17-07 - HISTORIC HORSE PASTURE property near Tassajara PROTECTED FOR WILDERNESS. Read about it in Sangha News.
In December of 1966 the San Francisco Zen Center signed a contract with Robert and Anna Beck for the purchase of Tassajara Springs, a large and well known resort four hours or so south of San Francisco in Monterey County. While we always kept the original name and still call this place Tassajara – great name, who wouldn’t have? – it also became Zen Mountain Center, the English Zen name, and Zenshinji (Zen Heart/Mind Temple), the Japanese name. This interview was conducted after dinner with Bob (which is what most call him). Also present were his son Adam who had a few things to say, Bob’s partner Delanie Borden, and old Suzuki student Dennis Samson. It was a great dinner. Later I called Anna Beck to get what she had to say.
The Becks had Tassajara for six years but they did a century of work in that time to improve the old resort, and they did it with only a small staff. After the Zen Center had had the place for years, there was still no one better than Bob to ask questions about the springs, plumbing, electrical, structural and other features of the place. He also was and still is a fund of information on the plants, rocks, hot spring water, cold spring water, trees, trails, the history of the place, the guests – everything. He taught us much about how to maintain Tassajara and how to take care of the guests. I can remember standing on the bridge to the old baths with Bob after a particularly rainy winter and spring. He pointed to a giant rock in the creek. "I never thought I’d see that rock move," he said pointing and then pointing to another spot, "It was way over there all these years." Gee, I hadn’t noticed and I’d stood many times at that spot. He has an eye.
Bob has been a teacher, but he has always been and is still now (at 81) an antique and art dealer. He has an antique and art store in San Anselmo CA, Robert Beck Gallery right near the Hub, the center of town. I remember seeing Bob and Anna when they were in the Bay Area to go to the flea markets in the mornings to buy cheap and then go to antique stores to sell high. They are both consummate business folk. Considering that, I find it particularly noteworthy that they decided to sell Tassajara to the SF Zen Center for less than they could have to others who wanted to buy it. How many of us, including those who work in the field of "right livelihood," would have been so generous. I personally am greatly grateful to them for their generosity at that time and since and am happy that they are still friends. I would also like to add that I really loved their original partners in the ownership of Tassajara, Fred Roscoe mentioned herein who died long ago and his wife Nancy (who was later Bob’s partner for years) who is still a good friend. - DC
DC: I interview people about the history of Zen Center and Tassajara and this and that. So you could tell me anything you remember about Suzuki Roshi but I’d like to hear a brief history of Tassajara, what you have to say about that. Anything you want to say about the deal you made with Zen Center.
BB: The deal in that recent book [Shoes Outside the Door] I think says that I made it possible for Zen to come to America, because of having the price for Tassajara reduced to less than we could have sold it for.
DC: Yes, thanks – that’s true. I remember that. It was extremely generous of you. It was about $300,000.
BB: Yeah. There were the pressures of it, of Zen coming to America which was a big deal for me – and we had to get out because of various reasons - like the fact that Anna wanted to get out of the hills, and all that. And Anna had a lot of ideas about being there, about running the place, about selling it. And of course at the time that we sold it she was pregnant with Katie, and that that happened when Adam was two years old or something like that and had been born while we were at Tassajara and Katie was born in the transition winter.
In any event, the first thing that I remember about the Zen Center getting involved was through Frederick Roscoe who had been a partner of ours at Tassajara. Do you remember Frederick? He had the Discovery Bookshop. And Frederick was a real character.
DC: Sure. I remember him well.
BB: We had bought Tassajara because of Frederick. Frederick had gone there on vacation in probably ’56, something like that, when it was owned by the Hudsons who had bought it from the Sappoks who were a Watsonville family who had owned it. And it used to be said that the Sappoks, who were hotel people in Watsonville, it was said that they gave meals away at Tassajara and sold whisky and made their money that way. It was kind of like a very active bar. And it was a place to go to have a roaring, drunk and a lot of the old timers who had been there years ago from around Watsonville came to Tassajara. Mainly because the water at Tassajara was very much like the water at hot springs at Yugoslavia where many of them were from. They knew it and they loved the water. They’d got in the habit of going, so they came and patronized the place.
The Sappoks had bought it from I think Phil Terry who was one of Joan Crawford’s husbands. He married a woman whose family owned it, the Church family.
DC: The Churches owned Tassajara? The ones who own Church Creek Ranch, the nearest National Forest in-holding to it?
BB: The ones who own Church Creek Ranch. And they had gotten it from the Quiltys. Mr. Quilty was a state senator from I think Watsonville. And his wife . . . He was at one time the warden of San Quentin, before he was a state senator. And Mrs. Quilty they used to say was the warden of Tassajara. And he was the warden of San Quentin. Because she was a very strict old lady. One of the best stories I heard about her was from Pete Stolich who was a Slovenian from Watsonville. He used to go up there from the time he was a kid, and he’d go up there and get very very drunk. And one time he had been uproariously drunk during one whole evening. He had a cabin down by the swimming pool. And in the morning he needed to get to the hot baths to soak himself out. And he was going up the creek. And Mrs. Quilty used to sit up at the old hotel when the stone hotel was there – it burned later – and she had a little kind of a watch tower there, like a warden would have. She saw Pete going up the creek. So she pointed to him to come up here. And she got him into her little office there and just gave him hell. And then she opened the –
DC: What was he doing that was wrong?
BB: Well he had just been – evidently he created a lot of commotion the night before. So she upbraided him, and then she opened the drawer of a cabinet she had and pulled out a bottle of whisky and said, you need a drink. Anyway, she was like that. So the Sappoks bought it from –
They didn’t buy it from Quilty. Do you know that woman who wrote that history that Dick Baker never wanted to have published, from Gonzales?
DC: Anyway, Dick would, I’m sure, be happy to have it published now. He just didn’t want a lot of publicity back then. He was always against any publicity at first. And yeah. I’ve been thinking of getting hold of her. I never have.
BB: She knows a lot of history.
DC: Do you remember her name? Was she a Zen student? There was a woman who was a Zen student who took a lot of Tassajara history.
BB: No, this was an outside historian. Fascinated with Tassajara. She came and we talked and talked and talked. And she talked to all kinds of people like the Jeffries who owned the Jeffries hotel in Salinas. At one time Bill Jeffrey was the manager of Tassajara, about the turn of the century. And he was I think married to a Quilty. So he managed up there. But she had a lot of history – I’ll think of her name. Seems like it was Marian or Mary Anne something like that. She published the book. I have it.
DC: I’ll try to get hold of it through the ZC. [Anna Beck doesn’t remember this book. I thought she might have a copy].
BB: Anyway at one time this man who had been married to Joan Crawford whose name was Phil Terry was married to one of the Church women, and at one time they owned it. And while he was there the big stone hotel burned and everyone figured that he had had it burned in order to collect the insurance on it because – that was about ’49, somewhere along there – and they had to have all the walls down in order to collect the insurance. And there was a basement in that, so they just got a bulldozer and pushed all the walls into the basement and then collected the insurance. And the Sappoks bought it from them. And then the Sappoks ran it for maybe fifteen years or so. And then they sold it when Frank Sappok died in a jeep accident. There was that old jeep there and he turned it over on the road and was killed. They didn’t know if he’d had a heart attack or if the jeep had turned over. Anyway, then Mrs. Sappok sold it to the Hudsons, Admiral Hudson and Margaret Hudson. And they were an old Monterey peninsula family. They used to own Point Lobos. And Margaret Hudson – she was Margaret Allen – her father was a race track architect. He had built Golden Gate Fields and other places like that, had a lot of money, he had bought Point Lobos and was at one time going to develop it and have housing out there. And didn’t do it. And then later Margaret and her sister sold it to the state for Point Lobos Park.
DC: A very beautiful spot. I was there not long ago. Glad it was saved from development.
BB: But she had a great fondness for California land, so she wanted to save Tassajara, so she had the Admiral buy it and the admiral didn’t want to have anything to do with it. He just wanted to work in the shop, so they sold it to us. We bought it in the winter of ‘59/’60. Frederick had been down there a few years before a couple of times and was very enthusiastic. He went with the woman who started the first coffee house in San Francisco whose name was Maxine Kittering. She was married to some European count. A very interesting woman. And so she took Frederick to this place, Tassajara, and he was enthusiastic, and he took us down there. When we got there the place was having a terrible time. I remember one morning we were waiting for breakfast and it didn’t come and it didn’t come, and finally the cook came out and his face was covered with soot. He said, sorry folks, the stove blew up again. There was an old stove there that was fired with some kind of oil. And when the wind would stop twirling the fan on top, it kept that oil coming out, it would blow the lids off the stove. So we were sure that with the condition it was in they would sell it. And Frederick said, we should buy this place. The plan was that one couple, Frederick and Nancy, would be running the place, or Anna and I would be running the place, and the other couple would be traveling in Europe and spending money and gambling . . . all that sort of thing. So Frederick just kept saying we could do this, we could do this, so we approached the Hudsons and bought it. A little bit down and payments of so much a month.
DC: How much did you buy it for?
BB: About $150,000 – I think.
And we started moving in there in the winter of 1960. And Nancy had the coffee shop down at that tower – that Columbus tower, that kind of angled building just down from the Discovery bookshop in North Beach in San Francisco. And she was going to sell that. Frederick was going to sell the book store. And Nancy sold the coffee house and Frederick couldn’t sell the book shop. Finally they discovered that Nancy was pregnant and they backed out. They just said, we can’t do it. And we were enemies with them for a long time because we had already sold Anna’s antique shop. And I had resigned from teaching school in Chinatown.
DC: You were a math teacher in Chinatown? [When we bought Tassajara, Bob was a math teacher in Carmel or near there. He even started a new school because he thought the ones there weren’t good enough. He also helped develop a whole set of math books for use in schools.]
BB: No I was teaching third grade in Commodore Stockton School. It was absolutely marvelous. One of the great experiences. I taught there for several years. So I had resigned from that. So we were committed. And then the Roscoes couldn’t do it. And so there we were, back in the woods, getting ready for the opening of the season, and they were gone. We had had no experience with that sort of thing. And also my mother came and helped us because she knew about hotels and restaurants and all that stuff. And so we ---
DC: What about other people?
BB: We hired people. We never had more than six or eight people working there.
DC: Good lord. We run it with sixty or more. Of course we wouldn’t need that many, but eight is unbelievable. And six is impossible.
BB: My mother knew some people who knew how to take care of cottages. We had people who made beds. We had people who cooked. My mother cooked first, and then when she left, we had to hire a lot more people cause she was amazingly efficient and a hard worker. But the first year we were there, on Labor Day, we had accommodations for about 60 people. When people started checking out after Labor Day we found out that we had had 72 people there. We had people who came and paid their bill and we didn’t even have them registered. We were so overwhelmed. People would evidently make reservations, and people would come. I don’t know if they were sharing cabins with someone else, or what. But they’d come and pay their bill and we had no record of their having been there.
Anna B (on the phone): And that would have been well after we opened because we started taking in guests well before Memorial Day. It was a busy summer.
Anyway, we kind of operated like that. And then at some point I guess Dick Baker was in the Discovery bookshop. They were looking for a place to have a retreat center for Suzuki Roshi. Because by then they had gone through all of the business at the Buddhist church [Sokoji] on Bush Street. They were looking for a place to have a training mountain place, to create a monastery, or something like that. So evidently Dick or someone mentioned this to Frederick and he said well you should go to Tassajara. Because by then they knew that Anna was really intent on getting out of there because she was having a second child –
DC: Dick used to go buy books from him. It was the greatest second hand book store around. Fred used to tell me, I told Dick about Tassajara and then he went down there.
BB: Yeah. And he did. So then Dick called us. And then there was kind of a big group came down there the first time. And that was I guess in the fall of ’66. Anyway as I recall they made some kind of provision – I can’t remember who came first – whether just Suzuki Roshi and Dick came or whether it was someone else that came with them. But at that time, it was in the fall, and we had a guy who cooked there in the fall whose name was Jim Cook.
DC: Oh yeah, I remember Jim Cook. He lived in Big Sur when we first came. He’d come down sometimes.
BB: And the other connection that there was there that may have prompted Dick to go to consult Frederick was Ed Brown. Because Ed came the last year or the next to the last year that we were there, looking for work that would be acceptable for a conscientious objector. Evidently Tassajara qualified, I don’t know why it would. We didn’t get much involved in that. But Ed came there and we had two cooks there then who were from Big Sur – Jimmy and Ray. Did you ever know them? Ed came and washed dishes at first. And then Jimmy and Ray taught him to bake bread and to cook. And Ed just took to it. He was fascinated by it. They were good cooks and good bakers. They could do everything. And it was some time, at this time, that we wrote the first Tassajara cookbook. I don’t know if Ed was involved in that, but Jimmy and Ray were. I remember after the cookbook had come out –
DC: Ed was not involved I don’t think – he did the ones for ZC.
BB: No, I don’t think he was. But there were a lot of my mother’s recipes in there. There were various friends’ recipes, like Morley Bear, the photographer.
DC: I know his son very well, Josh –
BB: Who is down in Santa Fe?
DC: He’s in Berkeley now.
BB: Oh he is? Oh I didn’t know that. Is he there permanently?
DC: Yeah, he’s moved to Berkeley.[Now back in Santa Fe – 4/04] He’s selling antique Native American rugs mainly.
BB: Really, that’s interesting, because his mother Frances and Morley were good old friends. We had known them forever.
DC: He remembers being a kid and coming down and seeing Dan Welch and me. He and Dan became best friends in Santa Fe.
BB: Because the first job that Josh ever had was at Tassajara. He came and worked for us one summer. And we’ve been friends ever since. Some of Frances’s mother’s recipes were in that first cookbook too. There was one recipe for lemon chicken that was very good. We loved it. We had it at Tassajara often. And after the cookbook came out someone called us from Sunset magazine and said, the recipe that you have in your cookbook for lemon chicken seems to be exactly like the one that is in our Sunset cookbook. So we asked Jimmy and Ray about this and they said, oh yeah, I guess that’s where we got that recipe. So they had just copied it out of the Sunset cookbook and put it in our cookbook. [But it was not published on a big scale – just sold out of Tassajara. Can be bought from Anna Beck now at her antique shop in Carmel, Anna Beck Antiques.] But there were all of these connections and it may have been that Ed knew about Tassajara. I don’t know if he was a Zen student then or not when he came there.
DC: I believe Ed came to Zen Center in the spring of ’66. Dick Baker came to Tassajara originally with Suzuki Roshi in like April of ’66 just to check it out. I don’t think he’d met you yet or anything, right? So they went down there.
BB: But they’d talked to Frederick then? Is that why they came? Cause Frederick said you should go look at Tassajara?
DC: Well we can only speculate. Dick doesn’t remember. I think so.
BB: I think that Frederick told him – that’s what Frederick always said – you should go to this place that we used to own.
DC: Dick’s story of how he found Tassajara is – his memory for that sort of thing isn’t that good. So his thing was just that he stumbled on it once when he was hiking, that he’d never heard of it, didn’t know where it was. Well I remember Frederick telling me that he told Dick about it. But you know there have been a number of other people who’ve taken credit. Margot Doss. She said she called Suzuki Roshi like ’63 and told him that he should get that. There were a number of people saying this. And there were other Zen students like Philip Whalen and Grahame Petchey who’d been there. So Dick and Suzuki Roshi came down to Tassajara about April is how I remember it. I don’t think they saw you. No, they didn’t see you. They just came and looked at it and walked around and drove back out and Suzuki Roshi got out of the car up there, that flat place, what would you call it?
BB: It may have been Lime Point.
DC: Lime Point. I remember that. And said, it’s perfect. He said it’s like a monastery in China.
BB: Because he had been in China –
DC: He had been, and there had been a place in China that he had wanted to get back in ’45 and I’ve always wondered if he was thinking oh finally he’s gotten back there. He wanted to get out of Japan and teach Chinese or Americans or somebody, cause he felt like Japanese Zen was too ossified. He really wanted to teach Americans. But he danced down the road in front of the car. He was like in heaven because he’d found what he really wanted for his monastery.
BB: Was that when he came in - in April with Dick?
DC: I think it was about April, in the spring. But there was no talk at Zen Center to speak of at that time that I can find – I didn’t come until like September/October – but there was no talk at Zen Center of getting Tassajara to speak of in April according to my sources. They had been seeing places for years. But I think Dick might have suggested to Ed that he go down to Tassajara and learn how to cook. I’m not sure about this. That’s what I remember from back then. I think Dick was looking far and well into the future and sent Ed down.
BB: I wonder what Ed remembers. Have you talked to him about it?
DC: Yeah, I remember we’ve talked about this but I probably should check again and make sure.
BB: I think he came the last year we were there.
DC: Yeah, he came in ’66 in the summer and I always thought that Dick sent him to learn how to cook so he could do it later. However, you all were not originally talking about Zen Center buying Tassajara. You were talking about us buying the Horse Pasture [another piece of land up the road a couple of miles and off a bit with no road to it and no buildings].
BB: Yeah. That was the original notion.
DC: And that’s what we raised money for to begin with. The original fundraising brochure that went out to a zillion people was to buy the Horse Pasture. Well how did it move from Fred’s suggesting Tassajara – maybe just a matter of money or something. No I think you weren’t quite ready to sell yet.
BB: We weren’t ready to sell. You see that final year we had what we called Tassajara Wilderness Workshops. And we formed a non-profit group called the Tassajara Wilderness Trust. And it may have been that non-profit status that made it possible for Ed to come there as a conscientious objector.
DC: Ed and some others were CO’s later when the ZC owned Tassajara. I wonder if that’s what you’re thinking of. But maybe he was a CO then too.
BB: And because we had organized this series of workshops and we had weaving, we had pottery making, we had photography. We had people like Ansel Adams who was doing a photographic workshop. Morley Bear had arranged a lot of this stuff. We had all kinds of workshops. So we were thinking that we could save this place by enlarging this workshop program. So that was why it started out to be the Horse Pasture that the Zen Center was going to buy. We had a contract written up on that. It was going to be some lesser amount of money.
DC: It was going to be like $180,000 –
BB: $150-180,000 something like that. No buildings. Nothing there. The fact was that Dick Baker was inclined to not say what he was really thinking about. And I think he was thinking about the resort. The property. The baths with the buildings and all. And was doing this thing – I think what he was saying was we’ll buy this first and then if you ever sell this other place we’d like it.
DC: Or he might have been just waiting for an opportunity to move on Tassajara if that possibility opened up. That’s what happened anyway.
BB: But there was another group that wanted to buy it called the Monterey County Roughriders. They wanted to buy the resort because they used to come in from Paraiso Springs, they would trailer their horses into Paraiso which is over on the slope of the Salinas valley and it’s another hot springs over there. Then they would ride in up the Arroyo Seco and up over the Horse Pasture.
DC: People continued doing that. There was that guy from Greenfield, John States or something like that, and he’d bring a whole group of people in on horses and they’d party like hell the whole time. He brought his wife once and introduced me to her at dinner at a table with a dozen or so people there - and I was running the dinning room - they were all quiet and attentive and I said, "It’s a pleasure to meet you Mrs. States, and you’re the .prettiest woman John has ever brought here." The whole table exploded with laughter.
BB: He would bring people in, but the Monterey County Posse or Roughriders or whatever they were, they wanted to buy it. And there were a lot of people. There was Mel Lane who was the publisher of Sunset, and a guy who was the vice-president of PG&E. They were going to buy this and then have it as a resort. They were going to have a helicopter pad up on top of the hogback someplace. So when Anna got pregnant with Katie then it became apparent that we should sell the place. That was into the fall of ’66.
DC: When the large group from the ZC came down – I think they might have come down in September/October ’66, they went to the Horse Pasture. And Gary Snyder was among those.
BB: And Yvonne Rand. Wasn’t it Yvonne and someone got lost? She missed the horse pasture trail.
DC: That was when Yvonne got lost?
BB: Yeah. And they went on up and – they were coming into Tassajara. Because a bunch of them came in and got there. But Yvonne and someone else went on up and went up the trail that is the next ridge over. They came in over the Tony Trail, but the Tony Trail connects Tassajara with the trail that comes in from Willow Creek, and over that way. And they got lost –
DC: They went all the way down to Arroyo Seco, and came back up Willow Creek Trail and over the Tony Trail – that’s one hike.
BB: That’s a helluva a hike, yeah. They were lost, but everyone felt they would finally get there and they did. But they were rather late for dinner as I recall. Anyway, before or after that, Dick came with – I think it must have been later – Dick came with Suzuki Roshi. I don’t think Suzuki Roshi was there that time.
DC: No. He didn’t go down. I don’t remember him being one of the ones that went with that large group.
BB: No. He didn’t go with the large group, but he and Dick, and I think maybe someone else, maybe a driver or someone, came later in the fall when we were closed. And that’s when Jim Cook was cooking. He didn’t cook normally, but he wanted to be a cook.
DC: Well, with a name like that, it’s only to be expected.
BB: This was the time that we were all in that winter kitchen in back there, maybe half a dozen people, and people were working getting things done, and we all had hamburgers except Suzuki Roshi. And Jim Cook made him a kind of a macrobiotic dish, all vegetables and noodles and sprouts and things like that. It was kind of like a small mountain sitting on his plate. I can remember Suzuki looking at that, then looking all around the table. And he turned and he said to Jim Cook, "I like hamburger." Jim was crestfallen because he had gone to great pains to prepare this wonderful Japanese dish, and Suzuki Roshi wanted a hamburger.
So they looked. And then finally it became apparent that we were going to sell the resort, and that that’s what Zen Center really wanted. They would like to have the Horse Pasture, but they would like to get started more rapidly by having the resort where they could start doing something without having to build a road, a zendo, and everything.
DC: We’d still be trying to get the permit for the road.
BB: So then we started negotiating about this, and that’s when we started negotiating price, terms, conditions, how money would be raised, when we would get payments, how soon we could get the Hudsons paid off, to whom we still owed a lot of money. I can remember sitting in some little room in that church on Bush Street with Suzuki Roshi and Dick and Anna and myself, and we would be going along endlessly about the details of how this would all take place. I wasn’t used to Buddhists and how they operated, but Suzuki would sit, and would appear to me to be sound asleep.
DC: You’re probably right.
BB: Every once in a while we’d get to some point and Dick would say, Roshi, what about that? And Suzuki’d shake his head yes or no. And he seemed to be tuned in all the time. At least he made a lot of decisions just in that time and without any further explanations or anything. There were a few times when Dick would explain exactly what something meant, but Suzuki would say yes or no. And then he would seem to go back to sleep. I don’t know if he was meditating or what. We finished that I think just about the time that Katie was born which was the 30th of December. We kept at this and finally drew up a contract. We had had an attorney when we bought the place with the Roscoes who was extremely good and saved us from having a real debacle when the Roscoes pulled out.
DC: So you never had to buy them out because they hadn’t put money in.
BB: No, we did buy them out. For an agreed on sum, in that first spring. They left before we really opened.
DC: So you had bought them out in spring of ’60.
BB: This had been set up by an attorney whose name is Haskell who was very wise and who said this business of being partners is like being married, and we should make some provisions for possible divorce, and he did. So that legal part of it was all laid out, and we just did what was prescribed in the legal papers and bought them out.
And we used him again when we had the contract of sale with the Zen Center. I remember at one point we found out that you could take documents like this that had some value and you could sell them. There are people who buy mortgages and paper like this and give you the cash value of them. So we went to somebody who did this in Monterey one time and said this is a contract we have for selling Tassajara to the Zen Center, and it’s going to paid over a certain number of years. So they wanted to know what was the basis of the money coming to us. We said it’s acquired by having fund raising events. They laughed and they said they wouldn’t buy a mortgage like this. We realized then that it was sink or swim with the Zen Center so we started encouraging the fundraising, and there were all kinds of things. One time Dick was very tight with a lot of rock groups – the Grateful Dead and people like that – and they would have fundraisers to raise money. And then he was getting money from the founder of Xerox –
DC: Chester Carlson.
BB: And from a lot of different people, and it all finally got paid. No matter what the mortgage broker said, it was a good piece of paper.
DC: As I remember the original payment in December was $20,000.
BB: I think it was more than that, I think it was $30,000. It’s all written down someplace.
DC: The next one in March was like $45,000 or something.
BB: It was because we had to pay the Hudsons.
DC: Yes. Because you had to pay the Hudsons. The year before I think Zen Center’s entire yearly budget had been $8,000.
BB: Yeah. But Dick would get steamed up and make these agreements and all and then he would come through. He had a knack for doing that. It was just amazing to us that he could do it. And all the time there was a lot of people coming through the house. We then moved into Carmel and were living there when there was a lot of coming and going at Tassajara, and up into the Sierras to build the tea house or the residence up there.
DC: No, that was later – after Suzuki died. Hey, here is Adam Beck.
Adam B: Son of the vampire.
DC: So what do you have to say?
Adam B: I remember two things. One was what I related to you before about meeting Suzuki Roshi for the first time. I was in the office. He scared me to death. He was with a couple of students from Japan. He had his huge white robes on, and he spread his arms out and smiled at me, and he looked a huge bat. So I hid behind my mother’s legs and he said it’s okay. Because I thought he was a bat. And I came out and he put his arms around me and said, "Hello." That was all. I was terrified and I remember it well.
And the other funny thing I remember. It was at our house in Carmel and was after we had evacuated Tassajara, I think Dick Baker and a couple of students had come over and I remember us sitting in the living room and the Japanese students sitting down and my mother had gotten some crackers and some bread and some butter and some cheese and I remember a couple of the students taking knives and slicing off quarter chunks of the butter and eating them without anything else.
DC: You thought they were Japanese students because they had shaved heads or whatever but there were no Japanese students – they were American Zen students. And Suzuki didn’t wear white robes – brown or gray. But you were very young.
BB: Do you remember David being there?
Adam B: I remember David and me playing around and bothering people we were laughing so loud.
DC: My son Kelly said he used to like to go to movies with me just to listen to me laugh. I’m almost always the loudest person in the theater. I just saw Kung Pao. It gets like a half-star rating from everyone but I took Clay . . . we laughed hard through the whole thing.
Adam B: I remember something that happened at Tassajara when I was a year and a half old. My parents couldn’t find me and were looking everywhere and our dog, Lumpy, was barking like crazy and they finally found me under the steps where we kept his dog food. I was there eating it.
DC: [Adam is now living above Bob's gallery in San Anselmo and is selling lots of his art. Good going Adam!]
BB: One night when we were there and I remember this vaguely. There was always the question with Dick, what are you going to do when you grow up? I said this to him several times. And why are you doing this and why are you doing that? And what was it he said?
Adam B: Somebody asked him what did he do besides Buddhism, what were his favorite things to do. He thought about it for a minute and he said, fuck.
DC: Well there was another time, and I heard this from you, Bob. You asked him seriously what would you do if you weren’t doing Zen. He thought about it and said, make movies.
BB: Make movies. And one time I remember I took him to the train station in Monterey to go up on the old Del Monte express to go home. He had spent the night with us. We were waiting for the train and talking and I said, again, what are you going to do when you grow up? And he said, I’m going to be a politician. And he was quite serious about it.
DC: Well he was really concerned about the war and stuff like that. I think he felt that he could make a difference.
BB: It was interesting too that in connection with selling the Horse Pasture, later, after the Zen Center bought the Pines, we were talking about it – see the original plan was to buy the Horse Pasture. And when it all came out, Dick was really wanting to buy the place down there, Tassajara. We had an opportunity to sell it to this horsemen’s group, and there was someone else who was interested in buying it, and we just figured – and this is when we got to thinking about what we would rather have happen to the place, and we decided we would rather see it be a Zen Center – and so we lowered the price and sold it to them. The thing that was always an issue – the thing where Dick and I really had it out – was in the business of selling the Horse Pasture later on. And I told him, when we finally thought we’d negotiated that I didn’t feel like selling it. Anna still . . . . that I would refuse to sell it because the kids wanted to keep it as something connected to Tassajara. Dick said, don’t listen to the kids. I said as a matter of fact I do. Dick said, well you just don’t do that. You make the decision. Anna understood him too. And there’s a certain amount of wisdom in that but it always amazed me that he just didn’t think that’s the way you did it. You just didn’t listen. You did what you knew was right.
DC: Well there were just three – Horse Pasture, Pines [across the road from the Horse Pasture – on the road – the Horse Pasture was further in on the other side] and Tassajara. How did you end up owning all three of those things?
BB: Because they had been homesteaded together. They were homesteaded under the Homestead Act of 1862, something like that. I think at that time you could homestead one section. And this was three quarter-sections. What the people did who homesteaded it was homestead all the water and the pasture land. Because the Pines has water on it. Then Tassajara and then the Horse Pasture which had water too. So that had always been the Tassajara parcel – these three pieces –
DC: The Tassajara parcel was what - 160 acres, each one of them?
BB: Each one of them. So it was 480 acres, which was three-quarters of a section. So someone had homesteaded that. I can’t remember the name. I think that this woman wrote it down in a book, because I sent her to the library in Monterey where all that stuff is recorded.
DC: I should look her up.
BB: You should look her up. I’ll find her name. I think she would like it. She was an upright person.
DC: I’ll get the book. How old would she be now?
BB: She would be 65. How old are you?
DC: 57. Last Saturday, or ten days ago.
BB: I’m heading for 80, I’m 78. That’s why people look at Delanie and me and say there’s something wrong with that girl. Because she’s 54. And she’s absolutely great. Best thing that’s ever happened to me. I can’t believe that at this late date I fall in love so well. It’s really worked out.
The other thing I remember were the people coming through all the time, when they came to build the place those people would come to Tassajara, the tea house carpenters. They came and stayed with us sometimes when they were going to visit Tassajara.
DC: But that was later – the tea house carpenters were later. We did all of our own building back then. We had good people like Paul Disco, Niels Holm, and Ken Sawyer, and more.
BB: Yeah. Dick was always coming by with someone and we would have these long talks. In the contract of sale there was a provision that Anna and I would have a life estate on an acre of property at Tassajara. So this has been variously discussed over the years. Dick and I one time, quite a few years after the sale, when everything was paid for and all, we had a discussion about where this acre was. I said, well we agreed at the time that it would be in Grasshopper Flats. He said, I don’t even think there’s anything in there about an acre. It doesn’t sound like something I would have agreed to.
DC: I remember this through the years, cause I talked to you about it. You’d talk to me when you’d come down and you’d go and look - in fact I’d go with you to look for areas. One of the places you looked at is where the baths are presently. I didn’t have the position or seniority to mess with things like that but I always did. Not because I was trying to influence things but because I was interested in you and liked being with you. Because I was outgoing and friendly I was in the middle of a lot of history that I’m now recording. I didn’t get involved with the details or take sides. And I remember going with you to where the baths were.
BB: Right - where the baths are. So anyway when Dick said – I guess maybe the plan was in motion to – you know there was going to be a whole temple complex up in Grasshopper Flats. At least that’s the way Dick described it. There’s a building here, and there’ll be another building, in exact relationship to that, and then something else over here.
DC: There was definitely a plan to put a big temple complex down in Grasshopper Flats. But we forgot about that after a while because what we had worked.
BB: So he said I think if there’s anything – he said, what about down by the barn. I said, no, we never talked about that. He said, well I don’t think there’s anything in there about it. This was late at night at our house in Carmel. But if there is, I would agree that what you would have specified is an acre in Grasshopper Flats. Then he said, but I don’t think there’s anything in the contract about a life estate on an acre. I said, well, if that’s the case, and if there is something in there, would you agree that it was at Grasshopper Flats. And he said, yes. So I went and got the contract and showed it to him, where it says a life estate on Tassajara. He couldn’t believe that he had agreed to that, but there it was. He was always thinking far ahead. He had different things going on in his mind. You’d be talking about one thing and he was thinking how that impacted something else, or else something else could change that. He never let on directly what he was thinking about, in our experience.
DC: I remember Alan Ginsberg said he asked Bob Dylan if he’d buy Tassajara for us. And Dylan said, yeah, he’d buy it, but he’d want a home there. So nothing happened.
BB: The thing we finally agreed to that if we wanted to just go there and be guests and not pay whenever we wanted to, we would do that.
DC: Do they know that now?
BB: I don’t know if they know it. When the leadership changes these things don’t carry over. Barbara Cohen and I had talked about this some, and she was going – one night we were going to get together and commit it to writing. Then she went off to Texas or someplace.
DC: Yeah. She’s in Austin. What about the kids? Was it just for you all?
BB: I think it was just for us. As I’ve said, Adam, if you owned the Horse Pasture, you can negotiate your own deal. I remember though, there was another side to Dick that always surprised me. I used to go down sometimes in the off-season or when the training session was going on. And sometimes on the day off. I remember one time we sat and talked with a lot of students down there by that walnut tree. It was in the fall. We were talking about ghosts, because when we were there one winter – maybe the first or second winter that we were there – and there were three of us there, Anna, our hired man who stayed there in the winter, and myself. We were in the part that later became – it was the bar, then it became the zendo, then it burned. And we had a fire in there, we had a big fireplace, and a stove in there so in the winter we’d kind of huddle together in there. It had been snowing up on the ridge and the road was closed. The three of us were sitting in there after dinner and there came a knock on the door. We all waited and looked and the knock came again. Finally I got up and went to the door. There was a man standing there who had one leg, wearing a mackinaw coat, and he had a kind of a reddish/white beard. He said, I was out on the road teaching my girlfriend to drive. He said, we came in this car and we want to know which way goes out. I said it’s the same way back. And there was a car there, and lights. There was a lot of snow. And there was no way the car could have come over the ridge. But he went and he said, thanks a lot, and the car disappeared. We went out and looked and there were no tracks at all in the snow. This was one of the times it snowed several inches clear down into Tassajara so there was more than a foot on the top. And Dick Baker said he had encountered the same ghost. We were talking about old days at Tassajara and everything and he described him as being exactly the same person, without going into details, as the one that I had seen at Tassajara.
DC: You told me that story before. Who was there?
BB: Ralph Burdett who was our caretaker in the winter. He was the handyman who worked there for several years. Incredible guy. He could do anything. And Anna and myself.
DC: I thought you told me the first time that June and David Schwartz were there with you – or maybe just David.
DC: Probably some other story I got it mixed. Also, here’s the way I remember it. You know, memories change. I remember you telling me the story. You said you were sitting around the fireplace, which later became the altar. You had partitions up to keep the heat in.
BB: We had made the fireplace so the heat would go up over the top and come down again and recirculate. It didn’t heat in the center so we had a wood stove in the center of that. We were sitting there after dinner just reading, talking.
DC: Maybe it was a different story. I just remember you telling me that somebody had come to the door, and all that. I didn’t remember the part about the car tires and the car and all that. You just said that there was someone at the door and that you knew that was true but that was all you could remember. I remember you saying that the next day you said to each other, didn't somebody show up last night? And you agreed that there was but that you couldn’t remember anything after that. I even checked with David Schwartz I thought – maybe not. But aside from the part about June and David, do you remember that?
DC: And you all agreed that somebody had shown up but you couldn’t remember who it was or what had happened.
BB: It was really strange. I went to the door and I saw this person who was standing there – one leg, wearing a kind of mackinaw coat and had this big beard.
DC: Did anybody else see him?
BB: I think Ralph saw him, because he was sitting by the fireplace and the door opened this way, but he couldn’t see him in any detail or anything, but he was aware that someone was there and Anna was too. It wasn’t possible for someone to get over the road, and the guy said he was teaching his girlfriend to drive.
DC: The road was totally snowed in – and if there’s snow at Tassajara there’s a lot more than a foot on top in my experience. I’ve seen three feet. Great story.
BB: And Dick said that he had encountered that same ghost.
DC: Do you remember any other ghost stories from Tassajara?
BB: I remember one when one time I was hiking through the Horse Pasture to go and fix the phone line someplace. And there was a trail that came off the Horse Pasture down into the Narrows. You could look down there from way up. And I saw what looked like Zen Buddhists – this was before the Zen Center bought the place – down on that trail, cutting a tree. So when I went out and came back I went down that way, to take a shortcut back, cause I wanted to see what was happening down there. And I went down there and there was a tree cut on the trail, and there was no one around. No one knew of anyone who had been there. And there had been two people in robes cutting this tree down. That was before the Zen Center had even acquired it.
DC: I was meditating one night in the little creek that goes into Tassajara Creek right under the bridge – we were sitting all the time, our time was very sparse. I was sitting there for like an hour and I started seeing an Indian dancing on a rock in the creek. It was not a ghost, it was just something I was creating – or so I think. But I thought that was pretty cool. Here’s something else I remember you telling me. You told me you thought people who came in – there was one you said used to come to the baths to go sit in the steam room and talk to the ghosts.
BB: Yeah. That was a woman whose name was Marie Williams, she was from Monterey. She’d been coming there for years. She would go to the baths and commune with the ghosts, with the Indians. The first or second year we were there we painted the walls of the steam room. They had all been just that kind of cement. Marie came in and went to the steam room right away and she came roaring back over to the office, and she said, you’ve killed all the Indians. She said, I used to see Indians in the steam room. They’re all gone now, you’ve painted them out. And we had painted them with some very expensive epoxy paint which lasted about a few weeks. It all peeled off.
DC: Those walls come off in your hands. Like painting a waterfall.
BB: It just all blistered. And she came back. And we told her that the Indians were back.
DC: What do you know about the use of Tassajara by Native Americans before the white people started using it?
BB: Indians would camp at the caves where Church Creek Ranch is when they were hunting in the fall and they’d go to Tassajara to use the hot springs.
DC: So for all we know the Indians went back for thousands of years there. There are hands painted on the cave wall at Church Creek – Robinson Jeffers wrote a poem called "The Hands at Tassajara" about them – should have been "The Hands at Church Creek." And we don’t really know how far back the white people go – whether the Spanish used it or not.
Did there used to be donkey trains with bells on them that people heard?
BB: That we could hear coming over the Tony Trail.
DC: Were they real? Because you told me once about people either with you, or one person that would hear them.
BB: Yeah. You could hear them. Someone pointed them out to me, and it sounded like a pack train coming down the Tony Trail, and they would never arrive. And we had had mules there. We had donkeys, we had three when we first got there, when my brother’s kids and other kids would first come there, my sister’s kids. We had three donkeys: . . . Margarita and Pedro and we’d use them to take kids’ trips up to the caves and things like that. So there were donkeys around. And one time we had a man who would do pack trips from there too. I remember one time he had a mule, a pack mule, and he went off someplace with that mule, and tied the mule up to a tree, and went on to do something else. The tree had a hornets’ nest in it, and the mule pulled at the tree and aroused those hornets and they came down and stung the mule to death. The mule was dead when he got back. Just thousands of them descended.
DC: How about the Tony Trail at Willow Springs Camp or around there - there’s some pretty heavy pieces of metal there, some sort of contraption. It’s been a long time, I can’t remember what they looked like.
BB: There were claims all through there when they first started – uranium. There were uranium claims all through that part of the country.
DC: Did people get uranium out of there?
BB: They evidently found some low grade ore but nothing ever worth getting. There were even some on the Tassajara road coming in.
DC: What about gold?
BB: Not that I’ve ever heard of. I think people explored for gold there but not found any.
DC: Peter Schneider once said that if we found gold we should bury it and shut up because we don’t have mining rights and anyway, people would be in there to mine all around us.
What’s the history of the face painted on the rock when you’re driving out – not far up the road on the right?
BB: That was done by a man who was an illustrator for Ladies’ Home Journal and things like that.
DC: Any Indian connection?
BB: No. But they had asked him to paint that. There used to be two Indians, an Indian chief and an Indian maiden, and only the maiden still remained. The other rock had come off and rolled down the creek. It was done maybe in 1920 or something. He was a famous illustrator for these magazines. I can’t remember his name but he was a famous artist.
DC: You mean he got paid for this?
BB: He came there – I don’t know if he was a guest of the Quiltys or what but he came and painted these. And then at various times the Indian woman has been repainted. I can almost remember the name of the artist. His brother was also an artist. They were quite famous.
DC: What about the painting of the legend of the baths? That’s the one somebody told me – somebody told me this summer that was done by some real Indian who was a real legend. I said I don’t think so.
BB: No. The legend was – I don’t know where it came from, but the piece itself and the illustration of the Indian standing there and then the – I guess it was the maiden whose tears made the Tassajara water. Because he was killed or something. It was all written out but it was written by a woman who worked there for the Sappoks. She had heard the legend and she was an aspiring artist or something so she painted this and then wrote it all out. And she was someone who worked in the kitchen or something like that. And then it was removed.
DC: We cut it out from the wall in the old baths when they were torn down because of fear of that big rock falling, because the geologists told us it was not stable. It’s down in the lower barn, or somewhere down there. It might be in one of the hallways.
What was Tassajara like when you bought it, and what did you do there? I remember what it was like when we bought it, but what was it like when you bought it, how much did it change?
BB: When we bought it the lighting system was quite primitive. It was all generated electricity because there was no power in there. And the phone line was a crank-up phone.
DC: It was a crank phone for years with us too.
BB: When we bought it right at the end of what are now the Pine Rooms, there was a little shed that had a diesel engine in it and that was the generator. They would start that up. They used to say when the Sappoks owned it that the bartender never stirred a drink, because when that diesel engine was running it shook the earth all around it and he’d never have to stir a drink. The first thing we did was to buy two surplus generators which were gas generators. I don’t know if they were Navy or Air Force or what they were but we bought them up in Vallejo, they used to have surplus auctions up there. I presume they still do. And we bought these two gasoline generators, had them converted to propane, and then we installed them on the flat there up by where the shops are.
DC: So you built the shops?
BB: Yeah. There was nothing up there
DC: Isn’t that what we use? The same?
BB: I think so.
DC: It’s been modified and this and that, but the main building is the same. I bet we have all new generators though. The old ones as I remember had to be cranked to start.
BB: When we came we had refrigerators, freon refrigerators.
DC: There were big walk-in refrigerators when we bought the place. We never used them. I don’t know if they were still in use.
BB: We used them. They ran off of the generator. So we’d have to run the generators enough to keep those cold. We had one generator initially. Then we got the two generators and we could switch them.
DC: We didn’t have meat or fish so we didn’t need so much refrigeration. I remember at first a few times the fan belt came off or some belt came off and the generators would race and the lights would get super bright and break. We stopped using those lights pretty soon and only ran the generators for work needs and didn’t use them at night so things would be quiet. Even now we only use kerosene for outdoor lighting – and for most of the indoor too. But when you had it, it was not so developed. And when you got it, as I understand it, the place was really backwards.
BB: It was all rather primitive. There was some kind of a little generator down in the basement. That’s what ran the refrigerators.
DC: There was an ice machine. We got rid of it but now we have one again. Did you have electric lights in the cabins?
BB: We didn’t in a lot of them at first, we had kerosene lights.
DC: That’s what we still have. There’s a little electricity here and there that will run lights in some rooms at night from the batteries in the shop that store it from the day and from solar collectors too maybe. I’ve lived with kerosene too much and now I’m a foe of kerosene I think it’s bad for you. I developed an allergy that came out when I was in Japan.
BB: I think it probably is bad too. I think the fumes are really bad.
DC: Very bad. You said the thing that shocked you about "Shoes Outside the Door" was that Dick Baker said that by lowering the price of Tassajara you had helped bring Zen to America and the thing you think that did that the most was in your meeting Suzuki.
BB: My experience with Suzuki was the feeling that somehow he exemplified the best that humans could be. He was an exemplary character, with his failures, his flaws, his faults, he still went bravely ahead and said this is possible. It’s possible to go beyond what we think we can do, and we don’t have to be heroic, we can be simple and express our convictions. It’s an individual thing which is aided and abetted by the practice of Zen, in his experience. This is what helped him to become the person he was. It was almost that simple. And this I bought into to the extent that I wanted to make it happen, in preference to selling the place to the Monterey Roughriders or whoever they were. A couple of other people were willing to buy the place for more money. But they would have done something with it which would have been much less than the Zen Center. I loved the idea of the Zen Buddhists being here.
DC: We’re lucky.
BB: You know one of the things that impressed me most about Suzuki Roshi was how he could move the rock. A stone that was enormously larger and heavier than he was. He seemed to know where to apply the pressure to move it. When he was building the wall there by the bridge he put some rocks in there. It wasn’t something he did anonymously. He was proud of the fact that he had constructed that wall. He was being very human . . .
DC: That was the first thing he worked on - the wall by the bridge from the small creek leading to Tassajara Creek.
BB: That was the one that was his piece de resistance. And Ed Brown built the wall by the garden. And that was one that Ed started out to do and he did it. And Frederick Roscoe and I built the wall up by the shops. We lifted some of those stones - which the two of us couldn’t lift together - with a jeep with an A-frame. There’s some huge stones up high in that. I always felt that Ed was out to better us because he didn’t have a jeep with an A-frame. But he did a wonderful wall down by the garden.
DC: Oh yeah. And Ed did a lot more stone work than that. We’ve had a number of people do really great walls there.
I’m afraid that Adam’s going to leave. Adam, I once heard a great story from you. I told you Bob’s story about the person who came when he and Anna and somebody else in the large room and somebody knocked on the door and it was a night in the middle of winter when the road was totally snowed in and nobody could get in and out and somebody knocked on the door there. First, before I ask you about the story you had to counter that, could I ask you how you remember that story?
Adam B: I remember that there was a man who came and asked directions to get to Jamesburg. The Tassajara road is a dead end road. There was no way a car could possibly get in and his car was running outside. He asked directions to Jamesburg and I guess my dad gave them to him. Then they realized that nobody could possibly have gotten in over the road. When they looked he was gone. It was a man with a red beard. That’s what I remember.
DC: Very good. When I talked to you about that story you said oh that’s not the story that dad should tell you. He should tell you this story. I’ve heard that one a million times.
Adam B: The other story is the four of us, Anna my mom, my dad, my little sister Katie and I were driving out of Tassajara, coming back down the road at just about sunset. There were a lot of bats flying around I remember, it was barely getting dark. We were coming down the grade, and we looked – we were going out, toward Jamesburg – and one of the two of us, Katie or I, I think it was Katie, said, what’s that? She was looking out over the cliffs. And coming around the corner of one of the mountains on the other side of the canyon there, was a glowing round purple ball. It floated around the corner of the hill. My dad stopped the car and we all got out and we looked. It was just a glowing, sort of amorphous purple ball. We speculated it could be swamp gas, or that it could be a weather balloon, or something like that, but we still don’t know what is was to this day. And it sort of cruised around – am I telling this right?
Adam B: It sort of cruised around the corner of the hill and floated there for about five minutes, and then sort of slowly floated back around the corner. It was purple, luminescent, and kind of glowing with sort of soft edges. I asked my mother about this about seven years ago, because I thought maybe it was just a hallucination I had as a child, she said, oh my god, you remember that. That was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen. We all four of us saw it and can’t explain it to this day. We don’t know what it was.
DC: What do you remember about it Bob?
BB: I’m sure it was a flying saucer.
DC: A flying saucer? A giant purple ball? I’ve read a lot about flying saucers. I’ve really been into flying saucers but I don’t remember any being described as giant floating purple balls. Although, come to think of it, there are a certain number of stories that are like this – glowing balls and various unusual reports.
BB: It was in a valley up from where Bill Lambert lived, up from Jamesburg. There was another mountain range there and this was between where we were and this other mountain range. It was as Adam described it. And it maneuvered, moved around, hovered, and we got out and watched it.
DC: Where was it located?
BB: It was just up the hill from Jamesburg. It was 2000 feet above the valley.
DC: Describe it, come on. My original impression from talking to Adam that you all came around the corner and there was this giant purple ball in the road in front of you that was like six inches off the road. Now I get this idea that it’s way out there.
BB: Above the canyon. It was up in the air. And I don’t remember it as being as purple as Adam says. I think it was more just a glow, an orangish –
DC: You remember orangish.
BB: We all saw it differently. But it was there. I’m sure that Anna still remembers it.
Anna B: (Anna Beck – from a phone conversation). I’m totally convinced it was a flying saucer. It was certainly unusual. As we came down the wide clay stretch in the road near the bottom, as we rounded a corner, the valley below, I saw a light moving through the valley. It hovered above and, as I recall, it headed west and disappeared. It looked like an intense light with some form in the center and it moved away from us and sort of evaporated.
DC: I’ll ask her about it. Another thing about this story that Bob tells about the visitor at Tassajara, what year would you say that was.
BB: That was in the early ‘60s.
DC: You told me this story before, and I could swear the first time you told me you said it was David and June Schwartz that were with you. Do you remember anything about that?
BB: No. I don’t remember that. It was Ralph Burdett and Anna.
DC: Did you know David and June Schwartz back then? I’m just trying to figure out why do I get this mixed up.
BB: I don’t think we knew them then. Because after we sold Tassajara, David and I started the Learning Company in Carmel.
DC: Anything else, any other stories you have, memories?
Adam B: Just the one about meeting Suzuki Roshi in the baths. I thought he looked like a big bat. And the students eating butter. I do have some other memories but they’re probably –
Adam B: Just about Tassajara in general, a lot of memories.
BB: I had a feeling that they were desperately looking for something.
DC: You had a feeling that Zen Center was desperately looking for a country retreat or a monastery at the time that you met them? I’m just filling in the assumptions that nobody’s going to understand when they hear this on the tape.
BB: I think that that was the case, and that they had eliminated a lot of places.
DC: Oh yeah, Suzuki Roshi had seen many many places through the years. Nothing quite filled the bill.
BB: He’d looked, as I understand it, all the way down through California. And when he saw Tassajara he looked from the point up above, where you first come down, after you pass the Church Creek Road, and you come down, just when you start the switchbacks, there’s a place there where you can pull out. That’s where he looked from. I can’t remember what that point is called. It has a name but I don’t remember the name of it. He looked there and he knew that this was the place, there was never any question in his mind I think. He and Dick together. He knew that it was going to happen. And I guess I knew it was going to happen too. It was a question of how we did it. I think Dick knew it too. When we sat there on Bush Street and negotiated, it was all kind of fore-ordained, and it was just a question of filling in the details. That’s what we did. It happened. The thing that Suzuki Roshi said to me one time, which I don’t know if it was trickery, I don’t know if it was salesmanship or whatever, but he said to me one time, when we were alone, he said you are a Buddhist. Which I think he often said to people.
Dc: I don’t know. Sounds like he meant it.
BB: That impressed me. And I felt a kinship with him. I don’t know why, because at that time I knew very little about Buddhism.
Bill Lambert. I want to talk about him. The reason I think of Bill is because Bill reminds me somewhat of you.
DC: Because we both drink up all your booze?
BB: Because one of the first experiences we had with Bill when we bought Tassajara – and he was very skeptical of these people from the city who were buying this place which was very important to him. Because they had lived – the Lamberts used to be at Church Creek. They owned the Church Creek property and that’s where Bill was raised. And he knew Tassajara like the back of his hand. When we came there he was skeptical. So we invited Bill and Marian to dinner one night before the place opened. And from San Francisco we had brought two boxes of remnants of booze of various sorts, you know, an eighth of a bottle of old something or other, and then a little bit of gin, a little bit of vodka, little bit of everything. We had two boxes of twelve compartments each. And so we invited Bill and Marian to dinner. The first thing Bill said before we sat down to eat was, got anything to drink? So I went into one of those big walk-in reefers and brought out one of the boxes of remnants of booze. And I said to Bill, what would you like? And he said, I don’t care. So he started drinking. And he literally drank up one box. And I got out the other box. Late that night after dinner Bill said, I think you’re going to be alright. Because I’d given him enough booze. When people would stop there and ask what the new people were like, Bill would say, goddamn good. He said, I drank up two boxes of their liquor. When Bill got in the jeep that night to go home, he was feeling especially good, he backed up on the Tassajara road, in the dark. He got in his jeep, and Marian said, I’m afraid he’s going to do it, but I have to go with him. And he got in and he backed up the road and over the hill to Jamesburg.
DC: Fifteen miles he rode in reverse?
BB: Fifteen miles he road in reverse. [14 miles]
DC: For the benefit of those who are reading this, Bill Lambert had a ranch on the outside. Not far beyond where the dirt road becomes paved road was Lambert’s ranch. He was the big land owner out there – 5,000 acres or more I think.
BB: And Bill used to . . . and he’d say those people are fine, go on up there, it’s all right.
DC: He liked us too. He called us "bald headed hippies."
BB: Then Bill would come periodically. One winter we had 20 inches of rain in three days. I came to Bill’s place one night and he said, you’re not going to be able to get in there. And I said, well I need to go because Ralph was in there and he needed cigarettes. Bill said, you better take my jeep. So I took his jeep and started up over the hill and it was still just raining like hell. I got finally down – the road had washed out and there was a big culvert washed out and I got a tree and got it up on the culvert so I could get up on the culvert and down the other side. When I finally got across with all my stuff I found that Bill’s dog had followed the jeep. Here was this goddamn little dog standing on the other side. So I had to go and get the dog and carry him over this log and down there. Bill was absolutely a stalwart friend. He would do anything. One time we had three guys come in from Salinas. They all had side arms. They came into the bar. I thought that I should treat them like the old west so I said, it’s a custom here to check your six-shooters at the bar.
DC: That’s what I used to tell them. I used to make people check their guns.
BB: They gave me their guns and then they were ready to leave, and I gave them some drinks, and they were going back out. And then they started shooting outside. So Bill was a special deputy for the sheriff’s department. So I called Bill and I said I think we maybe need some help over here. And Bill said, be right over. And he arrived about – I don’t know, in record time because he drove straight ahead. And when Bill came in and said, where are the guys that are causing the trouble. They just wilted. And he took them in his jeep and took them into town. I don’t know if you remember Charlie McCabe who used to write for the Chronicle.
DC: I remember him there once. He was very drunk and didn’t feel at home I don’t think because he was maybe intimidated by all the bald headed people in robes or whatever. I don’t think he ever came back. Loved his column in the Chronicle.
BB: Charlie used to come to Tassajara. He came, and he was at that time married to some English countess or something. So Charlie said, god, I’d love to stay another day. Maybe I’ll write a column about how it is to be here. So he wrote a column that he called "Stand Still and Get Healthy." Which was all about taking hot baths. And then the next day he said, jeez, I’d like to stay another day, what can I write about. And so I called Bill, and I said there’s a fellow here who needs something to write about. Bill says, I’ll be right over. So Bill came over and Charlie wrote a column which he called "The Last of the Great White Hunters." It was just verbatim right out of Bill’s mouth. He said, I’d be stupid if I changed anything. So he wrote that. And Bill was a complete character. He used to sit in his house, and he had a target across the road where he would sight in his rifles before he’d go boar hunting. People would come driving by and Bill would be shooting. Sometimes he’d shoot right in front of the car that was going by and people would just explode and go off the road. And Bill would just say, it’s what I do.
DC: I’ve seen him pull out a gun and shoot holes through his walls in his home.
BB: He was an extraordinary man. He would say, I can’t really shoot. But he’d say, when I get really scared, I’m really good. And he’d take people boar hunting. And he’d say when everybody had missed he’d always give his hunters that he was taking out a chance to get a boar and then he would get out his two six guns and kill the boar. He was an extraordinary man. And he developed all that property and sold it all. Whatever happened to him, I don’t know. . . . . what’s happened in Jamesburg?
DC: I don’t know. One amazing thing is that Bill lived to have an eightieth birthday party for all his family. Considering how hard he’d drunk and how much he’d smoked. I took my son Kelly to meet him once and he wasn’t living in the house anymore. He was in a trailer. And he was so bitter – he was always pretty bitter – about the Forest Service especially – he used to say that when the socialist takeover of America comes, it will be led by the Forest Service. He got to where he’d keep dope there. I was there one time when I came in from Tassajara. And he knew that if I smoked dope I’d play guitar better. And he had a guitar there. And he’d say, play us some shit-kicking songs. And I’d just sit and make up songs. I’d say, oh I don’t feel like it. And he’d say, Marian bring David some alcohol, bring him some alcohol, I want him to have some alcohol. So I’d drink a little. Then he’d say, play some music, so I played. I think the difficult time I was there with Yolanda, the old woman from Switzerland who was sort of a dope dealer in Pacific Grove. I was there and she was there and there was an old rancher there, and he and Bill were drinking a lot and they were drunk. Yolanda was there talking to this friend of Bill’s – she was older. She was like twenty years older than me. And she said with her accent, Bill, can I turn your friend onto hashish. And he said, goddamn right. She said, it’s like marijuana. He said, anybody can smoke hashish here that wants at my house. And Marian was behind the stove, she said, Bill?! He said, shut up, Marian. She said, Bill it’s illegal. And Bill got out a knife and he stuck it in the table and he pulled it across the table and cut a big line in the table and he said, alright, I’m drawing the line here. Everyone that wants to smoke hashish on this side of the line, everyone that doesn’t want to smoke hashish on that side of the line. And Marian shut up. And we all smoked hash. I’d come in there and he’d say, here – smoke some of this - and eventually he’d have like a glass with joints in it in the middle of the table. Here, smoke some dope, play some music. He had this idea that I’d have to get really drunk and stoned in order to play good music.
BB: You played better, though, when you were –
DC: Well, to an extent.
BB: Remember all the music you made up? Composed. I remember that you had a lot of stuff you used to play. It was avant garde stuff. A lot of it I didn’t understand, but I –
DC: I’m still writing. I’ve written stuff recently. I still play. But before ’72 I used to improvise. I did a lot of really far out neat stuff before ’72. But after ’72 I started writing it all down. I just thought I was losing everything.
BB: That’s . . . . because it’s not recorded or anything, so it was gone.
DC: I did great stuff if I do say so, but I couldn’t remember a single thing from any of it.
So you had a long talk with Trungpa at Suzuki’s funeral?
BB: He was in khakis. He often wore khakis. He looked just like something that had come in off the street. So I was waiting there for something to happen. He started talking. And I realized that here was an extraordinary man. He talked about Suzuki, he talked about ordinary things with a kind of understanding and emphasis that made me realize that here was someone extraordinary. I had no idea who he was. So we talked for fifteen or twenty minutes while we were waiting for the ceremony to begin. Were you there?
BB: Do you remember when Trungpa came up to the casket and he stopped before it and then he – I don’t know, it was almost as if he had something up his sleeve, and he did this thing which was evidently part of his Tibetan ritual of the dead or something, and this piece of what seemed like gossamer or silk or something, he went like up over the casket, and everybody gasped?
DC: He put one of those Tibetan white scarves or whatever you call them over the casket.
BB: I thought it was the high point of the whole ceremony. And evidently when I was talking to him he had said something which alluded to this. I had no idea what was going on. And then when he did this – he did this thing, like this, and that’s what he was talking about. I was indelibly impressed with this guy. Have you read the book "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism"? Extraordinary. Incisive. Cutting all the way through.
DC: "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" is like "Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind." A totally classic book. The thing about Trungpa’s personal life is it’s so full of extremely challenging drunkenness and womanizing and stuff that it does urge one to think that possibly he had made some critical missteps in his decision about how to be a teacher. I mean, he and Suzuki are both characterized by being great teachers with great books and flaws too. His students sort of divide among those – the lineage – that say, oh no, he was perfectly enlightened, he was at the highest of the high stages, and everything he did was teaching. And those who say, no he made a mistake. He died of acute alcoholism. Literally the worst type, where all your internal organs just stop working. His dharma heir Osel Tensing died of AIDS after having given people AIDS by lying to them, by not disclosing to them that he was HIV positive, because, as he confessed later, he felt that he was beyond being able to contract and give this sort of thing, and had deluded himself.
BB: Was he in Boulder, too?
DC: Yeah. This Trungpa lineage is a tragic story. Michael Downing who wrote "Shoes Outside the Door" – every time I talked to him or e-mailed with him, he said, O you’ve got to write the Trungpa story. I tell him, I’m not an historian. I’m not interested.
BB: It’s not really history. It’s an appreciation I think of how he was, and then to maybe put it all out there for people to decide.
DC: But not for me to do.
You say you did the whole contract and sale of Tassajara under the auspices of Silas? I’ve never heard anything but Dick, Dick, Dick.
BB: Silas was the one who prepared the schedule of payments, who drew up the papers, as far as I know, from the Zen Center. Silas was the one who always came and said, after Dick had done it with a broad brush, Silas would come and say this is how it actually will be done.
DC: Oh. He was an importer. He had a business. He could have bought the whole thing. And he was prepared to. If we hadn’t raised the money, Silas was going to buy Tassajara for Zen Center. And nobody knows this.
BB: I didn’t know this. But Silas was always reassuring. He invariably convinced us that we would get our money.
DC: Oh really.
BB: And it may have been that he was the ace in the hole.
DC: Yeah, I didn’t really think about it, but I knew him back then and he’d tell me this, in confidence, in private. He’d say, well if we don’t raise the money I’ll just buy it. He had an importing/exporting business. And he gave it away – he gave everything away – and to individuals he knew, not to Zen Center.
BB: I was always impressed by Silas. He was one of the people I really liked. Who was the other treasurer, later, who was somewhat the same nature as Silas?
DC: You’re not talking about Stan White.
DC: Peter Schneider?
BB: No. More recent than that probably.
DC: Steve Weintraub.
BB: No. Ed Satthizhan. I liked him to.
DC: You knew Jimmy carter?
BB: Yeah, we went to Annapolis together. I went to a reunion and he was there and no one could remember him. [I have to check with Bob on this – it’s something he said to me years ago that I threw in and I think I remember it right.]
DC: [I called Anna Beck up to get her input.] Do you remember anything about Suzuki Roshi?
Anna B: I didn’t know him so well and Bob was more involved with Dick and Suzuki, but I guess my clearest memory of him is when we had a dinner in a Japanese restaurant celebrating the sealing of the deal selling Tassajara to the Zen Center. I was nine months pregnant. We were sitting on the floor of the restaurant eating with chopsticks. I have a very clear picture of him there. He had a quiet smile. He didn’t say much.
DC: How long was your guest season?
Anna B: Tassajara was open from not long after when we bought it – way before the summer of ’60. We were open year round, all the time because we were desperate for money. We would have lots of people for Thanksgiving and we’d hike to the caves.
DC: Was it 94 when Katy died?
Anna B: Yes, May of 94.
DC: [The Beck's daughter, Katy, was the child that Anna was pregnant with when the ZC bought Tassajara. She died tragically of diabetes that she had struggled with for years. She was a really sweet person and it was very sad.]
[After we’d gone over some of the details in Bob’s interview] Anything else?
Anna B: I remember the owners of Sunset magazine came down and they brought some friends. We served jug wine with the meals, red and white, it was nothing we charge for but was part of the meal. And they had us bring two room temperature jugs of wine, red and white, to the table and they all did a blind tasting – they were blindfolded – and most of them couldn’t tell the difference. That was interesting.
DC: Yeah, you can’t taste if you’re blindfolded. That’s great.
What was Tassajara like when you got it?
Anna B: Totally run down. We fixed up everything. The bar was in one of the pine rooms and we took it out of there and fixed it up as a guest room. We fixed up all of the stone and pine rooms, put the second roof over the stone rooms to keep them cooler in the summer. We installed wood burning stoves in all those rooms – the fireplace was already in the main stone room. We put the fireplace in the big stone room, the dinning room and moved the bar into there. We put a time capsule in that room below a stone in the corner with a message in it. Did you all find it?
DC: I don’t know. It might still be there.
Anna B: We did a lot of work everywhere and on all of the other cabins which were tawdry. We did an enormous amount of work on the baths and steam room and hot springs. Everything needed work and we worked like Trojans.
DC: You did so much with so few people.
Anna B: Yes we did.
|Go to Interviews Go to What's New|