Tassajara Stories


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Driving into Tassajara we'd pass through Jamesburg, population not many and hard to say because it's all spread out and where does Jamesburg end? Drive by a few homes and between a barn and ranch house that belonged to Bill and Marion Lambert. Until 1972 when the ZC got the Jamesburg house where the dirt road begins, Lambert's was our way station. Enter by the back door after passing a row of doghouses with chained hunting dogs barking at our approach. Bill would usually be sitting at the large dining table, Marion often behind the stove stirring boar meat stew. Marion was sweet and thoughtful. Bill was sour and ornery but engaging - and generous after some insults. When True Grit came out in 1969, some teased him with that name. He was grittier than John Wayne though.

Bill Gordon Lambert was the son of local rancher William B. Lambert who was the son of William H Lambert who with his brother Thomas was a whaler from Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. Bill G said they used to land in Big Sur to get supplies and timber and finally sold their ship and stayed there. I think the Lambert fortunes were on the decline with Bill G. Lambert Ranch was 5000 acres but he didn't seem to have many cows, was mainly leasing land out and selling it off piece by piece. Made some money taking people boar hunting. He and his sons and other young guys that hung out around there would help the sheriff with searches for people lost in the woods. They'd find bodies and talk about that - one was so decomposed that the head came off and rolled down into a ravine and they had to go find it. They'd brag about their boar conquests such as leaping onto the back of one with only a knife to cut the beast's throat. I'd see skinned boar or deer hanging up in the barn. Later I'd join in on eating them.

Marion operated the Jamesburg branch of The County Library and Jamesburg Post Office both of which were so obscure that I don't know where they were - in the house? Lot of oak and pine on the land, sometimes Lambert sold firewood. I went out with him to get some for his own use. Drove up into his land in his pickup and he cut down a green tree. Told me he only has to use dry wood to start the fire in the kitchen's wood burning stove and that he only does that once. It would burn all winter.

Used to sell hay, one customer was Kim Novak in the Carmel Highlands. He and his son Rod had done tractor and backhoe work. In 1949 Bill bulldozed the shell of the burned Tassajara lodge into the basement. Was bitter about government restrictions on how he could use his land. There were livestock restrictions. They wouldn't let him put in a trailer park. He'd say that when there's a socialist takeover of America, it will be led by the US Forest Service. And the more he drank the more vocal he'd get about that, and crude as in, "I'd like to run a red hot poker up the ass of every goddamn forest bureaucrat."

Fire lookout Fred Tuttle said that Lambert was really just mad at himself for throwing away his life on alcohol. Sometimes Lambert would go on a heavy binge, drink so much he couldn't even sit at the kitchen table. And then Marion might get fed up and join him. I found them both in bed going out on a shopping trip once. He told me to go to the grocery store in Carmel Valley Village and get them two quarts of vodka and two gallons of red wine, a carton of cigarettes, and a few things to eat. Put it on his tab. Store owner sighed, said Bill was much and long overdue but that he'd get on jags like this every couple of years and then pay it all back so okay.

Bill said that Tassajara and all the private land within the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County was surveyed wrong. He said that the surveyors mainly stayed in his house, got drunk, and guessed. He said as long as we're strong the Forest Service will leave us alone but that back in the forties when some nearby rancher was broke they took his best land and traded it for the steep mountainside showing that's what he owned according to the survey. When I was Tassajara director in the mid seventies I looked into that survey situation. I think those surveys were long ago and he was talking about the surveyors staying in his childhood home which was Church Creek Ranch. There would have been plenty of booze there especially during Prohibition because old man Lambert was making top grade whiskey there at Church Creek. Revenuers raided the place, found a still, and found booze at the Lambert home in Jamesburg as well. Bill Lambert Sr. had to pay a $200 fine. There's a history of poor surveying in those woods. The original plat, or map of the area, published in 1884 by a surveyor named John D. Hall had Tassajara in the wrong quadrant and Church Creek Ranch a half mile off. Hall got ten years for surveying fraud - but that was even before Lambert's father's time so I envisioned waves of fraudulent surveys. I got confused trying to figure it all out and didn't look into it further because our noble advisers, especially prominent attorney and Tassajara loyal guest Charles Page assured me that over a hundred years of use had established where our property and all the property was and don't worry about it. I paid Page and family with eight loaves of Tassajara bread fresh out of the oven that morning. He froze six.

One day Bill said he'd seen a mountain lion with cubs on the road up a ways. Ran back to get his rifle but the felines were gone when he returned. Complained he hadn't had mountain lion stew in a long time. I was happy he didn't get his wish.

Heard so many stories about Lambert, didn't know what was true or not. No matter. Heard he'd lost his ranch to neighbor rancher Esselen Indian Fred Nason in a card game in the forties and that a few years later Nason let him win it back. Was told by a bartender in Carmel Valley that Lambert had been introduced to a big Hollywood producer in there years back and that he'd spat on the man's shoes saying, "What you have to say to that?"

"I say I'll buy you a drink," was the reply.

Bob Beck said that I reminded him of Lambert.

"Why? Because I drink all your booze?"

I guess so because Bob then told how when he and Anna first bought Tassajara around 1959, they heard Lambert was suspicious of them city folks taking that place over. Lambert had grown up riding a horse from Church Creek Ranch over to Tassajara and always went there anytime he felt like it. The Becks invited him and Marion over for dinner. Soon as they'd arrived Lambert asked if there was any alcohol. Bob brought out a box with twelve partially empty bottles - remnants of various kinds of booze they'd brought from San Francisco. In the course of the evening Lambert not only drank it all up but another box full just like it that Bob retrieved from one of the walk-in reefers out back. Bob said that when the Lambert's left, Bill said, "I think you’re going to be alright."  When people would ask Bill what the new people at Tassajara were like, Bill would say, "Goddamn good."

When Bill got in the jeep that night to go home, he started backing up on the Tassajara road in the dark. Marion called out, "I’m afraid he’s going to do it, but I have to go with him." He backed up all the way over the ridge past the drop-offs and round the hairpin curves to Jamesburg.

Bill was deputized so he could deal quickly with problems in the woods for the sheriff. Bob called Bill to say there were some out-of-control guys who were drunk and shooting guns carelessly at Tassajara. Bill slid in in record time and said, "Put up the hardware boys." Bob said the guys wilted in his presence and Bill escorted them out.

Part of being around Bill was being around guns. Heard he'd practice shooting a rifle from the kitchen table through an open window across the road, sometimes frightening the occupants of passing cars. I saw him shoot holes in his kitchen wall with a pistol. And his guests might have guns. There were a couple of tough guys I'd see there at times - Billy and Don. One late afternoon Stan White had the flatbed truck full of 55 gallon drums of gasoline and kerosene he was bringing back in to Tassajara. Billy was out there drunk and taunting him shooting bullets dangerously close to the flammables, Don standing by laughing.

Bob said that SF Chronicle columnist Charles McCabe came to Tassajara, wrote an article about the baths called "Stand Still and Get Healthy," and asked what else could he write about so Bob called Bill who came in and McCabe wrote an article called  "The Last of the Great White Hunters." It was just verbatim right out of Bill’s mouth. McCabe said he'd be stupid if he changed anything. McCabe came in when the ZC owned the place too but we didn't have a bar and he didn't seem comfortable. Left early the same day he arrived. That first article of McCabe's is in A Brief History of Tassajara but the Chronicle had no record of the second one about Lambert.

We didn't give any booze to Bill, but he liked us. He'd call us bald-headed hippies. Said the lot of us were crazy and a bunch of educated idiots but we were straight shooters who didn't put on airs. He said to my sister and me - she wasn't crazy, just energetic - "You Chadwicks got ants in your pants."

My wife Dianne asked if it was okay to breastfeed Kelly at his kitchen table and Bill said, "Any woman who wants to breastfeed a baby is welcome in my home."

Once on my way back into Tassajara stopped at Lamberts and he told me there was a man on his way who wanted to take his baby boar hunting. Marion thought that was not right but Bill didn't want to turn down business. And they were going to stay two nights in the guest room. The guest was late, finally showed up walking. He'd taken the dirt road up the mountain a ways to try to go see Tassajara first and had driven over a rock that took out his oil pan. That was the number one thing to look out for in driving that or any unpaved road. Know your clearance.

He was a tall guy. Carried a baby. Good lord. How old was this baby? Less than a year. Boar hunting? So he sat down and Marion gave him something to eat. He and Lambert hit it off right away. And then I got his name, a name I knew well. Daniel Eggink. Wow. Good to meet you. I'd heard about Daniel for years. He was one of the Minnesota crowd that came to ZC. Like Loring. But he was gone by the time I came. He was the first person to shave his head at Zen Center. Loring was the second. Daniel was a total wild man. Had been an early acid head. Had given unsuspecting Suzuki a hash brownie at a party. Loring said he got a serious concussion when the car he was sleeping in on the side of the highway in Big Sur was smashed into by a drunk driver. His wife had died (not then) and left him a lot of money and land in Montana where he had a commune. He and Bill got so into it that they stripped naked in the kitchen to compare scars.

Daniel never went in to Tassajara and didn't visit the ZC on that trip or ever again that I know of, but he still revered Suzuki and what he'd learned from him. Had sent some people to study with him. He said, "Kindness was what I felt when in the presence of Shunryu Suzuki and it was a kindness I didn't have. Even now when I see him in my minds eye I am humbled by his example."

There was a guitar on the wall at the Lamberts and Bill discovered that if he plied me with some booze that I'd sit and play songs for him and with more booze I'd start improvising raunchy stuff that would get him whooping. And then he discovered that if I had some pot it was even better. Pot had made inroads out of the hippie world into the cowboy scene and eventually Bill would keep a cup full of joints on the kitchen table - not for him, for his guests. He didn't, as he said, give a rat's ass about the law, but Marion cared. I was there for the family decision to allow this bit of civil disobedience.

Carmel friend Dot Luce had stopped by the Lamberts with Yolanda, a cannabis devotee and fellow traveler of the hippie realm several decades my senior. I knew Yolanda through good buds Vic and Shayna in Pacific Grove. Dot was talking to Marion over in the kitchen side of the room, I was at the table with Bill, and Yolanda was conversing with an inebriated farmer and old friend of Bill's from Greenfield. At one point, Yolanda spoke up in her Austrian accent, "Bill, do you mind if I turn on your friend to hashish?"

Bill, who was also somewhat inebriated, replied, "Go right ahead."

Marion turned her head. "Bill!" Obvious disapproval.

"Shut up Marion! Go right ahead and smoke your hashish!"

Marion was not convinced. "Bill!" she protested.

"Alright!" Bill stood up. Grabbed what looked like a bowie knife from a window ledge. "I'm drawin' a line." And he dragged the knife blade across the table leaving a deep mark. "Everybody who wants to smoke hashish on this side of the line," he barked out. "And everyone who doesn't want to smoke hashish on that side of the line."

I'd agree with Bob Beck that Bill Lambert was a stalwart friend to many of us and to Tassajara. It seemed to me he was abusive to live with. When Marion was dying of cancer I played her some nice songs and I could hardly get through them for Bill's yelling at me to forget about that mush and play some shit-kicking music. I'd say I wasn't there for him but for her and he'd say he didn't care, play some of that good stuff. He was loyal to but hard on his family. I only saw that in the way he treated long suffering and quiet Marion and in the eyes of his grown kids when they were there.

Last time I saw Bill I took my twelve year old son Kelly to visit him in a trailer up by where we'd cut that firewood. I think his eldest son was living in the house then. He was still mad at me for getting the name of the road where it came off the Carmel Valley Road changed to Tassajara Road. I'd seen to that because we'd had so many guests drive on and get lost when they saw a sign that read Cachagua Road even though it was in the directions. Cause of that he said people now couldn't find Cachagua which forked off from the road to Tassajara before Jamesburg. He talked about gun laws, how he needed to have his gun on him, not hidden away, cause when someone was pulling a gun on him there wouldn't be time to open up the glove box. I think Kelly was shocked by his bitterness and foul language. He went on about the government and the Forest Service in venal terms.

Last I heard of him, there'd been a big get-together for his eightieth birthday but I also see he died in Jamesburg eleven days short of it on May 11, 1991, so maybe they had it early. Gosh, that was a while back. His son Bill (William R. Keith Lambert) just died last year, 2015, in Jamesburg - at the age of eighty. If you mention the name Bill Lambert these days in the Jamesburg Cachagua area, Bill's son Bill is the one they'll think of. And when I first got there, when an old-timers spoke of old Bill Lambert, it was Bill's father. I was glad Bill Gordon Lambert lived that long. I remember he'd told me in the seventies that a doctor had scared him, told him if he didn't stop smoking and drinking, he wouldn't live much longer. So he changed his ways finally. Bill Lambert did live longer and was loved because of who he was and despite who he was.

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