Tassajara Stories


previous --------------- next

last edit 9-27


Peter and Penny Partch were a young couple who sat with Jean Ross in Carmel. At Tassajara they'd urged me to drop by in Monterey to meet their neighbor, a Mr. Rose who was in his mid nineties. I was in town to do some shopping for Tassajara and stopped by their place at about ten in the morning. They lived in a small white slat wood home among other like structures. Reminded me of the inexpensive domiciles my father built after WWII called GI homes, thus named for the prospective market of returning soldiers back when lower income people could buy homes.

Mr. Rose's door was just opposite theirs. He answered the knock. He was tall, thin but sturdy, erect, weathered, wrinkled, in pajamas. Not feeble at all. He stood above me looking down smiling. There was a formidable air to him.

"Mr. Rose, this is our friend David and we wanted you two to meet."

"Come right in," he said opening the door wider.

It was a little scary to me, but not bad scary. Like being a kid going into a haunted house on Halloween.

"Have a seat."

I sat in a wooden chair at a bare wood table. Not much sign of interior decorating in my view. Uncluttered.

"Would you like something to drink?"


"How about this?" he said, opened a cabinet, and pulled out a bottle of vodka. Didn't see much else in there.


Half filled two glasses. We drank.

After a minute of silence he reached into a drawer and took out a pack of Lucky Strikes non filter. "Smoke?"

"Sure. Thanks."

After another minute of silence he spoke, leaning over looking me in the eye. "You want to know the secret to a long life?"


"Don't go to doctors," he said raising his voice and shaking his finger in emphasis. "I've seen my friends go - and they don't come back."

That was the only time I was with Mr. Rose. I've followed his advice as well as I could.

Peter Partch wrote, "Basil Rose is a master-being who has blessed my memory with his message: 'Do something to please God! It doesn't cost a penny but pays big dividends!'.

"He believed that I had been sent by God to save him from the fire that started under his front porch. I heard his faint 2:00 am cries 'Peter! Peter! For God's sake call the fire department! I'm too old for this!' I was able to get it under control with his garden hose. When the firemen finally did arrive he offered all of them vodka to toast to them and to me as his savior!

"His way of pleasing God was to feed the pigeons that gathered by the Monterey Warf. I used to drive him there on occasion in my VW Bug until one day he refused my offer. He said he was afraid that he might die while I was driving him and he didn't want to inconvenience me with his remains in my car. He said he would pray to God that the pigeons would come to him. And that is exactly what happened!"


After my first trip to Tassajara, I made a point to keep quiet around Fred Tuttle, the old Forest Service ranger who'd helped us with the phone line on my first trip in. He'd asked Silas not to bring me along the next day because I was too high energy for him. In time he got more comfortable with me. I’d visit him on the way out of Tassajara at his lookout atop Chew’s Ridge at 5000 feet. A 360 degree panorama of mountains and valleys. On a clear day I could see the Pacific and farmland in the Salinas Valley. He said he used to be able to see the Sierras several hundred miles away before smog was everywhere even if we didn’t notice it over short distances. I visited him and wife Lynda at their trailer in Cachagua, a small settlement with more trailers than houses not far from Jamesburg. She was a retired lookout and notable character from Big Sur who had taken in a penniless Henry Miller when he first showed up there in 1944. She took a book from her shelf, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. Turned back the cover to expose the great author’s penned, “To Lynda Sargent, who saved my life." He lived with her a while in a log cabin that Bill and Lolly Fassett later bought and turned into the landmark restaurant Nepenthe. Lynda was a novelist too and said they spent their time typing or arguing.

Fred and Lynda had gotten to know each other through communicating from their Big Sur and Chews' Ridge lookouts. After some years they decided to get married even though they hadn't met in person.

Once when Fred drove in to visit, we walked up the road to the cold water springs. Easy to find them. Bulging greenery and water dripping onto the road, pipes running under the road to a cement tank with a pipe that runs in the small creek by the road into Tassajara. I would question the wisdom of that placement when working on a broken pipe in that creek in freezing winter. Fred said the spring water came from the Sierras, that he could tell because it was so cold. We went uphill to check at the catchments and he told me to make sure they were clean and uncluttered with debris that might stop the flow and especially to make sure they're properly screened and that there are no dead rodents that got trapped.

Up the road a couple of miles there was a deep cast iron bathtub that would fill with water coming down the ravine. It had been used in prior times to fill overheating radiators. He told me to keep a branch or piece of rope running out of it so rodents didn't get trapped there. The rope would disintegrate or the branch break and we'd find twenty dead mice in it. A tree fell on it and broke it and then a slide obliterated it so we can no longer identify that spot as the bathtub switchback.

Fred said the road or maybe parts of it used to be paved with asphalt. There were some places toward the top with some pavement left and mainly obscured. Said that was before the war which meant WWII for anyone his age. I've always doubted that much of it was paved for the lack of evidence, Showed me some runs of the bare metal phone line still visible. He said it ran along the road to the top. In the old days they'd call and say they were coming down and then no one could leave till the car from up top got there. Not long after the turn of the century they stopped using horse drawn stagecoach and started using cars. The road wasn't maintained for a few years during the war and washed out and Tassajara was closed.

Fred was pretty old when I met him - maybe my age now. Before he died Lynda had gotten to where she didn't recognize him. She spent her last years in a retirement home in Carmel Valley. I visited her there. I don't think it matters if whom you're visiting appears to remember you or not.

Driving Richard Baker to the home of Alex and Marian Weygers in Carmel Valley, I said, "You're about to meet the Leonardo da Vinci of Carmel Valley."

"Don't exaggerate."

"I'm not."

Like Mr. Rose, I met Alex Weygers through his student Peter Partch who called him, like Mr. Rose, a "master being." Alex was a Dutch Indonesian born around the turn of the century who moved to the US in 1930. He had a degree in engineering. Had shown the US Dept. of Defense his plans for a new type of helicopter which had the blades below, a Distorter he called it. He spread plans and futuristic drawings on his large redwood slab kitchen table and explained to me why they should have gone with his design. He said he got a patent but that the military had ignored it in proceeding with prototypes, Said that whenever he read about flying saucer sightings he thought it might be the military secretly using his ideas.

There was a wood burning stove in the room he'd built with stovepipe running up and along and splitting. Never saw so much stove pipe for one stove. He said it saved a lot of heat that way. I was surprised it would draw but it did. His stone and metal sculpture were in the yard and house. There was a soft, graceful one he said was the Indonesian family - man, woman, child, and water buffalo on the backside. His impressive drawings and etchings on the walls. He liked to use the end grain in etching so he could get more detail. Gave me one of a wave breaking at Point Lobos. Could see through the wave. Fine work indeed.

Alex hated waste and showed how he'd turned scrap metal into art, was an early advocate of sustainable living and recycling, got the discarded rounded slabs from the local Cummings Brothers' sawmill - the first cuts off a log. Ran them vertically for the exterior of his rounded studio. In an open air outdoor area in back and below he taught workshops and private students the art of blacksmithing which he called the mother craft. From that base they could progress to tool making, metal work, and sculpture. Seemed he could do just about anything. Made his tools from scrap metal, car parts too rather than buy them.

Alex had been an engineer in Seattle but gave that up for art after his first wife died with son in childbirth. Marian was a UC Berkeley art major. She included plants and anything natural in her pressings and paintings. He and Marian had inherited that land in Carmel Valley from a friend who died in the war. They grew much of their own food and early on got by with their artistic talents such as making jewelry to sell to tourists in Big Sur.

Alex had a philosophy that reminds me of Einstein who said that he needed no god other than nature. To him nature was not limited to biological life but included stones, minerals, water, and air. Suzuki would have been pleased.

I brought Baker there because Alex wanted to bequeath his estate to the Zen Center after he and Marian were gone. His artist neighbor had willed his hand made home and estate to the Monterey Art Museum with the hope that they could use it in some educational capacity and they'd sold it to the highest bidder. Alex wanted his place preserved as well. It was a museum of his life work. It was too much for the ZC to take on or really for anyone to take on including his blacksmithing students who met some and wanted to preserve it. It needed Alex and Marian to continue.

Alex and Marian came to Tassajara as our guest. A few Zen students went on to study with him. He published a series of well-received books on blacksmithing, tool making, and sculpture. A man in Chicago did not follow the prominently displayed advice in a book, didn't wear goggles, got an injury to an eye, and sued. The publisher had made sure that all liability reverted to Alex. It dragged on and he couldn't afford it. It took a toll on him and Marian. I talked to our attorney friend Charles Page who said he'd help Alex for free but Alex said it was too late. He said that due to stress from that suit he developed a terrible skin rash that stumped Stanford Medical Center and handicapped him toward the end of his life. He died at home in 1989, Marian in 2008.

Aha! Stumbled on a 1937 San Francisco Chronicle review of Weyger's work which said he excelled in a half dozen professions and called him "a modern Leonardo da Vinci."

The Cummings brothers sawmill was set back in a sub valley on the west side of Carmel Valley. We got trees milled there, mainly dead trees we'd bought for practically nothing from the Forest Service. The Cummings brothers were a couple of strange, cranky old guys who sounded like they were from somewhere like the backwoods of Kentucky whereas they were born and raised in Carmel Valley. I think their work and social life was mainly with each other and they'd gotten fairly inbred in terms of their behavior and attitudes. They both had limps. Lambert told me that one of them limped because of an accident that the other felt responsible for and that he developed a sympathetic limp out of guilt.

They'd curse their landlord, Clint Eastwood, for being an uppity immoral Hollywood star and driving a foreign car. They'd denounce the US government, the deficit, and waste. Talked about the terrible waste they'd seen while serving in the navy in WWII where perfectly good lumber that had been used to stack shipments would be thrown in the water as dunnage when identical lumber considered part of the shipment had just been unloaded. Would stop work to listen to a Christian broadcast on the radio, one with arm around the other's back. I watched one brother receiving lumber going through the saw and stacking it to the side while standing in a massive batch of poison oak. Said he'd been hospitalized with it when young and since then has been immune. They had an old logging truck they'd load with up to twenty-five tons of logs even though it had a five ton limit. Said the key was to drive slowly, and very slowly over any bumps. Said it was the load going up and coming down that would break the axel. They told me that after having way overloaded a truck I was driving back into Tassajara. Having a custom mill that close to us was most useful and convenient. There are hardly any mills that are available to outsiders. They didn't like yard trees. Too much metal in them these days. Hit a spike and it can ruin a blade and send a dangerous fragment flying.

At a KJAZ fundraiser in the late seventies (staring Tony Bennett), I walked up to board member Clint Eastwood, introduced myself mentioning Tassajara. Knowing my time to talk with him would be brief I got right to the point of thanking him for being such a generous landlord to the Cummings Brothers and making it possible for the area to have that mill. I'd learned he only charged them a hundred dollars a month for that prime real estate. I mentioned how we'd used their services. He laughed just hearing their names and called them a couple of funny old coots. He said his wife Maggie went to Tassajara and he hoped to get there someday. I was struck by Eastwood's warmth. There were a lot of people at the Boarding House in the Tenderloin that night who could help keep the nation's only all jazz radio station going and he was the most prominent board member. But he gave the impression that there was nothing he'd rather be doing than standing there talking with me. I didn't take advantage. Thanked him again and moved on. Recently I've corresponded with a journalist who's interviewed over a hundred famous people. She mentioned the devastating toll that fame and great wealth have on people, on the way they relate to others and see themselves. I looked at the list and told her that one on the list I'd met was Clint Eastwood and how easy he was to talk to. She said she had the same experience and added, "He's the only one." The Cummings brothers retired and the land was subdivided. But it was great while it lasted.


Just after leaving the village of Carmel Valley on the way to Cachagua, Jamesburg, Arroyo Seco, or Greenfield, there was a nice Spanish stucco place down a bit off the road to the right. On a good day Joan Baez whose place it was might be sitting outside talking with friends or playing music. You could drive in and say hi. She was friendly. Very political. Bill Shurtleff was a Tassajara student who'd lived in her Palo Alto commune. He admired her greatly as he did his brother Jeffrey who sang and recorded with Baez. She was refusing to pay income tax for a time in protest to the Vietnam War. The men were draft resisters. Wouldn't register or burned their cards.

Baez's sister Pauline lived in Jamesburg with Peyton. For a while he had a cool coffee shop in the village - last place on the right - the Encounter. Later he got in a trouble for some of his farming practices in a hidden Jamesburg clearing. They were good to drop by for a visit on the way in or out of Tassajara. Real backwoodsy feel. Dark wood walls, a loft. Comfy couch and overstuffed chair, hammock. We'd play some music, drink a little, smoke a little. He had a few makeshift huts and hang-out spots on the side of the hill, had dug neat a shallow cave good for some cozy time alone.

Pauline co-authored "Pack Up Your Sorrows" with Richard Farina who recorded it with her other sister Mimi. To me that was the most magical album of the mid sixties and god I loved that song. I'd thought it was a traditional folk gospel till I read it was half hers. She kept a low profile. As I write this, she's in hospice. Thanks for the song Pauline. I've used it for background music playing inside my head in meditation or taking a walk. Helps to drop the cares and woes from the heart through the floor. A lot of non theistic spiritual seekers such as Buddhists can't get into any religious message that uses Christian type wording.

If somehow
You could pack up your sorrows
And give them all to me

You would lose them
I know how to use them
Give them all to me

Sounds like there's someone off somewhere else who'll somehow take what's hurting you from afar. Not so. Not in my understanding anyway. That "me" is just our big mind as Suzuki termed it. Where rational thought fails, the song offers a metaphor for not dwelling on, yet dealing with suffering.

Baez and her buds aren't there anymore, but to this day I cannot drive by that place without looking down, remembering her and the scene there, and thinking of the sad day in 1965.It was the day of the book release party for Richard Farina's novel, Been Down so Long it Looks Like Up. It was hosted by the Thunderbird bookstore located then in the village. Later at his wife's twenty-first birthday party he went off for a quick fun ride with a friend who drove way too fast headed toward Cachagua. That road has turns that you can't make driving the 55mph speed limit. There's an S curve at one spot that sometimes catches me by surprise and I've got to brake pretty hard. That's where I imagine they went off the road and through a fence at what the cops estimated to be ninety. The driver lived.

previous --------------- next