Saturday, February 13, 2010

chapter 1

The True History of Lupin Lodge

And there were many other things the Lupinites said and did, so that if all of them were recorded, the world could scarce contain all the books that would be written, but these things are written that ye may believe... or not believe, see if I care

The original Lupin Lodge building, not where the Restaurant/Clubhouse is now, but lower down the hill, near where now stands the big yurt called the Nudome, which is the only structure visible, since every other building is screened by all the trees, when you look over the Lupin grounds from up on Lupin Overlook, was built around 1850. Nobody is really sure if it was called "Lupin Lodge" back then, or if not, when that name might have come to be attached to it. A "lupin" is a showy stack of flowers, purple in color here although there are other hues further east, that grows in many parts of California, but in few parts of the Lupin grounds. Perhaps lupins were once pervasive here. One version is that the Lupin Lodge was originally a roadhouse, but as with so many things I hear here, I am doubtful. Maureen has a book on the history of Route 17, that supremely annoying and dangerous pseudo-freeway that crosses the Santa Cruz mountains, which goes back to the beginning and describes all the twisty and tortuous roads that were cut through, just before and just after the US acquired California, and Lupin is way off those routes. Mountain Charlie's Road would have been the closest, back then. There is still a section of "Mt. Charlie Road" preserved, now paved, and a Christmas tree farm draws customers up there in December. I passed Mt. Charlie Road nearly every day, when I commuted down to Cabrillo College by Old Santa Cruz and Soquel-San Jose roads, to avoid the maniacs on Route 17 who thought the speed-limit signs were just kidding when they said 50. And a couple days after I read Maureen's book, a tree-fall blocked Old Santa Cruz, so I took Mt. Charlie Road to get around.

It seemed steep and dangerous, scarce suitable for driving even now. In Mountain Charlie's day, most wagons had to be disassembled to get them up and down some of the stretches. And so it is hard to imagine there were enough travellers in the 1850's to support a roadhouse at a place that was not even on the semi-beaten track but miles off it, in Aldercroft. Aldercroft, though vaguely marked on some maps, with no particular boundaries, does not officially exist even today. It has never been an incorporated town or had businesses of the kind that might threaten to turn it into a town, nor has it even been a township, and the post office calls it a part of Los Gatos, though it is far above the city limits, up among the little streams, mostly dry in summer, that feed Los Gatos Creek, which is now dammed up to form the Lexington Reservoir. One of the ridges through the Aldercroft area, though nobody seems sure exactly which, was the one the Spaniards originally called Cuesta de los Gatos, giving the creek and then the city their names. The city of Los Gatos proper, ironically, never was visited by the big cats, though it used to have occasional problems with grizzly bears until they were all hunted out. But we do have a little pride of mountain lions that have started ranging over the Up Top area of the Lupin grounds, from Sal's Canyon next door. Paul the biologist collared them all, but the male's collar is broken, or he has shrugged it off, it hardly matters which, for no matter what, we can be sure he would never wander very far from the females. The trail from Tiger Lily yurt to the bathroom/shower structure called the Taj Mahal, in ironic tribute to its luxury, compared to the outhouses it replaced, had no working lights from the October typhoon through the end of the year, and the male lion annexed that trail to his hunting grounds, killing a deer and then a raccoon there, so I stopped walking that way when I rose before sunup.

In short, Aldercroft, however breath-takingly beautiful, is a boondock. It is about a half-hour drive down to Santa Cruz, a little more on the back roads or a little less if you brave Route 17, and a similar time to go the other way into the bustle of Silicon Valley, but up here the human presence is light, and the development restrictions imposed on the watershed of the Reservoir keep it that way. At night I see a few lights in the mountains, one at the very tippy-top of the ridge which I mistook for a planet at first, and when I pointed it out to someone, perhaps it was Big White Sambo, he argued with me that it really was a planet, until I finally persuaded him it was a house. Have I mentioned that it is breath-takingly beautiful here? At night there are many more stars visible than a city boy is accustomed to: Orion's penis is elongated to three stars, and the seven sisters in the Pleiades appear to have invited some cousins over. At dawn the deer often graze on the lawn between the Restaurant and the Oaktree Circle, where I sit with my coffee and my inevitable cigarettes, watching the fog bank from Santa Cruz creep over the mountains and threaten, like the Blob, to come down and swallow us, which rarely it does. I have counted as many as eight deer on the lawn at once, though Maureen says her personal record is fourteen. Raccoons are abundant, and once early in my stay here, when I saw a vicious animal stirring up the cats and skunks, I thought it was a badger, but I was told there is no species like a badger around these parts, and it must just have been a raccoon in a feisty mood. As with so much that I hear at Lupin, I was doubtful.

The Lupin grounds are sacred land. I felt this from the first, and so I was not surprised to hear how it was discovered that the place had been sacred to the Natives. As they were digging up and reshaping the ground to grade the road by the front office, the backhoe struck a large object, at first hard to identify, which proved to be the remains of a bull, buried in an upright rearing posture with some grave goods, centuries ago: a bull of what species I do not know, since we are very far away from anywhere that buffalo ever ranged, and the white man's cattle were not here then, perhaps a bull elk then. As with so much that I hear at Lupin, the details are fuzzy. And perhaps some venerated chief is under there? It is hard to know why someone would go to the trouble of hauling something so sizable up into the nearly trackless mountains, or would think that an animal should need such things as acorn-grinding pots in the afterlife. But rather than poking about the site any further, the appropriate course seemed to be consulting with the surviving local Natives to find a medicine man who could re-inter him, with the appropriate ritual apologies for disturbing his rest. Unfortunately this attracted some attention from the county, who were perturbed about the permitting requirements for grading work in the Reservoir watershed. That is not the sort of thing the Stouts care to bother with. They consider that Lupin is their land, and that it is nobody's business, including so-called authorities, to ask questions about what they do on their own land.

And Sal, likewise, considers that the Canyon is his land, and that it is nobody's business, including so-called authorities, to ask questions about what he does on his own land. The mountain man's attitude has little changed since 1850. About halfway from Lupin to Mt. Charlie Road, my commute would take me past the stained-glass works that are all that remains of Holy City, a settlement founded by a white-supremacist preacher who wanted his people far from all the Sodoms and Gommorahs down below, until every one of the buildings burned down: apparently, though this was never proven, the preacher himself was the arsonist, for you see, lawyers were threatening to take control of the place away from him, and that would never do. So, no matter what anybody says, I imagine that Lupin Lodge started out, before it expanded over the decades into the building now seen only in black-and-white photographs, as quite the opposite of a roadhouse, more likely the cabin of some cantankerous loner. Perhaps Rodney would know, but he will not say: Rodney is the ghost who used to clatter around the Lupin Lodge, and according to Maureen and Keif can still sometimes be heard poltergeisting in the Nudome area.

There is another ghost, of far more pleasant disposition, a young lady dressed in frilly Victorian garb and wearing sweet jasmine perfume. Since Maureen, who has been here seemingly forever, had never seen her, I was doubtful of her existence. Jean, who used to live Up Top, first told me about her, and Jean is from New Orleans, raised largely in the voodoo tradition by black women of the sort who would not usually take in a white girl, but latched onto Jean because of her vivid imagination. But then someone else told me about her, in the course of telling me his life story, which is something that total strangers often do to me at Lupin. He had once had a construction business, which he had carefully built up for over ten years, but he came to suspect that his manager was ripping him off. It was on a Good Friday that he told the manager to bring in all the paperwork the following Monday, and on Easter Sunday before sunup, as he was stepping out onto the porch to collect the morning newspaper, a man tried to brain him with a lead pipe. He fended off the blow, but got his left arm broken in the process, and knocked the pipe away, but his assailant pulled out a gun, shot him three times in the gut, and left him for dead. It was a long time before he got out of the hospital, by which time his manager had disappeared with all of his money, and he lost his nice house, and eventually his wife too, for she grew weary of his self-pitying timorous inability to shake off the experience and start anew. Lupin is a magnet for souls filled with trouble and sorrow, many of whom find healing. He was visited late at night by a kindly female voice saying Hello, surrounded by the scent of sweet jasmine, but he could not make her out through the doorway, and emerged from his suddenly chilly yurt, I think it was Number Ten, which I call Kitty yurt because of the deck where cats bask on sunny days, to see who it was, finding no-one. Lupins scarce grow at Lupin nowadays, but jasmines still do, in some places Up Top.

I suppose that the female ghost must be from a better-recorded period, when from the late 19th to early 20th centuries a family operated a vineyard here, for wine used to be made in far more areas of California than just the Napa and Sonoma valleys now known for it, but Prohibition shut that all down, and the former vineyard could not make a go of it selling raisins, against the competition of Fresno, so a wealthy retired executive from the Union Pacific bought it, to live out his last years, and largely let the place revert to nature. Then in the heart of the Great Depression a group of refugees, from World War I and from the troubles that would become World War II, acquired the property, to turn it into a European-style family naturist resort, and it has been nudist or at least clothing-optional ever since, although in recent times the clothed typically outnumber the naked even on a sunny summer day, however hard the nudists have tried to fight back, as when Keif's dad took to stealing all the clothes from the habitually-dressed when they were in the sauna or the pool, until nobody on the whole mountain had a stitch left except for the towels, which he then started stealing also, or so Keif retells the story, but he has been known to improve a tale. The Natives had been habitual nudists too, except that in some tribes the females would wear a little loincloth, and in winter, loose fur robes were called for, so I make it a special point to stay naked, even when the temperature is not quite what I would like. It was not even permitted to wear clothes on summer days back when the resort started, at first under the name "Elysium", which was subsequently taken over by a different nudist place further south, and then for a while it was called "Rock Canyon" though that name more accurately refers to the neighboring land that Sal now has, and finally it reverted to "Lupin".

Europeans gradually gave way to Americans, though there are still a few. Veny is left over from the last big influx of them, the Czechs who came in the wake of the "Prague Spring" calamity of 1968 and used to play exuberant volleyball on the court that now usually sits forlornly empty. I do not know why the little boys Nils and Ian have names from Scandinavia and Scotland, when the mother is French: I am not the type to ask, letting people tell me things if they wish to. But I think she is the last French-speaker left: Paulette and the two Georges and the Parisian fan-dancer are just photographs from the deep past. And the troubled old man, haunted by his forced participation in the Hitler Youth, who died alone in his cabin and was not discovered for a while, since everyone had become a little afraid of him, was the last of his kind here. For a while in the Seventies, the swingers and the perverts had the run of the place, alienating long-timers, for those were the days of gold chains and cock rings and white powder on mirrors. At the end of that decade, Glyn Stout acquired sole title, after a murky power-struggle with the Boswell Faction, but I know little about all that, except that bitter feelings still linger thirty years later. Of course, money woes have much to do with the infighting: the Great Depression was actually a good time for little resorts offering relatively cheap getaways, for the same reason that it was a good time for the movies, and a lot of nudist places started in the Thirties, which have fared less well in times since that were more prosperous for other kinds of business.

The Summit Fire of 1985 threatened all of Aldercroft, invading us as far as Lizard Ledge on the Upper Trail, where you can also see rattlesnakes basking and, nowadays, almost every local species of plant, still competing for the territory two decades after they all sprouted in the wake of the fire, when the fire marshalls were camped out here for weeks, using the grounds as a staging ground and taking all the water from the pools to save neighboring houses, and then the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 was particularly disastrous here. It was disastrous elsewhere, too: the double-decker freeway that collapsed, crushing people in their cars, is a bad memory for many. But Loma Prieta, the "dusky hill", is right by us, on my commute along the stretch of Summit Road from Old Santa Cruz to Soquel-San Jose, and close does count in horseshoes and Richter 8 tremors. A swimmer in the upper pool was actually thrown over the fence by a giant wave, and the lower pool was so badly cracked that it never was quite repaired, and had to go, and the replacement of the lower pool has been a controversial issue ever since. The quake put so much dust in the air that it rained for days, turning all the grounds into chilly mud just when there was, of course, no electricity, and the propane tanks could not be trusted, and there was no good way to keep warm or cook food. Keif says his dad saw a ten-foot-wide rent opened up in the earth here, and couldn't see the bottom to tell how deep it was, but mudslides changed it radically during the soggy days that followed. Maureen cannot bear the sight of orange cones anymore, as they dredge up memories of orange cones and mesh fencing and yellow crime-scene tape all over the grounds, until a horde of volunteers, more than we would get nowadays, swarmed in to repair things. Many of the structures were demolished: Glyn's cabin was twisted, spared from sliding all the way down into the Reservoir only by the trees it fell against, and never really has been set right, and the original Lupin Lodge was totally wrecked, but from its foundation, a large chunk of tree-stump, neatly sawn level on top and bottom, was salvaged, as a brass plaque now affixed to it attests, wood that must have been felled in the 1840's. It was in July of 2009 that Maureen set this relic in the Oaktree Circle as the base for the glass table where I can nowadays usually be found, inevitably drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, and sometimes, like now, typing away on my laptop.

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