On a recent trip to Napa Valley I took a quiet morning side trip to the small town of Glen Ellen, home of the Jack London State Historic Park containing the burned out remains of Wolf House and London’s gravesite. Wolf House was to be London’s dream house. It burned just weeks before London and his wife were to move in from their Beauty Ranch a short distance away on the same hillside. London was not to rebuild; he died two years after the fire at age 40.
Jack London has never been a literary favorite of mine. I have read the requisites, of course – those that we were all exposed to in one literature class or another. London’s writing career was not without controversy, with various charges of copied works and passages haunting him throughout his writing career. And he has been called a short story writer posing as a novelist. It is not his writing in all of its varied forms that fascinates me about the life of Jack London, however. It is his life itself.
This quote perhaps more than any sums up the life of Jack London and his truly impressive accomplishments in only 40 short years: “I’d rather sing one wild song and burst my heart with it than live a thousand years watching my digestion and being afraid of the wet.” And one wild song it was. London sailed the world several times over, rushed for gold in the Yukon, made political enemies with his avowed socialist leaning and writings, launched a ranch dedicated to forward-leaning agricultural and horticultural practices, and managed to write prolifically for much of his short adult life (London authored and published more than 50 books over the last 16 years of his life).
What fascinates me about London is how he could have done so much at a time when the doing of most things was at a much slower pace – all by the age of 40. It is a humbling experience to stand in the wake of someone driven to such heights and passions. On an eerily silent morning I stood by the boulder – taken from Wolf House – that covers the graves of London and his second wife Charmian and wondered what he might have gone on to accomplish in another 40 years. And what, I thought, will my own song have been when all is said and done?
And what of our collective song in this shared work that we love? Surely it is a wild song and one that occasionally even bursts our hearts. To love what one does and do what one loves, that seems the mark of the wild song. To use our time, to quote London again below – that seems the way to live 40 or 400 years. I appreciate the collective wild song that we share here at SCC.
I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.