Up in the mountains of Northern California lies an old Spanish mission turned hacienda. It was carved out of the live rock by Indian slave labor well before the name 'California' was thought of. A bit east of Big Bar a winding road leads north, into the rough country. Where Big French Creek Road abruptly turns back on itself a rough trail continues deeper, deeper into the mountains.
Eventually the trail stops before a wall of hand-fitted dark stone blocks, five stories tall. It reeks of age and--something else. The glass windows in the openings shout of anachronism. A broad stone arch leads into the gloom from the bright June sunshine. Once inside the air seems cooler. What appears to be an old stable has been refitted into a large open garage. Heavy stone pillars stand in rows, shouldering the immense weight of the stories above.
At one side a short hallway leads to a modern framed door, replete with latch, lock and brass knocker. I sat in the silence listening to my truck's engine tick and cool. Home. I was finally home. I unlocked and opened the door, feeling the cooler air from within the building surround me. A short hallway opened up into a coat room. Four coat trees and a bench seat made it feel busy. Another door led on. A whitewashed (or at least white painted) vaulted ceiling gave an airy feeling to the huge room even though the lighting was dim. The polished stone floor was dotted with rugs that were dwarfed by the proportions of the floor. Heavy, dark mission tables stood at the walls. I looked carefully for a light switch and found nothing. Instead, several of the tables bore molded glass kerosene lamps, replete with match boxes. The reservoirs were dry. The room had four entrances, excluding the one which I had entered through. It was dominated by a huge, broad dining table that could easily seat twenty, perhaps twenty four. The ends of the room were bordered by serving tables and a large butler's pantry. Four huge chandeliers hung up out of the way, near the ceiling. A fireplace large enough to be called an inglenook gave the room a focus. It lay directly across from the entryway. Four high windows lit the room. It was deathly silent.
The place seemed to breathe. I could feel air currents surge back and forth in a slow, stately dance. I continued on to the left, which according to the rudimentary set of plans that I had been given should take me to the kitchens. The echoes of my footsteps that followed me seemed to shift in tone as I walked down the hallway. Shortly it opened into another chamber, this one tall, long and well-lit by high clestory windows and two more tall, broad windows on either side of another door at the far end of the room. The beams of light illuminated dust motes slowly drifting in the still air. It would certainly need an electric fan or two to make the kitchen comfortable while cooking. A mid-sized gas range, a clothes washer, a dryer, an upright refrigerator and a freezer sat in niches the far end of the room. The near end boasted a long elevated fireplace replete with swing arms and cast iron furniture. Two deep stone ovens had been built into the flue over the firebox. The electrical appliances all appeared to be from the seventies. A huge work table had space for six people to comfortably work around it. A deep soapstone double sink was built into the counter and had a hot 'n cold water tap above it. At the far end sat a square table with four chairs, all next to a broad, high window with a deep counter covered in wood. It was the most comfortable place I'd seen so far.
The papers I'd been given along with the deed stated that a propane generator shed sat outside the back door of the kitchen. I had trucked in four big hundred-pound propane torpedoes which still waited in the trailer parked in the garage. Once I wrapped my head around the place I'd have to get them moved and hooked up, then get the generator running. Otherwise I'd not have any running water or refrigeration for the fresh food patiently waiting for me in my truck.
I'd bought the place because I wanted to get away from people. Writing is a solitary vocation, or at least it is for me. The price had been insanely cheap. The property had been on and off the market for almost forty years and the bank was damned tired of carrying the place on their books. Nobody seemed willing or able to keep it over three months at a time. I wasn't much of a betting fellow but I thought that I could do better than that. It was sold 'as-is', furnished. A full set of plans for the place simply didn't exist anymore. All I had was a rough sketch to go by. Supposedly behind the structure lay a large garden or field that had grown wild. The deed said twelve acres of tillable land with natural irrigation. I somehow doubted that 'twelve acres' claim. It was probably overgrown with woody brush and trees after all that time.
I walked through the garden door, taking in the broad expanse of paved patio and the tumultuous garden that had flourished on its own through the decades of neglect. I could tell that it was early June from the stages of growth. I saw corn, tomatoes, green beans and what appeared to be melon vines. To one side I saw the little purple and yellow flowers of several potato vines. Closer to the patio an herb garden lay in the sun. I heard the pleasant sounds of water flowing over rock coming from the right side rock wall. I began walking in that direction but found my access blocked by a small wetlands. Whatever natural supply of water that was there seemed to have backed up over a small area. Returning to the patio I spotted a small stand-alone stone building some sixty feet from the rear wall of the hacienda. Upon investigating I found my generator and propane tank cache. There were two green painted five-gallon kerosene carriers there as well. The fuel within was so old that I'd never try to use any of it in a lamp. It would make a good starter for the fireplaces though. Two of the four propane tanks were full. Using the wrench I found on a nearby shelf I proceeded to do the bottle exchange thing. Then I cracked open the master feed valve and, after several attempts, managed to get the engine working. After it came up to speed and was running smoothly I cut in the generator. It had a good muffler as all I heard was a subdued purr. Now I had to find the water heater.
It was back to the kitchen for me. I began opening every door I could find. Near the outer wall I found the water heater. I got down on my hands and knees to light the thing. I struggled to my feet then made sure all the proper valves were either open or closed. The kitchen sink faucet was sputtering out water so I closed those valves as well. Then I let my ears guide me around the first floor to find the bathroom. The doorway furthest from the kitchen led to a hallway. Several doors guarded who knew what. The sound of running water came from the first door on the left. It was a full-sized facility with a big cast iron claw-footed tub. Someone had mounted a hand shower to the wall above the tub and wrapped it in a shower curtain hung by a suspended oval rod. The toilet reservoir was filling properly and the valves of the sink were closed. That was enough for me. I headed back to the kitchen to sit down for a while. I had a bad hip and needed to coddle it occasionally. I'd been T-boned in a traffic accident in north Los Angeles a few years before. It had left me with permanent joint damage and no family. I opened the cold water tap until it ran clear then rinsed out a glass and took it to the table. I took three Advil then sat patiently waiting for them to take effect.
Soon enough the ache faded into the background. I slowly made my way back to the truck to begin unpacking. First came my cart I'd packed to move everything, then the perishables. The refrigerator and the freezer were humming away nicely while chilling off their enclosures. I emptied my cooler into the 'fridge then set up the ice trays in the freezer and washed out a pitcher to hold cold water. That fit nicely into the 'fridge door. I rinsed out my cooler and took it back to the truck. I'd need it the next time I wanted to purchase meat or frozen goods in town. The cleaning supplies came in as well as a box of white goods, to be distributed between the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom. I next searched for a bedroom on the first floor. I was in luck! It was next to the bathroom. I used a hand truck which I'd brought to move the propane cylinders to get the old musty mattress and box spring out to the garage. The found rugs and linens went into the washing machine while I wiped down the room and its closet. Then I muscled in my new mattress and box spring. I topped it with a sheet and blanket from my stores then finished it off with my pillow. There. I had a place to sleep.
A bit deeper into the structure from the main hall lay the living room, or library. It had a big diamond-leaded glass window that looked out over the rear garden. It was comfortably furnished in heavy, dark pieces with minimal padding. One wall was filled with glass-faced bookshelves. Across from there was a small fireplace with a Franklin stove mounted in the firebox. Beside it was a four-wheeled cart half full of firewood. A metal box sat on the floor next to the Franklin. I guessed that it held newspaper and kindling. Things were getting complicated. I needed to write down my shopping list.
.... There is more of this story ...