Guarding the Guardian Trees

May 10, 2021

​This is a story about ruth weiss and her Guardian Trees in Albion. ruth gained fame as a Beat poet and preferred her name to be written in lower case. We honor that preference here.

In addition to publishing volumes of poetry, haiku, and long narrative poems including The Brink and Desert Journal, ruth was well known for her friendships with other famous Beats. ruth and Jack Kerouac had “a fantastic connection on multiple levels” (her words) and often exchanged what she called  “haiku dialogue.” She had many San Francisco adventures with him and Neal Cassaday. After a lifetime of poetry and performance art, ruth was awarded the 2020 Maverick Spirit Award, given each year by the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose to influential individuals who embody the independent and innovative mindset.

Ruth came to Albion in the 1980s, purchasing a home in the forest off Albion Ridge Road. The buildings there are in keeping with ruth’s style – artistic and rustic – but what she really loved about the property was the trees. There are a few old-growth redwoods on the property,but ruth felt akin to all the trees, especially those near her house. Her good friend Anna Marie Stenberg recounts a story ruth often told about the first night she spent in the house. ruth had a dream or a vision – could have been either, could have been both – where a group of Native Americans stood around the house, perhaps conferring about if she was a worthy occupant of the property. When ruth awoke, she walked outside her bedroom to the spot where the people stood in her dream and there, beneath the trees, she found a single eagle feather. Since that day, she referred to the trees around the house as the Guardian Trees and often said, “They protect me and I protect them.”

The house became a gathering spot for artists and members of the aging Beat Generation. She and her partner Paul Blake built an artist’s studio. In building it they used trees from the property – each was carefully selected and a prayer was said as the trees were shepherded from one phase of being to the next – from growing trees to beams sheltering a community of artists.

Ruth lived there for more than 40 years. When she passed away in her home on July 31, 2020, one of her final wishes was that the Guardian Trees be preserved in perpetuity. She appointed a small group of trustees to ensure her wishes. The Trustees worked with the Mendocino Land Trust to put a conservation easement in place to protect the trees, and ended up deciding to donate the entire property to the Mendocino Land Trust. The Land Trust is incredibly grateful for this gift and recognizes the cultural history of this property and the importance of the trees as felt by ruth.

This summer, MLT has the pleasure of hosting three conservation interns. Providing training opportunities for the next generation of conservationists and ecologists has long been a Land Trust goal. Finding affordable housing on the coast has become an increasing challenge of late. Just as we were scrambling to figure out where they could stay during their 10-week summer internships, agreements were being signed and it was almost as if we heard ruth welcoming them in. She also loved mentoring young people. The interns will have the honor of living in her former home and giving some much needed TLC to the forest she loved. The property serves as a perfect outdoor classroom for these young people seeking to learn about habitat restoration and responsible fuels management. The 5-acre parcel is a microcosm of coastal Mendocino County, containing diverse habitats including old-growth redwoods, second-growth redwoods, overgrown fir forest, and even Mendocino Cypress Woodland (aka pygmy forest). Under the guidance of MLT’s Conservation Manager, Nicolet Houtz, and Conservation Coordinator, Monika Richardson, the interns will get hands-on experience in managing and restoring these habitats along with other projects they work on this summer.

Surely ruth’s spirit, will be lifted at the sounds of young people making community in her home. The Land Trust will ensure that her memory is honored in the preservation of her Guardian Trees and the enhancement of the forest where she lived.