I suppose that when the chickens are all gone, it’s time to move. Probably not the pivotal lesson to be learned from the life of Eugene O’Neill, but it was news to me. The talented playwright moved to a home/ranch in the hills of the East Bay in 1937 intending it would be his “final harbor” where he would write, rest, and die. Turns out it wasn’t that smooth an exit, fitting for the man whose masterpiece is one of the most uncomfortable, yet brilliant, portraits of an American family ever written.
O’Neill and his wife had a bustling chicken ranch, but when the war came, the help left for other opportunities, leaving him and his wife to sell off or eat their
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stock, and hastening their return to the East Coast. That’s just one of many interesting facts about O’Neill that’s to be found during a tour of his San Ramon Valley home, which is now a National Historic Site run by the federal government. Is it the most interesting factoid? Probably not. The man whose work and biography are usually connected with depression and alcoholism was big into feng shui. Who knew? It was cool at Tao House to see the room where Long Day Journey’s Into Night and The Iceman Cometh were written, and cooler still to see the handwritten pages that would become the famous works. Not to mention the Nobel Prize for Literature elsewhere in the house.
Anyway, we didn’t start out our hike at O’Neill’s home, but it was a nice lunchtime break. Instead, our spirited group began at the Bollinger Canyon Staging Area of the Las Trampas Wilderness Area, a 4,600-acre part of the East Park Regional Park District located about 15 minutes south of Lafayette. The area features a mix of multi-use and hiker-only trails, and the entire area is bisected by Bollinger Creek. So, there are ridges on either side and plenty of chances for steep ascents and descents. Our group met in the spacious parking lot, which has some facilities, and headed on a large clockwise loop that would take us about nine miles to complete.
On the way, there are several ways to either lengthen or shorten the hike. Our highest points were Vail and Eagle peaks, two marked points nearly 1,800 feet hgh that yielded terrific views in every direction. Most notable was the clear view of Mount Diablo to the east. Despite the tortuous-sounding title of this entry, it wasn’t a difficult hike. One very sharp and taxing uphill climb leading away from the ranch, but other than about 15 tough minutes, it was a very tolerable and pleasant five hours of hiking. And given that it was 75 and sunny, another day in paradise.
We encountered plenty of cows, as is often the case in regional parks. They are terrific for grass
management and require virtually no maintenance. Didn’t see any antelope or mountain elk though. Supposedly, a century ago, the hilly area used to be overrun with them, leading California settlers to set lots of traps – “las trampas!” – to catch them, hence the name of the park.
About two-thirds of the way into the hike, we reached the O’Neill homestead. In our group, not everyone (that would be me) realized that we would be stopping there, but it was a pleasant surprise. Hmmmm, talented yet troubled Northeastern-born writer moves to California amid romantic and family turmoil; great literature ensues. Definitely a plot line I could follow.