Mac and I had been introduced in the fall of ‘77 by our mutual friend, John Scharffenberger. I lived in nearby Ukiah where I was in the throes of creating a theatre company with other transplanted thespians who had opted out of the roiling mainstream culture. We’d ridden the wave of the back-to-the-land movement and found ourselves deposited on the shores of a sleepy agricultural community where we felt we could make a difference. It was a heady time. There were literally thousands of similar-minded 20-somethings streaming into the hills and valleys of Mendocino County in the 1970s, most looking to establish roots and then find a way to do what they did best. For me it was theatre, for John it was growing grapes (this was before he ventured into making champagne and – later - exceptional chocolate).
As Mac now tells it, for him it was a godsend to have this new contingent joining him where he lived. In 1976 he had returned to Potter Valley to run his family’s ranch, immediately after getting his MFA in Ceramic Sculpture from the University of Washington in Seattle. His father had been diagnosed with cancer and he was needed at home. I can imagine the frustration Mac must have felt, not only at seeing his larger-than-life vital father struggling with a debilitating disease, but having to put his artistic momentum on hold while he stepped into his father’s shoes and hunkered down in Potter Valley for the long haul. The influx of young, energetic people his age helped lighten the load. He and John Scharffenberger were tennis buddies, and John was helping me develop support for our new little company, Ukiah Players Theatre. John brought Mac to see me play Mrs. Drudge in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound. I was a vision in the role: hair-netted, humped-back, blackened teeth, Spanish moss curling around my ankles. “I said to myself” (Mac likes to joke), “that’s the girl for me!”
But I didn’t get out to the ranch until months later – for that steam bath the summer of ‘78. Dozens of us took turns crowding into the willow lodge that was covered with tarps and filled with hot rocks which, when splashed with icy river water, let off billows of steam until we could no longer take it, and burst out the door running, laughing, down to the river, plunging happily in.
Later than night, as stars spackled the dark sky, we roasted salmon over an open pit fire and told stories. During the evening, Mac was absent-mindedly picking up rocks from the riverbank and tossing them into the water. At one point he stopped in mid-throw and held up the piece in his hand. He told us he was about to toss it just like the others, but suddenly sensed a kind of tingling or a vibration emanating from it. As he held it up, we could see its outline in the firelight: it was a perfect arrowhead.
In the decades following, Mac and I married and had two daughters, Grace and Martha. While he steered the ranch in the direction of holistic management, I kept the theatre company on course for new generations of young artists. Both Grace and Martha have grown up feeling at home on the range, as well as on the stage – an interesting melding of arts and agriculture, coupled with a clear-eyed respect for the hard work both entail. It bodes well for the future of the ranch, and I feel fortunate to be along for the adventure!