In the early 2000s, a committee was formed by the Ben Lomond Quaker Center Association (BLQCA) to consider how to expand the community of possible users of the proposed new Redwood Lodge to include previously underrepresented groups. One of the committee members was Vic Yellowhawk White, a Native American staff member of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Oakland. As we brainstormed some of the groups we imagined might use it, and spoke of Quaker Center as “ours”, Vic reminded the rest of us that white people were very likely not the first persons to inhabit this land. He mentioned that a small subgroup of the Ohlone people called the Rumsens had been among the primary dwellers in the greater Monterey Bay area, and may likely have at least visited these lands, if not actually dwelt here. This possibility must have been recognized by Quaker Center staff in 1999, because some descendants of the Rumsens had been invited to do one of their traditional dances in the Redwood Circle during that year’s 50th anniversary celebration of the donation of the property by Lucile Manley to Friends.
But before any human inhabitants were here, the trees, most of them coast redwoods, had lived in this place for centuries undisturbed. It is entirely possible that some of those that stand here now have direct ancestors which preceded any human visitors. The trees are still the reason why some come here in the first place. They seem to be one of the reasons why Clyde and Lucile Manley chose to buy the parcel in 1920. Lucile Manley talks about this in a letter to Virginia Brink, then on the managing Ben Lomond Committee of AFSC:
“My husband’s health failed and he returned to Ben Lomond for the sake of outdoor activities. He felt a great need for city people to find release in the quiet of our acres…”
So, in a sense, Friends are here because of the trees. It is also quite likely that the trees will outlive us all in this sacred spot. Even though our human activities occupy a relatively small interval of time in relation to that of the trees, it is worth recording in this short summary how Quakers came to be here in 1949, when the Manleys donated their 51 acres to Friends, and how they have remained here since then, particularly since the means by which they remained have been neither easy nor obvious at all times during the past six decades.
Most of the information contained in this summary comes from the files in the “Archives” at Quaker Center, but a great deal also comes from the memory and experience of the writer who, with his wife Betty, may be the only persons still alive in California who have both worked here and met in person all of the others who were similar QC staff. It is not possible to live on the property for five years and fail to hear and absorb the stories and legends which accompany Friends’ short presence here. Since events after the mid-1980s are fairly well-documented and relatively well-known by so many persons, this summary will focus only on those activities up to the early part of that decade, when the current BLQCA was well established as the owner and administrator of the now nearly 80 acres.
In a real sense, this short history reflects the distillation of the impression that living here for five years and being on the Board for 13 years has had on its writer. It is also true that almost everyone who comes here quickly experiences similar impressions which seem to come from the place itself, regardless of what actually happens while they are here.
While serving on the staff here in the 1980s Betty and I developed a theory to explain why it seemed that at least one person would forget something when they left here at the end of every weekend. We surmised that it was because they had become so attached to Quaker Center that they were subconsciously compelled to prolong this attachment by leaving something of themselves behind. This would then guarantee their return, or at least their needing to contact Quaker Center once again, to check on the whereabouts of that part of themselves that had remained here.
Whether our theory is plausible or not, Quaker Center remains with its visitors long after they have gone. This recollection of the significant events in Quaker Center’s early history may itself be an example of this phenomenon. Attempting to explain in words Quaker Center’s effect on people is difficult. Sometimes even poetry doesn’t quite measure up, as Jeanne Lohmann discovered, in 1976, reflecting on her experience of a day at Quaker Center:
This is no day for poetry.
Green surrounds me. Clear
birdsong comes from a tree
somewhere. A giant goldblack
bumblebee misses my nose and goes
for the wild sweetpeas. The sun
pulls odors from the earth.
The hills grow a ragged horizon.
Mist rises from their pockets.
More. Always more.
Why turn the world to language?
Can I be here without the need
and simply love what is, in place?
Everywhere thisday is its own
blessing. I will never come back
to these words. The fat bumblebee
has them. The leaves say all
that is necessary.
Many thanks to all the persons who have lived and worked here over the years (see Appendix Two) and who preserved and left behind all the notes, letters, and minutes which have found their way to the archives at Quaker Center and which are largely responsible for what is recorded in these pages. Please contact the author if you believe someone whose name deserved recording has been omitted.
Thanks are also due to the Board of the Ben Lomond Quaker Center Association, who gave their approval for the initiation of this project, although not necessarily of the results.
Santa Cruz, California