5. The Room of Requirement: The Second Incarnation


The Room of Requirement was built of wood, not water.  How did that come to be?

The story of the first forest

The Russian River opens out to the Pacific at Bodega Bay just northwest of here. From there it winds easterly and northerly through Monte Rio and Guerneville.  It’s fed by many small tributaries, including one, Salmon Creek, that has it’s origins near the small town of Occidental.  For thousands of years, The Chinook would run up the Russian River much as they still do today, depositing themselves in the pools and on the sandbars to spawn and to die. Bear and other predators once ate their carcasses, leaving much of the fish on the forest floor.  The fish provided nearly a quarter of the nitrogen taken up by the riparian forest.  The ocean became fish.  And the fish became trees.

The wood for the Room of Requirement could have been milled near around here in the heavy first generation forest that once layered much of West County.  The first sawmill was built in Guerneville by John Heald, William Willits, George Guerne, and John Bagley.  The first three of the men would go on to establish towns of their own.  Who knows what went south with the fourth?  Nonetheless, they worked with such intent felling the giant redwoods, that the surrounding area eventually came to be known as Stumptown.  Other mills sprung up:  six in Occidental, one in Freestone, many of them supplying timbers for the nascent narrow gauge railroads that were extending their tendrils north.  And once the railroads were in place, the wood could be shipped to the still infant metropolises to the south.  By 1901, however, that area of the Russian River watershed had been largely deforested and many of the mills shut down.  Thirty years prior, so many old growth redwood grew here that the region may have had the densest biomass on the entire earth.

Seattle deforested

The story of the second forest

Or the wood for the Room of Requirement could have come down from the timber stands near Seattle.  Seattle was a late comer in the Anglo settlement of North America. The Denny Party didn’t land in the Puget Sound until September, 1851, but in short order, some members of the pioneer group set the saw blades spinning.  At that time the entire Sound was blanketed in 2000 year old fir standing 400 feet high.  Nothing like that exists in the world today.  Here too, the stands of trees were seasoned and nourished by the vast flow of nutrients that each year swam seasonally up from the Pacific.  Near uncountable number of Steelhead, Coho, and King had over the millennia born a treasure of maritime wealth in their bodies, coursed it up rock and rapid to lay it rest in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.  Functionally the fish were a way to transport potential energy from the ocean upstream in the system and back onto land.  Eventually much of that energy stored in timber mass, through human agency, would find it’s way back to the ocean and to new distant shores where it would one day be released in a conflagration.

Initially the wood was harvested up on the ridge lines of Capitol and Beacon Hill and then slid down on skids (in order for the logs to slide smoothly, the skids were greased by the original grease monkeys, a well-equipped and perhaps racially-tainted slur) to Henry Yesler’s harbor side mill at the base of the slope. There the logs were cut, loaded onto large timber ships that ferried the wood to San Francisco where it was devoured up by the Gold Rush building boom. The muddy timber camp, most likely the first skid row, was a sloppy mess of a place lined with bars and piled with rowdy lumbermen, windfall buckers (those logging mercenaries hired out to buck the worst of fallen trees), sailors and drunks.  Subsequent generations civilized the area into Pioneer Square, but it never really shed it’s cantankerous bearing. A hundred and forty years later on a cold spring Seattle night, Kurt Cobain stood up in a sweaty bar room in the OK Hotel in Pioneer Square and sang for the first time, Smells Like Teen Spirit.  The band was originally called Skid Row. A few years and name changes later, they had become Nirvana.

Grunge music, of course, leads us inevitably to the Story of the Wawona.


What Happens When You Believe

I took a bunch of pictures to share, but now even that seems too much of a bother.

I had hoped that Poe could settle in at the Salmon Creek school in Occidental.  The school is set on 20 acres of meadow and redwood forest and wetland.  It also has an enormous fenced garden where I fancied Poe could hang out and regain a semblance of self.  Mazie and I took him there in the afternoon and set him free.

He enjoyed digging and exploring with his beak.  He hopped about in the wood chips and tussled with the greenery.  Mazie read quietly beneath an arbor.  Other ravens cawed out from the surrounding forest. Lovely clouds piled high in the sky and that afternoon the light felt marvelous and true.  I called Kerry.  We both were hopeful.  Perhaps Poe’s rehabilitation could become part of a school science program.  He could stay in the garden and mend.  And kids at the school could learn what it meant to be in close proximity to wildlife and maybe they figure out how to engineer some structure that would meet the needs of a wounded raven.

You see, this was all going to work out, or so it seemed.

But school would not start for a few more days.  The afternoon waned.  We gathered Poe into his carrier and in the setting light we drove up the hill and out of the valley.  Penny, the co-owner of the Holy Cow had offered her house up as a refuge.  She had an enormous chicken coop – the chicken hotel, she called it.  And hotel it was.  Ten feet high, fifteen across, open chicken wire walls all around facing out into meadow and oaks.  Poe took to the space immediately.  He ate and preened and hopped about in the straw.  Families and ravens flying over head would call out as they headed home to their roost.  Poe listened and called out in return.

Michael and Penny and I and even Mazie were elated.  Poe was safe.  I was safe, we all were, in the august darkness.