Thursday, May. 23, 2019

A Vagrant at Double Point

By Richard Nielsen · December 01, 2016

Double Point in the distance on the left. The hermit's encampment was on the beach in the center, below Double Point's southern peak. <span>&copy; Richard Nielsen </span>

Double Point in the distance on the left. The hermit's encampment was on the beach in the center, below Double Point's southern peak.


Vestiges of the hermit's encampment below Double Point, 1957. Abalone Point is in the near distance and beyond, Bolinas Point can be discerned. <span>&copy; Richard Nielsen </span>

In the late 1930s, Double Point -just north of Bolinas- became the summer residence for a hermit who spent winters at Big Sur.  A vagrant at the seashore, the hermit had established his erstwhile residence above the high tide zone in the lee of the southernmost point of Double Point.  This location was well-chosen as the point itself acted as a barrier which would block the prevailing north wind. 

A route above the site allowed the hermit to make a daunting ascent to the cliff-top nearly three hundred feet above. This gave him access to Pelican Lake where he could obtain fresh water.  Pelican Lake is the largest of eleven lakes in the southern part of the Point Reyes National Seashore. It was formed from a massive landslide that broke loose from Inverness Ridge, most likely during an earthquake on the San Andreas Fault.  During the hermit's tenure at Double Point, Pelican Lake formed part of the Lake Ranch which spanned the area between Double Point’s two points.  Water from the lake provided a precious resource that had to be laboriously carried over the grassy rolling hills and then precariously taken down to the hermit’s shack on the beach below. 

During his weekly runs into town, the Lake Ranch foreman would fill the hermit’s food order to supplement the hermit’s largely seafood diet, consisting mostly of abalone, which was then abundant. 

I first encountered the hermit on the RCA Beach in 1953.  However, it wasn’t until 1957 -shortly after the hermit had died in a San Francisco hospital from cancer- that I trekked to Double Point for the first time. 

On the north side of the cove stood the hermit’s humble residence: a small, flat-roofed shack.  On the west side of the shack, mounds of abalone shells had been amassed in two large cribs built from driftwood planks.  Hundreds of those gleaming shells reflected their iridescent mother-of-pearl in the sunlight.  Three twelve-foot high crosses emblazoned with abalone towered behind the cribs; they resembled the three crosses of the Calvary. 

The treasure trove of abalone from which the hermit had amassed such a large number of shells was in the shallow rocky area adjacent to the shore, mostly at Abalone Point on the south end of the cove.  Abalone Point was located just south of Double Point, a place my friend Jimmy Bourne would say was "still lousy with abalone."  Though that is not the case today, abalone was abundant there in 1957.

A malignant aura of loneliness pervaded the hermit’s shack when I visited it in 1957.  The air in the two-room interior was stale and musty.  Each room had a small, salt encrusted window which admitted light, translucent, but no longer transparent.

A steel oil drum in the outer room served as the hermit’s cooking stove and supplied heat on the colder summer days.  Partially used containers of food remained intact, as if even the mice wished to respect the hermit’s humble legacy.

The back room was outfitted with two built-in racks for sleeping.  Pegged to the walls above each rack were the skinned hides of seals.  The second rack apparently hadn't been used for sleeping, as it was piled high with rope, cork floats, and other flotsam from the beach. 

About a hundred and fifty feet east of the shack, the hermit had carved a fifteen-foot deep shaft into the steep face of the cliff to store items that he wanted to protect from potential looters during his absence.  The hermit was an inveterate beachcomber and almost everything he had amassed had been scavenged from the flotsam deposited by incoming tides. During the summer of 1957, the shaft he had carved was just barely accessible.

Today, the ocean has reclaimed the beach and shoreline and for the most part, has disposed of all that the hermit had so skillfully created.  Nothing remains of the hermit’s abode today.  Erosion has obliterated the shaft.  We are left with fleeting but indelible memories.

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