Column

AMONG THE GIANTS

A Redwood forest is where the world’s most powerful gather every year

Allan Fotheringham August 5 2002
Column

AMONG THE GIANTS

A Redwood forest is where the world’s most powerful gather every year

Allan Fotheringham August 5 2002

AMONG THE GIANTS

Column

ALLAN FOTHERINGHAM

A Redwood forest is where the world’s most powerful gather every year

SO, YOU SEE, one night in 1872 five bored reporters at the old San Francisco Examiner gathered in a garage loft to promote good fellowship (i.e. booze-ups) and, according to their credo, “to help elevate journalism to that place in the popular estimation to which it is entitled.” Good luck. They were “the Bohemian Club” and attracted rather too much attention.

First, the membership was extended to showbiz people, followed by businessmen and, by 1878, the year of the first “Grovefest” out in the woods, the journalists were already on their way out. Since then, “the greatest men’s party on earth,” according to President Herbert Hoover, has been accused of everything from kidnapping, rape, ritual murder, Druid ceremonies and sacrifice of children. “What night,” yore scribbler enquired on arriving, “do we eat the babies?”

The Bohemian Grove, in the magnificent Redwood Forest an hour north of San Francisco, is indeed the world’s most prestigious summer camp, laid out over two weeks in July. Spread over more than 1,000 hectares to accommodate its 2,200 members, it has 129 “camps” along four km of the ironically named Russian River. (So titled a couple of centuries ago when Russians, crossing from Siberia, came this far south to trap for pelts.)

In truth, it’s a wonderful example of why men have stag parties and women have baby showers. These 2,200 guys gather to celebrate what they call “the spirit of Bohemia,” said Peter Phillips, a Sonoma State University sociology professor who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Bohemian Club. “This is a place men can go and hang out with people who are similar to them.” Academics who need doctorates will study anything. Wonder what he said about the Rotary Club?

Past membership lists feature such as William F. Buckley Jr., Merv Griffin, Edward Teller, one Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Casper Weinberger. The 1971 year-

book shows someone sitting cross-legged on the floor identified as Lester (Mike) Pearson. Every single Republican president since Hoover has been a member.

Even more impressive than the guest list, perhaps, is the Redwood Forest soaring to the sky. There is a stump displayed, perhaps two metres across, that shows its history by the rings growing out from its core. At the year 800, Charlemagne was crowned emperor. At 853, the first book was printed in China. The ring marking 935: the text of Koran finalized. At 1300: Aztec civilization in Mexico. The growth ring signalling 1595: Shakespeare completes Romeo and Juliet. And so it goes, a piece of redwood stump providing a fascinating history lesson, from Leif Ericson landing in North America in 1000 to Joan of Arc burned at the stake in 1431 to Leonardo da Vinci completing the Mona Lisa in 1506 to Mozart born in 1756 to gold discovered in California in 1848 to Hitler invading Poland in 1939 to the end of World War Double in 1945. Strange what you can learn from a tree.

The oldest tree in this forest is 1,400 years old. It is 89 m high. This is almost as impressive as the lineups of corporate jets at the nearby Santa Rosa airport. The food is tremendous, the wine never-ending, the conversation the same. The music, the most surprising aspect, is day(and sometimes night-) long. Jazz quartets, classical pianists, symphony orchestras manned by types who gave up the saxophone at university to become millionaires instead. (The reason why this is the

One morning, there appear at breakfast Henry Kissinger and the senior Bush, very witty, explaining why he can’t interfere with his son

most private summer camp on the globe is, of course, journalists are banned. Yore scribbler smuggled himself in disguised as a chiropractor.)

Most dazzling are the speakers. At noon every day, an organ concert followed by a distinguished orator standing beside a 180-m long lake covered with water lilies, an obvious imitation of Monet’s famous pond at Giverny northwest of Paris. One day, a brilliant American academic who explains Washington’s idiotic attitude to Cuba. Another day, a Broadway producer who proves, in entertaining fashion, the surprising link between Shakespeare and Broadway musicals. Someone else, on another stage, talking about “The Music and Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance.” Imagine more than 2,000 grown men lying on the grass in their shorts in the sunshine around Monet’s little lake.

One morning, there appear at breakfast the senior Bush and Henry Kissinger— who, ever the ham, performed the previous evening in a walk-on part in a long skit called Blazing Loincloths, involving the Russians poised to go to war in 1814 with the local Indians over beaver trapping. The table includes David Rockefeller, former U.S. secretary of state George Schultz and present Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, a Texan who is Dubya’s best friend. Brian Mulroney, at the last minute, had to cancel, I’m told.

Kissinger, as ever, goes on forever, displaying his wisdom over world affairs going back to a 1648 diplomatic treaty, not disconcerted at all by the lead singer who playfully runs his fingers through the speaker’s aging locks. Senior Bush is the most surprising of all, looking fit and tanned and 10 years younger than when he was president. And very witty and sardonic, explaining why he can’t interfere with his son. None of which yore scribbler can report here, of course, because I’m a chiropractor.

In all, a most gratifying experience. If 2,200 of the richest and most powerful men in the most powerful empire since Rome want to pee up against trees while in their pyjamas, they do it in style. I’m voting for it. To my surprise, yore scribbler thinks the Bohemian Grove is a great joint. I?1

Allan Fotheringham appears every other issue. afothenngham@macleans.ca