Memories of Klarkash-Ton

George F. Haas

Some years ago I wrote a little memoir entitled "As I Remember Klarkash-Ton," and in it I told of my first meeting with Clark Ashton Smith at his abode under the blue oak trees near Auburn. I tried to recall in detail all that transpired, to evoke the magical mood of that memorable day, and to describe the feelings and emotions I felt at my first meeting with this eminent literary figure. And although I said that I always wanted to remember Klarkash-Ton as he was on that day long ago, it wasn't quite true. For now in these latter days I keep remembering other things about him, how kind he was, how shy; how he loved and appreciated simple things and how he, more than anyone else I ever knew, understood the meaning of the Japanese word "yugen" for which there is no translation in the English language.

There are memories of other times, other places, of little incidents that happened, of small and simple pleasures shared. I remember our walk through the moss-bearded cypresses at Point Lobos and I remember our stroll afterwards through the squat brush and wild gardens near the entrance and how we railed at the roped-off pathways. I recall the memorable stews and red wine that he and Carol shared with me at their studio-home in Pacific Grove. I remember a wild deer, frightened and confused, skittering down the main street ahead of us as Klarkash-Ton walked with me to a bus stop. I remember how we used to saunter along Stevenson's Walk, a half block from his home, with the seagulls screaming overhead in the gray fog and the wind blowing in from the Pacific and how we hurried back to the warmth of his fireplace. Yes, now that I pull out all the stops and let the springs of memory flow freely, I remember a thousand things

During the eight years following our initial meeting on September 11, 1953, and until his death on August 14, 1961, we were to meet many times; again in Auburn, in Pacific Grove at 117 Ninth Street where he and Carol lived following their marriage, and in two different homes in Berkeley where I lived with my mother, Bertha M. Boyd. Both Klarkash-Ton and Carol loved my mother. He never failed to mention her in letters and Carol always called her "Mom."

I shall never forget the startled expression on Carol's face the first time she met my mother and me. That was on the evening of their wedding day, November 10, 1954. Klarkash-Ton and Carolyn Emily Dorman had been married at 2:00 P.M. that afternoon by a judge in Auburn and had driven down to Berkeley to spend their wedding night with us. At that time we had a flat; we occupied the whole second floor of an old house at 2915 Hillegass Avenue. From the hail inside the front door, a long and rather steep stairway, with a landing halfway up, led to our quarters above. I had gone down to open the door, to greet them and lead the way upward, helping to carry some of their luggage. Mother awaited us at the top of the stairs. As Carol reached the landing, she paused to survey us. A strange, startled expression came over her face and we thought perhaps she was wondering how she would be received. Later, however, she told us she had been surprised to see that we were white people. She had assumed that we were Japanese. Klarkash-Ton had shown her a letter I had written him a few days before in which I had signed myself, as usual, "Ji-Ech." That signature, together with the fact that I am a professional gardener, and a student of Buddhism, had quite naturally given her the impression that we were Japanese.

Just before Christmas one year, Klarkash-Ton and Carol had been inspecting the cabin outside Auburn. On their return to their home in Pacific Grove, they stopped over to spend the night with my mother and me in Berkeley. This they did frequently since it broke the long traffic-ridden drive between their two homes, and it gave us all a chance for a good visit. On this occasion they brought along for us a big bunch of mistletoe, plucked from the branches of one of his blue oak trees. At that time, as I recall, we were still living in the flat on Hillegass Avenue. As they came up the long winding stairway and arrived at the top, Klarkash-Ton handed the bouquet of mistletoe to my mother. Thanking him, she playfully held it above her head. Klarkash-Ton, extremely shy anyway, was covered with confusion; he didn't know quite what to do. Carol, standing to one side, prodded him, saying, "Go ahead, kiss her, kiss her!" Finally he did so, leaning forward to give my mother a light peck on the cheek. I still treasure a piece of that mistletoe, keeping it well-preserved inside a glass jar in my library.

Now that I think of it. it is strange how often gardens entered into our friendship and association. Klarkash-Ton, too, became a professional gardener for a time in Pacific Grove after his marriage. Many of' our most pleasant visits took place in gardens. He wrote about gardens and gardening in his memorable prose and poetry. On many of' our walks, both in Pacific Grove and in Berkeley, we looked at gardens along the way and talked about them.

Klarkash-Ton's garden, surrounding his cabin on his two acres near Auburn, was Nature's own. I do not recall seeing a single cultivated plant anywhere near his cabin, not even the ubiquitous myrtle which haunts almost all ancient homesteads. He loved the wild flowers, the native trees and shrubs, and even the lowly lichens. This love and appreciation are expressed many times in his writing and particularly in his poetry. His trees, principally, were the live oaks, the blue oaks, the single Western Yellow pine, an occasional Digger pine and the California buckeye, or horse chestnut, as he called it. But his flowers were varied and numerous.

Few people realize that, in the natural order of things, California has but two seasons; a wet, or actively growing, season; and a dry, or dormant, season. California's spring, therefore, begins in the late autumn with the first rains. With the first fall of moisture, seeds sprout and soon-in a matter of days-green begins to flood the hillsides and the valleys. By the calendar spring, March and April, all the native plants are blooming in sheeted color across the landscape. By June the dry season has begun: the wild flowers go to seed, turn brown, and the dormant season is on. Klarkash-Ton's land at Auburn therefore was lush, green, and colorful with wild flowers from about March to June with all the many and varied species of' the Sierran foothills.

He loved these little plants and I recall walking with him through them one hot spring day in 1954 I think it was. I distinctly recall a very dwarf golden California poppy which grew in abundance near his eastern boundary. It was so tiny and different from the usual type that I asked him to save seeds for me from it. He promised to do so but he never did. Klarkash-Ton knew the names of all his wild flowers-their botanical names as well as their common ones.

My mother and I lived at 2418 Dwight Way in Berkeley for six years, from 1958 to 1964, and it was here that Klarkash-Ton and Carol visited us many times. We had developed a beautiful little garden in the rear, a closed garden with trees, high shrubs, and tall bamboos that shut out the sights and sounds of the surrounding city. It was an informal garden where two or three trees were planted in the same hole as is often done in nature.

It was a garden of exotics, of rare trees, shrubs, and perennials. There were nine different kinds of bamboo. A clump of the fabulous black bamboo overhung the birdbath, the giant bamboo grew along the western boundary, and the rare Buddha's Belly Bamboo grew in a tub on the patio. There were camellias of the reticulata variety, a white flowering Japanese cherry tree, and numerous varieties of azaleas including the fragrant native California species. There were clumps of wild irises here and there, and a specimen of Hinoki Cypress beside a lichened rock. To one side a large clump of the evening jasmine provided heavy, almost overwhelming incense in the late summer and fall. There were Japanese irises with flat flowers as big as dinner plates. a twisted Japanese black pine, a pale lavender shrubby aster, and rarest of all, a large specimen of the Dawn Redwood from the remote hinterlands of China. One year we grew a clump of the fabulous blue poppy of Tibet. The only annuals were sweetpeas which often attained a height of twelve to fourteen feet: one year my mother had to reach outward and upward to pick them from her second-story window!

In the rear of the garden, completely hidden from the view of any neighbors, was a small patio of large paving blocks. A drooping Australian Tea tree, twisted into strange shapes, completely over hung this patio to provide shade on the hottest days. This was the only tree in the garden we hadn't planted. There was an ell-shaped bench to one side on which we always kept cushions in summer. Mother often napped there on warm afternoons.

Klarkash-Ton loved this garden and many were the hours we wiled away sitting on the cushioned bench of the patio or wandering about the lawns and walkways examining current blooms. Here we usually sat while my mother and Carol were inside preparing dinners. Sometimes, on warm days, we had sandwiches with salads and wine of coffee spread on a card table on the patio beneath the Australian Tea. I do not remember what we talked about. It was enough to sit in this sheltered close, just to visit and wile away an afternoon or the early evening hours. Although our garden was an artificial one, Klarkash-Ton admired it because it was "natural," an informal planting simulating the wild gardens as nearly as possible. His was a Zen-oriented mind which could appreciate the art of the "controlled accident."

On several occasions when Klarkash-Ton and Carol were visiting we invited other friends to join us, either in the garden or inside for coffee and conversation. On one occasion we were joined by Robert Barbour Johnson of San Francisco, himself a writer for the old Weird Tales, and by Anton Szandor La Vey and family. La Vey later started America's first Satanist Church in San Francisco! We spent most of that afternoon in the garden and took pictures of each other with La Vey's camera. One particularly unflattering group photograph of Klarkash-Ton, La Vey. Johnson, and myself, was later titled by La Vey, "Headmasters in a School for Ghouls" !

One plant grew in our garden which was viewed - and smelled- by most visitors with mixed emotions but which was a plant almost as weird and wonderful as any described in Klarkash-Ton's poetry and prose. This was our "Stink Lily," actually the Carrion Lily, Dracunculus vulgaris a flower not exactly rare but one seldom given the loving care to enable it to reach the size it attained with us. The main stem sometimes reached the size of one's wrist, green and mottled with brown, resembling the skins of reptiles. The leaves were broad, dark green, and cut like clutching hands. The flower, one to a stalk, was usually huge and somewhat resembled a calla lily. One year we grew a specimen eighteen inches long and six inches wide. The outside of the blossom itself - the spathe - was smooth and green but inside the texture was like velvet with the color of a sickly purple, the same hue one sometimes sees in putrefying meat! A phalluslike spadix, dark purple and sometimes nearly an inch in diameter, rose from the somber depths inside the bloom.

But most marvelous of all was the horrifying and overwhelming stench emitted by the flower throughout the first day of its opening. This was a sickening, gagging, terrifying stench like that of putrefying meat. It was as if you had suddenly come across a dead cow on the tenth day or had opened the vaults of a charnel house. There was no sitting in the garden on the day of its bloom. The scent came forth in puffs and waves that wafted all around the garden, catching you wherever you were. Blowflies big fat black ones were attracted by the hundreds to crawl in and out of the blossom's base around the purple phalluslike spadix. Actually, this is the reason for the blossom's horrid stench: it is pollinated by blowflies instead of bees!

On Stink Lily Day, which was usually a warm clay in June, my mother and I kept open house, and many were the visitors who came from far and near to hold their noses and view this weird denizen of the plant world.

That garden is gone now; the only thing left there is the number: 2418 Dwight Way. Now only memories linger where once we entertained Klarkash Ton and his Lady in that sheltered close. We had to move out early in 1964 to make way for "progress." In four hours' time a bulldozer flattened and removed both house and garden and now on the site stands a twelve unit apartment house. Today the Stink Lily

Puffs not against the gale
Nor blows with it in power and violence

[See the poem "Thebaid"]

but I know that Klarkash-Ton would join me in evocations to its ghost to do so in protest against such "progress."

Klarkash-Ton liked red wines-often Burgundy - to sip with meals and we always had it afterwards in the library while looking over curious books or examining my Fortean files. Sometimes he and Carol brought wine with them but often, if they arrived late in the afternoon, he and I went out to buy it while my mother and Carol were preparing dinner. Since we lived near the University, in whose vicinity liquor stores were forbidden, we had to walk a half mile to the nearest store. We always took this opportunity to go one way- usually down Telegraph Avenue and come back another, to look at old houses. There were many charming old shingled bungalows in Berkeley in those days hut now many have disappeared. In their places have risen ugly multiple-unit apartment houses totally lacking in charm. We enjoyed these walks; we admired and commented on the old houses and decried the "progress" that was eliminating them one by one. But perhaps in a hundred years there will be "those charming old apartment houses" !

Klarkash-Ton had a jackknife, a good healthy countryman's knife, with a main blade four inches long. He had owned this knife for many years and it was a constant companion. He used it for everything. It could make shavings for starting a fire; it could be used for paring fingernails or peeling potatoes. Once I recall his using it to cut cheese and French bread while we were picnicking on the glaring white sands of the Seventeen-mile Drive near Monterey. This was the knife he used in making most of his carvings, in blocking out in rough form-in talc or diatomite-the weird shapes of his sculptures. He had another red-handled penknife to use in detailed work.

I have the knife before me as I write this and it is one of my most treasured possessions, a kind and thoughtful gift from Carol after Klarkash-Ton's passing. The handle, somewhat resembling mother-of-pearl, is probably plastic. On one side it is lemon yellow in color. The other side is much darker, almost brown, and thereby hangs a tale. On one of their innumerable picnic trips into the unfrequented areas of the Monterey Peninsula to escape for a while from the hustle and bustle of the populated areas, Klarkash-Ton and Carol once picnicked under an oak tree in a wild and sheltered glade. They lost the knife there among the fallen leaves, grasses, and wild flowers. One year later, while picnicking on the very same spot, Klarkash-Ton spied his knife in the grass beside him. The brown color on the one side is due to its having been exposed all year to the hot sun and wind and weathering.

As I have said, Klarkash-Ton was a shy man but he was not exactly antisocial. Like myself, he simply avoided crowds, and more than three people was a crowd. With one or two he was definitely congenial, friendly, and good company, but in a larger group he always let somebody else take the floor or lead the conversation.

It was, therefore, with some surprise that I received an invitation in May of 1956 from Klarkash-Ton and Carol to come down to attend a special literary event at the Cherry Foundation in Monterey. This was to be a special Clark Ashton Smith evening with exhibits of his paintings and sculptures, and Klarkash-Ton himself was to read some of his poetry. Two other men were to read selected short stories. It was an event I wouldn't have missed for anything since Klarkash-Ton was to recite some 160 lines from "The Hashish-Eater," his fabulous poem which H P. Lovecraft once called "... the greatest imaginative orgy in English literature." I went down on the Greyhound and found the household in a turmoil-for Carol had three teenage children by a former marriage-all getting ready for the big event. If Klarkash-Ton was nervous regarding his coming ordeal he certainly didn't show it; he was the calmest one there.

Klarkash-Ton did a splendid job reading his immortal lines from "The Hashish-Eater." He did not falter once; he delivered the line. in a low but strong voice and we were all very proud of him. If I live for a thousand years, I shall always remember the rare privilege o hearing Klarkash-Ton himself publicly reading those tremendou lines. The audience, consisting mostly of literary and other artistic people of the Monterey Peninsula, was duly appreciative.

Klarkash-Ton was sentimental to a marked, human degree. He kept his parents' ashes in urns in his Auburn cabin and it was always his wish that his own ashes he mingled with theirs and scattered on his own land. There was nothing macabre about this; it was simply an expression of his deep love for his mother and father, of a closeness he felt for them that transcended even death, and a deep and abiding attachment for his own acres.

Klarkash-Ton might be called a bohemian but only in the true sense of that term. To use the modern parlance, he was neither a hippie nor a square; he was above the need to revolt, and any concessions to established conventions were purely for convenience. He was a truly liberated man and only those familiar with the Buddhist philosophies will understand when I say he was above the ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, and all the other innumerable pairs of opposites.

He was always neatly but casually dressed; he wore dark slacks, favored old tweed sport coats, and his sport shirts were usually loud and colorful. He dressed for convenience, not show. His addiction to berets-usually blue or flaming red ones-was purely practical. They are, after all, highly practical and they kept his fine silky hair from flying. They were not worn to fulfill any inner need to appear "bohemian."

Cults and creeds were an abomination to him but only when they attempted to press their dogmas on him. Otherwise, he was bemused by their antics and tolerant of their foibles. Tolerant ... that is a key word in describing Klarkash-Ton, but in his case there was absolutely no connotation of superiority to it. Live and let live, to put it bluntly.

Klarkash-Ton had a keen sense of humor, but his humor was dry, subtle, ironic ... inherited, perhaps, from the English side of his ancestry. This was a quiet, kindly humor; he was never ribald, boisterous, or offensive so that it was a delight to engage him in light, good- humored conversation. But it would be a mistake to think of him at always deadly serious, as "stuffy"; he was anything but that.

Although he wandered farther than most men ever did before is his dreams, in cosmic visions, and in imagination's misty realms few people realize that in his earthbound mortal body Klarkash-Ton had hardly traveled at all. Except for possibly a few miles into Nevada, he had never beers outside California, and his travels if they can be called such- within the state were extremely limited. Draw a line on a California map starting from Mann County just north of San Francisco straight across the state to Donner Summit. Then draw or extend the line to Big Sur just south of Monterey and there you have a triangle outside of which Klarkash-Ton had never moved.

It is doubtful if he ever really desired travel for travel's sake. If he had done so, he would have made the effort. I don't think he had the need to travel. For what shall it profit a man if he shall tour the whole world and never see the lichens on the nearest stones? Unlike his contemporary, H. P. Lovecraft, who actually traveled frequently and widely from Florida to Canada and as far west as the Mississippi Klarkash-Ton was content to live and stay in Auburn for the major portion of his life. Except for a few trips to Carmel and San Francisco during his youth, it was not until he was sixty-one years old, and had married, that he moved about within that triangle in central California.

Klarkash-Ton's was essentially a subjective mind, a type of mind common to all real poets, artists, and sculptors. He saw reality from a different viewpoint; he viewed "objects" from angles and planes that few of us are aware of or even recognize. To him a rock was not simply a rock; it might hold an infinity of suggestions, implications, intimations. He would have understood why it took six months for a Japanese landscaper simply to place a boulder in the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo.

Rocks . . . stones . . . boulders . . . fragments of the mountains in which he lived. He lived on Boulder Ridge, and he lived there for sixty-one years. Strange, now that I think of it, how intimately his life was connected in one way or another with rocks. His land near Auburn was strewn with rocks and boulders of every size and material, and to get rid of them he stacked them into a New England-type wall. He wrote of rocks in poems and in prose. His sculptures were all carved from rocks he picked up near Auburn, in the tailings of old mines of the Mother Lode, or in the Carmel mountains.

Boulders . . . stones . . . rocks . . . Undoubtedly they had a great influence on his "seeing," on his artistic development. The entire landscape for miles around his own land near Auburn was littered with rocks and boulders, some of great size, and all bejeweled with lichens of varied species and colors. Wherever he looked, wherever he walked, there would be groups of boulders placed or planted in pleasing arrangements or compositions no human landscaper could hope to duplicate. For strange it is that in any natural groupings of rocks and boulders, every one is placed just so, following all the rules of "artistic" composition - or is it vice versa?

I have on my desk a single stone given to me by Klarkash-Ton fourteen years ago. He had picked it up on Crater Ridge near Donner Summit, the locale of his memorable story, "The City of the Singing Flame." He had gone with friends on several picnic trips to the Ridge and was impressed with the large outcroppings of boulders and the innumerable blackened rubble fields. There he had found what appeared to be "fragments of primordial bas-reliefs, or small prehistoric idols and figurines; and others that seem to have been graven with lost letters of an indecipherable script." He picked up a few of these and had sent several to H. P. Lovecraft in Providence. Lovecraft was so greatly impressed that he wrote Klarkash-Ton on June 11, 1932, that it he ever came to California on a visit, the first thing he wanted to do was to walk on Crater Ridge "amongst the pre- human reliquiae."

This stone on my desk, picked up by Klarkash-Ton himself on Crater Ridge, measures seven inches long and is about two inches wide on the largest end. He named it "The Inquisitor Morghi." There is a face, best seen in profile from the left, composed of two beetling brows, a long straight nose, and above these, a triangular or three- cornered hat. The effect is that of a frowning, pondering inquisitor of exceeding "pontifical severity" as Klarkash-Ton had described Morghi, the high priest, in his short story, "The Door to Saturn."

Lost as he was in dreams of other worlds, cosmic voids, and other times. Klarkash-Ton was essentially a lonely man, for who of his contemporaries could follow? His sense of the eternal, his grasp of the cosmic viewpoint, his appreciation of the vastness of totality, was so profound, so overwhelming, that it placed him far above any of his contemporaries with the exception, perhaps, of his long-time friend and correspondent, H. P. Lovecraft. Indeed, Lovecraft commented on this in letters to Klarkash-Ton, saying that few of the then current fantasy writers had any such sense or appreciation at all.

I distinctly recall standing with him under one of his blue oak trees on his land near Auburn while he was trying to explain to me an idea he had for another story. This involved such wide-ranging concepts of time and totality, of time within time, of suns within suns and the cycling of cycles, that it left me gasping. I could only agree with him that it was a good idea and urge him to go ahead and write the story. He never did.

After Klarkash-Ton and Carol were married and had taken up residence in her home in Pacific Grove, the cabin at Auburn was, of course, left unprotected. Situated as it was at the outskirts of Auburn and hidden from the nearest street by tall trees, it was a perfect target for curiosity seekers and vandals. It was some time before they were able to move all of his possessions to Pacific Grove for safe- keeping or to store some with friends in Auburn. Most of his library had been left in the cabin, as well as boxes and boxes of personal papers.

Vandals broke in and created veritable havoc. They dumped over boxes of papers, scattered books all about the rooms, and left the place in a complete shambles. Finally, they overturned the two urns containing the ashes of his mother and father, dumping the ashes out on the floor, probably looking for money. This senseless act, this desecration of the ashes of his parents, affected Klarkash-Ton very deeply. On their way back to Pacific Grove he and Carol stopped over with my mother and me in Berkeley, and I remember how terribly upset, shocked, and hurt he was. They had salvaged everything they could, storing some things with friends ins Auburn and loading down their car with everything it could carry.

Long before this, rifle bullets had been fired through the walls of the empty cabin. An old print of the oriental Fox-God, one of Klarkash-Ton's favorite pictures, had hung for years on the walls of his kitchen. I remember seeing it there on my first visit to him in 1953. This was pierced twice by bullets, or fragments thereof, probably of 22-caliber. I have this picture now, a gift from Carol It is flyspecked and brown from long years of exposure to wood and tobacco smoke, and the bullet holes are clearly visible.

The final act of vandalism occurred when the cabin was burned to the ground. Now only ashes, burnt nails, and a few small pieces of charcoal - if you look for them - mark the site, but wild grasses and wild flowers have almost obliterated even those transient traces.

Yes, the writing of these few notes on Klarkash-Ton has opened the wells of memory and evoked a thousand reminiscences and recollections. I see him, paradoxically, on the one band as the fabled Sorcerer of Auburn, the forbidding recluse, the dark Necromancer of Zothique; yet on the other hand there remains the gentle, kindly, shy, and mystically inclined good friend who could sit in an old wicker chair smoking a pipe and just visit, who loved beef stew, red wine, and sharp cheese, who loved books and gentle, simple things. His calmness, his serenity, his dignity are things I remember best about him. As I tried to point out in my former memoir, he was a truly natural and civilized man, and these qualities arc rare today. They come from an inner peace, an enlightenment given to few, and of the many men I have known and been privileged to call friend, Klarkash-Ton alone had it in illimitable measure.

The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith, Arkham House.

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