Not His Talented Acting Or Photography, But His Saving Of A Group Of Randomly Shaped Spires Made Of Rebar And His Cultivation Of Apple Trees Will Make History
This Blog Post Is In Honor Of My Uncle Nicholas King And Will Partially Introduce My Family, Mainly On My Mother Ardis King Hyde’s Side…
Robert Nicholas King, who passed on April 3, 2012 at age 79, helped protect the Watts Towers. To read more see the Los Angeles Times Article on how Nicholas King helped save the Watts Towers of Los Angeles and allowed the unusual sculpture to become world-renowned.
Nicholas King was my mother’s middle brother out of three, all younger than her. His first name was Robert, but when he started working in Hollywood and off Broadway, because there was another actor named Robert King, he dropped his first name and went by his middle name Nicholas or Nick for the rest of his life.
When he died of complications from dementia, Nicholas King had lived in a nursing home in
Santa Rosa for three years. After he passed away his sons, Silas and Julian, my youngest cousins, and their older sister Sarah and brother Sam, just a few years younger than me, planned a memorial for their father appropriately enough in the movie theater in their hometown, Point Arena, California on the Mendocino Coast. For more biographical information, see the
Nicholas King came to Point Arena in a round about way, having left Hollywood for the 1960s hippie scene in San Francisco and in turn having dropped out of the hippie scene in San Francisco to move to “The Land,” a community land cooperative near Point Arena rich in Redwood forests and fertile bottom land along the Garcia River. Nick was glad to get away, to drop out, as they said in the
1960s. His departure from Hollywood occurred not long after he had tried out for a lead role in a film and landed the part. However, due to life complications, he was not able to accept the role. The actor who did take the part became a star largely on the acclaim he received from playing that character. I don’t think my Uncle Nick ever completely recovered from that missed opportunity. He had great confidence, poise and will his entire life, but his smooth surface was also ruffled deep underneath
by a subtle self-punishment that came up in unusual ways. In some respects he was one of the most optimistic people I have ever known, yet he also could get down on himself and circumstances and on some occasions felt that people were out to get him.
The Land was a paradise both won and lost, with an idyllic plan of sharing land between 10 families who were close friends, but whose relationships went on the rocks at times, finally culminating in a deep support and
love of each other and their film and TV actor representative turned sustainable logger, apple farmer and apple nursery and tree cultivator, as he faded into the confusion that took over his brain in his final years. When it was all over for Uncle Nick, nearly the entire Point Arena community and many from all over the Mendocino Coast down to San Francisco and even Los Angeles and beyond to his niece, Gwenn King, as far away as Wisconsin, all packed the Point Arena Movie Theater to celebrate and mourn the life of a
local innovator, artist, lover, horticulturist, gardener, farmer and family man, who charmed his way through life and into the hearts of those he turned his good looks and joyful, wise and impish smile upon.
Point Arena is the second farthest west point of land in California; the farthest west point lying not far north at Cape Mendocino. To reach Point Arena, you either drive up a curvy Highway One along the Sonoma Coast through
Gualala from Jenner and Santa Rosa, over the mountain from Booneville and Ukiah or down the Pacific Ocean Mendocino Coast from the town of Mendocino. To read more about my trip up the Sonoma Coast to Point Arena, see the blog post, “Northern California Beaches: Misty Sonoma Coast.”
As a young actor in Hollywood, Uncle Nick not only was a regular on TV shows and had small roles in several films, but he also loved to watch films. Over the years I
remember watching movies with him at the Point Arena Theater and other theaters, but also on VHS or DVD at his house on The Land or at Rough Rock with my parents. How fitting that my cousins planned his memorial in the Point Arena theater, where all 230 seats were taken and many mourners were standing, on both the main floor and the mezzanine. The service consisted of a slide show of still photographs of Nicholas King with his first wife, Kate, his second wife Jewls and
his children, friends and other family. After the slide show, many of Nick’s friends stood up to talk about him. Afterward people munched on the potluck feast laid out on the tables, while a music DJ played Nick’s favorite songs, relatives gathered outside to catch up with each other’s lives and inside there was even a little dancing. I had not seen my cousin Johanna and her husband Simo for nearly two decades as they had lived and raised three children in Europe. Nick’s brother
Van King, Johanna’s father, was there with his wife Linh, neither of whom have I seen much for the last 10 years. Van’s other daughter, his eldest, architect Caitlin King Lempres Brostrom had published a book this last year called, “The Houses of William Wurster: Frames for Living.” Just as Julian King, Nick’s youngest son, began to lead the cleanup inside the theater, the Point Arena based poet, teacher, classroom entertainer, author, visual artist, sculptor and wild dancer Blake More appeared on the scene in her hippie trippy poetry painted, moon, star and seashell festooned biodiesel mercedes. She wore her funkadelic outfit just for Nick.
There were many other highlights, including a few stories from Nicholas’ good friend Julius Palocz. One of Julius’ stories illustrated Nick’s indomitable, undefeatable character. Apparently Nick and Julius and another friend or two had planned to put a new gutter on Nick’s house. It was a wooden gutter and quite heavy. They had three ladders, none of
which reached high enough.
They climbed up on the ladders, lifted up the gutter and of course inevitably, the gutter fell and broke. Nick told those present not to worry. He said they would do this, fix that, nip that a bit, cut off that, bring in this and it would be better and stronger than ever. And it was. At one point one man, who had started an entire apple orchard from Nick’s apple trees, asked the crowd who had obtained an apple tree from Nick. About 85 percent of the crowd,
probably over 200 people, had trees from Nicholas King at the Garcia River Nursery. I had planned to talk, but they wrapped up the sharing portion before I stood up.
I had thought about what I would say if I had the opportunity. I reminisced about my uncle and all the good times we had with him as a group of cousins, as well as those I had with him alone. I had eight cousins in the first round and four more in the
second marriage round. When the older cousins were coming of age, I remember the oldest sneaking off with Uncle Nick to hang out. They invited me into that group I believe once or twice, but mainly it was limited to those older than me. Uncle Nick was always the hippest uncle, the one that related the most to us kids, though we of course loved and enjoyed Van and Clint, the other two uncles and my mother, who my cousins called, “Antie Ardis.”
I remember visiting The Land as a boy, swimming in the Garcia River at the swimming hole, running half naked through the fields and riding with Uncle Nick on his bulldozer. I remember watching him mill Redwood logs with his portable mill, splitting Redwood rounds for firewood, smelling the muddy earth smell of the heavy chunks of freshly split Redwood. We fished for Steelhead in the Garcia River too. I remember helping him work in his apple tree nursery. He used to give me a mild, easy-going lecture on grafting fruit trees, or varieties of apple stock, or apple blossoms, or other diverse farming or gardening subjects. In later years I would visit in my van. I brought food and wine and we drank and told stories at night. Uncle Nick and I took long walks on The Land in the mornings, walking along the Garcia River. We sat in the sauna by the Garcia River in the afternoons like old Indians.
One time Uncle Nick came to visit me at my place in Pecos, New Mexico. We went out walking, as we always did, as a thunderstorm threatened. We decided to hike up onto a nearby mesa where there
was an ancient Native American Pueblo burial ground. The burial ground was hard to find. Many times I had been up on that mesa and never seen it. To track it down we had to wander around through the pinion and juniper forests, looking for just the right opening in the trees. Suddenly the sky opened up and we were drenched in a torrential downpour, trying to take shelter among the trees as lightening and sheets of rain deluged upon us. As we sought shelter among the trees, we suddenly could make out the
low rock walls and shapes of stones that marked the burial ground. That particular hike to the burial ground, neither of us ever forgot. Somehow between the rain, the drenched red earth, huddling under the trees being surrounded by flashes of lightening and the mysterious sacred ground before us, we bonded like I never have with any other human being before or since, except perhaps my father and mother and a girlfriend here or there.
One Christmas just before my mother died, Uncle Nick came to visit us at Rough Rock in the Northeastern Sierra Nevada. While the snows whistled outside, we sat indoors near the fireplace, put together a 1000 piece puzzle and talked. It was a good Christmas. The last time he visited Rough Rock, he and I sat up late one night outside in front of the house watching a large fire burn out the stump of the Hyde family’s favorite oak tree. Our favorite shade oak tree had to be taken out because its roots were clogging the septic tank. Uncle Nick and I talked
about roots. We talked about family issues: control and anger, after all we are an American family. Yet American families can share great love too. There has always been love, camaraderie, fun and kindness in the family. In the early days, everyone knew how to keep up a good smile, even when someone in the group was mad at someone else under the surface and everyone knew it. There was always some issue or another, but there was also a bond and a joy in togetherness,
especially among us cousins. We sat at a separate table from the adults, which was both the wisest and the dumbest arrangement possible. I remember one Thanksgiving dinner where we cousins had a contest at the kid’s table at my Grandmother’s house, to see who could make the wildest, messiest, mashed-potatoes-squeezed-between-teeth face. Nick’s daughter Sarah won.
Uncle Nick was often our inspiration, sometimes in a
rebellious way, but more often in a hip, fun way. He had a way of making anything interesting. His photography of people showed a deep sense of understanding. He also made some excellent historical documentary black and white photographs of Point Arena being nearly wiped out by a huge storm in the winter of 1983. A few of his friends and family brought together these images in a self-published book called, “The Great Disaster at Arena Cove.” Nicholas King’s legacy as an environmental activist in groups such as Friends of the Garcia River and Save Our Wild Salmon, as a farmer’s market seller, a community member and artistic thinker, lives on in his children and his nieces and nephews, all the next generation and their children too, in Point Arena and everywhere people knew him.
Many people celebrated his life in the Point Arena Theater that day, May 12, 2012. We took our time to think back and socialize as Nick’s friends and family all together one last time. Yet, after it was over, it felt good to move away from the crowd, to go back to The Land and sleep among the Redwoods, to awake with
the dew and smell the sun on the apple blossoms, to drink in the cool morning air as it blew gently over the quiet meadows of The Land that was Nick’s home.
More on the Mendocino Coast, Mendocino and Fort Bragg to come in future blog posts…
Do you have an uncle or other relative with whom you have a special connection?