Life At Trabuco

by Miriam King

The Sharman Group

In the spring of 1944 I had become aware of a study group deriving from a Professor Sharman, who I believe taught at the University of Chicago, called Studies in the Life of Jesus that emphasized Jesus’ teachings, not sin and redemption as seen in Christian fundamentalism. This group was made up of citizens from Palo Alto, California plus Patty Hornbeck and me, both Stanford students. The group was led by Dr. Harry Rathbun and his wife, Amelia. Harry taught at Stanford, a member of the faculty at the Law School. They were definitely leaders in this group regarding spiritual life as we knew it then. The first time that Patty and I met him he talked to us in his office on campus and spent a lot of the time explaining the work of Gerald Heard, showing us one of his books. This was the first I had heard of Gerald.

This Sharman group was excellent, well attended, and met at the Rathbun’s home, and also at the Bolton’s in Palo Alto at least once. Mr. And Mrs. Wilber Bolton were the parents of Etta Jean Bolton, a landscape architect. Etta Jean did not attend this group regularly while we were there, though she did go to Trabuco College when the group went down there. These meetings were in the spring of 1944, and the Trabuco trip was in late summer 1944. Other group members were Jim and Barbara Delkin, publishers of hard-to-find elite books at Peter Pauper Press. They were intellectuals and were very smart. Other members I remember were William and Mrs. Dave Davenport, there via Dave’s association with A.A., which he was very proud to proclaim as this had changed his life. Also there were Lucille Nixon, whom I understood to be a teacher in Palo Alto, and Elana Lindeman, Amelia Rathbun’s beautiful younger sister. We also met Felix Greene, who was involved with the trip down to Trabuco. He was courting Elana at the time, and she was also on this trip. She didn’t seem very taken with him, but later she married him.

The group continued the Sharman meetings at Trabuco, and this was the focus of the trip. We met Gerald Heard, who spoke there, and he also spoke privately with Patty and me, who were both preparing to join the Carmelite Convent in Carmel. He convinced us that we shouldn’t do this because we were not devotees of the Holy Church, and he initiated a correspondence with each of us. Gerald, Patty, and I all wrote regularly during the next three to four months while Patty and I were back at school. Patty later acceded to her parents’ wishes and became a doctor in Fresno. I took an extra quarter at Stanford and graduated in January 1945, after which I went to the California School of Gardening, located on the Stanford campus, so I could be a gardener at Trabuco. After about a month, Gerald told me to come to Trabuco. That was in the winter of 1945.

Life At Trabuco

We initially had no major expectations about Gerald, but after meeting him we were captivated by his accessibility and brilliance and his involvement in our lives. Meditation was three times daily — early morning, noon, and evening. We were instructed by Gerald and backed up by readings in the Dionysian tradition as explained and guided by Gerald. Concerning Dionysian spirituality, Gerald often referred to God as the “tremendous and fascinating mystery” and the “awe-filled and spellbinding wonder” that can be experienced directly in this life. Out library contained many books descriptive of this path. It is described in the translation by Gerald of a hymn we sang called, “A Child Become.”

Among the authors in the library was Constantine Barbanson, a medieval priest whom Gerald admired much, plus The Cloud of Unknowing, Meister Eckhart, and other treasures. Another favorite of Gerald’s was The Mirror of Simple Souls, thought then to be anonymous, probably written by a medieval abbot. It turned out to have been written by a woman — a Beguine abbess, Marguerite Porète — burned at the stake at age 75 because she would not recant her mystical teachings.

One of the spiritual teachers that fascinated me was St. Philip Neri — I was following Gerald’s lead in this. He was a leader in Rome, head of Oratory, during the Counter Reformation. He was filled with Divine madness. We had a big biography of St. Philip by a Cardinal Capecelatro, which I was reading when Gerald asked me if he could look at it to check something. When he returned it he indicated that he had reviewed the whole book. I thought I would find out what he remembered, so I chose some obscure footnote and asked him about it. He remembered it accurately and in full.

We did physical labor, which did not seem like labor, including, for me, gardening. I also remember helping to install a drainage line through the orchard. Bill Forthman and I also cleaned the domestic water tank. I planted a lot of the garden and the landscaping, including olive trees. One near the Oratory is still there — this was a 3’ x 4” piece of a branch buried in the ground, per the advice of a local rancher, which took and grew. We also improved the road and collected manure from the fields and leaf mold from the oaks at the base of the property, near the county road.

The spiritual goals at Trabuco were enlightenment and service to mankind. Gerald often said, “The goal is to give the world one better unit.” (He may have been quoting Evelyn Waugh or possibly the Libertarian Leonard Read.)

Gerald was impressive because of his amazing knowledge, yet he was very approachable, devoid of pretension. We each saw him once a week in his room for spiritual instruction and could talk with him any other time. I recall and love the fact that this was necessary very often.

Gerald talked during and after every meal, sometimes for hours. If Aldous Huxley was there it was a brilliant conversation between them. There were many brilliant people there, such as Marvin Barrett, Edwin Halsey, Ray Jordan, Bill Forthman, the Quakers from Pendle Hill, and other intellectuals, who could keep him going. These talks in the refectory after meals were fascinating. Persons other than Gerald did not lecture while I was there. Gerald’s talks were very informal. The topics were life and spiritual life. He spoke as a guru — plus.

Once I told Gerald that the behavior of a woman there had begun to annoy me after many months of her coming to my room every morning and giving me my instructions for the day while striding up and down, reading from her list. He said to try to see the poignancy of human beings, which solved the problem for me, and which I at least tried to practice always after that.

There was no electricity, so once the mantles were lit up in the Aladdin lamps at evening, there was a soft, sweet glow in the corridors and in our rooms. The kitchen was huge, with an immense stove and every other convenience easily available. We ate an excellent vegetarian diet. I remember one of Gerald’s friends, Iris Tree, doing the cooking there at times; she would wander from place to place, leaving a trail of flour on the floor behind her. There was no smoking permitted at Trabuco. The weather was generally warmer than we were used to. At times, though, in winter I had to wear a wool jacket.

What was there that is difficult to describe was a certain enchantment that permeated the place. It was extremely beautiful, Spanish style, with courtyards, stucco, and tile everywhere, and light-maple furniture blending in. And the smell of the place—intoxicating! It was like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

Concerning Gerald’s disappointment at Trabuco’s end, I would not characterize him as impatient, except that I read that he had quit another project at an early stage. It was all silent and uncomfortable, and some of us were sure that he would be leaving. I thought it ended because we were not able to live up to Gerald’s expectations, as far as spiritual advancement was concerned.

More Trabuco Memories

I recall one of the visits by Alcoholics Anonymous’ founders Bill Wilson and his wife Lois. Bill Wilson was a stockbroker back East who had a mystical experience of God while recovering from the D.T.’s, which changed his life, as seen in the principles of A.A. The Wilsons did not bring their daughter on this trip.

It was a brief visit, and it was very clear what Bill Wilson’s purpose was. He wanted to get advice from Gerald on what direction A.A. should take in the future. “Where do we go from here?” was his question to Gerald. Gerald told him to organize it in terms of small independent units. “Don’t build a big organization,” he counseled. “Keep it in discrete, small units that are independent of each other and that are centered around the 12 Steps.” Bill Wilson did this, and A.A. has endured. As mentioned, this visit was very brief, and Bill Wilson spoke and associated with Gerald for the most part; he was rather standoffish with the rest of us.

When we took Aldous Huxley in the Woodie out to collect cowpies in the pasture, he would pick up a dry one and say, “Ah, a treasure!” His eyesight was very, very poor. He could not tell peaches from apricots at the table. I heard that in his room they had to modify his bed because he was so tall. He would often be seen doing Bates exercises. Later in Santa Barbara I looked into his method, found a therapist, and improved my eyesight.

For a prestigious meeting in Los Angeles between Gerald and W. Somerset Maugham, Edwin Halsey drove Gerald and gave us an idea of the meeting, which had something to do with the movie, The Razor’s Edge, starring Tyrone Power. Evidently the screenwriter had murdered Maugham’s text. Tyrone Power had told Maugham he couldn’t understand the screenplay, and Maugham, upon reviewing it, said he couldn’t understand it either. During lunch the conversation was free ranging, according to Edwin, with Gerald holding forth brilliantly. He was very polite and showed deference to Maugham during some scholarly reference by saying, “You will remember, Somerset, that...” Until Maugham finally exclaimed, “Gerald, you know damn well I don’t remember any of this!”

Mary Enholm was a lovely person who spent part of each year at Trabuco. She was married to a nice man named Fred Enholm, who also made shorter visits there. Mary was an organist in an Episcopal church in Denver, and she was our choir director. The basis of our singing was the remarkable 1940 Episcopal Hymnal. I still have my copy. We practiced at least once a week. Gerald had a nice baritone voice. I enjoyed our singing very much at evening meditations and thought we were pretty good. Michael Barrie had an absolutely beautiful tenor voice. He once told me his ideal singer was a baritone named Yves Tinayre, and he described this man’s singing in glowing terms.

Michael was a super manager and organizer. He could solve many practical problems. I remember his ability to start the pump when no one else could, using intuition and a soft touch. I was in awe of him because his small singing group used to perform with Bing Crosby, and he also took four showers each day when working in the movies. Michael was often sick while he was there, and like Gerald he had a spastic colon. But he was invariably kind and even-tempered.

It was Michael who brought Gerald to see Dr. Henry Bieler about health and diet. While Gerald was on the Bieler diet, Michael made sure he followed it accurately. Precision is required by this diet, which is very powerful. At times I used to drive Gerald down to Pasadena to his Bieler appointments in the Woodie.

The Aschermanns were a beloved and delightful older couple who used to visit from Seattle and who brought Jerusalem artichokes for our large garden. Lucille Nixon, Etta Jean Bolton, Felix Greene, and Elena Lindeman were there early on, but soon disappeared from the scene. When I first went there Dr. Allan Hunter and his wife Elizabeth, from the Mount Hollywood Congregational Church in L.A., were very prominent, came often, and were very supportive of Gerald. I recall that Bill Forthman was associated with their church.

Mary Enholm and Bill Forthman were my closest friends there, a delight to me always. Mary experienced the Prayer of Quiet, which was a pretty advanced state in the scheme of meditative practices as explained by Gerald.

I believe that Trabuco achieved its goals as a co-educational spiritual community that strived to incorporate non-sectarian religious principles and practices. Gerald Heard changed my life completely and for good. He has influenced it to this day.

"Trabuco achieved its goals as a co-educational spiritual community that strived to incorporate non-sectarian religious principles and practices. Gerald Heard changed my life completely and for good."


Miriam King (d. 2004) was a student and gardener at Trabuco College.