Sitting here, watching the impossible happen all around, I have Fort Ross on my mind.
The news is that the state will "close" Annadel (however THAT could be accomplished!) as well as General Vallejo's old "Castle in the Wilderness," the Petaluma Adobe. It's hard not to be fearful that the oldest and most important historical site north of San Francisco Bay may well be next.
The fate of the Russian fort has been a concern most of the summer. There's even been a couple of Fort Ross "jokes," if you can call them that, like the comment made by a friend whose pragmatism outweighs her sense of history. "If they close Fort Ross," she says, "We will lose the best free restroom stop between Jenner and Sea Ranch."
That's one way to look at it.
In a more serious vein, historians from at least two nations look at it as a cultural imperative.
They believe that Fort Ross Historic Park is far too important to close. And the fact that it appears to be on the short list (whatever and wherever that "list" is) means that "saving" Fort Ross — that is keeping it open — has become a cause c??re.
I know that California's parks, particularly its historic parks, are all unique. But Fort Ross' importance reaches way beyond Sonoma County and even California's history.
This southernmost outpost of Imperial Russia, dating back two centuries — the earliest north of San Francisco Bay — has been telling its remarkable stories to visitors since 1903, when the state took possession of its weathered buildings, even then nearly 100 years old.
The stories from the Russian years at Bodega Bay and Fort Ross (1809-1841) involve a cadre of botanists, naturalists, agronomists, archeologists, artists and even a future saint.
Robin Joy, the park's interpretive specialist who has spent more than a decade on the staff, describes her reaction to the threatened closure list as "in shock."
Joy has her own list, reciting with pride all the factors that make Fort Ross stand out from every other park on the North Coast: Its status as a national monument and as the only Russian settlement in the contiguous United States; the continuous stream of foreign visitors, including Russians and native Alaskans with Kashia Pomo descendants; its place as the site of the first windmill, the first glass windows, the first European varietal grapevines, the earliest shipbuilding and the botanical "discovery" of the California poppy.
It also was home to the lengthy stay of a Russian priest who would become St. Innocent in the Orthodox Church; the archeology project of the University of California; untold numbers of school overnights, and for the kids' part — far and away the finest cannon presentation in the state.
Her list is long. It's no wonder the possibility of closure has caught the attention of the Russians, prompting a visit from the Russian ambassador in late August and a letter to the governor setting forth the official interest of that nation.
RTR Planet, a Russian international television and radio broadcasting service, last week visited the fort to alert the 75 percent of urban Russians it claims as viewers and listeners to the threat. The Fort Ross visit will be broadcast on the Russian channel today.
Press Democrat Poll
What type of warning did you receive about last October’s fires? (Multiple responses allowed)
Official alert on my landline: 5 percent
Official alert on my cellphone: 17 percent
Neighbor warned me: 14 percent
Family member or friend warned me: 28 percent
Police or fire came to my home to warn me: 5 percent
None: 43 percent
Don’t know: 1 percent
In the future, how would you like to be notified about a fire or other impending disaster?
Phone call: 31 percent
Text message: 30 percent
Email: 1 percent
Air raid siren: 28 percent
Other (specify): 7 percent
Don’t know: 3 percent
Do you think Sonoma County is more prepared today to warn you about fires or disasters than it was last year?
Yes: 54 percent
No: 31 percent
Don’t know: 15 percent
SOURCE: The Press Democrat Poll/David Binder Research