Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Claudia Ayres: A Memorial

There was a little confusion, some technical problems, and some delay on my part, for which I'm sorry -- but here at last is the beautiful, moving tribute to Claudia's life and work which Joe and the rest of the family put together for her memorial. Click the link to view the .pdf; right-click to save it:

Claudia Ayres

Thanks to Joe, Joey, and all the family and friends who assembled this remarkable tribute to a remarkable, remarkable woman.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Claudia's obituary

Mendocino Beacon

Also, everyone who appreciates this blog should also join the great Facebook group for RRR alums!

Claudia Ayres, R.I.P.

I was delighted, then saddened, just now to receive a phone call from Joe Ayres, who told me that Claudia passed away last month, finally surrendering to the multiinfarct dementia with which she, and Joe, lived for the last decade. (I discussed Claudia's illness, and more, in this comment to my original post.) Her family held a private service, and there will be a public memorial next Thursday, February 25, at 3 pm, at the senior center in Ft. Bragg (490 Herald St.). We're all welcome to attend. Joe said he's making a book of photos and memories, and wanted me to post it on this blog when it's done, which of course I'll do.

Joe sounded good on the phone. He admitted to the predictable mixture of grief and relief -- caring for someone you love so deeply as she slowly disappears over a decade would be unimaginably difficult work -- but on the phone with me he laughed, reminisced, and, being Joe, said, "I've got ten years worth of work [on the ranch] to catch up on." Now, at last, he can travel, and plans to take his mother (who turns 91 tomorrow) to the Owens Valley to visit his sister in the Spring.

My family (wife Carol, to whom I proposed just two days after introducing her to Joe on a vacation along the north coast in the early 90s, and our daughters Amelia (14) and Elizabeth (16)) hope to see Joe when we travel from Portland to the Bay Area in June for my baby brother's wedding. Joe invited us to camp at the ranch, which is impossible to turn down. Any other former campers care to join us?

I'm still processing the news about Claudia -- again, I just got off the phone -- but I'll close with this recollection of Joe's I quoted in that earlier comment:

A bit of brightness he shared is that, despite her memory loss, Claudia still introduces herself to new people by announcing, "I'm Claudia Ayres! I'm married to Joe Ayres, and we run Royal Redwood Ranch riding camp for teens!" So she still identifies with the role that we all remember and loved her in!


P.S.: I just updated my Facebook profile with this reminiscence:

"Just learned a mentor from my youth has passed away: Claudia Ayres, who with her husband Joe Ayres operated Royal Redwood Ranch in Comptche, California, just 12 miles inland from Mendocino. Nominally the Ranch was a teen horse camp, but in reality it was an outpost of Buddha's Pure Land, where 14 kids at a time, for two weeks at a stretch, slept outside covered by nothing but the boughs of redwood trees. We learned to ride English and Western (and jumping, dressage, and vaulting -- yes, at one point I could run alongside a running horse, do that hop-skip thing, and leap onto its back).

"But, more importantly, we learned to care for Creation, for other creatures, and each other. We fed and groomed the horses each morning before we ate breakfast -- the grooming regulated by Joe or Claudia on a stopwatch: 3 minutes on the neck, 5 on the forequarters, 5 on the barrel, 5 on the hindquarters, and then start on the OTHER side!) We did camp chores, cooked on a wood stove, drank "sodas" drawn straight from the iron-flaked carbonated water swelling out of a ceramic-lined spring a few miles away. We horse-camped, rode up and down impossibly steep slopes, watched satellites coast overhead every half hour, were awakened by yearlings, teenagers themselves, as they explored the woods in the fog and stumbled almost on top of us.

"The horses are gone now, and the teen ranch closed. For the past ten years Joe, now 65, cared for Claudia, who suffered from multiinfarct dementia, at their home on the ranch, declining most outside help except that of their children and a weekly respite day. And Claudia, even as she disappeared, clung to her identity as the proprietor of Royal Redwood Ranch for Teens. Her passing, Joe admitted to me on the phone, is both a sadness and a relief. Lots of memories flooding back today.

"Thank you, Claudia, for everything. There are hundreds of us who are inestimably better people because of the lessons you and Joe taught us. I already know you're resting in peace."

Thursday, February 14, 2008


a test

Sunday, November 4, 2007

First Post: Royal Redwood Ranch friends and alums!

Welcome! I'm a former camper at Joe and Claudia Ayres' Royal Redwood Ranch riding camp in Comptche, California, which ran for three decades and finally closed in 2000. I don't ride much anymore, and last attended camp there in the late 70s, but now that my 45 year old self has a 12 year old horse-crazy daughter, I'm really sorry that the Ranch has closed, and am recalling many fond memories of the Ranch, the skittish yearlings visiting us in the wee hours, scrambling through the slippery, dark woods in the rain to ride the pickup down to the barn, the smell of the oats we fed our horses as we groomed them before breakfast, flaking out hay for the horses waiting outside the Salt Corral, and many other great things.

I googled the ranch today, and found a website that thought it was still active and had a phone number. I called, and Joe answered! We talked for half an hour, and caught up on a lot. I'd be happy to share more if anyone ever does what I did (googling their names etc.) and finds this blog.

So, I'm starting this blog and launching it into the blogosphere, sort of like the Voyager spacecraft, figuring that in some future year someone else will stumble across it, and initiate contact...

Scott Bellows
Portland, OR
formerly of Piedmont, CA