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."