a couple laying on the terrace's chairs smiling at each other

Reverie: Ghost Stories



Ramon and I purchased the property that is now Reverie Retreat from the estate of Don and Phyllis Gernes.  When Don and Phyllis bought the property in the 1960s, the only building here was an old “miner’s cabin” and an outhouse.  Yet the property has a rich history of western settlement stemming from the gold rush era, and before that, there were Native Americans who called this area home for thousands of years.   The neighborhood historian tells us that at one time there were miners covering literally every inch of the land, each staking out his own square plot.  There were no trees or brush, just miners digging, digging, digging to strike it rich.  Every time we dig ourselves we come across old mining implements and cookware – it’s impossible not to.

We haven’t come across any signs of the presence of Native Americans here, but we keep hoping. It’s possible any evidence was picked up by the miners long ago.  A few years ago we had a visit from the great grandniece of Coppa Hembo, a revered chief of the Maidu who lived right around here.  She had been friends with Phyllis Gernes and had spent many an afternoon in the 60s and 70s hanging out with Phyllis in the miner’s cabin where she lived.  She brought her grandniece and other members of her tribe to visit us in an attempt to locate the grave of her grandmother, who married Coppa Hembo’s nephew.  She had a photo of the house that her grandmother was buried next to, but the house was long-gone and she couldn’t remember where it once stood.  She thought it was on our property but by that point she was in her 90s and her memory wasn’t so sharp anymore.  Add to that the fact that the trees have grown up in the last 40 years and everything looks much different than it would have when she used to visit Phyllis.  We wandered all around the property with the members of her tribe trying to ‘feel’ where their ancestor was buried, to no avail.  Maybe someday they will come back and try again. Or maybe we will uncover the foundation of that house under a pile of blackberry bushes in the development of Reverie and we can help them reconnect to their ancestors.

Needless to say there are many ghosts here. If you close your eyes and sit quietly for a while you can ever so slightly feel the presence of the people who have populated this area over the millennia.  But the ghosts we feel the most, perhaps because they are the most recent caretakers of this land, are Don and Phyllis.   Their signs are everywhere. We are living in the house Don built, with its over-engineering and its idiosyncrasies and walls painted with paint Phyllis produced from clay on the property. The house is furnished with many of Phyllis’ paintings and furniture from the middle of the last century. We run across trees experimentally grafted by Don and we eat apples and persimmons from trees he planted 50 years ago.  When walking in the woods we come across herbs and other non-native plants that Phyllis must have planted at some point, as she was an herbalist well-known in the area. We often wonder what they would think about our project.

But probably the main reason we feel them the most is that Don Gernes died here in 1994.

The story was told to us by one of his children:

As Don and Phyllis were eating breakfast one morning he relayed a vivid dream he had had the night before, one of those dreams that seemed real even after you wake up.  He was standing in a field when a train went by full of friends of his waving out the window and yelling to him: “Don, Don, get on the train. You must join us on the train!”

“No, I don’t want to get on the train yet. I’m not ready for the train.  You go ahead…”

He realized once he woke up that all of his friends that were on the train in his dream were already dead.

After breakfast he left Phyllis to go outside and work on the fruit trees, which were his passion.  She found him several hours later on the ground next to his favorite apple tree, dead of a heart attack.  Apparently the train was ready for him, even if he didn’t want to get on it.

In the first few years, when we were encountering obstacle after obstacle in the development of Reverie, I began to think that maybe Don Gernes was intentionally blocking us.  That he didn’t really want us here, and he certainly didn’t want us developing a retreat center on this land.  And that may still be true, although I have tried to communication to him that our intentions are honorable and we care deeply about this land.  But lately I’ve been feeling that his hold may be loosening…he’s been dead for 22 years, Phyllis has been dead for 10, so maybe, just maybe, they are ready to let this place go and move on.  Let’s hope so.










1 thought on “Reverie: Ghost Stories”

  1. I have a Gernes painting and this is the first resource that confirmed that the Phyllis Gernes I bought the painting from, was an artist as well as a known author.
    Thank you for the information.
    Marlene Duffin

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