Life at the Big House

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Pauling’s schematic of the Big House at Deer Flat Ranch, April 1964.

[The story of Deer Flat Ranch, part 3 of 3]

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling stayed in the Old Cabin when at Deer Flat Ranch from 1956 to 1964, and during much of this period, visiting family members would often sleep in the barn. By 1961, a pre-designed kit home had been constructed for guests to use. Located down the gorge from the barn, at the foot of Salmon Cone, the house came to be called China Camp, named after the adjacent beach.

That same year, Pauling began conversations with Dr. Gustav Albrecht of Caltech, a former student of Pauling’s, about acting as chief architect on the design of a new home on the property. Albrecht worked with John Gamble Associates and, once construction began, lived in the Old Cabin for several months to supervise the building according to Pauling’s specifications.

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A view of the Big House near its entryway.

By 1964, the “Big House” was complete. It was an unorthodox home, filled with angled windows of multiple types that offered numerous views of the Pacific Ocean. The home likewise featured dueling his and hers studies, as well as a garage that was specifically built to shelter a car while also housing Pauling’s collection of scientific journals. Book cases were everywhere and, as time moved forward, the decor came to be dominated by framed honorary doctorates lining the hallways and mounted in every room. A massive stone fireplace separated the kitchen from the living room, and a large, westward-facing deck became a focal point for social gatherings. The unusual space proved difficult to maintain, but for the Paulings it was heaven on earth nonetheless.


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Looking southwest from the living room.

The Big House was built at the end of a new road that had been bulldozed from the Old Cabin west to a nearby glade that the Paulings called “Eucalyptus Hollow.” By the time that most of the construction was completed, excavations on the Pauling land had revealed that a small village of Salinan Indians, dating back thousands of years, had once been located in the area where the Big House was built. More artifacts were discovered under the Old Cabin, which was rebuilt and, a decade later, joined by a new caretaker’s house. Pauling held on to several of the Salinan artifacts as well as a small collection of human remains, all of which were repatriated once Pauling’s papers were donated to Oregon State University.

Kids and grandkids visiting during and immediately following the construction, and were often volunteered to perform various duties on the property. Linus Pauling Jr., his wife Stephanie, and Stephanie’s daughter Carrie were frequent visitors throughout the 1970s. During this time they assisted in finishing floor moldings and tiles at the Big House, which sported a decorative copper diving screen based on the mezzanine foyer in Dulles National Airport, as well as a specially made copper roof.

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Dining on the deck, 1971.

The Big House was as a sanctuary, and it was understood that even family visitors were not to barge in unannounced. Rather, Ava Helen would run a dish towel up a nearby flagpole when she was ready to receive visitors, usually in the late morning.

During visits with family, Pauling tended to focus his conversation on scientific matters, while it was Ava Helen who worked to bring the family together, particularly relishing her role as a grandmother. Catching fish from the Pacific Ocean and cooking under gas lights in the wilderness of California’s coastal forests, visitors often felt a sense of living in the pioneer past. Linus and Ava Helen reveled in this sensation themselves, and after 1966 they were spending fully half of their time at the Big House.


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Ava Helen’s Artcraft stove.

With advancing age came thoughts of retirement, and Linus and Ava Helen began to imagine that they might move to the ranch full-time by Pauling’s 70th birthday, or perhaps his 75th. Pauling was, unsurprisingly, consistently non-committal about the idea of giving up his career in science, no matter how old he grew. The ranch, however, offered an appealing happy medium where he could continue to pursue a scientific agenda while lessening the pace and clutter of his very public life.

By 1976, when Ava Helen was diagnosed with cancer, the pair seemed to treasure their time at Deer Flat Ranch all the more; Ava Helen took up the guitar and bought a grand piano, and children and grandchildren came to visit often. Pauling, however, could never truly be removed from science, and spent much of his time at the ranch working on theoretical papers.

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The view from the kitchen.

A year later, Pauling looked to be making good on notions of retirement, and was considering removing himself from day-to-day operations at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, which Art Robinson was leading as president. However, an administrative battle with Robinson that arose over the future of the Institute provided Pauling with a compelling reason to remain highly involved, and he never did fully extricate himself from administrative duties at the Institute that bore his name.


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Ava Helen and Linus in their living room, celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary, June 1973.

In retrospect, it seems unlikely that a man of Pauling’s industry, interests and ego could ever remove himself completely from the world of science and retire to the ranch full time. Indeed, after Ava Helen passed away in 1981, he ramped up his scientific program, working both at the ranch and in Palo Alto, California for the remainder of his life.

As he grew older, the rustic pioneer charm of the ranch faded somewhat for Pauling. The land around the gas service station was found to be eroding at an alarming rate, and it was eventually abandoned. Likewise, the number of cattle and ranch hands slowly dwindled. Eventually, only a single caretaker remained on the property, Steve Rawlings, who also acted as Pauling’s personal nurse during his final years.

Nonetheless, Pauling continued to spend a majority of his time at the property, reading, writing, and dreaming of a peaceful world guided by the light of scientific reason. It seems fitting then that when Linus Pauling passed away, in August 1994, it was in the Big House at Deer Flat Ranch, surrounded by his family.

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Deer Flat Ranch: A Kind of Paradise

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Linus Pauling harvesting abalone, 1963.

[The story of Deer Flat Ranch: Part 2 of 3]

In the years immediately following Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s purchase of Deer Flat Ranch, the space quickly fulfilled its potential as a refuge from an extremely busy existence. A few years after buying the property, Ava Helen told her husband

Do you know, we have been here for one week, you and I, without seeing a single other person? This is the first time in our 40-odd years of marriage that this has happened.

More than a refuge even, the ranch gradually emerged as a kind of paradise for the Paulings. One could reliably harvest ten abalone off the adjacent rocks at low tide, and Linus found that he greatly enjoyed harvesting these sea snails with his wife, pounding them shoreside to tenderize them for dinner.

At the ranch, a horse and a goat kept the cattle company, and marine life including otters and sea lions frequented the beaches. The Paulings also enjoyed collaborating on landscaping chores at the ranch, a pleasure that continued for Linus even after a 1960 incident that resulted in poison oak rashes on both arms.


 

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Outside the old cabin at Deer Flat Ranch, 1962. Photo by Arthur Dubinsky.

During his solo trips to the property, Pauling frequently withdrew into a world of history and philosophy. Pauling’s literary and intellectual interests ranged far and wide, and his reading included the poetry of the Greek atomist Lucretius, the rhetoric and philosophy of the great Roman orator, Cicero, and the metaphysical proto-evolutionary poetry of Charles Darwin’s uncle, Erasmus Darwin. Pauling’s Deer Flat reading list also included a history of British chemistry, as well as Bertrand Russell’s essay, In Praise of Idleness, within which Pauling underlined the quote, “A busy man doesn’t think.”

While at the ranch in the early fifties, Pauling also made note of re-reading Frederick Metcalf Thomas’s Estragia para la Supervivencia, a work developed from Thomas’s thesis. Pauling had read the thesis several years earlier and had even suggested it to Albert Einstein, who followed up on Pauling’s tip and liked it so much that he subsequently wrote the preface for the text, once it was published as a book. While going through the work again at Deer Flat Ranch, Pauling underlined another quote that surely resonated with him: “The enslavement of scientists will not provide a solution for world problems.”


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The Paulings at their ranch, 1964. Photo by Arthur Herzog.

Though Pauling clearly understood the importance of leisure and relaxation, work was still never far from his mind on these visits, be it chemistry, medicine, or world affairs. By 1962, Pauling was writing the third edition of his successful textbook, College Chemistry, entirely at the ranch, typically devoting one week per month to the project while at the Old Cabin, undisturbed by the outside world.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Pauling also spent his time at the ranch thinking about a wide range of problems in chemistry. Among these were the promotion energy of hydrogen atoms; dihedral angles in H2O2 and other molecular structures; the stability of the N2 molecule; electron bonds; antiferromagnetic theory; and much, much more. The bulk of Pauling’s research notebooks from this period consist of musings on current papers in chemistry representing significant problems, and he seemed to want to deduce the solutions to all of them, sitting in his cabin with nothing but a pen, paper, slide rule, and the crashing of the nearby waves.

When the nuclear test ban treaty that Pauling had worked so hard to make a reality went into effect on October 10, 1963, Linus and Ava Helen were at the ranch with their close friends and fellow activists, Clifford and Virginia Durr. The couple had gathered at the ranch with the intent to open a bottle of champagne in celebration of the implementation of the treaty. Before they could pop the bubbly however, the Paulings’ ranch manager, Dale Haskin, arrived at the cabin saying that Linus and Ava Helen’s daughter Linda had called the ranger station trying to get ahold of them.

Upon arriving at the station and returning her call (there were still no phone lines at Deer Flat Ranch at that time), Linda revealed to her father that it had just been announced that he was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and that it would be bestowed in Oslo in two months time. Linus spent the rest of the day at the ranger station receiving calls and granting interviews, becoming so busy that he and his guests forgot to open their champagne.

The Story of Deer Flat Ranch

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A map of the California coastline pasted by Pauling into one of his research notebooks and annotated to show his property and that of his neighbors.

[Part 1 of 3]

In 1955, Linus Pauling and his wife Ava Helen headed to Berkeley, California from their home in Pasadena to attend a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation. On the drive back from this event, the couple decided to take the scenic route along Highway 1 down the California coast. Passing through the Big Sur area, Pauling noted a point of land projecting into the ocean with a cabin and barn and a herd of grazing cattle. He suggested to his wife that such a location would be ideal as a country home for rest and relaxation. Ava Helen smiled and directed his attention to a For Sale sign on the side of the road.

At the time, Pauling was working at Caltech, and his busy lifestyle had fostered a growing desire for a place to think without distraction. The Big Sur property, called Deer Flat Ranch, seemed the perfect location. A 163-acre cattle ranch spanning a half mile stretch of rugged coastline between Soda Spring Creek and Salmon Creek – about twenty miles north of San Simeon, and just north of Salmon Cone at Piedras Blancas – the property was surrounded by National Forest land.

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A pasture map of the Deer Flat Ranch property.

Captivated, the Paulings wanted to visit the ranch for a closer look, but the owner of the land— a homesteader by the name of Walter Ray Evans—was in the hospital and was not able to arrange a personal tour. However, Mrs. Evans granted the Paulings permission to return to the property for an evening, and so in 1956 the pair drove back to Salmon Creek and stayed the night, setting up camp near the barn and sharing a sleeping bag underneath the stars. This visit must have made a positive impression, because the Paulings purchased Deer Flat Ranch shortly afterward, in August 1956. Escrow documents that Pauling filed into his personal safe indicate that the couple paid a total of $29,000 for the property.


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The kitchen at the Paulings’ original Deer Flat Ranch cabin, 1958.

The ranch that the Paulings had purchased did not feature much in the way of infrastructure: just a small cabin and a weather-beaten barn for horses and equipment. Walter Ray Evans had built the cabin in 1906 out of lumber that was floated in from offshore to a beach on the property called China Camp. Six years after building the structure, Evans moved the “Old Cabin” up the hill in 1912, so that the residence would be nearer to the barn and also less susceptible to pack rats and water problems that had plagued the space at its beachside location.

Other than the barn, the Old Cabin remained the only habitable structure on the property until 1964. It was very small, consisting of just a single room, and housed a butane tank, a hot water heater, a miniature refrigerator, and a sparse assortment of well-used furniture. The nearest bathroom was located outside under a shaky lean-to. Electricity was usually available, but there was no phone service. After the Paulings purchased the property, they moved in an antique, wood-fired, cast iron stove that was forged in Oslo, Norway in 1825. This centerpiece of the humble home quickly became very popular with visitors.


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The Paulings’ registered cattle brand.

While mostly a sanctuary from an extremely busy calendar, Deer Flat Ranch also represented an entirely different lifestyle in which the Paulings could challenge themselves to excel. With the ranch came a herd of cattle, and within a year of buying the property, Pauling began pursuing an expansion and reorganization of his land in coordination with acreage held by nearby private, state, and federal owners. Pauling’s aim in doing so mostly revolved around his desire to extend the grazing area available to his animals. From the time that the ranch was purchased, Pauling paid twenty-six dollars a year for grazing rights on adjacent Santa Lucia National Forest land, and also paid a nearby landowner named Patrick Boyd for additional grazing rights on his property.

In 1958, Pauling approached the local head ranger, Alexander Campbell, about the possibility of trading forestland to the north of Deer Flat Ranch for land northwest of the Salmon Creek Ranger Station. Specifically, Pauling wanted to trade forty acres of his own property for forty-two acres of forestland, the end result being a new northern boundary – Soda Spring Creek – for the ranch. These negotiations were conducted largely through Dale Haskin, who was the ranger working directly underneath Campbell at the nearby station.

Haskin had become close with the Paulings, at one point teaching Linus and Ava Helen’s oldest son, Linus Jr., to wrangle, castrate and brand calves. By 1960, Pauling had hired Haskin as a ranch manager, a job that also involved supervising the property’s itinerant, Phil Collum. A self-described colleague of author John Steinbeck – who himself was a native of nearby Salinas, California – Collum claimed to have traveled with Steinbeck up and down the West Coast during their younger years.

When the Paulings arrived at Deer Flat Ranch, Collum was found to be living on the property. Rather than evict him, the couple chose to furnish their newfound neighbor with a tent, and also offered a campsite that was suitably far away from the Old Cabin. Enabled by this offer of space and a $120 monthly paycheck, Collum continued to live at Deer Flat Ranch for many years, subsisting largely on local abalone (which he gathered from the beach) and red wine. He earned his monthly wages by working on the ranch, caring for cattle, making repairs, and cutting wood.


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Ava Helen Pauling and her daughter Linda, sitting outside of the Old Cabin, 1956.

Although Linus and Ava Helen didn’t often work directly with the cattle, Pauling acted as a head manager of sorts for the entire operation, keeping detailed employment records as well as notes on the current stock. Soon the Paulings were sending their cattle to market in addition to keeping them on hand as a natural mechanism for mowing their grass. Each year, Linus Jr. and Ralph Haskin branded and castrated the new calves, with Collum and sometimes Pauling himself assisting with the wrangling. They then shipped the calves by truck to an auction house in Santa Rosa where, after they were purchased, area ranchers would fatten them up for market.

Pauling’s experience of the life of a cattle rancher was nothing if not dramatic. In 1959, Pauling noted that cattle rustlers were on the move in Big Sur, driving a white Ford sedan that was pulling a horse trailer into the mountains, then shooting cattle with a tranquilizer gun, dressing the meat, and packing it out. In 1961, a very arid summer ushered in soaring temperatures, and with it the grass and nearby fresh water sources dried up. That year, only three steers were sold from Deer Flat Ranch, while twenty-two were found dead, including six young calves. Other “excitement” included a 1972 brush fire at the property.

In 1976, a neighboring rancher based in King City, California began grazing his cattle illegally at Salmon Creek. When the rancher “played dumb” in response to local investigations into the issue, Pauling contacted the offender directly and ordered him to personally fund and build a fence to keep his cattle contained. The strategy worked, perhaps due to Pauling’s implied threat of a lawsuit.


The ranch also afforded other business opportunities for the Paulings. Most notably, Pauling purchased an additional five acres at Piedras Blancas – about twenty miles south of the main property – in 1957. The land was right on the beach, just off the highway, and came equipped with a small house and a gas service station. Linus and Ava Helen paid $14,000 for the parcel, which was purchased, once again, from Walter Ray Evans and his wife.

The service station was subsequently leased to Luther Williams, whom the Paulings also hired as a part-time ranch manager. Later on, the station was rented out to a Mr. Mel Valois and his wife, who sold the gas to Chevron. By early 1958, Pauling was leasing the property to the couple for two cents per gallon of gasoline sold monthly, plus $338 in rent. The Valoises left the service station in 1962, but were quickly replaced new tenants.

Between managing the cattle at the ranch and operating the filling station, the Paulings continued to employ multiple part-time ranch managers and groundskeepers, with new employees cycling in and out every few years. Anywhere between three to five workers remained on the payroll until the late 1980s: by then, Ava Helen had passed away, Linus was well into old age, and the number of Pauling-branded cattle sold at the Templeton livestock market had dropped precipitously.

Deer Flat Ranch

Outside the old cabin at Deer Flat Ranch, 1962.  Photo by Arthur Dubinsky.

Outside the old cabin at Deer Flat Ranch, 1962. Photo by Arthur Dubinsky.

[An excerpt from Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary, by Dr. Mina Carson – now available from the Oregon State University Press.]

After Linus won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1954, the Paulings could afford to realize a dream. They staked out a place along the rugged central California coast where they could get away from the constant demands of colleagues, children, and friends. In the 1950s Big Sur was a wild, grassy, weather-beaten area of ranches, ranger stations, and primitive living conditions, not unlike the coast of Scotland in some patches. Artists and writers had been drawn to its isolated beauty for decades. The Paulings seem to have chosen the site for its remoteness and natural beauty. Linus recalled that by 1950 they had been thinking about “a place in the country” where they could escape the clamor of their everyday lives. Five years later, on a trip up the northern California coast, they decided on a whim to drop over to Route 1, a narrow, winding coastal road of breathtaking landscapes. Linus’s attention wandered to a piece of land —”a point of land projecting into the ocean, with a cabin and barn, and with cows grazing on the grass there.” In hindsight, it was one of the magical affirmations of their good fortune as a couple. “I said to your mother ‘There’s the sort of place that we ought to have,’ and she replied ‘Yes, and there is a sign saying that it is for sale.'”

Some days later, having tracked down the owner’s whereabouts and gotten a key to the gate, the Paulings wandered the property. They took a sleeping bag and made camp on one of the cliffs. The 160-acre property was called Salmon Creek, after the adjoining creek and national forest area; the Paulings renamed it Deer Flat Ranch. The next year they bought another five-acre parcel at Piedros Blancos, complete with a Chevron station and store, which they rented out for some years, fixing the monthly rent at the amount of gas sold at the station times 2 cents per gallon. Their property was scattered over a long stretch of Highway 1, with the station twelve miles north of the ranch. The gate to the ranch, which they kept locked when they weren’t there, was about a quarter mile from the Salmon Creek ranger station.

The Paulings started visiting and developing the ranch right away, though Big Sur was a three-hundred-mile drive from Pasadena. Ava Helen loved gardening and always maintained a flower and vegetable garden at home, but a ranch was a new enterprise for the couple. They dove into the project. By January 1957 they had arranged to graze cattle on the land and had begun the licensing procedures for that enterprise. The numbers were small: in 1960 Linus wrote to Peter that they now had thirteen head on the land. The windy oceanside perspective offered a chance to hike and observe wildlife. In 1958 Linus wrote to a biologist about the sea otters he and Ava Helen had spotted along the Big Sur coast.

Letter from Linus Pauling to Karl Kenyon, May 19, 1958.

Letter from Linus Pauling to Karl Kenyon, May 19, 1958.

When the Paulings weren’t there, the ranch and cattle were overseen by a series of caretakers and caretaking arrangements, with varying satisfaction on both sides. The first was their Pasadena handyman, who mysteriously disappeared back east to his home state of Tennessee within a few months. Caretaking the caretakers generally fell to Ava Helen, who managed the long-distance relations with a combination of intimacy and matter-of-fact command that sometimes ruffled the employees’ feathers. Writing a check to the Paulings for the monthly phone bill, probably for the cabin, to settle up accounts, caretaker Michael Hall commented, “I think your charge of $4.00 for cleaning the cattle truck bed is one of your lower grade things I’ve seen you do.” In the mid-1960s the Paulings had a caretaker with a drinking problem whose friends regularly plied him with liquor and pilfered his money on payday. “Things were getting so bad that we had told him we would absolutely not allow him to stay on the property if he continued to have these people come. He says that he does not even know their names, but we are not quite sure about this.” Wishing to protect her employee, she nonetheless lost patience with his willingness to put up with his “low life,” “derelict” acquaintances.

The Paulings initially used the original cabin on the property; it was simple, with a large central room and a rear bedroom, as well as an indoor bathroom. There was running water to the main room and the bathroom, and a refrigerator. There were two single beds in the big room, and a collapsible double bed that could be maneuvered into the small rear bedroom. Larger groups could pitch tents outside the house. By the late 1950s, spending a few days each month at Deer Flat Ranch, they already viewed the ranch as a healing escape, a breathing space from their increasingly busy lives. Linus remembered his wife saying, “Do you know, we have been here for one week, you and I, without seeing a single other person. This is the first time in our 40-odd years of marriage that this has happened.” Ava Helen wrote to an associate in 1960, relative to the breathless pace of their lives in peace work, “We get a great deal of pleasure from our ranch and have now stocked it with wonderful animals so that we feel not only a very close connection with the world and its people, but with the earth itself. This is a good feeling and does a great deal to restore us both spiritually and physically.” Continuing a wistful theme of those busy years, she wrote: “We hope that we shall be able soon to spend much more of our time there.”

The Paulings at their ranch, 1964.  Photo by Arthur Herzog.

The Paulings at their ranch, 1964. Photo by Arthur Herzog.

The ranch proved an anchor in their lives together, but they did not use it solely as a retreat. Over the years friends and family visited, and from early on, trusted friends were invited to borrow the ranch when the Paulings weren’t in residence. During the summer of 1957, when Ava Helen and Linus were traveling in Europe, they loaned the house to several of Linus’s colleagues. The service station manager — Luther Williams, initially— agreed to hold the keys to the ranch house and tool shed for visitors.

When they could stay for longer periods, they made improvements on the original cabin. In 1960 Linus became engrossed with building bookshelves from birch boards and brass rods in both the bedroom and the main room. He stocked them with that intellectuals’ favorite, the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, though the scientist in him was understandably bothered by the archaic factoids (Los Angeles with a population of six thousand, for example).

But a few years later the Paulings had outgrown the old cabin and had enough money to dream larger. In 1965 they built a new house at Deer Flat Ranch and gave the cabin over to the caretaker. In 1970 part of the ranch burned in a grass fire that swept through Salmon Creek. Undiscouraged, but feeling besieged by family, the Paulings decided to build a bunkhouse on their property, “so children and grandchildren can come there without interfering too much with us,” Ava Helen wrote frankly to a friend in New York. The bunkhouse also made it possible for the Paulings to host even more friends.


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At the end of January 1960, Ava Helen experienced one of the most frightening episodes of her life. She and Linus drove up toward Big Sur on Wednesday, January 27, via Asilomar, where Linus attended a spectroscopy conference. They arrived at the ranch on Friday, probably anticipating much-needed rest from their world tour that fall. On Saturday morning, Linus left on a walk, telling Ava Helen that he would be checking the fence lines, possibly to prepare for an exploratory discussion about exchanging some of their land for land in Los Padres National Forest. When he wasn’t back by noon she began to worry; by early evening she was frightened. She left him a note saying that she didn’t know where he was and had gone to the ranger’s station for help. The ranger quickly organized a search, but halted it at 11:30 p.m. and then sent out a much larger crew in the morning. Ava Helen’s diary entry for Saturday, January 30, read tersely: “Paddy lost.”

Ava Helen's note to her husband, January 30, 1960.

Ava Helen’s note to her husband, January 30, 1960.

Linus had gotten stuck on a cliff during his walk the previous day. Rightly alarmed when he realized he could move neither forward nor back without risking a rock slide that would propel him far down onto the rocks by the sea, he sat down, sat still, and thought —about Ava Helen, about chemical bonds, about the periodic table — about anything that might keep him awake through the long night. Though his actions to stay safe were quite rational — digging a depression to stay immobilized on the ledge, moving his arms and legs, staying awake, and keeping warm — his retrospective account suggests that he was paralyzed by fear. “It seems to have been beyond my decision; I had got frightened enough so that I was unable to leave the ledge.” In the morning a crowd of searchers, and a crowd of reporters, gathered at Big Sur to continue the search. A reporter precipitously called in a story that Pauling was dead. That was the news Linda and Crellin heard.

Just before 10 a.m. Pauling spotted a lone searcher on the beach, and called out to him. The searcher in turn summoned the deputy sheriff, making his way along the cliff above the ledge. The sheriff actually joined Pauling on the ledge; one could get down to it or up to it, but not, Pauling had believed, down from it. While the searcher ran to tell Ava Helen that Linus was all right, the sheriff eased them both down from the treacherous ledge.

After Linus was found and shepherded back to the cabin on Sunday morning, Ava Helen dispatched telegrams to family to let them know that he had been saved. Then they stayed at the cabin to try to recover from the ordeal. “I found that Mama was very much upset by her long wait,” Linus later wrote to the children, “and the uncertainty as to what had happened to me.” That was putting it mildly. But Linus had little reserve to offer Ava Helen; he himself, without yet knowing it, was in shock. Ultimately he would have to retreat from his university appointments the next week and take to his bed. News of the crisis had gone out over the wires and appeared in newspapers around the world. Perhaps for his children, perhaps for his parents, perhaps to allay his own shock, Crellin had already written a detailed account of his own perspective on his father’s accident, including having been told that Linus was dead. Pauling made amends as best he could to his wife and his family. “I am very sorry that I caused you and Mama so much anguish and concern,” he closed his long account to his children of the horrific night at Big Sur.

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Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary is available for purchase from the Oregon State University Press.

A Visit to Deer Flat Ranch

In the “Further Evidence that Youtube is Awesome” category, we have this home video uploaded by Youtube user carminesmith.  The video primarily consists of footage shot in 1987 of a family visit to Linus Pauling’s ranch on the Pacific coast near Big Sur, California, and it lends the viewer a terrific sense of the remarkable beauty of the property.  While the visit was hosted by Pauling’s grandson Sasha Kamb, the film does include a few shots of a relaxed Pauling welcoming his guests and even recreating with them.  Indeed, this is likely the only video ever shot of Linus Pauling peering out to sea while drinking a beer.

For several decades, Deer Flat Ranch was an important refuge for the Paulings, who increasingly needed to get away from the hectic travel schedules and near constant demands on time that generally defined their lives.  Purchased in 1956, the original dwelling on the Big Sur property had no electricity or telephone.  The second home, built with the cash award that Pauling received from the Nobel Peace Prize and completed in 1966, was larger and more comfortable.  Over time the space truly became a sanctuary for the Paulings, perhaps even moreso for Linus after Ava Helen died.  Today, we are lucky to have this document of a location that was crucial to understanding the Paulings’ story.

A Book Lost to History

The kitchen at the Paulings’ original Deer Flat Ranch cabin, 1958.

During the Second World War, when the children were growing up, I think three of the children were still at home or – I don’t know, perhaps the youngest one was still at home – [Ava Helen Pauling] worked for a couple of years as a chemist on a war job making rubber out of plants that would grow in the Mojave.

She was interested in chemistry and knew a lot of chemistry but it was more an intellectual interest.  She was planning to write a cookbook on the science of cooking, because she knew what happened when things were cooked.  She knew what baking powder is and why you use it.  She used to make her own baking powder, instead of just buying baking powder.  Well, she never got that done.  She was a very good cook, but she never wrote the book on the science of cooking.

… It probably wouldn’t have had much of a sale, because the contents might well have been above the heads of most cooks.

-Linus Pauling, 1990.

Linus and Ava Helen in their kitchen at the new Deer Flat Ranch home, 1977.