Back in Santa Cruz remembering Rob Menzies

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 6/13/16

 The 16th century Castle Menzies in England looked like it was right out of a fairy tale with its beautiful stone walls, leaded windows and pointed turrets

The 16th century Castle Menzies in England looked like it was right out of a fairy tale with its beautiful stone walls, leaded windows and pointed turrets

As my plane descended over the California coast into San Jose on Easter Sunday, the hills were emerald green. When I had left a year ago to begin my trip around the world, the hills were dusty and brown.

Now, driving over Highway 17 in my rental car back home to Santa Cruz, I was thrilled to see Lexington Reservoir apparently full, another welcome sight, since it was bone dry a year ago.

After a year on the road, I was excited about re-connecting with friends. I’d been staying in touch through my travel blog and email, but it’s just not enough!

Friend and colleague Rob Menzies had been an active fan of my blog. I had worked with Rob at the San Lorenzo Valley Water District for eight years before I retired. He was the GIS guru there and I was the watershed manager. A gifted cartographer, Rob made beautiful maps of the San Lorenzo River Watershed and he often used his GIS expertise to show the importance of protecting our region’s forests and streams.

Last August, while I was on my trip, I was driving in the Scottish Highlands, heading for the town of Aberfeldy on a quest to photograph the oldest yew tree in Britain. But then I got side-tracked in Weem when I saw the sign for “Castle Menzies.” I wondered if it could be connected in some way with Rob, so I pulled in to check it out.

The 16th century Castle Menzies looked like it was right out of a fairy tale with its beautiful stone walls, leaded windows and pointed turrets. I took lots of photos and then went inside where I viewed exhibits about the historic Menzies Clan and some of its illustrious members.

One of them, Archibald Menzies (1754-1842) was a ship’s captain, a surgeon, and a famous botanist who had discovered and described madrone (arbutus menziesii) and Douglas fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii) in North America while sailing on the HMS Discovery on a mission to document plants throughout the world.

When I emailed Rob with photos of Castle Menzies and information about his famous ancestor, he replied, “Yes, the Menzies Castle in Weem is indeed our family castle!” He said that his father’s sister traveled to the castle 10 years in a row to work on its restoration and that his parents had spent some 30 years researching the family’s genealogy.

 Rob Menzies, who recently passed away, worked at the San Lorenzo Valley Water District for years. Castle Menzies in the Scottish Highlands was indeed in his family's lineage.

Rob Menzies, who recently passed away, worked at the San Lorenzo Valley Water District for years. Castle Menzies in the Scottish Highlands was indeed in his family's lineage.

He said, “I know that the madrone’s Latin name is arbutus menziesii, but didn’t know about Archibald.”

Rob, who lived in the mountains around Boulder Creek, loved madrone trees. He was also a big fan of Joni Mitchell. He pointed me to one of her songs, “For the Roses.”

“I heard it in the wind last night

It sounded like applause ...

It was just the arbutus rustling

And the bumping of the logs

And the moon swept down black water

Like an empty spotlight”

— Joni Mitchell

Rob asked me to send all my photos of Castle Menzies, which I did. I was thrilled to have stumbled upon this place that turned out to be such a meaningful part of Rob’s family history. This is indeed one of the joys of travel — who knows what you’ll find?

It would be great fun to see Rob and talk more about madrones and castles.

But I was never to see my friend again. The day after I returned to Santa Cruz I learned that Rob was in intensive care after a short illness. Just days later, he passed away. I’m deeply saddened. My utmost sympathies to his loved ones. He will be greatly missed.

Betsy Herbert recently returned from a year-long trip around the world. She currently serves on the board of directors of the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council. You can read her travel blog and news articles at www.betsyherbert.com.