Archive for June, 2008

Small Town Parade


This week, I rediscovered one of the reasons I love living here in rural Mendocino County.  I was in the small town of Boonville, in the heart of the Anderson Valley for the day, a short forty-five minute drive from the coast.  Boonville is an interesting blend of wine country meets the 1970’s.  Many of the residents of the valley came to Mendocino County in the late sixties and early seventies, looking to get back to the land.  The Post Office is one of the town’s central meeting places, where you are apt to run into just about anyone you know.  The local Redwood Drive-In is surrounded at noon with a mixture of ranch trucks, old Volvo’s, and the characteristic white Ford F250’s of the Mendocino Redwoods Company foresters.  Though the residents’ varying political persuasions are often loudly announced via the myriad of bumper stickers adorning their vehicles, neighbors sit and enjoy a meal together.

My reason for being in the valley this warm and sunny Thursday was to attend a public hearing at the County Fairgrounds.  The Planning Commission would be discussing the very controversial General Plan Update, a process that asks the various communities to project their vision of what Mendocino County will look like for the next twenty years.  One speaker at the hearing described the scene as "…a wedding between the Capulets and the Montagues," with those seated on each side of the wide aisle casting suspicious glances at each other.  The most vocal were debating the concept of "Napafication;" attempting to prevent the pristine valley, home to numerous small family farms, wineries and vineyards, from turning into a variation on Disneyland.  Remarks were pointed, and tempers often barely held in check. 

About 5:00 pm, the discordant notes of a bagpipe echoed through the open front door of the hall, and everyone’s heads turned to face the street.  The chair immediately called a recess in the proceedings, and everyone trooped out the door to join the crowds gathering on each side of the highway serving as the town’s main street.  A local boy, severely injured in the Iraq war was returning home for the first time, and the community had scheduled a parade in his honor.  A colorful band, made up of high schoolers, middle schoolers and a couple of adults assembled on the lawn in front of the hall.  Swarms of motorcycles lined the far side of the road, their engines rumbling, awaiting the arrival of the local hero.  The young man’s arrival was heralded by the siren of the local California Highway Patrol officer, leading the parade with lights flashing and sirens blaring.  A local representative of the American Legion quickly passed out American flags, some, ironically, marked "Made in China."  With a forest of flags waving in anticipation, the parade approached.  A dozen shiny fire engines joined the throng, with the volunteer firefighters walking alongside in their clean blue uniforms.  The band broke into a series of Sousa marches.  Eyes shifted to the sky, as the local rescue helicopter made swooping passes over the crowd like a joyful bird.

From where I stood, I could not see the hero himself, but what I did observe was the pride and love on the faces of everyone there.  Patriotism is a tough sell in Mendocino County during this critical election year.  However, none of this was in evidence today, and neighbor stood by neighbor, friend or foe, and honored this young man and his dedication to preserving the very freedoms that we were enjoying that day.  Without the service of these special young people, past, present and future, hearings like this one would not happen.  We often take for granted our right to participate in the political process here in America, and the freedom of speech and ideas that we all enjoy.  I could not help but consider all of the young men and women that would not be returning home from yet another distant war.

The band struck up another wheezy march as the parade resumed.  Speeches were finished, the fire trucks passed, and the crowd began to disperse.  We filtered back into the hall slowly, many remaining on the street, engrossed in conversations with neighbors that were apparently far more important than debating the idea of tasting rooms.  When the hearing resumed, much of the tension had gone out of the room.  Sharing this moment of pride and community appeared to have softened the strident resolve of the so-called opponents.  The meeting ended with a pledge from all sides to convene again and find the common ground, solving the challenges of the community as a community, rather than as individuals.  I am heartened by how, after over two-hundred years, this cumbersome system of American democracy still works.  However, it is not the system itself, but the people who give it life and breath.  I truly appreciated how important it is to stand together, as the strength of the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.  This sense of community is one of the biggest reasons I left the city to return here.  Mendocino County is a place where a neighbor is still a neighbor, and our very diversity is what makes us strong.

Post by Julia Conway on June 7th, 2008

Mending Fences


Mending fences is a wonderful metaphor for relationship building, but I have come to find that it is also a necessary practicality for the serious gardener and locavore.  My beloved youngest dog has an appetite not only for some of the vegetables that I grow, but also for the drip irrigation.  He is prone to grab a drip line in his teeth and pull it off of the main feed.  I see him pass my window at a dead run with it still in his teeth, flying out behind him like the tail on a kite.  Eventually I find the remains of the emitter, a small, shapeless lump of green plastic reminiscent of old chewing gum.  If my canine children and my idea to have a vegetable garden that feeds us are to coexist, firm boundaries are a necessity.

In the past few weeks I have surrounded the three large raised beds with a four-foot-high wire and picket fence, the kind that comes in large rolls at the farm supply.  It stands tall enough to discourage the canine interlopers, but still low and light enough so that the garden does not resemble an exercise yard at the local minimum security prison.  My young olive trees drape gracefully over it as if it were a trellis.  However, if I am to get in and out of the garden with the wheelbarrow and necessary supplies, I will need sturdy gates at each end.  I studied the various types of fences and gates that my neighbors have constructed as I drive to and from town each week, and decided upon a basic design.  A picture cut out of a borrowed gardening magazine inspired the idea of a twig fence.  We understood the impracticality of constructing the entire fence in this manner, but surely it could not be that difficult to build gates with a facing of twigs and sticks collected from the dead fall of redwood and other branches surrounding our property?
Over the past week, I had collected a variety of long sticks, most less than a couple of inches around.  This Sunday,  I assembled the materials and began the project.  The actual construction of the gates themselves had been performed the week before, so the first order of business was to cut thin redwood boards and mount them horizontally across the top and bottom of the gate structure.  After completing this simple task with no difficulty, I began to cut or break the stick and twigs into the proper lengths.  Almost as if I were assembling a puzzle, I laid the various pieces across the boards, and, after rearranging the patterns several times, began to attach the sticks to the frame.  The actual complexity of the job revealed itself in all of its humbling glory, as I noticed the relationship between the length of the nails and the thickness of the sticks.  The trick was to use a nail large and long enough to secure the stick without causing the stick to split, rendering it useless.  Two long hours later, my knees were stiff and bruised from the concrete floor of the garage, and I was surrounded by a minefield of bent and broken nails, not to mention the broken remains of many of the sticks.  Of course, the most beautiful moss covered sticks I selected were, in fact, oak, and almost impossible to pierce without bending the narrow nails required to tack their gnarly bodies to the gate.  Belatedly remembering that oak is, (aha!) a hardwood, I was little comforted by the knowledge.  When I finally stood the finished gates up against the wall, I was delighted to see that they were beautiful as well as functional.  I was all the more pleased because I had somehow produced these pieces of art with my own hands, scraped and bruised as they were.
We mounted the gates on their hinges, and now they serve as guardians to the summer vegetable garden to come.  As if to christen them, the puppy ceremoniously peed on the corner post; demonstrating, I suppose, his displeasure at being banned from access to his favorite play space.  Somehow in county living and farming, we have all found a way to coexist peacefully and productively.  My grandmother always used to say that good fences make good neighbors, and I suppose she was right.  Building and mending fences can be difficult at best, and painful and frustrating at its worst.  However, it allows each of us to secure a small space of our own to nurture and grow those things that give us nourishment and pleasure.
Post by Julia Conway on June 2nd, 2008