Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve! (or Once in a Blue Moon...)

Hey all,

This is Jay here. I know that Janet writes on this thing for the most part but I figured that I would take a turn informing y'all as to the progress of our meanderings.

Today we left the Chestnut Ridge after a month of chilling out and being farmers (more chilling than farming to be sure). It was a fond farewell as the time we had spent on that hill top was the shit. Tom fed us like crazy and treated us like family. I got to play with chainsaws and built a log table among the many more mundane, but still fun tasks of everyday property maintenance.

Christmas was rad as hell too. The sun was shining and the temperature hovered around fifteen degrees for most of the afternoon. We spent some time suntanning in the far orchard, reading and drinking beer. I bought Janet a giant chocolate bar, our only contribution to the consumerist shit show that is the holiday season.

Driving down from Tom's was a bit ridiculous. Nobody in this country uses turn signals. I figure Americans must a sixth sense that picks up the random movement of traffic on the nations freeways. I wish I had this skill as we were cut off at a rate of twice a mile over the last half hour before crossing the Golden Gate bridge. Elwood managed to emerge from the trial unscathed and we even caught a glimpse of Alcatraz as we descended into the city.

Now we are sitting in our friend Jess' living room in San Fransisco waiting for party time to arrive. It seems as though we will be going to a house party featuring a bouncing castle as well as free tacos and Pabst. I don't know how this event could get any better.

Take care my friends,


Sunday, December 27, 2009


Roses are innocent, seductive and dangerous at once;
a beautiful girl with a handgun in her purse.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Boonville Christmas

For Christmas I got a giant Hershey bar and a sunny day! We also got the chance to celebrate with some of the locals, great people who've been very hospitable. This last Sunday we were invited to a Christmas gathering where we played games, shot a toy bow & arrow at a pumpkin in the dark, drank beer and ate christmas-y snacks.
And on the eve before Christmas Eve we drove up to the coast to Caspar for a taco party and a "Country Christmas" at the Caspar Inn. Thank you to the lovely folks of the Anderson Valley for showing us a great time!

Janet (& Jay)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Solstice Reflections

It's that "festive" time of year again. As we approach Christmas, even though I don't celebrate in a typical fashion, I am reminded to think of what I am grateful for.

I am grateful that I am able to choose to not buy gifts or spend any money on a holiday that overemphasizes the accumulation of unnecessary material things ;)

I am grateful that we as a species still have a chance (however small) to repair the centuries of damage we have done to the Earth.

I am grateful for family, mine, yours, and everyone's. Family is our first community. It is our lifeline, our guidebook for life. It is where we come from and where we go back to. It is where we learn to feed ourselves, to work hard, to support our loved ones and to grow together.

I am grateful that I have been lucky enough to be born in North America and that, though I am a woman and would be made to feel a lesser individual in the greater part of the world, where I live I am equal.

I am grateful to be allowed to pursue my dreams.

I am grateful to be pursuing a dream right at this very moment! Not only a vacation but a valuable experience, an opportunity for learning and maybe even a farewell to the American road-trip as we know it.

And so many simple things besides these.

Last Sunday, as we sat amongst strangers and new friends at a community potluck, I remarked to Jay that it was like "church without the god". I do believe that one can be reverent without being religious. There is something bigger than us, a greater power, a knowledge beyond our knowing and we live on it. Earth.

Much love,

Friday, December 18, 2009

What's brown and red and rhymes with cute?

For the last few days we've been pruning chestnut trees on a hill overlooking the valley. It's very misty in the mornings and the sun eventually burns it off but the grass stays moist for most of these shortening days.
Look what we found!

Red-bellied newts! So many of them and I want to hug them all.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Chestnut Roasting

I'd never done it before but yesterday I helped Tom roast and peel about four pounds of chestnuts for the Anderson Valley Grange Annual Holiday Potluck. I felt ignorant for being here, on a chestnut farm, and having never tasted the things even though the trees stand on nearly every block of Vancouver proper. They are so delicious! Especially when seasoned with olive oil and sea salt. I know next year at chestnut time in Vancouver I'll be running around collecting them and I'll know just what to do.

When we told Tom that there are chestnut trees all over Vancouver he asked if there was an early Italian settlement, which there was especially in our neighbourhood Commecial Drive. That would explain the chestnuts and that they are most likely European Chestnuts as opposed to American or some other variety. Tom however grows Colossal Chestnuts for their size and flavour.

So, we roasted the chestnuts and took them on down to the potluck which was a lovely celebration including all sorts, young and old and really showcased the vibrant community of Anderson Valley. Nearly all the food was locally grown including wild pork(!), organic turkey, delicious chevre, a multitude of tasty winter veggies and even bread made with locally grown wheat!

We met another wwoofer from down the road and many other interesting locals. We sang carols! We mingled! It was a lot of fun and made me long for the day that we'll be a part of such a group of likeminded people.

When we got back to the ridge, we were greeted by the bright, clear night sky and the stars so thick. Lucky for us the rain clouds from the day before had cleared in time to watch the Gemenid meteor shower. It was awesome in the true sense of the word and made up for missing the Leonids in November.

My lucky stars...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Chestnut Ridge Ranch is, as you can likely discern, a small scale commercial chestnut operation. Tom and his wife Pam also grow a huge selection of other vegetables and fruits including: apples, pears, plums, cherries, pluots, nectarines, peaches, table and wine grapes, tomatoes, broccoli, chard, kale, and the list goes on... but one of my new favourites is the persimmon.

There are two kinds and one tree of each, fuyu and hachiya. I am somewhat familiar with persimmons but when they are shipped thousands of miles they lose a lot of their magic.

Hachiya persimmons are pointed on the bottom and reach optimal flavour when they are very soft and a dark orangey-red colour. They are extremely sweet and have a slimy (almost mucousy) texture. If you eat them before they are completely ripe they leave a weird film in your mouth. Sufficed to say, these are not my preferred type of persimmon.

My personal favourite is the fuyu. Squat and almost pumpkin shaped, these little guys are ripe when they turn colour, similar to the hachiya but stay very firm and crispy. I can't wait to make salsa with them!

-Janet (and Jay's lovely photos)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

here we are

there is a valley, I know
but I sit atop a fortunate peak
and in the morning, I look below
mist like a lake, fills in the folds

with all the seeking and all the travel
with all the depths and heights to reach
wherever you go, there you are
and a home is just that, a home

where you eat and where you sleep
where your heart returns to rest
where the next journey begins
and where ever the last may end.

The First Week

We've somewhat settled in the "woofer's quarters" as Tom calls it. A huge open room sectioned off by book shelves. We sleep on a waterbed(!) and have our own living room area including a fireplace. It does get cold at night. And today has been particularly frosty.

We eat so well, it doesn't feel like it's unpaid work. Vegetable curry last night, pot roast the night before. All kinds of snacks. A well stocked beer fridge, liquor cabinet and wine shelf. Hot, strong coffee in the morning and whatever we want for breakfast. Then leftovers for lunch.

It's been a week of mostly pruning for me. Rose bushes, pear trees, almond trees, a pomegranate bush and wine grapes. Jay's been doing different stuff. Chopping firewood, landscaping, hauling rocks and pruning with me. Four hours or so a day and then we are free to do whatever. I've been reading a lot. Two books currently: In Defense of Food by Micheal Pollan and Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. Jay read an Agatha Christie book in a day. I've also been experimenting with knitting (I keep pulling the stitches off to start over) and teaching myself to crochet. It's not as easy as I'd hoped... I've been trying to play guitar a little bit everyday to build up some calouses. I surprised myself by remembering most of what I'd learned before we left. I also want to do some still life watercolour painting. There is a lot of gorgeous landscape all around.

Oh, Nicky's barking. (The sweethearted, dumb-as-all-hell Golden Retriever.) That must mean Jay's back from his bike ride. Or she overheard the highway.

All in all, I feel incredibly lucky. Tom is a gracious and totally cool host with tonnes of stories to tell and really up to date ideas about the world. We listen to Democracy Now every morning and watch John Stewart at night. The work is easy and there are new things to learn everyday. More or less. Even though this wonderful place is more of a retirement scheme than a functioning farm there are still opportunities everywhere. To learn from a unique community. To see and experience life off-the-grid (almost totally). To relax and hang out with a cool, old dude.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

First Impressions of Chestnut Ridge Ranch

As we approached a small town called Philo we pulled over along the 128 because I had a feeling that the road we would have to take would be approaching soon. I must've seen it on Google maps months ago because we never received directions. I pulled out the wwoof book and the address said 7700 Peachland Road. So we drove along and a few miles up, there on the left was Peachland Road. It was paved for the first half a mile and then broke into dirt and gravel. This is a real road!

The road crawled up along the sides of hills and seemed to be kept in place by the roots of the trees growing horizontally outwards. Signs warning trespassers were nailed to trees and hugged by the bark that grew around them. Elwood chugged along in second gear, climbing, climbing climbing and then descending and climbing again. We stopped at the first dwelling we saw and asked a girl (who was probably a wwoofer herself) if it was Chestnut Ridge. She said no, so on we went. We followed the road for more winding miles until we reached three locked gates. On one hung a sign that read "Cats Ear, Emerald Earth, Chestnut Ridge Ranch". So Jay parked Elwood out of traffic and we continued on foot until we saw some buildings. A large, unfinished house, a number of sod roofed huts and a weird spherical structure. Jay hollered, "Hello?" and a woman came out of the sphere. After a short explanation she directed us to take the middle fork in a road still down the way.

We must've walked a mile or two more up the side of the mountain, passing houses and farms here and there. Finally we reached a large automated gate. Then we saw the chestnut trees and the oaks, then the rose bushes and the moon rising in a purple and pink sky over a big beautiful house we would later learn was originally meant to be a barn.

I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this place. Here we were on top of a mountain and everything around me so unfamiliar and near-exotic. Trees I don't recognize and a redness to the terrain. I had butterflies of excitement in my stomach.

We got up to the house and were greeted by the "fierce" barking of a Golden Retriever which quickly descended into sniffles and waggling, of course. Then came Julie, the current wwoofer, a sweet girl from Chicago and at the top of the stairs was Tom.

We had snuck up on them. He thought he had given us directions and the padlock combination for the gate. They were expecting the crunch of gravel under tires but we had come almost to the front door without being noticed. We were welcomed into the kitchen and given snacks and conversation. And such a beautiful kitchen, warm with a fire and full of functional knick-knackery.

So we're here. More updates soon on the work and everything else. So far we've just been pruning rose bushes, of which there are many. Tom's had to trip into town the last few days for deliveries and to take Julie to the Greyhound so we've been without guidance for the most part. With this lack of direction we have been fine. In this place it matters very little as time has slowed and there are books and fires and even a small bass pond from which Jay caught our lunch today. All is well with the world from our beautiful vantage point.

-Janet (& Jay)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Current location: Fort Bragg, California

Well, I'll start where we left off. Our last day in Portland was great. It stopped raining and we were finally able to use our bikes. We biked along the river and took pictures. It was so good to get some exercise after being cooped up inside for days. It was also our last chance to go to a restaurant in Portland, so we went to a little pho place called the Green Papaya because I had a craving for soup. It was great!
To pass the dark hours that night we went to a cheap movie house and saw Zombieland because 500 Days of Summer was sold out. Man, Portland sure knows how to have fun. $3 movies in vintage theatres that also sell cheap pitchers of beer, pizza and nachos. I'm starting to understand why Vancouver is called No Fun City, especially in comparison to the way that Portland specifically caters to our age demographic. So many tattoo shops, amazing coffee, great music, and cheap tasty eats.

The next day we headed to Cannon Beach, which was beautiful and totally worth the slight northward backtrack. It was my first time seeing the open ocean, not the Georgia Straight, not Puget sound, not the Gulf of Mexico but the Pacific; rolling in on itself and carving the coast into mad spires. It's breathtaking.

We camped that night at Cape Lookout. It was right on the coast as well and we watched the sunset and were actually able to finally have a campfire (forgot to get marshmellows).

The next two days kinda blend together in my memory. Lots of driving and crazy curving roads. The dunes of Oregon. We drove into California mid-day yesterday and took a detour down the Avenue of the Giants. Redwoods in all their majesty. I took lots of videos, you can see them on my flickr.

Okay, well gotta get back on the road. We're going to the farm now! Boonville is around the corner.


Friday, November 27, 2009

away with you

half moon breaking
breathing in blues
the empty wildness
is still.
grey hues of fog,
the mist off the mountain
together alone, in the cold
watching breaths in puffs
watching pee steam
in flashlight stream.
I wanted to be away
and I am away with you,
away with you
away with you.

stillness, silliness
coffee and soup


City of Roses

We spent most of yesterday cooped up inside a cafe due to the ceaseless rain. At least we found a nice little anarchist spot with free wireless and an "anti-Thanksgiving" Star Wars marathon. In hindsight, we should have sought a free turkey dinner a little harder but the late night dumpster run yielded a few holiday treats. Brussel sprouts! I love them.

Portland is a beautiful city with a unique spirit. So many locally owned shops and cafes, grassroots organizations and feelings of true community. Although this did work against us last night when we parked on a dark street to sleep and were greeted by a bearded man with a flashlight telling us to leave on account of the neighbourhood watch. We moved over a few blocks where some frat types were partying loudly and no one bothered us.

I think I am finally hitting my stride in terms of living in the van. My clean freak tendencies have to be suppressed a little but I still feel like it's really important to be observant and conscientious in such a small space. Watch what you put where and especially when all surfaces double as food prep areas.

Today we are after a public pool for showering. Hopefully we are not thwarted by the holiday... And because of the sunshine, we will ride bikes finally.

Next, Cannon Beach and the open sea. Dreamy...


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Entering Oregon

We tried to go to Mount Saint Helens and got pretty close but it was too cloudy to see it. Oh well, we did find some beautiful views on back roads.
We are now in Portland where we plan to spend a few days walking and biking around looking for cool stuff / cheap foods. We made chili last night in the van with 69c beans we got a dollar store outside of Olympia. I don't want to eat it again tonight but have no choice. :( So far we've had good luck finding free food. Jay got a tip that Trader Joe's dumpsters are good and they are! He found cake(!), Joe's Os cereal, waffles, and organic olive oil in Olympia.

After Portland we're going to go to Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast because we've been told it's totally beautiful and worth it. I've also never seen the open ocean before, so it should be pretty breath-taking. And then on to California down the 101. We plan to be at the first farm on December 1st.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Hearts of the NorthWest

On Saturday night we connected with our friend Liz. She was going to see a band called Mt. Eerie at this tiny gallery, Cairo. They were hosting a three night "Expo" of Seattle & area bands and also had a community installation going on. The installation was a 8'x 10' map of Seattle's incestuous music community past and present. Attendees were welcomed to add connections and bands to the map. We stood and examined it for a while and I was pretty determined to add something to it. I finally came up with "Dillenger Escape Plan" to link to Mike Patton whom was linked to Faith No More and I forget the connections after that...

I don't really know anything about music, I'm just a really good listener. Everything I know about music and musicians I learned from friends, I've never sought that information myself. Occasionally though, a good one gets through and I end up seeing a band I really like for only $3! (Jay is really good at politely talking people into giving us things for cheap.) Well, the full band wasn't there, it was just the singer/songwriter, Phil. But it was great. His music was so emotive and conjured intense nature imagery in the lyrics and textures of sound. Songs that could have easily been cheesey (well, that's going too far...) if played on an acoustic guitar were made atmospheric and stormy with the use of amplifiers and feedback. You could almost feel the whale in the room, the harpoon in your heart.

Adding to an already lovely night, Liz gave us the key to her place along with directions. We got on the I-5 and managed not to die getting there, it was raining so hard.

This morning we woke up to a view of Puget Sound and the warmth of the gas fireplace. Jay made breakfast and finally mastered making coffee in our second-hand percolator. We walked down to the seaside, past a marina and admired all the boats, big and small. I like the tradition of naming a vessel, I think it's important to the journey. That's why I painted Elwood's name on his hood; invoking a tenacious persona.

Tomorrow we plan on heading to Olympia for a day and after that some camping at the foot of Mt. Saint Helens. Then on to Portland, hoping for good weather on Friday the 27th so we can ride in their Critical Mass.

-Janet, written on November 22nd

November 22nd

Today is the fourth day of our adventure. It's already shaping up to be awesome, as I knew it would be. Flying by the seat of ones pants is the best way to travel. So far we've slept in a church parking lot, a random fancy ass neighborhood, and for the last couple nights we've been put up in a super chill studio suite that belongs to a friend of Janet's.

After sleeping and living in the van for a couple nights, and on friends floors for the two weeks previous it's a welcome change. Janet and I have been finally able to spend some real time together. The apartment we're in overlooks Puget sound so the ocean is the first thing we see upon awaking. There's also a gas stove that provides ceaseless and lovely heat. The van is rad, but the steady rain of the pacific northwest winter can dampen even the hardiest of spirits.

The greatest challenge to van life so far has been cooking. It can be done, but it's cramped. I'm sure we will figure out a better system as time goes on but as of the last couple days Janet has been sitting in the passenger seat chopping veggies on the center console while I kneel in front of our pantry shelf and cook the food on our trusty coleman stove. Despite the cramped nature of cooking in Elwood we have not been dissuaded from eating well. Scrambled eggs and coffee provide a steady breakfast while our large supply of brown rice and lentils guarantee a healthy dinner.

There are plenty of benefits to van living and they certainly outweigh the hardships. Being upwardly mobile is by far the best. In the last few days we tend to make camp wherever we can pick up a free wireless signal. The internet is what separates man from the beasts after all. If I can't shower regularly or take a dump in my own toilet I damn well better be able to check my facebook.

Now I'm going to return to editing my digipics and reading enders game. Till next time dear friends.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Last night we drove around until we could find an unsecured wireless connection and set up camp on a residential street. I chopped veggies and Jay started the rice and lentils on the camp stove. The result: curried lentil and rice soup with potatoes, carrots, onion and garlic. Delicious, though somewhat salty.

Today we walked down to the waterfront and Pike Place Market. There's a sweet little book store called "Left Bank Books" that we checked out last time we were here in Seattle. We bought some patches for sewing and asked about cool stuff that's around.

We also found the Seattle Public Library. A very weird and amazing building with many extreme colours inside. That's about it for today. We're gonna go find a place to cook and then meet my friend Liz at a show. We shower tonight! I hope...


Thursday, November 19, 2009

On The R(o)ad!

Here we are, finally. It seems like we've been planning this trip for about as long as we'll be gone but we're on the road at last. I totally misspelled that as "on the rad", which I think is entirely suitable.

We left Vancouver around 4 this afternoon once we finished all of our last minute errands and hit massive traffic along the way. Rain pounding and darkness falling, we made our way to the border. Our homeland security assistant was entirely without humour and immediately pulled us over for inspection, of course. C'mon, look at us. Total terrorists.

After some explanation of our "intent" in their fine country, we sat and waited. He must've performed only the most cursory of searches on Elwood (the van) because the whole process only took about half an hour and mostly consisted of Officer Rodriguez consorting with his co-workers over the legitimacy of "WWOOFing". Thankfully, we had our wwoof book and that pretty much explained everything. After asking one last question regarding the likeliness of our return to Canada, we were sent on our merry way with an "enjoy your experience".

Now we are sitting in the parking lot of a Lutheran church in Bellingham, Washington accessing the unsecured wireless of an unsuspecting neighbor and drinking ridiculously cheap beer. Soon we will watch a dumb movie while the wind rocks us to sleep.