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.