I visited friends in Northern California. Not “Northern California = San Francisco as opposed to Los Angeles” but “Northern California = North of Santa Rosa as opposed to San Francisco” . It was a revelation.
North of Santa Rosa the hills are covered with vineyards or redwood forests, not housing developments.
North of Santa Rosa US 101 winds along the rivers whenever possible, because that is the way one could travel between the forbidding mountains of the coast range and the desert area of the Central Valley (yes, desert before irrigation)
North of Santa Rosa wealth comes from agriculture, whether that be dairy, winery, timber forest, orchard, or illegal pot farm.
North of Santa Rose the largest “city” is Redding, named for a land agent of the Central Pacific railroad when the railroad decided to route its north-south route through the town formerly known as Poverty Flats. Today it is best known for a beautiful pedestrian bridge.
It’s easy to make fun of farming communities. I couldn’t help but giggle at the front page article in the Humboldt Beacon lauding the selection of a local girl as California Beef Ambassador, with the quote that she will “be the face of California beef.” And I broke into a laugh as the article noted that the girl’s great-grandmother had been “Cowbelle of the Year” in Humboldt County some years back, while her mother had been Cattle Woman of the Year in 2005.
Then I thought again. It’s a lucky family that can trace four generations in the same community, and that has carried on a common interest, whether it be agriculture, education, or industry, across the same number of generations. There’s a lot to be said for continuity, a lot to be said for roots.
I thought more about roots and continuity when I visited the small cemetery in the town. It was nothing like the carefully manicured death theme parks in metro areas, with their restrictions on size, shape and structure of grave markers and memorial tributes. The graves were mostly marked with tombstones, but also with wooden crosses, hand-carved slabs of redwood, or mosaic tile and colored beads set in concrete to spell out the names of the dead. Some family names stretched back to gold rush times when the village was founded.
Most, but not all, of the graves were carefully tended. Many were festooned with fresh or artificial flowers. One grave was covered with porcelain figurines ranging from the Madonna to Mickey Mouse, all meticulously clean.
My favorite was the grave of “beloved mother” Ruth Miner. Her simple black marble plaque was carved with her name, birth, and death dates. Just below was a second carved marble plaque announcing “I AM AN ATHEIST ALL DRESSED UP NO PLACE TO GO”.
From her gravesite on the hill planted with blooming rhododendrons, I looked over the village with its church spires and beyond to the verdant valley dotted with grazing cows. I thought to myself “Ruth, where would you want to go from here?”
In Phoenix: The Heard Museum of Native American Art. This museum is fascinating, exhaustive, instructive and almost overwhelming in the size of its collection and the detail in which it explains the many culuture of Native Americans of Arizona. Fortunately, we had a time limit. We focused first on a special exhibit of Georgia O’Keefe paintings of the Southwest. This was on its last day, but if it is a sample of the quality of special exhibits at the Heard, I would suggest you pay attention to whatever is being featured on your visti.
Of the Heard collection I was most fascinated by the collection of kachina dolls donated by the late Senator Barry Goldwater, maybe because as a child I was given a Kachina doll by a visiting relative. Learning the stories and symbology of these artifacts could have enthralled me for the entire afternoon.
Another bonus which lured us back outside was the Annual Indian Market and Fair, featuring Indian dancers in elaborate Hopi feather costumes and juried Indian art.
If you go to the Heard and need a break from all that culture, I can recommend their lunch restaurant. We ate tacos and Mexican salad in the plaza – a lovely, lively setting.
Along Higway 17 to Sedona -
About half-way to Sedona you’ll need a rest stop. The Rock Springs Café offers deservedly famous pie: a killer lemon meringue, pecan pie made with Jim Beam, plus serviceable salads, burgers, and homey fare. And a stuffed polar bear in the gift shop.
Montezuma’s Castle National Monument - this small but fascinating park features a 5 story cliff dwelling, positioned high on a cliff overlooking a lovely sycamore-lined creek. The visitor’s center is a fine introduction to the site, and the stroll on the loop trail looking up at the mysteriously abandoned structure is a welcome break to the highway.
Once you get to Sedona, you’ll need to get in tune with the New Age vibe, so you better seek out a good Vegan restaurant. I can recommend Chocolatree, an unpretentious combination restaurant and chocolateria along the road west from the main Y intersection. My less-adventurous companion was dubious bout the tarot cards on the table, but ate every bit of her black bean chili. My Meatless Mushroom Medley was gray but yummy. The Mediterranean Madness ordered by my other fellow traveler -quinoa, almonds, raisins, sunflower seeds, coconut milk, and more- was too rich to finish. Still we managed to share a Chocolate Ganache of dates, raisins, macadamia nuts, coconut milk, and raw cacao, but we had enough leavings to share the next night with a table of 8 and it went around twice.
Sedona started as a Mormon mission; then came the miners, whose main remnant is the picturesque semi-ghost town of Jerome dangling from a bluff across the valley. Then came the New Agers, with their crystals, their ethnic garb, their peculiar dietary restrictions, and their talk of mystical vortexes of energy to be found among the red rocks. With the skyrocketing prices of precious metals, there is a current threat that old mines will be opened and subjected to new tech hydraulic mining, starting the cycle over again. But meanwhile, visitors continue to be magnetically attracted to Sedona, whether it is vertical energy or simply the stunning scenery and space.
I am part of a group of nineteen who have signed up for five days of hiking in the Sedona back country. Our hike leader is a former lawyer who was involved in environmental cases and must have asked himself the Big Questions: WHY am I doing this legal work which I don’t t enjoy? WHAT IF I quit and went to work for Roads Scholar? HOW can I make it work? He found a niche as a faculty member at Northern Arizona State University solely employed in facilitating hikes, conventions, bonding sessions, and so on for the U. Is this a cool job or what?
The three guides also include one immigrant, from the Caucasus. He had emigrated from Russia to Latvia at age 16. His mother saw him off at the railway station. She asked, “Will you be coming back?” He answered, as the train pulled out, “No.” After a second life in Latvia, he joined the merchant marine and traveled the world, living on ship. “Wherever we docked, the purser would give us a passport that would let us ashore without trouble.” I missed the story of how he came to Sedona. I did hear him say “Sedona is my 4th life.” He is a firm believer in the positive energy of the vortexes. “They changed my life.”
A second guide is also a strong believer in the power of vortexes. We stood in the center of a natural amphitheater in the rocks, purportedly a vortex site, and he told us of meeting a Native American at this site where he was meditating. The Indian pulled out a conch shell from his pack and, after asking permission blew a deep note. The sound traveled in a circle around them as it echoed from one wall to another, a truly mystical moment.
We tried to believe, but we could not reproduce any mysterious effects of the vortexes. We ate delicious food in a vegan restaurant, and felt just as stuffed and no healthier than if we had over-indulged at McDonald’s. However, the drama of the soaring rocks, the rippling streams, and the blue sky soaring to forever was enough to energize me without benefit of crystals or magnetic fields. Just being with beauty makes you more aware of what being means.
Visiting Scottsdale had not been high on my list. After all, I grew up only an hour from Carmel, the West Coast apogee of artsy quaintness-by-the-sea. What was Scottsdale with its art galleries but Carmel with cactus instead of ocean? As usual, once I had visited, I knew once again how wrong preconceptions can be. Scottsdale is to Carmel as meaty BBQ ribs are to seared sea scallops – both wonderful, but incomparable.
We visited on a Sunday morning, so the galleries along the Art Walk were closed. We were more relieved than disappointed: the galleries would have seduced us into dallying inside, while on a temperate and sunny morning there was plenty to see in the sculptures that lined the sidewalk and rose from the median. At first I noted the proliferation of horses frozen in wood, ceramic, steel, and bronze, galloping, rearing, bareback in herds or straddled by cowboys, cowgirls, or the Original Inhabitants. [Note: We met several locals with red-brown skin and aquiline noses, who told us to "Relax. We call ourselves Indians. It's easier." I will follow this advice hereon.] But there were also bronze children, artists, and unmounted Indian maidens both nude and clothed. Also various vaguely humanoid shapes, and a giant green head which might have been Buddha.
We left the Art Walk and meandered toward the center of town, a meander made easy by a grass-lined pathway going beside and over a dry creek and eventually leading us to the central plaza, bordered by the City Hall, Art Museum, and Performing Arts Center, all impressive and interestingly designed modern buildings. The plaza was full of activity: a craft fair was just setting up, with tents offering Indian artifacts, jewelry, clothing, and food. A stage at one end promised music to come, and some families were already staking a claim with blankets on the sloping lawn in front of the bandstand. And at the other side of the plaza I found an old friend, one I had first met in Philadelphia, then encountered again in Tokyo and Taipei. I was delighted to see again Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture.
On the way back to our car we walked through Old Town Scottsdale, and found the tourist gift shops beginning to open. I bought a silver-and-turquoise earcuff to replace a much nicer one I had been given and lost years ago, hoping to combine old and new memories.
I thought of Phoenix as an airport stop on our way to hiking in the red rock country, but my friend B was more curious. “Let’s stay a day in Phoenix and explore!” So M, our travel organizer, found an affordable motel in Scottsdale. (“There are art galleries! Let’s stay close!” B enthused.) We raided the local AAA for maps and guides, and off we went.
M was arriving first, so she rented the car. All the car rental offices for the Phoenix Airport are combined in a single large building at the edge of the airport, along with a food court, rest rooms, and a travel office – an amazingly good idea! B and I had flight delays, so we connected with M too late to do the auto tour we had planned for the afternoon. But there was still time to walk in the Phoenix Botanical Garden, which was featuring an outdoor exhibit of glassware by the well-known artist/craftsman Dale Chihuly.
The Chihuly glass exhibit blended beautifully with the otherworldly colors and shapes of the cacti and succulents which are the backbone of the PBG, and glowed against a stormy evening sky. We strolled and pointed and admired as lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and then came the deluge. We were close to the gift shop by then, which exhibited an amazing collection of small Chihuly pieces, also beautifully illuminated. (see below) We waited out the worst of the rain, then strolled a bit further armed with umbrellas. But soon there were too many puddles, too many flooded paths, and we took refuge again, this time at Gertrude’s, the charming modern restaurant adjacent to the Garden. The tables were full of other soggy visitors, so we snuggled up to the bar watching mysterious cocktails being mixed as we sipped our staid beer and wine and downed excellent sandwiches. I can recommend the pulled pork sandwich with chili dipping sauce, paired with a Mexica Model Negro beer.
The exhibit continues until May 18th (2014) so you still have time. Evening viewing is wonderful.
I was watching a PBS documentary on the Old West – you know the type. Lots of historic photographs, lots of historic documents, and some expert talking heads explaining it all with their names and credentials briefly headlined.
Suddenly I shouted in amazement. An unusual name, familiar from my remote past, had flashed ont he screen. Through the changes years had made I saw a familiar smile. “I know that guy!”
A quick Google search on the name turned up additional photographs confirming my recognition, an impressive list of awards for academic and journalistic excellence, and an email contact. I fired off an email:
Subject: Wow! My former student is a PBS pundit!
I was watching the PBS show on Butch Cassidy and saw you as a historical authority. There could not be two Ken Verdoia’s in the world! And you look like yourself, only in 1967 you had no need to shave. I am so excited that my star 9th grade student in my student teaching year at MVHS has risen to eminence!
Maybe you remember me as the insecure Stanford intern who wore a fake hairpiece to make myself look older and taller. I remember you in the freshman talent show lip-synching as Harvey Johnson looking for a prom date,
I’m living in Los Altos and doing some writing for the local paper and my own entertainment. I see you are affiliated with the U of Utah (my parents’ alma mater, as it happens) I am so delighted to see what you have become!
Best of lives,
Allyson Johnson (formerly known to you as Miss Young)
The next morning I had this response in my inbox”
Through forty years in journalism, nearly thirty of those contributing to PBS, I have received many, many messages after a report or program. None as surprising and delightful as yours waiting for me this morning.
I am quite stunned that you would remember a student in such a manner. Particularly one so closely resembling wallpaper. But, yes, you do accurately cite the mime-like 14 year olds pushing their way through “Bye Bye Birdie” at Mountain View High School!
How wonderful for me…and what a thoughtful, inclusive gesture by you. Your memory is a generous gift that has started this day on a particularly happy note.
Next time you gather with friends, I hope you share this recollection. And, then, confidently inform them it was your insightful tutelage that launched a career!
All my very best wishes,
In a later exchange of emails, Ken told me, “Every step along the way… elementary school, middle school, high school, undergraduate and graduate studies… there has been a kind and generous mentor who has made a difference. Not ‘steering’ me, but demonstrating how courage, strength and ability are born of purposeful education.”
Since I was a girl I had always planned to be a teacher, but in the end I only taught high school English for seven years. Teaching is a hard job, and I was not particularly gifted. Still, I feel honoree to think that my blundering enthusiasm for good reading and good writing all those years ago might have earned me a small place among those who “made a difference.”
The house across the street will be torn down by its new owners,, and a new two-story house with a basement will appear in its place.It is a perfectly good house, a 1950’s 3-bedroom 2-bath ranch style with the kitchen in front and a patio in back looking at a deep back yard filled with fruit trees. These are only the third owners.
The first owners were airline pilots: he flew for Pan Am; she had ferried war planes across the country during World War II. The house was built as part of the new San Antonio development after the war .
At some point in the late 50’s the first owners added a second-story addition behind the garage with an additional bathroom, family room and fireplace downstairs, a playroom and additional bedroom upstairs to accommodate their growing family. The owner did a lot of the work himself; the staircase was narrow and lacked a banister. It would never have passed code today.
The children grew up and moved away, and the wife became the dowager overseer of the street. From her strategically placed kitchen window she could see anyone arriving or leaving up or down the street, or coming around the corner. She made no secret of her vigilance. When I was a teenager and my parents were planning to go out of town, our neighbor came over to ask my mother “If I see a strange car parked over night while you’re gone and Allyson is home, do you want me to tell you or not?”
The first owners aged and moved to be closer to one of their children. They kept the house empty for over 30 years. Prop 13 kept their taxes miniscule, so it was cheap storage, and convenient to stay when they visited friends on the Peninsula. Finally the children arrived, cleared out the house, and it was sold.
The second owners were a young family with young children. They loved the vintage ranch style of the house, the avocado and terra-cotta wallpaper in the kitchen, the rice paper on the walls of the living room, even the bead curtain in the kitchen window. They put on a new roof and installed new windows. They built an elaborate playhouse in the back yard for their kids. They hosted a guacamole party for the neighborhood when the avocado tree was in fruit.
But it didn’t last. After only a couple of years the wife found a fixer upper in north Los Altos that was even more of a challenge. The house went up for sale again. It sold to another young couple with young children at roughly 1000 times its original cost.
It was the deep back yard. The new owners came over to show us the plans for a new house on the lot. “We’ll have the family room and kitchen at the back, looking over the swimming pool. The kids will be playing in the back; they won’t bother you. In front there will be just a home office and bedrooms. We want to use as much of the back yard as we can. We’ll plant trees in the front so the house won’t look so big.”
The change makes me sad. Sad to see the old house go. Sad that the new family plans to be invisible in their back yard behind their two-stories plus basement. Sad that there will be no eagle eye on the street, unless it’s mine. My kitchen does face the corner.