Mike Crutcher – August 14th, 2010

I met Mike at his home on Hwy 128 almost opposite The Grange between Boonville and Philo. I sat down with a cup of fresh coffee and a plate of chocolate goodies Mike and his wife, Karen, had picked from the newly opened Paysanne ice cream store in town and we began our chat…
Mike was born in Napa, California in 1963, the second of three children born to Marshall Crutcher and Patricia Silvestre. He has a sister, Patty Ann, three years older, and a brother David a year younger. He knows little about the Crutchers other than that before moving to the Napa area they were originally from Tennessee. His father was rarely around and at some point chose to have nothing to do with the family. Grandfather Silvestre came from Italy by boat in 1911 to Vallejo, California, where other family members had settled previously. Mike’s great grandmother had a house there that Mike vividly remembers as being at the top of a very steep hill. His grandfather opened a bar in town and met his grandmother there. When World War 2 began his grandfather, fearing that Italians would be interned at prison camps, decided to move the family to the Silverado Trail area of Napa which was far more rural and out of the way compared with Vallejo where the shipyards were situated and people might be on the look out for the ‘enemy.’ Mike’s mother went to Napa high School where she met his father and they were married shortly after graduation.
When Mike was five his parents were divorced and his mother initially took the kids to live with their grandparents in Napa before moving to Fort Bragg on the coast and staying in the ten-by-fifty mobile home that the grandparents had bought for their retirement. Mike then entered 3rd grade in Fort Bragg. “The wine industry was taking off in Napa – I remember that to protect the blossoms, the growers used smudge pots that smelled of burning diesel and huge fans that sound like helicopters. The fans could be heard from a mile or more away and the combined smell and din was not nice. My grandfather who had owned the bar stayed in the alcohol business as a sales representative for liquor and wine and would often take me with him on his rounds to all the Italian-owned bars and restaurants he knew and did business with. We were always greeted in Italian and treated like kings as I remember… Then when we moved to Ft. Bragg it was different – a community based around the logging and commercial fishing industries. My mother dated a logger called Aldo Matuzio, known as ‘Moose’ as he was such a big, big man. There was lots of derogatory talk about the hippies when he was around, although Mom was a lot more open-minded about the new young generation of the late sixties and didn’t mind me talking to them if I saw them at the laundromat. Moose became my father figure and would take me fishing and hunting and I would pack his lunch and gas can before he’d go to work at 4am in the morning. I also went into the woods with him on many occasions when I was in my early teens.”
Mike attended Ft. Bragg Elementary, Junior High and High Schools. In junior high he was talked into joining the band and became a drummer. “I thought if they wanted someone to beat on something then that was for me. It was when with the band that I first hung out in Anderson Valley when we marched in the County Fair Parade. I had also passed through many times when we’d visit my grandparents in Napa and I always thought ‘how cool is this place!’ People were always happy there, out of the fog and not drinking too heavily like so many loggers and fishermen did. We’d always stop in our 1965 Thunderbird where the Drive-In is now and have ice cream. It was a great little place to stop and I can honestly look back at my childhood and say that I was drawn to this place and its community from a young age.”
With Mike’s mother working as a grocery clerk and at other stores to earn money to support the family, Mike was primarily raised by his sister. “My sister was a good ‘parent’ although I did not make it easy for her I’m sure. I was great at getting out of chores and am probably responsible for many of Mom’s grey hairs and dementia! To say I was a high maintenance child is an understatement. I was always up to something; l loved the woods and it was a great place for a kid with a bike and a wild imagination. We lived less than a mile from the ocean and I’d ride my bike there to go fishing, often coming home with fish for my mother or sister to cook – which they did if I cleaned it first.”
At school Mike did well at the subjects he liked although in all his classes he was a big headache for the teacher – “If any of my teachers read this, please accept it as an open apology to all.” His favorite subjects were the sciences and from an early age finding out how things worked fascinated him. “I was taking apart my toys from when I was four years old and would get into all kinds of mischief with things even at that age, including blowing up my mother’s camera flash bulbs with a battery.”
In high school Mike maintained that same level of wildness although he was a good kid in many ways and did not really break any laws apart from some illegal firework activity – he was just mischievous. He took auto and welding classes at night school as he continued his desire to find out how things worked and worked on the family car and plumbing and was able to fix the windows he would seem to break accidentally with his BB gun.
“I was tough to handle for some I’m sure and then when I got a motorbike, a Honda 250, at the age of sixteen that was my wings. In junior high, I had worked in the summers on a commercial fishing boat and later got a job at Rex Pharmacy as a maintenance guy and stocking shelves. On February 5th 1979, I met one of the salesclerks there by the name of Karen and we started to date… Meanwhile, I was supposed to share my bike with my brother David but I needed it a lot more – it was how I got to work. Mom had insisted I got a job with my sister having moved out. Then one day David took the bike and somehow basically destroyed it. My mother defended him and I ended up yelling profanities at her so she told me to leave the house, for good. I was sixteen… This was in the early spring of 1980 and I moved into a friend’s house. His Dad helped me buy a car, a 1964 Chevy Malibu and I felt like I was king of the world in that thing. I would still see my mother occasionally and it has pretty much be the same ever since, although we have somewhat reconciled at this point but it was difficult for many years. She feels that at the time she did the right thing.”
After staying at his friend’s house Mike then lived in a couple of garages and even in his car for a time, but before his senior year one of his teachers offered him a large spare room (the top floor) in his house and Mike rented it for $75 a month. That was a difficult year of study for Mike and his attendance dropped off, although he did manage to keep up in the important classes. He and Karen were still dating and for some of the year they were “shacked up” together. “I felt like I had everything I wanted – a car, a girlfriend, a nice place to live, enjoying school, and a job. It was possibly some of the happiest days of my life. I had some great friends – we were not jocks, more cool nerds, and we did like to smoke a little pot… or actually as much as we could get our hands on! Led by Ganja Willy, who could roll a joint in ten seconds, we had a ‘Doomsday Pact’ that if we ever heard that missiles were coming in from the Soviet Union we’d meet up somewhere and Willy would roll one up and we’d be loaded when the bomb hit. We ran many practice drills to prepare for that!”
As part of his auto shop studies, Mike had joined the Industrial Club of America and not long before his graduation he attended the club’s award ceremony and dinner for all the clubs in the area that was held in Boonville. “I was sitting there with my friends and our teacher, not really paying attention to the awards being given out, when someone said my name had been read out and I should go up to the stage. I did so and was presented with a scroll of paper tied up with a ribbon. I had no idea what this was for but enjoyed the applause anyway. When I returned to my seat I opened the scroll and it said I had been granted a full scholarship to attend the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. It was as a result of a competition I had entered in the spring and had forgotten all about. I was overwhelmed. When I left the auditorium some Boonville girls came up to me with flowers and kissed me on the cheek. Once again I couldn’t help but think ‘I love this Valley. What is this place – it’s magical.’ I thought I’d won the Indy 500!”
Soon afterwards Mike graduated from high school and in July 1982 went to Arizona with his scholarship and some extra finances from his parents (who were in touch) and grandparents. He bought new tools – “some of which I still own” – and decided he would work as hard as he could to repay everyone for putting up with him. He came second on the motorcycle maintenance course at its conclusion and met many great mechanics during his time there. ”I loved the desert and the people and the wild life, especially the reptiles and rattlesnakes.”
In 1983, he returned to Ft. Bragg but could not find a job in the motorbike field so he started a job at a gas station, pumping gas and doing minor mechanical repairs. Here he met Richard Starr, an excellent mechanic who was opening a shop in Philo, Anderson Valley – Starr Auto. “He gave me a job – the first employee of Starr, and for a time I commuted to Philo and loved the job. However, after a few months it was obvious I was just not good enough as an auto mechanic and Richard needed someone better than me. I understood completely and returned to Ft. Bragg where I found work at Seafair – the lumber company’s department store where I did stocking and deliveries too, which I enjoyed for a couple of years.”
By 1986 Mike was working at ‘Sofa’s Beds Etc’’ a furniture store owned by Darrell McNeil (the child molester recently murdered by one of his victims). “He was a very nice person to work for – I guess you never know. There were rumors but I was always very skeptical about them”…. During this time, Mike and Karen took a weekend trip to see a friend of theirs in Chico, California. While they were there he was offered a job at ‘The Little Engine Shop’ where they worked on all kinds of engines and repairing lawn mowers, orchard equipment and occasionally motorbikes.
“We were really ready for a change. We returned for a couple of weeks and then I quit my job, packed up, and we moved to Chico in 1987. We rented a cute a little house from Karen’s new employers at an educational supply store called The Creative Apple. It had the white picket fence and cute lawn and it was just a short walk to my job. We visited Ft. Bragg during our time in Chico and were married in my sister’s backyard in September 1987. We loved our three years in Chico and cried when we left – we were really, really happy there.”
By 1989 Karen’s parents were living in the Valley’s Rancho Navarro sub-division and offered them a place to stay in a trailer on their property. Mike had by now decided he wanted to work for himself and so when Karen’s father, Jim Colling, told him that the Valley’s two pump guys – Bobby Glover and Smokey Blattner were cutting back on their work, he offered to go into business with Mike. Mike and Karen returned from Chico in November 1990 and opened Philo Pump and Power in the Floodgate area in time for the great freeze of 1990/91. “It reached 9 degrees in some spots and there were broken pipes throughout the Valley. It was great for business and I didn’t get a day off until the end of March! We made some money in those crucial early months of any small business and met many, many Valley people at the same time, with word of mouth getting us so much work. Old George Gowan, who had lived here all his life, told me it was the worst winter for more than sixty years. We were up and running and for the next six years I owned the business and did well before, with my father-in-law not in good health, we sold it to Jeff Pugh in 1996. It was a good decision and I still work part-time for Jeff to this day. With Karen having a steady job as a court clerk for the County I was able to go out on my own, doing freelance repair, plumbing and just about any sort of handyman work except carpentry – I leave that to the ‘artists.’.”
For a time, Mike ran the pump business from the property he and Karen bought on Monte Bloyd Road but when they sold the business they sold the land too and moved to Boonville to live behind the caboose, home of North Coast Realty. “I had met many Valley folks through my business and joined a group called, in Boontling, ‘The Kimmies of the Codgy Mosh’ – ‘Boys of the Old Machines’ who get together one afternoon a week to work on old tractors etc. There were some great mechanics in that group including Tom Miller a former helicopter mechanic – they are always the best. As Richard Starr said – ‘they can turn horseshit into ice cream.’ Others in the group were Jim Bowen Sr, Skip Harris, Doug Elliott, Bob Fowler, Frank Wyant, Wes Smoot, Dick Sands, and others too.”
Mike kept his musical interests alive by forming a garage band with Mark Gowan, Bret Stone, and James Thomasson. “We never had a name but came up with some decent, tasteless songs. When that folded I wanted to continue to sing and so I joined the Community Chorus. One of the members was Captain Rainbow, who I had also met on one of my jobs. He invited me to join the Magic Company and eventually I was a regular on the back stage crew, mainly dealing with the video, special effects, and sometimes the creative process for the Variety Show and many other Valley events, including the A.V. Film Festival, the Halloween event, and the Food Shed Group who just put on the ‘Not-so-simple Living Fair’ here in town.”
These days Mike continues to do his freelance handyman work in the Valley and now also works on computer repair. “I have learned a lot more about electronics, radios, and television sets in recent years. The motorcycle thing has been very helpful over the years in so many ways even though I have not often worked on bikes themselves. Three years ago I started to work a couple of days a week at Rossi’s Hardware in Boonville. The Rossi’s treat me so well and it’s like being a kid in a candy store for me there, and on top of that I get to hear lots of the Valley history from Emil Rossi when we get a chance to talk… Karen and I moved to this cute little house on Hwy 128 with Sam Prather as our landlord – we love it here. I have a shop and Karen has her own workroom for her projects. It is a real home for us.”
“Anderson Valley has that same feeling as a whole too. It’s home – the only place that I’ve ever lived where I have felt that. Honest to god. Sometimes I may complain about something but when put into perspective against the positives about life here there is nothing to moan about. I must just say that I do have one thing that annoys me – the speed limit in the Valley’s towns should be 25mph. And one thing that would be nice would be to stop traffic completely when the Fair Parade goes through town – it’s for maybe 30 minutes on one afternoon a year. Why not?”
I now asked Mike for his responses to some Valley issues… The wineries and their impact? – “I know many people who are not happy with their expansion here but they are just the latest crop/industry to do this. There are some good and bad things about it but in the end there is little we can do about it. I guess I am cool with it for now”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I love it – we have a newspaper!… And we have a public radio station in KZYX & Z. Good, bad, or indifferent we have these things when many do not. It would be a tragedy if we lost one or both of them and they both have something for everyone”… The school system? – “It’s an important part of Valley life and I hope the recent bond issue will encourage more parents to keep their kids here at the Valley’s schools. I’m very glad we still have an Agriculture Department, and a damn good one too. I put in the alternative energy project at the high school and recently fixed the laminator at the Elementary School – they think I’m some sort of wizard there”… Tourism in the Valley? – “We need it. It goes back over one hundred years in one form or another. Having said that I hate to get caught behind some motorhome that will not use the turnouts on Hwy 128! The changes in our small businesses have been good and many people in the community have been helped thanks to the tourist dollars. Thanks to the ‘defenses’ of Hwy 128 and 253, it’s never going to get like Napa here”… Drugs in the Valley? – “Personal use of marijuana is fine and if some people need a bit more to pay their bills than I’m not opposed to that either. I think the big illegal grows will go away if the price drops and indoor growing will take over most of the industry when it becomes legal with some small outdoor grows surviving. I don’t smoke at all and I don’t drink much either at this point. I get buzzed too easily but I don’t mind others doing it at all. As for methamphetamines, I have seen evidence of this but I’m not sure what the proper steps are to deal with it. It is a terrible drug but the solution may be to try and help the potential users before they go down that road.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few quick-fire questions to my guest.
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Solving a problem that I’m working on – the thrill of that ‘victory’ makes me very happy. It’s a magical thing for me.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Not being able to fix a problem. It’s as simple as that – I live for the puzzle and its solution.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “The coffee pot going in the morning.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “The sound that coyotes make at night. It’s very spooky and awful. There’s no way you can ignore it.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Karen’s chicken pot pie – that’s one heck of a pot pie.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – Nikola Tesla, the inventor, mechanical engineer and electrical engineer – I have so many questions for that man.”
7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – My ‘doctor’s bag’ of tools; several pencils and paper – it would be nice to be able to write thoughts down; and a good sleeping bag.”
8.Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “I am a big Beatles fan but I like many forms of music; a film would be ‘Groundhog Day – it cracks me up every time I see it; and I like to read technical books.”
9.What is a smell you really like? – “Coffee and chocolate.”
10.What is your favorite hobby? – “Fishing – whether I catch anything or not. As the saying goes, ‘A bad day’s fishing beats a good day of work.’ I also collect Barbie Dolls and have done for years – older and unique ones in particular. That’s strange to some people I guess.”
11.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “A pilot of some kind.”
12.What profession would you not like to do? – “A carpenter – I really suck at it and never had the talent for it so I’d hate to have to do it.”
13.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “I can’t really pin it down to one. I am a really lucky person and I’ve had many cool things happen to me. Meeting Karen was great and winning that scholarship, of course. I have been very fortunate.”
14.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “Having top put our dog Tora down last year. She was my very, very favorite and she captured my heart absolutely.”
15.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – That I’m a lucky guy and that it’s so cool that I can fix so many different things. It’s my obsession, my nightmare, my puzzle, me!
16.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “How about ‘Welcome to Boonville, Mike – glad you’re here because we have a problem with the gate’ – now that would be perfect.”

Published in: on August 26, 2010 at 5:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Susan Spencer – August 7th, 2010

I drove up Holmes Ranch Road and on to Chipmunk Lane before arriving at Susan’s house where I was greeted by her Miniature Schnauzer, Bebe, and Wire-haired Terrier, Asta. Susan served a plate of her tasty homegrown plums and delicious aged Irish cheddar and we sat on the deck to chat…
She was born in Oroville, California in 1951, the second daughter of David Spencer and Hazel Hughes who had had another daughter, Linda, four years earlier. The Spencers were from the Midwest, mainly Missouri and Kansas, but her grandparents had split up when her father was a young child and he and his mother moved to Los Angeles, although he did keep in touch with his family back there, apart from his father. The Hughes family was Protestant Irish who originally settled in Illinois before moving to Washington State when Susan’s mother was a child, where her grandfather was a coal miner and later a carpenter, before they moved again, this time to California’s Central Valley where they were farmers before moving once more, this time to Pasadena.
“My parents were high school sweethearts and my Dad always said he married my Mother because she had ‘great gams’ (legs). My Dad worked for the Pasadena Star News in the circulation department while my Mother was an office worker. After Dad served in World War 2 they were married and lived in Pasadena for a time but Dad decided to move to Oroville where he could work for his uncle who was a contractor. His Uncle gave my Dad great encouragement and offered bonuses if he showed improvement so that eventually he was able to get his contractor’s license. My mother had us two girls and was a homemaker, although at various times she did work at a bank and the Montgomery Wards department store.”
Oroville was very rural and the Spencers had their own horses at their home, which Susan learned to take care of and ride. She attended the local elementary, junior and high school. “I liked school, particularly the sciences and art, and also French, thanks to a wonderful teacher. However, my true passion was horses, horses, horses – our whole family was into them. My Dad encouraged us all to do this and he felt it brought the family closely together – it was a very wise decision on his part and he once told me ‘the smartest thing I ever did was buy a horse’. He was gone five days a week with his various construction jobs, many of which were in the Sugar bowl/Squaw Valley ski areas where he built many fine houses… I was a pretty good kid up to a point and a good student too. During my school years I worked various jobs such as at a gas station, in a photo mat, and in a nursing home. I was also very social and while not exactly being ‘the belle of the ball’, I had lots of friends. It was the mid-to-late sixties and I was enamored by what was going on in San Francisco and began to dress like a hippy to go to school. My friends and I threw some great parties – we were a very tight group of friends, both boys and girls, and were all into the ‘peace and love’ scene. We’d even invite parents to our parties and they’d have a good time too, although they probably didn’t know we were all smoking pot in the back…”
“Then, in 1967, when I was seventeen I started to get a little too wild and began dating the town ‘bad boy’ and eventually ended up in juvenile hall. My parents were horrified and with my father already thinking about moving closer to his work, they decided to simply take me out of the situation and we moved to Auburn in the Sierra Foothills. Looking back, my Dad, who was friends with the local police and involved in the local community, made what was very good decision and it really helped our family. I was pretty independent and was not too bothered by moving, even though it meant leaving friends. I have always been bohemian type and had never really liked Oroville. It had a certain bad element there and was very hot and oppressive. Auburn, with its trees and water was like moving to heaven by comparison – it was so magical and good for me. I corrected myself and became very close to my mother, riding horses, going shopping together, and holding hands. That would never have happened in Oroville where I would have been grounded for life the way things were going. I was still a hippy but now really got into art seriously for the first time, although when I had been grounded in Oroville, my Dad, being a kindly grump, had bought me paint and plasterboard and told me I could decorate my room. This gave me some focus although I’m not sure if he liked the way I did it with versions of various bands’ album covers on the walls.”
Susan graduated from Auburn High School in 1968. In that final year she had been greatly influenced in her art studies by the teacher, Mario De Ferrante, who was part of the Northern California Contemporary Art Movement of the time. “I googled him and his art recently and he obviously influenced my art in a big way. He did not teach in the classical way, it was far more experimental. He led me into collage and assemblage art.”
After graduation Susan attended the Sierra Junior College in Rocklin, California where she befriended numerous guys who had come home from the war in Vietnam and became involved in the small anti-war movement that was at the college. A year later she transferred to American River College in Sacramento, which had a highly regarded science department. “I was a bit different in that I was into my art but still had that liking for the sciences, biology in particular.”
She was at American River for two years during which time she met and, in 1973, married Paul Crosby who was attending Sacramento State University. Around 1976, Paul, who was licensed to teach autistic kids, applied for a job at the Clearwater Ranch School here in Anderson Valley as a speech therapist. “I had never heard of this place but he got the job and we moved to Boonville where we stayed at the south end of town in a hotel/motel, which is now those apartment buildings opposite the Fairgrounds. We stayed there for several weeks until moving into a house we rented from Joan and Lauren Bloyd, next to The Floodgate Store owned at the time by Sam and Marguerite Avery, a kindly French woman who would sometimes feed us. Paul soon began to make friends with his co-workers such as J.R. Collins, Flick McDonald, and Linda Baker… We had very little money and it was tough at first and we lived off oatmeal. I remember one day that a load of corn and zucchini fell off the back of a Gowan produce truck and we lived off that for a while too – I still owe them for that! Finally Paul’s first check arrived but I needed to get a job too so I drove out to Ft. Bragg on the coast and pretty much told Ralph, the owner, to give me a job at his restaurant, Captain Flint’s, even though I had no experience of restaurant work. He gave me three days a week and I’d drive out there in my little Volkswagen – there is still a picture on the restaurant wall that was taken one day when it was parked outside.”
It was a very tight crowd at Clearwater and Susan and Paul were soon part of the group. “I like to say that they were the ‘second wave’ of back-to-the-land’ers to come here. Everyone contributed to any event we went to, sharing whatever he or she had. We were all going to live off the land – we didn’t know much about doing that other than it was what we wanted to do… Meanwhile I did like my job and the tips were good and so we moved to a better place in Navarro – The Deep End. It was very different down there even though it was only a mile or so away from Floodgate. We were now in the Italian region of the Valley – Iteville as locals call it.”
In 1978, with Susan now working at the Valley’s Bachmann-Hill School for wayward boys and girls, Susan and Paul were able to buy twenty acres on Holmes Ranch sub-division in which they went into partnership with J.R. Collins. “It was, and is, all on a handshake – very unusual these days of course, but it has always worked very well for us… I was at the school working as an aid in the classroom and teaching a little art here and there, which I had also done a little of at Clearwater… Our son Nathan was born in 1980 but we did not move on to the property until 1982 with Randy Faulk and Butch Paula hauling the mobile home on here. It was a tough job and Randy told us to never ask him to move it out!”
Susan and Paul raised all kinds of animals – goats, pigs, rabbits, chickens – “We were killing so much of our own food that we referred to it as ‘the killing fields.’ However, after several years that got old and we were so done with it. During that time my art was on hold as we were just too involved with the animals and subsistence living… Socially I had become friends with other ‘hippy mamas’ such as Denise Mattei (Lawson), Judy Nelson, Annie Steele, Ellen Ellison, Susan McClure, Suzanne Thurston, Susan Apfel, and Diane Paget – my midwife. Then when Nathan was three I became the Director of the Peachland Pre-School and did that for a year or so. Around that time I began to offer rides to the kids of these mamas, plus a couple of adults too – Sue Chiverton and Joanie Williams. Nathan got a pony at five and the lessons took place at our corral here called ‘The Pony Paddock’. I had six or seven horses and in those days you could ride all over the hills around here. I would meet the school bus at Lemons in Philo, collect three or four kids, bring them here and it would take fifteen minutes to saddle up and then we’d go on a forty-five minute ride. The Mom’s would then pick them up. It was a great time and we had so much fun.”
Over time there was not enough room on the property so the horses were moved to The Fairgrounds in Boonville and the lessons continued out of there. Susan’s time was now taken up with horseshows and lessons for kids such as Sophia Bates, Lily Apfel, Essie Baltins, Sarah Bennett, Christy Charles, Naomi Boutillier, the Mize kids, and many others. Paul was at that time working for Jerry Blattner at the Unicorn Ranch School for older wayward boys and Paul’s son from a previous relationship, Matt Williams, often lived with the family off and on for several years, becoming an older brother and very close to Nathan. However, Matt tragically passed away in 1994.
In 1995, Steve Williams offered Susan barn space on Mountain View Road just outside Boonville, which she grabbed immediately. “It was not easy dealing with The Fairgrounds and they had just raised my rent for what were very small stables. For the next few years I continued the horse lessons, which become my life, and I met many more nice parents and kids. Then, in 2000 while walking the dog on the road up here, Paul collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-two. His father had passed at fifty-four. If someone you know is not feeling well with certain symptoms, do not let them walk the dog… I had told him that if he ever died I would leave the Valley but I realized that there was so much for me here, a huge ‘family’ and I couldn’t leave, although what followed was a fuzzy, messy year with lots of drunkenness.”
Nathan and partner Deanne lived on the property for a time in what was the former horse barn. Susan had been cutting back on the horse business a little and had begun to work part-time at Husch Winery since 1999, where she still does one day a week. “After Paul died I did keep the horse business for a year or so. My two horses kept me going during those dark days – Jabbar, who is now thirty, and a marvelous, fabulous horse, and one white pony from the old days of lessons – Roxy who is now thirty-five – so many kids in this Valley learned how to ride on her. I also had Mr. Peanut until he was fifty-two!”
One evening in 2001, Susan had finished dinner at Lauren’s Restaurant and needed to walk off the wine so she and her friend Janice went down the street to The Buckhorn for a beer. I went to the bathroom as the barman said he’d get me a drink. When I came out there was a man sitting next to my purse at the bar. He thought he’d like to meet a woman who had drinks bought for her. His name was Michael Wilson and we chatted for a time and he then walked me to my car and opened the door for me – very polite. We started living together a week later!… When I got home that night I turned on the radio to listen to KZYX and there was a guy, a jazz pianist, who had stopped by to talk to Mary Aigner and now he was on the air talking about how he’d just met a woman in town called Susan Spencer! It was Michael – I couldn’t believe it. A few days later my pony was very ill and I wanted to put it down but Nathan was dead set against that – he had lost his father and stepbrother in recent times. It was a traumatic day and in the evening I decided to go into town to meet the guy Michael again. He was a volunteer at the Wild Iris Music Festival that was in town and after his shift we went for drinks at the Boonville Hotel. We had an intense talk and learned so much about each other in a very short time. Lily Apfel was working and she bought us a drink – again Michael was impressed. Two days later he had moved out of his place a few miles outside Ukiah and was camping at the Dimmick campgrounds. We had a dinner date and I asked if he was homeless. He said he pretty much was so I asked if he’d like to move in with me. I shocked my self. I called my Dad and he told me to go for it. Michael and I have been together ever since.”
With Michael’s encouragement, Susan began to do her art once more. He signed her up for a show at Glad’s Café in Boonville without her knowing but she did it and gradually came more on board with pursuing her art once more. Then when Nathan and Deanne moved to Florida she converted the barn into an art studio. They are still there, where they have about twenty horses and Susan now also has grandson – Finnian Bryce, who is eighteen months old… Her art has moved from working with watercolors to assemblage work – collages in 3-D, and she has done shows all over the County at various galleries and of course she always has some pieces at Husch Winery. Michael has now joined her in this hobby…
“I love the Valley. The Redwood trees are so special and the whole community here seems to be like one big family. I have known many of them for thirty years now and even though I may not see them for long periods I still count them as my very best friends… Michael and I are quite reclusive although we do get down to the live music in Navarro sometimes and attend some of the Valley events. My art is displayed at a gallery co-operative in Ukiah and we try to get over there quite often and I am now also taking pottery lessons with Alexis Moyer at The Pot Shop north of Philo…
“One thing that bugs me about the Valley is that I can’t get off a flight in San Francisco and be home – there is still that three hour car journey to make. Of course our isolation keeps many people away so that is the trade-off I guess, but it does bug me that our access to public transport is limited.”
I asked Susan for her response to some of the Valley’s issues… The Wineries and their impact? – “I’m not really happy with them as I question how many of them the Valley’s resources can support. Of course many winery owners care about the Valley but some are only interested in the bottom line and their corporate practices and attitudes are not to my liking. The monoculture nature of the winery business here is not good and the number of absentee owners is an issue for me”… The A.V.A. local newspaper? – “I have always enjoyed the paper’s local perspectives although I have sometimes questioned the editor’s justification for selling papers without always presenting all the facts. It’s fun to read as long as you’re not the one being affected unfairly”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I listen when I’m in my studio – I like the ‘Jazz on the Wharf’ program”… Changes in the Valley? – “The climate here has changed a lot in the last thirty years. We often used to have fogs as the redwoods brought in the weather system from the coast. Fewer trees, less fog – it’s something I miss”… The school system? – “I’m not involved anymore but with Nathan, who had some problems, the teachers such as Jim Tomlin, Val Muchowski, and Wendy Patterson did a great job”… Drugs in the Valley? – “I’ve seen it go from marijuana, to cocaine, to methamphetamines – very nasty stuff that effects the Valley in ways we do not know yet. Ways such as waste that seeps down into the water table from the meth labs. I do not drink water that has come from anywhere on the Valley floor. Some of the wineries too, with their spraying, may be doing some sort of harm to our water supplies at this point.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest and asked for her replies off the top of her head…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Being exposed to exciting art.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “When people are too quick to judge others’ actions or their art. I do it sometimes and don’t like it in myself. With art, I do not like to hear people’s creativity being criticized.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “Owls at night.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “Machinery running at night.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “My Mom’s cherry pie and ice cream.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Louise Bourgeois, an assemblage artist – my idol. She did that big spider in Jack London Square in Oakland. She always said what she felt – I can’t wait to be like that one day.”
7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “A good book to read; an artist’s sketchbook; and a box of good #2 pencils.”
8. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “A book would be some sort of fantasy – The Dragonriders of Pern’ by Anne McCaffrey perhaps; a film is ‘Grand Canyon’ starring Danny Glover and Steve Martin – a powerful human condition film; and a song would be one written by Michael called ‘Pacific Valley’.”
9.What is a smell you really like? – “Honeysuckle and lavender.”
10.What is your favorite hobby? – “Gardening.”
11.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “A forensic scientist.”
12.What profession would you not like to do? – “Some asshole’s secretary.”
13.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The day my son was born.”
14.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “When I lost my stepson.”
15.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I am so enthusiastic about learning – people probably get sick of me at times when I am talking about something I have learned or am in the process of learning.”
16.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I think if he said ‘Nice job’ that would be good. It’s better than ‘Nice try’ anyway.”

Published in: on August 19, 2010 at 9:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pilar Echeverria – July 30th, 2010

On a sunny Friday morning I met with Pilar on the deck behind the Ferrer Building in downtown Boonville and with a much-needed cup of delicious coffee that she had provided from her Mosswood Market store we sat down to talk.

Pilar was born in January 1980 in the rural town of La Laguneta in the Mexican State of Michoacan, where the vast majority of the Valley’s Mexican community has their roots. Her parents are Jose Cruz Echeverria and Consuelo Barragan who had both grown up in La Laguneta and whose families had been in the region for several generations. Her father has spent most of his adult life since the age of seventeen working for six months of the year in California, initially for many years in Manteca and since 1986 in Anderson Valley with the Hiatt logging and construction company. He had been born in the State of Jalisco but at the age of three his family had moved to Michoacan. “La Laguneta is similar in appearance to Anderson Valley with its hills and valleys. I went to the local school there until I was twelve but then it would have meant traveling to another town to go to the next school and it would have been expensive too so I left school at that age. I was a good student and liked school, especially Mexican history, but not math.”

Pilar is the second oldest of four siblings, Victor the oldest, and two other girls – Elisabeth and Celeste, who all live in the States. She also has two half sisters, Azucena and Blanca, who live in Mexico. “As the oldest girl I had to do lots of the housework with my mother and also helped make the meals. I was always making tortillas. In the afternoons I would get to go out with my friends and we’d play lots of volleyball but I had to make sure I was home by nightfall otherwise I would be told of and spanked. The girls were watched more closely and had to help in the home. That is our culture and I understand that now. Being the oldest girl meant that I did a lot of housework although Elisabeth helped a lot too. Celeste was much younger than us. We had chickens and three cows and everyday I had to help my mother and grandfather with the milking by hand and then we also made cheese.”

Growing up, the family would sit down for meals together – breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and were always joined by her mother’s father, Antonio Barragan. “With my father being away working in the States so much of the time, my grandfather became like a father to me. He was a very important person to me and to our family. Once I had left school I never really thought about any more education or college. I just had a dream, like so many other people in Mexico, of gong to the United States and achieving something there. Most families in La Laguneta are applying for the whole family to come here. I did not think it was fair to just go through childhood, get married, and then start a family with someone who might be a bad husband. Everyone there had to do this but most did not want to. That was our life there. We did it because we had to.”

From the age of twelve to seventeen she stayed at home, dreaming of coming to the United States. “Mexico was not going to be my life; I was not going to be happy there. Now that I am here I try hard every day to do my best.” At seventeen her father got papers for the family to move and Pilar was the first to come, on March 17th, 1997. “On my last night there I went to say goodbye to my grandfather, I was very sorry to have to do that. He would not come out to see me, saying from behind the door that he would be there in America soon. We were both very upset. He was having some passport problems but planned to come to America in three months or so but he died of a heart attack in that time and I never saw him again. I was very, very sad. I had always been with him since I could walk, at his side or standing just behind him. Every night I saw him; I would make him tortillas and we would talk together for a long time. I feel him with me here in America – telling me to work hard and that he will be always here for me.” At his point Pilar was a little upset and so we took a short break. I, too, had been very close to my grandfather and we commiserated and shared a few tears together. It was a special moment.

“My aunt, Angelina Baroza and I went from La Laguneta to Guadalajara and then we flew to San Francisco. We then came up to Anderson Valley where she had lived for more than twenty years. In Anderson Valley I knew many people from La Laguneta and had some friends here from there – Liz Jimenez, Ada Fernandez, and Yolanda Mendoza. They all helped me with my grief after my grandfather’s passing… This was a very different world for me and I felt a little lost and cried a lot at first. I lived with another aunt, Noelia, who is now the baker at Mosswood Market. By May that year my mother and sisters had also arrived and we all lived with Noelia and other family members before by about the late summer we had found a house for our family on the Vista Ranch between Philo and Boonville… I knew no English except ‘Hi’ but after a month I had found work through Tony Sanchez at the Day Ranch working in the fields. My friend Liz wanted me to go to the school but I was afraid and did not want to face up to the problem of my poor English. I also thought of my father and all the years of work he had done and that I should support myself and may be he would be able to work less if I had a job. All the time I was also thinking I wanted to do something other than work in the fields.”

Her first step in that direction was when she took a job with Stephanie and Chris Tebbutts as a nanny for eleven-month old Theo. She was to stay with the Tebbutt family for eleven years during which time they had another child, Saba. For a short time she also worked in the packing sheds at Gowans’ apple orchards and did some part-time baking at Glad’s Café in Boonville. There she did four mornings from 4am before going to the nanny job in the afternoons, resulting in her working twelve-hour days. She also gave the adult school a go for a time to improve her English but quit after three months. She began to socialize a little more at various weddings and quinceaneras and was always kept busy keeping the house clean and was now in a steady relationship with Javier Mendoza, a boy she had known for many years who was one year older than her. Their families had known each other for a long time and she had been seeing him back in Mexico before he had come to the States about a year before she did – another reason for her wanting to come here, she suggested with a smile.

“Javier and I got married in 2001 at the Catholic Church in Philo and Stephanie found us a beautiful house next to their house. Javier was working at the Navarro Winery and then later for Stephanie and Chris at their home as a handyman and in their vineyard. I was happy being there but did not feel complete and still felt I had to do something else… Our daughter Miranda was born in 2004 and she was almost the same age as Saba so that was great and I was with all three kids everyday. Then when she was five months old, Miranda started to suffer with a severe case of the skin disease eczema and also from food allergies. She would not stop scratching herself, causing her to bleed so I had to be with her for twenty-four hours a day for the next five years. It was a very bad experience for Javier and me. She did finally grow out of it although I was ‘just’ a mother for all that time and was unable to really work apart from at the Tebbutts. I dreamt every day that all would be better one day.”

In 2008, Pilar got a job at Mosswood Market working for Sharon Hurley two days a week while still doing the nanny job part-time, although she gradually did more at the Mosswood and less as a nanny over the next year or so once Miranda started going to kindergarten. Around this time she completed her G.E.D. exam at the adult school. “I did that in six months and was so proud of myself. I wondered why I had waited so long to do this. I thought that if I could do this then maybe I could do so many things – it completely changed my perspective. I am very proud of my graduation picture and I then went to Mendocino College for one year to continue to study English.”

In October 2009 they moved to Signal Ridge in the hills above Philo, where they had been able to buy some property back in 2005. “It is twenty acres with just a little space where we can build. It was very hard to leave our lovely home in Boonville and move to a mobile home on the property. We have been clearing some trees and the brush and hope to have a real house there one day. For now we have a generator and have to turn that on every day for a shower.”

In November 2009, Pilar approached Sharon about may be buying the Mosswood market and they had a meeting. However, nothing came of it other than Pilar saying she would be interested in buying if Sharon ever wanted to get out. “I love the job and the people working there and dealing with the customers. I was working very hard at it and then in May of this year Sharon asked if I was still interested in buying and we went from there. I got a loan from my cousin and finished negotiations with Sharon. We then called a staff meeting and Sharon told them that there was good news for both them and us and she introduced me as their new boss. I took over on June 1st…”

“I feel like I have everything now, nothing is missing and I feel complete. We are making no real changes to the business just adding a few things to the menu, such as the pineapple Danish that was basically Javier’s idea and I added some coconut and it’s really good. My brother-in-law, who is an accountant in Sonoma, does the books as I am still terrible with numbers. My aunt Noelia is the baker; Erica my sister-in-law is the cook; my sister Celeste is the counter person; Estella, another family member, is the cleaner; and we have Madeline Gassoway and Jamal Essayah also at the counter at different times… I have many friends here; I love living here in this beautiful countryside, and I love my work. It is a dream come true.”

Pilar loves the weather here and the people and the sense of freedom she gets from walking around the Valley and she thanks God every day for that. “I am not a practicing Catholic but God is in my heart and I do not need to go to church. I want to give something back to the Valley and I donate cookies etc to school events and other fundraisers. My parents are now both living here, on Lambert Lane, and we have a family reunion at their house every year. It’s a wonderful party and I drink plenty of tequila that day and have a very happy time – not that I need tequila to be happy of course!”

I asked Pilar for her thoughts on some Valley issues that are frequently discussed in these parts… The wineries and their impact? – “They are definitely good for businesses such as ours but cutting trees and taking water is not a good thing”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I don’t have much time to read it but I do sometimes and will do more as my English gets better. I really had never spoke much English in my life until two years ago when I started at Mosswood”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “Listening to English on the radio is good for me but I only do it when I am driving to work”… Changes in the Valley? – “I like the changes. More people visiting is good for us but I do not like cities and don’t want it to get too big here. I am very social and I do like meeting people from other places”… Drugs in the Valley? – “Marijuana is not a big problem in that is not harmful. Other drugs are bad and it is very sad what they can do to people. I try to do a little by keeping some of the kids here a little busy by working for me. In Mexico the drug problem is very big and even in my little hometown we just had the first killing related to drugs. It was my uncle, an innocent man who had no connections to drugs, but he was killed with a machete. Back there the drug cartel, La Familia, are very powerful but many people see them as like Robin Hood, taking from the rich to give to the poor. In La Laguneta everyone is nice but the bad people are having more influence. People are afraid so even though they may see ‘things’ they do not want to say anything to the government or police because those people may be involved too.”

To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself many months ago and hopefully you will find Pilar’s answers interesting…

1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “My work – but I don’t know for how long I will feel that way! For now, it is important that each day I do my best.”

2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “When there is a big mess in my house – Miranda is too young to clean up and may be Javier is too old! I can give Javier look and he will know and the next day it all has been cleaned.

3.What sound or noise do you love? – “The birds singing in the morning.”

4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “Big trucks coming through town with trees on them.”

5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “I just love Mexican food, but sometimes the simpler is the better. I will say frijoles de la olla con crema – just home-cooked beans in a broth with sour cream. I am not a good cook – what I do best at the café is dealing with the staff and customers.”

6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “My grandpa – just one afternoon with him once again would be so special.”

7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “I don’t value possessions that much. How about my make-up! No seriously – my family photographs; my Grandfather’s handkerchief which I have kept; and my spectacles.”

8.What is a smell you really like? – “Natural smells and flowers, not perfume.”

9.What is your favorite word or phrase? – “Work for your dream.”

10. Is there a book that you have particularly enjoyed or that has influenced you? – “The books of Isabel Allende – I used to read a lot and have read most of them all I think.”

11.What is your favorite hobby? – “Exercise, but I have little time now. It used to be volleyball.”

12.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “An author – I have a story to write about Javier’s father who led a very interesting life.”

13.What profession would you not like to do? – “A nurse or a doctor.”

14.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When I had my daughter.”

15.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “When my grandfather died.”

16.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I am generous and like to give to others what I have. I send money to sisters and aunts in Mexico – it always seems to come back in different ways. That I do my best and no longer feel afraid about the future.”

17.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – If he said, “Welcome, I’m so happy to see you because you did your best on Earth”, that would be very good.”

Published in: on August 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Charlie Hochberg – July 23rd, 2010

I met with Charlie at his home on top of the Holmes Ranch and after admiring his orchids, we sat down to talk with twenty-year-old Fritz the terrier and nine year old Woody not far away either…

Charlie was born in 1943 and named Charles Joseph Hochberg II after his grandfather whose Prussian Catholic family had come to the States in the late 1800’s and settled in eastern Pennsylvania, an area of silk mills and coal mines. His grandfather had managed a hardware store and later built houses in the Hazelton area and also many cabins, often on streams with plenty of trout fishing, with Charlie’s father, Arthur. “I spent a lot of time with my grandfather – he was a big influence on me and we’d often fish together. I was not close to my Dad and we rarely got along. He was quite ambitious and at one time had temporarily quit parochial school and become a bookkeeper for a coalmine. When he did leave school for good he worked his way up into a job with the government’s Federal Reserve department as a bank examiner and eventually became the Deputy Controller of Currency for the First Federal Reserve District.”

On Charlie’s mother’s side, Dorothy Goldis, was just six when her family left the pogroms of the Ukraine and moved to settle in New Jersey in 1906. The Goldis family had been quite well off in their homeland where they had a successful garment business. “My mother was very smart and attended the Philadelphia Academy of the Arts at fourteen years of age. At nineteen she ran the art and advertising department for the local phone company… My parents met in Philadelphia. Dad was a straight-up banking type, very handsome, a ringer for the aviator and national hero at the time – Charles Lindbergh, whereas my Mom was always hanging out with artists and musicians (she was engaged to one for a time) and she played classical music on the piano. They were married and lived in Bethlehem, an hour or so away from Philadelphia.”

Charlie’s older sister Isabel was born in 1940 and then eight years after he was born another sister, Dorothy, came along in 1951. Due to his father’s job, the family moved around often, although mainly in Pennsylvania. “As I said, my father and I did not get along, even when I was a toddler, and I loved it when I was sent to stay with uncles or my grandfather. My parents didn’t pay much attention to me and I was often left alone to my own devices. When we lived near to Villanova University in the Philly suburbs, I would catch the nearby train and go into the City alone where I’d get to watch the rehearsals and matinee performances of the orchestra. I was fascinated with classical music and was learning to play the flute and piccolo at the time, and later the bassoon when at junior high. I also listened to a local radio station that played world music and as I slept alone in the attic I could play it through the night.”

When he was about fifteen, Charlie’s older sister started to attend a Lutheran Church and soon the whole family was going too. “My father thought it was a good move for social status reasons and soon got into it for religious reasons too. I had been interested in religion for some time, with my Catholic father and Jewish mother, and it was during this time that I met a girl, Linda Horner, at church – my Dad was thrilled that I had a girlfriend. I continued to go into the City for concerts and was now getting tickets from the teachers of my two favorite subjects, physics and music, who were getting them donated to the school by a music publishing company. As for school studies, if I liked a teacher and the topic then I would do well and get A’s; otherwise I’d get C’s. My parents were not too concerned and never went to parent/teacher meetings. I was a good, well-behaved kid, although my Dad my have thought differently. I enjoyed working with model airplanes and playing a little basketball, and most of all I was in to machine shop where I once built a rocket launcher and came third in the State Fair after coming second the year before with a project that determined the size of molecules based on Millikan’s oil drop experiment.”

Charlie graduated from high school in 1960. ‘I had been a national merit scholar since junior high and was determined to go to M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), one of the best science schools in the country – I wanted to be a physicist. However, my father ripped up my application for a scholarship and insisted that I would be working my way through school – ‘you’ll learn more that way’, he said. What can I say – we just never did get along. I had worked in the summers when at high school at a hotel in New Jersey’s Cape May resort town as a busboy, doing kitchen prep, as a bellhop, and as the night clerk. I remember coming home after one summer with $700 that I had saved. My Dad asked for it and I gave it to him. He took it and said, “Sucker, let this be a lesson to you.”

With two suitcases and $1000 in cash, including the $700, Charlie’s father drove him to Allegheny College in north west Pennsylvania about four hundred miles away where he began his studies in math and physics with chemistry. He worked in the dining hall, doing three two-hour shifts a day, to pay for tuition and then later at a portrait photography shop as a photo finisher amongst other things. He was the President of the Young Christians and also joined in the beginnings of the anti-war movement that was developing. Then, following after his sophomore year, he and Linda, the girlfriend he had met at church, were married and he took a sabbatical from school. “Initially I dropped out because I needed more money so that I could continue to pay for my studying. Working and studying was too much to do at the same time so I had to do one first so that I could pay for the other. We were married in 1962 and I found a job working for Boeing in their helicopter test division as an engineering assistant.” Linda who had been at a college elsewhere in Pennsylvania, now transferred to nearby Bryn Mawr for her studies.

While living on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Charlie also worked at a coffee house called ‘The Edge’, which he eventually managed. It featured a thriving music scene so he began playing his banjo there. “My favorite uncle had taken me to see The Country Gentlemen at Rutgers University when I was about sixteen and I became hooked on the banjo from then on. Then I was at my girlfriend’s relatives one day and we found this funky old banjo in the attic and I started to play it, eventually taking my first formal lesson in my freshman year in college.”

Two years went by when suddenly everything changed. “I got a call from the Dean of Students at Allegheny College telling me to get back there and resume my studies because the draft board had called him and he’d told them I was a student there. Around that same time, Boeing had begun to install grenade launchers to the helicopters in preparation for war in Vietnam so I had quit. Then the coffee house backers had pulled out and it was closing down and as we were living upstairs we had to get out. It all just fell into place and I returned to school for my junior year in the fall of 1964.”

Charlie got a job at a jewelry store to support his studies, “or may be that was to help with Linda’s studies!… Anyway, I also took a job as a custodian in the art department and these two jobs covered my tuition and gave me some wages to live off. I had also changed my major to art and sociology and that was far more manageable now that I did not have the five-hours labs a few times a week. Besides, being at the coffee shop had changed my focus significantly and I was a different person in many ways. Then, just as school was starting Linda announced that she had had an affair with a mutual friend of ours and we split up. I was very upset. However, my student advisor, who was also a painter, set me up with a model of his called Cornelia. We had a wild affair and a year later got married. Soon after, with just two semesters to go in school, I was drafted for the second time.”

Charlie had applied for his Conscientious Objector (C.O.) status several times and after a long struggle now had his card.  Many C.O.’s were going to jail at that time but his sister, who lived in the Bay Area, had a friend connected to the Glide Foundation, and they found him work that the draft board would accept as ‘alternative service.’ Therefore, to avoid the draft for a second time, he was sent to work in south San Jose and East Palo Alto as a community organizer and together with others put together the funding and organization to get a health center established in the city of Alviso – “it was an incredible education to be involved in such a project.” Also at this time, with his service work providing no income, he found a job in the basement of paint and wallpaper shop as a picture framer in order to have at least some money coming in.

When this service was completed he got in his VW bus and returned to school for his final two semesters, finally graduating in 1968. “We had really liked our time in California so we returned there and met up with our friends we’d made when living in San Jose, Doug and Judy Nelson, who had bought property in the Santa Cruz hills. While there we met with a neighbor of theirs and she asked if we wanted to buy a house. We were very interested but I needed a job before we went any further. That same day we went in to town and parked outside a store that had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window for a part-time photo finisher and a picture framer. I had done both jobs before and so I applied and got them both and ended up being there for about six years – we basically got a house and a job on the same day!” By this time he and Cornelia had had two children – Timothy born in 1969 in San Jose and then Anna, whom Charlie helped deliver, who was born when they lived in the Santa Cruz area in 1974.

Over that time Charlie became a more serious photographer and, along with Doug Nelson, opened their own gallery with jewelry and photography, adding a few more people over time to become a co-op. He also became very involved with the Home Birth Movement. However, by the mid-seventies he and Cornelia decided to split up and she left, with the two kids joining her about six months later. She wanted to return some time after that but Charlie was not prepared to accept that situation and so when she said she wanted half of what the house was worth he had to sell it. Over the next few years he got to see the kids just a couple of times a year and that was very hard to deal with.

In the early seventies Charlie had taken a motorbike ride through Anderson Valley and was entranced by it. The Nelson’s bought property here and throughout the seventies he would visit them regularly up here and nearly bought property next to theirs but the deal fell through. Following the sale of his house in Santa Cruz, he had met a woman called Suzy and they moved to Humboldt County near to where his sister Dorothy lived, close to Dinsmore on Hwy 136. “At college I had worked as a carpenter part-time and had some work in construction in Santa Cruz too, so I got my contractors license and found carpentry jobs. I also drove the ambulance and was on the local health-center board but there were few people around and not much work overall. Suzy and I were together for about two years during which time we built a house together. Then she took a ride back east to see her folks with a friend of mine. On their return she wanted to break up with me as they had got together but it turned out he didn’t want to do this – he was married. She was upset and left anyway and I was not at all happy with life at that point.”

“Sometime in the early-eighties, through my work with the ambulance, I became friendly with a cute young nurse by the name of Maureen – a tough cookie of Irish descent. Then one day she brought a casserole to my house and we started dating shortly after! She worked in Fortuna about forty miles away, and by having me visit her there she was maybe testing my commitment, but she did eventually moved in with me and in 1982 we had our daughter Deirdre.”

“In the late eighties an old friend of mine called from the Bay Area and offered me work down there in construction. I was there for a few months and it made me realize that where we lived was not right for us. I missed playing music – I had met and played with several Anderson Valley musicians on my visits – and there was not enough work up in Humboldt. I had never had a problem finding work in my whole life and I often had two jobs. We found a place to rent in the Valley and moved here in 1989, by which time I knew quite a few folks – the Nelson’s, Willie Sutton, George Gowan Sr., Harold Hulbert Sr., etc. I loved hanging out with the old folks and hearing their stories. My first job was to build the pottery studio for Chris Bing that I did with Steve Derwinsky… I had taken our kids to the Methodist Church and met Pat Hulbert there. She told me some work was needed on the church and so Dennis Toohey and I worked on upgrading it. I also worked for John Burroughs and it was while working on a job with Joe Petelle that he asked if I’d like to play some music with him and some friends – that was the beginning of many years of wonderful times.”

Charlie met up with Diane Hering, Lynn Archambault, Brian Woods, and Joe and they called themselves ‘The Apologists’. They jammed and did the occasional gig and then Dave Dart joined and announced one day that he ‘had nothing to apologize for’ and they became ‘Off the Cuff.’ Later, after Lynn left, they were to be known as ‘Wild Oats’ and are still paying regularly today. They practice every Wednesday and recently on Mondays Charlie has been joined by Brian on mandolin and Dean Titus on guitar, sometimes with Alan Kendall on fiddle, and another little jam session is enjoyed.

Charlie found steady work in construction and also volunteered as a math tutor for high school kids. One of these was the daughter of Charlie Hiatt who came to him one day and asked if he’d like to buy some land in Holmes Ranch. “He showed me twenty acres and I took it for $50K. We lived in a trailer for a time before Joe and I put in the foundation and then I got five friends round one morning and we framed the whole thing in a day except for the roof, which Joe and I finished. Since then I have designed and built several homes and have had many of the Valley’s carpenters work with me, including Mark Triplett, Steve Woods, Bryan Huggins, and Bill Rafael, and some of the jobs have included the kitchen at the Apple Farm, author Alice Walker’s house, the Fehr’s wonderful home way up on Peachland Road, and the beautiful home of the Gage’s in Rancho Navarro that appeared in ‘ Fine Home Building’ magazine. I guess I have done about one home a year for the past dozen years or so.”

Apart from his music, while he and Maureen are not that social, they do enjoy attending some of the Valley’s many events such as the potlucks, the crab feed, and sometimes the County Fair, and he has remained close social friends with clients whose homes he has built. “Anderson Valley has got a wonderful sense of community that is somewhat rare. People here will always step in to help others. And the idea of sitting down to a meal as a community, as with the crab feed, pot lucks, and other events, is a very special thing”… Charlie was on the founding board of the local radio station and was able to turn the old buildings they acquired into a working station and office space… After asking many times, and with further pressure from Geraldine Rose, Charlie finally got a ‘Yes’ from Maureen and they were married in 1989 with Eric Labowitz performing a ‘quickie’ ceremony in his living room over dinner, with daughter Deirdre as ring bearer, and Doug and Judy Nelson as witnesses….

I asked Charlie for his responses to some of the issues that Valley folks frequently talk about… The Wineries and their impact? – “It was very different without them here when I first visited in the early seventies and it has been strange to see the other crops and sheep disappear; very sad in some ways. However they do provide lots of work. I am not a fan of absentee winery owners – that is bad news, and house buying for many people living here is no longer an option with land prices driven up so high. Furthermore I see lots of people driving big cars far too fast in the valley, many of them tipsy. I guess I’d rather see it otherwise but the wineries are the result of the economic reality of our times”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I have always loved the A.V.A. – having a local paper is a great thing”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I think it is brilliant and we are just so lucky to have it. Anyone can get involved – that’s great. However, like the A.V.A. there is a certain amount that you just have to ignore”… The School System? – “I was on the school board for five years and I have to say that our school is better than others around here to where some kids are being sent. I am so impressed with what they do here”… The Changes in the Valley? – “I kind of like the changes. I think people are trying to do more than just catch the tourists and I still know most of the people in these new places”… Drugs in the Valley? – “Well speed is the worst of drugs. There’s nothing good about it. It’s horrendous. As for pot being a ‘gateway drug’ that is because it is illegal. It is not a ‘gateway drug’; it’s so innocuous and medical people agree with that. It should be legal.”

To end the interview, I posed a few quick questions to my guest….

1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Music and sex in equal amounts.”

2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Greed.”

3.What sound or noise do you love? – “My cat, Holly, purring.”

4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “A mosquito in the ear; jets flying over the Valley.”

5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Sturgeon with black truffle sauce cooked by Margaret Fox who used to own the Café Beaujolais in Mendocino. I had it once and it was my most memorable meal ever.”

6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Well I had the most wonderful hug from the Dalai Lama many years ago at U.C. Santa Cruz so a conversation and words are not always the most important thing in a meeting. Therefore, I would say my newest grandson, who I have yet to see, is the person I really want to meet – soon I hope.”

7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “My banjo, some drawing materials, and a camera with film.”

8.What is a smell you really like? – “Baking bread.”

9.What is your favorite word or phrase? – “That would be ‘you bet’. It just pops out often.”

10.What is your favorite hobby? – “Most of what I do is hobby/work to an extent. I guess my orchids would be my favorite pure hobby.”

11.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “I have no answer to that. ‘Anything that I would feel good about doing’ is the best I can come up with.”

12.What profession would you not like to do? – “An executioner; or may be somebody who makes decisions on house foreclosures.”

13.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “It’s very difficult to rank the happiest. The most glorious would be the birth of my children, one of which I delivered myself.”

14.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “Probably when my first wife left.”

15.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I have tried since a child to live a life that I wouldn’t feel bad about. I have made mistakes and have regrets but I have always strived to do the right thing… That I try to be generous and give of myself.”

16.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well if he said ‘Oh, you again’ with a smile on his face that would be good.”

Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mary Pat Palmer – July 16th, 2010

I met with Mary Pat at her home at the Philo School of Herbal Energetics which she runs in the Christine Woods area between Philo and Navarro. Her two dogs, Bear and his mother Sola, along with Mary Pat, greeted me and after a brief look at the wonderful garden we sat down to talk…

Mary Pat (Patricia) was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1946 the second of three children born to Frank Palmer and Amy Neumann. Mary Pat has an older brother, Frank, born in 1942, and a much younger brother, Johnny, born in 1954. The Palmers are of English descent and fought on the side of the British in the War of Independence. Her mother’s side of the family had also been in the States for several generations, having originally come from Germany. “My paternal grandmother was a rebellious New York City girl who divorced her first husband, my father’s father, and then married a Cherokee Indian. My father went to graduate school at Pitt on the G.I Bill to study psychology. My mother’s family was based in Illinois and her father was a tyrant although her mother was a perfect grandmother. During the Second World War my father, who had served as a Captain under General Patton at one point, worked for the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services – the predecessor of the C.I.A.) and my mother was in the U.S. branch of the British secret services, M.I.5. They met during this time and were married and soon after my older brother was born.”

The paternal side of the family were originally from Sag Harbor, N.Y. “One of my earliest memories is from the early fifties when my Uncle Jack ‘the Communist’ was being hounded by the McCarthy communist ‘witch hunts’ and of the fear in our house of us all being accused of communist sympathies. We actually left the country for a time and moved to Ontario. In the end my Dad called Patton to get us back and to sort the situation out. This worked well and we returned without any repercussions.”

When she was five, her father moved the family to California where he was initially stationed at Fort Ord before getting a job in Monterey with the military’s Human Research Organization (HUMRO) as a psychologist and they lived in Carmel where Mary Pat went to the Woods School. “Being from the East coast I was seen as a bit of an oddity, in the way I spoke and dressed – I wore long pants under my dresses – unlike the California kids. It didn’t take long to fit in though and it was a wonderful place to grow up. Dad was very regimented and wanted the house to be in order and kept very clean, although he was not particularly strict or a stern disciplinarian. However, after a drink he could get very angry and had a lot of rage. We had a neurotic dog named Riley, a Red Setter, who could do no wrong in my Dad’s eyes. We kids were also somewhat unruly and often up to mischief but it came under ‘creative mischief’ to Dad and he didn’t seem to mind too much. Many people in the Carmel Highlands at that time had moved there from Hollywood following McCarthy’s operations – black-listed screenwriters particularly who continued to work and send their scripts in to the studios under ghost writers’ names.”

During that time Mary Pat was molested at rifle point while walking to a friend’s house through some woods. “It was not ultimately violent, more of a sexual power thing.” Following 2nd grade they moved a short distance and she entered the River School. “It was near to the ocean and those were some idyllic years when I had some wonderful teachers, particularly one who introduced me to Native American culture. My brother and I continued to push limits but we never got into serious trouble, although along with many of the kids in the town we were spoiled brats. From 5th to 8th grade I attended the Sunset School that was very near to our house and I spent most of my leisure time riding my bike and swimming in the Ocean. Around that time I was molested for a second time – this time by the local pet storeowner who also ran the child matinees at the local cinema – god only knows how many kids he traumatized. I didn’t tell my parents about either of these incidents – my father would have killed both and on some level I knew that. My father was brilliant and a very charming man, a horrible womanizer, and very narcissistic, but everyone loved him and he was very different socially than when at home. Mom too was very self-involved but much quieter, withdrawn even- they weren’t really present for us and had many rows, mainly about Dad’s philandering in and around the Carmel cocktail hour scene and it’s wife-swapping activities. When I was about fourteen, she threw him out after an affair with a woman from his work and refused to take him back. He moved in with the woman in Richmond in the Bay Area and joined the faculty at Berkeley and he’d visit us about once a month.”

“Frank and I were encouraged to be independent as my parents thought that was the right way to raise kids. We both did very well at school and had high I.Q.’s. Dad had told me from a very young age that I was going to go to U.C. Berkeley. We were not allowed to read any trash and he read Shakespeare’s Hamlet to me when I was twelve. He did however think ‘Mad Magazine’ was o.k. for us to read. I spent many hours in the Carmel Library and knew the people working there very well. It was a safe place for me and after the molestations I liked being there and also Riley the dog became very important to me as my protector and he slept with me every night… I loved the beach and had many friends – we had a little ‘gang’ called the ‘Keen Teens’ and we’d get together for dancing and swimming. It was both boys and girls but we were all just friends.”

Mary Pat has mixed feelings about her high school years. She enjoyed being on the swim team but she arrived the year after her brother graduated and had something of a reputation after his exploits. She did maintain good grade for a couple of years but then things changed. “I think I got bored and then after my father had left I really cut loose with a boyfriend (Gary) who was nineteen and began drinking too much when hanging around with his friends. On my birthday I got as drunk as a skunk and stayed the night with Gary. We were both freaked out and though my parents knew they said nothing. I told my mother we would get married and have seven children. My Mom had remarried and my stepfather and I didn’t get along. Going into my senior year, she told me that if I was going to behave like my father then I would have to live with him and she booted me out. My father had moved to New York to teach with his third wife-to-be, Petie, and I was sent there after spending that summer of 1963 in Sag Harbor. It was devastating – basically I was forced to leave my life.”

It turned out that Mary Pat’s father didn’t really want her around and so he put her in an old people’s hotel in Manhattan. He married into a very wealthy family and was now becoming a famous psychologist. “I was in this hotel with my new stepmother’s sister, Jonnie, who was an alcoholic, and her eight year old daughter. It was very lonely although I did learn to be ‘hip’ and go out exploring Greenwich Village. One day Jonnie caught me drinking and asked if I wanted to end up like her. It really affected me and I stopped pretty much there and then.”

After her senior year at Walden H.S., a very elite private school attended by the children of New York’s artistic types because her father thought art was her destiny, Mary Pat graduated in 1964. “The educational quality at the school was phenomenal and being new and different from the other kids I dove into the liberal arts and academics on offer. I had one real friend, Janice Sokoloff, and we both ace’d our S.A.T.’s and decided to go to Berkeley. I spent the summer at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, studying welding and clay and then entered U.C. Berkeley in the fall of 1964.”

This was the time of the Free Speech Movement and Mary Pat became very active in that as she studied Sculpture, English, and History. She had her brother Frank there and also her stepbrother Bill, (Petie’s son) and after a short time in the dorm, which she hated, she moved in with them and another friend, Bernie, who was to drop out and become the sound manager for The Grateful Dead. “I became increasingly political and listened to the music of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, a former Carmel resident). I was on the picket line preventing trucks bringing food in to the campus in a protest against the university’s backing of the government war policies and generally treating the students badly. The truck drivers were in the Teamsters Union and wouldn’t cross the line. I was never arrested in any of the protests I took part in. The police were horrendous and that summer they were out to get some of us in the movement. We had safe houses and I stayed at the S.D.S. (Students for a Democratic Society) house in Oakland. I was on of three who stood on the train tracks to prevent a troop train from leaving for San Diego. Scores of protesters lined up alongside the track and watched as the train ran through without stopping.  We barely got off the track. The police and army were everywhere and it brought home the enormity of the opposition facing us. This wasn’t just some protest on campus – that was child’s play in comparison. I was very, very upset and could only observe the next troop train demo where hundreds of protesters were steamed on the track. It was very traumatic, very moving. I was a mess. My mother was still very upset with me and had by this time had a breakdown. I fled to my father’s in Sag Harbor.   I got a job through him as a social secretary for a friend of his in East Hampton – he was a relentless social climber. He and my stepmother were very good to me. At that time I read a book, ‘One Dimensional Man’ by Herbert Marcusse. It was the book of the ‘New Left’ and it changed my life. I knew I had to study with this man.”

During this time Mary Pat met a teacher at Hunter College in New York City, Bruce and they began dating as he went through a divorce. Marcusse was now teaching at U.C. San Diego so she applied to go there with Bruce applying to do his Ph. D. at U.C. Riverside, not far away. Bruce did not get accepted but Mary Pat did so they embarked on a long distance relationship for a time. “It was a very exciting political scene and I studied political history and a philosophy class with Marcusse. I had never doubted my ability to understand his classes and we were in the mid-sixties so there was political discourse everywhere.”

Around this time Mary Pat’s mother committed suicide. “She had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital for attacking her husband – my abusive stepfather who had been having an affair. I hated him from the get-go. My brother Frank was in the Peace Corps in Panama and my father refused to help. I visited her but not long afterwards, at Easter 1967, she jumped off the Bixby Canyon Bridge in Big Sur. There was nothing anyone could have done, I was told. I didn’t want sympathy and returned to college where I began drinking. I became quite ill and decided I needed a complete change of scene. I thought a trip to England would be good for me, where I could study with a sculptor I admired, Anthony Caro. I caught a plane from L.A. to New York but on that journey I met a guy, Howard and we just connected. We stayed in New York for a few days, met each other’s families, and then returned together to San Francisco and found an apartment in North Beach.”

Mary Pat found work as an apprentice sculptor and Howard attended the Art Institute. “Then I suddenly thought I wanted to be a mother and knew Bruce would be a good father. I flew to New York, Bruce agreed, and we returned to S.F. and told Howard. He was understandably upset. I was very wrong to Howard, but my mind was made up. Bruce and I moved to live in a converted chicken shack in Sebastopol an hour or so north of S.F. He got a job teaching at Santa Rosa J.C. and one weekend we took a trip to Arcata in northern California where Maia was conceived under an apple tree on Fickle Hill Road. She was born in July 1969.”

Bruce hated his job and worked for a time at the Bodega Bay Marine Lab but he didn’t like California either so when a friend of theirs wanted to invest $50K to start a commune Mary Pat and Bruce were ready. They bought land in Vermont on the Canadian border and moved in to the thirteen feet of snow that greeted them there. Soon they had eight adults and four children in the commune in what was a true back-to-the-land family commune with horse drawn equipment, herbal medicine, and growing everything they ate. “I was there for four years and working to provide food became my life. That was enough so with two other women, Maia, and another kid, we moved to the Burlington suburbs.  In September 1975 my second daughter, Courtney, was born.  I enrolled in a graduate program studying psychotherapy and graduated in 1979.  Bruce moved to Boston and I followed – he was a good father even if he and I didn’t always get along.  We separated and I started my work as a psychotherapist and also did a part-time job fabricating plastics which paid my way. Working with my hands provided a good balance for me. I also started a community garden and my life pretty much revolved around that for my twenty-plus years in Boston.”

During those years Mary Pat worked mostly in psychotherapy jobs and carpentry, and also helped to organize a pain and stress management clinic for the elderly and disabled at a public health hospital, involving acupuncture, meditation and expressive therapies such as dance, art, and music. For a time she had a steady relationship with Phillip, the lead guitarist in a rock band. “That was one of the best things to happen to me; he was a very gentle and brilliant man and we dated for about three years in the mid-eighties.”

In the mid-nineties, Mary Pat met Bill Taylor at the community garden and after living together for a time they were married in 1999, honeymooning in Peru and climbing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I was homesick for California and even after I had started my own private practice I still wanted to return here. … Then in April 2001 I was diagnosed with cancer – a two-inch tumor in my large intestine. I now thought I’d die if I didn’t get back to California and refused chemotherapy, deciding I wanted to go with herbs and acupuncture instead. The doctors back there said I would die without chemo and would have a 40% chance of surviving if I did have it. Neither was an option to me. Bill and I split up and for a time my younger brother took care of me but we semi-reconciled and I told him I was leaving for California. My brother Frank knew Anderson Valley and thought it might be a good fit for me. I flew out alone to San Francisco and drove up to the Valley and into Boonville. I stopped at The Drive-In and asked where the nearest real estate agent was. That was Mike Shapiro across the street and he showed me a home in the Christine Woods region near to Gschwend Road between Philo and Navarro. It was sixteen acres including thirteen redwoods and I had decided that if you wanted to save the redwoods you would have to buy them so I did. I fell in love with the Valley immediately and it was not an issue at all that I knew nobody in the Valley. It was my mission to get well and be a steward of the redwoods. I moved here in September of 2001.  Bill then came out to join me in January, 2002.”

Mary Pat worked hard on the garden at her new home and on the house too as she continued her treatment for the cancer. She and Bill managed the Boonville Farmer’s Market and this led to the development of friendships and a social scene. She taught a little yoga and then one day she had a conversation with Cynthia McMath at Lauren’s Restaurant who told her of a job with Community Care in Ukiah. She got the job and was there for a year before moving within the department to a job as a social worker in Ft Bragg working with the elderly and disabled, where she remained for five years, working three days a week. The rest of the time she started and developed the Philo School of Herbal Energetics, something similar to a school she had run in Boston.

Meanwhile, following two years of couple counseling, it became apparent that she and Bill would both be better off apart so they split up. “It was for the best and Bill moved out…. My herbal treatment was working and while I am someone who can accept death, it would have been difficult in Boston. Here it would have been in peace. After two years of treatment a colonoscopy revealed all was clear and it had not metastasized anywhere else! I am now in the Valley’s Women’s Cancer Support Group (contact Linda Brennan at 895-3587) with several other local women who have suffered with cancer.”

Mary Pat is in many groups and organizations in the valley including being on the board of the Chamber of Commerce; in the Food Shed Group; the Unity Club – gardening section; the Boonville Farmer’s Market, Mendocino’s too; and the Independent Career Women (I.C.W.) of which she was President for a time. She also works once a week, Wednesday mornings, at Boont Berry Farm in Boonville, both behind the counter and also available for any herbal questions customers may have. She has made many friends, including Mary and Ron O’Brien her near neighbors “who have been wonderful”; Monica and Beverley at Philo pottery Inn, George too; and Sandy Creque. She enjoys the weekly trivia quiz at Lauren’s and tries to get to other various Valley events but is too busy to attend as “the garden and the school take up a lot of my energy and so I can’t get out as often I’d like.”

Daughter Maia is now a licensed psychotherapist herself, married to Karl, a teacher in Palo Alto. They have two children, Mary Pat’s grandkids – Mikaela aged five and four-month old Theo. Courtney meanwhile is a world-class ceramicist in Helena, Montana. Along with the two dogs Mary Pat has three cats – Auralius Legalos, Ami, and Calendula Caledonia. She loves the community here in the Valley, along with the redwoods of course, which she attributes in part to her recovery – “they brought me back.”

I asked Mary Pat for her brief responses to some Valley issues… The wineries and their impact? – “I do appreciate the positive economic impact, I really do, but I grieve for the loss of the other plants and fruits and the monoculture aspect of the wineries’ dominance. As for the noise they make at night with their frost protectors and spraying equipment, it is terrible. It sounds like the middle of L.A. with a bunch of helicopters landing. It is horrible! As for the water issue, unlike many here, I believe in catchment ponds and water tanks. Fill them and use them. There is still an impact on the creeks and rivers but not to the same degree as directly pumping the water out. A spring is the most sensible and desirable thing – something I am fortunate to have. Others have them too but they are not used”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I love it. I am starting a complementary medicine program soon, to be called ‘Community Health’”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “It took a time for me to get to enjoy it. Then when Bruce Anderson gave a talk at the Unity Club there was a level of humility about him that I did not expect. I liked him. I don’t read the whole thing but do enjoy the local pages, the interviews, and the sheriff’s log”… The School System? – “Our teachers work very, very hard and, like teachers in general, are by and large exploited for their generosity, kindness, and the way they care for the children”… The changes in the Valley? – “I live a relatively sheltered life here and what strikes me more is what doesn’t change. Lots of things are the same as they were ten years ago. Stability is good for me. I appreciate that aspect of living here. The many long-term married couples who live here are a great thing, although it can be a tough place to live for single people.”

To end the interview, I posed a variety of questions to my guest…

1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Other people.”

2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Other people.”

3.What sound or noise do you love? – “The singing of birds.”

4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “Vineyard frost protectors.”

5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Salmon – broiled or grilled.”

6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Jazz musician John Coltrane – his work ‘A Love Supreme’ is perfect.”

7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “Seeds that would grow there; the works of novelist William Faulkner; and a musical instrument that I could learn – the flute perhaps.”

8.Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “Well I mentioned the Marcusse book earlier; then for music perhaps the Mozart Horn Concerto or may be the music of Kurt Weill, or Richard Thomson’s or Joan Baez songs; no one film stands out but I am currently watching this Canadian television series called ‘Intelligence’ a little like HBO’s ‘The Wire’ – it’s quite fantastic.”

9.What is a smell you really like? – “The flower of the Butterfly Bush.”

10.What is your favorite hobby? – “Reading; gardening; making herbs with my still; crochet; making jewelry; I still sculpt – I do like to work with my hands.”

11.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “A sculptor.”

12.What profession would you not like to do? – “An accountant in a large corporation.”

13.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The birth of my two children.”

14.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “My mother’s suicide.”

15.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I have compassion for people; an ability to like many different sorts of people.”

16.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well I don’t think you can go wrong being good to others, and providing a place for animals, birds, and plants to thrive. So if he said ‘You did a good job taking care of the land that you worked with’ that would be fine.”

Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 5:40 pm  Leave a Comment