Chestnut Ridge Farm

This year has been about exploring different lifestyles. This weekend we soaked up Boonville, CA.

Boonville, located in the Anderson Valley about 50 miles east of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County, is a short collection of quaint stores with a Restoration Hardware feel (but smaller) and an assortment of whole grain, organic spun eateries without a happy meal to be found. Refreshing, really.

The Farmers’ Market, held Saturday mornings, houses a few stands of plants, fruits and leafy greens, a folksy trio playing background music and a group of people who all seemed to know each other chatting about a small plot adjacent to the Boonville Hotel where, rumor had it, John Scharffenberger had stayed over, possibly in town to check on his former winery–or is it still his winery?–down the street.

I think the story goes he sold the winery to make chocolate instead and now does something else. We were really interested in seeing it mainly because the other Scharffenberger delivered Jordan and we felt somehow connected that way.

We did take a trip by Scharffenberger Cellars and the nice tasting man gave Jordan some organic juice so he would feel included in the tasting experience. (He then proceeded to skewer the juice bag and juice went squirting everywhere which somehow just added some down home fun to the champagne tasting.) We also stopped by our oh so fave Roderer Estate Vineyards and discovered that when you bottle the same vintage in a regular champagne bottle and a magnum, the results are wholly different, with the magnum rounding and mellowing the sparkling wine. Who knew? (After two vineyards, Jordan was pretty sure we were alcoholics so we decided to go hunt down Scharffenberger chocolate instead.)

Our main purpose for going to Boonville, however, was to visit my Uncle Tom’s and Aunt Pam’s Chestnut Ridge Ranch, a pastoral 160 acres atop a hill via dirt road which overlooks the Anderson Valley. When you start on the dirt road, you have 30 minutes straight up with lots of blind turns on the one way dirt road before you reach the ranch. You’re committed once you’re there. There’s no “running out” for milk in these parts.

On the way up you pass an “intentional community” where people build homes from strawbales and live in a self-sustaining commune type fashion. Kind of an organic, Haight Ashbury meets the woods feel.

You drive through forest, past vineyards, cross a creek and through meadows and eventually roost on top of the world, or at least that’s how it feels.

The farm is filled with flowers late this year due to weird weather patterns. Landscape roses cascade over lattice in every color you can imagine. The Georgia rose stands about six foot high with deep red blooms and tells the story of a lady who brought the cutting from someone else right before she died. The Dogwood tree out behind the bass-filled pond was planted when my grandmother passed and stands tall to commemorate what would have been her 100th birthday this past May. The Lorraine Lee rose in bright pink is showy and fragrant, with no thorns on the stems. Every plant has a story. Amazingly, Uncle Tom and Aunt Pam know every plant like parents do children, reminiscing about them the way parents remember their child’s first steps. It’s too much work for two people so WOOFers (World Wide Opportunity for Organic Farmers) come and help work the land. These are people from all over the world who trade room and board for an agreed upon work schedule. Two girls from Estonia recently came and shared with Uncle Tom great music. (So many Woofers have turned him on to music he actually burned a CD called ‘Woofers’.) Then there was the Vegan who taught them how to make a really awesome chocolate cake. Everybody brings something different and they help each other in unique ways.

The Brewers have taken time to build 15 sitting spots fully equipped with footstools and tables across the property so that you may get different perspectives of the valley, a grouping of flowers, the forest, the chestnut orchard. The perch’s call to you, “Sit here. See things from this perspective. Smell the sweet rosemary waft by from the herb garden. Feast your eyes on the bright reds and purples where the butterflies dance. Sit here.” And we did. Sitting with my family, laughing and talking while overlooking the Valley–priceless.

This morning I took Bailey out on a walk through the forest loop just after dawn. It was a bit spontaneous. First, we were just out for our morning poop (her, not me) and then we headed down the first part of the path to check it out. After starting down it, it was so steep I didn’t want to walk back up.
Off we went deep into the forest. I knew it was about a 3 mile loop. Half way through, I had to trust the masters and angels surrounding me to bring me back because I really had no idea if I was following the right road. We were on a high cliff with jack rabbits darting out of the forest and across the path, and Bailey being the city dog she is would likely have chased it right off the cliff had she seen one.

Your mind wanders in the forest. During this time, I started thinking about how life is like walking through the forest. Sometimes you can see around the bend and up the hill and sometimes you can’t see anything up ahead and you feel like wild animals are watching you from the thicket. It requires that faith arm wrestle doubt–and win. It urges you to walk through what could scare you if only to experience the exhilaration at the other end.
And the forest is there to teach you. The towering Redwoods so firmly rooted in the ground reach towards the sky yet stay grounded. Multiple species of birds sing just because it’s morning. Each tree seems to work with the next, knowing that they are connected, and creates such a peaceful forest because of it.

This weekend reminded me of the poignancy of the Dali Lama’s annual message: go see somewhere new each year. In seeing some place new, you sit in a different seat looking out from a different perspective, and in so doing learn a deeper meaning for the seat you sit in each day.

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