I took a farming class last year – all year. We grew and tended our own crops, visited farms and orchards…wonderful. I have two acres of old walnut trees and hoped to learn how to either tend them or replace them. Around my house I have planted 30+ fruit trees where there was an unkempt lawn previously. These fruit trees are … ahem…not growing as fast as I would like, let’s just put it that way. Apricots, pluots, cherries, plums, apples, stone pines, pomegranates. I would like to see them thrive, not just survive.
The other day I heard about the beneficial relationship between fungus and tree roots. I knew this already from my science teaching but perked up my ears when I heard the speaker on PRI’s “The World” broadcast. About a scientist Sanders, the announcer said:
In particular, Sanders is obsessed with a type of fungi that live on the roots of about 80 percent of the plants on the planet. Their tiny filaments help plants grow by drawing water and nutrients to the plant. In return, the plants feed sugars to the fungi.
It’s a symbiotic relationship that Sanders says is incredibly important.
“Almost all our food plants naturally form this association with these fungi,” he says
So I have ordered fungi through the mail and will apply it to my trees. Keep posted.
I AM SO LUCKY. I can go right outside and watch meteor showers from my yard. Rumsey has some of the clearest sky in the nation, yet is within an hour of UC Davis and Sacramento. Tonight I will watch the annual Perseid show from my grassy lawn.
A couple of years ago I had a perseid-viewing party here. Neighbors spread blankets and drank cocktails. Another year I jogged 2.5 miles to Windy Bridge across Cache Creek and lay on the parapet watching meteors shoot above the profile of the hills. Before I purchased Rumsey House B&B, I stayed one August at Wilbur Hot Springs just up the road. I sat in the open-air pools and watched hundreds of meteors.
But my best memory of Perseids was backpacking with my young husband into the high Tuolomne Meadow area of Yosemite National Park, over 30 years ago. David was the one who introduced me to them. We spread sleeping bags on the sandy soil and watched them before turning in.
Last summer I noticed a Hooded Oriole at my hummingbird feeders outside my kitchen window. This year the fellow brought a whole flock with him. Yippee! I thought it was a single oriole feeding many times during the day until a guest told me he’d seen “a whole bunch of that orange and black birds” in the tall valley oak near my driveway on the other side of my property. Today I went out to confirm the sighting. I could see and hear them high in the tree.
Another fabulous behavior I saw was this: instead of feeding at the feeder one day, the male oriole flew around it fluttering its wings. It would light on the feeder ever so slightly, then flutter around it some more before flying off. A few moments later I saw a female land on the feeder. He was showing his food source to his mate.
Hope I get some nests in the tree. I read they breed here during the summer.
I have the nicest guests. The winning-est guests. I tell them they are “reverse guests”, showing me hospitality. Or sharing their interests. I’m not using their real names in the stories.
Eariler this summer:
“You have a basket of rocks upstairs that looks just like mine!” Ron said. I have a bunch of rough-hewn rocks from around California: carnelian, Maraposite, ropy lava, pumice, serpentine, smooth red gneiss, fossils from nodules found along Cache Creek. Most guests don’t notice them, but Ron was also interested in geology. We drifted into a discussion of our respective sand collections while his wife smiled. My collection started many years ago on a trip to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes in St. George, Utah. The ranger there had his own collection of sands from around the world, and my husband said, “We’ve got to start our own!” Thereafter, small bottles of sand from Indiana, Afghanistan, Dubai, Hawaii, Utah, Mexico, Florida, Chesapeake Bay started lining shelves of our house. The search for oolitic sand led me to many fascinating places. (But that’s another story, involving a friendly Bible-thumping fossil hunter, a trip across country, and shuffleboards.) A week after my guest’s stay, a box arrived for me at the Rumsey Post Office just down the street. (We don’t get mail delivery here, have to go to the post office to pick up our mail which our Postmistress Pam puts in our boxes every day). The small cubic box contained samples of sand and a long article about various sand types. It was from Ron.
“How did you make your lavender panne cotta?” asked another Sheryl. Sheryl had stayed with me an earlier time and liked my use of unusual ingredients in my breakfasts. The previous time she’d been here I had served wild harvested pine nuts over polenta. This time I was into lavender because my neighbors at Cache Creek Lavender Farm were having their annual June Lavender Festival. So, I’d made lavender encrusted roast pork, lavender lemonade and lavender panne cotta for guests. My friendly guest and I promised to send each other recipes. A week after her stay, Pam put another box in my mail slot at the post office. It was a book of lavender recipes from Cheryl, purchased at Cache Creek Lavender Farm.
A group of women were staying here during Capay Valley’s annual Almond Festival in February. As director of our chamber of commerce, I was the chairwoman of the festival and it was my first time. The pressure on me was extreme. Every town, every nonprofit organization up and down the valley participates – and counts on making money during this most important festival of the year. I was frantic that it be successful, especially since it was my first stab at the festival. Although I had overwhelming support from the community, let it be said that there a few people who were waiting to see me fail (small town politics!). I’d had a new idea: an almond baking contest with real cash prizes. Lots of folk, from students to grandmothers and fathers, had submitted entries and the judging was happening the next afternoon. “Who will be the judges?” asked Sheryl (above story, her first stay here). I admitted that was a problem. I’d had trouble lining up judges…oops. But three of my guests were excellent cooks and they promptly agreed to judge the contest. At the contest site, we also rounded up some upstanding local citizens. The contest was a big success; lots of tasting and excitement during the judging. Another of my guests won third place adult division for her almond candies.
“Here’s how you catch them!” Rhonda (a guest) was down on her knees in the lawn, setting a gopher trap just so. “It’s best if you cover the hole again with a board so they don’t see sunlight and realize their tunnel’s been messed with.” She rummaged around to find the right size board from a stack leaning against the back side of my well house. I’ll mention right here that gopher hunters have differing opinions on this. Some say it’s important to cover the hole; others say you should let the sun shine in so the gopher will approach and cover it up (being trapped at the same time). My neighbor Cathy was strolling down the road to the post office and saw my husband and I on the ground with Rhonda. “Here’s how I do it,” Cathy said, setting another trap. “I have them all over my pear orchard.” My husband was only partly engaged in this conversation, being only a reluctant gopher-ist. But I had urged him to learn this task, since I remained too clumsy to set the traps without catching my thumbs in them. In the morning, we had caught two gophers. Yippee!
“This is really what they want to do, believe me!” Three wives sat at their ease on my porch after breakfast, while their husbands looked over my shoulder at my “handyman list” kept on my computer. “I’m not going to have guests doing handyman chores!” I protested. “They’re going to go around on their own looking for things to do if you don’t direct them. This is what they do everyday at home, putter.” So, Bill tackled the loose faucet at the sink, and Glen and Hugh got a ladder out of the garage to hang one of my quilts. The women came upstairs to judge whether the quilt hung true and if its position looked right. My husband had died unexpectedly and suddenly two weeks previously. This was their way of helping me cope. This was when I invented the phrase “reverse guests.”
Two neighbors dropped by Rumsey House a couple of nights ago and we were sitting on the porch in the cool evening, drinking red wine and rocking in our chairs overlooking my orchard. Dusk hovered among the trees, a bat fluttered by, I swatted at a gnat. My two Peking Ducks heard our voices and came near, chattering in their duckish voices as they dabbled in the grass for bugs.
“I had ducks once,” Cairo commented. “But they became too tame.”
“Yeah, what do you mean?” asked Leah.
“I mean, they thought I was their mother and wanted me near them all the time. If I was anywhere they could see me, they were happy. But the minute I went inside, they would start hollering for me. It got to be horrible. All that loud quacking.”
“Hmmm,” I murmured.
“But then I had an idea. Well, actually, it was Jenny – you probably don’t know her, she moved away a few years ago – who had the idea. She had given her daughter a giant Barbie doll one year. This Barbie was 4 feet high! Can you imagine?”
We other two leaned forward in our chairs.
“So, I borrowed this giant Barbie and I leaned it out in the yard where the ducks could see her. Then I walked away into the house. The ducks never missed me. As long as that damn Barbie stood there, they were happy!”
I love that story. I’ve had my Peking ducks for several years and they definitely associate me with safety, but I’ve never had to use a doll to keep them quiet. They keep me company whenever I’m weeding, dabbling near my feet. As soon as it gets dark, they return to their pen and I roll a log against their door so raccoons can’t get in. The latch on the gate is too stiff to work properly. When I go jogging at night, I pass their pen and they quack happily at me.
My friend Greg was helping me fix my stove when he noticed a historical print of the Capay Valley on my wall.
“I’m also interested in Capay Valley history,” he said as he looked closer at the print. Captain D.C. Rumsey’s farm was illustrated in a lithograph. My town, Rumsey, was named after him (his title was honorary, dating from a stint in the county militia). “You know his farm was right across the road from where you live now, in the old walnut orchard.”
“Do you know about the Rumsey Schoolhouse?” he asked. I knew it was still standing in our little town. It has been converted into a home near the crossroads.
“Well, maybe you don’t know how it got moved to its present location: it used to be down at the S-curve (local landmark that I call the drunkard’s curve) and was shared by Guinda and Rumsey. But the parents got into a fight about evolution and tempers rose. One night the parents at Rumsey went down there and up-and-moved the entire schoolhouse to Rumsey, rather than share the school with the backwards people in Guinda. The next morning it was just … gone!”
I’d heard about the midnight raid on the school before but had never known the cause. To this day, people in the lower end of the valley accuse Rumsey-ites of being too liberal.
Greg went on to say that he had explored the school just after it closed (in our lifetime). “There were three different bathrooms behind the school. Three! One for whites, one for blacks, and one for Indians.”
I guess the folk in Rumsey weren’t as enlightened as I like to think. Our valley is home to Wintun/Patwin Native Americans and I knew there had once been a settlement called “Nigger Heaven” in the hills overlooking Capay Valley. (This was the name given by the black residents. They called Guinda “Irish Hell.”) I did not know black students attended Rumsey schools.
NOTE: the photo in this post is not the Rumsey Schoolhouse. I couldn’t find an online photo of it. The photo shows another schoolhouse in our valley, still standing.
Earlier this week I was in southern California exploring national forests and the little towns scattered throughout. In one village, a vacant site was full of wild yucca plants, all abloom. I stopped my car by the side of the road and went out to gather. That evening I tossed the beautiful white blossoms with freshly picked tomatoes and viniagrette – wonderful! I reserved the unopened blooms for sauteeing with greens for breakfast which I will serve guests this weekend.