Saturday, November 22, 2008

wine country

Have just had a couple of days in San Francisco checking out a few more attractions that i missed on my earlier visit. It worked out rather well, Cynthia brought Franck, another helpXer, into town at the end of my stay and picked me up from the allotted street corner the other evening. We then drove over the golden gate bridge to Sausalito, following the most awful google directions, to meet up with Elizabeth, an old college friend of Cynthias. We found the house in the dark, down steep winding streets and up a long flight of steps, a welcome glass of bubbly and a wonderful view out across the bay. It immediately reminded me of Dartmouth, but on a larger scale, and through the misty light of the morning it did look very similar.
After a fun night discussing trips, travel and whether France would be a good place to emigrate to, Cynthia and i said our goodbyes and hit the road to Napa, an hour or so up the road and an amazing wine growing region. We drove from vineyard to vineyard sampling some wonderful wines, took a vineyard tour, checked out the amazing fall scenery and enjoyed the November sunshine.
We stumbled across another restaurant farm, i guess they could be classed as competition, although i saw an opportunity of kindred spirit, an outfit to trade ideas, enthuse about the wonderful lifestyle, pitfalls and successes of the season and so on. It was great to see another farm to compare Love Apple Farm with.
The sun dropped behind the hills and we headed back to Santa Cruz. Dropping in on Zach, Cynthias son, at Berkley University for a bite to eat and a quick catch up on student life.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

mono lake ca

I know this is not in order, it goes after Yosemite, but i got a bit delayed in writing.

I emerged on the far side of Yosemite national Park, thick with forest and huge, impressive scenery into a vast open valley of nothingness. The view stretched way, way into the distance, flat, brown and featureless, save an area of shimmering water low in the distance and even more distant mountains beyond. It took a good half an hour to reach any signs or indication of where i was heading too, the lake still far away.

There was a local settlement, once, presumably, on the shore of the lake and now probably a mile away. They called it a town, Lee Vining, with a small general store, a couple of touristy gift shops, a pub, restaurant, gas station and various motels. Quiet and with character, standing the test of time, relying on continued passing tourists for income.

The lake has seen better days, now four times saltier than the sea and devoid of almost any life. Even the ducks have difficulty staying upright in the over bouyant waters. The lake continued to disappear until a few years ago. Los Angeles is to blame, according to the story boards in the information/gift store. Tributaries diverted and ground water sucked up to the surface to supply the ever increasing demands of the massive conurbations and the huge swathes of irrigated agriculture along the coast.

Conservation efforts have reduced the lakes decline, political pressure forcing water to be sourced elsewhere and awareness of the environment brought to the attention of city dwellers hundreds of miles away. One person started the campaign, slowly spreading awareness and enlisting the help of others until their voice was so loud that congress was forced to take notice and instigate the change.

Whilst the water levels are low, curious chimney like structures are visible along part of the shore. They formed underwater over thousands of years. Mineral rich ground water welled up from below, combining with the waters of the lake, triggering a reaction that caused a soft rock to form around the vents. Over the years the process produced numerous vertical tubes. These are visible at the moment and are an impressive sight, especially when reflected in the mirror flat water just before sunset.

Hopefully, in the future, they will again become submerged and continue growing below the surface of Mono Lake.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

my election day

The presidential campaigning has been endless..... constant interviews and adverts on the tv, people waving placards at road junctions, canvassers on the streets, signs in yards, on buildings, cars and trucks, tee shirts, baseball caps, badges and stickers.

Not only does the USA vote for their next president at election time, a whole raft of other decisions are put to the population of each state, ranging from electing the new Fire Chief or administrators to raising taxes for a new rail link or medicare projects, along with local government representatives, the list goes on.

Here in California hot voting topics are to do with decisions to abolish the right to same sex marriage, changes to animal cruelty laws, the rights of victims of crime, funding for new regional transport systems and decisions on renewable energy. Each ward of each county in each state has a different set of decisions to make, it is incredibly complex and allows the population to have a say in all sorts of matters that we in the UK have to rely on our MP's to deal with.

I shan't go on, apart from to wish "the new leader of the free world" success in all that he promises to do for them/us and be disappointed that, in this progressive state, the right for same sex marriages has been overturned. From what i have experienced, this is not what the majority of people wanted but was overturned due to confusion in the way the votes had to be cast. ie: vote NO to keep same sex marriage legal and vote YES if you disagree. It will be hotly contested.

My day was full. 'Chef' David from the restaurant invited me to visit a farm up in the hills above Monterey Bay. He wanted to check out what was going to be available for his spring menu. The farm is lovingly looked after by Jean, a retired, scientist, collector. He has the most diverse collection of citrus in north america, an ever growing collection of apples, barns packed with 1934 Ford cars that he restores. His wooden framed house is packed with interesting collections of bottles, boxes, jams, piles of obscure books and beautiful teak furniture. He enthused passion and excitement in everything he showed us. I could have stayed for weeks. We checked out the cars and the house, picked and sampled fruit from numerous trees; sweet, tart, acidic, dry, sour beyond belief, zesty, tangy, bland and mysteriously tasty. I understand why 'chef' likes the farm so much.

(the one illustrated is called 'budda's fingers')

After the farm we headed back to Santa Cruz, about an hour away, calling in on a locally renowned butchers for more inspiration. Caught the last of the afternoon sunshine on the porch with a delicious bottle of bubbly and then chilled in front of the TV whilst the election results came through.

Wine flowed and Pim conjured up a wonderful chicken noodle soup dinner for the small group of friends that had gathered. When the election result was beyond reasonable doubt, the noise of fireworks started to fill the night sky and whoops of joy could be heard from the street. We headed out, walking the two blocks to downtown into a mass impromptu gathering. Pacific Avenue was filled with people of all ages, all smiling and shouting and high fiving each other. A constant stream of cars with horns blaring, proceeded slowly through the crowds, smiling waving occupants rejoicing the news. The carnival atmosphere was unexpectedly emotional and, according to several people, a quite unprecedented reaction to the election of a new president.

We partied with the crowd for quite a while, soaking up the atmosphere and discussing the results. It was one of those occasions where complete strangers spoke and hugged and came together as one happy family. I hope that it is a sign of things to come. The Irish bar, the "Poet and Patriot" was packed and noisy and reminded me so much of the pubs back home, but still open in the small hours of the morning. Celebratory Guiness, passable for this side of the pond, went down a treat, a short stroll back to David and Pims. Destination sofa, to sleep like the dead.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Further Through Yosemite

My road trip continued to the easterly side of the park, through high mountain passes, clearings with ancient meadows where the indigenous peoples used to farm and down into the valley beyond. Again i was fascinated by the amount of effort the pioneers went to to access such inhospitable land, building roads that must have taken years, countless effort and probably several lives. Mining, unknown incentives of discovery and the promise of fortune probably provided ample encouragement at the time. Evidence now hidden as the modern world seeks to preserve wilderness and open spaces, disused settlements and old mines removed or abandoned and swallowed up as nature returns as best it can.

It made for an amazing drive through a constantly changing landscapes of dense forest, towering mountains, scree, bare rock areas with the occasional tree clinging on for dear life, tranquil lakes and glimpses of earlier snow fall, clear blue skies and chilling of the air and then way off into the distance, a view down into the valley beyond.

Lake Mono lay at the foot of the road, miles off in the distance, and apart from the National Park Entrance booth and a couple of 'rest rooms' i had hardly seen a building since i left the hostel that morning. It was like entering another world and another hour or so before i arrived at Lee Vining, a little, once lakeside, settlement where i planned to stay that night. A small row of motels, tourist shops, an excellent visitors centre, general store and garage made up the main street. Out of season it was fairly closed, but with one all purpose diner open for food and a motel with a comfortable bed i was set for the night.