Friday, September 11, 2009

White Oak Home: Part 1

There is a place that for me became Home within a day. Paul’s mom lives out on a 2,400 acre ranch in Sonoma County California. And for all the explaining I'll do here of my stay there and how it became home, “A ranch in Sonoma County California” is the best description that can be had. Because if you know it, if you been there, you'll understand. If you haven't, all the explanations and pictures and narratives won't ever give you the real soul of the place. And the soul is what makes the place. It's embedded into every single stalk of golden grass, every dark gray craggy moss laden rock, the spectacularly pure bright blue of the sky, and the way the wind sounds like soothing whispers through the trees and the grasses.

I was initially a little rankled at the thought of going up to the ranch. I had to fly. I hate flying. It was taking off from work and getting up early and coming home late. It was being away from my bed when I was having an insomniatic spell. Mainly it was staying with family I didn't know in a place I didn't know. I always have trepidations of that. What if I don't like it there? What if conversation is difficult or the food is crappy or not stuff I like? What if there's no chance to get away by myself? Basically, I dread committing myself to a place for three or four days with no chance of escape if I'm not enjoying myself. However, I grew more enthused as time grew nearer. I had been suffering from emotional exhaustion, awful stress at work, too little sleep, too much socialization, and a weird funk for the last two or three weeks and I needed a break. I began looking forward to the trip when words like “hammock”, “horses” and the prospect of furry pettable creatures entered the picture. I was looking forward to getting away.

And then I went. We left at six in the morning, when it was drizzling Seattle piss rain halfheartedly and went to the airport. Besides a brief stint in line at security, it went super smoothly. Paul was up and out the door on time with no real frustrations or tenseness, which made the start of the day so much better. We got on a small plane, which I realized that I truly love. No feeling like sardines in a can, even though it was a bit cramped. The smaller planes feel more natural. You can see both ends without problem, and it seems less hurried, more relaxed. We had a thirty minute layover in Portland that was completely stress free. We stayed on the same airplane while some people got off, others got on, and the flight crew changed. We touched down in the Charles Schultz air port shortly thereafter. I loved that the flights are short and sweet - about an hour to a half an hour each one. Enough to take off, kind of lose yourself in writing for a time, and then land. Nothing to it.

The Charles Shultz air port was awesome. Picture soon to come. We got off the small plane and walked onto the tarmac. Twenty feet away from the plane was Laura, Paul's mom. She was in a half-assed fenced off area on the tarmac that served as offloading area, visitor greeting area, “a la cart” luggage area, and main luggage area – pretty much the “everything area”. While they waited for Paul's bag, I went through some doors and at most thirty feet across was the front entrance of the airport. Being received by that tiny airport was the nicest landing I've ever had. There was no rush and bustle, no hurry, nothing short of a slow country welcome that was so refreshing after a few years of flying in large monstrosities of airplanes back and forth from Kansas in massive bustling hustling airports larger than my original hometown of McCune Kansas.

As of this past vacation I now know the meaning of “California Sun”. It was bright and sunny, mid eighties or low nineties, barely a cloud in sight amidst this enormous spacious bright blue sky. The wind was that perfect occasional breeze and there wasn't even a breath of humidity. We sauntered over to Laura's car with less distance from the sidewalk to my third floor apartment door.

That “lot” was nothing like Kansas City Airport's byzantine concrete maze where Paul, I, and my mother once navigated our way amongst the levels and columns color coded systems until we found her car camouflaged amongst the myriad labyrinth of vehicles baking on an asphalt ocean. Some I'm sure were left to rust away because their owners simply couldn't remember the location of their parking spot.

This airport was a refreshing change from all of that. As much of a breath of fresh air as the breeze that washed over us as we settled into Mom’s dust coated station wagon, we had a short stint on a highway they were repairing and then went off on Dry Creek Road. Winding our ways through some of Sonoma County's vineyards I saw hypnotizing rows of over laden heavy grape vines. Watching them flash past was almost trancelike. We passed a rosebush (unfortunately not in bloom) that was monstrous. It loomed almost as high as the house it was in front of, spread out languidly, regally. Winding through the valleys and the canyons, I just kept repeating over and over, “This is SO beautiful....”

We stopped almost 45 minutes away from her house to “get the mail” and then continued on our amazing ride. A winding sidling twisty banking vista laden smooth pavement Skagg Springs Road wound its way like a lover through the countryside, sometimes riding the waves of the ridges, mostly coasting and twisting on the outskirts of the hills.

After some debate about whether we should take the long way in to get the full effect of the ranch, or take “the short cut through Denis’” the vote quickly came to getting home sooner. In what seemed was the middle of nowhere with no sign other identifying mark, we stopped at a simple metal gate with a combination lock that led onto a dirt road.

When I mention this dirt road, think more of game trails beaten into ground, but these trails were pounded into the ground by cars, four wheelers, and horses. Maintained with gravel “harvested” from parts of the ranch by hard labor, taken to places were the trail needed definition or care, and strewn on the ground. This is the dirt road that four wheel drive pickups are at home on. A dirt road that has become as much a part of the landscape, camouflaging itself in some parts with the golden blonde grass that runs alongside it like a river. It’s a dirt road seamlessly tied to the land around it.

We drove down this “short cut” road forever. Mind you, I'm writing this now, which means it wasn't forever, but each twist and turn and rise – and believe you there were many! They just seemed to bring another rise or another switchback deeper into a valley.

There were references made - “Kite Point”, “That's where the concrete trucks refused to come in – the turn was too tight”, “There's the log that the squirrel lived who kept taunting Gyp, our old border collie.”, “There's where my old car couldn't make it up the hill – too much loose gravel and slick dry leaves.”, “That's the airstrip where Tom's plane was.” “That's where Tom's buried.....and Penny, and Gyp, and Henry, and Rueben, and the other Penny.....” “That's where Tom went over in his pickup truck”....”This hill's where (horse) went out from underneath me on this steep hill.” - and let me interject that steep means steep. Seattle's hills aren’t steep. These hills are steep!

I had the privilege (or gave myself the privilege) of naming two spots when I was up there. The first one was “Pig Ridge.” It was where I saw wild pigs for the first time. There were seven little piglets of all different colors so short to the ground and one black sow. They came up this amazingly steep rise, over the road (as the road was on the crest of a ridge) and then over the side again down a steep side. Tilley, one of the dogs, jumped out of the pickup truck and ran after them. Shortly after that Oscar, another dog, followed. We were waiting for the dogs to come back, stretching out legs, looking out at over 180 degrees of amazing views. Paul lightly mentioned he was sorry there was no gun in the truck. He didn't even have a knife, just in case they bayed up the pig. I was perplexed... “Bay up a pig...?”

“In case the dogs corner and tear up a pig. They won't kill the pig; they'll just tear it up. So it's good to have something you can put it down with.”

“Oh.” Not something you have to think about in downtown Seattle, or even prairie land Kansas I grew up in.

Waiting by the side of the road, listening to the wind whisper its simple soothing secrets in the thigh high late fall golden grass, I heard a piggy squeal and a dog bark. Instantly I told Paul. Paul only heard the dog bark. Maybe I had mangled pictures of piglets dancing through my brain, but I really did think I heard it squeal. “We should go down after them and check.” he said.

So Paul sauntered off over the side and I followed. At that point I learned my first rule on the ranch. Work boots are a necessity. They're tough and you can get crap on them and not mind. But really the crucial element is TRACTION! I was in my tennis shoes, which weren't tightly laced at that point, which had no traction, in dirt that slid like water down the hill that felt like it was just this side of sheer. Paul's walking ahead like he did this every day and I'm floundering in the background, ridiculously trying to take another step while not falling on my ass and sliding the 150 feet plus down into the lower valley floor. “Wait up Paul/babe/hon/dear” became a common cry from me on this trip.

I finally learned if I wiggled my foot a little and gradually put weight on it I could sort of test if it was going to hold me or slide out from underneath me. Since currently it seems like all my weight is in my ass, I was spread eagle, leaned over, facing the hill, doing this weird shuffle, shift, shuffle dance with my feet. I took one step at a time, half a stumble away from kissing the ground, and grabbing onto grass and rocks and twigs from the gnarled trees that were nearby whenever I could.

...and that wasn't even the first day....more to come...

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