Insects Against Violence

Editor’s Note: I woke up about 2:30 AM the other day, with the phrase “Insects Against Violence” in my head. Slowly, something like a manifesto emerged. The following doesn’t quite do it justice, as there may have been some data errors in the transmission I received.

Insects Against Violence

No one has it worse than us. We get smacked by rolled up newspapers (well, back when they were still a thing); stepped on accidentally or stomped on purposefully; zapped by beautiful blue lights, sprayed with that can of poison in your hand, or even by low-flying planes and helicopters. Baited, trapped, netted, drowned and burned. And don’t get me started on vehicle windshields! Our only revenge is when you try and scrape us off your windows after our guts have been spilled and dried.

Okay, some of us may pack a small defensive sting, others may have developed a taste for human blood, and others have strangely found people food appetizing – especially yellow jackets at an outdoor grill, or ants following the sweet scent of sugar to your kitchen, even some grub buddies curled up in your flour. Still, after all we do for you, and you can’t spare us a micro-gram of food?

Sure, there may be 10 quintillion of us compared to only 8 billion humans, but just look at the size difference! And look at all we do for you – over 75% of all flowering plants and 75% of the crops you harvest to eat exist only because some of us are pollinators. Wipe us out, and most of you will starve! Not to mention the $15 billion in crops.

That’s the pretty picture, bees buzzing around beautiful flowers. But what about the garbageman bugs? You think all those leaves and dog poo you didn’t pick up just evaporate? Nosiree bug! We’re there, hard at work, breaking them down and turning them into food and soil. But that’s not all – and I’m dead serious – but all them dead bodies, yours, your pets and the dead skunk in the middle of the road – would still be there, taking up space if it weren’t for all our hard work. I think we deserve some kind of environmental award, don’t you?

If you are getting sick of all this, rejoice! Insect therapy – just from bee venom – is being studied for Rheumatoid Arthritis, Gout, Osteoarthritis, Bursitis, Tendinitis, MS, Fibromyalgia, and more. And surgical maggots have been used for centuries to get rid of dead cells around wounds. Some cultures even used big biting ants as stitches!

Maybe all this talk about insects have left a bad taste in your mouth. Great news! The Giant Water Bug tastes exactly like a salty, fruity, flowery Jolly Rancher. Sweet! Got the munchies? Dry-toasted crickets taste like sunflower seeds, and Katydids like toasted avocado. There are actually over 1,400 edible insects, so if you’re looking for payback for us snacking on your food, well here’s your opportunity for revenge.

So, what do you think. We can live without you, but you probably can’t live without us. Can we declare a truce? I mean, we’re all stuck on this little rock, just trying to get by. Join the movement, Insects Against Violence. Yep, we accept human supporters.


Blue Jeans Blues

I went to put on a pair of my favorite jeans the other day, and as I pulled them up, one of my fingers slipped through a hole by the back pocket. What the heck? This was one of my newer pair, probably only 10 years old or so! My old pairs, 20 or more years old, I keep for painting and yard work. I was stunned. And bummed, only 10 years old, and headed for recycling. I guess they don’t make them like they used to.

And then I had to laugh to myself, thinking about how most of the jeans sold today look like they’ve been through a paper shredder. Curmudgeon alert! I had always thought that jeans were supposed to cover you up and keep you warm in the winter, but not so much anymore.

We didn’t have much money growing up. I was the oldest of five siblings; one of our grandpas took a liking to me (there’s actually a lot more to that story, maybe some day …) and each year right before school started, a large box would come in the mail for me. There would be new underwear, sock, shirts – and new jeans! How I’d love to get them, and see the blue denim, unbleached by sun and wash; feel the almost uncomfortable stiffness of the unworn fabric.

And then, of course, I’d ruin them. I don’t know exactly how as I look back, but I was an active kid. “Playing cars” on my knees, inside with my friends when it was raining, outside on the sidewalk when it was sunny. Hiding in neighbors bushes in the dark playing Kick the Can. Building extremely rustic versions of the beautiful Soap Box Derby cars whose races I got to see once or twice. The “ brakes” even worked occasionally. Climbing small trees. Working with my buddies to build an underground clubhouse in one of their back yards. I don’t know how deep we got, but when we stood up in the hole, I remember the top being over our heads, maybe. Once we got that deep, we started tunneling sideways until we could excavate a room big enough to hold 4-6 of us. And then my friends neighbor, who also happened to be their insurance agent, discovered our secret, and we had to fill in the hole.

I remember getting dressed for church, and grabbing my skateboard, my mom warning me … but I went out to my neighbors steepish driveway, skated down, hit a rock and launched, landing on my hands and … knees. I will admit I was always distraught when I got a hole – okay, holes, in the knees of my blue jeans. While I may not have been weeping, I’m pretty sure I was wailing to my mom that I couldn’t possibly wear those old jeans to school. Like I said, we didn’t have much money, and with five kids, new blue jeans weren’t in the budget. Plus my younger brother could wear out a pair of shoes in weeks, and replacing those seemed to be a higher priority.

Back in the day, some evil genius came up with the idea to extend the life of jeans with holes by using an iron-on patch. Even worse, the patches were the same color as NEW blue jeans, not the worn and faded ones that developed holes, so the patch stood out like a sore thumb. So obvious, and so tacky, so gauche. I hated them with every ounce of my skinny little body.

Fifty years later (okay, maybe more like 60 or so), I’ll bet they don’t even make those patches any more. Now, anyone under 50 years old would be embarrassed to wear jeans WITHOUT holes! As I pondered this, I had to laugh to myself. Not only had I been a trendsetter decades before, but I put the holes in my jeans myself!Nowadays, people pay other people big bucks to wear their jeans out for them! As I ruminated on that thought for a moment, I realized it’s because (glittering generality alert) no one actually plays anymore. Everyone is on their phones, texting and posting to social media. Or playing violent games on their devices. None of that involves getting on your knees and interacting face-to-face with another human being.

So now I’m in the market for a new pair of jeans. Without holes. And made with environmentally friendly dye. That only cost twice as much as my previously favorite brand. Then the songs start going through my head. (Click the links to listen). Blue Jeans Blues by ZZ Top. I Put My Old Blue Jeans On by Keith Urban. Not so much, but still apropos, Forever In Blue Jeans by Neil Diamond. And I start cruising the internet, looking for what may well be my last pair of new blue jeans. And if you see me wearing them with holes in them, you know I made those holes all by myself.


Fade to Gray

Late summer concert at Bertlesen Winery with old friends and new acquaintances

“They” say summer starts on June 21st, and ends on September 21st (approximately). Up here in the far northwestern corner of the USA, summer always starts on the first day AFTER the 4th of July holiday, and ends on the first day after the Labor Day weekend. This year it was clear summer ended on September 1st in the northernmost parts of Washington that have a land border with Canada.

It’s been a great summer. Recent summers have either been ruined for outdoor activities by wildfire smoke, or dangerously scorching hot. Yeah, several days this year were uncomfortably hot when our portable A/C units couldn’t quite keep us as cool as we’d like, and the absolute dearth of rain has us casting worrisome eyes on our iconic cedar trees that rely on regular replenishment of surface ground water. Nonetheless, IMHO, this was one of the best summers we’ve had in years.

Picnics, hikes in the North Cascades, private tasting events at wineries with our wine club, having people over again, trips to the ocean, happy hours in our gazebo in our backyard, outdoor concerts, get-togethers with friends, Little League Baseball games, soccer games, harvesting tomatoes fresh off our vines, and many more moments filled with sunlit moments of love, laughter and joy. But now I can hear summer singing to me:

“The autumn leaves are falling all around, time I was on my way

Thanks to you, I’m much obliged for such a pleasant stay.

But now it’s time for me to go, the autumn moon lights my way;

For now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it’s headed my way.

Ah, sometimes I grow so tired …”

Ramble on by Led Zepplin

The hanging baskets are gone, desiccated by the strong summer sun, as is the pear tomato vine. Other blooms have come and gone, the lawn a brittle brown. The sun, sinking south towards austral summer is blocked by our house in our backyard; a strip of brightness still teases the flower bed, all else is in shade. The other day we had a fall-like “gray-to-the-ground” day when we lived inside a cloud with 99.9% humidity that made with windshield wipers wake from their slumber and wipe away the water. Soon the long, wet Gray will be our reality until next spring.

Fall. The very name reminds us of an unplanned and unexpected dialogue with gravity that results in an intimate encounter with the earth. Whereupon we spend some time in introspection about the immediate preceding events. And so it is for me as we enter this season, and as I am in the late Fall of my life. Where am I now? How did I get here? What’s next?

In the end, I am filled with gratitude. Gratitude for my sweet wife, our cozy little home with its pretty little flower beds in one of the most varied and beautiful places in America, if not the world. Grateful for family and friends, new and old who share portions of their lives with us. Grateful for the gift of joy as I encounter the beauty of Creation. Grateful for new opportunities to learn how to better give and receive love. And grateful for each and every one of YOU who take the time to read these meanderings!


Part Three, Willamette Valley

Many years ago, after unintentionally grounding my white-water raft on the Middle Fork of the Salmon river, I wanted to buy the person who helped me get unstuck a nice bottle of wine, so I asked him what his favorite was. He said Pinot Noir, but to please not get him any as he was a bit particular about that wine. I did anyway, and am now so embarrassed. I had to start checking that wine out to find out why he thought it was the best of all wines, which eventually, after years of painstaking research, made it my favorite as well. Luckily, it turned out that the Willamette Valley is one of the best places in the world to grow Pinot Noir, with some amazing winemakers. I made pilgrimages there for at least a decade around Thanksgiving time for their wine-tasting festival.

A few years ago, friends sent us a bottle of an interesting olive oil, very rich and as flavorful as anything we had in Italy, or tasted in olive oil stores. Surprise, it was from Durant Farms in the Willamette Valley! We decided if we ever got the chance, we’d stop in and check it out; it turned out to be an easy drive from the coast to Portland, our next stop. And when we looked them up, they also have a winery that specializes in Pinot Noir (rubs hands together gleefully).

Olive Oils and Balsamic Vinegar’s galore to choose from!

The olive oil shop is in a cute, rustic building; there was a large tent/canopy outside the entrance where the tasting station was located (we still appreciate, and prefer, being outdoors for activities like this). We had a hard time deciding, but finally selected our two favorites, and moved inside to pay … that’s when Terri became entranced by the multitudes of desirable items. Some time later, we left with our olive oil and six new, handmade water glasses, plus a few bottles of their oil for our friends who had introduced us to this great place.

Right next door was the winery. Their website said that reservations were required for tasting, but my motto is always “Don’t ask, don’t get,” so I asked, and we got! They had an even larger event tent set up, with comfortable seating and fire pits and heaters on posts. Did I mention it had been raining, and was a bit cool? Well, it was perfect under the shelter. So, we ordered a tasting flight, then checked out their small bites offerings. We ordered a small baguette, sliced, with olive oil, maybe some herbs, and black salt. Oh. My. Goodness. It was sooo good, we ordered a bottle of the wine we liked the best, and another serving of the bread, sat in our chairs overlooking hills and valleys, farms, fields and vineyards in the Willamette Valley, and reveled in our decadence.

On to Portland! Had a nice visit with our twin grandsons and son-in-law, Frank. He has been doing pottery on and off for many years, and we have been the lucky recipients of some of his work that we use constantly. He recently built a shed/workshop to fashion and store his creations, and has a good-sized kiln in the garage. Once again, we left with several treasures we love and use. Interested? Please check out the link to his shop, Smalltimestonewear on Etsy.

Full Disclosure: Due to our obsessive diligence dealing with COVID, Terri and I are Very High Maintenance. We are incredibly fortunate to have friends like John and Jeannie, who went to extreme lengths to set up Cafe’ D in their garage for us. It was super cool and so much fun, complete with tablecloths and candles. So great to be able to reconnect with fabulous friends!

Okay, next up a great visit with daughter Kalise. Normally not a subject for the blog, but here’s what was really cool. We met up at the Portlandia Sculpture, then headed down to the walk along the Willamette waterfront, south to the Tillicum Crossing Bridge. Embarrassingly, I had never really noticed this bridge before. Heading north on I-5 where a view might be possible I’m navigating the Twilliger Curves, notorious for being accident alley, and requiring merging, lane changes, and crazy drivers, requiring two hands and both eyes to get on to the Marquam Bridge.

Anyhow, this bridge is pretty unique, as the only traffic it carries is pedestrians, bicyclists, buses and light rail. Crossing it provides great views both up and down the river. Once over the bridge is an excellent pedestrian walkway, which we took past the Oregon Museum of Science and History (a great place to visit, especially with kids), up and over the Hawthorne Bridge (the oldest operating vertical lift bridge in the USA), back along the waterfront and then up to Portland State University and the famous Portland Park Blocks. A tree-studded green oasis in the middle of the city, it is home to an incredible Farmers Market on Saturday’s, live music, playgrounds, and a quiet, restful place to meet with friends. Lots of memories for both of us there, from my childhood, to both of us spending some time in the halls and classrooms of PSU. Back to Portlandia, and a sad see-you-later to my daughter.


Part Two, Exploring the Oregon Coast

Can anyone actually have a favorite place at the Oregon Coast? By and large, it is all incredibly beautiful and scenic from border to border, and virtually all of it accessible to the public – a situation unique in the USA. One of Oregon’s early governors got a law passed that made the beaches public property, up to the high-tide line; later, many areas were made into state parks, with great views, camping, and historical significance. Here is a great map of the coastline.

For us, the area between Lincoln City and Newport is exceptional, so when we got a chance to grab our time-share condo at Depoe Bay, we jumped at it! When we checked in, we were thrilled to find we had a fabulous view of Pirate Cove. There was a full-blown storm raging, a far cry from the warm and sunny days we had spent in Bend. The rain lashed our sliding glass door overlooking the cove; the wind blew hard and strong, and the waves splashed and crashed against the rocky cliffs surrounding the tiny bay. Every once in a while, a wave would over-top the cliff; I’m guessing it must have been 50′ tall. In short, a perfect day to stay warm and dry inside with a book, a glass of wine, and epic ocean watching.

But wait, there’s more! From our condo deck, we could also see a large, flattish rocky area on the south side of Pirate Cove, with several sea lions laying about; on the north side, a rocky promontory was the nesting and resting place for literally thousands of sea birds! We could see them flying out to fish, then return and (we had to use a little imagination due to the distance) feed their young. South side, there was also a rough trail outside our door that snaked along the rough rocky headlands, taking us to the place where we had seen the gigantic waves crashing high above the cliff. Beautiful, minuscule flowers lined the path while distant views kept drawing our eyes out to sea.

The next day the storm was gone, so we headed out towards Newport, hoping Terri could get her sea lion fix down at the docks. But we were easily distracted, and stopped at nearly every tiny little pull-out and side road that hinted at a view. And were we rewarded! Three times we got to see the whales spouts from a mother and a calf as they swam southward. What a treat! And we found a new-to-us park,Yakina Head Outstanding Natural Area, home to the Yakina Lighthouse, magnificent tide pools, and fabulous bird-watching opportunities. This area was reclaimed from a mining operation in the very early 1900’s that basically blew up a mountain and shipped it to California for building purposes. You can see before and after photos at an interpretive display.

We also stopped at Otter Crest State Park with some of the best ocean views ever, and the Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area where, besides great views, we watched a surfing competition in the bay below. Oh, and grabbed some great ice cream in the tiny nearby settlement! (Good luck finding parking there!)

Mom and calf before they got kicked off the float by the male

We always love to do at least three things in Newport; walk the waterfront, look for the sea lions, and eat at Local Ocean. Unfortunately, we saw no outdoor dining options at Local Ocean, which always has amazing seafood meals. So, the sun was coming out, and we walked the working waterfront. Then we saw people staring at something on one of the docks, so we checked it out … sea lions! Only two, but hey! After getting as close as safely possible, we kept walking, and then came to the main dock where we’ve seen them before, and there were about a dozen of them! We watched their antics for awhile – the big bull sea lions do NOT want to share their portion of the dock. There are always more sea lions than spaces, so females or younger ones are always trying to climb on board, eliciting an aggressive response from the male.

Just the best view of the sea lions!

I noticed that even though it was a bit cool outside, people were dining on an outdoor deck overlooking the sea lion show below, so we headed over to the Saltwater Restaurant, and were able to grab a prime seat. So much fun, and the perfect way to wrap up our stay on the coast. Next stop, the Willamette Valley and Portland.


Highlights from Oregon Part One of Three

Full disclosure, I’ve lived in and (mostly) loved Washington almost 50 years. But, I was born and raised in Oregon, and lived there until my early 20’s. There are many very special places there, and we recently got to visit three of them. We could have taken I-5; surprisingly the back roads are not only more scenic, but faster! Hence, we cut over from I-5 to catch I-90, and then jumped onto SR97. We stopped at Trevari Cellars south of Yakima for lunch. All they have is sparkling wine, but boy is it good. And just look at that lunch! Not to mention views of Rainier and Adams on a clear day.

After passing through Yakima, you encounter Wapato and Toppenish, blink-of-an-eye agricultural towns, then it’s nothing but hills and valleys for miles and miles. Peaceful, tranquil and beautiful.

Amber waves of … grain? … grass? See the video on my Instagram account

Many miles later comes Goldendale; a steady descent to the Columbia River Gorge is imminent, and the views start to open up. Soon you cross the once-mighty Columbia; heads-up! This is pretty much the last gas (etc) stop for maybe 75 or more miles! We get pretty good mileage, so I thought we had plenty of gas, and blithely passed a chance to refuel. We quickly started climbing out of the gorge, but had to stop at this hillside covered with grain that were literally “amber waves of grain” being gently massaged by the wind. Breathtaking and mesmerizing, we had to stop and watch for awhile.

Soon there were miles and miles of miles and miles. While the earth-bound scenery was great, the stunner was the cloudscapes, huge and imposing, light and dark, beautiful and threatening. My gas gauge started sending me threatening notes … “Fuel Low!” Surely a town would show up soon? And one did – Shaniko. Four buildings and what purported to be a gas station, with pumps from the 1960’s still apparently operational. I just couldn’t do it. Culver? Nope. Terrebonne? Nope. Finally, Redmond. Under normal circumstances, Safeway gas would be my last choice, but it looked like an oasis in a desert at that moment. On to Bend, and my sibling reunion.

The whole crew!

So, this whole sibling thing gets complicated. I’ll spare you all the rabbit trails of how the original five sibs became seven, and then nine; at this gathering the first five and final two step-brothers (and for those so equipped, spouses or spousal equivalents) were all there. Sister Susan and husband John moved there shortly after their retirement, and own a large and lovely home overlooking the Deschutes River. All but four of us stayed there.

I’ve traveled the West for years, and have never come across a city or town like Bend. It’s high desert, pine and juniper country, with a backdrop of multiple volcanic giants. Mt. Bachelor is well known to skiers, but the Three Sisters steal the show, and are beloved by hikers and climbers. The South Sister (10, 354′), while challenging, is not a technical climb; John and I did it for his 60th birthday. Just down the road from them is Cascade Lakes Highway (formerly known as Century Drive, so-named because it offers access to 100 lakes in a semi-alpine setting.) Camping and canoeing can’t be beat here!

Looks like fun, but it’s a workout!

The city of Bend is built right on the Deschutes River. The downtown is vibrant and delightful, with lots of great shops and restaurants. The Old Mill District is pretty snazzy, right on the river with – again – tons of shopping and fabulous restaurants, PLUS paved trails along the river (rent a two or four person quadricycle for fun and exercise), or rent inner tubes to float the river. Kayakers can run challenging man-made rapids as well. We went to dinner at Monkless Brewing, at the far north of the Old Mill District, with a view of the river. The food and beer were really good.

Dinner at Monkless Brewing. Great views, really great beer, and good food.

Oh, did I mention beer? Right now, Bend has 22, yes, 22 breweries! One day, I’m going to have to return and really check some of these out. Finally, there are tons of hiking trails all around, We did the Upper Falls – Lava Island hike, which was beautiful, and suitable for almost all abilities. The adventurous can also white-water raft the Deschutes. All of this just scratches the surface of things to do and places to go in the Bend area, but it’s time to head to the Oregon Coast.


We make it to Murphys!

It’s Monday, and the crowds are gone in Murphys. There are parking spots on Main Street; this is a tourist destination, so many businesses take Monday and Tuesday off. But the sun is shining, and it’s a glorious day, and we are even in shorts! Off we go.

All smiles at Tanner Vineyards!

First off is Tanner Vineyards. We discovered this gem years ago, and are both heads-over-heels in love with it. We are hoping that they have some wine left after the crowds at the wine festival in Murphys this last weekend. The door has an Open sign, so we are hopeful. Christie greets us as we walk in, and shows us a tasting menu, which looks really promising. 

We start off with a 2020 Jaqueline Rose; typically, both Terri and I love Rose’ for summer sipping on hot summer days on the patio, but this one leaves us both underwhelmed. We quickly move on to their T Brut Sparkling, and are blown away. It’s the best sparkling wine I have tasted the entire trip. Made from French Colombard and Chardonnay grapes, it is full of flavor, rich and full-bodied for a sparkling wine. And it does seem to have maybe a wee bit more sugar, which fits nicely with the grapes.

Next is their 2019 Med Red, with 70% Mourvedre, 15% Barbera and 15% Petite Sirah. Oh.My.Gosh. Giant and juicy with mildly tannic fruits and a great mouthfeel. A bit spicy with dark berry and a loooong finish. Why do they call it Med Red? Because this will definitely go with tomato-based dishes from the Mediterranean, from pasta to pizza. 

On to a 2019 Barbera. Oh so rich and luscious! Their notes say Strawberry Preserves; I almost got cherry cough syrup, but in a good way. Some wines just don’t show up for me unless they are paired with food, which always makes both the food and the wine sing together. This wine, for me, is exceptional just by itself, and would need big and bold food to stand up to the massive flavors. 

We finish with a 2018 Reserve Petite Sirah. We’ve tasted a LOT of Petite Sirah on this trip, and found several we loved. We found this one to be true to the grape, with balanced but reticent fruit, and a very light body with a shorter finish. Oh well, saved me a bit of $$ there. We made our purchase, and had them hold it while we continued to check out Murphys, including a couple of recommendations Christie made for us.

The old Murphys Hotel is right next to Tanner, which another couple who was tasting recommended for lunch; since our favorite restaurant was closed, we decided to give it a try. This historic charmer was built in 1855, and is still going strong today. Who stayed here in the past? Mark Twain (he got around), Horatio Alger, General U.S. Grant, Black Bart, Susan B. Anthony, John Jacob Astor and J.P. Morgan. While it suffered some damage in the Great Fire of 1859, the damage was minimal as it was built of stone, and had steel fire doors.

Murphys Hotel has a large outdoor dining area shaded by large trees, and an old horse-drawn covered surrey used to transport guests as a focal point. Terri had a Portabella sandwich with roasted red pepper, and I had a Southwest Chicken wrap. They were both quite good, and it was an enjoyable place to dine. Thus fortified, we headed back out.

Next up, Newsome-Harlow Cellars. The building itself has kind of an odd layout, as the storefront is set back from the street by maybe 50’. This creates a kind of narrow courtyard perfect for outdoor tasting. We meet River, a delightful young woman who is a wonderful ambassador for this winery. She starts us off with a 2021 Sauvignon Blanc “The drinking water of Murphys” according to their tasting sheet. Terri liked it a lot; enough to buy a bottle. The 2021 Rose’ of Sangiovese was okay, but didn’t quite meet the mark to buy a bottle. Ditto with the 2019 Derailed, a Cab-Mer blend that was a bit tannic, with the fruit somewhere in the background.

What’s this? A Carignane? (Or is that a Carignan?) No matter, it wasn’t on the tasting list, but what a wine! Typically this is a blending wine – in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen or tasted it as a single varietal. I found it really hard to categorize what I was tasting, finally settling on red apple peel. Terri gave me a quizzical look – “I get nutmeg” she said. We both found it very appealing, a revelatory look at an overlooked grape, nicely produced with just the right amount of fruit with smooth tannin’s playing a supportive role in the background. 

The big – and I mean big – surprise was the 2019 Foothill Zin. Seriously, it was every bit as good as what we had tasted in Sonoma. My notes say “Fruit – not too big, not small. Spice, well integrated with tannin’s. Bargain – like $45 Sonoma.” For only $25? Even with ALL the Zin we bought earlier, I could not pass this up.

On to the 2019 Sirah. Nice! Really great fruit, great body and spice with a hint of earthy herbs on the finish. We finished up with a 2019 Petite Sirah. Hmm,all I said was “Maybe a bit young, with promise to get better as tannin’s decline.” Well, that was fun! 

Christie had recommended a couple of other wineries – Jazz, known for their Pinot Noir, and Broll. Unfortunately, Jazz was closed, and Broll – well, the interesting thing is that it appears their wines appeal to a substantial number of people, just not us.

Last but not least, the smell of fresh waffle cones lured us into an ice cream shop, where we forced ourselves to limit our purchases to two scoops each. So good, and a perfect way to wrap up our visit. And cut! What a fun day, wandering this charming  town, reading the historical plaques, checking out small shops, eating good food and tasting great wine. Murphys, we will return!


When a door closes…

Ohh, so this is why there were thousands in Murphys!

We were SO excited to return to the small town of Murphys, CA. A charming main street with lots of buildings dating from the gold rush era filled with history and fun shops … oh yeah, and a tasting room or two. As soon as we pulled into town, we noticed throngs of people on the streets, crowds along the sidewalks. Parking is always a bit of a challenge, but we knew there was a multi-acre parking lot a few blocks away from Main Street – which was over capacity. Regretfully, we decided that the weekend was not the best time to come.

We headed south of town, and quickly found Locke Vineyards, which looked quite inviting. They had done a great job on the landscape with lots of lavender plants and a vineyard, and the tasting room fit the locale perfectly. While the wines weren’t a great match for our palates, our hostess was a wealth of information about other wineries and nearby points of interest.

Brice Station Winery

Her first recommendation was Brice Winery and Quyle Kilns pottery studio and workshop.

Brice Winery has quite a unique tasting “room”. In a subsequent conversation with the property owner Pamela Quyle (see below), it turns out that this was originally a bomb/radiation shelter her dad had built back in the late 50’s to early 60’s. She later put on a new front and a shake roof. The wines were generally unremarkable; the Cabernet Sauvignon was okay, and I got the $15 tasting fee waived by buying a bottle, so I called that a win.

The Quyle Kilns pottery studio was quite interesting. We met Pamela, whose parents moved to the family property in 1954. They started the first company in the USA to actually produce clay that could be shipped to potters, due to a technological breakthrough – plastic bags! The bags were originally intended for a turkey farmer to ship his birds. Quyle was the largest clay producing company in America for years; Pamela took over the business from her parents, but had to shut the clay business down a few months ago due to near-zero demand due to COVID. 

Producing the clay is quite the process. First they would travel to the western foot of the Sierra Nevada range where clay had washed down from the mountains over the eons to collect in gigantic deposits. They’d bring the raw clay back to their ranch/farm, and process it to remove sticks, small rocks and vegetative matter by adding water to make a slurry, then using a press that produces 1,000 pounds per square inch to push the slurry through fabric filters to manufacture a clean product. They made four different blends by mixing several clay’s together to make a perfect product for potters.

Quyle Kilns now is the home to several artists, as well as students and instructors, with a large showroom. I bought a mug as a memento of this trip, and Terri got four cool dessert bowls. Next up – Red Apple Fruit Stand.

The Red Apple Fruit Stand

Which we passed by at about 60mph, and had to turn around to get back to. Describing it as dilapidated funky may be just a shade too kind. Nonetheless, it came highly recommended, and we wanted to bring a pie to Martha and Uncle Don the next day; we decided to try a 5” blueberry pie for a taste test. Well, it WAS good, so after much deliberation, we passed up the apple pie for a strawberry/rhubarb pie. (Note: it turned out that apple pie was his favorite, but none of us left any on the plate on our visit).

Adventures completed for the day, we returned to the condo for happy hour on the deck, satisfied that once again we’d found a way to turn lemons into lemonade. Or had we found a window when a door had closed? Cheers!

Jumping Frogs and Tiny Tombstones

It’s really not too far as the crow flies from Windsor to Angels Camp, but then the crow doesn’t bring a large cooler, two suitcases, and much, much more, so it’s about a three hour drive. Accented by “greyout” rain, ½” hail (I thought we’d have dents for sure, glad we didn’t), then several miles of twisty, roller-coaster, up and down and around roads with 15 mph blind corners (no motor homes or commercial trucks allowed). The kind that can give some people panic attacks, and others enjoy. Oh, and then there was the tornado warning when we checked in! 

The next day was much calmer, with puffy white clouds accenting a blue sky as they followed their rainmaker friends east, so we got out for a nice 60 minute walk, then headed to Angels Camp for provisions. On the way, we couldn’t remember if we’d “done” Angels Camp before, so we parked and walked the historic part of old downtown. 

Dispelling my inaccurate thoughts about how the town got its name, we learned it was founded by George Angel in 1849. He had made some money in the gold fields, and used it to build a building to sell provisions to the other miners. He ended up founding the town (Angels Camp is the only incorporated city in Calaveras County!) and was much loved by everyone.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) spent some time here after being fired from multiple jobs in the south and the west, a brush with the law, and penniless. He attempted suicide, putting a gun to his head, but couldn’t pull the trigger. Some friends had a cabin a few miles from town, where he holed up a spell, coming into town now and again, hanging out at the local hotel/bar with a number of people, including one old guy who would occasionally stare off into space, and say “That reminds me of a time when …” and then spin a tall tale he would set forth as fact. One of those tales was the basis of “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County” (summary here) which was published in 1865 and the first of his works to get any recognition. As a life-long fan of Clemens/Twain, it kinda felt like I was visiting a shrine of sorts.

Many of the buildings in the historic district were built in the 1850’s, including an Odd Fellows hall built in 1856. We walked the whole area; unfortunately, many businesses were closed for the day, many for good. Peering through dusty windows, it seemed like some may still have the original interiors; what we would have given to be able to wander around and let our imaginations people then with miners, drifters, scam artists and ladies of the night. 

We found an old Congregational Church built in that era with several tombstones crammed together in a space that couldn’t have been larger than 12’x12’. Most of those interred died in their mid-30’s, around 1858 or so. Alongside the large monuments were tiny headstones, just larger than a foot square, with the initials of the deceased. So curious!  Had these all been moved from elsewhere? The historical marker on the church neglected to tell that story.

From there we wandered up the street to a small hill, looking for homes that might have been built around that time, but most were newer, or were otherwise less than interesting. We came to the top of the hill and found a concrete slab maybe 30’x30’ with square, tapering concrete pillars no more than 6’ tall, plus some other ground level concrete … foundations? But best of all, a field of purple wildflowers overlooking the downtown. And curiously clear of broken glass, crushed cans and other garbage. What was the story here? Alas, no historical plaque here to inform us. 

This was our third stay at the condos on the PGA Greenhorn Creek Golfcourse, but the first time we actually explored the town. So glad we got to take the time to check out this little slice of history!

The Unexpected Happens When We Enter the Matrix

Today was perfectly planned – we had our reservations for tasting at Pezzi-King at 12:30, and then at Williamson Wines restaurant tasting room for a late lunch at 4:00. We did not expect the Matrix.

Kurt looking for our next wine at Pezzi-King

First, Pezzi-King. My friend Rick had been kind enough to introduce us to their wines, and even shared some with us. We were blown away at first sip – even Terri, not especially a fan of most red wines. For sure there will be Zinfandel purists out there who recoil at the intensity of the fruit, at the lusciousness of the mouthfeel, at the eyes-rolling-up-into-the-head depth of flavor, but not us. Rick allowed us to join him in some purchases of Pezzi-King Zins, and we actually allowed ourselves to share them with a very few people. So when we made travel plans to come to Sonoma, we knew we HAD to try and visit the winery.

The first Zin we tried was a 2019 Dry Creek Valley Reserve Zinfandel, Big fruit, full-bodied with restrained tannin’s. Next up: a 2019 from Kitchen Hill Estate vineyard in Dry Creek – the first from this vineyard in years. Boysenberry, cherry big with a long finish. A tiny bit young, but full of spice and vim and vigor.  Yes, please! That was followed by the 2019 Bacigalupi from Russian River. The fruit is more restrained, with round tannin’s, sensuous and full-bodied, a delight to drink. The last one we tasted – and bought (well, I thought I did) –  was a 2019 Serracino Reserve.  This wine knocked me back on my heels! Superbly integrated, and wonderful spices. However, today I discovered he actually gave me a 2019 Florence Vineyard Reserve, Rockpile block from Sonoma. A significantly more expensive wine, I can’t wait to try it when I get home!

I was still missing some good Pinot Noir; I noticed that one of the wineries in their family was noted for their Pinot’s; we were able to grab a last-minute reservation, and headed over to Matrix Winery. Nice tasting room, great grounds with a small lake! We started off with a Chardonnay, which was just SO very Chardonnay. Then on to a 2019 Russian River Zinfandel – what? I thought this was supposed to be a Pinot Noir Winery! Oh well.  It was quite restrained compared to Pezzi-King Zins, but this was something really special. I was mesmerized by the harmony of fruit, tannin’s and acid. Absolutely exquisite and elegant. Next up, a 2019 Forchini from Russian River. My notes say it was a unique expression of Zin, with modest fruit and lots of spice … and I bought two bottles? 

Oh but there was so much more – a 2019 Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah that wasn’t much on the first, or even second sip. But on the third taste, it came alive with herbs and muscular but sleek tannin’s. Finally, the Pinot’s. My favorite affordable one was a 2019 Bacigalupi from Russian River Valley, just a wonderful expression of this magnificent grape. Maybe because of my interest, he also poured a 2017 Victoria Johanna, also from Russian River for a list price of $150 a bottle. It was sumptuous and lithe and enticing, and oh so fun to try. All in all, we were so impressed by the quality and range of the wines, we signed up for their wine club. A definitely unexpected result of entering the Matrix.

Finally, we headed back to Healdsburg for our 4:00 seating at Williamson’s Wineries second location with a restaurant. Angie (remember Angie from the day before?) had mentioned that since we enjoyed the wines and cheese pairings we’d most certainly love the small plates served at their other tasting room just down the street, so we made reservations. We started off with an Asian inspired salad with Salmon topped with fried won ton’s, then (just for us non-mammal eaters) a Shiitake Slider. I’m not a huge fan of mushrooms, but it was terrific. Next up, a (vegetarian) Bolognese, which was absolutely mouth-watering. Our desert was also just for us, small squares of dark chocolate and candied almonds. Each dish was served with a glass of wine that had been matched to the flavor profile. 

There were only two other couples dining with us; oddly enough, they were also staying at the WorldMark in Windsor. One couple was from Utah, and were a lot of fun. We exchanged contact info, and hope to meet up with them in Utah maybe next year. The other couple had ridden their motorcycle all the way from Kansas City! Last year they put 33,000 miles on the bike, and less than 5,000 on their SUV. 

That was our last day in Sonoma, and it was a little bittersweet. We’d had cool and showery weather our whole visit, and it was supposed to turn nice the next day. And we had barely scratched the surface of places to go, things to see and people to meet. “Always leave them wanting more” is an old show-business axiom, and I guess it applies here as well. We can’t wait to return!