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Valley People (April 15, 2020)

MONDAY MORNING in Boonville would usually be all a-bustle, but this Monday morning few people are in sight even at still-open Mosswood and the General Store, our incomparable baked-on-site bakery-coffee shops. The Redwood Drive-in is also open where a fine full breakfast at a reasonable price is another virtuoso community service, but except for the blinking open neon it, too, is deserted. This thing, this silent affliction keeps gnawing away at us, like an endlessly mute mass mourning.

MEANWHILE, here in ghostly Boonville, lots of people are lamenting the loss of our laundromat, which was destroyed in the big fire of December. And we await only the formal announcements that our annual Wild Flower Show and our annual fair are cancelled. Maybe they haven't been formally cancelled because so many of us can't quite believe what is happening, that the curtain has come down on the whole show as we have known it. 

MORE masked people in Boonville running brisk errands one late afternoon last week, all keeping safe distance from one another, before disappearing back into their bunkers. At the Yorkville Market this morning I kept my required six feet from the store’s welcoming proprietor, Lisa Walsh, but had to close to about four feet to hand her my unsafe cash for the cookies I bought. A masked man entered the store and backed away from me until he bumped into the beer cooler. Can't blame him. He came within twenty feet of certain death!

TERRY A. VAN REE FOX remembers her mother, the late Freda Fox of Boonville: Freda Fox (Theil) Born March 1918; Death May 2019. If alive today she would have seen two pandemics and would wear a mask. Loved our mom, she was one of 39 nurses to go overseas after Pearl Harbor, and the only one to be there the entire war. She lived each day to the fullest and worked much of her life as a health educator with the public schools. Freda Fox was well known in the Anderson Valley for her warm personality.

Painting in Belfast Museum, An American WWII nurse

Freda knew of the painting of course because the artist asked her to pose. Freda remembered that "I sat and sat after working on the wards. The artist offered to sell the painting for $75 but Freda declined.  She explained to me that it was nothing special. "I was just a typical nurse." We discovered her portrait was in the Belfast museum some time later.

GEORGE GOWAN, or more precisely, George Gowan Jr., managed to create something of a rural Superfund site at the Gowan property on Gschwend Road, jamming it with junked cars, trailers and just plain junk-junk, converting a once-pristine site into acres of dead whatevers. Prior to George, Monte Hulbert did a perfect job care taking of the place, keeping it as the beautiful 20-plus acres bordering on the Navarro River with Floodgate Creek running through it. George, reappearing in the Valley some twenty years ago after years in Oregon, commenced creation of his vehicle cemetery, ignoring county clean-up orders until he was formally abated. And there’s still industrial detritus strewn everywhere. We understand that George’s daughter will be either selling the place as is or, a neighbor says, “cleaning it up and selling it for much more. It was a lovely piece in George senior’s day with access to a wide stretch of the Navarro River and a large swimming hole.”

JAN THE MAIL LADY, now Jan the Former Mail Lady, says she’ll “miss the views on her long, long daily route from Cloverdale to Point Arena and back again, a regimen that began at 4am at her Yorkville home and ended, weather permitting, after 6pm. “If I do wake up that early I just tell myself the only thing I have to do is go back to sleep.” After nearly forty years, and never a single accident on our winding country roads in all that time, Jan, who consumed whole libraries of books on tape, is now “catching up on all the tv series I’ve missed.” 

AV SENIOR CENTER, director, Renee Lee, reminds us: “We are still serving our delicious lunches on Tuesdays and Thursday during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, our resources are limited right now and our budget is being stretched, so please call ahead to order your lunch if possible as it is difficult to provide too many walk-ins and we hate turning folks away. We are now typically serving between 11:30-12:15pm as our staff is on limited hours as well. Call 707-895-3609. Thank you and be well!”

A NEW ROADSIDE sign just went up south of Boonville warning that littering could cost a slob a thousand bucks. The sign itself is a gross form of littering since it wrecks an otherwise charming rural vista of oak-studded hills, but if anyone has ever been fined a thou for littering in this county it has escaped my hawk-eyed vigilance. So we live with litter telling us not to do it.

MENDOCINO COUNTY is strewn with abandoned towns, most of them so completely disappeared you wouldn't know they had been there if it weren't for old maps and some old timer accounts of life in them. My late friend Vivian Weatherhead, a retired math teacher and resident of Airport Estates in the years before her passing, grew up in Mina, a once-thriving community north of Covelo on what is now called the Mina Road. Mina was complete in itself with a store, a school, a church, a meeting house. People were pretty self-contained, too, eking out their livings on their ranches. 

HERE IN THE ANDERSON VALLEY, we have Peachland and Hop Flat, to name two communities that once were large enough to have their own schools. Hop Flat not only had a school but a hotel and an early telephone exchange. It was locally renowned for its weekend “hops” or dances and its general joie de vivre, hence Hop Flat. 

COMPTCHE historian Katy Tahja writes, “According to my Western Railroader magazine, the old rail line at the Navarro end of the Anderson Valley, did go to the Navarro Mill but it was via Sunny Slope, Keene Summit, down Flynn Creek Road, then east… up Neefus Gulch where the Boy Scout camp was… to Navarro, Wendling, and just beyond Floodgate to Christine (Reilly Heights). Between Wendling and Floodgate it crossed the Navarro River and went up Perry Gulch. All of this was after Albion Lumber was gobbled up by Northwestern Pacific RR which melded together Albion, Stearns, Mendocino, Salmon Creek, Navarro and Elk lumber companies. Navarro Lumber Co. Railroad DID stop at Hop Flat, at the end of the line.” 

MRS. TAHJA describes the logging railroad as it approached Navarro from the west. In addition to hauling logs and lumber, day trippers could ride it to Albion and back to the Navarro end of the Anderson Valley. 

BUT WHERE EXACTLY was Hop Flat? We know it was logging and mill-based, and we know it was located between the town of Navarro and the Pacific. 

GENTLEMAN GEORGE HOLLISTER, of Comptche, locates the town for us; other locals remember when former residents of Hop Flat had a kind of alumni association that held regular reunions. “Tim O'Brien [retired Mendocino County Superior Court Judge] told me it was either at the 4.5 mile marker or the 5.4 mile marker. My son might remember what Tim said, he heard him say it and has a better memory. It was on both sides of the river. Jim Gowan told me his father delivered produce there. And I think he told me he tagged along when he was a kid as well. I have been curious about the place for a while.” 

HISTORY NOTES, a reader writes: “The assertion that ‘Albion Lumber was gobbled up by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad’ is incorrect. The Albion Lumber Company and the railroad that ran along the Albion River then out to Navarro/Wendling and on to Christine Landing were two different entities, under different ownerships.”

WHICH REMINDS ME of the once-upon-a-time scheme to run a rail line off the Northwestern Pacific rail at Cloverdale west through Yorkville, Boonville, Philo to Navarro to hook up with the train that ran from Christine to Albion. An old old timer told me that there was a rush to buy up land along the proposed line that never came to be. 

ANOTHER READER WRITES about Hop Flats: “I don't know for an absolute fact, but George H. is onto the right location. I believe the 4.5 or 5.4 mile marker George referenced meant how many miles east from the junction of 128 and Highway One Hop Flats was located, mostly on the south side of the Navarro River but also a bit on the north side as well. That hop flat was big enough that at times dances were held there in the late 1800s, possibly early 1900s. Thus Hop Flats isn't really a part of Anderson Valley per se. What is confusing about the hop subject is that there was an extensive series of hop plants on the river side of what is now 128 from just east of where the road turned off to the Boy Scout camp then going eastward almost to the town of Navarro/Wendling. There were homes interspersed between the hop plants on the river side of what is now 128 and at least one on the other side of the old road.”

I REMEMBER READING somewhere that Hop Flat was a large enough community to have a telephone exchange and a small hotel. Hop Flatters used to have reunions, so it must have been a merry little community that people loved. It’s surprising and sad that so many towns around the county have disappeared with barely a trace. 

KATHY BAILEY writes to adjust some Valley geography: "I noticed an article the other day called out the town of Christine as being at what is now Reilly Heights. Unless I have had it wrong over the many decades, this is not correct. The town of Christine was located directly across the highway from what is now Lula vineyards and tasting room. When I first lived on Gschwend Road back in the early 1970s one could still walk through a gate from Gschwend Road along what was once the old highway and walk along the remains of very small cabins, more or less the size of mill shacks. Daffodils also marked the home sites. Over the years these foundation fragments have mostly disappeared. Standing at the wide spot on 128, you can look south and see the remains of a road cut that eventually meets up with Clark Road. The woods that start right there towards the west, with the large old survivor redwoods, are what¹s left of the Christine Woods, named for the town. I have lost track of whether the first white settler baby born in Anderson Valley, who was Christine Gschwend, born 1857, daughter of John Gschwend and (so sorry I do not remember her mom¹s name, a Guntley perhaps?), was named for the town or if it was the town named for her, most likely the latter. For whatever it¹s worth, an old map I once had also identified a very nearby location as that of a prominent Pomo settlement."

MALCOLM MACDONALD NOTES: "Kathy Bailey is completely on target about the location of Christine/Christine Landing. Meant to add that to Saturday email corrections, but got consumed with the Hop Flat discussion. There is a story about an old Gschwend riding his horse into/inside the local school house the day after his child was punished by the schoolmaster. I'll save that for a phone call or visit to the home office."

HOWLING has spread to the Westside Ukiah. At 8pm sharp the Westies step outside and let 'er rip in feral choruses of support for the people facing down the plague. So far as I know, I'm the only regular howler in Boonville, but there's a bunch in Philo along Rays Road, and Albion, featured in a youtube post, is out-howling the whole county!

A CALLER asks, "How come Anderson Valley doesn't sue the frost fan businesses? Hell, I'll chip in a couple hundred bucks myself and I live far enough up in the hills not to hear them. And while you're at it, sue them for sucking up all the water, too!"

FOR ALL OUR bluster, we're a pretty tame people. At a minimum, the things ought to be muffled which, I'm told, they can be. And they're proliferating. More of them all the time. The booze industry argues that fans are environmentally preferable to sucking up river and stream water, which is your basic invidious comparison. (Life with three legs is better than life with no legs, right?) The riparian access the wine people bought when they took over the water-light old ranches of the Anderson Valley, gives them free access to public agua through April, even in a low water year like this one. And those "fish friendly" signs you see on vineyards are a cruel joke, especially on the fish in dry years. If the golden horde were growing potatoes it would be easier to live with their many crimes because you can almost live on spuds and make vodka out of them. 

A LOCAL ASKS: “High pitched hum? Anybody know what the annoying high pitched hum is in Boonville?” (Frustrated baseball fans hum babying a prayer for that first pitch?)

ESTHER MOBLEY, the wine diarist, writes: "By now, you may have seen the reports that wine sales have hit Christmas, and Thanksgiving, like levels since much of the US began staying home to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The most stunning boost came during the week of March 15, according to Nielsen, when off-premise (aka retail) saw a year-over-year increase of 66% (!) in wine sales value. That was the week that most of the Bay Area’s counties instated shelter-in-place orders, which makes it likely that there was a “stocking up” mentality at work. That week, too, was the period in which breathalyzer data from San Francisco company BACtrack showed a 42% increase in blood alcohol concentration among some of its Bay Area users, as I have reported.

THE VALLEY'S one-man river watch, David Severn: Once the river cleared enough to see, as far as I could tell all but three of the steelhead hanging out along the upper Navarro River used the higher water to move out. Probably up the streams to spawn but I’m not seeing them on my wade-abouts — nor any redds. But then, voila! A whole new bunch, over 30, took over the waiting hole the first ones had been in for so long. The first were bigger, up to 24 inches, and as I mentioned before, many had white blotches. These new ones are a bit smaller and all a smooth gray from the top. They showed up Saturday probably having started up river after the mouth opened Thursday I believe. This new batch did provide one mating couple right off the bat that went to work trying to build a redd just a stone’s throw upstream, but as I mentioned last week the tail flailing work isn’t producing much if any depression that could be called a redd. The Navarro River continues to drop back down into drought flow rates — as of Monday morning now at 69.5 cubic feet per second. Besides those little river bugs that bite, the Jesus bugs are showing up, I imagine actually trying to do their best to avoid any impending apocalypse.

RUSS EMAL REMEMBERS: “Every day now for several weeks I have sat with Wendy, my wife, and talked about the many fun times we had in Anderson Valley. It is fun sharing them with you. It lets us be sort of together. As together as we can be during the virus. While I enjoy this we must stay focused on how to beat this virus.

Considering the size of California, we have by percentage, a rather low percent of the people infected by the virus. Northern California contributes to this low number. Perhaps it is due to a lower population. Perhaps more smart people live in Northern California. In Mendocino Country few have the virus, and here in Anderson Valley none so far. I know this valley rather well. We have both a small population and smart people living here. We need to stay smart so we remain safe.

We all have good air and most all of us drink good water. What most need to go out and get is food. That is where we are vulnerable. In the places we gather. We have two local markets. Both run by local people. We also have a number of local restaurants. Those too are run and I believe owned by local people. It is very hard to know what happens behind the scenes of any public market or restaurant. Yet we are so lucky to know our local food distribution points are run by our friends. They also know how important it is to keep their business safe because of the large group of people they serve. And if we get it, they get it.

These places have served us for years. They have always supported us and now they are here to supported us again. I remember going into Lemons for the first time. Connie was at the register. Connie Lemons. Connie was a Harding before marrying Tommy Lemons. She is Mouse and Janie’s daughter. I had never been in the store and had no idea the person about to take my money was a Lemons. This lady had just totaled my food when I realized I had no money. I felt rather stupid as I told her my situation. She said, “No problem we can add it to your account.” I said, “Thank you but I have no account.” Connie then said, “Let’s start one.” And so I replied, I am new here and do not know anyone.” So Connie asked, “What is your name?” And I told her, “It's Russ Emal.” Connie said, “Great. Let’s start your new account under that name." Anderson Valley. Really just can't top it.

At that time I had no idea they offered this service to half of the valley. In total they must have carried on their books thousands of dollars. Not only that, I remember on pay day at the Philo Mill, and/or the Lath Mill, Lemon’s Market cashed the pay check of most every mill worker. A story similar to this can be told about many businesses in Anderson Valley.

I must say eventually I did close my account with Lemon's Market. Really I had to. It cost way too much money. I do not mean their price was high. My kids stopped there every day buying crap for themselves and their friends. Like twenty bucks a visit! They just went up to the register and said, "Put it on our account."

Stay informed. Stay home. Stay safe.”

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