MONDAY NIGHT, as the first thunder rumbled up Anderson Valley’s spine north to south, The Major ran into my office to say, “I’m shutting down my computer. The lightening might fry it.” Then he launched into a long story I half-listened to about some babe he’d known in Indiana who’d had a lightening-caused fireball roar through her house. I didn’t get the relevance to the lightening crackling through the early evening skies of Boonville. But a few minutes later I glanced up towards Peachland where a large dancing light had appeared in an area I knew was uninhabited. The thunderclaps and Zeus’s lightening bolts had passed on and The Major had returned to his work station. It was about 7, I’d say. When I looked to the east again an hour or so later, it finally occurred to me that a tree had been ignited by lightening and was burning between Octopus Mountain — or Tarwater Hill as the late Elinor Clow reminded me once — and Deer Meadow Road. My neighbor, Mike Langley, called about 10. He and his wife, Patti, equipped with binoculars, had driven up Peachland Road to get a closer look at what is a fairly rare phenomena in Anderson Valley. “I thought maybe the Virgin of Guadalupe had appeared when I first saw the flame up there,” Mike said. “It was quite a show. Every once in a while a big piece of burning pine would break off from the fully-engulfed tree and roll on down the hill, a tail of deep orange embers trailing it like a comet against a night sky.” The tree burned all night. Tuesday noon, a wisp of smoke still curled into the air from its smoldering remains.
BUT THAT was only half the story, I learned the next day. AV’s volunteer firefighters had been called out because the magnificent blaze had alarmed many persons unfamiliar with the terrain who worried that a house might be going up in flames. One team of firefighters drove up Peachland, another up Deer Meadows to try to determine exactly where the fire was and how to get at it. Don Gowan, leading the Deer Meadow crew, walked up to Richard Crosbie’s house to ask about access to the blaze north of Crosbie’s above Con Creek on Phil Wasson’s ranch. (Crosbie doesn’t like to be disturbed day or night. He still hasn’t fully recovered from numerous near-death experiences in the Vietnam war which left him quite skeptical about his fellow man.) Crosbie appeared on his porch to tell Gowan to get off his property or he’d shoot him, repeating the threat a couple of times. Gowan departed. It was soon determined that the burning tree threatened nothing and no one, and the firefighters returned to the barn.
DEPUTY SQUIRES said Tuesday that “lightening hits quite a bit in that canyon.” The deputy went on to say he often “hog hunts up in there” and knows exactly which old tree had caused all the hullabaloo. “It’s an old snag-fir stuffed with pitch. It’ll burn a while.” The deputy said he’d eventually get around to “having a word” with Crosbie who, Squires recalled, lost a cabin to lightening some twenty years ago.
BOONVILLE breathed a collective sigh of relief at the news that Jim Wellington is well and resting at home. Jim, a trim 60 years old, had appeared at the AV Health Center two Mondays ago to tell Dr. Apfel he didn’t feel right in the chest area. The Doc, also alarmed by what he heard in Jim’s chest, dispatched the popular, long-time Fairgrounds worker to Ukiah for more tests. Tuesday morning, Jim was still feeling poorly. Mrs. Wellington — “Carolyn” to most of us — hustled her husband back over the hill where his condition soon worsened to where the Ukiah medicos felt Jim would be best served by the ace heart specialists of St. Helena. St. Helena unblocked a couple of arteries without submitting Jim to bypass surgery and, by Friday, Jim was back at his home in Boonville recuperating from his frantic five-day experience. Dave Gowan, Jim’s boss at the Fairgrounds, joked last Thursday, “We’ll get him back here pretty soon in a job as a supervisor where he won’t have to do much but wave his arms around.”
JIM’S SPIRITS may be lifted by thinking about the old Ford truck I sold him way back in ‘75 or so because we’d given up on it after managing to get its new motor in backwards or something. Wellington, one of those remarkable guys who can do anything, soon had the truck back on the road; it’s still on the road, which may account for the smile on Jim’s face whenever he drives past me in his hundred dollar bargain.
MONDAY’S dramatic weather presumably caused a 30-second power outage at 1:50pm, long enough for me to lose three precious lines, but abbreviating your agony, dear reader.
REPORTS reaching us from the United Farm Workers say the union expects its Roederer local to be certified soon. That’s the good news. The bad news is that certification doesn’t mean contract. The vineyard workers’ UFW affiliation seems to be unassailable. Roederer’s cynical claims that the vote was somehow tainted aren’t likely to hold up since there’s no eyewitness testimony to support them, but getting a union contract with the French-owned enterprise is likely to take years. Gallo’s UFW union local was sanctioned four years go by the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board — hardly a union-friendly group — but Gallo has resisted a contract ever since. Roederer has hired a team of Frisco union-busting lawyers to fend off its workers, union or no union. Roederer also seems intent upon pursuing the Gallo strategy: approve the union, fight the contract.
THE ANDERSON VALLEY girls almost upset South Fork last Wednesday night up in Miranda in the second round of the volleyball playoffs. Miranda squeaked by with a few points margin in three of the four matches.
THAT HUGE POND at the Juster place in Philo is the work, I’m told, of an outfit called Schramberg of Napa. Another crater-sized cavity has been scooped out of the Corby vineyard at the junction of 128 and Greenwood Road. One more time. At what point does a pond become a lake? And who are these people? It’s like an invasion of the Pharaohs. The Valley’s topography is being rapidly rearranged by people of seemingly unlimited resources who apparently can create insta-lakes without so much as a nod from what passes for authority these days.
MONTE HULBERT vs D’Anne Wallace will be heard in Ten Mile Court (Fort Bragg) Tuesday, December 15th. Ms. Wallace is charged with one count of assault with a fire arm. In an August dispute over a dog at Hulbert’s unique, hand-hewn home in an old growth redwood stump at the end of Gwschend Road in Navarro, Ms. Wallace pumped two pistol rounds into Hulbert’s thigh. Don Lipmanson of Navarro is representing Ms. Wallace who is being prosecuted by Mark Kalina of the Mendocino County DA’s office.
SPEAKING OF MONTE HULBERT, the talented craftsman has recently enlarged his hubcap family memorial high on the hill above the Hulbert Ranch in Philo.
LOCAL FOOTBALL fans won’t have been surprised by Calistoga’s upset victory over St. Bernard’s of Eureka in the first round of the small school football playoffs. The game was played in last Saturday’s downpour, which was especially intense from Eureka northward. In the rain and the mud, Calistoga’s great little running back, Ben Alfaro — reminiscent of Potter Valley’s Nick Toy — was just about all Calistoga needed to put away St. Bernard’s. Pound for pound, Alfaro, maybe 150 and 5’5”, plays very, very big. He scored both Calistoga’s touchdowns and was a demon on defense, from all accounts.
MEANWHILE, back in Boonville where we’re all tingling with anticipation at the 1999 football season — The Year Boonville Gets Even — the JV footballers waltzed past all their 1998 opponents, without hardly breaking a sweat. The imposing Logo Tevesau was named most valuable JV player; Noi Mesai was honored as the team’s best defensive lineman; Rich Ryan was awarded the trophy as the team’s most outstanding offensive lineman; the formidable Patrick Upchurch was singled out as the squad’s leading defensive back; Joe Pronsolino, the sure-handed wide receiver and ace shoe-top tackler was the consensus most inspirational player on the team; Lorenzo Lewis, the speedy running back, was voted the undefeated eleven’s most valuable runner; and Rusty Pronsolino deservedly garnered unanimous praise as the most improved athlete on the team.
FOR THE VARSITY footballers, the tough and resilient Victor Caballero was named the team’s most valuable player and, I understand, has also been named to both the offensive and defensive all-league first team. Victor Rossi was designated the team’s most improved player; Manny Barbeau took in the coach’s award acknowledging his never-say-quit enthusiasm for the game; John Toohey was singled out as most valuable lineman; and Josh Mize has been named to the all-league first team by league officials, his mother, his grandmother and his great-grandmother.