In recent weeks, my thoughts have turned to neighbors. During our years in Anderson Valley, from the late 1950s to the late 1980s, the Newman family was — with perhaps one exception — blessed with good neighbors. Neighbors that helped in remarkable ways; from offering advice and loaning tools to pitching in on projects and watching our property — including feeding the horses and cattle — during those rare times we had to be elsewhere. As novices to country living, we needed good neighbors, were lucky to have them and were — we hope — good neighbors in return.
I believe their goodness as neighbors came both from the people they were and the environment of the neighborhood. Good people are people ready and willing to help others. Anderson Valley was much more isolated and received much more winter rain back then. Our property and a few nearby had no television and no car access for six months of the year. Life in general was harder and more physical. In a sense, we were like soldiers in a foxhole under siege; whatever our fates and futures, at that moment in that place we faced common challenges, and we did our utmost to help each other.
To the east of El Rancho Navarro, my parent’s summer camp, Archie and Alice MacDougall owned Tumbling McD Ranch, which provided guests with a classic dude ranch experience. We would sometimes see one or both of them on horseback, leading their guests on trail rides. They knew horses and we didn’t (at least not at first), so their advice proved invaluable. The common property line ran primarily along the creek, but in a couple of locations it meandered; a survey showed we owned several acres on their side of the creek, including the Tumbling McD’s pump house, and they owned perhaps an half-acre on our side, including a portion of our barbecue and picnic area. Eventually an agreement was worked out so that both acquired the land on their own side of the creek.
Don Van Zandt was the neighbor whose property we passed on the way to our own. Nearly 70-years-old when we first arrived in the valley, he was one of those people with seemingly limitless talents and strengths. He could engineer, build and fix almost anything: two of his most impressive creations were the suspension footbridge (long since replaced by a permanent car bridge) we used for winter access and a sawmill powered by an ancient tractor. He used to wear logging boots that laced to just below his knees and for many years — until he fell off a roof and broke his hip in the early 1970s — had the energy of a much younger man. At age 80 he hiked from Ukiah to Philo, though he ran out of daylight and had to overnight in the open.
Born and raised in the valley (his parents built and ran Hazel Hill, one of the region’s first resorts, which much later became Tumbling McD), he and his wife Alta owned Van Zandt’s Redwood View Resort. One of my regrets is that I did not spend more time visiting with Don, because his stories — though reluctantly told — were fascinating. He once talked about the 1906 earthquake and watching redwood trees whipping back and forth so violently their crowns nearly touched the ground. Van Zandt’s Redwood View Resort is now operated by Don’s son Ben, and Ben’s children and grandchildren.
Across from us and a bit downriver, Avon Ray owned and ran Ray’s Resort, which later — under successive owners — became Wellspring and more recently River’s Bend Retreat Center. I remember little about Avon as he passed soon after we arrived in the valley, except his second wife was Lenore Falleri of the original Anderson Valley Market (then owned by Galletti and Falleri), which was located in Philo where Starr Automotive is now.
Johnny Peterson had a piece of property tucked behind our own to the south. The land was virtually clear-cut in the early 1950s and was slowly recovering. Johnny owned and ran Peterson’s Apple Stand southeast of Philo, where we regularly bought gallon bottles of frozen apple juice. He had a real knack for blending apples varieties for his apple juice, and it was so popular he frequently ran out. I remember he and his wife Mildred joining us at the Navarro River one spring day in the early 1960s, he to help with bridge maintenance, she to go fishing. At some point during the day, he commented that the last bridge he had worked on was the Bay Bridge! Johnny eventually sold his apple orchard: replanted to vineyards, the land first became Obester Winery and later Goldeneye Winery.
Located up the hill from El Rancho Navarro, Highland Ranch was owned by Frank and Goldie Ward when we arrived in 1957. Back then, it was primarily devoted to apples. Goldie also gave piano lessons. Around 1960, Frank and Goldie — getting up in years — sold Highland Ranch and moved into town to be close to their daughter, Charmian Blattner, and her family. I went to Frank Ward’s 95th birthday in 1976, during which he recalled as a child hearing Cornelius Prather — the founder of Philo — complain about the cost of the house he had built for his family (which more recently was the Pottery Barn Inn) in the 1880s: $800! Frank died less than a year later and Goldie, though a decade younger, passed soon after.
The new owners of Highland Ranch were Guy Lawlor and Bill Worth, who turned the property into a resort. Guy and Bill invited us up the hill every year to harvest apples from their old orchard, which my mother turned into applesauce. They also showed us how to make ice cream: one lesson was all it took for us to buy a hand-crank ice cream maker and start making our own. Almost every Christmas during our years in the valley, we six Newmans crowded into a pickup truck and drove up the hill, usually in pouring rain, for the spectacular Christmas dinner Guy — an inspired chef — created. Oh, what feasts they were! Guy and Bill sold Highland Ranch in the early 1980s and moved to Mexico, where they opened a bed and breakfast inn in Talpa de Allende, near Puerto Vallarta.
In 2006, on one of my periodic trips to the valley, I had lunch with Charmian Blattner — whose column appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser for many years — at Libby’s Restaurant in Philo. Charmian was one of my mother’s best friends when we lived in the valley; the two of them often lunched together at Charmian’s store, the Style Shop, just across the parking lot from the original Anderson Valley Market in Philo. During our lunch, Charmian and I reminisced about valley people and valley events, and each of those reminiscences seemed to end with her saying, “He’s gone” or “She’s gone.” Near the end of lunch she commented, “They’re all gone,” and sadly she was mostly right. Soon after, Charmian herself descended into senility and passed away. The truth is places change, material things wear out and people die, but memories — properly cherished — last. ¥¥