Returning to the farm on Friday afternoon I was surprised to discover a flock of maybe two dozen seagulls lining the ridge of the roof of the barn. I had not noticed seagulls in a decade of life in Anderson Valley, and the various inquiries over the rest of the weekend confirmed that at least some lifetime residents either had encountered the clumsy white scavengers or were taken aback to hear they'd moved into town. The birds were sighted on the high school soccer field. On Sunday morning as I crossed the road to select the proper coffee shop there was a seagull standing in the middle of Highway 128 with an SUV humming towards the bird. It seemed to require nearly as much runway as a buzzard.
When I first noticed the seagulls I was walking down Lambert Lane with my four year old after a sightseeing mission at the ranch we are hopefully moving to. We'd basically hiked along the creek to admire a concrete weir wedged in a nook under a grove of towering redwoods, damming up a ravine that was mostly silted in but running with a thundering waterfall. The seasonal creeks in the areas are dotted with such devices, with redwood planks that can be removed annually to allow most of the gravel over the spillway in the winter floods.
"There's a filbert tree," said my four year-old, pointing to a spindly specimen with sparse yellowing leaves along the creek's deep gully, aiming with his index finger in the hilarious way children that age tend to.
"No," I said. "No way."
"Yeah, look!" He reached up and pulled down a filbert, or hazel nut.
"Well I'll be. I didn't know they grew wild around here."
No sooner had the seagulls flown off towards downtown Boonville, than the ex showed up to retrieve our youngest, arriving almost simultaneously with a friend in a separate ride who said he needed some trimming done. His little pot patch was low on the priority list compared with his real job and it was about time to get down to business, he said, adding that his girlfriend's younger sister was supposed to show up to pitch in. He offered me a lift.
"What was her name again?" I hadn't caught her name the first time she'd appeared at the farm because they'd brought their dogs and another four year-old boy, and we'd all been preoccupied tossing baseballs for the mutts to retrieve. "Sure, I'd like to see her again."
The trimming crew, it turned out, was a troupe of real live migrant farm workers from all over the country. They were decorated with tattoos and earrings such that a Halloween costume might not be necessary, and said they'd done the blueberry and cranberry harvests in Maine, detassled corn in Illinois, and even harvested Concord grapes in Wisconsin. This bunch of professional harvesters also preferred coffee and Oreo cookies to beer, it turned out, as we sat around a table under florescent light and snipped away.
Later that night my friend's girlfriend's sister showed up and seated herself next to me with a green lace top and a grin. Before she took on the trimming snips, she pulled a cherry lollipop from a Halloween basket in the middle of the table, unwrapped it, and licked it with a savoring performance, maybe, in the corner of my wayward eyes. All the other guys and girls at the table were already hooked up so the two of us glanced at each other with the awkward hesitation of old-time peasants on the honeymoon of an arranged marriage with the parents watching. Perhaps we'd been set up, it seemed. With no words emerging our elbows rubbed and we blushed and giggled. We'd both heard about each other. Her last boyfriend had been the son of rice farmers in Yolo County, but I wasn't going to ask about him. What to say? I'm no good at small talk and prefer long term monogamous relationships in the form of a partnership of Guy and Gal stewarding livestock, land, and people where you only screw up and cheat on your partner every now and then and just don't talk about it. Talk about what? Talk about the books you've been reading, I thought. I started trying to tell her about this novel I'd recently indulged in, a whodunnit, Motherless Brooklyn, where the narrator had Turret's syndrome. He had a thing with words and rhymes but it was compulsive and embarrassing, especially for a private investigator hired by the mob. His styndrome didn't jive well with another annoying habit of tapping thugs on the shoulder with his index finger and smooching the bastards on the cheek.
"Garp," I may have said. "Carp on a tarp. Hardly smart. Chris Farley starred in a barley fart," and on and on, to that effect. Who knew what I was saying? Not me. There was no way to stop. I'd already gotten so far into character I couldn't seem to snap out of it until it was clearly my bedtime and all I could manage as a come-on line was a dog slobbering, "I don't want to sleep alone," which must have gone over like a lead balloon.