Sunday, April 29, 2012

Back to the Hills, Part 4

Yes, it’s a wood-burning stove. Everybody has one up here. I was very surprised to learn they are still being manufactured. Granted, Sis’s original stove came from a WWII Naval barracks, but this one is only about 6 years old. Some company back east still cranks ‘em out.

Sarah, naturally, is a most proficient fire builder. First she tosses in wads of third class mail, and then graduated fragments from the tinderbox. When the flames are established, she hefts in the logs. It’s amazing how much wood that thing consumes in a night. After each trip to the bathroom (usually about 4) she has to stir it around and add a couple more pieces. So keeping the woodshed stocked is a necessity, as is carrying in enough wood for the night. Once, when a log was a bit too long to get the stove door closed, smoke filled the cabin and she had to open the transom up by the ceiling to suck it out.  And fortunately, it really sucks.
The real advantage to the wood stove is that you’ve got heat, light, and a make-shift cooking surface when the electricity goes out. That’s rather frequent, especially given the age of the breaker box out on a post between the cabin and main house, and the ferocity of the winter winds. This was the first time I’ve experienced storms here and I gotta tell ya…it brought back harrowing memories of Hurricane Ike.
Supper the hard way
Now for the disclaimer: No tree was harmed in the writing of this article. Ample fuel for the locals is available from storm-toppled timbers and the Sudden Oak Death (SOD) that swept through the region a few years back. Okay?
Hugs to all.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Back to the Hills, Part 3

As in January, it was my very good fortune to stop by Anita’s lovely home and gardens. Actually, this time it was over a week before we went anywhere. I was determined to keep Sarah resting and eating. (She’s one of those skinny-minnies who has to eat a lot to keep her weight up. Don’t ya just hate ‘em?) But then we got the go-ahead from the physical therapist: she could drive short distances with someone with her.
And thus it came about that we called on Anita, just a few miles away. If that went well, we’d make the 45-minute drive down to Gualala, the nearest town, to pick up needed supplies.

Loads of sweet, juicy oranges!
We were greeted enthusiastically by two dogs, two cats, and the slim, fit, and gracious Anita. (Is everybody skinny around here?) We were soon perched on her spacious patio overlooking sweeping mountain vistas. My dearest hope was that Anita was a coffee drinker. Sarah, a dedicated health freak, only stocks green and herbal teas. I was getting desperate.

Big, delicious rhubarb
But, after watching the cats dive into the pool (empty except for a thick carpet of grass and wildflowers) and staring at ravens strafing the garage roof where Anita throws dead mice for them, she inquired if we would like some tea. Oh, no. Surely her husband, at least, indulged in my favorite passion. “Does anyone around here drink coffee?” I blurted rudely.
Anita laughed and led the way to her kitchen. There, on her beautifully tiled counter, sat a nice, big coffee maker. I wanted to hug it. I was actually shaking as the robust aroma wafted forth.

A new breed of broccoli for me, but
just as tender and tasty as the usual.
As it happened, Anita and her husband both had coffee with me, but I by far drank the most. It was a lively visit, but as things wound down, Anita, as before, presented us with the fruits (and vegetables!) of her ample garden. There was a good-sized box of oranges, large bags of Swiss chard and broccoli, a solid head of purple cabbage, and the biggest stalks of rhubarb I’ve ever seen. I know I’m forgetting something…
Sarah declared herself fit for further travels, so we wound our way down the mountain in her produce-laden car. And I barely made it to the first bathroom in Gualala.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Back to the Hills, Part 2

The main house; now only used
occassionally by winery owner
The first task at hand was to prepare the grounds and big house for a company picnic. I did my best to cop the lion’s share, but Sarah worked harder on the enormous kitchen than she should have.  I was too busy trying to spare her the rest of the house to stop her! Luckily my husband and I ran a hotel in Galveston in ages past, so I’m actually pretty fast at that stuff.

Happily, the vineyard staff took care of the weeding and set up the camp circle, so all we had to do was the house. The next day a huge bus carrying the office folk trundled precariously up the mountain track. The winery owner provided box lunches for everyone, thoughtfully including one for me. They began the outing with a walking tour. Sis and I didn’t join them until they settled in for lunch.
They were an interesting group. The world of wine is alien to me, but I found them happy to answer questions on their individual jobs. Being an old Hoosier farm girl, I was most interested in the soil specialist. What did he test for? What was the optimal dirt and conditions for grapes? “Low stress” was the only thing I understood!

The winemaker explained that this particular vineyard grew pinot grapes, as in “Pinot Noir.” Then he gestured at the lower 40 and said that section was for experimentation. The grapes are sorted into three grades, premium, medium, and what-can-we-do-with-these? They had vintage bottles from the premises for tasting, and although I’m no particular fan of Pinot Noir, I found it quite good. The difference may be that it was premium grade, as in fifty bucks a bottle! Yikes!
Speaking of yikes, the winery owner and his wife had given Sarah three bottles of their finest as a get-well gift. She’d already uncorked a Chardonnay before learning it was a no-no with her meds. I gratefully disposed of it for her over the course of my two-week stay. But what to do with the Pinot Noir and the 2008 Napa Valley Red? Dare I try to take it home? Nothing to it, the winemaker assured me. Just pack the bottles in bubble wrap and put it in checked luggage. Seeing several nods of assent around the circle, I determined to try it.  All I’m risking is making a few of those dratted TSA agents much happier than they should be!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

And So Back to the Hills

Returning to Sarah’s Mountain
View from the kitchen window
It was too good to last – Sis’s amazing recovery from radical cancer surgery. Not that the whole thing wasn’t miraculous. It was. But shortly after I left her in January, (A) her refrigerator quit, and she had to haul her stuff up to the bunk house to save it, (B) she’d just gotten back from a tiring round of doctor appointments down in Santa Rosa when she discovered this, (C) the next day was a lengthy one with repairmen and well diggers on the vineyard property she oversees, and (D) there’s the endless stress of dealing with insurance companies, pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and hospital billing clerks.

So late in February things started to go wrong. In acute distress she called a neighbor who rushed her down the mountain to an ER. She was hospitalized with fluid on the lungs, one of the places her cancer has metastasized. Drained and released the next day, Sarah came home to continue negotiations for a new refrigerator.
Less than a week later – back to the hospital. This time they surgically inserted talcum between the lungs and the encasing membrane to absorb and redirect. Egad. Has that ever been done before? For several days afterward she had what the nurses termed a garden hose stuck in her side to keep her drained.

This ordeal was followed by a week in rehab, and it quickly became clear they would be sending her home before she could fend for herself on a remote mountain. Worse, the winter that failed to materialize while I was there in January has now arrived with a vengeance.
So once again little sister (me) is throwing things in a suitcase and heading for the hills.

Happily, Sis has wonderful friends, coworkers and neighbors to offer transport, fill her woodshed, and carry logs in for her stove. They’ll hold the fort until I get there to handle the day-to-day meals and cleaning.
But this time I won’t take my laptop. There will be no trips to civilization to seek hot spots. You will see this and the succeeding blogs after the fact!