Monday, November 29, 2010


SOME AUTUMN DAYS, and some days in spring, possess a kind of harmonic convergence. A convergence wherein sun, color, temperature, and clime blends with or attaches to our spirit and we become one. For the lucky among us, these days happen when we have the time to appreciate and enjoy.

Such was the case on a recent Thursday, one just before feast.

IN A TRIBUTARY VALLEY to the Russian River, we found ourselves exploring privately held vineyards laced in and amongst coastal woodlands.

INITIALLY, THE GRADED ROAD divided one varietal from another, but as the glen narrowed we’d find vines on one side and interior live oaks on the other.

EVEN IN EARLY AFTERNOON, the low November sun, taking a cue from Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson, “turned the leaves to flame.”

HIKING WESTERLY, we climbed a ridge where the topography, and, perhaps, the exposure, was less kind to wine grapes. Here, the live oak and black oak canopied the road.

Under foot, evidence of an already wet season sprung from the duff.

Overhead, the evidence suggested that the coastal wetness is a normal occurrence.

Tracing the top of the ridge only for a few yards, the route curls back down into the rolling vineyards.

THE CAMERA I USE is light and small enough to be easily packed for a long trip on the motorcycle. It is a Panasonic “Lumix” (purchased at Costco) with a Leica lens that zooms. It is only slightly larger than a deck of playing cards but it has more capability, I think, than the computer that helped Tom Hanks bring Apollo 13 safely home.  Its ability to take close-ups fools folks into thinking I’m some sort of genius (at least those who’ve not made my acquaintance.) I like a forgiving tool.

THE PATH BACK to our beginning again splits the vineyards. On either side, the red and golden harbingers of winter cling to the vines for perhaps only a day or two longer. “One more good freeze,” we’d been told.

THERE ARE MANY THINGS that man does to the environment that are cruel and ugly. They are done in the pursuit or riches or power. There are a few things that man does – for whatever motivation – that actually enhance the visual. Think of a suspension bridge across the bay or a split rail fence splicing through some pasture land. Perhaps a secondary road that quickly courses out of sight only to reappear atop a distant ridge. I’d suggest that vineyards “laced among woodlands” are among those enhancements.

Particularly on a day when sun, color, temperature and clime becomes one with our spirit.


NOTE:  The Marietta Winery is not open for public tasting or tours.  However, the Bilbro father-and-sons wine-making team produce sought-after reds that are available at finer stores.  The "Church" recommends you begin with a bottle of "Old Vine."  Handcrafted.  Delicious.  Something you'd be "proud to share with friends but affordable enough to enjoy with pizza on a Tuesday night after work."

Acknowledgment: Thanks to owner Chris Bilbro for access to the property - and for the fabulous Thanksgiving repast.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, November 22, 2010

WHEN DO “THEY” BECOME “US?” - By Don Russell

Note: Don Russell is the editor and publisher of The Mountain Messenger, California’s oldest weekly newspaper, headquartered in Downieville, up on the Yuba. Recently, the folks in Sierra County rejected “Measure C,” a bond issue aimed at providing funds to repair the aging schools in that rural county. The Church of the Open Road has never reprinted, in total, words from another source, however, with Mr. Russell’s consent, the Church reprints this editorial commentary. The Church of the Open Road believes that Mr. Russell has touched upon elemental flaws in our collective thinking about the services demanded of government and how we pay for ‘em.


Letters and arguments during the late Measure C election prompted the question of citizens’ responsibility in a republican form of government. Opponents of the school bond measure pointed out that “they” had allowed the infrastructure of our schools to deteriorate. While this is indisputably true, it also vastly simplifies the issue and implies an unwarranted blame.

Those writers and expositors have never been at a school board meeting. Reasonably, they elected representatives to tend that business. Our friends propose, too late for any good, to second guess the actions of their agents.

“We” are still left with schools falling apart.

This is not an uncommon situation in a representative government. The duplicity that allowed the war in Vietnam was obvious well before the publication of the government’s recitation of its own lies. Likewise, anyone following the disinterested reports of Hans Blix knew the sham that brought the war in Iraq.

“They” betrayed “us” but we allowed, if not supported, the havoc and ran up a nearly unimaginable debt.

Merely cutting the scope of current government will not pay off decades and decades of debts; that we our parents, and grandparents incurred. As in home economics, bad decisions are made, but the bills don’t go away.

Eisenhower probably shouldn’t have stolen Social Security. But then, we got interstates.

Grenada didn’t need invading, but we did it.

California, alone, is full of bad ideas, but we enacted a bunch of them into law.

We, too, dislike government’ inclination to turn citizens into “clients,” but we don’t see ourselves refusing the services, the social security, Medicare, farm subsidies, welfare, tax breaks and investment incentives.

What’s done is done. If we buy into citizenship we also buy into the mortgage. We are wearied by those who claim to be “fiscal conservatives,” uttering drivel about concern for children and grandchildren, and sign “no new taxes” pledges. They are either silly or lying.

Hippies and conservatives share one common understanding: you leave the scene better than you found it.

There is no honest alternative to paying the bills, paying for what we inherited, what we’ve used, what we’re pouring down rat holes. That means paying taxes, before or after we die.

Until we accept “them” is “us,” we’ll never have an honest discussion about the bitter responsibility of paying the bills and throttling the national profligacy.

Until then, we’re spoiled children of the once credit-worthy.


The Mountain Messenger, P O Drawer A, Downieville, CA 95936
[Subscription Rates: One year outside of Sierra County: $30.00; Two years: $55.00]


Note: The Church of the Open Road welcomes your comments as would Mr. Russell at the above address. The Church suggests that the importance of this message warrants your willingness to pass Don’s editorial forward using any means (Face Book, e-mail) at your command. Thank you.  And thanks, Don Russell for allowing your work to appear in this space.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


MID-NOVEMBER and the time-space between storms ranges from three to fifteen days. One never knows. So, with the first hint of a sunny day, I find a place to ride.

Living in Chico (95926) for twenty-plus years, I’d traveled the old road to Paradise (95969) countless times: as a kid, in the back of the ’54 Ford Ranchwagon to have Chinese served by an old red-headed waitress at the Pagoda; as an eleven-year-old, on a black Schwinn “Racer” with a Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub; as a teen with his first drivers license and a girlfr… Well, never mind.

It had been at least a quarter century since I’d made it back this way.

Google Images
HONEY RUN ROAD is a mere six miles from the hollows of Butte Creek Canyon to the top of its southern rim at Paradise by the old furniture store. The historic covered bridge was operable forty years back. We’d crossed it several times somewhat troubled as its timbers creaked and groaned under the weight of the station wagon while on our way to get Chinese. Then, one rainy night about this time of year, the farm-boy who lived behind our acreage west of Chico, got himself drunked up, took his dad’s pick-up and drove to Paradise via the Skyway.  He turned at the furniture store, came barreling down the Honey Run and crashed into the south bridgehead. The site never again endured the rumble of vehicular traffic.  About a year and a half later, a concrete and steel replacement was opened.

Google Images
Beyond the Covered Bridge, nearest the stream course, the road is relatively broad and the curves gentle. What used to be cattle pasture has yielded to high-tone homes of those seeking and inadvertently destroying a rural life style all at the same time. Further up, the Honey Run conforms to the canyon wall, narrows, and the pavement is poorly maintained. The center stripe is gone. The gradient is steep. The road twists and bends into little tributaries and out around promontories offering a panoramic view of the canyon and the Cascades. About the time I hope to stop for a picture, a car rounds a blind curve. I elect to continue rather than risk being hit.

BEFORE WE KEPT TRACK OF TIME, the land upon which we walk was sea floor. The collision of the North American Plate with the Pacific Plate prompted an uplift. Ancient rivers flowed easterly toward the Pacific. They cut deep channels in this soft former ocean bottom. Then, emanating from a deep fissure a ways to the east, volcanic action squeezed molten magma from the deep batholith. A viscous layer filled the old river canyons. Over time, it hardened like plaster in a mold. Soon the old ridge tops were of softer stuff than basalt that filled the streams. Millennia passed. Water, ice, wind and any other degrading element God could create broke those soft former-ridges down. The result is a series of canyons that are near the photo-negative of what had existed before.  In them flow the rivers and streams of the present day.  Including Butte Creek.

ABOUT HALF WAY UP the Honey Run, kids from Paradise come down to leave their mark on the land. Well, the pavement. Spray painted for all to see are the primitive etchings of this young and virile crowd. “PHS – Class of 97.” “PHS – Class of 04.” “Stacey (heart) Bill.” “GS + DD – True Love 4ever.”

I drove slowly up this windy section searching the graffiti, only to discover my mark, left in about 1970, had long ago faded.

Google Images
Close to the top, I propped the Beemer on its side stand and hiked fifty yards to one of those promontories. East, a minor bank of clouds obscured Lassen Peak, but the view up the canyon was as clear as a thousand yesterdays. In the depths, I could pick out the old steel bridge at Centerville and recalled hiking the flume that brought water to the miners of that section. Beyond that, I could picture Helltown and the little cemetery with but six markers – one with “Lost on the Steamer Golden Gate” chiseled under the name of the departed. I recalled never catching a fish while fishing in Butte Creek, running out of gas on a Trail 90 up toward Nimshew, and of getting married at the Scout Camp at Butte Meadows, just this side of the crest of the Cascades.

LETTING THE LOW SUN’S rays soak into my black riding jacket I found myself confused as to the source of the warm feeling. Was it indeed the sun or had it something to do with a flood of memories.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, November 20, 2010


IN HONOR OF NOT SHOPPING ON BLACK FRIDAY, I again visited my most local independent bookseller – “The Bookseller” in Grass Valley, California, and selected (or ordered) several titles that may (or may not) have been overlooked by big publishing or the corporate bookstores. Here’s another short list of books worth gifting this season.

The Art of Racing in the Rain (Harper Collins, 2008). Those loving wheels, dogs and/or a compelling story will not be disappointed by this 2008 New York Times bestseller. Author Garth Stein reminds us about patience, compassion and love as his main character helps a race car driver named Denny navigate troubled waters following the death of a loved-one. Allow an uninterrupted ninety minutes for the last fifty pages or so.

The Signal (Penguin, 2009). As the director of the UC Irvine writing program, Ron Carlson teaches writing. And he writes. Really well. The Signal is set in the Teton Country of Wyoming. The narrative of lost love and confidence - and the intimate nature of redemption - is as stunning as the scenery in which it is set. If his novel Five Skies broke your heart as it did mine, this work repairs and nourishes it.

The Dark Horse (Penguin, 2009). Fifth in the Walt Longmire series, Craig Johnson continues to develop the character of an our-age guy who is sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. Longmire, the everyman sheriff confronts human cruelty with dry wit and cunning, surrounded by a cast of characters whose strengths and frailties are the same as ours. The good guys usually win, but not without paying hell along the way. Consider starting with The Cold Dish and moving through the series.

Long Way Down (Atria, 2007). While not riding locally, if one likes to dream about rides globally, this work by Ewen McGregor and Charley Boorman gives one plenty to dream about. This book follows their round-the-world adventure chronicled in The Long Way Round. A bit self-congratulatory in passages, this trip from Scotland to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa reminds us of the varied cultures on the African continent and the good that can be done by opening our eyes and hearts to the similarities inside all of us. Since I won’t be touring Africa, it was nice that Ewen and Charley took me along for this ride.

The Essential Mary Austin (Heyday Books, 2006). Reading Mary Austin’s view of the east side of the Sierra is better than viewing a photo album. Her precise language evokes details that the most sophisticated digital camera will never pick up. It is a pleasure to walk with her and meet the denizens of this oft-raced-through area of California, feel the sunrise, taste the rain and let sleep cleanse the day’s grit from one’s eyes.

California Place Names (University of California Press, 1998). Honey Run. Putah. Gibsonville. Henness Pass. Loomis. Noyo. Sinkyone. These are but a few place names I’ve visited on the bike and later looked up in this resource. This 40th anniversary edition of Erwin G. Gudde’s dictionary of California place names is a hoot to carry along or refer back to when traveling throughout the state. Editor William Bright has provided short and insightful thumbnails of places one might otherwise simply pass right through. This work inspires the reader to stop, explore and to seek other resources to read and find out more. Add this to your reference library next to DeLorme’s California Atlas and Gazetteer and Storer and Usinger’s Sierra Nevada Natural History.

Make Way for the Ducklings remains Bumpa's favorite children's book.

If you have a favorite new book, obscure or otherwise, please pass the title along to the Church of the Open Road's comment section.

Happy reading!

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


First in a series.

TRAVELING STATE ROUTE 70 from the valley to the Sierra, one can be captivated by the richness of one of the world’s most productive river valleys, the ruggedness of one of California’s most scenic river canyons and the sublime nature of the forested transition between the Sierra and the Cascade. Once in the mountains, the US Forest Service provides ample campground, picnic areas and rest stops for the traveler who is enjoying nature when nature calls. But in the agricultural flatlands, choices are limited to the occasional convenience store where you may not want to buy a bag of Doritos, or the occasional fast food joint where you may not want to buy a kiddie meal.

OROVILLE, CALIFORNIA is the seat of Butte County. Highway 70 skirts the town’s western edge. Configured as a freeway along this section, it is easy to whiz by town and forget that, somebody may have to go.

After many journeys through the area, I stumbled into River Bend Park. Located at the west end of Montgomery Street and built through a joint community effort involving local funds and service club labor, River Bend offers clean restrooms with stainless steel facilities. Nosing around the park, one will find that it is an outstanding place to take a fatigue break. River Bend has individual and group picnic facilities with heavy steel charcoal grills and solid concrete tables. Sites are spaced throughout acre upon acre of groomed grass. Certainly a nice place for a mid-afternoon snooze, if warranted.

(c) Paradise Post
Provided at River Bend is an Outdoor Fitness Course, a project of the local Rotary Club. It is considered state-of-the art and is designed for low impact cardio-vascular health and fitness for all levels and is located on this site. It consists of four stations, each with directions for the various activities. After hours in the saddle, it provides an excellent means by which the rider and limber up those unused muscles, bones and fibers.

River Bend Park is located at, well, a bend in the Feather River, perhaps five or six miles below Oroville Dam. The park is situated on the inside or depositional side of the turn, the opposite side of the river is a bluff that constantly erodes as seasonal changes in water flow eat into its soft composite. The river’s deposition affords a smooth gravel beach which is designated a swim area.

A recent November visit found me concerned about a rotten smell the closer I got to the river. I was ready to be disappointed because the entire facility looked so clean, trim and well maintained. Approaching the river, the submerged chunk that appeared to be waterlogged was actually the remains of a Chinook salmon who had previously spawned just a little bit up stream. Further investigation found several of them. Terrific news that the salmon are back and an interesting lesson that mother nature’s natural beauty and rhythm isn’t always the most sensorially pleasant.

OROVILLE IS AWASH WITH HISTORY from the discovery of gold to the discovery of Ishi (purported to be the last stone-age human living in North America) to the construction of the world’s largest earth-fill dam. But if one doesn’t choose to explore this rich and interesting area, know that one of the better potty stops in all of northern California is just off the highway.


NOTE: The “Church of the Open Road” hopes to add more area photographs of this and other “Great Potty Stops of the Open Road” as the series continues.

Readers are invited to suggest their favorite “Great Potty Stops” in the comment section of this post. The “Church” will investigate.


Butte County’s "101 Things to Do":

Kroeber, Theodora. Ishi in Two Worlds. University of California Press. 1961. The classic biography contrasting the Last Yahi’s life before and after his contact with modern man.

Nadeau, Remi. Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of California. 5th edition. 1999.  "A delightful, humorous and historical look at the towns and mining camps of California to be enjoyed by both the casual reader and the serious history buff." - Placerville Mountain Democrat

Talbitzer, William. Lost Beneath the Feather. Bill Talbitzer, 1963. Compiled and written by a long-time Chico Enterprise Record reporter, Talbitzer shares stories of the section of the Feather River inundated once the pool behind Oroville Dam filled. Available at the Lake Oroville Visitor Center.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Our crack fact-check team here at the Church of the Open Road offers these follow-ups, corrections [and apologies] to previous posts:

TO A GUY NAME JIM - The “Church” apologizes: A correspondent informed the Church of the Open Road that some yahoo in Washington State had sponsored an initiative to change the Washington State seal to incorporate a tape worm underlining the concept that the state’s tax system was sucking the people dry. The “Church” was able to identify said “yahoo” and contacted him out of the blue, electronically suggesting some unkind things about himself and his appreciation for how his tax dollars were spent. Jim, a veteran and a citizen, (and a motorcycle rider) responded with far more civility than was offered by the “Church.” And the Church, proverbial hat in hand, realizing that it had stepped well beyond its middle-of-the-road belief system, (hopefully) graciously apologized.

This post makes that apology public. Jim: Thank you for your service. Thank you for your point of view. And know that it is an honor to read it, disagree with it and (finally) understand the tongue-in-cheek nature by which it was offered. And even if it were not offered in humor, you, sir, deserved better.

REGARDING BOTH SIMPSON CAMP (posts: May 12, June 10, July 10, 2010) AND BRUFF’S CAMP (post: November 8, 2010): Recall that when searching for places visited decades ago, it was discovered that place names related to those enchanted spots were no where to be found on current maps of the two unique and separate areas.

The Church is a little concerned that when a place name is removed from a map, the history of some individual is lost to the proverbial dustbin and the exceptional lessons of their perhaps-judged unexceptional lives will be forgotten.

Bruff is a case in point. Bruff sent his company forward without regard to his own well-being. He cared for the properties of his company to the detriment of his health. He comforted others who traveled the Old Lassen Trail, showing them kindness, compassion and ultimately the way to safety while standing fast in his commitment. He nearly starved.

Without the map listing, would anyone look through the annals of gold rush history to find that he shepherded hundreds of fortune-seeking immigrants to their goals? And how would what-he-did challenge us to help others in our time, if the place name is removed?

REGARDING “AUNTIE DaVONNE” (posts: October 20 and 28, 2010): On this Veteran’s Day, after staging a valiant come-back from emergency surgery, “Auntie DaVonne” declared victory and left this place to be with her late husband who predeceased her a mere six months ago (post: April 8, 2010).

There are things about love that, if people claim to understand ‘em, they probably are just blowing smoke. “Auntie DaVonne” understood love. She understood commitment. She understood her faith to a degree that others may swear to, but never realize.

Dear Sister Lisa: Those of us who understand far less, know that you are in that special place on the other side of the netherworld, now fully embraced by love – the love in which you so passionately believed. Time to rest, dear woman.

The circle is unbroken. The circle is never broken.

Monday, November 8, 2010


I am informed that it is difficult travelling down the Sacramento Valley, on account of the moisture; and that there is no river conveyance and the stream is very rapid, and obstructed with bars and snags. And that the mines are exceedingly unhealthy.

J. Goldsborough Bruff:
October 21, 1849 in
Gold Rush

ON THE ROAD, in the saddle, riding through hills and forests and glens and weather, it is easy to romanticize those who have gone before. Those whose evidence of passing is a mere place name and, perhaps a foundation overgrown with vines or a rock chimney devoid of house. We travel in and out of these remote places dreaming daybreaks of melted mist and days ends of fiery sunsets, which give way to carpets of stars across a milky way. In between these dawns and dusks: placer mining rich with gold scooped from the stream bed, or boundless pastures upon which cattle graze, or clear pines felled for posts and rails or cabin walls. A Maureen O’Hara-type has a hot meal waiting and a few terse words that enhance the sexual tension. Pretty soon the credits roll: Republic Films.

A fellow named J. Goldsborough Bruff suggests things probably weren’t quite that way.

Poyle spent another weary day, chasing deer in vain. Only observed a few, at a distance. Baked a cake with some mildewed pinola…
November 18, 1849

ALONG THE PONDEROSA WAY somewhere between the old Campbellville Lookout and Payne’s Creek, where the Lassen cut-off – having traced the narrow divide between Deer Creek and Mill Creek – intersects it, there’s a Forest Service sign marking Bruff’s Camp. I don’t have a picture-taken-personally because it’s been forty years since I went that way. A revisit is on my short list of trips yet to take on the BMW.

BRUFF HAD POSITIONED HIMSELF as president of the Washington (DC) City and California Gold Mining Association. This assembly of 65 incorporated to journey west in late 1848. Many historians consider Bruff’s writings to be some of the best sources of information on the Gold Rush. Most compelling are the months he spent in the foothills of the Sierra / Cascade. Perhaps 30 miles from early settlements in the Sacramento Valley, yet with supplies and wagons deteriorating, he sent his party forward while remaining behind to care for the group’s sundries. His encampment along the Lassen Trail proved to be a highway for many emigrant parties and, as he waited his own rescue, he assisted others with their passage west. Assistance meant providing game; constructing shelter out of wagon remains; ensuring the fire was always burning; ministering to the ill and burying the dead. Deep in the evening of October 31, an aged oak collapsed…

A large limb, capable of making a couple of cords of fuel, had to be cut off, and then the long heavy trunk pryed with levers and rolled off… …and there lay a shocking sight – An aged, grey headed man and his grown son, with their hips buried in the ground, their ghastly eyes turned up in death!
November 1, 1849

THE PARTY THAT WAS TO RETURN for Mr. Bruff, did, indeed – however they came only for the provisions they’d left in his care. They did not return with the horse he had loaned. He did not leave camp with them owing to the fact that he carried “journals, drawings and mineral specimens” he chose not to leave behind. His former colleagues refused him further assistance. So Bruff dug in. He weathered drenching rains and low snow. He loaned goods to passers-through, chronicling meetings with good people (a Mrs. O’Brian and “two curly-headed girls”) and selfish…

A couple of men ask’d me for the loan of a camp-kettle and axe as they were about to cook a meal close by. I readily loaned them the articles & they made fire against a tree trunk. I had worn a gum poncho & tarpaulin hat, but the rain held up for a while, and I took them off and threw them into my tent, while I went to a camp near by; on returning, the strangers were gone, with the loaned articles, my poncho and hat. I hope their gratitude will meet its reward.
November 6, 1849

FOR SEVERAL WINTER-SEASON MONTHS, Joseph Goldsborough Bruff lived in the foothill hinterlands just east of the Northern Sacramento Valley until he and two others were rendered so weakened and ill that they had to abandon camp and follow Lassen's cut-off into the lowlands.  He ended up at Lassen's Rancho near the confluence of Deer Creek and the Sacramento River where he was called upon to make good on the debts of others in the company who preceded him to the outpost.  Behind him, he left the bones of covered wagons, the bodies of those who could march no further and the scattered skeletons of promised riches - riches that seemed so real to the legions who ventured into the western wilderness back in '49, '50 and beyond.

I THINK ABOUT BRUFF as I explore the gold country canyons of the American, the Yuba, the Feather and of Butte and Chico Creeks and those lesser streams that flow west from the Sierra into the valley. I think of him when I see a place name or an overgrown foundation or a naked rock chimney. I think of Bruff and am reminded that the settlement of the west was perhaps ten percent romance and ninety percent hard luck.


NOTE:  Like Simpson Camp on the Mendocino National Forest in the Coast Range, I can no longer locate Bruff’s camp on any of the following: The US Department of Agriculture’s Lassen National Forest Map, the US Department of the Interior Geological Survey Quadrangles, or DeLorme’s California Atlas and Gazetteer. But I’ve been to Bruff’s Camp and I’m going back some day.


Bruff, Joseph Goldsborough, Gold Rush; the Journals, Drawing, and other Papers of J. Goldsborough Bruff, Captain, Washington City and California Mining Association, April 2, 1849-July 20, 1851. Ed. by Georgia Willis Read and Ruth Gaines. With a foreword by F. W. Hodge. California Centennial ed. New York: Columbia University Press. 1949

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, November 1, 2010


…in total about a third of the state [is] termed “Mediterranean”
because of climatic analogy with portions of the old world.

Winters are mild and in most areas have considerable sunshine,
interrupted only by the occasional cyclonic storms
that bring most of the yearly precipitation.

David W. Lantis in
California: Land of Contrast

ABOUT MID-OCTOBER, when the sun rides low across the southern sky, when dawn breaks late and evening settles early, when frost may render the roads slick, particularly when following a thick, wet “cyclonic” storm, the riding day is abbreviated. Tours to the high country must wait until the spring thaw. Trips to the Pacific shore involve slicing through chilling banks of fog. A “day ride” might last five hours – starting around ten in the morning and ending well before four. Thus afforded such localized a radius, one rides the common roads looking for the uncommon element: the something missed the hundred previous times the road had been run.

Home base is amidst a suburban cancer – a house within row upon row of similar abodes. Saving grace in this locale is that an escape route exists. One that requires waiting through only one traffic signal. Therefore, on a good day between one of those “occasional cyclonic storms,” I can be coursing down narrow two-lanes, through pastures, orchards, vineyards and flower farms. In moments, I am no longer living on the fringe of Sacramento. I am wheeling through the old-country farmlands of north central Italy. I am in Umbria.

A TINY ROAD leads away from the highly traveled two-lane. Mandarins are found up this way in the late fall. And Christmas trees – fresh in the ground.

AS CONGESTED AS THE REGION CAN SEEM at times, the vast expanse of the Sierran foothills is rural orchard and pastureland.  [Note:  Click on the picture.  It will expand and you can get a gander at the very cool blinder on the horse in the background.]

TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO, the Romans built aqueducts throughout what is now Italy, distributing water not only to Rome, in the central peninsula, but throughout hamlets, villages and cities across the region. Were it not for this infrastructure, perhaps the Christian Church of nine-or-so centuries back would not have relocated its spiritual center to this dry-summer paradise. In California, 1900 years later, we built canals and flumes to transport water for mining, lumbering and agriculture…

…storing some of that water in ponds or reservoirs that nicely reflect the golden hues of autumn.

VILLAGES IN ITALY were crafted out of marble and granite and have stood for twelve hundred years. Here we see an occasional rock-hewn wall.

…and “old” may be defined as something new when great-grandpa built it for the bride he brought out from back east.

ALONG THE ROUTE OF THE CENTRAL PACIFIC, packing sheds became transshipment points for area fruits, vegetables and nuts. Repurposed, this one in Newcastle houses antiques shops and a delightful Italian restaurant called La Fornaretta. Sicilian (not Umbrian) fare with great service, local wines and loads of good cheer.

The oldest part of Newcastle looks frozen in time.

AROUND ANY BEND one may find a barn that looks as if its better days have passed by. But, the relic still protects a load of irrigation pipe and a serviceable Caterpillar tractor.

TO THE LEFT OR TO THE RIGHT may be another of those capillary roads – one that feeds a cell or two of ranch or farm life just around a knoll or across a one-lane bridge.

Living the dream, this entrepreneur probably left the rat race and opened Rancho Roble Vineyards. Producing a handsome and substantial Barbera to be enjoyed with seared marinated flank steak, or with pastas heavily drenched in tomato-based sauce.  (Complimented greatly grilled lamb and roasted vegetables last evening.)  I suspect that the majority of "maturing" Americans would rather do what this gentleman’s doing than be - what's the word? - rich.

I DIDN’T RIDE FAR THIS DAY: only fifty-six miles in about two and a half hours. But I returned as if I had just visited the old country – where life is borne of the earth and its bounty; where time is as easily judged by the position of the sun in the sky as by a wristwatch; where people wave and take a moment to smile. And where the proprietor is kind enough to ensure that the case of wine tied to the back of the motorcycle is secured so that it won’t fall off during the journey back to reality.


La Fornaretta Restaurant, 455 Main Street # 4, Newcastle, CA 95658-9359

GENERALLY, during my first visit to what to me will be a new Italian place, and if they serve it, I always order Linguine con Vognole. I’m looking for flavors that marry the rhythm of the vast Mediterranean Sea with the intimacy of a small, passionate Italian cucina.

LINGUINE WITH CLAMS, when properly prepared, has a broth that lingers. Like a view across an Umbrian valley from a summit in the Dolomites. Or a love affair. A taste that begs to be savored for longer than the dinner hour. Sweet. Steeped in garlic and herbs. Just enough salt to remind us of our common origins in the sea.

Last night’s broth rekindled warm, summer memories of the Cinque Terra – which is as close as I’ve ever been to Sicily. Even on this morning after, that marriage of vast sea and intimate kitchen lingers and I salivate.

from “My Dinner with Paul Newman”
© 2008 Church of the Open Road Press

Newcastle, California:

A website dedicated to the interests of the community, community businesses and visitors.

Rancho Roble Vineyards:

Following the tradition of California’s 19th century Italian winemakers, Rancho Roble Vineyards ® planted the historic Barbera wine grape rootstock [which] thrive in the micro climate and soils of this region. This vintage reflects the golden afternoons and shady oak evenings…

from “tasting notes”
2007 Rancho Roble Barbera label

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press