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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: In limos or pickups, home is still home

© Another Day in the Country

When I first started writing this column, which I dubbed “Another Day in the Country,” my sister and I had just moved to Ramona from Northern California.

It was the year 2000. In California, I’d lived in the country for 30 years. Our acreage wasn’t in the middle of acres of farmland. Nor were we in a little town of 100. But it was rural California, hanging more or less on the side of a mountain above the Napa Valley.

The nearest town, St. Helena, is a small town by California standards, and the residents cling to their smallness in a tenacious, gentrified way.

People are friendly; they smile a lot and speak to each other on the street. They care about the environment, health, organic food, and preserving their lifestyle for the next generation.

By contrast, in Ramona, we walk in the road because sidewalks are either too rough or just not there. So far as organic food, health, and environment, I feel like the odd one out.

Time has inundated my little California town with tourist traffic — which businesses in town depend upon to survive, but which old-timers still dislike intensely. Time forgot Ramona, and cars are few and far between.

Just a couple of miles from my house in California, the grape vineyards begin seriously. Not only have they covered the valley floor but also they’re climbing up the sides of the mountain. There are small vineyards right next door to my house, in fact.

My acre and a half of Napa Valley soil is rocky, but still there are flowers around the house and a garden. What grows best (other than grapes) are trees: pine, fir, oak, madrone, eucalyptus, manzanita, more oak, including poison oak, which you have to fight the way Kansans wrestle with bindweed.

There are deer everywhere, about half the size of Kansas deer, and lots of quail (which are protected, since they are the California state bird).

There is one newspaper in St. Helena, called the St. Helena Star. A man named Star started the publication years and years ago. Like the Marion County Record, the Star comes out once a week — on Thursday, instead of Wednesday.

It has more pages than the Marion County Record only because there is this huge real estate section, since it seems that lots of people with lots of extra cash would like a piece of the Napa Valley experience. I keep hoping that at some point, real estate will soar in Marion County, but perhaps not in my generation.

Unlike Marion County in the middle of Kansas, where there is so much potential, Napa County has been tamed, organized, combed, created, re-created and reinvented beyond its capacity. Where I see pickup trucks in Kansas, there often as not are stretch limos in California, as tourists trek from one vineyard to the next.

My friend’s children ask me what Kansas is like. 

“Is it all big fields?” they want to know. “Is it hot?”

Yes and yes.

“How big is your town?”

Five blocks square. They can’t imagine.

“Do you have pets?”

One cat.

There isn’t visible poverty in the Napa Valley. All the people who chose not to clean up their land or their front yard have long ago moved on or sold their property for a profit, and a tidier, more careful lot of folks moved in — upwardly mobile, right along with the price tag.

However, with all the differences between California and Kansas, my yard and yours, there is an underlying similarity that rules our lives.

We all want to matter, live in freedom, and feel community support. Whether we are riding around in our pickup truck or a limo, shopping at the Farmer’s Market or digging potatoes from the garden in the backyard, people are similar, at the heart of it.

If I feel that human need or desire, you can bet someone else does, too. The issues may just have a different twist.

I don’t know what your headlines have been in the Marion County Record this past month, but in the St. Helena Star, they’ve been about elm trees.

Years ago, the city fathers planted a long row of elm trees on the edge of town. They’ve grown up tall, beautiful limbs, curving over the road, making a shady tunnel into town.

And then some bug hit the valley that feasted on elm trees and though they fought gallantly against the scourge, elm trees started to die.

In Kansas, elm trees are a dime a dozen, and most people could care less about them. But in California, these unusual, non-native trees are precious.

Now, they are trying to replace the trees and, oh, the problems that arise with all the rules and regulations in this state.

Everyone wants power, and everyone has an opinion about where, when, why and how these trees are planted, right down to who is hired to do the job.

I read about all the hubbub and stop-work orders and am thankful that if someone wants to plant a tree in Ramona, they pretty much can. And, they can even dig the hole.

The other all-consuming topic in the newspaper here is the subject of leaf blowers, hotly debated by the city council and the citizenry in the letters to the editor, with a vote coming this week as to whether they will be banned in city limits as “disturbing the peace.”

I don’t like leaf blowers either. I think they are a silly piece of equipment. I tell my friends that in Kansas, we just let the wind take care of the leaf problem most of the time.

It’s all relative — even the heat. Folks in California consider it a heat wave if the temperature goes over 85, and I do know what you’ve been suffering with in Marion County. My sister called and said, “Stay there!” But eventually I’ll be back spending another day in the country.

Last modified Aug. 8, 2012

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