We spot Ben Hittle as we walk into the Farmers’ Market in Middletown. He stands underneath a gigantic oak tree, sunglasses pulled up onto the striped beanie pulled tight on his head. He’s selling trees. “It’s a cedar,” he tells us, his blonde goatee framing his smile, “and it can only be found in two places in Lake County. It’s an endangered species.” “That’s incredible,” I reply. “What type of cedar is it? “I don’t know,” he responds. “I’ve looked for hours and spent way too much time on the phone trying to figure it out. Nobody knows. No,” he pauses. “Somebody knows. I’ll find them.”
The blue and emerald lake opens before us on the trail, like the sky cutting deep into the ground. Under the shade of the slender oak trees me, my brother and my dad look at the freshly green hills rimming the water. Under my hiking boots, baby grass carpets the ground with Spring. We decide to take the trail around the lake, though all the trails at Highland Spring are magnificent this time of year with the scent of Spring lingering in the air. Small blue flowers scatter the ground, like a handful of diamonds that slipped from someone’s pocket. And tall, dusty purple wildflowers grow with long and dark stems, their buds dispersing in different directions from the top, like poufy hair or a chandelier.
The stage is set at the Soper Reese Theater in Lakeport. Four Christmas trees frame the presentation screen, two to the left and two to the right. A grand piano and podium balance the front of the stage; it’s the first time the piano’s been out since March. Maryann Schmid and Olga Martin Steele, cofounders of the 1 Team, 1 Dream competition, bustle back and forth from the auditorium to the lobby, checking on the innumerable details involved in coordinating both a physical and virtual competition. The theater’s sparsely filled; everyone’s distanced and masked. Three judges sit at their tables on the floor, spaced in thirds across the stage: Pat Scully, Laurie Dohring, and Ernesto Padilla all wait eagerly to hear the contestants. Olga wipes down the microphones with disinfectant wipes, then steps to the podium and double-checks that the Facebook feed is up and running. “Welcome to the first-ever business competition in Lake County,” she begins.
“Do you think we’re going the right way”? I ask, brushing a leaning corn stalk from my face. The Fall sun filters through the maze around us as we turn down a trail cut through the never-ending cornfield. I hear chatter and voices of other visitors coming from somewhere just out of sight. “I have no idea. I’m not the one leading the way,” David chuckles as we shuffle along behind our kids. “It’s a dead-end,” announces our son. We all turn to retrace our steps. We’re about a third of the way in the maze, and our goal at this point is to get to the snack shack provided Wildhurst Vineyard. Walking through the fourteen-foot tall corn, it seems that the maze is bigger this year. More invisible shouts and giggles draw closer, then fade away again as others continue to get lost.
It can be hard to start a new career, and in a rural county like ours, obstacles can prevent it from happening. If you’ve ever wanted to teach, but felt that it was impossible because you didn’t have a teaching certificate or the financial means to get one, take heart. The Lake and Mendocino County Offices of Education offer Teach Lake County, a program that will help you reach your goals and give you teaching experience at the same time. The Bloom spoke with Jamie Buckner-Bridges, Coordinator of Teacher Development for Teach Lake County, about the program.
Cindy Leonard, Cobb Area Council member and the primary Firewise organizer for the day’s event, stands at the edge of Rainbow Bridge, a large roll of stickers in her hand. “Here,” she says, a smile in her eyes. “Take a couple.” She rips off four stickers. A rainbow arches over the words “Rainbow Bridge Celebration”. The bottom of the sticker reads: “5 Year Valley Fire Anniversary”. “It’s so nice to have something good,” Cindy says. “Particularly with how things are now. With the disasters,” She looks up at the haze that has lifted for the day, leaving the sky a misty-blue. “And COVID.” But she’s smiling, and her rainbow-striped skirt matches the bridge stretching across Kelsey Creek behind her. Rainbow streamers drape its sides, and signs with “Thank You” and “Finally” written on them in marker hang from the posts. AmeriCorps volunteers wander back and forth, leaning over the railings to watch the water flow beneath. It’s been a long road since the Valley Fire for the Cobb community, and today, five years after the fire, something beautiful happened. The importance of a small, single-lane bridge cannot be underestimated. For the past three years, the Estates neighborhood of Cobb, consisting of nearly 100 homes, has only had one entrance and exit. “That was scary when we had a house fire here last November,” Cindy says. “But this is just part of a larger four million dollar project that Cobb Water Company is working on.” Her eyes light up. “We’re going to have fire hydrants every five hundred feet!” Cindy, seeing another neighbor, quickly greets them: “Did you get some stickers?” The Rainbow Bridge collapsed in the winter of 2017 during the heavy rains. “We’ve got six pilings forty feet into the ground,” Robert Stark of Cobb Water Company and designer of the plan, says, standing at the edge of the bridge. They’ve rebuilt it to withstand another hundred- and thirty-inch rain year like the one that destroyed it. He looks across the creek at the sloping bank. “We used oversized American Steel to make it stronger. And we’ve still got to put riprap in. Then it won’t wash out.” To the left of the bridge in her parent’s driveway, Jessica Pyska decorates her vehicle with her children, getting it ready for the upcoming parade of cars. “It’s been a long haul, that’s for sure,” she says. “And it’s been a difficult and emotional time, with all this going on. It’s nice to have a glimmer of hope and joy.” It’s truly a community celebration and proof of Cobb’s resilience in the past five years. “it wasn’t an easy or quick process,” Cindy says. “It took a lot of drive and creativity by many people to see the project through to the end. The Friends of Cobb Mountain donated $26,000 to help fund the bridge, Americorps provided volunteers. District Supervisor Rob Brown and Jeff Lucas from Community Development Services provided assistance; State Senator Mike McGuire even helped advocate the project. North Coast Opportunities, EPIC/Listos, American Red Cross all helped fund and support the event. And it shows: there are almost as many volunteers as people coming for the event. Neighbors mill around, chatting with friends, and picking up their complimentary lunches. Kids lean over the bridge railings, dropping rocks into the water. Cars begin to line up on the road, getting ready to cross. After a few minutes, neighbors, friends, Cobb Water employees, and CAC members duck under the red ribbon stretching across the bridge, grab a massive pair of scissors, and cut it. Everyone cheers and claps; it’s a new beginning. A few minutes later the fire truck whoops its siren and the parade begins. Cars, following the fire trucks, begin to stream across the bridge, honking their horns. Neighbors clap and cheer, laughing and telling jokes as they cross the span. Jeeps, motorcycles, golf carts, and dogs in wagons walk across the creek, each with a big smile. AmeriCorps volunteers wait for them to cross, handing each driver a cupcake or two. And the parade keeps going. After crossing the Rainbow Bridge, the cars turn left on Bottle Rock Road for the first time in three years, then loop around to cross again. “We didn’t plan on it being on the fifth anniversary of the Valley Fire,” Cindy says. “But it’s good.” She smiles again. “It’s good to have some good news.”
It’s been said that Lake County isn’t business-friendly. With the 1 Team, 1 Dream competition, Maryann Schmid has upended that notion. She has an ability: seeing the potential in people and businesses. “I have no skills,” she laughs, smiling a huge, bright smile. “The only skill I have is being an entrepreneur. And I want to help other entrepreneurs succeed.” That’s why she and Olga Martin Steele founded the 1 Team, 1 Dream competition, a contest designed to help foster promote small businesses in our county. Prizes for the competition range from $1,000 for fifth place up to $15,000 for first. But the 1 Team, 1 Dream competition is much more than just winning a cash prize. It’s about learning how to implement an idea effectively. Once the application deadline closes on August 31st, several of the applicants will continue in the competition. They will attend a one-day training on business planning, learn how to develop a business plan, and make a presentation on their idea to a panel of judges. All applicants will learn invaluable skills needed to succeed in our constantly changing economy.
Even though it’s 8:30, the night is still warm. The clear, Lake County sky has turned burgundy-purple, while the large, white movie screen nestles between the sunset and mountains. The dazzling light of the projector illuminates the darkness as moths flick between its rays. “Lakeport Auto Movies” shines across the screen, a crescent moon cradling the words. “DRIVE IN MOVIES” stretches out underneath. It’s a summer night at the movies. Every night the Drive-In has a double-feature on the big screen. And since COVID-19 happened, it’s a great way to get out for a late night in the summer, when late nights are the best time to be outdoors.
Dust billows from our feet as we step out of the car. Sun glimmers through the oak leaves above; a retired trolley car rests nearby. We leisurely follow the path towards the barn, pausing to look at the various farm equipment, buggies, wagons, carts and stagecoaches that seem to appear everywhere. I have the distinct […]
If you’ve driven Highway 20 to Ukiah, you’ve passed by Blue Lakes, two connected bodies of water that shine like jewels in the crack of the mountains. It’s easy to get distracted as driving by the crystal-clear waters that mirror the sky above them. During COVID-19, there are so many things we can’t do, but whether you’re local to Lake County or just visiting, one experience you can’t miss is to take a boat out on the lakes. Once you’re out on the water, you’ll understand the magic. First of all, Blue Lakes is deep. Really deep. As the electric boat pulls away from the dock, it’s like gliding out onto an emerald green abyss. Sun shines into the water, its rays stretching down into the depths. Even though it has four resorts on it, Blue Lakes is largely unpopulated, which means that there are plenty of places to stretch out and enjoy the sunshine and nature. A gentle breeze picks up every afternoon, which make drifting a delight. Start at the narrows, put the boat in neutral, and feel the wind slowly push the boat down the lake. Now’s a good time to hop into the cool, crisp water. As you jump in, you open your eyes; the underwater world glows green, the bubbles winding upward. It’s silent and soothes the skin like silk.
Cornelia Sieber-Davis stands behind the curbside pickup booth, wearing a brown Lake County Farmers’ Finest t-shirt, her bright eyes framed by her bangs and the white mask covering the rest of her face. It’s Saturday in Kelseyville, and the Farmers’ Market is in full swing. “Many people choose to order online,” she says, bustling to move signs and boxes filled with produce. “And every week we’re getting more and more things to buy on the website. I get the orders and aggregate them all here.” She shuffles a box around and puts something else in it. It’s an adjustment to interesting times that seems to be working. The table is filled with boxes waiting to be picked up. While we’re chatting, a woman wanders over to the booth and pokes at a peach. “These are for curbside pickup,” Cornelia says brightly. “But, you can buy some just over there.” She points across the open area. “They’ve got plenty.” She chats for a while with the woman and shows her some of the olive oil on sale. It’s just one of the many items it’s possible to find at the market. You can find original paintings, jams and jellies, all different kinds of veggies, as well as honey, succulent starts, herbs, fruits, and cookies. It’s a cornucopia of Lake County’s finest.
Stimulus checks have started showing up in our bank accounts and the mail. So why not put the check to good work, helping our county through a tough time? That’s where the #StimulusChallenge2020 comes in. JenniferStrong, owner of Strong Financial Network, started the idea in March by offering an experience as a drawing prize for those who donate $25 or more to the LARCA (Lake Area Rotary Club Association) Emergency Relief Fund. “We’re just trying to help the community,” she says, her clear, confident voice coming through the phone line. “One thing about Lake County is that we’ve been through a lot of difficulties in the past five years, and we’re pretty resilient. But some of us need some help. That’s when I came up with the idea for #StimulusChallenge2020.” The #StimulusChallenge2020 isn’t just for people to donate; it’s also to bring the community together. When you donate to LARCA, you also have the chance to win a unique, Lake County experience, such as tastings, pizza classes, and a day of sailing on the lake.
Patches of snow mingle with the remaining patches of light just outside the doors of the Little Red Schoolhouse, known to Cobb locals as “Little Red.” Inside, smiling faces greet us, dressed in various shades of green. Just beyond the registration area, the old schoolhouse is full of tables; flowerpots studded with gnome figurines sit as centerpieces. High school students wander the area, handing out appetizers to mingling patrons. Others carry out the desserts to be auctioned later in the evening. Baskets laden with local wines, tours, cookies, and other trifles line the walls. The silent bidding already is in full swing as people pace between the ceramic snails and Wine Adventure tickets, eager anticipation in their eyes. Above the auction items, a rainbow of shamrocks covers a wall.
The early spring day feels sunny and warm, easily in the low 70’s. Sparrow Daydancer and Punkie Lachnit sit on a raised garden bed filled with budding purple and green kale, sharing about their work with the Middletown Community Garden. Started in 2018 as part of North Coast Opportunities (NCO) Gardens Project, it serves as a place for gardeners and aspiring gardeners to work a plot of land.
Everyone was full when the seafood came. After moving the uneaten tri-tip and lobster around to make room, two students, struggling with the weight of the five-gallon bucket, each grabbed a corner and poured it in a heap on the table. At least ten pounds of King Crab legs, mussels, steamer clams, crayfish, shrimp, potatoes, sausage, and corn all piled in the center of the table, creating a mountain of high-quality seafood.
It’s nine in the evening at Robinson Rancheria. The Kentucky Jugglers have finished warming up and kick into their first song, “Keep on Rockin’ me, Baby.” On the left of the stage, Danny Hogan, a black cowboy hat on his head and cowboy boots on his feet, plucks away at his bass. It’s been a while since he’s played; over a year ago, he was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. But now he’s back, and stands tall, thumping away to the beat. Tonight is special, and not just for Danny. Once the band found out about Danny’s illness, instead of replacing him, they decided to stop their gigs and wait until he got better. Tonight, they are playing together for the first time in over a year.
Two banners stretch between the towering pine trees, surrounded by cloth streamers twirling in the mountain breeze like prayer flags. BLACKBERRY COBBLER FESTIVAL they read. Underneath, people sit at the long picnic table, resting in the shade, sipping on blackberry beer, and eating blackberry cobbler mounded with whipping cream. Jessica Pyska of the Cobb Area […]
The sun still pokes along the top of Cobb Mountain, but down among the trees, the day has begun to cool. The parking lot of Meadow Springs Shopping center has filled, and parked cars line along the highway. People mill around the parking lot and clump into groups around Mountain High Coffee and Brick Oven […]
Peterbuilt, Treasurer of the Kelseyville chapter of The Good Ol’ Boys Motorcycle Club leans over Trudy and me, his massive form towering above us. “Welcome to Camp KomRatto,” he smiles and gently puts his hand on Trudy’s shoulder. “You’re perfectly safe here.” Bikers from several clubs mill around us. Loud music pounds from the stage. […]