The hum of boats on the lake fills the background as growing shadows dance further and further out into the rippling water. Live music swells from the gazebo in Library Park. Children play in the playground, and the sounds of their laughter mix with the rhythm of the band. This moment in time is one of my favorite reasons for living in Lake County. I take my first sip of Chardonnay. The sun finally rests behind the roofline of Juicy’s Pizza and the roar of unmuffled racecar engines drifts our way from Lakeport Speedway. We consider our choices for the rest of the evening. We could leave the concert in the Park, catch the races and still make it to the drive-in. We decide to box up our pizzas and put off our decision for a while.
Summer’s bright mid-day rays shine through the green rows of an expansive pear orchard, reaching towards Mt. Konocti. Directly behind, acres of grapevines stretch towards Kelseyville. Far above in the oak trees, two pairs of curious eyes peer out from their residential barn owl home as if curious to see who we are and what we’re doing far below.
“It was the trees. That’s what we first fell in love with when we saw the property.” Christie White, co-owner of Finca Castelero, motions upward with her arms, showing us the owl house they built, as we walk towards the barn. It’s obvious how one would fall in love with the oaks expanding far above the Airbnb cottages, not only bringing shade but that charm that comes with larger-than-life oak trees. Oh, the stories I could tell and the stories still to be shared, they seem to say.
The odor of heated fiberglass fills the air. I’m trying to keep up with what’s happening but can’t see through the smoke of the car with the blown head gasket trying to round turn one. Who’s in first? It doesn’t matter. A roar comes from the crowd watching turn three. It looks like a couple of boats got stuck together, and one car’s dragging the other around the track. I glance at it for a second, then get distracted by the major crash happening directly in front of the grandstands. A boat’s disconnected from its chain and cartwheels in front of the Blazer. The driver twitches the steering wheel, not to avoid it, but to ensure he gets a direct hit. He aims directly for the bow, and it explodes into a spray of fiberglass and old steering cables.
In honor of Juneteenth, Freedom Day, the Middletown Art Center joined with several Lake County musicians, performers, and chefs this past weekend to celebrate the newly established national holiday. The evening’s events began in the back studio of the MAC as an intimate group of guests listened to an on-stage conversation between Clovice Lewis, musician, composer, and educator who shared his story of music, race, and social justice with host Sabrina Klein. Lewis graciously expressed his love for playing the cello and the genre he coined “Jazzical,” jazz and classical style combinations, both of which were major influences in his past.
Sabrina Andrus, owner of A+H General Store and maker. roams the side street, a big smile on her maskless face. “This is a new thing for me,” she says, referring to the novelty of being outdoors with other people and no masks. “It feels a bit weird.” She and her sister Caitlin are the co-visionaries behind the market and have created a place where people can enjoy high-quality, locally crafted goods. It’s not a farmers’ market, though there is produce, and it’s not a craft fair, though there are candles and soap. Instead, it’s a market for the many artisans that live in Lake County. The sisters are proud to note that everything sold at the market is grown, produced, or made here in Lake County.
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.
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.
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.
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.