A bright Saturday morning shines across Cobb Mountain and down to the grassy fairways of Mountain Meadows, host of the Second Annual Blackberry Cobbler Festival. A steady line of cars streams in, winding down the blackberry-bush-lined road to the golf course, where local artisan arts and craft vendors welcome guests.
A curious stillness rests between the shadows and light filtering through the pine and oak trees in the heart of Whispering Pines Resort. Just beyond the banner reading “Blackberry Harvest Dinner,” rest two set rows of tables set with linen tablecloths with fresh flowers from Bell Haven Flower Farm perched on them. Pine and oak branches stretch across the open spaces on this breezeless night. Lights reach between them, setting the evening’s delicate mood. The fading day reflects the last effervescent hues of sunlight. It’s almost a fairytale image: pixies could emerge from the surrounding forest any minute. It’s a magical night worth celebrating. Tomorrow marks the Second Annual Blackberry Cobbler Festival, postponed for two years due to Covid. The anticipation is overwhelmingly joyful in the faces of tonight’s guests.
We unpacked like camping pros and settled in for the afternoon. We had spectacular views, friendly neighbors, the chirping of birds, and all the sunshine we could possibly want. In fact, we had more sunshine than we wanted. Turns out, our perfect campsite came with full sun exposure, and we were sweating ourselves silly. Never mind. We can handle this, we praised ourselves as we shuffled our chairs down to the beach to find some shade. Then the unmistakable sound of a hum filled my ears. Our neighbors had a generator! It would seem we had once again not thought of every contingency. Why didn’t we bring ours? Across the way, fellow campers had their own 10×10 pop-up tent and a small pool to cool their feet in. Camping envy rose again. It would seem, no matter how prepared we were, we’d never think of every contingency.
Mitsy….standing there with her dark blue wide-brimmed hat shielding her from the sun, impenetrable sunglasses which make it hard to truly connect with her, is talking to me? Speaking with me? Talking at me? I would say it is a conversation, except that there are not many spaces to make a full reply. There are moments of pause, silence just enough to get in a funny agreeable remark or two. Still, it is fully enjoyable on my end, if not like being part of a movie scene in which I am faintly a part of but mostly watching.
So we caved and bought a travel trailer like everyone else. Oh, the excitement and expectations that come with such a purchase. We bought enough things to fill a house for this tiny home on wheels. Then we took it out for its maiden voyage at Clear Lake Campground. Lisa Wilson, the second-generation owner of the campground, was celebrating her birthday, and anyone with an RV was invited to stay the night. We had all the confidence in the world that we were more than ready for this trip. Our friends eagerly greeted us when we arrived. David backed that trailer up like a pro as if he’d been doing this all his life. But, unfortunately, that’s when our confidence ended.
Hope Forti, director of Families Together and former Lake County kid, sits underneath an oak tree, twenty feet from the shores of Clear Lake. The afternoon sun’s still bright, but filters through the still-bright green oak leaves, reaching the grass in specks and spots. Hope’s holding a training for the Neighbors Program, a simple way that people can help foster families. Right now, she’s sharing some sobering statistics for Lake County. “There were nine hundred and thirty reported child victims of abuse and neglect in Lake county in 2018,” she says. “That is one child abuse report every ten hours. Some of those cases never get looked at,” she continues. “Right now, on a given day, eighty of Lake County’s children are in foster care. And people feel that if they can’t save the situation, they won’t do anything to help at all.” But Hope has created a program to allow people to help without having to rescue anyone: just deliver one meal a month to a foster family.
By noon, the hula hoop competition has ended, and they’re moving on to the raffle. Kids scale up a climbing wall, while others spend their time in the bouncy house. Vendors, community organizations, and food booths circle the area while live music pours from the stage. Austin Park in Clearlake’s filled with people, nearly bursting at the seams. “I think this is the best event we’ve ever had,” Clearlake resident Katie Sheridan says. Is it the fourth of July? Nope. It’s the first annual Hope4Health event sponsored by Adventist Health, and this year, they have combined with Blue Zones to help create a healthier, happier Lake County.
On the shores of our highly productive ancient lake, the little town of Clearlake Oaks transforms once a year when the best catfishing tournament west of the Mississippi draws hundreds of fishing enthusiasts and their families into town for the ever-popular Catfish Derby. The traffic along state highway 20 through the Clearlake Oaks community gets heavy at times but increases substantially at Derby time as trucks hauling fishing boats line up to check in for the 3-day Derby. “It gets pretty congested, but nobody complains,” said Dennis Locke, the Catfish Derby Committee Chairman. “It’s like a festival setting in any small rural town, where people gather and excitement builds in anticipation of a grand finale. In the case of the Derby, the grand finale occurs on the last day at noon, when the announcement ceremony draws a huge crowd.”
Clear Lake’s cool water laps gently on the shores of Redbud Park; it’s still too early in the season for the sounds of jet skis and wakeboarders. Soon they’ll be here too, but not today. The shores are calm and quiet as people and vessels come and go from the boat launch. A warm, gentle breeze blows, reminding me that summer is not far away. A short distance from the water, a large circle of pop-up canopies form a large ring in the massive parking lot, separating themselves from the boat traffic nearer the water. This circle is why we are here—to visit Lake County’s newest Farmers Market.
It’s springtime; the birds are back and busy building nests, the wildflowers are blooming, and the weather’s getting warm. There’s no better time to take a road trip around Lake County. If you’ve got a free day, hop in the car and enjoy some of the county’s most beautiful, unique, and tasty places.
Anderson Marsh State Historic Park resides just off Highway 53 in Clearlake and across the street from the Walmart. The highway busily passes around the park’s edge, but once you step into the parking lot, all that disappears. Next to the parking lot stand several outbuildings and the original farmhouse that J.M. Grigsby and his brother built in the 1860s. You may be familiar with the Grigsby Riffle, the rock located at the conjunction of Cache and Siegler Creeks that determines zero Rumsey of the lake. And, if you’re a history buff, you’ll know that the same J.M. Grigsby, along with a mob of people, tore down the dam built there in 1868.
It’s a bright early Spring Saturday morning in Middletown. The warmish-cool breeze blows through the open doors of the MAC. Inside, the bright white-washed walls hold ever-changing themed art. The floor’s filled with chairs and people of all ages and backgrounds. It’s what art in any community does; it brings people together. David and I quietly find a seat in the back of the room and settle in. There’s a spirit of anticipation and expectation, but not like you would find at an art show. No, this is different. This is a calling to learn something both new and ancient, holy and practical. Quiet expectation fills the room.
Over forty years ago, Gene Paleno and the love of his life bought some land just north of Upper Lake in Bachelor Valley. On a hill that rose above the valley floor, they built a dream home, painted it bright yellow, and called it “Rainbow’s End”. There Gene and Jeanette spent the rest of their lives following their dreams, raising cattle, and doing just about everything in between. In early 2021, nearly a decade after his wife passed, Gene left this world, leaving a massive legacy. He was the first to believe in The Bloom and the first to offer his support to us. He also gave the best advice, which he exemplified. Over and over, Gene told me, “The only thing that people will remember you or me for is what we have done for other people.” And his memory will not be forgotten, thanks to the work of The Silver Foundation in creating the Gene Paleno Memorial Fund.
Dust hovers in the thick late summer air. The slant of the sun’s golden-orange glow drifts in the sky, reminding me fall is near. But for now, it’s still summer. The smell of freshly made caramel corn takes my attention because there’s no other smell quite like it. I pause for a moment, but my hands are already full with several corn dogs and a cold beer that requires my immediate attention. So I decided that the caramel corn could wait.
The chartered tour bus winds up the mountain, swings around switchbacks, and groans against the steep grade before pulling out on a ridgeline that workers call the North Slope, referring to how cold it gets in the winter when the wind blows. Right now the clouds rest below the tops of the surrounding mountains, dropping a mist that promises to turn into full-blown rain. Tim Conant, Calpine’s Director of Engineering, steps out of the bus first, followed by Danielle Matthews Seperas, Director of Government and Community Affairs. Both hunch their shoulders against the breeze and walk to the edge of the ridgeline. Just below, one of many geothermal power plants hums away, turning treated recycled water into electricity.
“When you flush a toilet in Clearlake Oaks, we pipe it up here inject it,” Tim Conant explained earlier at the visitor’s center located in Middletown. He pointed at a large, lit model stretching across the wall. “We get about eight million gallons a day from Lake County and twelve and a half million from Santa Rosa.”
Catherine Reese sits at a table, her $20,000 check resting against the back of her chair. “Thank you,” she says when congratulated. “I do the best I can, and the judges decided in my favor. We plan to launch our popup camping in spring; we’ll be online in January with an incentive to pre-book. I always hear people ask me what things there are to do for family and kids in Lake County, and this popup will provide something. Young people need common activity. They want connection. “Whatever I do, I do it heart and soul. If it doesn’t feed your soul, don’t do it.”
Over the past couple of months, I’d heard through the grapevine that Lake County was being considered for the project. For qualifying communities, the Blue Zones Project has a proven track record of changing its chosen location’s overall health and well-being by researching and collecting data on the region’s general needs and implementing changes in the community. And it works through projects like building trails to encourage walking or biking. In addition, it is educating people about lifestyle choices, influencing policies that support healthy choices, and strengthening social ties. And the results? People in these zones overall live healthier and happier lives.
One of the huge, inadvertent perks that came with the Valley Fire is now when you visit Boggs, you will find spectacular views anywhere you look. I caught a glimpse of Clearlake, Hidden Valley, and Middletown, as well as great views of Cobb Mountain and St. Helena. Later, I was told by a Cal-fire worker, it’s possible to see all the way north to Mt. Lassen, east into the Sierras, and south down into the bay.
Do you know anyone who isn’t invigorated by the recent rainfall? Gutters are gurgling, creeks are rushing, and the kids are breaking out their galoshes to stomp puddles in style! Critters and plants alike are busy soaking in the blessed moisture. This marvelous weather brings to mind some rain-related items to consider, for example, just what do woodland creatures do when it rains? For that matter, how do trees respond? Read the full article at lakecountybloom.com.
As the architecture of Lake County’s woods reveals its seasonal color palette, our much-anticipated rains divulge newts, fabulous fungi, and nature’s spent foliage. Along with our county’s breathtaking vistas, bird watching opportunities, fine wines, and gastronomic delights, you can add Soundscape Ecology to our list of local wonders. Soundscape Ecology is a relatively new field of biology that studies the sounds of the landscape. Past studies tended to focus on single species sounds to learn about the health of a particular habitat. Newer studies in Soundscape Ecology have determined that it’s the ‘concert’ of nature’s sounds, rather than a ‘soloist’, that can reveal the true picture of any given landscape’s wellbeing.
A few miles past the state park in the heart of Soda Bay resides Bell Haven Flower Farm. Pull off the road and down the drive; Bell Haven Resort sits on the right and the flower farm on the left. A bright green lawn slopes gently down to the shores of Clear Lake; oaks and redwoods stretch overhead, shading the grounds from the bright Northern California sun. Just beyond the lawn, two piers push out into the lake’s waters. It’s idyllic, peaceful, and quiet. Lake County’s long been a special place for the Dohring family. “We’ve been married 41, almost 42 years,” Laurie Dohring, owner of Bell Haven Flower Farm, says as she strolls the grounds of their resort next door. “In fact, we honeymooned in Lake County at the Aurora Club. And my son got married in front of the house, just right here. That was back when we still came up for vacations. So when the opportunity arose, all of my children wanted us to buy the resort.
Accounts of black bear sightings around Lake County are on the rise. Many of my neighbors in South County have seen evidence of bears on their property. Bear scat, as you can imagine is quite large! Other evidence of the brown-to-black mammal is appearing on private game cameras from Loch Lomond, to Jago Bay, to the Oaks and more. These hungry critters, omnivores, are helping themselves to chickens, ducks and other fresh ‘snacks’. They are leaving behind broken branches on fruit trees, copiously consuming grapes in vineyards and, just like a cartoon-bear, but not a bit funny, they have helped themselves to privately owned bee hives and bins of pet food which has carelessly been left out.
The summer sun has finally started to set, and the day’s cooling down. Just across the street, the late afternoon breeze splashes waves against the beach. And in Austin Park, live music’s playing. When they recently remodeled the park, the City of Clearlake committed to bringing live music to town. So they put in a covered stage on the corner of Olympic and Lakeshore Drive, and this summer started hosting concerts. The city couldn’t have placed it better. The swoop of the stage’s covering swoops with the mountain and lake, framing the picture. And as the sun sets behind Mt. Konocti, it turns the park shades of pink and purple, backlighting the musicians.
Last year overdose killed more people nationally than breast cancer, car accidents and guns combined, and Lake County has the highest overdose rate in California. To help transform these stark numbers, Hope Rising, a Lake County health collaborative, hosted an event with its partners in Library Park, Lakeport, on August 31st in support of International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) – the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose, remember without stigma those who have died, and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.
“Did you see that dog?” Sufi asks. “That was a big Rottweiler. I could do whatever and sell him the cheaper stuff, but I have to live with myself. We only sell quality products here,” Sufi continues her thought. “And we’ve got the best installers. They’re the cream of the crop. We’ve had to clean up a lot of mistakes that other installers have made. When you get too big, you lose quality. So Justin and I want to keep it small and continue to provide the best product and service possible.”