A harvest and folk festival by the sea

One of us grew up in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and as is so often the case, it’s the places closer to home that you don’t really think about—until it comes time to show around out-of-town friends or family, or maybe a day trip reveals a different side that was just never on the radar before. And then, it’s fun to discover a new side of your home turf.

As to what made the Russian River …  “Russian”? Never thought about it for so many years—beyond the fact that it’s not the pun some folks think it is (at least in our neck of the woods, this river could rarely be classified as “rushing”).

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Clearly this river is way more lazy than “rushing.”

So “Russian” just happened to be the name of a river in the area.

We didn’t know why it had that name until we visited Fort Ross on a day trip from Ananda, making the trek up the coast last summer with a beloved aunt who loves history and photography. On that trip, we listened to docents at Fort Ross describe life at this historic coastal fort, where the Russian fur trade aimed to establish a foothold in the early 19th century. A community of Russian fur traders and Native Americans used to exist all around the fort.

The beautiful but stark seaside location and the restored fort buildings offered a sense of what life must’ve been like at this remote outpost. So we were excited to come back and learn more at the Fort Ross Harvest Festival held a couple months later, in mid-October. The 2016 edition of the festival takes place Oct. 15.

Along the Bay Area’s coastal areas, fall brings the best, sunniest, most gorgeous weather you’ll get all year, no question. So revisiting Fort Ross in October was a no-brainer.

Once we arrived at the festival, we saw that it had rained earlier in the morning and little wisps of fog hovered a foot or so above the fort grounds. The weather, at least in the morning, was a little gloomier than we had expected, but the festival still offered plenty to enjoy—a taste of what life might have been like for some of those who lived at the fort in its heyday.

A big, colorful mound of apples stood ready for visitors to try pressing them into cider using an old-fashioned press. In front of a building that re-creates the fort’s living quarters, volunteers in Russian period dress tended a cooking fire and labored over preparations for a meal, using traditional methods (the original “slow food”).

Various booths around the perimeter of the fort offered displays of contraptions like Victorian apple peelers, more hands-on old-timey activities like twisting lengths of hemp into rope (not so easy, actually!) as well as vendors selling handicrafts like felted wool trinkets.

Beneath the fort’s beautifully gnarled old apple trees, we watched a reenactment of a Russian wedding ceremony from the time. Even though we didn’t understand the words—the demonstration was in Russian—it was still clear how playful the pre-ceremony antics were. Plenty of trickery ensued, including several pranks meant to conceal the true identity of the bride from her groom.

After the ceremony, the wedding party and other volunteers in Russian dress took part in a folk dance, and invited visitors to join in. We learned later that we missed a performance of Native American dancing in the afternoon—a good reason to revisit the festival.

 

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Russian folk dancing at Fort Ross.

By this time, the weather had cleared, in a big way, and we checked out the food and drink vendors set up on an oceanside bluff outside the fort. The live music from local bands, the fresh-pressed juice, the borscht from Russian House all made for a relaxing meal in the warm October sunshine.

After our satisfying lunch, we took a walk to Sandy Cove beach below the fort and hiked to the fort’s cemetery on a nearby hill, which offered beautiful views looking back at Fort Ross—and more fascinating history to explore.

 

 

 

An afternoon in downtown Santa Rosa

 

We love to go exploring all around the Russian River area, but sometimes we end up going farther afield. And sometimes it’s especially fun to just go somewhere on a whim. One weekend earlier this summer, we spent the morning in Sonoma visiting with relatives and then, on an impulse, decided to swing through Santa Rosa and wander around the downtown.

Even though it’s only a little more than half an hour away from Ananda—just about 20 miles—we don’t get to Santa Rosa very often, and this visit reminded us why we should head east more.

After meandering around the tree-lined streets of the cute older neighborhoods, we parked on the outskirts of Santa Rosa’s downtown and decided to do the rest of our self-guided tour (actually more of a self-guided wander) on foot.

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Stone church in downtown Santa Rosa.
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One of several Victorian mansions next door to the stone church.

In need of some mid-afternoon fuel to keep the energy going, first we dropped by Brew, an independent café serving some really great coffee—and also some really great-looking beer. And we’ll be honest, those taps were so tempting, but the rich aroma of the coffee won out. In addition to a bright, colorful interior with natural light streaming in from plenty of windows, Brew also offers a shaded front patio that looks like a good low-key beer garden to us, both right in the center of things, but also a little removed. So we’ll definitely be back.

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We enjoyed a nice cup of coffee at Brew, but we’ll be back to sample the beer—and enjoy the front patio.

 

From Brew, we wandered through a neighborhood full of beautiful Victorian houses, crossed under Highway 101 and into Railroad Square, which is probably the best known of Santa Rosa’s many historic districts. There’s an abundance of cool old brick or stone buildings in Railroad Square, including the train depot for which the area is named. A small park in front of the depot (it’s named “Depot Park,” go figure) features a variety of sculptures, including a bronze statue of Charlie Brown (Peanuts creator Charles Schulz lived in the North Bay, chiefly Santa Rosa, for many years.)

Restaurants, cafes and a hotel line the area around Depot Park. Since we had recently caffeinated, we didn’t visit either one of the coffee places that flank the train station, but on several occasions we’ve gotten beans roasted by one of these cafes—Flying Goat Coffee—and really liked them.

 

For about an hour, we walked around, looking at buildings, popping into shops and just taking in the atmosphere.

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A closer look at the beautiful old stone building that houses Flying Goat Coffee.

We wanted to grab dinner before we left Santa Rosa, and a friend had recommended Jackson’s Bar and Oven, on the edge of the Railroad Square neighborhood. So we dropped by for an early bite. The space is modern and spacious but still cozy thanks to dark, warm woods, indirect lighting and an interior that makes the most of the restaurant’s location in a vintage building: high windows along most of the space, with light filtering in from the larger windows at the corner storefront.

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Jackson’s Bar and Oven is modern but still very cozy.

 

Jackson’s serves a thoughtful selection of local and regional beers, local wines and a small selection of artisan cocktails.

Because it was early still—and the family fed us a little too well earlier in the day—we wanted something light, so we split a salad of farro, pea shoots, fresh peas, arugula and toasted almonds. It was very fresh and just what we wanted (and about those fresh peas—we made this visit earlier this summer. Jackson’s menu does follow the seasons.)

We followed that wonderful farro and pea salad with a summer vegetable pizza, which we also split. Some might say it’s heresy to put so many vegetables on a dish more often used as a vehicle for pepperoni, but we loved the crisp, clean flavors of this white pizza. Delicate, creamy ricotta made a perfect base for zucchini, tomato and roasted corn, allowing them to truly complement each other. A light hand with the cilantro pesto (full disclosure: we love cilantro) meant that this love-it-or-hate-it herb helped round out the flavors, rather than dominating them.

We were a little too full from the day’s family gathering to get dessert, but we would definitely give it a try on a return visit to Jackson’s.

After dinner, we wanted to enjoy more of Santa Rosa’s downtown and took a little time to walk around before heading to the car. Crossing back under Highway 101, we did some more exploring.

 

As we began to see more and more folks within just a few blocks carrying away their hoards of Pliny the Elder, we knew we were close to the Russian River Brewing Co. We dropped by but didn’t really expect to get in quickly, and sure enough: the line was long enough outside that we decided to save it for our next visit.

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Maybe next visit?!

But for those who are making a beer pilgrimage, we know there’s enough to enjoy in downtown Santa Rosa even beyond the beloved Pliny that it’s well worth making a day of it.

Until next time, Santa Rosa.

Seeing the forest for the trees

We love the redwood forests around the Russian River—and all around Northern California—but sometimes when we see something a lot, it can start to become part of the scenery. It’s scenery that we love, of course, but not something that we always notice as much as we used to, when we were first coming to the area. Or so we thought.

Sorting through some of our photos the other day, we realized how many shots we’ve taken over the past two years of the redwood trees around the house, Monte Rio, and just the Russian River area in general. So apparently we’re still enjoying the local landscape, even when we’re not consciously doing so.

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But our surprisingly large cache of redwood forest photos offered us a good reminder to just slow down more often and really think about the beauty of these trees all around us: the shaggy fibrousness of rust-colored bark, the almost primeval look of the simple, frond-like leaves, the gentle sway of the towering trunks as they flex, ever so slightly, with the wind, and the glow of the sunlight filtering through the leaves.

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So the next time we’re out on a walk, or even driving on the Bohemian Highway or Hwy 116, we’ll try to notice all that our cameras have seen, and really appreciate the forest—and the trees.

 

Part of WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge—Earth

Can’t see all the way to the top

 

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Parson Jones is the tallest tree in the redwood grove at Armstrong Redwoods.

Armstrong Redwoods in Guerneville has become one of our favorite places to bring friends and family. The park has plenty of hiking trails, including one that leads to a secluded pottery studio in the hills of the adjoining Austin Creek State Recreation Area.

It’s also a place that offers the chance to really take in the redwoods. An easy, mile-long nature trail loops around the forest floor, through a grove of redwoods, and past some of the park’s real highlights, including the Parson Jones tree, the tallest tree in the grove—taller than a football field is long—as well as the Colonel Armstrong tree, which at 1,400 years old, is the oldest tree in the park. And of course, the Colonel Armstrong tree is no shorty, either.

On numerous visits, we’ve tried to capture the scale of these beautiful giants—and this is one of the rare situations where the extra wide-angle shots taken by our phones actually helps rather than hinders—but, still, it’s hard to do them justice.

Blissful summer memories

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Leafy shadows cast on the nature trail at Armstrong Redwoods.

Maybe it’s the rain that’s falling here today, but what seems especially blissful right now is the memory of a walk we took on a summer day at Armstrong Redwoods in Guerneville last June—the wonderful warm day when this photo was taken. We were with our friends and their toddler daughter, who was just getting steady enough on her feet to occasionally speed ahead of us on the nature trail that winds through the redwoods. She toddled up and greeted a few families we met along the path—she’s outgoing and always makes friends—but she was especially taken with an older girl, about 8 or 9, and we all stopped and had a nice chat with the girl’s family.

This park always offers a nice, cool getaway in the warm months. All those big redwood trees provide a lot of shade, but there’s usually still plenty of sunlight filtering through the trees. And in a few places, even the tall redwoods can’t stop a sunbeam determined to reach the forest floor, as this one was.

The plants that grow in the shade of these huge trees often seem to have a lacy or delicate quality that somehow makes their massive companions seem even greater. Struck by that determined sunbeam, the leaves of this little tree cast a shadow we couldn’t resist.

Winter twilight on the river

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The Russian River reflects a late-winter twilight sky at Monte Rio Beach.

Monte Rio Beach isn’t just one of our favorite spots on the Russian River because it’s the beach closest to home (though we’re not gonna lie—that’s great), but we love it because it’s a big, wide beach on a bend in the Russian River; it’s right in the middle of town, with a view of it all: whether it’s the beautiful trees on the hills surrounding Monte Rio or the cool retro movie theater and other vintage architecture in town, the beach is central. There’s a big family of mallard ducks always hanging around—we see them on every visit and they make the beach even homier. It’s also one of the less-busy beaches in the summer and has been our go-to place for wading, swimming, tubing and kayaking.

In the warmer months, and really, year-round in the past couple drought years, the river has been especially shallow at Monte Rio Beach. It wasn’t hard to wade out to the middle before the water would even come up to our hips. But now, with the winter rains, this is a different river: it appears much deeper and wider and has a noticeable current (in the summer, it has been just as easy to paddle a kayak upstream as it has to go downstream).

The beach was almost empty on this evening except for a couple people fishing. It was a different place than we’d seen it before—just as beautiful as always, but with an added peacefulness. Definitely, we’ll need to make more winter visits to this beach.

A walk in the neighborhood

It’s always fun to see friends and family, and one among us has been known to relish the fully booked weekend, chock-full of parties or visits with friends, dinners with family, or just a day-long hike we’ve planned. Perhaps, ideally, all of the above.

But sometimes the best weekend days are lazy ones, with no plans, no deadlines and nowhere pressing that we have to be. It was on such a Sunday that that photo was taken—just out for a stroll around the house. The roads in the neighborhood don’t see a lot of traffic, allowing for a relaxing walk right down the middle of the street.

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Going for a quiet afternoon stroll in the “wilds” of Monte Rio.