Finding an ideal sense of community in Glen Ellen
The folks of Glen Ellen
Happy Valentine’s Day to all of the sweethearts among my readers. What do I suggest to celebrate this day of love? A walk in the Regional Park, a smooch on a secluded bench (this time, I won’t tell you where my favorites are) and an ample picnic repast to share. What transpires for the rest of your day is up to you.
Beloved village, my chosen hometown
I’ve been thinking a lot about a sense of community lately. My friend Stephanie Sugars pointed me in that direction through a thought provoking essay by Buddhist monk, Ajahn Sucitto, where he describes his childhood in London. No doubt you could find his meditation on “The Commons” online.
Sucitto’s essay led me to thoughts of my own chosen hometown, Glen Ellen, and the sense of belonging and bond I have with this beloved village. A sense of community is a vague and nebulous concept that is hard to define. It includes image and pride, comfort and respect, and knowing that you’re where you belong.
Newcomers fade to oldtimers
I don’t believe that I stopped feeling like a newcomer until about five years ago. But even then, as a self-described newcomer, I felt accepted and happy here in Glen Ellen. It helped that many of the old-timers were welcoming and open, accepting of the diversity that made up this little village, Crawfords included.
In recalling my initial welcome, I especially think of Marge Everidge, Ruth Campbell, Irene Pomeroy, Stacia Derickson and a whole lot of others whose names don’t rise to consciousness right now. (Not because those unnamed folks aren’t important, but because my cerebrum decides to jettison names the minute I try to recall them. No doubt seniors among my readers are groaning in recognition at that affliction.)
What is that elusive quality that makes one feel part of the community? I can tell you to some extent how it worked for me. Once upon a time, Sweetie and I knew all of our neighbors on O’Donnell Lane. Initially that was a function of having small children, who happily roamed the neighborhood freely, on foot, on bike or up the creek. It’s easy to get to know folks when you’re chasing your kids through their yards.
But, over time, houses changed hands, folks moved on and both Sweetie and I were working fulltime. More than a few of the houses on our lane were purchased by weekenders or were occupied by folks who had long commutes and weren’t around all that much during the day.
Scary hamlet, chary lenders
Glen Ellen has certainly changed since the ’70s when it was hard to find a mortgage lender willing to risk a loan on anything in this rough and wild place. It’s a lot more upscale now, which means plenty of folks have to work harder to support their homes. I’m not complaining, just noting that I no longer know all of my neighbors.
But once I’d established the sense of community, that feeling of belonging here, it didn’t matter if I didn’t know everyone’s name. I know enough people to feel at home. This is my ’hood and the folks who live here, or camp here or weekend here are my peeps (to borrow a little old-fashioned slang from another generation).
Enhancing the connection
Being a part of a neighborhood school, in this case beautiful, bucolic Dunbar, and part of a volunteer organization, in this case wild and walkable Bouverie Preserve, enhances that connection, that comforting sense of belonging. I feel grounded on this land, accepted in this town and those things enhance my sense of community. For me, community is a spiritual need as much as anything, and I’ve found that in Glen Ellen.
Community gives thanks
That sense of connection and community was recently illustrated in another way by one of my fellow Bouverie docents. Linda Alwitt described a grand party that she and another docent, Jane Sinclair, planned along with a few other friends, including Karen Pedersen, Maria Lobanovsky, David Hill and Fran Knight. The party included a couple of other of my Bouverie pals, too, namely Joan Howarth and Bobbie Jenkins, along with all of their families. These are all eastside Sonoma folks, but their event is one that deserves notice by us all. It’s a Glen Ellen style of whoop-tee-do and one which helped form a bond of connection among lots of folks.
It begins with remembering
Linda and Jane remembered that the late Evie Berger, whom everyone admired (and quite a few of us loved), had wanted to celebrate their neighborhood postman’s retirement when that occurred. But Evie died before the time came.
So last year, when Sonoma postman Joe Kennedy let it be known that he was indeed retiring in 2013 after 40 years delivering their mail, a group immediately started planning the party. That planning began in November (reminding me more than a little of Glen Ellen’s annual Village Fair).
David Hill stepped up to be the emcee. Dick Cole, a talented artist on Joe’s route, drew a portrait of Joe, and then composed a poem that only teased Joe a bit. The refrain, a simple “Joe does!” was picked up, repeated and happily shouted by the 200-plus folks attending Joe’s party.
It must have rocked those old brick walls of the Sonoma Community Center, where the party was held. Gary Edwards, another fellow on Joe’s route, arranged for that venue. It took a village to honor Joe and it was the village that Joe had so loyally served for four decades.
Among the stories from that event that I love best were these two. John Berger (that is, not “Papa John” but “young John” for which both Bergers will forgive me, I trust) tells the first one. Back in the pre-cellphone days, as a single man, John spent many months gallivanting around Europe. To keep in touch with his parents, Evie and John, he sent postcards. Those brief notes were always addressed to “Dear Mom, Dad and Joe,” figuring that the postman got the first look at these colorful accounts of his travels.
My other favorite Joe Kennedy postman story, involved one of Amee Scott’s sons, who dressed up in a Joe Kennedy look-alike costume, which was no minor project. Linda Alwitt describes Joe “with his twinkling eyes, busy white beard” and Amee’s son perfectly mimicked Joe’s unique look, cotton beard and all.
The class project was to represent “someone he admired.” Joe was busy on his route that day and couldn’t be there for the presentation, however, he did manage to later visit the classroom in person, which must have thrilled young Mr. Scott and his classmates. Joe was appreciated by young and old, and Amee Scott shared the photo which proved it.
Who is my neighbor?
At the party for Joe’s retirement, everyone wore tags with their name and their street, enhancing the sense of community, and inviting new friendships. Joe’s retirement party helped folks to bond. Folks who didn’t necessarily know each other already met at Joe’s celebration. Learning they had someone so dear in common, gave them a connection, a bond.
Good job, Joe. You’re the hero of youngsters, creator of community, and much loved by the folks you served for almost half a century.
Meanwhile back at Olive and Vine
Speaking of neighbors, my own neighbor Lou Patterson set me straight on a little misinformation that I circulated last week regarding Tommy Thomsen’s Olive and Vine birthday hosted by Catherine Venturini and her sweetie, John Burdick. Turns out, Sean Allen, was the genius on the lap steel guitar. As Lou shares, “he was also over the top on guitar riffs,” ending with a “Wheee Doggie,” Lou says. She also notes that “Sean Allen was inducted into the Country Western Hall of Fame, even though he looks as young as I remembered him maybe 16 years ago. He’s a great guy and clearly filled with the ability to stretch the sounds of strings, in a dignified way, across great distances.”
Sockless in GE
Lou Patterson is a talented performer herself, with a voice that can gently sing a sweet ballad that can break your heart, or a buzz a jazzy number to light up your life, or a belt out a rockin’ rollin’ song that will knock your socks off. Most of the time, I’m content to hear Lou singing behind her fence, but once she held a crowd of close to 80 in rapt attention at a Creekbottom house concert that none of us will ever forget. When Lou talks music, she knows. And when she sings, we’re transported.
SRA Fee flap
Last week Ann Zollinger, who is an enthusiastic spokesperson for our local Glen Ellen Volunteer Fire Department, shared a note from Fire Chief Peter Van Fleet.
Peter’s note was in response to some of the complaints he’s heard about the recent bills sent by Cal Fire for their SRA (state responsibility area) fees. Peter wants to make it clear that those assessed fees have nothing to do with our local Glen Ellen Fire Protection District or the Kenwood District. Further, that neither the Kenwood nor the Glen Ellen Fire Protection District receives any of these funds.
Peter further clarifies, “The SRA fee, which affects 850,000 properties in California, was passed by the state legislature …” continuing, “Because the fee appears to be a tax, and was not passed with the required two-thrids vote, a lawsuit has been filed in state court to overturn it.” Peter suggests that, “People who oppose the SRA fee should write their legislators in support of efforts to repeal or modify the fee.”
Finally, Chief Peter makes clear that, “The Glen Ellen Fire Protection District remains your primary, emergency response agency. When you dial 911 for a medical or fire emergency, our highly trained firefighters are the ones who will respond. It is through the generosity and extraordinary level of community support that has allowed professional and volunteer firefighters to serve you in the past and will allow us to continue to protect you in the future.”
Peter’s entire letter is available online at the Glen Ellen Fire Protection District’s website, glenellenfire.org. Scroll down on their home page to read it in full. While you’re on the website, check out the history, the photos and all the good news about our Glen Ellen firefighters. It is Ann’s hope that the new SRA tax will not stop folks from supporting our local fire districts. Your donations are needed now, as always.
Finally, Ann sadly adds that she lost her “huge hunk of love,” Jasper the St. Bernard, Glen Ellen’s unofficial firehouse mascot and honorary Glen Ellen avalanche rescue dog. Jasper passed on just before Christmas. He was much loved in this town and his death brought tears to more than a few folks.
We wish Jasper a fine slobbering feast as his due reward for being a good fellow on earth. We now imagine Jasper’s glorious howling while he bounds through the fields of heaven in perpetual pursuit of happiness.
I’m looking forward this coming Saturday, Feb. 16, for my first visit to Glen Weaver’s Free Bookmobile. He will be somewhere near the Post Office parking lot in downtown Glen Ellen at 10 a.m. for only an hour. Then the bookmobile moves north to the Kenwood Market parking lot for another hour beginning at 11:30 a.m.
When Sweetie and I first moved to Glen Ellen, the Sonoma County Library’s book mobile stopped at the Community Church parking lot on a regular basis. You could request books and they’d usually arrive the following visit. I loved the cozy book mobile and the friendly librarian and I’m looking forward to checking out Glen’s own version. The difference here is that Glen gives the books away, while the library just let one borrow them. I’d guess, though, that Glen will be happy to take the book back to re-distribute it after you’re finished.
That would please my Sweetie, I know, as he is tired of building new bookshelves at Creekbottom. A little de-accessioning from the stacks at home would ease his burden, I’m sure. Ditto for our occasional hired handyman and friend, Dan Sheehan, owner operator of Dan’s Hauling Service, who has been known to schlep more than a few boxes of my books from here to there and back again over time. Besides, we guess that Glen could find a good home for any extra books we possess.
If Gianna Biaggi’s senior project has not yet filled all the spaces for Jack’s Ambassadors, you might still have a chance. Gianna, who is the president of Sonoma Valley High School’s Wolf Club, is looking for middle school students who would like to volunteer at Jack London State Historical Park. Jack’s Ambassador program will run select weekends from March to May. For two hours each weekend, the students will participate in various activities such as gardening and trash clean up, as well as appreciation of the park through hiking, arts and crafts, games and discussions. Teachers are encouraged to nominate students and students are invited to volunteer by emailing email@example.com.
Rocking the walls
If you’re looking for a little Glen Ellen excitement next Monday evening, Feb. 18, try visiting Jack’s old haunts. That means a visit to Charmian’s House of Happy Walls where San Francisco folk-punk band, Vagabondage, will rock the happy walls, says Anne Abrams. Tickets are available online at jacklondonpark.com/vagabondage.html.
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Want to see your own name in the news? Share your stories with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 707 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me @ Creekbottom@earthlink.net. Glen Ellen chatter rarely requires timeliness; however, if your news does, please be sure to contact me at least two weeks before the run date.