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Goats, chickens and squirrels in Glen Ellen

Remembering Joe Miami

Jim Shere, executive director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society, is on the hunt for some information and interviews. You can help.

If you knew Joe Miami, a mid-century Italian viticulturist, Jim would like to talk to you. Mary Kate Carter, a well-known volunteer with our Glen Ellen Village Fair Committee, is Joe Miami’s niece and she’s led Jim Shere to a few folks who knew Joe. Jim’s eager to talk to a few more.

Although, as Jim says, “Not well known by most of us, Joe is remembered with deep respect by a great number of our more seasoned winemakers.”

Jim seeks to examine some of the practices that Joe Miami believed in, including “how to recognize and encourage what nature intends, how to participate with life rather than manipulate and exploit it, and how to be carefully concerned about every step of the journey toward its eventual goal,” as Jim Shere discussed in a recent Kenwood Press article.

Based on Joe’s respect for our land, in the coming year Jim Shere is eager to initiate conversations that help define “who we are and where we live. Discussions will increasingly focus upon a right relationship to the land, and to the community – and they will deeply involve our lifestyle and our legacy.”

If you knew Joe Miami, back in the day, please contact Jim Shere. He prefers email at jshere@sonic.net, but will also respond to phone messages left at 935-3663.

Goats do roam

Glen Ellen is a wondrous place, among the most interesting of villages. On a recent ramble down one of our town’s unpaved lanes (and there are more than a few), I discovered a couple of remarkable architectural wonders.

First is a complicated structure that I initially and mistakenly called a chicken playground. Then informed of the structure’s purpose, I quickly corrected that to A Fantastic Goat Circus, which is just what this construction is. However, it’s not so obvious on first glance sans the critters that play there. They were busy napping out of sight behind the house.

Danny Everidge heard sweetie and me standing in his yard, oo-ing and ah-ing over the structure and speculating about its purpose. Danny emerged to greet us and explain that this Escher-esque ramp serves as a gymnastics playground for two pet goats, one miniature, the other larger, but hardly full size. The critters soon arrived.

The appropriately named Chip (for his chocolate chip colored coat), wears a lovely scarlet halter (implying that maybe he’s taken on neighborhood walks?). Chip’s playground partner is Shelby, apparently named after a fancy, fast Ford that is beyond my range (of price and vision). Shelby is petite and winsome, with a shiny black coat accented by a white crown and muzzle. Eager to display their climbing skills, both goats are charming little animals. At least I called them that, though Danny’s eye roll indicated that they might be a bit more trouble than they initially appear. Still, it’s obvious that Danny adores his two little charges.

Danny and his father, Michael Everidge, built the Goat Circus out of scrap lumber. The goats love it. With minimal encouragement, they climb up on the structure, mount the stairs and attain the top perch, where they can survey the surroundings. That includes a great goat’s view all the way down to Sonoma Creek where otters and kingfishers frolic in the shallows. That’s gotta be a goat’s paradise.

Birds need a home

Our original purpose as we headed down the unpaved lane, before our attention was diverted by our discovery of the goat circus, was to investigate a different structure. Michael had asked us the day before if we’d seen his new birdhouse. No, we hadn’t. That, too, is an amazing creation. A masterpiece, in fact.

Again, using bits and pieces of scrap lumber as he did for the goat circus, Michael created a memorable and lovely birdhouse. Painted pale yellow, it is a perfect miniature of his own pale yellow people house.

The birdhouse includes roof shakes and windows, skylights and doors, a stovepipe and even a Christmas tree for the season. Michael festooned the house with miniature lights, setting it aglow. The authentic detail on the birdhouse is noteworthy. Clearly, a labor of love and not quickly completed.

His model home is just one of scores of birdhouses Michael has completed recently. Of course, the others don’t display such detail, but they are every bit as charming.

Birdhouses by the dozens

Mike’s sister-in-law, Chris Everidge, is the garden coordinator at Flowery School. She asked Mike if he could make some simple birdhouses that she could take to the school garden. Then students could paint them as part of a garden art project.

Not long after admiring Michael’s architectural model of a birdhouse, I noticed the newly completed, simple birdhouses on an early morning walk down O’Donnell Lane. Chrissy’s front porch was decorated with row after row of tiny bird houses. Each simple and lovely, all awaiting color inspiration from Flowery students.

When Michael finished the job, he delivered the 30 birdhouses to Chrissy, stacking them neatly on her front porch. It was a lovely temporary decoration that I missed as Chrissy soon carted them off to the school.

Flowery’s principal, Esmeralda Sanchez Moseley, has approved the birdhouse project for students in the garden. The eventual plan is to offer the completed birdhouses to folks who donate to Flowery’s garden program.

Chrissy tells me that Douglas Weiderman is donating primer paint to prepare the birdhouses for kids’ artwork. As Chrissy commented, “It takes a village.” And so it does.

Happy hens

Back to our amble along the unpaved lane. After we passed by the goat circus and the pale yellow bird abode, we headed on toward Sofia Bayly’s chicken yard. It’s one of our favorite stops on the way to the regional park. The happy hens that occupy that classiest of all cages never fail to greet us at the fence. Their gentle cackling and clucking sounds warm and inviting. They mutter to one another with soft purring and occasional nervous squawks.

The different breeds have different vocalizations and I talk back to them in my own soft tones. The hens appear to appreciate the contact, talking back to me. Though, I suppose, in reality, they’re just hoping for a handout … a little bit of stale bread or a few seeds. Instead, I share a few words rather than offering treats.

The variety of hens that Sofia keeps is quite interesting. From petite to huge, from speckled to smooth-coated in varying shades of reds, to browns, blacks and whites, the hens are quite fancy. Little wonder their decorative feathers were once all the fashion of ladies’ hats.

My sweetie, who kept chickens as a boy, can identify a variety of breeds. As for me, I simply enjoy the hens because my association with reading about one particular beloved hen in the Oz books as a child.

Billina of Oz

The fictional chicken that made me appreciate all hens is dear Billina, a yellow hen made famous in “Ozma of Oz,” the third in the Oz series. Though born in Kansas, Billina escapes her fate of being served for dinner and eventually reigns as the Royal Hen of Oz.

Billina’s charm is that she is a constant talker, brave beyond reason, even though often frightened, and a great companion to Dorothy Gale. Most folks only know about Dorothy’s pal, Toto the dog. I like Billina better.

Like my sweetie, my childhood family also kept chickens, but I rarely had much to do with the actual birds. The intimidating geese that roamed the same yard kept me at bay. I preferred my childhood chickens in a book.

Now, Sofia’s happy hens are a novelty that I enjoy. Their behavior is endlessly fascinating as they vie for dominance and attention. Fortunately, these hens never seem to resort to all-out fighting (as some hens are wont to do); their quarrels are mainly verbal. When they do edge toward fights, I continue on my way, avoiding being an encouraging audience to violence. Seems to work, far as I know.

Squirrels abounding

That particular day, after viewing the hens for a spell, we continued down the lane watching a table tennis match between Sandy Horowitz and his son, Caleb. From my vantage point on the road, it looked like Caleb was thrashing Sandy.

Walking back down the road, we stopped to talk to good neighbors Mark and Sabrina Speer, admiring their front yard bird feeder that is often occupied by squirrels. In fact, it’s about the best squirrel-viewing place on the road. Those happy rodents are amazing acrobats, balancing by mere fingers on the wildly swinging bird feeder.

While I love bird watching, I do find the squirrels every bit as entertaining. Not so for lots of folks who seem to abhor these little mammals. As for me, I can (and sometimes do) spend long stretches of time just watching squirrels’ antics in my own yard.

I find them endearing. Who can’t find affection in their hearts for such a busy little animal? They dig through the potted plants in my yard, empty the window boxes of all decorative flowers, and chatter angrily at me if I want to walk by their territory. Still, they’re entertaining.

One recent visitor to Creekbottom House was actually intimidated and stopped from coming in the front door by a particularly aggressive squirrel that crouched on the roof gutter above, stomping his feet and chattering, cursing his worst as he barred the entrance.

Last spring, I watched in amazement as a hungry hawk chased a mother squirrel from her nest. Several babies escaped, carried in their mother’s mouth to a safer place. We know some of the squirrels survived because we watched a pair of young squirrels some weeks later as they cavorted around the big bay tree outside our kitchen window.

Red-tailed hawks in tandem

Neighbor Michael Witkowski, now retired after serving many years as one of Dunbar School’s beloved teachers, recently captured a red-tailed hawk pair in photos. No doubt, the same hawks who made a meal of those tiny squirrels last year. The two birds spend their days in the rotten cottonwoods that grow along the creek bank at our house. They are majestic and beautiful birds that I admire. Mike’s recent bird photos are outstanding; they document the vast variety of birds in our neighborhood. The birds are admittedly beautiful, but I just can’t help but love the brown-eyed mammals more than I do the predatory birds.

Though birds do loom large in my world these days. Next week I may share the adventure I recently experienced at Grey Lodge with a group of amateur, but knowledgeable, birders from the Bouverie. It was a truly awesome outing and something everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime. You don’t need to be an ornithologist to enjoy birding.

Sea mammal season

Same applies to cetaceans recently. Lots of folks have been telling me that this is the best winter ever for whale watching, whether by boat past the Farallones or simply by climbing Bodega Head. While I’ve yet to see whales this winter, we did enjoy all of the elephant seals basking on Drakes Beach at Pt. Reyes recently. We have the sense to keep a distance from these huge mammals that are purported to lunge over short distances at 30 miles an hour. Incautious folks don’t always stay back. It was alarming to watch some parents encouraging their youngsters to move up close to see the seals. Land lubbers that we are, we still respect the true wildness of wild animals.

It’s a joy to live in this little pocket of civilization and yet so close to nature. Glen Ellen is a good home.

• • •

Want to see your own name in the news? Share your stories with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me at 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 your desired publication date.