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Mike Mulligan’s Annie, Dunbar students take a train trip for bees

Dunbar first-graders ride the train at Lasseter Family Winery, on their way to toss eggs filled with soil and wildflower seeds to attract honeybees. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Dunbar first-graders ride the train at Lasseter Family Winery, on their way to toss eggs filled with soil and wildflower seeds to attract honeybees. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Sylvia Crawford/Glen Ellen Columnist

By

Mike Mulligan’s Annie

While there have been plenty of local complaints about the mountain of dirt and boulders arising from the roundabout at Agua Caliente Road, I found the scene laughable last week as I drove by.

Perched like a King of the Hill was an old beater backhoe tractor bearing the clever hand-scribbled sign, “Mike Mulligan’s Annie?” Of course, any kid who loved books remembers the hero of Virginia Lee Burton’s 1939 tale of Mike Mulligan and his hard working partner, Annie, an old fashioned steam shovel. I wonder how many folks passing by knew the reference. As for me and my sweetie, we were pleased.

On the other hand, the creation that is developing on that site remains a mystery and has not been so favorably accepted by all.

Complaints have ranged from “it blocks a safe view,” to “that looks like earthquake trouble ready to tumble.” As for us, we’ll form an opinion when we see what evolves.

Bee-utiful kids bee-haven

Schools have been foremost on my mind these past few weeks. First, I was thrilled to see that the students (and staff and parents, of course) of our own Dunbar School won two coveted prizes in the Glen Ellen Village Fair. Congratulations to them.

But that’s just one day, one celebration.

What I’ve noticed recently is the imaginative education that is going on at our local schools. Recently Renea Magnani, Dunbar third-grade teacher, invited me to join her class on a field trip to spread wildflower seeds. The purpose was to establish bee habitat. As vineyards increase in our Valley, it becomes even more important to establish bee habitat, because vineyards are bee deserts. Grapes are wind pollinated, leaving little need for bees. Yet bees are an important key species in all environments, because they pollinate just about everything else.

Working with Dunbar garden coordinator Alissa Pearce, all of the children had planted bee-licious wildflower seeds in broken eggshells. Then, the shells were tossed into a field near a vineyard, with the children offering wishes for their success.

After that, the students were treated to a fascinating outdoor lesson on bees and how they help by pollinating almost every food crop we know.

I was impressed how the students enjoyed listening to beekeeper and scientific expert Randy Sue Collins telling tales about bees.

Then the students eagerly participated, answering questions and responding with information.

However, not all questions were simple. Even principal Melanie Blake confessed that Randy Sue posed questions that she had never thought about, like what key do bees sing in? B maybe? No-o-o. We were all surprised to learn that a honeybee’s buzz is a pleasant middle C.

Dunbar meets Tow Mater at Justi Station

The clever trick that allowed this scientific experiment and lecture to come off so smoothly was the other part of the field trip, which was perfectly arranged to entertain kids, thanks to Krissy Landini’s plans. First, all of the school’s classes walked from campus over to the Lasseter Family Winery. Just a quarter of a mile, but a good trek to get them interested.

After walking down a very steep hill, the students were thrilled to encounter two of Pixar’s most famous characters, classy, fast Lightning McQueen, and rusted old, buck-toothed Tow Mater. These two life-size, real vehicles were parked at the bottom of the hill, right outside the charmingly quaint, sunshine yellow Victorian building, Justi Station. It is reputed that Charles Justi of Glen Ellen built a stagecoach stop halfway between Sonoma and Glen Ellen in the 1850s. John Lasseter’s imaginative replica suits today’s land well.

After ample photo opportunities posing in front of the famous cars, the kids were ushered onto a single open railroad gondola, which took off winding around and about the open land in the hollow below the winery. The children were excited to see sculptures of chickens, three carved bears and even a surfing cow (a long ago remnant from the Sonoma COWS fundraisers). It was on the train ride, at Krissy’s command, that the children threw the eggs bearing wildflower seeds far into a field. All in all, an ideal lesson.

Flowery garden with tomatoes and basil

Earlier that week, I visited the Flowery third-grade class of Katie Carlson to do a Bouverie Preserve presentation. Katie’s class was one of the most receptive I’ve visited this year. The students listened carefully, answered thoughtfully and showed great enthusiasm for their upcoming field trip. As we completed our presentation, and the students were headed out to recess, many of them came over to hug and thank me. Wow – those hugs were a first.

Just then, their garden coordinator, my neighbor and friend, Chrissy Everidge walked in. We were both surprised to see each other at Flowery.

Chris shared the good news that this third-grade class had recently been featured in an online magazine, Food Paths, including lovely pictures of the kids at work in the garden. The day the Food Path folks visited, Chris was helping the children harvest basil and tomatoes.

Bob Gosset makes it happen

According to Food Paths, Flowery’s garden was a project originated by fifth-grade teacher Bob Gossett and school parent Kate Ortolano back in the ’90s. Off to an excellent start, the garden has since thrived, tended by Chris since 2010. We loved our visit there and look forward to seeing more students happily engaged in school.

Speaking of Gossett, he was ever so present last week when the Witchie Poo Players performed at Sebastiani Theatre. Never one to shy away from looking silly, Bob distinguished himself this year in a tummy teasing, revealing shirt and shorts. Bob never fails to make us all laugh, kids and old folks alike, which is good. As for the entire ensemble of Witchie Poo Players: Huzzah! Custom cannot stale their infinite variety, always fresh and friendly, an all-around happy show. Thanks to Diana and Roger Rhoten, along with Spencer Rank and the rest of the gang.

Bouquets to the Dead, remembering the Daze

Two reminders of upcoming celebrations: First, be sure to check out Tasha Drengsen’s Bouquets to the Dead this Nov. 1 and 2 at Sonoma’s Mountain Cemetery. If you’d like more information on that, call Tasha at 935-1772.

Then, on Saturday, Nov. 2, join other folks from Glen Ellen at our historical society’s celebration of music in Sonoma Valley, “Those Were The Daze, My Friend!” From Londonside to the Rustic Inn, the hills around our hollow rang with the joyful music of the ’60s and ’70s.

Jim Shere, executive director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society invites revelers to join in a spirited discussion, while emphasizing that those “Daze” involved pioneering hipsters who led the way to new sounds. Were folks in a daze those days? Can’t quite remember.

The event takes place down the road at the Old Grist Mill in Jack London Village, just south of our town. Arrive before 2 p.m. (when the speech-a-fying begins) to share in the no-host bar and buffet. See you there.

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Jim also corrected a bit of misinformation I’ve been dispensing for years, in his gentlemanly and humble fashion. He noted, “I’ve never been the president of the Glen Ellen Historic Society, I’ve always been the executive director (which includes being a publicist, I suppose) and still am. Arthur Dawson is the current president of our board of directors.  Other members of the board are Archie Horton (vice president), Angela Nardo-Morgan (secretary), Mary Kate Carter (treasurer), Charles Mikulik (cultural resource officer), and members-at-large Marge Everidge, Anne Teller, Jim Berkland, Gregg Montgomery and Pat Carlin.”

Remember Dunbar cakewalk? It’s back!

Last week, the Dunbar School held its annual Halloween Carnival. After many years up the road at the Atwood Ranch, the school extravaganza has returned to the buildings where it first began. This year’s carnival was coordinated by Dunbar volunteer Joanna Greenslade and included all of the wonderful events that even our boys (now in their 30s) well remember. That includes the cakewalk, the fifth-grade haunted house and all of the games like pumpkin bean bag toss, duck pond, fishing game, “pick my brains,” bowling, tic-tac-toe, spinner, ring toss and more. Prizes were the Halloween favorite: candy, of course.

GE Village Fair: final few delights

Here’s a final round up of a few delights at the recent Glen Ellen Village Fair. We love seeing folks who we don’t often encounter on a regular basis. Several dear neighbors were in that category earlier this month.

What a joy to see Glen Ellen Village Market clerk Denise Emery. She has a smile as wide as the world, and she is always blessing folks with it. Truly, her beaming countenance can make you feel that all is well with the world and that she cares about you. I miss her at the market. With Denise, no matter what was going on (and she’s got plenty that is) she greets you with love. It’s a message that is contagious.

We also enjoyed seeing our dear friend Beth Marie Deenihan, who won the quilt last year. Beth was celebrating a birthday on fair day and she was there with her sweetie, Tom Crystal. But given the rush and crush of fair day excitement, just as I was being introduced to her granddaughter, I was distracted and swept off into the crowd. I know Beth forgives me, but I hope the granddaughter, a teenage Shakespearean scholar, feels the same way.

Another charming new neighbor at the fair this year was a fellow invited by Paula Vinson to join the ruckus in Glen Ellen. Now Paula knows a good fair attraction (the kind of stuff that gets you coming back). For many years, Paula was on the board of directors on the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival. I’m pretty sure that’s where she met the amazing fellow, Ernest East.

Ernest is the guy who makes Miz Lynn’s pies. These are pies you can’t resist. Well, I can’t, anyway. Paula brought him to our fair, where he plied his mama’s recipes for old-fashioned, calorie-laden delights like sweet potato, and pecan and lemon, my three faves.

If you’re like me and my book club friends, even the mention of pecan pie is enough to make your teeth curl. Not so with Miz Lynn’s finest. Ernest creates a more health-conscious San Francisco flavor that suited me and my friends just fine. I was glad to meet him.

I also loved observing the little folk who populated our fair. Foremost among these were the two beautiful grandchildren of Pam Wiley and Tim Gilmore. What angels. As Tim cuddled his squirmy little grandson waiting for the parade to begin, the resemblance was plain. Of course, that babe in arms is an awful lot cuter than grandpa Tim, but it makes it clear how cute Tim must have been when Della Gilmore held him in her arms. Congrats to that whole growing family.

Then there was the little fellow that one of my friends has been bragging about for years. Steven Whiteman has shared pictures of his darling nephew many times. He’s very proud of him and enjoys being number one babysitter. Now I see why. The newest little Whiteman family member was also at the Glen Ellen Village Fair with his Grandma Sharon and Grandpa, too. Yep, the kid’s a charmer, not unlike his Uncle, whom I first met back when he was just barely a teen.

As I greet these new babies, the youngest of our Glen Ellen Village Fair visitors, I am also aware of the eldest of our fair frolickers. I count myself among those, admittedly I’m bouncing around stuck between old middle age, and early old age. Jim Berkland is another one of those types, too. But, this year, seeing him amble past, snowy white beard prominent, Egyptian snake cane in hand, it occurred to me that he is a proper sage of Glen Ellen, which isn’t such a bad cloak to don.

As for those who never seem to change … my top vote goes to Gary Freeman of Sonoma Volkswagen, which is really a Glen Ellen shop, as all old hippie veedub folks well know. His perpetual and slightly lopsided smile, which hasn’t changed a bit through all the decades I’ve known him, still strikes me as the friendliest Peter Pan style grin. For sure, I don’t mean that demeaningly. He’s far from PP in mind: brilliant, in fact, I’d say. More the physicist than mechanic, but the latter is how he earns his living. Obviously, that’s suited him well and kept a lot of local bugs and wagons on the road.

Seeing friends and neighbors from the far past and today is one of the delights of the Glen Ellen Village Fair. I hear there are some folks in this town who have never attended. You’re missing the best of our village, so don’t be a stranger next year.

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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 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 you want to see it in print.