Many residents of Sonoma Valley who left town due to evacuations or for health reasons, have started to come home, as we did Tuesday.
Coming home from our daughter’s in the East Bay, I stopped at Starbucks in American Canyon where two firefighters were taping a map of red zones and closed roads to Starbucks window as if it were a bulletin board. When I asked if the flashing signs saying Highways 12 and 121 were closed were true, they showed me a list of actual road closures and said I could go ahead. Inside were a firefighting couple from the San Francisco Fire Department, so of course I offered to pay for their coffee. They wouldn’t allow that and paid for mine on their phone app instead. Then I asked the two guys who had come in from posting the map if I could buy their coffee and one said no, he had lost a bet and had to pay for his buddy. I responded: Well I won a bet – you kept our house from burning down. I left a little frustrated without getting to do something nice for them, but oh wow. They never stop giving.
Incidentally, all the firefighters I have encountered have marveled at how well they have eaten here while saving what they could. Thanks to our many chefs who have given of themselves, their skills and their treasure. Lots of food needed to be cooked before it spoiled, and did they ever turn to.
As I drove toward Sonoma Plaza the 16 handmade signs in front of City Hall thanking first responders made me weep. Many of us have had that moment in the last couple of weeks that helped us release the tears.
On my way to El Dorado Kitchen on its first day re-opened Tuesday, I saw Hank Marioni, who lost his own home, carefully watering the plants in front of the Swiss Hotel before he re-opened it that night for business.
Most Plaza businesses have reopened, but many restaurants, shops, wineries, and other businesses’ employees or owners lost their homes as well, as we all try to help in our way. Do shop locally to help owners, managers and staff.
At Sonoma Market Joyce Parsons ran around her samples (and love) table to hug customers she hadn’t seen since the fires started, asking each person “are you OK?” This has been the big open-ended question? And it can mean: is your house still standing, how are you feeling, can you breathe, do you have a place to stay, where are you eating meals, or how can I help?
People who hardly knew each other were asking each other the same questions, or telling their personal stories of various survival levels. And this is happening everywhere in Sonoma Valley. We all suffer when our neighbors suffer.
Wednesday I stopped at the Rotary-La Luz Food Pantry in the shopping center behind Palms Grill and there was organizer and Rotary member Rich Lee overseeing the pantry that offers everything from packaged foods, bottles of water, diapers, fruit, vegetables, tortillas, toothpaste and much more to anyone who needs it. Open 9 a.m. to noon and 4 to 7 p.m.
They could use more volunteers, beans (pinto - canned or dry), rice, onions, avocados, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, Russet potatoes, lettuce, fruit, tortillas, rice (1-pound bags), soups, cereals, granola bars, peanut butter, bread, oatmeal, baby food, kids’ drinks, juice boxes and detergent. They are not sure if they will continue this service next week. Vineyard Shopping Center at Highway 12 and Verano Avenue.
La Luz is serving lunch from noon to 2 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 7 p.m. to anyone who would like a meal. Sondra Bernstein was there in minutes and prepared the food until this Monday. Andrew Cain, chef de cuisine at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn’s Santé restaurant, took over and has been preparing and donating the food ever since. 17560 Greger St., Sonoma.
At the Springs Community Hall (formerly Sonoma Valley Grange) across from Mary’s Pizza Shack, volunteers pass out cooked food, bread, and pastries, along with packaged goods.
Coordinated by the Epicurean Connection with help from Mara Roche of Roche Winery, Francesca Fifis of Teen Services, and Nancy Lilly of Tallgrass Ranch Olive Oil, an enthusiastic food army has 2,500 full meals a day to give out, all prepared and donated by Facebook kitchens.
As I was leaving, Victoria Campbell, general manager of Ramekins Culinary School & Inn and the General’s Daughter, drove up in a Ryder truck to deliver boxes and boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables left over from the now closed shelter at Ramekins and the Sondra Bernstein’s first responders kitchen at Suite D. Resplendent as always and wearing high heels, Campbell helped unload the truck, and when a male volunteer asked to talk to the driver, she answered, “I’m the driver.”
Events update: Cornerstone pumpkin patch
For a little fun this weekend, check out the re-scheduled Cornerstone Harvest Pumpkin Patch on Saturday, Oct. 21 and Sunday, Oct. 22. Lots of pumpkins, live music, food, beer, treats, lawn games and lots more. Music coming from “The Bloodstones” (what?) who play Roots, Reggae, and Soul music. 23570 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. Cornerstonesonoma.com.
Reflections: What will be our ‘new normal’?
Hopefully these were the worst two weeks of our lives. And their effects aren’t over yet.
Our losses as a community and as friends, individuals, and family members range from homes and animals to relatives and friends of relatives, our beautiful environs, businesses and jobs, vineyards, and wineries which also qualify as art and craft in my mind, and a piece of our souls.
Our stomachs churn and we weep for those who have been devastated as we search for ways to help. Some of us who have been either under voluntary or mandatory evacuation are still out of Sonoma Valley waiting for the orders to be lifted or for PG&E to turn our power back on.
Over the 40 years we have lived in Sonoma Valley the power went out most often on the east side, with Sonoma Cheese Factory sort of the dividing line, as it seems to be this week. Most of those decades we were told the cause of the outage was “Starlings sitting on the power lines.” Lots of us would load the kids in the car and head out to Mary’s Pizza Shack in Boyes Hot Springs.
As the fires started, the Basque Boulangerie seemed to become what Wendy Peterson called “the triage center” where people were trading stories and trying to guess what to do.
Quick to reopen last week was Steiner’s on First Street West, becoming home away from home to many. Apparently the Town Square (formerly Wayfarer) employed a generator and joined the beverage sanctuary list.
By the weekend the Girl and the Fig was serving hungry locals at La Luz and loads of firefighters, as were other favorites on the west side of Sonoma Plaza. Sonoma Market staff wore masks. Whole Foods closed and its parking lot became a staging area.
At our slightly shorter Rotary meeting last Wednesday at the General’s Daughter (moved there from Ramekins because it was full of evacuees seeking safety) and it was announced that Sam Morphy’s Red Grape would serve as a headquarters for food preparation and distribution, and Ron Lawson’s Field of Greens would become a collection spot for needed personal supplies.
Quickly the cooking needs expanded and moved to Sondra Bernstein’s Suite D and catering kitchen where numerous chefs came to cook in response to Bernstein’s call on Facebook, supplying food from everywhere to the High School shelter to first responders.
Sonoma Raceway opened its 50 Acres campground to people who had loaded their belongings into their RVs and had nowhere to go. Then that offer closed and who knows where they all went? As shelters closed, the crisis did not end for many. We still need to help them.
Sonoma Valley High School Agriculture students and FFA members offered to take in cattle, sheep and other farm animals. Julie Atwood’s Halter Project provided much needed care for horses and other animals at intense risk of harm.
From Ramona Nicholson on Facebook
Hello, Friends! I guess it’s about time for me to learn how to communicate via Facebook. Just wish I had better news to share! So, most importantly, the kids and I and all pets and animals (except the chickens who were quickly BBQ’d) are safe and sound! However, the Partrick fire that originated in the Napa hills behind me entered Sonoma Valley by roaring down my hills. I had just minutes to escape and sadly couldn’t save any photos or keepsakes. When I returned Monday morning at daybreak my house, my dad’s house, the barn and all outbuildings were smoldering piles of ash. Gratefully the bunkhouse and winery and most of the vineyard remained. The kids and I are so grateful for everyone’s huge outpouring of support!!! Thank you all!
From Dana Jaffe, executive chef at Saddles Steakhouse
I was struck by an odd thought tonight. As Americans we lead such charmed lives. Then out of the blue, we can find ourselves in total crisis, lose everything, have nowhere to go, all the things important to us just gone. Left with nothing but the clothes on our back. Sickened with fear.
And yet we are living at a time when staggering numbers of people around the world are experiencing this same thing. And not just for a week or month. This is their reality. I don’t think we really get this...
We have a lot of work in front of us, but at least we have community. These people have even lost that. Maybe one of the few gifts we get from this horrific experience is a true understanding and empathy for the refugees of this world. Many of us will be reaching into our pockets to help our friends and neighbors. Maybe we can dig a little deeper.
Garcia’s Bakery and New Haven Apizza gone
After their own ruinous fire several months ago, the Fifth Street West Mexican bakery and pizza place appear to have given up on re-starting. While some of us tried to get them a micro-loan through La Luz, personal issues prevented that and there is now a “for lease” sign in the corner shop across from Pearl’s Diner.