The Russian River in Northern California bends quietly through the thick redwood covered hills of Sonoma County. Communities of shingled, dark wood river houses are tucked into the musky groves and perched up on stilts; ushering in and out summer vacationers from June through August. The same wooden-framed windows and doors from which emerged the music of tinny radios 60 years ago now leak out the playlists of iPods and the harmonies of kids, parents, and food. My wife’s extended family has come here since the 1950s, making their holiday treks to the river beaches, setting their sun-time with the pendulum of fog as it recedes to the coast in the morning and swings back inland at dusk. As my daughter stands on the beach blowing bubbles, “This one I send to India. This one to Africa,” a blue heron balances quietly on one leg and jabs into the water for fish. An Osprey dives head first into the river in a gray-white streak, snatching up food for their young squealing down from nests perched high above on the broken off tops of redwoods. If you drive the roads that track the river, you are bound to see some of the many orchards and vineyards that fill the flatlands between the serrated evergreen hills. Cars stop along the roads in the sunny patches where travelers pick warm blackberries from wild brambles. There is an excellent network of orchards offering Farm Trails for those who enjoy traveling to pick fresh fruit first hand.
I talked with our friend Lee Walker who supplies us with tasty Gravenstein and Arkansas Black apples every year. He is one of these farmers on the Sonoma County Farm Trail, and at this time of year, while others are vacationing, he is beginning his heavy work. His first Gravensteins are being harvested as I write this and we will have them in our crates this week. The Gravenstein is a favorite of the Slow Food movement and is specific to the area around Sebastopol. The early Gravs will be greener and a bit on the tart side. Lee has two varieties for us each year — green and red. The reds come off a bit later in the harvest. For the last few years, Mother Nature has not been kind to Lee or his apples, but when I talked with him on this year’s first harvest day, I could hear him smiling. “It looks pretty good so far,” he said. “We have lots of volume, and they taste great.” He paused. “But catch me in November. I’ll give you a full report then.” For those who want to venture up this way check out the Gravenstein Apple Fair that happens every August near Sebastopol.
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