The Anderson Valley has always held a special place in my heart. I have friends who escaped to the country during the lesbian back-to-the-land movement in the 1970s. Many still live, make art and farm there. I’ve installed solar systems for off-the-grid living and helped build more than one house up there. For a time I even owned 167 acres in Yorkville with a collective of friends, though we sold it without making improvements.
Mendocino County was ground zero for the Country Women’s Movement and many of the tradeswomen who came of age with me learned their skills up in the country before women were able to break into the skilled trades. We believed fervently that we could do anything ourselves. We didn’t need men to build houses, water and electrical systems. That proved to be true, and now many women-built structures and projects grace Mendocino County.
Holly and I were delighted to accept an invitation to stay for a couple of nights in the country home of a friend who is a member of a women’s collective that was formed in 1973. Some collective members live on the land and others live elsewhere. They share responsibility for improvements and make decisions using feminist collective principles. Their 160 acres is a mix of oak woodland and redwood forest in the soft hills above the valley.
On our visit, spring was busting out all over the Mendocino countryside. Valley Oaks and Buckeyes had leafed out. Wild flowers bloomed in green meadows and along the roadsides. Our host graciously offered to give us a tour of attractions in the surrounding countryside. She couldn’t believe we had never been to Queenie’s Roadhouse Café in the town of Elk. Queenie’s is a must stop on any Dyke Pilgrimage along the Northern California coast. The food was excellent and we even got to meet Queenie, a stocky butch apron-wearer with a wide smile.
Elk, right on the ocean, has its own beach, of course. We hiked down the trail to Greenwood State Park. Even on a chilly, foggy day, this beach should be a destination. You can watch the Elk River flow to the sea (we’ve decided we must now see every one of the California rivers at their mouths). We explored a shack built of driftwood, and identified beach flowers. We inspected the ruins of the Greenwood wharf, built in the 1800s for the lumber trade. We didn’t visit the visitors’ center in town, but its website makes me want to go there next time to delve into the history of the place.
Our friend asked if we’d ever been to Pepperwood Pottery Studio. No? Another must-see. Walk past the mosaic mural in the parking lot, through a ceramic gate, past a wall full of ceramic ornaments into a garden filled with tiny showroom buildings, some completely covered in mosaic art pieces. Inside the sheds are more ceramics and pottery. This place has been a center for ceramic art here since 1974 and I had never visited. The studio is right on Highway 128. http://www.pepperwoodpottery.com.
We were on an art appreciation roll, so our host and guide next wanted to take us to her friend Rebecca Johnson’s studio. Rebecca was constructing the most interesting series of sculptures made from the hollowed out remnants of apple and pear orchards. The trees are being cut down all over the valley as fruit orchards are no longer profitable. One farmer told her he couldn’t even give his pears away. The sculpture she was working on was maybe four feet tall, a six-inch diameter piece of apple that she had just affixed to a metal stand, so we could view it at eye level. In the wood she had cut out small hinged doors, which we could open to view the dark hollow center. It was like looking into the void. http://rebeccajohnsonart.com
No trip to Anderson Valley is complete without some wine tasting. We have been fans of Navarro wine for years so we got to taste and buy some old favorites there. They also sell their own goat cheese, not to be passed up. Then we stopped at Husch, the oldest winery in the Anderson Valley Appellation, still a small family-owned operation.
Even with all its curves, I still love driving Highway 128 from Cloverdale to the mouth of the Navarro River. This part of California hasn’t changed that much since the 1970s, and for that we are glad.
co-written by Molly and Holly