September 1, 2018

Bonny Doon
Bonny Doon Vineyard, Highway 46 west, October 2006 (8″ x 14″ oil on canvas)

This is probably my tiniest landscape to date. It was next door to a wonderful herb garden business in Paso Robles called Sycamore Herb Farm. These are some of the grapes that go into wines with the Bonny Doon label. I remember being interested in this vineyard as an agriculture spot with special needs because it’s on a pretty steep slope, and I often wondered about tending and picking wine grapes on a slant. Walking across the mountain rows is probably OK, but how do the workers get trucks and all other large moving vehicles up and down around there? I have never been around when they pick the grapes, so I guess I can only imagine the extra effort it takes. And I have never tasted Bonny Doon wines, so I hope the extra sweat adds positive notes to the wine’s flavor. This probably sounds kind of crazy to say, but if you have ever been to a California winery you might hear someone say something like that. For example, I remember a vintner at a Los Olivos winery and tasting room say that wine made from their grapes near a field of mustard had hints of a pepper taste, and such a flavor came directly from these weeds. And I think I remember this same vintner saying that one of their wines had a hint of asphalt because a nearby road was installed while those grapes were on the vine. I remember thinking; didn’t you guys wash the grapes before you made this stuff? Or is it more organic to leave the dirt? Remember, this is California, and as I have already said, such crazy talk is not really all that crazy around here. Oh, I do hope they at least washed their hands before they crushed the grapes…

Anyway, when I imagined what I would write to go with this “little jewel” I was sure that other painters had been famous for painting small works of art with similar lovely tiny bits of detail. Not that I am in the same category of painter as Leonardo da Vinci, but in a previous post I referenced his Mona Lisa as such a lovely little jewel of art. And if you look closely you will see just a hint of an idealized landscape behind that mysterious woman with the inscrutable smile. I thought I could do a little research and come up with other painters who had done such little pieces of art heaven. I was sure I had remembered that many of Georgia O’Keeffe’s famous surreal close-ups of flowers were pretty small. But I couldn’t find any information about the dimensions of her art on the Internet, so I can’t be certain any of those paintings are particularly diminutive. The only way I could even get a sense of the general size of her paintings was to see photos of people in a museum or gallery standing next to them. Hmm…

So, I got frustrated with this dead end story and gave up on the “little jewel” theme for this post and looked once again at the Bonny Doon vineyard for inspiration. (Oh, and if you go to Paso Robles, you will not be able to taste the wine made from these grapes as the winery and tasting room is in Davenport, on Highway 1 near Santa Cruz.) So, once I got my head back into the subject of this little landscape I remembered that you once could taste the wine right next door, at Sycamore Herb Farm. Never forget the importance of looking next door or across the street for an herb farm, a wine tasting room, a neighbor or just some inspiration. This is some pretty basic stuff, but I think it’s somehow forgotten all too often.

I have heard that people outside of California think we aren’t friendly. Well, I can’t speak for others, but I have been knowns to embarrass my son because I chat with everyone as I move about my life. For example, I enjoy visiting with the butcher and cashiers at the grocery store. And I frequently start up conversations with random people standing next to me who are looking at produce at the market. I might say something like, “These tomatoes don’t seem to really be red, do they?” and “They put out these overpriced heirloom tomatoes just to tease me. I am so desperate to taste a real tomato they think I will pay the price.” Or, “Why don’t these peaches smell like peaches? Shouldn’t they smell like summer? They are as hard as bullets…” (Maybe my son is right…)

So, I frequently make contact with the neighbors who walk past my house. There are a couple of older ladies who cruise by pushing their walkers either up or down my little hill (sans sidewalk). I am not sure if they are hard of hearing, have forgotten to wear their hearing aids or don’t speak English, but we never exchange words. However, they always slow down as they go past to see what’s blooming in my garden and give me a great big smile. I wave and smile back as I water or tend my flowers or birds.

Notice I didn’t say I tend the squirrels that also come to eat sunflower seeds at the bottom of the bird feeder. There is a story about squirrels that can best be told through the eyes of a neighbor who stopped to chat the other day as she was walking her dog. She asked what had happened to my huge five-foot high patch of sunflowers that during her frequent walks had watched me start from seed. I explained to her that the squirrels that scoot around my pepper tree were not satisfied with the sunflower seeds on the ground, but thought it good sport to leap onto the flowers and rip off the flower heads. I added to my story by saying that at first I thought it was some crazed raccoon that was coming in the night, knocking down the flower stems and eating the seeds and flowers—leaving a huge mess. But one morning, I saw two familiar squirrels jumping and smashing down the flowers. That was it. A couple days later I cut huge bouquets of undamaged flowers for my house and took the rest out. It was nice to tell my story to the dog-walking neighbor, lamenting the loss of my sunflowers. I told her I would try again next year, with hopefully some new plan to keep the squirrels at bay. She said she would be looking again for them come spring. Then she cleaned up her dog’s poop and wished me luck. Now, that’s a good and friendly California neighbor.

Sycamore Herb Farm

Sycamore Farms used to be this amazing herb farm, nursery and display garden next door to the vineyard. It was a fun place to buy herbs and see the owner’s animals. They had chickens. And to keep them safe from hunting hawks that were flying overhead, they had a kind of netting over their chicken yard. They also had two stately geese and some goats. I understand that there was a devastating fire there and one of the buildings on the property burned down. I guess it was closed for a long time and then was resurrected at Fat Cat Farms, but sadly that is now gone as well.

My son and I spent many fun hours there, looking at the animals and plants. They had a huge variety of interesting and unique herbs. I remember specifically that they had every kind of mint and basil you could imagine. It was so fun to choose something new for my garden. And I regularly bought their cilantro, trying in vain to get it to grow in my garden, only to have it immediately go to seed and die. I had a friend around the corner from my house that said it had become a pest in her yard and was growing like a weed everywhere, even in the crackers between the pavers. I gave up on growing cilantro and just bought it at the store. But I am forever grateful that Sycamore Herb Farm existed, because if it hadn’t I would never have discovered its next door neighbor, the Bonny Doon Vineyards.

But even though Sycamore Farms is gone, there is still a landscape inspiration to be seen here, and it’s across the street from the vineyard. The locals here call it Heart Mountain. I just Googled Heart Mountain, Paso Robles CA. And if you look through all the pictures under the “images” category you will see a mountain where a cluster of oak trees have grown together to form the shape of a dense green heart. When I first started going to Sycamore Farms, the green heart of trees stood out against golden hills. Now, vineyards surround the heart of oak trees. I painted Heart Mountain with Prismacolor colored pencil and watercolor, but added a huge cluster of sunflowers in the foreground. It’s kind of a little jewel of a painting. Maybe there is still a “little jewel” art theme to be shared here. Stay tuned…

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