by Cody Hoover, June 9, 2011
When the weather is dry and the summer teases the Valley I have been gardening, landscaping, weed-whacking and digging in the hills of Philo. My van was still broken down so I had to ride a bike from where I was staying in the hills of Boonville. I slowed for the sharp turns on cliff edges, trying not to slide in the loose gravel and dirt. I accidentally pulled the front brake too hard on a steep downhill grade and I flew over the handlebars onto my arm and shoulder. I got up, didn't even bother to brush myself off, and got back on. The lighter you hold onto the handlebars, the less your arms turn to jelly. Tiny consecutive bumps made me feel like a finger running down a washboard.
The land started to flatten beneath me and I quickly arrived at Highway 128. It's a long ways out of the long, straight, and flat stretch of 128 before the Philo Grange. After passing the Grange heading north, 128 twists and dips. I attempted to find the perfect gear ratios to match the contours of the Philo land. I dismounted to walk the bike up the hill into downtown Philo. I stopped at Lemons’ Market to get a coffee but it was too early; they were still closed. I pushed on up the hill out of town. I stopped and got a coffee and energy bar from Jack's Valley Store, sat next to the Pot Shop and had breakfast. I rode on, time was getting short. I rode past Gowan's fruit stand, through the S curve and apple orchards. I passed Philo/Greenwood road and soon dropped down beside Navarro Vineyards and their church like buildings and rows of solar panels. Of course I passed many vineyards through on my way to work through Philo. A friend told me I would shit if I new the kind of chemicals being used on grape fields.
“They use Roundup?”
“Yeah, but they use other chems that make Roundup look like chocolate milk!”
My calves tightened on the steep inclines and I ducked as I rode hills downward to make myself aerodynamic, pushing my cowboy hat down tightly around my skull. I arrived at my turn into the hills, but the journey was only partly over. Much of the road was too steep to ride, so I walked the bike most of the five miles of dirt road to my destination. I arrived at my employer’s house where he and I walked down to the sheep shed.
My employers were very understanding of my lack of efficient transportation. In the early 70s, they used to walk and hitchhike, making their way when their vehicles broke down. I pitchforked and shoveled all the soiled hay from that sheep shed into the back of a farm pickup with oversized wheels. Each time I filled it my employer and I drove it over to the garden and I emptied the soiled hay onto a compost pile. He spoke to me of the first underground counterculture bookstore in Santa Cruz in the early 60s, and the LSD-funded communes in the surrounding mountains.
“(Neil) Cassidy was notorious for dosing people without their knowledge,” he told me. The Spring sun was out and the hay I threw to the pile practically started to burn and break down right in front of us. I returned to the sheep shed and began the process again, spider webs from the low ceiling wrapping around my cowboy hat. The sheep themselves watched me from a distance, occasionally exclaiming. They sounded like they were throwing up, or disgustedly bitching at me, but that's how they always sound. At least one of their relatives had been killed by a mountain lion, batted down the hill like a ball of yarn. I finished the day off weed-whacking an overgrown terraced garden, snakes and lizards slithering and scurrying for life. I realized that outdoor gardening, landscaping, and earth manipulation is a process of continuous death and creation. I thought about all the little gods scattered across the Valley, across the world, wiping out smaller organisms with the drop of a foot or shovel, yet simultaneously planting and growing, helping create something for the animals known as humans.