News From the Farm | August 3, 2015

“Here in California

The fruit hangs heavy on the vine

There is no gold

I thought I’d warn you

And the hills turn brown in the summertime”

So wrote Kate Wolf in the early 1980’s.  This song was, and remains, one of my favorite folk songs of all times. Having spent my childhood roaming the green hills of verdant Vermont in the summer, California came as a shock to me upon moving here in my late teens.  It was as if winter was summer and summer was winter, in some strange disorienting fashion.  In fact, thinking of it in these terms has helped to reorient my California seasonality these many years later.  The summer hills here are dry brown, akin to the dead of winter in a January Vermont below-zero season. Things die and are reborn in the spring there; here it is the dry summer that is reborn with the life giving rains in the fall. This week has been particularly poignant regarding those “brown hills” with the wildfires that are raging across the state. It is not just drought triggered, although the drought has worsened things by a large degree. There have always been fires since we moved to this farm in 1984 and for millennia before. Fire, they say, is as natural as the rain in the mountains of California. Forests have been shaped and influenced by fire forever and multiple plant and animal species depend on the lush foraging of a post fire habitat. However when it comes close to home it seems to take on a whole new meaning.

The fire that is racing through our area, the Rocky Fire, has now reached within an uncomfortably short distance from our farm, bringing with it smoke and incredible sunsets, sunrises and eerie red full-moon glows. The power of this fire has stunned even the most seasoned fire experts and causes us all to do some deep breathing to stave off hints of anxiety. We stand ready to help if it advances closer and tomorrow we will bring melons to the thirsty firefighters working nearby. The feeling last week, when temperatures were soaring in the 110-degree range and smoky air was all around, was a bit apocalyptic. There was little we could do but pray that the winds would be cooperative.

Despite the craziness of the extenuating circumstances around us, life on the farm continues to turn its wonderfully orderly magic. Melons continue ripening into sweet juicy spheres; tomatoes turn red, yellow and orange; and twelve piglets were born in the smoke-filled air on Saturday night. The cross quarter day that passed us on August 1, Lammas Day, marks the half way point between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox, a time known for its rich harvest.  We are pleased to have made it through the intensity of July and can already see the daylight hours shortening bit by little bit, bringing us once again, hopefully, to the greening of the hills and the much needed fall rains. There is such a comfort to the normalcy of life on a farm, the natural cycles are never thrown too far off kilter… even with thousands of acres burning a few miles away.

Thank you for all of your support of our speck of soil here in the Capay Valley. We appreciate you all very much, especially in times like these.

–Dru Rivers