I recently returned to Sonoma County after a long stint outside of the U.S.
I managed to create a good lifestyle on a small island off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand, for over a decade. Growing wine, as it turns out. It was idyllic in many ways, but life goes on. Family matters bring me back to West County, and, yes, things have changed.
Forget for a moment the 300,000 tons of wine grapes that are now harvested in this county alone each fall, and the exponentially large number of tourists that come here every weekend to enjoy that and other great produce. Or the Redwood Highway "corridor" that serves to feed commuters all the way down to the big city. What surprises me the most is that everyone seems in such a hurry. The unique and charming gems of this county are often missed entirely by those of us who live here—all due to our haste.
Taken a ride on the Joe Rodota bike trail lately from Sebastopol to Forestville? Had a beer in the sunny gardens of Hopmonk Tavern or a lazy Sunday brunch in Occidental or Healdsburg? What about the farmers markets dotted all around the county? Absolutely brilliant. We should all count our blessings.
My initial impression on return is that many are too busy to appreciate what is here. There are an awful lot of folks screaming around in their large SUVs, no doubt engaged in important business of some kind. If the newspapers are correct, however, a few too many are intoxicated, speeding and knocking over others in crosswalks. Cars and trucks alike back up behind me along Gravenstein Highway, even when I am doing the speed limit. What's up with that?
There is a sign at the car ferry terminal on the island where I lived that reads, "Slow Down, You're Here." I often felt grateful for the reminder of just how special the place I was living in was. I get the same feeling here, and hope a similar message can permeate our too-busy lifestyles.
Michael Hogan is a horticulturalist who lives, writes and uses crosswalks in Sebastopol.Open Mic is a weekly op/ed feature in the Bohemian.
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