Friday, September 21, 2012

House Sitting in Wine Country

Here is the view we are enjoying across the Valley of the Moon, looking Mount Hood and Sugarloaf Ridge. We're very fortunate to be able to enjoy such great back-to-back house sitting locations. After spending two weeks in Aptos, overlooking the shore of Monterey Bay, we're here just east of Santa Rosa, spending a week in the heart of wine country along highway 12.

While vineyards and wineries are the major attractions in the
Napa/Sonoma area, there are other things to see. Forests, rivers and the ocean are all within short drives of wine country. The oak studded grape vineyards are picturesque and often spectacular to see. The upper elevations of the surrounding mountains transition from oaks (coast live oak, interior live oak, Garry oak and blue oak) and black walnut to Pacific madrones, Douglas fir, California laural and toyon. Continuing into the western coastal range more conifirs are seen, including the majestic Pacific Redwood (the tallest tree in the world). Dropping down the western escarpment, oaks begin to dominate once again with coast silk-tassel and Mendicino Cypress establishing their presence, within the fog belt of the coast. All along the central California coast Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), an invasive non-native, can be seen along the land/ocean boundary.

California Highway 1, running along the coastal area of Sonoma County
is a spectacular extension of what is found along the more well known, Big Sur coast. It snakes along its tortuous route, high above the rock strewn Pacific Ocean below. The coast is rugged and the overlooks are breath taking. The beaches here, a few of which are accessable, have sand that is darker and coarser in texture than the sand found on beaches further south. Beaches along this stretch of coastline are typified much of the year by fog and brisk cold winds from the northwest. While the sun does make an appearance occassionally during the summer, the best beach weather for sunny days is during September and October (but don't expect too much heat).

An montage of some of what may be found in Sonoma County may be found in this video. As contrition for this uninspired post, a suggestion for a superb appellation for red wine enthusiasts. It is a collaboration between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe De Rothschild. The wine is a 2007 vintage Opus One from Napa Valley, bottled in Oakville, California. Sante!

Monday, September 10, 2012

House Sitting in Aptos

For the second summer in a row, we've had the pleasure of house sitting for an old friend of ours who is traveling in Italy with her Vespa club. She has a cozy beach house perched on the cliffs, overlooking Monterey Bay. The reason for house sitting, besides watering her wild beach garden, is acting as surrogate food providers and boring play things to her two cats, Lexi and Sophie.

The house is in a reverse configuration, with the bedrooms and bathroom down stairs and the kitchen, living space and ocean facing deck on the second floor. The views from the living room and deck stretch from Pleasure Point in Capitola to the north, uninterrupted to Pacific Grove to the south. While we've had our share of fog, overcast and even some rain since arriving, the past two days have been spectacularly clear, sunny  and warm. Rising before the sun and putting on the coffee while checking for the ubiquitous pods of dolphin patrolling just outside the gentle surf line measures the start of our day.

Once brewed, it's a pleasant repast to take a cup of coffee out to the Adirondack chairs on the deck, along with the binoculars and check out the activity on the water. Judging from the sea bird activity the sardine and anchovy schools must be making a come back in the bay. There have been vast flocks of petrels and sheerwaters, punctuated by seagulls and pelicans that have been seen making a churning maelstrom of the surface water as they dive for bait.

The sea otter population in Monterey Bay while having made a slow come back from near extinction due to the fur trade, still number less than  3,500 (population range from Pigeon Point, San Mateo County in the north to Gaviota State Park, north of Santa Barbara in the south) according to the last study in 2010 and had been experiencing an unexplained two year decline in numbers. It's a treat to see them floating on their backs just off shore.

An interesting sea otter relationship we see frequently is having the scavenging seagull trailing his sea otter buddy just off his rear paws
(Image courtesy of Tanglewing Blog) . We're pretty certain the seagull profits from this relationship by availing itself of any lost food scraps generated by the hard working otter. Unless the gull is providing a more visible and slower moving shark target, it's not clear that this represents any type of symbiotic relationship for the sea otter.

While we've been here, we've had the pleasure of seeing a number of old friends. In addition to Gay Ann, a friend since high-school, whose house we're enjoying, we've also visited with several other people. Dennis, my old college room mate was surfing at 41st Avenue and came over with another high-school friend, Mike, with whom I traveled overland throughout Mexico and Central America in 1972. Dennis lives in the east bay and has his own dental practice, while Mike lives on his boat here in Santa Cruz and works with a local boatwright making Olympic dinghys. We had lunch with another old high school friend (who is also named Mike) who is living here in Santa Cruz with his wife. He graciously gave us a mini-tour of the area and we're scheduled for a custom tour of Santa Cruz proper later in the week. Sunday night we were treated to dinner at Colin and Sharon's house (cruising friends on s/v Mamabird an Island Packet 38)who we first met at the anchorage in Chacala in 2008. Both are incredibly energetic and entertaining people. Colin continues to impress (and please) us with his culinary skills. We hope to touch bases with both of them once more this week before heading up to wine country.

We'll be enjoying another week here at the beach before heading to wine country for another house sitting gig. This will be in the Valley of the Moon, right in the heart of wine country where our responsibilities will be split between the garden and a playful pooch. We hope to have time to do some wine tasting before heading south and make our preparations to return to Citla.