A few welcome showers blew in and out of the North Coast on Sunday, but not nearly enough to assuage the ongoing fears this drought continues to exert over us, which have become an inevitable topic in every conversation. The farmers and wine growers we depend upon to build a restaurant like Barndiva - or any restaurant in town that supports the local food shed - can't thrive without water. A good amount of it. We have been conserving water sensibly here at the restaurant, but running out of water is a constant worry now. It's going to take a concerted effort on everyone's part to navigate the next few dry years.
And yet, driving through what we literally know as 'Dry Creek' Valley this week on my way to the farm, winding up 128 through Boonville where Anderson Valley opens its arms wide, climbing further still up to the Greenwood Ridge, I was struck by how lush the world felt. Cool sea breezes roll over the mountains every night from the West drenching our gardens and fields with fog - an incredible microclimate that burns off into long hot days when you can almost hear the fruit ripen. To water the gardens and vegetable beds we rely on an aquifer hundreds of feet below the ground. Food is paramount, of course, but in these first days of Spring right before the dry farmed orchards burst into bloom, all eyes and thoughts turn to flowering things for the sheer joy found in them.
It isn't a simple matter to understand the fascination civilization has always had with flowers, long before the historical event known as Tulip Mania in the 17th Century. For thousands of years horticulturally obsessed Kings and Queens collected floral rarities as they explored and conquered the world. Kingdoms rose and fell, but when the imported plants managed to survive their new climates, they thrived, becoming part of a richer, more diverse landscape which we eventually inherited.
But even in the most humble of gardens our desire to collect objects of unsettling beauty is also the chance to watch the life cycle of plants as they move from bud to blossom to decay. Just knowing after they disappear that they return again makes for a fascinating uplifting story - one you helped write.
Many years ago when for reasons I've never completely deciphered I decided I would be a gardening woman, I planted formal English borders up here in the remnants of Victoria Cassinelli's rose gardens. Over the years they have all gone a bit native, as I have, but pedigree stalks smuggled from England when Isabel was a baby still burst forth to take their place alongside Hellebores the color of burnt sugar Daniel planted only last year. Chartreuse Euphorbia thrive alongside pale pink Camellias (which I love) and purple Azaleas ( I do not.) Trailing Banksia Roses climb old wood walls, night blooming Jasmine huddle over the entry on the new house, scenting the evenings as we come and go. The gardens do not end so much as disappear into a Gertrude Jekyll Maginot Line of naturalized meadows that creep up toward the highest point on the ridge. fey Tulips and Wild Lilac. Sweet Clover and Hyssop Loosestrife. Beneath the apple trees on the west slope sun loving Ixia flout their color like saucy chorines dancing with abandon in the wild grasses. Even the despised contingent of birds we call Fatsos (yes you can file them under birds we would like to kill) whose uncontrolled gluttony in the Queen Anne and Bing cherry blossoms leave us fruitless every year contribute to the moment, sending wedding showers of white petals that catch in your hair, hide in the folds of your clothes, sprinkling the bathwater as you undress, exhausted, well after dark.
Flowers are the poetry of the natural world - as enduring as Eliot's Four Quartets in a garden you've tended most of your life, as short and bittersweet as an Issa Haiku the moment you step into the forest and see a wildflower so thin and delicate and alive it takes your breath away, knowing full well it will be gone by morning.
Whatever the future holds, it feels right to luxuriate in this wet green wonderland right now. Its mad floral frenzy of color and fragrance and perfect natural form feeds the soul just as surely as the food we grow fills our stomachs.
The official guidelines released by the California Water Authority last week set forth new water service regulations for the hospitality industry - we can now only provide customers with water service when asked. It may seem a hassle, you may wonder if there aren't bigger and better ways to save water right now, (less alfalfa anyone?) but it makes sense to consider that every little bit counts. Bottled sparkling water is an alternative, but even when we know its sourcing is sustainable, the measurable energy it takes on its journey to the table itself involves another sort of compromise.
The one thing we know for sure is that we're in this together - chefs, farmers, all BOH and FOH staff and crucially, you, our customers.
Next Week: The Gallery Bar in studio barndiva