My book Fruits of Eden: Field Notes Napa Valley 1991-2021 is about to be released, so I contracted with Janna Waldinger of Art & Clarity to take some photos. This is one of my favorites. Each day some of my dear animals walk with me. (Here, Petunia, the goat, and HIjo, the llama.) For almost 30 years now, I have walked the trails of our ranch, getting to know all that live here: the valley oaks and coastal live oaks, the madrone and bay, the coyotes, bobcats, and yes, the mountain lions too. Often we will hear the thrashing of deer uphill in the brush or the short sharp warnings of a quail daddy protecting his brood feeding nearby. Walking with animals is a kind of meditation, alerting you to what else is present.
My husband Donald and I farmed our grapes and aromatics organically and biodynamically, practices that also induct you into a receptive state. You come to know the seasons, what is right and what is out of balance, and you are rewarded with a daily baptism in beauty.
But back to the book: When I learned that the ancient oak savanna next door was on the chopping block for yet another “great cab,” and when I learned this was happening all over our valley and county, threatening the health of our watersheds, forests, and climate, I knew that I could not be silent and joined others in working for the health of our county. This is what Fruits of Eden is about: our responsibility to the land and to each other. We are in a culture characterized by a colonial attitude: the land is there for humans to use, regardless of who and what is hurt. This has made a real mess, and it’s going to take work and a lot of love to figure it out.
There are other ways– ways practiced for millennia before white man arrived. Potawatomi author and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer says that gratitude and reciprocity bring us into a healing relationship with Earth. Listening to her narrated Braiding Sweet Grass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, I reach a heightened receptive state on that sliding scale of awareness. Everything is alive and far more a part of me than I ever knew. In fact, we share 18% of our DNA with plants—those oaks and madrones I have come to know over these many years. Walking our ranch each morning, my gratitude swells to those beings who snatch carbon dioxide out of the air and, in the presence of sunlight, store carbon in their materiality while releasing oxygen for me—and us—to breathe. Each breath I take is communion with these trees. When everything is recognized as alive and interdependent, our responsibility changes.
I won’t say more here, except I would love for you to read my story. We don’t have much time to turn things around on Earth, but let’s begin.