Autumn in the Gold Country

TGIF. Thank God it’s fall. No more “spare the air” days. No more stubbing my toe in flip-flops. No more slathering of sunscreen every few hours. My wool suit is out and I’m not afraid to wear it.

Autumn is a time for long, lazy drives in the country. I took one of those trips the other day — to revisit a place I hadn’t seen in years — California’s Gold Country. I’d booked a room at the oldest inn in Sonora, the Gunn House Hotel. Charming rooms, plump comfy beds with bears on them, a breakfast parlor you could spend the day in — with warm walls and a stone fireplace accented by antiques and assorted knick knacks. Oh, and did I mention, they have a ghost? A specter is something most inn owners would kill for — pardon the pun, and this hotel has a friendly one, albeit mischievous. I never saw this spirit but just knowing she was there “fed” my adventure.

I’d heard about a winery not far from Sonora called Ironstone. Two of my favorite bands were playing there that night — Heart and Kansas. I loaded up my lawn chair and programmed my car’s GPS for Murphys, a charming boutique town a mile from the vineyards. It was like a boomer convention, with scores of 50-something tourists killing time before the concert. The town’s Irish pub was hopping like the Calaveras Frog Jumping Contest and I grabbed a beer before heading for the winery.

Ironstone is a surprising operation. With 1,150 acres, you can spend hours strolling the beautifully landscaped grounds, touring the wine caves and tasting the fruits of their labor. The world’s largest Crystalline Gold Leaf specimen is on display in their Heritage Museum, a priceless eye-popping piece that embodies the spirit of the Gold Rush. And outdoor concerts are held in an amphitheatre with sweeping views and grassy tiers that are perfect for blankets and low-backed chairs. The smell of barbecue lures you into the festival-like atmosphere where wine is sold in plastic carafes.

Yes — fall is a fantastic time of year. The weather cools and the Aspens shimmer and folks settle into their Autumn rhythm. And I explore. In my wool suit, I get out and discover America.

Or at least the part that’s within a few hours of home.

FREEWAY FOLIAGE: Remember Caltrans’ promise to plant greenery along that now barren stretch of Highway 13? Well, the digging will begin next spring, to the tune of $500,000. That’s a lot of bushes — 780 to be exact — all hand picked by our local politicians and a group of concerned citizens.

The shrubs along the new barrier will include Barberry (an evergreen with seasonal orange-yellow flowers and dark blue berries); Lemonade Berry (an evergreen with leathery green leaves and white/pinkish flowers); and my favorite, the Smoke Tree (a deciduous shrub that has “puffs of smoke” formed by fuzzy lavender/pink hairs). Puffs of smoke mingling with puffs of exhaust — something to look forward to in those commute-time traffic tangles.

CARD CLUB: Imagine playing bridge with the same group of women for 40 years. Local senior Lillian Cadenasso says that’s how long she and her partners have been playing cards and donating money to the Corpus Christi School library. When they started, they had four times the number of players that they have now.

“Young people are so busy with the school and kids,” she says. Still, their core group meets once a month for three hours and gives almost $500 annually to an institution that most of their children attended.

“I had eight kids at Corpus Christi,” says Cadenasso, who says in those days they charged by the family, not by the student. “People could afford those kinds of families back then,” she reflects.

Beginners and experienced players alike are invited to join their bridge group. Contact the school for more information.

FIDO’S FREEBIES: There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but with four legs and a bark you get free dessert on Park Boulevard. Reader Jeanne Cahill says the guys at Glenview Hardware give out the best dog cookies in town, free to any pooch who comes in the door.

“Our friends across the street baby-sat our dog and were astounded when he refused to walk by the store without stopping in” Cahill writes. Now that the secret is out, I’m sure the guys at the hardware store will be “hounded” for free cookies.


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