Back then, the Apple Farm was being used as a camp for migrant workers. Now it is a model organic farm where the Schmitts, along with their daughter, Karen, and her husband, Tim Bates, grow more than 80 varieties of mainly heirloom apples, and where Sally Schmitt conducts a cooking school whose classes are so sought after they are sometimes booked a year in advance. "We didn't ever assume we'd get rich when we moved here," said Sally when I visited her kitchen during a class she was holding for 15 women from Healdsburg.
"You are never going to get rich on apples," Karen said as she helped her mother shell fava beans.
"We just wanted to live here," said Sally. "Gracefully."
That they do so is confirmed by the fact that not long ago Martha Stewart chose the Apple Farm as the subject of a story in her magazine. Scouts for Stewart had undoubtedly told her about the Schmitts' immaculate vegetable garden, the shed where they sell their home-bottled vinegars and home-canned preserves, and the henhouse that resembles a Gypsy caravan. "She called up and said, 'We're coming to do a story on you,'" Sally told me. "And I said, 'Oh, really. I think not.'"
The Anderson Valley is not for everyone, said Don Schmitt, referring in part to the prospect, daunting to many, of dosing with Dramamine in order to navigate the Formula One hairpins on the highway in. "Nine times out of ten," he said, smiling, "people who don't like that road are not our kind of people anyway."
Anderson Valley-type people, you learn quickly, are those with a limited appetite for getting and spending, although the Anderson Valley Farm Supply in Philo does stock sheep chow and tins of Bag Balm, an unguent that is to ewe udders what Elizabeth Arden's Visible Difference is to crepey necks. They are people whoare more than happy to content themselves, as I did, with a day spent hiking in the haunting alleys of Hendy Woods State Park, where there are groves of colossal virgin redwood thought to have germinated at the time of Charlemagne.
Their idea of something to do is to go skinny-dipping in the Navarro River. Afterward they may pick up lunch at Lemons Market in Philo, where the owner, Tom Lemons, who butchers and cures his own meats and sells line-caught salmon that he fishes himself off the Mendocino coast, will, with any prompting, reminisce about times when people in the valley relied on nature's bounty—"rock cod, abalone, salmon, and venison"—to stay alive.
They can, as I did, hike up into the hills off Peachland Road, where some of the unpaved spurs lead to gated enclosures that prudence warns against exploring; or drive the 29 miles to Elk, a moody small town on the coast; or idle away a morning at the Apple Farm orchards amid gnarled heirloom specimens with names like Pomme d'Api (grafted in France in 1628), Ashmead's Kernel (England, 1700), or a 19th-century Black Twig of Arkansas, an apple with a vivid yellow flesh.
They can spend the afternoon on the porch of the Boonville Hotel working through the homespun tidbits, the "CannabiNotes," and the left-wing screeds in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, a singular weekly run by 63-year-old publisher Bruce Anderson, who trumpets his paper's credo under the bannerpeace TO THE COTTAGES, WAR ON THE PALACES!
Among the regular correspondents to the Anderson Valley Advertiser, whose 4,000 copies are sold locally and shipped to subscribers nationwide, are the British journalist and former Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn, who was characteristically fulminating about the Middle East peace settlement in the issue I read, and a local octogenarian named Charmian Blattner, who was keeping readers current on the doings at the senior center, sharing recipes for frankfurters, and reporting on the status of her 18-year-old Ford LTD.
For years there existed a rumor that a correspondent to the paper, whose eccentric letters were signed Wanda Tinasky, was in fact the reclusive novelist Thomas Pynchon. Anderson understandably did little to discourage the misperception until it was revealed that Tinasky was actually an old beatnik who one day mysteriously murdered his wife and then killed himself.
It would be forgivable to suggest that something in the landscape is conducive to a certain fabulist tendency, that there are elements that inspire people to see in the Anderson Valley an American Shangri-la. A nation gorged on stimuli and empty information can sometimes seem starved for authentic narratives. One of the most commonly cited facts about the Anderson Valley is the origination there of a lingo known as Boontling, developed by sheep ranchers and apple growers, and confounding to outsiders.
"Pike with me up the Navarro to the Briny Highway from Cloverdale to Boont and deek the Anderson Valley Gannow Beemsh," reads a phrase from a pamphlet I bought that unpacks this nearly defunct slang. "If you abe a little, you may recognize many kimmeys and appleheads, descendants of the original settlers who are now with Saul's grandmother," the pamphlet goes on to say. The translation?Come on down to the apple fair.
No more than a few dozen people are left who still speak Boontling. It's a dead tongue that, nevertheless, survives as an idea. The self-segregation that has kept the exceptional beauty of the Anderson Valley intact is coded into this old lingo, used to preserve such secrets as the existence of an annual apple fair and the best place to get a hot cup of coffee, or "horn of zeese." There is a specific magic naturally attached to any special language, and to the heady interior logic of slang used to elaborate the mundane doings of daily life. You need time to unravel the structure, track its grammar, and piece the puzzle out. It goes without saying that you have to set aside whatever else you were doing in order to try.