"AROUND SUNOL" by BREE K. JAMES


August 11, 2003

SUNOLIANS HAVE BEEN TRAVELING here and there for summer fun, including this columnist. It's good to be back in Sunol after an odyssey that included six states, four of my favorite females, and the pleasure of meeting many wonderful people along the way. There was only one cancelled flight, one major storm, and one broken camera, so I think it went really well. Hey, I spent a week in a tiny dorm room with my sister-in-law and we came out even better friends than when we went in - I call that vacation perfection.

Since I've been back, I've been catching up on the travels enjoyed by others this summer. Solveig Shearer sent me a wonderful account of her recent trip to Tahoe that I wish I could include in its entirety - she's a fine writer and gardening enthusiast and can wax poetic with the best of 'em. She and her husband Bill visited their former Sunol neighbors Elly and Ron Stickney for their "annual fix of high-mountain gardening and outdoor jazz."

Their activities included a tour of eight private gardens, sponsored by the Lake of the Sky Garden Club (www.lake-of-the-sky.org), which according to Solveig "ran the gamut from a little 1919 log cabin with vegetable garden to a .com extravaganza compound that included a ground-level asphalt elevator to an underground garage of 30 autos."

There weren't many elements in that particular garden that the Shearers could bring back to try in their Sunol garden, Solveig wrote, "as we can't imagine bringing in 13,000 yards of sand to create a beach or hoisting in 160 tons of boulders to set about here and there." More scaled to the Sunol lifestyle was "a modern log cabin with a wrap-around porch that had suggestions for our garden, like baskets of pinecones and whimsical touches of statuary and signage."

Things were not exactly quiet at the Shearer's home in Kilkare Woods during their absence, thanks to a natural phenomenon that occurs here given certain weather conditions. Ever seen an oak tree explode? When we have late rains and a cool June, as Solveig explained, the trees absorb a lot of moisture. Top that off with the soaring temperatures in the second half of July and it's time to duck and cover - several oak trees in the canyon cracked from the pressure. This scientific wonder made quite an impact on Solveig and Bill's future gardening projects, when two huge oaks came crashing down from above their greenhouse, totaling engulfing it.

"Neighbors looked up to see clouds of gray rolling down our hill and over our bridge. Our responsible and savvy neighbors turned off the water to the burst pipe and then contacted both our son Zachary in Castro Valley and us on our garden tour." A phone conversation with Zachary informed Solveig and Bill that he had gotten the electricity to the greenhouse turned off without turning off the refrigerator, a grace note, indeed, but what of the damage?

"There is no way I can describe this to you," Zachary told his parents. "You have to see it. I can tell you which trees fell, but you won't be able to imagine it until you see it. I can't believe the greenhouse is still standing after tons of tree whacked it." Since Bill built that structure, he has reason to be proud.

"All the way home we were thankful that we were out gaping at other people's gardens rather than working in our own," Solveig wrote, and then she assessed the "ups and the downs of it all. On the up side, we have a whole new patch of sky, and on the down side, we don't want more July sun. On the down side, we haven't finished cleaning up from our December flood, and on the up side, this forces us to clean up our December flood to make way for tons of wood to split."

Sunol gardeners have to be philosophers, you know, and it is certainly a pleasure to receive a gardening tale from such a stellar storyteller as Solveig.

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