"AROUND SUNOL" by BREE K. JAMES


September 15, 2003

IT WAS LATE FRIDAY NIGHT and time to take my dog out. As we walked across the deck, I heard a clanking sound near my car. Assuming one of the many busy Sunol raccoons was poking around, I stamped my foot and aimed my flashlight toward the sound. It stopped. Viva and I walked a few steps closer to the car and it began again. It sounded like it was coming from inside my battered station wagon, but all the windows were closed. Uh-oh, whatever it was, it was under the hood.

We played approach-and-retreat for a while, each time the noise resuming as we moved away from the car. It was late. We were tired. We were not up for opening the hood in the dark and having whatever was in there jumping out at us. We went to bed.

Saturday morning in the nice, safe, early sunlight, I was ready to solve the mystery. Viva came along to supervise. Clink. Clink, clank. We tiptoed to open the car door and pop the hood. I took a deep breath, reached under the edge and released the latch. There sat staring back at me a very frightened field mouse. Instinctually, being basically rodent-phobic, I dropped the hood. Immediately I panicked that I'd squished the little round-eared critter and ran to open the hood again.

The mouse crouched in a corner of the engine compartment, looking over its shoulder at me with big, startled eyes. And then something green caught me eye. Placed like an objet d'arte on the coolant lid was a tiny apple from the tree in our yard. Stepping back I saw that there were numerous small green apples set about on the engine surfaces. Cute. Unfortunately, there was nothing to do but evict the industrious mouse and its winter stores. Viva agreed, cocking her head and scrunching her brow - her worried look.

I left the hood open for about an hour and then went back and removed the apples. One little apple got wedged in a tight place and shmushed by my efforts to dislodge it. When I mentioned this to my husband, Michael, he said, "Well, just shake some cinnamon in there and it will smell good when you run the engine." A very Sunol moment - one of countless such moments I treasure.

Of course, the flip side of adorable, big-eyed mice carrying tiny apples across the yard is finding rodent poop in your storage area. I am involved with my storage area these days, because I am preparing to move to Sebastopol in November. This is my last "Around Sunol" column, and there are a few people - in addition to you lovely readers - I really must thank for their help, input and support during my six years as Sunol's columnist.

Sunol Glen Superintendent-Principal Diane Everett, her Administrative Assistant Debby Scanlon, School Secretary Miki Whitfield and District Clerk Teresa Donovan have given me so much help and encouragement, and I humbly offer them my deepest gratitude.

Let me sneak one wonderful actual bit of news in here and tell you that Sunol Glen's Community Club received an unsolicited $4,000 grant from the Walter S. Johnson Foundation in support of its efforts for the school, staff and students. That amount, plus money raised at the Spring Fling, Flea Market, and other fundraisers allowed the Community Club to present Diane with a check for $14,500 - enough to reach the school's Save the Arts goal. Library, music, computers, drama and art will continue at Sunol Glen. Yes!

I would also like to thank the members of the many community groups and businesses who generously invited me into their midst, shared their news and appreciated the power of print. Groups like the Community Club, Sunol 4-H, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Save Our Sunol, Sunol Repertory Theatre, Alameda Creek Alliance, Little Brown Church, Sunol Business Guild, and the Grandma's Club. Businesses like Sunol Corners, the Old Townhouse Café, Sunol Market, Bosco's, Sunol Golf Club, Little Valley, Fenestra and Elliston wineries.

Thanks to all of you who shared family happenings, creek tales, animal stories and Sunol memories. You made writing this column a rewarding and moving experience. They'll probably take this out, but I'd like to say that working for my editors at the Times, Sam Richards and Kelly Gust, has been terrific. And finally, special thanks to Web Master Extraordinaire and partner in Somebody's Gotta Do It, Inc., Derek Johnson, to my guide into the theatrical life, Stephan Doyle, and to my mentor and friend, Patricia Stillman.

"Around Sunol" will be back in a few weeks with a new columnist, and I'll be giving her or him all of your phone numbers! Keep that news flowing - the world needs its dose of the Sunol way of life.

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