A SONOMA BIRTHDAY STORY: THE GIRL IN APERTURE PASSING

Tuscan reds and ochre hues
Olive greens and skies of blue
Sunlit valleys full of charm
Secluded homestead and hilltop farm

Over hills skim birds in flight
Aromas whet the appetite
Autumn rustle fills the air
Revealing grace of trees laid bare

Pathways meander through the vale
Inviting travelers its height to scale
Sunset rewards as evening ends
And pilgrims to the night descend

Collette O’Mahony

Clearly, this lovely poem was written in awe and praise of beautiful Tuscany…that magical, beautiful, richly abundant region of Italy. I have been there often and, upon reading, I felt the poet captured the essence of not only the area but my personal romance, experience with Italy. And, when I arrived in Sonoma, to my delight, this poem regained significance. The words and imagery seamlessly applied to this lovely town and its surrounding valley.

 “I need olive trees. I would love to look out in my little patio and feel as if I am sitting in a Tuscan loggia” I proclaimed. So, I went to an olive farm. To my surprise, there are a bounty of such nurseries solely dedicated to this plant. Rows and rows of different shapes, sizes…even antique ones. Who knew?

At one point, I stopped inspecting and looked beyond the narrow, silver green leaves that surrounded. The day was warm, with just a very slight embracing breeze. In the foreground I could see rolling hills of vivid green that surrounded the valley where Sonoma sits.

A young, blue jeaned salesgirl walked me through the bounty. Following her through the sun kissed fields, I said “I feel like I am in Italy.”

She smiled with that disingenuous yet engaged look a salesperson gives to a viable customer.

“Have you ever been to Italy?” I asked.

“No ma’am”

“It’s beautiful. And the culture, the history is amazing.”

Silence. 

In an effort to stop the small talk, I assured, “You know, you don’t need to go to Italy. Just look around… It really is beautiful here. Sonoma is Italy without da Vinci.”.

And with that, I bought four “mini” trees and bid my arrivederci.

A year has passed since this somewhat one-way conversation. I am happy to say that the olive “trees” have thrived in the sun. Four very distinct seasons have passed – each equally beautiful with vibrancy of color and change. As for me…I am grateful to be here, back in California and close to the San Francisco Bay Area of my life. I continue to assimilate to yet another move. Happily, I take photographs to immerse/lose myself in the essence of the surroundings; seeking unique light and scenes; seeking a new life.

And, after twelve months of living in “Italy without Da Vinci”, I have come to break down and accept/embrace Sonoma as follows:

Vineyards, Barns, and Roses
The Long and Winding Roads: An Inconvenient Truth
The Girl in Aperture Passing


Vineyards, Barns, and Roses

There are manicured, picture perfect neighborhoods in the small town of Sonoma. The “feel” is very country chic…straight out of a Martha Stewart coffee table book; “Our Town” at Thornton Wilder’s idealistic best.  Sprinkled amongst quaint homes are simpler, quintessential California ranch homes.  Still part of the dream with mowed front yards and landscaped gardens.

As well, there are bucolic, sprawling properties. Some are more rustic, with aging barns, grazing animals and fences. (I love to photograph the rawness and simplicity of these). Others are clearly mansions that emulate Tuscan villas, New England country estates, a Provencal mas…the list goes on. And each hold fields of vineyards. This is what makes the town so unique. Grapes grow abundantly alongside cemeteries, backyards, and school bus stops.

As my year has transpired, through the lens of my camera, I witnessed these picturesque landscapes as they seasonally transform. A tremendous testimony to the dramatic cycle of life. 

“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose”

In summer, the grapes burst forth on the fully blossomed vine. In Autumn, fire red leaves glow at attention. And finally, the barren, naked stalks stand alone in the cold of Winter until the first glimpse of mustard begins to grow and beckon Spring and rejuvenation.

Do note that, outside the actual town limits, in the valley that surrounds, there lies the business of wineries. Large sprawling vineyards with tasting rooms, parking lots, shops, eateries…and even art galleries.  These are tourist meccas that market their brand and claim award winning Merlot, best chardonnay, etc. etc. Each offer scheduled, costly opportunities to sip and savor. I have photographed many such wineries and, to my surprise and delight, no two wineries are alike. The architecture and ambiance of each is unique. The cliché of “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” does not apply.

And, last but not least, there are the roses of Sonoma. As I write this, it is mid-June and Sonoma is in full bloom. Full is an understatement. Growing freely in fields, forming perimeters around vineyards, or landscaped in perfect rows, arbors, and uniquely crafted pots…they are everywhere. My portfolio is bursting with photographs of roses. Such an unexpected gift of beauty.

This is the Sonoma I have come to love. The photographic opportunities abound and, in turn, the inspiration to reflect. It has become an immersion in creativity, a discovery of community and nature in full exposure. 

The Long and Winding Roads: An Inconvenient Truth

As noted above, I have a love of Italy. To such an extent, I would periodically, in my more idealistic days, explore the possibility of moving to Tuscany. But, as I matured, I came to realize that real life is not a scene out of “Under The Tuscan Sun”. 

I told a friend, “I have to be realistic here. As beautiful and romantic as it is sounds, I will be living in some remote, aging house with no plumbing and no neighbors. I cannot speak Italian. None of my family and friends will visit. And, can you see me driving along winding roads to the nearest village, alone behind whizzing vespas, and crashing off the first turn?” 

Italy is a love but not a soul mate; not a practical partner in life. Many variables from the distance to family to cost to the above challenges determined my ultimate decision to visit (often) and be happy as the accidental tourist. However, when I arrived back to California, I hoped that, perhaps, there would be a delightful compromise under the Sonoma sun. 

Ironically, the following came to be…

There is no way in and out of Sonoma except for long and winding two lane roads, traversing  East and West for miles and miles before any interstate highway becomes available. Add at least a half hour to an hour to access such major freeways. 

The driving culture in the Valley is aggressive. There is always a truck or a teenager speeding upon your bumper…even when you are driving 60 miles an hour.  And, the coup de gras is night driving. There are no lights once you leave the center of town so visibility on the winding roads is compromised by high beams coming straight at or barreling down behind you. Truly “blinded by the light”!  Every swerve becomes “dead man’s curve”.  I realized that I was living (with a possibility of even dying) in the lyrics of 60s songs!

Why are these issues in my life? Leaving town allows for travel throughout Northern California. It is hard to meet people when is resettling in a new place so the proximity to family and old friends is very important.  As well, access to doctors (specialists), shopping, and, yes, an airport, becomes a costly, time-consuming process. Public transportation is limited and cumbersome. As someone who has spent her life traveling independently to places and people, this has become quite a shock to my freedom and ability to “get out of town”. 

I hope that I will eventually come to conquer the challenge. For now, I am making do but the stress is impactful. And therein lies the perpetuation of this inconvenient truth!

The Girl in Aperture Passing

In photography, in simple, lay-man terms, aperture is the opening of a lens through which light passes. Along with the ISO (sensitivity of the camera’s sensor) and shutter speed, aperture affects depth of field, the level of clarity or blurriness. For me, this powerful balance, this creation of vision, defines the standard for personal expression and excellence in picture taking.  And…I have realized, it has become the perfect metaphor for grasping, opening one’s personal lens/perspective to happiness and acceptance. 

I am the girl in aperture passing. 

Yes, in spite of my chronological age, I am still a girl. I have not lost my youthful essence of spirit. This is how I define my soul.

As well, I have become a woman. This comes with the passage of time and experience. There have been lessons learned and loves lost. There has been abundance and there have been tough times. It no longer matters what the circumstances were for each. What does matter is that life has created a wiser, deeper mind.

Somedays you can find me walking amongst the roses and the vineyards, illuminated with joy. Other days, there are shadows of sadness, worry, and disappointment. Perspectives get blurred. Clarity becomes challenging. So much so that even inconvenient truths can cripple your joy.

But there is always acceptance and the vow to keep moving forward, seeking my perfect “lens”. The balance, the clarity, the “lightness” of passing through life.

POST SCRIPT:

In a few weeks, I will celebrate a birthday and enter the eighth decade of my life. The magnitude of this numerical countdown is astounding to me. But I have had a great run of life. I am proud that my accomplishments were unconventional and self-made. I am humbled that my “mistakes” have provided wisdom and strength. And it is with these acceptances, I will enter this next decade.

I was going to write a separate piece about my upcoming birthday. But, after the words have flowed and photos placed, I see there is nothing more to say. That is good thing, a realistic knowing,

And, on the actual anniversary of that summer day in 1952 when I was born, I will be with family in the beauty of Lake Tahoe. I will hug all my grandchildren and revel in their joy, love. I will laugh with my very independent daughters as we share treasured memories. I will joke with my sons in law. And there will be music and chocolate cake.  

And then I will return to “Italy without Da Vinci”, driving cautiously through each hairpin tun on winding roads. I will continue to take walks with my camera focused purposefully on creating better light and balance. I will write with a truer clarity of style. I will savor each remaining day.

 I am indeed the girl in aperture passing.


More Sonoma Images Through the Year…

Taken in the Park at the town square, the light and placement of the photo reminded me of a Seurat painting.
Vineyard view
Symbols of the region
Italy without Da Vinci…and Italianesque loggia
A Sonoma “backyard”
Rows of summer bloom
Under The Sonoma Sun
Stonework
Quaint-ness
Italy without Da Vinci
A favorite barn, in all its rustic glory
Autumn in Sonoma
Rustic and real…and lovely
Amongst the vines
Look through any window…
Winter in the Valley.
This is going to be my next Christmas card
Downtown Sonoma
Winery workings
Morning Mist

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