Perhaps it's just something in the oaks and fir trees lining the narrow two lane passage of Highway 128 that rescues one's heart and mind away from the maniacal congestion of Toyota Camrys and Ford Explorers north of the San Francisco Bay.
Perhaps it's just the spattering of sunlight reaching through the canopy, or the parallel lines of dirt tracks sandwiching a strip of tall grass leading past a rickety gate towards an abandoned barn.
Or maybe, it's only the fluttering wings of a blue jay, the cacaphony of songbirds, and the formation of ducks migrating above that drops my defenses and fills my lungs with tranquility.
The sight of a girl swinging on a bald truck tire, a mother hanging shirts on a clothesline, an old man driving a '63 Ford pickup, all made me feel like a time traveler with my textile riding jacket and 3/4 helmet.
Somehow it seemed we had entered into a different time and place, where everyone moves at a slower speed. Hanging out at the coffee shop is their idea of adult entertainment here, and they don't seem to care that they can only get one bar on their cellphones.
The Anderson Valley is just a narrow strip of agriculture hidden between mountain ranges that might otherwise not be bothered with. The exit signs on US 101 doesn't say much about what you'll find, and I suppose locals prefer it that way.
Sash and I left the 101 and began the 27 mile ride into Boonville in search of the famed Anderson Valley Brewing Company.
The numerous advertisements of wine tasting rooms along the way might have stolen my attention had it not been for the maze of 20mph turns twisting through the mountains like grape vines on a wire fence.
But when I finally walked into the tasting room at the brewery, there they were, locals sitting at the bar, bellies full, hardly moving or making a sound, like frogs sunning themselves on lily pads.
"A Brother David's Triple" I asked.
The server obliged with a pint glass in front of me.
Meanwhile, Sash made her way into the gift shop to inspect racks of souvenir t-shirts and tops.
The old man sitting a few stools away from me wore his Peterbuilt cap, hanging his head down towards the glass, in a brown button shirt tucked neatly into a pair of faded Wranglers. It wasn't quite what I had expected to see nursing an Imperial IPA. He seemed more like the PBR kind of guy.
"How is it?" I turned to ask to him.
He didn't move.
"How is it?" I spoke up a little more.
He turned to look at me. "Lors rurr roar. Hoo, shal mor nesh fashint nor spla!"
I had no idea what he said. It sounded kind of like a mixture of gaelic, hillbilly, and trucker, with a little garbled phlegm for effect.
"Oh", I said smiling, and nodded my head in agreement.
I learned later on that Boonville actually has its own language called, "Boontling". No shit.
A number of city dwelling folks walked in, I could tell because they wore sandals, plaid shorts, golf shirts, and Oakleys, and were giggling over something that sounded like a lesbian joke. They all crammed the bar and hailed the server. When she asked them what she could get them, all I could hear was, "Do you have a hefeweizen?"
"Hefeweizen?" I thought to myself. They came all the way up here to drink wheat beer?
Sure enough, the server served up glasses of the stuff to every one of them. Putting Oakleys, golf shirts, and lesbian jokes aside, Boonville means something different to each of us I suppose.
Sash came back to model her new purple top for me, emblazoned with the words "Anderson Valley Brewing".
"It looks like nice on you", I said.
I thought about picking out a souvenir set of duds for myself too, but couldn't find anything that reflected my feelings of this town.
A place like Boonville, with no more than a 1,000 people, would certainly be just as well off with a tavern serving watered-down lagers and cheese sauce nachos, at least I would think. But why settle with 3.2 beer when they're pouring 10.0 stuff over here? With its own language, its own brewery, and its own slow paced, "we'll get there when we get there" kind of living creates a certain spirituality that'll fly right through you if don't know what to look for.
Lost in the translation of Boonville, to the handful of us who learn of its location, is the essence of the oaks, firs, songbirds, and 1963 Ford pickups. The incomprehensible old frogs on lily pads who lose themselves in thick malty, double fermented ales is part of the ingredient that goes back into delicate brewing process, swallowed, pissed out, and reprocessed all over again, each time adding a tiny bit more to the flavor.
One doesn't just ride through the mountains to get to this place just to pass through with little more than a memory or a photograph. Time moves too slow here, and most of us don't bother to wind down enough to capture the elements that make the Anderson Valley what it is.
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