I like city driving; not freeways, but I can handle the Marin route out of San Francisco. So, I have made the trip to the Healdsburg area in Sonoma County three times in the last few months. Recently, for a birthday party at a lovely B & B called the Gipson Bed & Breakfast, owned by an old friend and his wife.
I had been to the same spot last summer for an epic 50th Russian Dacha birthday party, where many guests camped and a Russian BBQ ensued with a zip line, trampoline, bubbles, pool, jacuzzi and pogo-sticks for the big and little kids and of course shots of vodka and blinis for the hearty adults. This time it was for a five-year-old’s party, the daughter of my friends, the innkeepers.
Healdsburg lies at the crossroads of three of California’s most famous wine growing appellations: Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley. It is surrounded by more than 60 wineries and is a favorite Sonoma Wine Country destination.
It was a surprise when I realized my son’s week at “Farm School” would be just down the road from the B & B. Deergnaw, as it is called, is an estate owned by the founders of my son’s small school in San Francisco. Synergy School 4th-8th grade students are lucky to spend a week in the spring at Deergnaw studying botany, gardening, fishing, writing poetry in the forest, hiking, camping, swimming, kayaking and learning about nature as an integral part of the curriculum. They all return in the autumn for Harvest Day. I have been looking forward to this since Sasha was a wee kindergartner. Parents told me it was a peak Synergy experience and since I love all of the above I was keen to help out, as were many other parents. At any given time there were at least 8-10 parents and three teachers for 21 kids! I include all this seemingly random information because the experience was just so amazing, something every kid should experience.
I taught poetry writing one day, yoga the next and was a raft monitor in the afternoons. The location was just so stunning. I had been to a camp with my 4-8th grades in the 70’s outside NYC, but it was truly a camp: wooden bunks, sulphur-smelling water and lots of campfires. Alas, this time we couldn’t have a campfire because of our terrible drought and the advice/insistence of a 4th grade firefighter mom.
I was in awe of the beautiful property. We all camped, cooked and gathered outdoors, but the Deergnaw home, compound, estate whatever you want to call it, was right out of a Sunset Magazine spread, but not too precious—just perfect. Built on more than 250 acres, Deergnaw is now an olive oil producing olive grove and one can buy their oil online and at local Farmer’s Markets.
The owners were not only gracious hosts but involved in the day to day schedule of Farm School. The parents helped with everything from cooking to tick removal. All the kids were obliged to do most of the work, including all the recycling, mulching and weighing the garbage to compare refuse production from year to year. Parents had moments to enjoy the surroundings. One dad took a killer mountain bike excursion, some fished in the pond. I hunkered down in a cushy hammock to read voraciously for an hour or so and squeezed in my own yoga practice on a beautiful deck overlooking a glorious garden.
We danced around a maypole, ate strawberries, cream and brown sugar and took a night hike to a spring. Each kid hiked alone in the dark, a sort of rite of passage/nature experience/empowerment exercise. I was only able to go for two days but look forward to future Farm School experiences and further exploring the Healdsburg area.