“North County”

Is there another name for this rural/semi-rural area that I live in, between Monterey and Watsonville? To some it’s known as “North County,” but that term doesn’t say much. I think that to some, it evokes a misty border or hinterland between northern Monterey County and Watsonville. It’s those big flat agricultural fields north of the pesticide-laden Salinas River. Or maybe it’s that swampy area you pass before you hit the traffic jam going to Santa Cruz. No, wait — it’s where the Marina police stop lurking on the overpasses above Hwy. 1, monitoring your driving speed…

I think most people see the city of Monterey and the city of Santa Cruz as the two stars on each side of Monterey Bay. I have a slightly different view; I envision the two tourist meccas as remoras attached to each wing of a giant batlike ray (or skate) fish. Curvy Monterey Canyon (one of the largest deepwater canyons in the world) even resembles a ray’s whiplike tail (which conceals a threatening stinger), and we all know how dangerous the waters above Monterey Canyon can be. A remora (if you don’t already know) is a small fish that attaches itself to sharks, skates, and other large marine animals (even boats, sometimes) including whales, by means of a specialized sucker on its head. They are not parasitic; they feed on scraps from the larger fish. But they can slow it (and boats) down, and can be occasionally annoying.

Santa Cruz and Monterey each have their own “personalities”: Santa Cruz is viewed as a university town with a lefty element and a freelance, free-for-all (weird) culture. Monterey, long a host for the military, has a more staid, traditional and conservative reputation, although the artsy and hippie folks claim the southern coastal end¬† (Big Sur). Both cities have depended on the bounty of the bay for centuries, and on the labor supplied by local and migrant workers. It goes both ways, too; workers living between Santa Cruz and Monterey also depend on companies in those cities or on the big farms and their distributors to supply jobs.

Less snarky, one could also say that the bay is shaped more like one end of a shallow hour glass. Moss Landing and Elkhorn are right at the center, where the fresh waters of Elkhorn slough mix with the salt waters and sand from the Bay and the Canyon.

I’ve lived here for about 5 years now, and often feel like Elkhorn, nearby Castroville, Prunedale, Watsonville, and Moss Landing are a bit lost in time. Moss Landing plays into this, of course, with its pastiched collection of warehouses, old and new boats, gingerbread-victorian (kind of) antique shops, and tilted cottages. The fact that it’s surrounded by acres of farmland, dotted here and there with old barns, only adds to that feeling. The area doesn’t get much press from the two cities on each end, unless there are reports of gang violence, farmworkers go on strike, there’s a shortage of seafood, or the population starts to worry about water quality and availability or the effect of pesticides on produce.

The Bay is a living thing, though, and its health is often judged by the catch at Moss Landing, and the environmental quality of the slough and wildlife. I’ve worked in Monterey and Santa Cruz, and I know what people think of North County folks. Unbelievably, a lot of people living in this area don’t even know that Elkhorn and Elkhorn Slough exist. Unless there’s a good antique show on at Moss Landing, Bobby Flay visits Phil’s Fish Market, or Pajaro Food Market’s burrito shows up in Sunset Magazine’s “Best Burrito” list, the inhabitants of the two cities happily¬† forget we are here.

Categories: castroville ca, Elkhorn, elkhorn slough, Moss Landing, Moss Landing Ca, Uncategorized, Watsonville | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Rogue Chicken

You never know what’s going to cross your path around here…

Categories: Elkhorn | Leave a comment

Lacking Near Neighbors

My neighbors from right next door and their kids have moved out. It’s unusually quiet around here, and I’ve noticed all sorts of wildlife now visiting the field directly across from the house. A lone coyote with red-tipped ears (fox?) has begun to stop by regularly. There have been possums, a cat, and — at this moment, 3 deer. They are munching on the wild cheeseweed under the Oak tree in front of me at this very moment.

Categories: Elkhorn | Tags: , | Leave a comment

“The Unbearable Sadness of Winter Tomatoes”

I know this is mean, when we’re in the midst of California’s summer bounty, but chalk it up to my frustration at not being able to grow a decent tomato in my backyard. “The Unbearable Sadness of Winter Tomatoes,” via Boingboing.com

Categories: Elkhorn, Food, Farms | Tags: | Leave a comment

grounds for excellence

I’ve been digressing from the whole “local” thing lately, so now I just want to give a shout out to the neighbor around the corner, Succulent Gardens: Growing Grounds on Elkhorn Road. Because they (the owner, Robin Stockwell) just won the top prize at the San Francisco Flower & Garden show for their “living cube”! OK, I don’t really know them — but hope to visit there soon.

Categories: Elkhorn, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

august 22nd local acoustic songwriters’ concert

The Garden Song at Elkhorn Gardens presents:

Songwriter Showcase Concert
August 22nd, 2010, Sunday

Show Starts at: 2:00 pm
Free /donations appreciated
With a Great Acoustic Singer/ Songwriter, Stephen Covell

Opening Acts:

Camaron Ochs – San Francisco
Dino Capito – Prunedale

Local singer songwriter Stephen Covell has been entertaining audiences around the country and the world for close to a decade with his unique style of upbeat percussive acoustic folk rock reminiscent of Dave Matthews and Jason Mraz. Stephen’s blend of introspective lyrics and warm soulful melodies take you on a journey of discovery, love, and loss that is kept afloat by a wit and youthful sense of humor born in the cool surf of the Pacific ocean and honed during years of travel and two tours of duty in Iraq as a medic in the Army. Passionate and enthusiastic without ever taking itself too seriously, Stephen’s music reminds us that while much is uncertain in this life, one can make the best of any situation with an open mind and a welcoming heart.

View Stephen’s website: http://www.purevolume.com/stephencovell

View CamaronOchs’s website: http://www.CamaronOchs.com

Categories: Elkhorn, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Gleaning Stories

I just heard a guy on the radio interviewing a local gleaner, a woman who picks up fennel bulbs out in the fields of Castroville. I know there are people (including myself) who forage for various items in the woods and lots around here. But I know little about gleaners, although, of course, this is the perfect area for that activity.

According to the California Story Fund:

“Unlike in Europe, where gleaning is considered a right, gleaning in California requires the cooperation of field owners. While illegal gleaning occurs, most of the gleaning in Salinas Valley is done in cooperation with large growers, who also distribute over 10 million pounds of surplus crops to food banks and other programs.

The gleaners come from communities throughout Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. Some work with church groups, some work with labor groups, some are high school students, some are elders, some speak only Spanish.”

The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas is having an event today, “The Gleaners: A Harvest of Stories,” 2–4 pm. I’m going. See you there?

Categories: castroville ca, Elkhorn, Food, Farms, hyperlocal, Local History, Moss Landing Ca | Tags: , | Leave a comment


Michelle of Green Kitchen has been out hunting and came up with a bunch of beautiful locally plucked Boletus. I have to admit that I’m of those scaredy-pants who is afraid to forage for mushrooms because of potential poisoning. I get my foraging high from hunting for New Zealand Spinach (hint: it’s near water), or finding the perfect tamale at the farmers market.

Categories: Elkhorn, Food, Farms | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Horses and Vaqueros of Elkhorn

horse, looking

2 horses

dark and light

These horses live next to the Mexican rodeo grounds (the Charriada), just down the road from me. The horse in the top photograph was scratching his nose on a piece of barbed wire wrapped around a fencepost.

My mother let me take horseback riding lessons for a year when I was a kid. And that’s the limit of what I know about horses. So, coming from a suburb to live in Elkhorn–where there are many horses and riders, and where residents look forward to rodeo season in the summer–has been a big change for me.

One summer day, as I was driving down the road toward my new home, I passed a man on horseback, dressed like a vaquero. Let me clarify: he was not dressed like the “Marlboro Man,” and clearly had no aspirations to do so.

He was dark, had a full mustache, and sat tall and proud astride his beautiful horse. His clothing seemed to be a mix of Hispanic cowboy styles. I can’t remember exactly the details, but I do recall a wide-brimmed hat, short jacket, spurs, and a lot of silver. I started to feel a little out of place. “Well, Toto,” I might’ve said to my dog, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas.”

Since then, I’ve seen a lot of other vaquero types, and some of them do dress like the conventional Anglo cowboy, but most wear jeans and baseball caps. They occasionally dress as vaqueros for the rodeo.

When this region was Alta California, governed first from Spain, and then Mexico (this was before the Gold Rush, when the Anglos from the east began claiming the land as their own), the first cowboys actually were the vaqueros. Most of them migrated to south and central California (and generally the southwest) from northern Mexico. The huge ranchos of the Californios, awarded to them as the original Spanish land grants, dominated the area. They raised cattle, and traded hides with the ships that sailed into the port of Monterey (Monte Rey, or King’s Mountain).

Perhaps that’s why, when I had that first glimpse of the tall, dark vaquero riding his horse toward me down Castroville Blvd., I felt as though I was seeing a ghost.

A slide show of the last Californios, by William S. Dean.

See also the award-winning dvd, “Los Californios de Monterey: Pioneers of Alta California 1769-1848,” produced and directed by David A. Anaya.

Categories: Castroville, Elkhorn, elkhorn slough, Local History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

October rainstorm

October rainstorm

At home in Elkhorn during the first rainstorm of the season.

Categories: Elkhorn | Tags: | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.