This year, given our hidden theme, we decided to play around, using the child's game of 20 Questions to help shape out brief sketches of many of the North Bay's towns. Playing along are Brett Ascarelli, Gretchen Giles, Patricia Lynn Henley, Gabe Meline and Amanda Yskamp.
Animal Seagulls, bobcats with attitude, steelhead trout, coho salmon, rock crab, a nippy elephant seal (see: bitten pit bull, hurtin' surfer), migrating gray whales, sea urchin (the largest of the bay's haul, by weight), oyster on the half shell, yummy.
Vegetable Ice plants with hot pink and chrome-yellow starry blooms laced over the cliffs, forestalling erosion. Violet cones of Pride of Madeira. A stunning array of wildflowers: seashore lupine, Indian paintbrush, wild iris. Kelp beds to entangle any mermaid.
Mineral Granite outcropping; dunes that give rise to the notorious "blowdega" sand storms; rose quartz and crystal dolphin mobile; hot basalt facial stones (50-80 minutes, $115-$160); titanium and zinc sun block, SPF 30. --A.Y.Cotati/Rohnert Park
Animal, domestic. Barrel-chested, short-legged, fluffy, carefully groomed but definitely aging cocker spaniel. Pedigreed, of course. From a puppy mill, which is fortunately just a dim distant memory in my furry little mind. I was the standard suburban factory-issue canine for a tract home with a father, mother and 2.3 kids. Except that 0.3 kid is now giving attitude in middle school, the middle child wears nothing but black and the oldest son is doing home-study after that unfortunate incident in the high school chem lab--which happened not too long after the Dad moved out to live with his 22-year-old administrative assistant. Now the mom and I spend most weekend evenings together, curled up on the sofa watching Netflix while she tells me what a jerk her ex is and feeds me half her popcorn. Life is sweet when you're a dog. --P.L.H.Forestville
1. Is it a mammal?
2. Is it four-legged?
3. Does it have sharp teeth?
4. Is it not afraid to use them?
5. Will it play nice sometimes, anyway?
6. Does it have a collection of first edition Virginia Woolfs?
7. Will it respond to "Here, Shorty?"
8. Have you ever eaten one?
9. Is it found in remote areas?
10. Can you lift it up?
11. Can it lift you up?
12. Will it put you back down if you say "Please" nicely?
13. Can it swim?
14. Is it handy?
15. Is it brown?
16. Is it green?
17. Can it jump?
18. Will it jump all over you like a flea?
19. Will you like it?
20. If you're guessing that the answer to all these questions is yes, you're in the right place!--A.Y.
You want hidden? I'll give you hidden.
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1. Where can you cut your own Christmas tree while drinking hot chocolate?
2. Where were the very first grapes in the Russian River area planted by Yegor Chernykh in the early 1800s?
3. Which block-long town boasts some of the best dining to be found in Sonoma County, at Underwood, Willowood and Mexico Lindo?
4. Where is the land once deeded to God? (By ex-Limeliter Lou Gottlieb, once his commune, Morning Star Ranch, ran into financial difficulties.)
5. Where can you see a llama walking on a leash?
6. Where is noon signaled by a former air raid siren?
7. What town has become a magnet for artists and art lovers, where a fine gallery and many visual artists, writers and musicians make their home?
8. Which town opened Sonoma County's first Day Labor Center to improve the working and living conditions of day laborers?
9. Where can you find several award-winning wineries alongside a cider pub and a tea shop?
10. Which town has what might be the oldest butterfly garden in the country?
11. Which location was first inhabited by members of the Southern Pomo tribe and now gives its name to their confederation?
12. Which Sonoma County town was adopted for re-envisioning by Orrin Thiessen? (Which hasn't?)
13. Where can you connect to 13 miles of walking trails?
14. How do you spell Graton?
Animal, of a sort. More accurately, a mollusk. Soft-bodied, no visible skeleton. Overall I'm what I think of as a lovely yellow hue, with gorgeous deep brown spots. My coloring is good, if I do say so myself. Smaller than a bread box--a lot smaller, almost hidden in the underbrush as I make my way slowly from one point to another, my path clear behind me. No rush, no hurry, just doing things at my own speed and in my own way, blending in when I want to, at other times standing out in glorious technicolor, proudly displaying who and what I am. Oh yes, some humans scream when they spot me wriggling my slow way up a tree trunk, across a branch or along a trail. But what do they know? I am beautiful, I am wonderful, I am a banana slug in all my glory, secure that I am exactly what I was meant to be and happy to live as I do, where I do.--P.L.H.Healdsburg
Animal, but only if the definition of animal is pretty broad. Insect, actually. Sometimes called a water bug, water skimmer, backswimmer, water boatman or pond skater--but those are labels many humans apply to me and my numerous cousins when they don't really know what the heck we are. You tend to lump us all together, but I am unique. I am an individual. I glide across the top of the Russian River as it winds its way through town. Not for me any worries about low flows, cutbacks, new construction simultaneous with mandatory water conservation, human recreation vs. fish procreation, changing lifestyles, changing values, small-town flavor mixing with big-city amenities and movie stars spotted around the town square. Not my world. For me, life is the smooth, green surface of river water stretching out before me like a sheet of dark glass. All I've gotta worry about is not being eaten by a fish.--P.L.H.Occidental
What follows is the actual transcript of the online 20 questions game I played with the computer: http://www.20q.net. Stumped the 'bot this time!
1. Is it dangerous?
2. Is it located in the United States?
3. Is it made of stone?
4. Is it part of a democracy?
5. Are there two or more words in its title?
Yes, if you count California (which I did).
6. Does it have a nickname?
No, but it should.
7. Is it involved with the NFL?
8. Do people live there?
9. Is it a structure?
10. Is it smaller than a town?
11. Is it hilly?
12. Is it very noisy?
13. Is it an ideal honeymoon destination?
14. Does it have a lot of trees?
15. Is it an island?
16. Is it a state or a province?
17. Is it out of this world?
No. (But that's a matter of opinion.)
18. Is it located on an island?
19. Is its official language English?
20. Is it Park City, Utah?
Animal, and let me tell you--she's built. Tight sweater, poodle skirt, saddle shoes, great legs. She and the Bopper got married, did the kid thing and now that the rug rats are in high school themselves, Peggy Sue and the Big B are having the time of their lives. Hanging at the Moose, dancing to Val, eating out four nights a week, still open to tokin'--this grownup thing rocks.--G.G.Santa Rosa
Animal, hands down. A bull, actually, in a china shop, except that this bull keeps trying to rebuild the china shop after each overanxious demolition. Because of the money and red tape required to assemble a new china shop, the bull, though studied in the particulars of what it likes to destroy, is not so skilled at recreating its own shambles. Knock-off Swarovski and chipped Waterford can be found on the cheap, which has increasingly satisfied the bull's short-sighted planning of its demolition, and certain pristine areas of the china shop that haven't yet been rampantly plowed become more and more attractive to the bull. Employees of the china shop, many of whom have worked here for generations, have tried to slyly feed tranquilizers to the bull as they sidestep its charges, but the bull's hormones have grown too powerful--even injections of legislative sedatives are useless in the long run. The bull keeps charging and rebuilding and charging again, while the employees watch their precious china shop reduced to a shard-scattered wasteland of damaged brilliance and argue over whether they should maybe, just maybe, stop feeding this bull altogether.--G.M.Sebastopol
Vegetable. Lots of them. Apples, too. Plus, pommes frites, wood-fired flatbread, hangar steak, fresh oysters, Yucatán tamales, organic strawberries, lavender ice cream, fondant for Dean & DeLuca, Texas-style barbecue, drive-in burgers, raw fish wrapped in seaweed, wedding cuvée, potato mountains, front yard peaches, apples again.--G.G.Sonoma
Vegetable. Once a round, firm vegetable (OK, technically I'm a fruit), now I'm delicately sliced, artistically arranged on a bright yellow Crate & Barrel plate, drizzled with B.R. Cohn extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkled lightly with Sonoma Gourmet sea salt and freshly ground pepper. I'm not just any old garden-variety tomato; I'm a dark, plump and juicy Purple Cherokee heirloom. Organically grown, carefully harvested and lovingly offered for sale at the weekly farmers market in front of Sonoma's city hall, I'm a major ingredient in a mouth-wateringly beautiful picnic supper, right next to the iced bottle of Kistler Chardonnay resting on a soft fuzzy blue blanket spread out on the Plaza's thick, green and carefully nurtured lawn. There's a jazz band playing in the amphitheater and this is what's known as the good life, baby. Sonoma-style.--P.L.H.Windsor
Vegetable, highly processed. Cut long, sanded smooth and neatly stacked along with a lot of others just like me. Not top grade, but we'll do the job. We had to be covered with a tarp in the recent rain--contractor didn't expect that, hadn't planned for even a sprinkle during the warm summer months that are so perfect for construction. He had me and the others delivered on a flatbed truck and stacked in the driveway, waiting for the work to begin. The rain slowed things up, but not for long. Now hammers are ringing and soon it will be my turn to be framed, to be picked out of the pile, measured, cut and set into place in the new upscale arbor/outdoor kitchen behind this three-bedroom home. A change in jobs means the folks living here have to move out of the area, which means selling this place--which means doing all the repairs and improvements that were put off for years. Doing them right now, lickety-split, with a spit and a polish and the place is on the market looking as spiffy and upscale as possible. Which is where I come in, new lumber ready for this quick-and-dirty make-it-look-wonderful remodeling project. The real estate agent said something had to be done and here I am piled neatly in the driveway with all my siblings.--P.L.H.
Mineral, like Pompeii is mineral. Untouched by the firestorm of volcanic change all around.--G.G.Larkspur/Corte Madera
Vegetable, cellulose fibers held together by hydrogen bonding. Spruce, aspen, hardwoods, softwoods, pounded, pulped, formed and dried. Stamped with ink, bound and illustrated, glossy jacket, photo on back. "Smith's best yet!" "Where Stephen King left off, Jones picks up!" Packaged, bundled, trucked across the country. One pallet's worth dropped on Tamal Vista Boulevard; the other, Corte Madera Town Center. Which will win?--G.G.Mill Valley
Sure, I'm papery, bulbous and round--but, hey, I'm nicely formed. There are lots of parts to me, each one an individual surprise ready to be popped into a pan at Caffe Oggi, Frantoio, La Ginestra, Gira Poli, Pasta Pomodoro, Piatti, Piazza D'Angelo, Pizza Antica and Rocco's. Any town that loves Italian food this much has got to love me.--G.G.Ross/Kentfield
Animal Buttery leather, calfskin, suede.
Vegetable Torn baby lettuces, dressing on the side.
Mineral Sapphire, diamond, silicone.--G.G.San Rafael
Animal, vegetable and mineral, I am Thai, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Honduran, Colombian, El Salvadoran, Japanese, Persian, Eritrean, Chinese, Indian, Italian. I am a golden retriever trained to aid the blind, a pedigree canine meant to be carried, a long-haired cat on a leash. I am flash-fried purple basil, five pounds of oranges in a cheap mesh bag, the blue-green scale of dinosaur kale, Araucana eggs, hot ribs dripping sauce down your chin. I am movie stars and film directors gathering modestly at the cinema, chalk reproductions of Italian masters sketched out on the asphalt, the old courthouse long burned down, outdoor Shakespeare at Dominican. I am a storefront as wide as your shoulders, Macy's on the downslide and Louise Boyd aimed for the Arctic in freshly ironed linen.--G.G.San Anselmo
Animal: What they actually all are in law school, believe me. Animal: What the nanny reminds me I am when I see her bending over that way. Animal: God, I love the smell of this car when it comes back from the detailer. Animal: The lamb should be rare. Take it back. Animal: Is my Kestrel RT700 really good enough for Ridge Road, or do I truly deserve something better?--G.G.Sausalito
She's Blanche DuBois without all those flighty, fainting neuroses. She regularly depends on the kindness of strangers, indulges in frothy dress that magically renews each day and attracts a grittier underbelly to her many feminine charms. Belle Reve lives on.--G.G.West Marin
Animal Rennet, fallow deer, red-tail hawks.
Vegetable Jewel lettuces, chantrelles, thimble berries.
Mineral The regrettable ash of Manka's December fire. (The lodge's 10 rooms remain open; restaurant will resurrect in 2008.) --G.G.
Animal, technically. Florsheim. Leather upper. Sound instep for ample arch support. Size 11, men's. Lace-up. Brown. Rubber sole. Foot: right. Shoe tree: pine. Relatively new construction. Light basalt dusting, but nothing that a little Kiwi wax won't fix. Floor sample. Patiently waiting to join my better half. Also interested in the company of a mild-mannered, tortoise-shell shoe-horn. Packaging: Lidded cardboard box, appropriate for stowing dreams of patent leather grandeur. Best feature: eyelits. On sale for 30 percent off. Made in America. Above all, sensible.--B.A.Calistoga
Animal covered by mineral. Iridescent tail. Scallop-shell bra. Age: 19. Father: Poseidon. Mother: grouper fish. Hairstyle: the Mary-Kate Olson. Favorite rock star: Ethel Mermaid, even though she doesn't sing my favorite song of all time, which is and always will be "Octopus's Garden." Yeah, Ringo, forever! New whip: Mazda Seahorse GLS. Fully loaded, candy-apple red (Daddy-O doesn't mind paying the extra insurance). School: Freshwater State U. at Crystal Geyser. Major: abnormal ichthyology. Foods: pizza, fruits de mer, seaweed. Weird hobby: drinking bottled water. Yeah, I know, but I'm a total sucker for the plastic. Favorite activity: mudbathing, which is, of course, what I'm doing now. Slosh. Biggest forseeable hangup: keeping it real. Sigh.--B.A.Napa
Animal, almost. Good attitude. Clear, with unfertilized, yellow center. Grade indeterminate, as of yet, but hopefully, AAA! Laid in a chicken coop (duplex). Aspiration: frittata. Better yet, I dream of being poached one day and added to the salade Lyonnaise at Angéle. Ah, yes, the warm bacon vinaigrette and I will caress the frisée. I can almost feel the jagged leaves now. I just wanna be special. OK, so I wanna be rich, too, and popular. But is that too much to ask? I mean, goddamit, how much longer can it possibly take? I know egg cups in high places. Hello! Look at me! Fine, then don't. So, it's come to this. Chefs, have at me with the beaters. I'll sacrifice my integrity for the sake of becoming a really buoyant soufflé. Just don't let me rot here. I'm already starting to turn green. Please, someone? Ahem. I simply will not settle for being hard-boiled anymore.--B.A.St. Helena
Mineral. Precious. Three carats, and so finely cut. Yes, doing positively well, if I don't say so myself. People go ga-ga at the sight of my fire. Stunning sparkle; flawless, in fact. Yes, clear as a bell. Absolutely no color at all--just the way I like it. Ideal cut: just one facet. --B.A.Yountville
Animal. Much bigger than a breadbox, old sport. Fond of highballs, white flannel suits and pressed pink shirts. Multimillionaire. Business philosophy: Don't ask, don't tell. Immense West Egg residence, resembling the Paris Hotel de Ville. Maestro of social orchestration. Host expansive, yet intimate, weekend soirees. R.S.V.P. Own gorgeous, yellow automobile; hydroplane for guests. Usually a leisure swimmer, yet lately the pool feels so ominous. Previously known as James Gatz of North Dakota. Battled briefly in the Argonne Forest. Attended Oxford. Confidentially preoccupied, you see. Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true . . . --B.A.