Jan. 12, 1971. Rain battering against the car windows blurring the lights shining through thin sheets of water slipping down the glass.
I awoke the next day awestruck by the magnificent towering Palisades to the east. My host pointed me in the direction of town.
Sauntering up and down Lincoln Avenue, this 18-year-old immigrant from Nashville wondered out loud, “Where have I landed?”
This was the beginning of my deep love affair with Lady Calistoga, the most beautiful and serene Lady I have yet to meet in my 65 years.
I learned the names used by the local folks such as the “San” or St. Helena Hospital where I watched the birth of my child; the “Trail” or Silverado Trail, and “The Valley” Napa of course. We had no need to spell it out to ourselves.
There were cattle, walnut orchards, prune orchards along with our bearers of wine, the vines. There were parking meters on Lincoln, smudge pots surrounding the vineyards (what a black soot mess they were) for frost control, a millinery store, a permanent fruit and vegetable open air stand on the east side near La Prima (when it was a home), a movie theatre, a music store owned by Mr. Arrends, a retired drummer from the Swing Era.
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We had no need to go to Santa Rosa or Napa as much because we had it all here in the “Up-Valley” in small portions. There were no corporations.
Yes, I know: it is a new world. The corporate minds have taken the upper hand in Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville, and Napa, changing us greatly and sadly. They are in business to make money. Silver Rabbits of St. Helena are attempting to break the Ag Preserve which was created in 1968 to protect what The Rabbits are trying to squash in order to sub-divide, and for what, pray tell?
Growth is inevitable. There is no place, large or small, that is not affected by population growth exponentially. I do not begrudge the enjoyable riches of wealthy individuals and big business. Not at all.
I do begrudge them and the Napa Valley supervisors, the Calistoga City Council and mayor for promoting the selling off of the soul of Napa Valley. I do hold it against them for making it so expensive that normal society cannot afford to live here.
The mayor and council tell us over and over to buy local. Buy what locally? A piece of cake at Cal Mart for an embarrassing price? There is always Silverado Hardware and Busters for middle income earners to buy from. There is a transportation bus for elderly folks to get around town, but who have to wait for up to an hour or more because the bus for them is transporting tourists to wineries.
When the Paris Tastings of 1976 put us on the map by crushing the French wines, we at Robert Mondavi Winery (the Golden Age we call it now, looking back) were celebrating and ecstatic for a brief time until the reality hit us like a hammer ... ”uh oh, it’s all over now” and so the death of Napa Valley, as we knew it, had begun.
Change is never easy and time usually takes care of the negative side of things. Time has not been kind to Calistoga and the Valley. Locals born and raised have been leaving for some time now and the departure rate is booming with in the Valley and the state.
Why? I can speak for folks I know who have left and those long-time residents are moving to locations more affordable places such as Lake County. We are not wanting to leave but we are financially forced out.
It is being said for national publication that Napa Valley has sold its soul. I urge you to read the book by James Conaway, “Napa At Last Light.”
I am partially to blame because I did not raise my voice at Calistoga council meetings. Please don’t make the same mistake.
I see you are trying, Lady Calistoga. For example, shouting down the mayor’s proposal to allow a development of 250 houses (at Yellow Rose Ranch). Pursue a growth moratorium so there will be a future Calistoga and Napa Valley for future visitors to come and enjoy. Our Valley should be treated with the same grace accorded Yosemite.
The past is past. The future can be salvageable. How much is enough, Mayor Canning and Napa County Supervisors?
Lady Calistoga, you are the first true home I ever had, I grew up with you, I became a man alongside of you. I now tell you, dear one, of my broken heart for having to leave you this past June. I love you dearly and I will always have you in my heart and soul. Protect yourself. Elect wisely.
Editor’s Note: The Weekly Calistogan asked Mayor Chris Canning about the issues raised by the author and he sent the following response: “They are certainly entitled to their opinion and perspective. The only correction I would make is that the 250 unit Yellow Rose project was not "my project". It was brought through the normal process by a developer with the knowledge and support of the property owner. As a City, we are required by law to give all applicants their due process. Additionally, we are seeking housing that is affordable because that is what our community has asked us to champion. While not all projects presented will be appropriate for Calistoga, there is housing that needs to be built.”