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Pumpkin

John Hawkley, production manager for the Star and the Napa Valley Register, grew this giant pumpkin.

As I write this, the threat to St. Helena is subsiding but not quite past. A few changes of clothes and my most precious documents are still stashed in a “go bag” in case of an evacuation. I’m taking big gulps of fresh air, having taken it for granted for so long. And yet my trifling inconveniences pale next to the tragedies that have affected our neighbors in Santa Rosa, Atlas Peak, Napa and Calistoga. As I wrote last week, Dear Readers: Prayers, donations, volunteer time – please give what you can.

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Let’s try to forget about the fires for a few minutes. John Hawkley, production manager for the Star and the Napa Valley Register, is known for his prize pumpkins. True to form, he grew another whopper this year. See the picture of it next to my column? How much do you think it weighs? Take a guess and I’ll tell you a little later.

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Here’s some good news, which we could all use right now. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed AB 317, which provides $25,000 a year in state matching dollars for Napa County’s three farmworker housing centers. The wine industry itself provides the lion’s share of funding for the centers, and it’s great to see the state chipping in.

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Last week’s fires and the resulting power outage forced the library to reschedule the last entry in Jay Greene’s “A Brief History of Russia” lecture series. Greene will now cover “From Stalin to Putin” at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the library. Thanks to the Friends & Foundation, St. Helena Public Library, for its support.

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From an anonymous correspondent: “On the west side of town, with the smoke looking ominous over Spring Mountain, on Sunday morning a woman was spotted praying with her rosary dangling from her hands. First she stood for a long time, hands raised toward the sky. Later she went down on all fours in the middle of the street, still with one hand raised toward the sky, rosary dangling.” I can’t think of anything to add.

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As usual, inspiring stories of hope emerged from the darkness of last week. Vintner Robin Baggett of Alpha Omega Winery donated 10 barbecue units and the Baggett BBQ Team to Operation BBQ Relief, which set up shop in Napa and Sonoma counties and fed thousands of first responders and displaced residents daily. That’s just one of many examples of the wine industry and the rest of the community reaching out to help. Big kudos also to Ines Chiarello and the rest of the crew at the St. Helena firehouse, which has been serving three meals a day ever since the fires started.

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While getting away from the fires last week, Mariam Hansen of the St. Helena Historical Society checked out the Sutro Library in San Francisco, which is part of the California State Library. Local history buffs will be charmed to learn that she found an ad for the St. Helena Star from 1885. Editor and proprietor: W.A. Mackinder. Subscription rate: $3 a year. Publication schedule: Twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays. Best of all, the paper’s self-description: “An organ of the Upper Valley and representative of the Chief Wine-Producing Region of the United States.” Well said. See more of Mariam’s discoveries at the St. Helena Historical Society’s Facebook page.

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How inspiring it is to see the many signs along Main Street thanking our courageous first responders. As one of them says, “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.”

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John Hawkley’s pumpkin weighed in at a healthy 1,456 pounds. Were you close?

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