The Swanton Loop

Swanton Pacific Ranch. Copyright 2013 Robin L. Chandler

Swanton Pacific Ranch. Copyright 2013 Robin L. Chandler

June and we are blessed again with strawberries. It’s after 5:30PM when I leave work, but the summer sun remains sky high moving towards the solstice. Driving north from Santa Cruz towards Davenport, the Pacific flashes brilliantly on this clear and hot day; along the coast farmers are irrigating their crops. The infinite horizontality brings mindfulness; the day falls away and clarity about the scheme of things returns.  Listening to the Blessed Are album, and I find the Woody Guthrie track Deportee and I softly sing with Joan Baez:

 Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards? Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit? To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil. And be called by no name except “deportees.”

Swanton Berry Farm is my destination. Founded in 1989 by UC Santa Cruz graduate Jim Cochran, Swanton’s is the first commercial organic strawberry farm in California; it is also the first certified organic farm in the United States to sign a labor contract with the United Farm Workers (UFW). The farm stand, where I purchase my two pints of bright red strawberries, proudly displays the UFW flag bearing the black eagle on a field of red.  The UFW was formed as a result of Cesar Chavez’s organizing of Mexican-American and Fillipino American farmworkers to engage in boycotts, hunger strikes and strikes (all based on pacifism) to gain their rights.  The successful 1965 Delano grape strike is the most famous effort. The strawberries are amazing; a delight to see, smell, and taste the sweet and tart delight grown in the sandy soils of the coastline routinely kissed by the sea air. Last year, when Irene Reti’s & Sarah Rabkin’s oral history Cultivating a Movement was published, I read about Jim Cochran’s sustainable practices. Jim described using the Brassica family of plants— broccoli, cauliflower and mustard greens— in crop rotation to improve soil health instead of traditional strawberry farming practices using methyl bromide and Chloropicrin to kill soil disease. At Swanton’s you will never see the plastic covering the fields of commercial growers, indicating chemical fumigation is underway.

This month is also the 38th anniversary of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act that became law on June 5, 1975 giving farm workers the right to collective bargaining and ensuring “peace in the agricultural fields by guaranteeing justice for all agricultural workers and stability in labor relations.” The act allowed union organizers to meet with farm workers in the fields and for farm workers to select representation by unions such as the UFW to engage in collective bargaining to negotiate conditions of employment.

Strawberries. Copyright 2013 Robin L. Chandler

Strawberries. Copyright 2013 Robin L. Chandler

After purchasing my strawberries, I drive out Swanton Road a beautiful loop curving through the Swanton Pacific Ranch, crossing Scott Creek a riparian corridor for Coho Salmon and Steelhead Trout, and winding through forests of Redwoods, Douglas Fir, and Monterey Pine. Surfers say the waves where Scott Creek estuary greets the ocean are the same as Swami’s Beach in San Diego County. The Ranch is beautiful. The furrows nestled amongst the coastal ecosystem; mankind’s geometric abstractions seeking to tame the wilderness topography. Recently I learned about the plein-air painter Sheridan Lord whose inspiring works are with us in the book Things in Place. Sheridan’s farm paintings are pictures “of breathtaking simplicity: the whole surface is occupied by the towering sky and broad fields, which are separated by a mere strip of trees.” Lord’s paintings evoke the environmental writer Peter Matthiessen who quotes the Ojibwa people in his book Nine-Headed Dragon River writing “sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind is bearing me across the sky.”  Mindfulness is found in many ways: in a song, in a vista, in a painting, in a koan, or in a strawberry.

waves of glass

Fall is here.  There is a little chill in the air and the sun’s journey southward gives forth a particular quality of light.  This week has found me cycling as much as possible, and I naturally gravitate to the coast to ride the 101 as it meanders through the communities of La Jolla, Del Mar, Cardiff, Encinitas and Leucadia. Every few miles I get a spectacular view of crystalline blue waves peaking and crashing into torrents of white foam and see the surfers catch a wave and joyously ride the crest balanced precariously somewhere between chaos and nirvana. “Clear and sweet is my soul, clear and sweet is all that is not my soul,” wrote Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass.

Swamis_encinitas

Sunset North County San Diego: Swami’s Beach. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

A few weeks ago, I visited Cape Cod and I was thrilled to see a group of surfers anglin’ on ankle busters, but I think they imagined the waves as a bonsai pipeline.

Truro_CapeCod

Near Truro on Cape Cod. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

The view of the ocean from the saddle of my bike is where my soul opens up, and my spirit returns to balance.  On the bike, I scout out places to paint and observe the world at a pace that allows for interaction, reflection and a laugh or two.  Yesterday it was great fun to see  Surfrider Foundation members  on street corners  in Cardiff  for their “Hold onto Your Butts” campaign.  They were spending their Saturday morning reminding us that cigarette butts do not belong on the beach.  It is another of Surfrider Foundation’s good causes  part of their beach clean-up efforts  and their larger campaigns like “Save Trestles”  which kept a  toll road out of San Onofre State Park. They do good work.  They teach us to be responsible for our beaches and oceans as we should be for any good friend.   These are two watercolors that I’ve recently painted of late afternoons  in North County San Diego and Truro on Cape Cod.  Both pristine and soul redeeming spaces.