Chris Smith: This community survived the Glass fire, though its homes didn’t

There were 13 sweet, simple, wood-heated homes at Monan’s Rill, the intentional community on 414 gorgeous acres off St. Helena Road.

The Glass fire left just one. That surviving house was hand-built in the early 1970s by two co-founders of the residential collective, the extraordinary Mary and Russ Jorgensen.

In addition to helping to create Monan’s Rill, the Jorgensens, both former Freedom Riders, were stalwarts of the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County and undaunted champions of a better world.

They were for almost 30 years cherished by fellow residents of Monan’s Rill who’ve from the start worked together for the good of the land they inhabit and the community that they’ve run by consensus.

The Jorgensens were among four Quaker families that founded Monan’s Rill after having lived in the Berkeley hills with no fences between their yards so they could rear their kids communally. When they bought the land off St. Helena Road, the creek that ran through it was called Monan’s Rill, that name having been borrowed from a poem by Sir Walter Scott.

Russ and Mary savored their lives there until about 20 years ago, when they moved to Nevada City to be closer to their children. Russ was 92 when he died in 2009. Mary died in 2014 at 98.

Were they still alive and still at Monan’s Rill, they might feel about the same today as their heartbroken but resolute former neighbor, Penny Sirota.

“We’re doing about as well as we possibly can,” said Sirota, who’s lived for 28 years at Monan’s Rill. “It’s hard for us all to be scattered.”

“We’re just trying to figure out our next step,” she said.

As the Glass fire roared in from Napa County, it consumed all of the homes except the one the Jorgensens built, and also the barn, greenhouse, garden shed, water pump and power poles.

All of the human residents fled safely, but 29 of the community’s 30 chickens perished. There is hope that one missing cat is OK.

Sirota and her neighbors are elated that flames did not destroy the community building, or the workshop, the solar array or rainwater catchment system.

As they live temporarily elsewhere and prepare to come back together and to rebuild, the people of Monan’s Rill are requesting financial help through a GoFundMe appeal.


NEXT OCTOBER, Janet Barbaria and Mike Pease of Windsor will toast their 27th anniversary. Let us hope their plans for a lovely celebration at some divine Wine Country venue will come off better than they did this year. And last.

In 2019, Mike and Janet were all set for a 25th anniversary party at Soda Rock Winery in Healdsburg. But shortly beforehand, on Oct. 27, Soda Rock fell to the Kincade fire.

This year, the couple made reservations for a 26th anniversary celebration at the Meadowood Restaurant in St. Helena. But they were beaten there by the ruinous Glass fire.

When, in a year, they phone someplace fantastic in Sonoma or Napa to arrange for an anniversary party, they’ll be kind and not mention what happened to melt their plans in 2019 and ’20.

You can contact Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 or

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