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Winds of change make us wonder where Sonoma County is headed, and remember where we’ve been

After 20 months of plague and all its ramifications, we see the world closing in on us at warp speed.

In recent weeks, Sonoma County has been offered a buffet of industrial choices that boggles the mind.

Let’s see. Will it be another casino, an Amazon warehouse (“Nomadland Comes to Sonoma County”) or a coal train? Does anyone have any other good ideas to flip the image of beautiful Sonoma County? How about an oil field? Any thoughts on where to drill?

OK, we can joke about all this, but let’s face it. For some who choose to remember where we’ve been, the world is moving way too fast. If you quiet down and listen closely you can still hear the murmur of old souls wondering wot-the-hell happened to the prune orchards.

Meanwhile in this here-we-go-again bubble, county officials are being asked to consider an Amazon distribution center next door to the county’s Schulz Airport. And an international company looking for a transportation corridor for 2-mile-long trains hauling open carloads of coal is considering a plan to use SMART’s tracks heading toward the remote and truly beautiful Eel River canyon.

And the Koi Nation’s plan for yet another gambling palace in what is currently a large expanse of grapevines that look to a passing motorist to be doing just fine.

Each of these “choices” evokes memories of bitter battles of decades past, political and/or religious; coffee shop and beer bar debates that ask the same old questions: Is this compatible with the vision of Sonoma County’s future? Is there, in fact, a clear vision of Sonoma County’s future? Does it matter? Or, in the case of the proposed casino, is any opposition just plain futile, tribal rights being what they are?

Many questions, all based on change – and chance. Win some, lose some. Like a casino.

THEN there’s the question of Johnson’s Beach. That’s a hot topic in Guerneville, the Russian River community that has steadfastly remained unincorporated while Sonoma County’s roster of municipalities has lengthened through the decades.

Johnson’s is Guerneville’s “downtown beach” and it is for sale. This news means lots of street corner discussions about who should buy it. What would be best for the town that wraps around it?

Johnson’s is a jewel. For a century and more it has been a swimming, wading, kayaking, sunbathing mecca for town and tourists in summer and a fishing hole in winter within an easy two blocks from the center of town. And recent news stories tell us that the 11 acres also offer 10 “original” cabins from the 1920s, a lodge with four bedrooms and an adjacent 38-tent campground. I‘ll bet it would be hard to find a permanent resident of the lower Russian River who doesn’t have an opinion about who should buy all this.

For many, just a mention of the place brings forth an image of Clare Harris at age 95, putting down his burger-flipper to pick up his bullhorn and holler “You in canoe number three. Get that life jacket on!”

Clare was the last of the Harris clan that bought the beach in 1967 (after owning the upstream Rio Nido resort for 30 of the River’s “Big Band” years.) Brothers Herb and Clare Harris ran Johnson’s for 48 years, until Herb died and Clare reluctantly admitted that it was getting tougher to fill those ice cream cones, rent inner tubes and umbrellas and keep up conversations about old times with customers. But old habits die hard and he was certainly not a stranger after it was sold six years ago to San Francisco businessmen and longtime Harris customers Nick Moore and Dan Poirier.

Now that the partners have announced their intent to sell, at a sale price of $3.7 million, speculation is abroad in the land. Supervisor Lynda Hopkins has asked her colleagues to talk about making it a county park. And Crista Luedtke, owner of the Boon Hotel and Spa and a trio of G’ville restaurants, is said to be interested.

I had hoped to chat with Clare about the news, but the 101-year-old dynamo has been slowed by a recent surgery. I talked with his wife Carla last week to learn that he was out of the hospital, in a Sebastopol care home on his way back to Guerneville — and hopefully to another summer making his watchful periodic visits to Johnson’s Beach.

It’s obvious that we are going to hear and read a whole lot more about Johnson’s before summer comes again.

But, meanwhile, the Rev. Robert V. Jones, longtime columnist for the Sonoma West newspaper, checked in on the subject last week, recalling all that spot has meant to River citizens, not only for its primary purposes but as the site of the Russian River Jazz Festival and, in “olden days” (think ‘50s and ‘60s) of the Pageant of Fire Mountain.

Bob was brave to take on this subject. The pageant was an annual after-Labor Day end-of-season spectacle with fireworks and a cast of egregiously fake Indigenous people, which would bring outrage from all corners of today’s world.

But Bob Jones is a full-disclosure guy, and he admits in his column that he and wife Arlene were cast as Prince Fleetfoot and Princess Pale Moon for a few of these spectacles. He writes that he had serious doubts about these portrayals 60 years ago and was so concerned he consulted with local Native American leaders.

“We were told,” he writes, “that our pageant was too corny to criticize …”

Ahh, times do alter. Resorts are bought and sold. The river, like daily life and politics, changes from season to season. And in the matter of Johnson’s Beach, we watch and wait.

SIGNS of our times: While we do our watching and waiting to see what happens in Guerneville, we can we take a moment to consider the growing problem of what might be called “Pandemic Debris.”

Almost anywhere we walk these days, we see them, disposable paper masks in white, blue or sometimes even pink, walked-over on sidewalks, driven over in the streets, lying in the gutters. Sometimes they are bigger and fancier, even the expensive N95s, hanging by an ear loop off shrubbery.

Unlike cigarette packs and empty plastic bottles, the mask debris is probably accidental in most cases. You leave ‘em hanging off one ear while you are walking alone down a deserted street and “whoosh,” a breeze comes up and they’re gone.

Too bad we can’t get money-back on used ones. There would definitely be people who would pick them up. Maybe the guy who goes up and down residential streets on the evening before “Garbage Day” to rescue discarded bottles from the recycle cans.

Just thinking. Not the worst problem we face. Not by a long shot.

THE CELLPHONE message gods, like the Greek variety that Homer tells of, are capricious and quick to strike.

That goddess we know as Autocorrect showed up a week or so ago on our block when Recology trucks missed our garbage cans. Their trucks passed down our one-block street twice, picking up compost and recyclables. But, at the end of the day, the garbage, just plain old smelly garbage, was still in its cans.

Neighbors consulted in the street, saying things to each other like “Do you still have your garbage, too?” and “What do we do?”

Fortunately there is an activist on our block and before moonrise, there was a message on all our cellphones intended to answer our questions.

But it was written in haste, which is the tragic flaw in all phone messages, and it told us Recology had been notified of overlooked cans. But our good neighbor sent it off without reading it and Autocorrect struck swiftly.

The character Oscar the Grouch, who some might refer to as Mister Garbage, and Anderson Cooper appear onstage at the 39th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, June 23, 2012 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
The character Oscar the Grouch, who some might refer to as Mister Garbage, and Anderson Cooper appear onstage at the 39th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, June 23, 2012 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

“Recology had Mister Garbage,” it said. And they had been notified.

Pleased to report a happy ending. With no mention of ransom, the perpetrators came quietly in the dark street and took Mister Garbage away. But don’t get too comfortable. Autocorrect still lurks.

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