Birds of a Feather, Flock Together

In the mid 1950’s my maternal grandparents bought 22 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains which included a portion of Soquel Creek.  They built a split-level one bedroom, one bath home on the steep slope facing the Creek.  I can’t even imagine what the property is worth today!  Up the hill was a slightly more level section upon which my grandfather built pigeon houses to keep 2600 mating pairs of pigeons. 

Once a week my grandmother drove over the mountain on the Old San Jose Road to deliver 180 to 200 squabs to a market in San Jose.  Flat wooden boxes filled with pigeons were stuffed in the open trunk of the purple suicide door Lincoln Continental.  I rode with her a number of times and I swear that all four tires rarely touched the road simultaneously as we traveled the two-lane mountainous road. 

As an adolescent, I helped to build these pigeon houses, and later as a teenager I helped to feed the birds and dug out the manure from underneath.  I assisted my dad to build a cable car so my grandfather could more easily go up the steep hill to the garden and pigeon houses.

Since the two-lane highway was on the opposite side of the creek from the house, a walking cable bridge was placed and attached to large redwood trees. It was scary to say the least to walk across in stormy weather.

I remember my Dad digging the water well on the property.  He put a belt around the steel rim on the back of a Model T to hoist the bucket in the air and drop it into the ground.  I remember the reddish-brown mud that oozed out when he dumped the bucket.

In the late 50’s a large storm took out the wood car bridge spanning the creek.  A cement bridge was poured over three large corrugated metal tubes, but It was impossable to cross in times of high-water.  Eventually a new bridge was built on very tall and sturdy cement abutments placed eight feet deep into the creek bed.  Three sets of laminated beams were placed from the cliff-like creek banks to the abutments and across. 

At age twelve I assisted my Dad in carrying the thick decking while balancing ourselves on the top edge of the beams.  At that point we were more than 35 feet above the rocks that lined the creek bed.  “Don’t let go” my father told me.  My grandfather was too afraid of heights to help with this part of the process. The creek provided many hours of entertainment as I constructed dams with the abundance of rocks, and explored the water spiders, salamanders and frogs amongst the pools of water.

What really stands out in my memory was the food that my grandmother prepared.  Fresh vegetables tasted so much better the canned ones.  Fresh picked lima beans sautéed in butter was one of my favorites.  A lone quince tree was up on top of the hill in the clearing and was used to make homemade quince jelly. Another favorite!   It was a fitting end to a hard day of work and play, to be served such wonderful meals.  We returned home with a gunnysack of pigeon manure that I used on my very small tomato garden.

Today I have a one-third acre garden, and have planted so many things that I have forgotten what I have planted till they start to produce.  Oh, look at the melons! Yes, I have several quince trees in multiple varieties.    We make quince pie, quince jam, quince jelly, quince sauce, quince syrup, and quince juice.  (Sounds like the multiple ways to prepare shrimp in the movie “Forest Gump”).  In addition, I have nearly 200 different varieties of fruit trees, and in the near future I will have chickens and sheep (my grandad had sheep too).

Birds of a Feather?  No, I don’t plan to build pigeon houses for hundreds of birds.  Today I have several acres along Francher creek and the birds I do see are dozens of kinds of Ducks, Osprey, Falcons, Red-Tailed Hawks, Doves, Pheasants, Quail, Canadian Geese, White Egrets, Gray Herons, Owls, and dozens more.  With my quince trees and large garden, I feel like I have brought a patch of my grandparent’s farmstead home with me.