Let’s Go Flaneuring in Northern California

Today Let’s Go Flaneuring post is by Holly Newman and takes us through the vineyards in Woodbridge, North California.

The morning sun begins to peek through the fog to reveal the acres of  dormant grapevines growing on the street next to mine.  I love the winter quietness that fog brings, it makes me want to wrap the day around me like a cozy sweater. Most people dread the arrival of the “tule fog” and the hazardous driving that comes with it. Seems like a good excuse to stay home by the fire if at all possible.

Woodbridge is a prime wine grape growing region, but at this time of year, the rows upon rows of spectral winter vines appear quite dead.  It seems impossible that anything is alive inside this gnarled exterior.  For me they are a reminder of God’s equally steady and mysterious working within me, bringing life in due time.  I love watching for the first buds in spring,  an annual miracle.


“The Crush” is in early fall when the grapes are harvested by immense lighted machines which ply the neighborhood streets at all hours, picking the grapes at the precisely right moment of sweetness.  A few weeks later, I love to walk or drive through the vineyards when they are pungent with the fermentation of the grapes missed or dropped by the harvesters.

I enjoy taking my grandchildren to the nearby park, full of young parents with rambunctious children.  Mine fit right in!  Sometimes I notice a group of Pakistani women meeting together in the park too, with the commonality of mothers everywhere seeking friendship and a place for their children to play in the sunshine.  These women are a visible reminder of the changing richness of our culture here in Northern California.

Our small village sprouts from one corner of the bustling metropolis of Lodi, population 60,000, though in truth Woodbridge predates Lodi.  Apparently back in the day, a decision was made to put the train station in Lodi, forever dooming Woodbridge to its diminutive size.  Today the village boasts several good restaurants, the original toll bridge that Mr. Wood built over the Mokelumne River, and the aforementioned fields of grapes. Our wonderful soil and climate also support walnuts and Bing cherries, to our delight.

Our lives and moves have taken us to Dallas, Palo Alto, Boise, Los Angeles, and a considerable stint in Singapore. This town of General Mills workers, hi tech farmers, larger than average families, and great dedication to kids’ sports, seems like an idyllic throwback sometimes. A friend who lives in a more sophisticated university city nearby refers to ours as “the Midwest”, though we are in Northern California. I have little experience with the midwest, but this is the smallest town we’ve ever lived in. It’s rare to go somewhere without seeing someone you know, but it’s also nice not to know everyone you see.

From my backyard, I look out over huge live oaks which mark the path down to the Mokelumne River.  They are draped with wild grape vines fit for Tarzan, and elderberry bushes growing at their base.  In August I pick the tiny berries to make jam, a messy and painstaking but rewarding project.  One of my greatest treats, and indeed the very reason we bought this house, is this expanse of wilderness just beyond our backyard.  It reminds me of the “woods” of my childhood in the Deep South, and I have planted honeysuckle and dogwood to further the similarity.  It is a place of peace, contentment and thankfulness.

JH-7339Imperfect follower of Jesus, wife to the greatest guy in the world, Mom to five wonderful grown children, and happy Nana to their ten littles. Having grown up in Atlanta, I keep a love for all things Southern. I became an amateur cultural anthropologist during a significant time living in SE Asia and still get to travel the world on mission and for fun with my sweetheart.  I love asking questions, cooking for my family, helping women breastfeed, walking in the woods, eating biscuits, and having deep conversations about things that matter. On my wishlist are reading more, playing the piano, painting watercolor scenes, figuring out my awesome camera, and writing to soothe my soul. Find Holly on Facebook and Instagram: @hhnewmanmom or her blog: A Handful of Quietness