Everything's coming up roses in Sutter CreekI

    A wonderful thought accompanied my awakening this morning, no doubt inspired by an unforgettable weekend nearly twenty years ago in historical Sutter Creek.  The thought, obviously the beginning of a love poem, lingered briefly on the edge of sleep, then quickly slithered into that vast infinity of morning dreams:

     "I will sing you rivers of magic and paint your tomorrows with love."

     With hummingbirds testing the wind and the sun casting a brilliant glaze over the town, we joined my late poet friend, Carol Gunther, on her First Annual Sutter Creek Rose Tour '98. The tour, an escape to yesterday's beauty, released my own pent-up poet.

     Tourists met at the historic Old Sutter Creek Grammar School Cultural Center where we were treated to a continental breakfast of homemade muffins, fresh fruit and beverages. In consideration of summer's arrival, there was plenty of bottled water to take along.

     The Cultural Center sat on a hill overlooking the picturesque town. From its windows visitors were treated to unique "takes" of the multi-leveled community, and the old schoolyard flaunted its emerald-green lawns. A giant elm provided enough shade to cool most of the grounds. If you listened carefully, you could hear the laughter of children from some long-ago recess.

     We embarked from this point, walking uphill. Near the top we paused for our first "rose sighting." A grey-haired woman welcomed us to her garden and proudly described the variety of roses there. The morning sun glinted against her home's corrugated tin roof, the kind that covered several of the dwellings there--perhaps to dispatch the infrequent foothill snowfalls.

     A "sale pending" sign greeted us at viewing site number two. Giant cabbage roses in hues of yellow, deep red and pink--named for their tight cabbage-like leaves--dominated these gardens. With colored pencils we entered our observations into the exquisitely designed journals provided by our tour guide.

     As our walk resumed, turn-of-the-century clapboard houses dominated the scene. Their gabled cornices, scalloped facades and white picket fences spoke to the town's legacy. Some porches were strewn with white wicker tables, chairs and baskets. 

     We came upon an abandoned home that, according to local legend, sat crumbling on a large lot because of a family dispute. The siblings, neither of whom resided in the town, could not agree upon the disposal of the property and sadly, a home with the potential for great beauty, slowly deteriorated.  Despite the abandonment, roses flourished there! And, cushioned by the dead grasses, peach, fig, and fruit-bearing mulberry trees survived, all enshrined by barbed wire.

     On Broad Street, the friendly home-owner spoke to us from behind a gate bearing this sign: "We can make it to the fence in 3 seconds, can you?" A Chinese Shar-Pei warily eyed the group, his shining grey coat covered with the characteristic folds of that fascinating breed. The owner knew our leader well and invited us into his park-like yard. The grounds featured cactus scattered generously among show quality roses. The trees, Liquid Amber, cedar, Japanese maple--many of which were planted by the owner 50 years ago--were tall, stately and beautiful. A soft, fuzzy Lamb's ear plant captured my eye.

     Just beyond Main Street, we climbed toward fashionable homes with well-tended gardens, gathering at tour's end for a group photo op. The event ended with a gourmet lunch, catered by Carol, an afternoon writing contest and a meditation period. 

     I've often returned to Sutter Creek and each time memories of my dear friend and her inimitable rose tours accompany my visits.