Between the Lines

The Enchanted Orchard

I moved to the northern reaches of California’s Sonoma County, known as the Russian River, in 2008 and eventually settled in a house, built in 1930, in the midst of an ancient orchard.  Peaches, pears, plums, persimmons, walnuts, grapes, apples, figs—an incredible cornucopia, which gave without prompting, drew me to this enchanted orchard in a sunny enclave by a river—and led me to wonder who planted it, abandoned it, and why.  I asked around, but none of my white-trash neighbors had a clue: The hippies who took over what had once been San Francisco’s summer playground neither knew nor cared about the past.

But the clues were all around me, in the Russian Orthodox church up the road, its onion dome rising amid the redwoods clotted with wisteria; in the slanted crosses of the local cemetery; and in the Russian names of some of the neighborhood’s summer residents.

The church, I learned, is the Church of the Holy Virgin of Kazan.  I saw the priest only once, walking through the neighborhood with his long beard and black robe trailing wistfully in the wind, and went over one Sunday only to learn that the priest was gone, along with his flock: Services were discontinued long ago.  The trail petered out, and yet an aura of mystery hung over this haunted orchard—and the ghosts of a forgotten past begged to be disinterred.  There’s no better tool for such disinterring than Google, which...

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