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The Diary of an I-House Livermore Cowboy

Each year during Spring Break, I-House residents have the opportunity to be placed with an American host family. The Spring Break is a week-long break at the University of California, Berkeley that gives students and faculty time to rest from school work. This year, I-House organized two trips to the cities of Livermore and Redding, which were supported by the Rotary Clubs around the Bay Area. The Rotary Club is a network of like-minded persons who come together to champion humane values. You can read more about the Rotary Club here: Over twelve residents participated in the trip to Livermore, which I was part of. 

Sweet fragrances cling to the hands of those who distribute roses. Chinese Proverb.

Above is a proverb that illustrates my experiences at Livermore. For the sake of this blog post, I will include at the beginning of each section a piece of my poetry for Livermore, California.

The day is blessed with clear skies

Out there sunny California we ride

Thru windy roads and sighing pines

To Livermore’s fine and quaint vineyards 

Morning ride to Livermore Valley

From my window, it seemed to me that the morning sun stood still. This is because the ephemeral blue clouds floated across the white horizon. With the sun in the background, it was scenic to look up there. Down at the Great Hall, I met some residents, and a few of them were friends. I had some chats with some and then it was time to meet our hosts. The Great Hall was warm as usual, but it was a little cold when we went out. 

Outside, by the parking lot, Nayeli Vivanco, the I-House VP of Robertson Center for Intercultural Leadership and Programs, welcomed and introduced our Rotary Club Livermore hosts who volunteered to pick up the residents. I met my host, Mr. Dennis for the first time. Mr. Dennis, a friendly and kind man, while driving explained how he came to California. I could feel excitement from him, as he told me his story. 

In roughly an hour we arrived at the Livermore City Meeting Hall. Alighting from our vehicles at about 9:15 a.m., we were received by Mariane and Evonne. While having a light breakfast, there were breakaway discussions, as people got to know each other. 

Sunshine is nature’s medicine and therapy

And beautiful Livermore has got a lot of it

Fine countryside, blanket of tree canopies

Listen to the rhythm of a small city heart beat

The Mayor and The Livermore Police Department

One thing I like about the city is that it has a small-town vibe and at the same time incorporates the benefits and sophistication of a big city as captured in downtown Livermore. The surrounding hills give it a picturesque view from all directions. 

It wasn’t long before the Mayor of Livermore came to welcome us. The Honorable John Marchand, stout with a well-groomed mustache and a beige cowboy hat, walked in to address us. He presented through a slideshow the history of Livermore. The city of Livermore was incorporated in 1869. He went on to talk about the budget, resources, local council, wineries, and opportunities in the city. We followed the Mayor to the council meeting hall. He showed us the official seal of the city and many other exciting things about Livermore. We took some pictures with the Mayor and then the Police Captain came to pick us up for a tour of the Police Department.  

While walking to the Police Department, we saw the Livermore Peace Monument. The Captain and Lieutenant Steve showed us around the station revealing that the station is one of the oldest in the Bay area. In the police conference room, the structure and organization of the department were shown on slides. They also showed a virtual simulation called Virtra used to train officers on how to respond to cases. Outside the building, the SWAT team illustrated how they operate equipment like robots when the need arises. The most interesting part was watching the K9 unit demonstrate with their guard dog. The last visit to the station was seeing the Mobile Command Post, which was literally offices in a big vehicle. 

Green hills rise and fall

To paint this quaint town

Birds and Noon wait for its call

Many hues, but one song

National Laboratory and The Woods Family Vineyard

By noon, we were on our way to the University of California laboratory. Driving through vast stretches of vineyards and wineries, I can’t help but admire this beautiful countryside. I hummed the song Country Roads, in my mind. It was the best song that can describe my Livermore experience. 

By 12:24 p.m. we arrived at the University of California laboratory created in 1952 and owned by the University of California, Davis. After checking in, we were ushered into a fine conference room. Dr. Monya took us through the history of the laboratory. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is one of the 17 Department of Energy national laboratories across the United States. Then, Dr. Joanna, after explaining how the laboratory works, took us to see the Discovery Center. At the Discovery Center, we played some games. 

The sun was getting hot when we went on tour to the Wood Family Vineyard’s winery where we had lunch. Toby, our host, took us around the winery. He told how the community works together to produce the wines. They outsource the grapes and sometimes the equipment as their vineyards can’t supply all the grapes. He explained how the grapes are grown and processed. The color of the wine is dependent on how long it stays in storage. The long process ends with the wine going to the barrel. The wines are then aged for about three years. 

“But white wine shouldn’t be stored for long.” He smilingly chimed in. When the wine is ready they are brought down and pumped into the tank. Samples are tested from the top and bottom of the tank until it all tastes the same. Then the bottling truck comes in for bottling. First, cases of wine go in from the front and jut out from the back, are labeled, and then stocked. After a while, it was time to go for some rest. The host families took their students back. 

Sing for me dear Livermore, a lullaby,

Let soft, the voices of birds and wind

Echo through the ancient hills and valley

Let again good dreams for a happy child

The O’Brien’s and Dinner at Alden Lane Nursery

The ride back to Dennis’ home wasn’t long. We discussed different things ranging from politics to geography. In the background of our ride, just over the horizon stood Mount Diablo and Brushy Pig Hills. The hills seemed to follow our vehicle as we drove. We drove through the Veteran Hospital, to see some deer or wild turkeys. We arrived in the quiet neighborhood and I met Adele. I was sleepy from the long ride and tiring tour, and after refreshment, I had to take a nap. At about 3 p.m. I went downstairs to chat with my hosts. I have learned a lot about American culture, and lifestyle, and about my hosts in a few hours. Adele made macaroni and cheese, which we took to the dinner event. 

When we arrived at 6 p.m. for dinner at Alden Lane’s Nursery, there were other hosts and students waiting. Lunch started when everyone was present. There were assorted dishes to choose from. After the exchange of pleasantries, the chairman of the Livermore Rotary Club, Uma Kale, was introduced. He proceeded to give a brief history of the Club. Founded in 1904 by Paul Harris, with the motto: ‘Service above self’, the Rotary Club is devoted to humanitarianism. Hence, they have expended resources to give back by awarding grants, scholarships, and fellowships. The students were then allowed to introduce themselves one after the other, thanking their hosts. The dinner ended. At the exit, I heard a lone frog croak into the moonlit night. It was cold out there and I was glad we were retiring for the day. Back home, my chat with the O’Brien’s continued. Adele prepared some dessert and I shared some ginger beer with Dennis. 

By degrees, the sun will sink down the horizon, 

And shadows of grapes and trees lengthened

The heat will decrease, but be calm, cowboys,

The perfect evening we dreamt of had come

One of chilly but soothing pure countryside air

I heard the happy neighing of a horse outside

It is time to ride off toward the golden sunset

One of Livermore’s Cowboys

The next morning after breakfast, we drove to a mini-park overlooking the dam and reservoir. The sunlight reflected in the murky waters of the reservoir. The hills stood ancient-like sentinels guarding the city of Livermore. The surrounding valley is covered with green grass. 

Rancher Paul explained the role of the lake – the reservoir which was built to keep flooding in check. He went on to tell the history of the ranch. The ranch was put together by the Patterson family in 1849. It takes 16 acres to sustain one cow for the year. The trees tend to grow where the waters collect. Hence we could see trees following a path carved by rushing water evidence of strong rainfall. Dennis had hinted that Mountain lions are shy of people and normally stay away from view. 

Paul took us on a ride through the windy road up the hills. The beautiful Crista Blanca hills came into view when we rode up a windy road on the serene hills. We also saw Mount Diablo from the zenith of the ranch. The pretty view opened up a vast green valley with trees dotting different points and yellow-dusted rocks. The land provides a habitat for millions of creatures, bugs, lizards, worms, grasses, flowers, etc. The diversity keeps animals and plants thriving. Closer to the ranch I could hear the horses neigh and the birds sing for those who cared to listen. After hours of riding horses, we then drove to Paul’s house for some refreshments. I am thankful to Chris and Lisa, for helping us ride or walk the horses. 

On our ride out of the ranch, I saw the horses swing their heads to look up, as the vibration from the car entourage approached. The ride down the hill was much easier, we followed the trail of dust in front. It’s so lovely up there and this memory will stay for a long time! It was time to return to Berkeley. 

But before that, Dennis had planned to take us to lunch. So we drove to Da Boccery for lunch. I, Shin, Sujin, and Dennis had some food and the ride back home began and ended at the same spot we started. I have learned a lot in a few days, thanks to International House management and the Livermore Rotary Club for organizing this. I will like to thank Dennis and Adele for their kindness and for welcoming me into their home. And to everyone who made this trip possible, I say thank you too.