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Local book dives into current struggles of North Bay agriculture

Then she wrote another. Then she wrote a book.

For years, Patricia Damery wrote a letter once a month to the editor of the Napa Valley Register. She would have written more than one a month, but one a month was the limit imposed by the newspaper if one wanted it to see the light of day. Many of her letters, especially from 2017, 2018 and 2019, have been reprinted in "Fruits of Eden," Damery's first-person confessional narrative about her life and times in Napa, the world-famous region when it comes to grapes and wine.

Blooming lavender. Aleksei Potov photo.
Blooming lavender. Aleksei Potov photo.

With her husband, Donald Harms, an architect 16 years older than she, Damery grew lavender and grapes. Drought forced them to rip out their vineyard. Harms died Dec. 11 2021, after suffering for years from dementia that impacted their marriage and their agricultural endeavors. " Fruits of Eden" (Dancing Raven Press; $32) explores the twin subjects of dying and death without becoming morbid; plus, it traces an array of environmental disasters that have struck Napa and all of northern California, including fire, smoke, drought and flood. Damery doesn't wallow in misery, though she also doesn't go into a state of denial about climate change and the ravages of commercial development.

A Jungian analyst fascinated with dreams and their interpretation and with symbols and symbolism, she morphed into an environmental activist and a passionate letter writer when she witnessed the clear-cutting of oak groves to make way for grapes, the explosion of tourism, which altered the economy and the culture of the county, and the spread of tasting room and event centers.

Patricia Damery. Photo provided.
Patricia Damery. Photo provided.

Damery's letters show that she became increasingly agitated, angry and vocal about the troubles in her corner of Eden. Still, she reminds herself and readers that we must "find the space within ourselves to listen to the other when we disagree." She recalls that Carl Jung, the father of Jungian analysis and Jungian archetypes, stated, "it is only when we can hold the opposite view along with your own conscious view that we can reach a resolution." Hard to do, but well worth the effort, Damery suggests.

"Fruits of Eden" ventures into her public and political life with causes and with other concerned citizens. Along a parallel track, she plunges into her personal and private life, including her marriage, children and grandchildren. The book would make for valuable reading and even study by environmentalists wherever grapes are grown and wine is made, whether in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino or elsewhere. On vacation in Portugal, Damery witnessed the same monocropping, "corporate greed"— and "marketing fed on the romantic story of the past "— that she witnessed in her own neck of the woods. " Fruits of Eden" might also help families where a husband, a wife, or a parent is rapidly aging and afflicted with dementia. Damery writes with passion and clarity and remains level-headed when she sails into troubled waters.

Her letters to the Napa Valley Register provide models for those who want to write effectively to editors and publishers. The dozens of color photos that dot the book capture the beauty of Napa's hillsides, pastures, trees and forests. Eden hasn't totally vanished. Damery's sense of irony is instructive. The "pandemic and climate change have impacted the wine and hospitality industries far more profoundly than any of our political actions, humbling us all," she writes. She adds, "Disease occurs when we fall away from wholeness. Healing is a process of being restored to wholeness." Welcome advice any time of year.

Patricia Damery reads from her new book, Fruits of Eden, at Books & Letters, 14045 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville, CA. 95446. January 19, 2023 at 7 p.m. (707) 604-7197.

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