Sonoma’s Free Dirt and Other Offerings

“Free dirt.” That’s how the sign reads on Hwy. 12. Gotta love it: Simple, direct and perhaps even effective. I wouldn’t know seeing as I’m dealing with my own dirt at present, so I haven’t called to ask. However, the sign is something of a roadside Zen koan.

Is it intended to read “Free dirt” in the way we think “Free beer?” or is it a plea to release dirt from the clutches of captivity? For that matter do they mean “dirt” as in soiling substance as in mud or earth, or dirt as in gossip and scandal? If the latter is the case, they may be angling to put me out of business since as me and my confederates have moved to a paid-content model. This dirt may be cheap but it ain’t free (somehow “Cheap Dirt” doesn’t have the same ring, thought “Dirt Cheap” kind of does).

In wine-savvy Sonoma, however, one could say the marketing genius behind the “Free Dirt” campaign is missing an opportunity. It seems that “Free Terroir,” might move the merchandise a bit quicker, terroir, of course, being the special characteristics geography bestows upon the farming of grapes. In fact, a more entrepreneurial type might ascribe a value a notch or two above “free” to the pile of a 100 percent pure, Sonoma Valley appellation but then anyone rich enough to give away their dirt for free likely finds generosity its own reward.

Of course, the notion of an “Instant Vineyard Kit” has long-intrigued me. Perhaps we could bag the dirt and sell handfuls of Sonoma on the open market. My fear is that Napa would dilute the biz with their own bag o’ dirt scheme, which they would inevitably class up with twigs and “organic vermi-hummus,” otherwise known as “worm poop.” Worse yet would be the French knock-off, “Sac de Terre,” which just sounds inherently classier than our “Sonoma Dirt Bag.”

Dirt isn’t the only object one can acquire free on Sonoma’s west side. There’s a practice in the Springs in which I recently participated while divesting my household of some worldly possessions (I’m not going Buddhist – I don’t have the stomach for it, just the belly).

Drag any used object outside one’s house, tag it “Free” and watch it disappear. It’s like magic or quantum physics. It’s like a wormhole opens and swallows up anything marked “free” and located within a few feet of a curb. A lounge chair, a rug and an Edward Hopper print all disappeared from my curb within minutes. The system isn’t infallible, however – the lounge chair returned a day later. This, I’m assuming was not of its own volition and I couldn’t help but feel some social code had been violated. Then, just as mysteriously, the chair disappeared again.

Now, there’s either a glitch with the laws of the universe or someone waffled on their interior decorating choices and someone else hasn’t – or, at least, hasn’t yet. I’m not convinced that the wayfaring lounge chair won’t be sent on a return trip. If it does reappear, I might come to assume its handlers have misapprehended the concept of “free” as remarked upon above.

Perhaps they think they’re helping the chair enjoy its newfound freedom by touring it around the Sonoma countryside. Maybe it visited the free dirt pile where together they discussed the finer points of the esprit de liberté. Or perhaps the chair and pile are plotting. I wouldn’t put it passed that damn chair to engage in a conspiracy to liberate its brethren of objects. Sort of gives new meaning to the phrase “the grand scheme of things” doesn’t it?

Alas, getting from free dirt to pay dirt is a dirty job but someone has to do it.

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