A Spark of Madness

A snapshot of a life lived in reckless abandon.

Tobe Sheldon

Tobe Sheldon: The Voice of Les Lunes, 44 years old.

“Fear is a powerful motivator.” Ironically my title at Sheldon Wines is Fearless Leader but it is not being fearless that drives me forward, but that there cannot be success without moving forward. If something terrifies me, I am destined to attempt it. In my 20’s it was basic mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing, white water kayaking, traveling alone and falling in love. In my 30’s it was career choices, leaping into business endeavors where my only qualification was the desire to succeed. Now, in my 40’s it is the unwrapping of my inner self offered up for display. The act of writing is very personal and requires a certain amount of vulnerability. It must be honest and authentic to evoke emotion and sway the reader. “It must be raw or it is crap.”

Being an only child growing up in a small mountain town I cultivated a wild imagination. I spent long days alone in the summer hiking the hillsides with my dog or riding my horse. When I wasn’t out in the bramble I was holed up somewhere reading or writing. I wrote my first book “How Mr. Bunny met Mrs. Bunny”, when I was five years old. Years later I ran across it during one of my frequent moves, the illustrations were pretty good, but what struck me was that the writing was pretty clever for a five year old. Mind you I have no memory of writing it, so I was a stranger regarding its quality. It is interesting for me to see the glimpses of my childhood through the artifacts that remain. My childhood comes to me in snapshots and emotions, but a lot of the narrative, for reasons unknown, has been lost or locked away.

The snow was swirling down in fat flakes, I put the last box in the back of the truck and tarped it down. “Wildflowers can grow anywhere.” Lara said with a hug. It was December of 1999 and after 11 years of wanderlust I was heading home to California. I climbed into the cab of the truck and gave my old pointer Rumba a scratch behind the ears and set out for the long drive to Monterey. The storm outside had turned into the deadly quiet of a whiteout. Creeping down the interstate at 10 miles an hour I had plenty of time to contemplate the contrast of my physical world to the winds of change raging inside me; leaving behind a life to chase something that I couldn’t quite see but felt was waiting for me. I had fallen in love four times during my decade in Idaho, first with Geology and then with a series of men, each of which would play a role in teaching me how to let go of love to follow dreams. “Wildflowers can grow anywhere.” A mantra for the future and the title to my memoirs should I ever write them.

In the spring of 1997 we set out before dawn, our packs are loaded with crampons, ice axes, ski boots and skis. We climb atop our mountain bikes, awkwardly peddling through the meadow with skis sticking out like a-frame’s towards the peak we intend to ski today, if we succeed it will be the first time it has been done in local history. There are four of us. I am the only woman. We ride our bikes as far as we can, carrying them over fallen trees and forging a fast running river of fresh snow melt by carrying them over our heads. The icy water comes up to my armpits and I am almost swept away. When we reach snow line we ditch our bikes and don crampons; moving slowly up the steep slope with our ice axes we crest the summit, but there is only enough room for one person at a time. The swatch of snow we are going to ski is narrow and very steep and there is no shortage of hazards; there is a scree pile to our left that terminates in a cliff and a wall of rock to our right. To fall likely means death, so naturally I fall. The hard packed snow is icy and I’m moving too quickly to self arrest. In a moment of terrified clarity, I dig in my ski poles when I hit the rocky scree field and stop before tumbling over the edge. Shaking off the adrenaline we continue down the slope, ending up in a narrow gorge with the river rushing beneath us. We ski quickly from side to side so we don’t break through the ice layer, but our progress is halted when we reach a waterfall. Here clutching the wet rocks on the side of a cliff we take off our skis and begin the climb down to the riverbank. The waterfall is crashing down around us onto the sharp protruding rocks below. It is here that I want to break down and cry, but I know the only way home is down the rock face, so I do what needs to be done. When we are safe on the riverbank we begin our trek back to the bikes, back across the river, over the fallen trees and across the meadow. It is dark when we return to the parking lot. The memory of this day will give me strength in the years to come.

It is a full lunar eclipse the night of my 30th birthday, and my mother and I are celebrating on Maui. We spend the day at the Seven Sacred Pools and exploring the bamboo forests. The day is full of magic and I imagine pixies and menehune frolicking just at the periphery of sight. The moon is massive and full and we sit on the beach, waiting for the shadow that will shroud it. I whisper to the moon that I am ready; ready for the next big adventure, ready for love. We go to a luau and watch the male hula dancers, I am mesmerized and laughingly say ‘I am going to marry a Hawaiian chef.’ It is the perfect week. What follows will be a story I tell often over the years. There was a shift in my universe the night of the eclipse that set me on an auspicious path. In the following six months I go from working as a flight attendant on private jets, to Director of Operations of an aircraft management company, to working undercover for said company to see who was embezzling money from their Texas office (it was the brother-in law), to meeting a boy in a wine bar that is from Hawaii and loves to cook.

In December of 2000, the pilot I am working with takes me to Cepage wine bar in Carmel. Dylan is behind the bar, energetic and a little kooky, he’s telling stories and pouring me some delicious Champagne followed by Chateauneuf du Pape. I start coming to the wine bar alone to listen to him talk. Sipping wine lowers my defenses and one night I share how when I was 20 I was engaged to the pilot, but instead of getting married I hopped on a plane to Europe. I divulge that I am planning on selling what little I have to travel; that I want to work in wineries overseas and write the great American novel. He tells me he has just returned from working at Howard Park Winery in Australia. He thinks my travel plans are a great idea. I give him a kiss, and five weeks later we are engaged. We sell what little we own to go make wine in New Zealand, and we get married there. We follow the season to France to learn at the feet of a fourteenth generation winemaker. Ten months and fourteen countries later we arrive home. We have ten thousand dollars in credit card debt, sixty dollars in cash, no car, no jobs and no home. As we wait for our luggage I turn to him and say “Let’s just start our own winery.” And so we do. The winery adventure is underway. The writing will have to wait.

The California Wine Country Marathon in Healdsburg, California happens mid-October every year. Most years we are still knee deep in grapes, literally, we still foot stomp ‘I Love Lucy’ style. In 2011 I was invited to pour wine at the event and they would give me a complimentary bib if I wanted to run it.  I excitedly agreed.  It was May and I was running about five miles a day, five days a week, so there was plenty of time to train. Come mid-August a series of events knocked me out of my running regimen, that is, I stopped running completely. Then came the madness of harvest, and the ceaseless toil to bring in the grapes. Before I knew it the marathon had arrived. I didn’t really have time to pour at the event. Run it? That was absurd, I hadn’t run since August! The night before the race I am drinking Champagne and decide ‘What the hell, I’m just going to run it.’ I get a few hours of sleep, drink some coffee and run 26.2 miles. The first 18 miles were almost effortless and I marveled at the relative ease of it and then from one step to the next every single bone and muscle in my body cried out, and from that point on every step to the finish line was an act of sheer will. Running and writing aren’t so different, sometimes the words flow, other times each one must be wrenched from you.

I was hit by a drunk driver the summer of 2014, it was Friday the 13th and a Supermoon, and my sort of madness sees omens in such random things. He was doing whippets while driving.  For those of you that didn’t have a wild youth, whippets are inhaled nitrous oxide. They got their name from cool whip canisters that use the gas to form those nice swirls on your Thanksgiving pie, and what nitrous does is knock you out. You shouldn’t even stand up while huffing nitrous, let alone drive. I had just enough time to avoid it being a head on collision; he slammed into my drivers side sending me spinning into a tree while he went airborne crashing into the car behind me. I survived the crash without much physical damage but the young man taking risks died at the scene. This is one of those “come to Jesus” moments (even if you don’t believe in such things) where you take a good hard look at your life and wonder what you would regret not having done if your life was cut short. Mine is that I never got around to pursuing my writing in a serious sense. Well, I am now.

My favorite Les Lunes

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