Our 15 minutes of Fame

Newspaper Article

This article appeared in the Neighbors Section of the Sacramento Bee on September 12, 1996 Written by Molly Kinetz, Neighbors staff writer, picture by Chris Crewell, staff photographer.
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Where do you start? With the bass that eat worms out of Sheri Minkner’s hand? Or the dog that climbs a ladder and "rescues" a baby doll when Minkner yells "fire?" Or the same dog "setting" a volleyball with its nose and then dribbling it down the yard?
Or is it the lumbering turkey, 6 years old, broken-winged and so heavy he nearly needs a cane to walk? But he’s tame and lets visitors pet his feathers and scratch under his chin. His mate is more choosy about who pets her but is putty in the hands of Sheri.
Sheri has the odd ability to tell which turkey is calling her while she visits with the geese.
Then there are the crested ducks, with bouffant feather "do’s," waddling and chattering as they roam the yard in groups, sounding for all the world as if they are comparing notes on the hairdressers and sprays used to create their coiffures.
Or perhaps the heart of the matter is 3 acres of kiwi vines bearing incredible clusters of fruit, each the size of a goose eggs, and they’re not even near their full growth, according to Lou Minkner, keeper of the kiwis.
Lou wasn’t always a kiwi man. For 28 years he was a firefighter, driving an engine for the American River Fire District. Sheri was, well, a little bit of everything, from a dispatcher and clerk for the autotheft division of the California Highway Patrol to her current job telecommuting as a typesetter for an East Coast publisher.
For 20 years, since they bought the 10-acre spread, she and Lou have slowly added creatures and comforts to their rural Lincoln-area home.
In November, Lou said, -- his attention now focused on kiwis, no combustion – the fruits balloon with sugar. That’s when he harvests them for sale to folks who happen to drive down Burnett Road and see his sign, No. 44 on the 49er Fruit Trail.
Even then, the fruit is not fully ripe. To vine ripen completely would be to risk the lot to an early frost. But a few days in a bag with a banana or apple will ripen the fruit, he said.
The kiwi sales started as a few transactions with neighbors but now the Minkners take orders and sell to wholesalers.
Standing under a raised, horizontal trellis that supports the heavily laden kiwi vines, Lou talked about the demise of kiwi ranches in Placer County, the work it takes to trim the vines and the deer who used to rest – but not eat – in the cool refuge provided by the overhanging leaves.
Multiple mountain lion sightings may explain the absence of deer this year, he said, and subsidized kiwi farms overseas may explain why fewer and grown in the county these days.
In November, Sheri’s social life picks up. That’s when she emerges from her eight-hour days in her home office, where she earns a living typesetting math books. November is when people drive up to the house looking for the kiwis and find this odd paradise.
It’s when she hosts groups of disabled children and adults – the ranch is wheelchair accessible – to introduce them to Pepper, the talented Australian Shepherd who not only climbs ladders but also puts cans in the garbage, answers the phone and says his prayers.
He also herds the geese and ducks into their pens at night and closes the gate.
The visitors meet the nameless* lumbering turkey and the pygmy goats, who account for the turkey’s broken wing and another of Pepper’s talent: When one of the goats was brought to the Minkners as a starving kid, Pepper took over the task of bottle-feeding the little fellow.
Sheri once was a dog trainer. That was after she worked for the Highway Patrol. Visitors can admire, and even recognize, some of the crested ducks. Some have commented that the feathery styles make them look like Southern preachers, with slightly receding hairlines leading into shellacked poofs. Others see their uncles or other relatives with non-90’s hairstyles.
Visitors also can meet Brew, a 34-year-old retired barrel-racing horse. Sheri was a barrel-racer at one time, too. "Brew could still do it," Sheri said confidently. "He just wouldn’t be able to walk the next day. Neither would I."
Visitors walk on a soft carpet of molted feathers, some white and delicate from the geese, some heavier and dark from the turkeys. Paths lined with stone and plastic creatures, from frogs to alligators to geese, lead in irregular patterns among pens of various sizes and materials.
Sheri and Lou built the structures themselves, and Sheri is a little apologetic about their eclectic appearance. "I don’t know about stretching wire or putting in corner posts," she said. "If a gate falls over when you open it, I built it."
It takes her about an hour each day to do the yard work. But "don’t ask how many hours I spend wandering the yard and playing with the animals," she said.
Her latest project is saving turtles destined for soup or more exotic culinary creations. It all started when Lou visited San Francisco a few months back and noticed a barrel of live turtles clambering all over each other, awaiting a buyer in an Asian grocery store.
Sheri sent Lou back to San Franciso, a trip he makes regularly now so Sheri can sell the 10-inch red-eared sliders – at cost – to people who own ponds.
Nothing, not the bass, the Sebastopol curly feathered geese, not the turtles, not the 20-pound catfish that roil the pond at feeding time, leaves this place for the dinner table or other unnatural forms of death.
The Minkners used to have Mallard ducks but buyers asked how the birds tasted or mentioned using them to train their hunting dogs. As attrition reduced the number of ducks – even here creatures die or fly away – they were not replaced. No fishing is allowed in the heavily populated pond and the ducks and geese are chosen for their irresistible charm, which Sheri views as armor against ending up on a dinner plate.
"The buyers pay enough and (the birds) are too cute," she said. "How can you eat something with a hat on its head?" Her ducklings and goslings swim serenely in ponds throughout the county.
She herself has trouble at Thanksgiving, now that she has a personal relationship with turkeys, but her mother accommodates her sensibilities by carving the bird in the kitchen.
The kiwis aren’t ripe yet; the turkey is molting and has big blue bare splotches on his back, the bass aren’t ready to be hand-fed yet; the leaves aren’t swept; but come November, paradise will again be found in the hinterlands of Lincoln. _____________ *Note from me about the "nameless" turkey in the story. That was an error on the newspaper's part. Our sweet old turkey most certainly DID have a name -- He was affectionately known as "Horrible Hulk." Dear old Hulk joined the rest of my special angels when he was called to the Rainbow Bridge in May, 1998 at the ripe old age (for a turkey) of 9 years. He is sadly missed, by us and by all the adults and children who came to visit him over the years. He loved to strut & pose for photographers but he was always willing to stand still long enough for a small hand to reach out and pat his head. Sheri Email to: sheri@californiacountryranch.com