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Authors: Rick Rivera

Stars Always Shine


Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe


Gary D. Keller

Managing Editor

Karen S. Van Hooft

Associate Editors

Barbara H. Firoozye

Thea S. Kuticka

Assistant Editor

Linda St. George Thurston


Bilingual Press

Hispanic Research Center

Arizona State University

PO Box 875303

Tempe, Arizona 85287-5303

(480) 965-3867


Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe

Tempe, Arizona

© 2001 by Bilingual Press

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission in writing, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

ISBN 978-1-931010-03-0

ISBN 978-1-939743-02-2 (ebook)

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rivera, Rick P.

Stars always shine / Rick Rivera.

p. cm.

ISBN 1-931010-03-X (alk. paper)

1. Mexican Americans—Fiction.    2. Male friendship—Fiction.    3. Illegal aliens—Fiction.    I. Title.

PS3568.I8314 S7 2001

813′.54—dc21                        2001025133


Cover and interior design by John Wincek, Aerocraft Charter Art Service

This is a work of fiction and verisimilitude. While characters, dialogues, and incidents might contain elements and aspects of abstract truth, they are not to be considered as real. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is, in truth, a coincidence.

For Jeannine—always for Jeannine
Also for Señor Balderas, who inspired this book
And yes, for you too, Michelle

Thanks, Mac


he land in Sonoma County, like its people, is unique. It is diverse and complex land with its flat and flush plains that buff into sinews of rippling and undulating hills, forming and hiding cells of diminutive valleys that house tiny settlements. There are mountain ridges with sharp points and steep sides, distinct as a Roman nose. A craggy, wind-worn coastline drops into the Pacific Ocean as the earth of the occident ends, and the world of the watery Orient begins many miles beyond.

There is a teeming fecundity that inhabits the land. It encourages and supports its people, who are educators, doctors, developers, lawyers, industrialists, resort operators, artisans, naturalists, people of the sea, survivalists, loggers, farmers, ranchers, and vintners. It is fertile ground that pushes up colonnades of stately, well-postured Redwood trees, pristine pine trees, thickly solid oak trees, buttonwood trees dangling their clusters of seeds like gaudy jewelry, and Jack London’s leaning and pungent eucalyptus trees. There are dense and deep ferns with serrated leaves reaching and twisting and coiling to coexist with the spiny vines of wild berries and forming a community with various feral plants and flowers. Poison oak melts into the vegetation, and most inhabitants know to beware leaves of three. Dancing wild grasses sway seductively in wide, open fields prompted by the susurrant music of a westerly ocean breeze, and they share their space with the flowery faces of dandelions, mustard plants, and poppies. Toward the coastal areas, pampas grass blooms in the fall, stretching its feathery white plumes skyward, protected by dense, leafy blades with edges as sharp as knives. Other botanical species are more disciplined. Uniformed rows of vineyards that produce wine grapes as light and dark as the people who walk this planet, and the fruit and elixir which make this county world renowned, stand at attention and are tended year round to ensure that what the world thirsts for is truly the best of what the earth has to offer. Many forms of garden growth thrive too; if not in the economic domain of man, then in the nutritious fullness of what nature intended. Orchards of succulent apples and plump plums pop from the buds and branches of their trees. Strawberries, blackberries, and delicate herbs flourish in the refined climate and dark, rich dirt. Fields of sweet-smelling grass hay and flaming red tomatoes grow vigorously and provide further evidence that this land is a nurturing parent.

The fauna is well represented with delegates from all points. Reclusive black bears, surreptitious mountain lions, bold wild boars, alert red-tailed hawks, sibilant rattlesnakes with their maracalike warnings, waddling possums, curious raccoons, and elegant deer reside in the underbrush and burrows and crannies that man has not yet figured out how to claim as his own. On the coast, in hard-to-reach beaches protected by buttresses and jags of cliffed rock, sea lions and their long-tusked sheiks recline and bark and flap their bodies to keep the sand fleas away. Sea otters float and bob on their backs, cracking clams on their bellies. During certain times of the year, sojourning pods of whales commute from pole to pole—some of the fancier and freer ones breaching high into the sky to show off their august bodies. And there are those whose lives depend upon the talents and sustenance of animals. Lobsters, crabs, and salmon are harvested all along the Sonoma coast. Ranchers raise capable dairy cows; breeders urge racehorses and show horses to exude their luxuriant and aristocratic blood; poultry people regulate and require eggs from legions of chickens; epicureans stuff geese and ducks to a fleshy richness; and others incarcerate calves for veal.

The land also has its faults—one of them as renowned as the wine. On the southwestern side of the county, extending north to south, the San Andreas fault lies in wait as it cuts its way from the ocean, grazing Valley Ford and Bodega Bay, slicing past Jenner, and reaching up into Fort Ross, Plantation, Stewart’s Point, and past the coastline of adjoining Mendocino County. Geologists claim that all of this coastline is potentially receptive to the inundation of tsunami waves should the earth quake its plates substantially. Inland, another notable fault, the Rodger’s Creek fault, lacerates from deep in the southern portion of the county near Sears Point and aims north for the bull’s-eye of the county seat, which is Santa Rosa. In Santa Rosa, two hospitals and countless homes of healthier folks reside directly on the Rodger’s Creek fault, and in that act alone, they live by faith and fate. Continuing in the same direction from there, the Healdsburg fault takes off and carves onward, running almost parallel to the main artery of human transportation, the Redwood Highway. As many as a dozen smaller, perhaps more timid, faults puncture and abrade the earth’s crust, and they are all characterized as “potentially” active or “possibly” active by those who study such things.

Where the land does not slash and slit, periodic floods saturate the earth. The average annual rainfall, much of it showering down during the first few months of the year, is forty to fifty inches, and the land can only soak up so much so fast. Much of the overflowing surge comes from the tortuous and striving Russian River that meets Sonoma County in its northernmost boundary, just east of Cloverdale, and slinks southward, eventually divining its way to the receiving ocean. Numerous hamlets have attached themselves to the river like a remora to a shark. And quite often the partnership is dissolved as cresting waters remind humans who belongs where. Where the land is flat, the floods soak the fertile ground and close roads to those who live in parts of the Alexander Valley, the Santa Rosa Plain, and the southeastern portion of the county where the Sonoma Creek bursts over its banks. Other flooding of biblical proportions is offered by the Petaluma River and the south fork of the Gualala River.

In northwestern Sonoma County where the land levels flat to rolling, segments of ranch and farmland divide the earth into square portions like graph paper, with the main highway serving as the axis that distributes workers, business people, and families into tributaries of smaller windier roads that lead to individual squares and rectangles of land. The sizes of the squares and rectangles vary. Much of it depends on how a legacy has been inherited and continued, or if financial success has been attained and country living and gentleman farming becomes a goal, or simply if God’s blessings have allowed for the fortunate few to live away from the humming, buzzing, pushing, pulling, crowded cacophony of city life.

Just off the center line which is the Redwood Highway, Sweet Wine Road runs parallel to the curvy influence of Miwok Creek as it marks west, then corners south, west again, abruptly south, and finally reaches for the horizon, angling west past productive farms, flowing dairies, abundant nurseries, welcoming wineries, private villas, and working ranches. On that last corner formed by south and west angles, just as Sweet Wine Road points to the setting sun and continues on to the ocean for another thirty miles, lies a sixty-acre parcel of land. And on this land rests StarRidge Ranch.


he dirt and gravel entrance draws into StarRidge Ranch off Sweet Wine Road for about fifty yards, where it is guarded by a haggard-looking, low-roofed house with loose and drooping shingles that look like bangs. It is a small, round house with its walls bulging from old age and the windowsills sagging like tired eyes. The windows are lidded with dull, tattered red cloths that might have at one time been curtains. The front door leans away from the hinged jamb and depends primarily on the lower hinge for its support. It is a loose tooth about to fall out.

The ranch road veers to the right and rises to meet a faded brown wooden ranch house sitting on a nub of ground and surrounded by a moat of dry lawns and redwood decking. Three sky-reaching pine trees stand side by side, shading the western exposure of the house. The ranch house is much bigger than the tired little guard house, and although it too needs a new roof, an enlivening coat of paint, water on the parched lawn, and some popped up and bowed boards replaced on the deck, it is the home of a landowner, a boss, a master.

The dusty course curves around the main house, and from that curve a tangent of road runs parallel to Sweet Wine Road lying alongside an antique-looking milk barn. It continues south through an open-mouthed hay barn and then proceeds on to fenced pastures of various sizes. In the midst of the fenced patches of pastures, another barn straddles the pathway dividing the ranch evenly and positioning the pastures on a sunrise side and a sunset side. Beyond this stall barn, more fenced sections dip toward Miwok Creek, which borders the eastern and southern sides of the ranch. To the west lies a much larger property—Sweet Milk Dairy—and in any direction, the closest neighbor, friend, or helper is a quarter of a mile away.

As they exited the Redwood Highway, Michelle and Plácido privately studied the segments of ranch and farmland, following the changing directions of Sweet Wine Road. Michelle and Plácido did not speak. Each pushed questions, answers, problems, and anticipations through the crevices of their brains. Michelle held the bottom of the steering wheel loosely as the murky brown truck seemed to drift along the still river of road. Plácido looked out at the open land and protective knolls, trees, and shrubs that hid the homes and lives of others. Beyond, he considered the diversity and complexity of the land.

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