My favorite curmudgeon once looked across the room from me and gave me a pearl of wisdom that I still cherish. From a comfortable chair in a cottage near the wide expanse of Lake Michigan, he smiled and remarked that there came a time in every vacation when it was time to go home. We left the next day, loading our bags into the several cars in which we had come and cautioning everyone to drive with care. At the very last moment, I looked back to see my favorite curmudgeon standing with his daughter and his bride of more than five decades. I lifted my hand. He nodded and raised his in response. Then he turned to go into the house.
I escaped to the coast for a few days, driving through Emeryville to stop for a blood draw. I got to Point Reyes Station by lunch and my lodging just before dinner. I dragged my bags around the house to the guest suite, regretting a somewhat careless study of the listing’s photographs. Inside my heart sank. One of the heavier loads had been groceries, and the place lacked a kitchen and even a decent microwave. The savings I had expected by staying farther south than I wanted to be would vanish when I totaled my restaurant bill. Careless reading, again; there it was, in the list of amenities, a bold strike through “kitchen”. Ah, well.
Still, it had a comfortable bed, a cozy couch, and a fine shower. It would do. I tucked my belongings in one corner, put my lunch leftovers in the fridge, and prowled around, searching for a coffee pot. I found what might have been the world’s first Keurig machine in the bathroom, with four or five pods and a couple of mugs in the undersink cabinet. Curiouser and curiouser.
I slept better than I do inland, I must admit. By six the next morning, I had planned my day around a pitstop at the coffee shop in town and my insatiable need to feel and smell and hear the ocean. I headed north, towards Jenner, stopping for a late breakfast at a Farm to Table place where they gave me ice to pack the half of their eggs Florentine that I could not eat. Onward, northward, and I made Ft. Ross by noon.
I tendered the nine dollar day pass (one dollar discount for seniors) and took possession of my Accessible Parking permit. My car knew the way and soon I found myself grasping my wooden walking stick and setting foot ahead of foot on the gravel road that took me to the very edge of the western coast. I eased myself down on the bench and closed my eyes. The Pacific murmured her welcome. My soul settled.
I snapped a few photos. I watched the seabirds glide below the small bluff, cruising across the beach and rising again to head toward the horizon. A real photographer stopped to chat, telling me that he always took his photos to “retirement communities, to share, and hear their stories about visiting the places that I’ve been”. I watched a woman walk her dog back and forth while her human companions cavorted on the wide lawn. For a few minutes, I lost myself in a pleasant daydream about pitching a yurt on the grounds and living out my days in solitude. Mostly, though, I just breathed.
Later, I walked into the fort itself. A group of visitors, accompanied by guides in period costumes, had just finished cooking their meal on the Fort’s mock-up of a long-ago outside stone oven. They wore serious looks and quietly talked among themselves. The children of the group walked rather than ran, and stopped to let me pass. One man stood on the steps of a small building, raising his camera to capture the scene. I could not for the life of me determine exactly what I beheld. For a mad moment, time seemed to warp over itself. I might have been watching an eighteenth-century church picnic.
Later, I stopped for what my mother might have called “a good dinner” at the Tides. I ordered a Charles Krug chardonnay, the only way I will tolerate white wine, and told the waiter that I am a vegetarian who eats seafood on the coast once or twice a year. A ray of light shone from his countenance as he assured me that he knew just what I should get: wild salmon, locally caught, and he knew just how the kitchen should be instructed to prepare it for me.
I found no fault with his recommendation, nor with the fare when he reverently set it in front of me. I dallied over the meal, watching the broad sweep of the seagulls outside the windows. Eventually, I made my way back to Point Reyes Station and the guest room at the back of my hostess’s house. My soul felt a little weary, but not because Jenner had failed to work its magic. The impending arrival of the inevitable hovered on the periphery. There comes a moment in every vacation, honey, when it’s time to go home. Yes, Jay; I know. And I feel the moment waiting.
But to my surprise, an unexpected and delightful delay presented itself. A lovely new friend texted me that she knew from my Facebook posts that I would be passing through Petaluma where she and her husband live. I must come to lunch! I must have a tour! I must visit! And so, in the morning, I packed my bags and dragged them back to the car. I made a little detour to see Tomales Bay one more time, and then turned east, where the good lady Francesca provided a personal, narrated exploration of Petaluma and then treated me to a fabulous lunch and yet another tolerable Chardonnay to ease the sting of no longer being able to tolerate my preferred Pinot Noir.
When I finally got on the road for home, I seemed to have eased past the fateful instant when one’s welcome faded and one found oneself hustled away. Instead the wonder of Northern California lingered as I drove. Its vineyards, its towering cedars, and its comfortable, easy people seemed to be raising their collective hands to bid me return when I could stay longer. I will, I whispered. I surely will. But for now, I whispered, I’m Delta-bound: back to my tiny house in a lush park on the banks of the San Joaquin, where the wind rises as night falls, and the flicker you see crossing the road might be a coyote or just a sheep that has lost its way.
It’s the nineteenth day of the one-hundred and third month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.