First Days in Bodega Bay

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September 9th 2008
Published: September 9th 2008
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Sept. 4, Thursday: Cliff Cottage, Bodega Bay, CA. My aunt and uncle, Patsy and Ed McKeown, treated us to a wonderful overnight in SF (well, Piedmont, across the bay and in the middle of Oakland). Patsy is my mother’s remaining sister and therefore particularly dear to me. But both of these folks in their 80’s are sharp as tacks, Ed is particularly great with maps and made sure we had the right ones with us. Better yet, they will probably join us one of these days for a “day in the country”, or on the coast, as the case may be. I’m a lucky kid to have such a large and wonderful family, McK’s among them.

So we’re here at last in our seaside aerie, and what a beautiful place to spend a couple of weeks. This little cottage is on a cliff above Wright’s Beach, a dangerous expanse subject to sleeper waves, monster waves that appear suddenly and will sweep away any unsuspecting wader or swimmer in a huge and powerful undertow. Pay attention! Never turn your back on the water! Don’t even approach the water! These are the warnings that … we will certainly observe! But the view - the sound of the crashing waves—aaahhh—although this area of the coast doesn’t seem to have a lot of tidepool activity, like starfish and anemones. We have seen some sea lion heads in the water, and one sunbathing on a rock in the distance.

A beautiful deck runs across the front of the house, complete with hot tub and huge grill. Hummingbirds dart through the flowers that cover the side fences and the cliff. The living room is big, with vaulted ceiling and huge windows facing the ocean. The kitchen is open and integrated into the living room, and next to it is a long dining room table with seating for about eight people. Two bedrooms each sleep a couple, two bathrooms share a large shower and … Mr. Steam. (We started the day with Mr. Steam. Some 5 minutes after turning the lever, presto - billows of steam appeared in the double shower. Once we verified that he works, we turned Mr. Steam off. We’ll save him for the cold, damp days that (we hear) are typical of this area.)

We arrived here yesterday evening after a drive from San Francisco punctuated by a 50 minute, $190 frantic dash through a Safeway. What food, and how much, do you buy without knowing for sure what awaits at the house? Per our official confirmation: “Guests should bring all edibles (including coffee and spices) …” Well - imagine my surprise at opening a large drawer FULL of herbs and spices. Apparently many others heeded this warning judging by 4 cinnamons, several gingers, 3 chilis, 3 curry, and even some rather surprisingly exotic choices: fennel, allspice, nutmeg, cloves. An interesting reflection of American cooking culture, is it not? When away from home, what will a cook be sure to bring?

Which brings me to: pop tarts. Of all the dribs and drabs of food left by former renters, Robb managed to home in real quick on the pop tarts. He actually ate one, cold. As the kids would say: Groooooss!

Car talk: I have quite a warm feeling toward our trusty 5 year old Civic hybrid. It’s carrying us everywhere with steady faithfulness and giving us pretty decent mileage to boot. Our best so far has been 42.79 in Utah; low, 28.73 after the long, fast climb through Nebraska (with a headwind) that ended in Wyoming as we turned for Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park. If, a la the Olympics, we throw out those extremes, it’s been 38-39. Not bad, eh, as it includes a lot of mountain driving. We’ve paid a low of $3.59 and a high (today on the coast) of $4.35/gal (ouch). Most places it’s been between $3.69-89.

Sept. 5, Friday: Today was another spectacularly clear and hot day - very unusual for this normally foggy coast, so we took advantage of it by driving down to Pt. Reyes National Seashore, a large and very beautiful wild segment of coast south of here. Hwy 1 took us on a twisty, up and down ride through coastline on the right and huge brown hills on the left populated by cattle ranches. It amazes me to see such wide open space so near the ocean, even if it is privately owned. The ranches are very large because the land is so dry; cattle look like little black dots on the sides or tops of the hills, which in places rise to several hundred feet. (Are the cows here like those in the Alps? With two longer legs on the downside, shorter on the up?) Those hills drop dramatically right to the shore in many places, which is why Hwy 1 is so narrow and devious in route and hilly - trying to get around all the obstacles.

We walked down through a narrow canyon to one of the beaches in the park. The forces of erosion were in your face; the sheer sandstone cliffs showed exactly where waves had bashed and gouged them - you can see the beach being created and even crumble some of the sandstone with your hands.

Robb here, to talk about the amazing California feature that is the San Andreas fault system. Check out the map of Point Reyes National Seashore. The park warden told me that there are two creeks that run parallel to each other, and they are only about 50 yards apart. Pine Gulch Creek runs southeast into Bolinas Lagoon, and Olima Creek runs northwest into Tomales Bay. In other words, they run in opposite directions. I’m betting you can’t find geography like this in many other places in the world.

Barbara again: The economy here is largely tourism. The fishing industry is on life support. The salmon are almost completely gone and, as has hit the national news, salmon fishing this year is forbidden lest the few remaining stock be completely wiped out forever. I saw a photograph today of a catch from early in the 1900s - a huge room full of enormous salmon up to the knees of the fishermen raking them around. Besides good old over-fishing, another phenomenon has affected both salmon and seagull reproduction. For several years now, spring winds that blow warm water away, and allow an upwelling of cold waters rich with marine life, have not appeared. The krill and other such creatures on the bottom of the food chain have remained far down and not available to salmon, birds, and the lower sea creatures that also feed on them. This could be a global warming phenomenon, but even if it’s not, global warming will gradually make its own contribution disturbing this age-old balance.

Because of the salmon “drought”, the traditional “salmon BBQ” here on Sept. 13 has turned into an “albacore BBQ” - something I find impossible to imagine. Those two words are clearly mutually exclusive. We’ll miss it - going down to San Fran that day to a Chihuly exhibit with my aunt and cousin. Darn…

Sept. 6, Saturday: We drove the long way around, along the Russian River, to Petaluma. Hot hot hot! We went because (1) the city was holding Art in the Park, and (2) the city is known for a lot of old architecture downtown - for some reason, largely untouched by the 1906 earthquake. The first event - very disappointing due to mostly mediocre art and very few people (did I say it was HOT?). The Carnegie library, dated 1881 and in a Greek revival style, was my favorite sight in town. It’s now a museum, a hodgepodge of stuff without a central theme, but the docent bent Robb’s ear about how much she loves Chicago! We strolled around a bit after lunch, but went to the movies to escape … the heat. Did I mention it was HOT? The new Woody Allen flick - Vicky, etc. etc. We really liked it! Then out into the inferno where we found a guy playing old-timey piano in a mall next to the theater - that was fun!

Sept. 7, Sunday: The fog has returned to shroud the coast and mute the sound of the breakers. But only a mile or less inland - sun and blue sky. The fog is bringing relief to the terrific heat inland of past days and I’m sure millions of people are heaving sighs of relief.

Robb hiked four miles this morning on a trail that begins just north of our little house, travels along the cliff-tops, and ends four miles later at a spectacular beach. I stayed back and finally finished my book, a happy achievement. (River Horse, Wm Least Heat Moon - an account of a journey across the U.S. via water. The author is a walking encyclopedia, dictionary, and poet, and I highly recommend it to those who love history, travel, and literature.)

I met Robb, and after lunch at a nice little café inland, we headed for another hike together, this one a 5+ miler from inland all the way to a beach on the coast. Two highlights were a beautifully timeless stand of redwoods, and a wonderful view of the coast from on high, with its bank of fog over little Jenner and the mouth of the Russian River there - giving way gradually to brilliant sun and blue sky. We watched the fog creep back inland on our hike back. Not an easy hike for my wobbly ankles and left knee, given some steep up and, especially, down. But the hot tub we jumped into back home made up for it - and how!

Pop tarts redux: From a run through a little country store, we now know that there are organic pop tarts! Only they’re called “toaster pastries”, and I’m sure they’re so much better for you than the other kind!!

Are you people wondering by now whether we’re going to ride bikes - or when? Patience! I have no desire to ride a bike on Hwy 1 or anywhere near it, although we have indeed seen a lot of bicyclers on it. But they’re mostly the spandex lot - tall, long and lean, all head-down-ass-up and reeeaaaaally serious. Hwy 1 is too narrow, twisty, windy, up and downy, and no shoulder-y. No thanks! We do have our eye on a loop near Sebastopol that includes a rails-to-trails path; we’ll keep you posted.

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