In the first quarter of this year a new-ish married couple, a family of four and me and the dudes migrated to a parcel of land on the Mesa in Bolinas. We didn’t know each other. We didn’t know our landlords (my fairy godparents). We knew nothing about this town.
To say this town is quirky, as I’ve done in the past, is a superficial assessment. To say it’s magical is an understatement. Although if you talk to some in Stinson Beach they have a much different opinion.
My first trip to Bolinas was delayed for months after falling in love with West Marin, and Stinson Beach in particular. Some in Stinson Beach didn’t make Bolinas seem all that attractive. Maybe even a must avoid rather than a must see. Phrases like scabies laden meth heads was kind of a turn-off for me.
I can’t speak for you.
Then, one day, the dudes and I had an hour to kill and decided to find the town hidden at the south end of the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Several weeks later I was moving boxes into a cottage built by my Fairy Godparents. Prior to my move-in, Annette and Frankie (I finally named the first witch and her husband) had migrated here from New York City. He, an aspiring filmmaker, she a lover of kitchens, farms and the magic made when the two get to play under the guidance of fairy-like hands and an inspired spirit. She has a way with a camera, too.
They are artists, without angst. And as a couple, they are built to last. Frankie and Annette have true love.
After the dudes and I settled in, the final house in our private village in an unincorporated, Mayor-less, private town, welcomed a family of four from New England. Like Frankie and Annette, Fred and Ginger (witch 2) felt drawn to this sloping land that overlooks the Bolinas Lagoon and the crescent curve of Stinson Beach. Their journey, like mine, is one of a desire to claim, to own, to embrace their raison d’être. To leave behind comforting but constricting habits and patterns and embrace a return to self, a return to our intended path. One that is illuminated by an inner fire made robust through a commitment to self-love and self-honesty. Their children, the same ages as the dudes, are fireflies full of light and power and knowing. They bonded with the dudes in seconds, creating their own little private club within a private village within a private town.
Three families, outsiders, ended their quest to find a home like little waves to shore, one after the other, landing in Bolinas. Often, when we meet amidst the quaint buildings that dot The Calmmune, we look at each other and laugh, understanding without the need for words to explain it, that we came here together, that we were meant to be together. Nine people perfectly suited to each other. Divine providence. (That makes me think of the man with whom I swam from Alcatraz to shore.)
The love we share for each other was, at least for me, nearly instantaneous.
Late June and early July had us all traveling east at various times. I returned to Bolinas in time to celebrate the 4th of July, a holiday that is honored hard in these parts. Kicked off by a tug of war, also known as The Pull, between Bo and Stinson Beach.
Stinson Beach has been described as the Hamptons of Northern California. I’ve spent quite a number of 36 hour days in the Hamptons after college. Stinson Beach is not the Hamptons in any way other than it’s a coastal oriented town in the United States. Stinson is a perfectly sized, perfectly NoCal beach town. Yes, it’s an escape to town. And a destination for people from all over the world. Since moving to West Marin I’ve met people from England, Sweden, China, Brazil, Canada, Hungary, Denmark and France – and I don’t go out much. But it’s also home to many.
In the four months I’ve lived here I’ve noticed a certain common trait among those who call Stinson Beach home. Even if they don’t act it or look it, they are happy. Really happy. Their life may not be exactly as they want it to be, but if you asked them if they are happy, they will look around at nature and feel it necessary to say yes, because they are blessed to be here. They know deeply within it’s a bewitching place, made even more enchanting by a wilderness that meets an ocean where two massive tectonic plates dance and argue and kiss again.
If Stinson has full time residents, Bolinas has full time characters. Hippies, artists, defenders, lovers, inhabitants, natives, souls, gypsies, virtuosos, bohemians, farmers, locals.
I’ve been here four months and I haven’t seen a scabies laden meth head yet.
If ever there was a day to see one it would have been the 4th of July.
Outside of the Stinson Beach Market, three weeks before the tug of war, I met a man who, like receiving an encrypted note from a secret agent, directed me to a woman who may have been in possession of the sign up sheet for the big event. He advised me to find her immediately or my small and hidden window of opportunity would be lost. Then he ducked his head into his trench coat and as he carried away his silver briefcase said:
Try the market. Sign up. But know that even if you are on the list you may not get picked.
Great. Just like it was in second grade when kickball teams were picked. Although this time around I’m quite confident in my abilities to be a strong competitor, but also aware that I am still an outsider. The next day I went to the market to inquire about the sign up sheet and was directed to Smiley’s.
Smiley’s is part saloon, part hotel, part town hall and they have a copier. So that makes them part Staples. I had not stepped inside and had expected I would only do so in the company of a friend. There have been many bars I have ventured into alone with zero trepidation. This one was different. The door is always open. The only thing visible inside, darkness. I’ve glanced in a hundred times and caught a glimpse of nothing.
At least the windows aren’t painted black now, like they were during prohibition when only one was left clear – so you could see the barber chair and paraphernalia suited to a barber shop. Of course, this was just a pass through room on your way to a hard-earned cocktail. Smiley’s is one of a handful of saloons in the state of California that have remained in existence for over 100 years. Hidden in a hamlet that sits near the end of a road that leads only to the ocean, with barely enough room to do a K turn should you venture down to the end of Wharf, it was able to go unnoticed and be much loved.
For two seconds I didn’t want to go in. I thought I’d find another way to get on The List. And then I said, bag that. I’m goin’ in. Four men sat at the bar, one looked like Rumpelstiltskin. You could go either way with this place – Hotel California or Friendly Neighborhood Pub. I haven’t yet made a choice. The bartender was MIA, of course, so I was gifted the opportunity of standing at the bar alone. I blended in like a redhead in Tokyo. Although I have to assume by now that word is out that I am a newbie resident.
A few minutes later I heard, Good morning! (An odd greeting for 6PM.) I was just getting my breakfast.
The bartender/surf instructor went behind the bar, flashing a warm smile and emitting the energy that seems to envelope so many here. Genuine. Confident. Not aloof, not overly sweet, not disengaged. Present and honest. And not particularly interested in whether or not you happen to like them.
Within moments I had given him my number so he could track down The List and then track me down. He checked my biceps and anointed me fit for war. Holy competition, they take this stuff seriously! And then he offered to give me stand up paddling lessons. I will take him up on that, one day. The call didn’t come before I was able to find the list the day before I departed for the east. I found it in the possession of the anchor, the woman who owns Bobolicious, a wonderful smoothie, etc. store that also sells a great gluten free cake. She hails from the east, and has that very same Bo energy. I was relieved to have finally accomplished my mission.
Do not be late! 8:45 AM. Any later and you forfeit your place.
The night before the pull I did something I tend to agree to do and then blow off – I went to a cocktail party where I knew no one to celebrate a man I didn’t know. The Bolinas Museum (yes, we have one and it is spectacular) is celebrating their 30th year anniversary (I thought one day I would do the same.), and without this man they would still be located in the laundromat. For real. Ewan Macdonald purchased the dilapidated, foul, often flooded and filled with needles (Ah! That’s where the whole meth thing comes into play.) buildings that today frame a come-hither courtyard where one can watch hummingbirds feed in between viewing the various diminutive galleries. (To include Keith Hansen’s studio/gallery. His work, focused on the avian set, is brilliant. Worth a trip to Bo to see him and his creations alone.)
This gathering had a decidedly more preppy come beachy feel to it than the small cluster of beings that warmed up Smiley’s. I was the only person attending alone. While everyone was polite and nice, it was up to me to approach and converse, where had I stayed at Smiley’s for more than three minutes I probably could have held court. I wound my way through the crowd that filled the courtyard, taking breaks to wander in and out of the small galleries. If my fairy godparents had been there it might have been an evening filled with fascinating encounters. But that might have overshadowed the beauty of listening to Ewan describe the process of saving the structures that are partly responsible for making Bolinas so memorable.
It was a labor of love. He had to do it. He couldn’t bear to see them bulldozed. Quickly, they were gutted and rebuilt, tenants were lured in, to include the museum. And then he decided to sell. He offered an opportunity to the museum: one year to raise the funds necessary to purchase the entire property. He broke even, and saved hearts from breaking had a soulless structure been built in its place.
I found him in Keith’s studio and thanked him. And then departed for home. I had a pull to do.
The next morning I was up at dawn. Coffee and a decent breakfast of banana and peanut butter and raw nuts powered me through packing a garbage bag that would hold my after pull party clothes. Why a garbage bag? Because I was going to swim across the lagoon to Stinson and party with the enemy. Parking over there would be scarce. And swimming over would be so much fun.
As I approached town on foot (my car at the firehouse as the main street is shut down for the 4th) I could see the preparations were in full swing at 8:15 AM. People sat on their porches or in the flatbeds of their pickup trucks, some with beers in hand (Bravo!) and others drinking coffee and making certain they would have a prime view of a parade that resembles the Macy’s parade in Manhattan…not at all. I passed them like a brave soldier headed into battle. Someone yelled from the crowd –
You better win!
I immediately had to go to the bathroom. Just like when I was next in line to climb the rope in gym class.
At the beach the rope was being strung across the lagoon. A boat steadied itself in the middle, the tide was swift. Crowds were forming on both sides. The man I met in Stinson Beach was placing stakes in the sand from the water’s edge back to the cliffs. It was within this marked off area that we would showcase our formidable strength.
I met you in Stinson, in front of the market!
It took me a moment to realize he was talking to me.
I got on the list! I’m here to pull.
Start warmin’ up!
He went back to his work, focused, on a mission.
After checking in with a tall and strong woman, complete with clipboard, I found a place to stow my garbage bag. Pulled on my gloves and finished my coffee. Then I stood around watching the beaches fill with people. Dozens. And dozens. Until I couldn’t see over their heads.
The women pulling were gathered in a circle. We counted off to 30, the maximum number allowed.
Okay! Let’s warm up!
Wow, he was serious about that.
I stretched, and squatted. Warmed up my ankles and wrists. (Seriously?) Reached for the sky, bent my neck, folded over. By this time I was looking across the lagoon with lust.
You chicks are gettin’ wet. One, two, three, PULL and in you go. Hope you left your Tom’s and lululemon at home.
(Then it occurred to me that it was odd we weren’t pulling naked. This is Bo after all. This pull, for all its competitiveness – and it is a freaking battle – seemed so pedestrian. But so exhilarating!)
The clock hit 9 and the women took their places on the rope. The boat pulled away. The rope became taught.
And felt like a concrete cylinder set in steel.
There is probably a photograph somewhere of the look on my face when I realized just how hard this was going to be. After one minute I was praying it would end, and I was even willing to lose. After another 30 seconds the roar of the crowd filled the air and kicked me right in my derierre.
They are going down. Or in, as is the case with the pull.
I gave it everything I had. I grunted like Sharapova, sweat poured down my face, I feared getting hemorrhoids. As the rope inched to our side the crowd went wild. Then Stinson got the edge. I feared defeat. The rope moved side to side. If I landed on my bum we’d be disqualified. My thighs burned.
And then we gained a foot. And another. Women came from the back to the front as we hit the wall. Literally, not figuratively, as is often the case in prose.
When the horn sounded I refused to let go. That could have just been the noon whistle at Stinson. I’m not falling for that trick. And then the crowd went wild. High fives came from every direction. I tried to find the three women who got pulled in (three wet women signifies victory), but we were engulfed in love and adoration and I could see nothing but smiles.
I thought I was wiped out. But then I cheered the men to victory and that put me over the edge. My throat was raw and my heart raced as I thought for sure someone would die in the nearly 10 minute battle.
That day, as I striped to my bathing suit, I fell permanently in love with the hippies, artists, defenders, lovers, inhabitants, natives, souls, gypsies, virtuosos, bohemians, farmers, and locals of Bolinas.
Especially the one that gave me a ride on his boat to Stinson Beach where I was not pelted with sandballs or denied entry.
That afternoon and evening Stinson became my playground and the site of my liberation.