Pt. Reyes Station is the Manhattan of West Marin, the boroughs being Stinson Beach, Bolinas, Olema, Tomales, Dillon Beach and Inverness. Sure, we have an extra borough. We probably also have Unicorns, Fauns, Mermaids and a Phoenix, because you know you can only have one Phoenix. Although if there was to be a place where the myth of that mythical creature could be turned on its fiery head, it would be West Marin.
Whereas Stinson, Bolinas and Dillon Beach orient to the sea, and Tomales and Inverness to Tomales Bay, Olema and Pt. Reyes Station could be anywhere. Anywhere that’s gorgeous, mystical, lush and begging you to create a memory in its presence.
Olema is a one intersection hamlet. Pt. Reyes Station has its own radio station. Snap.
And restaurants. Emphasis on the plural. A saloon – it’s required by natural law here, a real life grocery store that has a whole section devoted to creating the perfect beach picnic, the kind of hardware store that makes you want to swear off Home Depot, two kayak shops, and a diner – it may be the only one in Marin, I haven’t seen another. A surf shop, a jewelry store, the Grandi Building, an abandoned do-it-all structure that once held the pillow that cradled the head of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Cowgirl Creamery. If cheese is your thing, these are your girls.
I’m not done yet. I’ve saved the best three for last.
The Bovine Bakery, Pt. Reyes Books and Toby’s Feed Barn, which, in addition to animal feed, is also a specialty human food store, coffee shop, yoga studio, produce stand, farmer’s market, and gift store (the best t-shirts), as well as favorite playground of the dudes. Toby’s also hosts cooking demonstrations and barn dances. The only thing that it seems to lack is a hot tub.
I wonder if they have a suggestion box…
One of my goals with the dudes is to create rituals that, when they are decades older, and think back to their childhood, will conjure up images and smells and emotions, all-senses memories. Traveling up Highway 1, through the Eucalyptus trees that hug the thirteen curves, in and out of the one-breath town of Olema and around the bend and over the bridge to Pt. Reyes Station on a Saturday morning is one of them. Thoughts of sticky buns and pain au chocolate consume the dudes, while I ponder the flavor of the gluten free muffin of the day. A muffin that no matter the ingredients, emerges from the oven fluffy, embarrassed not at all as it sits next to its flour-filled peers.
The Bovine Bakery is not just our Saturday morning mecca; it draws cyclists and weekenders, lovers and dreamers from far and wide. Now, I know what you’re thinking…she goes for the cyclists. Which is partly accurate. But I also go because the dudes will get really close to me, one on either side, as we try to make our chosen creation last by taking progressively smaller bites until we meet the last morsel, sitting on the bench in front of the shop that often has a line. Or on the large tree whose second life is as a tall backed bench, complete with side table, in the park just next door. I love to watch their faces gather chocolate and cinnamon with each bite. And then I forget the inevitable transfer effect when they lean up to plant a kiss of thanks on my cheek. Or snuggle close for warmth in the coastal morning chill.
While I eat the muffin (raspberry cornmeal, chocolate pumpkin…oh, goodness…), and stretch out the delicious experience with a free refill on- gasp! – coffee, (In other countries it would be an insult to decline the offer, so I don’t.) the tall dude takes a bite of his rich croissant and then runs into the bookstore, shedding crumbs with each step, wallet in hand. This in and out goes on for the duration of breakfast. He returns to me, manners pitch-perfect, with request after request for book after book.
I make him work for it.
When he gets older he will come to realize that I can’t say no to a book…I just appreciate creating the feeling of anticipation.
Pt. Reyes Books carries used and new books. You must leave your food and coffee outside, but dogs may come in. And they get a treat. To eat inside. As it should be. No dog I know leaves a crumb for another to pick up. While the dudes explore the interior shelves, I hover at the free-standing used book shelf that sits just outside the doors getting jacked up on caffeine – a conscious choice, not a habit anymore.
On the Saturday before Halloween I clutched two books – one a hardcover memoir of three generations of Tibeten women, Across Many Mountains, and Seven Years in Tibet – the version with Brad Pitt on the cover. At the time I couldn’t believe I was picking the latter to purchase. It was a quick thought – not crazy about books with covers derived from the film adaptation. The next quick thought was I need something about Tibet. That was it. Six dollars later it was mine.
The tall dude talked me into The Diary of Anne Frank. Who in their right mind could say no to that?
The next stop on our pilgrimage is always Toby’s Feed Barn. On this day it was more rambunctious than usual with the annual Papermill Creek Children’s Corner Halloween Carnival, drawing witches and fairies and zombies and ninjas…and their parents. Chefs occupied booths set along the sidewalk cooking up a competition – one dish each from which all those eating would anoint a winner in the Chef Off. Inside the pitched roof barn with sides of corrugated metal, just beyond the coffee closet and small seed room, a maze was constructed using the bales of hay that normally take up the back right corner. Beyond that a cluster of games – archery and bean bag toss and rope climb among others – entertained costumed revelers.
On any other Saturday the dudes would delight in discovering what form the hay bales would be in – it’s never the same – and begin the route finding process that takes them to the rafters. Bales of hay (EVERY time I say those three words I have to check myself – 9 times out of 10 it comes out hales of bay.), those compressed rectangles of dried grasses, are climbing crack to children. The dudes could, and have, spent hours jumping from stack to stack, laughing off the occasional head smack on a low beam, and overcoming the fear of falling, for each time there is always one intimidating leap that must be made in order to summit.
This Saturday, instead of climbing, they handed over their tickets to play games while I flipped through my new used book. I leaned against the hay maze, under a row of large white Chinese lanterns. The tall dude called to me –
Mom! Watch me!
I put the book on the hay and watched him balance on a rope ladder which he barely needed to climb as it wasn’t much longer than his body. Nevertheless, he was euphoric to make it to the top without flipping over.
Then, from behind me, I heard the word Tibet.
Before I could turn around she came to face me, her hands clutching a walking stick each, her head tilted up to see into my eyes with her own soft brown ones. Despite the walking sticks, she wasn’t frail.
Have you been?
Not yet, I replied. But I plan to, so I ought to know something about the land before I get there!
My eyes moved from hers down to the small, round emblem on her fleece jacket. Then they shot back after I read the word Himalayas.
That’s my rock star – someone who has climbed the Himalayas. I got goosebumps.
For the next half hour or more she took me back to her youth when she worked for various organizations that were involved with mountaineering and nature preservation to the week prior to our meeting when she broke bread with several men who have made it through the death zone and to the top of Everest. She is friends with Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mt. Everest. He is on my list of people with whom I would like to have a (gluten free) beer. Not only is he a climber but also an entrepreneur and author. My three favorite callings.
She came to California from the East, renting a room in a house that became known as the door to knock on if you are from Nepal or Tibet and need a place to call home a world away from home. Today that tradition carries on,with her name on the deed.
I told her of my desire to climb Mount Everest. It was as if she already knew.
Before we finally peeled ourselves away from each other I asked for her email. Her last name is a variant on clairvoyant. Of course.
The dudes knew the exact right time to grab my hand as J and I hugged. I soaked in her face, my gaze lingering on her eyes which are identical to my Mom’s. That impulse purchase that brought J and I together sat on the hay where I had left it. If a book could smile, this one was grinning from ear to ear. It helped to create the encounter, Brad Pitt and all. I scooped it up and the dudes and I made our way out of the barn and into the sunshine.
When my eyes adjusted after nearly an hour in the barn, they met those of a man who I’m certain turns heads wherever he goes, makes hearts skip a beat and has likely saved a dozen kittens stuck way up high in trees, redwoods even. The fireman gear is what gave that away. I was still buzzing from my conversation with J, considering that enough to make this day perfect. Locking eyes with him took it from perfect to decadent. We exchanged a smile. And then I heard:
Mom! I just bid on a silent auction item!
Oh, God, don’t let it be a week in Paris, I thought.
My attention was snatched by the tall dude who had the look of a boy who would become a man who devoured auctions, never able to keep a dollar in his pocket for long.
Thankfully it was only a basket of arts and crafts. $22 was his bid. He had the sense to only go $2.00 above the previous one.
The fireman, a bag of tamales in his hand, disappeared around the side of the barn.
I’m proud to say that the thought of lighting a match never crossed my mind.
Our paths crossed a few more times that day. There were sparks. I’m certain of it. Even now, two weeks later, I replay the smile, the laugh as he perched behind a funny cutout to have his picture taken. It’s been a year since I have had butterflies from an encounter with a man. He started the fluttering back up again. There were times while I journeyed east to see my Mom when I would scold myself for spending too much time wondering about him – was he from Pt. Reyes? Was he married but considered a wedding ring an occupational hazard? No. He’s not married. Is his name Dave? Steve? Michael?
Total school girl behavior.
I know one thing for sure. I don’t believe in coincidences at all. I didn’t fight spending money on a book I could have gotten at the library and it led me to J. Who delivered to me the message that I will one day be on Mt. Everest. She spun me out into the sunshine at the perfect time to meet the gaze of a man with eyes like cups of steamy dark chocolate and a smile that I’d walk through flames to see up close. The dude won his silent auction. And I fell deeper in love with Pt. Reyes Station.
I will see the fireman again. I know it. Till then I must have patience and trust that the magic kicked off with a Halloween celebration will continue through the fall and beyond. As long as I am grateful and keep my vibe nice and high and bright. Full of delight and desire and confidence that I am right where I have always known I would be.
Funny little aside…when I officially registered for my climb of Mt. Rainier with International Mountain Guides I noticed that this particular course, the Denali prep course, is often taken by firemen.