I was entirely unprepared for conditions on the Sonoma coastline. It was plenty warm when I left Davis, so I wore a sundress. It didn’t occur to me to bring a sweater. The brutal wind in Jenner drove me to purchase an ugly $25 poncho at the country store. Even that was insufficient.
But it didn’t matter. At Goat Rock Beach, I took off my sandals, walked on the sand, and put my feet in the ocean, blasted by wind and with deference to the churning surf before me. I’m sure I only lasted about 90 seconds, but it was enough.
I wanted to touch California’s edge, and I did. After hours of nosing my rented blue Mustang along the twisting rural highways that wind out of Yolo County, across Napa and Sonoma County backroads, lost and lost again, I somehow stumbled onto the exact stretch of road I’d set out to find: from Guerneville to Jenner, alongside the Russian River.
The words “indescribable beauty” don’t mean anything. I cannot tell you what I saw or communicate how it made me feel. Hills, trees, farms. Vineyards. Grasses and flowers and cows. Barns and fences. Typical rural stuff. Old towns and new ones, general stores and strip malls. In Napa, I got a caramel macchiato at a Starbucks, and bought sunglasses at a Target.
I drove through a beauty that made me ache not because it’s going away, but because I am. My spirit is thrilled because she believes the desert is where we belong, but my body absorbs the hillside cows and roadside strawberry stands and falling down barns and highways that wind between showers of sun and tunnels of shade where trees crowd in thick and moans, why? Why leave all this? Why are we trading this paradise in for strong, broad sunlight and open sky and hues of baked earth and an unwritten future?
I catch a little sob in my throat every time I approach my apartment now. It is only mine for 28 days more. Though I’ve only been here two years, it is the first place I have lived since leaving my parents’ care that has felt like my true and permanent home.
So am I contradicting myself when I say that this move to the desert has been a long time coming?
I moved to Davis in the spring of 2001 for a guy named Chris. That summer, Chris and I went on a cross country road trip that took us to 48 American states, the District of Columbia, and several Canadian provinces. The first night that we camped, we camped on the Russian River, right near Jenner.
That 23 year old self is barely recognizable to me now. But she is not surprised that the place where a river meets the ocean is precisely where I felt I needed to be, this week, while the gravity of the coming change tries to overwhelm me. This remote spot of Earth, tough to get to even from so close a distance as Davis (as the crow flies, less than 80 miles), draws me because it is so ludicrously beautiful (but so are so many places on Earth), and because it is so difficult to get to.
After putting my feet in the ocean, I sat in the Mustang and listened to the Giants game on AM radio. Another local perk. I drove down 1 to Bodega Bay then to the 101 so I could drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner: oysters, shrimp, crab, and Sonoma Brut. It was no warmer in the City than it had been in Jenner. A homeless man in striped “Alcatraz” pajamas bummed a smoke from my traveling companion and said to him, “How am I the crazy one? You’re wearing shorts and a T-shirt out here and it’s FREEZING.” I shivered beneath my poncho.
I won’t let myself get maudlin about San Francisco the way I am about every precious farmhouse and golden hillside in rural Sonoma County, because I know I’ll make it back to SF at least one more time before I move. I imagine I’ve seen the last of the Sonoma Coast for awhile, though.
I wonder how much of a resemblance there will be between my current self and the one who visits Jenner next. I wonder how many years will separate us.