Bodega Bay Days

The light in Bodega Bay amazes. While it can display its full intense spectrum, casting a rainbow of shadows on everything it floods, it’s never harsh. It caresses the ocean with shimmering silver or imbues it with dark impenetrable blue. In the brilliant days of fall and the elongating days of spring, the sun shines long enough to nurture the rose bushes in a sheltered garden for a bewitching burst of color and fragrance.

Waking up to spectacular beauty and gentle ocean breezes calms the body and nourishes the soul. Whether one has cereal from a box or hot comfort food to stir the mind into full awakening does not much matter. Gazing at a tranquil ocean, Cheerios becomes sustenance to linger over.

We never wanted to hurry through our Bodega Bay days. On Saturday mornings, we woke up to either fog or sun. Most days, the fog gave way to sunshine, sometimes softly fluctuating, sometimes persistently scintillating.

Breakfast always included gargantuan cups of tea or chocolate, sipped lazily side-by-side, in between languid smiles. When finally transformed into thinking, socialized beings, we strolled into the courtyard garden fashioned like an extension of the house but open to the skies.

The house had many windows and glass doors, bare except for blinds on a side window closest to a neighboring house. So, the courtyard garden was a sanctuary, its wooden walls an unobtrusive mantle of privacy. From neighbors. From weekend renters out for a walk. From rabbits and deer who would have loved to gobble up roses, fuchsias, rhododendrons, lettuces, and strawberries.

The garden yielded a little bounty from a vegetable garden. A place where we could pick a cherry tomato to eat right there. There, we talked, gardened, exercised, read, meditated, or allowed ourselves to just be.

Many other places in and around the house invited us to sit and just be. The wooden benches and chairs in the backyard looked out to the sea, to the mouth of Tomales a little farther south and, when not shrouded in fog, to Point Reyes peninsula in the distance. The open backyard, an occasional haven for deer, sloped gently then abruptly down a ravine, the other side of which was a higher hill, the domain of a cattle farm.

A contrived Hollywood set could not have been any more picturesque than this cattle hill. On its crest stood an old, slightly decrepit-looking wooden house and a couple of stately old cypress trees artfully twisted from having survived battles with salty ocean gales. This hill curved out to the sea, and from a distance, grazing cows looked immobile.

Always, there were birds of all ilk. We didn’t always see them but we never failed to hear them. In the darkest nights, we sat listening on a second floor deck to different bird sounds too many to count.

In the blustery winds of winter and summer, the house had nooks for curling into: an inglenook by a fireplace, a large worn-out sofa next to the kitchen, a daybed in a second bedroom a couple of steps from the courtyard, and a loft with a built-in platform crowded with cushions which embraced one like a comforting womb.

If Cheerios tasted sweeter in this setting, imagine simply grilled salmon caught by local fishermen, perhaps, the night before and served on a bed of just-picked lettuces coated in grassy extra virgin olive oil, silky balsamic vinegar and seasoned with a hint of garlic and pepper. A crusty artisan bread from Sonoma’s finest bakery refreshed briefly in the oven was all this repast needed for perfection.

We lunched in different areas around the kitchen or, in the halcyon days of fall and early winter, out on the backyard deck. Midday meals offered excuses for more lolling around especially with the thick morning papers that began most Sundays.

We spent many afternoons snoozing and, afterwards, puttering in the garden or in the house. We must pay for the pleasures we’re blessed with. Roses were fastidious about setting roots and assimilating in this environment. But many survived and a few actually thrived. These climes, while truly temperate, could punish plants by the force of winds and the salty dew that kissed leaves and blossoms.

St. Theresa"s Church, Bodega CA (pencil)
St. Theresa”s Church, Bodega CA (pencil)

Beaches and undulating paths with breathtaking coastal panoramas, summoned us for afternoon walks. In the summer, weekenders invariably enlivened these places. They came in shorts and shivered bravely, flabbergasted by the cold but determined to have fun. Some found their way to the funky little town of Bodega about five miles inland, searching for the sites immortalized in film by Alfred Hitchcock and Ansel Adams. On Sundays, they swelled worshipers in St. Teresa of Avila, a small white mission church of graceful proportions perched on a hill in the town’s center. Ansel Adams saw a forlorn beauty in this unassuming church and preserved it in print that now helps the church preserve itself.

Bodega Bay did not offer many other things to do although the strong and brave could surf with the wind or dive for abalone, and the rabid golfer could hit balls on a course meandering through marshes, around expensive homes, from the hill down to the ocean. Everybody else could explore tide pools, search for shells, collect the smoothest stones, or watch nearly naked children chase waves on the beach.

Nights offered even less amusement. Around the house, only birds and, occasionally, the wind and a few passing cars disturbed the stillness. After dinner, we succumbed to the sometimes jarring indulgences of electronic civilization. Curiously, darkness as deep as one found here complimented old movies, especially film noir.

When we needed the reassurance of a crowd, we ambled into a couple of restaurant bars for drinks or dinner though we could not remember many times when we were so engaged.

Sleep came easily, oscillating between dreams and total oblivion lingering so long that back in the city, where our hectic life let us buy our Bodega Bay days, it exacted its toll in fitful slumber for nights to come. In these two places, we lived dichotomous lives. It was inevitable. And life-giving.

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