It’s past mid-July, one month past the summer solstice, comet Neowise is going past us towards the depths of space, and it’s hard not to experience some melancholia even in the midst of feeling thankful that everyone in our nuclear family strewn across the American West is, so far, healthy, and keeping busy one way or another.
To change the mood, I found a few new pastimes in July. I made apricot blueberry jam, fresh pasta from farm fresh eggs and Petaluma durum flour, returned to an oil painting class I abandoned last year, and stretched my listening and linguistic skills by taking the first third of a three week dive into the history of cinema in Brazil, taught via Zoom in Spanish.
Some of our friends and relatives have high-tailed it to Santa Fe; the Grand Tetons; Lenox, Mass; Block Island; and Mount Desert Island, as they have in past, normal summers. My wife and I are still here, waiting for the vaccine to make it safer to go through airports and public restrooms, and for state and international borders to be open again for visitors from stained, infected California. But there are still things to be learned about the county we live in.
I have semi-adopted the town of Tomales and the farmlands west of Petaluma as a sweet country to visit by car or bicycle a few times a month, when I feel the ennui of a mostly shut down suburbia overtaking my soul. The ocean and Tomales Bay are so near, and getting there you can choose your route past landmark valley oaks and grazing cattle. In town the bakery has set up shop outdoors, and there’s a co-op of local producers who offer meat cheese and produce for pickup once a week. In town (one block long and two blocks wide) are some of the most beautiful California wildflower-inspired front gardens I have ever seen. And around town are lazy esteros on their way to the sea, century-old windbreaks of eucalyptus, and the hills that entranced Christo to build his running fence here.
And closer by, there are the more easily accessible arms of Mt. Tamalpais, west, south, east and north, beautiful ridges cloaked in fog and straddled by fire roads wide enough to maintain social distance without masks, or trails mostly to and from nowhere that reduce those awkward mask-donning encounters with strangers in and out of my pod to only one or two.
On Tuesday this week, after not having really given it a thought for the 25 years we have lived in our hose, I found that you can walk up quiet residential streets whose only traffic is the occasional Good Eggs bespoke organic grocery delivery truck and find yourself at the wrist of one of these arms. From there you can walk 20 miles if you so desire, and pass fellow refugees from the old, pre-virus life every hour or so. The wild huckleberry brambles that spread between rocky outcrops and third-growth redwood forests are coming into fruit, so you don’t need to pack an energy bar–it’s all there for the picking.
The trail comes down and suddenly you find you are on asphalt again, stepping quietly past barking watchdogs, and people working on their gardens, cars, car ports, and house painting, like they do every summer.
When night falls, slowly, and the fog returns, the burning twilight seems to last forever. Where is that comet?