Jer and I just spent a couple of days at Sea Ranch, our first trip back since we moved to Portland. We lived there, on the northern Sonoma county coast, for almost ten years. It's a very beautiful spot, and very remote. It felt even more remote, this trip, by virtue of our not having driven California Highway 1 in more than two years. Sea Ranch is three hours from Oakland Airport; by contrast, we can get to PDX from here in 18 minutes. You can see why I stopped traveling for business not long after we moved there.
When we lived at The Ranch, we'd decide whether to make a trip to the Bay Area on the basis of "wedding units." If a close friend was getting married, no question; that's one full wedding unit right there. An important party -- a zero-th birthday celebration or a major WELL shindig -- would constitute a significant fraction of a wedding unit. Add to that a lunch or dinner with friends, a singthing, a visit with Mom, or some combination thereof -- et voila: a wedding unit; the drive down and back was justified.
Subconsciously, we've been employing a similar calculation, since we moved, with regard to trips to California. This time, our good friend Jackie was marrying her sweetie Tom, so of course we had to go. The opportunity to see other friends, at and around the wedding, and to check back in with the Sea Ranch itself and some of our favorite locales, bumped our excursion comfortably into the 1+ unit range.
Both Jer and I were struck, on the drive up, by how arid the landscape looked -- those golden rolling hills of northern California. It's always this way in summer and early fall, before the rains begin. California is fundamentally a desert, compared to western Oregon's verdant rain forest.
We stayed with our friends Rich and Dean, whose spectacular house, aptly named Wind & Sea, sits right on the bluff toward the north end of Sea Ranch. They have what must be a 270 degree ocean view, with pelicans, cormorants, gulls and the occasional osprey whirling by in the breeze. They'd invited another couple whom we knew for dinner the night we arrived, plus, as it turned out, a surprise guest, our friend Jane, whom I knew from The WELL before she moved to The Ranch and who, last I heard, was still consulting for the UN in Kosovo. Jane doesn't do small talk, and Charles and Kathleen are at the other end of the political spectrum, so it was a lively evening.
Sunday morning we walked a couple of miles along the blufftop trail to our friends Rob and the-other-Jackie's house. (They're the folks who visited us in Portland about a month ago, Casa Jereva's final houseguests of the summer season.) Rob led the tour of their dramatically redone garden, and then set about preparing a delicious brunch (the asparagus omelette depicted here, plus buckwheat pancakes and fruit salad featuring peaches and fresh-picked blackberries and raspberries) while Jackie showed us around her new, beautifully designed and decorated two-storey office/studio/guest cottage, which was originally the garage. They also built a new garage on the other side of the garden. We're talking major additions and alterations here; I literally did not recognize the house from the street.
The wedding was that afternoon, and what a joyful affair it was! Guests had been encouraged to wear Hawaiian shirts and jeans; of course we complied, no problem. The bride and groom wore matching shirts, though hers had been tailored down, by our skillful friend Donna, from a men's extra-extra large into an elegant collarless blouse. There was enough fabric left over for a matching shoulder bag just big enough to hold a few Kleenex (useful at a wedding) and maybe a cell phone.
The ceremony was outdoors, on Jackie's good friend Carol's deck, on a hillside overlooking the Pacific. The wedding party had their backs to the ocean; the guests, seated on hay bales (actually alfalfa, we were told, which will go to feed the groom's son's flock of sheep, which is a whole 'nother story), had the full panorama. The "altar" was decorated with dramatic flower arrangements done by another friend, Claire.
Their vows were funny and heartfelt; Jackie has a wonderful way with words and the entire ceremony reflected her style. Jackie's therapist officiated. There was a Best Woman, and two Best Sons to give Tom away, plus four Best Dogs, who assisted. Texas John, on guitar and vocals, opened the festivities with "Give Yourself to Love," which seems to've become THE wedding song of our generation, and closed it with an original composition about not laying your expectations on your loved one that included the refrain "Don't Should on me and I won't Should on you." Very clever, and perfect for the occasion.
There was crying, there was laughter; it was swell.
Afterwards, the MTA (Mendocino Transit Agency) bus-lette shuttled us down to Del Mar Center, one of the Sea Ranch community meeting halls, for the reception. Great food, with a Mexican theme, prepared locally and by friends. Good wine, and just the right music at just the right volume for both dancing and schmoozing. Jackie did the table decorations, which included rounded river rocks and personalized yellow and green -- the wedding theme colors -- M&Ms spilling out of miniature tin pails. Some of the rocks were painted with yellow or green dots. It was Andy Goldsworthy by way of Martha Stewart; it rocked (no pun intended).
Jer and I talked to about a gazillion people, answering mostly the same question (Do you like Portland?) over and over again. It felt good to reconnect with folks who weren't necessarily our closest friends there (those we've kept in touch with), but who were part of the fabric of the community and clearly valued their connection with us as well.
In true Sea Ranch fashion, the party broke up early (though a bunch of the kids went on to after-party at the Gualala Hotel), and Jer and I were back at Rich and Dean's and in their hot tub by 8 PM.
Monday morning we took another long walk on the bluff, in the other direction this time, running into more folks we knew along the way, and then drove to our friends Francine and Bob's for bagels and coffee. After that, I delivered Jer to yet another pal's house (a guy he loves talking science and engineering with), said hi to George and Sandy myself, met their new-to-me kitties, who've been carrying on a snailmail correspondence with our cats (don't ask), and then dropped in at my old weekly quilting group (I sure miss that unique collection of "ladies") til it was time to leave for the airport.
Being back at Sea Ranch felt almost dreamlike. Everything was familiar, and we felt comfortable and content to be there, but it had less emotional resonance than either of us expected. We felt a little tug when we visited the community garden and saw the stepping stone we'd donated, inscribed "Jereva" and set among all the others there. Another tug at the Arts Center, which Jerry helped build (his name is on a roll of Distinguished Volunteers on permanent display in the foyer). The landscaping that was in the planning stages when we left is in and established now, and looks gorgeous. But what got to me most was glancing out Rich and Dean's kitchen window one morning and spotting three deer, a doe and two yearling fawns, so similar to the little groups that used to hang around our house on Timber Ridge Road (pictured here, post-us), eating every shrub in sight. I do miss the deer.
Now that I've traveled through some sections of the Oregon coast where development's run rampant, I have a much deeper appreciation of that stretch of the California coast and of how well Sea Ranch blends into the landscape, as it was designed to do. But our visit felt like just that, a visit, not like coming home again. By contrast, our brief stop in Berkeley on the way up -- we picked up Jer's favorite multigrain cereal at Country Cheese and then drove up San Pablo to grab lunch at Kermit Lynch's Provence-in-the-parking-lot celebration -- felt like a visit to our other home; it always does. We've left some dear, dear people on that lovely, isolated ten-mile stretch of the Sonoma county coastline. But we were pinin' for civilization, and now Portland feels more like home, after just two-and-a-bit years, than Sea Ranch ever did.