There are places that will always be in me, that I will hold the way you hold a favorite song from teendom no matter how pitchy it sounds now. Like a song, a place becomes a map of memories, a constellation of tactile history etched in the mind and body. It is less what we see there than what has been seen, the place becoming a marker for experience.
I went to Point Reyes a few weeks ago on a whim, H. and me and the pup. We were lounging around after a late breakfast on a perfect summery winter day when the idea came up and we jumped up and out the door. I like it when life works this way.
A peninsula off the edge of Marin, the Point Reyes National Seashore is a protected and preserved haven of dreamy landscape, wildlife and water, from long pastures of rolling golden grasses to pine-laden knolls that lock you narrow crevices of stream or path, ocean always in the air. Just 40 or so miles northwest of my home, it is a small paradise on the edge of my world, and a song I’ve heard a hundred times.
Streams, footpaths, rain, sun, swimming, foggy days on the beach where the world feels small and enormous. Winter, summer, BBQ’s and fires, sleeping on the deck, or in the warmth of the living room, lit by the fireplace. Old wood, creaky floors, a foot bridge across the small stream that one year flooded and took out the cabin’s deck. Family photos, leftover books, playing cards.
For years, my family has had a cabin tucked outside of Inverness, the tiny town on the west side of Tomales Bay, the narrow bay formed by the peninsula and the mainland. The cabin is a small old wood thing planted in one of the few fern-full nooks with houses. I’ve spent summers here, the Fourth of July with fried oysters, or dad’s birthday when Michael Jackson died and we heard it on the radio. I’ve spent winters here, one in particular when I’d drive over the Richmond Bridge every Friday night for months to visit M., the pattern of the yellow bridge lights and shadows of the long dark beams falling over me in meditative succession, dark, light, dark, light, the Bay glowing silver on either side. I’d sleep by the fire those nights, wake up early to see her in the place of recovery, that alcove in the hillside that felt otherworldly, watching her grow brighter and bigger during Saturday morning visits.
Seashell and Chicken Ranch and Keyhode, Point Reyes Station and the bookstore and the bakery, the Pine Cone Inn. Childhood, adulthood, memory and mismemory. It is wildness, the unknown, but also the perfectly known. A certain kind of home.
This day, with H. and the pup, Point Reyes was some of these things and not. We went to Limantour Beach on the west coast of the peninsula, a secluded stretch of sand at the end of a long road through tan, cow-spotted pastures. I’d never been here before, adding a star to my constellation. This day, Point Reyes was just ocean, with water too cold even for toes, with that light, that sheen, that wind, that roar, forever having the power to empty me of everything. This day it was renewal, the seashore’s ability to erode away what was before and fill the voids with content until I became heavy with it, growing heavier as the sun burned down and darkness fell.
We drove home full of the place and with the kind of drowsiness that only the ocean can give you. I slept deep, heard sea songs in my dreams.