… how you are living your dream. It’s unsettling to most. Crap. I’m blessed and I know I’m blessed and I thank those responsible for blessing me…I landed in one of the most beautiful places on the planet and set roots down here…when I fly, I land in another garden spot of the planet. I live in Bodega. I vacation in Negril. The west county to the west end and back.
I moved to Bodega in 1991 and at that time it was just another place we were moving. Still at an age and time when moving every two or three years was de rigueur I never expected that I’d find myself at home in this place. For me, the move from the city to the country was a gradual one; Les knew it had to be. I’m a hard-core New Yorker, never drove a car. We moved from San Francisco to San Rafael…spent a couple of years in suburbia. Les, who grew up in rural southern New York state (upstate to us city-folk) always knew he had to find himself back in a rural situation. He couldn’t stand to see trees growing out of cement. He was not too fond of neighbors, having lived on a 160 acre chicken ranch for a good part of his life. Our next move brought us to Sebastopol…at that time only 5,000 people living there and pretty darn rural. We’d arrived in Western Sonoma County which was fine with me.
Rewind to 1987. I’d been living in San Francisco only a couple of years and was whisked off to a party at a commune in Occidental. That night was a new moon and I looked up to the stars and almost fell over. The following morning we drove down Coleman Valley road to the beach and I knew at that time, just knew…this is where I was going to end up. And end up I did.
When we were told we needed to move out of our little cottage in Sebastopol we started the hunt again. We knew what we wanted; we knew what we could afford. The search was not the easiest as I remember…Santa Rosa was too built up. Other parts of Sebastopol too expensive. Rohnert Park was just disgusting. Joanna and I were looking through the paper and saw the ad for a house in Bodega. My concern…too far out. Work still brought us into San Francisco frequently enough and I made the same mistake many still make, confusing Bodega with Bodega Bay. No, says Joanna. It’s only another 10 miles up the road from where you are now and you are right on a major highway…that would be Highway 1, the glorious Pacific Coast Highway. So we look and I walked into the house…hideous shag carpet from the year of the flood – finishing touches such as light fixtures and bathroom fixtures that were pulled from various dumpsters. This house had something that no other house has had for me since I’d moved from New York…a second story. We were home.
Home. In our little Cape Cod style house in the middle of nowhere. I thought I was rural before. When I called to get the cable hooked up I was told I was out of luck pretty much for the duration of my stay in Bodega…there was no way they were bringing cable “out here” ever. OK…that’s why God invented the VCR and TV antennae. Our second morning we woke to no water. No water coming out of the tap. I’d learned all about wells living in Sebastopol but apparently there was no well…? Flip through the phone book and find the phone number for the Bodega Bay water people. Nope…not us they say. You guys are on a water system owned by Tom Taylor.
That was my landlord. Welcome to Green Acres…I’m Ava Gabor.
When the water did come back (apparently it was used up putting out a fire up the road from us) it came out of the tap brown on most occasions. My face broke out from washing in it, forcing me to switch face products over and over and over again until I found the right chemical mix of cleanser to tap water. It tasted like crap but at least it didn’t turn my teeth black as my water had in Sebastopol.
Most city girls would’ve run. Fast. I stuck it out…after all, there is something to looking out your window or off your front porch to the sight of rolling hills, dotted with farm houses and cows…so many cows and sheep! The beauty was overwhelming and I came to the conclusion, for the first time in my life that the beauty of your surroundings so surpass life’s little conveniences that you’ll put up with mostly anything.
Like four day power outages. Cooking on the wood stove. Heck, heating the house on the wood stove! Slowly but surely we updated…satellite dish…central heating…even our little water system updated itself so that water outages weren’t as frequent and the water, though still undrinkable and at times down right stanky…was clear. Finally, the cable company relented and the first Comcast truck appeared on the horizon in December of 2004…high speed internet had arrived in Bodega and we were their first customers.
The sum of the parts belongs to the people. Having grown up and lived most of my life avoiding neighbors I soon found out this was impossible to do in Bodega. A coffee shop opened in town and became the meeting place for the cool and groovy. I got to know my neighbors slowly, first getting myself involved in community theater then just socializing every morning, discussing the important topics of the day and the not so important topics of the day while drinking way too many cups of organic coffee. Horizons broadening, past the coffee shop, straight into the bar…an all purpose gathering place in and of itself owned by the same woman for close to 60 years now. Bodega’s sum of its parts is part rancher, generations in the same place…part hippie, most migrating north from the city to the bucolic simplicity of living on and off the land…part artist, a collective on Salmon Creek Road built out from an old Creamery into live work studio space…part people like Les and I…refugees from and overstressed environment, eager for an intimate place to live where you can be as reclusive or as gregarious as your mood moved you.
The life blood of a small community is volunteering. Took me a while to get that. The reason for this is that in a small community you all tend to do stuff for yourself, which means you have to help your neighbors. Our fire department is all volunteer, screaming distance from our house but not at all funded with public tax monies. Combined with a small stipend from the county it runs on raised funds drawn from a variety of sources…the “feed” being one of the biggest but the Biggest of the Biggest being an annual summer old fashioned ho-down called The Big Event.
There’s the Land Trust…stewards of the one-thousand acre Pastures Ranch and other easements provided to preserve open space and conserve the natural beauty this place has to offer.
Even that little water system that Tom Taylor my landlord owned. Well, that got thrown into the customer’s laps and apparently we own it now. The Board of Directors…all volunteers god bless them because that is one pain in the ass water system but it’s the staff of life and they keep it going.
We are a partying community. Pastures Ranch, one of the longest operating communes in the country threw two parties a year…their Easter party, an unplugged pot-luck on an open meadow on the property and their 4th of July Party in Fern Grove…a small old-growth redwood grove located at the very tip of the property featuring live music, barbequed lamb burgers…a magical event where you felt very much a wood nymph in a place so close to home but so far away from the rest of the world.
The Fire Department Feeds and of course the Big Event…one party after another. Swinging to the other end of the spectrum…the Ranch the hippy end and the Fire Department the Red-Neck end….many cultures meet as one. The truth is we all love a party. Despite our background differences, our religious and philosophical differences we are one in this town and we have something here that is unique…we can all manage to get along. Oh sure, there are feuds, there are clashes…we are, above all else, firmly independent individuals working collectively to get things done and make our community’s life just a little bit better. It’s challenging sometimes but rewarding all the time.
We are activists, each to our own level. Right before our country made the fatal Iraq mistake our community took to the streets in solidarity with communities all over the country holding candle-light vigils and protests in the name of peace. You can take the hippy out of the sit-in but you can’t take the sit-in out of the hippy? You know what I mean.
It’s very easy to get stuck here. Bodega is a vortex. We don’t get stuck here because our business takes us all over the country…mostly into San Francisco. Here’s the beauty part…traffic aside, we can be in downtown San Francisco in just a little over an hour…that’s a commute to some folks. San Francisco remains one of the most beautiful cities I know and I’m proud to call it home…it is my urban fix when I need it.
We get tourists. That’s right, we do and we like the tourists…our little town’s small businesses depend on that flow. We are but one mile to the dramatic Sonoma Coast (that would be Bodega Bay)…and we are a movie set. In 1963 Alfred Hitchcock, for a few bucks and a song, chose Bodega and Bodega Bay as his location for his ground-breaking movie “The Birds”. I live on the property where he erected the set for the school teacher’s house…I live next door to THAT school house. Any given weekend cars roll slowly up my street, glance at the school house, glance at my house, then make a U-Turn at the end of my road. OK, so much for country privacy. It is unique, you gotta give it that. Since Hitchcock’s arrival and abrupt departure Bodega has been used as a location for other movies and TV commercials…our landmarks make us who we are. Long before Hitchcock’s scouts found the dilapidated school house in the quiet little community Ansel Adams found St. Theresa’s church and took a picture of it. That small, white Catholic church stands majestically on the hill just up the block from my house, greeting visitors like a beacon as you drive on Highway 12 headed west…on the nights with a full moon it glows in the dark. That church is predominantly featured in posters, greeting cards…it can be anywhere but it is in Bodega.
That is my home. It’s always good to be home…after three weeks on the road in cities like Dallas, Las Vegas, New York, and Chicago…I come home and come close to kissing the ground. Even when I return from my long sojourns in Jamaica it’s always good to be home…wrapping my community around my shoulders like an old soft blanket.
I’m blessed and I’m proud to say it. From the West County to the West End and back…from one soft spot into another.
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