Friday, July 9, 2010

The Gadabout

Independence Day proved an interesting one this year. It was not the first time I had celebrated (if celebrating it can be called) my inalienable right to dress in woolen clothing on the 4th of July, but it was the first time I had ever played "Scotland the Brave" in downtown Napa. The band made a good showing, even if reeds (and throats) were getting a bit dry by the end of the parade route.

I had brought a change of clothes with a hazy notion of going. . .somewhere after the parade and getting a few pictures of. . .something. Fortunately, I took a wrong turn early in the day, when I was trying to find the spot where the band was supposed to meet, and found myself crossing Silverado Trail. What was it about the name that sounded so familiar? The answer took the form of a second question, which burst upon me scarce seconds later--How did you forget that Robert Louis Stevenson used to live around here? So, after the parade, and fully aware that no stretch of the imagination was going to qualify what I was doing as a legitimate 4th of July custom, I got back on Silverado Trail and drove up towards St. Helena to see if there was a trace of RLS to be found. There were certainly a good many cars to see. St. Helena was a happenin' place. Still the slowed traffic meant I had plenty of time to see the sign pointing the way to to the Stevenson museum. I chortled in my joy at this stroke of luck; searching for small, rumoured historical sites by dead reckoning is a very chancy business. Of course, I was under no misapprehensions that luck would extend to fantastical lengths and that the museum would be open, but it was still gratifying to find the place, neatly labeled, next to the public library.
There were small, mud-colored fish quivering in the fountain, and a dozen-odd indulgent yellowjackets were making semi-acquatic landings on the algae at the foot of the horsetail. They were so languid about it that one might have believed it was the insect version of the neighborhood pub; they certainly lingered over their drinks.

Not far from the fountain, a larger sign designated the library and museum, and beyond that was (perhaps not too surprisingly) a small, tidy vineyard.
Having satisfied, as far as I could, my literary curiousity by gazing at the stucco on the outside of the building, one might think I would be content and would head for home. Even I thought that-- but I did not do it. Instead I let myself be seized by an even wilder ambition, and, by rather devious routes, turned the car in a gradually westering direction.

After some time (the details of which I will spare you, as it mostly involved going around corners, so I could go around other corners and up grades so I could go down grades), I saw something grey and soft curled about the tops of the hills ahead of me. Fire? I didn't smell any smoke when I rolled the window down. Perhaps the wind was blowing the wrong way. But, no, the wind was just fine as it was, and great tufts of the grey stuff were eddying past the car. And it smelled wonderfully wet. "It's fog!" And grand fog it was, too, just flitting about in graceful pieces, cooling off July in a most unexpected way, and not interfering with driving in the least. And if fog on the hills was a sight for sore eyes, what was fog on the ocean? I, having driven about as far westward as I was going to get, got out at Doran Beach on Bodega Bay. Perhaps enthusiasm leads to exaggeration in this case, but the weather didn't feel much above 60, if it was even that. And there was plenty of ocean.
An intriguing boat was anchored and bobbing about at rather uncomfortable angles in the fog beyond the jetty.
After a time, either the crew found what they were looking for, or grew very tired of bobbing about at uncomfortable angles; they fired up the motor and came around to the harbour entrance. As the craft came nearer, it proved to be of a particularly endearing build--even wooden. The plot thickened with a sign hung over the side that belied the trawling rig, proclaiming, "Special Research." Judging from the beating they had been taking out on the water, they might well have been doing research on seasickness.
I lingered on the beach near the jetty for a while, trying to get an interesting angle of the waves, which ended up being a rather bad idea, as I had brought my pipes along, in their box, rather than leave them in the car. Of course, I was loathe to leave them too far out of reach, but that was not a very good reason for setting them down below the tide line, even if I was down there too. Inevitably, I got just far enough away to have a particularly enthusiastic wave go sizzling by me, and right through the box before I could reach it. Luckily the pipes were not touched at all, and the bag only got a couple of small spots of seawater, but the box is due for a good vacuuming--it's a miniature beach in there at the moment.
Even after I had packed my sandy box and my sandy self back into the car, it was a rather long departure. Every few hundred feet, it seemed there was a different feast for the eyes that could not be squandered for a mere drive home.
Doran Beach is on one side of a small peninsula; if I understand the geography correctly, the harbour channel runs around the end of the peninsula and skirts a salt marsh. That, being about as close to the end of the park as I could get, was my last stop, and it was difficult to get enough of it. The sluggish water was slightly oppressive after the caprices of the open sea, but by the same token, the channels and pools of the marsh, mirroring the grey sky, had edges as sharply defined as the shards of a sword against a red and green mosaic, the thick, tough growth of marsh grasses. Impossibly, from the steel-like fragments of water, the wind was carding soft spirals of wooly fog, each curl moving slowly in its own eldritch dance to the music that was the invisible surf, the insistent foghorn, the cries of the gulls, and the songs of numberless hidden birds in the marsh itself.

And if that wasn't a fine Independence Day, what is?

No comments: