I’m on a campaign of late, to surround myself with beauty and to write more. Happily, this two-pronged plan has a singular solution, which is to spend more time by the ocean at a property we own in Bodega Bay. There, in a half-finished house overlooking the bay, I can watch the fog roll in over Bodega Head, or sit out back on the porch swing and watch the moon rise over the eastern hills. It is as close to serenity as I can get and still be firmly on the planet, and the solitude (no internet! no TV! no people!) makes it possible for me to write.
Less than a block from our house is Bodega Bay’s unofficial dog park — a stalled development known as Harbor View Homes, formerly the similarly dreadful-sounding Romancia subdivision. It is a beautiful hillside just across from The Tides Restaurant that several years ago was stripped of vegetation and vernal pools, got a nice sweeping road put in with utilities at the curb for future houses, then just sat there unbuilt while the lawsuits began. Today, it is a nice wide unused asphalt boulevard where people can walk while their dogs cavort and meander through the vegetation growing back in the empty lots.
The dog park has a stunning view of the bay, wild hills and canyons to the east, and on a clear day you can see all the way south to Tomales. These last few days the coastal fog has been high, meaning the wind is very light and the bay lies still like glass reflecting the varied colors of sunlight through the fog. I take my dog Vince out there with me, and I have never seen him happier than when we walk the big circuit through the dog park and he gets to run around off leash. The other night we walked around at twilight, and I saw what I thought was a hawk fly low and silent, alighting on a fence a few yards away from us. Then as we rounded the bend I saw it fly by again, landing on top of a nearby telephone pole. Its head was far rounder than a hawk’s, though, and it was swiveling to the right and left in an eerie silence. I don’t know that I’ve ever been that close to an owl on its nightly hunt, but it was incredibly beautiful to watch. Maybe now that the rat population is exploding here in Sonoma County, we’ll be seeing more owls.
On Saturday I spent the day in our Bodega Bay house, cleaning the construction dust and debris out of the kitchen and making it a workable, clean living space. The plates I’d bought a year ago I took out of their boxes, washed, and put up on the now-painted shelves. Last year I had thought I was outfitting the house as a vacation rental, so bought most kitchen stuff on the cheap, at yard sales and places like Ross Dress for Less. While picking out flatware, I’d noticed some very nice stainless that was too good for a rental but was just the kind of thing I fantasized about having in my own house. With our house so full of young people for so many years, we had agreed early on that our best bet for purchasing silverware was at thrift stores for 25¢ a piece. Ross being a handy guy but sort of laissez faire in the tool department, most of our forks ended up with bent tines from having been stuffed into odd places, and the tips of all our sharpest knives were bent from being used as screwdrivers when it was just too much trouble to find the real thing. I hated it, and comforted myself with the idea that when all the children moved out I would buy us matching flatware — not the cheap kind that bends easily, but solid silverware, with simple, smooth lines and a good feel in the hand. So I had been in a quandary, there at the discount store: buy the cheaper stuff suitable for a vacation rental, or indulge in the flatware of my dreams (at discount prices!) because I had enough money for it. In the end, I bought both, and stashed the good stuff away for that happy day when we could dump out the Salvation Army stuff and really treat ourselves to some nice flatware.
Saturday, I looked at both kinds of flatware still in their boxes and wondered which to open. I thought I should probably open the cheap stuff as intended, but the good stuff was so tempting. I knew I’d just love eating my dinner that night with beautiful, well-made silverware in hand. Eventually, it dawned on me that what I was trying to answer were much more fundamental questions: was this place mine, or someone else’s? Was my desire for beauty a passing fancy or something that I needed to take seriously? And what prevented me from doing the things that make me happy?
Suddenly all the difficult questions in my life were carefully balanced on the fulcrum of a single set of flatware. The import of the decision was so large that I needed to sit down under the weight of it even to think. In the end, I put the cheap stuff back in the cabinet and opened just one box of the good stuff. I can’t quite make the leap to getting all 20 place settings unpacked, but four is enough for now. I can share with up to three people at a time my complete happiness in having perfect spoons for stirring tea, and beautiful gleaming forks that won’t bend when you press them down. For dinner I cooked eggs mixed with shallots, clamshell mushrooms and homegrown tomatoes, and a salad with smoked salmon on the side. I sat by myself at a clean round table in my clean, bare house overlooking water the color of gleaming silver, and thought it was the best meal I’d had in my entire life.