Airbnb in the Redwoods
My parents live in San Francisco now, but I am not a native to the Bay Area. Unfortunately. My mom jokes that I'd always been a California girl, I'd just never spent a lot of time in California. This past April, I took a nine-day creative retreat for myself at a beautiful Airbnb in Mill Valley. The house was situated in an area that the locals lovingly called, "The Redwoods neighborhood," because these trees were protected, and the houses were built around them without disturbing their present or future growth. The resulting architecture was delightful, a wealth of imaginative shapes and levels, sometimes to a Robinson Crusoe effect. These giant trees seemed to lend a solemn presence and watchful benevolence to the area. There was a thick quiet—even children playing in one yard were muffled from the next yard over by the great trees.
The Airbnb, sat atop a steep hill, at the end of a long winding road. My apartment was on the far side of a sprawling home built into the hillside. The landscape was stunning, a perfect wilderness, and the rooms were cozy and bright, warm through the brisk mornings, and cool through the afternoons. I had a private patio overlooking the valleys and sharp hills. It was still low-forties before dawn in April, so I bundled up when I brought my coffee out to watch the sun crest the tall ridge before me. It shot its beams horizontally through the tree trunks as it rose, and ever so slowly the rays turned downward as the sun climbed above the mountain, until it lit the vivid mosses on the forest floor.
The fingers of the branches were delicate for such giants, formed like mittens from the thin branches. When the sun shone, they glowed in hazed, golden halos. Spider webs glistened as the light traveled down the webs from trunk to trunk, like trolley cars on a cable line. They shot between the trees in my periphery, catching my eye only to disappear and be impossible to find again until the light shifted. I would be here for hours at a time, listening to the Redwoods and Sequoias creak above my head when the wind picked up.
Down the winding road from the BnB, I discovered a looping path that followed a persistent brook. The water was a steely blue, cold and clear, flowing from the tops of the mountain. I walked with the brook to my left, and at the bend I discovered a paradise where the children of the neighborhood had constructed forts and tepees from fallen branches. The Redwoods were adorned here, tattooed and jeweled with necklaces and ornaments. Bits of hard plastic and broken pottery were pressed into the earth in a mosaic. Here was a shrine to a small white dog, whose picture hung above it all. A little altar stood below her likeness with the remnant of a few candles, some sand dollars, a scrolled pink shell, and a clear piece of jade-colored sea-glass. It felt holy, a sacred testament to the purity of childhood from which we all descend and attempt to re-ascend. I half expected that they were hiding behind the trees with painted faces, watching over their hideout and treasures, but I saw no one. Next time I came through, I added a shell from Peru on their altar.
The house was walking distance to downtown Mill Valley— with its courtyard of old men in sweaters playing chess, the wondrous Depot café where I wrote, Punjabi Burritos, and Equator Coffee at the corner. There was my favorite library nearby, where people kicked their shoes off beneath the tables and non-service dogs wandered the aisles with their humans. I'd catch late movies at the vintage theater and walk back through the Redwoods—lamps glowed behind windows in the cozy dark and moonlight as cast gridded shadows through the palm trees.
There was a webwork of bike paths near me, that went on for miles, connecting Mill Valley to Tiburon and Sausalito. The Japanese Cherry Blossoms were blooming in the streets I rode waving brightly against the dark green of the forest. The path brought me through the marshland, and to the greater waters of the Bay. I shared the trails with runners, and people who were biking to work with leather messenger bags at their side, and men in designer suits riding long-boards to the office. They were my kind of people. One day I followed the path seven miles in, through downtown Mill Valley, past the marshlands and the houseboat community, to the bustle and cheer of Sausalito. I got an espresso at Cibos and chatted with my favorite barista, then walked through downtown to the marina and watched the sailboats come and go, and the blue and gold ferries cut slowly through the haze to San Francisco, shimmering just across the water.
Other days, I was drawn to the mountains, and I hiked in the opposition direction, up to the trails at Blithedale whose trailhead was half a mile north. There I found breathtaking vistas of the city, and discovered mountain paths that followed brooks to the top of the summit.
And when it rained, I threw the windows of the house opened to let the spiced cedar air waft in, and curled up next to the heater in the easy chair to read, feeling as content as I had ever been in my life. The fog rolled in and sat heavy in the air. The drops poured relentlessly from the sky—hours of uninterrupted storm, drumming rhythmically against the windows and roof in pleasant cadence. Such was the rainy season. When it stopped, the dripping continued for hours—from the fingers of the branches, from petals, from the pine needles, from the gutters—and when the sun broke out again, the forest sparkled and glistened, alight with life.
At the end of my nine days, I realized my mom was right—
I belonged in a place like this.