Airbnb in the Redwoods
My parents live in San Francisco now, but I unfortunately am not a native to the Bay Area. My Mom jokes that I’ve always been a California girl, I’ve just never lived in California—she’s probably right, and I think I appreciate the culture all the the more because of it.
This past April, I took a nine-day creative retreat for myself at a beautiful Airbnb in Mill Valley. It was situated in an area that was lovingly termed, “The Redwood neighborhood,” because the trees were protected, and the houses were built around them to a magical affect. One house had a tree trunk coming up through the roof, and climbed the hill in perfect harmony with nature in a series of ingenious laddered levels. Another house was perfectly rectangular, save where a tree with a ten-foot diameter grew at one corner—the architect, respecting the life of the tree, cut a giant half-moon out of the roof, so that the tree might continue to grow for a hundred years more. It was here first, after all, and the desire of the culture was that the trees would continue to live on after we were gone.
I adored these neighborhoods and the intention behind them. These giants lent a solemn presence, and a kind of watchful benevolence that made me feel peaceful as they cleansed the air I breathed. There was a unique peace here, a special kind of quiet—even children playing in one yard were muffled from the next yard over by the great trees—the affect of this at Muir Woods is truly overwhelming.
The airBnb, where I would be spending the next nine days, 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 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 strong 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 a bend I discovered a child’s paradise—a little cove 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, precious in the eyes of a child. 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 picture 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. 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 would leave a shell from Peru on their altar.
The Bnb 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 nonservice dogs wandered the aisles with their humans. I’d catch late movies at the vintage theater and walk back through the Redwoods, admiring the moonlight as it cast gridded shadows through the palm trees onto the street—a hundred dark hashtags in the pearly light. Lamps glowed behind windows in the cozy dark.
The Bnb was near a stunning bike path that went for miles, connecting Mill Valley to Tiburon and Sausalito—it was heaven. The Japanese Cherry Blossoms were in blooming in the streets I rode, and I slowed to savor the sight of them waving overhead against the blue of the sky. The path brought me through the marshland, where storks stalked the waters. I shared it with runners, people 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, past the marshlands and the houseboat community, to the bustle and cheer of Sausalito. I got espresso at Cibos from my favorite barista, Isaiah, and chatted with him a while, then walked across the way to the marina and watched the sailboats come and go. Black oiled birds dove for fish, and blue and gold ferrys cut slowly through the haze to San Francisco, shimmering just across the water.
Other days, I was drawn to the mountains, and I hiked from the Bnb in the opposition direction, up to the web of trails at Blithedale whose trailhead was half a mile north. There I found breathtaking vistas of the city, and discovered mountain paths that wended along brooks to the very top of the summit.
And when it rained, I threw the windows open to let the spiced 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, like a rainforest. 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.