I’m sitting in the Oakville Grocery on the plaza in Healdsburg on a Sunday evening at 5:30, enjoying a glass of Chardonnay and a salad of greens, currants, chicken, walnuts, and goat cheese. There’s a table of three guys at the other side of the outdoor patio who are trying to figure out why women are the way they are. At another table, an Australian man assails his friends with tales of a woman who’s chasing him even though she knows he’s married. Ah, love.
When I get agitated, I wander. As a little girl, wherever I found myself, on trips with the family, summer camp, staying with friends on their ranch with their horses, I would inevitably find myself wandering off into the wilderness. I would wander and I would daydream, away from people and whatever they wanted from me. I would get lost in the heat and the smells, especially around water. If possible, I’d sit in water or have my feet in it, if I couldn’t swim in it, and I’d just let my mind run, like a Border Collie off the leash.
I’d spin stories in my head of being a brave, strong, beautiful woman. Inevitably I’d be living a life of my own—passionate, creative, unique—and never the same life twice. Sometimes I’d be riding a fiery horse, sometimes I’d be driving some powerful car, but I was always in control. Except when the strong, sexy hero was saving me. But just as often, I’d be the one saving him.
I always need to move, like a shark, so this weekend, having no plans and nobody to not have plans with, I decided to get in the car and drive. Yes, I know, the Gulf is on fire with spilled oil and we should cut back on our driving. I’m an environmentalist; I get it. But driving calms me, even more so if I don’t know where I’m going. I had a vague plan: the Napa Valley, possibly Calistoga. It’s warm, looks like Italy, the hills are the color of lions, and the air smells of sage and wine.
Of course, it being a summer weekend, I could find no reasonably priced hotels online, but I decided to go anyway. It’s only a couple of hours from home, after all.
Highways are like constant choice-points. The signs taunt us with unexplored roads. I mean, what if I got off at Old Mill Road from Highway 12 North? What does it look like? Who lives there? What experiences might I have? As a kid on road trips—and even as an adult on them—my eyes would always follow those roads that crawl to meet the horizon, wondering where they went and half-wishing I could be on them to find out.
So when I saw the exit to Sonoma, I decided, at the last minute, to take it, and found myself in the midst of a half-marathon. Hundreds of sweaty women with numbers pinned to their shirts, drinking water and wine and shopping in stores that were dark from a recent power outage. In the plaza was a small wine festival, and somewhere, a band pumped out rock and roll standards.
After perusing Sonoma, I got in the car again and drove north. Hwy 12 was clogged with a mysterious backup right around the turnoff to Sugarloaf State Park, so I took that road, and found myself, within thirty minutes, soaking my feet in a shady creek, writing in my journal. After that, I hiked up the dusty hill (having quick-changed out of my summer dress and into shorts and a tank top) and found a burbling creek of tiny waterfalls tucked into a small canyon. I sat, and as my blood pumped after the climb up the hill, so did my creativity. My heart opened. I thought of that little girl, wandering the hills. The dusty smell of my hike had brought her back to me.
I thought about her wandering, and, my grownup wandering. I felt in that moment, perfectly balanced in the in-between place that is reality: not happy, not unhappy; Just there, observing the water-skeeters riding the surface tension of the clear water, doing a dance with my toes. I was shaded by pines and bay and something I couldn’t identify. A delicious little breeze dried the sweat on my arms. Nothing had to happen in those moments, nothing had to be decided. I just sent out the wish that everyone—including myself—could find peace and release. The mood ring I wore that said “I Love You”, in that moment became not so much a symbol of one person’s love, but of the love of the universe, which a friend had just reminded me, is always coming to us if we can only see it.
Then I hiked back down the hill, quick-changed back into my sundress, and drove north to Healdsburg, where I knew a little cheap motel off the highway that just might have a vacancy. I had stayed there once on a cold birthday in May a few years ago, running from the fog and seeking the sun. The sweet woman behind the counter greeted me cheerfully, gave me my choice of rooms, and showed me the pool, hot tub, and dry sauna, and then I drove into town, and here I am. The sun is sinking, the wine has warmed my blood, and the light is playing yellow-green in the leaves. ;Three police cars—Healdsburg’s finest—just almost collided in the intersection, en route to some local tragedy. My wine is gone; time for the next adventure.