I have some wonderful friends. One of them loaned me her house last month, which overlooks the entrance of Tomales Bay. The town and the beach are both named Dillon Beach. If there is no fog, you can see across the bay to the Point Reyes National Seashore and then south to where the sun sets into the Pacific.
Another friend came with me to the ocean, and my brother Sam joined us for a day, too, driving from his house about an hour away. It was “the holidays” in the best sense of the word: that lazy time after the formal meal — if you’re doing a formal meal — when there are no plans, deadlines, requirements, or duties, and you don’t have to shop or cook because the house is bristling with leftovers. We sat around, walked on the beach, walked around town, and then sat around again.
One of the things I like about beach towns is the wide margin for kitsch. It’s almost (if you squint) a kind of folk art. On Cape Cod I once bought a plastic sea gull and hung it from the ceiling of my car, inside, so it swung back and forth when I drove and startled other drivers. Dillon Beach outdoor decor can be snazzy, like this beautiful abalone, wood, and rusted metal fence beside a tastefully remodeled dark green cottage.
Or it can be slightly less swank but still interesting. I’m not a fan of shutters that don’t close over windows and have a use, they seem vestigial and idiotic to me, but I can understand the impulse to put seahorses on things. Or make a shark bench.
There’s something great, too, about how everything weathers so fast by the sea: metal rusts, paint fades and peels, the salt gets into everything and works its magic.
My sister went through a ukelele phase a couple of years ago and composed, with friends, a song about wanting to hug you with eight arms, based on the octopus. We didn’t sing this on our walk because I couldn’t remember the tune or the words, but we talked about it.
In California, you can grow succulents by the sea. I love the way that gray-green lichen takes over the wooden fence slats.
This is the porch of my friend’s house, where today (not in the photo, which I took last month) she is looking out to sea and thinking about the turning of the year. It’s a small house, the right size for her husband, two dogs, and a cat named Nemo to snuggle in with her and watch winter storms. We loved the visit. There is nothing better than taking a break from everything you think you ought to be doing in your own life.
When people give me presents like this — two days in their actual primary home, and we got to have Nemo with us — it opens my mind up to what I could give someone that I haven’t thought of yet, and to the contagious nature of generosity. Being on the edge of the continent and listening to the waves does wonders for my writing, too. No poem has yet surfaced since the visit, but I can feel it down there, swimming in the dark, taking its own sweet time being born.