A Winters Tale: Gateway to where?

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It was stiflingly hot. The front part of our house which stares directly into the midday sun has almost no insulation. We’ll fix that, of course, when we remodel. But lately its been like living in an oven.  We had been working non-stop. Filmmaking, preparing our land for planting, selling our home in LA, killing rattlesnakes (well, just two). Now after 9 months, we needed a break. A break from our computers, from worrying about wildfires, from wondering why our venerable City Council members still won’t say publicly where they stand on the North Area Planning controversey—-shouldn’t we know?  But it was the weather that was really taking its toll. And as a remedy, we just wanted to see the ocean. We wanted to wear sweaters. I just wanted to sit in a chair and stare slack- jawed at the horizon, and empty my head.  So, we drove to Westport, population 299, an hour north of Mendocino. We had been there a year ago, making a film about three young women who harvest seaweed. I remember standing in the icy water beside them, wearing a pair of waders, cinema camera in hand, hoping desperately not slip. The film came out great.We rented a tiny house, about 400 square feet in size, the last building on the highway before the end of town. We packed enough food—tomatoes from out Terra Firma CSA box, eggs from our neighbor Jennifer’s chickens, and a bottle of Rye, from the fine folks at Bulleit Whisky, by way of Lorenzo’s market.  We spent our time reading and poking around on the foggy beach below. We also found a great walk along what used to be the coastal road, now half crumbled into the sea, overgrown with tall pampas grass and low chaparral, and signs everywhere warning of unstable cliffs. Except for a handful of campers, we were pretty much alone.  The air was just as I remembered. Moist and briny. With that distinctive ocean smell we had so missed. It got me wondering why the beach always smells that way. My mistake was looking it up.  Turns out that great salty odor is the result of dimethyl sulfide or DMS, which is produced by bacteria eating dying plankton. Nice. And that’s just the half of it. The other component is a sex pheromone which seaweed eggs excrete to attract seaweed sperm. Sorry I asked.  I began reading a new book called The Outlaw Ocean, about contemporary mercenaries, pirates, and smugglers. Its a true story of brutality and survival, written by one of those danger addicted newspapermen who cover wars and sometimes get taken hostage. Exactly the kind of journalism I never aspired to, even though I’d been to a few hellholes in my day. Whenever I was sent to some perilous place, I counted the hours til I could return home. I never cared much for danger.  Our two days at the coast passed quickly, but were enough to get us recharged. We cleaned the house, packed the car and headed out, deciding the best route home would be Highway 128. Nearing Napa, I kept craning my neck to see the “Gateway to Winters” sign, but never spotted one.  Whatever genius starting referring to Winters as the Gateway to Napa should be chained to a pipe in the basement of his or her marketing school. Gateway to Napa? Might as well be: “Winters: Drive-Through-Us-To-A-Better-Place.” But then, as my wife Judy reminded me, I was starting to sound like a coot. We stopped at my favorite casual restaurant in all of the known universe—Handline, in Sebastopol. It is an old Foster’s Freeze, now a brilliantly redesigned and friendly place to eat seafood tacos. All the fish is caught by hand, hence the name. Boy, I thought, Winters sure could use a place like this. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Tri Tip Tuesdays.)  Once home, we opened the car doors and were greeted with a fresh blast of Winters hot air. The dry smell of brown grass, with a faint hint of tractor dust, was there just as we had left  it. No more sexually active seaweed around to perfume the evening breeze.  These days I’m very much looking forward to the changing of the seasons. Its still a little warm, but I’m awfully glad to be home. Life sure is good, here in the Gateway to Napa. ]]>

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