Despite just landing back in my regular life in San Francisco, I was looking forward to getting away to Wilbur for a weekend. For the first time in several visits, I did not having anything scheduled on Friday morning, and having already picked up the car from my generous benefactors, I was free to leave town whenever I felt ready, and get well ahead of the traffic. Since I was starting in the city, I took the 101 to Santa Rosa, then crossed to Calistoga, and continued through Middletown and past Clearlake to Highway 20.
At my ease, I felt the shifts in geographies and cultures as I headed from the city, through the smart suburbs of Marin, the more regional towns, and then the cabins and ranches of Lake County. It was also the first time I had been that way in at least six months; the last time, the devastation of the fires had been very clear, with scorched landscapes and burnt out houses along the Mark West Springs Road. Now it was in transformation – everywhere were the pale fresh wood colours of new frames and panels for houses, though very few were finished, and house numbers were still spray-painted on plywood boards by the roadside.
As I approached Wilbur, the traces of the summer’s fires were also still clear in the hillsides along Highway 20, and the burnt landscape added a more sinister tinge to the autumnal colours; down at the springs, life continued in the normal tranquil way. It was nice to hang out with my friends on site, and to enjoy the autumnal warmth. The temperatures hit the eighties during the day on Friday and Saturday, and the nights were not as cold as I might have expected, so it felt like another coda to the summer.
On Friday, after arriving and settling for an hour, I decided to have a crack at the ridge trail; it went about as well as possible, as I paced myself up the long steady climb of the schoolhouse trail, and the steeper climbs along the ridge, before marvelling in the views, to Mount Konocti, Mount St Helena which I had just crossed in the car, the notch in the Cache Creek Canyon walls, and across the Central Valley to the east.
It was not especially busy, but I had nice groups on Saturday, finding words to say as I sat, hoping to communicate something useful. During the day I had seen someone reading Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance, so I used that phrase as a jumping-off point, not just in terms of compassion for ourselves and others, but in terms of meeting each moment as it unfolds for us. On Sunday I saw someone with Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind at the pools, and somehow expected that he might want to join the meditation; when he didn’t show, I gave perhaps a rather pointed talk to those who did come and sit about the value of practice rather than just reading about practice.
On Sunday morning it was cloudier; a brief flash of orange and pink in the sky before the sunrise, with the waning moon still high in the sky. That presaged a milder day; there was a flurry of day guests for a few hours, their energy noticeably more busy than those who had been overnight, the volume higher as well – when they were gone, a sense of peace returned. At the end of the afternoon I took myself for another run – and this time managed to navigate the route that had been perplexing me since I started coming regularly: I headed down to the bridge, followed the trail up to the very pretty terraced springs. I had been there once before, but had lost my nerve with the unclear trail before finding the way up to Coyote Peak. This time I followed the crook of the valley until I came to the power lines (a more reliable way-mark than anything else in this system of valleys). There was a little wood and tin structure that may have been a cattle feeder, and right there, a clear trail leading up to the peak, shared by rocky outcroppings and a pylon, which I had seen from many different angles on previous wanderings. When I returned to the valley, there was another trail leading me up the other side, and, after crossing a couple of other heads of valleys – I imagined water courses running back down towards Wilbur – I easily came to the place I had decided to turn around at on my last visit, and then downhill past the cemetery and back along the well-known track to the baths.
As is my wont, I left before light on Monday, and had an easy drive back to the city, though I then had adventures with a broken key and long BART delays; I still managed to make it to the Embarcadero to sit with Zach by the water, joined by a couple of regulars and a drop-in, and on to the jail later, with the largest group yet.
Bright gingko leaves in the central area.
These last leaves had gone after the windier weather on Sunday.
Autumnal colours along the creek on Bear Valley Road.
A flash of dawn on the Bear Valley Road on Monday morning.