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A VISIT TO MILL VALLEY, MARIN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
BY AOI TOKUGAWA
IN THE SHADOW OF THE SLEEPING LADY
A Visit to Mill Valley, Marin County, Califonia
BY AOI TOKUGAWA
SHISEI-DŌ PUBLICATIONS Tajimi Japan and Sacramento, California
Copyright © 2011 by Aoi Tokugawa.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States and Japan by Shisei-Dō Publications. No part of this publication may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without prior written permission of the author or publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Cover Illustration: Mt. Tamalpais from Bulkley Avenue, Sausalito.(2009) by Tom Killion. Page 9, print from Foretress Marin (1979) by Tom Killion. Please visit Mr. Killion’s website at http://www.tomkillion.com/app/index All other illustrations are copyright 2011 by Aoi and Hayato Tokugawa.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE SLEEPING LADY I A BOAT RIDE ON THE BAY
I had never been there before. In truth, I had never imagined that such a place existed in California; nor that such a place could be found existing so close to San Francisco. Oh, of course, I had visited San Francisco before; I went there with my husband. The first time I visited the city, I was a tourist, visiting the city by the Golden Gate or “Baghdad by the Bay” as it has often been called, seeing an exotic place: what tourists see. The second time I visited San Francisco, it was to see the city that tourists do not see. Much of what I saw was through the eyes of one of the city’s policemen; offering me views of the city that looked into the heart of its neighborhoods and its people. Still, I never believed that such places as Marin County, Sausalito, Mill Valley, or Point Reyes, places of stark contrast when compared to the city, existed but a few moments’ drive across the Golden Gate. Early in the morning of my first visit to these wonderful places, I stood on a dock by San Francisco Bay, beneath a clear blue sky, the first such sky in several weeks, as though it was provided specifically for my own special delight. Seagulls, white and gray, with brilliant yellow beaks flew overhead, while others, not so energetic, perhaps feeling a bit lazy in the early morning air, sat on the railings at the water’s edge, looking at me, watching me, perhaps hoping that I would provide them with some tasty tidbit for their breakfast. Close behind me was the long, gray sandstone and bronze Victorian façade of the Ferry Building, with its tall clock tower rising to the blue; a sight which could be seen from far across the bay in Oakland and Berkeley, and westward along the miles of “the slot,” as Market Street is often called by natives of the city; a broad avenue through the sheer cliffs of granite, stone, and glass that line both its sides for as far as the eye could see. I stood and waited in the shadow of that historic building, which had existed in its current form, far back into the 19th century, and which had survived the devastating 1906 earthquake, providing a symbol of hope to San Francisco’s residents. Certainly, my husband and I could have driven the few miles westward from the heart of the city and across the Golden Gate to Marin County, but he insisted that a 5
boat trip across the bay, to the shores of Marin, was truly the only way to do justice to San Francisco and its bay. I watched, not without some trepidation, as our boat approached; white and blue, and big enough to hold at least two hundred people, the water breaking white at its bow, hurried to dock. Coming from a mountainous region of Japan, I was not accustomed to the idea of sailing across a large and deep body of water. From the back of my mind came a voice saying one was quite intended to keep their feet on solid ground, not to go motoring across the blue waters of this inlet of the Pacific Ocean. With my husband’s reassurance, and inspired by his own smile of delight and enthusiasm, we boarded the M.V. Marin and within a few minutes we were making way across the deep, cold water to someplace new. As we pulled away from San Francisco, I stood on the main deck, outside at the stern, with the chilled wind, laced with the faint fragrance of salt and seaweed, in my face. As I looked back at the city, at the Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge to its left, stretching high in the sky across the water to Treasure Island and beyond, my mind was overwhelmed by the vision. There are no words to describe completely the image accurately. The beauty of the apparition was almost like a dream and took my breath away. To utter the world “beautiful” would have been an understatement.
If I could recall nothing else of those moments on San Francisco Bay, I would remember the blue of the sky. Such a simple thing; but the one that impressed me the most as I stood on the deck of our ferry. It was not the blue of Japan, what Lafcadio Hearn described as the “luminous blue,” the pale, pastel blue that is the roof of Japan; but the deep, rich, almost lusty sapphire blue that is the canopy of California. As the boat journeyed first toward and then past the infamous prison known as Alcatraz, I watched the bridge and the city recede into the distance, while at the same time the Golden Gate seemed to grow 6
larger. As my husband busied himself with his camera, watching the water and the changing skyline of San Francisco, I stood in the wind and looked into the water, hoping that by some ominous chance, I might catch even a brief glimpse of a great white shark; a brief look at perhaps the deadliest predator of the sea, who is known to inhabit the waters of San Francisco Bay. Yet, from time to time, I would look up and around at my fellow passengers, most of whom were seated, either inside the main cabin or behind windscreens. “Why,” I wondered, “do they just sit? Why are they not looking at the spectacular views from the deck?” This rural traveller, from the mountains of Honshū, could not imagine that anyone would not be mesmerized by the images passing us by. Not far from Alcatraz Island is Angel Island; much broader and taller, like a rounded mountain top sticking out of the sea, covered in trees, shrubs and golden grasses. We cruised past old, dilapidated barracks and concrete buildings on the island’s east side, the United States Immigration Station, Angel Island: the first port-of-call for Chinese and Japanese immigrants who had come to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; just as ominous as Ellis Island in the harbor of New York City. Perhaps making the place seem even gloomier to me were two facts, unknown to most Americans, including residents of the Bay Area. Due to the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, many immigrants spent years on the island, waiting for entry. Likewise, and perhaps worst of all, was the fact that the island’s eastside buildings were used as a holding facility for Japanese prisoners of war during the War in the Pacific. On the island’s west side is an old U.S. Army fort, Ft. McDowell, dating back to the Civil War and now preserved as a historic site. My husband, ever a source of information tourists are not aware of, pointed out to me that on top of the island, at the very summit, was a Nike missile base, in use during the 1950s and 1960s. Perhaps cynically, I thought, “That is so very much USA!” America always seems to be at war: fighting. I have had this impression for many years now and asked my husband why the United States always seems to be at war. He, who knows war all too well, has told me from time to time, that indeed, America is always fighting; partially due to its own arrogance, and because the country (big, diverse, and often divided along economic, cultural, and racial lines) needs war as a means of unification. The country needs a “boogie-man” to hold things together and to bolster its economy. Moreover, I asked myself, “Why would they place a nuclear missile base (for the air defense missiles were equipped with nuclear warheads) on an island named for angels? Was this some sort of “black joke?”
My musing was interrupted by the sudden slowing of the boat in preparation for docking at Sausalito, as it passed the Marin town of Tiburón, situated on a long, narrow peninsula that extends southward into the bay, with its harbors for motor boats and sailboats, and houses perched precariously on the sea cliffs that descended to meet the water. I looked to the south and there was a remarkable sight: the twin towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, raising their heads above the gold and green hills of the Marin Headlands. Then I allowed my eyes to travel northward along the near horizon. There were hills, steep hills, some cloaked in a deep, dark green, others in tones of green and gold, and others entirely covered in gold: the color of the wild grasses of Northern California in the months of summer. The hills were quite remarkable in both their height and their extent, rising and falling, then rising again, into steep ranks of color. I wondered at the countless slopes; in San Francisco to the south covered by houses and apartment buildings, and before me, clothed in the colors of nature. Certainly, I supposed, any kid living in the city, 7
or growing up in Marin County, who practiced Kendō, must be in very good condition from walking up and down such slopes, surely making them strong, tough, and giving them amazing stamina. Yet, there were even more surprises ahead for me. The hills were dotted by houses of every imaginable shape, size, and color, descending along narrow, winding streets, down to the edge of the bay, where the town of Sausalito itself had grown up. Sausalito, which in Spanish means “a place of abundance,” was originally a fishing village that had grown into a shipbuilding town, rising right at the edge of San Francisco Bay and up the sides of the town’s steep hillsides. Now it is primarily a place for exclusive shops, art galleries and restaurants frequented by tourists, as well as being a “bedroom community” for prominent San Francisco businessmen, artists, and entertainers.
When I was younger, perhaps eighteen years old, and still in high school, a fortuneteller told me that my life was linked to a beach or a coastline. Fate, she told me, had linked me to a town that I had never seen and knew nothing about, in which there were many small houses on the slopes of a mountain near the sea, and a big bridge. When I first visited San Francisco, I thought that perhaps that city was the place she spoke of; certainly, it fit the requirements. Nevertheless, when I saw Sausalito for the first time, I knew that this place, Sausalito and Marin County, was what had appeared in my mind’s eye. So many surprises, and so early in the day! Suddenly I could understand what Jo Ann Beard, one of America’s best essayists meant when she said that she “loved New York for its simple surprises, although in truth, Oregon, Iowa, Arizona, and everywhere else had simple surprises as well: cantaloupe colored sunrises, banded cows, etc.” Everywhere I looked there were simple surprises and I knew that then there would be so many more to come. 8
The boat’s engines rumbled as, unaided, it maneuvered itself alongside the dock. A gangplank was quickly rolled up to the door at the boat’s side and we disembarked. We walked along the pier, immediately entering into a park-like area where other passengers waited to get onboard. The first person I noticed however, the first resident of Sausalito that I saw, was a man singing and playing a guitar. He was in his fifties perhaps, deeply tanned skin, graying light brown hair, wearing a small black cowboy-style hat, a purple tie-dyed shirt, blue jeans, and no shoes. Sitting on the lap of this musician, himself seated on a park bench, was a tan dachshund, wearing a pair of large sunglasses with multi-colored frames. The man’s songs were wonderful and fun; and the sunglasses seemed to suit the dog, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the attention he was receiving from the crowd of visitors that quickly gathered around him and his human companion. Perhaps the man was homeless, or simply maybe this was the livelihood the he had chosen for himself, but it did not seem to be very important. What was clear to me was that the man was happy, liked people, liked music, and he liked his dog, who for all the world seemed devoted to him. He was, for all I could tell, a nice man with a cute dog, not a criminal at all, who lived in Sausalito and fit so well into Sausalito’s atmosphere, bright and fresh, and not out of place at all, as perhaps he might have been regarded in more staid, conservative Japan. As I walked around the streets of “downtown” Sausalito, I found everything delightful. The town was both quaint and cute, and each of its hundred shops and galleries was unique and fun, with exciting and unique things to see in their windows and interiors. I found also that Sausalito is a town of and for artists. Some people think that art is something lofty, difficult, a bit above most people; yet in this town, art is part of its makeup: present everywhere you go, every day. There was every kind of architecture, from classic California Victorian to the most modern. There were many Spanish-styled houses and buildings. I could not help thinking that Spanish styled buildings were very nice indeed; so different in some ways from the Japanese architecture I was used to, except perhaps for the use of beautiful roof tiles of terra cotta clay. Then I recalled that a long time ago, California was a Spanish colony. My husband speaks Spanish and I thought that was a nice link to the history of the place. But then, I also remembered a red and blacktoned woodblock print by my husband’s childhood friend, Tom Killion, of the red and gold cliffs at the Marin Headlands, the fabled “Golden Gate,” that included an old, iron, or perhaps bronze cannon. Red 9
and black – the colors of war, blood, and death: things that now seemed so contrary to the delights I was seeing. There had been a time when Spain was the enemy of Sausalito and San Francisco; but the weapons of war no longer had a place here.
III MILL VALLEY
Mill Valley is located just a few minutes by car north of Sausalito on the western shore of Richardson Bay, a small inlet of the much bigger San Francisco Bay. Beyond the marshlands by the bay, the village extends westward; occupying two narrow, heavily wooded canyons that range back to what has become symbolic of Marin County, Mount Tamalpais, “The Sleeping Lady.” The actual meaning of “Tamalpais” is a bit clouded. Some people believe that the name comes from the Miwok Indian Tribe, the first residents of Mill Valley, meaning “coast mountain” (tamal pais). Other people believe the name comes from the Spanish Tamal pais meaning “Tamal country,” in reference to the local Indians whom the Spanish called “Tamal.” Most Mill Valley residents believe that the name is the Miwok word for “sleeping lady” or “maiden” and comes from the Miwok Legend of the Sleeping Lady. That is my belief as well; for every time I looked at the village from a distance, or see in in my mind, I see the silhouette of a giant, beautiful sleeping lady; the ridge of the mountain forming the soft curves of a reclining woman: her hair, her breast, her long flowing gown. She is elegant, sensual, maybe even erotic and if I were a man, I would want to extend my hand and touch her breast myself. We stayed at the home of my husband’s parents, high up on the central spur of the mountain and the first thing that we did, after being settled in our room, was to walk down to the main part of the village. The streets are quite narrow, one lane, steep in many places, and the area is heavily wooded with oak, pine, cypress, acacia and eucalyptus trees, as well as more types of shrubs than I could possibly name. The first thing my husband showed to me was a stairway that extended from the street, down a steep incline, alongside a dry creek, to another street, three or four hundred feet below. He mentioned that when 10
he was a kid, going to elementary school, he used to use the creek bed as a shortcut down, and sometimes back up. Actually, he had several such shortcuts, all of them steep. As a child, he must have developed very strong legs. We continued down the street, past beautiful houses, some hidden behind fences, down a steep hill where it intersected with another street as well as a long flight of stairs, which led down to the main part of town: over two hundred of them. It was easy, and quick, to get down the hill that way, but I found out later that when my husband attended junior high school and high school, he went that way each day, down and up, for six years. Amazing! What endurance! Once we reached “downtown,” we turned to the left, down a tree-lined street, past City Hall, and then into a residential neighborhood of beautiful, well-kept trees, shrubs, and fine-looking, stately homes. This was the Blithdale Canyon area, which during the late 19th century, became the first part of the valley to be well populated. This was where the wealthy and elite built their homes and settled in to the quiet life of Mill Valley, with street names like Blithdale, Bigelow, and Coronet. There is a creek, which runs all year, that flows through the neighborhood, along Blithdale Avenue, with trees gathered along its edge. The houses were perhaps a bit less grand than on Bigelow, but still equally amazing. I felt as though I was walking through a village area in Gifu Prefecture; and while some of the houses would not have fit a Japanese village, there were others that did. I saw one small house, surrounded by a low fence, with the main entrance guarded by an actual torii. The house was surrounded by towering trees and was of a design clearly taken from the early Shōwa era. There was no mistaking it. Had I been transported suddenly back to Japan? No, my husband explained, at one time, Japanese architecture was quite popular in Mill Valley; and indeed, many homes built after the beginning of the 20th century had Japanese design features and decorations.
We walked along the creek and through a wooded park area. Across the creek, hidden in the shadows of some very tall oak and laurel trees, was another house, also a bit Japanese in design, sitting by itself, with the water flowing by its front. It was magnificent to say the least, and turned my thoughts to Henry David Thoreau:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. …I am no more lonely than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond itself. What company has that lonely lake, I pray? And yet it has not the blue devils, but the blue angels in it, in the azure tint of its waters. The sun is alone, except in thick weather, when there sometimes appear to be two, but one is a mock sun. God is alone…
I watched water sprites dancing on the water of the stream, felt and heard the crunch of dried leaves beneath my feet, and did what I had not done in many long years, climbed a tree, as though the spirit of the place, the spirit of nature had set me free. For a few treasured moments, I was no longer a wife, a mother, someone with a job and responsibilities, but the little kid who had been locked away inside of me. We walked back along Blithdale, toward the main part of town again, and each house, each garden was a marvel. I saw the church that my husband used to go to, and the place where he attended his first dance ever, a teen party for high school students, at the Outdoor Art Club; a building designed in 1904 by famed architect Bernard Maybeck, who designed many other beautiful houses in Mill Valley, Berkeley, and San Francisco, as well as the Palace of Fine Arts, the classic Greek-style domed building, a remnant of the Pan-Pacific Exposition of 1915, which stands at the edge of San Francisco Bay between the Marina Green and the Presidio. Mill Valley is home to countless unique shops, art galleries, and restaurants and during our walk we visited as many as we possibly could. No two places were alike. We happened to walk through a gallery of shops that included a restaurant which I felt was especially wonderful, called El Paseo, “the pass.” Built decades ago of red brick, it was designed to resemble a Spanish or early Californian hacienda. The covered brick walkways and the ivy-covered walls provided a peaceful, shady escape from the sun and warmth of the day. To sit in one of the sheltered arcades, to touch the brick walls, brought on a nostalgic feeling, not unlike the feeling I had when I visited the Sierra foothills town of Folsom, which dates back to the gold rush. To sit in either of those places, to touch the walls of buildings, was to touch history. A Mill Valley landmark, really in institution, is the Mill Valley Market on Corte Madera Avenue, which has been run by the same family, the Canepa family, since 1929. People in Mill Valley tend to be “foodies”; that is, aficionados of food and drink. Of course, the town has its supermarkets, three of them, 13
located at its east end, near the bay, but in the village itself, if one wants the best in meats, vegetables, and things uncommon, then the Mill Valley Market is the place to go. The shelves are lined with foods, fresh, canned, or packaged, from Europe, Asia, and South America: things I have never tasted let alone heard of. Why, on one shelf alone, there had to be over thirty different brands of olive oil, including oil from villages in Italy and Greece that no one in Japan knew existed. The range of foods was from the strange to the exotic: all of it, well most of it, probably delicious. However, the prices were certainly not cheap. As my husband said, “You get what you pay for,” and for some items, one pays plenty. Perhaps the price of the fresh fish, much of it flown in daily, was what shocked me the most. Of course, we could not leave the store without buying something, and so my husband introduced me to something equally as exotic as some new Italian sauce, but not nearly as expensive: root beer! Later, he would treat me to something even more exotic and tasty: a scoop of vanilla ice cream floated in a glass of root beer. Fantastic!
We walked past the wine shop, past the former railroad station, now converted to a café and book store, past the pizzeria, a toy store, a small micro-brewery, and within a few minutes, we had left the “downtown” part of the village and were back in the forest, and perhaps my favorite place of all, Old Mill Park; a charming refuge consisting of acres of towering redwood trees, oaks, and laurels, with a stream flowing through its middle. The focal point of the park, the feature that gives the park its name, is an old sawmill dating back to the 1830s. I did not hesitate to climb on its heavy, two-foot thick timbered frame and stand at its middle high above stream. There is a playground in the park for children, with swings, slides and such, but the real fun of Old Mill Park is climbing in the trees, or into the hollowed out stump of some giant redwood tree. Letting my imagination go and pretending it is a fort was even more fun. My husband, his brother, and his dog, used to come to this same park almost every day, and play; indeed, one particular stump, next to the mill was his fort. His fort became my fort, and in my imagination, I was the hero of a great battle, but a safe battle, a fun battle, with no injury or death. War is a terrible thing, but the battles of kids in the forest were fun. Then suddenly, I was on a great adventure, the leader of an expedition, Indiana Jones in the Mill Valley forest, climbing trees, descending into the creek bed, walking through a mysterious tunnel beneath the street that allowed the stream to flow from one side of the park to the other, climbing up a small cliff and then crossing an old wooden bridge. After a while, we sat on a bench, finished our root beer, and continued to watch the children play in the park. I noticed that there were not nearly as many children as I might have expected. My husband agreed. Sadly, it seems that children do not play outside nearly as much as they used to, when we were children, whether in Japan or in Mill Valley. 14
Still, play seemed to be the required activity. My husband drew out a hopscotch court on the ground, a game that kids used to play when he was a kid. He told me that he hadn’t thought about the game in years and years, except for a brief mention in one of his novels, of some young black girls playing it on Fillmore Street in a San Francisco ghetto. There can be several players. The first player tosses the marker (typically a stone, coin, or beanbag) into the first square of the course. The marker must land completely within the designated square and without touching a line or bouncing out. The player then hops through the course, skipping the square with the marker in it. This process is repeated for all the players and using all the squares on the course. I’m sure we must have been an interesting sight to passersby as we played. People in middle age simply don’t play such games. Well perhaps, but we did; although, I have to say, it is probably easier to play when one is eight or ten years old. Middle age brings with it stiff joints and pain to those who dare brave the course. Across the street from the park is Old Mill School, which dates back to the 1920s, where my husband attended grades 1 through 6, and up the street is the Mill Valley Public Library, a beautifully designed building that fits right into the middle of the redwood trees and blends into the landscape. We visited the library, then walked around the school, and then up Summit Avenue, headed for home. We passed the first Catholic church in Mill Valley, the first convent and school, all dating to the 1860s and 70s, and old Victorian houses, all sheltered among the trees. The climb up the street was not easy and we took our time, savoring the sights and the smells. At one spot, I found an old rock stairway and retaining wall, extending up from the street and then suddenly ending. What had been the entrance to a stately Victorian mansion, now led nowhere.
By the time we finished our steep climb up the hill and returned to my husband’s parent’s house, the sun had almost set. The house is a luxurious two-story house, perched on a steep slope, its garage, or “carport” as they say, perched at the edge of street on tall wooden stilts. A lavish garden sits at the front of the house and the remainder of the property is forest; providing a sanctuary for the local wildlife. Crows, ravens, jays, quail, hawks and owls, as well as many other birds make their homes here or come for the food that has daily been left out for them for years. There are also rabbits, raccoons, and the occasional skunk, as well as deer. In fact, one deer in particular, was born beneath a wooden deck, at the rear of the house on the lower level, and continued to live there for years, sleeping in the garden each day. Sadly, the deer, who had in effect become a pet, died recently when he was attacked by a mountain lion. Yes, there are also mountain lions in the area as well as bobcats and coyotes. Recently there have even been reports of bears in the region. At night, Mill Valley is dark. There are almost no streetlights, the only light coming from the windows of the houses. And it is quiet, except for the sounds of nature. I could not help but feel how fortunate people in the village are to live surrounded by trees and animals, so silent and so beautiful. In the morning we walked up the road and I admired all the different shapes of houses, and the shrubs and the trees – giant trees, “USA size,” and all beautiful. We hiked out onto the side of the mountain and looked up; its peak, with its ranger station, looming overhead. It seemed just as though I was on Inuyama with its mountaintop castle looking down at us. Near the top had been a hotel at one time, actually a train station, hotel, and tavern; for back in the late 19th century and into the early 20th, a railroad had run from downtown Mill Valley, what is now the café and bookstore, westward along Blithdale Avenue, and then 16
back and forth and around the mountain. The railroad served no other purpose other than to entertain visitors; but what an exciting ride it must have been – especially going down!
IV POINT REYES
We drove to Point Reyes on the far west coast of Marin County, from Mill Valley, over the western slope of Mt. Tamalpais, and then down to the edge of the Pacific with charming coastal towns, even smaller than Mill Valley: Stinson Beach and Bolinas. We passed through restored wetlands, now preserves for wildlife and then across the notorious San Andreas Fault which separates the Pt. Reyes National Park from the rest of Marin. The small town of Olema, near park headquarters was the epicenter of the great 1906 earthquake that destroyed San Francisco. At park headquarters is a marvelous museum of the natural history of Pt. Reyes, the geology, the plant life, and the animals, which include mice, rabbits, foxes, coyotes, badgers, bobcats, mountain lions, deer, hawks, and vultures. At one time, there were even bears; but long before the area became a preserve, the bears had left in response to pressures from local farms and ranches; yet there have been reports of bear sightings in the area: perhaps they are returning. The museum also features many displays of the ocean wildlife that call the region home or visit it each year, including California sea lions, elephant seals, sharks, and whales. Because the area has been preserved and protected from much of man’s intrusion into nature, the flora and fauna flourish.
What interested me most were the many hiking trails that branch out from park headquarters; trails that will take you up into the steep, tree-covered hills, into marshlands and meadows, or down to the San Andreas Fault itself. I elected to take the long, winding, but easy trail down to the fault line. The path took me past vast meadows of tall grasses, golden and green, surrounded by thick growths of trees, far different from those that thrive on the eastern side of the fault in the main part of Marin. Then I encountered a stream, shaded by trees and shrubs that paralleled the trail, carrying sweet, cool water southward through the park. There were also what are called “sag ponds”; areas where the motion of the fault has pulverized the rock and soil so that it has sunk and compacted and water has collected, giving cattails, reeds and willows a place to grow. On the other side of the fault were high, rounded ridges, “mole tracks” as my husband called them, because they resemble the tracks that a mole or gopher might make in a garden. Actually, they are pressure ridges, pushed upward by the immense forces present in the San Andreas – energy so great as to be unimaginable, and which is palpable as one stands there. The great energy surrounds the visitor and rises up through one’s feet into their body. The feeling can be both awesome and frightening at one time. Lining the trail were also huge growths of wild blackberry bushes. The climate at Pt. Reyes is cool and summer comes later there than it does to the rest of Marin; still, young berries were to be found everywhere, then red but soon to be black and sweet. I kept hoping that by some strange quirk of nature, the bears had possibly returned and that I would encounter one helping himself to a tasty blackberry snack. I wanted to see a bear, not in some cage or grotto in a zoo, but roaming wild. I wanted to be wild, as free a spirit as the bears and the bunnies of Pt. Reyes. I kept saying to myself, “Come on bear. Come just for a moment. Look! I brought my husband with me. Take a look. Perhaps he is a bit tasty!” But no bear came. 18
A visitor can walk right up onto the fault line; in fact, there is a fence that runs east and west that crosses the rupture from the 1906 earthquake. The fence has been broken, separated, with the western part of the fence eighteen feet north of the eastern part. This is how far the earth moved during the Great San Francisco Earthquake, in a matter of three seconds according to eyewitnesses. Here again, the great energy could be felt: it surrounded me.
This is a wonderful place for school students to learn about earthquakes, crustal shift, and the powers of nature. I could not help but to think that people who live in San Francisco and the Bay Area could perhaps understand, better than most, Japan’s own recent disaster and sadness because of an earthquake. Human beings have for ages tried to fight against nature, to overcome such marvels as storms, and quakes, and now continue the fight by use of modern technology. The thinking is that if the technology is possible, then fewer people will die as a result of natural disasters. But, I cannot help but wonder if this is in a way “wrong thinking?” To fight against nature is to fight against the gods. Is such a fight possible to win? Personally, I think in the end, it is impossible. I am sure that many people would disagree with me, particularly people who live in northern Honshū. “We should overcome nature,” they might argue, “so that there are no more victims of such calamities.” Still, I think that in the long-term, it is impossible to fight against nature. We must leave nature to itself. It would be better if we work to become better stewards of the earth and to avoid the wrath of the gods. Nature is art made by the gods. Can we alter or control the art of the gods? It is impossible.
V AN EVENING WALK IN MILL VALLEY
That evening we were back in Mill Valley walking through the neighborhood at sunset. The air was warm and except for the occasional car passing us by, all was quiet. I found myself transported back to Japan; for as we walked, I discovered almost countless Japanese-style wooden fences; the same fences that one would see walking down a neighborhood street in Kyōto or even see in some samurai film. My curiosity got the best of me. I had to see what was behind those fences that often had thick, tall bamboo growing in front of them. “Oh my!” I thought as I peeked through several of them along the way. “Samurai houses! I have come from Japan, only to arrive in Japan again!” The feeling was unbelievable and at the same time confusing. There were samurai houses, some of them magnificent, worthy of an Edo period daimyo. Was I in the hills of Kyōto again? Was I back home in Tajimi? I had to take photographs to show my friends. They would never believe that I was in Mill Valley. I could almost hear them, “Oh, you went to Kyōto?”
There are also strange houses in Mill Valley; houses with ghosts, houses that have witnessed murders. My husband took me to one such house not far from his parent’s home. In fact, it had been the home of two of his friends and playmates from his childhood. However, years later, a lone, psychotic murder entered the home and massacred the family. Knowing ahead of time that I was going to visit this house, I expected a feeling, an experience, like that one might expect from an American horror movie, such as Friday The 13th. Instead of the terror, what I found, perhaps because of Mill Valley’s old Victorian and 20
Japanese architecture or because of the lush trees and shrubs, set on a quiet mountain, was an eeriness, a gothic beauty more appropriate to a 19th century novel than modern California. In Mill Valley, even horror, even a haunted house, has gothic beauty.
VI LOOKING BACK
The next morning it was time to leave Mill Valley and Marin. Reluctantly we drove south on the highway that led back to San Francisco were our trip began; high above Sausalito and San Francisco Bay, through a tunnel whose southern portal is painted with rainbows, into the fog and across the Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped at the south end of the bridge, the toll plaza, and looked back. There in the wind, in the fog, was the famous bridge, and behind that, the golden and red cliffs of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate. No longer could I see what had become my beloved Mt. Tamalpais or Mill Valley, or even Sausalito. Only the water, the bridge, and the old fortifications that I saw in Tom Killion’s print.
Mill Valley changed me; I hope for the better. It is not a high-tech town, nor is it necessarily a place of convenience. The streets are narrow, winding, and sometimes even dangerous. There are few streetlights. In a winter storm, a broken branch from a tree is likely to knock out electrical power or phone service to a neighborhood. People do not drive their cars as much; instead, they walk or ride bicycles, even though the hills are steep. There are creatures that roam the hills: bobcats, coyotes, even the occasional mountain lion. In Mill Valley inconvenience does not mean poor. It is a town rich in 21
imagination and art. There are riches of mind and of spirit. There are no big hotels, no department stores. Yes, there are a couple of supermarkets on the outskirts of, but what fun are they? Shopping in Mill Valley Market, as small as it may be and as narrow as the aisles are, is more like a visit to a toy store. In Mill Valley, in the shadow of the Sleeping Lady, I could see art. I could touch history. I was free to use the imagination of a child. I could see impossible, imaginary things; a tree stump became a fort, and a small tunnel with a creek running through it, beneath a road, became a mysterious place. I could climb trees and play in Old Mill Park, and become anything I wanted. As the actor, Peter Coyote, who lives up on the mountain and loves Mill Valley said, “This is my turf…a place where I can get good meat form Kean’s (the butcher at the Mill Valley Market), impeccable service from Dimitroff the framer, and careful attention to my car from Olivera’s gas station. There are deer in my yard every day.” I think back now to the trees, the creeks, the old houses, the mountain, and the deep blue sky above it. These are simple things, but such simplicity, such freedom to imagine, even to be a kid and play, are things we truly need, and we too often forget.
Translated by Tokugawa H.
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