Sarafornia

Samuel Brannan arrived in San Francisco bay in 1846 on a settlement expedition from the east coast. After the gold rush, he printed the first english-speaking newspaper in the west. He went on to wear many hats: entrepreneur; politician; church leader, and brewmaster, among others, and was California’s first millionaire -though he later lost everything after being caught using his church’s tithes to buy his private land. He also founded our current town after seeing its potential as a natural spa and vineyard region similar to those he knew about in New York. At his big development announcement to the townspeople and press, he meant to refer to this area as the “Saratoga of California” but inadvertently twisted it out as the “Calistoga of Sarafornia.” The name stuck.

There’s something similar between Indonesia and Calistoga that we appreciate. Both places fill their landscapes with rows and rows and rows of a beautiful crop. In Bali it’s rice, here it’s grapes. They cling to the contours and curve around the hills, and spread across the valley floor as the beautiful icons of this region that they are. As in Indonesia, we love seeing the cycles of growth, from shaved lots to early seeding to full harvest. But unlike the rice fields in Asia which stay green throughout their cycle, the vineyards here will eventually end in spectacular autumn reds, yellows, oranges and magentas.

We’ve noticed different types of grapevines. Some start out horizontally along raised wires while others are staked to grow upward. Some vines have thick gnarly wooden stems while others have thin rubbery green ones. Maybe these are the differences between reds and whites? Many homes around town have vineyards in their front yards -even if just one short row. Many of the large vineyards that we bike past are organic, which we appreciate.

Big wineries dot both highways and crossroads that run up the Napa valley, and some are world famous. We like to bike around their grounds and explore their nooks and crannies. We oddly don’t see much of anyone or anything going on at these wineries -or in the vineyards. It’s strange, there are thousands of acres of vineyards in this valley,  a vast industry going on all around us, which we know takes a lot of men, machines and vehicles, but those things largely escape us somehow. Bright yellow mustard grass sprang up between the thousands of rows of vines throughout February and March, and grew to be 3-4′ tall. The next thing you know it was cut, everywhere, and the fields were prepared for their cycle to start. How could we miss that?! Can all the work occur in the wee hours?

As we’ve watched the Napa river slow to a sad trickle since April, we’ve also watched the vines grow in height and bulk. You can still see across the tops of most rows, but not for long. Many vineyards have a few tall fans that tower above the vines, used to warm or cool the grapes as needed. Some seem to be mobile, because they vanish and then appear somewhere else (but of course we never see them being moved!). There are different varieties. My favorite are rusty and old and speak to an earlier day, as do many of the homes that share the land. Original wooden farmhouses and barns are still home for many, usually tucked off in a distant corner, while closer to the roads stand the modern or fanciful wineries and tasting rooms that compete for attention. Some have long, dramatic, tree-lined entrances. Many of the buildings mimic the castles, chateaus or country estates of France, England, or Italy. Some prefer a modern design to their buildings, while others try to blend into the natural landscape. Some have long, dramatic, tree-lined entrances.

A few short decades ago, Calistoga was more of a lumber-oriented community. But as that industry slowed and whittled away, it was replaced by a burgeoning one, that of making wine. Downtown Calistoga has several wine tasting shops now, which seem to be doing well. One recently moved into the cornerstone art-deco building located at the prime spot in town; Lincoln at Washington, the former long-time domain of Wells Fargo. Back in Samuel Brannan’s day, a stage coach would transport gold and silver along the Silverado Trail to Vallejo, and then ferry it across the bay to San Francisco.

The riches of this industry come at a cost, and create a struggle between issues of growth versus the environment. As usual these concerns are tied to larger issues of money and influence and politics. Recent permits have been granted for the development of 2 controversial projects; a large luxury spa resort in the valley, and another one up in the hills -on land bought from a foreign investor. Local citizen heroes pay attention, stay informed, and use their spare time to try to inform others and stop the privatization of public lands, prevent the use of chemicals within a certain proximity to streams, and limit the angle of incline allowed for future vineyards due to the chemical runoff.

There are about 500 vineyards now in Napa Valley, and 200 more in Sonoma county next door. While the vineyard business is thriving here, we’ve heard that the optimum climate for growing grapes is changing, and has migrated north to Oregon, Washington and even Canada, where award-winning wines can already be found.

-matt

 

Calistoga

Our first week as official Calistogan’s was the first one in December, when the town holds its annual Xmas festivities. The holiday art fair, with small town simplicities and charms felt good to us. Lit up scenes of happy children, dedicated parents, smiling artisans, bakers, and musicians who all seemed to know each another. Afterwards I walked along the main street in town and discovered scores of empty chairs lining both sides of it. The annual “Lighted Tractor Parade” was slated for later that night and people were already staking out their places in advance. I went home and quickly returned with 2 folding chairs of our own. By the time the parade started that crisp night, Lincoln street was lined with 1-2-3 thousand excited people, who oohed and awed and clapped as many dozen farm vehicles -from small tractors to flatbeds to big rigs- crawled by in single file, draped in xmas lights. The next Saturday night there was another parade, with about 20 Aztec dancers and 100 Mexican traditionalists following a Sister Guadalupe display in the back of a slow moving pickup truck. It started at the high school and zig-zagged down Lincoln and past the firehouse to the catholic church, packed with celebrants.

Calistoga is a small town of about 5,500 residents, 75 miles north of San Francisco. Tourists are attracted to its natural thermal spas, mud baths, wineries, a famous geyser, hot-air balloon rides, and gorgeous surrounding landscapes and state parks. City hall is a small building with a bell tower on top and 3 friendly clerks inside located around the corner from the only traffic light in town. Across the street is the site of the weekly Farmer’s Market which we look forward to every Saturday as a growing social hub and source of healthy produce, live music, and good vibes. There are several parks scattered around town, a community pool, many ball fields, a local art scene with classes, and more dedicated plaques imbedded on benches, in rocks and at tree bases than I’ve ever seen. In the middle of town is the local wing of the Napa county fairgrounds, with a pavilion used frequently for events, a small golf course, an RV park (where we first stayed last fall), and the Calistoga Speedway which hosts several car and motorbike races throughout the summer.

There’s a significant Latino population here which enriches and broadens our experience -and has thankfully reacquainted us with authentic Mexican food! Many are associated with the labor forces required by the scores of wineries, spas and restaurants which dominate the economy and landscape. (Both Calistoga mineral water and Crystal Geyser have their bottling plants here too). Our sense is that the laborers are valued, respected and happy here, and make a better living than most elsewhere for the same work. This is a relaxed town. There’s respect and warmth from its people, and a certain harmony and acceptance. The young sales and service people are noticeably friendly.

The heart of town along Lincoln street is charming, and looks like a town in the gold country. Overhangs above the sidewalk provide shade in the summer. With the exception of the popular hardware store, chainstores are not allowed here. The well-paved streets are lined with sycamore, oak, olive, persimmon, pine and palm trees, and cactuses, and show off many beautiful styles of architecture going back to the 1800’s. There are large lots with gorgeous victorians, old farmhouses, barns, water towers, craftsmans, clusters of cottages, and mid century moderns to admire, often with adirondack chairs on the lawns, peace signs made from wine barrel planks on the porches (including ours), and varied artsy-quirky things to notice. There are 3-4 nice mobile home parks and several older, attractive churches to admire: Catholic; Baptist; Russian Orthodox; Episcopal, 7th Day Adventist, Presbyterian, and Jehovah’s Witness, among others. There’s a gorgeous old Monastery too. The monastic nuns walk around wearing black robes, and sell homemade cookies at the farmers market. The lone high school starts at 7th grade and graduates about 60 seniors every May. It struggles at times to field enough players for their sports teams to compete against other schools -except for soccer, at which they excel.

Among our treasured early experiences here was exploring the streets of Calistoga on bike and getting waved to or nodded at by most everyone we passed. We bike almost daily now, sometimes for many hours. It’s nice and flat here, situated between 2 mountain ranges that are about 2 miles apart. We enjoy riding both nearby and out to the farther reaches of town, and have discovered some awesome roads that wind past vineyards and landscapes that mimick the paintings and photos sold in the art galleries in town. The mountain range to our west is mostly pine trees, and includes a famous petrified forest. The range to the east is especially beautiful. Storybook foothills front tall, rounded Mt St Helena, and a stunning stretch called the Palisades that features a dramatic mile-long volcanic wall of mauve outcroppings reminiscent of Wyoming. They can turn orange at dusk from the setting sun which is really gorgeous. The beautiful winding foot trail that leads up to the Palisades starts in town, and has become a favorite hiking destination of ours. Someday we plan on making it all the way to Table Rock. There are several other trailheads nearby as well that lead up into both ranges.

The Napa river starts in these hills and flows down through Calistoga, with 2-3 tributaries that join in from both ranges to snake southward into the Napa delta 35 miles away. We like to check the river flow at the many crossings around town. El Nino’s strong rains rose the river many feet last month which was exciting, and washed over a river-crossing that we often use to get downtown. We hope to see a repeat performance of this water level in March.

We feel very lucky to have landed in Calistoga for the time being. We wanted a small town and we got ourselves a good one.

-matt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sri Lanka

A year ago this week, we needed to leave Indonesia for a routine “visa run”, which required getting our passports stamped somewhere else. We decided to explore the tear-drop island-nation of Sri Lanka, that sits off the southeast shore of India. (Substory: despite their government website claims, copious requested documents provided, many lines waited in, additional forms filled out and money spent, it turns out that Sri Lanka is not the place for a visa run. So afterwords we spent a week or so in Bangkok to get it done). Still, we really liked our travels in Sri Lanka, and I’ve wanted to write about it ever since we got back. But life got in the way at first and then I couldn’t find my notes from our trip -still can’t. So I’ve stopped searching and started typing, and will include a lot of photos to compensate.

Sri Lanka is a relatively new travel destination due to a 30 year civil war which just ended in 2009. A month there might sound like a long time, but it’s not. The island is many times larger than Bali, and much more diverse. Great beaches all around it, and jungly green mountains in the middle, Sri Lanka looked, sounded, smelled, and tasted different than the other countries we know in Southeast Asia, and felt like an adventure. It’s character is most similar to India, and is commonly referred to as “India Light”. Many, many people were very kind to us. But we also encountered too many who expected money for simple or ordinary things.

We flew into (and out of) the capital city of Colombo, located on the western shore. After a few days of getting our bearings we headed to the central hills region and city of Kandy. We went through it 2-3 times as we criss-crossed to and from the cultural sites and remote hills. We took lots of crowded and adventurous buses and trains, taxis, tuk tuks, a motorbike, bicycles, and we walked a lot. Getting to and from distant regions was not easy, though we appreciated just how new tourism is there. Our travels included several steep climbs past serious -and recent- rockslides. Further south we sought out 2 safaris (our first ever), and eventually made it to the southern shoreline of interesting beach towns, fishing villages and the walled city of Fort Galle. We finished off with a lovely coastal train ride back up to Colombo.

Random favorite experiences, among many:

Ocean swimming with the locals. First at Mirissa and later at Galle, we were really touched by how well the Sri Lankan’s play together (men in skivvies, women in long saris). The teenagers, young adults and the elders were gentle and open and happy and playful. Zero alpha energy, just pure fun. With calm waters, stunning dusk scenery around us, and inner-tubes supporting us as we drifted, ebbed and flowed, it was perfect.

Kandy. The central hilly town buzzes all day as tuk tuks circle its beautiful, central lake, past nuptials and snake charmers. The markets came alive in the cooler streets at night. The Temple of the Tooth Relic is a UNESCO sight and the nightly relic ritual is not to be missed. The large arboretum nearby is a spectacular collection of habitats and trees  -and lots of bats, hanging asleep, upside down.

Golden Temple of Dambulla. Way up in the hills behind an enormous golden buddha, is a row of ancient caves carved into the stone hilltop, with dozens of figures of all sizes posed under sloped ceilings painted in exquisite detail. Extraordinary, and worth going out of the way for.

We especially liked hanging out in mountainous Ella, which felt a bit Himalayan. I spent half a day hiking the steep verdant slopes of Adam’s Peak. We enjoyed slow strolls through hills of tea shrubs, and the best / healthiest / tastiest food on the trip. Our remote bungalow clung to the hillside, looking down a long and gorgeous mountain gap.

Fort Galle. This smaller and separate part of the larger city juts out into the sea at the southwest corner. Walled by the Portuguese and Dutch 300 years ago, it’s a maze of narrow streets and nooks and crannies begging to be explored. It’s a relaxing place, but with a vibrant local community, Indian and Muslim influence, beautiful mixed architecture, and the Indian ocean on 3 sides lapping at the wall below, it’s one of the few places we’ve encountered in which we could imagine living for a spell.

My cricket debut. A young man we met in Galle invited me to play with his team the following day. It was all a blur to me. I still don’t have a clue about how the game is played, and I flubbed all 4 of my fielding opps. But the backdrop was fabulous, and I so enjoyed myself.

Seeing the stilt fishermen. Some were tourist posers, but others were legit. It’s a dying skill in Sri Lanka. And the caught fish were stunning in colors of red, blue and brown.

Back-to-back Safaris at Udawalawe and Yala National Park. Jennifer enjoyed these more than I did, as I found the rides waaaaay too bumpy. We never saw any panthers as hoped, but did see many beautiful animals, gorgeous landscapes and interesting habitats up close and personal. A constant highlight throughout Sri Lanka was the beautiful birds, and the varied natural settings.

Chathura and his family. The taxi driver who first picked us up at the airport turned out to be a lovely, thoughtful and special man whom we saw again and again. He went out of his way to help us navigate our visa attempts, and drove us here and there. At the end of our trip, we reunited for a spectacular traditional dinner at his house, where we met his wife, 2 children, and mother. We look forward to seeing them all again.

All this, and we didn’t even visit the northern third and eastern side of the island, nor many key sites that were within our reach. We hope to return.

-matt

 

 

 

Breaking the Mold

We moved into our rental home in Calistoga on December 1st. All we had in terms of furnishings was a blow-up camping mattress and a floor lamp, given to us by the proprietor of the Santa Rosa RV park. The irony. Just 3 months earlier, we had a house packed with stuff. Timing is everything. After Jennifer was diagnosed with Lyme and we realized that we weren’t going back to Indonesia for a while, we began searching for a new rental. We planned to get a furnished place somewhere, not knowing about the 4-letter wrinkle that would alter things so much.

The first of several Lyme specialists wanted to rid Jennifer of the mold in her body before treating for Lyme -and this phase could take a year to complete by itself. We were new to this field and trying to catch up quickly, but were caught by surprise. What’s mold got to do with Lyme? A year -just for the mold?! For this and other reasons we moved on, and quickly learned first hand how Lyme is very complicated to diagnose, and that there’s a wide range of beliefs and disbeliefs about treatment. We visited with a handful of Lyme specialists from Monterey to Santa Rosa until we met one in Redwood City who ended our search.

A former Lyme patient himself, he combed through Jennifer’s copious files and test results with interest, asked her the right questions, and explained himself clearly. His method, lo and behold, factors mold into the equation. It usually is not a problem for Jennifer or most people, though some warn that mold is central to more illnesses than we know. But it interferes with her particular Lyme treatment because she has a susceptibility to it. Once the Lyme bacteria is removed from her body and her treatment ends, mold will no longer be a problem for her. All Lyme cases are different. With ours, we hope that she can be cured of Lyme within a year or so. Only time will tell and there are no guarantees. Medicine is an art rather than a science, as dad is fond of saying.

In the meantime, doctor’s orders. Jennifer and I have 2 very different lives going on under our shared roof. She can go outside for walks and bike rides, which she loves doing 2-3x daily. But since mold commonly exists in most buildings as airborne spores, she cannot go into any other buildings: grocery or clothes stores; cafes; library; theater; bank; friend’s houses; restaurants -unless they have an outdoor patio. She’s almost under house arrest -for a year! She could wear a vogmask in some situations, but the mold would still contaminate her clothes, and that gets complicated. Our rental home was remodeled down to the studs five years ago and de-molded, which allowed us to move in -for the time being. Only future tests will tell whether or not we can stay. Our car is also off limits to Jennifer due to mold, as are buses. So far that’s been ok, and maybe it will remain so. We’ll cross that bridge later. But for now she really can’t go anywhere.

I, on the other hand can go everywhere -and have been busy doing just that in order to bring furnishings and food and etc. into our empty home. We need to control our home environment one piece at a time. Hard surfaces such as futon frames, dressers, plates, chairs and tables, etc. must be swiped first with 409 before coming into the house. Packaging stays outside. Items with fabric must be avoided altogether, purchased new, or in the case of futons and mattresses, encased in mold-proof plastic. I really enjoy the varied grocery, hardware, bike shop, cafe, pharmacy and post office runs and tasks around town, and to the surrounding towns of St Helena, Napa and Santa Rosa. But every time I come back home from being inside any other building I have a routine to go through (as do visitors to our home). I almost always come and go out the back door. First I change into a bathrobe inside my old artist canopy set up in the yard. I leave my clothes there, shower (and shampoo) upon entering the house, and put on Borax-washed clothes. I leave the house in the reverse order (sans shower). I wear the robe out to the canopy and put on my “task” clothes, shoes, and jackets that are kept there. Yikes. El Niño! Often its been wet, or cold. I group my tasks together as best I can to avoid multiple showers. December was a very busy task month, but not so much now.

Our system is not bulletproof. Nor can it be. There are still details for us to work out and better routines to establish. But we’re doing the best we can to keep mold outside,  and hopefully it’ll be enough. Jen is actually very much enjoying her days, as am I, but wishes she could socialize around town more easily and naturally, without such limits. She’s missing out on being a full Calistogan. And it’s not an easy or ideal way to welcome friends and meet neighbors, but we still managed to do both this month. Jo from across the street kindly gave us a de-lish plate of baked goods as a welcoming gift, and I at least went to her holiday gathering. Buddy Kristi has visited twice already, volunteering to be the guinea pig for our awkward guest entry protocol (AGEP). Cathie and Harvey took the plunge too and were unharmed physically or emotionally! And Mike and Tami met us for food and drinks one night at the (freezing) outdoor patio at the Calistoga Inn! Such troopers! We give our thanks.

2016 is going to be a very interesting year.

-matt

 

Dr. Patel: http://www.drrajpatel.net

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Lurch

This Fall was an interesting season for us. In an initial effort to scout out a place to live, we rented a VW Westfalia and explored towns and cities from Monterey to San Luis Obispo to Calistoga. We considered many types of homes and situations, including mobile home parks for people 55+. Our likes, wants and needs became more focussed, and we both realized a heightened impatience for stop lights and traffic congestion -likely influenced by living on a smallish Indonesian island for 2 years.

We ruled out living in the immediate Bay Area for this and other reasons, yet still desired to be close-ish to our loved ones there. My early first choice was SLO: smallish, energized college town; friendly people; healthy lifestyles; biking, walking and trekking-friendly; politically progressive; gorgeous surroundings; and close proximity to the ocean. But after exhausting our efforts there, we turned our camper van around and headed north to scout out the wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties.

We traded in our Westy for a motorhome that we named Lurch, and dedicated the month of November to living inside of him while continuing our search. Neither of us had ever stepped foot in one before. He was 24 feet long -4 feet longer than the one we signed up for, but had a better table / seat area, which came in handy as our research space. He had a surprisingly large and comfortable bed in back (and another large-but-claustophobic one above the cab), tv monitor, phone booth-sized shower, toilet, fridge; sink, stove, microwave, ample storage space, and a “slider” wall that extended the “living room” outward 2 extra feet with the touch of a button that gave plenty of room at night. He warmed up quickly, and we felt fortunate and appreciative for his comforts.

But it wasn’t all good. Lurch was a bear to park or turn around, and due to his width from side mirror to side mirror, there were many white-knuckle passages while on narrow country roads, or when passing big rigs. Early on we realized the obvious: Lurch made for a great home base but was not a practical or efficient way to see the rental homes scattered about the various small towns. So we hatched a new plan, and the next day I bussed and BARTed my way to SF where I retrieved our car and drove it back to the Calistoga RV park where we’d planted ourselves.

We were intrigued by the RV world, and began to learn the ropes of this lifestyle, which included rookie mistakes. Here’s a tip: make sure the valves are pushed in on the grey and black water tanks before twisting the cap off! We were intrigued by the varied types of trailers, busses and motorhomes parked around us, and didn’t know they could be that huge! We appreciated the sense of community and caravans that exists at the RV camps, and felt a minor kinship with these nomads, some of whom live in their campers all year(s) as they criss-cross the country. We met a lot of Snowbirds too: folks from Canada or up north, who follow the sun to the southern states during the winter.

We really enjoyed getting to know the towns and highways of Sonoma and Napa counties better, and had good take-aways from every town: In Cloverdale, the RV park shares space with a community hall. We slept there on 2 consecutive Saturday nights, during which time Mexican music wafted outside into the cold stary night. We finally decided to explore its origin and snuck in from the back to discover an amazing Quinceañera going on behind a long curtain. The proud honoree was now 15 years old, and this was her special day to shine. A large stage supported a very loud, full-out Mariachi orchestra, playing to a large crowd; We visited the town of Angwin up in the eastern hills, and saw it’s 7th Day Adventist roots; We spontaneously attended a live interview with -and short performance by- Elvis Costello at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville; In Healdsburg, we killed an hour once by walking around a beautiful hidden lake. It was Halloween, and every town we visited that day was full of good spirits; I spent half a day exploring the historic Railroad section of downtown Santa Rosa, and then, back at that RV camp, the proprietor gave us a nice floor lamp that someone had left behind -this would be our first piece of furniture for our new home.

We loved driving on the many stunning back roads and highways, especially through Anderson Valley on highway 128. Our very favorite town soon became Calistoga, but the tight housing situation was made worse by a devastating Lake County fire in September which clouded the rental prospects there. Fortunately we were the first responders to a posting for a newly-renovated rental home in the heart of town. The landlord gave us first dibs, and waited patiently with us for the mold test results a week later -which turned out to be in the middle range. Jen’s doctor gave us the option to live there -under a few conditions and further mold tests after 3 months. We jumped at the chance. If 3 months is all we get to experience life in Calistoga, so be it.

Suddenly, we were through with our house search, yet still had 2 weeks more of Lurch to use up. We pointed him south again, this time to where several groups of Jen’s family live, long-overdue for our visit. We took interesting back roads and quiet highways most of the way, past vast acres of oil wells, almond and olive trees, to Hesperia, Pasadena, Duarte, Oceanside, and Thousand Oaks. We slept in RV parks, Walmart parking lots and truck stops -which were especially interesting. We liked walking past the rows of these beautiful, slumbering behemoths at night, slanted tightly side by side by side, shiny and clean from the truck-wash, engines idling until late. One was carrying an F16 fighter jet from Tucson to Spokane.

We returned Lurch to his San Leandro roots 1,750 miles later. After so many hectic months and big decisions, we now felt able to relax a bit, and enjoy these days. And we felt the winds of positive change upon our smiling faces.

-matt

(These pictures hardly capture the beauty we experienced during our home search. But sometimes I just want to enjoy the scenery instead of capturing it with a camera).

 

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Convoy to the Sea

My notes are in storage, and my memory is fading, so now that I have the ability to write again I want to take a stab at a fantastic experience that we had last March.

There are so many amazing ceremonies in Bali to behold throughout the year. Probably our favorite occurs every March, called Nyepi, the “day of silence”. It’s perhaps best known for the monstrous ogoh-ogoh figures that are wildly paraded around the night before. But as with many ceremonies, there are varied parts to this event which occur over several days. We witnessed some of the rituals during our first Nyepi, and were appropriately wowed. But a friend advised us next time to try to witness the ceremony that initiates Nyepi, called Melasti. This ritual aims to purify sacred objects from the village temples, and to acquire sacred water from the ocean. It is performed 3-4 days before the day of silence at various Pura Segara, or temple by the sea, found all around the perimeter of the island.

We were in luck this year because we lived on the compound of Bapak Ketut, a respected figure in our village, and one who helps organize the village events. Our only requirement other than dressing the part was that we awake early enough to join the village convoy. At 4:30 that morning, the hundreds of villagers of Nyuh Kuning began gathering at the sacred banyan tree, and by 5:00 we were all off. On motorbike, in the thick of things, we were surrounded by scores of cars, motorbikes, and open trucks packed tight with villagers, sacred objects, musical instruments, food, cooking supplies, ornaments and varied equipment.

As we passed through the many villages during this hour-plus convoy, I began to understand the organizational complexity of what was happening. Our lengthy stampede had the right of way the entire ride to the sea, as local officials held back cross-traffic and excited onlookers at every intersection, aided by members of our village. In fact, this set up a funny recurrence of our waving to those we knew as they stood beside their motorcycles helping -only to see them again at the next village, doing the same thing. We never saw them catch up and pass us, and in fact it seemed impossible that they could do so so quickly. That’s so Bali!

But even more impressive was how organized the island was on this day as a whole. We were just one of thousands of villages across the island taking part in this seaside ritual. Each was apparently granted a specific time for transport to a specific part of the coast, for a specific amount of time. There are nearly 4 million inhabitants of this small island, and most all made their way to the sea during this 2 day period. The planning and execution for this ceremony was indeed evident and impressive.

The scene at the coast revealed the sheer number of people involved and the limited coastal space available. Once there, we immediately lost track of which clan was ours but did our best to follow the masses, hopefully to the right place. Hordes of villagers were leaving as others were arriving. Squeezed in tightly, we slowly walked past lines of even slower moving trucks that were packed with people and components while varied gamelon orchestras played near and far and ornate banners flew and colorful parasols appeared. It was a gorgeous, sunny day.

Once we found our particular village spot, we were surprised at how much was already set up. A long and impressive line of bamboo and grass display tables and offerings stood standing, and tons of food was cooking. Most everyone wore white. This scene unfolded in both directions along the coast for as far as we could see, as other villages were doing as we were. It wasn’t clear where ours ended and theirs began. Hundreds of worshipers sat in the hot sun, while others busily scampered about to and fro. Incense burned, flags waved, music chimed. The high priest of Nyuh Kuning sat in his private bale, going through his own slow ritual of changing clothes and tossing flowers and ringing his small bell. There was a lot of collective prayer: hundreds of villagers sat on the ground in rows, raising flowers to their heads in unison before getting doused with sacred water. There was a lot of just sitting around too, plates of food on laps, or doing nothing in particular. Men gathered together and smoked cigarettes, laughed, people-watched, or looked bored behind ubiquitous sunglasses. There certainly was not a sense of being rushed.

Toward the end, women gathered together carrying tall, arched bamboo penjor-like poles and parasols, and carefully stepped down the rocky embankment to the beach sand, to dip the bottom tips into the ocean. This was followed by the significant closing procession along the water’s edge, of varied sacred artifacts brought from our village, carried by select village members and officials. These were spectacular sights, as was the entire event.

After maybe 4-5 hours, we followed the cue of others and joined in a long, slow, and festive walk back to the street where our vehicles and motorbikes were parked, passing members of other villages just arriving for their own festivities, like clockwork.

-matt

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Letting Go

As I returned to San Francisco from Indonesia in April, I expected to see a lot of my friends and family throughout the months ahead. But nearly 7 months later (where did that time go?!), I’m sorry to say that that didn’t happen much, as there’s just been too steady a stream of overlapping tasks at hand to address. We didn’t live in a bubble exactly. I was able to take part in both annual sibling hikes; visit dad and friends now and then. I witnessed my ex softball team finally win the city championship, and the Warrior’s incredible title run (still almost can’t believe either happened). We enjoyed a sing-along to the Wizard of Oz at the Castro theater with Matt and Rita. And old friend Arthur and I watched the Fare Thee Well broadcast of the Dead’s last show on July 5th, which further reinforced the theme of life going by.

The overwhelming message weaving through most everything this year has been of change and letting go. Perhaps the hardest example involved our 2 precious cats, Ozzie and Oscar. Cat Lives Matter! I spent a lot of time handing out and posting a flyer that I made, in search of the right fit. The whole process and prospect of giving them away made us very sad. We were determined to keep them together, but try doing that with 2 older adult male cats. In the end, my sister Kristy in Antioch who adores animals -but who already had 2 cats and a dog- offered to take them. I still well-up at the importance of her gesture. Not only would she provide the best cat home ever, but we’d also always have visiting rights! It was a strike of lightning that we didn’t see coming.

Meanwhile, we were saying goodbye to our world, including many dear neighbors. Lil is 88 now. She lived in our house until her 40’s, and then moved across the street when she married neighbor Mario. They sold me her old house after her mother passed on. Mario passed away a few years ago, but Lil and I remain dear friends. News of our leaving broke her heart at first, but now she’s a big supporter of our life adventure. For years, Jennifer and I enjoyed rotating potluck dinners with 6 great neighbors whose backyards share our common corner. We all enjoyed 1 last happy dinner party together, which we savored. Bernal Heights is a treasure of a neighborhood. We were so fortunate to experience such an artsy, progressive, charming, and close-knit “village on a hill”. The open space at the top is a true SF gem, as is Cortland Street, Wild Side West, Inclusion’s Gallery, the Alemany Flea and Farmer’s Markets, the many stairways and varied nooks and views all around the hill, and the close proximity to other interesting neighborhoods, including Potrero Hill where we were married. Contrary to the current view of many, I believe that with only a few exceptions, Bernal (and all of SF) is a better place now than when I first moved there in 1998. The fixer-upper I bought back then is much nicer today. Those years of hands-on home and yard improvement represent my most rewarding and challenging creative project ever. Maybe down the road I’ll do that again somewhere.

We looked at many options for letting go of our stuff, and settled on a weekend sale event, organized, priced, and sold through an estate sale company. We each had to go through our personal things for months ahead of time just to decide what to keep. I’d long been intrigued by the concept of letting go of my stuff, and wondered what that process would be like, and it was every bit as sweet and sour as I imagined. Most every thing had an emotional attachment. Many times I needed to remind myself of how I do not want to keep accumulating stuff, nor storing a collection of memories to look back on when I’m old. I’m sentimental enough already, but want to look forward to new things throughout the rest of my life. If I hadn’t used or missed it in 2-3 years, then I didn’t need it anymore. It was a difficult, challenging, and really interesting examination and process to go through. In the end we let go of about 3/4 of our stuff, and hope to cut what survived in half during this coming year.

We kept the obvious things such as photos, vital documents, and a smattering of smaller personal items, but musical instruments (guitars, piano, keyboard, accordions, amps, etc): out. My hundreds of treasured record albums: out (I compromised and kept my CD’s and tapes). Most all my clothes, art and art-supplies, camping gear, tools, books, housewares, bedding, furniture, and sorted knick-knacks: out. Some things didn’t sell, despite veeeery cheap prices. So for 2 days afterwards we scrambled to sell the last things on Craigslist, while compiling an extensive “freebie” pile on the sidewalk -which would be gone each morning. The final cherry on top was an impressive pile of varied stereo equipment that somehow still wouldn’t sell. Finally, come Labor Day, that long, hard push was done with. Like it or not, our house was empty, our stuff was gone, and so were we -mostly.

We needed to be out of our house by then, but were still very busy with other tasks and needed to stay close to SF. Through September and October we were greatly helped by the kindness of others, for which we are so grateful. Two of those backyard neighbors had Bernal friends who allowed us to stay in their home across from Holly Park while they were away for 2 weeks, even though we’d never met. We enjoyed experiencing this other nook of our neighborhood, and it helped us transition away from our home nearby. Then we house-sat in Woodside for 2 weeks at an amazing home owned by old college friend Mike and his family. We loved the natural setting and common sights of horses and the Santa Cruz mountain range, and their cat Rascal. From there we moved to Walnut Creek, into sister Kathy’s home for 2 weeks while she was away. We appreciated getting familiar with that nook of the Bay Area, enjoying her 2 cats, and strolling or biking the Iron Horse trail each day. Finally, we spent 2 weeks back in SF, up near the blue water tower of the Excelsior district while Dore and Clara were away. I loved their cat Klimey, and the chance to explore McClaren Park, which is as underrated as it is beautiful. Our apologies to their neighbors for inadvertently tripping the very loud house alarm 3 different times, including once during an hour-long walk! The best part of their home was the fabulous, sweeping corner view of southern SF, centered on our slope of Bernal Heights. Well over a mile away, we could still see our home. I’d just spent 17 years over there looking at this blue water tower and hillside of homes. It seemed quite fitting now to be looking back at where I’d been all that time.

-matt

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