The inner hippie emerges!

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA.
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever found yourself in a landscape that transforms you?

I recently returned from one amazing day spent driving through Marin County, which is across the Golden Gate bridge, north of San Francisco. I went with a friend and her tiny daughter, who turns 3 in June. It was so lovely I’m counting the minutes until I can get back on the plane for the six hour ride from my home in New York.

Marin is bathed in golden light, its velvety hills a mix of Ireland, Scotland and Vermont, dotted with black cows and brown horses. Thick groves of redwoods. A winding road that led us through Dogtown, pop. 30. (The official sign later hand-lettered, amended to 31, 32, 33…)

I felt like a chorus in a Joni Mitchell song.

We stopped in Point Reyes and bought ice cream. Four men asked me to take their photo outside the Western Saloon, which looks exactly as it sounds.

I posed them in the narrow doorway of the saloon. “You look like a rock band,” I told them, and they laughed. Until they looked at the photo on their Iphone.

“We do! Great photo!” one said, delighted.

Thick afternoon light coated the red bricks and the emerald-green California I highway sign.

The last place that had so profound an effect on me was Taos, New Mexico. Like Marin, it’s a favorite of some big name celebrities — Julia Roberts lives there, at least part-time. Taos is tiny and filled with eccentric details. (Yet, like many of these idyllic rural areas, almost a quarter of its 4,700 residents live in poverty.)

Here’s a recent essay about Taos from The New York Times:

I had come to this far-flung desert town to write a memoir about searching for traces of one of the heroes of my English adolescence, D. H. Lawrence. Taos was the only place where Lawrence had ever actually owned a house, and I suppose, as a visitor, I was hoping some of the inspiration he had drawn from the land and people might rub off on me. I had imagined the landscape would all be bare desert and mountains. The last thing I had expected was to find it reminding me of England.

But all around town there were grassy fields, tussocky, mostly flat, with patches of shorter grass where horses and cattle had grazed. They were no different from the fields back home where I had grown up, playing soccer with friends, walking the dogs, rambling, sleeping out in summer. This one near my apartment was no exception.

An unexpected sense of intense familiarity with a foreign place has been felt by other travelers in other lands, but I was surprised by how completely at home I felt in this field: the long grass, the faint scent of hay, the trees hissing softly in gusts of breeze. Of all strange things, this meadow in Taos had exactly the same rough grass stalks, feathery at their tips, as the field next door to my childhood home in the Cherwell Valley north of Oxford. And the path, beaten smooth as hide, was just like the path that ran through that field, too. And the tremendous ribbed trunks of the cottonwoods that ringed it were like the boles of old English willows.

The day we arrived in Taos I ran out and bought a tie-dyed tank top, astonishing Jose, then my boyfriend of only three months, (now my husband, 12 years later.) In New York, he’d been dating a woman who appeared buttoned-up and conservative, a WASP — me — who showed up on dates wearing turtlenecks.

Who, suddenly, was this hippie chick?

Blame it on coming of age in the 1970s, but I’m often deeply happiest in a place where I can ride horses, pick up fossils from ancient riverbeds and let my eyes roam across empty miles. Where the air smells of dry earth, old stone and sagebrush and eucalyptus. Where the light is so exquisite I’m torn between my camera, sketchbook — and simply letting it soak into memory.

I found the same qualities of Taos and Marin — of light, rugged landscape and timelessness — in Corsica. I wept when I left, in June 1996, and dream of returning to explore it much more.

How about you?

Have you been somewhere that so moves and touches you?

23 thoughts on “The inner hippie emerges!

  1. Gosh this s fantastic timing. We are just considering a biggie holiday before our boys leave home and we are looking at flying into San Francisco and doing some touring. Think you’ve just clinched the deal for us.
    We also love Corsica (and Sardinia) – the colour of the Mediterranean lapping onto the white sands and pink rocks with a backdrop of mountains and pine trees is hard to beat. However, the isolation and drama of a fierce day amongst the hills and seascape of NW Scotland is in my biased opinion truly unbeatable.

    1. I can’t see how you would not love. SF is small (700K people) and easy to get around — great food, great scenery, cool shopping, easy access to nature. Be sure, if you go, to visit the Presidio, which is a spectacular huge park and have lunch (as I did) at the Presidio Social Club, a former army barracks now a chic and lovely restaurant. I can’t wait to go back. I went out to Pt. Reyes in Marin and it was a fantastic day driving along the coastline.

      We may get to Scotland next summer for a friend’s wedding and I am dying to see the very landscape you describe. I spent my 12th summer in a stone cottage near Crieff, near Monzievaird. What a gorgeous country!

  2. Thanks Caitlin that’s brilliant, those are exactly the boxes we want to tick on a holiday. Thanks for the foodie tip too – our holidays usually pivot around restaurant we want to visit so this is a great start. I’ve just sent a link to this post to husbands office and he nipped out at lunchtime to the travel agent to see about flights!

    1. Too fun!

      Be sure to check out the Ferry Building….which is filled with fantastic foods/markets and some restaurants looking out onto the water. I loved the Hog Island Oyster Company…a dinner of a salad, a beer and six oysters was $38. Not cheap, but fun and good. There’s also a bookstore there, Book Passage.

      You might enjoy Sam’s, a funky downtown old-school seafood resto with booths with curtains…you feel like you’ve stepped into a 1930s film. You might also check out the Pelican Inn (in Marin).

  3. Thought you had to hear this – my husband never reads blogs and I think wonders why I bother writing one. Well after I forwarded your link to him yesterday he came in from work and said, “that was a great blog, she writes so well doesn’t she” and I am laughing saying, “y e s, there are great writers out there you know, you should start looking at blogs”. I think you just gave him a glimpse to that world that we bloggers value so much so THANK YOU!

  4. San Francisco does that for me. I’ve been there 3 or 4 times in my life but the last time round, I tagged along with my husband when he had to work there for 3 weeks, which meant I spent 3 glorious weeks there walking around the entire place on my own. It was heaven! I love the vibe of San Francisco, I’ve never felt as alive in a city as I have done there. I’m addicted.

    My other half was offered a job there in ’07, which he ended up turning down owing to a number of factors. I was sooooo disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to live there after all, cause I could totally see myself residing there!

    1. Three weeks !! Lucky thing. I had barely three days but it left such a powerful impression on me. The very first time I went (I was maybe 26 or so) I immediately wanted to move there (and I have never felt that about anywhere else.) I’ve been three times, but have never spent a lot of time there. I am determined to get back for a few weeks…although my dream is to drive about Northern California.

      Let’s meet there — road trip!

      1. Since I was a child I have always had this long held dream of driving around the USA. I still have it now, and am trying desperately to figure out how to make this happen (first stop though, round oz).

        I am actually going to be in Seattle the WHOLE of September. There mainly to hang with my sister and her family, although I imagine we will do a fair bit of driving around. I hear your WA makes decent wines 😉 I’ve always wanted to walk the city and shoot the street, and since I am on holiday, I’m going to have days to do this. I cannot express how extremely excited I am. Counting down the days…

  5. I’ve been to Seattle a few times and I’m sure you’ll really enjoy it. The “new” library, an architectural wonder, was built with the labor of a friend of mine’s sister, then an ironworker.
    Pike’s Market is great. Be sure to get out of the city and into the mountains…amazing hiking.

    I would love to drive across the U.S….I’ve done it with Canada (Ontario to BC) and I have been to many states here, but almost none in the “heartland” (which they really do call it), places like Kansas, Iowa, Indiana, etc. I know the Northeast well, bits of California, mid-Atlantic and some of the Southwest and Southeast.

    1. Yes, I’m obsessed with getting to Olympic National Park – it’s one of the 3 things on my list to do when I get there. The other two being “walk relentlessly in downtown Seattle” and “spend a week in New Mexico with friends”. The last time I saw my sister’s husband and her kids was 14 years ago in 1998. I’m hoping to make up for as many of those 14 years as possible in one month!

      1. New Mexico is amazing. Jose is from Santa Fe and we’ve been to NM twice — north to Santa Fe and Taos and South to Truth or Consequences (!), named for a television show, Las Cruces and Mesilla.

      2. Yes! I picked Taos up from you… it’s not that far from Santa Fe. Might be worth a detour. I hear September is festival season as well so HEAPS to shoot *rubs hands* Oh bou… the excitement of it all!

  6. LOVED Taos. It’s really a dinky small town but the landscape is amazing. Go for a horseback ride through it. I liked Santa Fe but it’s very $$$ and chi-chi, which is not my style — at least not in small towns, usually. Lots of great food and lots to photograph.

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