On Newsstands Today: "Western Swing"

“Western Swing” is this week’s cover story for the Pacific Sun. In it, I take a tour of Point Reyes Station and Tomales Bay before spending the night at a local boutique hotel.

Although my editor originally gave me 2,700 words for this feature, complications on his end meant that he had to shorten the piece by nearly forty percent. Although I have the byline, the final product is…unfortunately not me. I am still very proud of my original draft, which I am posting below. I think it more accurately reflects my writing style and voice. I hope you enjoy both versions and make plans to visit the West Marin as soon as possible.


On Wet Roads: A Point Reyes Journey 

Another month, another opportunity for me and Blue (my Honda Fit) to explore the North Bay and find out how locals can get away from it all. This month’s assignment was not just a town, but a whole part of Marin County: Point Reyes. 

Visit Point Reyes, and you'll immediately understand why so many artists, writers, and dreamers call this place home. It has a story to tell, and like all good stories, it’s going to take you to a place you don’t expect. That’s what happened to me as I set out on a multi-day adventure.

Out Amongst ‘Em

Arriving in Point Reyes Station, I drove by Phil's house. (Address withheld to prevent looky loos.) Philip K. Dick, one of my favorite authors, lived here for a few years in the late 1950s/early 1960s. Typing away in his kitchen, Phil wrote a score of short stories and The Man in the High Castle, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963. Considering how much Phil wrote about uncertain, dystopian futures, I think he’d laugh his ass off if he visited Point Reyes Station today. Besides the modern cars, the town hasn’t changed one iota. And no, the ‘Face of God’ Phil saw in his backyard has yet to make another appearance. I double checked. 

After completing my interview with local artist Sirima Sataman (see sidebar below), I didn’t stay in Point Reyes Station as long as I had planned. Even at 2 PM, hundreds of tourists were still arriving to slurp oysters, sip wine, and snap photos. This wasn’t the town I knew. This was Disneyland minus the mouse ears. I would need to return the next day, Monday, to have a more authentic Point Reyes Station experience. 

Rainy Day Driving

Overnight bag slung over my shoulder – I had a reservation spend the night at a Point Reyes hotel and dine at the hotel restaurant– I set out in the pouring rain. Blue made the ‘smart’ decision to take me on the Petaluma-Marshall road. After 15 miles of impenetrable fog, wet asphalt, and one logging truck, my knuckles were white when I finally arrived at The Marshall Store (19225 CA-1; 415-663-1339)There I ordered a small cup of clam chowder and six raw oysters. The oysters were magnificent, but the chowder was boiling. Also, it needed a ton of pepper. The view – the boats bobbing up and down in Tomales Bay – more than made up for my slightly scalded gums. 

Point Reyes Station was quieter today. Rain and people’s 9-5 jobs will do that. Back in town, I entered Palace Market (11300 CA-1; 415-663-1016) and purchased my first-kombucha, a Marin Kombucha that was oak aged and flavored with apple and juniper. A non-kombucha-aficionado, to me it tasted just like slightly sweet tea. You would think that two-billion living bacteria in every serving would affect the taste. The best part of my kombucha experience was the brown glass bottle, something straight out of an 1890’s snake oil salesman’s kit. “Are you lacking vigor, young man? Then step right up! Just one bottle of Dr. Broderick’s Patented Cure-All Kombucha will increase your mental acuity and stamina. It even helps in the bedroom, if you catch my drift.” 

 But even after the oysters, chowder, and kombucha bacteria, I was still hungry and, more importantly, needed to get out of the incessant rain. I ducked into the Station House Café (11180 CA-1; 415-663-1515)and splurged on an order of fries and a cocktail.. Around me were plenty of families with young children – spring break. It was a cacophony, for sure, but the wait staff did an excellent job taking care of me amongst the chaos. 

With the rain finally subsiding, I walked down to Point Reyes Books (11315 CA-1; 415-663-1542). If I was going to stay at a local hotel as part of an all-expenses-paid press junket, I needed a new book to help me get to sleep. Finding the perfect one, I tucked it away in my backpack and left Point Reyes Station behind.

As the weather improves in the coming weeks, Point Reyes Station will come to life with events perfect for families. On Saturday, April 27th, the town hosts the 10th annual Point Reyes Birding & Nature Festival. From 10 AM – 2 PM, visitors can meet a local owl and hawk on the lawn adjacent to Cowgirl Creamery (80 4thSt; 415-663-9335). Reserve your family’s spot by visiting pointreyesbirdingfestival.org. Other free family activities that Saturday include coloring, face painting, and a youth bird walk. Young amateur bird spotters need not invest in expensive equipment to spot their favorite fowl. For the festival, the Point Reyes Station Library (11435 CA-1; 415-663-8375) will loan children bird backpacks that include binoculars, a bird diagram/book, and a local bird chart. 

Settling In

 I arrived at Olema House (10021 CA-1; 415-663-9000) just before 4 PM, where Jan Vanderley warmly greeted me at the front desk with a hot towel. It was a welcome relief after being outside all day in the cold, rainy damp. For the next half hour, Jay took me on a tour of the impeccable hotel. The 24 rooms, each of which features a unique theme, invite guests to both enjoy luxury and feel at home in the Point Reyes wilderness. My room, #16, included oyster shell and redwood accents along with a page of Kerouac’s On the Road hanging above the toilet. In the main lobby, the air smelled heavy of cedar, a product of both the wood rails and daily fire in the lounge’s stone fireplace. As spring becomes summer, Jan told me, Olema House will host weddings and receptions for over 100 guests. Sorry future brides, 2019 is almost entirely booked. Even in the rainy season, the hotel attracts 2-3 corporate events each month that take advantage of the conference rooms in the hotel and at Due West. 

From my room’s third-floor balcony, the rain finally gave way, and the redwoods began to steam. The already cool temperature dropping, I lit a fire – Olema House provides two Duraflame logs in its rooms with fireplaces – and worked for a few hours. Typing away, I imagined that if I ever became a famous writer, I’d stay at places like Olema House to write my bestselling novels.

As late afternoon became twilight, I walked down to Due West (10005 CA-1; 415-663-1264) for dinner. I sipped a martini and snacked on roasted almonds while listening to diners’ conversations. For my main, I had the tomato bisque paired with a light Chardonnay. The soup was as tasty as I expected, but I wondered why the color was a tad off. After a second sip, I realized that the chef had added a little carrot as a natural sweetener. In all, the food and hospitality were terrific, and I cursed myself for eating all those fries earlier in the day. I could have had a chocolate torte for dessert!

In the coming months, Olema House and Due West will expand their culinary offerings with not just a new Spring menu at the restaurant, but a renovated deli – Due West Market -- that will provide guests to purchase a picnic basket full of cheese, bread, wine, and other North Bay delicacies. When dry weather arrives, some local cuisine should be a perfect complement to the nearby Bear Valley Trail’s tranquil meadows, spring flowers, and astounding Pacific Ocean vistas.   

So, settling into one of the softest beds I’ve ever slept on, I ended my day with the novel I had purchased at Point Reyes Books: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home

In No Hurry to Leave

 I awoke long before my alarm. Early morning, I stayed in bed, listening to the birds and the occasional car driving by on Highway 1. Even out here, civilization makes itself known.  

The complimentary breakfast in the lobby featured smoked salmon, sliced tomatoes, and cucumber. It reminded me of European hotel breakfasts, the effect enhanced by sitting near a young German couple. Back in my room, I found that the fog outside my window was clearing. Near the rushing creek, a little girl played with her dog. For a reasonable fee, Olema House provides bedding, food, and other amenities for guests’ four-legged friends.

I lingered at Olema House until checkout time. I decided to drive up to The Great Beach, which spans 11 miles along Point Reyes’ western edge. Some sand between my toes would be the perfect way to end my…

The road was flooded. Just past the historic “M” ranch on Sir Francis Drake Blvd., asphalt became water. In front of me, a Subaru hatchback pressed on, but as the water passed the halfway point on the car’s tires, I figured it was best to turn around. I hope that Subaru made it. 

Well, I didn’t get to walk on sand, but the ride home was a delight. Black Mountain was emerald green, and even as far away as Inverness, it guided me and Blue back home. 

Yes, dear readers, Point Reyes has as much to offer us locals as it does the tourists from half a world away. So, if you have some time and cash to spare, you couldn’t do much better than spending both to have an unforgettable day in Point Reyes, eating a delectable meal at Due West, and having a sound sleep at Olema House.

Sirima Sataman: More Than Just Ink on Paper

I met local artist Sirima Sataman at her Point Reyes Station studio, Ink.Paper.Plate. (11401 CA-1; 415-873-6008), a space that has doubled as a store and classroom since opening in 2014. In it, everyone from printing novices to experts can both learn more about printmaking and try their hand at this ancient, but still very relevant, art. 

Like most modern artists, Sirima’s story has many twists and turns. Although she studied printing, weaving, and sculpture as a college student, a more ‘serious’ career got its hooks in her after graduation. After many years of an office job, “the universe kicked me out of my old career,” as she tells it. Her family grown, and blessed with no debt, Sirima decided to roll the proverbial dice and become a full-time artist. 

Heading north from San Francisco, Sirima first found the storefront that would become Ink.Paper.Plate. before settling down in Bolinas. She splits her time between managing the space and working in her home studio. 

Sirima does much more than what visitors can see at first glance. Though the largest pieces on the walls are hers, the workshop also displays prints by other artists and students. One wall features over a dozen small band posters, all produced by local musicians who learned the printing craft from Sirima. 

I asked Sirima what she was most proud of since the Bohemian and Pacific Sun last featured her work in 2015. She said that in the last four years, she's received a little more local acclaim, including a show at the Bolinas Museum (48 Warf Rd, Bolinas; 415-868-0330). Also, the Saltwater Oyster Depot (12781 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.; 415-669-1244) in Inverness displays her prints, which has led to more visitors to Ink.Paper.Plate. 

Simira took me through her process. First, she sketches an image on a thin piece of wood before carefully carving out the areas that won’t transfer ink to paper. Then, she slathers up the wood with copious amounts of black ink before subjecting wood and paper to extreme pressure to produce the image. Many printing runs end suddenly when the wood plates shatter during the transfer. The paper, too, must be especially thick to soak up all that ink.

Sirima showed me two plates at different stages. The first was a sketch of the Point Reyes Lighthouse with some carving already completed. Like the real lighthouse undergoing restoration, it is a work in progress. The second was a well-used plate – the picture was of a local church -- covered in dry ink. Although it looked a bit worn, Sirima assured me that it still had some life in it for more prints. 

I asked Sirima if she ever revisits old subjects. She replied that no, that re-drawing, re-carving, and re-printing the same things would be boring. I was glad to hear it, and while studying the large black-and-white prints on the wall, I didn’t have to imagine the color. I could see it. I think that even for people who’ve never been to Point Reyes, they, too, would see it. Sirima’s artwork just has that effect. 

 People interested in learning printmaking can sign up for half- or full-day classes in intro to letter press, intro to relief block, color relief block, or adventures in printmaking. Half-day lessons cost $75 per person, $125 for a full day. Patrons who want to take home Sirima’s art can pick up a reproduction for as little as $50. Small original prints, too, are affordable for the majority of visitors. The gallery is open Sat. and Sun. 11 AM – 5 PM and 12 – 5 PM on Fridays. 

As for me, I’ll be returning to Ink.Paper.Plate. soon to snag one of Sirima’s prints of the Point Reyes Lighthouse. I just know that they’ll be flying off the presses. 

Ink.Paper.Plate. is just one of many places in and around Point Reyes Station where art enthusiasts can view work by local artists. Just down the street at Gallery Route One (11101 CA-1; 415-663-1347), visitors can appreciate art and take classes. Until mid-April, Gallery Route One is displaying works by Hannah Hersko and Hannah Perrine Mode. Be sure to check back, as the gallery hosts 17 days of free artist workshops Apr. 19 – May 5. 

If art isn’t your thing, you can find another authentic Point Reyes Station experience at the Old Western Saloon (11201 CA-1; 415-663-1661), where the only customers are locals and motorcyclists Irishing up their coffee. The place smells of cigarette smoke, and the liquor bottles sport a thin layer of dust - perfect. While enjoying a beer, be sure to admire the photographs of Prince Charles’ 2005 visit hanging above the bar. Preserved in a glass case are his and Duchess Camilla’s pint glasses. 

And when visiting the Old Western Saloon, remember to bring cash. I learned that one the hard way when a $6 beer became a $9 beer after the ATM fee. Oh well, lesson learned.