|No hidden Rincons.|
Late in the week I returned to the Sea Ranch beachbreak, which was unsurfable, flooded with swell. So instead of surfing I strolled through the soaked subdivision, trespassing on streets with names like Whitesurf and Wildberry. Amid the wind and hail and mist, the big houses looked forlorn, and I couldn’t imagine Sea Ranch realtors selling this fierce face of weather to moneyed clientele from Phoenix and Sacramento. For most, Sonoma’s north is all but habitable nor remotely recreational come winter.
Misperception is widespread. For surfers there are no Raglans, no hidden Rincons, no Hossegor-style beachbreaks; the coastline is too young and climatically beaten to allow for reliable and refined surf quality. Which isn’t to say Sonoma’s waves are perpetually bad, because like any surfy place, every dog has its day.
On this day I was badly hungover. The previous night, a torrential black wash from dusk to dawn, had confined me to my cramped car, trembling in the wind on a patch of campground pavement. To blend the hours I drank bourbon, flooding my system with alcohol for no reason other than to quicken time, listening to the storm rush through the trees above, dizzily reading Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World:
The necessaries of civilization were luxuries to us…the luxuries of civilization satisfy only those wants which they themselves create.
Suddenly it was daybreak and the storm was gone, followed by fog and silence. I woke nauseous, yet at six-thirty I started the car and drove a mile to the parking lot of a nearby trailhead, where I returned to the passenger seat to sleep again. Soon the rain resumed, and I dozed thinly, waiting for the rain to stop and the fog to clear, but neither did.
|Ballast Peak. Photo: Matthew Moore|
Serenity flows loosely from an ecosystem that has been otherwise ruined by commerce—nearly every forested acre here has been cut at least once in the past one-hundred-and-fifty years. A few miles from where I walked lay Sonoma’s last remaining stand of ancient, extremely valuable trees, nearly nine hundred acres of old-growth redwoods in the Gualala River watershed. Recently the owner of this was denied in his proposal to log half of those trees on the sixty-five-degree slopes which lead down into Haupt Creek, a key fish-bearing stream, tributary to the Wheatfield Fork of the Gualala River.
Now grapes are worth more than wood, visibly obvious in nearby Annapolis, a remote hamlet that was once a boomtown of apple orchards, since converted to vineyards. The redwoods around Annapolis are sought by vintners, not for the trees, but for the land they occupy, which, if the vintners succeed, will be cleared for rows of pinot noir, one of the world’s oldest cultivated grapes, further bolstering Sonoma County’s annual grape revenue, currently a whopping two hundred million dollars, sixty-one percent of the county’s agricultural base.
Sonoma’s only truly “coastal” label is that of family-run Annapolis Winery, quaint and organic, situated on a green hilltop a thousand feet above the Pacific. And in Sonoma the color of money is either red or white, because with wine comes money, and with money come tourists and development, which bring more money, shedding the old reliance on trees and fish so that anyone with cash can buy a house here, freed from the city and traffic, toasting their luck with twelve-dollar glasses of Sonoma’s finest. Ex-loggers like Steve are invisible, living in mildewed trailer parks, surviving on welfare checks, surfing in the cold rain, parking rusted pickups aside luxury sedans in front of the Gualala supermarket.
“I can give you two,” the cashier said.
“I need six.”
She frowned and crossed her skinny arms. “Can’t do it. It’s noon. We’ve just closed for lunch.”
“I haven’t showered in eight days. Please, a shower costs a dollar-fifty at Stillwater Cove Park, just down the road.”
Mercifully she exchanged my two dollar bills for four quarters and the rest in dimes, which, as I soon discovered, the showers would not accept.
So I went for a pint down at the bar of Timber Cove Inn, a rustic joint on the headland of its namesake cove. I had the room to myself, as it was a rainy winter weekday afternoon. With a glass of Red Seal Ale, I read the Independent Coast Observer, studying the latest victories of the Point Arena High School basketball team.
“I played varsity there my senior year,” the bartender said. “We weren’t nearly as good as the team is now.”
He was in his mid-thirties and looked like a surfer; I asked if this was true. He said he had never tried surfing, that his sun-bleached complexion came from other outdoor pursuits. Last weekend he had hunted blacktail deer in Jackson State Forest; this weekend he planned to shoot wild boars in the wine country; next weekend he planned to fish for black bass in Napa County’s Lake Berryessa.
“Damn good for fishing,” he grinned, showing stained teeth. “Good waterskiing out there, too.”
“Growing up here, you never tried surfing?”
“No interest.” He was still smiling. “Too cold, too sharky. I’ve never even dived for abalone. I think surfers here are crazy. Maybe not in someplace like Hawai’i, but here?”—he gestured out the window—“Shit, that ocean is nuts.”
|Much colder than it looks.|
I considered his statement while driving back to the campsite at dusk, on an empty road, through drizzle and dense fog, listening to “December” by pianist George Winston, his music matching the somber and soothing forest scenery. At the deserted campground my oak firewood was too wet to burn, so I laid supine on the passenger seat, resting my eyes, dozing, eventually realizing that the hair-of-the-dog beers had worked: my migraine was gone.