Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Muse, Sonoma County

Before I met Sam, I was convinced northern California was a vast wasteland.  I thought it was really cold, and I knew the beaches were not as lovely as southern California beaches.  I had no basis for my assumption; Fresno was generally as far north as I cared to go.  But this cute guy lived there, and told me that it was a really amazing place, so I went to see for myself.  He brought out the big guns on my first visit and took me to some great places, ensuring that I would fall in love with the area just as he had.  I must confess that ever since our first date there, I have loved Sonoma County, and it's unlikely I will ever find a place that could possibly compare.

During my first visit, Sam drove me out to Occidental, which is about forty-five minutes away from Petaluma.  The drive was gorgeous - wide open spaces, lots of rolling, green hills, and beautiful farmland.  I was shocked at how agricultural it was - so many cows and vineyards.  Naturally, we had breakfast at Howard's.

Thus began my obsession with this cafe.  Once I moved there, I made sure anyone who visited me tried the Veggie Eggs Benedict with avocado at Howard's.

After breakfast, Sam drove me on a narrow, winding road, through trees, past old barns, and one clean, white, one-room schoolhouse.  At times the trees draped over the road, providing us a sort of canopy, and then suddenly we would break through into brilliant sunshine and breathtaking views of valleys covered in wildflowers.  During parts of the drive I was convinced we had been magically transported to Ireland, or that we were on some secret, forgotten dirt road that would lead us to a hippie commune.  I figured we were headed back to Petaluma, so when we finally reached the crest of a hill, I wasn't expecting to see endless blue ocean.  I had no idea we were near the coast, so to suddenly see the water was breathtaking.  Here's what I'm talking about:

I took Marci and JulieAnn on this same drive when they came to visit last April.

They were also appropriately giddy upon reaching this point.  Since my words will inevitably fail to accurately describe the beauty, I recommend doing a Google image search of "Coleman Valley Road" to see what I'm talking about.  Better yet, visit it for yourself.

Whenever I think of Sonoma County, I seem to only remember what I love about it.  It's close enough to San Francisco that you can go there for dinner or a show, but far enough away that you don't have to deal with a big city or traffic.  Petaluma River runs through town, providing gorgeous walks down by the wooden bridge, behind 24-Hour Fitness, on the walk to Sam's old job at the Great Petaluma Mill building.  I remember our cute, tiny home, with its uneven floors and crooked stairs and lack of counters and storage space.  We had no dishwasher, no garbage disposal, and an oven that smoked and set off the fire alarm if you turned it on.  (That might have really bothered someone who did a lot of cooking...not me.)  Luckily, we were within walking distance of The Himalayan Kabob and Curry House, Mi Pueblo, Cafe Zazzle, Luma, and Tres Hombres, so we didn't need our kitchen much.

I seem to remember being awakened every morning by the sun streaming in our bedroom window, the bedroom with the slanted ceiling that meant Sam could only stand up straight in the center of the room.

I'm sure it must have rained and been overcast at times, but my mind has conveniently blocked any of those memories.  Funny how minds do that.  The cats loved sleeping in that window when they were babies.

No, this blog wasn't meant to be an ode to Petaluma, though I do miss it dearly.  Actually, it is about writing.  I was recently reading Shauna Niequist's blog, and she wrote about her affection for Anne Lamott, the writer who has inspired her.  I had been meaning to read some of Lamott's books, but somehow never had over the years, so I decided to look her up and decide which book to read first.  I googled her name, which took me to her Facebook account that read, "Anne Lamott, Petaluma."



I was shocked, and wondered if she really does live in Petaluma.  My immediate flood of thoughts was this:  Does she shop at Petaluma Market?  Maybe I stood behind her in line.  I bet she loves the Tea Room.  I'm sure I sat at a table next to her, eating my scone, completely oblivious to the fact that I was in the presence of such a brilliant writer.  Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I remember seeing her in Copperfield's before, perusing the used books.  Yep, definitely her, with the dreadlocks.  

Now, I don't know where she actually lives, but I'm fairly certain it's either Sonoma County or Marin County, which is right near Petaluma.  It's no surprise - northern California is a wonderful place to write.

For some reason, this realization broke my heart.  How could I discover this only after moving 10 hours away?  It reminded me of when I found out about Francine.  I worked as the registrar of a camp and conference center in Sebastopol, when I got an email registration for a women's luncheon bearing the name "Francine Rivers".  I printed it out and ran into my boss' office to show her.

"Look, Kimberly," (Kimberly was my boss, I wasn't talking to myself), "Is this a fake registration?  It says Francine Rivers."  Kimberly looked at me blankly, and said, "No, it's real.  She lives in Sebastopol.  She goes to Sebastopol Christian Church."

Me: "Francine Rivers?  The writer?  The person who wrote the Mark of the Lion series, some of my favorite books?"

Kimberly:  "Yep.  I was in a Bible study with her for awhile, she's really sweet."

Me: "WHAT?!  YOU KNOW FRANCINE RIVERS?!  And she's coming HERE?!!!!"

I was ecstatic.  On the day of the luncheon I was nervous and excited, thrilled that I was going to meet someone whose work I admired so much.  After all, I wanted to be a writer, and here was someone who was successfully writing books that my friends and I adored.  I could hardly concentrate on working.  Every time a woman approached my table to register, I looked up anxiously, hoping to see Francine.  I planned to introduce myself, convinced that we'd become friends and that she would be my mentor.  She'd teach me everything she knew about writing, and would probably even dedicate her next book to me.

Alas, she never showed.  Some of the roads out to Mt. Gilead were flooded, so she couldn't make it.  (Oh yeah...I guess it did rain in Sonoma County).

And now to think I lived near Anne Lamott as well?  Another Christian author I want to emulate?  If I still lived in Petaluma, I could've taken her writing courses.  And I never knew, until now.

I've been wondering why I've had such a hard time writing lately.  I've felt intense writer's block ever since last summer.  I figured it was the fact that I wasn't in school, therefore wasn't being inspired by constantly being forced to write - I simply wasn't being disciplined enough.  But then it hit me - I'm at a loss for words because I left northern California, the place for writers.  Many amazing writers live in northern California, and do you know why?  Because it's inspiring.  It's beautiful.  It's charming, it's enchanting, and it captures hold of your soul and turns it into something artistic.  No wonder almost ever person I knew in Petaluma was some sort of artist; 90% of our friends were musicians and in bands.  Now that I'm in Salem, I have to work that much harder.  I'll have to rely solely on my talent, and I think we can agree my talent doesn't take me far without inspiration.  My muse was Sonoma County, and it's hard to work without one's muse.

When I think a lot about this, I'm convinced I'll never be a successful writer unless we move back to northern California.  I even wailed something about this to Sam, and was only halfway joking.  My uber practical husband said something about how I just needed to find a muse in Salem and make it work.  Something about a challenge being good for me.  (God sure was being funny in giving me a husband that doesn't just give in to my every wail, and who pushes me, who doesn't let me be lazy.  Ha ha.)

To be honest, I'm sure I can find some things in Salem to inspire me.  I haven't really even made an effort.  I've been so focused on how much I miss California that I've neglected to explore Oregon and all the beautiful things and places I might find here.  Vita Cafe is a close second to Howard's.  Venti's is comparable to Zazzle, in a way.  I've met lots of really great people here in Salem - not that they replace anyone in California, but of all the things I love about Salem, what I'm most grateful for is all the wonderful people.  I'm thankful to have made quality friends.

So perhaps soon I'll find my muse, and maybe someday Salem will be as dear to my heart as Petaluma. For now, I'll work on being more diligent in my writing and my exploring.

And I'll plan a visit to Sonoma County.  Soon.

(All the pictures below were taken right before we left, at an impromptu picnic in our front yard.  I miss these people.)


  1. I'm thankful you're going to discipline yourself to write more. I love to read your writing! You have a gift :)

  2. I just love this post! Made me smile and miss you that much more

  3. Kimberly, you're an easy read, it always flows....and that's enjoyable!

  4. I agree with your wise mother! =)
    Maybe my view of Oregon is incorrect, but I would think the nature, green, snow, frost, etc. would be inspiring. You are a hopeful person! Always keep your eyes open...sometimes you find that the smallest things are the most inspirational!


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