Return to Tiburon

I’ve just spent the last 10 days in Tiburon, my hometown. Everyone else in my house was away, so I decided to get away myself and spend time with my parents. I had a wonderful time, getting to know my town again.

Our highlight each day was a walk next to the water. Tiburon is an old railroad town and after the railroad shut down in the ‘60s, the town tore up the tracks and put in walking paths. One path stretches from Blackie’s Pasture all along Tiburon Boulevard and Richardson Bay to downtown. Another path runs along the waterfront, with spectacular views of the city and the ferry boat docks off of Main Street. Most often, we chose this waterfront path.

There’s always a lot of action on the waterfront path. There are a mix of locals and tourists, with many languages being spoken. People bring dogs, picnics and fishing equipment. One day, we paused at Elephant Rock, a rock that literally looks like an elephant and is surrounded by a deck for fishing. A fisherman was struggling to reel in something big. With his pole bending to the water he reeled in a large shark, about 3 feet long. It was one of the leopard sharks that populate the local waters and for which the town is named. (Tiburon is Spanish for shark.)

Another time on the walking path we saw two young boys with fishing equipment. They were cutting up squid to use as bait. We asked what they expected to catch and they said sharks and sting rays, which they would release back to the water.

You see all ages on the path. My mom was especially impressed by the elderly people, some with walkers, tackling the path. She found it inspiring that people who are challenged in that way would attempt to walk. She herself is 82 but she’s quite agile still and loved that fact that I got her out and about.

One day we walked not only next to the waterfront, but down Main Street and up and down Corinthian Island. Corinthian Island feels a bit like the French Riviera, with houses hanging off the side of the steep streets. At the top of the hill that makes up the island there’s an enormous Italian-style villa, complete with columns, and a pair of benches to take in the view of San Francisco, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Walking around town brings back so many memories. A few times we saw the little dinghies from the San Francisco Yacht Club junior sailing club plying the waters. My brother and I participated in junior sailing several summers, as did most kids growing up in Tiburon. I’ll never forget the swim test we had to take to prove we could survive in the bay. We had to tread water for 10 minutes in the freezing bay. These days I bet the kids are allowed to wear wetsuits. I’ll also never forget the handful of times my brother and I sailed to Angel Island. It felt like an adventure out of a story book. We might as well have been going to Treasure Island.

I also have memories of my own kids visiting their grandparents in Tiburon. One summer day I arrived in town with the kids and their new bikes. My parents and I spent a couple of hours teaching them how to ride a bike on the flat paths under the steady gaze of Blackie. (Blackie is a life-size statue honoring the old retired war horse who occupied the pasture next to Tiburon Boulevard for many years.) In no time at all, it seemed, the kids had mastered the bikes and rode down the path with ease.

At the current time, there is a lot of construction happening in downtown Tiburon. The Caprice restaurant next to Elephant Rock is being redone. Two other restaurants are under construction on Main Street. One will be headed by Michael Mina, the celebrity chef. The town is trying to cast itself as a destination dining spot. There are only about 10,000 people in Tiburon, not enough to keep the restaurants afloat without lots of tourist dollars.

The main restaurant people flock to now is Sam’s, with its famous deck and view of the docks and bay. Sam’s underwent a renovation a few years ago, adding heated benches and Mexican wool blankets to take the chill out of the foggy days. There frequently is a line to get into Sam’s.

If you go to Tiburon on a summer weekend, you’ll find that Main Street is closed to cars. The restaurants set up tables in the street and a band plays. It’s a festive time.

My favorite spot in town is Ark Row, just beyond Main Street. Ark Row consists of a group of former turn-of-the-century houseboats that have been turned into shops. There’s a wine tasting spot, a salon and a guitar store along the quaint stretch.

Sadly, the town’s only cinema closed during Covid and the owner won’t reopen. For my parents that is the loss of one of their favorite past times, seeing first-run movies at the local theater. I wonder what will become of the space. Maybe they’ll turn it into condos. The town really can’t support more retail as the current retail is already struggling.

There is another favorite spot we didn’t get to this visit. It is the open space area at the top of Mt. Tiburon. There is a trail that traverses the crest of the hills and provides a 365-degree panorama of the bay. To the left is Richmond and Berkeley, the Richmond bridge looking like a toy erecter set crossing the bay. Straight ahead is San Francisco and the new, sleek Bay Bridge. Off to the right is the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito. Behind is Mt. Tamalpais. The property was in danger of being sold to developers until recently. Then a community group stepped in to save the property for open space. The large tract, 110 acres, will now be preserved. We’ve come here dozens of times for picnic and kite flying. I’m so glad it will be saved.

So long Tiburon. I’ll be back soon, I’m sure!

My brain on fire

Bold! Courageous! Creative! Articulate! Passionate! Artistic! Energetic!

Those are just a few of the things I felt in hypomania the first few months of this year. But even that list seems too tame. I felt all of that and even more. I could do anything! I heard God talking to me constantly and saw miracles by the hour! I was on fire with ideas and actions! The fire burned brightly day and night. Even at night I would wake up remembering vivid dreams. Everything, every word, seemed to have importance. Continue reading

On a pilgrimage, during Covid-19

I don’t really have a bucket list. If I did though, one of the items at the top would be walking the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route that runs through Northern Spain. I have always dreamed of taking a month off to walk the route and perhaps discover what draws people from around the world to make the journey every year. I’m getting my chance now to do the Camino, only this one is virtual. It’s not the same as going to Spain by any stretch of the imagination, but during this Covid time it’s the closest I can get. Continue reading

Do I really have to leave lockdown? Confessions of an introvert

There’s a scene in Stir Crazy, the 1980 comedy about two men running from the law, when Gene Wilder’s introspective character is about to be let out of solitary confinement.

“One more day, one more day,” he says to the guard in front of him. “I was just beginning to get into myself.” Continue reading

Adventures in dog obedience training with Romeo and Sara: Part 2

Romeo’s fluffy white beard is matted with clumps of sticky peanut butter and his breath smells of Pupperoni dog treats. As soon as Sara leaves, he runs to his water bowl in the kitchen and drains it. Then he lays down in his spot in the living room for a nap. He’s just finished an hour-long session of dog obedience training. Continue reading

Training the third child

This was our second week of dog obedience training. I say “our” because it’s training both for Romeo and me. It’s still early in this process, but I am hopeful that I can teach Romeo—not exactly an old dog at age 7, but not a young one either—new tricks. Continue reading

A summertime book drought

It’s summer, the ideal time for reading a good book and I’m in a book drought. If you enjoy reading, you know what I mean. You just can’t seem to find a compelling book, no matter how hard you try, and your whole world seems gray. Continue reading

Sorting out my messy thoughts on the decluttering craze

A few years ago Marie Kondo’s book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” became a huge hit, inspiring readers around the world to simplify and declutter their homes. Her mantra is “spark joy”— she urges people to purge their possessions and keep only those things which give them joy. Continue reading

Sam’s story, Part 3

In many ways Sam Genirberg has the model American immigrant story. He came to the U.S. in 1948 with $50, earned $1.25 an hour at his first job in a warehouse and eventually started several successful businesses. He ran Moo’s, a popular ice cream parlor in Richmond, and then launched a real estate business, which he still manages today. Continue reading

Hitting a deer and other close encounters with the wild

Maybe, just maybe we wouldn’t have hit the deer if I hadn’t showed my husband the cool old hotel where I sometimes stay in Santa Rosa. If not for that 2-minute detour on our way home we may not have collided with the buck a half-hour later at 70 mph on the freeway.

The deer came out of nowhere. We were talking one minute, in the quiet bubble of my husband’s sleek grey Subaru. Then suddenly we saw the deer’s head, topped by impressive antlers, off to one side of our windshield. Our eyes locked for a split second. What was he doing there in the fast lane of the freeway? He was probably thinking the same thing as us.

The impact was swift. A loud couple of thuds reverberated against the front and side of the car as the deer’s body smashed against us. My husband instinctively veered to the right and pulled over to the shoulder of the highway. Fortunately, no other cars were around us at 10 pm. that night.

The car was badly damaged. Later our insurance would pay $10,000 to repair it. The deer didn’t survive. A highway patrol officer who pulled over told us he was lying in the median. We were practically in tears. “If I hadn’t showed you the hotel…” I said. “Or if we hadn’t spent five minutes talking in the car before we left…” We had just killed a living, breathing being.

On the way home we asked the tow truck driver if he sees many accidents like this. Yes, he said. Deers are nocturnal. I felt like I had just woken up from a dream, sitting high up in the middle seat of the tow truck between my husband and the driver.

I asked the driver about himself, just to get my mind off the deer. “Where are you from?” He told me he was from Petaluma and had recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. “Thank you for your service,” my husband said. But the driver said nothing and kept talking. Living in the Bay Area was getting too expensive, he said. He planned to get a job as a guard at a correctional facility somewhere up north.

The driver didn’t have to, but he towed our car all the way home to Berkeley. “It’s a quiet night,” he said.

**

When I was a child, I had recurring dreams of entering the “deer cave” down the hill from our house. My brother and I had discovered that the deer had a sort of cave under a bunch of trees and bushes at the bottom of our property. The cave was always dark even when it was sunny and bright outside. You could tell the deer slept there by the matted circles of grass on the ground. I only looked in once and I was afraid to get near it again.

In my dream I would be playing in the yard and then get closer and closer to the cave. I would peer inside and all kinds of fearful things would be waiting for me. Not just deer, but other things I can’t now remember. I would wake up in a sweat. My fear wasn’t irrational. Once a deer had kicked my dog in the face and knocked two teeth out. I had a respect for these silent, mysterious creatures that roamed the hills.

**

Running into the deer south of Santa Rosa wasn’t the first time I’ve hit a deer. When I was 19 years old I was driving to my family’s house when a deer suddenly jumped out of the bushes on top of my car. He smashed the windshield, got stuck in the ski rack for a moment, twisting the metal, and then ran off into a neighbor’s yard. In a daze, I drove the next block home, tiny shards of glass speckling my face. When my mom came out to say hi, she gasped at the sight.

I had been returning from a pre-marital counseling session with my pastor and my soon-to-be husband. I have no recall of anything we talked about in that meeting or really any other meeting we had, but I’ll always remember the deer. I wondered if the deer had been OK. I was glad for the safety glass on my car. Every time I saw the twisted ski rack on top of the car I remembered the collision I had with something wild.

**

Some years ago a friend asked me if I had a spirit animal. I had never heard of this and didn’t even know what it meant, but I immediately responded: a deer. Maybe I am even a little like a deer. I tend to be quiet, an observer. I like to wander around hills. At night my brain is busy. I often remember my dreams and ruminate on them for days afterward.

Actually, my friend later explained, a spirit animal is more like a guide. I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. In every encounter, deer—seemingly benign and gentle—have jolted me awake in some way. That time on the highway with my husband renewed our thankfulness for life, even as we grieved for the deer. When I ran into the deer when I was 19 it created a bonding moment with my mom. I could have walked down the aisle with a face full of scars but I didn’t.

Even my current battle with the urban deer in my neighborhood gives me some sense of adventure. In May I started spraying a concoction of garlic, cayenne pepper, eggs and water on the agapantha flowers in my front yard. These plants are supposed to be deer repellent, but the hungry deer around here eat them anyway. As soon as fat buds form at the end of each long stalk each spring, the deer nibble them off. I haven’t seen them bloom into big purple flowers for at least five years.

This year I decided to fight back and the spray worked. I felt slightly bad I ruined these plants for the deer but I also felt a little excited each morning when I found the buds still intact. Now all of the agapanthas are in full, bountiful bloom.

I haven’t seen any deer in my neighborhood for a while but two nights ago my son saw three coyotes in our yard. That both intrigued and worried me. They must be following the deer who come down from the hills. I won’t let my little dog out at night anymore.

We think we live in a controlled, tame environment, but nature—wild, fighting to survive, beautiful and fearsome—is just outside our door. How we react to these messengers from another world can teach us a lot about ourselves.