Mystical Mill Valley
We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to the tunes of ABBA as the evening cooled and the mist from the water wafted up and over the red tension cables. As I looked over the side, it was like looking out an airplane window at billowing clouds, secreting all below. On the west were low misting clouds, on the east side sailboats glided on cool waters. It was strange and wonderful to behold. Traversing from the stylish sophistication of downtown San Francisco onto the shores of Marin County is to shift dimensions. The mists told us so.
The highway continues as if nothing is different and we counted our exits until Blithedale/TIburon exit coaxed us toward Mill Valley. In true mythological adventure we travelled winding mountain roads under a canopy of towering trees darkening the night before its time. Vines and succulent hedges twined their reach over the road edge. Sprawling roots of giant trees that thrust out of the earth were cut bluntly to make way. We faithfully followed a pulsing blue dot and wove into and out of dusk until we found our hillside villa as dark completed its descent.
Our host warmly greeted us and then disappeared up the curving steps and left us in the quiet of the space. After a night slept deeply on a bed piled high and downy soft, we awoke to the song of birds and the redwoods whispering.
I chanced the meeting of the resident backdoor skunk and paid obeisance to the soot grey and sable-soft cat with the most luminous celadon green eyes; clearly the lord of this mystical place. I followed the stones, nearly swallowed by the grass, to the terraced steps that led nowhere but to the centre of a circle of redwoods tending the sloping hills.
Honouring trees is merely to quickly lie down on your back and allow their gaze to take you all in. No concern for sharp stones or things that might crawl beneath or over you or dirt in your hair. Just silent consent to be.
Now I sit with the spell good and truly set in my soul. I am writing at a small table in the kitchen of one of the several apartments contrived from this bisque stuccoed villa embraced by treed hillside terraces. She, the Villa Montecatini, named for the famed spa in Tuscana, has seen her princess days and now rests in elegance and grace, with tiny tendrils of vine sneaking through the front door jamb and reaching tentative shoots onto the dark and light inlaid wood floor of the front hall. The door, arched oak and glass with wrought iron filigree pretends not to notice such shenanigans. Gentry once stepped across this threshold. And now this!
We have come to spend the night here, but I know part of me will never leave. The table where I write is wobbling slightly on hinged legs. Its cloth is saffron yellow with a medallion print of deeper orange and rust red flowers. In a green glass vase is a cluster of Rubrum lilies, creamy white with hot and spicy pink wash and freckles of ruby. The scent is salty and exotic and fills the rooms like incense. In a small bowl is a handful of tiny clementine oranges fresh from the trees that line the flagstone stairway; thick branches with dark green leaves rich with baubled fruit bouncing in the breezes.
The charm of the kitchen is not its deep laundry sink, set between washer and dryer, that doubles for washing dishes secretly behind a gold satin curtain, nor the hotplate sitting on the counter beside the mini fridge. Nor the rosy terra cotta hue of the soft plastered walls that reminds me of our home when my children were small and we skated on the pond with the Giverny bridge. Two pots of orchids, one single beaming white bloom and the other clusters of lavender and magenta reach toward the window.
Yes, it is the window that draws my gaze.
Beyond the thin glass panes with years of paint overlapping its dividing muntins, lies an enclosed garden pooled with afternoon sunlight. And beyond that, a forest so resplendent that it takes my breath away. It is this land – here in Mill Valley in Marin County – that is speaking so directly to me. It is rich and luxe and wild and green and green and green. Yellow green, forest green, blue-green, moss-green. I picked up a talisman of lichen, soft sage green, nearly the colour of the grey cat’s eyes. I placed it on a low stone flange beside some broken bits of blue green patterned tile amidst the shamrock green sorrel and felt strangely complete.
We shopped in the evening for dinner things and on our return up the steep and hairpin turn of the driveway through the redwoods, two young deer stopped grazing and, briefly illumined in our passing, stood calmly curious of our presence. I fumbled for my camera but didn’t click before they ‘high tailed it’ down the slope and out of site. Some images remain perfect on the screen of my heart.