Stinson Beach, My Home Town...
When I moved to Stinson Beach over 5 years ago, I was in the middle of a mid-life crisis at the age of 45 and I expected to hang out here on the edge of the world for maybe a year or two. Things didn't go quite as planned, and though I have almost moved at least three different times, here I am, stockpiling firewood and preparing for yet another Christmas in this tiny cottage at the base of Mount Tamalpais, a few blocks from the roaring ocean.
Stinson Beach, like all of the small towns in West Marin, has its own distinct culture. California is really distinguished from many other places by the plethora of ecosystems that can co-exist in such close proximity. On any day, you might encounter both chilling and wet fog -- and bright and dry sunshine -- all within a few miles of each other. Bolinas and Stinson Beach (which literally almost touch each other save a narrow spit of water) are like mirror opposites when it comes to culture as well as views.
When it comes to making friends with neighbors, Stinson can be a bear. Of course, I wasn't the most friendly dude. But Stinson has a much more cautious, and guarded common protocol than some of the other cities out in West Marin. There are still some folks in Stinson who won't smile and say hello.Bolinas will start off even more standoff-ish, but then warmly embrace you once you've been around for a while. Because the downtown is so isolated, the street action is slow, Bolinas feels warmer and intimate.
To generalize, most small rural towns take a while to warm up to newcomers. Since I came here originally to be anonymous, to write the great American novel, and maybe try this care-free-single-life-at-the-beach-stuff for a while, I now understand why it took a while to feel like I was accepted as part of the community.
One thing I do say to everybody who arrives here, all bright eyed and bushy tailed: Nothing will turn out the way you expect. Nature's power here is epitomized by the rowdy nature of the waves here. Just this last week, it sounded like cannons were going off.
My life there took several radical turns and continues to unfold in surprising ways.
There was the Buddhist nun living below me who claimed she flew and painted my picture two years ago, sharing with me her diary entries that spoke of listening to each and every move I made above her in this two-story portion of a rental complex known as "The Compound."
Then there was Edris, the only holdover from the previous regime at "The Compound," and a senior citizen who liked her wine and used to hitch-hike these parts, working in spring and summer at the nearby Audubon Canyon Ranch. The stories she would tell about the good old days here in Stinson and Bolinas.
There was also the ex-girlfriend who moved in next door, fanning my desires to somehow reconcile, only to have her taking me to court over hysterical notions of risk and danger due to my poetic presence!
And then the crazy French Lady who moved in next door to the ex. But I'm saving all that for the novel.
Why is Stinson less huggy than Bolinas? Think about the contour of this city. Highway 1 cuts through the middle, and there are no sidewalks. Economic survival often depends upon locals getting their perceived "fair share" of the economic pie. Stinson is really the gateway to the rest of West Marin for many tourists, and one sometimes gets the feeling that one is viewed as competition when one first steps into town. How is this person going to impact me?
The key for me, of course, was when I started plugging into the community. That's when people's perceptions changed. Duh! I volunteered on KWMR, West Marin Public Radio, over two years ago. With my partner Catherine of West Marin Green Cuisine, we helped pull together a wildly successful Open Microphone benefit for KWMR at the Bolinas Community Center. Then, we helped put on Stinson Solar Sunday this past February, drawing over 200 people to the Stinson Beach Community Center. We even got TV coverage all over northern California!
People treat you differently when they see you contributing to the welfare of the greater community. And the more one engages in this sorts of activities, the more one sees the beauty of operating in small rural communities. In today's hyper-media on-line text-messaging world, meeting in small groups where people DO KNOW a lot of gossip about each other, is something to be treasured, even if one becomes inconvenienced upon occasion.
I'm again thinking about moving, but the ability to just walk out at night and be alone on this glorious beach with stars blazing and waves crashing...is difficult to give up. Too, the trails just steps away from my door, leading me up to gigantic redwoods, rushing streams, and owls, woodpeckers and all sorts of feathered friends. I've seen the mountain lion. I have my special spots on this mountain and nearby ravines.
Stinson Beach is special. And if I do stay a bit longer, I hope to participate even deeper into the community, perhaps joining the Volunteer Fire Department, perhaps the ultimate signal to a community that one is committed to the welfare of the place.
But first, let's see what January brings. Change builds like a storm. I'm still waiting for the clear signal about how to move forward.