no other heaven

Allison and me toasting on a hilltop in Mount Tamalpais State Park. Not sure what exactly Peter is doing. Photo courtesy of Emily Yurko.
Allison and me toasting on a hilltop in Mount Tamalpais State Park. Not sure what exactly Peter is doing. Photo courtesy of Emily Yurko.
Blades of grass tickled my fingertips as I walked with palms outstretched. Following a narrow trail snaking up more than 2,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, I used rocks embedded into the hillside for leverage and kept my head down to avoid tripping on one of the tiny holes some animal had burrowed into the path – long before my arrival, claiming this site for its home.

When I reached the top of the peak I saw a cluster of rocks shaped into a bench and a plaque now green with age. I set my backpack on the seat and read the marker while pulling out a box of Italian cookies from North Beach and a bottle of wine.

“Give me these hills and the friends I love, I ask no other heaven.”

The plaque was given in honor of Dad O’Rourke – a local hiker who led outings throughout Marin County in the early 1900s – on his 76th birthday in 1927. I smiled upon reading his words and took out my camera to snap one of only four photos I took that day.

“There’s a plaque up here you guys have to read,” I shouted to my friends still making their way up the trail.

Now I will admit it has taken me a long time to get to this point. And I don’t mean to Dad O’Rourke’s bench. That is just a short drive across the Golden Gate and a few miles of winding along Panoramic Highway. I mean to the point where I can call California home and not immediately feel the urge to qualify it with, “But I’m from Boston.” (That now occurs about 35 seconds later.) But that’s just geography. I also mean to the point where I have found folks I can call ‘my people.’ (Most just happen to be East Coast transplants.)

When I first moved to California I told my family I was only going to live on the West Coast for two to three years. Well, it’s been closer to five and I have no plans for punching my return ticket anytime soon.

Sidenote: In the past upon reading that last sentence my mother would have booked her next flight on JetBlue to convince me otherwise. Now she just books a flight and we go to wine country instead.

The truth is, the first three years I spent in tiny newsrooms chasing stories and scraping by on a wage deemed “below poverty” by our county standards. The friends I made were all fellow news reporters and wound up moving across the state for other jobs –some for bigger papers, some leaving the profession altogether, and most I have lost touch with.

The areas I covered were located in suburban or unincorporated pockets of farmland– not exactly places teeming with young single people looking to make new friends. I was fortunate to get dumped over Christmas by my live in boyfriend – an event that forced me to move to San Francisco and start over 18 months ago. And given time, distance and an additional 2,000 feet – I am so thankful for that.

When our group reconvened under the trees I poured the wine into plastic cups and we toasted to a good day where Allison took nearly 500 photos (I’m not being hyperbolic), Emily and I binged on chips and salsa, Peter ate everything else, Sam climbed rocks and Chris – well, Chris fell. And then we went home.

Editor’s note: Watching the sunset over Mount Tamalpais marked the first of a series of weekend outings we are organizing to take advantage of the perks of living in the Bay Area. Namely – proximity to wineries, trails and the beach. To view a lovely photo narrative of our trip compiled by Allison visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/allisonmccarthy/sets/72157620162020926/

Confession

I have been keeping something from you. I wouldn’t say I have been outright lying, however, I have been withholding information. Look, it’s not like you ever asked. Still … I feel guilty. So here it is. The whole truth – shameful as it may be.

For the past two months I have been stalking someone. Actually, a lot of someones. What may surprise you is that I am not alone. I have a co-conspirator. (And a third on the way.) What began as a joke over coffee with my dear friend Allison blossomed into a full on side job of stalking the cute boys of the Bay Area – and then writing about it. We’re totally legit. We even have a Web Site. You should visit it sometime.

I understand if you are a little upset with me right now. I realize I should have disclosed this sooner. But I was kind of … embarrassed? Feeling smug? Uncertain of your response? I just didn’t want to upset up you. But I figured I should tell you now before you hear it from someone else. (Especially since we’re rolling out the new site soon.) Besides, I was already bagged by PB a few weeks ago. It was only a matter of time.

The truth is, every woman, whether she admits it or not, has stalked a love interest. And I learned from the best; my sister used to take me with her in the car to perform drive bys of her crushes in middle school. (You know you did it too.)

And I will fully confess, I used to tack on a few extra miles of my runs back in Boston in hopes of spotting Nomar Garciaparra in his Charlestown neighborhood. (I never did bump into him.) And with social networking sites and Google, tracking your crush is a much easier and time saving endeavor. We promise.

So there you have it. I stalk cute boys and write about it. Deal with it. And visit the new site. http://www.theadorablestalker.com

the countdown begins

Most of the time I don’t feel 3,000 miles away from my family. I probably talk to them now more than I ever did in college. Scratch that. I definitely do. In college, my parents used to call my roommates and ask if I was still alive and receiving mail at that address. Now, they just harass me to find out. And come to think of it, I may even see them more often now that I live on the West Coast. The call of wine country beckons their frequent return. (They’re actually flying out in two weeks.)

Most of the time it feels as though my family is just down the street. Most of the time I pretend this is true. Until the holidays arrive.

That’s when the phone is passed around the dining room table and I am forced to admit that my family is a five hour flight and two time zones away. In the background I hear my cousins chattering, the old people hollering, and the clanging of forks on china. I can almost smell Nana’s chicken cutlets and picture the greasy paper towels couching their fall. During this time, my family is typically wrapping up their day and packaging leftover platters while I am just settling into the meat of my day.

This was the case yesterday when I called them while waiting for my friends on the steps of Madrona Manor, a Victorian style inn nestled above Dry Creek Valley in Healdsburg. The mansion was built in the 1880s and reminds me a little of east coast architecture. Maybe that’s why I chose to ring my mom when I did. I hung up feeling a little sad until I realized my transplant family had arrived.

I met Heather while working as a newspaper reporter in the South Bay. Working in the same newsroom kind of binds you for life – especially a small newsroom where you have to back each other up everyday. I worked with her now husband in a separate newsroom a year later which provides me with a nice window into their relationship.

I was in their wedding two years ago where I bonded with Heather’s parents and childhood priest. (Fine, I hit on Father Larry. I couldn’t help it. He’s amazing! Funny, charming, a sports fanatic, and on Medicare. I love that guy.) Anyhow, I consider myself bound to their family and I adore gatherings with their clan. Their family reminds me a lot of my own band of bantering wine drinkers. But with one exception – they have little kids in their family.

Yesterday there were three present – all between the ages of 2 and 5. Watching them interact was definitely the highlight of my day. They rolled down the front lawn in their Easter clothes, made wishes on pennies thrown into the fountains, wrestled on the grass, hunted for bees in the gardens, and stole kisses in the shade. Basically, they showed everyone how to live right. The only thing I taught them to do was make newsprint using silly puddy. I think they thought that was cool.

Before I left I overheard an exchange between the 5-year-old and his grandpa that almost made me cry. I just blinked a lot instead.

“When am I going to see you again?” Will asked.

His grandfather paused, unsure how to answer. How do you explain you don’t know something to a child when you are supposed to know everything? How do you convey the passage of time to a child who only knows of today?

“Tonight you will get home and close your eyes to sleep,” he said. “When you open them, you will see me soon after that,” he said.

This did not satisfy Will.

“How many times do I have to close my eyes,” he asked.

His grandpa smiled. “Thirty.”

Will nodded, excepting this answer, and walked away. Even though he doesn’t understand how long that really is, having a number was enough, having something to look forward to made it real. I’m not certain why that conversation triggered tears for me. But I do know that I only have to close my eyes 11 more times before my parents touch down in California.