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‘Tis the Season

… for stress and baking. What? I think they go together, at least sometimes (the real question being, of course: does baking alleviate stress or does baking cause the stress? Discuss!).

It’s also the season for allowing oneself to take a break, even if for just half a day. On Saturday I baked, but on Sunday I hiked.

We went to West Marin and it was not only warm-ish, but sunny, too, and walked through the cow fields bearing burritos and water. We sat on a patch of rocks and ate, straining to see the bright blue of Tomales Bay in the distance.

The cows never seem to find me amusing when I wave at them, but I do without fail, every time.

This hike is an extra nice one for me, because it brings back memories of a glorious hike I took on my 25th birthday on the Isle of Skye, in Scotland. That morning we ate an enormous breakfast of stewed tomatoes and mushrooms, baked beans on toast, oat cakes, scones, porridge, and tea to fortify for the hike ahead. As we were finishing, the proprietor at the bed and breakfast pointed out the window (they had a wonderful view of empty hills and the ocean) at a sea-hawk wheeling and dipping over the fields.

I knew my birthday would be a good one after that. And it was.

[On Skye, 2003.]

The landscape in the highlands is quite similar to West Marin and Sonoma County in parts, though I think it is wilder; the fields are dotted by sheep as well as cows (more sheep, really) and the ruins of old crofting cabins. I don’t think we saw anyone else the whole way down the sloping hills that led to the sea, and though it was cold, the sun shone strong and bright the whole day.

The land spilled quickly into the ocean — greenly, sharply rocky; the night before we’d perched high above a lighthouse to watch a sunset that spread across the sky like a flag. The landscape of West Marin is gentler somehow (though when you go from Bear Valley out to Arch Rock and stand in the middle of crashing ocean and sun it doesn’t feel too, um, domesticated), but you can see the similarities:

[Marin County hills, near Olema.]

Some days I miss Scotland fiercely, even though I was only there for a week. I was living on the East Coast then, so perhaps I fell for it so absolutely because it reminded me of my beloved Northern California hills — but I think it was more than that: I loved it simply and utterly for itself.

I realized this fall it’s been four years since I was there — four whole years! I miss my friends in Edinburgh, and cream scones, and endless pots of tea, and the sweet evening light as it falls over the sea. If time and money allow, I really should try to plan a trip soon.

[Pre-birthday sunset in the highlands, October 2003.]

But, after all, I really can’t complain too much about California. Sunday finished up in Iverness in front of the fire, playing with the dog, and postponing the long drive back to the city for as long as possible. Though this week has been crazily busy with work, holiday gatherings and an article due — mixed together with a dash of a cold — at the very worst of it I’ve taken a deep breath, remembering my little stolen afternoon, and have been made more peaceful for it.

Just one week ’til the Solstice! It may be the shortest, darkest day of the year, but each day after that the light will linger just a little bit longer, and I think that’s the best holiday gift I can ask for this year.

[Trees on Redwood Ave., December 2007.]

And! Don’t forget about Menu for Hope! There’s still lots of time to bid on delicious goodies …

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