The Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean about sixty miles northwest of San Francisco. There, the great rolling hills of Sonoma meet the sharp, evergreen-strewn shoreline. I turned right at the sea, heading further still from anything resembling anything that had come before.
I arrived SFO bleary from a late night as the first guest in James and his wife’s new home. I met Jon at baggage, and we pointed our Jeep north. I scanned the dial for decent radio, anxious to avoid pregnant pauses in conversation, but found none. Later, Jon and I would travel the full three hours accompanied only by the sound of our voices, catching each other up to the years in between.
The directions to Matthew’s wedding were decidedly free-spirited. “Turn right at the big yellow sign,” it said, “And follow the paved road to where it turns to gravel.”
The sky was low and gray. Wisps of cloud nuzzled the hilltops. We drove slowly through patches of fog, winding back and forth through dense groves of redwood, fields of grazing sheep, and well-rowed vineyards. We arrived as the cool drizzle turned to an outright downpour.
The estate was vast and uncultivated. The main house was a spacious, modern thing full of open rooms, dense beams, great windows, and plenty of vistas. There was no welcome committee, save the two mangy dogs were milling about the brush-filled fire pit. Jon and I looked at each other nervously, uncertain if we’d found the correct location, before spotting Sibby and Matt sipping mate from a bombilla.
“This must be the place.”
The early hours of our time there amongst the clouds was uncertain and uncomfortable. We were early arrivers, left largely to our own devices. Where others were camping, Jon and I — as representatives of the mainstream (he works for Big Pharmaceutical, I work for Big Media) — had rented the biggest SUV we could find. We thought it would be funny to be so un-PC. We also thought it would make for warm, dry nights.
Before long, Susie and Tim, proprietors of this great, forty acre estate, put us to work. Susie pointed at the fire pit.
“See all that brush there?”
“Move it?” I asked.
“This,” I said to Jon, “is going to be my kind of party.”
Guests began arriving slowly, Californians with names live Root, Green, Indigo, Love, and Aura. Conversations revolved around composting, organic farming, yoga and meditation. “And what do you do?” they asked.
“I work for MTV News in New York City.”
“Ooooh,” they’d respond. “Interesting.”
End of conversation.
I’m being facetious, of course. We made some great friends, like Marci (whose company Grateful Body makes organic skin products) and Frank (whose band, Fingerpaint, is finishing up a double album). Still, we were conspicuous in our lifestyle choices.
Not that we didn’t take a fair stab at communism. On Saturday morning, we were cloudy from a light night around the campfire, sore from a long night on a vacant couch, and full from a midnight snack of baklava and fresh goat’s milk. Still, there was work to be done. Rallied by Sarah’s sister Rebecca, we divvied up tasks: place setting, flower arrangement, sweeping, recycling, KP — you name it. In the end, Jon and I stuck to physical labor: moving tables, chairs, and couches, parking cars, and building fires.
While communism may have failed on scale, it was largely a success this day. (Of course, we were motivated by our love for the bride and groom, not fear of some demagogue or deep belief in some dogma.) By early afternoon, the space was transformed. The fire pit was full and raging. Great buffet tables were fashioned from old wine barrels. Native wild flowers adorned every corner. Candles and Christmas lights warmed every room. And shortly after a weather ritual involving sage, tobacco, and a sharp, inverted stick, the rain cleared, and the sun began to peak through the mist.
To Be Continued …