Norma and I got married in September 1993 at the Cliff House in San Francisco, right there at the mouth of San Francisco Bay, looking out over the Pacific.
Norma had this idea that since she was only going to be wearing the wedding dress this one day, and what with all the money that dress cost, she wanted to get the maximum value out of it. She was determined to keep that dress on as long as possible, to stay a bride all day until it was bedtime. So after the wedding and reception we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge toward Tomales where we were going to spend the night, Norma still with her wedding dress and her veil. People were honking at us and waving and shouting congratulations.
By the time we got to the Tomales Country Inn, we wanted some good food. Laura Hoffman, the innkeeper, came into the lobby and saw Norma standing there in her wedding dress and got all excited and told us if we really wanted some good food we should drive down to Inverness to Manka's, this former hunting lodge turned gourmet restaurant. So, Norma still in her wedding dress, we drove down to Manka's and caused a stir there, she with her veil and all, and people snapped pictures of us dining, and we had maybe the best dinner of our lives there at Manka's. Manka's was like this magical lodge in the forest, like something you'd find in Twin Peaks. With the roasting fire going in the lobby fireplace, stuff roasting there in the fire, and these huge timbers. It was like a dream. So we ate there and then drove back up to the Tomales Country Inn and Norma finally took off her wedding dress.
So after that, Tomales Bay became our place, our place of fun and refuge and memory and solace. And Manka's became our place to celebrate. We went there every Christmas Day for a few years, with our friends Ken and Alexis, and it anchored the year.
Then the Tomales Country Inn was sold to a Buddhist meditation group so it wasn't the same, which was sad. And Ken and Alexis moved to Hong Kong so our Christmas dinner companions were gone. Then Manka's dining room burned in a widely publicized fire. So Manka's still operates as an inn but the dining room is gone and our friends are gone and the Tomales Country Inn is gone but we still go up to Tomales Bay for fun and refuge and memory and solace.
So over the years, every time we would be driving up to Tomales or Occidental or Dillon Beach, or maybe to Freestone, or maybe just driving up the coast highway along Tomales bay just to feel the movement, we would pass this little sign on the road near Marshall that said Marconi Conference Center, and we always wondered what that was. There was this road winding up a hill, and we just noticed it the way you notice something but don't register it really.
Then, a few years later, we renovated our house in San Francisco and ended up with this beautiful front room, and at the same time I had begun writing the column in 2001 but in 2006 I found myself in a painful spot writing-wise; I needed some help, personally, with my writing as a practice, as a sustainable and deepening activity, so in 2007 I took a weeklong Amherst Writers and Artists writing workshop with Pat Schneider and was deeply moved and restored to some kind of creative health by that method of writing in a group. So then with Pat's blessing and encouragement I started leading AWA-style writing workshops in the bright front room of our newly renovated house out at Ocean Beach, and people would write together and it was really great.
But people from far away would email me and say they wished they could come to a workshop but they don't live here, and wouldn't it be nice if people could travel here for a few days, if there was some kind of retreat they could go to. So we thought we should look for a place and maybe we could put on some kind of a retreat. So naturally, wanting to share the beauty and healing force of this land, this strange, powerful California land full of mystery and beauty, we started looking around.
Well, we thought, what is that place we always see up there on Tomales Bay near Nick's Cove and Marshall, right up from Millerton State Park where we take the dogs on weekends? That sign at the bottom of that little winding road? Marconi? So Norma contacted Marconi Conference Center and made an appointment and we drove up there to look around, and they showed us around.
So in the lobby were all these antique radios in a glass cabinet and then we realized, of course, Marconi, the radio guy! This was the site of Marconi's first trans-Pacific wireless receiving station on the West Coast. And the concrete footers for the tower and the guy wires are still at the top of the hill up by the dining room. So this had a powerful effect on me, because of the powerful place radio has for me. I read the Marconi biography when I was a kid. We had a shortwave radio given to us by my grandmother. And we strung a wire for an antenna out our window and across the yard, and we listened to ships. A voice going across the air. Men in ships out at sea talking to each other across the vast dark ocean.
So they showed us a couple of meeting spaces up at Marconi and at first we weren't sure. These two buildings up the hill, kind of like bunkers. It wasn't looking promising. Then we saw McCargo Hall. Wow. This was one of original buildings, beautifully restored in a craftsman style, with a fireplace and a sunny veranda.
Now this was a place where we could be. This place had a vibe. This felt good. We wanted McCargo. So we started doing these getaways up there at Marconi, in McCargo Hall. And one of the first things we noticed was how good the food was. It stands to reason: After all, you're in this Northern California food mecca, with all this great local produce and meat -- the same reason that Manka's makes such fabulous food. But we weren't really thinking about that when we started. It was just a bonus. And after a day of workshops and after dinner we would gather in McCargo Hall and read poems and prose aloud and sing songs and stuff. It's pretty great.
So that is how we came to be offering these four-day stays on Tomales Bay. And now the January one is coming up and as usual we still have a few rooms left and as usual I begin to fret and fear that not enough people will sign up.
So I ask you to join us. Click here to sign up.
I think about healing a lot lately, especially after the cancer, speaking of which, incidentally, Dec. 17 is the two-year anniversary of my surgery, going into UCSF hospital and having my life saved. Which was nice. And now I'm pretty much "back to normal." Which is nice. So I think about healing and the many forms it takes, many of which are not healing in the sense of medical intervention, but more indirect, yet have the same powerful attraction and effect, and the same life-or-death importance. Creativity is healing. Nature is healing. Certain kinds of healing -- art, poetry, music -- draw people with the same urgency with which one might go to the doctor or journey to healing waters. Tomales Bay has that healing quality for us.
And to sit in a room above the bay and let the imagination wake up there, in that place of historic radio reception, it's like our radio waves are going out across the bay, like we're locked in somehow, like we're receptive, too, to the mysterious invisible signals in the air, like that old antenna up there, we're picking up signals from ships in the night.
So I woke up this morning worrying how I was going to communicate this. There's an example in this book I'm reading of a person going into a grocery store and an employee is following her around with these little food samples on toothpicks trying to get her to taste a sample and she doesn't want one and he's pissing her off with his insistence and then she walks out of the store to get away from him, and smells cookies. She is drawn to buy some cookies.
The idea being, don't force your stuff on people but let them get the aroma.
So I have to trust that by evoking the spirit of the thing, I'm putting out the scent, and that if you're moved by this idea, then it is calling to you, and that it may heal something in you or bring you something you need.
Knock on my door. Ring the bell.
I'll come out and serve you cookies.