Getting to the Point

Note deer

I  came to West Marin at a low period in my life. I was grieving, I was moping, I was angry and confused. Even worse, my problems were mostly of my own devising. All I could do is wave my fist impotently and say, “Damn you, me!”

Yet every time I drove out Lucas Valley Road, I could feel the tension lifting from my shoulders. I’d get to Big Rock and feel lighter. By the Nicasio Reservoir, I’d start to hum. By the time I got home, I was grinning. At times, things are so perfectly beautiful they can make you giggle.

West Marin was sanctuary. There was nobody I knew up there, which was great. I liked the rural exotica of Toby’s Feed Barn and the Palace Market, where you could get a nice goose to cook if you didn’t ask too many questions.  I liked the Dance Palace — which back then was just a big room on the main drag — and the photography of Art Rogers.  (That’s my friend Connie Morse on his home page; didn’t know that). I liked the Point Reyes Light, soon to win a Pulitzer Prize.

But most of all I loved Point Reyes. Tracy and I would take all the hikes on offer. We would hump backpacks out to the Wildcat campground, or just stroll along Bear Valley. We’d find places to view sunsets, and then view them there, and come back to a nice piece of fish and a bottle of wine.

Still, I was morose. I was more or less unemployed. Some friends were no longer speaking to me. Every tether in my life had been cut, mostly by me. I needed the Point viscerally. I needed to see another red-winged blackbird, another crashing wave, another carpet of wildflowers. I needed to see cows; lots of cows, always artfully arranged.

I needed to figure out whether or not I was a total asshole.

Meanwhile, the fog came over to Inverness Ridge in the late afternoon, and the ospreys headed back home for the night, and the night herons roosting just south of the Inverness store began the rustle and stretch. Eventually, maybe when I was walking on Limantour beach, maybe when I was sitting quietly on Mt. Wittenberg, I remembered that there was a world without me at the center. I remembered that thinking about other people was a viable option.  I remembered to get over myself.

Tracy helped. Did I mention that?

The place names of West Marin have a totemic quality for me. I can say “Palomarin” or “Estero,” over and over, and they never lose their power.

As you might expect, we went back to West Marin many times over the years. We lived in nice houses when their owners were on vacation. We took the same walks. We shopped in the same stores. We even ate at Vladimir’s one more time, which reminded us precisely how weird the old place really was.

West Marin changed a lot. The tourist economy boomed while the fishing economy cratered. Gift stores proliferated; useful businesses went under. Toby’s added a coffee bar,  an art gallery, a performance space. The Dance Palace moved to shiny new digs. The weekend traffic around the bakery was so clogged with motorcycles and bikes that it looked like a peace-and-love version of Sturgis, South Dakota.

But we kept coming back. We had a few friends there, and we visited them. We brought our children and later our grandchildren along on day trips, and of course we visited the legendary sand dunes at Abbotts Lagoon.


Last weekend we went back to West Marin. Part of it was business, sort of — I’d been asked to be part of a benefit for KWMR, an excellent community radio station covering the coast from Tomales to Bolinas; now  available in San Geronimo. I was reluctant to do the gig because I loathe the possibility of failure. The KWMR people and I talked, and now I’m doing it. Argh argh performance anxiety argh argh.

The meeting concluded, we went out into the Point, exactly as we have a hundred times before. We went to North Beach because it was windy and we knew there’d be dramatic waves. But it turned out to be a little too windy.


There was sand stinging our faces. We had certain balance problems when a gust came along. We sought refuge behind the bathrooms, which were an effective windbreak. When we realized we were reluctant to leave our shelter behind the chemical toilets, we thought perhaps we weren’t having fun. We thought we’d try a more protected place.  Drake’s Beach!

Uh, no. Still way too windy. But there was this:


Apparently their population was thriving at the elephant seal rookery further toward Chimney Rock, so the stragglers and losers relocated to Drake’s Beach, hanging around and blocking popular paths to the water’s edge. They were casually magnificent, and we thought the beach should remain theirs. Also: stinging wind.

So we got back in the car and back to town. Perhaps, we thought, we could get a nice chicken at Tomales Bay Foods, eat it on the way home.  Or something else. We were in wandering mode again.

I thought about maybe making a blog post out of the day. I have photos, after all. Probably should have an ending, though. So I asked myself, do I have useful thoughts about my period of doubt and blame so many years ago?

I do not. Shit happens. Move on.


Photos by Tracy Johnston, except for the one that obviously isn’t.

Cheat sheet author and helpful human: Michelle Mizera

22 thoughts on “Getting to the Point

  1. For what it’s worth you are not an asshole. I’ve been a fan for years even when I was disagreeing with you. Been a fan since New West, which I still miss a lot. We once had an email exchange over leaving doors unlocked and strongly disagreed with each other but no assholes were involved.

    Then I retired and no longer had access to $.50 newspapers in BART stations then the Chron put up the firewall. So I’m glad to be reading your work again.


      1. We know that. Change the names ; -)

        And you couldn’t have been a TOTAL asshole, because; Tracy.

        The girls look happy surfing the sand. Your a good Grandpa.

        I need to visit West Marin more. thanks for the reminder.


  2. Thank you! Love the living detail. Only someone who has lived a long and truly engaged life could surface with such offhand wisdom and humor. But then native talent plays its own part…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I checked my email. I am supposed to be working. But it’s Jon Carroll.

    Shit happens. Move on.
    Makes me laugh.


  4. How can you say you have no useful thoughts about that period of doubt and blame! “Shit happens. Move on.” Works for me. So does Point Reyes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks very much, the mood of your story echoes. I too make similar pilgrimages to West Marin for similar reasons. My husband and I went to Drake’s Beach a few months ago, seeking succor in nature from some recent slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The wind was blowing so hard we couldn’t push the car doors open against it. Our little car threatened to become airborne.The flying sand struck the windshield with a shrill and icy sound. After a few stunned and disappointed moments, we just started laughing. The forces of nature are so massive and humbling!.One’s enormous problems are little grains of sand. Earth abides. One should do the same.


  6. Oh, Jon. You wonderful, crazy, writer dude. We also love Abbott’s Lagoon and Pt. Reyes Station and the carefully arranged cows. We’ve been over in West Marin with the knock you over cold wind and when the wild flowers are blooming and also feel renewed by the beauty and the wildness and the flora and fauna. Thank you for being you.


  7. OK…thank God… that long-lost, Jon Carroll-shaped, missing puzzle piece of my heart has been found.
    Keep writing. Thank you. From the wild, windy coast of Humboldt County, merci, for this piece and all others.


  8. Indeed, weekends have become difficult in Pt. Reyes. If local businesses love the crowds — as well they should — too much of a good thing is still too much, and holiday traffic through town nowadays has become a nightmare right out of Godard’s “Weekend.”

    Absent the drummer, of course.

    When those busy weekends come, I hole up and hunker down, heading into town only if absolutely necessary.

    Come Monday, though, the mobs have gone, and on through Thursday, the little town that was returns (more or less) to what it used to be — a quiet, bucolic paradise. Four good days out of seven each week will just have to do, I guess. As Vonnegut wrote in Slaughterhouse Five, “the secret of life is to concentrate on the good and ignore the bad” — which is really just another way of saying “Shit happens, move on.”

    Good advice, that…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That is a very personal take on West Marin, and what I used to read and love was after you had a nice (if demanding) job as a Chron columnist, and were going back because you still loved the place. Never spent time in Inverness, but I think of you every time I drive to the WELL Oysterfest, up there at Heart’s Desire beach in Tomales Bay SP. And I like Point Reyes Station a lot better than I used to, now that the Station House is, well, just a pretty good restaurant and the Bakery does not have lines very far out the door (best morning buns ever, still).

    I very seldom went to West Marin when I actually lived in San Francisco, maybe because it was a bit stressful getting to it from the Mission, plus I loved the Oakland waterfront and so many of the East Bay parks. I have gone often since 1978, and of course part of the draw if you live in Sonoma County is that the drive over the hills from Petaluma is so incredibly beautiful. Been to the lighthouse because children — you really have to take them there. But next to Mount Tam, where I so often took my kids in the Spring, making the circuit from Pantoll and helping my younger daughters up the ladder, what I loved most in Marin County, and still love, is the beaches on the North Side of the peninsula. Oh, we have nice beaches on the Sonoma Coast, but nothing beats Point Reyes. And as I have gotten older, I have become enamoured of Nick’s Cove. Maybe not so perfect if you are a teetotaler, but I think iced tea would be a fine drink there. Great food, great views, and a good place to visit with a grown child or with your spouse, or ideally, both. Eating there makes me think I am still in my 20’s and having lunch at the Athenian in Pike Place Market, Seattle — though the food and drink are better.


  10. Wow. You hiked to Wildcat beach/camp ground. I rode my horse to there several times and it is WAy FAR!!! I am very impressed by anyone who walks that far! Kudos!

    Loved hearing the wonderful familar words, too..Inverness…Vladimir’s….ahhhh

    Sent from my iPad



  11. Hate cold, wind, and sand. But love this writing, glimpses from The Life of Jon, the cheerful and disarming admissions of imperfections, shit happening (without naming names or behaviors), and the moving on, because the other alternatives get one nowhere. Shit may happen but Jon Carroll moves on, as we all do, or should. This blogpost is a rising moon.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for your thoughts and writing. Ido the same trip to Point Reyes. Thanks again. Ted Herman Petraluma >


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