Great Escape

Poppies along the coast

It’s been about three weeks since the Great Coronavirus Confinement began in earnest, at least at our house. Sandra and I have been out to pick up groceries or prescriptions a few times, but mostly we’ve had our food and medications delivered — and a few take-out meals as well. (Three cheers for our local restaurants and their employees — and the delivery drivers!)

Compared to a lot of families, I think that despite our high-risk status (as 70-somethings), we’re doing pretty well. I’ve been doing my writing and editing work from home since we moved to California in 2013, so while “social distancing” has eliminated traditional (i.e., in-person, off-line) opportunities to meet people and network, it hasn’t been too difficult to adjust to the “new normal.” And, I’ve been ZOOM-ing.

However, on Friday I broke loose. It was a sunny spring day, and I’d been hankering for a loaf of the crusty, chewy whole wheat bread and delectable scones baked at Wild Flour Bread in Freestone, about 17 winding, hilly, rustic miles from our house. After all, bread isn’t just one of the “essentials” that people are still permitted to go out and forage for even in the face of COVID-19, it’s the very staff of life! And scones — strawberry-and-rhubarb, chocolate-pear-and-marzipan and a couple of others, since devoured, whose ingredients I can recall only in my mind’s taste buds — well, scones may not be the staff of life, but they certainly qualify as a spice of life.

Of course, before embarking on this mission of culinary mercy, I put on my outdoor clothes and disinfected the steering wheel, transmission lever, door handles, window buttons, etc. with bleach wipes. The bakery was fully into COVID mode as well, serving customers from a newly created window at the door, with queuing positions clearly marked on the ground, six feet apart.

Bread and scones in hand, do you suppose I retraced my steps and drove directly home? What a wasted opportunity that would have been on such a glorious day. En route to Freestone, I’d already enjoyed vistas of apple orchards in an early stage of spring bloom. Now, still beckoning, was the rugged coast, just a few scenic miles away. I reached the ocean at Bodega Bay, then drove along Pacific Coast Highway (California Route 1) some 15 miles north to the mouth of the Russian River at Jenner.

To my left along the way, wind-whipped whitecaps in a churning blue sea and an ever-changing parade of seacliffs, wave-pounded boulder islets and the occasional gray beach. To my right, lush fields of fresh grass supporting a multitude of grazing cattle. And brightening the edge of the road … clusters of bright-orange poppies, California’s state flower.

The only thing that dampened my pleasure on this leg of the drive was that the edict closing all state and county parks (intended to prevent crowds of outdoor enthusiasts from congregating and spreading the contagion) resulted in traffic cones blocking every pullout on the seaward side of the road (the only side with pullouts), so the only way to enjoy the rugged coast was from my moving car — window open, of course.

Mouth of the Russian River

However, I did manage to get out and enjoy a view of the Russian River meeting the sea from the small clifftop parking lot at River’s End Restaurant and Inn (currently “corona-closed”). Just north of Jenner, it overlooks the mouth of the river and its huge sandbar, home to a lollygagging gaggle of sea lions and flocks of roosting gulls.

Driving through redwood groves

I then turned homeward and followed the Russian River upstream, through deeply shaded groves of towering redwoods, still more grazing cattle and hundreds of newly leafed-out trees, including several weeping willows, the arboreal waterfalls whose gracefully drooping boughs I find highly appealing.

All in all, a soul-energizing Great Escape.

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