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Point Reyes

Brine Worship

38 degrees N 122 degrees W

October 15, 2006|Daniel Duane | Daniel Duane is the author of "Caught Inside: A Surfer's Year on the California Coast." His work has appeared in Outside magazine.

DESTINATION: Northern Coast

TOWN: Point Reyes Station

ELEVATION: 39 feet




NEAREST AIRPORTS: Santa Rosa, San Francisco

TEMPERATURE SWING: 38° (winter low) to 83° (summer high)


The first thing I did after the judge pronounced us man and wife--the first thing after kissing Liz, I mean--was to grab her by the hand, pull her out from under the arbor where she'd said our vows from memory and I'd relied on a crib sheet, and drag her fast across the lawn, keeping my eyes on the prize as we skirted a grinning gang of my surfing buddies, still radiant from our daybreak session at North Beach. Bolting around the folding chairs and under an oak, I tried my best to avoid detection. It was my wedding day, after all, and I wanted what was coming to me.

I wanted a raw Pacific oyster, fresh from the clear waters of Tomales Bay, and then I wanted another, and then another after that.

Without even pausing for a procedural peck with Liz's two grandmothers or a handshake from my grandfather, I beat everybody to the table, where a smiling caterer had spread dozens upon dozens of the big glistening beauties, plucked that very morning from the oyster farms that thrive in the Tomales Bay brine. I didn't even hand one to Liz, only because she's indifferent to oysters. I just picked up a half shell, kicked back my head, closed my eyes against the piercing white sun and slurped down the sumptuous expression of a healthy Californian ocean. Then I ate about 12 more, tossing the shells into the trees, and then I grabbed a glass of Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc and turned around to face the small line forming behind me.

I know a groom is not really supposed to behave like this. Good form dictates that he graciously let the guests--the wonderful people who've given up a whole weekend to celebrate his great fortune at landing, undeservedly, a stellar bride--take the first crack at the spread. But I couldn't risk missing the only thing that encapsulates in a single bite--a single raw bite, that is, with a dab of champagne mignonette sauce--the very essence of the coastal landscape I love. (A barbecued oyster comes close, I'll admit, as long as you drizzle in garlic butter the moment the shell squeaks open on the grill.)

When I was a kid in Berkeley, my parents took us not to Disneyland or Marine World or the San Francisco Zoo but to Abbotts Lagoon, one in a long string of beaches and wetlands in the Point Reyes National Seashore. We'd walk the wide, flat, windswept beaches with their vast dunes and low grasses, talking about everything and anything. I'd come home utterly annoyed with my little sister and all filled up by my parents' time and attention, and with a lesson they were giving about the solace of open spaces.

At Christmastime, when I was in high school, the family drove still farther north, winding past the boat harbor at Bodega Bay and the sprawling mouth of the Russian River and the 1,000-foot cliffs north of Jenner, to spend a week in a seaside cabin in Mendocino. Walking to the bakery, we'd get coffee and scones and then spend the day among wind-sculpted cypress and coves where seals baked on barnacle-encrusted rocks. My sister drove me crazy there too, but I'm sure that's where I first acquired the disease of thinking I should become a nature poet. Later still, a buddy of mine bought property near Point Arena, an oddly scruffy and muscular American town flanking Highway 1, with a viable fishing fleet. A number of weekends spent there, with movies at the one-screen Arena Theater and pre-surf eggs at the Point Arena Cafe, made it the town where I'd most like to buy a second home.

But the moment I connected most perfectly with that stretch of California, the moment I first felt a harmony between the way I hoped to live and love as an adult and the joys that a landscape can offer, came shortly after college when I took over a bed and breakfast in Tomales for a few weeks. Friends of my parents had just opened the place, after restoring the Victorian trim and buying fabulously expensive mattresses, and now they wanted to spend a few weeks back East. So a girlfriend and I moved in, baked bread and took meaningful hikes on foggy sheep pastures. And on our last weekend there, my parents and their friends all came to join us. Because they were older and more experienced in teasing forth earthly pleasures, they brought bottle upon bottle of marvelous wine, several loaves of bread better than those I'd baked and, best of all, a shocking number of fresh oysters. A kid again that night, and again letting my parents show me how it was done, I slipped down my gullet a gulp of maritime protein--followed by a gulp of wine--that left nothing in this life to be desired. From that moment, I decided that a fresh oyster from the fresh waters of a world you love, in the company of people you love, was as good as adult life could get.

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