Markontour is privileged by occupation to have visited most of the great cities of the world over the last decade, but this week I found tranquility, astronomical heaven, and a generous guitar owner in a small town on the California coast.
That Jenner has only added about a hundred residencies since its eponymous founder built his first ranch here in 1867 is a bit of a mystery to the casual visitor, given that pretty much all of the current homes enjoy stunning views of the mouth of the Russian River. But it makes for a wonderfully quiet holiday destination.
Days here seem to follow a pattern. Shortly after dawn the river is glassy calm – perfect for taking a kayak out to meet the inquisitive grey seals that congregate at the mouth of river, just shy of waves crashing ashore on the sandy breaker. By midday the wind has picked up a bit and fog can penetrate the estuary, making mysterious what was previously revealed in sunny clarity. Warm afternoons quickly turn into chilly evenings after sundown, although it is comfortable enough to sleep outside under the stars in a sleeping bag.
As markontour discovered, for those animals lacking a seal’s blubber the river itself packs a icy punch in September, but wild swimming is ultimately a pleasure that can also be enjoyed by humans if you can overcome the initial shock. The seals themselves seemed to welcome extra playmates, popping up occasionally to check out our ungainly movements and even appearing to shepherd us when we strayed too close to the surf in the kayak.
Birdwatchers are kept constantly busy by energetic cormorants and even the odd osprey diving to catch their prey. I didn’t see the bald-headed eagle that apparently frequents the telegraph pole, but vultures are a constant presence, circling overhead.
Afternoon was a chance to enjoy wine tasting up at Gary Farrell’s, with it’s beautiful valley view. Sadly we missed the Gay Rodeo outside of Guerneville, but did get to sample gorgeous ice-cream (including vegan), plus assorted pies (sweet variety), before attempting a bar game that is a bit like curling, but on a table and without the brushes.
Sundown is best enjoyed from the Rivers End inn atop the cliff by the estuary mouth, while at the other end of town there is a friendly beach wine bar (that was being run by a former road manager to Megadeath when we visited). Across the road the gas station stocks beer and essentials and is run by a cheerful, wise-cracking Pole.
Despite all the outdoor pleasures of daytime, nighttime Jenner provided the greatest wonders on markontour’s short sojourn. As the house-lights dimmed, not only was the Milky Way revealed in billions of sparkling splendours, but scanning from west to south revealed first a glowing yellow Jupiter, then Saturn below the Moon’s penumbra and a reddish Mars the brightest I have ever seen it. If that wasn’t enough, we were gifted a gorgeous meteor shower that continued as I drifted off to sleep staring up to the heavens from my slumber spot on the porch.
That would have been enough for markontour, but Jenner delivered one more bountiful surprise, in the shape of a guitar.
This is town where everyone knows everyone, so when I optimistically asked Paul in the wine bar if there was anywhere nearby I might be able to borrow a guitar, rather than being laughed off I was pointed across the road in the direction of Bill.
Bill wears a green baseball cap and stations himself daily to draw on a cigarette while surveying the world from the table outside the gas station. He also collects guitars, one of which, for the price of a pint of his favourite Korbel Brandy, he generously agreed to loan to a total stranger so that we could sing under the stars.
As we later discovered, the acoustics in Jenner can mean that even the quietest conversations are broadcast to unintentional eavesdroppers down-river, so it’s possible that not all of the Jenner’s inhabitants will have congratulated Bill on his generosity. But it made markontour’s weekend and so this blog is dedicated to Bill.