Pathways and Freeways – I
Inasmuch that once made a Mason, one can never really separate all of the other aspects of one’s life from the Masonic, it seems fair to say that pretty much everything in my life is fair game for this blog.
That, and the fact that I just got back from vacation and wanted to brag about it.
A week an a half ago, my wife and I left for the Napa Valley wine country on the first child-free vacation we’ve had in over 15 years. That means that we left the 95ºF temps in southern New England for the 110º+ temps in central California. We landed at Oakland airport (92º), got the rental car (96º), and headed north where the temperature slowly but steadily climbed: 98º, 102º, 106º… until at some point I thought that the thermometer on the car must be broken. We pulled into the hotel at Calistoga, in the north end of the Napa Valley and just east across the mountains from the Sonoma Valley, at late afternoon and the gauge read 115º! Opening the door of the car we were greeted with what smelled like slow-roasting wood, the kind of aroma one associates with a sauna.
But that’s okay – it’s a dry heat, right?
Calistoga is a small town with a main drag about a half mile long and looking as it it belongs in a Western film… if you ignore the fantastic upscale restaurants, the delis, the angled parking spaces, and the several people on Segways scooting back and forth from the various businesses. The name of the town supposedly comes from one of the early local entrepreneurs who became enamored of the hot springs and geysers and wanted to turn the area into a resort town like the ones he knew in upstate New York. According to legend, Mr. Brannan was a bit in his cups when he declared his intention to make it “the Saratoga of California,” and so it came out as “the Calistoga of Sarafornia.”
I have not checked the veracity of that tale, but it’s one of those items that if it’s not true, well, then it should be.
My wife had us booked into a spa hotel so we could take advantage of the “couples” spa treatments that are becoming all the rage. One can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a hot mineral spring or a day spa, and we found ourselves registered in a pleasant, rustic old spa on the outskirts of town; “rustic” in this case meaning “no phones or internet access.” Since this was supposed to be a vacation, the white-knuckled feelings that normally accomany my lack of internet access only lasted a couple of days, and we attributed the other symptoms (sweatiness, listlessness, incoherent mumbling, and fainting spells) the the heat wave.
And I can’t speak highly enough about the trips to the little wineries that we made. On the way up in the car we passed not merely acres, but entire square miles of plantings. We stopped at the small wineries, the ones with labels we would never see back East. Whereas the major labels like Kenwood or Ravenswood might sell upwards of 500,000 or 600,000 cases a year, we checked out the places that were maybe 5,000 or 1,500 cases.
And while I’m sure that the locals were laughing with me and not at me, take my advice and learn that they are called “vineyards” and not “grape orchards, and that the plantings are called “root stock” and not “wine trees.”
We found that it was impossible to get a bad glass of wine anywhere in Napa Valley, and believe me, we tried. Not that we tried to get a bad glass, but one would think that just the statistical probability of it happening based on how many we sampled would have found at least one. Naturally I am not condoning turning the period of refreshment into one of intemperance and excess; however one of the precepts of Taoism is “moderation in all things… including moderation. For those so inclined, however, there are limousined tours if nobody in your party wants to be a designated driver.
I’m not going to bore you with the details of the “couples spa treatment” except to say that the mud bath is really some kind of potting soil mixed with peat moss and heated with the natural hot mineral spring water. Twenty minutes of that, then you get to hose each other down and jump into a warm hot tub, after which you are treated to about a half hour of a warm herbal wrap, followed by a professional massage. Only a cynic would point out that one is planted, watered and then treated like the ingredients of a pita wrap sandwich.
I’m not really big on general sight-seeing, but I do enjoy having something interesting to explore on a trip, and I’d come back to Calistoga again. I enjoyed staying in the rustic town more than I would have enjoyed staying in the busier small city of Napa itself. We took a few side trips, notably to visit a local “Old Faithful” geyser (not as impressive as the one in Yellowstone National Park, but a nice way to kill an hour or so).
We also visited the Petrified Forest, where we learned that a volcanic eruption 3.4 million years ago blasted most of the local redwood trees into toothpicks, leaving some scattered trunks under the ashes, where time and nature leached the organic compounds, replacing them with minerals.
We only had a few days there before we had to leave for parts south of San Francisco. Not having a phone book in the room, I didn’t get to look for the local Masonic lodge (something that I do wherever I go), so I was surprised to see on our last night there a familiar symbol on the roofline of one of the buildings on the main street. The building was being remodeled, so we didn’t get an opportunity to check it out before we left. We did, though, get a chance to check out the Grand Lodge of California building in San Francisco later on in the week. But that’s a story for another day.