In good company

Every time we’ve gone kayaking on the Russian River has offered a different adventure—always fun, but always its very own special kind of experience.

Sometimes the river is full of other happy vacationers splashing and floating around, and there are plenty of cheery waves and hellos to other folks paddling by, and we can hear the laughter and conversation of picnickers enjoying a leisurely lunch on a beach or a sandbar. Sometimes it’s a serene paddle on a stretch of river so quiet that the water’s surface almost looks like glass.

Kayaking on the Russian River near Northwood Golf Course in Monte Rio.

But even during the area’s busiest times, there are peaceful moments at some quiet bend in the river where it seems like we have the whole place to ourselves.

Whether the river is bustling or calm, the scent of the surrounding redwoods always seems to drift down to the water, and the hotter the day, the more refreshing the light splashes from the paddles dipping into the water.

It was a quieter time at the end of last September when we went out for one last kayak trip of the summer, before Monte Rio Parks and Recreation’s beach rentals closed up shop for the season.

We rented a double kayak, left Monte Rio Beach and headed upriver towards Guerneville—the current isn’t very strong in the summers, especially the past couple years when the river has been so low.

Not long after we left, we realized we had some company on the river. We were so excited to see a beautiful blue heron just hanging out on a dock along the river, watching us in the kayak. It was a thrill to see this big, beautiful bird. We stopped paddling, and after a few minutes of observing the heron, and the heron observing us, we zoomed in the cameraphone as far as it would go—we didn’t want to disturb this beautiful bird (and so this shot is not as close to the heron as it might seem. We’d never want to get too close: it’s important to us to admire, but not to disrupt the local wildlife in any way).

A very zoomed-in shot of a beautiful blue heron enjoying a moment on a dock.

We passed the heron and continued our trip upriver for a couple miles before we turned around and brought the kayak back to Monte Rio Beach. We were a little sore the next day (and a little sunburned—sunblock works better if you don’t just forget it in your bag!), but so glad we went for one last paddle of the season. It’s always worth it, and now we’re looking forward to another amazing summer of kayaking on the Russian River.


To plan your own kayak trip:


Look for this sign at Monte Rio Beach to rent kayaks/canoes.

Monte Rio Parks & Rec’s rentals will reopen on Memorial Day weekend—simply head to the building at Monte Rio Beach to rent canoes, double or single kayaks, as well as inner-tubes and beach chairs.


There are also a number of other rental companies and kayak/canoe tour operators in the Russian River area, including King’s Sport & Tackle in Guerneville and Burke’s Canoes near Forestville.





Part of WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge—Jubilant


Seeing the forest for the trees

We love the redwood forests around the Russian River—and all around Northern California—but sometimes when we see something a lot, it can start to become part of the scenery. It’s scenery that we love, of course, but not something that we always notice as much as we used to, when we were first coming to the area. Or so we thought.

Sorting through some of our photos the other day, we realized how many shots we’ve taken over the past two years of the redwood trees around the house, Monte Rio, and just the Russian River area in general. So apparently we’re still enjoying the local landscape, even when we’re not consciously doing so.


But our surprisingly large cache of redwood forest photos offered us a good reminder to just slow down more often and really think about the beauty of these trees all around us: the shaggy fibrousness of rust-colored bark, the almost primeval look of the simple, frond-like leaves, the gentle sway of the towering trunks as they flex, ever so slightly, with the wind, and the glow of the sunlight filtering through the leaves.


So the next time we’re out on a walk, or even driving on the Bohemian Highway or Hwy 116, we’ll try to notice all that our cameras have seen, and really appreciate the forest—and the trees.


Part of WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge—Earth

A drive through the seasons

This shot was taken on a day that ultimately turned out to be sunny, with temps in the high 70s. That day seemed like it went through all the seasons in 12 hours, from rainy winter in the morning, warming up to spring by noon, and hot, sunny summer in the afternoon. By evening, a little chill in the air returned and it felt like fall—which it actually was. Dressing in layers (or just bringing extra layers) is the best way to hedge all bets if you’re headed to the Sonoma Coast.

We were out for a drive north of Jenner on Highway 1, just to see the sights. It had rained most of the morning and a heavy mist settled on the coast, which made for quite an atmospheric drive, if not exactly the scenic one we were after. Fog swirled across the highway, which did limit visibility a little. It was the kind of weather that made us long to be back at the house, sitting  by the fireplace with a nice steaming mug of tea, but at the same time, we really enjoyed the beauty of the mist, and it was a fun drive, even if it wasn’t the one we had planned on.

An ongoing highway construction project has created a one-lane stretch of road for about a mile along Highway 1, not far from Fort Ross, with temporary traffic lights set up on either end of the construction zone. It’s usually about a five-minute wait at these traffic lights—and on a clear day, the view makes for a great distraction during the wait. We got this shot when we stopped at the southern end of the construction area.

Stopped at a construction zone on Highway 1, looking northwest toward the ocean and enjoying the raindrops on the windshield.


The glow of the red light through the fog seemed a little dramatic, highlighting the starkness of the misty landscape, and making the warm car seem that much cozier. Visibility wasn’t great, but nowhere near as bad as this suggests—it’s just that the camera focused on the raindrops on the windshield, and we liked the way that looked.

When we stopped at this spot, we could have probably turned around, headed back to the fireplace and hot tea, but we decided to keep driving. And we’re glad we did. The rain cleared around noon and the day turned out sunny, clear and beautiful.


Part of WordPress’ weekly photo challenge—Abstract

Dinner for Close Friends


The night was the hottest so far of the year; so hot for spring that we definitely weren’t going to cook that night, and anyway, we’d been thinking a lot about the food at Hazel, a new restaurant we’d tried last fall, a short drive south on the Bohemian Highway, about 15 minutes from Ananda.

Hazel opened last summer in a small place on the outskirts of the town of Occidental, taking over the location from a popular eatery known as Bistro des Copains (that we never got a chance to try). “Copains,” as far as our French goes, means something like “close friends” (another translation is “boyfriend or girlfriend”) … and like we said, the place is small.

The Bistro is gone, but Hazel still seems like the spot for close friends—yes, because it’s slightly close quarters—but much more so because some of the fare is pretty perfect for sharing, especially the selection of about half a dozen wood-fired pizzas (more on that in a bit). And the welcoming, stripped-down rustic atmosphere, punctuated with colorful art and warm lighting, invites conversation.


When we visited Hazel in October, diners had packed the place everywhere but the small patio, where it was too cold to sit. That time, we ate at the bar, enjoying the people-watching that sitting near the front door afforded. Just the kind of cozy evening that makes autumn such a well-loved season.

On this most recent visit, we did longingly consider the patio, but evening temperatures can drop pretty quickly this time of year, and we knew the heat would disappear when the sun did. But with all the windows open, the restaurant offered a welcome taste of summer in April. We’ll just have to save the patio for next time.

A wood-fired pizza oven, visible from the dining room, turns out a centerpiece of Hazel’s menu: a range of thin-crust pizzas, with more familiar choices like the margherita or pepperoni (spiced up with jalapeño), as well as more unusual pairings, some of which change with the seasons: sausage with egg; butternut squash with pine nuts and crème fraîche; or caramelized onions and Gorgonzola cheese with toasted walnuts.

We started with a roasted asparagus appetizer and then shared the Gorgonzola pizza and a red quinoa bowl with sautéed kale, asparagus and maitake mushrooms.

The pizza was rich, dominated by the strong flavor of melted Gorgonzola, but with sweet undertones from the caramelized onions and a welcome crunch of walnuts—it’s so creamy and rich, it’s definitely a good choice to split. The clean flavors and wholesomeness of the quinoa bowl balanced nicely with the decadent pizza.

Paired with caramelized onions and toasted walnuts, creamy melted Gorgonzola makes for a rich pizza.


The quinoa bowl is one of about five or six main dishes that highlight a variety of proteins, including seafood, poultry and steak. From starters all the way to desserts, the menu features lots of local ingredients, from the cheese on the pizzas and starters (showcasing some of the North Bay’s many awesome creameries—always a great thing), to locally grown produce.

Plenty of fresh greens in the quinoa bowl—and they didn’t skimp on the cheese, either.


We finished off dinner with a perfectly not-too-sweet apple crumble a la mode. During dessert, we ended up googling what a “fruit crumble” was not only because we didn’t really know the difference between “apple crisp” and “apple crumble,” but mostly because all that brown sugar—and a good amount of butter?—in the lightly crunchy topping made us want to learn how to make our own, even if it won’t live up to Hazel’s version. It’s good stuff. (And unfortunately, we were so eager to tuck in that we didn’t take a photo.)

About halfway through dinner, we were surprised by a loud siren that seemed to echo in the streets. Especially since most of the other diners didn’t bat an eye, we were so curious that we had to ask our server what the siren was all about. She told us that the local volunteer fire department was being summoned to a call, adding with a smile, “That’s small town life.”

Occidental is small—we hate to use the “q-word” but we’re going to—because Occidental is quaint in the best possible way. And this location actually makes Hazel seem that much cozier. So even though it’s not officially the spot for “copains” anymore, it’s still a perfect spot to bring close friends—or have a romantic dinner.


Part of WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge—Dinnertime

Future apples

There will be fruit: blossoms on our little old apple tree in the forest.

Sonoma County has long been known for its agriculture, but at the turn of the previous century, the area wasn’t known for wine, but for apples. We don’t have a road in these parts called the Gravenstein Highway for nothing, after all.

Vineyards are everywhere now, but plenty of sweet remnants of the apple’s heyday in the area remain: certainly Sonoma County is still home to apple orchards, including places where you can pick your own fruit in the fall, and there are also apple trees in many a yard, probably a combination of volunteer trees and those that were planted by homeowners.

The old apple tree in our yard must be of hardy stock—with our location in the redwood forest, the tree doesn’t get the hours of full sun that most fruit trees need to really produce. There aren’t many orchards in the forest.

Nevertheless, our tree keeps soldiering on—it gave us a little more than two dozen apples last fall. And it looks like we’ll have apples again come September, because the tree is blooming right now. Of course, we always look forward to the apples, (even though they’re small and a little sour, they’re homegrown), but right now we’re just enjoying the beautiful blossoms and watching the bare branches of winter come alive again with snowy flowers and bright green leaves.


Part of WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge—The Future