Thursday, July 16, 2009

Going Home Again

Last weekend, my wife and I flew to Northern California with my daughter to connect her with a group of students traveling to Japan for intensive language study this summer. After dropping my daughter off on her flight to Tokyo, my wife and I drove to every site that played a role in our 30 year relationship.

We met in 1980 at Stanford in the dorm complex next to Lake Lagunita. I was in Granada, she was in Eucalypto. We visited our old dorms and found the forests we walked in replaced with construction over the past 30 years.

In 1982, we served as live-in companions to Dr. Fred Terman, the former provost and Dean of engineering. We visited his former home, in an enclave of faculty housing, on El Escarpado. It was getting a new driveway, but otherwise had not changed.

In 1983, after Dr. Terman died, we moved to a cabin in La Honda, California on Shelden Road. Fritz Maytag, the founder of Anchor Steam brewery had lived there before us. La Honda had not changed much, and the biker bar called Applejacks was still a popular town gathering spot.

Each night in 1983-1984 we would drive from La Honda to the San Gregorio Stage stop, then to Pompano Beach and onward to Pescadero, a small farming town. We'd talk about the future and speculate where our Stanford education would take us. We did that drive again and stopped at Pompano to walk through the waves around the sandstone cliffs.

We drove north to San Francisco. Even in the late 1980's and early 1990's we had an affinity for Japan and frequented Japantown in San Francisco. We strolled the shops, restaurants, and markets, nostalgic for the easy access to all things Japanese that is missing from Boston.

In 1984, we moved to Marin County and bought a small home on Rose Avenue, near Panoramic Highway in Mill Valley. That isolated neighborhood of older homes is now filled with expensive new construction. Our starter home is now 10 times the price we paid for it. We were both amazed that we commuted through the narrow, steep, potholed roads of upper Mill Valley from 1984-1986. We had a great time back then with hot tubs, star gazing, and weekend sushi dinners, but we would not want to drive the cliffs of Rose Avenue today.

In 1986, we built a home on Mt. San Pedro in San Rafael overlooking China Camp State Park. It was the go-go 1980's when owning a large home was a sign of success. Our home, Woodcliff, had 5 pods - a living area, an underground winery, an artist studio, a library/office wing, and a lab space for wine chemistry. We sold the home to Dr. Dean Edell in 1993. We learned many lessons about living large during that era and that led to the simpler existence we have embraced today. The house is still there, although the grape vines have been replaced with fields of lavender and the mountainside is now a destination for mountain bikers who seem at battle with private property owners.

During our Marin County years, I ran a software company called Colossus at 100 Smith Ranch Road while going to medical school at UCSF and graduate school at UC Berkeley. The office space is still there, occupied by another software company.

During weekends, we hiked West Marin locations - Pt. Reyes, Tomales Bay, and Bolinas. We did an 8 mile hike down the Bear Valley trail to Arch Rocks and visited the Tule Elk at Pierce Point. We stopped for dinner in Bolinas, a hidden town without any road signs to identify it. As we drove toward the Palomarin headlands, a rainbow appeared without any clouds or rain (the photo above).

Would we go back? Would we want to relive the Palo Alto, Mill Valley or San Francisco of our 20's? The great wines, the energy, and the outdoors of our youth?


Northern California is a great place, but today we have different needs.

We're approaching 50 and our focus is on a great education for our daughter, time with family, career, and community service - locally and in Washington.

Just as Northern California was a perfect fit for our 20's, New England is a perfect fit for our 40's and 50's. We have easy access to great educational institutions, healthcare, museums, New York, Washington, and colleagues across the Eastern Seaboard. The outdoors still beckons and we have easy access to hiking, biking, and kayaking. We have local farms and look forward to the variation of 4 seasons.

Our 60's may bring another set of needs. My daughter will be starting her own family, my parents may need more frequent visits, and our work activities may evolve. It's hard to know what tomorrow will bring, so we're leaving our options open. Maybe a small farm in Vermont? Maybe an ecofriendly cabin with a Japanese lifestyle? If my daughter lives and works in Japan after college, her current dream, then we might create a new life in Kyoto.

You can go home again and for me it was a great opportunity to refresh the memories that made me who I am today.

I look forward to each day and the potential it brings. The past is filled with great experiences, joys, and struggles. I would rather move forward guided by the past than try to relive it in the future.


Ahier said...

Thank you for sharing these personal details of your life. You have inspired me today!

Jodie said...

Excellent writing today! I began reading your blog for HIT Standards information and truly enjoy the days you share more personal comments like travel, wine and gardening - all very nice. Thanks for making me smile today.

Marc said...


Nice post! I can relate to all of it. I spent my 20s in grad school in Biophysics at UC Berkeley. I worked on the heavy ion radiotherapy project "up the hill" at LBL with interesting people and wonderful views. Unfortunately, my department believed in term limits and I was eventually pushed out of the nest.

After graduating, I joined the faculty at the University of Michigan (radiation oncology physics) and planned to return to the Bay Area after 4-5 years. That was 20 years ago! I still have lots of friends in the Bay Area and visit several times a year to hike, mountain bike and snowboard. I always leave with a good bottle of wine from a friends' nano-winery appropriately named Crawlspace Cellars.

In 2001, I returned to do a sabbatical with a medical device company in Palo Alto. I lived two speed bumps down from the Oasis Beer Garden on Cambridge Ave in Menlo Park ... paying about 10 times the rent as when I was in grad school!

The Bay Area is an amazing place with lots of rich culture. In Berkeley for instance, you can always find at least one instance of anything that exists anywhere in the world! Simply amazing. The geographic diversity within a 1/2 day drive is also incredible. Think "The Lost Coast", Yosemite and The Channel Islands.

Would I go back? (long pause) Not just yet!

Ann Arbor and life in my 30s and 40s worked well together. My office is a 13 minute walk from my house and central campus another 5. I have put a mere 30k miles on my vehicle over the past decade. Being a college town there is a never ending stream of interesting events and activities. I love having 4 seasons, lots of locally grown foods and knowing the owner of the hardware store who can tell me exactly where the screw I need is ... among a choice of thousands!

I too am fond of Japanese culture and getting there from Ann Arbor is a breeze; 1/2 hr to DTW, an afternoon flight to NRT gets me there about the same time of day I left and about an hour express train ride into Tokyo. I hope to spend more time there in my 50s and 60s and look forward to future posts about your experience and adventures there.

I think I speak for a lot of folks when I say thanks for the daily wonderful, diverse and informative posts. Keep 'em coming!


Unknown said...

Great post! Brings back many memories as I too lived on Shelden Road in La Honda, though about 15 years after you. Yes, it's one of those places where time stands still.

John Halamka said...

Erin - I rented from Jan Snyders, the beekeeper with the address "White Picket Fence, Shelden Road."

Unknown said...

Truly inspiring submission, thank you for sharing. My Bay Area time was much shorter but wife is a native of Palo Alto. I remain awed by your simultaneous accomplishments.


Alesha R. Adamson said...

Beautiful. Thank you.