Up to my chin in 105 degree water, suphur pricked my nostrils as I bobbed in velvety fluid. I felt as if I had returned to childhood when play and exploration were the focus of my days. My flip flops slapped the wooden deck as I padded from the mineral baths to an Adirondack chair to bask in the sun. Heaven!
Billed as “a sanctuary for the self,” Wilbur Hot Springs is that – and much more. Nestled in a secluded valley of the California Coastal Range on the banks of a sulphur creek, this healing spa has been welcoming visitors since the 1860s. After two days of soaking in the hot mineral pools, hiking in the lush valleys and meadows, and cooking in Wilbur’s amazing communal kitchen I returned to Oakland more relaxed than I could have imagined.
I unplugged completely. No TV, no computer, no cell phone, and no obligations. Like most humans in the developed world, I spend way too much time in front of screens. I believe this literally narrows my view of the world. Watching the constellations wheel across the night sky, coming face to face with a deer and her fawn, gazing at a hillside studded with brilliant blue lupine, wandering along the creek bed as it wound through the meadow – all this, and hot pools too!
But the kitchen – oh my heavens – a communal mish mash of gourmands and inveterate snackers eddying around admiring each other’s eats. Picture an old farm kitchen with a massive stove and a huge hanging pot rack and every kitchen tool immaginable, except a microwave or a toaster. Now picture it filled with people in bathrobes, sarongs, sweatpants – and even one guy in a kilt – all cooking up a storm. The smells could knock you to your knees. One guy produced a gorgeous plate of tapas and then proceeded to cook pork loin in apple and onions. People were in there roasting chickens and whipping up risotto – it was as far from summer camp as you could get – even though the coreographed chaos was remarkably similar. Miraculously, we danced around each other, but there were no collisions.
I owe this experience to my dear friend Karen Hester who suggested we go and kindly made the reservation. Karen is my “go to” pal for all varieties of fun from ping-pong matches to long hikes to spur of the moment concert tickets. A community organizer and event planner, Karen not only knows how to have a good time, she knows how to relax. I was more than happy to follow in Karen’s wake, although I confess when she went out birdwatching at 8 o’clock on Saturday morning, I opted for tea and toast instead.
This morning was overcast so Karen and I sat in front of the oil heater and played scrabble, filling the board with neat stacks of letters – plenty of the double and tripple score variety. Karen whupped my behind, as usual, while giving me kudos for my best word play – “quieted” being one, since using a Q is a major achievement on a lazy Sunday morning.
We played and chatted and watched people breakfast on waffles and scrambled eggs. One guy from Calgary – I swear this is true – spent 45 minutes cutting up fruit. He sliced strawberries with slow precision, and then pitted and sliced cherries, topping this ballet of fruit with creamy yogurt and granola. When I commented on his creation he explained that he was from Canada where there was still snow on the ground so fresh fruit was a novelty to be savored.
Mellow and soggy, we bundled into the car at 2:30 this afternoon and began our journey home, singing along to Kate Wolf and Laura Nyro so that the green hillsides whizzed by. Suddenly, we were crossing the Carquinez bridge and the refineries in Richmond came into view. But in my mind’s eye, I could picture the Japanese style gate leading into the hot pools, and my skin still smelled of sulphur. Even at 70 miles per hour, my body clock was set to s-l-o-w.