Between Mountains and Modernity

Story by Sami Emory

Photo by Lily Goldman


Fifteen miles outside of San Francisco, under the rusted red doorway of the Golden Gate and through the rainbow arch of the Waldo  Tunnel, lies a little town of modest renown. It is a town that is a world unto itself: a Northern Californian micro-universe with an eccentric interpretation of American suburbia. It is a bubble, encased by fog and close-knit community: a place where generations of families live within walking distance, and where it’s common knowledge that the market owner’s son, who works at the wine counter, is getting married this summer to the young woman, who works at the right-most register, in the old white mansion in the far back corner of Blithedale canyon.

In this town, nature nurtures. It rears and shapes every townsman and townswoman. Though the seasons change subtly, almost imperceptibly, every inhabitant knows their land’s distinctive smell for winter, spring, summer, and fall. The town feels the ebb and flow of the tides in the marsh, sees the egret on still, quiet afternoons, and tastes the salty air lifting off the bay. This is a place where one’s “neighbors” often are songbirds and foxes and coyotes—on some roads at night, there are more deer than there are cars. And above it all, the mountain, Mount Tamalpais, the “Sleeping Lady,” resides and presides, impartial and peaceful.

And yet, life in this little town is in a constant flux between the rush of modernity and the steady pulse of the the mountain, the fog. It has not proven resistant to the ever growing pull of materialism and digital dependence, especially with a major city at its feet and the ever growing Silicon Valley only a short commute away. Most often, however, this manifests in ways that do little to disrupt the town’s long established lifestyle. Children may fall prey to the distracting appeal of smart phones and video games, but they will leave them in an instant for an afternoon of dirty hands and chilly creek beds. Although it has been rumored that some of the town’s grandparents have Facebook accounts and often text their dazed relatives with enthusiastic emojis, the general, amused consensus is that this is exactly how technology should be used.

Not many people have heard of this little town, but those who have are sure to remember it. Some people come from far, far away just for a glimpse of its natural beauty and calm refuge. They arrive on their “Blazing Saddle” rented bikes and shyly pester pedestrians for directions. To the redwood trees, they say, to the mountain! Some locals have tired of this, wishing for peaceful walks and fewer tourists clogging the lanes of their bike path. Most, however, gently and methodically provide the needed guidance, giving the travelers a push and a smile.

Some of the town’s longtime residents—maybe those who once blazed into town on a single-gear and never blazed away—migrated here in search of much needed rest, escaping big cities and high-profile jobs that left them with millions in the bank and early onset baldness. Others simply stumbled upon this refuge by mere chance and couldn’t—and still can’t—believe their luck. Still others, however—and I proudly count myself as a member of this third category—have been in Mill Valley since birth, unable to discern between what they know as their home and what people tell them is a rare sanctum, a quirky gem, and an incredible place to grow up.


This story appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Baedeker.

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