Moments after we’ve arrived the primary concern becomes the lack of a corkscrew. We are on Toluma Farms near Tomales in West Marin (see on map): eight friends, four who have been best friends for years and haven’t been all together in awhile, and four others who are related to or dating the original group (I belong to the latter category). The occasion demands sumptuous cuisine, cocktail attire, and close quarters. The party is to take place in Cory’s small yet classy trailer, a space that reminds me of a boat’s interior with its wood-paneling and tight turns. We’re all here, Cory’s finishing up his daily goat-feeding duties, and so far, despite two cases of wine patiently awaiting consumption, no amount of investigation yields a corkscrew.
After one experiment with a bottle of rosé and a butter knife, Tom and I take decisive action and drive back to town to buy a wine key. On the way I spot blackberries on the side of the road. We find what we are looking for at the general store and tear back to the stretch of road lined with blackberry bushes. Picking berries is something I’ve been wanting to do all summer. Minus an occasional small strawberry, my childhood was not full of berries and pies as many are. Colorado provides peaches and plenty of greens, but berries don’t often survive the arid climate. Amidst the bountiful bushes in West Marin, I eat more than I pick and still we fill an enormous tupperware with ripe violet fruit to take back to the farm with us.
The farm sits on a low hill and has several shabby sheds, a dazzling white wooden house, the goat barns, and Cory’s quaint mobile abode that still sits on four large wheels. Exploring around the house, I find a garden and a trail winding up to the top of the hill. Cory comes out and offers to show us all around. We’ve been waiting for a tour and I’m excited to see the goats. “Let’s go see the babies, they are more interesting,” says Cory after a brief stint meeting grazing mothers in a pen closer to his house.
“Hey kids” and they are running up to the fence nosing through wire. The light flat like the bottom of a bowl, the kids nuzzling and bleating, nothing around but dusty brown hills and sheds tucked into them. Goats, unlike most farm animals, actually take interest in you when your approach them. These little ones bleat like it’s a competition and push at the hands we’ve rested on their foreheads. They are named after cheeses like Cottage and Gruyere and they nuzzle us in search of food. In the bigger barn, there are billy goats with wispy beards and even a peacock who struts arrogantly away from us. He is molting and his feathers beam only a hint of their normal brilliance.
We trail back to the house and set up tents on mounds of sweet hay. Four ducks waddle by in tuxedos and sound their concurrent alarms, racing from the next calamity and rushing into their squat house. Hay everywhere. Earth. Sweet summer potatoes sunbathing on mountains of dirt. The wind whips and then sinks as dusk takes, and then the sky becomes a darker blank.
We sneak into the back bedroom and pull out dresses. All four guys wear ties and collars and us ladies have violet, fuchsia, gold silk dresses and earrings. In some ways we’re a stark contrast to the bucolic landscape, but the formal dress validates the air of celebration and sense of romance floating through the farm tonight. Tom even has a vest. His suit was once his father’s, and it’s tailored in British fashion and therefore rather snug. We are eight twenty-somethings, most of us live in the city, and we are standing around on a Saturday night in formalwear on a farm sipping Manhattans. I couldn’t be happier.
Over the next twelve hours, we taste fluffy cheeses, crisp radishes, two tarts, lemon cucumbers, butter whipped by mistake. Corporeal carrots. Swiftly cooling coffee on the porch. Blackberries with Hannah’s homemade goat cheese. Blackberries with Humboldt Fog goat cheese. Figs and ripe apricots. Salad made from perfectly fresh greens. Grilled eggplant, zucchini, sweet smoky peppers. Red, orange, yellow, green tomatoes.
There’s no way to recount everything we eat. Suffice to say it is an array of the freshest food available; Northern California in all it’s delicious glory. Hannah had worked the farmer’s market stand in San Francisco in the morning and brought a case of fresh vegetables. She makes wonderful salsa with tomatoes, peppers, carrots, and cilantro, which was even better the next morning with breakfast.
I will lay out some more highlights:
- Tom’s combination of radishes, sea salt, and butter (new to me but apparently a common favorite)
- An excellent salad with purple carrots and delicious lettuce from Marin Roots Farm
- An incredible pluot galette made by Nick as well as his heavenly Angel Peach Pie (click here for the recipe) with perfect peaches, almond meringue crust, and homemade whipped cream
- An egg scramble in the morning with squash, tomatoes, onions, and peppers alongside rosemary and thyme roasted farm-grown potatoes
California wine, Belgian beer. Immobilizing Manhattans.
At night we grow rosy-cheeked from the cold (or was it the wine?) and stand out on the porch smoking and staring out into so much darkness. It’s not an overly eventful evening, just full of laughter and the most profound sense of contentment. Just before midnight we take a tipsy hike to the top of the hill, looking for the stars that are unfortunately masked in fog. It is so quiet, the moon the only being besides our group. Back at the bottom of the hill I sink into a bed on hay that perfumes our tent with sweetness.
In the morning after an extended breakfast (see above) and several cups of coffee we take one more walk up the hill to look around in the daylight. It’s weird hiking up the same trail when I can see around me. It’s less imposing and adventurous and mysterious in the sun. The hills seem parched by the summer and so many months devoid of rain. The farms and cattle make the landscape look less post-apocalyptic, but I still feel as though I’m in a world entirely distinct from my normal consciousness.
Right before we go a group arrives to tour the farm. The large house lingers in the midst of the compound, windows empty and new. The farm remains unfinished, but it will soon house the owner’s family from San Francisco on the weekend and holidays. Both doctors, the owners bought the land mainly to preserve it and carry on with its traditional small-scale agricultural production. Hannah, who helps manage the herd, is starting a line of goat-cheese bearing the farm’s name. Each jar comes with a hand-drawn picture of a goat and she hopes to start selling them at the farmer’s markets in San Francisco and Marin.
We pull out of the farm on our way to the promise of sun at Dillon Beach. There’s a cool breeze and we sail past the blackberry bushes, still laden with their tart souvenirs. There’s coastline to explore, Hog Island Oysters to seek out, windy roads to trace, a city to return to. Part of me wants to stay longer and wake to milk goats.
Nick, Nora, Tom, and Cory