Greetings from 1,800 Feet

Happy New Year, trail hounds. Or, as Steely Dan so eloquently put it four decades ago: Hey ’19!

This being the first Mountain Porch Blog, I suppose it’s only hospitable to offer a one-time peak behind the black curtain stretched between my ears.

First, the name. I’m a shower-inspiration kinda guy. Facing a creative roadblock, my M.O. is to crank the water to lukewarm (my commitment issues extend to shower temperatures) and let the indecisiveness wash off me. It’s not foolproof; in the two years before publishing my humor memoir in 2015, I took 932 showers, give or take, in an attempt to come up with a title, a measure of futility which extended well beyond the completion of the first draft.

Where the book was concerned, inspiration finally dawned, ironically, in a mud puddle — the one I was crawling through on a Mount Diablo hike in an effort to find a rogue contact lens. I often think of my mountain hero, conservationist John Muir, while traversing the trails that he walked a century before me. While on my hands and knees that day, my memoir title came to me: A Good Look Before Dark, a paraphrasing of a Muir quote that has appealed to me on so many levels: “The world’s big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”

Apparently, my creative mojo had been waiting for a down-and-dirty moment for the pilot light to ignite. The power of the shower, however, was rejuvenated in the waning days of 2018, when I was mulling over a title for this blog, the creative outlet of my guided hikes websiteI had barely adjusted the water temperature to lukewarm and gotten my head partially wet when the name came forth: The Mountain Porch Blog. Fearing that I’d forget the title due to influences organic (age) or environmental (the Mason jar of bourbon and club soda wedged into the SipCaddy suctioned to the wall just above the shower head), I ended the shortest shower of my life and went off in search of a Post-It Note.

What’s the meaning? Like my book title, I initially prefered to leave that open to interpretation. That’s partially because I had formed only a conceptual definition myself: I like the way time warps and the mind slows down in the hills — some hikers refer to the phenomenon as “mountain time” — and I confess to harboring a romantic image of hunkering down with my laptop on a porch a few thousand feet above sea level, sharing my warped thoughts with the world.

But in seeking out a photo for the title bar of this blog, I was a bit taken aback by the results of a Google search for “mountain porches,” which revealed image after image of the decks of well-appointed alpine homes from the pages of Sunset Magazine and the like. I had envisioned something distinctly more Appalachian, a porch that would have been right at home in a scene from “Deliverance”: Banjoes, moonshine and slumbering hound dogs, y’all.

That exercise helped me move beyond a conceptual understanding of my choice of titles. It’s likely that I had been envisioning, all along, a specific venue: The wrap-around porch deck at the West Point Inn, a 115-year-old hotel perched 1,800 feet up the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, midway upon the trails connecting Bootjack Campground to Tam’s east peak. It is one of my favorite places on the planet, a holdout from a bygone era when the mountain was filled with the revelry generated by a long-gone tavern and dance hall. Perched just below the east summit on the land now occupied by a parking lot and a gravity-car museum, the tavern was serviced by a serpentine railroad that had the unfortunate timing of competing with the emergence of Henry Ford’s more intimate vision of transportation.

The West Point Inn, two miles slighly downhill from that dearly departed den of iniquity, is Mount Tam’s lone remaining bridge to her roaring past. It is not at all difficult for me to imagine, as I relax on the porch after a summit hike, John Muir or Jack London scribbling notes at my very table, circa 1910, and I feel all the more connected to my own call of the wild.

This is my mountain porch.