To try and sum up the last two weeks in anything short of 10 or 20 pages is going to be a challenge to say the least. We’ve had an unbelievably wonderful time with our dear friends Becky and Kevin and have been spoiled beyond our wildest dreams. Now, we’re back out in the wilderness of Big Sur just trying to let it all sink in, while at the same time trying to determine what’s next.
After fleeing San Francisco we drove down to Santa Cruz to meet our friend Zac and spend a few days on the coast. Then we migrated inland to Los Gatos, the home of the Fernandez clan. Now let me digress here and tell you what I knew about the Fernandez’s before coming to their house. Every summer my family meets up with several other families for a camping trip that has been going on since the year I was born. It is from this camping trip, the Cod Toss as it’s called, that I came to know Becky and Kevin and their two sons Zach and Eli. They had always been the life of the party at the camping trips, lots of laughter and accordion playing, joke telling and fun stories. These were folks you were guaranteed to have a good time with. That said though, they always struck me as a bit wild, certainly more wild than the relatively tame life I had grown up with in sleepy Bellingham. Nonetheless, their wildness always had a captivating effect on me… because it wasn’t just wildness, it was passion. Over the years, I came to know the four of them, and now five including Zach’s new baby boy Joshua, but only on a superficial level; three days of camping once a year really doesn’t begin to draw a complete picture of a family, let alone one with as much depth as the Fernandez’s. So all this to say, I didn’t really know what to expect when we called them up and basically invited ourselves over for an evening of fun and unorthodox reunion around their dinner table. What followed were two of the best weeks of my life.
We showed up toward the end of the work day and the boys were closing up shop; they run a woodworking business, the likes of which I couldn’t have even imagined until really getting to see behind the scenes. We had a wonderful dinner and drank too much of Kevin’s unbelievably delicious wine. We stayed up late talking, getting to know each other better, having a great time. Finally, we all said goodnight and hit our respective pillows. The next day we ended up hanging out, touring the wood shop, chatting with everyone throughout the day during breaks, which seemed to start and stop with no rhyme or reason, and learning more about the lives of these master woodworkers. We learned that Kevin was planning to have a wine bottling party on the upcoming Saturday, during which, three barrels of his homemade wine would be transferred to bottles, labeled, and put into cases for storage. Shan and I decided we couldn’t miss such a festivity and decided to head back to the coast for a few days, then come back for the bottling. Becky also invited us to provide the labels for this year’s wine selection; a 2009 cabernet, and 2010 cab and zins. We were excited to be able to contribute and immediately got to work determining which images to use for their exquisite wine.
So, after two days on the coast, we came back to Los Gatos, got to work printing labels, and prepared to help with the upcoming festivities. It was at about this time when Shannon and I realized that we had something to offer which we believed The Mad Woodchuck (their business name) could really benefit from. It struck us that all of the work we had seen of theirs was truly remarkable; beautiful cabinets and hand carved furniture, intricate mantles and doors, and Kevin has even begun creating his new line of handmade guitars – beautiful pieces of work to say the least. It was clear that these were no ordinary woodworkers – they were creating masterpieces each and every day in the woodshop below their house. And yet, their website just wasn’t doing their craft justice. So Shannon and I decided that we wanted to build them a new website, one that really showcased the beauty and mastery of their craft. They loved the idea and we all decided that we’d stay in their driveway while we worked on the new site each day using their internet connection. Thus began an amazing and magical time for all of us. Each day we would get up, work on their website, take time to really get to know each other and then, at the end of the day, settle in for amazing meal after amazing meal. Becky and Kevin insisted that we include ourselves at their dinner table night after night, while they cooked culinary wonders I can’t even name. Lobster and crab, prawn paella, rib eye steak – the list goes on and on. It was like eating at a gourmet restaurant with the best of friends night after night – and always served with a new and delicious variety of Kevin’s wine.
The bottling party was a fantastic day of fun, laughter, purple stains, and lots, and lots of wine drinking. We met heaps of great folk and had a wonderful time bottling some 85 cases of wine, all the while stuffing ourselves with all sorts of delicious eats brought by everyone in attendance. We met a woman named Maria who wanted to take us back up to San Francisco so we could see it “the right way”. By the end of the day, we were all purple, exhausted, and pleasantly tipsy.
A few days later, Maria came by to pick up Shannon and I for a walking tour of San Francisco. I’m not going to describe the wonders of this day in too much detail as there’s just too much to tell, but suffice to say, Maria took us on a tour of San Fran that we simply wouldn’t have gotten from anyone else. Kevin had even insisted on sending us along to the city with his friend General Grant, which we were thankful for as we paid our fare to the top of Coit Tower, grabbed a drink at the Vesuvio, and bought coffee at a little brew house in North Beach. All in all, the day was magic, and we watched the sun set on the city from the top of a hill overlooking west San Fran. We had a magnificent time and didn’t get back to Los Gatos until long after dark. Maria was the best tour guide we could have asked for!
It was about this time when we realized the van was becoming increasingly difficult to start and the gas mileage had dropped to below 10mpg. This was not good, something was obviously seriously wrong. Kevin insisted on paying for diagnostics at the local mechanic who narrowed down the problem for us. After this, I did some further investigation and decided to drive up to Van Café for a new o2 sensor. I’ll write another post about this trip, but long story short, the folks at Van Café were amazing and the van is now running great. And after months of trying to find the perfect name, Becky suggested Tortuga, the Spanish word for tortoise, perfectly befitting our slow, green, ambling home.
On Sunday we all decided we needed a day off and Becky and Kevin had just the answer: a country drive in the mountains in Becky’s convertible BMW 325ci. Up through the hills we drove, winding along country roads. The weather was perfect, the music was cranked, the girls’ hair was flying in the wind in the back seat. This was a good way to unwind. We stopped at the famous San Gregorio Store and perused their bumper stickers and buttons, while listening to live music and singing – a great stop for sure. The day finished with a cruise down highway 1 while the sun set – then back for another epic feast and good conversation.
Finally after many long hours of photography, coding and discussions of which picture should go where, The Mad Woodchuck website was complete. With the van running properly and friends to meet in the south, our time was coming to a close in Los Gatos. What I’ve left out of this post could fill a book; our nights spent at Eli and Zach’s houses, our last night’s drum session, the trip to the San Jose flea market with Kevin, the countless hours of great discussion... When we arrived in Los Gatos we came to see old friends – when we left, we were leaving family.
One thing that Becky told us while we were there was that we needed to learn to receive; we’d been giving and giving so much to so many for so long, we were completely exhausted. We weren’t as familiar with receiving, and perhaps not as gracious about it as we could have been. Well I can tell you this, if we ever needed practice receiving, we got a PhD in it while with the Fernandez family. They took us out to dinner, fed us amazing feasts, gave us money to go to San Francisco, paid our mechanic bill, kept our wine glasses more full than we could keep up with, drove us around, and even insisted on paying us a substantial sum of money for a website we had all agreed would be a gift. They even sent us on the road with a case of wine and stashed “road money” in a hiding place for Shannon to find after our departure. As we were warming up the van they were scrubbing our windshield! In short, I have been absolutely overwhelmed with the generosity of this family. I have received and received and received like never before. The love we got from Becky, Kevin, Eli and Zach was absolutely wonderful. Looking back, these last two weeks have been two of the best weeks of my life. The warmth we felt while with the Fernandez family was unparalleled and I know neither Shannon nor I will ever forget our time there. There are times in one’s life that stay with one forever – this has most certainly been one of those times.
So here we are, in the hills of Big Sur, resting, relishing, thinking and rethinking. About what has come, and what’s next. The sun has been hot on our skin, the mountain breeze a relaxing cool riposte. The waves crash far below and the only sounds are those of the crickets, flies, birds, and wind in the grass. We’ll probably be headed for the mess of Los Angeles soon and this peace will be behind us for a while. Our time with Becky and Kevin though, has been etched into our memories forever, and we’ll miss them dearly until our next rendezvous. Like I said, we came to see old friends, we left our family.