Robert duncan.

Blogs, books, articles, audio, video, photos
& digital debris.

Center of the Universe (53)

Center of the Universe (53)

sustainable Fairfax CA sign

Happy Trails

I’m a rocker. Baby, I’m a rocker. And if I’m not a young rocker anymore, well, never you mind. In any case, an organized hike “exploring our public paths and right-of-ways” at such an earnest hour on a Saturday, overseen by such an earnest organization as Sustainable Fairfax, is not something my public — that is, the acid-tongued peanut gallery in my head — would expect. Even without a hangover, that would hurt. But the route encompassed Frustuck and Berry Trail, skirted our property and finished on Manzanita, all of which was smack-dab in my hiking ambit. And after much conscience-wrestling, I decided it was worth the loss of dignity.

My worst fears, of course, were instantly confirmed. Not only was it a pack of geezers, it was hippies from central casting, all tie-dye and gray ponytails, not a black leather jacket in sight. I tried to tell myself it was the counterculture vibe that attracted us to Fairfax in the first place, that underneath the leather (strictly metaphorical in this weather) I was tie-dye, too. But I also had to laugh — with all that fashion-backward authenticity on display. And though this was an event by and about Fairfax, a third of the 24 hikers were from San Anselmo or San Rafael, while one, who has a son living here, came for the festival — which, it now dawned on her, was still a week away. All of which serves to reinforce that our Mayberry-on-Acid, in the lee of Mt. Tam, is not just a small town, but a sovereign state — trans-geographical, trans-chronological and militantly post-rational — of mind. 

Turns out the mayor of Fairfax is a bit of a prude or maybe just a politician.

But I was here for the trails. 

It has often occurred to me since moving to Fairfax that the character of a town can be measured by the quantity, complexity, utility and even the obscurity of its shortcuts and footpaths. Certainly every town where childhood is worth remembering has a few good shortcuts. It was a rite of passage for our kids — at seven or eight — to go through the secret path, narrow and tree-shrouded, from Dominga Avenue to Bolinas Road, never having to cross a street, to bring back yogurt or organic fruit roll-ups from Good Earth, the hippie-food superstore when it was tiny, funky and crammed in where the wine bar is, next to Sorellas. So in that regard, Fairfax has character to spare. And the Sustainables have wisely homed in on it. Fixing trails, footpaths and shortcuts that had become overgrown or impassable, resurrecting others that were no longer just delightfully obscure, a townie’s insider knowledge, but completely forgotten. The tree-huggers, to their credit, actually sat down with the old town maps.

The hike started in downtown at the Parkade (the hyperbolically named parking lot that used to be the town’s train platform), and as we crossed the street and headed for the hills, we passed Bev’s Hair Design, where I waved through the window at Roni, in the chair for her monthly maintenance, and Barb, the veteran hairdresser, fount of Fairfax news and honored guest at our daughter’s wedding, and the whole thing felt so warm and cozy and small-town — Penny Lane, indeed — that my eyes brimmed with untoward moisture. 

The hike MC was a mustachioed 40-something shinehead named John Reed (namesake of the only American — until our president passes — interred in the Kremlin wall), a Sustainable Fairfax member who also happens to be the current Fairfax mayor. Of particular fascination to me was the funicular, the Depression-era tram our otherwise well-spoken head-of-state kept calling the “funincular.” And while I found myself dying to leap up — like a character in a Rachel Cusk novel — I let it go, in the interest of peace-and-love. I was intrigued to hear there were actually four stops along the tram’s precipitous 1.5-mile journey, and that the terminus was at a long-gone inn on the ridge by the water tanks — another of the places I like to walk. But when he delved into the speakeasys, with only a euphemistic aside about “other stuff,” never mentioning the whorehouse — that is, the series of cabins strung out along Berry Trail for the purposes of sex work — I could stifle no longer. Resisting the urge to call him out in front of the entire Woodstock Nation, I found a discreet moment as we walked. Of course, he knew about the brothel.

“But I didn’t want to…” Hizzonner began, with nary a smile.

“Shock their delicate Fairfax sensibilities?” I finished.

Turns out the mayor of Fairfax is a bit of a prude or maybe just a politician.

He was also a genial and well-informed MC, and I learned about several substantial shortcuts — some of which appeared, at first glance, to merely be paths to private homes — that had long been hiding in plain sight. But when we paused at the entrance to one covert path, I was ready.

“Does anyone know Berry Trail?” the mayor asked.

I waited for a beat, surreptitiously scanning the faces. And when no one raised their hand, I — like a fifth-grade brown-noser — proudly pushed mine high.

“I live on Berry Trail,” I announced.

No one gasped. And when we passed my backyard, newly restored and fully abloom in red, purple, pink, white and green, there was but one admiring exclamation. Still another fellow hiker, pointing out the 20 vertical feet of proximity, asked if I didn’t mind being so exposed to people walking by on the trail. I promptly jiu-jitsued her negativity.

“At first I had privacy concerns,” I said, “but now I really like it.” 

And it’s true. There are only maybe a couple dozen passersby a day — fewer in the rainy season — and living beneath Berry Trail, a skinny footpath through the woods with two streetlamps and a manhole cover, is like living in another century, or the hollows of West Virginia, and in any case weird enough to be appealing to weirdos like us.

After we tiptoed around the upturned garbage cans, broken truck and discarded water heater in my neighbor’s dirt driveway — which is actually the beginning of Berry Trail, speaking of obscure — MC Reed stopped again, where Wreden turns into Manzanita, to tell us about the final leg of the journey. I flashed that it was Saturday and quickly texted Soy our attendance figures for the evening — Val, Gary, the Kangs (of course) and us, but no Jacquie, who was off to Vermont for her fortieth Middlebury reunion. The new trail on Manzanita, the mayor was explaining, only opened two weeks before and goes all the way down to Frustuck, the other end of Frustuck. Now, I walk on Manzanita almost every day I walk and still couldn’t picture it. Nor could I remember seeing any Sustainable Fairfax crews working in the vicinity. But at the crest of the short rise, just past the intersection of Mountain View, there it was. Again, in plain sight. A wide, shady staircase of packed dirt and railroad ties that ran down a neighbor’s fence, through the gate to another’s sideyard (grandfathered in), all the way to the cheerfully ramshackle Fairfax compound where Josey’s old schoolmates, Katy and Whitney, used to live and where their artist parents Martha and Richard still live and work, their Model T barely tucked into the jampacked garage.

It was the mayor’s first time on the new trail, he said. And at the head of the staircase, a Sustainable comrade suggested he pose for pics. I asked the name of the new shortcut, and Reed said it doesn’t have one yet.

“The Manzanita-Frustuck Trail?” he ventured.

“Aw, you gotta give it a glorious name,” I said, with a grin. “a fun name.” A prospect I imagined would provoke light banter from the crowd.

Instead, I was set upon by a short-cropped fireplug of an Earth Mother, who reacted as if, somehow, I’d already made it happen, preemptively trampling her inalienable democratic rights.

“No!” she insisted, with a brusqueness that shaded well into pique. “I want a practical, descriptive name. Man-Frus Steps. Or Frusanita.”

Feeling like we might be slipping into some kind of dismal Trump-era loop, I decided at the bottom not to swing back to the Parkade or join the Sustainable folks for lunch at Iron Springs Brewing and, after offering profuse thanks to our fearless leader, headed back up the Man-Frus Steps alone.


Center of the Universe (54)

Center of the Universe (54)

Center of the Universe (52)

Center of the Universe (52)