Mt. Tamalpais holds an indelible place in my heart. I've walked its spine, gawked in awe at San Francisco from its peak and fallen in love with its greened-up hillsides in spring.
My mountain meet-up began when I went to college in Washington, D.C. I had never been west and had no notion of high peaks and mountains. I thought it strange that Kathy, one of my new roommates, had placed a framed snapshot of a mountain on her desk. When we studied side by side, she sometimes looked up from her book and disappeared into that photo.
I came from the rolling hills of rural Connecticut and had no mountain to ponder, just a small town with people who loved me. Still, I desperately wanted to flee, and college was my ticket out.
Kathy, on the other hand, loved the Bay Area and had mixed feelings about leaving. Her parents were moving from San Rafael, Calif., to Northern Virginia because her engineer dad would be working on the "new" Metro for D.C. She decided to follow by attending college in the city.
Before our junior year, we spent a summer in the West. It was with Kathy that I first stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon, marveled at summer snow atop Arizona's San Francisco Peaks and took my first chilly ferry ride on San Francisco Bay.
And there it was: mighty Mt. Tam. Something inside gave a little, and suddenly I understood how mountains shape a sense of place and could define who you are and even who you want to be. Maybe I could find my place in the West. We rolled on to Stinson Beach, Bolinas, Santa Cruz, dreamy places in my own New World.
This was long before I moved to Los Angeles, discovered the outdoors and married a man who thought it would be swell to spend our honeymoon camping at Mt. Tamalpais State Park. We loaded the car with camping gear, but we never made it.
Instead we impulsively grabbed a room at the plush Mountain Home Inn along one of Mt. Tam's ridges on the aptly named Panoramic Highway. From the room, I watched city lights flicker far below and cannonballs of fog engulf the mountain, and remembered Kathy's photo. It eventually had brought her home (she returned to San Rafael) and me, a bit, with her.