A few weeks back I found myself on a ridge straddling the Pacific Ocean and Tomales Bay. It was one of the last gloriously sunny days of autumn before heavy rains were due to arrive, and I wanted to capture the moment. No camera - but I had my iphone with its nifty pano option. I began to shoot but quickly found that no matter where I stood, or how fast or slowly I turned, I could not get all that I was seeing into the frame.
If I started at the ocean, where the sun was setting over a vast opalescent sea and moved across the small herd of Elk placidly grazing on the undulating mountaintop, I was just able to include a hawk perched on a stump a few feet to the right of the path we had just traveled, but no Bay. If I began on a speck across the Bay I thought to be the old Marshall Store and panned over the grassy ridge with its stone outcroppings, I managed to get the setting sun, but missed the elk, my dearest friend, and the road ahead, which looked fetchingly mysterious in the gloaming. The thought that I was simply trying to take in too much was not lost on me. Alas, it is a feeling quite familiar, but there just wasn’t anything I felt I could leave out of the shot and consider it complete.
Nor was it a case of information overload, which we are all vulnerable to these days. My (unproved) theory is that the current obsession with selfies is really just a pinterestic way of fixing ourselves to a landscape to claim and define our space (if not necessarily our place) in this increasingly frenetic world. We crave boundaries. Even the disingenuous selflie - a fake vignette that apes famous people who themselves are faking onscreen lives, while boring in the extreme, stems from a natural impulse to connect with a moment in your life, to be part of the flow of history. You don’t need Everest or a Moon Landing to want to say “Look at me. I was here.” Who really wants to be a Waldo in this one life?
From the cave paintings forward the desire to mark our time on earth has been sacrosanct. I wasn’t picking up a paintbrush or a chisel, or even trying to put myself in the frame, but the truth is that every time we aim a lens we are creating a decisive moment of our choosing. To celebrate the fact that while, yes, the present is fleeting, as long as memory stays, we'll have proof of the journey we've made.
I’ve had a great many New Year's resolutions over the years, most of them repeats. Some are specific (drink more water, less gin) some are hopelessly optimistic (seek the good in people) some seemingly impossible (control your temper). This year it finally struck me I could well be going about this all wrong. The impulse to start fresh every year is a good one, but all these pejorative declarations do little more than set us up to fail.
The hospitality business is all about engagement. People come to us in all different states of mind, moods, desires. Reading what they want and giving it to them, to the best of our ability, in a manner that will be fresh but satisfying doesn’t just happen when we design the menus or create the drinks or pull a cork. It’s a dance we get paid to do well, but interaction takes two to tango. Which is where the distance we are to the actions we take comes into play. Immerse yourself - and this goes for the seemingly smallest of actions - and your perspective changes from outside in to inside out.
It’s the difference between looking at a lake (beautiful... now focus and snap!) to jumping in, feeling it envelope you with all the sensations you can’t get from just looking: temperature, weight, smell. The sense that without the ground beneath you, without gravity weighing you down, you have no choice but to give yourself up to the act of floating. Immersion is easier if you start with the things you love to do, or think you might love if you only gave them a bit more time. I lose myself gardening and designing but it doesn’t have to be a self referential act - some of the best moments I had this past year were entering into the creative worlds of others - Ivo van Hove’s staging of View from the Bridge, Clio Barnard’s film The Selfish Giant, Helen Macdonald’s memoir H is for Hawk, Charlie Musselwhite at the Navarro General Store, The Miró Quartet at The Green Music Center, Christina and the Queens video Tilted. Even sitting on stage in NY watching 'View,' surrounded by strangers, I was able to have a complex personal connection to this inescapable thing called the Human Race.
Shifting your view a little from where you think you should fit into a moment is sort of like a meditation, it’s a small, gentle, seemingly benign action that doesn’t hold out any promise to make you thinner, smarter, richer. It does nothing about all the challenges we must face in the greater world - hatred, hunger, abuse - all those things we will need to engage with, care about, make our voices heard. But it affords you a calming, copacetic perspective. And it’s a movement you can practice doing with grace.
These are truly exciting times for food and drink in Healdsburg, and 2015 held some big moments for the Barndiva family. We opened BD Bistro without any fanfare in Studio Barndiva to unanimous - and happily, mostly local- applause. Without taking his eye off the main kitchen in Barndiva, and with the extremely talented help of Andrew Wycoff, BD Bistro gives Ryan the chance to re-visit and expand his deep love for classic French country cuisine. Our lightening rod daughter Isabel Hales joined the family enterprise behind the main bar, bringing along a talent for incredible soundtracks and film montages that add to a dining experience here like no other in town. Scotty Noll, with us when we opened Barndiva 12 years ago, made a triumphant return to lead our pastry program for both restaurants and private parties, while at the farm, Lukka and Daniel began to expand our greenhouses on the ridge and fill the Barn with yet more barrels of aging apple cider. I am blessed to be able to wander through the kitchens and gardens at any hour and see beautiful food in all stages of preparation and plating. And while it is not lost on me that Ryan’s consistency, the foundation of any successful restaurant, is a hallmark of his training, his greatest talent flows from his ability to immerse himself and engage fully with any task at hand, whether he's done it thousands of times before or it's a first.
Hands down, of the thousands of images I shot over the year, my favorite is this one of Geoffrey and the beautiful Fancher girls. When Rebekah went into labor very prematurely with Reese we had a nail-biting few months. Resilient and somehow confident all would be well despite the weeks in hospital that followed, Bekah's courage made it possible for us to carry on - in fact she insisted on it. Reese is thriving now. In a year where it was impossible to look away from hardship and unfolding tragedies all over the world, here was a lesson that sometimes, with faith and resolve, great struggle can reward with great joy.