In the years I lived in San Francisco, and the many years before moving to the city when I commuted up and down the Peninsula, I became a confident, aggressive driver. I used to love driving through San Francisco, knowing its one-way streets and shortcuts, sailing up Franklin and down Gough through their timed stoplight flows. But somehow, over time, navigating on busy streets and across intersections with lots of pedestrians has made me incredibly anxious. Looking for parking in crowded areas also stresses me out — and this is coming from someone who, like George Costanza, loved finding and snagging the best parking spots. (New anxieties aside, I still have mad parallel parking skills.)

Moving further north to Sonoma County was a great move, and I can’t believe it took me this long to discover that I prefer this part of Northern California. My family remains south, so I make the two-hour drive for regular visits, through San Francisco and down the Peninsula. One thing I notice from all these drives is how much calmer I become on my way back, once I cross the Golden Gate Bridge and head into Marin County, which is the county in between San Francisco and Sonoma.

I know there are asshole drivers everywhere — I won’t start on the ridiculously big pickup trucks all over Sonoma that tail you like they’re going to plow over you. But as a whole, the roads up here are less crowded, and the drivers are more considerate. I’ve driven through San Francisco so many times over the past few years and seem to curse every car around me — somehow, we’re all so fucking important and need to be somewhere and no longer pay attention to anyone else around us.

So, yeah. I enjoy living up here. Out of the Bay Area. Away from the crowds. Where you can see the stars and hear different kinds of owls and watch lizards do push-ups on logs and spot bunnies nibbling on grass in the garden. When we were planning our move and building our little house in 2014, I honestly didn’t know how I’d acclimate to a rural area, but after nine months of living in a small town, I love it. It’s just what I’ve needed, and it feels like home.

Russian River Vineyards, a winery not far from my house, on the way to Forestville.
The same trees from the very first image, sans blossoms, at 6 am. Taken earlier this year.
sonoma coast state park
Growing up in Northern California, I’ve always lived “near the coast,” although now I’m even closer — the beaches of the Sonoma Coast are 20 minutes away.
Russian River Valley
A vineyard not too far from Olivet Lane in the Russian River Valley.
from the garden
My house, from across the garden. I currently live on a five-acre farm in Sebastopol.
front porch
A shot from my front porch on a recent rainy day.
tiny neighbor
The view from my front porch, looking across the garden to another tiny home.
These mushrooms have since disappeared — this was taken earlier this year. Some of them were bigger than my head.
valley view
This is the neighboring tiny house, but we face and see the same view. I’m grateful to currently live in this beautiful spot.

All images taken with an iPhone 5s.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

49 thoughts on “Slowdown

  1. I cannot tell you how much I love this article! You are my hero. My wife and I love Sonoma. For years we left LA for a couple of weeks each summer to vacation up there. Guerneville. Forestville. Jenner one year. Bodega. RR Vineyards we’ve been to a gazillion times (and eaten at Corks). We left LA in 2013 for a new job for me at AAA in Walnut Creek. We really really really tried to make a home in Sonoma work -but it was just a bit too far. We live in Napa now – I know, I know, “first world problems,” as my kids would say. But we yearn for Sonoma. The Underwood Cafe in Graton. Marimar Winery in Graton. The Barlow in Sebastopol. Peter Lowell in Sebastopol for brunch. Burke’s canoes. Johnson’s Beach. Okay, enough. You get the point. Thanks for making my day. If you want to see how the “other half” lives – check out and follow our Napa blog:

  2. My husband and I spent one crazy year living in the Bay Area (he worked in Mountain View; we lived in San Jose). We took a vacation closer to your neck of the woods during that year, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty. I don’t know who would pick the SF streets over your views!

  3. I recently began following your blog which I enjoy reading. Like you I have recently relocated from a large city, Miami, to a rural area, Idaho, but somewhat more developed than your photos depict. The traffic and people frustration became unbearable. I attributed it to Miami, a tourist oriented locale with its multi-languages and cultures. After reading your article I now have to agree with you. Too many mice in the cage makes us behave like inconsiderate, self entitled assholes. Huge change but Idaho is very calming and growing on me.

      1. Let me arssure you it wasn’t politics. My two daughters moved to this area. I never thought either of them would leave the east coast but for various reasons they moved and marriage kept them here. It must be love because I didn’t really believe Idaho existed and never thought I would land my sun loving decrepit body here. Stranger things have happened, I think.

  4. I literally had my eyes big and mouth open and on the inside i was saying WOW at your every picture! For sometime you took me there in those places! Thanks! Your pictures are passionate and powerful.

  5. WELL, I’m so glad you found a quiet spot to chill in your little house. What a great view, what a coup! But listen, I’m no expert, but that mushroom looks a whole lot like Amanita muscaria…a psychodelic shroom! You didn’t put one in your soup did you?

  6. Gorgeous little plot of land. It reminds me of a holiday in Sonoma valley years back. Your photos have the same sunny glow that the landscapes have there. Beautifully captured.

  7. Driving in any traffic is a sure way to ruin a day for me – which makes Seattle a challenge when I am back in the States (a driver in China and great public transport in HK makes things easy out here…). You’ve captured a series of shots that show a life many dream about – my two favorites are of the same trees captured at different times (with & without blossoms, and at different times/different lighting), shows the true beauty of the place – I’d never tire of looking out your front porch, always something new & different depending on time.

  8. It’s amazing so many of these pictures remind me of my time in Ontario at a monastery. The shack looks like the little huts the monks lived in and the vines for blueberry and grapes that where scaterred throughout the neigboring farms.

    Lovely photos!

  9. Cute looking house and gorgeous views. But how are the utility services out in your rural area? Water, sewer, electric, internet?

    1. We pay our hosts for our share of the internet, which is super-fast (my husband and I both work from home, so it needs to be!). Our router is connected to theirs with a 200-or-so ft. ethernet cable. The property has a well, and we have an RV hose connected to a faucet next to the house. As for power, our house runs on three solar panels and four batteries. For graywater, we have a drainpipe that runs down a slope into the dirt, and for sewage/blackwater, we use a compost bucket toilet, which is tossed into a compost pile in the garden.

  10. Thanks Cheri,
    It’s good to just get an idea of how busy the roads are from locals, I’ve started looking at the area and some of the names of places you mention pop up as nice spots to cycle. Appreciate you taking the time to write back.

  11. Hi Cheri, just read this post with interest, it sounds like you’ve found a great place to live, I’m yearning for the rural life quite a bit these days, away from traffic and nutty congestion! A bit of a segue here, we’re looking at destinations for cycle touring in the summer and Sonoma County sort of popped into our heads as a possibility, would you recommend it for bicyclists?

    1. I’m not a cyclist so I’ve no idea what kind of terrain is ideal, but I see lots of cyclists here (I’m in West Sonoma County), like on the road from Freestone to the Russian River/Monte Rio (they stop/break in the small town of Occidental). People cycle along the vineyard routes in Sonoma and Napa, too, but I’ve always driven those roads and can’t say what they’re like for cyclists. There’s Highway 1 along the coast and roads off that, too, but again, I have no idea where the routes are best. Further south on the 1, there are lots of cyclists in and around Point Reyes as well. Your summer trip sounds fun — enjoy, wherever you go!

  12. Lovely .. at times we get bored of this concrete jungle we ‘re in and then that urge for rushing out for something green and wild thrusts upon our in the Lap of mother nature is probably the best way one can get a blissful life.

  13. Already the first picture drew me into the post.
    What I am genuinely in awe of: “I still have mad parallel parking skills”
    I wish they would be contagious.

  14. Judging by those amazing photos, I reckon you’ve made the right decision in moving out of the city:) As much as I love cities (although my relationship with nearby London is love / hate) after a while I feel frazzled and need to find a place where people are not in a desperate hurry and have some time for you…

  15. Beautiful photos Cheri. I understand that change from the city to the country. Having been born and raised in cities I ended up spending many years in my 30’s living in a tiny town in the far north of Canada, situated at the end of 100km of uninhabited gravel road. I now love visiting cities for the life, but prefer to stop in quieter places with nature all around me.

  16. California is so stunning this year, with the return of more rain and snow in altitude. And it’s away from the cities that it is possible to admire this bounty. Your photos exemplify Northern California natural beauty. You made me smile with your descriptions of the traffic in SF and the Bay Area in general. When I left Paris I found it so relaxing and pleasant to drive in and around SF. Years passed and traffic became almost unbearable. The most surprising was the new aggressivity, between drivers and against pedestrians too. This is when my family left for the country and when I also noticed how a slower pace impact the way people drive. Drivers are more courteous when less stressed. Like you said there are jerks everywhere, but when less people think they are so important the rest of the world doesn’t exist, yes driving is again a real pleasure. Because driving through California remains a pleasure for the senses.
    Enjoy the spring beauty.

    1. Your comment reminds me of a remark my husband made recently. His mum will be visiting later this year, and we were thinking of places we wanted to show her. I mentioned driving along the coast, but he said that we’d ultimately need a destination. He said the very first time we drove down to Big Sur, he was disappointed. Perhaps because there wasn’t necessarily an “endpoint” — it was simply a drive along the sea. I suppose I grew up doing this — a leisurely weekend driving along the Pacific, with the windows down. Spending time in a car on a hot day…

      After four years in California — and a handful of road trips in the US — he said he appreciates the driving, the journey, more. A road trip along coastal California is a magical thing.

  17. Your little spot of land looks so beautiful and idyllic, Cheri. What gorgeous photos! And your writing speaks to a theme I’ve been pondering a lot lately: We humans are incredibly adaptable (like the way you learned to navigate San Francisco’s traffic). But that adaptability can also exact a price over time, because it’s far more taxing psychologically than we maybe realize. So although I know your tiny-house experience has brought some unexpected surprises, it’s also reassuring to see a simpler life has indeed led to a greater sense of calm — especially during your drive back home.

    1. Thanks! I’ve noticed, in addition to being adaptable, we also change. I mean, I’ve changed in ways over the years, but over the past year or so I’ve really surprised myself with the (new) things I want and need, things I’ve said, things I’ve come to realize — and much of it has stemmed from this move and this house.

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