I know, I know... I haven't posted in much too long, and Valentine's Day has long come and gone. Still, I'd be remiss to keep stories of my heartsy v-day weekend trip to myself. (Do you know how many Valentine's I've spent eating chocolate while watching Sex and the City with girlfriends? I had a romantic getaway this year, and by god, I'm telling you about it). Growing up, February 14th meant a special breakfast of heart-shaped pancakes at a candle-lit table sprinkled with pink and red confetti and glittery vintage cards. (My folks have been my faithful valentines for 28-years running. Thanks mom and dad for the See's and champagne—even if it makes me evil!) This year (before my head twisted 360 degrees from too much sugar), my main-squeeze-valentine surprised me when he booked two nights at a rustic lakeside cabin. We drove out to the Santa Ynez Valley to spend a weekend at not just any lake, but a mysterious and sacred spot revered by Native American Chumash, which has been explored by divers who still cannot locate the bottom of a crevice in the middle of the water.
(Now, if you know me, you know that I've read every Nancy Drew book there is to read, and mysteries, hauntings, and any unexplained happenings not only intrigue me, but bring me the type of excitement usually reserved for less nightmare-inducing things—like Christmas and autumn. An installment of Friday the 13th was filmed at the location, as well as Creature from the Black Lagoon. Does sasbeau know me or does he know me? sigh) We arrived Friday night weary from the work week, but after a mineral bath (note to self: bring bleach next time. If you don't think about the funk in the bottom of a communal tub, it doesn't exist, right?) and a couple of games of Scrabble (no comment—except to say, HA, 60-point word!), we fell into a deep, dark forest sleep. The next morning we saw our surroundings in the light for the first time—the mysterious lake was as deep and full as I'd imagined, and abandoned row boats and leafy, towering trees surrounded the shore. We packed a lunch and made our way up a nearby trail. The trail quickly turned into thick chaparral, and before we knew it we were bushwhacking our way up to the ridge. As we walked and talked, sasbeau taught me a few boy scout-turned-mountain man lessons along the way. One I learned very quickly on my own: Plants that look sharp, probably are (blasted pokey plants! It's OK, I can handle a little blood SEEPING THROUGH MY JEANS). Once at the top, we relaxed under an oak while we devoured our salami sandwiches. It was one of those moments where the dappled light danced across our faces, the breeze cooled our flushed cheeks, and there was nowhere else we wanted to be. Eventually, we had to peel ourselves off the grass and continue our trek, sidestepping down a steep slope toward what looked like a less pokey trail. I'll spare you the details of our adventure back down the mountain—for a quick overview, think age-old axe marks (who put them there? When? What were they marking? Why? More MYSTERY!), poison oak (LOTS!), mushrooms (edible or fatal? Let's not risk it), a possible pot farm (we won't tell! Please don't shoot), and millions upon millions (literally) of mating lady bugs. Once back at our cozy cabin, we ran a scalding mineral bath (after I subjected it to a true OCD scrub down), threw on our bathing suits, and headed to the lake for a chilly winter swim. Of course, sasbeau leapt off the doc in a single bound, so in a moment of now-or-never I jackknifed into the icy water without thinking too much about it. I startled myself with the sound of my own blood-curdling screech, and once I was under the green-black water, my mind flooded with images of Chumash legends, giant squids, depths of 1,000-plus feet, and, of course, the creature from said lagoon. I scrambled out of there as quickly as possible, and my valentine and I ran barefoot back to the cabin for a warmer, less creepy soak. That night—as we burned wood covered in the poison oak we so painstakingly avoided during our four hour hike—we played gin rummy, drank wine, and feasted on perfectly charred hobos (meat, veggies, and spicy goodness wrapped in tinfoil and thrown directly into the fire). The next morning we stalked a bobcat for a solid hour, then identified birds from our trusty bird book (good to know that what I confidently referred to as an Artesian Cooter is actually a Eurasian Coot—quite different, in case you're wondering). Mysteries, mineral baths, long hikes, deep talks, and cold dips in dark waters—to me, truly romantic. Thank you, valentine. Next year, the Bermuda Triangle?