Into the Napa Valley in Body and Spirit

by Bob Bach

Calistoga is a nice town lying quietly in the upper Napa Valley. Bathed in warm sunshine and surrounded by lush green vineyards and golden rolling hills, it offers the visitor a peaceful respite from the demands and clamor of daily routines.

It is a comfortable three-hour drive from the historic Gold Country of Calaveras County. More than that, however, if you stop for lunch at the Point Restaurant in Rio Vista, a little riverfront town in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley delta region. The Point is a good place to dine on chowder and halibut and watch the channel activity. Right now, a huge vessel loaded with bulk rice inches by our window. Having set sail from Korea a few weeks ago, it will soon unload its cargo at the Port of Sacramento. Interesting world, this delta—over one thousand miles of meandering waterway. It begins its trek under the imposing Golden Gate Bridge near San Francisco and threads its way in and around the fertile central California valley. There is something intriguing about water—the wonder of its beginning and ending; the mystery of its depth. Much of Christ’s life was centered around water—his baptism in the river Jordan, His calming of the angry sea waves, His walk on the water, His love of the fisherman, and His encounter with the woman at the well when He said that whosoever drinks of His water will never thirst again.

Calistoga is a town of water. It bottles its famed Calistoga Water, full of minerals and heralded in health books everywhere. It also offers the putrid smelling Sulphur water which in its way has a healing effect on the body. There are natural baths, mud baths, and mineral baths everywhere. People come from near and far to dip their bodies into these waters and find relief from their arthritis, their gout, and their stresses of high pressure living. Some gently unwind, others fully immerse themselves in the 100-degree volcanic mud baths. It’s a healing experience and allows one to understand why Christ instructed the blind man to go and wash in the pool after he had made a mud paste and spread it over those sightless eyes. There’s a place here in Calistoga called The Royal Fellowship Sap—it allows one to experience the healing elements that spew forth from the earth and then ventures into the healing of the spirit. And that was His method, to invite one to experience that which is seen and that which is unseen.

We are staying at the Mount View Hotel right smack in the middle of Calistoga. It is a quaint place and you get no phones, no TV, and no fax messages. It does, however, have a circa 1920s charm. Pictures of Gable, Lombard, and Bacall are in the lobby. The 34 rooms in the hotel are refurbished to capture its original charm. There are European touches stemming from the old European Hotel which was on this site in the late 1800s. Fresh flowers are everywhere, and the maids are scurrying around decked out in traditional uniforms. They are careful to turn down your bed, bring fresh mineral water to your room, and put mints on your pillows.

Dinner at the Mount View Hotel is an experience. You can nibble on chicken fillets rolled in pecan sauce, enjoy fresh vegetables and fruit, and choose from an exquisite selection of roast duck, beef tournedos, sauteed prawns, and broiled venison. If a rich dessert suits your fancy, they have it! Breakfast is complimentary and comes complete with freshly squeezed orange juice, warm croissants, thick blackberry and apricot jams, and their own blend of cafe au lait. We had ours at poolside where we enjoyed the warm morning sunshine. If you are relaxing, you can pamper yourself in the hot tub or lounge in the Lanai Room surrounded by fine old rattan furniture and lush potted plants. As the management says, “We want our guests to enjoy all the niceties of life that people took for granted on the Riviera in the 20s and 30s.”

Here in Calistoga, there is an interesting choice to be made soak or soar! Both cost about the same; one is freeing and one is confining. We chose the freedom of soaring and went on a glider flight. And that, too, is an experience! The mother plane, a souped up crop duster, yanks you down the runway as you sit huddled inside a tiny glider plane. Sounds of grunting, groaning, and creaking are heard as you are pulled down the dusty path, and suddenly you are lifted up. Higher and higher you go above he vineyards, the Silverado trail, the craggy mountains, and the curvy roads. We’re still attached to the mother plane . . . the long umbilical cord stretches out and takes us to the lift we need. Higher, higher, 2,000 feet, 3,000 feet, and then there is a “pop”—we’re free and on our own. The only sound is the rushing wind and my heartbeat. We are now with the soaring eagle—right, left, up, down—we are free! The cord has been broken. Our glider pilot is good. He is young, confident, and aggressive, yet sensitive to our plight. He tells us that the glider pilot operates on experience and instinct. It is important to watch the birds and cloud formations in order to find the needed air lift. It is a freedom that cannot be experienced when depending upon a motor. We soar up and down, left and right.

An exhilaration comes over the three of us. As he senses our confidence, he asks, “Wanna do some wing overs?” “OK” we say, and he immediately shoots us straight down, and then up, and then left, and then hard right. We are suspended in space and time—silent and soaring. Our pilot directs us through some rugged mountain passes, swoops us down over gentle vineyards, and noses us up into the deep blue sky. An intense feeling of freedom comes over all of us. Colossians 2:6–23 talks about this kind of freedom that releases us from the earthly principles that can enslave us, like greed, pride, jealousy, and anger. It doesn’t matter up here—we are aware only of the silence and adventure of freedom. We are, however, under the control of the young confident pilot. No matter how free we feel, we are under the control of Him who allows the freedom. Paul tells us about that in Galatians. Freedom only comes when one allows oneself to be free!

The flight ends with a swift landing. Once the decision is made to come down, it happens. We shot down out of the sky and came to earth—silently and swiftly. And that, too, is like life itself. One minute you are up, and the next minute you are down! As Jon Bon Jovi says, “You better buckle up, baby, it could be a bumpy ride!”

In order truly to enjoy the Mount View Hotel, you have to allow yourself to relax. We did just that in the afternoon following our flight. We lounged by the pool, dipped into the cool water, read, wrote, prayed, and napped. Good music plays over the speakers by the pool, music of the past—Perez Prado, Ferrante and Teicher, Connie Francis, Johnny Mathis, and Al Martino. The music is soft, the sun is warm, and the body and spirit feel good. Here you can munch on peanuts or from an attractive fruit and cheese plate, sip on ice cold mineral water or vintage wine, or do nothing at all. How much or how little you desire is here. It is everywhere, really. It is a matter of realization, acceptance, or rejection. Life is personal with its risks and rewards.

Although there are many fine restaurants here in the Napa Valley, it was not too difficult for us to make a decision for dinner. We chose Le Chardonnay in Yountville, a half-hour drive from the Mount View Hotel. The quiet trip at twilight is also part of the experience. The beauty of the valley reveals itself more at dusk. Shades of blue, purple, red, and pink have a haunting effect and make one appreciate the freshness of life and beauty.

Le Chardonnay sits in an old rid brick building with tall French style windows. The interior is accented by soft lighting, green carpeting, and antiques that enhance the silver and crystal carefully placed on spotless white line. The cuisine is classic French. We enjoyed lobster bisque soup, salmon served in a French pastry, scallops with a delicate white wine sauce, and a local delicacy—veal sweetbread.

It is truly a banquet, and the fresh French Roast coffee smooths out all the edges. And is there any one of us who does not need the rough edges smoothed off? Edges that come from daily demands, stresses of giving and receiving, lack of self-control and consistency, and plain old human blunders. Our attempts to soar like the eagle are hard sometimes when we only have the wings of a butterfly.

The drive back to the Mount View Hotel was satisfying and silent. The moon is full and the stars peaceful, reminding us “how silently, how silently the wondrous peace is given.” The peace of acceptance, and rest, and assurance. Colossians 3: 15 jumps out—“Let the Peace of Christ rule in your hearts; and give thanks!”

And so, the brief interlude ends, and we leave the Mount View Hotel. It is now back to the reality of day to day living and the acceptance of responsibilities of stresses and pressures. For us, however, the return was not done without stopping on the trail for a strawberry crepe and a chocolate truffle and a glance upward at the blue Napa Valley sky. And sure enough—there it was in the distance. The familiar silver and blue wing of the glider painted silently against the sky. The height of the eagle, the swiftness of its wing, and the humanness of the butterfly. And of such is the Kingdom of God!