Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, July 10, 2005

A Touch of Japan

The original article can be found on here: ---------------------------------------------------------------------Sunday, July 10, 2005 (SF Chronicle)Sonoma serenity/Quest for Japanese-style relaxing rituals fulfilled in coastal hills Christine Delsol, Chronicle Staff Writer

Freestone -- The mound of warm, moist cedar chips piling up on my body brought back the snug sensation of being buried in sand during childhood vacations at the beach. But wriggling in to mold the shape exactly to my body released a woodsy, yeasty scent instead of the tang of salt andseaweed. And here at Osmosis, my nest generated its own heat, setting off a fresh wave every time I wiggled a finger or shifted a leg. A veteran of Calistoga's mud baths and mineral springs all over Northern California, I had heeded the call of Osmosis' 20th anniversary to make my first visit to the spa in the western Sonoma County burg of Freestone, to try the only traditional Japanese cedar enzyme bath in the United States.

Japanese culture doesn't have much of a hold on Sonoma County compared with, say, Italian or Latin American influence. But with Osmosis at itscenter, the soft, quiet landscapes that usher the Russian River to the sea abet the quest for serenity that's central to the Japanese approach tolife. My boyfriend, Ken, and I devoted our weekend to that quest. Home base was the Japanese-style Teahouse Inn in Monte Rio, 10 miles up the Bohemian Highway from Osmosis.

The little house has sliding shojidoors, a traditional tokonoma altar space and an attached bathhouse with a deep, wooden soaking tub where we warmed up for our visit to Osmosis.

It's a perfect fix for anyone who has had tea in Golden Gate Park's JapaneseGarden and wanted never to leave. The first thing we did was slide openthe doors, which take up two walls, to bask in the private garden. For dinner, we drove a few miles west to Duncans Mills. The picturesque town amounts to two wide spots on the road, offering a general store, acouple of restaurants, wine and cheese tasting, a bakery/coffee shop and a few other stores. Cape Fear, one of our favorite restaurants, serves awide variety of fresh, local ingredients with a down-home touch.

For a computer jockey, or anyone else with stiff necks and shoulders, oneof Osmosis' greatest treats is an unheralded one. After changing intoyukata (a kimono-like Japanese robe), we entered a private tearoom and the receptionist draped us with a U-shaped neck pillow filled with yucca and herbs and heated to the perfect temperature to dissolve aches and smooth out knots.

We were speeding toward nirvana even before our spa attendant brought a cast- iron teapot and poured a pleasant blend of herbal tea and plant enzymes said to boost digestion and detoxification. She left us to sip in our own miniature Japanese garden while she prepared our bathchamber. "Bath" is a misleading term; it might be more accurate to call it acompost heap.

The two large redwood tubs were filled with a fine mulch of cedar shavings, evergreen fibers, rice bran and hundreds of plant enzymes, which produce heat as they ferment. The temperature increases with thedepth, so guests with low heat tolerance will be happier near the top. After a few minutes of heightened alertness, a gentle buzz set in.

Soon I felt the blood pulsing throughout my body with every heartbeat. A coldcloth magically lighted on my forehead whenever sweat threatened to pool in my eyes, and a straw delivered ice water to my lips. What felt like enough time for a journey to another solar system was only about 20 minutes. We clambered out, soft and fresh as newborns yetlittered with plant matter, and stepped outside to brush off. I was glad we'd decided against bathing suits, which would surely still be embedded with cedar particles today.

As it was, Ken stepped out of the shower and began to dry off, laughed, and turned on the water again to try to finish the job before heading upstairs for a warm blanket wrap.

The Zen-inspired meditation garden, occupying one of the property's 5 1/2 acres, is something of an airlock between Osmosis' womb and the outsideworld. Guests may linger as long as they like among the pathways,waterfalls, ornamental stone, koi pond and sculpted plants. Osmosis holds the franchise on Japanese gardens in western Sonoma County, but there seems to be a garden or nursery at every crossroads. And agarden, which inherently tames the blood pressure and lowers the heartrate, makes a perfect apr├Ęs Osmosis afternoon.

A longtime fan of theLuther Burbank home in Santa Rosa, I gravitated to Gold Ridge Farm inSebastopol, where the horticulturalist who gave us the Shasta daisy andthe Santa Rosa plum conducted his breeding experiments. The rose-festooned cottage where he often slept now faces a sprawlingapartment complex, but behind it lie trails through 3 acres of flowers,trees and orchards. Burbank's familiar hybrids are here, but so are some failures, such as a cold-hardy orange with all the flavor and texture of a golf ball; "mother" trees, such as an oft-grafted English walnut bearing a different variety on each branch; and such oddities as a white blackberry.

On a cool Sunday afternoon, we encountered more wild turkeys than we did other visitors. Wandering in peace for more than two hours, I imaginedBurbank strolling here, surveying his accomplishments. With this as hislife's work, he had to have been a serene man. Returning in the evening to the Teahouse Inn prolonged the Osmosis glow.

We could have booked a massage with owner Judy Pierce, a licensed masseuse who originally built the teahouse for massage treatments. But this night we were plenty loose and relaxed. All that remained was to top the weekend off with a soak in our oversized tub, which had the added advantage ofbanishing the last of Ken's tenacious cedar shavings.

If you go

Freestone is about 60 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. Follow Highway 101 north to Highway 116 and Highway 12 (Bodega Highway) west. Monte Rio is about 10 miles north on the Bohemian Highway.

Teahouse Inn, 22746 Sylvan Way, Monte Rio. (707) 865-2763, $150 a night (two-night minimum), including tax and breakfast.

Gaige House Inn, 13540 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen. (800) 935-0237,

Luxury Sonoma Valley hotel, 28 scenic miles from Osmosis, has added eight private Japanese ryokan-style spa suites (soaking tubs,private gardens). Suites from $395, other rooms from $275, includingbreakfast.


Cape Fear Cafe, 25191 Main St., Duncans Mills. (707) 865-9246. Entrees $16-$24.50.

Thai Pot, 6961 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol. (707) 829-8889. Unassuming downtown spot with extensive menu. Entrees $8-$12; lunch specials $7-$8.

Sushi Hana, 6930 Burnett St., Sebastopol. (707) 823-3778. Local favoriteserves a full dinner for about $15.


Osmosis, 209 Bohemian Highway, Freestone. (707) 823-8231,
Basic bath (1 1/2 hours including tea, cedar enzyme bath, blanket wrap)$80 weekdays, $85 weekends; $10 off for two or more. Seasonallavender-infused bath through July, $90. Other treatments include massage and facials.

Gold Ridge Farm, 7781 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol. (707) 829-6711, Self-guided tours daily, docent tours by appointment. Cottage open 9 a.m.-12 noon Wednesdays.


Russian River Visitor Center, (877) 644-9001,
Sonoma County Visitors Bureau, (800) 576-6662,
Sonoma County Farm Trails, (800) 207-9464,
"Flowers, Herbs and Nurseries" section of map and guide includes a variety ofgardens, some open by appointment. E-mail Christine Delsol at
------------------------------------------------------------------Copyright 2005 SF Chronicle

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