Slowing Down: Marin Magazine’s Intern Sydney Pearson on Learning to Love Marin

I stand on a ridge in my neighborhood, gazing westward at the smears of orange and pink highlighting the sky as the sun falls behind the hills of China Camp. Feeling an impulsive urge to spin, I hold out my arms as if attempting to catch the last rays of light, turning in circles while the wind hits my cheeks and the yellowed grass crunches beneath my shoes. I try to take in the cold air and wind and views of Mt. Tam, try to catch the feelings of presence and life and joy, hold them tight and not let go.

Over the past few months, I’ve taken more time to enjoy the sunset like this. Usually I’m too engulfed in homework, work, martial arts or some other extracurricular activity to give the sky more than a passing glance, but now that everything’s either been cancelled or gone virtual, I’ve had more opportunities to soak in the views near my house, watch the light fade and the clouds roll past. These moments of sky-watching reaffirm my newly discovered love for Marin and all its natural beauty, something I never would have felt a year ago.

During middle school and my initial years of high school, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to return to Marin after they left. I had aspirations of going off to college far away and rarely returning to the county that I deemed a boring, over-sheltered bubble. When I did see people come back, I was lost as to what about the county attracted them.

Maybe I never knew why people came back to Marin, as I’ve never truly spent the time to take in the county. I’ve always tried to keep myself occupied, and the weekend before the shelter-in-place began was no different. School was shut down, but I took my last in-person class at Practical Martial Arts, the dojo hauntingly empty. The night before the order took effect, I completed my final shift at Barnes & Nobles, ringing up purchase after purchase of books and puzzles and games in anticipation of the lockdown to come. But March 17th came, and with it a chance to slow down, and truly sit still, a strange concept to me. It was during this time of learning to navigate the “new normal” that I began to understand how special Marin really is.

The Sunday after the lockdown began, my dad took my brother and I on a drive through Lucas Valley, down to Point Reyes Station, and back through Fairfax. It’s hard for me to describe what that drive felt like, how beautiful the expanses of rolling hills, pockets of shaded redwood groves, and bright blue sky truly were. Watching the scenery fly by the car window, I began to understand why people are so attracted to this county.

Soon after, in a dual effort to to leave the house, as well as keep my car running properly, I began to take weekly drives, trying to discover hidden roads or see the places of my childhood. On one such journey, I was convinced that there was a secret road that would take me from the hills above Point San Pedro into Santa Venetia. It turned out to be nothing more than a hiking trail, but in my quest to find this road less travelled, I stumbled upon a breathtaking view of San Rafael — the marshes, McInnis Park Golf Course, all of it laid out through my windshield. Once again, I was hit with the realization of the beauty Marin has to offer.

Later, as the shelter-in-place dragged on and I fell into the rhythms of virtual school, I received an email from a member of Branson’s Parents Association, wondering if I was still interested in the internship I had applied for back in February. I was, so after some email exchanges and the culmination of the school year, I ended up here, at this Marin Magazine internship, where I’ve spent four weeks entering data, cross-checking restaurant openings, and sending hundreds of emails to people and groups across the county. As I look back on my time here, I’m particularly struck by Marin’s myriad small businesses, natural spaces, and philanthropic organizations that I’ve come across, restaurants and sports teams and trails to satisfy almost any niche one could desire. 

However, it would be ignorant for me to be blinded by my privilege and boast about the natural wonders and culinary delights Marin has to offer without acknowledging the rampant problems in our county. Many people in Marin, specifically those who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, or in other minority groups, cannot enjoy these resources without fear of being judged, harassed, or falling victim to violence. The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the killing of George Floyd, has created the time and space for these conversations about race and prejudice in Marin County to rise to the surface, opening my eyes to the issues right outside my front door. Marin is predominantly white, and the Black and Latinx people who do live in the county are often clustered in Marin City and the Canal. Instagram accounts such as @bipoc.of.marin as well as widely-shared videos of racist and transphobic encounters affirm that Marin isn’t the ultra-liberal safe haven that I used to think it was. 

The newfound time afforded to me by the COVID-19 pandemic has warped my previous perception of Marin. We are not as progressive as we say we are; racism, homophobia, anti-semitism and so much more runs through the streets. We are not perfect, and to pretend otherwise is ignorant and ultimately dangerous. We all need to do our part in combating this problem, or nothing will ever change. I still believe that our county is incredibly special; it contains unrivaled natural beauty, incredible small businesses, and some really inspirational people. Marin does not fit on either end of the spectrum of  perfectly “good” and perfectly “bad,” and realistically, it never will. The best thing we as a community can do is appreciate Marin for its good parts, but actively work to fill in the parts that it lacks.

At the end of the day, I still long to go to college in a new place and live in a different city, discover what life is like outside of our 828 square miles. But if someone tells me that they want to return and settle down here, I now understand why. Marin has a lot to give, sometimes you just have to slow down and take the time to see it.

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