By anyone’s lights, Bonnie Felix is a risk-taker. She was a young child in Los Angeles, finished middle school and high school in Bakersfield, went to college in Santa Barbara and Berkeley, spent a year in France, and found her way to Cambridge, Mass., where she lived for around ten years in her late twenties and most of her thirties, came back to sunny California, and finally, (she thinks really finally) to West Marin in the early 90’s.
Along the way, she taught elementary school-age children and settled, on a long career as a child therapist. Thinking about how she started and where she finds herself is to imagine her life story and come away sort of amazed, sort of dazzled, and full of respect.
It wasn’t always easy, especially as her parents divorced when Bonnie was a middle schooler. Joint custody agreements didn’t really happen very often in those years, so her mom followed her job to the enormous Tejon Ranch headquarters in Bakersfield. In the forties and early fifties, Bonnie’s classmates looked a lot like the kids she’d known in L.A. Even in high school, there were few Hispanic kids or Asians or black kids, very unlike the Central Valley of today.
Later, Bonnie and her mom moved to new Ranch headquarters up in the mountains off the “ridge route” between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. Most of the Ranch was leased to oil companies for drilling. Bonnie’s mom was in charge of tracking all oil production for the Ranch. Here is some of what Wikipedia says about this largest of all California landowners:
“The Tejon Ranch “was incorporated in 1936 to organize the ownership of a large tract of land originally comprising four Mexican land grants, and began ranching in the 1840s. It now controls over 270,000 acres in the southern San Joaquin Valley, Tehachapi Mountains, and Antelope Valley. Tejon Ranch grows almonds, pistachios, walnuts, wine grapes, and several varieties of row crops. Depending on the season, up to 12,000 head of cattle can be found grazing on the ranch. Cattle leases cover about 250,000 acres.”
So Bonnie learned a lot by hanging out around oilrigs. She learned to ride and loved to help herd cattle, thanks to Tony Arrojo, a Native American who taught her all she needed to behave herself on a horse.
College was UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley and a year in France. The French connection, helped her get a job in more than one private school teaching French. For Bonnie as for so many teachers, getting and keeping good jobs meant flexibility. In her case, that meant agreeing to coach girl’s sports and teaching seventh grade Latin, as well. It didn’t seem to matter that she knew no Latin and had only one summer to cram enough in her head. (A thoughtful ex- boyfriend handed her a succinct primer, and Bonnie coped.) Her seventh graders learned their Latin.
Moving to Cambridge happened because one fourth grader followed Bonnie into the girls’ bathroom to tell her: “You and my sister would like each other.” Really, that was the beginning of ten years in Cambridge, as the way older sister and Bonnie became immediate, close, and ultimately life-long friends. The sister lived and worked in Cambridge and urged Bonnie to go east, young woman, go east. She was twenty-seven.
Here’s some of what happened during those years: Bonnie taught at Shady Hill, an old, progressive private school, getting caught up in ideas about open classrooms and progressive education. She and a friend ran summer workshops, creating large model open classrooms for adults as a teacher training tool and more. She also worked with a group of parents and teachers to start the first alternative public school in Cambridge.
And then, sort of suddenly, the East Coast was over. The image for her was a big stone wall with a closed stone gate. That same image drew her back “home” because it also had a stone wall but with an open portal and sunshine on the other side. Of course she came home!
Well, what’s a girl to do? Well, this being Bonnie, she borrowed enough money to finance more education and became a child and family psychotherapist. Her practice was in the East Bay, so she settled down in Oakland. She met Jeff, her husband. Time passed. West Marin beckoned. At first they thought they’d find something in the San Geronimo Valley. By chance, they kept driving and lucked into a great house on the Point Reyes Mesa.
Bonnie is a volunteer harbor seal monitor for the Seashore, Her observation station is the overlook at Duxbury reef and sometimes at the Bolinas Lagoon. She helps to compare successes and failures of the population based on numbers of pups in a given year. Sadly, she reports, an El Nino year usually means many young pups get separated from their mothers too soon and do not survive.
She and Jeff have lived here for about 24 years, looking out at yet another spectacular view full of sunshine and no stone door.