After Claire’s riding lesson on Saturday, she and Julia and Jan and I went to visit Filoli, a highly improbable English country house with acres of formal gardens in the foothills of the California Coast Range. It was a glorious October day, with air like sauvignon blanc and the promise of fresh apples. Jan is evidently a little unused to sightseeing at the kids’ natural pace, a rapid trot, but it did mean we inspected the house and gardens comprehensively, if not in great detail.

My affection for Filoli is part of my swords-into-ploughshares fetish, like my deep love for the former nuclear missile silo that is now the Marine Mammal Center. After sixty years of housing high privilege and absurd balls and drunken dinner parties and so forth, Filoli was donated to the National Trust in 1975 and now any commoner and her kids and her mother-in-law can bounce through it at will.

And not only us. As we came out of the visitor center after returning our pencils (filling out the kids’ scavenger hunt, for the purposes of) I stopped and caught my breath. A doe bounded across the path, not ten feet in front of me, and into the olive groves to my left. She was followed by another doe, a fawn and a third doe. Claire and Julia, crowding behind me, saw them as well: their ballet-dancer bodies arrested for a heartbeat in the golden-hour light, every tawny hair detailed, their graceful heads turned to look at us, the deep orbs of their eyes. Then a weightless leap into the olive trees and away.

“That!” said Julia, “is the coolest thing that has EVER HAPPENED TO ME IN MY LIFE.”

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