I had barely heard of Bodega Bay before I vacationed there last week, although I've since learned it was the locale for Hitchcock's "The Birds." An oceanfront rental in the area is about a fourth of the cost for a Southern California equivalent, which is what originally got my attention. Even if the decision was price-driven, I fell head over heels for the place.

We spent our first day playing on the strip of beach right below our rental. Clearly too accustomed to our Southern Californian beaches, we kicked off our flip-flops and pranced around in bathing suits almost immediately.

Big mistake for two reasons: One, the sand is rock. Or, pebbles. Maybe stones. Whatever it was, it wasn't conducive to bare feet. Two, the high of 68 degrees hit around 3 p.m., and only in the sun. Bathing suits are for Jacuzzis in this town, not for the beach. The briskness of the water is sort of like a slap in the face, but I don't think anyone is putting their face in it. I heard a bunch of yowls at ankle level.

We later discovered there were other beaches nearby that are sandier, rather than stony, and accessible via a seaside trail that goes from Bodega Bay to the Russian River, running into the Pacific. We made the boys carry their little sand pails and shovels, heading off on a daily basis.

When we came across signs on the trail relaying a potential bobcat presence, I got nervous. The path wound through waist-high, sun-bronzed grain, and I suppose a bobcat could be hiding, waiting to pounce. Then again, the boys don't know how to be quiet even when asleep. They were talking loud and shrieking every now and then. I wanted to tell them to use their ... what? ... inside voices outside? However, considering the bobcat issue, I let them be. I figured they'd be much too noisy of an appetizer for any creature. I can only liken it to eating a firecracker, a discouraged practiced no matter your genus.

We also checked out the towns up the Russian River -- Guerneville in particular -- and did a three-hour canoe ride downriver to Monte Rio. (I tell you, that drive up there, first on Highway 1 and then 116, solidifies why California is a jewel of a state. You have the Pacific, a beautifully snaking river, redwoods, meadows and then a big grocery store that sells both gourmet cheeses and puff pastries. Bliss.)

I was worried the boys wouldn't be able to stay still in a small canoe, but they did fine. Whenever they got antsy, we paddled to a beach on the side of the river, and let them splash around. At the beginning, my oldest, my sweet little worrywart, was concerned we'd all capsize and drown. I pointed out that we were all wearing life jackets, the river moved at a snail's pace, and he could likely stand on the bottom, his head out of water. Still, he moaned at every stroke of the paddle for the first 45 minutes.

Between the constant threat I'd feed him an all veggie dinner, and the constant egress and ingress from the canoe as we hit beach after beach, he started to get the hang of things. By the end, he was single-handedly trying to tip the canoe because he found it hilarious to watch me twitch in panic because I thought I was going overboard. (You might guess where he gets his worrywarting.)

My husband was steering the canoe. He only ran us into a tree alongside the bank once. He thought it was a fantastic and funny mishap. Mainly because he was sitting in the back, unaffected by the thick wall of branches the canoe and I plummeted into, eyeballs first. I didn't think this was funny at all. I'm still plotting my revenge.

Our final day we spent on a horseback ride. Since the trail guide didn't know us personally, I found it divine our horses so matched our personalities. The husband's horse didn't intend to move at a quick pace, ever. The only reason he inevitably moseyed was to venture on toward the next snacking spot. My horse was a total pill. She was uncooperative and moody, and kept trying to turn around to go back home and rest. Then, when she realized I wasn't going to let her poop out on me, she tried to dump me into a lake. I really liked that horse. Charles tried to give his horse a snack goodbye.

I foresee many summers there. More canoe trips, horseback riding and using my critters to scare off bobcats.

-- Heather Ijames is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Ijames, not necessarily The Californian. You can send email to her at heatherijames@hotmail.com. Next week: Inga Barks.