Notes from the Mendocino Coast

Little River.

The river is little, a perfect name and quick description. Way up the trail, on the down side, on the other side of the pygmy forest of mini-trees, I 4-rock (stones, really) hopped over the river. I looked up river and thought about the water source.

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Last night, arriving home in the afternoon after the two hour drive home from Little River, another source crossed my mind; photosynthesis. Every living thing is living because of it. Imagine green plants chewing up sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to grow. And then the plants pull some nutrients out of the soil, but they don’t weigh much.  My body takes tons of stuff to stay alive and functioning. Maybe my soul is like a plant and feeds very lightly off the sunlight and water and carbon dioxide passing through me.

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The path we followed held tight to the little river, passing over it with 10 little bridges. One subtle curiosity that I didn’t notice but my partner did; the sword ferns were on one side of the little river and the common bracken on the other. Deer ferns communed more randomly. Why pick sides? Friends walking along trails tend to become very authoritative as they spot a bird or a unusual plant. When they’re not naming things they’re dialing up their curiosity about all the wild things around them. Not many take notes so I hope they remember to research their findings when they return to their resource materials. One thought on the fern communities was that one type required a bit more water to be happy.

More and more books are coming out about all the wild things and how they communicate and how they live their lives. we clearly know very little about the complexity of life on earth and in the lack of knowing, have very little respect for it.

I picked a word yesterday, to name my interest in this topic; animism. This word is defined as the religious belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence.

Animism encompasses the beliefs that all material phenomena have agency, that there exists no hard and fast distinction between the spiritual and physical (or material) world and that soul or spirit or sentience exists not only in humans, but also in other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind and shadows. 

The deeper I get into the subject, the more defining words come up.

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The paths and bridges along Little River were created by the California Conservation Corps. At the same time they created dams, culverts and walls to control the flow of the little river on its way to the ocean. I’ll have to read more to put my mind in their time and place. But the result of their work meant the end of a free flowing river that could perpetuate life for the coho salmon.  Along the trail an artist has planted metal sculptures of coho. My spirit turned and, feeling a bit ashamed of the human interference, realized how relentlessly we have perpetuated this sort of activity.

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 My mind didn’t hold on tight to that sadness and shame. But it did hold tight to a list of things I need to get done when I get home. The feeling of ‘should’ takes me out of myself and makes me anxious, distracted and inattentive to the conversations among all the wild life around me.

Pygmy Forest in Van Damme State Park

We parked at the Albion River Inn where we’d celebrate our hiking buddies’ birthday the next day.  A lightly used road across the highway took us on a 3-mile reminiscing walk. All four of us had walked the Camino in Spain. Over our hour and a half uphill saunter, we relived large chucks of our Spanish adventure. So much goodness comes from sharing stories and appreciating the lives we live.

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The Pygmy forest entrance pulled us with a wooden walkway; part creating wheelchair accessibility and part keeping all of us walkers off the delicate pygmy bushes and sea foam lichen.  Way, way, along time ago, the ocean floor pushed up relatively quickly and created some new space for trees and bushes to settle. However the soil, rising so quickly didn’t have time to develop nutritious soil; just couldn’t overpower the hardpan soil. So a few varieties of pine trees and cypress and bushes grew, but with poor soil they haven’t grown much. They’re 1-8 feet tall and over 100 years old!

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Spring Ranch Coastal Preserve

 Starting out for the day. Found the hidden trail up the ravine off the beach.

Starting out for the day. Found the hidden trail up the ravine off the beach.

The bluff walk from Van Damme to the village of Mendocino matches up in style with the Bill Kortum trail in Sonoma County and the trail along the west coast of Cornwall near the town of Port Isaac.  We met a couple from West Los Angeles who called the views stunning. So there you go.

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One standout site is a blowhole hidden in a bunch of rocky coast nested in the shoreline. The very little geyser like burst of water surprised me, like the sudden movement of a grouse in a stand of shrubbiness on a mountain trail.

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Back when our girls were little we traveled with another family down the Baja California coastline to Ensenada and came across a bufadora, blower in Spanish. We drove and drove and finally found it. Blowholes are an attractor like waterfalls.  Heading out of Cuenca Ecuador on a bus to a small town famous for a cookie made of canna flour we passed a sign for a waterfall. The waterfall signs appeared along the highway more often than speed limit signs. Everyone wants to go see a waterfall. We did stop and took a walk to one. They’re pretty spectacular; not in size necessary but in their sharing of their power.

Powerful people have a hard time sharing their natural strengths while waterfalls let you do whatever you’re capable of doing with them. If you can’t harness their energy enjoy taking a picture of yourself in front of it or paint it. At the end of the summer and all the snow has melted and the river lowers enough to begin warming too much for trout to travel far and wide for meals, they live deep under waterfalls; to gobble up oxygen and swirling nymphs and larva.

I search out oxygen when my systems are tired and in a personal season that has lost common sources of nourishment; like unconditional friendships and emotionally safe environments. The speech therapist came through the door of my kindergarten class. I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me but I followed her down the corridor to a small room, like a doctors office. After sitting on a hard school chair I almost expected to get a booster shot of some kind.  The pain I almost continually felt, the knotted gut and tangled throat, came from the stuttering. The stuttering seemed to be born naturally in me. Most kids go through stuttering and move on to other problems. But for some of us, stuttering grabs on to us and messes with us for years; a life time, really. 

The therapist asked me to relax and breathe. Of course, I couldn’t relax and I couldn’t relate to her theory on how to solve my problem. But I breathed in and out and in and out. The extra oxygen didn’t do me any good. I returned to my class having missed the art time in my class schedule. I didn’t know about trout searching for oxygen and how important it is. But you can see why I pay attention to it now.

Deep meditative breathing is an important exercise and is integrated in many practices from playing wind instruments to taking care of one’s body.

While walking the trail I breathed deeply on occasion, nurturing and massaging my whole internal operation with oxygen.  Out of my trance, looking continually out at the sea, I looked off to the east. Almost like clouds, the landscape of nearly wild grasses floated and called out in a very relaxing melody. I hummed but stayed my course. The grasses couldn’t pull me away from the trail.

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Trails make my life easy and take me to interesting places. I’m following behind sightseers now but I smell deer and coyote and know they were here first. We bushwhacked from the coast to the highway to cross the bridge over Big River to get to the village of Mendocino. Apparently the deer and coyote don’t go to the village for lunch!

 Bessie and Zorro waiting for us back at camp.

Bessie and Zorro waiting for us back at camp.

 The hurricane storm Rosa took a break and gifted us with a wonderful day.

The hurricane storm Rosa took a break and gifted us with a wonderful day.