Boots & Badges
Letterwerks Sign City
"Where Fillmore County News Comes First"
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North from San Francisco

Sun, Jun 18th, 2000
Posted in

Monday, June 19, 2000

It had been a chilly, foggy and crowded June weekend in the city and now we were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge headed north in the sunshine toward the redwoods country. The morning rush hour commuters from Marin County limped along in the inbound lanes but we were cruising against them at a cool and reasonable sixty miles per hour.

"Good-bye, San Francisco," Jamie, my seven-year old daughter, shouted. She was a little sad about leaving but at the same time was looking forward to the next adventure in this, our first ever, father-daughter vacation.

IF YOU REALLY WANT TO AVOID A TWO-HOUR WAIT in line to ride the San Francisco cable cars, it is advised to get up early and make it the stop by seven a.m., as the author and his daughter, Jamie, recently did one Sunday morning in the city by the Bay.

Jamie had loved San Francisco -- the street performers, the cable car rides, the crook-edest street in the world, the manic bustling of Chinatown -- but most of all she had loved Fishermens Wharf, where she had dined on fried clams and proclaimed them to be her newest and best favorite food in the whole wide world. San Francisco is a feast of delights for kids and adults alike. Two days is way too short of time to spend there, but theres never enough time for the really good things.

We stop at the vista point just across the Golden Gate to take pictures of the incomparable view: of the iconic red bridge, the vast blue sky, the vaster blue Pacific, the hills, everywhere the hills, and the city over there glistening like a childs storybook in the morning sun. Ah, California! Sometimes you can just be pure magic, and this is one of those moments.

We stuck to Highway 101, through the malignant spread of suburbia, into Sonoma County with its vineyards and shopping centers and tract homes. Onward and northward into Mendocino County, which was becoming overgrown with grapes and development as well. Near Willits the traffic started to thin and the road narrowed to two lanes.

I had always loved the sound of the word Mendocino ever since I first heard it in that old 60s song by the Sir Douglas Quintet. It rolled off the tongue softly and me-lodically and sounded like a place of adventure, intrigue and just plain good decent folks. I had first come through Mendocino back in the mid-70s headed south towards L.A., oblivious to the fact that Id be stuck in that monster for most of the next decade.

What would have happened, I wondered, if I had pulled off the road back then and found a job; rented a place and stayed in northern California instead of going all the way on down to L.A.? That could have changed just about everything.

It was a quarter century later and I looked over at my wide-eyed girl beside me and realized that life and its many twists of fates had turned out just fine.

Groovy Ground-Zero

We were on our way to visit my old buddy from the Peace Corps, Raul, who happens to have a daughter about the same age as Jamie. Raul and family had recently fled L.A. and found a house nestled in a grove of redwoods just outside a small town in southern Humboldt County.

"Im never going to live in L.A. again," Raul announced with conviction soon after we arrived, "and nobody can make me."

There were thirty some redwood trees growing on his property each one of them a couple hundred feet tall. The house was in perpetual shadow, but Raul didnt mind one bit. "This is the best camping trip Ive ever been on," he said.

It wasnt only the redwoods and the majestic scenery that made Humboldt County seem to be a unique world unto itself. The people Id seen along the highway, the ones hitchhiking and the ones driving old Volvos and VW buses looked like theyd wandered off from a Grateful Dead concert sometime back during the Summer of Love. In San Francisco everybody, for the most part, was trim and sleek and very busy. They were all talking on their cell phones and looked to be between 28 and 34 years-old. There was a different demographic at play here.

I mentioned this observation to Raul. "Its almost like a time-warp," I said.

"Didnt you know that southern Humboldt is called Groovy Ground Zero of Ecotopia?" he laughed.

The next day I stopped by a musty smelling used bookstore in Redway. A couple guys with long hair and unkempt beards -- freaks we used to affectionately call them -- were sitting around talking and I couldnt help but overhear parts of their conversation.

"I was in the same elevator one time with the Dali Lama and Shirley Maclaine," one of them said.

"Whatd you say to them, man?"


A few minutes later I heard one of them say, "Did I tell you about the time I was Sufi-dancing in New York?"


"Now theres a place with some karmic overload."

The Lost Coast

While much of California, like most of the country, has become strip-malled, brand-named, and theme-parked, theres a stretch of coastline that is still, even at this late date, mostly unmolested by corporate America. Its a barely accessible stretch of wild pristine beauty called the Lost Coast.

We drove there on a wind-ing forested road one day to check it out. Raul gave a running commentary on the countryside.

"Theres thousands of people living out here in the wilds of southern Humboldt," he said. "But you rarely see them unless they come into town driving their new four-wheel drive pickups."

He pointed out a dirt road going up a steep hill thick with madrone trees. There was a No Trespassing sign with a bullet hole in it.

"No U.S. Census taker is ever going to go up that road," Raul said. "Or at least make it back down."

Marijuana is the number one agricultural product of Humboldt County, Raul went on to say, and it had been the driving engine of the local economy for the past twenty-five years. That explained why small towns like Garberville and Redway had a half dozen shiny and well-stocked garden supply stores. They werent there because everybody was growing organic tomatoes and arugula for the weekly farmers market.

I started to look at the countryside and the people who populated it a little differently; it was still beautiful but its sheen of innocence was tainted some.

"Doesnt it make you nervous to be living here?" I asked.

"Why should it?" Raul replied. "Those people want to be left alone and so do I. You couldnt ask for better neighbors."

We made it to Shelter Cove, a dramatic and rugged place where the mountains dipped right down into the ocean. Raul and I explored some tide pools with our daughters, finding hermit crabs, starfish and hundreds of other living things we didnt know the names for. A group of seals swam just on the other side of the pounding surf. Up in the hills above the town sat some houses with views that would take your breath away.

I could live here, I thought, with a decent phone line where I could hook up a modem. Surely, I could live here. I could learn to leave my neig-bors alone.

Heading south again

A couple days later Jamie and I were headed back south to San Francisco. Wed spent the morning in an ancient forest of old growth redwoods called the Founders Grove. There were trees in it over 2,000 years old and one of them was 370 feet tall. Thats taller than Niagara Falls or about the height of a 30-story building. It was easy to understand why some people were so passionate about saving the redwoods, though I dont kno

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