Friday, December 2, 2011

Wandering Mystic Meditation From Mendocino

It was beautiful: the feeling that followed leaving the press of the city. Watched the lights dwindle to specks in the rearview mirror as we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, the wide endless expanse of the Pacific to our left and the swirling waters of the San Francisco Bay on our right. It was the beginning of freedom, the first sweet taste of a liberty that is almost impossible to find within the confines of suburbia. It was the start of an escape.

As we made our way up the 101 into Mendocino County, the landscape slowly morphed into a scene awash with color. Reds, yellows and browns, all had the underlay of green that marks northern California. It was November 15th. The air was just beginning to take on the chill of an upcoming winter. Some say the seasons of California aren't really seasons at all. That it's a spoiled state whose natives can't really appreciate the beauty which manifests itself in the changing of the leaves or the sprinkle of snow lacking in its landscape. Yet, there are so many different forms of beauty.

As we left four-lane freeway for winding single-lane Hwy 128 and delved into the green wonderland of Mendocino's redwood forests, the silence that surrounded our car worked wonders. We spoke in awed whispers as we drove under the overarching canopy, fearing anything louder would disturb the peace we'd discovered. Eventually, even whispers died, as the silence became all encompassing. The sight of the redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirons) standing like wise sentinels on both sides of the road demanded it. If you've never been in a first generation redwood forest, it's hard to describe the peace that exudes from it. You want to drown in it and let it sweep you away in its rhythm. It's a primal one, long forgotten by many, but capable of rekindling itself within your soul, given the chance.

We relinquished the forest to our memories and were beset upon by the next leg of our journey. Emerging from the forest, the highway traced seaside cliffs with the ocean below foaming white as waves crashed over the rocks. Bob Dylan's “Red River Shore” began playing on the radio. “Well, I been to the East and I been to the West/ and I been out where the black winds roar/ somehow though I never did get that far/ with the girl from the Red River shore.”

The 128 became the 1, a solitary roadway that extends the length of the California coast from Washington to the Mexican border. The pleasure afforded by this route gives new meaning to the word majestic. The Pacific Ocean, your silent companion whose presence is impossible to ignore, reflects the blue of the cloudless sky and seems to pulse with its own heartbeat. This is your world, limitless sky and endless sea, plus the sun dipping over the horizon with its vibrant final salute to the day.

Fort Bragg appears in our windshield, a small town nestled between the redwoods and the coast, a place seemingly untouched by the bigger world, where cash is the only currency and credit cards are simply bookmarks. 

There's one main street that runs through the center of town for about half a mile. Little shops, cafés, bars and coffee joints line Main Street on both sides, promising hidden treasures, friendly strangers and warm atmospheres. We'd been here a few times in the past, so before heading to our place of residence for the night we stop at Headlands, a small coffee house in the center of town.

We open the door and are immediately greeted by the sound of an acoustic guitar, its haunting melody drifting through the café, interlaced with the deep baritone of the performer. He's sitting on a stool in the back, almost hidden by the tables filled with patrons drinking their coffee or eating a pastry. As others shuffle up to the bar on car-cramped legs, I hang back listening to the music. It's a pure melody, driven by heartbreaking lyrics. While I watch the artist, a tear descends the man's cheek to disappear into his beard.

He finishes the song and looks out at his audience, none of whom have even noticed the guy is pouring his heart into the music. The light from the dimly lit shop plays over his face as his eyes search the crowd. Slowly, he drags himself off the stool, puts his guitar back in the case at his feet, locks it and shuffles out the door into the night without a word. This was something special, so deeply human that all you could do was acknowledge the connection silently. I drank my coffee and wondered about the girl from the Red River shore.

After a restful night's sleep, we headed back South to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, located about five minutes outside town. The garden specializes in rhododendrons and heathers, but has a wide variety of lovely plants that thrive in the northern California climate.

The garden extends from the highway clear to the ocean, with numerous paths and trails wandering the entirety. It's important to nurture a sense of ease when exploring here, as the scents of the rhododendrons mixed with the moist salt air and the sounds of the numerous sea birds overhead can only be fully appreciated with unhurried patience. If you traverse all the way to the shore, you'll be greeted with a postcard scene, as the garden grows right up to the cliffs bordering the sea. Standing on the brink, with the breeze flowing past you, the sea lions playing in the coves below you and the garden at your back, it's hard not to become entranced by it all, to become one with the One.

We returned to Fort Bragg for dinner before undertaking our four-hour drive home. Chose a pizzeria and pub called Piaci's, just off Main Street across from City Hall. It was a cozy hole in the wall confined to one small corner of a building with an L-shaped bar as the focal point. Tables and stools were pushed against the walls facing windows overlooking the old train station that was the main source of transport in and out of Fort Bragg between 1901 and 1925. After a Roma pizza and a few IPA brews, we departed. Yet, not before noticing the musician from Headlands sitting across the street, huddled in a doorway, strumming his guitar and singing to himself with a glass of whiskey on the sidewalk at his feet.

Patrick Wells is a 2012 graduate of Santa Clara University in California. He is preparing to head off for Brazil to teach English, work on his travel writing and wander the vastness of the world in search of the "next thing."


  1. Refreshing use of language. Nice work.

  2. Thanks for posting!

    You get away from the cities, and California has some gorgeous spots to see.