Friday, October 08, 2010

All Good Things Must Come to an End......

Today is Friday, the last full day of our trip to Fort Bragg.  All in all, Alene and I have had a very good week.

Among the things we've done, Alene and I explored the town of Mendocino. 

We took a short hike at Russian Gulch state park to investigate an amazing "blow hole", a 100' diameter crater on the bluffs that formed when the roof of a sea cave fell in who knows how long ago.  The sea rushes in through the cave opening and churns around the floor of the crater (very cool, I highly recommend it).

We drove north to Westport, a tiny little town where my sister and her husband enjoy staying,  and spent an afternoon sitting on the long sandy beach reading books and picnicking, while watching the surf gently rumbling on the shore.  I think there were a grand total of three other visitors on the beach that day, besides us. 

We took a couple of walks at McKerricher State Park where they have some neat tide pools. Tuesday (I think it was Tuesday, the days kinda run together here) we visited during high tide, so the tide pools were under water.  We watched sea lions frolic in the waves instead, and chatted with a few couples who also came to observe the beautiful vistas.

Thursday we went back in the evening during low tide, and I mean really low tide.  We were the only people down at the tide pools, so we walked out onto the very slippery rocks and began looking around.  We saw hermit crabs and some small fish, but nothing to really write home about.  A father and his 15-year-old daughter came to the pools soon after.  They were able to find some starfish right away, which they gleefully pointed out for us.  Alene picked up a bat starfish, and we could see its little pod-like feet trying feebly to grasp at air.  She put it back and after a moment the starfish was clinging to the rocks as if it had never left.

We spent another afternoon, Thursday I think, sitting on the beach, this time at Caspar Headlands. It's remarkable how many state parks and reserve areas there are along the coast.  We arrived at the beach during high tide, and before we left, the tide had nearly gone all the way out.   I was amazed at how much of the beach got exposed while we were there.  Alene scoured the beach for sea glass and pretty shells while I played fetch with Jett on the newly exposed beach.   

Jett pooped sand today.  No joke.  Yeah, I know, gross, but interesting.  

We've taken a few walks around downtown Fort Bragg, which is obligatory of course, to see what shops there were, and to just take in the town.  Many shops had closed or changed hands since we were here last, with several book store going out of business.  There was a small farmers market set up on one of the main streets on Wednesday afternoon.  I bought some peanut brittle for the girls back home, and for myself a little jar of carrot cake jelly.

Mmmhmmm.  Carrot cake.  Yum.

While in town, we stopped and talked to one local artist in his shop who does sculptures, and after a few minutes of chatting he invited us behind the counter and showed us one of his works in progress: a wax likeness of rock-star Neil Young set against a dressing room mirror, looking back at you, as if you were Neil sitting at the dressing room table.  Very cool, and very good work.  He showed us around his shop and genuinely seemed to enjoy sharing his craft with us.

Another popular stop for us has been Cowlick's Ice Cream. We saw the ice cream shop last year when we stayed in Fort Bragg, but never did go into the shop.  This year, before we left home, a friend told us we must stop in and try their Mushroom ice cream.  He said it was the best ice cream he'd ever had.


Yes, Mushroom.

So we did, and he was right.  Just.... plain.... delicious.

I asked if they made the ice cream locally, and the young lady behind the counter said all the ice cream is made on site, in a room just behind the counter.  She said the Mushroom ice cream has no other flavors except the mushrooms themselves, the cream and the sugar.  I swear to you, it tastes like the most delicious maple ice cream I've ever had.  Truly, I was impressed.

I was also impressed with a mixture of their Pumpkin Pie and Chai Tea ice creams (yum!), something they called The Candy Store Floor, which was a mixture of several different kinds of candy swirled in ice cream, and their Pralines and Cream.  Alene was partial to her favorite, Rocky Road, and the Almond Fudge. I don't think they had a bad flavor in the bunch.  If you're ever up here, stop in at Cowlicks.  You'll be glad you did.

We also enjoyed Headlands Coffeehouse, which specialized in organic coffees and foods, and Eggheads Restaurant where we had breakfast one morning.  Both are also on my list of must hits in the area.

But I think the best part of this trip has been meeting and talking to the locals.

I think of the two ladies we talked to at the Mendocino Art Center auction who told us all about life in Mendocino, and the artist in residence who invited us into her studio to show us about wax sculpturing and bronze casting.

The local artist here in Fort Bragg, who invited us into his studio too.

The preacher at First Baptist Church of Fort Bragg (whose name also happens to be Mike) and several of his very warm, if small, congregation, who made us, and several other out-of-towners, feel welcomed.

The honest older ladies who found my cel-phone on the bench at MacKerricher yesterday evening, and the gracious man who walked quickly to catch up with us near the parking lot to see if it was ours.  They were life savers.

The museum curator at the Kelly House in Mendocino who was only too happy to tell us all about the place, as if we were long lost relatives come for a visit.

The waitress at Silver's on the Wharf who remembered us the second night we came back, and was very kind.

The lady we chatted with at MacKerricher who was there with her mother and granddaughter, telling us about where they were from and what they liked about the area.

The father and daughter who shared the tide pool experience with us and talked with us for some time before we left.

The young couple at Russian Gulch who worked up the courage to ask us to take a photo of them and their kids so they could all be in one photo, and talked with us for a while after.

All of these people, and more, have added a dimension to our trip that I've enjoyed greatly.

I am looking forward to returning home, to friends and the comforts of home.  I've enjoyed my trip, and I've enjoyed Alene's company even more than I can say.  I look forward to our next adventure.   

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Mendocino Musings

Monday morning dawned bright and sunny here in Fort Bragg.  A light, cool breeze pushed around a teenie bit of coastal fog high up in the trees.  A hummingbird flitted around the blooming star jasmine out on the patio, and the aroma of coffee filled the cottage.  

Nice, huh?

After breakfast, Alene and I got our gear and headed for the village of Mendocino, a quiet and very beautiful little town on the Pacific coast, known for its shops and galleries, and for the community support given to the arts and to artists in the region.  The town is maybe six blocks by eight blocks or so square, sitting on a peninsula, surrounded by cliffs, pounding waves (on a windy day like yesterday), and wonderful vistas all about. 

We stopped first at the Kelly House museum, and talked for quite a while with the curator there, who gave us a primer on Mendocino history.

Founded by a timber company, as most of the settlements in this area were, 40 hardy men landed here along the coast and began logging the abundant timber in the area in the 1850's.  The Kelly House is one of the surviving houses from the era, refurbished and renovated to be a glance back into life in the late 1800's.  

The Ford House museum is much the same, with a nicely preserved look into the past.  The Ford House, though, also houses an exhibition of local art, some of which was genuinely unique and beautiful.

Alene I walked up and down several of the town streets, looking into various shops and galleries. Local goods and jewelry produced by local artists predominate, with a liberal sprinkling of the kitsch you'd find in any tourist town. Shop keepers were mostly kind and welcoming with but a few exceptions, and those shops we didn't linger in.  

We stopped at Moody's Organic Coffee for a wonderful mocha latte and an organic brownie, which was delicious.  Thanksgiving Coffee company makes some wonderful coffee as well, which I know from a previous trip here.  The market in town stocks a tidy supply of all the sundries one would need to live in the area.  There are several small cafe's and eateries catering to a wide variety of tastes.  

But therein my enamoration with Mendocino kinda putters outs.  It's a lovely town, a beautiful destination, and  picturesque setting. Local art and artists flourish here. History abounds, and the pace of life is slowed down to a pleasant meander, but even here consumerism conquers all and, in my opinion, mars the beauty and joy of visiting such a lovely town. 

As Alene and I walked the town and took in the various shops, I couldn't help but feel a sense of beauty marred by the greed and commercialism of the shops and sellers.   

Don't misunderstand, I'm a capitalist with a capital "C", and agree that sellers can sell their wares for whatever the market will bear.  If someone agrees to pay your price, good for you, and hopefully your buyer feels like they received value with their purchase.   That's the name of the game. 

But as I walked the streets, I saw two Mendocinos : 

One is a town dedicated to the free spirit of art, encouraging artists to create and to be creative, endowing them with a sense of freedom and support for their craft that is somewhat unique to Mendocino and other enclaves like it.  I saw a community accepting of diversity, giving residents an opportunity to be unique and to pursue their dreams. 

At the Mendocino Art Center, Alene and I talked to a couple of ladies who were very kind, telling us all about life in the area, how they came to be there, and how much they enjoyed Mendocino.  We talked to an artist who invited us into her studio and showed us how she makes bronze sculptures, walking us through the process from wax model to casting in the furnace.  

We ran into kind, open people all over town. 

But the other Mendocino was one off commerce and perceived value, which in my opinion is highly inflated, and takes away from the authenticity and beauty of this little town.  

Granted, without  commerce, the arts wouldn't flourish because artists would have no way to support themselves, and the community can only support so many "free spirits" out of the goodness of their hearts, so I'm not really deriding the commercialism,  it just seemed a bit out of control to me.  

It seems the mystique and lore of Mendocino has overtaken the truth of Mendocino, and the perceived value of things here have far outstripped reality. 

It's just a town, after all.  A rather small, picturesque town that produces little of actual practical value. 

It's true value is in the beauty of the setting. 

Enjoy Mendocino at  own your pace, and enjoy the value you perceive the town to have.  Just  enjoy it on your level and at your leisure, and I think you'll find Mendocino a nice place to visit.  

I'd recommend finding a place to stay down the road a ways, though.  You'll save money, have the same grand views of the Pacific, and have some extra cash to spend on coffee in town. 

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Camping Food Effect

Have you ever noticed how food tastes different when you're away from home?

For instance, years ago my x-wife and I took the girls camping up in the sierras.  The setting was beautiful - cool crisp air, blue skies, and fragrant pine trees all around.  The girls were having a great time.  As we sat down to a dinner of macaroni and cheese with hot dogs, one of the girls chimed in, "Is this regular macaroni and cheese? This can't be regular macaroni and cheese. This stuff is really good! What did you different, mom?"

The answer, of course, is nothing.  It was the same ol' macaroni and cheese the kids always got at home.  The only difference was the surroundings. 

It's an effect my girls and I have come to call the camping food effect.

So, as I sit here quietly in our little cottage in Fort Bragg, the sun is beginning to rise.   The scent of the star jasmine blooming outside wafts in through the open slider and mingles with the aroma of the fresh brewed coffee.  I find the camping food effect in full effectiveness this morning.  

The cup of coffee Alene brought me is just outstanding!  Some fellow at the Yuban coffee factory must have switched the normal Yuban coffee for some sort of  primo blend by accident, put it on a truck bound for Fort Bragg, and as fate would have it, Alene and I found that exact can on the shelves of the grocery store yesterday. 

It's probably Kopi Luwak or some other exotic blend that I would otherwise, in my rather humble life, never hope to experience were it not for that kind, thoughtful person at the Yuban factory who thought of me....little ol' me.... and made this wonderful, out of this world coffee experience possible.  

I think I'm going to cry.

Yup, I just shed a tear. 

Moving on, we had a nice drive from Sacramento, yesterday.  We got into town about 2:30pm, a little bit before check in, so we went to the dog beach and played with Jett a few minutes before going to the store (where that nice man had just then stocked the coffee just for us!), and then headed to the cottage to check in.  

On the door of the cottage was a nice note saying "Welcome Mr. and Mrs. Jones".  We got a good chuckle out of that.  I think that's a bout the 3rd or 4th time in the past few weeks someone has said that to us.

We put away groceries, Alene started dinner, and we had a most wonderful meal outside on the patio deck.  Again, the camping food effect in full gear, I think I had the most delicious tortellini I've had in ages! I wonder if Mr. Alfredo himself made the sauce, because I'm not sure there's ever been such a savory sauce served! 

Ooooo dinner was just so yummy....... oh, and we saw hummingbirds while we were eating too! 

Anyway, we were beat from the day, and went to bed around 7:30, as soon as it was dark up here.  Yeah... 7:30.  Slept 11 hours and up this morning about 7am.  

I think that was some of the best sleep I've ever gotten!  It's like the little sleep angel hovered over me, singing quiet lullabys and .........

Well, everything's better when you're on vacation.