Tuesday afternoon storm brewing on the horizon, a patch of buttermilk clouds thick and creamy overhead, surrounded by cold sunshine. A perfect day. The air was cool and clean, a mixture of pine and sea. Set off by a dark sky and the point across from town jutting out with cloud-shadowed emerald-green grass and black rocks, the glare on the ocean was white light, exquisite in its brilliance. Natural. The way it’s always been.
The town of Mendocino is empty, slow, quiet, a pleasant change from summer tourism except for a crowd of teenagers on the sidewalk in front of the coffee house making guttural sounds, collecting saliva as if getting ready to spit at me as I walk by. Camels! Spitting intimidation. Shopkeepers bored, leaning on their counters watching the clock. Nothing else to do but wait for the weekend.
In the slowness of the day I remember hearing in the distance the gray melancholy bellow of the two-tone foghorn. I remember when the town garbage was unceremoniously dumped just off Main Street over the bluff into the sea, and I dated the man hauling the garbage. I remember when the bank was a bank and the cookie shop was a gas station with a Greyhound bus stop. I remember stepping off the bus on Friday evenings when I came home from school in Santa Rosa, met by my father in his beige Ford station wagon. Our house only two blocks away, he didn’t have to meet me.
I return to the Woodyard beach where as teenage girls we used to sit on a weathered bench on top of the bluff in 1964, waiting, full of romantic hope and desire. It’s still there, the bench. I drive Heezer’s Drive searching for the flat rocks off the bluffs where they held my father’s memorial service. Al Need, painter of seascapes and poet. Ashes and roses thrown into the sea from his favorite spot the way he would have wanted it done. The rocks still there, the same, almost constant in time, collecting tide pools as waves rush up and over at high tide. He would have wanted it that way. He is one with his ocean.
To revisit those halcyon days, I follow Heezer’s Drive around the beautiful, rugged coastline. It is well trodden by people on foot, and by car. Teenagers go there, as well, after school and in the evenings. There is not much else young people can do. From there, tourists visit the glory of the sea, standing on the edge, enticing the crashing waves, tempting fate.
I notice green logs lining one side of the drive. It says to me: No Free Spirit Autos Here, Please. Green Logs? I ask. Logs painted green to blend in with the natural greenery? Do you suppose? Green logs painted with toxic copper naphthenate wood preservative? Wait a minute, wood preservative in Mendocino?
Isn’t it odd that a community that grew out of its Neanderthal days of dumping garbage into the ocean and instead, developed a new pride for eco-friendly lifestyles – an artist community that enjoyed collecting and valuing old gray driftwood from the beaches, turning it into sculptures, mobiles, frames for paintings, and building homes with it - would paint its logs green rather than leave them natural? Doesn’t it seem odd that in trying to preserve the natural beauty of this rugged coastal landscape - a landscape of people concerned about living better and healthier - the roads are lined with painted, toxic green logs?
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