Jessica Ehlers

As seen on a Sussex Directories Inc siteAn aura of gentle kindness surrounds Jessica. The lilt to her voice invites people to relax and feel comfortable. She has a great sense of humor and laughs easily. Yet, her outward appearance belies the emotional struggles she has had to overcome. Dealing with these challenges helped her decide at a young age that her life’s work would revolve around helping others.

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Jessica was born in 1979, at a time when children were given freedom to explore the world around them. She spent much of her childhood outside with friends. “We built forts, forged for berries, road bikes all over town, hiked the train tracks, and played at the beach.” Set loose without much supervision, she also occasionally got into trouble.

JessicaEshykid“I was a dorky, insecure kid who could not spell, read out loud in class and didn’t seem to have any real talent outside of being obsessed with MTV. When I was nine, some friends and I began shoplifting and engaging in property destruction. I eventually got caught breaking into a vacation rental. I began sobbing and confessed to everything. I felt so guilty and ashamed. I think the deputy knew he had done his job terrifying me into never doing that again.”

At the age of 12, she spent two weeks in Japan on the first Mendocino Miasa student exchange program. It was an eye-opening experience for this young teen who was living in the tiny hamlet of Albion on the Mendocino Coast.

“It was interesting to see the contrast of the architecture of this ancient culture right next to the bullet train. How people lived was so different from my experience—the food, smells, the schools. The formality was unlike anything I had seen before.”

In 1997—when she was 17 and a student at the Mendocino Community School—she traveled to Bali for two months to research her high school senior project. “At the time, I thought I wanted to become a midwife. My friend, Anna Marie Stenberg, knew Robin Lim, a midwife in Bali. I made arrangements to work with her.”

Upon her arrival, she learned that Robin had gone to Texas to deliver her daughter’s baby. “I’d gotten sick with laryngitis before I left and had started antibiotics. A driver picked me up at the airport and took me to Ubud where I stayed in a one room bungalow with beautiful tile flooring, woven thatch walls and huge, flying cockroaches. ”

JessicaEBaliThe antibiotics were not working and the weather was uncomfortably wet and hot. The next day, Ketut, the semi-adopted daughter of the midwife, put her on the back of her scooter and took her to a doctor. “I was sent off with a bottle of mysterious green pills that eventually cured me. Ketut drove me through the Monkey Forest to Robin’s family compound in Nyuh Kuning. It was like the ‘Jungle Book’ with monkeys hanging out in a temple.’”

Jessica studied Balinese midwifery through reference books while working at the Pondok Pekak Library. “This practice is tied to Hindu culture which is tied into everything in Bali—offerings in the street, protocols on how to pray, and their beautiful elaborate ceremonies.”

“My parents didn’t have an email account so I’d send messages to their friend once a week and they would email me back from their friend’s computer. One time, I sent them a carefully constructed email that told them not to freak out, but I had something to tell them. They probably thought I was pregnant, but the big reveal was that I had gotten a tattoo.”

She loved the people of Bali. “They’re Hindu, very spiritual and friendly. I learned I didn’t want to become a midwife, but thought maybe nursing would be fun until I realized I wasn’t comfortable with potential of death and complications. Not to mention my tendency to pass out around surgical equipment.

“The biggest thing I learned from that experience was that I was a privileged white girl.” This realization was reinforced when she went to Cabrillo College the following year and took a Race, Class and Gender English 2 class taught by Ekua Omosupe, a radical female professor.

“That class made me realize I never had to deal with people assuming things about me based on the color of my skin. While I thought I knew what poverty looked and felt like—the commodity cheese, short pants, and trailer parks I spent time in when visiting relatives—my parents were college-educated and people in my family owned their own homes. That class made me want to learn how to be who I am—a  white, bisexual female—in a way that didn’t make other people smaller, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual preferences.”

JessicaECollegeAs Jessica grew through her teenage years, a darkness emerged. “I partied a lot in high school. We called it partying, but many times it was miserable. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant so it definitely didn’t help my depression.”

At age 19, she became lost in a deep depression that nearly took her life. With the help of healthcare professionals and her parents, she was able to function, but continued to struggle. She spent the following year taking every art class available at the College of the Redwoods coast campus, especially classes from Bob Rhodes.

“It was tremendously therapeutic to stop analyzing and use my hands to make things my head wasn’t exactly planning. I love to make art, but don’t do a lot of it these days. I spend free time gardening. I like growing things instead of making things that will just get dusty.”

In 2000, Jessica went to Prescott College in Arizona for a year and then to the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. “In 2001, I got a BA in Integrative Studies, which qualified me to work at a Starbucks in Portland.” She laughed.

She lived with her sister in Portland. “I got sober and was in therapy, but still felt depressed. I moved back to Fort Bragg in 2003. I was diagnosed bipolar by a psychotherapist who referred me to a psychiatrist. That’s when I decided to became a caregiver. It was a very sweet time in my life. I worked for Eva Andersson’s Caregiving agency on and off for the next eight years and loved it. I got to be a person in a family who wasn’t really in the family. I could support and help people.”

During this time, Jessica married and had a child. The marriage ended in 2009. In 2012, she entered the Master’s in Social Work Program at Humboldt State. “It was a distance learning program that focused on serving rural and indigenous communities. It allowed me to live and work in Fort Bragg so I could be available for my child. I stopped caregiving and started a housekeeping business in order to have more time and flexibility.” She also volunteered for local agencies that helped the homeless and troubled teens.

JessicaEMatt&AliceNine years ago, she became smitten with Matt Howard, the sales manager at Sport Chrysler Jeep Dodge. “I asked him to a movie with a group of friends, but didn’t invite anyone else.” She laughed. They live a sweet life with her 13-year old daughter Alice and their rescue basset hounds Miss Daisy Duke and Flash Bandicoot.

After she obtained her Master’s in Social Work (MSW) in 2015, she worked for the Mendocino Coast Clinics for a year and then for Redwood Community Services (RCS). She focuses on assessing the needs of kids and working with them and their parents. By early 2019, she had amassed the 3200 clinical hours necessary to sit for her Licensed Clinical Social Worker exam. On April 1, 2019 she took the exam and passed.

Jessica continues to work for RCS, and also opened a private therapy practice in November at 327 Redwood Avenue.

“My goal in providing psychotherapy is to meet people where they are and offer tools to develop skills to make the changes they are willing to make. My own background has given me the assurance that anyone can make changes, lead a deliberate life, overcome addictions and childhood traumas.”

Jessica continues in recovery and appreciates the gifts that depression has given her. “My experience with my own mental health helped me develop deep compassion for people who struggle in this way. What could be considered liabilities have become my ninja skills.”

JessicaEbassets

Close Encounters of the Deer Kind

zombie buck

Drawing by author, artist and blogger Jenn Hotes (www.jenniferlhotes.com)

I’m driving home from the gym one dusky late afternoon in January. The gratitude I feel for life pumps to the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive” blaring from the radio. A challenging day has been rewarded by a workout with friends Kathleen and Bethany. I’m looking forward to a quiet evening with my husband Gary and dog Lucy.

I pull into my garage a little after five. When I open the car door, I hear Lucy barking like she’s defending our yard from terrorists. I exit the man door (yes, the door made for people to walk through is called a man door) of our detached garage and see Lucy’s backside near the left corner. She’s barking with such ferocity that she’s practically lifting from the ground.

I walk towards her to find—around the side of the garage—a deer. Actually, a large buck with imposing antlers—standing about 12 feet away.

A big-ass, mangy buck. Just standing there. In my yard!

I have no experience with wild animals and have never been this close to one in my life.

I recall stories of deer kicking and injuring dogs. I yell at Lucy to stop, but of course she does not. She’s in what we call Catahoula mode where her brain is entirely controlled by instinct. For over a century, Catahoula’s have been bred to hold animals at bay until the hunter arrives to…well…you know. A well-trained Catahoula will back off when given a command.

A Lucy is not so well trained.

I wave my arms and yell at the buck. He just stands there. I start towards him, waving and screaming. Lucy moves closer to him, still barking. I yell at her to stop.

He doesn’t move, just stares at me with blank, black eyes.

I wonder if he has the rabies. I’d recently heard a podcast where a woman told a story of being attacked by a rabid raccoon. She was severely injured and it took her months to recover.

Amidst the chaos, the buck just stands there. Staring. Unblinking.

Every horror movie I’ve ever seen comes back to me.

The buck must be a zombie.

Suddenly, he lowers his head and takes a step towards Lucy. Oh God no—he’s going to skewer her!

I ramp up the arm waving and cursing. I wish I had something to throw at him. It seems like forever—but is probably only 15 seconds—before he turns, trots to the fence with Lucy in hot pursuit, and jumps out of the yard. I race to look down the alley to make sure he’s gone.

When I turn, Lucy is taking a poop.

As I walk to the house, trying to calm my heartbeat, I call Lucy to come. She’s laying in the grass. It’s coated with rain and she hates rain. I check her out and see no blood. She slowly gets up, limping behind me.

A few years ago, she had luxating patella surgery on both knees, which makes her susceptible to an ACL tear. My heart sinks at the possibility of having to choose between another surgery or euthanasia.

I enter the house, my gratitude flushed into the putrid cesspool of self-pity. Thanks to this crazy buck, my dog could be facing grave consequences.

Gary reports that he’d let Lucy outside and heard her start barking. He called her and tried to see what was going on, and was worried about her for the half hour it took me to return home. His mobility issues and impaired eyesight makes it impossible to see much.

Lucy eventually loses her limp and passes out on the sofa, content in the knowledge she is Rin Tin Tin for the day. We praise her valor.

The next day, I tell my sister—who lives in a city and was raised like me with no exposure to wildlife—about the incident. She urges me to call the authorities. “That’s a potentially dangerous animal.”

I imagine the police dispatcher’s response to such a call. It would be the same as a 911 call I made some years ago when I found a stray dog wandering around the yard.

“Ma’am, this is not an emergency.”

“It is to me.”

She’ll hang up, go to happy hour where she’ll tell her friends, and they’ll all get a good laugh at the moron who is afraid of a deer.

I tell my sister my plan if the buck comes back—I’ll throw a skillet at him.

A friend who lives on the outskirts of town tells me that deer freeze when frightened. I had no idea. She assures me that because of his traumatic experience, the buck probably won’t return, but advises me to get some deer repellant and spray it around the perimeter of the yard and on some plants.

I do this and the next morning Lucy runs around the house barking and whining. I look outside and in the dim light see two doe standing in the middle of the yard. I rush, cursing, to shoo them away.

So much for deer repellent.

I used to think deer were graceful, almost spiritual animals. Now I’m not so sure. That buck scared the crap out of Lucy and the wits out of me and is responsible for making me no longer trust deer. I scan the yard a few times a day, wary of his return. I suppose I’ll have to live with post-traumatic deer syndrome for a while. In the meantime, I’ll keep a skillet handy.

Inwindow

Lucy in recovery from post-traumatic deer syndrome

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For an entertaining view of a deer acting crazy, watch this news clip.

Misty Daniels

MistyHead1

Some people know what they want to become at an early age. Others feel their way into their talents, willing to try to succeed at many things. Misty is one of those, and her life a cornucopia of jobs well done. A fourth generation coastal resident, she hails from a line of entrepreneurs who worked hard to help build our community.

In high school, Misty worked in the office of Anderson Logging (owned by her father Mike). “I loved being part of the family business and am proud to be a logger’s daughter, but didn’t want to make a career out of office work.” In 1995, she graduated from Fort Bragg High and went to Sonoma State where she majored in English and Communications.

While in college, Misty worked as a lifeguard and a waitress. She also wrote for the arts and entertainment section for the Sonoma State newspaper. She eventually became the paper’s news editor. During her senior year, she was hired by “The Ark,” a weekly newspaper in Tiberon. “I was their first intern and covered city council meetings. They gave me a job after I graduated. A woman I worked with taught me graphic design, which I also did for the paper.”

“I loved working there, but after a year, my commute did me in. It was an hour each way from Rohnert Park. My car didn’t have air conditioning. In warm weather, I drove with my windows down inhaling exhaust fumes.”

Fort Bragg was to be a temporary stop until she could find a job in Sacramento where her childhood friend Nick Tavelli lived. “A couple weeks after arriving, my friend Billie Jo Bouldin arranged a blind date with her son Donald Daniels. He agreed to go only if his mom went with us. He wanted to make sure she wasn’t setting him up with a crazy person.”

Misty&Donald

She and Donald hit it off and her stay in Fort Bragg turned permanent. He worked as a construction foreman and she held multiple jobs. “I was a lifeguard, did graphic design for Erin Dertner, and worked in the Anderson Logging office. After dating for six months, I became pregnant.” Daughter Kylie was born in November 2002. Nine months later, she and Donald married. Son Aidan was born in May 2004.

“We had an infant and toddler, and decided it was a good time to start Daniels Construction.” She shakes her head and laughs. “I’d put the kids to bed and stay up until three in the morning. There was no Google so I studied the book, ‘How to Start a Business.’ The business became official in June 2004.”

When I ask how she possibly managed this, she says, “Donald was working all day. I was raised to never shy away from hard work, to work until you can’t work anymore.”

With the business on its feet, Misty and her mother Maribelle Anderson began a photo essay about Jim Masolini, her father’s maternal grandfather. “My dad was very close to his grandpa and we wanted his memory preserved.” An Italian immigrant, Jim made his way to the Mendocino Coast where he worked on a ranch until he saved up enough money to start the Shamrock, a bar that is now the Welcome Inn. He also owned a number of hotels and the Tip Top Lounge–which housed the town’s first bowling alley.

“My grandma Marie tape-recorded memories of her father that helped me write the story. I used Shutterfly to design the book. A year in the making, we gave it to my dad on his birthday. It was priceless to watch how it deeply it touched him.”

Misty settled into running the construction business and raising children who suffered from skin sensitivities. Son Trey was born in December 2008 and experienced health issues. Misty took them to doctors with little improvement. She was determined to make them well. “I found Edie Bower, a chiropractor at the Casper Wellness Center, who did muscle testing—a non-invasive allergy test. Each tested positive for various food allergies.

“I was skeptical, but I changed their diets. A few weeks later, a well-meaning doctor told me I was wasting my time, so I reintroduced those foods. Everyone had a bad reaction, so I eliminated those foods again.

“As the kids got better, I got sicker. I discovered that foods that are good for gut health—pickled and fermented foods, nuts, avocados—are high in histamines. I didn’t realize they were making my condition worse.

“I developed a rash around my eyes, went to a number of holistic doctors, and nothing helped. I finally went to an allergy eye specialist who prescribed steroid eye drops. Within an hour after application, the rash spread down my face. I stopped using them, but for the next year, had to wear heavy foundation to cover it up.

“In January 2018, a friend told me about a product she sold that works on allergies. I was a health snob and didn’t believe her pink drink could cure me, but was desperate and started using it. I got worse. She said my body was detoxing and this was a natural process. Within a month, the rash started to fade. After three months, it was entirely gone. Nearly two years later, it hasn’t come back. My kids also starting drinking it with great results.”

MistyHead2

Misty is so enthused about this drink she joined the company that sells it—Plexus—and has customers all over the state. “My business has grown because I forced myself out of my comfort zone. At first, I was hesitant to share because I was concerned about what people would think of me. As I witness my customers reclaim their health, it validates what I’m doing.”

If raising children, focusing on ways to achieve optimum health for everyone in her family, helping run a construction business, and running her own business isn’t enough, Misty is also involved in her kids’ schools and extracurricular activities.

“Two years ago, when Kylie was a freshman, she joined Future Farmers of America. She decided she wanted to raise—of all things—a steer. She ended up with a mean, ornery one. I was amazed at how well she took care of him, but wasn’t sorry to see him go to market. She’s a junior now and raising her third steer.”

Misty4-H

Inspired by his sister, Trey joined 4-H last year and raised goats. “He did a great job and will do it again this year.”

The kids have been involved in sports and participate in late model car racing. Misty’s brother Myles has done this type of racing for years, which attracted her kids to it. “Here I am, an organic mom and my kids are driving race cars.” She laughs. “Kylie started at age eight and Aidan shortly after. Trey has been racing since he was four years old. They love it, but I’ve had to learn to love it.”

Misty embraces the values of her forebearers in raising the fifth local generation of her family. “After my kids leave home, I would love for them to return and serve as reminders of the past. This town was built on strength of character and courage. The old timers knew how to work hard and with determination, despite the dangers in the logging and fishing industries. My kids have watched their parents and grandparents live by these standards, and I hope they choose these for themselves, regardless of profession.”MistyFamily

Jason Godeke

JasonGheadshotOver the past couple of years, I’ve delighted in the murals popping up on buildings around town.

They enrich our area by giving it a sense of playfulness and showcasing the talents of amazing artists. This past summer, I saw a terrific one being painted on a building across from Bainbridge Park. I stopped to admire it and chat with the artist, Jason Godeke. His friendliness and warmth, coupled with the enjoyment he seemed to be having, prompted me to invite him for an interview.

Jason was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1967. In the early seventies, his parents abandoned their teaching careers and moved to Mendocino. His dad became a lawyer and his mom was the director of the Mendocino Art Center for many years.

As a youngster, Jason didn’t consider himself an artist, even though he did a lot of doodling. An exchange student experience in 1984 changed that perception.

“When I was a sophomore, I heard an exchange student speak at Cotton Auditorium and it sparked my desire to go to another country. It was during a time when I felt I’d become too complacent and needed to shake things up. The following school year, I went to Holland.”

JasonGHoogezand Holland 1985Jason was unprepared to be thrust into a different culture. “It was hard at first—dark and hard.” This was back in a day where communication systems were archaic compared to what they are now. International telephone calls were prohibitively expensive and it took a month to receive a letter, all adding to his feelings of isolation.

“While learning the language, I spoke like a five-year old until I got proficient. This gave me humility and permission to be silly, to take myself less seriously. One way I tried to express myself was through drawing. I learned a lot about art, which is highly celebrated in that county. In addition to all the other museums, the Dutch have two Van Gogh museums. The experience turned out to be great and changed my life.”

Back home for his senior year in high school, his mom suggested he consider going to college in the East. “Without my experience in Holland, I might not have considered going so far away from home.” In the fall of 1986, he entered Yale where he majored in art. While there, he volunteered in a high school art class. “That’s where the teaching bug got me. I knew I didn’t want to try to make a living as an artist.”

After college, Jason moved to San Francisco where he was hired by the de Young Museum to teach art in the schools. “I felt lucky to get this job right out of college.” He also became the Arts Administrator for the Marin Arts Council, a job he held for seven years. All the while he continued to make his own art.

During this time, he married Cristina Mathews. “I’d met her twice while we were in college. A friend brought her to my New Haven apartment to watch a Yale student singing group sing the National Anthem at an Oakland A’s ballgame on my four-inch black and white television set.” He laughed at the memory. They met again in 1994 in Oakland, when a mutual friend, Lisa Allen (who Jason knew from high school), asked him to give Cristina a ride to a party. Cristina was living in the East Bay, tutoring and working at a pizza restaurant.

JasonG&CristinaBy 1997, Jason and Cristina were off to Long Island, New York with their baby boy so Jason could attend Stony Brook University’s MFA program. Cristina eventually entered and completed a PhD program in comparative literature.

After graduation in 2003, they moved to Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, where Cristina had accepted an English professorship at the university. A year later, Jason was hired as an art professor. “We liked the small town life. Cristina became very involved in the community, especially with the Shade Tree Commission where she helped plant about 170 trees.”

A little over a decade later, they began thinking about the next chapter in their lives. “Cristina was tapped out on college teaching, and our son had moved to Mendocino County. I’d become a little too comfortable as a college teacher and was also ready for a change.”

Cristina applied to and got accepted to law school at UC Berkeley. Jason began teaching art at Fort Bragg Middle School. Cristina graduated in May of this year, and took the bar exam in July. He recently began his third year at the middle school.

Jason empathizes with the emotional struggles of this age group. It takes him back to his time as an exchange student where he felt alone and isolated. Middle school kids are forging new territory and he feels an obligation to help guide them.

“Teaching middle school students has revived teaching for me. It’s demanding of my resources and is making me a better teacher. It’s a daily challenge to make sure they’re learning and to find ways to cultivate their creativity.

JasonGMSstudentmurals

Murals created by Fort Bragg Middle School students

“I strive to get students to engage in serious play, to let their minds wander, yet have discipline. Some may be struggling with other subjects and art offers them an opportunity to expressive themselves, to experience real accomplishments. I tell them, and show them, that there are many different ways to succeed with art. Part of that success is in finding surprises. I ask them to surprise me.”

At the end of weekdays that begin with being at school by 6:30-7:00, Jason doesn’t have much time or energy to devote to his own artistic expression. He finds this time during school breaks. In 2018, he learned of the Alleyway Art Project and submitted a portfolio to Lia Wilson. Later in the year, Jason decided to create four possible mural designs that would work with another existing mural on the side of a building at 400 E. Laurel Street across from Bainbridge Park. Lia took Jason’s designs to  the building’s owners—Les Cizek and Clay Craig—who had commissioned the other mural in 2017. They agreed to a second. Lia and Flockworks—the local arts organization that sponsors the Alleway Art Project—found funding for it, and got approval from the City of Fort Bragg.

Over the three weeks of creating the mural, Jason had many onlookers. “A van load of folks would show up to eat lunch in the park and they’d sometimes watch the painting. Artists, families going to the library, and some of my students stopped by. The process let people feel involved and allowed me to be a viewer of the project. Some people showed up every day. It felt like performing art where I got to interact with an audience.” The result is a fantastical creature Jason calls “Sub Rosa”—an Aztec Teotihuacan-inspired design that incorporates the richness of the Dutch painters.

JasonGfinishedmuralJason feels lucky to have been able to return to the Mendocino Coast. He loves being near the ocean and the abundance of trees. He enjoys the opportunity to interact with kids on a daily basis. He likes living in the town where his dad has worked for decades as an attorney and to be able to drop by his office for a visit. He gave a warm, contented smile as he said, “When I was growing up in Mendocino, I rarely spent time in Fort Bragg. Now I rarely leave.”

JasonGLost Coast Culture Machine murals 2013 and 2014

Murals painted by Jason in 2013-2014 for Lost Coast Culture Machine (now the site of Overtime Brewing)

 

Mrs. Biklen

Over a decade ago, I wrote this as a tribute to my dear friend. As we celebrate the Day of the Dead (which technically should be called Days of the Dead since it runs from October 31-November2) , I’d like to share it with you.

MrsBiklen

Mrs. Biklen on her 90th birthday

Her daughter Anita meets me in the lobby of an extended care facility that is subtly disguised as an upscale apartment building.

“This isn’t one of her best days,” Anita warns.

“It’s okay.” I’m prepared for anything.

We ride up the slow elevator to the third floor. The doors open to an elderly couple supported by aluminum walkers. They jockey for position, the woman elbowing the man to win entrance onto the elevator. Anita and I squeeze past them and hold the doors as they shuffle to get inside.

The apartment doors are actually hospital doors, the central lobby a nurses’ station. Mrs. Biklen’s door is open. She sits in a wheelchair in the center of the room, her back to the door, her shrunken body silhouetted by a large picture window.

I sit in a chair facing her and take her hand. Old age has been her bitter enemy, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. At nearly ninety-one, she’s more beautiful than ever. Gone is the apprehension that once plagued her eyes, and the excess weight she picked up after she quit smoking forty years ago. Her fine champagne hair wisps in silky curls about the delicate bones of her face.

She looks at me as if she’s just unwrapped the most cherished gift anyone has ever given her. Her smile lights up her face with a sweetness that breaks my heart.

From the windowsill, Anita pulls down a recent photo of me with my daughter. “This is the same Kate as in the picture.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Biklen says with an element of surprise, drawing out the word.

Anita leaves to search for refreshments.

Mrs. Biklen, her face serious, her voice barely above a whisper, asks, “When will I be one hundred?”

Still holding her hand, I lean close. “You’ll be ninety-one in a couple of weeks, so you have nine more years to go.”

“Oh.”  Her brow furrows. She appears to struggle to grasp the concept of nine years, a complex mathematic formula that escapes her.

A smile slowly blossoms. “I’ve known you for a long time,” she says, her eyes expressing it as a question.

“Yes, you have.”

She looks delighted with my answer.

“Forty-five years.” The realization of such a large number brings tears to my eyes. “Since I was four years old.”

I try to believe she grasps the significance of what it means to have shared a forty-five-year history with someone who has touched me so deeply, so greatly influenced the path of my life. Throughout our long friendship, she taught me the meaning of graciousness and dignity, of kindness and hospitality. As a child, she opened her home to me, a treasured place where I could practice her teachings.

From the ages of three and four, my sister and I invaded the boundaries of the Biklen’s property and insisted that Mrs. Biklen become our friend. Once we entered grade school, we began making weekly appointments with her. In a shirt-waist dress and high heels, she led us into the beauty of her home where we often sat in her kitchen, practiced good manners, and told only those stories that shed us in a good light.

L & K 06Mrs. Biklen served iced Cokes in leaded crystal glasses and store-bought cookies on china plates. She treated us with respect, listening to our stories and offering gentle advice. No one had ever paid such attention to me.

My sister and I would mark each pending visit on our mental calendars, and remind each other not to make any after school plans that day. After changing into play clothes, a careful surveillance of the neighborhood identified the positions of any kids, and influenced the strategy for leaving our house and going to Mrs. Biklen’s. Once inside the walled tree-lined Biklen compound, we safely avoided detection from our neighborhood peers—the poor saps who weren’t allowed entrance—and casually walked up the long brick driveway. To this day, I don’t know why we were allowed access when other children were not.

“Do you have the pictures?” Mrs. Biklen asks.

Years ago, I’d carelessly let my sister get away with the photo album filled with childhood memories as the surrogate grandchildren of the Biklens. “Yes, I have the pictures,” I lie.

“All of them?”

It occurs to me she’s speaking of memories. “Yes, all of them.”

I look at her feet, one of which is covered by a suede fur-lined slipper, something she would have never worn in her younger years. The other foot is bare, red and badly swollen. These are the same feet, perpetually clad in high heels, that once whisked her through her elegant home. They now rest immobile on the footrests of her wheelchair.

Anita returns with two glasses of ice water. We sit, facing my dear friend, and share the recent events in our lives. I can’t take my eyes off Mrs. Biklen, who appears to lazily drift down a river in the warm sunshine. Occasionally, she opens her eyes, her smile telling us she’s grateful we’re still here.

An hour into the visit, her granddaughter Jenny arrives with her two small boys. The room shifts from the slow, gentle rhythm of the end of life to the whirlwind of its beginnings as the boys capture the room with their high energy.

The time comes when I have to catch a ferry back to Seattle, to my vacation with my family. I reach out, take both of Mrs. Biklen’s hands, and kiss her goodbye. Unlike a few years ago when she clung to me and cried as we parted, she is gracious and sweet in her farewell. I know this is the last time I will ever see her. I struggle against a desire to cling, but cannot keep the tears at bay.

I’m grateful for the hour-long ferry ride. It allows me to be still, to think of the wonder that is Mrs. Biklen. For the first time in her long life, she appears to have finally accepted the inevitability of all things. It is easier this way. She doesn’t alternate between complaining about her circumstances and dissolving into tears. It’s also harder this way. She’s pared down to the essence of love, and I am overpowered by its presence. It swirls around me and throws me off balance before settling in my heart, leaving me in a new and better place.

A few days after my visit, Mrs. Biklen stopped eating, and after six weeks succumbed to the final inevitability of life. I find comfort in knowing that she lives on in every gesture of kindness I show, every spot of beauty I create, and every expression of gratitude I make to loved ones for being the most cherished gifts I will ever receive.

 

The Final Farewell

mortuaryonfireOn January 12, 2019, a fire broke out at Chapel by the Sea, the mortuary that’s been our next-door neighbor for 27 years. It was a terrible, surreal thing to witness. Wisps of light gray smoke from the open upstairs doorway quickly grew into roaring flames that exploded windows and engulfed the structure. Our property was never in peril, but that didn’t keep the fire from reaching across the alley to shake the core of my well-being.

Over the following weeks, I became obsessed with fire prevention. Our house is older than the mortuary. If an electrical fire happened there, it could happen here. I bought fire extinguishers for nearly every room of the house. I called Fort Bragg Electric to schedule an evaluation of our electrical system. A few months later, after all the outlets and light switches were replaced, I was able to sleep through the night without waking and sniffing like a dog for suspected signs of smoke. (We have smoke detectors, but my three o’clock in the morning irrational mind wasn’t about to trust them.)

Mortuarysemifinal1I woke each morning to the ruins of what was once a stately building. In addition to a mortuary, it housed an upstairs apartment. The Blair and then the Reynolds families resided there during our early years in Fort Bragg, and allowed us to create friendships that endure to this day. We share a common grief over the loss of this beloved place.

Spring ushered in an unusually warm summer. Open upstairs windows cooled our house, but also allowed the smell of charred wood to drift along the breeze and taunt me with the possibility that our house might be on fire. Once again, in the middle of many nights, I turned into a smoke-detecting watchdog.

MortuaryDay1AM3I looked forward to the day—September 17—when the process of tearing down the building would begin. That morning, I headed over there with my camera phone. I vaguely felt like I had when the fire broke out—too terrible to watch, yet demanded to be witnessed. I was relieved it would soon be gone, yet mourned the finality. Over the course of four days, a piece of equipment that looked like a Tyrannosaurus Rex crunched walls, chewed them into pieces, and loaded the debris into massive dumpsters to be carted off.

And just like that, over 100 years of history was erased.MortuaryAngelFinal

I’m grateful the mortuary no longer stands as a reminder of all that was lost. I do not know what will take its place, but hope it will grace our street with the same majesty as the old building.

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Haley Samas-Berry

HaleyheadshotHaley was born with an adventurous spirit nurtured by her parents Christine Samas and Curt Berry. They encouraged her to explore the avant garde over opting for convention. She loved to dance and became an accomplished local performer, often featured in the annual Second Story Studio Spring Dance Concert. “Growing up, my parents taught me to be happy and interested in the world,” she said. In 2006, her junior year, she dropped of school and spent four months  in India.

This choice was quite radical given that her father was a high school teacher. “My parents could see I wasn’t really into school,” Haley said. “They felt I was wasting my time and encouraged me to do something educational, but more experiential. I entered Leap Now, a structured program where I lived with families in India and learned their culture. My goal was to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.” One of her most powerful experiences was in the city of Varanasi. “For Hindus, this is a sacred place. People make pilgrimages to die there because they believe it will free them from the cycle of reincarnation.”

She volunteered for Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute where she tended to the dying. “Being around dying within the Hindu context was refreshing. There was no hiding death and that erased a lot of the fear and mystery surrounding it that we see in the west.”

She returned to Fort Bragg, and six months later moved to New York City with a boyfriend. “My experience in India gave me a sense of wanderlust. I wanted to move to the biggest city in the United States.” About this same time, her dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. She returned to Fort Bragg for a few months. “My parents and I had a very interactive experience with his dying process. We dealt with the reality of the situation, which made us more present. I still have moments of grief, but no pangs of guilt or regret. He died gracefully,” she said in a tone of gratitude. “I hope to someday do the same.”

Haley initially found New York exciting. “I loved going to museums and jazz shows, and taking dance classes, but it was a struggle for a couple making minimum wage. We lived in a two-bathroom artist’s loft with 22 roommates. After a year, I found it too intense and overstimulating. I was only 18 and still grieving the loss of my dad.”

haley&NathanIn 2008, they moved to Portland, Oregon. It was there that she met Nathan Cann, her future husband. “He’s incredibly intelligent, a deep thinker, and funny. I felt he and his friends were my people.” In 2009, Nathan, who had grown up on the East Coast, moved to New York City to pursue a career in film and art. In 2010, Haley broke up with her boyfriend and followed.

Haley worked for Baby Cakes, a vegan, gluten free, kosher bakery on the Lower East Side. She frosted 12,000 cupcakes a day and served as a counterperson. While there, she became friends with Erica Schneider, a chef. They often talked about someday opening a restaurant together. “She’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. She has a great sense of humor and loves to learn new things.”

Three years later, Haley and Nathan craved a new adventure and moved to New Orleans. “My friend Lauren Miller lives there and suggested we come up with an idea we could pitch on the streets. There are a lot of street performers in that city. One Halloween Nathan had dressed as a snake oil salesman so we decided to go with that. We were both interested in the history of patent medicine and barkers who sell potions that don’t cure anything.” They designed bottles, filled them with salt water, rusty nails and pine needles, dressed in 1800 period garb, and sold them on the street. “It was really a joke, we were making fun of ourselves and having a good time.

HaleySnakeOil“In researching the history of snake oil, I learned that the bitters in these concoctions have their origins in medicine. This sparked my interest in cocktails and I started bartending. Cocktails are a totally American invention.” Their stay in the Big Easy lasted a year. During this time, Erica also moved to New Orleans where she added to her knowledge of Southern cooking.

In 2014, Haley and Nathan moved to San Francisco because she wanted to live in a large city closer to home. She went to work at Interval. Their website describes them as “a bar, café, museum, and the home of The Long Now Foundation. Featuring a floor-to-ceiling library of the books you might need to rebuild civilization, mechanical prototypes for a clock meant to last for 10,000 years, art that continually evolves in real time, and a time-inspired menu of artisan drinks.” She managed the bar and started her own business—Lectures on Libations—where she offered classes on the history of cocktails.

This led her to The Battery, an exclusive club with 700 members, four bars, dining room, hotel rooms and gym. “I hosted member events that included fancy craft cocktails that were theme based, such as the History of Tiki. I did a lot of research leading up to each event. I’d give a 30-minute lecture of the history of a particular cocktail genre, offer tastings and give hands-on workshops on cocktail making.”

She also began a consulting business where she helps people set up or revise their restaurants. “This is nitty, gritty hyper detail work—all self-taught through my years of working in and going to restaurants. I make recommendations on how a place should look to provide efficient service, make people feel welcome and have an amazing experience. It’s a lot of fun and at the time allowed me the flexibility to go to San Francisco City College.”

By early 2017, the reality of living in one of the world’s most expensive cities and the desire to start a family found her and Nathan at a crossroads. “My goal had been to get a bachelor’s degree. I realized I could do that and be in a lot of debt or we could have a child and open our own restaurant. I decided I can always go to school, but can’t always start a family.”

Erica was also ready to open a restaurant. Haley and Nathan liked the idea of partnering with her. “We quickly tied up our affairs and moved to Fort Bragg.”

Haley knows that living in as opposed to visiting this coastal community doesn’t appeal to everybody. Before she agreed to open a restaurant with Erica, she asked her live here for a year. “Erica loved it and we decided to go for it.”

Haley&EricaIn the summer of 2017, they showcased their culinary talents in a series of pop-up restaurants at the Nye Ranch, Fortunate Farms, and Ellie’s Farmhouse. “We offered cocktail pairings with each course. For example, a carrot cocktail with carrot salad, huckleberry cocktail with huckleberry cobbler. Every drink had one common ingredient from the dish it was paired with.”

The pop-ups were so successful that they started looking for a permanent location. A year later, they found one in Mendocino, the site of the former Cultured Affair. The renovation and permitting process was long and the delays sometimes frustrating. In the meantime, Haley and Nathan welcomed daughter Bijou on December 31. “After awhile, the delays no longer bothered me,” she said, smiling at her baby, “because it gave me more time to spend with this little one.”

Nearly two years in the making, the Fog Eater Cafe opened in June. The menu is inspired from Haley, Nathan and Erica’s desire to bring something different to the cuisine of the Mendocino Coast. Erica developed vegetarian dishes based on hearty Southern ingredients like beans and grits. “Most of our ingredients are from local, organic farms (grits are not local, but organic) and all wine and beer are from Mendocino, Sonoma or Humboldt counties.”

HaleyFogEaterInteriorHaley loves being able to once again call Fort Bragg home. “It’s going through a renaissance and attracting new, amazingly talented people. Places like the Larry Spring Museum are being revitalized. The Noyo Center for Marine Science, CV Starr Center, the coastal trail—all of these things are great. There’s support and space for people to be creative, carve out a niche for themselves and open businesses. It’s an exciting time to live here.”

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