Forging a Path through the Pandemic: Young Pioneers of the Mendocino Coast

Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed more than two dozen people who grew up along the Mendocino Coast and couldn’t wait to move away, believing they’d never return. But return they did, to establish businesses or professional careers. Some also chose this place to raise children, to nurture them in the small town values that shaped their own childhoods.
These are a new wave of pioneers who, like their forebearers, use intelligence and  imagination to forge a vibrant path. In exchange for the privilege of being able to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, they work long, hard hours.
The shelter in place orders due to Covid-19 have knocked many down, but they are devising ways to get back up and resume their vision of what it means to live here.
They have open minds and are digging deep to find solutions.
They have entrepreneurial spirits that will spawn innovations to move them forward.
We are so fortunate to have them here—especially during this trying time. 

***

Tom Butler & Karl Reese – Re-find Home Furnishings

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Karl with his QuaranTom Coif & Tom sporting a fresh KovidKut by Karl (with dog Callie)

A native son, Tom returned to the coast in 2009 with his husband Karl to open Re-Find, a second hand store that sells gently used furniture. You can read my initial interview with him here: https://ithappenedatpurity.com/tag/re-find/. The store became an instant success and over the past decade did very well. Today, however, it is suffering along with other local businesses.

Economic hard times are nothing new to these men. While living in Arizona, they experienced the Great Recession of 2008. “This one is different,” Tom says. “It happened overnight. We didn’t know if we’d be shut down for two weeks or two years. How do you make plans for that?”

A week before the shutdown, Tom had hernia surgery. In anticipation, he had purchased enough inventory to last two weeks while he recovered. When they realized his recovery was going to take longer, Karl took their truck to the Bay Area and loaded up another week’s worth of inventory. “As he drove home, the shelter in place orders went into effect.”

“If I’d known it would be the last time we could go out buying,” Karl says, “I would have packed the truck even tighter before heading home.”

Over the following two weeks, they depleted their inventory through private showings while adhering to the protocols of social distancing. With nothing left to sell, their business came to a standstill. The auctions, estate sales and warehouse sales where they source their products are also closed.

While they wait for their sources to reopen, Tom says they’re devising strategies to move forward. “We promote our business through Facebook, but don’t sell online. We might develop a website that will allow us to sell online and offer curbside pickup. This will be in addition to our physical store. At the end of the day, I’m a brick and mortar guy at heart.

“We’ve also used this time to paint the inside of the store and clean the carpets so when we reopen we’ll have a fresh new look.”

Tom is grateful their store serves the local population and isn’t dependent on tourists. However, he acknowledges the pain suffered by those businesses who are dependent upon this trade. “Our coast is a tourist-based economy and now we’re afraid of them. We’re going to have to figure out how to survive with a reduced tourist base. At this point there are far more questions than answers.”

Before the crisis hit, Karl had been working part-time at the hospital and recently went full time. He splits his time between the surgery department and materials management. “This has been a major benefit to our ability to survive,” Tom says.

According to Karl, “I’ve always been grateful that our community’s support of Re-Find provides us with a decent living here on the coast. Upping my game at the hospital is the least I can do to keep us afloat during these times”

As they await their reopening, Tom encourages local people to contact him if they have gently used furniture they’re willing to donate or sell. www.re-findhome.com

“It’s easy to figure out how to sell stuff. Our challenge now is to figure out how to acquire.” In the spirit of a true entrepreneur, Tom says, “If our old channels of acquiring inventory don’t work out, we’ll find new ones. We’re going to roll with whatever happens.”

https://www.facebook.com/ReFindFortBragg/

Forging a Path through the Pandemic: Young Pioneers of the Mendocino Coast

Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed more than two dozen people who grew up along the Mendocino Coast and couldn’t wait to move away, believing they’d never return. But return they did, to establish businesses or professional careers. Some also chose this place to raise children, to nurture them in the small town values that shaped their own childhoods.
 These are a new wave of pioneers who, like their forebearers, use intelligence and  imagination to forge a vibrant path. In exchange for the privilege of being able to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, they work long, hard hours.
The shelter in place orders due to Covid-19 have knocked many down, but they are devising ways to get back up and resume their vision of what it means to live here.
They have open minds and are digging deep to find solutions.
They have entrepreneurial spirits that will spawn innovations to move them forward.
We are so fortunate to have them here—especially during this trying time. 

***

Bethany Brewer – Body by Bethany

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I began working out with this gifted personal trainer six years ago. A few years later, I interviewed her for my blog where she shared her story of rising out of despair to change her life in ways she could have never imagined. You can read it here: https://ithappenedatpurity.com/2016/06/22/bethany-brewer/

Bethany has a passion for physical fitness and a drive to share it with as many people as possible. When the shelter in place orders were announced in March, her first concern was for her clients. She worried how she could help them navigate anxiety and fear. “I felt like I was sitting on a fence—I could keep moving forward and do my best or crawl under the covers and hide.”

She chose to move forward. “The new reality sparked my imagination and I devised workout scenarios that could take place outside the gym. These were quickly squashed as beaches were closed and gatherings banned.” She investigated how she might use Zoom to conduct workout sessions for people in remote locations. “I wasn’t sure my clients would participate, but they were all eager to give it a try.”

On Facebook, Bethany announced she was offering free online group workout sessions. “These are forty-five minute sessions at 9:00am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and 6:00pm on Tuesday and Thursday.

“When the shelter in place happened, I felt, like so many others, a disconnect between my brain and body. That radiated out to a disconnect from person to person and further to alienation from my community. Being able to reach out through Zoom has made reconnections happen.”

The pandemic has forced Bethany to create a new business model. “Zoom has been an unexpected gift that allows me to reach a larger group of people and reconnect with friends all over the country.

“I think it will take time for people to feel comfortable going back to the gym after it is allowed to open. I’m thinking of protocols to assure my clients’ safety. I have access to a personal training studio that can be reached by an outside staircase so my clients don’t have to walk through the gym. I’ll offer a blend of gym training, Zoom, and outdoor workouts.

“Throughout these past weeks, the word I keep coming back to is ‘gratitude.’ I’m so grateful to have found a solution to offer workouts online. I’m also grateful that I have a community that’s willing to try new things. We can’t get through this alone. I want people to know I’m here for them.”

Bethany is encouraged by stories she hears about our community members helping each other. “People seem more aware of who needs help and are offering it. Many are industrious and creative and doing the best they can. I’m optimistic for our community’s future. I’m staying in the positive and in gratitude.”

Despite Bethany’s offer of free classes, she has bills to pay. She asks for donations of what anyone can afford. “It doesn’t have to be money. People leave food on my doorstep. Gift certificates are nice—they allow someone to support a local business while also supporting me.”

Whether or not someone can afford to donate, Bethany encourages them to join her Zoom workouts. “The more people in attendance, the more energy and motivation it creates.  When you help yourself by participating in a group workout, you also help others. The positive energy ripples out to your family and your community. If you don’t know how to use Zoom, contact me through Facebook Messenger and I’ll walk you through setting it up.” https://www.facebook.com/1gymunicorn/

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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.

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Lucy in recovery from post-traumatic deer syndrome

***

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

Misty Daniels

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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

 

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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Aaron Haye

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As I drove to interview Aaron Haye—production designer for Bohemian Rhapsody, one of 2018’s hottest movies of the year—I have to admit feeling a bit starstruck and nervous. This soon evaporated after we met at the Cookie Company and I sensed the commonality he shares with the many others I’ve interviewed—the easy openness of someone who grew up in a small town surrounded by a community who loved and nurtured him.

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Aaron was born in Los Angeles in 1973. Some years before, his grandparents, a few uncles and an aunt had migrated north to Mendocino County. In 1975, Aaron’s parents loaded him and his baby sister into an old Chevy pickup and followed. Soon other friends and family joined them. “Growing up, I remember barn raisings and potlucks, families getting together. It seemed everyone had a baseball diamond or volleyball area on their property. They’d moved here from the city so they could build meaningful lives and land was cheap back then.”

Aaron speaks fondly of his childhood. “My friends and I spent hours in the woods and on the beach. We did what we called ‘schralping,’ where we’d follow a trail for a while and then veer off trail into the woods to explore. When we got older, we’d do the same thing in our cars, exploring back roads all around Northern California.”

He was interested in both art and science. “I loved being in nature and also loved to draw and take pictures.” He credits three teachers in particular for inspiring him in each—Rita Davies (fifth grade), Bill Brazil (high school art) and Robert Jamgochian (high school science) as well as the free-form learning of Bob Evans’ ROP Audio Lab at the Community School.

He graduated from Mendocino High School in 1991, and went to UC Santa Cruz. After two years of general science classes, he discovered a class in field biology where the instructor sent students to the beach to record elephant seal behavior. He loved it and decided to major in marine biology. The summer before his last year of college was spent on a remote island off Alaska where he observed, photographed, and drew Steller Sea Lions before completing his thesis on mating behavior of elephant seals at Año Nuevo Reserve in California.

So how does a kid who grew up on the Mendocino Coast and received a degree in marine biology go on to become the production designer for one of the biggest movies of 2018?

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“My dad was a carpenter here on the coast and moved to Marin when I was a junior in high school. There he worked as a model builder for the visual effects company Industrial Light and Magic (Lucasfilm). When I was 16, I was hired to sweep floors in the model shop. After I graduated from college in 1995, I was considering a PhD program when ILM hired me as an assistant in the model shop.” After a year or two assisting in various departments he was promoted to model maker, building miniature sets for visual effect shots.

Those early days working in visual effects gave Aaron an opportunity to contribute to many films, including Star Wars Episode I and II, The Matrix 2 and 3, and Men in Black.

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“At ILM I had the chance to learn from many talented people, but I knew I had to find my own path. Through opportunity and circumstance I taught myself how to design and build models on the computer. I had incredible mentors who were all huge innovators in their field and helped me every step of the way. They allowed me to push beyond my comfort zone. I try to pay that forward whenever someone comes to me for help or advice.”

In 2002, he left ILM and moved to Los Angeles. “By that time, I was designing sets on the computer, but had only worked in visual effects. I had no sense of what I was going to do next when an art director I had worked with recommended me to a production designer who was working on a Superman movie in Hollywood. There weren’t many folks working in the type of 3D design I had been doing. I was lucky enough to be hired as a set designer on that film.

The movie was never made, but Aaron was able to join the set designers union and gained insight into where he wanted to take his career. About five years later, he began work as an art director, and contributed to films such as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Man of Steel, and Terminator Genisys. To date he has 45 feature film credits.

“Being a production designer is a very collaborative endeavor. There are hundreds of people who bring their talents and energy to a project. In the end, it’s a team sport.” As a way to explain it in a way people can relate, he describes his job as staging a huge wedding—every single day for months at a time. “There are hundreds of decisions to make each day. For example, if the script calls for a scene in a coffee shop, I have to ask what does the shop look like? How do we want to make the actors and the audience feel? How does the setting best tell the story, inspire it? My job is to be of service to the story.

“Every detail of a set has to be designed to make it realistic—every space, wall, color, piece of furniture, prop, graphic. We try to create a world that the actors can believe in. When they enter, they need to feel like they are their character.”

Aaron has a calm, easy going demeanor and I wondered how he handles the stress. “I’ve learned to ride the waves and not be engulfed by them. I have a high threshold for stress, until I don’t,” he laughed.

He loves his job, mainly because he never has to do the same thing twice. With each project he needs to build a team of dozens from scratch. It used to be one could have a career in film and live and work in Los Angeles. These days, films are made all over the world. We don’t have the luxury of working with the same folks again and again. This has its advantages and disadvantages. To be successful, I have to be a manager and psychologist, put together large budgets and schedules, know how to collaborate with large construction departments, how paint affects the mood of a setting, and how to play politics with studios and producers.”

In 2006, while in New Orleans working on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film about a man who ages backwards, Aaron met his wife Bridget. A coworker and I were looking for a specific restaurant and got lost. We decided to walk into the nearest place that looked interesting. While we were eating, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A stranger asked, ‘Excuse me but my friend and I were trying to think the name of Mork and Mindy’s son, the one who was born an old man, because we decided she was born an old soul and is aging backwards. You look like someone who might know.’ I’d never met this woman. She didn’t know the film I was working on.

Intrigued, I followed her back to their table to meet her friend. It really was one of those magical moments you hear about—love at first sight. We chatted for a while, but I never even got her name. They did tell me she was going to be at the farmer’s market the following day. So the next morning I got on my bike and rode to find this market. I had ridden less than two blocks when I turned a corner ran into her. She walked right up and said ‘Hi, I’m Bridget’. And basically that was that.

For about ten years they split their time between New Orleans and LA. With her background in public health, Bridget worked for the Annenberg Foundation in Los Angeles, a family foundation that provides funding for an array of environmental stewardship, social justice and animal welfare efforts. In New Orleans, she started an urban land trust to help preserve the city’s remaining green spaces as part of a comprehensive water strategy designed to mitigate land lost to a changing climate.

In 2011 while on working on a film in Vancouver B.C., their son August was born. Five years later, they welcomed son Nathaniel. Aaron also has a daughter, Bela, from a previous marriage who is about to wrap up her third year in college.

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A few years ago, after more than a decade of working on films outside of Los Angeles, Aaron and Bridget decided to make the Mendocino Coast their home base. Since that time Bridget’s father has also moved here. Because Aaron’s job requires him to be on location for many months each year, they aren’t home fulltime. “I love being back and reconnecting with family and friends. We gather for potluck dinners whenever we can. My brother Mikael, sister Sarah and I are close. We get together and play music at open mic Mondays at The Golden West.”

He also loves the interconnections of people living in a small community. “Before returning home to the coast this last time, I was working in Turkey and started searching for a piano online at the Mendocino Coast Swap Shop. I found one, and made arrangements to pick it up when I returned. When I told my mom, amazingly she said the piano’s owner had been her boyfriend when they were in high school in Southern California before she met my dad. And that he was married to my step dad’s cousin! Serendipity is everywhere if you know where to look.”

When asked how the area has changed since his youth, Aaron said, “There’s no longer a mill. The noon whistle was such a big part of this town. Where we’re sitting used to be the department store Sea Fair and then Daly’s. Many of our family and friends worked in the mill and the woods. When I was very young, my grandmother worked the main gate at GP and I remember sitting on her lap and pushing the button to let trucks in.

“Of course I’m not saying we need a mill, but it’s difficult to build a robust tourist economy when you are as remote as we are. Our parents’ generation are retirement age. Many of their kids moved away and it’s hard to come back because there’s not much in the way of an economic heart. Maybe new technology will help change that. Maybe the mill land will be put to some fantastic use and help drive us forward. There are some wonderful things happening here. I’m proud of folks like my brother [Mikael] and Jessica [Morsell-Haye] who own the Golden West and are working hard to bring new energy back to town.”

Despite these changes, Aaron is happy to be home. “Coming from here gave me a solid root and a real sense of community. You develop a certain amount of flexibility and resilience when you grow up rural and without much money as many of us did here. Tolerance for others is supported when you’re not surrounded by a culture that points out differences in people.”

After generously giving me over two hours of his time, we stood to part ways. He was going across the street to drop in on his mom who owns Teamwork, a business started by his grandmother in 1978. This touched my heart. Aaron Haye is a lot of things—brilliant, talented, and busy. He’s also a kind and thoughtful homegrown boy who goes to visit his mom.

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To learn more about Aaron, check out his website—aaronhaye.com—and follow him on Instagram at aelvishaye.

A couple shots from the Live Aid set that Aaron designed for Bohemian Rhapsody:

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