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.”

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)

 

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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.”

Haley&Bijou

 

Aaron Haye

Aaronheadshot

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.

***

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?

AaronBohemianR

“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.

AaronModelMaking

“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.

Aaronfamily

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.

***

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:

AaronLiveAid

 

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Death of a Mortuary

mortuaryintroWe moved to Fort Bragg 26 years ago when our children were very young. Our house is across the alley from Chapel by the Sea, the town’s only mortuary. It was the summer between kindergarten and first grade for our older child Harrison. He had no friends and a limited capacity to interact with his three-year old sister (and his parents). At the time, Larry Blair was a partner in the mortuary and lived in the upstairs apartment with his wife Shirley and teenage daughter Charla. Older daughter Charise was married to Nathan who worked for Larry. They lived in the alley apartment.

That summer, Nathan and another employee were often involved in outside work activities. While taking walks with the kids, we eventually got to know everyone on the other side of the alley. Convinced these were trustworthy people, my husband Gary and I consented to let Harrison hang out with the guys when they were outside. As the summer wore on, this happened a few hours each day. It also became a bargaining chip whenever Harrison misbehaved. “That’s it, buddy. You’re grounded.”

Imagine the deep sadness of a cherub-faced six-year old as he stood at our alley gate howling like a wounded hound dog, “Nathan, I can’t come over to the mortuary today. I’m grounded.”

At times, Charla graciously consented to tossing a baseball around with Harrison, honing throwing and catching skills that carried with him into Little League.

When Harrison discovered the casket room, he chose one for each member of our family. Older sister Jennifer recalls him describing hers as having pink satin lining and a white pillow. She felt honored. When his dad and I told him our plan was to be cremated, he scoffed and said, “Nobody wants to be buried anymore.”

From first through third grade, he aspired to become a mortician. However, he was conflicted. He also enjoyed ocean fishing and was enamored by our commercial fisherman friend Jared Williams. Whenever anyone asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” he’d reply, “A fishing mortician.” The inquirer flinched like someone splashed cold water in their face.

Over the years, our families socialized, celebrating birthdays and other events. But mostly, we visited across the alley, getting to know one another in a casual small town kind of way.

Eventually Larry and Shirley moved into their own home and later out of the area, but to this day Shirley calls me “Neighbor” whenever we meet. I have a deep and abiding affection for this lovely, kind woman.

Charise and Nathan divorced. She later married John Reynolds and they moved away. They had two children and returned to live in the mortuary alley apartment when Katelyn was nearly five and Jacob one and a half. This planted the seed of a deep, lifelong friendship where we shared many joys, including the birth of son Nick, and one major sorrow—John’s sudden death in 2010 when the children were 13, 10 and 7. Over the years, they moved to various places, but we remained close. Throughout it all, the looming red mortuary stood as a monument to these relationships.

And then, on Saturday afternoon January 12, 2019 there was a fire.

***

I wasn’t paying attention to the time, but later learned it was about ten minutes to two o’clock. I walked by my kitchen window and glanced, as I often do, at the mortuary. A work crew had spent the morning installing new windows in the upstairs apartment. This was part of a lengthy renovation project to a space that hadn’t been updated since the eighties.

I saw a large puff of what I thought was mist coming from the open door. Within seconds, the mist turned dark grey. I hollered at Gary, “The mortuary’s on fire!” I grabbed the phone and rushed outside while dialing 911. It had already been reported.

mortuaryonfireA flurry of law enforcement arrived to cordon off the street. Neighbors gathered, some inside my fence, all of us sharing looks of horror and tears. We watched the smoke grow in volume and black intensity. I cried for it to stop. This stately building stood for over 100 years, the past 26 years as our neighbor. This couldn’t be happening—STOP!

The fire had other ideas.

Within minutes, huge flames erupted from the door. Seconds after that, the newly installed windows exploded with fireballs. Our amazing volunteer fire department arrived and set to work, spraying the building with thousands of gallons of water. I held hope they could contain it at the upper level.

The fire had other ideas.

The violence of a structure fire is terrifying to witness. Despite the copious amount of water sprayed with extreme velocity, the fire spread to the lower level, eventually forcing those windows to explode.

Within a few hours, our beautiful mortuary was in ruins. The freshly completed apartment renovations had gone up in smoke. Julie, the manager who had moved in two weeks previously, and her dog Pillie had been out of town for the day. She had anticipated returning to new, draft-free windows only to find she had lost virtually everything—most devastating were her two young cats, two canaries, and a fish. When she arrived, she stood next to her friend Amy, tears rolling down her cheeks.

mortuaryfirefightersAbout 4:30pm, the fire department had contained the blaze and began wrapping up. I am in awe at how, despite the chaos of the fire, they maintained their professionalism and focus. Heavy hoses had been dragged about the property, yet they did not damage one plant of the major landscaping project that was completed this past fall.

mortuarysemifinalAfter a fitful night of little sleep, I rose the following morning worried about Julie. I didn’t want to, but couldn’t help, looking out our east windows to a sight I’ve always revered. It was horrible—a burnt out shell of a once stately building. My sadness runs deeper than I could ever have imagined. I can’t fathom how I’ll face this mutilated scar in the coming days and weeks.

mortuarysemifinal1For now, I try to find consolation in the fact that even though the monument is gone, the love it symbolized remains. Charise, Charla, Katelyn, Jacob, Nick, the Blairs and my family share a common grief, but we also share a special bond that will carry us through.

mortuaryfinal

A Go Fund Me account has been set up for Julie who lost nearly everything in the fire:   https://www.gofundme.com/julie-and-pillie-start-again-fort-bragg-ca

To read about the most common causes of house fires and how to prevent them, go to:  https://www.realinsurance.com.au/home-insurance/home-safety/the-most-common-causes-of-house-fires

Heather Sears

HeatherHead2Heather grew up in Morro Bay where she learned commercial fishing from her dad. “I moved here in 1999, and immediately began a flaming love affair with Mendocino County.” By 2001, she had saved four thousand dollars and bought a small boat, the Julie. “My idea was to have a floating fish market—to sell fish right off the boat.” She admits that running her own boat was a different experience than crewing with her dad.

“I made a lot of mistakes. The first time I took the boat out, I went on the wrong side of the red can [at the entrance to the harbor]. Kelp got tangled in the wheel and killed the engine. I was able to reverse the boat a few times and got untangled. Another time, on my way to Eureka, I ran into bad weather. I thought the boat was going to roll and I was going to die.”

HeatherDogsHer dad tried to help her, but she was intent on doing things her way. “At one point, he threw his hands up and said, ‘You’re going to kill yourself,’ and went back to Morro Bay. Bless his heart, he must have been so worried. This strained our relationship, but a few years later, we fished together in Alaska.”

As she worked towards saving money for a larger boat, she took classes at College of the Redwoods. “In 2001 a friend said, ‘You can go to college anytime, you’ll never see fishing like this again.’ I literally walked out of my English class, went down to the boat, and started fishing.”

The local commercial salmon season closed in 2006, and she fished in Alaska. “When the season reopened in 2013, I came back to Fort Bragg and vowed to do whatever it takes to stay.” After living on her boat for years, she bought a house that same year, anchoring herself to the area.

HeatherCrew2Along the way, she sold the Julie and bought and sold two other boats. In 2009, she purchased a larger vessel with a blast freezer named Princess. Given that she has an all-woman crew, it’s the perfect name. “Because we’re able to freeze the fish on board, we can stay out for 18 days and catch up to 11,000 pounds of salmon. When we return to port, the fish is unloaded into a freezer truck and taken to storage in the Seattle area. After the glut of fresh caught fish is over, we can sell our sashimi grade fish at a higher price. The process we use makes it better than fresh.”

Heather was so excited about her ability to provide the market with this type of seafood that she caught 44,000 pounds of fish her first year. “I started direct marketing and thought people would be knocking down my door, but I didn’t have the connections the other boats with freezers had. I was scared I’d lose my house. I started selling at the Fort Bragg and Ukiah farmers’ markets and off the boat. Most of it went to San Francisco. It took me a year and half to sell it all.”

For four years, the Princess was the only boat in Noyo Harbor with a flash freezer. Recently, another fisherman purchased a boat with this capability, but he only freezes tuna. The Princess is one of only five boats in the lower 48 that freezes salmon at sea.

The life of a commercial fisherwoman is often rugged and demanding. “When I go to Alaska for king salmon, it takes 15 days and $3-5,000 to get there. Once there, I only have four to six days to make 80 percent of my income for the year. I’ve always managed to find fish, but because of the stress and long hours there’s no joy in it.”

HeatherCrewAs a woman in this field, Heather is not unique, but rare. “There are a lot more women in Alaska.” She admires her crew which includes Maia and Anna—graduates of Humboldt State. “The salmon season lasts about six months. It requires a great deal of endurance. We get only five to six hours of sleep a night and are away from home so much. I got a crab permit last winter. Catching crab is easier and is a lot more fun.” Maia and Anna also sell the fish at the farmers’ markets.

She’s grateful for the comradery she’s developed among the other fishermen and women who travel up and down the coast. “I can look out and see a boat a mile away and know we have each other’s backs if there’s a problem. Even if we don’t like each other on the dock, we put those differences aside on the water.”

Heather is passionate about educating the public to support sustainable fishing. “All fisheries in the United States are sustainable, which means not harvesting past the point of the stock being able to replenish itself. Since the seventies, the 4000-boat California salmon fleet has been reduced to 100. Our port went from 20 draggers to six—and these are managed very carefully. Every boat has a tracking system that is monitored by a team in Washington DC. All fish stocks are rebounding, but many of the seasons that were closed have not reopened.”

Between seasons, Heather does maintenance on the boat. “A woman once told me we have to repay the boat for the service it gives us.” In 2016,  she received a grant from the Mendocino County Air Quality Board and spent that winter installing a clean-running motor.

Heather has recently expanded her business by partnering with friend a former crew woman Wendy Holloway to reopen Nemo’s Fish Market as Princess Seafood Market and Deli in Noyo Harbor. “Wendy was my first crew member back in 2004. Our goal is to make our amazing, west coast wild seafood more accessible to our local community in the most delicious way possible. Sustainably caught sashimi grade fish and shellfish will be our specialty. We also offer healthy cooked food, local beer, wine and a selection of seafood-centric prepared food for take out.”

Despite the challenges of a life at sea, Heather can’t imagine doing anything else. “I love being my own boss and being out on the ocean. The Lost Coast around Shelter Cove is stunningly beautiful. The upsides of this business are so great—like seeing a rainbow at the same time a gray whale leaps out of the water. I love it so much.”

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***

Heather offers wholesale and retail sashimi grade king salmon, coho salmon, albacore tuna, lingcod, rockfish and black cod. Live Dungeness crab is available in the winter. You can find her crew at the Ukiah Natural Food Coop, Fort Bragg, Ukiah, Santa Rosa & Sebastopol farmers’ markets and on the boat at Dock A in Noyo Harbor. The food at Princess Seafood Market and Deli is fresh and delicious. If you’re busy, you can get it to go. Better yet, take some time to enjoy the patio and soak in the unique ambience of Noyo Harbor.

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Karina Becerra

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Karina loved growing up in Fort Bragg and, unlike many of her contemporaries, never longed to escape. “People here are good to each other. The setting is amazing.”

The second oldest of 16 grandchildren of her mother’s side, Karina was also the second in her family to go to college. “I chose Saint Mary’s in Moraga because they offered a good financial aid package, and my second cousin Mimi was going there.”

Karina has a passion for language and chose to major in Spanish. She took a second major in International Area Studies where she focused on Latin America. She also minored in Italian.

“My first language was Spanish, but my parents stressed literacy in both Spanish and English. I love studying language.” She spent the second semester of her sophomore year in Cuernavaca, Mexico. “I took classes in Spanish and the history of Mexico.” Growing up, she spent a lot of time in Mexico with her family. Her experience as a college student allowed her to delve more deeply into the culture.

The second semester of her junior year, she was able to study in Rome. “I lived in an apartment along the Vatican Wall,” she said with a smile.

karinafamilyAfter college, she moved home to Fort Bragg in 2012 to regroup and figure out her next move. She was 22. “I picked up some shifts at Los Gallitos, worked for Carol Millsap for a year, and took on overnight shifts for Andersson Caregiving, caring for elderly and terminally ill people. This was one of the most significant jobs I ever had, getting to care for people in that way. Each experience taught me something and made me a better person. It reminded me we’re all going to grow old and die. It caused me to be less self-centered.”

Karina also became and remains a volunteer after-hours crisis counselor for Project Sanctuary. “I’ve been blessed with an amazing family and this has given me a different perspective on the human experience. It allows me to step into the shoes of another whose life is in chaos because of sexual assault or being controlled by another person.” Project Sanctuary eventually hired her as a part time bilingual advocate.

In February 2013, she was returning from spending the day in Santa Rosa. “It was ten o’clock at night and I hit a patch of black ice. My car flew off the road, rolled 300 feet down a hill and landed on the roof. I had a gash in my leg and a head wound. I was able to get out and crawl up to the road. Eventually a man in a pickup, returning to Fort Bragg with his young son, stopped and helped me.”

She’s grateful to have survived the ordeal. “The accident made me realize how our lives can change or end in an instant. I used to think I had to stick to a timeline in terms of academic and life goals. I had hoped to be home for a short while, return to the Bay Area, and try to get into grad school. I realized it’s okay for plans to be out of order as long as I’m moving forward and doing things that help me grow.”

When her friend Katrina Caukwell suggested they take a trip to Asia that summer, Karina to readily agreed. Since her time in Italy, she hadn’t done any traveling. “It was a perfect time in my life to spend nearly two months in a faraway place completely out of my comfort zone. It was another amazing look at how people in other countries live.”

karinamexicoShe returned in the fall of 2013 to take a full time position at Project Sanctuary as a client advocate and counselor. When the organization received a sexual assault prevention grant, Karina was hired to conduct community outreach with other agencies—Safe Passage, the Children’s Fund, Gang Awareness and Prevention. “We disseminated information about healthy relationships, especially among teens. I provided in-service to groups like the Catholic church’s youth groups and held lunchtime meetings at the middle school and high school. At Fort Bragg High School, I organized the Youth Leadership Team, a group focused on teen education and awareness, which still exists today.”

Katrina also helped develop the Latino Coalition, an organization that provides a community forum for Spanish speakers. “Our goal is to empower and educate the Latino community and share our beautiful culture with the rest of our community. The Jewish community has guided us in organizing. We eventually want to become a service club. As of now our fundraising efforts support five to seven college scholarships for Hispanics each year.”

In 2016, Katrina was encouraged to apply to establish and teach Spanish and World Culture classes that would be offered at the middle school that fall. She was excited to get the job, but overwhelmed with the idea of creating a curriculum. Her mentor and friend Gail Porcelan came to her rescue. “Gail was my middle school history teacher and my parents’ ESL teacher. She basically handed me everything I needed from materials she’d used over the past 20 years.”

karinasillyHer first year entailed teaching a World Culture and Language class to sixth graders and a couple of Spanish classes to seventh graders. “This year, I had to add a second level Spanish class for the eighth graders. It’s the equivalent of high school Spanish I.” She teaches separate Spanish classes for native speakers. If all that isn’t enough, she also teaches a seventh grade AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) class on critical thinking and study skills.

“My first year, I felt like a blind person, feeling my way around. Thankfully everyone was very supportive. This second year I’m more relaxed and the experience is more rewarding. I love that I get to be silly with the kids—they keep me young. I also love that I can be creative  and make engaging lessons. ”

Karina continues her involvement with the Latino Coalition and is also a Partnership Scholars mentor. “I’ve been matched with three girls since they were in seventh grade. They’re sophomores in high school now. I offer them enrichment experiences by taking them on trips. Last year, we went to New York City.”

She attributes her drive and ambition to her upbringing. “My parents instilled in me the sense of doing my best. My dad reminds us that anyone can be average and we should never be content with being mediocre. I was raised to be an optimist who finds beauty and value in every experience.”

Karina has recently been given the opportunity to expand her skill set and gain further education. Unfortunately for us, this means leaving the area. “This summer, I’ll wrap up my Master’s in Spanish at Sonoma State. My alma mater Saint Mary’s granted me a scholarship to get my teaching credential and I’ll start that in the fall. I’ll also teach Spanish at Saint Mary’s College High School in Berkeley.”

She hopes to one day return to Fort Bragg. “That’s the beauty of home—it will always be here and there will always be something for me to help out with. Ideally, I see myself teaching but we shall see where the road leads.”

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Lucy – A Year in Review

I originally posted this on our one-year anniversary with Lucy. That was before we knew of her extensive orthopedic problems, before her two complicated knee surgeries, before she’d learned to sail over fences to discover places a lot more interesting than our yard, before we spent many, many dollars to repair her body and erect taller fencing.

Today, Lucy turns five. We celebrate a life we didn’t anticipate sharing, a life we’ve become grateful to share.

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When our adult children came to town Labor Day weekend 2013—two weeks after our fifteen-year-old dog Wilson died—they despaired at our empty nest and gifted us with what they felt was the perfect “filling”—a puppy. My husband Gary was elated. I wanted to curl up into a ball and be taken to an asylum.

When Lucy was brought into the house, all I could think of—as I pasted a smile on my face and screamed with what I hoped sounded like excitement—was how much work she was going to create.

destructionOver the course of thirty-five years, we’ve raised four puppies. Gary might have forgotten, but I knew the drill. Even with obedience training and supervision, Lucy would learn about life mainly through the destruction of property—sofa pillows, socks, underwear, plants, holes dug so deeply in the yard that a visitor asked if we’d had trees removed. Given Gary’s disabilities, the majority of transforming her into a “good” dog would fall on me.

My obsession with wanting to skip the puppy stage of her development caused me two weeks of insomnia and vertigo.

559798_10152017172491844_2118415971_nThank God I found Puppy Kindergarten where every Saturday morning for ten weeks, Lucy had the chance to play with other puppies and sweet Elaine Miksak gave me direction on how to calm the hell down and enjoy my baby girl. For the first month, both Lucy and I returned home after class to take naps. After an hour, I’d awake to find my open mouth drooling on the pillow.

By January, Lucy had grown too large for the class (forty-five pounds), and we found Julie Apostolu, who convinced me Lucy was ready for AKC Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) training. I had no idea what that was, but hoped the eight-week course would help me continue to learn patience and understanding.

The CGC class was held in a clearing in the woods next to the Mendocino Coast Humane Society. The first day, Lucy kept tugging on the leash and gagging. She thought she was at a new Puppy Kindergarten and wanted to be free to play with other dogs. When that didn’t happen, she discovered the pine needles covering the ground hid buried cat poop that could be rooted out while pretending she was deaf to the command, “Leave it!” (She waited to come home to vomit on the carpet.)

The first few weeks of class were brutal. Lucy would not listen, jerked at her leash, and when she got tired, rolled onto her back and refused to move. Julie offered encouragement and direction, but I felt inept and humiliated.

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After a particularly rigorous digging session in the yard.

One afternoon, as Lucy headed off for the fiftieth time in one direction while I tried to coax her into another, Julie’s assistant, DeeDee, came to my rescue and took the leash. Her expert handling and swift corrections got Lucy’s attention. I watched in awe as my dog looked at her and obeyed commands. Tears filling my eyes, I wanted to get into my car and drive away.

Eight weeks after we started CGC training—Lucy was nine months old—came the test. The dogs had to do things like heel (yeah, right), sit and stay (maybe), down (Lucy liked to lie down because it put her closer to the cat poop), and remain calm when left with a stranger (this would be easy—she loves everyone). All of this had to happen without benefit of treat reinforcement.

We were doomed.

My anxiety grew as I watched others go through the course while Lucy jerked on her leash and gagged. While we were on deck, she calmed down to watch the dog being tested. I looked at her sitting with such dignity and my heart surged with love. I crouched and hugged her, petting her neck and chest, and whispered, “I don’t care if we pass. I love you and am so proud of you. Let’s have fun with this.”

Lucy rose to the occasion, messing up on only a couple of things. At the end of the course, I had to hide behind a crop of redwoods while she stayed with a stranger for a couple of minutes. When I was called back, Julie held out her hand—“Congratulations, she passed.”

Shortly after the photo was snapped, she tried to eat her ribbons.

Shortly after the photo was snapped, she tried to eat her ribbons.

“What? Really?” I grabbed Julie in a hug and howled with laughter.

I looked at Lucy who sat wearing her calm snowy fur like a halo. “Good girl! Good, good girl!”

I wish I could say from that moment on, Lucy sprang from puppyhood to maturity, but no. She’s a work in progress, a spirit we enjoy despite or maybe because of her quirks (pretending she’s deaf to commands, the ability to destroy any toy in less than twenty-four hours, and a need to prune fuchsia bushes).

Since CGC, we’ve taken at least 30 weeks of other classes (Rally Obedience, Jumps and Tunnels, Nose Work) where we learn, have fun, and meet wonderful people and dogs.

I’m happy that our empty nest has been filled with fresh, rambunctious life and grateful to our children who filled a need we didn’t know we had.

Rally O class picture. After hundreds of dollars spent on enrichment classes, this is how Lucy interpreted the command "Sit!"

Rally O class picture. After hundreds of dollars spent on enrichment classes, this is how Lucy interprets the command “Sit!”