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.”

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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)

 

The Final Farewell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carolina Duran

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Carolina was a friend of my daughter’s throughout their Fort Bragg school years. From the time she was a child, she showed exceptional talent in the areas of drawing and painting. I would have never imagined she’d grow up to teach mathematics at the middle school and college levels. Not because she wasn’t smart and talented. She was so stoic. She seemed too shy to be able to lead a classroom of students.

Her passion for mathematics began in fifth grade. “Sally Miller—a resource teacher at Dana Gray—gave us a problem about order of operations. The other kids struggled, but I finished really fast. She asked me to go to the board and show the class how I solved it.” She smiled. “It made me feel good.”

A few years before, she’d struggled with multiplication tables. She wanted to improve and asked her mother to put her through multiplication drills every night. She eventually grew proficient and faster at solving a sheet full of problems.

CarolinaFamilyCarolina grew up fifth in a family of ten children. She has great respect for her parents and their ability to provide for and raise such a large family. Her father has worked in the logging industry for decades and at the age of 65 is a timber faller. Her mother has been a housekeeper at Stanford Inn since 1997.  Her father came to this country when he was 15 years old and worked to send money to help is widowed mother and his siblings in Mexico. He eventually made his way to Fort Bragg and in 1979 brought his young bride.

In 1990, when Carolina was a baby, her parents bought a house. As an adult, Carolina realizes how hard life must have been for them and remembers their frugality. “When we went school clothes shopping, we were each allowed two shirts, two pairs of pants, a sweater, socks and underwear. We also got one pair of shoes that had to last us the entire school year.” These shopping sessions in Ukiah lasted an entire day. “At lunchtime, my dad went to Albertson’s and bought a roasted chicken, bread, peppers, mayonnaise and made sandwiches. We rarely ate fast food or went out to restaurants.”

By 2006, the start of her senior year in high school, she hadn’t formulated a plan for what to do after graduation. Her participation in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program changed all that. “One of the requirements was to apply to colleges. My older brother lived in Sacramento, so I chose Sacramento State. I decided to major in nursing because the nurses on television programs seemed so fancy.” She laughed.

“Two years into the program, I decided it didn’t offer enough math, which was my strongest subject. I changed my major to mathematics with a teaching concentration. I found it challenging, but also inspiring.” She also minored in Art Education and Chicano Studies.

CarolinaCollegeGRadCarolina wasn’t the first of 50 first cousins to attend college, but she was the first to graduate. Since then, eight others have obtained degrees. Two of her brothers are currently working and going to college, one scheduled to graduate next spring with a degree in mechanical engineering. Her other siblings are gainfully employed; her youngest sister is a senior year in high school.

Carolina was able to finance her education through a combination of financial aid, help from her parents, and working. During her first two years, she returned to Fort Bragg in the summers to work at The Coast Cinemas and as a housekeeper for Stanford Inn. The following summer, she worked at the drive-in theater in Sacramento. “Since the movies didn’t start until after dark, I sometimes worked until four in the morning.” She was also the student assistant in the learning skills lab at the college.

She graduated in 2013 and moved to San Antonio where she attended the University of Texas to obtain a Master’s Degree and teaching credential in Mathematics Education. Her first year, she also taught four undergraduate mathematics classes each semester. Her second year was spent taking classes and meeting her credential requirements by teaching at an all-girls Catholic school.

CarolinaStudentsThis once shy girl grew into a woman who thoroughly enjoys teaching. “It can be very creative.” During her Master’s program, she became an expert in Geogebra, a technology-based program. “It allows teachers to create their own math program for students.”

By June 2017, Carolina moved back to Fort Bragg to be closer to family. “For a long time, my mind had been working from the time I got up until I went to sleep. I wanted to do something simple.

“I saw a posting for a math teacher position at Fort Bragg Middle School. The teacher was taking a one-year sabbatical. That one year turned into two.

“I was happy to be teaching math, but I prefer teaching at the college level. Math is easy. Teaching is hard. Math is a subject many kids think they’re bad at. I try to show how it helps make them logical thinkers.” She offered after-school tutoring sessions two days a week. By the spring of 2018, she also took a job as the tutor in the math lab at the Mendocino College Coast Center two afternoons a week.

This spring, overwhelmed by her schedule, she resigned from the middle school, but offered to teach part-time. Superintendent of schools Becky Walker (Carolina’s former middle school math teacher) offered her two periods at the high school next year. Carolina will also teach part-time at Mendocino College and continue with the math labs. This summer, she’s teaching a beginning algebra class at the college which serves mainly high school Upward Bound students.

Carolina is happy about her return to Fort Bragg. “I like running into people I know. Being surrounded my nature, fresh air and family helps me feel calm.” Her eventual goal is to have a fulltime teaching position at the college level with a focus on training teachers. Meanwhile, she continues to develop her artistic skills. “I like to draw faces I make up in my head.” Most of her drawing is produced on her iPad because it allows her to experiment without wasting paper. She’s done a few commissioned pieces, but generally uses art as a stress reducer.

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Album cover for musician Aaron Kremen

She encourages young people who grew up here to venture out and explore other places. “It’s scary, but if you’re afraid to take risks, you’re never going to get anywhere. Whatever happens, happens—you just have to go with it. After I left, I got onto a path that just flowed.” Our community is grateful that her path eventually led her back home.

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Getting It Together With Bob

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I sit in the Ten Mile Justice Center courtroom in Fort Bragg, legs crossed, right foot bobbing in an effort to dissipate my nerves. I’m here for the second month in a row to request a continuance on a restraining order I was reluctant to file, but that law enforcement has encouraged me to pursue.

My lower back starts to painfully throb. I concentrate on taking deep, slow breathes, which manifest as shallow asthmatic wheezes. I want to cut and run.

The cases previous to mine are mundane—the opening of probate, something about a family trust, and an illegal eviction. About a half hour after court comes to order, someone enters through the back door. I don’t know who because I’m sitting in the front row of the gallery. The person sits behind me to the right of my peripheral vision. Cigarette fumes give me a nicotine contact high. All I can see of this person is orange and gray athletic shoes.

The judge calls a case for a someone named Bob (not his real name). The guy sitting behind me stands and moves forward. He’s a trim, grizzled 50-something who wears capri-length workout pants and a tank top with three horizontal slashes across the back. I’m somewhat alarmed that he seems to have ignored the posted rules for appropriate court attire—no shorts, no tank tops. His blonde streaked hair is combed forward and he’s got a healthy tan. If he were a few decades younger, he’d look like an attractive surfer dude.

The previously bored bailiff stands and rests his hand on his pistol.

The judge informs Bob the restraining order against him has been dropped. (This order has nothing to do with my case.)

“So I can go back to Ukiah?” Bob asks, incredulous.

“I cannot tell you what to do,” the judge says.

“I’ve been living in Ukiah getting my life together,” Bob announces proudly. “I’m off meth.”

“Good for you,” the judge says with genuine warmth.

“I have some clothes at that house. Can I get them before I leave town?”

“I cannot tell you what to do,” the judge says.

“Since the restraining order’s been dropped, I can go pick up my clothes?”

“I cannot tell you what to do.”

Bob shakes his head as if to dispel water from his ears. “I just wanna tell ya,” he says, “you’re the best. The best!” As if the judge had something to do with getting the complaining party to drop the restraining order.

“Thank you. You’re free to go.”

“I won’t forget this.” Bob turns to leave. “You’re the best. The best!” He’s giddy, pumping his fist in the air like his favorite team just won the World Cup.

The bailiff sits down.

I make note of Bob’s full name in order to later check the online Mendocino County Sheriff’s Booking Log. I’m certain—willing to put money on it—that  he’ll be arrested before nightfall for causing a kerfuffle at a house where nobody wants him, yet where some of his clothing still resides.

After he leaves, my case is called. For Bob, my experience would have been a day at the beach. For me, it was stressful enough to send me home to lay on the floor with an ice pack under my back and feeling what Southern women used to call “having a case of the vapors.”

The party I’m seeking a restraining order against, someone who made an obsessive series of calls to my home, someone who is well known to law enforcement, has a right to be served with notice of the filing. He cannot be found. I’m granted my continuance, but scheduled to return the following month. I want nothing more than to have this process over and done with, but fear I’ll spend the bulk of 2019 going to court.

A few days later, I remember to check on Bob to see if he escaped arrest the evening following court and made it safely back to his new life in Ukiah.

Exactly one week before his appearance in the coast courtroom, he was arrested in Fort Bragg for being a public nuisance. He was held overnight.

The day after his release, he was arrested in Ukiah (about an hour and a half drive from Fort Bragg) for disorderly conduct: alcohol, and held overnight.

Two days after that release, he was once again arrested in Ukiah on the same charge and held overnight.

The following day, he appears in the Fort Bragg courtroom to make it a matter of public record that he’s getting his life together.

Bob might have issues with substance abuse and appropriate public decorum, but the underlying struggles he’s dealing with have been visited upon all of us to some degree or another.

We’ve all made the Monday morning promises—“I swear to God I’m going to (fill in the blank).”

  • Quit smoking. Until you can no longer suppress the desire to chop someone’s head off (usually by noon on Monday when you bum a smoke from a co-worker).
  • Quit drinking. Until you get home after a stressful Monday at work.
  • Go on a diet. Go to the gym. Get in shape. Until, on your way home from work, you stop by McDonald’s for a value meal to pair with your tequila shots.
  • Give up that toxic girlfriend or boyfriend. Until 10:00pm when you start drunk texting.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—we’ve all made such proclamations, and we’ve all inevitably failed until for some reason—grace?—we follow through and actually turn things around.

Like a worried mother, I visit the booking log website every few days to check on Bob. I’m hopeful he’ll stay out of trouble for good—or at least for a time. Five days after I’m made aware of him, he’s arrested again in Ukiah for—you want to take a guess?—disorderly conduct: alcohol.

At least he’s not on meth, I tell myself.

Twelve days later, he’s arrested in Ukiah for indecent exposure.

I hope Bob eventually finds the grace to overcome his demons and find peace.

I hope I eventually get my own act together and stop checking on him.

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.

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:

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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.

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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