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

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

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Bethany Brewer – Body by Bethany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Close Encounters of the Deer Kind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Lucy is not so well trained.

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

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

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

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

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

The buck must be a zombie.

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

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

When I turn, Lucy is taking a poop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ma’am, this is not an emergency.”

“It is to me.”

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

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

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

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

So much for deer repellent.

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

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Lucy in recovery from post-traumatic deer syndrome

***

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

Misty Daniels

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

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

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

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

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

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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.