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.

Seven on Sundays

satchelApparently many Scandinavians believe that by the time we die, the sum of our possessions should fit into a satchel. I suppose this makes disposal of our property easy for our kids—simply pick up the bag and toss it in the garbage. Being half Scandinavian, I suspect it’s really designed to make us feel guilty for accumulating stuff that makes us happy and comfortable. I was raised with the concept that it’s best to live a life of misery and deprivation.

I’m not planning to leave the planet any time soon, but after learning this I viewed my things differently. What is truly necessary to quality of life and what’s not? If I had to whittle away to the barest minimum, what would I get rid of? How long would it take? I’m a busy person and decided it would take way too long. I tried to banish the idea, but it haunted me.

I know I have too much stuff—things I don’t use, things that if occasionally needed could be borrowed. I finally devised a plan:

Break it down into small steps. Make it a game. Yay! I love games. Call it “Seven on Sundays.” Each Sunday, seven items or more can be tossed, but not less. If I got excited and went for more, the count couldn’t be carried over to the next Sunday. Make it an exercise in moderation. Place each week’s stash either in the garbage, recycle, or a box to haul to a thrift shop at the beginning of each month. By the end of the year, I’d have rid myself of at least 365 things.

I started Sunday, January 7, 2018. Here’s what I learned:

My enthusiasm tempted me to go on a spree, but I knew such obsessiveness would quickly cause burnout and failure. I mostly forced myself to stop at seven.

It took two months to get out of the laundry/utility room! I was shocked to find three full bottles of Murphy’s Oil Soap within the dark recesses of the cupboard’s upper shelves. (I used to take pride in housekeeping and would pick up extra bottles when this was on sale.)

amoireIn my armoire, I found:

  • A pair of cute red polka dot slipper socks given by my daughter and worn enough times to create holes in the bottoms. When she was in college, she bought them with her limited funds because she knew I’d like them. The memory of this sweet gesture caused me to hold onto them long past their usefulness. It was sad to throw them out.
  • Two little mesh bags that once held forgotten gifts and could be used to present a little treat to someone. I had to concede they would never be filled with anything but air.
  • A sweatband I’d tried on only once because it made me look like Keith Richards. I like Keith, but the resemblance gave me the creeps.
  • A holder for a lightweight winter jacket that can fold into something resembling a small umbrella. It’s far easier to stuff the jacket into a suitcase.
  • A reading light that clips to a book. Years after receiving, it had never been used.
  • An expensive bra with straps that can be moved about to create a backless look. I was done with washing it and having the straps come loose only to refit them into the tiny holes where they continually pursued their fight for freedom. What possessed me to buy it in the first place? For the rest of my life I’ll never need a backless bra.
  • A sweater I knitted six years ago yet only wore a few times because it didn’t fit properly. It’s beautiful with fabulous buttons and cost me a bundle in yarn. I loved knitting it, which made the decision to relinquish it painful. There was no reason to keep it folded away when someone would find it marvelous and the Hospice Thrift Store would benefit from the sale.

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The following week, I determined it would take more than a month of Sundays to clean out the armoire. After the laundry room fiasco, I didn’t have that kind of time. So I modified the rules to seven minutes. I got rid of 24 things. Fifteen went immediately into the trash: socks without matches, panty hose with failed elastic bands and two half-slips bought in the early nineties (when was the last time I wore a dress?).

A week later, I braved the master bathroom. Makeup primer I’d purchased to enliven my aged face for my son’s wedding (two and a half years before) and never used since. Extra buttons that came with clothing purchases. Where was this clothing? Scraps of paper with reminder notes. Yes, apparently I once wrote reminder notes in the bathroom. (Go ahead, judge me. I’ve done worse.) A 10-year old pair of prescription glasses.

7onSundayshoesThe last Sunday of January, giddy that the dismal month was coming to a close, I celebrated by getting rid of two pairs of expensive, yet uncomfortable, shoes. Toward the end of the day I realized I hadn’t completed my seven. I went to my closet—the perfect place for unused crap to hide. I spied an old gym bag—some swag from two decades ago. I debated over and shoveled five pairs of shoes inside it.

The most difficult pairs to part with were in the back—black velvet shoes with embroidered Christmas decorations—pumps and flats. For years, I wore these during the holiday season. I bought them at Mervyn’s in Santa Rosa shortly after we moved to Fort Bragg (25 years before). They were covered in dust. I felt the heartbreak of bygone Christmas seasons when my kids were little. I cried as I put them into the bag. Our possessions are only things, but some evoke memories that make grief a part of the removal process.

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Set of 30-year old knives

I won’t bore you with the details of what I tossed each week. There were weeks when I forgot until evening and went into a panic over finding seven. That was eased by throwing away things as simple as old pencils (Who uses pencils anymore? Certainly not Scandinavians!) and pens with dried up ink. And blurry photographs that don’t make sense to keep. And spices—we all have spices in our cupboards that are long past expiration dates.

A few more revelations:

7onSundaysunglassesIf you’d asked me how many pairs of sunglasses I own, I’d have said two: a cheap-ass pair bought about 10 years ago and an expensive pair bought two years ago. Imagine my shock to open a cupboard door in my office and find SEVEN PAIRS OF SUNGLASSES!!!

The red framed pair are fashionable, but bulky and heavy. They’d been replaced with the cheap-ass pair. Don’t ask me why I couldn’t bear to part with them. When I started jogging seven years ago, I bought a pair of lightweight wraparound sunglasses that fogged up as I heated up. I’d bought a funky purple pair in Portland when I visited my son years ago. How could I possibly give those up? And so on…. Five went into a zip-lock bag for the thrift store. (The Portland funky and cheap ass pairs will have to wait for another day.)

One Sunday, I was mumbling curses as I scrubbed an old Pyrex glass casserole stained by years of use. It was so gross that I’d never show it to company. If I moved, I wouldn’t take it with me. If I died, my kids would throw it away. Gone!

A laminated map of San Francisco. How long have I had a smart phone to access for directions? At least six years. Gone!

Christmas decorations. I have many and love every single one except the bunch I don’t take out of the storage bins each year. For the first time, I questioned why I keep them. Perhaps it’s those blasted memories of bygone holidays, avoiding the grief that trashing might bring.

I was sad to give away the little grapevine wreaths I’d wrapped with ribbon and hung about the house when my kids were young. These had not seen the light of Christmas for years. Someone will find them festive and delightful. I cried as I put them in the donation box.

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Disturbing find in kitchen drawer

By the end of the year, I’d gotten rid of at least 500 things and don’t miss a single one. When I started this project, I had no idea what a relief it would be to get rid of stuff. More importantly, allowing myself do it systematically instead of manically, where I would quickly tire and give up.

I’m taking a brief hiatus, but will revive Seven on Sundays on March 3rd—a date arbitrarily set because it’s winter and right now my goal is to sleep as much as possible. Yes, there is more to toss, but I don’t aspire to get my possessions down to a satchel. After all, I’m only half Scandinavian.

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Old writing projects read one last time before putting in recycling bin

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Bought when Lucy was a puppy before learning she did not have the temperament to allow such indignity

Jessica Morsell-Haye

Jessica Morsell-Haye 2018 headshot 2- BigFor over 130 years, the Golden West has stood tall on Redwood Avenue in Fort Bragg. Apartments occupy the top two floors and there’s a retail space at ground level, but the building is most noted for its popular saloon.

Jessica Morsell-Haye and her husband Mikael have a shared nostalgia for that saloon. In the summer of 2000—in the early years of their friendship which eventually blossomed into romance—they often hung out there, surrounded by the massive oak bar and artifacts from the glory days of logging and fishing that adorn redwood walls. They dreamed  how cool it would be to own the place.

“We both loved the gorgeous, unadulterated interior,” Jessica said. “You could feel and see its history when you walked into the room. We also respected the previous owners. It was a point of pride if they tolerated your presence and we felt honored that they welcomed us. Mikael and I both worked in bars over the years and we felt like the Golden West was the ideal combination of beauty and dive bar.”

Fifteen years later, the building went up for sale, giving them a chance to fulfill their dream. There was only one problem—they didn’t have any money.

***

Jessica grew up in a variety of areas along the coast—Mendocino, Albion and Comptche. “I liked Comptche the best. We had no electricity and I loved living off the land. We didn’t have television. My brother and I used our imagination for entertainment.”

She attended Mendocino Community High School and was on the basketball and track teams at Mendocino High. In 1997, she entered UC Santa Cruz and played basketball her first year. She majored in Fine Arts and chose to do her junior year abroad at the Art Academy in Bologna, Italy.

Jessica&MikaelThe following summer, she returned to the coast where became friends with Mikael. “We were together for a year and then broke up for a year. After I graduated from college in 2002, I came back and we got together.”

In 2003, Jessica entered the visual communications program at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise in Los Angeles. “Mikael and I moved on April Fool’s Day, which made us laugh. Our goal was to make it for a year. We ended up staying for ten.”

That same year, Jessica was hired by Marimar Textiles, to organize and file artwork. Marimar is a company that converts artwork to make it production ready for fabric. Six months later, the head designer quit. “The owner asked if I knew how to use Photoshop. I barely did, but said, ‘Sure!’ She hired me as their in-house artist. I jumped in and worked my tail off until I figured it out.”

During their years in LA, Mikael worked as a bartender, an occupation perfectly suited to his warm, gregarious personality.

Jessica finished her program and went on to have a number of jobs in the fashion industry. She dressed celebrities at Giorgio Armani, and was promoted to stylist at Marimar Textiles, coordinating half of the company’s accounts which included Anne Klein, Michael Kohrs, Quicksilver, and Speedo Girls.

Three years later, she was recruited as a textile designer for BCBG Max Azria, a billion-dollar international clothing company. “It was a pressure cooker. Working all day until three in the morning wasn’t unusual. As the director of textile design, I was getting to put three separate lines down the runway each season, which was thrilling and unheard of.”

When the economic crisis hit in 2008, she escaped widespread layoffs. She continued to work long hours until she gave birth to her son Caspar in 2012. She returned from maternity leave and stayed eight more months. “I wasn’t willing to sacrifice time with my son for a company.”

In 2013, they moved to Petaluma. Mikael stayed at home with the baby while Jessica commuted to San Francisco to her job as a fabric designer for the Banana Republic Factory Store. She also did freelance work for the clothing company Tart Collections in Concord. Tart offered her a job in 2014, and she took it.

jessicagoldenwestinsideb&wThis was when she and Mikael learned that the Golden West was for sale. They lamented they had no money to make their youthful dream of owning it come true. They heard that the Hospitality House was looking to purchase the building to use as a homeless shelter, and felt an urgency to save it and preserve its history.

“History gives a place soul. The old materials and aesthetics were made to last. We love that we can see where an old wall was built to section off the bar during prohibition. Stories come alive when you can see the marks they left on their environment.”

With her typical canjessicaoldyellowbldg-do attitude, Jessica went to work figuring out how to make it happen. “A financial advisor helped me put together a business plan that turned into a three-inch thick document. After pushing hard, it was clear that traditional financing wasn’t an option. The building had 30 years of  deferred maintenance. Private investors also turned us down. We made an offer anyway and went into escrow. At the eleventh hour, the sellers agreed to do owner financing and we got it.”

Within the first year, Jessica and Mikael gave the building’s façade a facelift by changing  the crumbling yellow paint to a dark charcoal with red trim and replacing the roof. The bar soon became the go-to spot for young people. “We wanted to make it more inviting without changing its essence. We expanded our liquor offerings and found there’s a desire for more variety and top shelf alcohol.”

jessicagoldenwestnewpaintThe rooms above the saloon were at different times a hotel, boarding house, and brothel. “There are 26 rooms, some of which are used for storage. We have about 16 tenants. When we took over the building I cleaned out a bunch of rooms. It was fascinating—ancient silk curtains, boudoirs, layers of wall paper telling a chronological history.”

Jessica proudly reports that they have not raised the rent on existing tenants. “Once someone is in a home I think it’s critical not to price them out of it.”

For the next three years, Jessica worked for Tart remotely from home, commuting to Concord one day a week. In March 2017, daughter Magnolia was born.

This past spring, they opened the General Store in the building’s retail space. “We wanted an outlet where we could sell things we make as well as items from other artists.” As part of this effort, Jessica and another local designer started The Blue Collective on McPherson Street, offering shared workspace for artists.

In April of this year, Jessica was laid off from Tart, although she continues to do freelance work. “It seems every company in the fashion industry is contracting due to skyrocketing manufacturing costs from China.”

jessica&kidsWhen she was approached with the idea of running for a seat on the city council, it ignited a passion. “The decisions made in the next four years will affect this town for decades. The future of Fort Bragg is critical to me and my family. It’s important that the town’s growth with the mill site and subsequent expansion of infrastructure be done mindfully, in a forward thinking, responsible manner that keeps the soul of our city intact and leverages its natural and historic beauty.

“One of my main strengths is seeing the big picture and finding the points of connection. As I connect the dots, my focus is on actionable steps that usually lead to alternative solutions. This can be leveraged as we try to create more jobs, housing, industry, a healthier hospital, and tackle problems like homelessness. They’re all related and each decision will affect multiple sectors.

“I love how our windy roads give our area a filter and prevent urban sprawl. Mikael and I decided to buy the Golden West because we feel there’s life in this building, on this street and in this town. It’s an exciting time for Fort Bragg.”

That excitement is due, in large part, to the efforts of young people like Jessica and Mikael who are pumping new life and energy into our beloved area.

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Going, Going, Gone

hoarding1On the morning of January 20th, I was alerted to a fire at what I called the Hoarder House. I’d never witnessed a fire in real time. It was equally fascinating and disturbing (see January 31 blog post). When the burning finally stopped, the property was surrounded by barricades and crime scene tape. Eventually, a chain link fence was erected to keep passersby safely away from the crumbling mass of charred rubbish.

rubbleMonths went by. Winds and rain caused the waterfall of junk to precariously shift. People started asking me why the City hadn’t torn the place down. I’m flattered they have the impression that I’m privy to the goings on around town. I actually know next to nothing, and often stifle an urge to make things up.

Due to my years-long obsession with this house and people counting on me to know stuff, I recently took precious time and energy away from watching “Judge Judy” and launched an investigation. City Manager Tabitha Miller eased the burden of this task by sending a press release dated July 9, 2018.

Apparently, the City had a heck of a time getting someone to take responsibility for clearing the property. None of the parties involved—the owner, mortgage holder or insurance company—would cooperate. In April, Nationstar (the mortgage holder) received an insurance payout of $175,000. In May, they foreclosed on the property, which made them the official owner.

House2bSo what you think Nationstar did?

  1. Acted like grownups, admitted their liability, and offered to immediately clean up their property that stood like a gaping wound on the edge of downtown just off Main Street.
  2. Acted like juvenile delinquents, stuffed the money in their pockets, and ran.

Sadly, they chose number two. The City diligently tried to contact Nationstar, but they would not return phone calls or respond to letters.

On June 8—nearly six months after the fire—the Community Development Director sent a certified letter to Nationstar informing them that they had until July 10 to start cleaning up the property. For each day of delay, they would be assessed a $1,000 fine.

The threat of $1,000 a day seemed to catch the attention of the suits at Nationstar. By July 3rd, the contractor hired for cleanup applied to the City for a permit.

House3aA few weeks ago, black tarps were draped over the chain link fence and the demolition began. Within a couple days, the dumpsters supplied by Waste Management were filled to capacity and work paused until they could be hauled inland and emptied.

As the process unfolded, I finagled my way around the tarps to snap photos. For decades, this house stood as a shameful monument to hoarding. Within days, it was no more.

I find it hard to say goodbye.

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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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