Karina Becerra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lucy – A Year in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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After a particularly rigorous digging session in the yard.

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

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

We were doomed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Fruth

JasonFheadshotSometimes the inspiration to move back to the place you love arrives in the most random of ways. An email sent by your wife, added to the hundreds you received that day, nearly lost until a couple weeks later when you find it and ask why she sent you a link to a house for sale in Fort Bragg. She knows how your long work days often spill into late nights and take a toll on your personal life. Since leaving the Mendocino Coast over 20 years ago, you’ve always said you’d move back. Maybe now is the time.

Thus began the journey of Jason Fruth and his wife Cate who uprooted their lives in the Silicon Valley to create a new, fulfilling one here.

***

JasonF&momJason was born in Houston, Texas and moved to Elk with his mom Laurie Graham when he was seven years old. “My mom’s whole life was her children, but she was always willing to open her home to a friend in need. She loved nothing more than spending time with family and friends.”

He loved growing up in the tiny coastal enclave. “Through the fifth grade, I went to the Elk School which only had about 20 kids. My friends and I had the freedom to hike the bluffs, roam the beach and camp by the river. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood. It shaped who I am. I didn’t realize how special it was until I went to college and met kids who went to school with 2,000 or more students.”

He graduated from the Mendocino Community High School in 1995. “I grew up in a working class family. I wasn’t college oriented, but my paternal grandparents in Texas insisted I go. I applied to San Francisco State, San Jose State and Cal Poly Pomona.” He was accepted by all, did some research, found Cal Poly Pomona was the most highly rated, and decided to go there. His grandparents and father paid for tuition and housing.

When asked to declare a major, he asked, “What’s a major?” He laughed at the memory. “I had no idea. I was fascinated by airplanes and watched the NASA channel a lot so decided on Aerospace Engineering.

“I’d never heard of Pomona. I’d been to Disneyland once when I was a kid. I packed my two huge stereo speakers into my old Mazda 626LX and stuffed the rest of my meager belongings around them. A friend from high school made the trip with me. When I dropped her off at the airport a week later, I broke down crying.”

JasonFcollegeThose were the days before cell phones, when a homesick kid had to pay for long distance calls if he wanted to talk to his mom. Jason didn’t have this luxury. He got an on-campus job as the audio visual tech manager at the student union. He eventually became the building manager.

In 1999, friends who were riding the dot-com wave encouraged him to join them in the Silicon Valley. He moved into an apartment in Palo Alto with Joseph Huckaby, a friend from Elk. “I got a job in tech support with Connectix. When I looked at my first paycheck, I thought, ‘Are you serious?’ I’d never made this much money at one time in my life.” After a year, he was promoted to quality assurance engineering. In 2000, the dot-com bust began and Jason survived numerous rounds of layoffs. The company was bought by Microsoft which laid off 90 percent of the employees. Jason remained.

At Microsoft, he spent two years as a quality assurance engineer. “We tested code for the Mac Business Unit—the unit that creates Word, Excel and PowerPoint.” He was promoted to lab manager where he remained for eight years before becoming a regional information technology (IT) manager—a job that required long hours. “I’d work all day and go home to spend hours answering emails. I was part of a global team and often on conference calls in the middle of the night.”

JasonFCateHe bought a condo near San Jose State and rented out a bedroom, usually to a college student. “In 2009, a friend told me her friend Cate—who lived in Willits—was planning to go to San Jose City College and needed a place to stay. I rented her the room.” They began spending time together and slowly became a couple. They married in 2013.

Cate earned a degree in Anthropology from San Francisco State. She worked for a number of companies before becoming a business manager at Stryker, a medical technology company.

“My fourteen years with Microsoft was a good experience, but intense. It was a great company to work for in my twenties and thirties, but it kept me away from home.” Over time, he and Cate grew more stressed and less happy with living the city corporate life.

They hadn’t talked about moving until Cate emailed him that link to a house for sale in Fort Bragg. It turned out to be the catalyst that put in motion his desire to one day return to the coast.

Jason contacted a friend since middle school—Sage Statham—who had recently become the manager of Mendocino Community Network (MCN). There were no openings at MCN, but this didn’t deter Jason and Cate’s decision to move. “I called my sister and asked if we could live with her and her husband until we got settled. She was thrilled.

“We moved in late 2016. A month later, Sage called to say a guy at MCN had decided to retire. He encouraged me to apply for the job of field technician and I got it.”

The house Cate found on the internet was still on the market. They made an offer, but the deal fell through. They looked at many others, but none appealed to them. Three months later, they made the same offer on the original house and it was accepted.

“Cate and I kept going back to this house because it was newer, well-constructed, in town, with city utilities. It had a serendipitous feeling given that it popped up so randomly in our lives. It was meant to be.”

As he settles in to his new life, Jason contemplates how he might become involved with his community. Growing up, he attended Camp Rubber Soul, which brought groups of able-bodied and disabled kids together for a week at a time in an effort to foster understanding between the two. “It gave me an appreciation for not judging people.” By age 11, he became a camp counselor. “I used all my vacation time to return each summer until I was 28 when the camp shut down due to lack of funding. I’d love to see something like that again.”

Jason enjoys his job at MCN, which is far different from what he did before. “There’s a nice mix of being out in the field to fix problems and doing office work. At the end of the day, I leave it behind and go home to spend time with my wife and play fetch with our dog Cassie. It’s a pretty good gig.”

Welcome home, Jason.

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Mindy Slaughter

MindyWhen I first heard Mindy Slaughter on the radio as the voice of Sport Dodge a few months ago, her upbeat tone and energy impressed me. She must have had this effect on others, too, as random people encouraged me to contact her for an interview. Her warmth, intelligence, and easy laughter made me glad I did.

It’s been nearly 14 years since Mindy graduated from Mendocino High and went away to college. That entire time, she felt compelled to return home. “Even though I was born in Ukiah and lived most of my childhood there,” Mindy said, “I say I’m from the Mendocino Coast.”

MindyDadIn January 2000, her dad Mike and business partners bought Jack Smith Dodge in Fort Bragg. She was in the ninth grade, her brother Matt in the seventh. “I was excited about moving to the coast, but stayed in Ukiah with my mom to finish the school year. That summer, Dad introduced me to the high school basketball coaches for Fort Bragg and Mendocino. I got to practice with both teams.”

Mindy felt a kinship with the Mendocino team and decided to attend their high school. “It was the best decision. There were 72 in my graduating class. We were like a big extended family.”

In 2004, during her senior year, Mindy was accepted to Saint Mary’s College. Her mom Mary fell gravely ill with a fifth bout of breast cancer—a disease she’d been battling for 10 years.

MindyMom“On prom night I got dressed in her hospital room. The nurses decorated it with our prom theme—Mardi Gras—and helped us celebrate.” A month later, Mary was deemed too frail to attend the graduation ceremony. “Her nurse Kathy Lang and Kathy’s policeman husband Joe sprang her from the hospital and took her anyway.” Mindy smiled at the memory.

Mindy deferred her admission to Saint Mary’s and enrolled in Mendocino College in Ukiah. “This allowed me to come home on the weekends to be with my mom in the hospital.” The love and tenderness with which this was said broke my heart.

In October 2004, Mary passed away.

“I stayed at Mendocino College and got my AA degree in Business Administration. By that time my brother had graduated from high school. He was headed to Sacramento State and I went with him.

“My plan was to finish college and come back to Fort Bragg.” A click of a computer button derailed that plan for over a decade.

“In 2007, Jeep was sponsoring a Tim McGraw and Faith Hill concert at Arco Arena in Sacramento. My dad got sponsor tickets and gave them to me. I went on the Arco website to check the seat locations and saw an announcement for a marketing internship with the Sacramento Kings. I applied and got a call that the positon had been filled, but there were other unpaid internships available in Sales and Service.

“I was hired and the part time internship quickly grew to 30-40 hours a week. I did this for about seven months while also going to school fulltime. I finally told my boss I needed a paying job. A couple weeks later, I was hired as his assistant.

MindyKings“In June 2008, the Services Coordinator position for the Sacramento Kings became available. I applied and started a week after I graduated.”

During her years with the Kings, she was able to learn many aspects of running an NBA team—marketing, event operations, fan experiences, sales, membership services, and public relations. Although the work was challenging and required long hours, she loved it.

In the fall of 2011, she got a call from a former mentor who was working for the University of Oregon Ducks. “He encouraged me to apply for the athletic department’s Event Manager job at the new Matthew Knight Arena. I love doing events. At the time, there was talk of the Kings moving to Los Angeles or Seattle. Employees were leaving and not being replaced.

MindyDucks“I got the job and moved to Eugene in November 2011. I was 25—eager to do the work and learn. Professionally, I was fulfilled—I got to help with the Olympic trials and an appearance by the Dali Lama. I had the opportunity to learn and do more than most who spend years in this type of role. But personally something was lacking. It was hard living in a town where people are either college students, young marrieds with children, or retired. My heart was in California. I missed home.”

In June 2013, Mindy’s former Kings boss called to say the team had sold and was staying in Sacramento. He offered her the job of Manager of Membership Development and Sales (a department she’d helped start). She jumped at the chance to return to California and be closer to her family.

Her return coincided with the building of Golden 1 Center—the new Kings arena in downtown Sacramento—which was slated to open for the 2016-17 season. “We had to move 12,000 season ticket holders to seats in an arena which wasn’t laid out like the old one. We were prepping for the upcoming season at Golden 1 Center while closing out the last season at Arco Arena. There was so much adrenaline, it was so much fun. There were times I spent the night in my office. Looking back, someone should have stopped me.” She laughed.

With the new arena open, season ticket holders happily seated, and her eighth basketball season under her belt, Mindy began talking with her dad about wanting to apply the knowledge she’d gained to something new and challenging. “I always said I’d move back to the coast and work alongside my dad at the dealership. He suggested this might be the time to do that.”

When Mindy gave her notice, her boss asked what she needed in order to stay. “I told him this wasn’t about money or my job title. It was time for a change. I wanted to go home.”

In September 2017, Mindy became General Manager of Sport Dodge. “I feel like a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I feel grounded. It makes me happy when people come into the dealership to meet me after hearing my voice on the radio.”

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With step-mom Clara and dad Mike.

One of her favorite aspects of small town living is how people have a vested interest in the well being of others. “You can make a true hands-on difference here. Dad has been a Rotarian for years. In January, I had the privilege of being inducted into the club. It was such a proud moment. It’s important for us to give back to this wonderful community.”

Mindy is delighted to find that the concept of shopping local is more widely accepted than it was years ago. However, she’s concerned that we’re not an active youth community. “I’m in favor of youth leaving for education and experience. There’s so much to learn and observe in the world. I’d like to see more of them return to share their knowledge. We have such great potential to become a thriving economy while maintaining our small town feel.”

She’s proud that the dealership employs 21 people, most of whom were born here or have been members of this community for a long time. She looks forward to helping the business continue to expand and grow.

“After my mom passed, I steered away from having a personal life. I put all my time into school and work. It’s all I really wanted to do.” Returning to her beautiful hometown is helping Mindy find a balance between the two.

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With the Sport Dodge crew.

 

Emily Head, L.Ac. MAOM

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I rushed across the parking lot behind Taka’s Grill on Main Street, through the brisk autumn chill, into Pacific Healing Acupuncture. The warm, softly lit interior wrapped me in a cocoon of serenity so intoxicating that I was nearly too relaxed to get out of my chair after my 90-minute chat with owner Emily Head.

***

As a teenager, Emily had few aspirations outside of staying and working in Fort Bragg. Her parents, Marie and Lewey, had other ideas. They’d moved here from the Bay Area in 1977 and felt it important for their daughter to experience life outside this small community.

After graduating from high school in 1998, Emily agreed to go to Sonoma State but moved home after a year to figure out what path she wanted to take in life. For the next few years, she worked as a waitress and took classes at College of the Redwoods. She also got her esthetician and massage licenses. She worked briefly as a massage therapist, but found she didn’t enjoy it. “I was having wrist problems, and didn’t want to make that worse.”

A few years later, Emily realized she didn’t want to be a career waitress. She applied to her dream school—UC Santa Cruz—and got accepted in 2000.  She majored in sociology with a minor in psychology. “I thought I’d become a child counselor.”

emily bunnyAfter graduating in 2002, she entered an 11-month AmeriCorps program. “I wanted to start paying off my loans, and AmeriCorps offered money towards that. I also thought it would be a fun break from life—which it was. It gave me time to decide what I really wanted to do.” She became part of a team of ten people in Denver. “We traveled to a number of states where we did jobs like state park trail maintenance and renovating a playroom for a summer program that offered homeless children a place to learn, play and socialize.”

During her AmeriCorps experience, her mother suggested she chose a career in the healing arts, perhaps as an acupuncturist. “I’ve always been intrigued by natural healthcare and figured it was a great career for me to pursue. Growing up in a household that didn’t depend on doctors taught me what was available that didn’t include synthetic cures. I always looked to Mother Nature for healthcare and acupuncture seemed the follow that concept of staying healthy.

“I came back to Fort Bragg and took anatomy and other science classes at College of the Redwoods and Mendocino College, which helped get me into the Masters Program at Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland.” She entered the school in 2006 where she attended daylong classes and practicum sessions five days a week. She loved living in Portland and studying traditional acupuncture. During the last two years, she also worked as an intern in various clinics.

She graduated in September 2009 with a Masters in Oriental Medicine and stayed for a couple of months to take three exams to earn her national acupuncture practitioner certificate before moving back to Fort Bragg. “I always knew I wanted to live and raise my future family here. My parents are here and I love the area.”

emilystudioShe once again worked as a waitress while studying for her California boards, which she passed in March 2010. Shortly afterward, she opened her business in the office complex behind Taka’s Grill. For the first few years, she supplemented her income by working three to four days a week at Lee’s Chinese. “Word of mouth has been a big factor in my growth. When I started accepting health insurance and Medi-Cal, my clientele also grew tremendously. I still work one day a week at Piaci’s. I love my profession, but like getting out and socializing. Waitressing does that for me.”

In addition to private sessions, Emily provides reduced priced drop in sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 4:00-6:00 pm. Her fees for all sessions are based on a sliding scale given a patient’s ability to pay. Most treatments are covered by insurance. “Stress is a major component of illness,” she said. “I don’t want people to stress out over the cost of trying to get well.”

Emily is glad her parents encouraged her to leave her hometown and get a different perspective on life. “I learned I don’t want to live in a big city. I’m not a commuter. I don’t even like to drive to Mendocino.” She laughed.

emilygarrettShe lives on the same property as her parents and shares a home with her partner Garrett Barker and his two children. “Garrett was born in Southern California, but lived in Fort Bragg off and on while he was growing up. He came back in his twenties and has been here ever since. He’s an amazing artist and also works for a machine shop in Comptche.”

“I grew up on the land where we still have a large garden. We raise rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and ducks. I raise a pig each year. I don’t do the killing of the larger animals, but I can butcher the meat. We also have beehives.”

Emily finds great satisfaction in helping people. “It sometimes amazes me that I can stick needles in people and it makes them better,” she said. “The body wants to heal and by using acupuncture, one can balance out the blockages caused by everyday life, including stress, injury, emotional upsets and illness.”

emilyhensShe’s sad that Fort Bragg doesn’t offer the same sense of community as when she was growing up. “I don’t see a lot kids riding bikes. I no longer know nearly everyone. I used to know the names of our homeless people. I don’t anymore. It’s especially hard for single people to live here—there aren’t many places to mingle.” However, she does admit that the Golden West Saloon—purchased a few years ago by a couple in her age group—has helped provide a social outlet for the younger crowd.

Emily laments the loss of the traditional workers who were once employed by the logging and fishing industries. “We’re more of a tourist community now.” She hopes more people who have left our community will return. “Many in my age group have already come back. It’s fun to hang out with people I went to high school with.”

Emily is pleased with the growth of Pacific Healing Acupuncture. Her ultimate goal is to establish a wellness center which would include a Naturopath, midwife, body workers and anyone devoted to alternative healthcare who is willing to help people regardless of their income.

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Jason Malsom

jasonheadshotAs I approached the massive hull made more ominous by being back-lit by the sun, the sounds of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” echo from the dark recesses of the ship. I got the chills. A young man—Jason Malsom—moved forward, framed by the colossus behind him, and greeted me with a warm smile. Despite his height, sculpted face and a sleeve of tattoos on each arm, he looked much like the round faced five-year old I met 25 years ago when I worked with his mother Michelle.

jasonhullIn January 2017, Jason bought Van Peer Boatworks and changed the name to Noyo Boatworks. He began building a 60- by 28-foot fishing vessel that will fish for black cod and halibut in waters along the west coast and Alaska.

As we walked around the boat’s impressive hull, we were serenaded by a symphony of classic rock mixed with the crackling of blow torches welding steel. I asked Jason how he became the owner of a highly respected 44-year old business.

“I went to work for Chris [Van Peer] in late 2012. I started out as a tacker—someone who fits the pieces of a boat so the welder can follow along and fuse them together. I was a quick learner and Chris trained me to do welding. Towards the end of 2016, he was ready to retire, but had this boat to build for Nick Jardstrom, a commercial fisherman. He asked if I’d build it.”

To me, this seems a tremendous undertaking. Jason shrugged and said in his humble way, “I needed to keep my job so I bought the business.” He smiled.

Jason graduated from Fort Bragg High School in 2005. He stayed in the area and worked a number of jobs—from a laborer for Rantala Heating to building logging roads for Stan Stornetta and part-time tattooing. “Before I went to work for Chris, I’d get up at 5:00, work until 3:00, then tattoo from 4:00 until 8:00. After a few years, I got tired of the long hours. A friend of mine worked for Chris and was planning to move to Ukiah. I always wanted to learn how to weld, so I contacted Chris. He signed me on and I liked the work immediately.” Between the end of 2012 and 2016, Jason helped build three commercial fishing boats.

jasoninteriorI wondered how one builds a boat this enormous. “An architect in Seattle did the design,” Jason said. “After it was approved by the owner, it went to an engineering company in Oregon who cut the steel and sent to us. I’ll build the basic structure, do the plumbing and mount the engine. The wiring and finishing work will be done by someone else.”

Throughout the construction yard, thick pieces of steel are arranged by size. Jason takes the plans, much like a blue print to a house, starts with the keel (which runs the entire length of the bottom of the boat) and moves upwards. Each piece is welded into place.

Side pieces have to be cinched in to fit the curve of the deck. This is done by welding a metal “eye” to the inside of the piece and cranking it inward. I marveled at how hard it must be to bend such a massive amount of steel. Jason laughed. “It really doesn’t take much strength.”

For years, Van Peer Boatworks was located on the north side of Highway 20, under a huge canopy that still marks the spot. Whenever a boat was launched, crowds gathered to watch it painstakingly hauled down the steep slope of South Harbor Drive. In recent years, insurance liability issues caused Chris to move the boatyard to the base of the drive, which provides level ground for boat launches.

When I asked Jason why the canopy remains in the old yard on the highway, he said, “If we move it, we’ll violate the manufacturer’s warranty and we’d have to pay for any repairs. If the manufacturer moves it for us, it’ll cost several thousand dollars.” For now, the canopy stays put.

jasondeck2Although he loves what he’s doing, he feels some frustration over not having the time to take on side jobs. “Fishermen constantly ask if I can help with a boat repair and I hate turning them down. If someone wanted to start a mobile welding business, he could make a good living in this harbor.”

Jason has found a way to establish a career in the town of his birth by working hard and being a dedicated employee. By taking over this iconic business, he’s safeguarding the tradition of large boat building in a community that is anchored in the fishing industry. The sight of the gigantic steel structure being erected is enticing. Jason is amused that nearly every day people stop to watch and take pictures.

He hopes to finish this boat in August 2018, but thinks it’s more likely to be completed in October. “I could use another welder, but can’t find one.” He laments what a number of local employers express—how difficult it is to find people willing to work. “Chris taught me everything I know about welding and boat building. I could do the same for someone else.” He’s grateful to have one experienced welder in Daniel who was hired by Chris in 2015 and another whom he’s training.

jasonyardI asked Jason how he handles the responsibility of this a multi-million dollar project. In his humble way, he said, “It requires patience.” He smiled before adding, “I take it a piece at a time.” He’s grateful that Chris remains available to him whenever he needs advice.

There isn’t another boat project waiting in the wings, but Jason’s not concerned. “There are only a handful of boat works on the West Coast and I’m one of them. I hope to be doing this for some time to come.

“The best thing about building this boat is watching it all come together. I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like when I see it tied up in the harbor and from there going to the wild waters of Alaska.”

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Jason’s rough sketch of what will become his permanent sign.

Update: I visited Noyo Boatworks about a month ago. Jason sent a photo of what the boat looks like now: jasonfinal

Megan Caron

meganheadshotIf you’re walking east along the 200 block of Redwood Avenue, you’ll notice a difference in the Larry Spring Museum. The storefront, once a bizarre display of things like rocks that resemble food—ham, peas, and yes, even cauliflower—has become more polished, evolving to reflect the unique man who created it.

meganstorePart of this renaissance is due to the opening of the vintage shop Lost Coast Found, housed in the same location and owned by Megan Caron—a homegrown girl who returned after living in Petaluma for 16 years. “When Larry died [in 2009], he left the building to Heather Brown, a well-known Canadian artist,” said Megan. “In exchange for reasonable rent, I help out with the museum.

“I’ve always loved rocks and all things wood and was in awe of this secret little museum full of rocks, wood, creativity and character. I was excited not only about finding a storefront, but also the prospect of helping the world meet Larry Spring. He was a proponent of solar energy back when the technology barely existed. My husband’s career has been in the solar industry.”

megan6When Megan speaks of something she’s passionate about—her store, the museum, kids spending too much time on screens, or the lack of housing on the coast—her hazel eyes blaze. She’s articulate and quick to laugh, flashing a sly look whenever she makes fun of something or herself. As I listen, I understand why Fort Bragg once had a hard time holding onto her intense energy.

On her father’s side, Megan hails from the Caron family. “My grandmother grew up in Finland and immigrated to Canada. Winnipeg was too cold for her. Like many Finns at the time, she ended up in Fort Bragg. In the late fifties, she started the first licensed beauty salon on the coast—Kirsty’s Kut and Kurl. She hoped I’d take over the business. I worked as a receptionist for a while, but I’m not good at making people look beautiful.” She laughed.

By 1993, Megan felt stifled by Fort Bragg and was eager to leave. “Imagine feeling stifled by beautiful redwood forests and the ocean.” She laughs. “I moved to Eureka and enrolled in classes at College of the Redwoods, but didn’t always attend. While working as a route driver for Figureidos, I spent most days driving around and admiring the old architecture.”

She returned briefly to Fort Bragg in 1994. “I worked as a front desk person at Vista Manor. I’d been cleaning rooms there during the summers since I was 14 years old. I had some friends who were moving to Chico and needed a roommate, so I moved and enrolled in Butte Community College. I took classes in interior design because it meant I could tour other people’s homes. I’ve always been interested in how people create their space. I spent a good portion of my childhood rearranging my room. My walls were giant collages of pictures and posters.”

In Chico, she worked as a caregiver. “One of my favorite clients was an elderly Texas Belle. Her bedroom was like a Hollywood set. Everything was red and gold—red velvet walls, gold furniture, gold bedspread, everything. She wanted to get rid of some ‘evidence’ before she died—massive amounts of lingerie she’d acquired over the years. She gave me garbage bags full to take to a thrift store.”

Megan was a kid, intimidated by the contents of the bags and the thought of delivering them. “I drove around for weeks with elderly contraband in the trunk of my car, hoping no one would find it.”

When she finally mustered the courage to enter a store with the donations, she spotted a jacket. “I thought it looked cool and bought it. That started my interest in vintage and collecting. From then on, I stopped going to new clothing stores. I don’t want to support industries that make inferior products overseas. Except for technology and a few other things, I rarely buy anything new.”

By 1997, Megan decided college wasn’t for her, moved back to the coast and the hospitality industry. Through friends, she met Ben Tuke who would eventually become her husband. “He grew up in Mendocino. Like me, he couldn’t wait to ‘get out of Dodge.’”

In 2000, tired of small town living and looking for adventure, 24-year old Megan and Ben tossed everything they owned into the back of Ben’s pickup and headed south. “As we approached Petaluma, Ben asked if I’d ever been there. I only knew it had an outlet mall. My requirement for where we lived was that the downtown have a bakery, record store, and bookstore. Petaluma had it all, including great architecture. We signed a lease on an apartment that day.”

Ben went to work for Sun Power Geothermal, a startup solar company. “We knew solar was the wave of the future. He started as an installer and worked his way up to quality manager.”

Megan got a job in the magazine department of Copperfield’s Books. “Growing up, my grandmother Julia Tidwell and my parents supplied me with books. My dad is a book collector and indulged me at bookstores. When I saw the help wanted ad for Copperfield’s, I ran down there with my non-impressive resume and got the job.” She later found out she was hired because they were impressed by her answer to the question of who are her favorite authors—Richard Brautigan and Tom Robbins.

meganfamilyOver the next 16 years, Megan and Ben settled into life in Petaluma. They bought a house and had two sons—Addison (9) and Arias (5). “As the boys grew older, I became uneasy about raising them in a suburban environment where there’s a disconnect with nature. I drove 15 minutes just to go to the park. I regularly took them to Fort Bragg where they could play in the forest and we could be at the beach within five minutes. They seemed happiest in the wild.

“In Petaluma, everything is neat and tidy. The downtown slowly became gentrified, pushing out the interesting eccentric folk and funky taquerias. It was harder for me to engage with people. How many nail salons and upscale restaurants can you have in one place? I yearned for the funky places where there are things that need to get done. In Fort Bragg, we have blemishes and unconventional people. I wanted to raise our boys here amongst the salt.”

Megan’s years of working in a bookstore gave her a good understanding of the many facets of retail—ordering merchandise, arranging floor space and in-store displays. “All six window displays had to be changed regularly. I was always thinking of themes and digging through basements, dumpsters and estate sales for props.” Copperfield’s customers often asked to buy items in the windows.

“For two years, Ben and I talked about moving back to Fort Bragg. I thought the town needed a vintage shop that sold useful as well as decorative items. After years of my picking and hunting, our garage was full and retail space became a must.”

megan5During that time, Megan looked for a storefront in Fort Bragg. In November 2016, she was walking by the Larry Spring Museum and saw a slip of paper with Heather Brown’s phone number written on it. “I called and within twenty minutes, I had the keys.”

Ben went to work for Nextracker, a solar tracking manufacturer, which enables him to work remotely. They sold their house in the spring of this year and bought a house in Fort Bragg. In June, Megan opened her store.

“I’ve met countless young people, some with young families and existing businesses who want to live here and invest in our community, but they can’t find a place to live. We need people to move here. There’s so much to be done and I feel we’re running out of people to do it. Without a push for housing projects, we will never have a sustainable economy.”

I’m grateful to Megan for returning with her family. She will use the energy that once drove her away to improve our community while preserving its charm.

***

Here’s a little preview of the Larry Spring Museum. Give it a visit. You’ll be glad you did.

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