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All y’all know I live off the grid, right? “Off the grid” only means that we live off of the power grid. Someone could ostensibly be living “off the grid” in New York City if they were living off of the main power grid there. What I REALLY mean to say when I say that we live “off the grid” is that besides providing for all of our own power needs, besides getting our internet via a satellite dish and besides having no telephone reception whatsoever, we live WAAAAAAAAAAY the hell out there! I mean, UPS and FedEx won’t deliver to us, and neither will USPS. Our closest neighbors are two miles away. We live waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay the hell out there by LOST COAST standards, and the Lost Coast is in itself waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay the hell out there.

We live in a yurt that is like slightly glorified camping. Our sink is balanced on some plywood supports, every item we use in the “house” is on it’s last legs (- we don’t want to really invest in anything until the inside drywall and flooring is done, but that’s another post). Cutlery? What my mom gave us! Dishes? Whatever’s unbreakable from Costco! Sofa? Um… carpet! Toilet? Outhouse! We *do* have running water (and it’s amazing water, coming straight from our own water springs). And we’ve got hot water too!

But it’s pretty basic up here in a lot of ways. It’s life off the grid.

So, yeah… CAMPING!

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-1-2It’s weird for us.

The whole concept is sort of hilarious, really, when you think about it, right?!

I mean, you drive for hours and hours.

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Meriah Nichols San Simeon-6You see some cool towns that time forgot if you are lucky!

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-5You get to the campground and wait in line with everyone else who wants to rent a small piece of earth and erect temporary shelters right next to one another.

And you get to use porta-potties! Sometimes pay showers! Little grill things to make a fire in – and lets not forget the asphalt spaces for car parking!

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-4It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?!

We were going to hang out with one of my besties, Katie, and meet her friend, Corinne.

We were all bringing a kid or three, coming from various parts of California, and hadn’t seen each other for a long time.

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Meriah Nichols San Simeon-12I forgot to bring the hot dogs. And the plates. And the bowls.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-3If Katie hadn’t brought these, we would all have been eating directly out of the pot!

Good thing for Katie.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-38I met Katie in my late 20’s. I was in Taiwan to see my brother Dana, and I had stopped over in Taipei to visit my friend Liz. Who was friends with Katie. It turned out that both Katie and I were getting ready to move to the San Francisco Bay Area (she from Taipei, and me, from Tokyo).

She and I connected when we both actually moved, and then became good friends. Which was what, a whole life time ago. Back when her job singing and waitressing at Max’s in SF was super sweet, I was an elder caregiver and we both loved partying wherever, whenever we could.

Pre-husbands. Pre-kids. Pre-adulting.

It’s amazing how much can change in 1o years, isn’t it? I mean, think of it. 1o years ago, Obama wasn’t even known, Donna Summer was still alive and iPhones didn’t exist. But some things never change and one thing that hasn’t changed about Katie is her adorable Midwestern sensibility and charming customs. Like this:

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-33“Banana Boat”

Take a fresh banana. Slice it open, and gently place a smattering of chocolate chips inside.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-34Then mini-marshmallows.

Wrap tight in tin foil and roast it over the fire.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-32Open and ooooooooh!

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-31I really liked her friend Corinne too. She was super chill, with good vibes and knows how to build some solid fires.

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Meriah Nichols San Simeon-40We had a blast. And tuned Zootopia on for when us moms really wanted to hang out with each other.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-6-3Right when the kids were in the tent quietly watching the show, a guy from the camp next door came over and apologized for being loud, told Katie and Corinne to holla if it got to be too much, and Katie said something like, “see all those little shoes outside that tent?!!”

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-36Camping with Kids

The Junior Ranger program is one of the best things about camping with kids. Or just going to a campground in general. It’s really pretty awesome. My two little ones weren’t all that into it after half an hour – they are still just too young – but Micah was, and so were Katie and Corinne’s boys.

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Meriah Nichols San Simeon-8-3I swear, if I was an animal, I’d be an elephant seal. Lie on the beach all day and kind of blub.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-2Meriah Nichols San Simeon-1S’mores.

S’mores. Because Katie Makes Things Happen. After a lifetime of, “sure! we can make s’mores!” then “oh no, it’s too late, I don’t want you going to bed with all that sugar in you…maybe tomorrow…“coming from me, my kids were THRILLED. Like, thrilled in the incredulous way – “is this really happening? Are we REALLY going to get ’em?”

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-30Meriah Nichols San Simeon-29Meriah Nichols Camping with Kids in San Simeon-26And hot chocolate with mini marshmallows.

Micah set up the camp stove for me, and then urged me to make coffee for myself, “I think you need your coffee more than I need my hot chocolate, mommy.” I’m sure it was true, but what made him say that??? Was I shaking?? Frothing at the mouth? Snappy and wild-eyed?!

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-25He was mad about something. What was it? I dunno. Hard to keep track. Maybe I didn’t roll his sleeve up precisely one and a half times?

Meriah Nichols Camping with KidsI did, however, give him the blueberry bar that he wanted! Look at his reaction.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-3-2They were trying to cheer him up. Three year olds… man, they are worse than menopausal ladies in the throes of a hotflash and hormone swing.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-4-2We wrapped up our awesome trip and headed north on Highway 1.

Hopefully next year Katie and Corinne will come camping in my back yard – where I am, there isn’t a line to get in (because most people don’t even know where the entrance is!). Where I am, people tell me that it’s completely quiet at night (once the kids are asleep). Where I am, the star-filled night sky begins at your feet when you are in an open space, and people lift their hands off of their steering wheel in greeting as they drive past you.

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Meriah Nichols San Simeon-1-5 .

 

6 months ago we had to abort the Pan American Highway trip that we had planned and worked hard on for over two years. We felt kicked in the gut, forsaken, and had absolutely no idea that the Lost Coast would actually be what we were looking for: a place to call “home”.

We have all fallen in love with this place, and we plan on being here for the long haul. Sure, we want to travel, explore and make disability connections abroad (- the idea of an Inn in someplace balmy – in addition to a retreat center on the Lost Coast – is percolating for the future). But while the kids are young and less tethered to the Best School Ever, we’d like to leave for the winters, returning for the summer.

I was looking through photos and could not believe how much has changed in these past 6 months. It’s incredible, as in literally “hard to believe.”

When we came, the loft in our yurt didn’t have walls – you could roll off and smash into the concrete floor on the first floor. Not exactly kid proof! The stairs were unguarded, there was no furniture. All 5 of us crammed onto a double futon. It was freezing and Mikey had to go out and chop wood in the mornings. The outdoor shower made it all okay – we’ve always loved that – and the well-crafted outhouse, strangely enough, is also something we like. 

I’m sure many people would think we are still roughing it, but for us, our set up is comfortable and we are content. 

Here, I wanted to share some of the highlights of the past 6 months – 

driving to the Lost Coast for the first time
driving to the Lost Coast for the first time

Our first views of the Lost Coast –

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With steep switchbacks,frequent heavy fog, wandering deer and cattle, narrow rough roads, sun in your eyes and views that make it difficult to concentrate at times, the way to the Lost Coast is not for everyone.

It’s not a breeze through suburbia; it’s like dipping your toe into a wild California, a place that time somehow forgot.

It’s fitting that parts of Jurassic Park were filmed here.

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We arrived on our hill from the drive, parked our truck Myrtle and loped up into the yurt, dragging our jaws behind us.

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bare bones!

I don’t know how easily you can tell where the loft is in the photos? the lack of any protective walls or really, anything! It’s all funny to me now only because I don’t have to sleep with all the kids anymore.

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The beauty of this place hit us hard and didn’t stop.

It doesn’t end.

It’s like, beauty upon beauty upon beauty.

Changing beauty, relentless beauty, embracing beauty, enveloping beauty.

Beauty is the one constant here on the Lost Coast.

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I can live with that

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In fact, it’s true to say that I’ve learned that I cannot live without beauty. I mean, I can’t function, I am not a whole person if I am not surrounded by beauty. It’s like something in me just dies and the pieces that make up the whole of who I am become scattered without the beauty of nature around me to hold me enthralled and keep me focused. I don’t know if that makes sense.

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6 months.

Both Micah and Moxie started school. They are thrilled.

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School here is something to treasure – small classes, caring and intelligent teachers, an authentic and holistic view of community and the world. It’s a dream come true for me and I deeply appreciate the opportunity to have our kids be a part of it.

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6 months

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It feels like a life time, it feels like no time.

A blink of an eye, an eternity.

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… Home.

 

While the kids and I were in Portland, they killed a bear up here. I mean, we came home to an enormous bear hide covered in salt, drying, bear meat in the fridge and some 300 lbs more of it headed our way.

That’s the short story.

The long story is this:

A neighbor stopped me on the road a while ago to warn me about a big bear that was wrecking orchards nearby. I’d already been warned by others about all the bears that live around our yurt – mountain lions too – but this was the first time that someone actually told me about a specific bear that was specifically known to be aggressive.

My neighbor was late with the warning, as the bear – assuming it was the same one – had already destroyed quite a few trees in our orchard.

That’s what I didn’t understand before I saw it, just how badly a bear can wreck an orchard. If a large bear wants some of the fruit of a tree, it can (and will) just smash the entire tree down for the few apples. Or prunes. Or whatever it is after.

Anyway, before we left for Portland, we knew the bear was hanging out under our fig tree. The fig tree is enormous, easily over a hundred years old, and produces two massive crops a year. It’s also where the kids play. It’s their favorite natural play structure. They climb on it, pretend it’s a star ship, jump around on it. They play there a lot and they will also slip out of the house and walk the 100 feet or so to go there to play alone.

So I was concerned about the bear choosing to hang out there. It’s really, really close.

the fig tree (on the right)
the fig tree (on the right)
the fig tree - where the kids go to play and where the bear was living
the fig tree – where the kids go to play and where the bear was living

But I wasn’t going to do anything about it. I mean, we are leaving soon, the bear will go into hibernation, right? I figured we could just stay out of its way, we’ll all mind our own business and that will be that.

…. but I was wrong.

A farm hand who is also a hunter bought a license to kill the bear after the destruction of the apple trees, and in concern over the proximity of the fig tree and our home.

After he heard the bear growling at Mikey when Mikey walked passed the fig tree, he shot it.

But he didn’t kill it.

The wounded bear ran and they didn’t know where she was.

Enter Kianna – yes, my hearing service dog, KIANNA.

Mikey had her on leash, she smelled the bear blood and led them to where the bear was, up the mountain and in very bad shape. At that point, killing her was probably the kindest thing they could have done for her. I guess. I don’t know. I don’t like to think about it, it just makes me sad.

****

Everything was done legally – the license purchased, the right authorities contacted both before and after the bear was killed. They brought the bear in – it was a 12 or 13 year old female and she weighed over 300 lbs.

We are all left feeling very sad.

We’re sad that the bear is dead, sad that our farm hand felt the need to shoot her, sad that it may very well have been a wise call on his part. The authorities said that bears of that size and age can be very aggressive. And we do have 3 little kids that play right there.

But regardless of what they said or how “right” that decision might have been, it’s just sad.

We don’t want her death to be for nothing and her flesh to just rot, so she’s been butchered and there’s a lot of bear meat in our future.

bear meat bear meat

 

We walked down our hill on Saturday morning to play alongside the creek that flows by the road.

Just the kids and I. Mikey is as present as he can be at home but there is SO MUCH TO DO on the farm right now! SO MUCH! He absolutely has to be out there, rain or shine and getting the big things done.

So just the kids and I. We walk down, down, down, down, down following the switchbacks that curl themselves tightly around the strand of spring water that flows down the mountain side in small bursts of water fall, ending in the creek at the foot. The creek picks up our spring water and carries it on to the Mattole River.

Here’s the photo essay:

one of the many tiny waterfalls that flow down our hill from our spring

one of the many tiny waterfalls that flow down our hill from our spring

man of the mountain
man of the mountain
okay; LITTLE man of the mountain
okay; LITTLE man of the mountain
the creek
the creek
mountain miss
mountain miss
,,, poses!!!!!!
,,, poses!!!!!!
omg, get outta here!!! SHE"S POSING!!!
omg, get outta here!!! SHE”S POSING!!!
hilarity
hilarity
can't believe I kept the camera straight because I was laughing fit to kill
can’t believe I kept the camera straight because I was laughing fit to kill

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"moxie, can we go now?" - "NO!"
“moxie, can we go now?” – “NO!”

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…but then she changed her mind because she saw THE BRIDGE.

I don’t know how it is with your daughter, but with mine, she’s drawn to bridges – oh, anything dangerous for that matter! – like the proverbial moth to the flame. I’m gonna give her this though: she’s smart. She’s very balanced. I don’t see her taking insane risks and that’s why I trust her to cross the bridge the way she wants to.

BRIDGE!!!!!!!
BRIDGE!!!!!!!
bridge love
bridge love

meriah nichols saturday morning photo essay-13– and repeat 5 times. Or 10. She can go back and forth all day.

meriah nichols saturday morning photo essay-14 meriah nichols saturday morning photo essay-12 Oh yeah. The stone tossing happened….

I feel like it invariably happens whenever there is a body of water, however small or large, the kids MUST THROW SOMETHING IN IT.

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And MIKEY! Came down the hill! – he had called us on the walkie talkie and a strange guy answered, which really freaked Mikey out. So he ran on down to make sure we were okay.

We were, and just really happy to see him.

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PS. Mac-Q was asleep on my back for a good chunk of the time… sorry, more photos of him next time

I didn’t know that places like this still existed in California.

Maybe in the Appalachian Mountains or somewhere else in the huge spaces of this country, but… California? I thought I had covered pretty much every part of my native state, and I have never seen anything like this.

But then again, I’ve never been to the Lost Coast.

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The Lost Coast is well named. It’s this sliver of coastal land that seems to have been transported straight out of a time machine, from 200 years ago or earlier. It’s raw land, primal. The trees here are ancient and drip with moss that was old before my grandmother was in her mother’s womb.

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The space where the land meets the ocean is as savage as they talk about Amazon warrior princess being. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s fearless. It’s undiluted beauty. And it will rip you to shreds and have you for breakfast if you don’t treat it with respect.

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The valleys dip long and deep, rippling with green – green is everywhere, everywhere!, who knew green came in a kaleidoscope of shades?

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**

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The morning that we were to leave for the Lost Coast came, wet and cold. I wasn’t particularly happy. The idea of moving into an empty farmstead in that weather (with the kids in tow) held absolutely no romantic appeal for me. I dreaded packing, loading, unloading and was not looking forward to the 2-hour drive to get there either.

I dragged my heels.

My brother Dana was chomping the bit to leave, herding us all like a Border Collie, “hey! Come on! Let’s go! Let’s go!

– yeah, yeah, okay…okay…we’re coming….

I was missing Mexico. We all were. As happy as we had been coming up, we just weren’t feeling it with the pouring rain and bone-rattling cold.

But we finally got on the road, drove down to Ferndale, this bastion of Victorian-ness – the whole entire town is made of Victorian houses!, turned down a tiny side street in a back lane in a corner of town which surprisingly led us directly away from Ferndale and up a mountain that I seemed to not even have seen before we started climbing it.

It was really weird. Very cool in an “Indiana Jones” kind of way.

Like the small street unlocked some mountain and we were going on a quest.

I sat up straighter in my seat and all of the sudden, my heart felt light and happy – while it was still raining and cold, the day was unfolding into a pretty solid exciting adventure which just kept getting better.

It’s an incredible drive from Ferndale to the Lost Coast. It’s absolutely jaw-dropping. The unguarded cliffs! The dirt roads, switchbacks, more cliffs!

a little moxie on the lost coast-34Nature is at her fiercest and tenderest. A coin with one side being the lush meadows and cows and the other being the stark cliff drops, the hungry ocean below.

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I doubt we would have found it on our own

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This is one of the last gems in California. It’s hard to find and hard to reach, and it is call is the “Lost Coast” for a reason; it’s as if it was tucked away in the fold of the map of California, lost and forgotten except by the lucky few who remember… or the luckier still, us, who come upon it by chance and sway, smitten, in a dance for a season.

***

[the slideshow is from the actual day we arrived… iphone pics and all…]

We crossed the border twice again… I know, I know… no, I don’t know. What the hell is it about us and crossing borders twice in a day? It’s like this insatiable thirst for torturing ourselves.

ut whatever, we crossed it twice again, got the dang Banjiercito paperwork done, crossed again and Mikey just about fainted from the sheer joy and ease of driving on a Californian Highway.

california highway: route 395

“The shoulders!” he’d exclaim, practically drooling, “the flatness – IT”S COMPLETELY FLAT!” He was all but bouncing in his seat like a kid with a bucket of Halloween candy.

Since he was higher n’ kite with the flatness of the road, the thrill of the big, fat road shoulders carrying him far, since we didn’t have to watch out for cows crossing the road like we did in Baja, and since the kids were in a good mood, we drove a long way that day. We drove and drove and drove, Myrtle hungrily chomping down the miles like they cookie crumbs and she was the Cookie Monster.

We stopped in the middle of nowhere for a night and then got up for an encore mile-munching session. Gulp. Chomp. Fuel up. Repeat. And repeat.

the spring source of shepherd's pool
the spring source of shepherd’s pool

We burned our way through a few tanks of gas to get to Shepherd’s Pool and have a dip.

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Then dip again.

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And walk, run, camp

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Dip again.

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Then we left, because it was just too cold.

DSC_1089We were prepared the last time we camped up this way, we had a stock of wool long underwear, heavy socks that fit snugly in furry boots, down jackets and more.

This time, we were coming from Baja and baby, the beach in Baja isn’t good prepping for the frost of the North.

Uh-uh.

We continued to drive and when we started hitting the snow of Susanville, the huge drifts and piles of what felt like a blizzard, I started getting scared. Like, just big ole’ piles of ‘yuck’ in me, ‘what were we thinking?! How can we handle this? This is nuts, man….[facepalm]’

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Mikey drove on.

And we arrived in Blue Lake, just as the sun emerged directly overhead, like a beacon from heaven. Tired, cold, but happy to be there and in one piece, we were good. Safe. Sound. Ready for the next part of what is unfolding into a fantastic adventure.

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“A bumpy road,” he said, the guy at the Chavez Motel in San Quintin. “The Borja Mission is on a bumpy road, but I went there in my motor home.”

Mikey went and looked up The Borja Mission, first in the Church book, Camping in Baja, then in the Lonely Planet book on Mexico. It was barely in the latter, not in the former.* Since there were supposed to be hot springs at the Borja Mission, we pointed Myrtle straight for it and surged forward.

Bumpy road”, my foot!

This road was “bumpy” like childbirth “hurts.” Let’s talk…

  •  Tooth-filling loosening
  • Organ re-arranging
  • Brain numbing
  • Kidney busting
  • Pee inducing

We had some literal hearts-in-our-mouth moments, when Myrtle was climbing up some road almost vertically, in 4×4, and I had to get out and guide because we couldn’t see ahead, for the stark drops and falls. And we were thinking, motor home?! That guy made that road in a motor home?! Unless his motor home was one of those adventure van things with full on 4×4 and high clearance, he was lying his ass off. No motor home could make that; we barely did.

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another traveler in the desert
another traveler in the desert

Mikey and I got to joking about how the road was like a test of faith, right?, for the righteous, that you’d get all that way (and I’m talking about 2+ hours of crunching your teeth and feeling your intestines unwind) and then you’d get to a big sign, “JUST JOKING! NO HOT SPRINGS! BUT YOU SURE PASSED THE FAITH TEST!” mwahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!

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Happily, they weren’t sadists and the place really was there.

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We stumbled out and Mikey went over to find the scoop on camping while I nursed an extremely pissed off MacQuinn and contemplated the exquisite mesas which surrounded the Mission.

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Mikey came back, said he met the family that lives there and that we were to move to the palapa up on the other side, so that’s what we did. The Mama came around to talk money. She wanted $25 a night. Mikey raised his eyebrows, took out his wallet and opened it and showed her all the money inside. He said (in Spanish, which I can’t quote) that that was all the money we had. He asked her if she would take less. She settled reluctantly for $20 a night.

The place was lovely.

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Full on oasis, with date palms dripping with dates, grapes, pomegranites

 

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Pools of water, both cold and warm

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They said that the pools had been there for hundreds of years – the lower portion – the upper portion was re-stacked more recently

IMG_4486 IMG_4494The family that lived there at the mission were evidently descendants of the Indians who lived there when the Mission was first built, in the 1700’s. There was Mom and Dad (- Dad had lived there his whole life), 5 kids (- all born there). 4 of the 5 kids attended the small school on site that used to exist; it shut down before #5 came – she never attended any school, she said. She was taught to read by her older sister, learned a thick slab of English from the visitors to the Mission, and was learning the ropes of the internet from good ole Facebook.

I asked her what she wanted to do, if she wanted to continue to live there, or if she wanted to move to the closest village, where her sister now lives (with her four kids, aged 10, 8, 4 and 2). She said she didn’t know, maybe she’d stay, maybe she wouldn’t. Noni is 20 years old.

with a photo of her family from the Mission

with a photo of her family from the Mission

I thought about when I was 20 – I had completed my bachelor’s degree and I was teaching second grade in Macau (which was still a Portuguese colony on a Chinese peninsula at the time). I knew exactly what I wanted, and I knew that because I had been exposed to a lot – I had traveled quite a bit by the time I was 20. I had lived on my own, I provided for myself, I was a hard cracker.

Options are more clear, I think, when you know what options might exist. I had been to the world by the time I was 20; she had had the world come to her, person by person, car by car.

Neither the path I followed or the one she is on is better, they are simply different.

But I thought about this a lot, and I am still thinking about it. Just how paths form, the paths we follow, the paths we choose in our lives. What makes “normal”, what makes “different”. What makes it possible for a deaf white American girl to teach second grade in Macau when she’s 20 years old and what makes it possible for a hearing Mexican girl to live on the land her family has tended for generations, and what would it be like for the situations to be reversed? For the Mexican girl to be teaching second grade in Macau and the deaf American girl to be tending the land her family has lived upon for generations (- which is a stretch in a country as young as America, but still).

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I digress! I’m sorry. This happens, doesn’t it. Back to the Mission.

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We walked all over the inside of the Mission, in and out and all around and it was truly a work of art.

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We were so grateful to be able to see it and experience its light

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The old walls.

DSC_0323 DSC_0332 DSC_0334Steep stairs, on and out to the sunshine and a show of handmade crafts

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We stayed for two nights – all of our money! – and noone else came. We were alone. Noni came and stayed with us throughout the day – I thought it was because she was lonely and enjoyed the kids, but Mikey told me later that her father had sent her over. Ooops. That makes me wince. I wish I had known.

But her father also told Mikey that the place can get packed, especially during festivals. He said there are lots of people just hanging out, drinking, smoking and doing crystal but that he doesn’t like that because he’s “not Catholic”; he’s “Christian”. [insert expression of laughing incredulousness]

***

I have mixed feelings about our experience there. Yes, it was lovely. And it was freezing (- on par with snow-blanketed Lassen or Mammoth). The hot springs were either cold or lukewarm; not hot, so it was hard to really get warm when we were cold. But it was so lovely my eyes felt bathed in beauty, so it all evened out.

I think my own feelings of ambiguity lie more from the larger questions that spring from the delicate, uncertain line that exists when money is not equal, when friendship feels like it may be a commodity. When I can’t stop thinking the ‘what if’s, when privilege, disability, power and opportunity become tangled and all I want to do is unravel and understand them.

*Note:

It actually was in the Church book – we found it after we had left.  ALSO NOTE – the ride from the Mission to Rosalita was nothing at all compared to the ride from Bahia Los Angeles. I believe the guy went in his motor home IF he went to and from Rosalita. Which is the way that any sane person would go.

*******

My only experience with Death Valley prior to actually being there was strangely enough, watching a Japanese TV show about 20 years ago in Tokyo. It was one of those oddball Japanese shows where they go to curious places and explore the curiouser – very Alice-in-Wonderland. In that segment, they went to Death Valley and fried an egg on a rock in the 130 degree summer.

We all wanted to see that, but hey: we were wearing down jackets. It was pretty freezing  and that egg frying wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Still, we wanted to explore Death Valley by driving through and reconnecting with 395 at the other end and continue heading south to the Mexican border. Yep. We nodded. Okay. We’ll “make it so”; ENGAGE!

After leaving the campground, the first thing we did was visit the Mosaic Canyon. Like Darwin, that was totally spur of the moment:

“oh look! MOSAIC canyon!”

  •  that sounds cool

“wanna go?”

  •  yeah!

Truly, the masters of scintillating conversation, we are NOT. But get there, we DID, and when we pulled up, Mac and Moxie were fast asleep. Mikey let me go with Micah and this is what we saw:

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Remember Indiana Jones? Yeah, Mosaic Canyon is straight out of The Last Crusade. The rocks are intense! One side would be almost white and the other side would be red. And the layers! It was like marble pie

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DSC_0176 DSC_0180 This is the part where I really, really wish we could take a tour. Like, the California Discovery Tour offered by My Adventure Store. Growing up in Fiji and then Hawai’i, I used to really laugh at people who took tours, but then when I went to South America with my friend Dreama, I took the first tour of my life and got pretty hooked. The thing is, a good tour can take you places that you couldn’t go to on your own and you can learn oceans more with a solid tour guide than you could wandering around with the Lonely Planet guidebook in your hand.

I asked Mikey if he’d like to join a tour in Death Valley:

“Wanna go for a tour?”

– nah

“Why not? They can be really good”

– it’s Thanksgiving; there isn’t enough time

“Oh. Right.”

 

And he was. It *was* Thanksgiving and there really *wasn’t* time to get it all together, the whole Death Valley trip being spur of the moment to boot.

So we played in the desert

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Micah and I are both trying and learning to take photos – he was all over the place with his little canon – I have dreams of him guest posting on this blog. Won’t that be fun?!!

I was having fun with the hipstamatic stuff on the iphone and I know it’s achingingly artsy/fartsy but I’m still fond of it:

Micah capturing the sunsets.

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Sky explosions of the “holy shit, that can’t be real!” variety.

aaaannnnnnnnd, we have big news: a Junior Ranger is among us!

We were able to join the program while staying at the Death Valley Campground. This was way, waaaaaaaaaay cool. He had to complete a pretty challenging series of activities (stuff like selecting nocturnal/diurnal animals, actually interviewing a ranger, picking up trash and recycling and more). When he was done and came in his completed book, they really put him through the wringer! He was interviewed on his book for a full 15 minutes (- of which I felt every second, as I was struggling to contain two back arching, put-me-down-now-OR-ELSE little flesh-bundles of child)

He raised his right hand, took The Oath of the Junior Ranger, and here he is, Sir Junior Ranger

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Crazy proud of this kid.

***

Onward we went and wandered into the China Date Farm. That happened just like everything else:

“oh look! that sign says a date farm!”

– wanna?

“YES!”

 

So we drove 8 miles or so off the road to this CRAZY COOL canyon – it used to be a mine of some sort, twisted spirals of mud and sharp bends and twists in a narrow road. Very romantic. I wish I could actually capture it with the camera, but I can’t and I’m trying so I’m sorry and bear with me.

The road led to this delightful oasis right smack in the middle of all that desert – INSANE, right?!!

IMG_4133They had this little old shack from which the whole operation evidently sprang from – and a car that was used in early deliveries. I’m pretty sure Moxie wasn’t supposed to be climbing it.

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Well, cars brimming with Chinese tourists kept driving on up and spilling their contents – I got the feeling that the date farm is featured heavily in Chinese guide books. How else would they know?

Boy, there were a lot of them! Very, very few American tourists. I think… about 5? Yes. Us. Oh – and Pugsily

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And this is the cactus that I backed my butt into:

IMG_4118I was picking the thorns out looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnggggg after we had left, holy cow those things go in DEEP and made me squeal like something being butchered. Or Moxie getting her hair washed.

IMG_4041Onward we go!

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Are you still with me? I know this is the mac-daddy of all long posts.

We left Death Valley and spent some time in the Native American reservation of the Shoshone. There are a lot of hot springs in the region, highly concentrated in the village of Tecope. Of course we went

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These are mostly all free and fairly undeveloped. Camping is allowed but not next to the springs. There are very cheap municipal baths in the village – sex segregated and (get this) clothes are not allowed. They also have a Korean hot springs resort there! I wanted to check that out some more – what’s the story behind that? A Korean hot springs resort on a Shoshone reservation?! – but there wasn’t time.

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Next stop: Mexico

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We left Shepherd’s Pool with the sky bright and the sun hitting its high point of noon. We were fine for about an hour, then it all of the sudden hit us: WHAT DID WE JUST DO??

Did we really just put in an extra few THOUSAND miles and countless dollars and time and energy to brave the cold for the hot springs only to stay for LESS THAN A WEEK??

WHAT WERE WE THINKING?

Right: we were thinking we were out of coffee, needed some food, showers and a laundromat. And sure, we needed all of those, but we could have stopped in at the fine town of Mammoth – like we did any number of times in the past – and accomplished that. We didn’t have to LEAVE THE AREA! We had plans to go back to Bodie, the best little ghost town ever. We had plans to walk among the tuffa of Mono Lake, to talk geology with Micah and make rad tuffa rubbings with all the kids and – WHAAAAAAAAT????

WE JUST UP AND LEFT??!!! We skipped it all because we decided we *had* to buy coffee, do some laundry and stuff?!

Kicking ourselves for our foolishness (and some dashboard head bashing to boot), we decided we were going to apply that hard lesson to the whole trip:

 KEEP FUN IN MIND

The laundry can wait. All that can wait. Okay, maybe coffee can’t but we can leave, get some coffee and COME BACK.

So then, still in throes of robust regret, we saw the sign for Darwin – “Ghost Town” and we were like, oh yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. The kids might not see Bodie again but we’ll go to Darwin.

We turned. Drove. And drove, and drove. It was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay the hell out there, clear out in a bunch of empty mountain space.

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Darwin is an odd little place. Sort of like a ghost town that a mix of old Burners from Burning Man, hippie/artist types and hermit distance workers decided to re-inhabit.

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Half of the town is dead; half of it is alive. I guess that makes it a zombie town?

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Right.

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We didn’t walk around too much because it felt weird to gawk at people’s front yards like they were a tourist attraction when clearly, they weren’t.

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We just waved at who we saw, smiled, said “hi”. Took some pictures. Left.

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We felt somewhat unsatisfied. Like we had a full Turkey dinner in front of us but we had only eaten the cranberry sauce. We wanted to keep going, keep exploring and fill up on the good stuff.

And that’s exactly when we saw the sign for Death Valley.

“Death Valley!”

  • cool!

“Want to?”

  •  YEAH!!!!!!!!

 

And so Mikey turned and we started up the road to Death Valley.

 

Down.

Around.

Over.

Under.

Through.

Up.

Up.

Up.

Up.

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Down.

Down.

Down.
Down.

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And then, BOOM! We were there! Dusk was falling as we drove into a campground. $15 for the night (- gas at the adjacent station was $6/gallon!!!), showers included. There weren’t any huge buses, just small campers, lots of tents, big spaces and our kids went nuts with the rocks they found to play with. Moxie grabbed a stick and had to be dragged away from her desert art creation; Micah was becoming obsessed with building those rock towers and Mac-Q? Oh, he was just off and running wherever and whenever he could.

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You know, a lot of people have wondered how we can deal with THREE KIDS outside, and I have to say, it’s so much easier watching the kids outside like it was in Death Valley than it ever has been either in the Bay Area or in Humboldt County. There aren’t any cabinets with cleaning solution for the kids to get into, there aren’t crazy steep stairs. There aren’t substances or solvents around, there’s nothing except ROCKS and DIRT. Oh, I’m sure there are snakes, scorpions and other things that rattle and bite but in the close-by spaces that we herd the kids to, nope. Just rocks and dirt.

 

And that’s easy. That’s fun. Kids love that stuff and we can all just relax and have a good time. Look at the sky and enjoy the show.

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This was the third day in a row that began the same way, with Mikey and I waking up a couple of hours before dawn. Making coffee and setting to work with the final, absolutely last bits of preparation for this mighty trip. We’d work and work for hours, switching childcare back and forth between us, just to realize at some point past noon that we couldn’t leave on that day, at that point, because there simply wasn’t enough daylight left to reach a destination and set up camp for three kids.

It was starting to feel like that  movie, Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray is stuck repeating his days over and over until he gets it all just right. Mikey and I were starting to wonder if we would ever get it all right, if we were doomed to be stuck in some repetitive rut forever. Hamsters on a frickin’ treadmill. Then we both got all zen, gave up, and yeah, just like finding true love, that’s when it happened: we finally got it all just right.

The camper was packed up perfectly, the kids were ready, my kind, generous, big-hearted brother’s house cleaned, the dishes done, bed made! My brother’s lovely wife kissed.

My grandma hugged.

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Mikey and I smiled.

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Good bye, Blue Lake, goodbye Dana, Toni, Grandma! Goodbye, everyone! Goodbye awesome big mural, goodbye Blue House.

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Goodbye!

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And headed on, over and out. Through Weaverville (- such a cute little place), Redding.

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By the time we arrived in the Lassen National Forest, it was dark, like dark. Pitch black. The glimmers of the snow and our headlights showed us that we were the only ones in the entire campground – a campground, that by the looks of it, was ready for winter closing. Ice everywhere, hardened snow coupled with fresh fall.

The kids were delighted. Of course.

Mikey and I, less so, but it wasn’t bad. We weren’t cold, we were only paying $10 total * – and while a fair price would have been “free”, it wasn’t breaking the bank. And really, after waiting for SO LONG and going through so many of the same-same kind of day, we would have been delighted with just about anything.

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In the morning, the kids and I went for a walk – which started out gaily, us all trotting about and exploring…and wound up with me carrying a screaming child under each arm (- and I mean, snot-drenched, frothing, screaming, wailing, howling). I just turned off my hearing aids and tried composing haikus in my head to deal. Being deaf has its perks.

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Anyway, it was around there that it occurred to me that it was November 22nd, which had been Ziggy’s due date. And it also occurred to me that the lake we were staying by was Lake Manzanita – and Manzanita was the name that would have been Ziggy’s given name.

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Manzanita. Lake Manzanita. November 22nd.

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Wow.

 

With a full heart, we headed out.

***

Some other photos – some of which I posted on Instagram (- I’m withalittlemoxie there, if you’d like to follow my feed):

 

* Thanks to Moxie’s Disability Access card, we get into all National Parks for free. The campground had an additional discount for people with disabilties

 

My One True Darling and I are both from the San Francisco Bay Area. I was born here (4th generation), he wasn’t, but he spent more time actually living here. We are third culture kids – raised abroad in cultures different from our parent’s own – but the San Francisco area is where we have roots stronger than any other one place.

We’re planning on leaving next year to travel the Pan American Highway with our three kids and we are looking hard and long all around us, savoring the bits we know we’ll miss. Like Trader Joe’s. And like the cool things we can do here. We’ve drawn up a Bucket List of Stuff We Want to do Before We Leave and it runs like this:

Bucket List of Stuff We Want to do Before We Leave

  • Eat at the House of Prime Rib
  • Take a mud bath in Calistoga
  • Visit Alcatraz
  • and Angel Island
  • Go apple picking. Or fruit picking. Pick something
  • Spa Day at the Claremont
  • Go grape stomping with the kids
  • Take a boat ride in the Bay
  • Go for an open bus tour of SF
  • Take a ghost tour of SF
  • (and how about a segway tour?!!)
  • Take the kids to an opera/ballet

– that’s the short list.

Not 10 days after I had been lying on a gurney with my child being lifted out of my uterus, I felt so great that we all hopped in the mini van to travel up north to Sebastopol, a delightful little town that hasn’t been “discovered” yet. Sebastopol is loaded with farms all around, it’s a great place to look at cows, rolling land and… um…rolling land.

So we went there to pick some apples, at the Twin Hill Ranch. It was last of the season, the apples were said to be good only for juicing and apple sauce. We didn’t care. We just wanted to do it.

Mikey and I were pulled together – Moxie in his backpack and MacQuinn in the Ergo:

Micah turned into the most enthusiastic apple picker EVER, running around, plucking, filling his basket, emptying it into ours. Excuse me for a moment while I bomb you with photos:

OF COURSE Moxie wanted in on it, so down out of the backpack she went

She got a little distracted in this part – she wanted to put the apples in the big basket into her little basket. She really wasn’t about to give up the apples in her own basket….And we thought that was pretty funny

We walked up and down those rows, all around. Even though we’d been told that the apples were end of the season, there were still plenty that were great to eat. We know. We ate ’em.

And it was pretty much every kind of amazing: the light, the kids, just being together. I couldn’t get over that just a week previously I’d had my baby lifted up out of me, that my belly was still taped up. I felt so great, so alive, so pain-free (with just one midol!).

We went on over, weighed and paid for our apples (-$10)

I always love those big old barn spaces. Makes me want to move in and be all Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.

Went and played in the open space they have there, the kids were all over the old tractor

Mikey’s hair is getting really long again, isn’t it?

We wrapped it up. Called it a grand day. Couldn’t be more happy.

 

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