I believe the first time I made the drive up 128 to Boonville, up through the oaks and down again through the redwoods was when I was 25 years old. I thought for years that I was much younger when I made my first pilgrimage, but looking back on it all there was no way I could have gotten up here. After all, I was born and raised in San Francisco and had no need for a car... Hence no need for a license. The only reason I got a license was to drive my Oma to the next town over for a big festival that was happening that summer. But I digress.
I had heard about this place years before. My very good friend had talked about this place she had gone to since the 70s. A place she had gone with her son... Trying to get through breakups and life... This magical place with little cabins and redwoods, sandy private beaches and Pygmy trees hundreds of years old and only 15 feet tall. It didn't sound real. It couldn't really exist. So with all that doubt five years later I rented a car, piled everything I needed for a week camping, and took off for this magic place.
The farmhouse was over 175 years old... As I wound myself up the driveway the fog licked the sides of the brick red Victorian and parted to allow me to park. My feet crunched over gravel and leaves as I walked on the redwood planks that wrapped the side of the house. As I walked into the garden I was greated by majestic oak trees, forget-me-not studded garden paths, and a white picket fence with a creaky door that led down to the 200 year old orchard and valley. Just beyond that, a creek that wound its way through the property and whose fingers cut their way through the orchard.
I stood there, stunned. Much like every single time I've been back. There is never a time when my first gaze on the gardens and the trees doesn't just hush all the voices in my head, all the furor in my bones, and just allows me to take in a deep breath. I don't remember what I did next... I might have moved my food into the kitchen... Or maybe I walked throug the paths snaking around the redwoods and the campgrounds. Maybe the steward at the time, Helene, might have found me and asked who I was and what was I doing. Either way my routine is set now. I drive up the path and always park my car in the same spot. There is a sign now telling me to park first and check in... But I dont. Maybe that's my own rebellion. But now I drive up, park, breathe, take in everything in that one moment that is always mine, then put my food in the kitchen. After I settled in I walk down the path and check in for my stay. They have real inn-keepers now... Though you would never see them outside their house. It's nice that way.
That first steward I told you about? Helene? She was a cross between Helena Bonham-Carter and the witch from Bugs Bunny. She used to run the entire farm herself. The ecological projects that dealt with eradicating non-native invasives and replacing them with California natives down to making sure the house was swept for visitors. She managed school groups and guests with a sort of mad professor like skill. We have probably known each other for 10 years no but no matter what, she never remembers me. She wouldn't remember me from hour to hour... Sometimes greeting me three times in one day with a harried "hey, welcome, you check in already?" I haven't even seen her this time and I wonder if she's still about, still alive. The woman who first told me about Helene and this crazy place died last year. I look for hairpins and native plants as evidence that she's still about.
I've come up here for so many reasons... Breakups, new relationships, arguments, agreements, deaths, dealing with emotional depressions, to get away, to work in their gardens, for the feeling of burying my hands deep into the glass at glass beach, to forage for chanterelles, the list goes on and on. Every time I go It isn't with the express idea that I'm looking for something. Life is looking for something, Jughandle is just a place to go. I come up here because there isn't Internet, phone, cell towers, television. If you want to get warm you need to build a fire. If you want to talk to someone you need to drive 20 miles to another town. There was a time I spent about four hours on a beach, after a storm had thrown up hundreds of pounds of driftwood. I had grabbed a stick and started writing. And writing. It was after my car accident and i wrote out everything I felt. The hatred of my body, the woman who ran me over, the loss, the shame, the hurt, I wrote it all out. I covered the entire beach with writing. Large angry letters, handsome printing, delicate script, the waves washed it away and I kept writing. Some people meditate, I Jughandle.
I've never shared this place with anyone. In fact I've made a point of it... You don't go somewhere at least once a year that is so magical and "forget" to tell people about where this is all taking place. At first I was just evasive to the questions on where this place was "Mendo", "Fort Bragg", "Caspar", and many other answers... all of them more or less correct. I'd go to all these places as part of my retreat, so it wasn't lies. I didn't want anyone to find this place, my place. Their website was so bad and so poorly linked that even if I did say "Jughandle State Park" you still wouldn't be able to find it at all. Then I started relaxing about it... I blame my boyfriend actually. For the first time in 10 years I had found someone that I wanted to bring up with me for my trip. Someone who I knew would be worth breaking my secrets. We went up and I took him to all my places, all the wonders, and we slept overlooking the 100 year old cypress. As I drifted off to sleep I knew that I would marry this man and have our wedding here.
It's with all these memories that I have become so protective of this place. Like a new restaurant that no one knows about, you guard your new found secret because you know it won't be like this for ever. SFist will write about it and next thing you know it's a four hour wait for a table. There has never been a wait for my place. Every time I want to go I get the room I want or the cabin I want. Every time I go there is food to harvest in the garden and the wild turkeys wake me in the morning. Every time I go there is fog and sun, mist and rain, wood for the stove and deer in the orchard. It has never been corrupted. The prices have gone up, there are inn-keepers, and a new Wolf stove... But this pace, my place, has been the same.