Dan and Hannah Welcome a Daughter to the Family

For your reading pleasure I have the toast I gave Will and Laurel at the rehearsal dinner at the Tommy J West Club at the Siegel Center on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.  I planned a multi-media event for the 70 people in attendance by having pictures that went along with my text flashed on the 12 TVs there at the venue.  After the toast, there is Hannah’s poem for these two New England kids.  Finally, there is a short video from the wedding of the mother and son dance.

Hannah and I are pleased to be here to celebrate Will and Laurel’s marriage.

Blue Line Club above the hockey rink at Merrimack College, MA

Blue Line Club above the hockey rink at Merrimack College, MA

I want to tell you about the first time we met Laurel. A few years back, Hannah and I were at a Merrimack College hockey game in the Blue Line Club above the ice rink between the first and second periods. Will mentioned that he had someone he’d like us to meet. As you might have guessed, that was Laurel, who was with her good friend Lisa. We chatted briefly, enjoyed her company, and said our good-byes as the second period was about to begin. I thought, They have only known each other for a few weeks and he’s introducing her to us. That’s not his usual MO. That’s pretty cool.

During the break between the second and third period, Hannah and I returned to the Blue Line Club and just hung out. And then all of a sudden Laurel and Lisa reappeared. Laurel said, Lisa and I have to leave now, but before we go, I wanted to say I enjoyed meeting you two. I thought whoa. Here is a young woman with social graces and courage. She could have gracefully exited the building without a good bye, but she made the extra effort to connect with us. That was very cool.

Wedding Pyramid

Will and his five roommates at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont

Now Will. No jokes. He is just a positive life force. As a son, he is the one who built us a fire pit, re-shingled our shed roof, mows our lawn when he’s home, and annually includes us when his St. Mike’s roommates come to our house each summer.

Well, you may not know this, but when Will was eight, he and his sisters [Robyn was 10 and Molly 12] traveled with us as a family to camp and hike in the American West, including Zion National Park in Utah.

AL2A AL from the start of the trailAt the visitor center at Zion, we asked the young ranger for a family hike. She said, Angel’s Landing. We had no idea what it was and thought, Great. Let’s go.

Lower trail to Angel's Landing

Lower trail to Angel’s Landing

The first two miles of the trail are steadily rising switchbacks that take us high above the valley floor. There are no guardrails; this part of the trail is six feet wide, not dangerous, and very popular. And then as we approached the mountain ridge, we noticed people sitting around. We wondered what’s up.

Well, what was up, was that to continue for the last half mile of the trail we had to grab on to chains secured in the side of the mountain 1500 feet above the canyon floor. At the end is Angel’s Landing, a 20’x20’ postage stamp perch. At this point, I was thinking, the ranger said it was a family hike so it must be okay.

Looking back at the chains and then to the valley below

Looking back at the chains and then to the valley below

Wise beyond her years, Robyn wanted no part of this last section of the trek and hung back. The rest of us carried on, grabbing the chains and doing our best to never look down. As I moved forward together with Molly, – Hannah and Will teamed up about twenty feet behind us.

The first chains to Angel's Landing

The first chains to Angel’s Landing

We’d grab the chains for 50 feet or so and creep along the mountainside. Then there would be a flatter area to rest and regroup. I could tell that this was not Will’s idea of a good time. There was good reason to wonder what the hell we were doing as parents. People could die if they fell from this trail. Kids are supposed to be able to trust their parents. It passed through my mind that Hannah and I were not going to be candidates for Parents of the Year any time soon.

Ascending the trail to Angel's Landing

Ascending the trail to Angel’s Landing

Whatever doubts Will had about completing this hike were tempered by his little brother desire to do what his big sister Molly did. We asked him if he wanted to go back with Mom. And whatever he felt, he said he didn’t want to go back. So we all pressed on.

The Virgin River Valley from the trail to Angel's Landing

The Virgin River Valley from the trail to Angel’s Landing

And then what seemed on the surface to be bad fortune, was, in fact, the Universe opening a beautiful window of opportunity. While climbing over this desert terrain, Will got a bunch of cactus spines in his hand. He now had the perfect excuse, the safety net, to go back with Hannah and not lose face. Once Hannah removed the cactus, Will was all in for going on to Angel’s Landing. And damn if he didn’t make it.

Virgin River Valley from Angel's Landing

Virgin River Valley from Angel’s Landing

Well, we all made it to Angel’s Landing. There were 20 others there to celebrate with us on this tiny perch above the Virgin River Valley. As a young kid, Will showed some of the toughness and resolve that has served him well from Maine to Vermont to Massachusetts to here in Virginia.

And thanks to Will and Laurel we have a fabulous weekend to celebrate the marriage of two fantastic young people.

To celebrate their marriage, Hannah has written a poem for the new couple.

My Wish for You

Could it be this day is here?  Here we all are, some from far, some from near.

A Portugese babe and a Will with a Way are the reasons we’re gathered together today.

“Match.Magic?!” Well… Match ’em.com.  In less than a month – things were moving along.

Halftime at Merrimack hockey we met, a girl from the Cape; our hearts were beset…

…beset with affection, for it became clear: J. Will was the happiest, we’d seen him in years.

A boy from the Maine land – “the Way Life Should Be.”

A girl from the Cape – was it destined to be?

The parents all met for a Crane BBQ; Will set the fire and it burned the night through!

Ken gave his blessing – and handed to Will, his second-born daughter, nurse at Beth Israel.

Sandy, she fed us and made us feel glad that Will had picked Laurel, her sis, mom, and dad.

Things kept on changing: Laurel, then Brian moved in.  A new job in Virginia – what to do then?

Take the leap, make the drive, rent a house, get a dog;

a new job for Laurel, make new friends, say “thank God.”

All this in 2 years – 10 years’ worth it might seem;

and now here we go – on to more hopes & dreams.

but first, a big thank you to VCU friends, and St. Michael’s brothers: the love will not end.

Now New York is calling: “Come try us next!”  We wish for and hope that again they’ll be blessed

with new friends, more family, yes challenges, too; together, united, they’ll see it all through.

Together, with all of us gathered around, your life will be rich – and Good will abound.

So my wish for you, is that always you know:

Home’s where you make it. wherever you go.

 Hannah Rothermel      April 24, 2015

Hannah and Will dancing the mother/son dance in the Barn at the Vintager B&B in Quinton, Virginia to “My Wish for You” by Rascal Flatts.

Dan and Hannah Hike in Van Damme State Park on the Mendocino coast, California


We wake to our first cloudy day of fifteen that we’ve been here in sunny California. Our neighbors on Chases Pond Road are waking to a storm that began overnight and will ravage New England for the next 24 hours. Parts of Seacoast Maine are under siege with blizzard snows of 30 inches. For us, twelve inches of snow is a big storm. In the 33 years that we’ve lived on the coast of southern Maine, we’ve never had such snow.

Nolan, Will’s best man, will plow our driveway, twice.   Our neighbors, Marco and Jane, have cleared the path to our propane exhaust and cared for our cat Sadie during the snowy onslaught.

VD map of snowstormThe snow is predicted to end sometime Wednesday; our twice cancelled red-eye to Boston has us now flying out of San Francisco International Airport Wednesday night to arrive Thursday morning.   We are feeling pretty good about finally getting back to New England, but we have no way of knowing how iffy things will really be.  Thursday morning there will be only one runway open at Logan Airport.

VD1B  D at Fern Canyon signNourished by oatmeal with Scott and Tree before they head for whale counting, we have another bonus day in Mendocino County. Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway 25 miles to the north, we set our sights on Van Damme State Park. Feeling like locals after days driving the PCH, we turn into the parking lot at Van Damme Beach.  The son of Belgian settlers, Charles Van Damme made his money as a businessman in San Francisco. Having bought 40 acres of redwood forest in the Mendocino area, upon his death in the 1930s, he left it to the State of California.

Little River along the Fern Canyon Trail

Little River along the Fern Canyon Trail

We love us some redwoods, but we are intrigued that the Fern Canyon Trail leads to a pygmy forest.  Since we are before camping season on the northern California coast, there is no one about as we take to a paved road with campsites on either side. As it was yesterday in Russian Gulch State Park, the campsites, the road, the trails are sopping wet from recent storms and the moist coastal climate here 150 miles north of San Francisco.

Blowdown across the trail

Blowdown across the trail

A month ago, blowdowns crossed this trail from a fierce December storm. But state crews have cleared the trail for us today. Our trail is amiably paved with deteriorating asphalt and covered with wet leaves as we step around large puddles and sogginess everywhere. Following the Little River into the mountains, we pass under a forest of redwoods and pines. Artfully constructed redwood bridges have replaced the onetime stone bridges built with care, I gather, by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. This was a time when the federal government put men and women to work when the world-wide Depression was at its worst.

Redwoods at Van Damme

Redwoods at Van Damme

Wrapping our sweatshirts around our waists, we gently climb along the river bed. Veering right we climb and leave our beloved redwoods behind. Once at the Old Logging Fire Road after 2.5 miles of hiking, we take a spur to the aforementioned pygmy forest.

Even a VCU Ram is not impressed

Even a VCU Ram is not impressed

We couldn’t be more disappointed. I am not sure what we expected. Walking on a carefully constructed boardwalk nature trail among dwarf trees in a swampy bog, we feel nothing.  The cypress, rhododendrons, and pine trees stand six inches to eight feet tall;  big whup!  Due to poor soil, the marshy ecosystem has stunted trees everywhere we look. Once under the Pacific Ocean, this area never reached the majesty of the soaring redwoods of coastal northern California by a long shot.

Heading back to trailhead under redwood canopy

Heading back to trailhead under redwood canopy

Most appreciative of this bonus day among the redwoods though, we return by way of the Old Logging Fire Road and eventually climb back down into the Little River valley.  Our day of hiking takes nearly three hours over nine miles.

One of many bridges across the Little River

One of many redwood bridges across the Little River

Driving the two miles north to the city of Mendocino for one last chance at relaxing among the funkiness and sun, we are met by afternoon Pacific sea breezes that have a different plan for us. The fog rolls in; the temperature drops to 50 degrees, and we close up shop and head for home to Scott and Tree.

Today we have the rainforest; New England has its blizzard. Glued to the Weather Channel once more, we see Jim Cantore and Mike Seidel report from the worst of the storm. It’s going to be a doozy, but that’s manana. Today we’ll lay back in the hot tub and think of how sweet it has been for us to take a two week bite out of winter.

Resume Virtues or Eulogy Virtues

In the Sunday New York Times (April 12, 2015), David Brooks wrote about A Moral Bucket List. Here’s his lead – About once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued.

Are you that kind of person? Am I? I know Hannah is.

VirtuesDavid and I go way back; I’ve seen him on PBS News Hour for years.

He wonders if he has done more for his résumé than his eulogy. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace while the eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

At 67, I still have the time to do something about my lasting virtues. I’m not going anywhere soon. I mean in a great beyond sort of way, as far as I know.

Wondering what is one way to live the eulogy virtues?  You’ve come to the right spot.  Write your own eulogy.  Sounds doable, oui?  Make it no more than 250 words so the task doesn’t seem overwhelming (about the length of this mini-blog).  Read it each Monday and keep it in your frontal lobe as you head out the door each day.  Sure it takes a little effort, but this could be big!   And truly, the goal is not so you get a bang up eulogy; it’s the purposeful life you will live.

Click on the link above for David’s full column. It will blow you away.

Dan and Hannah Hike at Russian Gulch State Park, California


As we wake this Monday in late January, the forecast from New England has bumped up to 18 to 24 inches of snow starting Tuesday morning. Though we have a rescheduled Tuesday night red-eye, the planets and the Weather Channel are aligning so that this monstrous storm may mean even one more day here in paradise.

Flashy interior of our Virgin America carrier

Flashy interior of our Virgin America carrier

Again, Virgin Atlantic Airlines has been terrific. After waiting on hold for 23 minutes (I had been alerted that it could be 25-40 minutes – they so get “under promise and over deliver”), I had a helpful agent get us on a Wednesday night red-eye.

RG Virgin Atlantic at SFOStaying in California these extra days is an unexpected bonanza. What I don’t want to do is get to the San Francisco Airport, have the flight cancelled, and sleep on the airport furniture.  Just too old and too soft.  That’s me, not the furniture.  I’d rather get an overpriced San Francisco city hotel room than be marooned for days at the SFO airport.

RG fox rent a carFox Rent-A-Car people are not so understanding. A deal is a deal seems to be the company line. Despite the airline cancelling our flight, they are going to penalize us $40 for a second extra day after docking us $29 for the first. Park, Ride, and Fly where we stowed our car outside of Logan Airport in Boston gets that this is an epic storm and flexibility is needed. They never charge us for the extra two days of sheltering our car and there is certainly no penalty for doing so.

You want snow?  We got snow for you!

You want snow? We got snow!

With open arms, our friends Tree and Scott welcome us for a fourth and then a fifth night at their place.  Nolan, Will’s best man and high school buddy, is set to plow our driveway (eventually he plows it twice because there is so much snow). Our new neighbors Marco and Jane have got Sadie’s back and are clearing out a path to our propane exhaust. Our ping pong friend George calls to see if he can be of help. It takes a village to take care of Dan and Hannah when they are on the road.

The deer in Tree and Scott's backyard

The deer in Tree and Scott’s backyard

Since the snow gods have given us a second bonus day in California, there is little for us to do but enjoy the hell out of another hike on the Mendocino coast. We have the same serpentine, cliff hugging drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway to Mendocino. Exiting west, we take a 10 mph one-way road back under the PCH to the Russian Gulch parking area. While beaches to our right are closed, we head inland on the campground road past a state park crew replacing a water main.

RG Russian Gulch signAt Russian Gulch, the tourist season has not begun and the state park campground is yet to open for the season. The overcast and fog are thick and we’ll be needing our sweatshirts.  As we hike east away from the Pacific Ocean, we wonder if this sopping, shaded trail beneath the towering redwoods and pines ever gets sunshine.

On the Fern Canyon Trail among the redwoods

On the Fern Canyon Trail among the redwoods

Native American Pomos lived in this part of northern California for 3000 years. Eventually they were drawn into the mission system in the early 1800s. The Spanish missions comprised a series of religious and military outposts that were established by the Catholic Church to spread Christianity among the natives. A generation of conflict and exposure to European diseases decimated the Pomo population.

RG3A  more redwoodsRussians who established Fort Ross in 1812 were probably the first white men to explore and chart this area. It is believed that U.S. government surveyors later gave the name “Russian Gulch” to honor these early pioneers.

Everything is soaked, from the campsites to the paved campground road with puddles that we easily step around and through. After a half mile, we begin the Fern Canyon Trail. It, too, is paved, as we step around dripping ferns along a rushing canyon creek.

RG2A  start of trailThe Fern Canyon Trail begins quite level following the Russian Gulch Creek Canyon, wide enough for us to walk side by side. As a bonus day on our California hiking vacation, we never give the snows of New England another thought.  Here, a mid-December deluge caused blowdowns that the state park crews have already sawed into chunks and moved from our path.

It is a banquet of redwoods again for two and a half miles.  Being before the season, we find few others on the trail – a retired couple here, another one there, here in the Amazon rainforest north.

RG3B more redwoodsAs you might guess, lumber mills for the redwood flourished here in the 19th century. Redwood was cut for railroad ties, and Russian Gulch produced many of the ties used on the transcontinental railroad. Once the lumber industry died here on the northern California coast, the state government fortunately stepped in to save the wilderness for the many, rather than have it exploited by the few.

RG4A H on trail w redwoodsSoon we take to the Falls Loop Trail anticipating the waterfalls ahead. Hiking at a 2-3 mph pace, we descend the rocky trail by the falls. There, the once hidden waterfall tumbles 36 feet below. Far too cold for skinny dipping, the pool beneath is ideal for an iPhone video.

RG4C H by stream by trailThe seven miles of hiking today does The seven miles of hiking today does not require one to be an uber hiker. There are climbs, but it’s a walk down a boulevard of redwoods. Once my Maine sweatshirt broadcasts where we are from, everyone comments about the storm in the East with sympathy and understanding. Despite three days of anticipation, as we hike this Monday morning, the storm still hasn’t even started in New England.

Virginia Commonwealth University  v. George Washington University

Virginia Commonwealth University v. George Washington University

Returning to Tree and Scott’s nest for another VCU basketball victory over George Washington University, we later hot tub it and sleep contentedly as we know there is little we can do about the storm. Thanks to the snow gods we have two more days in California – one to hike again in Mendocino County and then a full day to travel to Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco before we take a red-eye to Boston and all its snow.

It’s all good.

So you want to be a teacher?

When Nancie talks, it’s time for me to listen.

Interviewed on CNN’s Morning Show “New Day,” Nancie Atwell, a local Maine teacher, said she wouldn’t recommend public school teaching for those thinking of becoming teachers. If you are a creative, smart person, this is not the time to teach in the public schools.

Nancie Atwell receiving the "Nobel Prize" for teaching

Nancie Atwell receiving the “Nobel Prize” for teaching

Whoa. She’s talking to a former public school teacher whose three kids went through the public schools in Maine.  Nancie is no lightweight. She just won the $1,000,000 2015 Global Teacher “Nobel Prize.” She and I are cut from the same cloth. With mentors like Don Graves and Don Murray of the University of New Hampshire, we are kindred spirits in the classroom teaching of reading and writing.

As a former public school teacher and founder of her own independent school in Edgecomb, Maine, Nancie said that the Common Core (curriculum –what’s taught in schools) and the standardized testing has turned teachers into technicians. Her students read 40 books a year and write in 21 genres. They choose the books they read and the topics they write about.  Does that happen in public schools that you know?  I hope so.

Community School in NH

Community School in South Tamworth, NH

As someone who taught 20+ years in the public schools of California, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Maine, I wonder if I would find a home in the public schools of 2015.  Are there classrooms that give students the time to wonder, learn by discovery, and be trusted and respected to make choices in their own education?

My colleague, Lianne Prentice, from my days teaching in the public schools in Kittery, Maine, has been a part of team that has created and developed a public school that we can all be proud of.  Check out this link:  Community School in South Tamworth, New Hampshire.  Public schools can make it work.  We need visionaries like Lianne.

(Click on the “New Day” link above for the 3 minute interview with Nancie Atwell)

Dan and Hannah Hike the Mendocino Headlands in northern California

mendocino-county-mapWith New England bracing for a monster snowstorm, we have delayed our flight home to Boston by twenty-four hours.  The Universe is smiling down on us as we are staying with friends Tree and Scott, who graciously welcome us for an additional night at their place on the northern coast of California. Nolan, our son Will’s best man, has offered to plow our driveway.  Our village is coming together on this late January weekend.

Taking advantage of the opportunity that the snow gods have given us, we drive 25 miles north to the Mendocino Headlands this late Sunday morning. The Pacific Coast Highway from Point Arena to Mendocino is classic hairpins and sparkling morning sunshine off the warm waters of the Pacific.  Enjoy the ride on the video below.

Moody's coffee shop and bakery in Mendocino

Moody’s coffee shop and bakery in Mendocino.  The place to chill with Internet access.

Surrounded on three sides by bluffs and cliffs, Mendocino is just off the beaten path (the Pacific Coast Highway); we park easily on Main Street. Mendocino is the mama bear of climates; not too hot and not too cold. Summers have frequent fog and highs in the upper sixties. Their winters are in the 50s with no frost or snow. A popular home to bed and breakfasts, art shops, and funky neighborhood restaurants, Mendocino is New England on the West Coast.

Along the bluff trail looking back to town

Along the bluff trail looking back to town

Home to transplanted New Englanders in the 19th century, Mendocino has many Victorian-style homes. Mendocino served as the fictional town of Cabot Cove, Maine for the hit TV series, Murder, She Wrote.

Mendocino water tank

Mendocino water tank

Famous for its water towers, Mendocino used windmills to power these towers built at the end of the 19th century. All one needed was a windmill tall enough to catch coastal breezes to power the pumps and a tank positioned high enough to provide adequate water pressure. Today, most of the windmills have disappeared, but less than a dozen of these towers are still standing, ranging from completely restored to the precarious.

Catchment tank

Catchment tank

One year ago, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors declared a Local Emergency and Imminent Threat of Disaster due to drought conditions. Dealing with the drought that all California is experiencing, Mendocino is offering 5000 to 50,000 gallon catchment tanks for landowners and organizations. Drought-stricken California, which just had its driest January ever, will smash another dismal record next month: the hottest February.  In March, Governor Jerry Brown will require mandatory water conservation after a winter with 6% of the normal snow pack in the Sierras.

On the Mendocino Headlands bluff trail

On the Mendocino Headlands bluff trail

From Main Street, hikers can walk just a few hundred feet to the Mendocino Headlands bluff trail. Some 50 or 60 feet above the shoreline, the bluff trails are serpentine paths through the heather and brush. On this sunny Sunday morning, we have many other hiker/walkers for company. Though fog does not come in today, it will tomorrow and drop temperatures fifteen degrees.

Looking out to the Pacific

Looking out to the Pacific

This three mile bluff trail within an arm’s reach of town lies above rich abalone grounds. This is not a trail on which I would take our preschool grandsons, Owen and Max. Though not perilous for adults, the trail is two to three feet from sheer cliffs dropping sixty feet or more to the beach below. As with most bluff trails, there is little elevation gain so it’s a “walk in the park” along the ocean for us today.

In addition to other wildlife, there are VCU Rams on the trail

In addition to other wildlife, there are VCU Rams on the trail

The trail winds to the north of town with cliff side views. We return to town along Lansing Street. The early afternoon has me sitting behind the Methodist Church on a bench just taking in the sunshine in this lazy funky town.  Good weather on vacation makes me think, I could live here.

Our front yard on Chases Pond Road

Our front yard on Chases Pond Road

The coming blizzard is now predicted to be 12+ inches. Virgin America Airlines has changed our red-eye from Monday night to Tuesday night for no charge. The Fox Rent-a-Car company is not so forgiving.   Though I mention that our flight has been cancelled, they are charging us a $29 penalty for bringing the rental car to the San Francisco Airport a day late.

Their inflexibility is countered by Tree and Scott’s embrace.  Another fine meal awaits; this time adult macaroni and cheese with penne pasta, ground turkey, and mixed vegetables.  They and their outside Jacuzzi warm us through and through as evening temperatures dip into the low 50s.

Cradled in the arms of our amigos on the northern California coast, we are indeed the lucky ones. Let it snow. New England can wait.

Monogamous by Nature

I’m reading Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Though I am no fan of his horror genre, I was intrigued by his line that he and his wife were “monogamous by nature.” I guess some folks are; others not. Hmmm. I always thought monogamy was a choice.

Circa 1976

Circa 1976

Now that I think of it, I would say I’m monogamous by nature. That’s easy to say, you might be thinking. You married a knockout. But that criterion alone wouldn’t be enough to ensure monogamy.  Nightly, Entertainment Tonight and E! News trumpet the failed marriages of celebrity after celebrity.

So, my monogamy is by nature. I’ll take it. It’s not will power. I don’t deserve any credit; it’s just me; my DNA. I don’t judge those who are not. I just am. Monogamous by nature makes life less complicated. It’s easier to be the role model as a father I want to be.  I just am.

Still, I doubt it’s that simple.  There are so many variables in a life.  Yet it seems to ring true that I am monogamous by nature. I just never thought of it that way.


Dan and Hannah Hike the Point Arena Bluff Trail in California

PA map of coast and lighthouse

As overnight guests of Scott and Tree, we have all the comforts of home – a home that looks over the Pacific Ocean with friends looking out for our meals, catching the latest VCU basketball game together, and soaking in the hot tub for these, our last two days in California.

Tree, Scott, and Hannah with Bob

Tree, Scott, and Hannah with Bob

Scott and I go way back. We taught together at Frisbee Middle School in Kittery, Maine in the early 1990s.  He science and I language arts. We each married New York girls who were teachers: Tree a science teacher; Hannah a one-and-done physical education teacher. Though Tree and Scott are not wine drinkers, they buy us some fine vino for our nights together.

Scott and Tree awhale watching at Point Arena

Scott and Tree awhale watching at Point Arena (picture by Peggy Berryhill)

In 2013 Scott founded Mendonoma Whale and Seal Study (Mendonoma is a combination of the two local counties – Mendocino and Sonoma) to conduct seasonal observations of the gray whales’ behavior as they migrate along the coast of northern California.

Our morning cows

Our morning cows

Before hitting the trail, Hannah and I take a pre-breakfast walk along the Pacific Coast Highway. Having the two-lane, rural highway to ourselves this early Saturday morning in late January, we soon have some bovine visitors. Approaching a roadside pasture, we notice the cows from the foothills one hundred yards away are lumbering toward us.  As we continue north on the road, we all travel in unison. We stop. They stop. We turn for home. They follow. It’s the damnedst thing. Watch below.

The trail begins

The trail begins

Though we usually hike alone, today we have the good fortune to take to a bluff trail that Tree and Scott have personally selected for us.  Traveling south on the Pacific Coast Highway, we turn off at the Rollerville Cafe on the Point Arena Lighthouse Road. Parking on the dirt shoulder of this rural road a little after 11A, we learn that locals think of this as the best bluff hike in the area.

Tree, Scott, and Bob crossing the ravine along the Point Arena Bluff Trail

Tree, Scott, and Bob crossing the ravine along the Point Arena Bluff Trail

With their faithful Irish Setter Bob, Tree and Scott take us along the trail that was once the Stornetta Fields. The Stornetta Public Lands National Monument was just created in March of 2014. Less than a year ago, President Barack Obama designated these 1400 acres as part of the California Coastal National Monument.  Vision.

Point Arena surf

Point Arena surf

This one time cattle farm quickly reveals that the locals were not just blowing smoke about its beauty. With its many rock formations close to shore that produce rocking waves, we see why the trail is numero uno. The trail is not worn but easy to follow. Now part of public lands, the trail, a local hiker tells us, now sanctions bluff hiking when before locals and knowledgeable others just hiked it anyway.

VCU Ram ahiking at Point Arena

VCU Ram ahiking at Point Arena

Since there is no wind, I’m surprised by the high seas and crashing waves. My meteorological training has a few holes. Come on Weather Channel, step up my game. For two years running, California for the Rothermels in January has been sunshine and blue skies.

Taking a break above the cliffs, we lunch on Tree’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; simpatico with Tree and Scott in many ways, having simple meals on the trail is just another one.

PA 3A surf

A mile into our hike we run across a fenced-in, cliffside, abandoned field station once used by Mendocino College. Here we have a little problem. Starting down a faux path that runs near the property line, we find just brambles and tick-living brush. This is not good for Bob or for the four bipeds. Backtracking, we hail fellow bluff hikers who direct us to a more inland trail.

#1 bluff trail

#1 bluff trail

After navigating the road from the school through a coastal pine forest, we are back on the bluff trail again. As we hike, we chat up a woman who used to waitress in Ogunquit, Maine, which is literally the next town north of our home in York. Another hiker clues us into an excellent Mendocino Headlands bluff trail 25 miles to the north and another hike in the nearby Russian Gulch State Park.


Mainers escaping the winter of 2015

Mainers escaping the winter of 2015

This is just a leisurely mellow hike with leisurely mellow Tree and Scott. Near 60F, we pull on our sweatshirts when the clouds roll in. If you are not into the snow machine of the Northeast, the Mendocino coast may be just the place for you. Winter or summer, the temperature is often in the 50s and 60s. It’s Camelot with not a lick of snow.

PA 2A surf below the trailOnce back at the trailhead, Scott and Tree head out to their perch by the lighthouse to count whales while we return to their place and have a cool Dos Equis on their sun-filled deck. It’s January! California has a lot to offer our mellow side.

That evening we get a text from our sister-in-law Becky wondering if we have heard about the upcoming major snow storm in New England for Tuesday.  That would be a no!  Scheduled to fly in to Boston on a Tuesday morning after taking a red eye from San Francisco, we have The Weather Channel confirm something big is acoming to the Northeast.

PA weather map of coming storm useI call Virgin America Airlines and ask if we can move our flight one day later to the Tuesday night red-eye. For no charge, the agent quickly agrees and we have bought ourselves another day in paradise. The snow gods lay a gift at our feet.