by Wayne Boatwright, December 28, 2016
The urge to return grew as my doom approached. Visions of fog shrouded trails, tidepools and craggy coves filled my restless sleeping.
Like a salmon thrashing and plowing back up its origin stream to spawn and die, I struggled facing my doom. I realize that I must return to Caspar with my children, for my children. My very existence demands it.
Home? I guess that is the right word. My childhood was a nomadic one — never staying anywhere long enough to make a home.
I had always seen myself a Valley boy, having lost my innocence under LA's smog red moon. I know better now. Caspar was a one-street ghost town between Mendocino and Noyo Harbor far up the California coast, but as I prepared to say goodbye to my family, it was Caspar that haunted me, defined me.
To take form as a person requires courage. I found mine in Caspar. I discovered a sense of adventure and independence by scaling cliffs of rock and sand searching for hidden treasures in tidepools, nests and grottoes. I developed confidence crossing razor-sharp rocks between crashing waves and using landmarks and the setting sun to work my way home at day's end.
Unlike that magnificent fish that thrives in both fresh and salt water, I fear my transition from free citizen to inmate. Soon, I must perform my citizen's duty to serve sentence in a new different brutal world. As I steel myself to face this doom, I worry for my precious little ones. They must navigate life’s waters guided solely by their mother. Father is going up the river, to be gone longer than their entire existence; their life course permanently altered by my crime.
How could I say goodbye? Give something to guide them across the years of separation. What signs and tokens could serve to keep alive our family bond?
I marvel at how the salmon finds its way across the vast Pacific to the mouth of its creation stream. I have only a map and vague memories to prod me back. At this test I cannot fail my family again. I was forged exploring Caspar’s magic wilds. No map exists to develop such traits in the next generation. Still, Caspar calls me — an incessant demanding that only there would I be able to retrieve and impart something of vital importance to my children.
Behind the wheel and a manufactured confident smile, we headed north on the 101 toward Willits as I desperately searched my mind for the key to unlock my childhood treasure trove of memories. Upon arrival, we performed the customary tours of lighthouse, harbor and old town. I discovered that Caspar had been swallowed up and become a mere Mendocino suburb. I recognized none of it.
On this last weekend before my incarceration, I could find no path back to my memories. We checked into the Skylark Lodge’s last available room around 11pm. My family fell asleep to the crash of waves below. I could not rest.
As the morning broke, the sea, she called me overriding the constraints of adulthood and I knew. As must the salmon, my passage to the Lodge's private cove was swift and sure. Out of the morning sea mist, a beach materialized strewn with long tangles, bulbs and ribbons of kelp. I inhaled the pungent scent with the waves and watched the undulating kelp forests suspended on the ocean surface by iodine colored bulbs. Here was the key!
The smells transported me back — the memories like waves crashed. The riptide of recognition pulled me under and I held my breath as memories swirled in my mind.
I was taken back to the house and barn with a path lined by blood orange poppies to the stream across which lay fields of blackberries. As a boy, I had battled those bushes until my fingers were scarlet and arms scratched up to the elbows — evidence of my victory, loaded buckets of berries I would give my grandmother to bake into pies and fill Mason jars with tart sweetness. Over the horizon was the trail through the pygmy forest to the Jug Handle Park waterfall. The cove’s kelp scent had awakened these magical memories for me to share as treasures with my little ones.
As with the salmon, I spread these gifts on the streambed of my little ones’ experiences before the current pulled me to prison. Over those next few fleeting days my children collected tokens of driftwood, sea shells and beach glass as emblems of a father's love. I could only trust instinct that such take hold in their fertile souls and keep them safe until my return.
The current of time was pulling me to a new existence; yet Caspar had renewed me. When the sun sets on this adventure, I know I can find my way home.