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Upon Returning to Mendocino

Twenty-two years ago, I moved away from Mendocino County and the Northern California coastal redwoods, and I returned to my childhood life outside of L.A. in Palos Verdes to live with my widowed mother and raise my two kids. A lot had happened in between my previous tenure in Palos Verdes: I had gotten married, had two kids, tried to move to Alaska with my husband and toddler and then returned to Mendocino when I found out I was pregnant with Child Number Two, to live in Fort Bragg. Sadly our marriage failed, I couldn’t make ends meet alone, and when my kids were two and four I made a hard decision to move in with my mom and raise my kids in that suburban oasis called Rolling Hills Estates where I grew up, spending my time as a kid alternating between riding ponies on the horse trails and body surfing at Rat Beach, and wanting the same kind of life for my own offspring.

As I drove out of Mendocino after dusk that last time in 1997, I pulled over on Highway 128. It was a clear cold winter night, and my children were asleep in their car seats. I stepped out of the running car, my old station wagon full of those most precious to me: my kids, two Siberian huskies, and my cat. I stood under simmering stars and said my promise aloud to the sky: “I will be back.”

Last Thursday, that happened. 

After a long absence, I returned to Mendocino, to Philo in fact, and the turn-off to my new home in the woods is near where I pulled over and promised the stars, the moon, the nearby trees and anyone else listening, that I would indeed be back.

My kids are now 24 and 26. My mother, who I took care of in her last years, recently passed away, and we sold the family home. The huskies and cat are long gone, and now in their stead is a polar-bear looking Colorado Mountain dog and another similar and much beloved calico cat. There is also our Insta-famous peacock (#RadthePeacock if you are curious), a large pony, three goats and a pig. The animals, from my volunteer rescue in Southern California called Pixie Dust Ranch, and I all moved back to live out this Mendocino country lifestyle together.

So far, I am reminded of my early days in Mendocino County. Back in the early 90s, my husband Mike and I moved to Comptche from San Pedro. Mike was hired to build the family’s existing Comptche ‘hippie shack’ into a 2-bedroom retirement home (complete with Jacuzzi) for his mom and stepdad, the Chisholms. I went from being a Long Beach-based goth “Thursday Poet” one day, to a country-dwelling homesteader-hippie girl the next. 

We moved into the one-room shack that hosted a beat up rather frightening swivel recliner, a banged up couch, and a janky wood-burning Franklin stove, and a bookcase with a lot of nautical-themed books and the Lord of the Rings triology (I would become Tolkien’s biggest fan that summer).

The transformation suited me. There was something magical about living in the redwoods, about having to build a fire to stay warm and cook food, and having to fill up water jugs at the roadside communal cistern so we could later shower from a metal tank, to drink that same water, and to use it to prepare food and wash our dishes. 

There the days and nights rolled into one, and when darkness fell, we merely lit candles and prepared for bed. Little by little, we made ‘improvements’ to the Comptche property in our efforts to create a happy future home for Mike’s mother and step-dad, and our lives went from feral, to tempered, to tame. 

I remember once when the phone landline rang for the first time, I about jumped out of my skin. Then the road was built up to the cabin, and we no longer had to hike up the skinny deer trail with our water jugs and groceries. Then the well went in, and we didn’t have to go wait for an hour to fill our water jugs. We moved the old recliner to the front porch and brought our bed and our own furniture into the home. Friends visited, in awe of our trepidation and bravery. But little by little, those improvements took the magic of roughing it away. 

Nonetheless, I sobbed the first time I took a hot shower in that house, by then pregnant with our first born. The country lifestyle had been conquered. I missed the uncombed days. This is my experience again now. It is fleeting, even more so than 25-plus years ago. 

I moved up here to the country again from Suburbia last week. I have running water, but only in a couple places. No shower, no kitchen sink, no toilet, no refrigeration, no stove, no oven, no Internet. But that will all be fixed soon. I have no electricity or solar power, but I have a generator for lights I can turn on at night. My toilet is not functioning, but I have a plumber (my ex-husband Mike!) coming to fix it later this week. Tomorrow Joe the propane guy is coming and I will likely have a refrigerator instead of a cooler, and a real stove instead of my butane camp one to cook on. I know it’s all going to be okay. 

Going forth, I shall still live in the deep woods, but with all the home comforts, except for this week. For this week, I am free like I was a couple dozen years ago. I am bathing in the pond by my back door, reveling and in awe of the freezing water temps. I am drying in the sun, au naturel. I am utilizing the camp toilet I purchased for ‘dry camping’ at the RTR (“Rubber Tramp Rendezvous”) in Arizona in January (check it out if you are an RV enthusiast). 

Indoors and outdoors are all one here. My body is browning in the late spring sun, my hair is nappy. No one sees me here. I am free to do what I like, and I am enjoying ‘glamping’ in my new home until all the amenities are put back into place and I am tamed. Somewhat. Even if I have solar power and running hot shower water and a flushing toilet and all that, there will always be a part of me that will bathe in wild waters, use a headlamp flashlight instead of the light switch, heat up dinner on the woodburning stove… That part of me didn’t disappear. She was waiting here in Philo for me to return all along.


  1. djakke raine May 1, 2019

    sweet story, i can relate, these stories feed the archive of what was which is very important now in this age of zip, swipe, like.

  2. Melinda May 2, 2019

    Cat, you bring your story to life with your words. So beautiful! I’d say, Mendocino and you found each other again, but you were never actually parted. Love!

  3. Marshall Newman May 2, 2019

    Welcome back. The journey is important, but so is a destination that fits.

  4. Jen Bushnell May 3, 2019

    Finally got to read this that’s so magical that u stopped in your car and you said to the universe “I’ll be back” … And it was very near your future drive way!! Ooh I got Chills! Love ya …your Mendocino soul sister ???????

  5. Cat Spydell May 7, 2019

    Thank you everyone for sharing your lovely comments! I felt honored to have this piece published in the AVA. Grateful to be ‘home’ again!

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