I. Mendocino headlands, 6:20 a.m.
Muffled grey skies, finger-chilling breeze, salinity infusing nostrils and eyes. The rhythmic whoosh and sigh of waves engulfing, abandoning, then reclaiming landfall with the fervency of ambivalent lovers. We have one hour before the minus tide recovers a sister-world of beings left gasping in dry oxygen. My girlfriend Terry leads the way along gravelly path, nimbly stepping alongside scruffy cliff sides. She is outfitted in a wetsuit and booties, mesh bags slung over one shoulder, a sexy black selkie.
For years I’ve tried to capture the raw, complex, fierce life-force of our Mendonoma* coast and its ever-changing moods. The opening paragraph (above) from my essay Holdfast, published in the Spring 2019 online edition of The Portland Review, plunges readers into Northern California tides to reveal botanical, cultural, and political underworlds and answer the questions: When is algae not a plant? Who were the First Peoples of the Mendocino coastline? Why has our abalone fishery been shut down?
With “Holdfast,” I trace the connections between seaweed and sea urchin and abalone; between Wailaki ancestors and descendants and invaders; between climate change and greed and ignorance. Ultimately the piece illustrates the impacts of historical and ecological blindness: what happens when we fail to honor the original inhabitants of a region.
This hybrid piece – my first multimedia contribution! – brings our coast to life by combining written narrative with video, digital imagery, and audio that I recorded along the ocean.
I spent over five years working on “Holdfast,” and my heart was broken countless times while writing it. I mourn our society’s reckless approach to everything I hold dear; and I mourn the never-ending traumas revisited upon successive generations of coastal communities.
My hope is this: that at least one hundred people read “Holdfast,” learn from it, and share it; and that the learning and sharing leads to more enlightened and compassionate policies. That we step up and protect All Our Relations: whether they have roots or holdfasts or tentacles or flippers or feet.
* “Mendonoma” is a mash-up of Mendocino and Sonoma, an acknowledgement of the two counties’ geographical and cultural proximity.