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    Mendocino and Kayaking Big River

    The quaint town of Mendocino is one the various manmade gems along the Northern California coast (albeit the gem designation is due to its setting in an area of extreme natural beauty, something that humans had no part in creating, for the town is located upon a unique headland facing the magnificent Pacific Ocean to the west, and to the east are evergreen forests engulfing the hills, and along the coast which is festooned with colorful wildflowers there are rocky outcroppings and meadow-bluffs that kiss the turquoise sea in which enormous kelp forest coves punctured by sea caves harbor a spectacular range of shorebirds and marine life).  Developed by the influx of loggers who expelled the native Pomo Indian settlement in the area in the 1850s, Mendocino is now a heavily touristed town which has retained an antiquated, antebellum character demonstrated nicely by the historic Mendocino Inn, a place that is throwback to the good-old-days when obdurate men on horseback rode to the town saloon for a whiskey drink and then moseyed on over to the brothel where belladonna whores in flowing dresses greeted them and miserly Chinese men named Ching scurried around suspiciously with surprising efficacy and financial success in venues that would in later decades be frequented by men armed with tommy guns and donning striped suits like those worn by the actors cast in the film Dick Tracy.    

    Aside from the saloons and brothels, Mendocino offers close proximity to Big River, which runs ten miles inland from the bay.  At the mouth of the river the freshwater flows into and meets the saltwater coursing in from the ocean, and the riverbed is comprised of white sand, which imbues the water with hints of aquamarine and teal, and also hosts the occasional stand of bull kelp.  The bright aquatic colors and kelp stands continue to appear upriver until the saltwater transitions into the more freshwater-dominated riparian environment, which is submerged in chlorophyll hues from forested riverbanks lined by reeds and cloaked by arching trees and underlying serene algae-laden waters.  Nevertheless, as you make your way upriver you are reminded of its brackish composition by the presence of seals resting on the logs and sandbars of the river; also in the redwood canopies above where dozens of cormorant nests may occupy a single tree, indicating that the sea is not far off for the cormorant is indeed a shorebird if there ever was one.  Further upriver, freshwater animals, such as painted turtles and river otters inhabit the log-jammed flanks, and they retreat at your incoming presence.


    The river was once used as a channel to transport the thousands of ancient redwood trees hacked down in the environmentally devastating ecocide that was the erstwhile Big River logging industry, the resulting lumber having been used for the construction of myriad homes in San Francisco.  Old logging ruins can still be seen as you paddle inland, and none of the old growth trees exist anymore.  One wonders what it looked when the giant two-thousand year-old redwoods were still standing along the banks of the river.  What prolific and glorious wildlife there must have been before those bastards got their fucking hands and saws on those sacrosanct trees.  Not only that, one wonders what the Mendocino coast and surrounding sea must have been like before the whalers and the seal hunters came poaching for blubber like bloodthirsty drunken madmen.  Perhaps the Pomo Indians could have told us, but they’re all gone now, gone or working in casinos or K-Marts, having all but lost the spiritual connection to the natural world that their ancestors must have possessed when they walked along the banks of Big River prior to its mechanized-induced upheaval and mutilation (I was about to say transformation, but that’s too ambiguous, for it could imply something good).  Still, you can kayak Big River and appreciate for what is it now, and once you get far enough upriver, far away from everything and anyone civilized, if you close your eyes you can imagine what it was like before the trees were fell, and that vision will put smile on your sunlit face.  And if you want, you can think about what it may be like down the road, and that prospect may make your cringe and shake your head, for the fate of the Earth and the natural world – Big River included – is looking grim. 

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