But really I should start with the drive to Mendocino, not the drive back home. California, as anyone who's paid much attention to the news lately already knows, has been on fire for the past couple of weeks. Pretty nearly the entire state, or at least the northern two thirds of it, has been covered with a thick haze of smoke that made it difficult for many people to breathe. I personally wasn't bothered at all by the smoke, so for me the most noticeable effects were that in the daytime it was hard to see very far in front of me through the smoke, and in the evening the sunsets were odd-looking, with the sun glowing very red through the haze. But Susan got a sore throat from the smoke, and a lot of other people suffered various ill effects from it. The day we drove to Mendocino happened to fall right when the Sacramento Valley was at its smokiest, so we hoped it would be less smoky on the coast. While Susan drove, I read the newspaper in the car and found a letter to the editor in which someone asserted that the wildfires were an expression of God's wrath against California for it having legalized same-sex marriage. Amused, I read the letter out loud to Susan, who exclaimed, "Yes, of course - see how Massachusetts has been taken over by wildfires ever since 2004?" Anyway, I took this picture when we drove past the Sutter Buttes, the top of which were almost invisible through the smoke.
Eventually we emerged from the Sacramento Valley and crossed the significantly less smoky Coast Range into the very much less smoky town of Mendocino. We stayed in one of the second-floor hotel rooms whose doorways you can see in this picture. The front of the hotel faced the ocean.
The hotel was built in the 1860s and is furnished in a Victorian style. Our hotel room featured a portrait of this very militaristic-looking woman, whose identity we don't know.
We had a "European-style" room, meaning that it didn't have a private bathroom; the bathroom was across the hall. Our room had a sink in it, though. Susan gathered flowers in the evening to surprise me with, and we put them in the coffee cup that you can see here in front of the sink. I later brought them home with me, where Stardust promptly tried to eat them. You can also see a bit of Susan in the mirror here, although that wasn't intentional.
Here is the view we had of the ocean from our hotel room.
Now let's look at the exact same view from up closer, outside. This bush covered with pink flowers is the same bush you can see from our hotel room above. I have no idea what species it is. Nothing native, I'm pretty sure. The white flowers in front of it are invasive wild radish.
Although the bush was very pretty, Susan demonstrated that its beauty could not hold its own when compared side by side with hers. (She did not realize this was what she was demonstrating, but she will realize it when she reads this.)
We walked out into the field together, and along the shore. There was a geodesic dome at one point along the shore, visible in this picture.
We saw sea stacks along the shore.
I wanted to photograph Susan. She suggested that I should include the rocks below her in the photograph, because she liked the way they had been eroded by the wind.
Then she photographed me. In the background is the spot where Big River flows into the ocean. I'm wearing Susan's jacket.
I loved this glimpse of a mass of ferns clinging to the cliffs above the ocean. The tiny beach below, completely inaccessible except from the ocean, was kind of neat too.
As we continued walking along the shore, we saw more accessible beaches.
We also found a couch, with some guy sleeping on it. Apparently the joys of sleeping on a couch on a cliff overlooking the ocean are great enough to motivate some people to actually carry a couch out there. This couch had to have been carried quite a considerable distance. It was then apparently left there indefinitely; the guy sleeping on it appeared to be homeless and was probably not its owner.
The trees were covered with dangling lichen. The wooden staircase led down to the ocean.
This was the view from halfway down the stairs.
And this was the countryside adjacent to the beach, merging with the beach on the right.
And this was Susan, waiting for me to finish descending the stairs and join her on the beach.
Near the end of the path along the shore, I had noticed that there was quite a bit of poison oak growing along the edges of the path, which concerned me since my skirt was only knee-length. So when we arrived at the beach, I waded into the ocean up to my knees to wash off any possible poison oak oils I might have brushed against. When I put my shoes and socks back on afterward, I ended up with a ton of sand in them. But at least I didn't get poison oak.
Later we walked around the town itself. I was pleased to discover this hybrid lupine with blended yellow and purple flowers, a cross between two native species (yellow lupine and purple lupine) that I had never previously seen crossed. Susan posed with it for me, and later incorporated a bit of the hybrid lupine into the bouquet she created for me.
She didn't incorporate any of these flowers (because they were out in the fields and not readily accessible), but we had started seeing them and commenting on them when we passed through the redwood forests in the coast range. We continued seeing them all the way into Mendocino. The flowers look like chaparral pea (Pickeringia montana), but the leaves seem to be larger, so I don't know what the plant really is.
When we were walking around town, we passed a gopher hole in which I noticed obvious movement in the dirt. I stopped to look, and a gopher stuck its head out of the hole. It continued popping its head in and out every few seconds after that, while we stood directly above its hole. I got out my camera and took a picture of it - only one, because the flash scared it so it didn't show itself anymore after that. It was an awfully cute gopher, though.
Speaking of cute animals, we ate lunch at a cafe whose patio (where we ate) was filled with customers' dogs and the cafe owner's tiny, somewhat wobbly-legged, 17-year-old cat. One of the dogs was a humongous, all-white dog, at least as big as a St. Bernard and similar looking except for being pure white. It seemed to be a rather old dog and wanted to do nothing but sit with its head between its paws, looking exactly like a humongous stuffed animal. When its owner finished eating and wanted to leave, the dog had no such desire to leave and simply continued lying sleepily where it had been, not budging until after quite a few minutes of its owner's persuasive efforts. I thought it was the cutest dog ever.
Anyway, that was Mendocino. We stayed in the hotel for just one night, and went home the next afternoon - though not before Susan bought me a little book there about how to identify fern species. I made use of the book when we stopped at Hendy Woods State Park on our way home. Susan wanted to scout the place out for potential future camping trips, and I wanted to identify ferns with my new book, so we went for a two- or three- mile hike and did both. I identified Western sword ferns (shown in the picture below) and coastal wood ferns. The place was gorgeous.
Some of the older redwood trees had been burned in past wildfires. Susan posed in the burned portion of one of them.
Then I posed in the burned section of another.
We followed signs leading to the abandoned hut of a hermit named Pitro Zalenko, a Ukrainian Jewish survivor of World War II, who lived in Hendy Woods during the 1960s and 1970s, until he died in 1981. There was nothing inside the hut.
After we left Hendy Woods, we passed through Anderson Valley and stopped at several wineries there so Susan could go wine-tasting. This is one of the wineries.
And then we went home. And celebrated Susan's birthday yesterday! She turned 42, which means she is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. She didn't expect me to bring her a birthday cake, because apparently her ex and her parents were both prone to failing to do so. I bought her a cake though, and she didn't even notice when I brought it in and put it in her refrigerator, so she didn't know she would have a birthday cake at all until I informed her of it while we were out having dinner at a local cafe. It was a chocolate cake. I picked it up after work, along with 13 candles in the shape of letters that spelled out "Happy Birthday," and an additional 29 candles in thin, spiralling, confetti-like shapes, for a total of 42. In Susan's kitchen, I placed all the candles on the cake, brought the cake to the dining table, and started lighting the candles. Susan came over to watch and soon ended up helping me light them, as we both noticed that the very thin candles were rapidly melting away even before we got them all lit. We did light them all though, briefly, and then Susan quickly blew them all out before they were gone. We ended up with puddles of colorful wax all over the top of the cake, but this was a good thing because it made Susan laugh. She had been preparing herself for a lousy birthday, and I think I managed to give her a good birthday instead. I also gave her two boxes of chocolate and four books: Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Averno by Louise Gluck, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and When She Was White: The True Story of a Family Divided by Race by Judith Stone. Unfortunately her dogs unwrapped the first two books for her while we were out at dinner, and chewed them up a little. But they were still readable, and even though it's been only 24 hours since I gave them to her, Susan has already finished reading the first three of the four books I gave her.