I met two young men in the dark and lonely intersection at Little Lake Road and the Coast Highway on Wednesday night. I was on my way back home, walking up Little Lake, past the ballfield in Friendship Park. It was very dark, but I had a small flashlight and I was reassured by the familiar feeling of the baseball diamond in the Park.
As I came upon the crossing I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye, and owing to the hour and the dark, I responded with startled suspicion. But my mind was immediately eased when I realized that these two men had skateboards with them. They were skaters. So I figured I was ok.
I spoke with one of the young men, briefly. He had stepped forward to greet me. He was tall and dark, but it was his smile that I noticed, that disarmed any lingering fears I had about these strangers. His smile seemed luminous. These two were not a threat.
I asked where they were skating from, expecting the answer to be Albion or Elk, somewhere a fair bit away. Instead the answer came back, with a smile: “We’re just cutting in halfway down to the bridge.” This I understood to mean they were skating down Pacific Coast Highway to the bridge at Big River. I was impressed, and I told him that. We said goodnight and I continued on my way, past Highway 1, eastbound on Little Lake Road.
But for that chance 30 second encounter, I never would have met Calum Hunnicutt. And but for a chance 30 second encounter at the same intersection two days later, on Friday, I never would have known that Calum Hunnicutt had died. Had died in fact the night after I met him, at the same intersection.
Walking to the village on Friday at noon, a young woman was waiting for the light to change. She had an armload of sunflowers and was obviously heading to the median of the Highway where a shrine of flowers had been placed and was growing. I asked her what had happened. She told me that two young men had been skating near the intersection on Thursday night. One of the men was struck and killed by a car northbound on Highway One. The driver of that car did not stop to help. The driver fled the scene and left Calum on the side of the road.
I asked the young woman how she knew the fellow who had died and she told me he was a local man, only 21. His name was Calum and he had grown up in Mendo, graduated Mendo High. I asked if she had a photo and she produced pictures on her cellphone from a Facebook page. I was thunderstruck when I realized it was the same young man I had met at the intersection just the night before. There was no mistaking his photo. That smile.
It was not the manner of his death, but rather how Calum Hunnicutt lived that was dominant at the memorial service I attended on Sunday at Big River. Spread out over the entire beach east of the bridge on Sunday, it seemed more like an encampment that a gathering. The beach was crowded with his many friends and family members. Calum’s dad Adam spun some discs that Calum composed, and people danced a bit. But mostly they just spoke among themselves, clustered in groups of five or ten, in celebration for being with him and grief at his loss. Calum was a gifted musician and rapper, a poet and a skater. A beach kid from Mendocino-town.
People I spoke with remembered a gentle and authentic young man, an engaging and glowing spirit:
“I have never known anyone like Calum.”
“He was an original.”
Over and over, people spoke of what it was like to be “with Calum.” And I think I understand. I got a glimpse, however fleeting, on that dark Wednesday night.
Calum Hunnicutt, Requisat in Pace.