I was asked to cover the weekly proceedings at Ten Mile Court in Fort Bragg. My vehicle was going to the shop so I had to find another way to the coast.
At 7am I left downtown Boonville on foot, me and the town still in the fog. As I crossed the bridge just north of town holding a cardboard sign I made that said "Fort Bragg" a muddy white pickup stopped. I opened the door and said hello to the man through the roll bars; he said he could take me to the Navarro Store. "Do you smoke weed?" he asked. "Do you have a lighter?" I didn't. I looked over to his console between the seats where his hand moved around a clip of long gold bullets and pens and screws but no lighter.
As we approached Philo we drove out of the fog into a sunny day. We talked about all the rain we had a couple weeks ago, all the mudslides and closures. "With all that rain I haven’t been able to put plants in the ground," he said. Two days before he saw me walking down the road but had a full load and couldn’t pick me up. He told me I should come down to Navarro when the summer came around because bands played there and I told him I heard it was an intimate venue.
I assumed it would be easy to get a ride on out to the Mendocino Coast that far up 128, but I walked and walked through the redwoods where it was still cold. I started to realize that 128 near Navarro is a hard place to get a ride, not very many turn-offs. I saw a crew of Cal-trans workers pass me, but I didn't expect them to stop. I saw white and purple flowers and patches of clover, and I remembered how Derek in New Orleans had shown me how to look for four-leaf clovers; to look at all of them, not individually, to let your eyes adjust, scan the patch until they start popping out. It occurred to me that it’s the same as looking at a sky full of stars looking for constellations or meteorites, relax your eyes and let them adjust, not looking at individual stars too much because they fade away when you stare too long at one, but when you empty your head and bring yourself to the moment the patterns and motion can be seen, if only you look at all of them and none of them. I would get a ride if I walked. I walked on into the unknown undiscouraged.
Vehicles were passing rarely, I looked at the ground as I walked and I found an expired Texas driver’s license face down in the ditch. I looked to my right and saw a $100 bill half buried in the embankment under twigs and leaves. I immediately held it to the sun to check the watermark on Benjamin Franklin’s face. His smile seemed too wide but I determined it was real. The bill had gotten wet then dried. I looked around the small stretch of 128 to where near a storm drain some trash had collected when the redwoods drained. I found another bill, a five also half buried in the embankment. Two cars passed headed towards the coast as I looked up and down the road for almost ten minutes. I didn't hold up my fort Bragg sign. When I found a $20 in the embankment right next to the drain and decided it was time to move on to Fort Bragg.
I walked on past the Boy Scout camp, past the turn to Comptche, hugged embankments on narrow shoulders as uniform delivery trucks, wide load semis, UPS, and Mendocino Redwood Company pickups blazed by skimming the hairs on my arms. I knew if I stood with sign in hand near a turn-off I would have a better chance, but I had to keep moving towards my final destination. I don't like waiting alongside the road, I'd rather be in motion. I'll walk all the way to Highway One if I have to, I thought.
I watched murky redwood pools and a strange teepee frame slowly pass my field of vision. I climbed on the side of an embankment and looked back and saw a U-Haul truck I knew was going to stop. When it did I looked in the window as I always do and a happy guy with black curly hair motioned with his arm for me to get in quick. He was hardly off the road. It smelled like weed in the cab. I thanked him and introduced myself. He gave me a high five. He immediately started a conversation about how you can tell you are on a necessary journey when you feel the inner workings brush your shoulder. "...and you get picked up by a U-Haul truck." He said something about Jah's spirit or something that I didn't understand over the motor and didn't ask him to elaborate. We got stuck at the Caltrans clean-up area and he said he was late meeting his friend in Fort Bragg who was helping him move. "You can help us?!" I told him I was a mover for three years in New York City, but I didn't commit myself.
He was very high as he swung the box truck around the redwoods and up the ridge by Navarro Beach. I asked him if he knew where the Ten Mile Court was, a bad question to ask a stranger who picks you up in the Mendo woods. But my host was unfazed. He talked about surfing and sized up the waves on the stretch of Highway One below Albion. Finally he asked me if I was being squeezed by the court and I told him I was writing about it. He said it was great I was going to court to write for the newspaper. "I'd like to do more for my community, but I just grow weed."
When we arrived at his turn near Fort Bragg he said, "This is me, you can get out here..." I told him I would help him move, which made the happy guy even happier. It was just after 11am by then, and I didn't have to be in court until 1:30pm. We got to his place in the woods near the ocean. We met his friend and carried some surfboards to the back and couches and dressers to the front. His friend was jealous of his place; he said he could have gotten it as a back-up house. "I love it!" the man who picked me up said. "I want to raise my family here..." They laughed.
His friend said he they would drop me off at court after they brought the U-Haul back. He followed us in his pickup to the lot at Hare Creek then drove me over to Franklin to the front of the courthouse. I thanked them and walked up to the glass doors to read the signs. I had a knife and frayed leather sheath my reporter friend gave me the night before in my backpack. I knew it was a potential problem, but I had almost two hours before the afternoon's cases so I walked downtown. I went into a cafe and had a breakfast burrito and coffee and walked back towards Ten Mile Court. I stopped at Safeway to charge my phone behind the vending machines and turned my "Let's Play Science" shirt inside out. I walked a block past the court to a wooden fence grown over with shrubs and small palms and hid the knife behind one of the boards that wasn't broken and walked back to the courthouse. A couple of security guards with arm tattoos watched my backpack on the x-ray screen as I walked through the metal detector.
"Do you play slide guitar?" one asked.
"I do actually. You can see that in there?
But they were nice guys, invading privacy to keep knives and guns out of the courtroom. On a bulletin board was a list of the afternoon’s cases. It looked like the only cases were civil and probation and small claims, which I expected. I wanted to get my bearings, see the faces and show mine.
At 1:25pm I entered the courtroom and sat in the back. I looked at the name on the judge’s desk "Clayton L. Brennan" of whom I was aware. The bailiff I knew was Kent Rogers, the kind man my reporter friend told me about. Rogers stood by the side door and said to remain seated as he introduced to the courtroom the Honorable Clayton L. Brennan.
Clayton L. Brennan came out ready for business. Sandy blond hair, young for a judge. I noticed everyone’s eyes shift over to me as I scribbled in the back of the almost empty courtroom. Brennan called Cody Donahoo, Jessica Chitzab, and Jamie Patricko. All three young women were seeking restraining orders against each other. Brennan didn't know which girl was which when he asked them about the basis of their claims. Cody Donahoo spoke and told him that a restraining order is "unnecessary", that they are all friends and things had gotten out of control but they can work it out among themselves. She said, "It is all about jealousy," and their kids are friends. Brennan asked if they all felt the same and they agreed a three-way restraining order was unnecessary.
The judge dismissed the claims and told the girls to work it out among themselves and "be more mature." For the last case of the slow day the defendants — tenants of 622 N. Main St. Ukiah — were a no show in Fort Bragg. The landlord however was right there with his lawyer seeking a small amount of unpaid rent, which he now has a court order to get from the tenants.
Brennan called the day over by 2:30pm and the room emptied. Kent Rogers came over to me in the back as I put my notes away.
"So you are just observing today?" he asked.
"I'm reporting for the AVA; they want someone out here to see what's going on."
He said it was a very slow day and I told him I just wanted to come down and acquaint myself with the place. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. He was a very helpful guy as I had heard. He said there were a lot of abalone cases starting soon, now that the season had arrived. I shook his hand again and thanked him for his helpfulness, told him I would see him next week.
I left the Ten Mile Court building and walked over to Highway One. I crossed the Noyo and looked down at two seals being affectionate, and the Wharf Restaurant with its long row of windows filled with tiny customers. I looked at the other docks. One had a sign warning against tying up to the unstable, waterlogged tsunami-damaged wood. I went into a grocery store by Hare Creek to buy cat food and realized I had left my knife and sheath on Franklin, a block from the courthouse. So I walked back across the Noyo, past the seedy motels to the broken wooden fence hidden in the tiny palms and retrieved my knife and walked back South. Back on Highway One in the outskirts of town I held up my cardboard "Boonville" sign and was picked up again by the same two friends I helped move that morning. They opened the door and told me to get in like we had known each other for years. "How was court, Cody?!" They could take me to Mendocino, to the lookout south of town where I could get a ride and they could inspect the waves in Mendocino Bay. Earlier, when we'd finished moving the guy who'd originally picked me up had said, "Let's go surfing" and they were on it. I said goodbye again and walked half a mile south until I was picked up by a young pregnant woman in a Volvo who could take me to Navarro.
Something I have learned about hitchhiking in Mendocino County is that Volvos almost always stop. She was a very sweet girl, recently moved here with her husband. We laughed about trimming supplies, radio commercials, and turkey bag billboards in Ukiah. She talked about how humans’ ability to think abstractly and their attempt to separate or elevate themselves above nature is their downfall and redemption. She said we must think abstractly while at the same time maintain the knowledge that we are part of the Earth’s cycles.
As we drove through the redwoods north of Navarro we came to a pile of widowmakers blocking the road and a woman on the other side frantically trying to clear them. We parked, and the pregnant woman and I jumped out of the Volvo and lugged thick branches off the road as more motorists stopped to help.
Everyone smiled at each other in acknowledgment before they jumped back into their vehicles. She dropped me at a turnoff where I was immediately picked up by a Navarro local who took me back to the store. "I'm going to Boonville in few hours. If you’re still here I'll pick you up."
I headed off on foot again, downtown Navarro fading behind me. I heard the roar of an unseen motor getting worked on. Soon a pickup stopped and I got in. The man was overweight and bearded. His truck smelled like McDonald’s. We didn't say much as we rolled through the Valley, I just tried not to breathe through my nose as "Hotel California" played on the radio.
"How's your day going?" I asked.
"Same old shit," he said and smiled.