When I first arrived here, a quarter of a century ago, this coastal refuge seemed like Brigadoon made real. If you’ve seen the 1954 film version starring Gene Kelley and Cyd Charisse, you’ll understand. The musical is based upon a legend about a mysterious village in the Scottish highlands, which materializes out of the fog every 100 years.
My first morning here, during breakfast on a deck overlooking the Little River Cove, the fog lifted, allowing the sun to make a double rainbow. There have been only a few such aesthetically arresting moments in my life, and the healing experience of beauty here remains unsurpassed for me, even by seeing the Sistine Ceiling or the Mona Lisa.
There are often legends associated with healing destinations, that can be traced back thousands of years, and this area is no exception.
A Native American creation story, The Earth Dragon, has been told by tribal elders for generations in this region. According to that legend, the god Nagaicho rode on the great, horned head of the earth dragon, until it lay down, to rest forever, in the north. There, Nagaicho spread clay and reeds over the giant animal’s body, and said, “Let there be mountain peaks and let the waves of the sea break against them.” Then he made the earth’s first people. For them, he added the things that would make this world a pleasant place: salmon, osprey, seals, rivers, azaleas and redwood trees. Then the god traveled the whole surface of the earth. When he finally returned to his starting point, he said,” I’ll stay here, for the north is my home.”
A corollary to this legend is the historical account, Mendocino From The Beginning, by Don and Wilma Tucker, which explains, “A complex interaction of geologic forces and erosion -- over hundreds of thousands of years -- resulted in an area, along the Mendocino Coast, that is unique in the world. This area, between the parallel range of coastal mountains and the Pacific Ocean, is a series of ocean cut, uplifted terraces. The mountains and terraced beach-land are carved by streams which flow through narrow deep valleys to the ocean.”
According to Webster’s, a healing destination, is: “A place to which one journeys, in order to regain health and well-being, or to achieve wholeness.”
Unlike places famous for only one transformative quality, our coast offers integrative healing. It has the elements needed to nurture mind, body and soul. First and foremost, Mendocino is restorative due to its serene beauty.
Whether your idea of a stunning view is a vineyard-filled valley, a redwood forest, a waterfall, fields of flowers, mineral hot springs, or waves crashing against cliffs, you can find all this and more here in Mendocino County.
It didn’t take long for settlers to join the Native Americans in their appreciation of this bounty.
After William Kasten survived the sinking of his sailboat and washed ashore in 1849, he dubbed the Big River Estuary “The Port of Good Hope.” He built a log cabin and the following year claimed, by squatter’s rights, the land that would become Mendocino.
The village looks remarkably like it did when it was established in 1850, with Victorian architecture and water towers on every street. Special efforts have been made to keep the historic flavor of the original town. The power and telecommunication lines are underground and there’s an ordinance disallowing neon signs and chain stores.
The demographics of the area changed, as people relocated here, during the “back to the land movement.” By the late 1960s, many people recognized that, living in the city, they lacked familiarity with basics of life and felt out of touch with nature. There were also those who wanted land of their own, on which they could demonstrate that organic farming could be practical and economically successful.
This sensibility continues today. Mendocino is GMO free, boasts farmers’ markets in most towns and is the home of The Living Light Culinary Arts Institute (an internationally known raw food cooking school).
In 1973 the village was designated as a historic preservation district and the following year began to be operated as the Mendocino Headlands State Park. It is rare indeed to see prime real estate, like the cliffs upon which Mendocino Village rests, without a single condominium, time-share or corporate hotel.
But this area does offer a myriad of world-class cultural events: annual film and music festivals, a writer’s conference, fine art galleries, live theater and an internationally renowned, fine woodworking program, at the College of the Redwoods.
This county also represents freedom of thought and action. In February of 1988, hundreds of private citizens appeared before the Mineral Management Board (from Washington D.C.) to oppose off-shore oil drilling. Many of our elected officials joined the public protest. Representative Mike Thompson had this to say, “The waters off our shore are quite simply the most abundant and exquisitely beautiful on the face of the Earth. Our commercial fishing industry depends on this thriving marine ecosystem. These waters are invaluable to the research of university scientists, and… many tourism jobs in the county depend on these open, beautiful waters.”
It’s not just Mendocino’s nature, but its people too, who nurture each other and our guests. It’s been fifty-four years since Bill Zaccha put a down payment of $50.00, and founded the Mendocino Art Center. He created a refuge for artistic idealists, which was soon followed, by a proliferation of alternative therapists.
In order to get a comprehensive view of this region, I asked a few of those alternative therapists, to share their views on “Mendocino as a healing destination.”
Naturopath Marilou Brewer: “This land is a healing opportunity. Cities have ambient stress. People need space and nature around them to be balanced. There’s a perfect confluence of the earth’s forces here. This area has a very healing energy that aligns with your greater good and psychological well-being. It’s also a community where you can see the effects of your involvement; and where you can get in touch with what really matters -- long term. The longer you’re here, the more you detoxify, on so many levels. And the healthier you get, the more your values change, for the better.”
Karin Uphoff, Herbalist/Counselor of Mind-Body Medicine: “People come here to heal. They slow down enough to pay attention to what their bodies have to tell them -- whether they’re having early symptoms, or suffering from chronic illness. The coast is a nurturing place. There aren’t traffic jams… there’s free parking and it’s quiet… except for the sound of ocean waves. In addition, there are a lot of mature, experienced therapists here. They’re distinguished by a quality of mastery, a dedication to compassion and community. You won’t find an ‘In-N-Out Burger’ style of massage here. Every body worker I know has gotten the compliment, “That’s the best massage I’ve ever had.
“We can be especially thankful for the food quality—so much is grown locally. It is possible to find a wide variety of rare, unusual fruits and vegetables. An example is the shitake mushroom, which is healing in itself. It’s a high vibration food, which is available year round. And once you’re aware that there are people in the community who care, you know you’ve found something priceless. “
Antonia Lamb, Astrologer: “I think of Mendocino as a Gemini. It has fraternal twin characteristics. It’s, as the French say, jolie-laide. It is heartbreakingly lovely, but imperfect, at the same time. So, Mendocino is like a beautiful woman. How? They both embody Aristotle’s famous quote, ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ The woman’s exemplary of synergy, as is a world-class destination. Each takes elements (some of which are exquisite, some less so) but in combination, they make for a phenomenal result. Some local examples are: collapsing fences with missing slats and weather-beaten barns, in close proximity to luxurious B&Bs and gourmet restaurants.
“Why else would filmmakers have had a love affair with Mendocino County for more than 100 years, to make great movies like, East of Eden and Same Time Next Year?”
Toni Bernbaum, Co-Founder of Spirit House Center for Attitudinal Healing: “The people who come here are rugged individualists, they are pioneers in unexplored territory, they are seeking a deeper connection with themselves, and they are willing to let go of old modalities. Many, identified as healers, have been working on themselves for a considerable time and are ready to enter a different realm. Here, they may move beyond protocol, live at a slower pace than in the city and set out on a healing path. Then they can find respite, let go, get grounded and be open to receive in this healing environment. Because of the slower pace, the negative ions, the acceptance of differences and relative lack of judgment here, both practitioners and clients find solace. People are more conscious about the connection between things. By contrast, in the city, the lack of connection causes stress, distress and disease. As you’re driving through the gateway to Mendocino,
the natural cathedral of Navarro River Redwoods, a huge initiation occurs on a cellular level.”
Marilyn Hager, Art Therapist, Owner of For the Joy of It:
“Mendocino has a very strong feminine energy. It has a fluid and ever-changing landscape. With the fog, it hides and reveals itself, like the dance of the seven veils. That change is part of the inherent creativity, inspired by living here. The energies of nature are vibrant. The beauty of the trees is connected to the quality of the local healing and art. The redwoods deepen what these healers offer. Their majesty grounds and holds them. The ocean is so vast, it can hold anything and it allows us to put things in perspective.”
I, for one, am grateful for the perspective one gets here in Mendocino.
When I arrived twenty-five years ago, I needed to heal from a divorce. I wanted somewhere that was intrinsically spiritual and where I could be less anonymous than I’d felt living in the city. I was also looking for a place that put less value on superficial things and would provide fewer distractions so I could concentrate on making art.
Within weeks I found these things and more. I discovered a community that fit me with a Goldilocks kind of “just right.” I became more aware of the seasons than before. That first winter, chopping wood made me feel self-sufficient. Most of all, I relished the silence, the safety and the natural beauty.
What I least expected was to find true love here. In May, my husband and I celebrated our 20th year together. And, inspired by the hope I found here, six years ago I became certified as a clinical hypnotherapist. Every day now, I help people overcome problems that had caused life-long-suffering. Living and working in this area has helped me to accept myself honestly. In other words, when I came to Mendocino, I found my perfect healing destination.
And whether you are a native, a transplant or a pilgrim, you, too, can find what you need right here in Mendocino.
Alena Guest is a clinical hypnotherapist in private practice and on staff at Mendocino Coast District Hospital. She lives in Fort Bragg with her husband, Steve Siler, and their vaudevillian canary, Bogey.