returned from the wilderness-ish.

Well, sort of. Out of cell phone range, anyway.

On Friday I collected the E-Z Up from Houseness and drove up to Sebastopol in pouring sheets of rain. I stopped at Kuma Kai Aikido, friends of my dojo, to say hi and check out the training schedule for when I came back (most of us travel with at least one training uniform, because we're big dorks). I said I couldn't train that night, I had to get up to Ocean Cove; eyeing the pouring rain, the teacher said, "You know, we have hotels here in Sebastopol, with beds and hot tubs."

"Hmmmmm. Hot tubs, you say?"

I did the basics class, then ditched to go have dinner and continue on with my slacking. At the Sebastopol Brewing Company, new since the last time I was in town, I ordered food (a sad, too-salty version of wild mushroom pot pie) and started reading my book, when the redhead next to me lightly girly-slaps my arm and says, "You're reading a book in a bar!". I've had this conversation before, and I think it's stupid and want to be left alone, so I said, "Yes," and kept reading. She got my attention by next asking, not the usual "Why did you come to a bar if you're just going to read?!", but "Is it a good book?". So we talked for a while, and eventually I slept fairly comfortably on her living room floor, after she'd read my complete driver's license information to a friend of hers over the phone.

The original trigger for this weekend had been that Randy, a wild-spirited older guy in my ceramics class, invited me to hang out with him and a bunch of his abalone-diver friends at the Ocean Cove Campground; he'd muttered something about fifty or a hundred people. Unfortunately the campground is closed, between being completely waterlogged and having some 4x4 damage. I punted and went up to the next campground on the coast, Gerstle Cove, figuring they'd be more likely to be there, though I wasn't about to hunt everyone down through all the different parks up there. I didn't see them, picked a campsite, and it almost entirely stopped raining while I set up the tent and the E-Z Up. (The E-Z Up takes an easy 5 minutes with two people, and an awkward 20 minutes with one person. Not recommended.) When I went to self-register for the campsite, there were a few people there, looking at the notice board and talking about the wild mushrooms you can gather nearby. One of them said, "Randy, whaddaya think about this?". I said, "Hey, you know a guy named Randy?", and he suddenly made a loud happy noise behind me. So I packed up the tent and shelter and moved up to where they were at the group site.

These people are abalone nuts. They free-dive down to 20, 30, 50 feet to get abalone. They travel to New Zealand to dive for abalone. They will talk for an hour about cooking abalone. As promised, they're fairly odd; but lots of fun, and much more normal than a lot of people I know.

Abalone is good. I got it, breaded and pan-fried, maybe five hours after it was harvested. After you clean it, you get a cylinder of tough, rubbery white meat, about 6 inches wide and 3 inches high. You slice this into steaks about .5cm thick, and then you hammer the steaks in a certain thoughtful, educated way, until you can fold the steak in half twice and it lays flat. At that point it's tenderized, and you can cook it like any normal food, only tastier. So we ate a ton of excellent food and watched one of the guys about my age (he and his cousin turned out to do aikido in Santa Cruz) try and get a fire going out of a bunch of green pine, including the time-honored "Light It With Lighter Fluid" and the lesser-known "Try It With Diesel Fuel" methods. (Diesel beats gasoline for these things, at least: it burns vigorously, but it does just burn, rather than exploding.) I tried splitting a log for kindling, and in a rare but startling exception to my expertise with sharp objects, the hatchet (probably poorly aimed, at wet wood) slipped...and hit my hand. Apparently butt-end first, thankfully, where I still have a bump, but only a bump and not a sizable gash through my index tendon. I decided not to try and chop wood any more, though later on when the guys were throwing the hatchet at a log and having some trouble, I did decide to show them it could be done. I stuck it several times in a row, though I'd never thrown a hatchet before: it turns out it's a lot easier than knives.

Saturday night it rained a bit, and I was awake for that and what sounded like four or five enormous raccoons trying to get at all our food. There was also the old "Hey, maybe it's a serial killer" train of thought, aided by the fact that a couple years ago two people were actually killed not far from where we were. Just raccoons this time, though.

Sunday I packed up, headed out, and got myself a room at the Jenner Inn. I figured the hot tub would be nice, but it also had a nice deck right at the bend of the river. And if you're ever up there, it's well worth a trip to the Spud Point Crab Company in Bodega Bay, for the most amazing crab sandwich anywhere ever.

It's overcast but not raining; I am well-clothed, on a deck overlooking a beautiful river. I have Hostess powdered mini-donuts, and a hot tub sits waiting for me. Later, I will eat Indian food somewhere with a river view, and I have great music if I get tired of the cars going by. (The river is quiet.)

I could always want more things; but since I've gone to the trouble of creating this perfect moment, that would be silly.

It rained, so I read my book inside and watched. It let up a bit, and I got into the hot tub just as the sky someplace besides where I was, and while rain hit my new anti-rain hat, down the river the ocean was a blinding strip of light.

The balance of sound changes, and I realize the Pacific is maybe a mile away. I hear it crashing just over that last barrier beach. It and the Russian River have a cranky meeting of currents and waters, leaving a brown stain spreading into the ocean. Birds float down the river backwards, periodically diving for food; the occasional otter surfaces toward the other shore, futzing around briefly before disappearing to go do important otter-things.

I think I need to avoid Indian food for a while, though: besides not being that good, the stuff I got made me cough for about five minutes and made it difficult to breathe. This morning was more of the reading-eating-showering-hot tub routine, and then I came home, avoiding all traffic, and then eating sugary things in front of the TV for the afternoon.

It was what a vacation should be, I think.