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  • Writer's pictureAsh Patton

The Spot


Map of Pomo villages of the Central Mendocino coast.

I was lucky enough to live close enough to the land, to be able to bond with nature as a young child. I mean I got pretty close with her, and felt safe and protected in her midst. I don't know if that would have really happened without two things, Fishing, and finding my magical spot in the mountains.

Fishing is something that I may write a whole book about. I have had so many memories and life lessons that have been attached to fishing as a youth and young adult. It isn't that I am great at it, and as I have grown older and softer I don't even really agree with fishing as an activity, for both moral and ecological reasons, but it is a pursuit that changed and shaped my outlook on life.

My dad and I moved from Albion to the town of Elk when I was 4, in 1973. Elk was, and is, a town of 250 people, that consisted of a small town on the coast, and a series of homesteads built by folks who lived along Greenwood Ridge, a long, thin but rugged mountain ridge that stretches from the ocean, inland for about 18 miles. On one side of Greenwood Ridge is the Greenwood Creek watershed, and on the other side is the mighty Navarro River. Both the creek and the river are two of my best friends, and have provided me with some of my deepest pools of self reflection.

When we moved to Elk, we somehow managed to rent a house that overlooks Greenwood Beach, a gorgeous stretch of beach that is where Greenwood Creek meets the Pacific Ocean. The creek forms into a permanent lagoon on the beach, whether the mouth of the creek is closed as it is in the Summer, or open which it is in the Winter, and it is teeming with life. Soon after we moved to the house overlooking the beach, my dad took me to the lagoon to try fishing for my first time. I still remember to this day that I caught four tiny trout and my dad caught two. I was so taken by the experience that I was hooked for life so to speak. Fishing Blues, by local legend Taj Mahal, became my theme song.

From then on fishing the creek became a thing for me. My good buddy Jesse Russell was already way ahead of me in the fishing game, and taught me the tricks of trade. He still is the expert fisherman of the area. Really though, fishing was a reason and excuse to go hang out on the creek all day, and dive into the natural world. We would hike up the creek a couple of miles and see what we could catch using a small spool of line, and whatever bait we could find (grasshoppers and caddisfly larvae being the best). I was bummed when my dad and step mom went into a land partnership with some other folks, and we moved 3 miles up the ridge into the woods on the north facing side of the mountain when I was 6. It was a beautiful piece of land, but there was no creek nearby to fish in, or so I thought.

One day a couple years into our move into the woods, all of us on the land decided to explore the side of the property that was the wildest and most mountainous. A series of gulches and ravines that stretched down for miles until you eventually reached the Navarro River on the bottom of the mountain. Other than a few old logging roads that were mostly overgrown, there wasn't much in the way of human disturbance or landmarks. To get deep into the woods on the side of the mountain meant climbing over, under and around all kinds of nature. Eventually we came to a small spring in what was known as Flume Gulch. Though the spring appeared to be not much more than a trickle at first, as we followed it down the mountain it became a tiny steam that chiseled through rocks, and redwood tree stumps. It was the most sparkling pure water, cold and refreshing to drink.

At some point we came to a decent size pool that rested on the remnants of an ancient redwood log, and lurking on the edges of the pool was a giant salamander aka, Dicamptodon tenebrosus, a gorgeous creature.

As I knelt in for a closer look at the Salamander, I saw the most beautiful sight ever, a purple fish came swimming out into the open water from under the log. About 6 inches long, it was probably a baby salmon. To me it was a whole world of fishing possibilities, and Flume Gulch became my new spot. I would hike down the mountain by myself, with a sandwich and an apple, a pocket knife, a roll of fishing line and some hooks, and wander up and down the tiny creek fishing for trout, with whatever bait I could find. The Caddisfly larvae were still the best. The Caddisfly larva could be found attached to logs in the water. On the outside they look like a piece of stick, but inside was a juicy worm like critter that the little fish could not resist.

Man, I loved that spot so much. It wasn't just the fishing, it was the day long adventure getting there and back, the solitude, the incredible array of nature, from giant ferns, to huckleberry bushes full of tasty fruit, the fear and thrill of being alone (besides the animals and plants) in the middle of the forest. My home life wasn't great, I was a random black kid in the middle of great white nowhere, with a shaky sense of reality, awkward and alienated, but I had my own magic spot that nobody else knew about, and a creek full of fish to catch. I learned so much about life. The type of lessons that only nature can teach.

The day that I went to visit my spot after a few months away and found the creek had been trashed by loggers who left garbage and destruction in what was such a perfect natural creation, was the day I cried tears of anger, and the day I became a radical environmentalist. I thank the creator for my connection to this magical spot on the side of the mountain that kept me full of hopes and dreams, and shaped me into who I am today. My spot is a great part of why I am on this Black to the Land quest.



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