Shrine and Sanctuary

Greetings from San Francisco.

I have mentioned on Facebook in the last couple days that I am sick again. Totally my own fault. Our drive from Eureka to Fort Bragg was long and hot and twisty. There is also not really anywhere to stop. Through this part of the trip I just kept keeping on and unfortunately, I got really dehydrated (side effect of only having half a colon).

About 24 hours later the effects hit hard and laid me out cold. I am very, very slowly recovering but it is not nice. Having brought everyone up to speed on my illness let’s talk about something more interesting. Over the last several days we have had the opportunity to experience some remarkable places.

On the drive down from Eureka we drove through the Avenue of Giants. This is miles and miles of two lane highway that winds through a primeval forest. Giant is such an understatement. These trees reach down towards the earth’s core just as their highest branches seem to breech the atmosphere. Every quiet corner of roadway looks like a cathedral.

Once we emerged of the forest we were greeted again with the ocean. The sight of the sea and the idea of the secret life teeming just under the surface were like a homecoming. It was good to be near the water again. This time the ocean was different though. In Fort Bragg the ocean is removed by steep cliffs of rock and sand. This separation was initially a little upsetting, however when the tides came in at night and the waves crashed upon those same big rocks those same rocks became a sanctuary for the wind and water.

Rocky shores at Fort Bragg


In Fort Bragg we discovered the Skunk Train. This is an old engine and rail cars that travel an hour round trip up the pudding creek estuary. Along with this ride there is a model rail road museum. The rail road enthusiasts have built what looks very much like a shrine to the Fort Bragg of old. The lighthouse on the model is tilted because of a geological event in the 1960s that caused the lighthouse to tip.  These people love these trains, and they love their town and walking through the model we did too.

We left Fort Bragg this morning and headed south. We made two incredible stops on the way to San Francisco. First we stopped at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The city is a monastery and Buddhist community near Ukiah, CA. The facility is a former California state mental hospital compound. We entered the administration building and were greeted by a very nice monk who directed us to the information center and then over to the sanctuary where afternoon worship was about to begin.

It was hot and dry but the grounds were peaceful. There were free roaming peacocks. Seriously, peacocks. The whole community is simple and quiet. The sanctuary was out of this world. A thousand Buddhas lined the walls. There were eight-foot-tall polished wood depictions of the different buddhas. We stopped there for a short while and sat in the back of the hall while services began. Residents of the community came trickling in and joining in worship. I don’t think I have the capacity to describe how truly moving the whole experience was.

Further along the highway we stopped for lunch. We chose the Francis Ford Coppola Winery for our respite. Turning into the winery the dirt road and the grape vines lining the hillside really did look like scenes straight out of The Godfather. Inside the winery, tucked away in several locations, are vignettes, bits of memorabilia from the films of Francis Ford and Sofia Coppola. This location is its own kind of shrine. Not only to the work of the filmmaker family but also to the winery all around. Every bit of this place was about family and respect for hard work.

We are in San Francisco now and have just discovered that Alcatraz tours are booked full a whole month out. While I am bummed not to have the opportunity to check Alcatraz off my bucket list, I am interested in exploring why I am drawn to this place. For me Alcatraz is not just a former prison, it is a legend and also a memory.

I remember watching Escape From Alcatraz (Clint Eastwood) every year with my dad during some cable channel’s Clint Eastwood marathon. One of those deals where they play an Eastwood film a night for a week or two. I loved that movie as much for the bonding with my dad as I did for the movie itself, and it is a good movie.

We are going to take a bay cruise out around Alcatraz island in the next couple of days. I am very excited. I am thrilled to be here with the absolute love of my life who understands that it’s okay to change the plan and be okay with not getting exactly what you want every time. In my head right now is the voice of Mic Jagger “if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.”

We headed out of Missoula looking for a great unknown. Leaving what had become stagnant, a shrine to the kind of life we thought we should want. What we are finding as we travel and plan for our imminent move, is that we are building our own sanctuary. Our place among the waves and stars and sand that comforts and sustains us. This is what I’ll be thinking about as we cruise around a former island prison, freedom and safe harbor.

We are here for a few days seeing the sights and playing tourist before we begin the trek inland to see our parents and then move our things. We’ll visit along the way I’m sure. Thanks for checking in.



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