Ten thousand homes burned. Staggering. Countless lives lost…we don’t even know yet how many. The thick smoke that moved in to the Bay Area was filled with the remnants of lives identical to the lives that we also live, creating a confusing mixture of fear, as it could be us any day, a connection to those who are suffering, because we are breathing their suffering into our lungs, claustrophobia due to the oppressive toxic air as we huddled in small rooms with air purifiers, and a strong urge to escape, all mixed in with guilt for being able to escape what so many have no escape from.
On this day of Thanksgiving, a marker for most First Nation persons of their own grief and loss at our ancestor’s hands, we pause to take note of having. Having life. Having each other. Having choices.
As the air quality approached 300 on Friday, and with all schools closed, I was thankful that I was able to stuff my kids and our dog into my truck and head North to fresher air. This trip did not have our usual excitement for the unknown as our other road trips have had. This one was a bit traumatizing for them. I hadn’t grabbed the right clothes for one of my kids, and had intentionally left their electronic devices behind. But also, they are old enough to understand that our small discomfort is nothing compared to what others are going through. As we traveled North, in each of the three locations we stayed there was a feeling of displacement. No one was where they were supposed to be. Hotels and streets were streaming with cars and people heading “away” rather than “to”. The places we stayed were also new homes to people who had lost everything. We saw cars covered in black soot, and I shuddered knowing that to look like that they had to have driven right near very large flames.
We followed Highway 1 through the beautiful Mendocino coast until the coast veered away, and we entered a deep redwood forest, winding through beautiful and rugged terrain, until we met up with the main artery, CA HWY 101. There are only tiny little towns with few amenities for 100 miles on that stretch, and when we saw a Lodge emerge around a curve, we were relieved! We had stumbled upon The Benbow Inn, a Tudor styled historic lodge built in 1926 by the architect Albert Farr, who also built “The Wolf House” for author Jack London.
If you have ever traveled a difficult journey and arrived at a place of familiar refuge, where you know there will be hot coffee, good food and good wine, you will understand how it felt to enter the doors of this historic place. If you have been to any of the lodges in a National Park after traveling for days, the Benbow Inn will feel very familiar. It is a place designed for contemplation…for sitting quietly in wonder and looking out at the beauty of nature, looking at maps like people did 100 years ago when the roads were not yet paved, and studying the dinner menu for interesting local ingredients. Tea and scones are served at 3:00. It s a starting place for a beautiful hike, and a welcoming home to return to with a roaring fireplace, delicious wine, and hearty dinner.
It is always wonderful to discover a place on your own, so I will not over-describe our visit, I will only say that the Benbow Inn is a place to seek out. It is surrounded by forests of giant trees, and sits along a beautiful river. Stay for a few nights.