There is something restorative in a drive up our coastline. Pressed for what is the most beautiful part of Sonoma County, the Pacific has to be neck and neck with the redwoods, the rolling hills, the wild west county, all the lush trees – the perfect place for a great vacation destination. Many of our emigres come here first as part of a vacation then, as part of a broader dream to move in. The coast north of Jenner is an enduring part of what makes where we live a singular spot on earth. So few ever take the time to drive north, well beyond the last of the stores, beyond the more familiar beaches south of the river.
Our mission was to find mushrooms, the day in the rain and cold, became more about the journey. Does anyone doubt the feckless nature of mushroom hunters? Crossing the rough coastal road north of Jenner, you rediscover the mountain goat trail that is Highway One. The highest points of the road way tower a half-mile above the rocky surf, one clenches with fear to think that some drivers have attempted to make it to the bottom alive. The view of the ocean is, well, to die for. Near Fort Ross the road and the ocean nearly come together, for newcomers, the old Highway One went right through the fort, close enough to hear the seals barking out the car window. The clean scent of the salt water always awakens the joy of breathing in the coastal air, although the truck windows were only open for a brief whiff between rain squalls. We passed familiar old landmarks, the flat where the Timber Cove mill sat until the 1970s, the lodge with the Bufano totem pole that seems to wave a joyous greeting to passersby and seafaring critters at the same time. The breathtaking beauty of Stillwater Cove, then the dogleg turn at the old Ocean Cove store, calling the little Bodega a ‘store’ might be a stretch. Then the wilds of the vast Salt Point State Park, our destination on this blustery day. At the north end, I’m taken by the peppery scent of the Eucalyptus that frame the trail up the ridge through the stunning little farm/guest ranch of Plantation. For an old mushroom hunter, this is home base.
We cruise north on One again, the blackened snags of a fire from long ago always remind me of the inevitable healing that takes place after a serious fire. The one in 1979, threatened Sea Ranch and much of the tiny coastal communities, it was the ‘Cazadero’ fire in the hot, dry October of that year. We found only the spongy, inedible Suillus, inedible due to their slimy nature, not due to any toxin. The abundant Leccinum stood wetly by the Manzanita, an edible, but just barely. The elusive Boletus and Amanitae were nowhere to be found. The rangers call this time of year the Russian invasion, they come up by the carload from the Bay Area in pursuit of this choice edible. Wet, cold, tired and happy we slog back to the 101 and our other ‘home’. There is still hope for next weekend.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.