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Summer retreats 

Summer seems to be here, finally. Two weeks of beautiful weather -- the week before finals and the week of , according to the students' lament. Now it would seem the ubiquitous summer fog is back, with only dribbles of sunshine falling through. When it does, the beaches are in full-bloom with red-tinged alabaster bodies. For those who can't wait for the coastal sun the inland rivers beckon, where the temps soar and the sky is actually blue most of the time! So this begs the obvious question: Where is your summer retreat?

If you were a Kissinger, or one of the Bushes, it might be the Bohemian Grove, with its acres of manicured Sonoma backwater patrolled by machine-gun toting guards and the front gates routinely blocked by angry protesters. If you have a few million to burn it might be a leisurely lunch at your 6,000-square-foot bungalow in the Sea Ranch and then a round of golf in the afternoon, overlooking the windswept slopes of coastal Mendocino.

If you are reading this, more likely your retreat might be a tiny cabin off the grid near Whitethorn or Mad River. Or, if you are really lucky, your summer retreat might be the upper canopy of a 2,000-year-old redwood. A place on high where you can stare at the backs of salmon as they swim creeks beneath you, a place to spend hours watching TV (turkey vultures). Your name might be Earth Guardian and you might be practicing passive resistance to old growth cutting, but hopefully you won't be in retreat when Maxxam employees come to cut you down. But I digress ...

In meditation, especially Zen, many practitioners pay lots of money to go to far off beautiful places for "retreats." But in meditation, it is also espoused to find your own retreat, your own special place to practice melting into the universe. To find a comfortable spot and return to it time and again to renew a connection that is harmonious to the spirit that will better allow you to transcend more quickly and efficiently. Okay, so now we have a better working definition of retreat.

As mentioned a couple of months back, I have a friend who hits the nude beach for hours at a time and this has become his meditative retreat. Since I am more ADHD than the average person, my summer retreats shift fairly regularly. There was a time when it was the boulders at Moonstone Beach (with clothes on, but often barefoot). I connected with the place in all types of summer weather. Because I spent so much time there the place still holds special meaning for me even though I may only make it there once every few months.

The nice thing about having a short attention span (and short-term memory) is that I can engage all kinds of new (and old, I think) summer retreat spots. I am equally fulfilled jogging or riding my bike through the community forest, enjoying a crisp sunrise noisy with birdsong and wing-flap at the marsh or getting goose-pimply from an onshore wind washing over the grasses at Clam Beach. One of my favorite summer retreats is to head deep into the Trinity Alps, or to get lost on the Lost Coast. So many great opportunities up here to reconnect, watch butterflies, get chased by a Roosevelt elk, swim a rapid, find a patch of ripe thimbleberries.

One day, perhaps, I will find the patience to engage a singular location or activity, but I am not in any real rush. I remember a remark from famed outdoor photographer Galen Rowell. In a conversation with the Dalai Lama, Rowell had listened to the Ocean of Infinite Wisdom state that when one is truly enlightened then the location does not matter, transcendence is possible anywhere. Rowell apparently wanted to go everywhere and nearly did in his lifetime, so his philosophy was that enlightenment was not so important.

In movies they talk of location, location, location as being paramount. Which reminds me of the Steven Spielberg adventure flick Goonies , filmed in Sonoma County and the incredible Goat Rock State Park. In fine cuisine, presentation is everything . It is true, there are many truly magical locations and presentations here in Northern California (anywhere, for that matter). It is a crime when we suddenly realize that the best sunset we have for weeks is the one seen from the Wildberries market parking lot.

So here is my advice. Get out while you still can. All too soon you will be lucky to be viewing the sunset from a poster in the old folks' home. Explore the wealth of public lands you have within a 100 square-mile radius of your home. County parks, state parks, national parks, national forests, forest reserves, national conservation areas, BLM lands, national wildlife refuges, state beaches, community forests, Department of Fish and Game lands, wilderness, wild and scenic rivers -- the list goes on and on. In Humboldt County alone the sheer acreage and geographic diversity of these areas is staggering.

So if gas prices are too dear, just throw up a thumb or corral your neighbors into heading into the yonder and have them chip in for fuel. We are surrounded by a plethora of places to visit, free places, many well within an hour's drive. Transcend and melt into the universe. Get connected. It's simple. Just get out of your house and away from your car, out onto a hiking trail, to a secluded beach or a rock outcropping, or a swimming hole, maybe a bench at the marsh or the lee side of a dune. Celebrate our public lands. Say "Thank you" to a park ranger or the volunteer docent after you have listened to a campfire talk or gleaned knowledge from a nature walk. We pay for these lands, right? Might as well get what we can out of them and find some sun and a new summer retreat.

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