My family had a long-standing tradition while I was growing up: a camping trip to MacKerricher State Park in Mendocino County, California. Every summer, we would return and spend a week at this great state park and for a week, all was fun. Cousins, aunts, uncles, bike rides, tide pools, and otherwise illegal soda and candy. It became that place for me, my family, the symbol of my childhood.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are from that week. I remember my Uncle Keith teaching me how to become a dominant backgammon player by the campfires (one time we played over 700 games in one week).
So it makes sense that over eleven and a half years of incarceration, that I longed to “return to that place” of Fort Bragg and MacKerricher State Park.
Two weeks ago, that dream became a reality. My hopes of a great, large family reunion did not pan out, but it was still my own paradiso on earth.
Chris and Denny, my two sons, along with my parents and I all went for four nights and five days. What a blast we had! To watch my 13- and 12-year-old sons who have almost no experience camping live in the joy of the dirt, beaches, night sounds, tents, and campfires was calming and redemptive for me.
One night the boys got freaked out because they saw two ticks and a spider and wanted to sleep in the car. I had a choice to make as a dad: give in the request and cement their future as pure city slickers, probably never to request camping again, or hold firm, and encourage them to simply kill spiders and ticks and tough it out like Louis L’Amour would have them do.
I chose the latter.
For 20 minutes I stood outside their tent: coaching them how to find spiders, how to make sure there were not ticks, giving good tips for vanquishing unseen ghouls and goblins. While this took twenty minutes, it was well worth it. By the end of the week, they were downright cozy in their tent and not happy to have to break it down. Denny was even asking about Boy Scouts.
One morning at five. I gently shake the boys’ tent. Nothing. I bend down (which I feel more than I used to) and unzip their tent.
“Aaaaa—yyyyyyy” I shout and shake the tent violently. The boys jump, hit their heads at the top of the tent, and panic in their hunt for flashlights.
“It’s me. Calm down. It’s time.”
By 6:30 am we arrive at the deep sea fishing charter company to load on for our five hours on the Pacific fishing for rockfish and cod.
It’s dark when we push off, passing two U.S. Coast Guard cutters that my boys ask five hundred questions about. I know nothing about Coast Guard cutters, so I was no help.
We push out of the bay, past the breakers, and into the deep blue.
Within an hour, both boys are green with seasickness, really green. I slowly walk them back to the cabin and give them two Dramamines. Just my dad’s and my luck, the charter trip was hopping. The fish couldn’t get in the boat fast enough. In 38 years (11 not applicable) I had never seen a fishing trip like it. I thought we might actually hit our limit.
And since my boys were out of commission, we had four poles with only me and my dad to man them, and they were all hitting. Over the course of the trip, we pulled in over 30 fish and sent 10 back to sea for size deficiencies. It was the craziest thing I had ever seen while fishing. I mean, I am used to spending three to five hours to catch one to three fish! This took it to a whole different level. I felt so blessed that my boys got to have this experience as their first shipping trip out into the pacific shipping.
About midway through the day, the boys were better and had their sea legs. They both got to pull in three fish and witness the deckhands working the fish from the deck to the bags, and using bats to kill the larger fish struggling to calm down.
“Dad, is fishing always like this?
“No, it’s not.
But it is today.”