The cemetery tells much of the story. Sloping down the hill above the landside of the mesa, it begins at the eastern edge with the oldest graves: an Irish family, the founder dying in 1805 and the last dying two generations later in 1873. The lives drift by as you wander towards the seaside, ending above the street in the most recent tombstone: 2004. The story I read was between the stones, in the vacant patches of land throughout the cemetery. Over one hundred years has not filled this couple of acres. Mendocino is one of those beautiful, highly desirable spots, inhabited by protective spirits who ward off domination from any quarter. The graveyard will never be full. Location is part of it- in the remote north of California, above a jagged coastline, the spirits do not contend here with the combined force of humanity, as they do in Los Angeles. In Mendocino, the sea and wood gods gave up the Pomo to the Spanish, then shipwrecked the Spanish and later the redwood pillagers who founded the town, driving them off. Periods of bankruptcy, what we in the cities might call "blight," were in fact periods of balm and resurgence for the forces here.
Perhaps some element of those forces possessed the Packard family, so that Mrs. Packard, who owned the tip of the mesa, where the redwood mill used to wreak its carnage, refused in the 1980's to sell the spot for condominiums. We stayed in her old house, now the Packard House Bed and Breakfast, a lovely well preserved carpenter gothic. I felt that I could best encounter the spirits if I woke up early. By 6:00a.m. I stole out the front door. The previous evening, before we walked to the great white tent on the upper bluff for an evening of Vivaldi choral music, we had explored the end of the mesa, Mrs. Packard's gift, and tried out the trails that wound down to the south facing coves. These I now descended, and saw with pleasure that there were no fires or sleeping forms; the high tide at night saw to that. Wandering along the narrow strip of beach, I saw a series of caves, hollowed out over the eons by the patient waves. " A spirit will be in one of these," I thought, and then wondered if there were such a thing as a malevolent spirit as our popular culture and many of the world's religions have it. "Could be," I thought, but I did not sense one. At the southern end of the cove I found a long, low cave, about 25 feet long, perfectly straight and tapered at the end, so that you had to crouch more as you proceeded. I entered and within a few moments was at the end, where I sat on the damp sand, facing out. I saw the flat, smooth sand floor, with only my own footprints as blemish. All around was dark, centering on an oval picture of the primeval beach, an animated picture with langorous rolling waves. Surely there is a spirit here with me, I thought. No mortal may inhabit such a place and claim it as his own. Yet I felt nothing, no presence. I meditated; still nothing. Either I was alone there, perhaps arriving at the interval between nocturnal dwellers and the barking dogs of day, or my presence, loud and clangy from 56 years in Los Angeles, was enough to silence or even banish any subtle company. I did not, in short, fall into a meditative state, gazing at the mandala of the oval until time stood still, and seeing beyond it the question that is its own answer. Instead, like the New Age dropout I am, I left after no more than a couple of minutes, scurried up the trails and headed for Moose's Coffee shop, which featured internet access. A relaxed woman in her thirties took my order. "I'll have a tall latte," I said. "Tall?" she asked, puzzled. "Oops," I smiled, "I'm thinking of Starbucks. They call 'small' 'tall;' I don't know why." She laughed, and it seemed we shared a solidarity against the giant Starbucks, in a town that has defeated giants. And yet, I thought as I carried my coffee to a bank of pc's, I fled the cave. Why was I not still there? Logging on AOL, I gazed at the AOL news. "What is this idiocy?" I wondered. People struggling over ugly, ruined strips of land bedecked only with the hocus-pocus of hatred, while my cave, from which I had just fled, lay unused. "I can't fight what I am," I thought sadly. I took my coffee outside into the lightening morning and headed to the Packard House in time for breakfast. We spent the rest of the day touring the charming shops, and then, around 2:00, we left. I carry that cave around with me now, in Los Angeles of all places. I gaze at the animated oval at the center of darkness.. I feel a presence. I took it with me.