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Wildlife, Dining, & Romance at Sea Ranch, CA

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Sea Ranch, CA

It was our 2nd anniversary, Taco Bell was resting in our pickled stomachs, our President didn’t know the difference between a hyphen or an apostrophe with the waters of impeachment rising, and we were in love.

 My girlfriend and I were too busy to go far, so we decided to go somewhere close. 

That somewhere being Sea Ranch.

Sea Ranch is about three or so hours north of San Francisco up 101 north, then cutting west through wine country to highway 1. Passing through Novato and Santa Rosa, pockets of strip malls and suburbs, the hills revealed themselves to us like a worn hand wearily opening. With the windows open, we noticed the land was quiet. We were used to the city, where everything was loud, fast, and forever moving. Stillness, ruled the countryside.

More Sea Ranch, CA

 We were going up there for us, but we were also interested in checking out the Oktoberfest at the Gualala hotel. My girlfriend’s parents owned a house along the coast. It was a large A-frame with multiple decks, innumerable rooms, one of those high-tech coolers with a Bluetooth speaker, and a garage that smelled of peppermint. The wood paneling of the joint was weather gray obsidian, presumably inspired by the lucid landscapes of rock, kelp, nondescript reeds, and vultures.

“To keep out the rats,” she informed me. I had asked about the peppermint.

“Little grinches,” I said, kissing her shadowed cheek.

“Hm?” she asked.

But I was already heading upstairs with the bags.

The first people of Sea Ranch were the Pomos, an indigenous people that lived along the pacific coast. Their name translates to, those who live at red earth hole. There were also the Sakha, Serbian fur traders, and hunters. Sea Ranch’s sister town Gualala is a 6-mile drive north. Desperate real estate agents, local farmers, growers, and retirees make up the population of 1,500, as well as one butcher who chuckled when asked about their Mahi Tuna the next day.

“Is it fresh?” My girlfriend asked.There was blood on his smock and a lopsided grin on his basketball shaped head.

“Comes frozen,” the butcher said. “Sure.”

Illustration by Tom van der Linden

 She turned and whispered, “I don’t like the color.”

“The Youtube guy said it should be very fresh, very bright, and a nice color,” I advised.

“Yeah,” she said frowning at the sad block of dull pink fish. “That’s not that.”

“We got fried chicken,” the butcher suggested. He tapped on the glass with his tongs.

The bird was perched up by a silver rod with both of its wings spread wide. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus.  Peeved by a quick shift of plans, the two of us had learned, over the two years together, that it’s better to say fuck it and get a blackened chicken sandwich at the cafe down the street.

“This is good, I said. “And the view!”

The Pacific Ocean beamed in front of us: dashed’ white blue metallic.

“It’s nice. Butcher was an asshole though.”

That night, I awoke from a dream involving shirtless cultists wearing raggedy Kanye West looking white linen drawstring pants in a bed that wasn’t mine. 

Oh yeah, I remembered. I’m in Sea Ranch. I recalled earlier walking at dusk into what felt like the sun.  My girlfriend and I had spotted gray seals with their flippers spread wide bobbing up and down in the water, their v-necked noses the only thing breaking the surface of the water.

Harbor seal photosynthesis.

Gualala Hotel, Sea Ranch

One of the beer vendors’ tents had flipped over from a salt whipped wind right when we first arrived at Oktoberfest. They were running past a pair of lederhosen-clad babies strapped to a stroller stocked with beer. I saw no keg or big dimpled glasses or pigtails or clogs or pretzels. As my lady and I politely smiled at old men with store-bought six-packs of “rare” Lagunitas and a black mystery liquid in a clear bottle, I felt betrogen (cheated)

Dramatic recreation

Inside the hotel, we were served by a Winona Ryder look-alike. Baseball was on. Giants were losing.

An old cowboy strutted in. Loose dark blue wranglers hung off his thin bones. Chocolate boots dawned his feet and instead of a Pendleton, he had a Judas Priest shirt on. A ten-gallon sat on his head. His smile was rapturous, reminding me of a happy horse or a freshly poured pint. He struts over to the pool table and slapped every person standing around on the back. Everyone knew him. 

As he chalked his stick, I asked him – a little drunk – why he was so popular.

His eyes were sunken, blankets of skin, yet breaking through was a sparkling flare of youth.

“I’m an actor,” he said. “I know how to keep them wantin’ more.”

             I lopsidedly nodded. 

“Simple to do. Out here just as soon be a shadow as a person.”

             What could I do? What could I say to something like that?

The old cowboy shrugged, turned, and took his shot.

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Mitchell Duran

Mitchell Duran

Mitchell Duran is a freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Winner of the ClarkGrossman and Wilner Award in Short Fiction, his work has been featured in Drunk Monkeys, The Millions, Music in SF and more. He survives in San Francisco.