MONTCLARION NEWSPAPER – JANUARY 9 2009
It’s the dead of winter. What else is there to say? There’s nothing exciting on the horizon, unless you’re a groundhog.
But perhaps we should look to the woodchuck for tips on handling post-holiday blues. Perhaps, like our furry friend, we should burrow and rest – before the pace picks up again in spring.
With this in mind, I made a reservation at the Whale Watch Inn in Gualala last weekend. A light rain was falling as I pulled up to the lodge, a forested retreat softly outlined in lights. Soothing music and a warm fire greeted me in the lobby, along with a glass of my favorite wine.
The innkeeper had been waiting for my arrival – as if she were anticipating a visit from an old friend. She showed me to a beautiful second floor room with a hypnotic view of the ocean. Within minutes, my head found the pillow and I drifted off to sleep.
An Oakland native and his wife own the Whale Watch Inn. Jim and Kazuko (Kazie) Popplewell bought the inn in 1990 – in an area where Jim enjoyed hiking and camping as a child.
What’s most interesting about this magnificent setting is its banana belt location, in a fog break that sees sunshine when nearby locations see chowder. I witnessed this on a 30 minute drive south to Fort Ross State Historic Park, the early 1800’s Russian outpost. The swirling fog seemed to punctuate the hardships the Russian fur traders endured as they struggled to survive.
Going north from our lodge, the Point Arena Lighthouse was also socked in. Again, it seemed appropriate that this 1908 beauty (with 145 steps to the top of the tower) was shrouded in “soup”. Overlooking a ragged section of coast called “The Devil’s Punchbowl”, it has served as a beacon for ships along the Mendocino Coast. It re-opens to the public, January 16, after an extensive renovation.
And while there is plenty to do in this quiet and spectacular coastal retreat, sometimes it’s best to do nothing.
Kazie has written a book called The Power of Getting Away. In it, she shares secrets for connecting with nature and oneself. Some are her own, having been raised in Japan with ancient non-verbal rituals like the Green Tea Ceremony. But she also shares stories from journals, which visitors have kept over the years in the 18 guest rooms at the Whale Watch Inn. Each room has a private view of the ocean and a decor that invites meditation and restoration, as well as a rekindling of friendship and romance. The journals attest to the spiritual nature of this special place.
“I awake to the sound of the tides…ebb and flow…the warmth of his body next to mine…” a woman writes in her journal in the Swan Room. “I have never felt such peace.”
With no phone or TV – not even a clock – time stands still. If not for the dramatic dawn and dusk, you would have little sense of the passing hours. You would feel safe, in a sense, to find comfort in your own thoughts.
Nature nudges us slow down in winter, but often we forget to read the signals. The innkeepers at the Whale Watch Inn make it their mission to help us remember.