Lost Man Creek. Lost Coast Brewery. Bumper sticker with Tolkien’s immortal words “Not All Who Wander Are Lost.” Although I lived on California’s north coast in the late 1970s, today I feel fairly disoriented driving 101 past Eureka and Arcata toward the Smith River. It’s just been so many years since I’ve made the trek–over ten. The last time the fog was so thick we couldn’t find the elk we’d driven to see. And wasn’t the college on the other side of the interstate? Couldn’t I see a friend’s house from this bridge over the Eel River, now all grown up with alder? There’s the Sears where I worked for a week scraping gum off the linoleum. There are the street people with the glazed looks, at the same loose ends I remember knowing while living in Eureka. In the words of my river friend Tim Mansfield, “none of us were doing much back then” besides waiting for the season to start again.
And yet when I reach my destination, the 12th annual North Coast Writer’s Conference in Crescent City, I’m no longer disoriented. There are writers from Smith River, Brookings, Crescent City–poets and fiction writers and essayists and memoirists–and presenters from up and down the coast. We work together for a day and a half, discussing craft, reading our work, and exploring that of others. One activity I lead is Jordan Rosenfeld’s “Letter to a Long-Lost Friend” (from our book Write Free, Attracting the Creative Life, Kulupi Press) in which we tell our correspondents how we’ve found the lives of our dreams.
We’re on fire with possibility. We find redemption in the written word.
In the evenings we eat together, laughing as though we’ve known each other for years, sharing our love of the creative life. We recognize the kindred souls we are. And I’m found.
The trip home is sun drenched and edged with clearing fog at the fringes of deep green forests.
- All that is gold does not glitter,
- Not all those who wander are lost;
- The old that is strong does not wither,
- Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
- From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
- A light from the shadows shall spring;
- Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
- The crownless again shall be king.
- –J.R.R. Tolkien, “Strider,” The Fellowship of the Ring