I am moved to write a series of blog posts about the extraordinary women in my life. I truly am sustained by them. I know I am not alone. The Mendocino coast is brimming with truly amazing women. We know it and we love it and we celebrate it often. Here is my story about one such woman – Erica Fielder.
Erica and I met in 1977 in San Francisco. I had just driven across Canada from Massahesetts. I was escaping a life as an activist for the Clamshell Allience, an anti-nuclear group. We had recently occupied the Seabrook Nuclear power plant where hundreds of us had been arreseted and held in the National Guard Armory. I was tired and needed to create a life that inspired a different part of me. I was ready for California!
Erica lived in the Noe Valley on 30th St with three other women. Each one of them was a total powerhouse. Through a letter of introduction from a friend, I was able to stay at her home until I got my feet on the ground. I slept in their living room for about a month until I got a job and an apartment. What struck me immediately about Erica was her voice – so welcoming and so soothing. Even though she had a very busy life, she took time to make me feel like I was a part of her household.
Two years earlier, Erica had founded “Women in the Wilderness”. She was a trained naturalist and took city women out the the wild places to teach them the marvels of the natural world. And now she was on her way to Findhorn for the second time. I was impressed!
I did not see Erica for several years after that, but one day in 1983, after moving to Mendocino I was walking into the bank and there she was. “Erica!” I shouted. At that moment I realized how important she was to me, and how much I had been longing to see her again. And I was very touched that she felt the same way about seeing me.
I was living in a redwood cabin on the marsh overlooking the Ten Mile River and Erica was living at Jughandle Farm, working as a caretaker with her partner Ed (Hari) Lubin. When another riverside cabin became available near mine at Ten Mile it was around the same time that Erica had decided to leave Jughandle. To my joy, she moved into the cabin on the other side of the cove from me – and stayed there for 25 years!
Often we would phone one another about a bird or mammal we were watching on the river we loved. We worked together in our gardens, and shared many walks along the estuary. She taught me about the native plants, the birds, the wildlife, and the trees. We spent hours looking at tiny flowers using our hand-lenses. Her appreciation of the natural world was contageous.
Even before she came to Ten Mile Erica was taking yearly solo adventures into the wilderness. She took two separate trips to Alaska with her ocean kayak “Tusk” to paddle the inside passage; had a very personal encounter with a grizzly bear; attended at potlatch; climbed to dizzying heights in Yosemite; broke her leg in the Trinity Alps – literally crawling to safety over a period of days. Over the years she entertained us all with mind-boggling stories of her solo adventures. What an incredibly brave woman.
Erica and I had another common interest – art. We were both working artists, and were both members of the North Coast Artists Cooperative Gallery. Although she had been an exhibiting artist for many decades, Erica had the courage to announce the showing of her final exhibit and her retirement, go back to school for her masters in fine art at Goddard College in Vermont and emerge as an EcoArtist. She spent years cultivating business contacts and colleagues in her new field. Her tenacity, dedication, thoroughness, and resolve paid off. Her business is thriving. If you have seen her interpretive panels, you have noticed how superior they are to the others in her field. She creates exquisite, well researched panels that couple her lovely, colorful artwork with engaging text.
Erica and I had a show together at the Mendocino Art Center in the 90’s called Best Friends. During the set up we had a big breakdown – actually, I had a big breakdown. Erica has always had a willingness to be open and vulnerable with me and to speak the truth without blame. Whenever we had breakdowns in our friendship it was always because I was not able to meet her fully. And yet she has continued to love me all these years. We have shared swing dancing, the Landmark Forum, ritual and study groups at Spirit House, potlucks, artmaking, birthdays, hikes, Thanksgiving, tea parties, bird walks, and shoveled truckloads of manure into one another’s gardens. We have laughted, cried and grieved together.
One afternon Larry Knowles came over to visit Richard and me at the cabin. As I listened to Larry talk about his interests and his life I had the thought “Larry and Erica are perfect for eachother! I need to let her know that!” And I did. Soon Erica and Larry were camping and kayaking and sharing many common interests together. And soon after that I was invited to perform their wedding ceremony.
When Erica and Larry came walking down the aisle at Caspar Community Center you could have heard a pin drop. The air was full of reverence, tenderness and joy. Their slow progression up the aisle, making eye contact with everyone, was simply breathtaking. I have performed hundreds of weddings, but this was the first time I was crying before the ceremony even started.
As you may well know, Erica’s studio burned down in early 2017. She lost thousands of dollars of artwork, supplies, and archives of her life as an ecoartist who has created interpretive panels for parks and public land for decades.
During this terrible ordeal, although deeply saddened by the enormous loss, she remained gracious, grateful, and focused. She accepted her situation and simply moved through the overwhelming task of completing that part of her life, moving on to create her new art studio in her home with Larry – who was by her side every step of the way. Thankfully there has been a groundswell of assistance coming to her from the community and we were able to raise nearly $16,000 to help with recovery of her losses.
Erica has left her cabin at Ten Mile and an era of sharing life in our little cove on the river is over. But I know that my friendship with Erica will continue. She is a loving and loyal friend, a beautiful, open-hearted human being and that a reason to be grateful every day.