McHugh bringing 'The Green Edge' and short memoir writing workshop to Mt. Shasta

Steve Gerace
Paul McHugh punches through the waves at the mouth of the Smith River. Photo taken on 9/7/05 in Smith River, CA Photo by Michael Maloney/San Francisco Chronicle

If you're in the mood to hear some fascinating true tales from a master storyteller, consider Paul McHugh's multi-media presentation, "The Green Edge – Adventure on the North Coast."

An award winning outdoor writer and novelist, McHugh is coming to Mount Shasta loaded with photographs and anecdotes from his 400 mile, 40 day kayak trip from the Oregon border to the San Francisco Bay.

Scheduled for Saturday evening, Sept. 22, at Mount Shasta Sisson Museum, "The Green Edge" will be followed the next day by McHugh's short memoir writing workshop. He says the workshop is designed to help anyone – those who consider themselves writers and those who don't – "access their inner storyteller."

A storyteller of great repute, McHugh is leading both events as benefits for the Mount Shasta Nordic Center.

He previously gave a talk in Mount Shasta about his 2010 novel, "Deadlines," which won both national and regional "best mystery" awards. Last year he returned with his one-man performance piece "Quite Risky to a Bit Risque – Outdoor Stories I Could Never Write."

McHugh wrote oceans of articles during his 22 years as an outdoors writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, including 36 stories, five podcasts, and four videocasts during his 2005 kayak journey along the north coast of California.

He's written two more yet-to-be published novels since Deadlines and is halfway through a third.

Saturday's "Green Edge" talk and slide show will go beyond what's already been published about the kayaking adventure. McHugh said, "There's plenty of anecdotes that weren't told and photos not seen."

What he and his two kayaking companions experienced, McHugh said, was "the coast in a way you can't see it otherwise," including many "spots of incredible beauty."

McHugh said he traveled with two computer notebooks, one in a waterproof case in his kayak, the other in the car of photographer Michael Maloney who traveled by land on a parallel course to the kayakers.

Writing his stories by the light in his tent or by candlelight at times, McHugh said he'd copy his finished work to thumb drives and hand them off to Maloney when the coastal landscape made it convenient for them to meet. Maloney would then file the articles and photos with the Chronicle.

Though he spent time researching and scouting his route the previous year, McHugh said, "We made it up as we went along."

Among the issues he sought to discover ahead of time was the location of "bail-out coves." If the seas got rough, they wanted to know "How do you save your life?" McHugh said.

His posts from the rocks and waves "told the story of the north coast as best I could," McHugh said. He wrote about the kayaking, the geography, and historical figures and events such as Jedediah Smith, Indian massacres, modern farming and timber harvesting, park formations, and the coastal initiative that, as he wrote three-quarters way through the journey, helped keep "most of more than 300 miles of shoreline we have paddled so far... so lovely, untrammeled and accessible."

Further north, at the mouth of the Klamath River, McHugh and friends Bo Barnes and John Weed made a frighteningly hard landing on the bar that blocked the river mouth.

His gripping report about "the only hard landing" on their 40-day trip was titled "A pounding at the bar."

"Harsh surf tumbles boats heading ashore to camp at the mouth of the Klamath River after a seemingly long run of hide and seek with The Sisters through banks of drifting sea mist," that article began.

The "7-foot wall of foam [that tumbled] through a rocky slot near where we had lunched," McHugh wrote, was "a warning shot across our sterns. ... I can't speak for the others, but my brain grew quite busy concocting scenarios for our landing at the Klamath River bar, and coming up with reminders about techniques for maneuvering in harsh surf."

After scouting for an emergency landing site at False Klamath Cove, "where Jedediah Smith's expedition had first reached the Pacific Ocean in 1828," the kayakers "sighted Oregos (Orr-Ray-gahs), the signature rock, sacred to the Yurok tribe, that stands sentinel at the mouth of the Klamath River."

Once they did commit to landing, McHugh writes that his own "glee turned to horror as I felt my kayak being sucked backward by a potent undertow. I couldn't stop from turning sideways. The curl of the next breaker reared up, amber-shaded by a load of sand sucked off the bottom..."

You get the point: McHugh knows how to take you there.

Accessing your inner storyteller

McHugh also believes that "everybody has a story inside, a legacy of stories." He says the short memoir writing techniques he has taught at locations including Santa Clara University have helped people "get their stories out... tell a decent story... and create something they can pass on."

Some of his students have "had remarkable breakthroughs with some of their tales."

He mentions a woman in her 70s who completed a memoir about her own experience in a morgue with her sister, having a conversation "with what they regarded as the spirit" of her sister's daughter, who had been raped and murdered.

"There wasn't a dry eye in the class" when the woman read her completed story, McHugh said. "It was quite an achievement for her."

Another man in his 60s not only wrote about his grandfather's signet ring that he had kept in a safe deposit box for years, McHugh said he "had it resized and started to wear it."

What McHugh offers workshop participants, he said, "is a simple distillation of what I've learned in more than 40 years as a writer... I help people access their inner storyteller."

For details about the slideshow, contact Justi Hansen at justi@mtshastanordic.org, 530-925-2359.

For details about the writing workshop, contact Paul McHugh at 650-556-1849.

For more about McHugh, see: www.paulmchugh.net.