Over coffee or tea some morning, a friend mentions that s/he has just come from a massage. If you’re like me, you suddenly remember that ache in your back, that knot in your shoulder, along with a twinge of jealously that it wasn’t you who just got the massage. It doesn’t take a French scholar to recognize the root language for certain words and “massage” is no exception. Happily, massage needs no translation. An experiential understanding is all that’s required.
Those of us who choose to live in coastal Mendocino County quickly learn that the South Coast is a special place. Visitors, too, begin thinking about living here when they take notice of the redwoods, the hills, valleys, rivers, and of course that big blue Pacific Ocean. Our micro-climates don’t hurt either. There are drawbacks, to be certain. We have no four-lane freeways and no city smog. There’s a dearth of national chain restaurants and hotels. Neverthless we manage to get along without them. Happily.
The Pacific Ocean provides a fair amount of peace and tranquility for anyone stopping to take in its beauty. And just a short distance from the ocean you can step through the door at Healing Arts & Massage Center, the Gualala business created some thirty years ago. Judith Fisher, the “bookbinder’s daughter” (from the title of Judith’s autobiography), has become a fixture on the coast, as has Healing Arts. As with all of us, Judith’s personal history—from East Coast roots to a reimagining in northern California—has molded and shaped the woman she is today. She is soft-spoken, thoughtful; and with a little bit of conversation it becomes obvious that she’s also professional, entrepreneurial, successful, and a genuinely nice person.
Before the creation of Healing Arts & Massage Center, Judith’s California experiences helped hone a variety of skills, as she wound her way through greater Mendocino County. From Branscomb to Plantation Camp to Gualala. She managed an inn, an experience at the Old Milano Hotel which was three-quarters of a century old when she arrived. The hotel is long gone, having succumbed to a fire in 2001. Nevertheless I recently stood on the original site of the Old Milano, and you can still sense the splendor that once was there. Some have thought about rebuilding or recreating the hotel but as of this writing, it remains merely an idea.
Judith’s arrival at the Old Milano, in 1981, was serendipitous, as recounted in her book:
Last year I lucked out and met Theadora Van Runkle. She and her husband, Bruce, rescued an old hotel on the coast from its boring 1950s conversion to a residence. They lovingly restored it to be a magnificence that far outdid its original turn-of-the-century charm. . . . I walked into a job as “hostess”. I greet guests, serve breakfast, and arrange flowers grown in the chocolate-cake soil of its coastal gardens.
The loss of the hotel can be mitigated by a description which allows your imagination to smell breakfast being prepared or catch the fragrance of the freshly-cut flowers. Judith tackled all that managing an inn entails, including cooking, cleaning, small repairs—hands on or getting it done, and still found time to reinvent herself again. While continuing to raise her daughter, she embarked on a new career. With the friendship (and a bit of mentoring) of Fred and Cheryl Mitouer, Judith's trajectory once again changed. She learned the art of massage and created a new life for herself.
Meeting Judith today, it’s easy to see why I suggest the moment was serendipitous. There is, of course, the attention to detail at Healing Arts, the thoughtful approach to the space that has become her business. And yet that isn’t just so much paint, or color, or her original art that helps set the mood. People walking through the front door are not simply customers. Whether traveler or local, they are warmly welcomed; a genuine welcome, not one constructed of business necessity. Regardless of the reason you’ve chosen to come in, you haven’t entered a clinical space, but rather a space befitting the name Healing Arts.
Judith is proud of Healing Arts and readily shows off her home away from home. A room in front could be a sitting room to read a good book by the soft light, yet the massage table is positioned to take advantage of the blue sky while allowing the visitor to easily drift away during their treatment. Including Judith, there are seven practitioners offering Swedish, Deep Tissue, CranioSacral, Hot Stone, Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Osteopathic Manual Medicine, and Restoration of Function.
The best way to evaluate any personal or business environment is to visit. Take it in. One instinctively knows when they connect with the environment. Walk in the front door at Healing Arts & Massage in Cypress Village in Gualala. The odds are greatly in your favor that you will connect. Ahhhhhh.