PNW Part III

My kids being awesome

After a final day of experiencing the coolness of Nevada City, CA and Grass Valley, CA (where Win did find the most amazing fanny-pack for outdoorsmen and the Salvation Army and I bought some geological artifacts (aka crystals such as witch’s broom) at a local shop called The Cult of Gemini), Maggie and I said a temporary goodbye to her brother and we headed north again.

Fanny pack for fisherman

En route to Etna, CA (which seemed to be mostly a crossroads with a few houses and a school) for a halfway point/overnight, we drove towards Lake Shasta, Mount Shasta, the Shasta Dam, and our vision was filled with the huge snowcapped 14,179 foot high semi-dormant volcano. We got rather excited by the human story of the building of Shasta Dam during the Depression. Not to mention the beauty of the dam itself, a testament to some badass engineering and a lot of really hard work. The lake, created by said dam, looked pretty delicious on a 99° day. It seems many of the lakes in California are created by humans, not ancient glaciers or springs or meteors—not even god-like creatures with big feet and magic jazz-hands.

Shasta

Below Shasta Dam

Biggest (not tallest) dam in the country

Yet another amazing Mexican meal here at Joe’s Giant Orange Cafe in Shasta Lake

We also went to the headwaters of the Sacramento River—where the water percolates, freezing cold, from a spring. The spot felt very sacred to both of us. We lingered for quite a while, breathing in the ozone-infused air and dipping our feet into the water until numbness hit—in less than ten seconds. We set some intentions, let some things go. And moved on.

the headwaters

The further we got from our time with Win and Heather, the more we looked forward to seeing them again soon, as goodbyes are not as much fun as being together. Nevertheless, we pushed on towards Portland.

The last few days of our trip—Saturday to Monday in Portland and Monday to Tuesday back in Seattle, were glazed ever-so-slightly with melancholy as the sun and crisp air outlined every sweet or inconsequential moment and beautiful thing with dazzle.

Mostly these last days were about people, not places. Examples:

  • On our first night in Portland, two dear friends (connected to me through a board on which I serve), took us out to dinner on the Wilamette River (not pronounced Wilamĕtte but WilAHmette) and talked long past the setting of the sun… which happens very late out there on the first day of July, on the western edge of the furthest west time zone in the country.

    Breakfast at Lianne’s … comfort and love!

  • We visited the largest new and used book store in the country: Powell’s. A full city block, several stories high, and requiring a map to navigate. Um… some advice: go to Portland, OR immediately if you have not been to this store.

    One floor of 6, one room of a million

    Powell’s Books Forever

  • The next day, Win arrived, sans Heather, having driven a total of 9 hours just to spend 24 more with his mama and sister. We spent some time just chatting as we wandered around heading into stores like Patagonia and Icebreaker.

    #FlyFishingGeek

  • Another happy former teacher-former student reunion took place while we were in Portland. My children, Win and Maggie, plus Alison, her husband Tom, and John, all gathered one afternoon at the Rogue Distillery and Public House (a good place to geek out over Oregon beer). John was the oldest (class of ’91), then Alison (’98), then Win (’04) and Maggie (’07). I was almost giddy with the excitement of such a gathering. Nothing would make me happier than having a chance to sit and have a drink or a meal with every student I ever taught. That afternoon, we talked about academia, real estate, the school, music, their children (John), upcoming birth (Alison and Tom), jobs, plans, and whatever came to mind. It was perfect.

    Teacher Love

    14 years apart and so much in common (John on the left, Win on right)

  • Breakfast with friends (at Gigi’s—another delish breakfast spot), dinner with friends, and a chance to wander the city by car but no chance to park it and take a walk through the Japanese Gardens or the Holocaust Memorial because it was July 4 weekend and tourists just like us got up earlier and were far more organized. So my kids and I just tooled around. Found a coffee place. Found a lunch place (honestly it was pretty amazing—called Fat City Café and basically you need to go there). There is never a shortage of talk when we are together, in a car, on a trail, or sitting at the counter at any given restaurant or coffee hot spot anywhere, any time.

    Fat City fun

Eventually, we had to say goodbye to Win. He drove off towards Bend and a meet-up with Heather, and Maggie and I drove back to Seattle where we spent the 4th with our friends, Anna and Louise. This fun included an afternoon in the sunshine on Lake Washington, and a long, joyful, speed-boat ride around one end of the massive lake.

Last night with Anna and Louise!

Lake Washington and me, chillin’

Louise is a badass boat driver!

Ranier was supposed to be behind me but I failed at this pic.

As the sun headed towards the horizon, we were at the airport again, waiting for our redeye. As we flew, we felt sleep deprived and a bit sad. Also a bit happy. Maggie was going home to her girlfriend, her cat, and a new job. I was going back to summertime-as-I-know it. Some work, some play, more work, a little more travel, if I’m lucky, and maybe a few good dates with a few good men.

Final photo…of my kids being together, with me, which is the best part of all.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

PNW Part II

The first installment of my PNW travel blog left us off in Olympia, ready to head southward towards California, where we were to meet up with Win, my son (and Maggie’s big brother), and his girlfriend, Heather. We road-tripped down Rt. 5 making several stops along the way. And no, not all of them were for espresso drinks.

  • Key gustatory stops included:
    • Fabulous and unexpected Mexican lunch in Eugene, OR. Mama Mayra has 5 stars on Yelp, all of them deserved. Definition of hole-in-the-wall, suffused with fragrant cooking aromas, smiling diners chowing down at worn linoleum tables.

      Lunch in Eugene.

    • More coffee. (So not all our stops were for coffee but, I mean, we made stops for coffee.)
    • Bricktowne Brewing Co. in Medford, OR. Don’t hold the “e” at the end of “Bricktowne” against them. The beer was good, and Maggie loved their dry pear cider.
        

      Maggie’s list of high points (cough) would include: “it’s legal!”

    • The best breakfast place ever in the history of history— Morning Glory Café in Ashland, OR. This place had a menu so delicious and creative, a décor so campy and cozy, servers so sassy and efficient, that we are seriously considering a move to Ashland for the duration of life.

      The glories of Morning Glory cafe.

We arrived in Placerville, CA by evening of our second day of driving, after stopping for groceries. Our arrival, and the much-anticipated bear hugs from the bear-of-a-son (I was prepared for his bear-like-appearance), took place in 109° heat.

But the heat was incidental. What mattered was the warmth of being with both my children at the same time for a whole week. Slipping back into the on-site mother-groove and letting the flow of talk and laughter fill me up. The Maggie and Win show is always fun to tune into….

I felt blessed to be able to see through a small window into the life shared by my son and the woman he loves (beautiful, vibrant Heather). For three of the days I was able to stay with them and see firsthand the easy, intimate rhythm of two people who love and support each other. The fact that one of them is my grown child made it especially meaningful for me.

  • Here are some of the superfun things we did together:
    • Visit Lake Tahoe. I’ve been collecting possible words that I can use to convey the impact of Tahoe on my brain/psyche/soul. I came up with this one: WOW. The three of us (Heather was working) had a little picnic, took a short hike around (part of) the lake’s perimeter in the 100° heat (with lots of looking-at-the-view stops), then went somewhere to drink a cold beer.
       

      This was the “cold beer” part of the day.

    • Wine tasting. Heather was not having a good day that day. It got notably better when we started puttering around to a few nearby wineries and tasting their honorable wares. Turns out that Napa is not the only county in CA with a zillion superb wineries. Within 5 miles of where we were staying there were 20+ we could visit. We checked out about 5. Our favorite was Jodar. Of all that we visited, the people were the most real, the wine the most delicious, and the atmosphere the most jovial. Plus, geeks that we are, we learned the most and liked that. Side note: as Heather, Maggie, and I sipped wines and nibbled cheese, Win hung out either outside or in a nearby arm chair, depending on where we were, reading fly fishing articles on his phone.
    • The Haircut. When we first arrived in CA, we saw firsthand what no scissor and no razor looks like on my son for 7 months. Remember Jeremiah Johnson? Or maybe Forrest Gump on his cross-country trek? Like that. And in temps pushing 110°. Win: “Yeah, I’ve been meaning to get a cut.” ENTER MOTHER (wearing imaginary cape, hovering five inches off the ground with hands on hips): “To the rescue!” So, the day we visited Nevada City, CA, we stopped off at a barber shop on the outskirts of town. When the four of us (all rather tall humans) poured into the little shop (we left the dog outside), the barber was unfazed. She proceeded to cut an elegant swath through my son’s hair collection, moving it from his head and face to the floor at her feet.

      Pre-cut, in car with the gang of us including Stella the bestest dog ever.

      Mid-cut with the unflappable barber.

    • A woods-walk on the Deer Creek Tribute Trail near Nevada City. Beautifully maintained by locals and with gorgeous retaining walls, artistically designed, including niches where people have created community altars to nature.

      One of two altars with additions by us.

      Suspension bridge on Deer Creek Tribute Trail.

    • Geeking out about gold rush history. The “kids” and I headed to Coloma, CA, location of Sutter’s Mill, the site of the first gold nugget discovery by James Marshall (1848). The South Fork of the American River flows gloriously by the spot where a saw mill was created. Soon the non-existent town, and the area of CA that was home to around 150,000 Native Americans, was flooded with white men fixated on quick wealth (a tale as old as time), and about 120,000 of the rightful residents were utterly wiped out. The blip in the road that is now a few historic buildings and a little museum was, for about 8 years, a thriving metropolis.

      Highly knowledgeable and skilled blacksmith at Coloma.

      Super cute lunch place in the heart of this “birth of the gold rush” area.

      Surveying the North Fork.

      Recreation of Sutter’s actual mill.

    • Having a beer with a former student of mine at The Club Car in Auburn, CA (forever memorialized for me now). He and his wife are ranchers dedicated to sustainable animal husbandry. We sat at the bar, sipping local beer and talking about ranching, the environment, the school with which we all share a history, Gareth’s kids (small, lively, and brilliant and whom I’ve not met), my kids, who were in 3rd grade and kindergarten when Gareth graduated. It was joyful. An hour and a half passed and we parted with hugs all around.

      Maggie, Me, Gareth, Love.

The best part of any trip can happen between the “things we do.” This mother-daughter trip was across the country but we also logged over 1700 miles getting from Seattle to our meet-up with my son, plus about 2-300 additional miles exploring together once we got there.

The hours in the car included some of the most beautiful views imaginable.

Casual driving view….

Pull-over view American River.

Plus lots of fun scoping out coffee shops on Yelp and going out of our way to hit them. And then we read one and a half books (I read to Maggie while she drove –neither of us ever outgrew read-aloud). When we were tooling around with her brother, and Heather too sometimes—plus don’t forget Stella the dog—it was like a magical car-based opportunity to … well, talk. Then there was the talk-while-walking-around-random-towns, the talk-while-exploring-nature, the talk-while-eating, talk-while-cooking, talk-while-shopping, talk-while-sitting-around-and-forgetting-what-we-were-supposed-to-be-doing, and so forth.

Walk and talk. (This took place later, in Portland, but you get the idea.)

Not at all sure that wasn’t the best part of the whole trip.

But eventually daughter and mother headed back north, with plans to meet up with Win (and maybe Heather) again in Portland just before July 4th and our flight back. The last chapter of my PNW blog will be posted very soon….

 

 

PNW Part I

Skyline snapped en route from airport.

The pull of the Pacific Northwest grew gradually but inexorably over the years. When my son moved out there six months ago, there no longer existed a single excuse not to just… GO.

Seattle to (almost) Sacramento and back again in 2.5 weeks. Another epic journey undertaken with my 24 year old daughter, Maggie.

In this overview (Part I) — Washington State. If you told me tomorrow that I was moving there, had a job, a place to live, and sorry but it just had to be, I’d kiss you. Seattle stole my heart and the whole state captured my spirit.

High points included….

  • Seeing a dear friend from my school days in NYC and her wife, and getting the quickie overview of Seattle from a wise and pragmatic person who instinctively knew what we’d love.

    The wonderful Anna and Louise.

  • What we saw (and loved):
    • Lake Washington (where my friends Anna and Louise live) and the view of snow-covered Mt. Ranier at one end. For an easterner this hit my eyeballs as “A Mountain” putting Mt. Alander or Brace Mountain of my nearby Taconic range into stark perspective as “mountains”—note my use of capitalization. (Ranier is 14,410 feet high and topped by a glacier. By way of comparison, I learned to ski at Catamount, in the Berkshires, with an elevation of 1000 feet and topped by mostly trees.)

      Lake Washington and Mt. Ranier.

    • The troll under the bridge. Yes! A glorious art installation and he even holds a real live VW bug in his trollish grip.
    • Lenin-in-mid-stride. Someone thought it was a great idea to buy an old statue of the leader of the Communist Revolution from the Russians and install it in front of a café. He makes an impression in any city.

      Lenin striding.

    • The Olympic Sculpture Park (part of the Seattle Art Museum). Set on the water, artists like Alexander Calder (in all his majesty), Richard Serra (whose amazing work is at Dia Beacon in my neck of the woods), my old fave, Louise Nevelson, and many more, are on fabulous display. One artist new to me, Jaume Plensa, knocked my eyes out with his monumental Echo….

      Echo

      We walked together in the sun and the breeze, wearing light sweaters in late June. Bliss.

    • Pho.

      The Pho was delicious.

    • The salmon ladders. If you’ve never heard of such a thing, you’re in good company. It was new to me, too. Ladder is a misnomer, really, as the engineering is more about stair-steps that head upstream through gateways, so the salmon can access their spawning grounds despite the existence of a lock system that controls water flow into and out of the giant Lake Washington. There is a viewing spot below ground-level where we could watch the valiant wild salmon swim against the current, find the gateway to the next level, and use their muscular little bodies to push through it. They were beautiful and Maggie and I were thoroughly transfixed for a good hour. And yeah, we took about 9 million photos and at least 8 thousand video clips. We were inspired.

      The salmon in the ladders.

    • The first five or so of a plethora of small coffee spots we stopped at during our trip. My friend, Anna, understood that we needed to see multiple “temples of coffee” as she called them.
    • Amazing Copper River salmon.
  • Visiting friends, Tom and Nina, in Olympia, WA and experiencing their love and wonderful tour-guiding.
  • What we did with them:
    • Walked through part of the Olympic National Park. Since the park is about 1400 square miles, we were on just a microscopic fraction of it, but what we saw filled our eyes and souls with great beauty. A temperate rainforest covers most of the park, and we walked what is called the “staircase” trail, which starts about an hour and a half from Olympia. Majestic cedar trees, Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and hemlocks towered overhead. Sunlight filtered through the canopy, but we were cool and comfortable as we walked. We stopped frequently to inspect a fern, some moss, a section of rapids, or a fallen cedar (one was especially enormous; the root system, lying on its side, towered over us).

      Tom, Nina, and me posing beside the huge fallen cedar.

      One of our hiking companions, Tom, is 81 years old. He impressed all of us! 

      Beautiful couple and a beautiful view.

      Tom and Maggie walk ahead.

      Trees grow on other “nurse” trees.

      The Skokomish River from up hgih.

      The Skokomish River.

      Taking a rest as we walked the Olympic State Park Staircase trail.

    • Toured the Capitol building in Olympia, WA. To be honest, many capitols in this country were constructed with ugly in mind. Or maybe it was just economy. But this building and all the ones around it are modeled on the neoclassical style of the nation’s capitol. The capitol itself was not only quite gorgeous, but contained more marble than I’ve seen in one place outside maybe the Metropolitan Museum. Fun fact: the supreme court of Washington is comprised of five women and four men. Seems about right.

      Washington State Capitol.

      A VW bug would fit in that chandelier.

      WA House.

    • Drank more great coffee.
    • Ate more delectable salmon. Plus some crazy-good chicken Perloo made by Tom, a Florida Cracker born and bred.

Washington State secured itself in me as a destination of my heart. I constantly imagined myself living there and began fantasizing possible move-to-Seattle outcomes for myself. It’s probably a good idea for me to visit in the winter and really experience the daily rain I don’t think I’m going to mind, but won’t really know till I see it firsthand.

Olympia is a port city.

Next installment: heading south through Oregon to meet up with firstborn, Win, in CA.

 

 

Tennessee Roamers, Mother-Daughter Style

The sun rose behind me on the first day as I drove west with Maggie, my 24-year-old daughter, snoozing in the back seat.

First hour of trip. ZZZZzzz

The sun rose ahead of me on the penultimate day of our trip as we drove east again, out of Memphis.

Penultimate sunrise, Memphis, TN

Then on the last day, heading north from our overnight stop in Virginia, I drove first shift as the sun slanted in through the opposite side of the car and fell upon Maggie’s head as she slept the sleep of the innocent and the young.

Final sunrise, somewhere in VA

Those are the sunrises I can measure our trip by. There are other benchmarks. Museums. BBQ joints. Friends. Local music. Local coffee. Local beer.

Seriously local Nashville Brew

Not my first road trip (by a long shot) nor the first I’ve written about in this blog, the recent mother-daughter journey to the heart of Tennessee was one of my most adventurous. Mostly because of the number of miles traversed—2,418, from one Friday to Saturday of the following week.

Road trips need no reason. They need no justification or excuse. They are, a priori, of value.

But why Tennessee?

  1. Never been
  2. It’s drivable
  3. Music and food mecca
  4. Two dear friends have, independently of one another, moved there over the last two years making it OBVIOUS that the universe required us to visit

100% worth it.

High points:

  • The usual road trip with Maggie perks. Epic rounds of “naughty Madlibs” that would no doubt horrify most people but that have us crying gallons of laughter tears. Fabulously twisted 20 questions games. Listening to the same CDs over and over because she is obsessed (currently with The National)– oh wait, that’s not a perk, but I’m willing to put up with it most of the time.
  • We read a whole book as we drove. Or rather, I read. When I drove, she slept. When she drove, I read.
  • Stopover in Cincinnati to see my sister and her family.

    Laughing with my sister

    That visit included long card games, great cooking, a mani-pedi, a fantastic contemporary art center with some great current exhibits around gender, feminism, and race in America etc.

    Feminist cousins at Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center

  • An afternoon at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, KY. Neither of us is a fan of the racing industry for a variety of reasons mostly to do with the horses. But we are both horse lovers and the museum was all about the ponies.

    Derby hats

  • Wandering around Nashville with friend Betty. This involved non-stop talk-as-we-walked.
  • The Johnny Cash Museum. Seriously excellent museum with interactive musical exhibits, lots of info on the soulful, challenging, often uplifting life and times of the Man in Black.

    Maggie channels Johnny

  • Sitting in a famous Nashville bar (Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge) in the afternoon listening to live music and drinking local beer.

    Tootsies in the afternoon

  • The exact replica of the Parthenon that exists in Nashville (who knew?) with a wonderful American art exhibit and a seriously huge replica of the Athena statue too. Very fun stop-off on what became a torrentially rainy day. We left there and ran barefoot back to our car, headed to dry off and have dinner in the Gulch section of Nashville where we listened to more music, of course.

    Talk talk talk walk walk walk (me+ Betty+ the Parthenon)

    Athena!

    BLAT… having too much fun

  • Memphis! It is a seriously cool city. First night there our awesome friend Charles introduced us to one of the best BBQ places I’ve ever experienced. The Bar-B-Q Shop on Madison Ave was everything it should be, including the ice-cold beer. Their “dry BBQ”—basically with a dry rub to die for—was flawless.

    Dry ribs at Bar-B-Q Shop

  • Graceland—Elvis portrayed through the lens of worshipful love. The home is not huge, but it is flamboyant in its way, with a surprisingly modest kitchen! I was lucky enough to see him perform shortly before his death. I was 17, a senior in high school, and despite not being a particular fan, grabbed the chance because somehow I knew this iconic man was not long for the world. It was an amazing experience and I’ve had a soft spot for Elvis ever since. I’m glad I got to pay homage at the museum of Elvis-homage. 

    Surprisingly modest Graceland kitchen

    Elvis and his mirrored ceilings, amiright?

  • The Civil Rights Museum. Probably the high point of the entire trip. It is at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was murdered and is worth going to Memphis for—the BBQ and music are nice bonuses. I wish every high school student in the country could experience this museum. We were cramming too much into one day and did not have a chance to see it all, so I will be going back. Someday. Warning: you will feel lots of things, and you will, in the end, cry.

    Balcony where he died

  • Four Way Soul Food Restaurant. Soul food, the real deal, straight to the face (and waistline).

    Fried green tomatoes at the Four Way … heaven

  • Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars playing on Beale Street on a Wednesday night—at Rum Boogie Café (hint: it’s not a café). Some seriously hot and dirty blues.

    Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars

    Beale St. Memphis

  • Taking home a cooler full of BBQ from another Memphis standard: Central BBQ, right behind the Civil Rights Museum. Their dry BBQ gave Bar-B-Q Shop a run for its money but I could never choose. Not in a million.

We drove back in two days that should have dragged but flew by, thanks to our tried-and-true road trip protocol. Re-entry was a little tough as it had been a long time since I’d been that footloose and it felt really good.

Maggie and I would both recommend a trip to TN. There’s much more to it than we managed to see in what amounted to 5 days actually in that state, but we were there long enough to realize there’s plenty of soul, beauty, flavor, history, and music.

 

 

 

 

Solo in Cali part 4 (LA + Santa Barbara)

Los Angeles—to be honest—was the city that held the least allure for me—as a destination–on my journey. Still, I looked forward to it greatly as I was to see an old friend and colleague (full disclosure, she was my boss), Andrea, who now lives and works in the Bel-Air section of the sprawlingest and most highly trafficked of cities. She’d invited me to basically move in with her for a while and hang out, see the sights, and catch up on every little thing.

Lucky for me, I could ditch my rental car at LAX and spend the rest of my 5 days in the area tagging along with Andrea and not having to drive among the hard core risktakers of LA.

In addition to the great pleasure of Andrea’s always stimulating and/or funny and/or comfortable conversation/company, there was the great pleasure of not eating out every meal, and instead of trying to figure out all by myself what I should do and see, I had an expert touring me around and making the big decisions. It was a relaxing change.

After a couple days in LA we drove to Santa Barbara where Andrea had a conference to attend and I just got to tool around and see the sights. #timingiseverything

Highlights of my LA/SB interlude:

The nighttime skyline of downtown LA. Pretty.

IMG_4978

The Getty Museum. Gorgeous. Free. Perched beautifully at the top of an LA high point of land, thus 360o views. We went one evening, and had to wait in a long line to get on the tram that takes people to the top of the hill where the museum is. The museum was packed (but not overly so— we could still move around and find a table to sit and chat and drink overpriced beer). I was heartened by the enthusiastic crowds. LA takes advantage of this glorious gift and that made me happy. Young and old wandered the galleries, full of very good art by superb artists though not typically the famous pieces (refreshing) and the gardens, which were, to be honest, some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. The sun set. The moon rose. Soft ambient light infused the white stone spaces, all but the art galleries open to the sky. Music played—it was a little weird but people seemed to like it. Getty is now way at the top of my list of great museums.

IMG_5055 IMG_5020 IMG_5054

One of many Getty views.

One of many Getty views.

IMG_5025 IMG_5028 IMG_5033 IMG_5034

The Culver City Hotel. Very old and historic. We met up with some of Andrea’s friends for happy hour one early evening and sat in the spacious bar, suffused with late day light and jazz music.

Great happy hour compatriots.

Great happy hour compatriots.

IMG_5180

The long beach walk. We drove to Santa Monica one morning before breakfast and walked the beach heading north, or maybe south. Not sure. Passed from one neighborhood to the next. Saw Muscle Beach—or at least what it has become now. Watched people who like to be watched do amazing things on the equipment permanently installed for just this purpose. Rings and parallel bars and some other cool stuff. It was impressive, and I’m just relieved I get to do my work-outs inside with just a few nice people who don’t take my sweaty picture and don’t judge. This walk helped me understand that LA is also a city of neighborhoods and pedestrians, as much as it is a city of cars and traffic.

IMG_5004 IMG_4986 IMG_4999 IMG_4995

The Mission at Santa Barbara. While we were in Santa Barbara, I headed to the Mission with someone Andrea introduced me to. Barbara, a retired teacher and Cali native, was able to give me great background and fill in details of the mission system. The place was beautiful and fascinating. It is worth noting that the propaganda was laid on very thick by the materials available there—the video, the brochures, and the museum write-ups. Composed by the Catholic church, which owns the mission, these materials serve to rationalize and whitewash its incredible subjugation of the native people throughout CA. Indigenous slaves (from the Chumash tribe now all but extinct) were referred to as “native people inclined toward physical labor” who were “instrumental in helping build the missions and farm the land around them.” (AKA they were enslaved and did all the work.) The padres “worked alongside the Chumash.” (AKA they supervised the labor being done. There exist numerous primary documents recounting beatings and other brutalities perpetrated against the Chumash by their devout overseers—but not mentioned at the mission.) I understood what was happening (historical denial) but understanding doesn’t make it easier to take.

IMG_5082 IMG_5087 IMG_5081

La Super-Rica Taqueria. Best food of my trip. Totally local place with a crew of cooks furiously making homemade tortillas and heavenly, flavorful, authentic food in a tiny kitchen and serving an endless stream of happy people.

IMG_5101

The Four Seasons. Where we stayed in Santa Barbara. Yeah, it was really nice.

Lowlights:

  • $75.00 manicure. Seriously people? That does not include tip.
  • $15.00 beer (admittedly at the Getty).
  • If the automobile had been invented when Dante wrote the Inferno, a circle of hell would have been reserved for LA traffic.
  • Interpretive driving. Like people who don’t entirely drive on their designated side of the street. Especially when traffic is not heavy, or you are on a side street, the rules get vague.
  • Rodeo Drive. Not really a lowlight, but an unpleasant reminder of the consumer culture in this country. I was there before the shops opened, early in the morning, and though I could appreciate the iconic sight of the palm-lined street (nod to Julia Roberts), I was stunned by the sheer critical mass of designer/high-end shops in one place. My imagination was not quite able to come up with a guesstimate of how much money is exchanged there on a given day.
    IMG_5129 IMG_5151 Rodeo

On Thursday the 23rd of June, I made my way to Union Station, as famous in films as Grand Central (well, almost), and caught a train to San Diego, my final destination. I sat on the top level of a double-decker train (something I did not know existed) and enjoyed great comfort as we passed the stations and towns that dotted the southern California landscape.

 

 

Solo in Cali part 3 (Pacific Coast Highway)

Before I left Clementine Cottage in Monterey, I accepted my hosts’ challenge to use the little manual Royal typewriter in the room to produce a story. Using the characters, Oob and Oona, from the delightful storybook written by my hosts for their guests, I wrote “page 134 of Oona’s memoir.” Using the manual typewriter was like giving my fingers an advanced calisthenics class but it was fun to participate in a quirky Clementine Cottage tradition.

Royal typewriter

After coffee and a breakfast burrito as large as my head, enjoyed at a coffee shop in Carmel-by-the-Sea, I wended my way to the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Glory be!

IMG_4815

I live in a part of the world with amazing green space—state parks, walkways, rail trails, mountains, streams, the Hudson River, vistas, valleys. And it is beautiful. But it’s my “usual” beautiful, the beautiful I must remind myself to appreciate at times when life gets heavy. “Look around you, Vanessa, and be grateful.” And I am.

But as a north-easterner walking the sandy trails of (for example) Point Lobos for the first time, coming upon cliffs overlooking a boiling whirlpool churning with white foam, with deep turquoise water stretching out to the horizon, rocks cropping up in picturesque spots to create more of white water so flawlessly juxtaposed against the vivid blue… well let’s just say my heart beat faster. I realized I was holding my breath. My fingertips tingled a bit. I walked a trail that circled a large point of land. The paths skirted the very edge of drop-aways (there were little rope “barriers” to alert hikers to be mindful). The sound of barking seals and breaking waves washed over me on ocean gusts that blew my hat off my head.

IMG_4786 IMG_4798 IMG_4810

In another part of the park I tiptoed across worn stone expanses and pebble beaches to peer into tide pools and watch microcosmic galaxies of life busily conduct business a mere quarter mile from where whales might at any moment show up as they passed through. (I never saw them.) The Point Lobos adventure occupied me for most of the morning, but I realized I had several hours to drive before arriving in Los Osos where I would stay for the night.

Along the way I explored Palo Colorado Canyon Road that wends up a dark crevice in the towering hillsides along Route 1. Shaded by massive redwoods, the road is dappled with green light and to each side ancient wooden homes on stilts teeter, with long stairways and bridges giving access to inhabitants who live in this hidden spot just a stone’s throw from the Pacific coastline.

IMG_4848 IMG_4851

I stopped for lunch at the Rocky Point Restaurant to enjoy a meal and a view—it never gets old. Then I embarked on my journey south on Route 1/Pacific Coast Highway also known as Cabrillo Highway (which is what my GPS insisted on calling it).

IMG_4881

Heading south I was on the ocean side of the highway—the proper side for mentally reenacting every Hollywood movie scene where someone speeds along the hairpin turns with tires spitting gravel to the crashing surf below. Needless to say, I drove very slowly and deliberately (everyone did), and rather than rubbernecking and putting my life in danger, I merely stopped at every single solitary turn-off along the way to gawk, snap pix, and realize my ETA would have to be adjusted. Again. And FYI—there are a lot of turn-offs.

IMG_4891

I kept thinking, “Maybe I’ll get inured to all this glory and not have to stop so much.” Nope.

Wildflowers. Not like the wildflowers in New England or the Hudson Valley. These were rugged flowers that survive the vicissitudes of even the current California drought. Bright cheerful things that wave and bob in the constant off-shore winds.

IMG_4895

Drop-aways, crevices, outcroppings. If a landscape can be a drama-queen, this one is. I mean that in a very admiring way. The landscape sang opera, not folk music. It was Matisse, not Rembrandt. Isadora Duncan, not Margot Fonteyn.

IMG_4918 IMG_4914 IMG_4926

It dawned on me at one point that not having a full tank of gas could end up being a problem. As could the need for a restroom. Places to stop were few and far between. And when I did stop a bag of chips cost 5 bucks and gas was almost $6.00. Seller’s market for sure.

I stopped off at Big Sur. Though I did not have time to enter the Pfeiffer State Park and hike as I would have liked, I left my car in the lodge parking lot and strolled into the woods nearby. The redwoods (the “small” species that “only” gets to 250 or 300 feet tall) had a delicious smell, completely different from any woods smell I know. The air was cooled by eternal shade and I quickly came upon a brook like many I’ve walked beside in New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania and other states in my part of the world. Again I was struck by the way this hidden world of old wood, nesting birds, trickling streams existed mere moments from the blue glory of the Pacific.

IMG_4898 IMG_4900 IMG_4908

My journey ended that day—Thursday (a mere four days after I landed in California)—with the best part yet. The elephant seals rookery.

There were signs for yet another “vista point” or “turn off” for curious, awe-struck travelers like me to enjoy, but this time the words “elephant seal” definitely indicated I was in for a different kind of view. Coming out of the long and twisting few hundred miles of Route 1 onto something that resembled a “normal” road, I saw a rather large parking lot ahead.

Walking from the lot to the chest-high stone wall that separated it from the beach, I noticed everyone returning to their cars was smiling. Grinning. I pointed myself at an unoccupied section of wall. From a distance the resting bodies of the seals were sandy mounds, like large-scale, beachy moguls. When I got closer and could lean up against the wall, I thought I might want to stay forever, watching these placid sleeping giants. Now and then one of them would flick some sand over herself, or use one flipper to scratch the other, or an itchy spot on her tummy. A few bulls by the water postured with mock aggression (I’m sure the aggression can get quite real when it needs to), the top parts of their bodies raised, heads aloft, waving back and forth together. A few seals moved from one spot to another, in the ungainly way that sea mammals operate on land. They looked like amateur break dancers doing the “Worm,” with their flubbery body mass shifting in undulating rhythm.

IMG_4948 IMG_4949 IMG_4954

It was impossible to watch them without smiling. These animals are endangered, and their habitats threatened. Another of Earth’s beloved creatures disregarded by human “progress.”

A tiring day, long and full of twists and turns (the literal kind), some over-the-top visual dazzle (except for the guy with the mullet standing in line for the rest room at one point), and a few more (like 200) photos for the album.

Mullet alive and well. 2016, somewhere on Rt. 1.

Mullet alive and well. 2016, somewhere on Rt. 1.

Solo in Cali Part II (Monterey)

IMG_4741

Coming up with a strategy for the first half of my trip was a combination of getting advice from everyone I knew, browsing AirBnB listings, looking at maps despite being a little map-disabled, and then making well-informed but ultimately random snap decisions. So after my second night in San Francisco, I woke up Wednesday morning, got an early start in my trusty rented Toyota, and headed south towards Monterey.

I found parking near what seemed an interesting spot—Cannery Row of Steinbeck fame. The woman at the parking lot I chose (mostly for its location and the availability of empty spots) decided I was a potential best friend. Greta was her name and she quizzed me on my trip, exclaimed at the fact that I was on my own, said she never could do a trip to New York alone, and made me feel kinda badass. She proceeded to tell me about her kids. Her daughter’s ex-fiancé who turned out to be gay. Her horrid ex-husband who wronged her in these specific ways (she then listed them in detail). Her dogs and two jobs. Greta demanded a hug before I walked off in the direction of Cannery Row.

IMG_4711 IMG_4713

Despite being the setting of Steinbeck’s novel, the Row nowadays lacks cans, canning, or any evidence of seafood processing. The only seafood in evidence was on overpriced lunch menus, but my desire for a cold drink and my phone’s desire for a charge (I had not yet realized the car had a USB port that I could plug my house charger into) led me to a touristy restaurant with a view of the water.

After lunch, a quick perusal of the Row led me to walk swiftly away from it in search of a place to relax by the water. I found some tables outside a hotel about a half mile away. It was peaceful and uncrowded, unlike the clogged thoroughfares and souvenir shops of the Row, and I went back to my car to retrieve my journal and a pen. I got sucked into another long conversation with Greta who this time walked to her car to retrieve her two tiny fluff-dogs. She introduced me to them, and told me some more stories. I really wanted to go sit in the sunshine and look out at the water, but that was not to happen until some more bonding took place. I had to borrow a pen from her and on account of that, plus just because, I could not be rude to her. So we talked some more. Then she gave me the pen. A “really good pen” she said. I was grateful. She asked for another hug.

Back at the seaside table, there were now two large men leaning on the railing directly in front of me, blocking my view. I turned to the side, adjusting my seat to allow me a view, and set to catching up in my very neglected (of late) journal. The pen broke pretty darn quick but I did manage to limp along using just the skinny thing inside the pen that actually writes, but that is hard to hold onto. No biggie. I wasn’t writing a novel.

IMG_4715

At some point my AirBnB host called to welcome me to Monterey and give me the code to retrieve the key at Clementine Cottage, possibly the cutest AirBnB accommodations ever. I eventually moseyed over there and had time to read the amazing book my host and her husband had put together with an original fictional account of guests from another planet, Oob and Oona, as well as more fun things to do around Monterey than I’d ever get to.

IMG_4717

That relaxed and sunny evening I got dressed up, headed to Fisherman’s Wharf to see the boats in the harbor and watch the sun lowering in the sky as people fished off the pier. The sun made long stripes of light on the water and the breeze—like that in San Francisco but fishier—was a perfect reminder that it feels good to have skin on my bones. My hair flew up and over and into my face and eyes and I felt happy.

IMG_4742 IMG_4731

Next I drove to a nearby town—Pacific Grove (home of the butterfly parade)—recommended by my host as being home to a restaurant with okay food and great views. At this point the views were more important to me than food. I’d made a reservation, but got there early to wander Lover’s Point, a small peninsula that thrust into the water and offered more California eye candy. Pretty soon I went in to await my table at the bar, drinking a yummy basil infused cocktail. The dinner was rather mediocre and the glass of wine nothing to write home about, but I did-not-care-one-bit because I was on the California coast and it was almost sunset.

IMG_4767

Dinner view

Dinner view

IMG_4747  IMG_4749

I sat outside after dinner, watching the sun go down and feeling the temperature drop from cool to cold. Hustling back to my car and then to my cozy Clementine Cottage I thought about Greta. She lives in a lovely part of the world. So do I. She probably won’t make it out to see my lovely corner of Earth. How lucky I am that I got to see hers.

IMG_4765

Saw this at Monterey beach as I drove in from the north. A man in flight. That's on my bucket list.

Saw this at Monterey beach as I drove in from the north. A man in flight. That’s on my bucket list.