Tag Archives: travel

A Journey West, Part 5/5

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Highway One Santa Cruz, early morning fog

My last night, again too anxious to get a good night’s sleep, I rise early for my flight home. The fog is in along the coast. Overnight chill permeates the distinctly scented air. Stately redwoods stand in silent observation as we merge into Highway One’s rush hour traffic.

Much as I dreaded the journey, I feel nothing but happiness that I came. Spending time with loved ones wrenches me, lingers like a lump in my stomach. Good that aircraft exist. A hundred years earlier, anyone traveling this far left loved ones behind forever.

San Jose airport. I say goodbye to my first born, swallowing back tears. Again I am thrust into a sea of humanity also venturing out into the world. Security is less stressful, boarding less crowded. Maybe I’m slightly inured.san jose copy

The gods smile on my seating, this time next to a window and not over a wing. My forehead presses the glass as the lumbering beast leaves ground and the wheels thump into the plane’s belly. Below spreads San Francisco Bay, San Jose, and streets, buildings, cars, and lives growing smaller by the moment. In striking resemblance to a circuit board, a network of roads, industrial complexes, and neighborhoods form the landscape below. Each serves a critical function, interdependent, vital, alive. Civilization, California style, 2014.

Last distant view of the Pacific. Goodbye salty spray, kelp-scented air. Long gray-blue line beyond jagged dark blue mountains. Horizon.

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Delta–Mendota Canal (left) and the California Aqueduct (right) near Tracy, California. Courtesy Ian Kluft

Soon the vista below changes to a patchwork of brown and green fields in the inner valley. Aqueducts glimmer blue-green. Bare brown hillocks become the southern Sierra Nevada range.

Across Nevada and then Utah, I marvel at the extent of this desolation. I’ve seen it all before, drove it more than once, but this time it seems even more a wasteland than I had previously considered. A handful of places feature a circular green patch and make me wonder who would struggle to pull water from the depths to grow anything in such a place. Even across New Mexico, the vista unfolds in desert tones of gray, tan, and ochre.desert copy

For the first time, I feel fear for us as a nation, for people everywhere, who confront the loss of rain as land slowly turns barren. For all our irrigation trenches, dams, and pipelines, in the end we are powerless to stay Mother Nature’s hand. Without fresh water, we can’t survive.

The land greens slightly in central Texas and by the time my commuter flight to Northwest Arkansas circles for landing, fertile green fields and thickly wooded hills welcome me home. Unlike the West Coast, the Ozark plateau is among the oldest land masses on the continent. I feel its old bones in me, welcoming me, holding me close in its eroded creek bottoms and smoothed down ridges.

Safely landed and walking to my car, I hear a familiar chorus of crickets and katydids. The air smells of cut hay and crushed weeds. For all my anxiety and curmudgeonly angst, I’m glad I went. I’ve been reintroduced to a world wider than me. I’ve shared a brief happy time with people I love and who love me. I’ve plugged myself into the Pacific for a deep charge of my psychic batteries.

I’ve been renewed.

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A Journey West, Part 4/5

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Artichoke. Courtesy Jeb Campbell

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Fields of lettuce. Courtesy Jeb Campbell

One of the last days of my California trip featured a venture to Monterey and Seaside where my son lives. The old coast road, Cabrillo Highway, Highway One, muddled south out of Santa Cruz, Soquel, and Aptos in heavy traffic that cleared some after Rio Del Mar. The four lanes narrowed to two for nine miles through fertile agricultural lands. Fields of artichoke, Brussel sprouts, strawberries, lettuce, and kale lined either side of the aging highway. I wondered about irrigation—more wells, more groundwater. How long do these farmers have if the drought continues?

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Dunes. Courtesy Jeb Campbell

The fields gave way to huge sand dunes colonized by dune grass and invasive ice plant. Called ‘relic landscapes,’ the dunes occupy a wide swath between the road and the Pacific. According to local authorities, the dunes may shift but are thousands of years old. New ones aren’t forming. Older landscapes of rock and sand slightly more inland provide basis for roads, shopping centers, and neighborhoods. We followed the road around this last tip of the great Monterey Bay arc.

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Looking north to distant outline of Monterey Bay coast, from Sunset Drive, Monterey, California

It was a clear day, brilliant blue sky above and the bay vista stretched fogless twenty-four miles north to Santa Cruz. I thought of the Native Americans who made use of every living thing given by the sea and the fishermen who came on the heels of the Spanish missions to exploit the rich sealife nourished in the recesses of the three-thousand foot deep Monterey trench. I thought of the generations of immigrants—Chinese, Italian, Portugese—who settled here to wrest a living from the land and Pacific Ocean.

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Jewels of the sea: kelp strand, mussels, anemone. Courtesy Deste Campbell

At the seaside route around the Asilomar retreat grounds, we parked and walked a short distance to the water’s edge. The tide was outbound. Waves curled onto the sand and crashed against rugged rock outcroppings. Gulls patrolled the beach, peeking into straggles of kelp torn from its offshore forest. Washed up kelp leaves flared from narrow stalks long as a bullwhip. Hordes of tiny insects swarmed the tangled kelp heaps. Tide pools hosted anemone communities and mussel thickets in colors too amazing to believe.

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Jelly, one of many types in this bay. About two inches long. Courtesy Deste Campbell

I could sit all day here, fully entertained by nothing more than the movement of the water. A few surfers in wet suits challenged themselves in the unforgiving breakers. Others, like me and my kids, were content to walk at the high water line, happy to be occasionally caught off guard by a stealthy wave whooshing up to wet our legs. If this was all there was—if there were no bills to pay, schedules, obligations—would I make my life about watching the sea?

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Me with Deste and Jeb at Asilomar beach. Thanks Jeb.

Too short is the time at my son’s home, sitting in his living room, touring his garden, smiling as I visit with his family. I’m envious of his ten-minute drive to the beach. Sad as my daughter and I pull away from his home, I can’t look back.

Is an oceanside sojourn the future for my son, this child who became a man when I wasn’t watching?

Or my daughter, happily settled in the hills of her new home near Eugene, Oregon, an hour and half drive from the coast?

Those are among a thousand alternate lives I could have lived close to the sea. The waves murmur and slosh, crash and growl. Another world. I miss it already.

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Filtered beach shot. Courtesy Deste Campbell

A Journey West, Part 2/5

sc wharfThe narrow coastal rim west of the Santa Cruz Mountains is a world unto itself. Rich with moist ocean air and ornamented by unique flora, the land asserts a majestic presence in spite of roads, cars, houses, and other degradations inevitable in the presence of human population. I’ve been to Santa Cruz and its suburbs of Capitola, Soquel, and Aptos four or five times, and each time is a refreshing reminder of this unique environment.s c cliffs

All of it leads to the beach and  sheer cliffs eroded by towering waves. Stretches of sand crop up, narrow but pristine, fed by the constant motion of water. Detritus of the sea collects in meandering lines—kelp with rubbery flat leaves, seaweed in tangled blackish masses, bits of shell, and freshly exposed critters burrowing back under the swept-clean surface. The land gently rises from the shore to sweep up the slopes to the ridges of the densely forested mountains.

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Coast Live Oak

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Madrone

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Eucalyptus

Tall palms dot the neighborhoods and commercial districts, delineating their unique architecture against a backdrop of coast live oak, coast Douglas fir, the enigmatic Pacific madrone, wax myrtle and bay laurel, and the ever-present clumps of towering invasive eucalyptus.

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Coast Redwoods

Here and there remain the native coast redwood standing as lone sentinels or in surviving groves on the steep hillsides. Everywhere the hand of man has interspersed the natural plantscape with domestic shrubbery and flowering plants. But much of the native vegetation also blossoms in vibrant color. Blooms in every shape and hue grace parking lots, highway medians, ditches, and landscaped surroundings of shopping centers, gas stations, and random shops.

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Chamise

The University of California at Santa Cruz takes pride of place at its higher elevation overlooking the town and bay. The cleared sunny south slopes of campus host a more drought-resistant chaparral vegetation with manzanita, scrub oak, and chamise.

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One of many campus walkways over redwoods surging up from ravines.

Beyond the expanse of land claimed by state parks, ranchers, and the university are groves of redwoods deeply nestled in sharp ravines and stretching to the sky up steep slopes. From the road along UCSC’s east side, a panorama of the Monterey Bay opens its glorious expanse to the viewer, breathtaking in its fingernail-moon arc southward.ucsc view

I would be happy living here, I think. The community is joyously liberal and rebelliously semi-heathen in its irreverent embrace of life. Homeless people around the wharf and other public places might catch the tourist off guard, but there’s no implied threat if the request for money is denied. Seaside attractions, aside from the string of restaurants, coffee shops, and lodging, include an amusement park with Ferris wheel, fun house, and roller coaster. At a safer distance from the occasional tidal shift or storm surge are shops and stores favoring every conceivable interest. The sprawling imprint of human settlement stretches for miles.

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View seaward from Ginny’s deck

A climate that rarely climbs past eighty degrees in the daytime or drops below forty degrees in the coldest night tempts me. My friend Ginny’s front deck faces the distant water from her perch halfway up a mountainside. From her hot tub or deck chair, I contemplate the fog bank lying like a thick silver blanket along the shore. On clear evenings, I watch the sun send its red-orange flare across the distant waves. I watch the whitecaps break at Soquel Point.

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Ginny 1972

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Me 1972

The miracle of close friendship never fails to amaze me. After forty-two years since we were cute young travelers to the Great American West, we’ve stayed friends. She left Northwest Arkansas for New York and then retired to California. Together maybe a total of two months in all that time, we start our conversation as if we’d never been apart. Her habits are familiar—the gurgle of her espresso machine starts the morning while I sit staring out at the foggy dawn. We giggle over her silly cat and talk about our plans for the day. I marvel at her ability to thrive in such a claustrophobic environment, but then, my God, she spent a couple of decades lawyering in New York City.

There are two key points that keep me from seriously entertaining a relocation plan. Money. And population density. People literally live on top of each other. Ginny’s home at nearly $2000 per month (plus utilities) is the top floor of a house divided into three living units. At the back fence mere feet away begins another house, perched higher up the hillside but close enough to hear conversation on their front porch.

Single family homes are palatial estates costing millions or small, side-by-side 1930s cottages with questionable structural integrity and still worth many thousands. If I cashed in my sixteen Boston Mountain acres with over 2000 square feet of home space and spring water, plus my two commercial rental properties in Fayetteville, I might end up with enough money to buy a house trailer in Santa Cruz. Okay, maybe a 1940s bungalow on a postage-stamp lot.

In spite of the occasional gut wrenching journey for the sheer pleasure of existing for a time in this other-worldly Shangri-la and the intense joy of sharing a few days with my kids and Ginny, I think I’ll stay put in the Ozarks.

A Journey West, Part 1

How could so much change in only six years? I had flown before, many times. Between 1968 and 2008, I lost count of the times I swallowed down excitement as the plane lifted me toward the sky. Airports were the threshold of adventure, the place where infinite possibilities scrolled down the flight departures screen.

But in the intervening years since my last sojourn, I settled firmly at my desk. My adventures became mental journeys into the pages of my writing. I’m comfortable here with my dogs, the woods, my bed.DOGS

Okay, I’m getting old.

So when my friend Ginny extended her invitation, my immediate response was anxiety. Could I sleep well on an unfamiliar bed? What about air travel in these days of crazy passenger outbursts and terror threats? Did I really want to go?

My two older children live on the West Coast. I hadn’t seen Ginny for years, and her invitation made me contemplate not only spending time with her and seeing my kids, but also absorbing myself in that uniquely California environment of salty, kelp-flavored air and laid back attitudes. Of course I wanted to go, but couldn’t I please just instantly appear in Santa Cruz instead of going through the journey?

After weeks of increasing anxiety, I hardly slept the night before my departure. What if I didn’t arrive at the airport in time for my flight? What if I forgot to pack something important? What if there were problems with the flight? By the time I parked in the economy lot and hurried across the vast expanse of asphalt, my pulse hammered in my neck. Breathless, I scanned my ticket barcode to print out the boarding pass then mounted the escalator.

Swallowing over a dry throat, I handed the attendant my ticket and identification, moved forward to the screening line, and took refuge in the actions of those ahead of me. At least I could follow their lead. Carry-on luggage on the conveyor belt. Backpack with my purse inside. Take off shoes. No, attendant said. I didn’t have to take off my shoes, courtesy of the first attendant’s notation on my boarding pass which, I assume, had to do with my age. What are the characteristics one must exhibit at the Northwest Arkansas airport to qualify for remaining shod through security? That and another hundred questions and worries flooded my mind as I accompanied my baggage along the conveyor.

“What liquids…(blah)?” The uniformed guard’s words rolled over me as I tried to remember what I had packed. At the last minute, I had abandoned all hope of forcing my thick crème rinse into the tiny travel container. It globbed up at the rim and cascaded down the outside of the container. So I had stuck the entire bottle in my case. Hadn’t I read somewhere that larger containers were okay?

At this point, my voice had become husky and I shook. It wasn’t like they were going to take me outside and shoot me for packing an oversized container of crème rinse. But it was expensive. Other travelers piled up behind me while I tried to make an intelligent decision. The options for keeping it meant paying $25 to check my bag or walking back across the north forty to my car. No, I’d have to give it up. I watched my nearly full bottle of organic hair product land in their disposal bin.

That was only the first of a day of indignities. Maybe growing older and even more rigidly set in my ways preordained that travel by public conveyance would unfold as a series of rude shocks. Jostling in line to board. Wading to the next to last row of seats. Cramming myself into a tiny seat by a window—which I would have chosen if I had been willing to pay the extra money—but facing out over the wing, which I would not have chosen. Enduring the mind-boggling cacophony of human voices shouting over the engine noise as we made the short trip to Dallas-Fort Worth.

By the time we arrived at DFW, my back had spasmed in my effort not to rub against the passenger in the adjacent seat. Clearly comfortable with air travel and close association with whomever, she spent the trip jawing with the man across the aisle, her conversation frequently punctuated with loud laughter. That her leg touched mine or her elbow periodically brushed my arm seemed never to appear on her personal radar.

100_0575I live in near total isolation on an Ozark hilltop. I see more deer than people. Coyotes routinely howl at my back fence before disappearing back into the oak and hickory forest. Driving into town for groceries and random errands usually results in a hasty revision of my ambitious to-do list so that my time amid busy streets and crowded store aisles is reduced to only the most urgent items. I return home annoyed and clogged with Other People’s Energy.

Now, barely started on my journey, my back aching with don’t-touch-me tension, I hurry along the wide corridors of DFW’s Terminal C to find the trolley that will whisk me to Terminal A. I dodge businessmen and women wheeling fine leather cases, families straggling with children, retirees looking faintly lost and grumpy. After a fast jerky trolley ride clinging to a grab rail, I descend into Terminal A. Even greater throngs greet me there.

I’m hungry and wander along the crowded corridor. McDonalds swarms with customers, deterrent enough even if I could choke down the food. Starbucks isn’t lunch. I don’t want seafood. Taking a tentative space in the line at TGI Friday’s, I’m soon seated facing out over the hive activity in the corridors and presented a menu. After a heart-stopping moment of sticker shock, I order a cup of broccoli-cheddar soup for $7. It comes with four saltines.

Okay. I can do this. Refreshed from my cheesy lunch, I soon board the jet bound for San Jose. Blessedly, I am not seated in the back or over a wing. Cursedly, I am the first aisle seat in the three-seat side of economy class, meaning the aisle jogs right there as passengers move through from first class. Each passage jostles or brushes me in some way. Plenty of leg room, but since there are no seats in front of me, the tray table folds up from the chair arm. Which would be fine in a perfect world. However, I admit to a less than trim waistline and so the table fits snugly across my midsection. Embarrassing and uncomfortable. I drag out my book and try to concentrate on the lovely biography of Doc Holliday.

An hour into this three and a half hour flight, my back is killing me. The friendly lady on my right enjoys a gin and tonic while reading her Kindle. She’s relaxed and her arm touches mine. Her knee touches mine. My need not to touch someone else is so ingrained that I can’t relax even when I tell myself to get over it. Even when she’s asleep.

With perhaps an hour left in the flight, I lurch to the bathroom at the back of the cabin. Here, for a brief blissful moment, I am alone. But these hours of being crammed into a metal box with a hundred other people is taking its toll. My back muscles have seized. My head aches. My nose has become stuffy with breathing recycled air. The thoughts and emotions of a hundred other human beings have invaded my consciousness. Let me out!

Finally the jet screams down the runway and slams to a halt at Gate 18 of SJC. The blessing aspect of my seating reasserts itself as I follow first class passengers on an early disembarkation. I hurry down the terminal’s long passageways to emerge blinking into the bright San Jose afternoon. The air smells of ocean. Moments later, my daughter calls and then appears to pick me up in a borrowed car.

Strange how children always look the same and yet, at least initially after a long absence, appear as strangers. We plunge into happy conversation as if it was yesterday instead of 28 months since our last meeting. I luxuriate in the absence of strangers and the comfort of a well-padded car seat.

The drive over the mountains along Highway 17 is curvy and steep, plagued with heavy traffic. SoonDEST she turns onto a side route that leads into Soquel over the old San Jose Road. Her smile and the sound of her voice are beautiful.

The rich odor of pine sap and eucalyptus starts to clear my clogged nose. The narrow lane winds along sharp inclines cut into the face of newly minted earth—slabs of granite bedrock under hulking chunks of sandstone pushed up from the ocean floor as recently as the last three million years. Even after two years of drought, native vegetation maintains a stubborn gray-green grip on the land, all subordinated to the towering redwoods.

We talk about her flight from Oregon, her plans. The eight days we’ll have together. This is more like it. I have survived. I am here.

Letters Not Sent #4

e=mcLetters Not Sent #4

Dear Highway Department,

Regarding your frequently posted sign “Reduced Speed Ahead,” could you please explain the term “reduced” in this context? If your message to drivers is a command to reduce the speed at which they are traveling, then your sign should read “Reduce Speed Ahead.”

If your message to drivers is a notice that the speed limit is reduced ahead, then the sign should read “Reduced Speed Limit Ahead.”

However, if your sign is meant to announce that speed in general is reduced ahead, I’d personally appreciate some explanation of this localized phenomenon of physics. I can appreciate the difficulty of conveying such a weighty concept on a small yellow sign. But with “speed,” “reduced,” and “ahead” as imprecise terms related to velocity, relative diminution, and relative location, the overall message is terribly unclear. I may, in some instances, prefer to take the next off ramp rather than enter a zone of unstable wave/particle manifestation. And are all drivers who enter this area of speed reduction equally impacted, or do larger objects experience a greater effect?

I admit I’m no specialist in physics, so the mystery of “reduced speed ahead” leaves me a bit off center. However, I have invested considerable time and effort in study and use of language, and it seems to me if you wish to command drivers to slow down, you should consider your leadership position as an agency of the state and use proper wording for your signage.

Sincerely,

Entering the Twilight Zone