Mt. Shasta, Part 1

I’ve been in Mt. Shasta now for two weeks, with another two to go. I’m pegging this stop as my halfway mark in the journey, although since I am continuing to “make it up as I go along,” that may or may not be an accurate estimation.

The first week here I was surprised at how much I missed the ocean air. I had not known I’d grown so used to it. Also I was surprised at how my eyes were adjusting to the obvious lack of palm trees and familiar flora found farther south, seeing instead dark green pines and trees that had not yet leaved.

Believe me, I adjusted quickly. It’s gorgeous in this part of California. Yesterday I drove out to Stewart Mineral Springs Retreat, where, if I lived here I would have a full-time membership. I went for a badly-needed massage, my shoulder still giving me fits and my back and neck succumbing to the strain of all those hours spent sitting on my backside writing, writing, writing. I had no idea I could take a mineral bath, a steam or sauna, or dip in the ice-cold spring-fed pool or even go into the sweat lodge. I did not come prepared for all that amazingness, so I’ve promised myself I’ll return before I leave.

Stewart Springs is about 15 miles away from Mt. Shasta, on past a small town called Weed and up a narrow winding road. To get there I drove by sprawling terrain with cattle and horses, surrounded by high snow-capped mountains thick with tall dark pines. It literally took my breath away, and for a moment I had to stop Roadcinante right there in the middle of the road and just gape. To my left a couple of tiny foals took turns prancing and kicking around the field.

The weather has been pretty typical for what I know of springtime in any mountains. We are just coming out of a chilly spell, where each night it’s dipped down into the thirties, spitting snow and spoiling some of the braver white iris that had just opened, leaving the fragile petals droopy and sad. There are lots more buds, though, and pink flowering dogwood and redbud and lilacs and apple trees laden with white blossoms, and the scrubby White-leaf Manzanita, with its delicate pink bell-like blossoms and trunk the color of mahogany. The days warm up to mid-fifties and low sixties. Today it got all the way up to seventy. It’s been wonderful to be here and watch it all unfold. When I arrived May 1st, more than half the trees did not even have leaves yet. Now layers of lush green everywhere. And it is still light at 8:15pm!

Today I did laundry, parking on the street a couple doors down from the laundromat and next to a tamale stand, running back and forth to check on my clothing, add more quarters to the dryer, and so on. In between my running I sat with Roadcinante’s doors open, which meant I got to greet lots of passersby, and did some writing while the dogs napped quietly. I rewarded myself with a couple tamales – one stuffed with chicken and the other stuffed with a chile relleno  – both fantastic. I topped it off with an ice-cold mango Jarritos that I could only drink half of, because I forgot how insanely sweet they are.

I whiled away part of the time chatting with the tamale vendor who graciously allowed me to practice my Español and did not laugh at me once, bless his sweet heart. (Spanish for snow: nieve, since we were talking about how much nieve piles up in Mt. Shasta during the winter months.) Over the course of our long and delightful conversation we talked about our kids, places we had lived, dogs we had known and loved, and other things. I adore how people here do not seem to be in any big hurry and are so friendly and welcoming.

After I finished the laundry chore I dropped by some places around town to put up flyers for my writing workshop that will be next Sunday (if people show!) and took my recycling to the drop-off center, located at one of Mt. Shasta’s larger parks that is right next to the high school. There are baseball diamonds and tennis courts and a skateboard/bike park and an ice rink, still with slushy gray ice in it, that doubles in summer as a roller-skating rink. I’ve seen toddler play groups gathered in the green grass there as well as intensely graceful Tai Chi practitioners. There are also the Mt. Shasta Community Gardens and a nice dog park.

I try to come every afternoon with the boys, so they can run and sniff and piddle and chase squirrels. During my first week, having watched the skateboarders and bikers flying around on the arcing ramps, I was just leaving the park as a succession of pick-up trucks and Jeeps, all of them with two- and three-inch lifts, came roaring in. I pulled aside as they flew past, a little irritated at these rude boys, when I caught sight of one of the drivers and saw a rosy-cheeked auburn-haired girl, her jaw set with some kind of steely intent. All young women, every last one. Bringing up the rear, a pale pink jalopy truck with enormous tires.

I later discovered they are softball players, meeting at the park every afternoon to practice. They are as fierce on the field as they are in their badass trucks. I watch them quietly, but something in me is cheering wildly.

I ended my afternoon by stopping at Big Springs, where I’ve now become a regular. This is the magical place where the Upper Sacramento River has its origin. The water bubbles out of the hillside and into a wide pool dotted with moss-covered rocks and clumps of watercress. People come with their cups and jars and bottles and sometimes much larger containers to catch the water right as it comes out of the earth.

The water is clean and crisp and ice-cold. I fill my jug and drink deeply, of the water and of everything around me –  the sun on the headwater’s surface, the slight breeze stirred by the flowing movement, the dark purple lilac over to one side that has just bloomed, the rhythmic clacking of the passing Pacific Northern train, and the careful steps of the other pilgrims gathered here as they come forward, like me, with hands outstretched to catch the fleeting liquid moment.

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Always Dreaming

SATURDAY: I am sitting on my bed in my studio apartment looking out the wide window that faces the beautifully luminous Mt. Shasta, just eight miles away from here. The mountain, still snow-covered, is actually made up of four volcanoes. Fumaroles around the base emit steam, indicating the mountain is still very much alive. (It’s on the “very high threat” list of USGS Volcano Hazards program.)

This past Wednesday and Thursday it was hot as hell, no clouds and bright sunshine, with the thermometer pegged at an unrelenting 85°F.

Overnight a cold front blew in. This morning it stopped snowing around eleven, but the wind keeps blowing in hard insistent gusts. Right now it is a chill 51°F. The sun’s weak efforts to shine through the haze do lift the spirits a bit but cannot really counter the harsh wind.

I am trying to find live coverage of the Kentucky Derby this first Saturday in May, looking for a site from which I can livestream for free. Intermittently, my laptop keeps reconnecting to the weak wi-fi signal located in the house where my hosts live. That then slows any search activity to an agonizing snail’s pace. I have to keep lassoing back to my cellphone’s hotspot, which, with the cloud layer and our relatively remote location only gives me three bars of service anyway.“I’m a goll-danged Louisville native,” I say as if the gods of connectivity will hear me, and care.

Some string in my heart is tethered to Louisville. When I was six months old we moved away to Atlanta, but some part of me stayed. While my parents relocated us every couple of years or so, my dad following the corporate trade route to Chicago, Kansas City, Knoxville, to Sweden and Mexico, finally landing us in Ohio, back in Louisville my grandparents, whom I visited every summer, were in their same house on Gresham Road, where several doors away was my parents’ first house, the one my dad built with his own two hands, the one they brought me home to. In the past I’ve had wild thoughts about moving back, maybe even trying to buy my grandparents’ house.

My mom and dad did move back in their late seventies, some of the best years they had together. My mom had attended kindergarten through college there, and my dad had gone to high school. Louisville had been home for the first ten years of their married life.

Moving back after fifty years was a great homecoming for them. They caught up with old friends and made a slew of new ones. They stayed until my mother watched my father falter one too many times shoveling snow or mowing the lawn, breathless, red-faced, and drenched with sweat. In their mid-eighties they finally moved to Florida, which my father thereafter referred to as “The Hell Hole,” rolling his eyes and sighing deeply. Their decline had already begun, but it seemed leaving Louisville exacerbated things.

But I know the Louisville I so long for doesn’t exist anymore – the one when my grandparents and parents and middle sister were all alive and my grandmother would get up early to make biscuits and redeye gravy to go with the country ham; when my grandfather would buckle me into the front seat of his big white Chrysler sedan and drive up to Ewing’s Dairy for chocolate malted milkshakes.

I want to go back to the Louisville I visited in the summer when I languished in front of the fans on hot muggy days, reading books and eating powdered apricot Jell-O out of the box; when aunts and uncles and cousins dropped by for Sunday visits, patting the top of my head and offering me small trinkets; when my mom’s wacky friends she’d known since kindergarten were still throwing impromptu parties where the bourbon and gin and scotch flowed freely and someone always wet her pants laughing.

With a shock I realize how much – and how many – are gone. This is the flip side of the grace of living into later years – so much of my life seems like it’s in the past. I have to work hard not to keep looking in that rearview mirror.

I actually went to the Derby once, in 1973, when Secretariat won. With tens of thousands of others in the infield, mostly college students like me, I partied in the hot sun all afternoon, eating chunks of watermelon laced with vodka and drinking beer, so that by the time the race came around I was verifiably stupid-drunk. I did manage to make my way to the chain link fence where some guy I didn’t know hoisted me onto his shoulders, and I saw a mash-up of caramel and black and bay colored flanks whiz by. That day Secretariat broke all the records, winning the mile-and-a-quarter race in under two minutes. Ah, well.

I find a livestream link on NBC’s site, and I only have to reload the page every four minutes or so. The jockeys parade out in a crisp line. Some of them high-five their fans; most of them keep their eyes straight ahead. I can only imagine the adrenaline seeping out of their pores, these tiny men with their serious eyes and clenched jaws.

I’m not drinking a mint julep. I only have red wine, and somehow that just doesn’t seem right, not what a native Louisvillian would stoop to. Instead, I’m having a Ginger Kombucha. A fuller departure I cannot imagine.

The Call to Post sounds and then the people stand, an estimated 158,070 of them, for “My Old Kentucky Home.”

I tear up during the very first bar, so that by the time we get to, “Weep no more, my lady,” I am sobbing out loud, mopping my face with a soggy tissue.

The camera pans over the crowd, past people sipping their beverages, over the ones who are checking their cell phones, on past those chatting with their friends. It lingers on a young woman in a dear white hat who clutches a handkerchief, her eyes glistening, mouthing the words with a sad sweet smile.

For just a few moments, it felt like I touched something. My past, another life I once had, a city and a heritage that I knew, with people that knew me. Then it’s gone again, covered over by the years.

MONDAY: Today I ran some errands and arranged to hold a writing workshop at the Mt. Shasta Library where I hope to meet some fun locals who want to “Have Your Say.” Then I drove around the perimeter of the town, venturing out into wide green farmland. For a moment I worried I might be heading into a no-man’s-land where I could lose my way, but when I turned the corner onto Old Stage Road,  to my right appeared Mt. Shasta, so massive and imposing that the sight of it caused me to gasp. You could absolutely not miss it, ever.

That’s the thing here. It doesn’t matter how far afield you wander. All you have to do is look around until you find the mountain. It’s your constant point of reference, all 14,176 feet of it.

It’s a lovely feeling,  this, to venture out and know I cannot possibly get lost. Everybody needs a Mt. Shasta. A True North. A guiding star – something you can always look to when you’re not sure where you are.

Maybe that’s in part what this journey, this pilgrimage is about – releasing those threads from the past and finding new touch points, new places to be from. Discovering new guiding stars that, for the time being, will see me home.

* * * * * * *

ICYMI. Look for Thunder Snow, a colt from Dubai, to lose his shit right out of the gate. I would have bet on Irish War Cry, and would have lost. Always Dreaming ran away with it at the end.

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Rise Up

This is a long one. Sorry. The words totally got away from me.

A bit of housekeeping first. I’m aware some folks have not been getting updates, due to the mysterious spacetime continuum weirdness that is apparently part of free email subscription services. I’ve updated some settings and tweaked a few things per instructions from an entity writing from an email address that is probably from another planetary realm. Hoping for the best. I’d love to hear from those of you who are suddenly receiving notifications again. If that happens, we’ll know the new settings are working.

If not, I will jettison the current service and procure a new one. Thanks for hanging in there.

* * * * * * *

Late one night in Cayucos, walking back from the bathhouse I hear from far offshore the clanging of the buoy bell and behind that, the faint barking of a few California sea lions. I stand and look up at the star-studded sky, open my hands, a gesture I’ve recently adopted, wanting to make sure I am taking in everything I can.

The sound of waves on the shore fills my ears; I taste salt in the wind.

The pier is lighted at night, bright points stretching out into the bay. For a moment I frighten myself with the thought of walking out there alone. The eerie night-ocean is so darkly alluring. What waits out there? What undulates beneath the rolling water?

I turn my steps toward Roadcinante, climb into the vehicle and over my snoring dogs.

I sleep a deep dreamless sleep.

In the morning, a mist hangs over Morro Rock and above the surrounding cliffs and hills. I sip my coffee while the sun rises higher, burning away the haze.

Later, I walk the few short steps into town and down to the beach, where the dogs can be off-leash.

The beach is scattered with clumps of seaweed – long fronds of bull kelp with their thick ropy stems that look like industrial cable; scattered pods from bladderwrack; ribbony blades of alaria; clumps of red algae; all of it looking as if it has come from another world, which is has. The one beneath the waves.

The bright Pacific rolls, calling, and the surfers answer, splashing out into the water.

I walk out onto the pier and study them, sleek in their black wetsuits – how they sit on their boards, lifted by the waves, then lowered into the troughs, then lifted again, always with an eye trained seaward. Watching them, I realize, most of surfing is actually waiting.

I close my eyes and feel myself with them. I feel the cool slap of water on my thigh, feel the tug of the tide on my dangling feet.

Now I join them in watching the waves and find I am not too bad at spotting the good ones, although I have the completely unfair advantage of a higher, longer vantage point. One of the surfers begins to paddle. He is scudding through the water, glancing back over his shoulder, and then the wave is upon him and he catches the crest, kneels, then crouches, finds his center of gravity, and stands.

He is flying, propelled on the lip of a magnificent wave, and for a moment I am flying with him. The ride has been worth the wait.

Down one end of the beach, over by some rocks, an otter swims, slipping in and out of the waves, flipping onto its back to munch its just-caught snack, then sliding back under the surface. On the other side of the pier a sea lion fishes, its head cocked in full attention.

Then there are the birds – seagulls, of course, and sandpipers; godwits and stilts, and the whimbrels with their amazing curved beaks.

Always and everywhere, the cooing doves and crows, both species constant companions since way back in northern Florida.

There is also a desperate mockingbird looking for a sweetheart; last night he sang into the wee hours, calling out to her.

Walking back to the RV park from the beach I stop in the middle of the bridge and gaze up in wonder at the bank swallows (also called sand martins) moving in murmurations that are swift and balletic.

Watching them from beneath, their white undersides create the impression of glittering lights in the blue sky. They swoop down and past me, and now from the side they look like grayish-brown autumn leaves caught in a swirling wind. They make another pass, swooping up, arcing back, and then settle on the bank below.

But they never really settle. They alight, pop up, alight, pop up, all the while their sweet wings aflutter.

I am completely enchanted. I cannot take my eyes off of them. They are so pretty, with their small sweet heads and petite bodies, the creamy underside and the delicate ring around their necks. And they move with such seeming delight, giving little twittering chirps, as if mentioning to each other how lovely is this day, how juicy and delicious the insects, how sparkling and beautiful the water lapping at the banks, how warm the blessing of sunshine.

I love birds. I always have. There is something about their clever dark eyes and the way they cock their heads in serious consideration. I am captured by their ease in the sky, feel at once the way the wind must feel against the breast and what it must be like to have wings. To swoop and float and glide.

And to sing. Oh, lord, to sing. To have such music in the throat as does a wren, the sweet melodies launched out into the air, that in times past have moved me to get up and walk outside to spy the little reddish-brown bird that has made all this noise.

I wonder, not for the first time, about the Biblical imagery of the Holy Spirit as coming in the shape of a bird. Where did that notion come from?

I recall my trip to the Holy Land in 1994, when our tour guide took us up into what is the traditional (but probably not the actual) Upper Room in Jerusalem, the Cenacle, where the Last Supper was purported to have taken place.

By that time, I was feeling a bit jaded, irritated with all the commercialization and hype. We stood in the Upper Room that most likely wasn’t even the Upper Room, and I might have stifled a yawn with one hand while the tour guide gave his spiel.

But then he pointed out sculptures on the columns , intricate carvings of…pelicans.

Why on earth would there be pelicans in the Upper Room?

The guide went on to explain that pelicans were an early symbol of Christ, because it was believed that in times of famine a mother pelican would pierce her own breast and feed her babies with her blood.

The imagery hidden in our mythologies tell beautiful truths. About love and sacrifice. About the habit of grace showing up in the unexpected.

About our awareness, even on a subliminal level, that there is so much more going on in our universe than we know. I mean, over 80% of it is made up of something we’ve named dark matter, enervated by something we call dark energy, and we really don’t know what either of those things are.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”

Here is the thing. Thirty-one years ago my grandmother lay dying, me in Columbus, Ohio, and she in Louisville, Kentucky. It was early fall.

My grandmother and I had always been close. We had understood one another.

The kids and I had been down there a few days before to say our goodbyes. My grandmother had been lucid then, sitting in her favorite chair in her pale blue dressing gown. The kids and I had walked around her neighborhood and collected leaves for her – red and orange and yellow – and a few acorns and some rocks, brought them back to show her, she who had always delighted in the bright tangible beauty of all things in nature. She who had always fed the birds, treasuring her cardinals and sparrows, her finches and wrens and bluebirds.

Days before, having kissed her dear cheek one last time, I had driven all the way back to Columbus weeping on and off, unable to conceive of a world that she was not in, already sensing the lack.

It was a Saturday night. Earlier in the day I had spoken with my mother. She felt it was now only a matter of time. My grandmother had slipped into a coma, she told me. She was resting, comfortable. I hung up, feeling lost.

As the afternoon wore on, I became more agitated. Toward evening, I became unable to sit for more than a few moments, rocking in place, my hands tapping against the sofa.

I paced, I fidgeted. “Something,” I told my then-husband. “I don’t know. Something.” More than that I could not say. I wrapped my arms around myself, feeling as if I could not breathe.

Then, sometime around eight o’clock in the evening, there came a sudden sensation in my chest, a fluttering and then a movement, a propulsion, up and out, a feeling of release bordering on joy, and then it lifted up and away and was gone, in its place an open quiet space.

I sat. I exhaled, feeling almost giddy.

“She’s gone,” I said aloud. “That’s it. She’s gone.” In a few minutes the telephone rang.

But I already knew. I had felt her breaking free. Sensed her catapulted leave-taking. Been there at the moment of blessed release. Knew. Her rising up.

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SLO-Motion

“Evey Freed, how I wish I could have known you!”

Last Saturday I drove a couple of miles up the coast from Pismo Beach to Shell Beach, a lovely quiet enclave where I found parking right on Ocean Boulevard next to the cliffs and the narrow strip of beach below. There were only a couple other cars. From time to time, someone walked or jogged by. Otherwise, I had the place completely to myself.

I parked Roadcinante parallel to the beach, opened both side doors and Velcroed in the screens to let in the delicious chill of salt-tinged air, and cooked a breakfast of veggies and shallots sautéed in olive oil, scrambled with a couple of eggs, and topped with some fresh olive tapenade I picked up at Trader Joe’s (redolent with fresh marjoram = attack of swoon). Then I took my breakfast, along with the dogs, to sit on a bench at the edge of the cliff.

I ate slowly, savoring everything – the crunch of vegetables; the silken eggs; the feel of the wind on my bare skin; the dogs’ soft breath on my feet as they lay next to me, soaking up the abundant California sunshine; the rhythmic rising swell and falling ebb of the ocean.

When I had finished eating, I let the dogs lick my plate, and then I sat for a long time. Absorbing. Appreciating. Giving thanks, if you will. And chatting with Evey.

Yesterday (Monday)  as I was packing up to depart from Pismo Beach, I met a couple of young men who work for Patagonia’s “Worn Wear” initiative, an awesome project where clothing is repaired and recycled rather than tossed into landfills. We talked for a while about all kinds of things, and traded favors – I took a picture of one of the young men by his truck and he took a picture of me holding a Patagonia jacket by Roadcinante, dogs included.

From Pismo Beach I drove on up to San Luis Obispo (SLO) where I dropped off the dogs with a wonderful sitter I found on Rover.com. I parked Roadcinante and was picked up by a brand new friend I’d never met, who swept me away to meet another new friend I’d never met, and an amazing afternoon unfolded from there.

I was treated to a pedicure (oh, these feet after a couple of months in desert locales!), easy-breezy girlfriend-time getting-to-know-you conversation, and a stop by the delightfully kitschy Madonna Inn (a must see), where these new friends treated me again, joining me in a toast to my dear departed father, Walter Cooper Gummere, Jr., whose 100th birthday it was (we drank a complex jammy wine from the Hahn winery, totally reasonable, highy recommended), and then dug into a scandalously large, absurdly sweet, impressively beautiful hunk of the Madonna Inn’s signature Champagne Cake.

Oh. Mah. Gawr.

Later I was gifted with some essentials for the road – a few adorable clothing items, some fancy hangers, a dish towel, and the coolest warm hat ever.

The thing is, lovely sweet people went out of their way to make my day, my journey oh so much better. We are talking about generosity for its own sake. People who give of themselves in order to brighten the world.

Like Evey Freed, whose memorial bench I sat on for quite some time last Saturday in Shell Beach. On the back of her bench there is a metal plate with these words from her grateful family:

“Evey Freed, 1924-2013.

She taught us to love and live

with a big heart and aim for the perfect day.

Sit. Relax. Enjoy.”

So I did sit, relax, and enjoy, thanking Evey all the while for being the kind of person who inspired such a lovely gift.

I guess this is what I strive for. Though I continually fall far short, too often caught up in my own stuff, this is my ideal – to take the time to practice generosity, to multiply opportunities for others to experience joy, to reflect brightness with and for others so that somewhere down the road, when I am no longer around, a person might come along and linger a while, start a conversation with me that might begin with “Hey, thanks.”

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Pismo Beach

Sometime back in January I did something to my left shoulder, methinks either while planking or un-planking. Nothing crunched or popped, there was no lightning jolt of shooting pain. In fact, no pain of any kind. But ten minutes after that oh-so-brief workout, the shoulder began to ache, and then I couldn’t move it in certain essential ways.

Through the Magic of The Interwebs I have come up with a variety of possible diagnoses – Subluxation; Pulled/Torn Bicep; Rotator Cuff Injury/Tear; Tendonitis; or Bursitis. But at this point I am having to settle for “General Shoulder Shitfuckery.” I guess I’ll find out once I am able to get it looked at.

Also, I think I cracked a filling. And chipped an incisor. But otherwise, I’m fine.

Unless you count the wicked knot of flaming arthritis in my right thumb joint.

Also, I might have lost my glasses this morning, as they apparently slipped through a rip in the spacetime continuum.

And Beasley peed on my foot.

On the bright side, the drive up the coast from Santa Barbara to Pismo Beach was heart-stoppingly gorgeous. There is something about the Pacific Ocean, how light skims but does not penetrate the surface of the delicious marine hue so unique, Crayola put it in a crayon and named it Pacific Blue.

The first time I visited Santa Barbara was January of 1986. Liam was 6 and Maggie was 2, and that fall I would begin seminary, but I didn’t know that then.

Good friends, who had been neighbors when I lived near The Ohio State University campus in Columbus, had recently relocated there to a sweet haven on one of the city’s many hillsides.

We spent a lot of the week cooking, eating, laughing, drinking Chardonnay, smoking the occasional joint, and sitting naked in their hot tub looking out over the city and on to the Pacific, a thin line of sparkling blue by day, at night dotted with the occasional glitter of boat lights.

This year’s visit at the little “mom-and-pop” RV park was about 180 degrees away from that, and it was still wonderful. The neighborhood is lovely and quiet, even though the 101 runs right by. It’s populated with sweet bungalows and crammed full of flowers, succulents, vining bougainvillea, nasturtiums running riot, and all manner of trees.

The  RV park managers, a cheery bottle blond who would be irritatingly cheerful if she weren’t so doggoned sweet, and her burly husband with his thick Massachusetts accent, guiding inexperienced drivers as they backed in their rented RV’s into the narrow spots, seemed straight out of a 1970’s sitcom – I’d title it California Ar-Vee!

Each week new rascals would get into just a little speck of trouble – like the young man in shorts and sandals the Santa Barbara police had a quiet chat with one evening, inviting him to not use the bathrooms and showers since he was not actually staying here. I heard all this as clearly as if they were all standing right next to Roadcinante, because, well…they were. My proximity to the bathrooms was just a wee bit past “I could hit the toilet from here,” so I heard everyone and everything that went on. (Sidebar: During the previous night there had been a lot of knocking on bathroom doors and stage whispers of, “Let me in!” Same voice, same guy. Total intrigue.)

My first night there I had the delight of connecting with a dear friend from Boone who was visiting her dear friends in Santa Barbara. She treated us to dinner and then we went back to her friends’ house to sit in their back yard by the fire pit while the boys ran around. Her dog sat inside and whined pleadingly. Like Connor, he is a bit territorial with his Momma.

I met a young couple from Germany traveling in a “Jucy,” a Mini-RV featuring a “penthouse” on top (I saw several of these during my week’s stay). The couple had flown into San Francisco, picked up the Jucy, and had been traveling all over the Southwest in it.

Along the way up the coast I stopped at El Capitan State Beach to hang around for a couple of hours. I found a shady spot to park, and since dogs weren’t allowed on the beach, I opened the windows, turned on the ceiling vent fan, and left a bowl of water. Then I made a quick dash down to the rocky beach to check out the tide pools, where I sat for a while, perched on a smooth rock while the Pacific Ocean rocked itself back and forth.

Imagine my surprise when, gazing out at the waves, I spotted a whale surfacing close in, making a lovely spout before it submerged again. I watched for a long time – those lungs are pretty big – and saw it surface twice more. A while later another one came along, again very close in. A small crowd gathered; we stood watching in reverent silence.

Up the beach a ways swimmers splashed and played unaware that right behind them elegant monsters bobbed up, took a gulp of air, and slid beneath the waves again.

I pulled into Pismo Beach late in the afternoon, where I had reservations at a modest hotel up on a bluff, with small rooms, thin walls, poor water pressure, and a fantastic comfy king-sized bed. My window looks out on the parking lot, but if I sit on the small front porch, I can see a generous strip of ocean, the reflected glow from the Oceano Sand Dunes, and the bright sea stack cliffs on down the coast.

I was in Pismo Beach back in 1995. It was a lot smaller then, and a lot cheaper. It is still a lovely place, though. This morning I took a walk downtown with the boys.

Apparently, you can walk around Pismo Beach with a steaming bag of dog crap for more than twenty minutes without finding a trash container. This is mysterious to me for a town that also has “CLEAN UP AFTER YOUR DOG!” signs everywhere.

During my search, I crossed the street at a place where there was no crosswalk, because I thought I had spotted a trash bin. The car coming toward me did not slow down at all, and seemed to speed up a little just to dust my feathers.

I turned and waved my bag of crap at him. For two cents I would have tossed it at his nice clean white car.

“How do you like me now?” I’d shout, then run like hell.

But look at me, behaving and all.

Two minutes later I found a place to dump the dump. Then I went off to find a place for breakfast.

The Shell Café takes dog-friendly to a new dizzying level with its “K-9” menu of “Jambalaya Bowls” for dogs. Have they figured out how to cash in, or what?! Brilliant!

Later, the rip in the spacetime continuum delivered my glasses back to me.

Now, as I look out my hotel window, I see past the parking lot to the hills carpeted with yellow flowers and the cars and trucks speeding by on the 101. Behind me, at the other end of the lot, is the gleaming Pacific, where great whales are following ancient whispers as they make their patient way north toward Alaska.

 

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