Away from work twelve days, I did my best to avoid computers altogether, so that my more natural outlook on living might have some chance for revival. More than once as calendar days slipped past me, I considered coming back to my key boarding life to keep feeding details of life into this journal. I realized that filling pages with text is not what I should do for this long winter rest, but rather, go out and enjoy the wonders that dwell outside offices and studios. With that thought in mind I loaded my new truck camper with food and camera and drove south on Highway 101 down the length of the Salinas Valley.
I stopped in the little historic village of San Miguel, north of Paso Robles, to look over the reconstruction work they have been doing on the old California mission built by Junipero Sera. It looks much better than when I last viewed it, but I could not really tell on the outside what was new and what was not. My uncle at one time owned 1300 acres adjacent to the mission grounds, so whenever I go visit the mission I try to see if I can spot remains of his ranch, but have not been able to find anything other than references in books. Another time in the future I will go back and poke about with greater concern.
Up and over the coastal range I next drove, intersecting with the coastal highway at Cambria. I spent the night camped on a mountain top near Hearst Castle, in a state park campground. My camp site overlooked the eastern mountains. The sun sank so soon that day and quickly turned quite cold, forcing me to go inside, and shut the door of the camper to stay warm. A long restful sleep, but I awoke at first light, made coffee, and sat out in the early morning frosted air. While sipping coffee I watched a meteor strike across the broad sky and dip into the band of pink that skirted the mountain tops. As the sun first began to pop up out of hiding I could see trees on a distance hill top being silhouetted against the back light. Hearst Castle just to the north of me, I was thinking of all the wealth that the old man had dumped into building his castle. It looked to me as if one of the trees grew in the shape of a dollar sign ($), but I’m sure that was my imagination overruling my vision.
After leaving camp I spied a coyote in the bushes and got several close-up photos of him. He looked hungry and cold, thin and desperate for rabbit meat. Further north I stopped near the Piedras Blancas lighthouse to watch elephant seals laying on the fence-protected beaches. Two bulls were fighting and one was badly bleeding. They must have been at it all night. Several photographers were lined up behind the fencing, zooming in on the action with their big lenses. I continued driving, but often stopping to shoot photos of the ocean and mountains of southern Big Sur from various vantage points. You can hardly make a mistake when doing photography in Big Sur. Nearly everything is so photogenic!
By late morning I had worked my way up the coast to Kirk Creek campground. It was December 23rd, two days before Christmas, and the camp was mostly full. I felt lucky to grab an empty camp site, which ended my driving for the day. The day of sun on top of the cliffs above the sea was quite warm and agreeable for this season. I sat in my beach chair and read most of the day. At sunset I studied the surface of the sea for extra lovely photos, and sure enough, spotted whales shooting their plumes of spray into the pinkened sky. They were swimming south, no doubt to Baja, for spawning. The campers at Kirk Creek got an early Christmas present that night. As soon as the sun sat, however, the air temperature dropped significantly enough to cause me to bring out my portable propane camp fire and light it up early. Then off to bed, and up again before dawn, to start the last leg of my trip home.
Big Sur in winter allows me more freedom to stop, look, photograph, hike and camp because so much of the crowd is gone. The winter days can be much warmer than summer days, as summer days so often consist of fog and driving wind out of the cold north. Winter days I often see no fog, no wind, only a calm sunny air that feels good to the skin. I think I will get much use out of the new camper.
I spent the 24th and 25th mostly with the misses around the house, but on the morning of the 26th we drove the camper north to Mendocino county for two more days. We opted to stay in a motel two nights, rather than the camper, because of the long cold nights. We spent those two days exploring the picturesque coast, looking at waves, sunsets, rocky splashes, and the quaint historic village that sits atop the cliffs and stares out to sea. I never tire of looking at the natural beauty of the north coast. So rugged, so unspoiled, sort of forgotten, but easy to find and remember once I set my mind in motion to go see.
Then on home a couple of days to watch the carpenters who are remodeling part of our house. What a mess must be made before beauty begins to show. A friend then called and offered us her condo for New Year’s Eve in San Francisco because she is suffering a severe case of sciatica and cannot get out of bed. So we went in her place. The eve before, yesterday, we walked around Chinatown, and bought some dishes shaped like little boats to put our vegetables in when cooked. The boat dishes seem to help the food go down stream much easier. After dark we walked to mass, a French Catholic church on the edge of Chinatown. The priest greeting us at the front door was a person I had known when I was about twelve years old. Father Rene Iturbe. I had not seen him since about 1962. I lived close by his younger brothers and played sports with them when young. I never would have recognized Rene, except that he introduced himself to us and I then recognized this unusual name I had not heard for so many years. I emailed him today so that we might stay in touch and continue to swap memories of those days from the middle of the last century.
Tonight at the keyboard I am thinking how I am not ready to return to work, but must show up in the morning and be a part of the company by which I am employed. Twelve more days of Christmas would be so restful, but I suppose I have been resting long enough. The sermon Father Rene delivered last night centered around the theme of becoming focused if we expect anything to get done in our lives. We do not have the time and resources to do what all our imagination can cook up for us. I know my imagination could keep me busy for many life times. So, we look for the things that are most important to us, and put our highest and purest forms of energy there. For some, the focusing part is fairly easy. The hard part is trying to figure out what is the most important thing to focus on. For me, that always varies. The last twelve days I needed to focus on resting my mind and body from the rigors of a work routine, but now a new year is upon me, starting with an admonition, this very startling and coincidental meeting with Father Rene.