Following the Strange Trails


In December, in the quiet cacophony of reverse culture shock, in the exciting rush of adding girlfriend to the list of daughter-sister-friend, in the frenzy of the days leading up to Christmas, I breathed a wish into one dark hushed night. We should take a trip together, I said, and he nodded and asked, Where? Because it was the kind of night that swallowed promises and made them easy to say, I whispered, Let's drive the Pacific Coast Highway. Hanging there in the blue-black mist, it seemed a simple enough request. As winter melted into spring we began to grasp the magnitude of this trip we were planning, but June still found us with one-way tickets to Los Angeles and no plans other than two weeks to get to Seattle. When we met each other at LAX, it was equal parts holy heck this is exciting and holy crap what are we doing?! In other words, the best way to start a trip.

Aside from a trip to California when I was too young to remember or appreciate, I'd never been to the west coast. Last year I lived in Kenya, a great unexplored territory, but realized that perhaps the greatest unexplored territory of all was my own country. The reawakening to my homeland first occurred last May, when I vacationed in a sleepy German village and read Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. His sentiments have remained with me ever since.

And then, just over a year and a few new countries later, I found myself suddenly deposited on the west coast with my love, the road stretched long before us. I have never been prouder to be an American. San Francisco was our first and only planned stop, and so we began making our way north on Highway 1. The pavement hugged the coast, then ascended up winding cliffs cleaved with thick fog. Our first night was spent in the cliffs of Malibu, the sunrise glistening on the ocean our only alarm clock. The views only improved as we wound our way through Big Sur and up to San Francisco. So breathtaking was the entire western coast that we began to become jaded. How were we supposed to separate all the beauty in our minds?

Though I've traveled before to lands arguably more exotic than my own, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a trip more meaningful than this one. Two days I've been home and I am already scrambling vainly to keep the memories fresh, feeling them instead slipping through my fingers: sleepily crawling out of the tent to make coffee in the hush of a crisp golden morning, blustery Oregon beaches that pelted me with sand, surviving almost entirely off cheese and hummus, the dance of camp routine we quietly slipped into, endless observation and speculation of other travelers, miles of seemingly endless roads that become intertwined with songs to be replayed again and again, running a breathless half-mile through the woods to watch the sunset over crashing waves, the late nights and lazy mornings of San Francisco, standing on the bow of ferry boats to best breathe the air in salty gulps, sleeping in his sweatshirt on frosty nights, finding the best lattes in California in Gualala, bundled up cozy in a yurt while the wind blew fierce outside, the way the fog felt as it slowly crept inland through my bones--and all the while thinking, this is a trip to tell my children about.

The start of the California coastal cliffs

Making our way through Big Sur

coming up on Bixby Bridge

We stopped north of Bixby Bridge to take the loveliest hike

Looking back at the San Francisco skyline on the ferry to Sausalito

Jacob's sister Gretta captured the two of us admiring the view from Sutro Baths

Gretta taking in the rocky coastline

Alamo Square Park's Painted Ladies

San Francisco laid at our feet at Tank Hill Park

Obligatory Golden Gate photo on our way north out of the city

I loved the way the fog hung gently over the tree-lined coast.

At the start of the Lost Coast of Northern California

On our way through Redwood National Park, I read aloud Steinbeck. He was right--there truly is a cathedral hush among those giant bodies.

Sunset over Oregon's aptly named Sunset Bay

The coast near Heceta Head Lighthouse in Oregon

Morning light surrounding our yurt in Carl G. Washburne State Park

One Sunday morning we hiked a few miles through the forest and wind-swept grasslands to Cascade Head, where the Salmon River meets the Pacific Ocean.

A windy portrait of yours truly

Grass-lined sand dunes in northern Oregon

A misty hike to the top of Neahkahnie Mountain through forests of Sitka spruce

Cheesin' with my love on the ferry from Seattle to Bremerton

One last stop in Seattle before the arduous journey home

The Circle of Life


Antsirabe, Madagascar. August 2014. 
"Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don't even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed."
Alice Walker

     I sit in the purple dusk and wish I could see the sunset. The trees are too full for that now, and I wish not for the first time that I lived somewhere in the country, with a sky unobstructed by brick and mortar. I like to imagine that I would sit outside every evening and watch the sun sink, watch Sirius twinkle slowly overhead, think about how vast the galaxy and the universe surrounding it is, think about how small I am in comparison. And still, despite my lofty dreams, the sun would probably slip past me in the country just as it does now in the city. It's funny how we envision life to be a certain way, and how that vision can be fulfilled, yes, but in different ways than you first imagined. The night tonight feels like that night a year ago, when I sat on the front step as the world melted into shadows, when all I could think about was how good the evening air felt, and how much I suddenly didn't want to leave. That was the night before I left the country, struck out on my own, for six-and-a-half months. A mystery, how six months looming before you seem an impossible amount of time, but six months behind you seem a blink of an eye. If there's one thing I know, it's that time is the best magician.

     It's been a year now, and while it is the past that shaped me, it is the future I am focusing on. Life is still thick with hope, but hope of a different kind. Last year's hope was restless, but this year's is calm, steady, and seemingly infinite as I navigate the in-betweens. In a year's time I will know more, will have more experiences that will have defined me, will think on the naivety of myself at eighteen. This circle of life could scare me--has scared me--but learning is a process I never want to stop and so I will let it thrill me instead.

     And as life progresses, I think, not for the first time, of the oft-frivolous nature of the things we get caught up in, the things that consume us until we take a step back and realize how trivial it all is. The worries and the insecurities ebb and flow until things like a devastating earthquake in Nepal interrupt the cycle and I think, my goodness, when did I become so selfish. Like I said, the circle of life. The next logical step, then, is to step out of yourself for awhile, take a good deep long look into your soul, realize you worry too much over trivial things (or are caught in the past, or speak before thinking, or are just generally selfish, et cetera), repent for said vice, resolve to do better. And then you step back into yourself, the very best of intentions in mind, and it starts all over. The circle of sinful life we are trapped in.

     I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I'm moving forward. So far it's involved planning trips with my boyfriend--just last night I booked a yurt on the Oregon coast!--and transferring to a university in the fall and mustering up all the adult I can while trying to preserve some of the carefree. (Okay, all of the carefree--let's not get ahead of ourselves here.) Jesus has been with me then, and he will be with me now. The circle of life, and I'm here somewhere in the middle, figuring out things one step at a time.



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