The weather here has been absolutely lousy the last few weeks. We’ve had a few beautiful sunny days, but they’ve been far outnumbered by the rainy and raw spring days where the temperature hovers in the low 50s, just warm enough for the flowers and trees to begin peeking their heads up, but not nearly warm enough to make the people hibernating want to poke their heads out the door. Thinking about being anywhere but here naturally makes me think about all the wonderful places I’ve been and all the amazing places I’ve still yet to see.
When I was still practicing law, I was fortunate enough to work in a specialty that gave me an opportunity to travel. There were times I traveled a lot more than I wanted, and sometimes I wanted to travel but didn’t have the need, but I always grabbed the opportunity when it came, knowing I wouldn’t always be so fortunate or so flexible.
Some of the places I’ve been I would be just fine never going back to, but others have stuck in my heart like those last few ice crystals cling to the corners of your windshield. Just out of reach of the defroster, they glint at you, a sharp reminder of what is still outside the world you inhabit at that precise moment.
California holds a special place in my heart, as it was there I rediscovered myself at the end of my first marriage. A long-planned trip with my ex turned into a solo trip when he refused to take time off from work, so I drove the Pacific Coast Highway by myself in a black Mustang convertible. I flew into San Francisco and spent a few days rambling around the city, hanging out at the beach just watching the water roll in and out, the mist curling my hair and dampening my jacket, my jeans soaking up the moisture and stiffening, making it hard to stand.
I wrote a lot while I sat there, trying to figure out what had gone so horribly wrong in my marriage, how we had gone from the dewy promises we exchanged on the beach in Hawaii a few years earlier to me sitting on a beach in San Francisco by myself, silently crying. I drank a lot of wine and ate a lot of really good food on that trip. San Francisco has a lot of superb food, and I used my solo status to get into some of the places for which you needed reservations weeks or months in advance. It’s rare that a restaurant won’t be able to find a seat for just one person, especially if there is a bar.
From San Francisco, I drove down the coast through Monterey and on to Carmel and Big Sur. I drove with the top down, except when it rained. The ocean is my familiar, in times of good and bad. I needed to feel the wind on my face and taste the ocean salt on my lips. I was born on an island and the ocean has always been my home, emotionally and physically. When I am toppling, I need to be able to get to the ocean to steady myself, to keep myself upright.
Stopping in Big Sur was like wandering back in time, and the natural beauty of my surroundings made it easy for me to sit and cry some more. Each time I looked out over the ocean, the cliffs, or up at the trees I realized that my problems were small and insignificant, fairly easily solved. I wasn’t trying to broker peace in the Middle East, and the world didn’t yet know about the beautiful Tuesday morning in September 2001 that would change everything.
By the time I reached Big Sur, I already knew that my marriage was over, but it took me the remainder of my trip down to Los Angeles and back up to San Francisco to muster the courage to decide on a course of action. It took the ocean wind howling through me, cleansing my body and spirit, to get me there. Then it took me several more months actually to set that plan in motion. Consequently, I spent a lot of time sitting on the beaches along the coastal road crying and writing in my journal, dodging my cell phone’s incessant ringing.
I’ve been back to California many times since that trip, and, in fact, spent two vacations with my husband in Big Sur before we were married. I still feel small and insignificant next to the majesty of the ocean and the sky, and I still get teary eyed whenever I sit on the beach, with the mist curling my hair, but now the tears are from joy and gratitude that such a beautiful place exists and that I am fortunate enough to have experienced it.
I love to travel because it makes me realize just how big the world is and how small I am, and by extension how small any problems I may have are. And that is something that can always make me smile.