I’ve been in my beloved state of California since last Saturday. Boy, does absence make the heart grow fonder! There’s something huge to be said for leaving a place and coming back periodically to visit. Everything seems fresh, new, astonishing, delightful.
LAX, for example! Why what a huge wonderful airport with the sun shining, the runways happily busy, the lines moving nicely, the Thrifty car rental shuttle zipping promptly along. I’d never rented a car here and imagined that getting out to the 405 would be a nightmare, but no! Down La Tijera I went and next thing I knew was gliding past the Getty, merging on to the 101, and making my way smoothly up the coast.
At home I drive a 2013 Fiat 500 which I still think of as “new,” but again, was I in for a surprise. The Camry they gave me for one thing has about a thousand percent more pickup than my little vehicle plus it has a big touch-tone screen that–those of you who moved into the 21st century some time ago already know this–when I plugged in my phone automatically showed the map, played music off Spotify, showed lists of nearby Starbucks, enabled the making and answering of phone calls…
I have bluetooth in my Fiat which does enable me to make hands-free calls but that’s about it. I mean the car has a CD player (that requires the aid of a butter knife for ejection). I can’t simultaneously charge the phone and hear Siri or listen to music. If I want, say, Spotify I have to plug the phone into a separate CV or something like that cable. And when I put the car in reverse I don’t have a video screen that tells me if they’re something behind me I’m about to crash into. I crane my neck, old-school.
So a newer car alone was a pleasant revelation.
If anyone’s ever driven north on the 101 from LA to, say, Santa Barbara, you know there’s this one spot where I think it’s the 126 merges in and you go up and around a little rise and the first sign for San Francisco appears and on your left you suddenly see the Pacific. It’s absolutely thrilling, every time. It’s the California of John Steinbeck, Jack London, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac–or it is to me. For those of us who have come from another place, it’s a vision of the Promisesd Land. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, no matter how jaded you think you are.
Plus what follows is Ventura, which involves a 12-mile drive with bluffs on the right and the full-on gleaming ocean on the left, which happened I swear to be turquoise the day I was driving up, then Santa Barbara, Goleta, fields of yellow mustard flowers in the spring, rolling live oak-covered hills, the smell of eucalyptus, hidden beaches. All the people who love to hate California I feel so sorry for. There is a feeling of wide-openness and welcome and majestic beauty and life-giving energy that I haven’t experienced anywhere else on earth (not that I’ve traveled the earth, by any means).
I stopped this time in Solvang which is a dreadfully crowded fake Danish village on the far end of which is the beautiful Mission Santa Inés. I’d visited once before several years ago and it was lovely both times though probably a bit noisier and the gift shop wasn’t as good. No matter. The courtyard was full of roses, echeviera, sea lavendar…California flora that is so familiar and so dear and that you don’t see much of in Tucson.
Also one of the best things about the Mission is the half-hour or so loop walk you can take below. Looks like more trails may tendril off but I didn’t have time to explore.
From there I made my way to Santa Maria and spent two nights with my dear dear friends Tensie and Dennis. I have my own little hermitage while there, the conversation is nonstop and superb, and the spirit of thier marriage, family, work, community, hearts, and shared table is beyond compare. Their friendship are an unmerited and mysterious gift before which I can only bow my head and say Thank you, Lord.
We all went to 7 am Mass at St. Mary’s for the First Sunday of Advent and partook during the day of not one but two blessings of the Advent wreath. That afternoon Tensie and I had a long walk on the Estero Bluffs above Cayucos.
THEN, Monday, I drove to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, an unincorporated community in the Mojave Desert. I’ve been on private retreat at this Benedictine monastery all week and it has been heaven.
A deep desire of my heart is being fulfilled, upon which I’m sure I will write much more in the coming weeks, months and years.
“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else” (Rule of Benedict 4.20, 21).