We left the concrete and urban sprawl of Northern Virginia for the most exhilarating driving experience we could find. We went where waves are beaten to froth on ragged rocks, a place of surging power that can make human affairs seem inconsequential. We flew to San Francisco where we stayed for several days before renting a cherry red Jetta to make our way down the famous Pacific Coast Highway where mountains plunge into the sea. It was on to Big Sur and all that surrounded it. I had read about this road as an adolescent and remembered that Kim Novak, of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo fame, had moved there and retired to be close to all that was natural and ethereal as she lived out her later years. I, too, wanted to see what Kim saw, and feel the way Kim had felt. My son, Sam and I had devoted ten days to explore this area of California, and after seeing it and driving it, I realized that it rivals the beauty of the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy. That was a sacred comparison, as nothing rivals Italy's beauty in my mind, but, alas, I had been wrong. The United States does have a big chip in this game.
We drove a length of coastline that should have taken only two hours, but instead lasted us seven. We stopped at every vista, every pull-off there was, and not only to soak in the view, but to get out of the car and wander down crooked paths and worn out staircases descending to the sandy, pristine beaches. Once there, we would wade into the cool ocean and sink our toes into the wet sand. More often than not, we were the only ones there. I photographed more rocks than the photographer for the David Yurman Christmas catalog. What I learned from this trip was unexpected. The drive we were making was not so different from our journey through life. At one point there would be smooth sand, calm, dainty waves, and tranquil scenes, but as we journeyed down the road, we would encounter the heavy fog, and then, as Jane Austin would say, the waves that would "dash one to atoms on crag points". I could see the calm vistas as pleasant points in our lives, and the crashing waves as tumultuous and difficult, reminding me of bad bosses and errant relatives. In the very early morning, there was fog so thick we could not see much of anything on the ocean side of our beloved Pacific Highway. For all we could imagine, there was land on that side too, but we knew, in reality, there was an infinite ocean waiting below, and never at any point, were we far from that treacherous edge.
When we would round a bend, not knowing what the next turn would bring us, we were ready to explore. There would be some trepidation, but the further along we drove, the more confidant we became, even in low visibility. It was those moments of exploration when I captured what I saw through my lens, that I felt so connected to nature, and set apart from the bustle of our overly hectic routines. These moments of "truth" or connection to our world, are so similar to those sublime times we hold in our mind's eye and our hearts. I'm talking about moments we spend with loved ones, or those who have passed, but still remain in our memory, moments which bring them back to life by simply remembering. This was the kind of beauty we experienced on those California shores. The lighthouse was there to guide our path, even though it wasn't even visible until we reversed our direction to drive back up to San Francisco. You see, the sunlight had changed later in the day, and so had our perspective. We knew the lighthouse was there all along, but only on the way back when the fog dissolved, did we actually see it.
At one curve, we suddenly realized that we were actually above the clouds. Oh yes, we had our heads in the clouds up to that point, but we eventually rose above them to look down on the clouds from our vista point hovering high over the ocean. It was surreal. It was, actually, heavenly. There were others on our journey down that road. Some were rude and blasted their horn if we stopped too long to admire the view. A few though, were kindred spirits and they too, lingered to truly look and connect with the natural surroundings. We felt linked to them as well.
Sam explained his feelings to me in one of his most early forms of communication. He drew a comparison to a favorite movie from his childhood. He remembered that famous comedic character, Ferris Bueller, who said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and take a look around once in awhile, you could miss it." We seem to do that a lot in general, in our everyday lives. We miss things when we are so frantic, working on our daily list of tasks. There was a sense of freedom and elation in making that extended drive along the coast. At no point were we intent on arriving at our destination, which was also very beautiful. In fact, as we drove, our destination seemed very unimportant. It was not point B that beckoned us. It was the journey from point A to B. This had overtaken our thoughts and emotions and become what we enjoyed the most. Sharing this journey was even better, because the experience we had together is something we will always hold dear to us, no matter how much time passes.
Who knew that California's Pacific Highway is so much of a life lesson? We did not expect to learn so much about ourselves in making such a drive. It is a lesson that reminds us to savor our paths as we travel through life because those paths are, most definitely, the prime ingredients that make the trip worthwhile.
Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! `I wonder how many miles I've fallen by this time?' she said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think--' (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) `--yes, that's about the right distance--but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I've got to?' (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.)