California

Sent on November 21, 2015

Hi all,

I seem to be failing at doing this in order. I suspect it’s because we’re sitting here in Vacaville, California, very close to our end destination, and I might be rushing a bit to get everyone up to speed.

Let’s just back up a little bit here to Pismo Beach. When you live in an area frequented by tourists, you tend to avoid the tourist areas. I suspect there are a lot of people who grew up in Arizona who have never seen the grand canyon for themselves, for example. In Pismo Beach, every year, Monarch butterflies flock to a grove of eucalyptus trees. It’s kind of a big deal – although they only had 30,000 Monarchs this year, in past years they’ve seen up to 230,000. In all the time I lived in the area, I’d never seen the butterfly groves (in spite of there being another in Morro Bay, where I lived). The Monarchs that come to Pismo have never been there before – they have a lifespan of only six months, so it’s a bit of a mystery why they show up every winter. Scientists have suggested that perhaps it’s a genetic homing system. There are several sites in California and Mexico where they arrive in the winter, but the Pismo grove sees the largest Monarch population in the nation.

In order to see this, DH had to pull off the road onto the shoulder and park the RV next to some eucalyptus. We followed the examples before us – cars lined the sides of the road – although we are just a bit bigger than your average Honda or Toyota. We took Milo, who was dying to get out and explore, and crossed the road to enter the grove. At first doesn’t look like much. Tree branches with brown leaves everywhere. Not such a big deal – just a few Monarchs fluttering about. Then the sun comes through the trees and hits the branches, and you realize each one of those brown leaves is a Monarch, and your mind blows up a little. It’s quite a reveal. We all were impressed – even Youngest – although Milo was more interested in sniffing the other dog present – both stretching out to the ends of their leashes to circle each other, noses to butts.

The San Luis Obispo area, which I consider as Pismo all the way to Cayucos, including Morro Bay, Los Osos, and all the other wee places around that part of the California central coast, is just lovely – rolling hills, mountains, oceans and trees – everything a nature enthusiast would want, all in one area. I took DH to Montana De Oro – a state park in Los Osos, and explained to him for the thousandth time that it was one of my favorite natural areas. To get there, you follow a winding road through giant eucalyptus trees and come out of the trees right before a parking area facing the beach in a small cove. At night, as teenagers, we would drive out there just to sit and talk (yes, just talk), and as soon as the headlights of the car hit the beach, you would see hundreds of little raccoon eyes reflecting light back at you. It’s a fairly popular beach for picnics and family outings, and kids can climb the rocks and the caves, or splash in the (cold) water, or just bury their siblings in the rocky sand. Somewhere I have a photo of Youngest on top of a rock at Montana De Oro, during a visit to his grandma’s years ago, holding a stick with a leaf shoved onto the end of it up high, over his head. He looks like a poster boy for the Lord of the Flies, almost, his makeshift spear high as he blustered for the photo. I think he must have been seven or eight at the time.

The cities are all quite different, really. San Luis Obispo is a college town – with Cal Poly nearby, it’s not unusual to drive past three fraternity/sorority houses next to regular houses and small businesses. It’s a bit like a small town – people are friendly, relaxed, happy – and it’s becoming more like a city as the malls are erected, the boutique shops making room for chain bookstores and trendy clothing stores. I spent a lot of time walking around the streets of San Luis Obispo with friends, and I made sure to show DH all my old haunts. The San Luis Obispo creek runs right through downtown, and if you turn off onto a walkway that appears to be just a small mall, you can come out the other end at the stone walls on either side of the creek. It’s not much of a creek, anymore – plants cover 75% of the creek bed, with just a trickle of water still flowing through. But we sat on a bench overlooking it, and I explained how much time I spent there as a frustrated kid, how peaceful it was, how I would write in my journals, or listen to music, while on that bench overlooking the water. It feels very much like a hidden spot. DH said, “You are SUCH a hippy!” Whatever. Maybe I am, a little. So what?

If you take Los Osos Valley Rd out to Los Osos, you pass low rolling hills, farmland, pastures with cows grazing, and as you roll into Los Osos, you realize it almost looks haphazard – a town that just decided to be, and with quirky and strangely shaped houses on hills, in some places crammed in next to each other oddly, and roads that almost, but not quite, make sense. The ground on either side of the road (in fact the ground everywhere in Los Osos) is a fine mix of dirt and sand, with ice plant and other hardy succulent type plants scattered everywhere. The oaks in Los Osos are warped, bent, and you almost expect to see Hobbits or elves sitting beneath them.  So J’s house, with a lovely Oak under her front deck, fits right in. We spent a week at J’s, and she kindly let us use her car, so we crammed in a lot of events during that week. The day after we arrived was Eric’s memorial, at Morro Rock in Morro Bay.

Morro Bay is different from Los Osos – more beach access, more surfers, and an embarcadero stretching along the beach with dozens of tourist type shops. Seashells! Windsocks! Kites! There are a lot of fishing boats around the bay, so you see a lot of seafood restaurants, with wooden statues of old sailors and anchors as decor. We took the embarcadero out to the the rock, which is just what it sounds like. A giant rock in the bay, with the land coming out to it in a point before curving away again as you leave Morro Bay and get into Cayucos, the next beach town down the road. My friend Eric’s favorite place in the world was around the back of the rock, where you could sit on boulders facing the ocean, with the rock at your back. The memorial was there.

It was a beautiful event. A microphone was set up, and Kevin (probably Eric’s closest friend) eulogized Eric, and then asked people to get up and share stories about him. Funny stories, preferably. So we did. We heard about his love of buying various things and selling them at a profit (at one point Kevin asked, “Who here bought or sold a car to Eric?” and 90% of the 30 or 40 people there raised their hand, a subtle rumble of chuckles throughout). We heard about his bad times, the times when he would go to Kevin and say, “I’m not OK,” and Kevin and his wife would kidnap Eric and keep him safe, or take him to a hospital until he was OK. We heard Kevin say that it was a miracle we had Eric as long as we did, with his mental illness issues, and we all agreed. We heard how, with the issues Eric had, he never should have been able to connect in long term relationships with anyone, and yet, we looked around and saw all the people there who loved him, and realized he’d connected in a very special way with each and every one of us. Everyone had a story about how Eric had helped them, or been there when no one else was, or appeared at just the right moment to support someone, or even saved their life. It was stunning to see, and such a beautiful way to say goodbye. I think Eric would have heartily approved, and I think he would have gotten a huge kick out of seeing so many people come together who hadn’t all been in one place like that in a good decade. When Kevin asked me to come share, I told the story of my first car, a car Eric gave me when I was 18. Afterward we all went to lunch (on Eric, Kevin explained, though I suspect Kevin footed the bill) at The Great American Fish Company, a place Eric worked for a while. We took up so many tables that we practically had the entire place to ourselves. There was chatter, and laughter, and everyone remembering things, and then at one point someone yelled, “For Eric!” and raised their glass, and we all did likewise, the shouts of “For Eric!” ringing through the place.

The rest of the trip in the area I will skate past. It was lunch with old friends, people I hadn’t seen in ten or twenty years. Dinner with more old friends. Coffee with yet more. It was lovely peace at J’s house, as she and I sat under her oak tree on the front deck. DH cooked us all roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. We laughed, and listened to music, and drove around the sights of the area, and listened to the ocean. When we left J’s, we went on to Youngest’s grandma’s house, feeling like we wanted a few more days to stay in the area. She lives in San Luis Obispo, and she kindly offered us her home while she was on a trip. Youngest’s dad let us in, and set us up with a key to Youngest’s grandma’s car (but only for DH, he said, and I laughed, and said it was probably best he be the one to drive the Mercedes anyway). So once again, normality blessed us. We did laundry, and cooked, and barbecued with Youngest’s dad (which was not awkward at all, strangely enough). Youngest slept in every day, which made him much more fun to be around, and DH and I visited the Thursday night Farmer’s Market on the main street of San Luis Obispo, and ate crepes and pasties.

From San Luis we drove off slowly. We saw Cayucos, where my first apartment was on the beach. DH said, “Why did you ever leave?” We went up to San Simeon our first day out, and camped in a state park there, with a short walk from our site to the beach. We wandered the beach and I took way too many photos of a Heron and attempted photos of an egret. The beach was deserted, and it was lovely to be out there, just the two of us (Youngest passed on the walk). After San Simeon, we stopped and watched elephant seals on the beach, and then rolled up into Carmel, where we stayed in another RV park. This one with a giant (19 pound) cat named Simba, who adored DH. Everyone was lovely, friendly, and the weather was cool enough we needed light jackets at night, and we had to remember to shut the windows so it wouldn’t get too cold while we slept. But during the day the sun shone, and we peeled off our jackets and soaked it in.

Our next stop was Half Moon Bay. See, I told you I would get up to it in my next email. But I fear I’ve rambled a bit too much. And I’m all sentimental now, so I’m going to cut this short (not so short, eh?) here. More to come.

xo

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