When I visit California it’s with one foot firmly planted in the past. This is how it all used to be, this highway, those hills, that beach, this restaurant, that friend, the place I used to…. My last trip coincided with the eighth anniversary of my northward journey to become a Portlander, making it an even more thoughtful journey into the past. I revisited that long week of goodbyes, my transition to Oregon living, and these last eight years, weighing them against my 60 years in California.
I’ve been down this road beforeJohn Prine, I Remember Everything
I remember every tree
Every single blade of grass
Holds a special place for me
Returning to old haunts is a ride in a time machine. Forgotten memories pop up when I’m in the heart of a place, and the years collapse into few, a tailspin of what ifs and I remembers. We flew in over the Bay Area where I spent the first 25 years of my life. We drove north on Highway 101 where I learned to drive, and have driven on thousands of times. It was almost unrecognizable. We spent the night at my sister’s house, where she’s lived since the 80s, and I remembered it as a small bungalow. Old family photos hang in the stairwell, younger eyes gazing back at me.
At a wedding in Morgan Hill, the temperatures reached over 90 and the hills were a sizzling brown, perhaps browner than ever. The bride and her family had camped with us at the Strawberry Music Festival over the course of our 20 years there. Seeing these children now as loving, intelligent, talented, and gorgeous adults filled me with nachas and joy. The wedding was simple yet elegant, homemade and delightfully colorful, filled with music and love. Each conversation was a braid of reminiscences and catching up on current lives and pursuits. We even made a new Portland connection, always exciting, especially one with musical promise.
On to Santa Cruz for a few days with my siblings, the drive taking us from sullen heat to blessed fog in an hour. We passed through field after field of crops, and in particular the raspberries caught my eye! So many raspberries! I recalled a summer of selling the reddest ripest strawberries from my VW bug, snacking on a portion of my profits, and then having strawberry margaritas with whatever was left. Nearing town I tuned to KPIG radio, unforgettably 107 oink 5 on the dial. I got a hog call for you baby…. But back when we lived there, we had the original quirky KFAT radio, 94 ½ on the dial, an even better station.
Our rental was a few blocks from Twin Lakes Beach, not far from where Alan and I had rented our first room together. I lived in Santa Cruz on and off between 1973 and 1979, the first half of my heady early twenties, figuring who I was – to myself and later to Alan. Those years popped up unbidden – people, places, adventures and misadventures. Some memories had no words, drifting through my senses; a chill on the skin, a ripple in the air, a tightening of the jaw.
There was the Catalyst, our old drinking haunt, a little worse for wear. Pinball, pool, and pitchers, the sticky dance floor, drunken faces and conversations or heaving into nearby bushes. Street names flew by, there’s where you lived with Trish and Harold, isn’t that the street Lynne lived on, I think that’s where Harold died, there’s where I rode my bike to the beach, there’s the house where I made curtains for our first shared room, from cloth that Nana Bea paid for, a sort of blessing over our budding relationship.
Those young adult memories mixed in with childhood recollections as I drove past The Big Dipper roller coaster or walked along Natural Bridges Beach. I’d clambered over those rocky bridges as a child, but now they’re now off limits with only one bridge still standing, reserved for shorebirds and sea lions.
Threads of memory, nurturing and expansive… exquisite blues and greens of the water, cool offshore breezes, smells of salt and fish, sounds of crashing waves and shorebirds, graceful brown pelicans in flight. Just inland from the beach were eucalyptus and sage-scented trails, and flowers that thrive in that scrubby sandy climate. Did I know the beauty back then or did I take it for granted? Planting my feet in the Pacific waters of my first home, I felt both unmoored and grounded. I must have just loved it in my bones.
We hiked around Wilder Ranch State Park just north of town where the coastline bends to the north again and grows wild. The hike along the cliffs gave us views of rugged shorelines almost as striking as the shores of Normandy we visited a few years ago. Cormorants rested and sea lions lolled about on the seastacks below.
There was a little time for a few meetups with our Strawberry-Santa Cruz friends, connections of our later years. Unexpectedly, we played some tunes with loaned instruments one magical evening on a friend’s deck overlooking farmlands in the setting sun, grateful for the path that brought us there.
It was a warm welcome back to Oregon. Summer, my favorite season, had finally arrived while our backs were turned. We came back to children and grandchildren, to dense green forests and winding rivers, and to our burgeoning garden, all of it telling me that I’m in the right place.