In late May, I get a craving for Big Sur. It starts like a low growl in the pit of my stomach, a hunger for the redwoods and the ocean, the strong coffee and dirt paths. It’s been nearly a year since I last made the drive north and I can feel my whole body craving those sharp ocean cliffs. I want the smell of woods and sage lingering again in my hair.
Drew comes back from New York with a cold. For a few days he hibernates in my bed while I make him big pots of makeshift tea- honey and lemon and ginger that I peel clumsily and chop into thick, sticky discs. He sleeps and I write in the other room and the days go by quickly and my countertops pile up with cold medicine and cough drops. It’s another reason not to go- his lingering cold- but we go anyway, taking the long way north and listening to old episodes of This American Life to pass the time.
The first night I wander around the motel property taking picutres of the enormous trees keeping watch over the rows of small, bungalow-like rooms. Another night I stay up late and stand out on the patio in my robe and Drew’s sweater. I pull my tripod from the trunk of my car and set my camera facing heavenward. I photograph a sky full of stars- little specs of light that my camera can see but my eyes can’t. Afterwards, I fall asleep against the sound of crickets. The mosquitoes buzz around my head and when I wake up in the morning I have a constellation of tiny red bites along my arms.
We eat well in Big Sur but stay in a tiny, homespun motel. I like this sort of balance. Salmon and wine for dinner and at night insects humming around my head. I’m wide awake in Big Sur, up long after both Drew and my dog have fallen asleep. I stay up writing and reading and making lists of the photographs I want to take the next day. My mind loves working in the earliest hours of the morning. Everything is silent and calm and the darkness seems to swallow up all distractions. It’s a luxury I don’t allow myself much anymore, this 2am writing. It’s overshadowed nowdays by an urgency to be up with the sun, to catch hold of the day before it starts without me.
At night, my mind is clear and sharp and buzzing and the motel room is a quiet embrace all around me. I sit in the silence with a momentary guilt for this quick, fevered vacation. We’d promised ourselves a small trip after graduation, a tiny escape before our summer lives took over. And yet I can’t help feeling a certain strangeness at leaving behind my life in Los Angeles, however briefly. I can’t help but feel that the second I leave it will all evaporate, that I’ll come home to nothing more than a bit of shadow and dust.
We find a trail up through the Ventana Wilderness. I’m wearing my old, worn-in cowboy boots and I only make it a couple miles before I get tired and bored and anxious for something new. We find a beach, hidden at the end of a two-mile dirt road lined with horses and irregular patches of wildflowers. The wind on the beach is the worst I’ve ever experienced. It whips the sand against my bare legs like millions of tiny daggers. At times the sand storm is so severe we can barely see, but we keep going because the beach is strange and wild- enormous rocks with doorways split open by the waves and a stretch of beach covered with purple sand.
For days afterwards, anytime I touch my hair, sand pours out of my scalp. Not even a shower and a swim seem to get rid of it. When I wake up in the mornings my pillow is dusted with it. I can feel it in my ears and crunching between my teeth.
At night, we eat dinner out on the patio of Big Sur Bakery. The evening air is cool but we’re surrounded by heat lamps and either way it’s worth it just to see the way the mountains and treetops all glow like wildfire with the last of the day’s light. In the morning, we’re back for coffee and I can’t help watching the local girls and wondering, how did you get here? They’re all vaguely dirty and reek with an air of coolness and mystique, like little mountain cowboys. I lose myself quickly, imagining what it would be like to call this wilderness home, to come stomping into the bakery in the morning with my dirty boots and my coffee-hungry eyes. I imagine a tiny cabin full of bugs and plants that hang in the windows and silhouette themselves in the morning light. Who are these young women that live their lives up in this paradise of tall trees and ocean cliffs?
On the drive home, before we’ve gotten too far, I say aloud to Drew and myself, I want to live here. And then again, in case he didn’t hear- I want to live here soon.