Friday, July 23, 2021

Castles, Zebras, & Nepenthes

We were staying on schedule, mostly. The traffic through Los Angeles, and up to Santa Barbara threw off the master plan, but one thing I am good at is amending the master plan. We kept our visits to San Luis Obispo, and Cambria, short and sweet, fulfilling the goblet quest, filling up the gas tank, grabbing veggie wraps at Trader Joes, and popping into Spellbound. Ahead: San Simeon, Limekiln, cold drinks at Nepenthes, then sweet dreams in Monterey. Of course it's the stuff that happens off of the agenda that makes a road trip an adventure.

We stopped to see elephant seals. We were in luck for views... of the coast, the seals, shore birds, even Hearst's Castle was visible. My photograph, testing the limits of the iPhone zoom, looks like a watercolor painting, which I love. The unexpected sight? The legendary zebras! These are the descendants of the original zebras in William Randolph Hearst's zoo at La Cuesta Encantada. I've never seen them before! Actually, we spent the entire stop squinting our eyes, zooming in with the phone, and debating... are they? Zebras? Donkeys? Finally, I decided their posture was too proud, too elegant for donkeys, and it made a better story to say, "We saw the famous Zebras at San Simeon!" Then we drove away, and half a mile up the road William declared with a knowing smile in his voice, "Oh, yeah. It's for certain. They are zebras!" I kept my eyes on the highway, but William and Maria described the clear as day zebras grazing in plain sight.

The road to Big Sur requires total focus, and for me, nerves of steel. I prefer taking it south to north, so at least I am not on the cliff side. It winds on and on, seemingly forever. My reward? A stop at Limekiln, where we could hike up the narrow canyon from the ocean, into redwood shaded spaces, beside a creek. There was some concern about the time, but I assured William and Maria, that even if all I could do was sit for ten minutes, beneath trees, and take slow, deep breaths of evergreen, moss, and listen to running water, it would all be worthwhile... the entire drive, the waiting, and planning, all of it, just for those moments in a favorite place. When at last I saw the turn-off, I could almost taste the relief and I was willing to finish the rest of the drive in the dusk light, because this was going to be so worthwhile. And then we learned from the park ranger at the kiosk... due to fires and storm run-off, with mudslides, the park trails are closed until later this summer.

I don't know what made me sadder... not getting to fulfill this wish, or knowing that yet another beloved place had been hit by fire. My personal desires pale in comparison with my wish that we were doing more to protect our planet, and the conflict of driving, polluting, so I could visit natural wonders and see my family, weighed on me. Ahead were more turns, curves, drop-offs, signs of rock slides, and evidence of our insistence on taming nature so we can have access to spaces. I don't come through here often, and when I do, I feel fortunate, maybe even greedy, and I allow that this might not always be possible. I feel thankful, and humble. And hungry. I thought drinks would be a nice treat at Nepenthes, but what with the let down about Limekiln, and hours of driving ahead, I decided we were due a splurge. When Maria asked about dinner plans, I suggested we might have dinner at Nepenthes, and she gasped about the prices. I explained, it's like paying some rent... with dinner we will have a breathtaking view, in a historic and sentimental place, and sometimes we must gift ourselves special treats, then I broke out in song... "Order what you will! There'll be no bill. It's complimentary!"
We rented the space for a long and leisurely time, enjoyed the laughter and joyful mood of a large party celebrating a 90th birthday. We browsed the shop, took in views from many angles, reminded ourselves that this was the very place that inspired the style and spirit of our deck and wall, and recalled other times we had the honor and pleasure of stopping here... going way back! Even further back!
The sun sets late in early July, and later the further north we drove. We were well fed, relaxed, and feeling comfortable, so the last hour or so, of driving to our hotel in Monterey was pleasant, and we stopped to take pictures of the deer. I pulled over every time someone was behind us, "Go around. I'm not in any hurry." We saw a lot of deer, and the Bixby Bridge, blackberry brambles, deep valleys, and steep cliffs. We rode into Monterey with happy memories, and new ideas. I love the new ideas that begin formualting on a road trip, when we already begin talking about next time.

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