The next morning was a little surreal. I awoke in Santa Barbara to the sound of gulls and what the poet Mary Oliver would call the “pale pink morning light”. It took me a moment to remember where I was, how I had gotten there, and where I was headed.
Yesterday’s drive down the coast was already fading into a haze of wind and music. I hugged my knees into my chest and thought about the day in front of me, as I stretched my back.
The little coffee maker on the counter did a fine job of heating up water for tea. And then, breathing in the jasmine-scented steam that rose off my mug, I pulled back the drapes and looked out into the morning.
I know you would probably think it silly that I spent such a chunk of change for a room I’d only be in until the 11 a.m. checkout time, but let me tell you — when I pulled open the sliding door and stepped on to the patio, and then onto the soft, night-cooled sand beyond it — I realized that my impulsive lodging decision the night before had been worth every cent.
The sun rising over the hills behind me reflected off the water. I found myself leaning against the rough trunk of an honest-to-goddess palm tree, mesmerized by the waves. I know we spent lots of time at the ocean up north, you and I. But let me tell you, the water in Santa Barbara looked so blue and soft compared to our pounding coastline, that it was hard to believe I was only seven hours from home.
I took a sip of my hot tea and sighed. It was early and I thought I was alone on the beach until I noticed a group of construction workers waving from the roof of a nearby hotel. I looked around me to see what they were so interested in, and then realized that I was wearing only a thin and shrunken Mills College t-shirt and a skin-colored thong. I had been so entranced by the perfection of the morning that I hadn’t realized I’d wandered outside barely dressed, even by beach standards. I flushed, realizing that from where they stood, staring, I probably looked completely bare-assed. So I raised my middle finger to the group, provoking laughter, and headed back into my room to the sound of their applause.
Later, appropriately dressed, I found breakfast in the form of an egg and cheese burrito, and with my second cup of tea — genmaicha this time — I wandered down the beach. As I threw the remnants of my breakfast to the gulls, watching them pile on each other, wings flapping, as they fought for the scrap, I though about how you always called them “beach rats”. Remember the time we set our picnic basket down on Baker Beach and went for a walk, only to return and discovered the gulls had raided it and were having a party at our expense? The look on your face was worth the price of the Cowgirl Creamery cheese we lost.
I was bummed to say goodbye to Santa Barbara as I pulled Mustang Sally onto the road and headed south. I made myself a promise that I’d make a point of visiting again soon. I would have liked to stay another day or two, but just 75 miles south of here, I’d make a left turn onto Route 66 and head toward Kingman.
At the first stoplight in town, I dug around in my music case, looking for something that would match the mellow vibe of this last section of coastline. I came up with Lucinda William’s new cd “West”. Somehow Lucinda has a way of meeting my moods and I knew she’d understand this trip and my need to tell you the whole story. So, I flipped to “I’m Learning How To Live,” and turned up the volume and began to sing along:
I’m learning how to live – without you – in my life.
I’m learning how to live – without you– in my life.
I’ll take the best of what you had to give.
I’ll make the most of what you left me with.
I’m learning how to live.
They say the best is still yet to come,
but the taste of you is still on my tongue.
I can’t forget and I won’t even try
to erase your image and the way you made me cry.
I’m learning how to live.