Tags Posts tagged with "California"

California

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When my nine-year-old son, Ben, gets scared, I tell him, “Bravery is about being scared, but doing it anyway.” When it was my turn to try something scary, though, I realized that it’s much easier to tell someone else to be brave than it is to be brave myself.

 

I’ve always had a fear of heights. When I was Ben’s age, I had to be rescued from the top of a jungle gym. I never learned how to dive, because I was afraid to jump off of the diving board. Yet here I was, at age 42, about to zip line across a seemingly bottomless canyon.

 

Zip lining across a cactus-filled canyon isn’t one of my usual Sunday afternoon activities. I normally spend my Sundays grocery shopping, doing laundry, and relaxing with a good book. So what led me to zip line across a canyon? Cub Scouts. Ben and his friends were going zip lining as a Cub Scout activity. He will do just about anything to earn a new patch for his uniform. Parents must go along on all of the Cub Scout field trips. “Come with us,” my husband said. “It will be fun.”

 

My idea of fun is definitely different from his.

 

Driving to the Boy Scout park in Irvine, California, I tried not to think about the rattlesnakes that probably lived in the canyon, or the cactus I would land on if I fell. I wondered if there was a graceful way to back out without Ben’s friends thinking I was chicken.

 

After a quick picnic lunch, it was time to go zip lining. While I put on my safety harness, I was told I could go across the canyon four times. Four times? I wasn’t even sure I could to it once!

 

For me, the hardest part of zip lining was overcoming my fear of heights. Stepping off of the wooden platform at the rim of the canyon and trusting that the rope and harness would sustain me was a huge hurdle to overcome. I couldn’t believe I was entrusting my life to the teenager who hooked me onto the line.  But by now, there was no turning back.

Zip lining is a high-speed, adrenaline-filled adventure. I had visualized soaring triumphantly with the wind in my hair, but the reality was a bit different. I had to braid my long hair so it wouldn’t get caught in the harness, and the safety helmet kept my hair from flying majestically behind me. Looking back on it, the hard hat probably wouldn’t have helped much anyway if the line snapped, hurling me to the canyon floor.

 

I spent most of my first trip across the canyon with my eyes closed. Zzzzziiiiiiipppppppp! The ride was faster than I thought it would be, and it was over very quickly. I dragged my feet in the gravel to slow down at the far end so I wouldn’t slide back across the canyon, and another teenager unhooked my rope. I caught my breath, then crossed a wooden bridge and walked back to the starting line to try it again.

 

My second time across wasn’t as scary, because by then I knew I could survive the trip. I kept my eyes open, and took in the spectacular vista. The sky was a bright, cloudless blue, and the sandy-brown rock of the canyon contrasted vividly with its green vegetation. I was fascinated by the rock formations that surrounded the canyon. It was actually quite beautiful, in a rugged sort of way.

 

By my third trip, I realized that holding onto the rope for dear life didn’t make a difference, since the rope would fall with me if it detached from the line. I tried letting go. It felt better than I thought it would. I was finally conquering my fear of heights.

 

For my last time crossing the canyon, my zip line partner was the seven-year-old little sister of one of Ben’s friends. She was eager and excited to zip line again, and she encouraged me to go along with her. We made a great team. By then, I was really having fun.

 

When it was time to go home, I took off my harness and walked back to my car with my family. My son was proud of me. “You were awesome, Mom! You were scared, but you did it anyway.” We all went out for frozen yogurt to celebrate our victory over the canyon. My bravery paid off, and I ended up having a wonderful day.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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On Hold

            It’s nine thirty in the morning. Intrudingly bright sunrays are piercing their way through the curtains, almost peeling them back, forcing me to face the day. Waves crash on the hard-packed sand outside the house, which statuesquely stands alongside Pacific Coast Highway between Santa Monica and Malibu, in which I’m staying. Aside from letting Baxter, the dog I’m watching, out to do his business, I have no morning requirements. Baxter is a scruffy little terrier and he’s scratching his crate to get out and greet the day. His beard is untidy, but he neatly combs it on the carpet after I let him out.

After brewing coffee, I let Baxter out into the backyard and he starts panting in the blistering heat. He persists to sniff his way around the confines of the yard to find the perfect spot to do his business. I go to stand in the shaded part of the yard, courtesy of the bone-dry Santa Monica Mountains. I check to see if Baxter’s stool is normal because I found a condom in his ritual morning dump the other day. I don’t know where he ate it, but I’m glad nothing out of the ordinary is in his shit today. Baxter swiftly returns to my feet with his already shredded rope toy between his crooked teeth. His unkempt tail whips back and forth. There’s an eagerness in his onyx eyes, as if the subtlest thing inspires him to attack each waking moment with tenacity. I throw his toy a few times before he drops it and barks at the cawing seagulls gliding above the house. He’s brave and doesn’t know it. I used to feel like that. What happened to that fearlessness? I think it vanished after my aunt, Lyn, died several years ago. It feels like I’ve been on hold ever since, waiting to rediscover it.

Baxter has convinced me to shift myself into gear and apply for jobs to climb out of this self-dug rut. We go back inside, I feed him, cook some breakfast, and turn on my computer to scour the Internet for all the appealing jobs. I have tired of filling out draining job applications. I agree that those double negative questionnaires weed out the people who pay attention to the questions from the people who don’t, but I cannot say that I don’t disagree with most of the questions. While I call previous places I’ve applied and wait on hold, preparing to be boastful in order to dazzle managers, Baxter devours his bone, ripping it to shreds. Perhaps I could learn from Baxter in that he finds joy in the little things that I can’t seem find pleasure in. There’s a pristine beach outside the door and I’m wallowing in a valley of lost hope.

Baxter stands near the counter, on which his treats reside. He scratches the cabinet to get my attention. I get up to grab the treats, he wiggles with excitement, and, without my command, sits, lies down, rolls over, and stands in attempt to earn treats. I can’t leave him hanging because I know the feeling all too well. I toss him a treat and he eagerly awaits something more, just like me. The way Baxter acts reminds me of the vantage point I used to see the world from. It was like I was trekking a mountain range, conquering life as I progressed, but it I’ve lost momentum. With the right inspiration, however, I might find a trail marker to guide me into the next chapter, where I’ll ride the wave rather than watch it ripple into the distance.

 

Everybody needs a kick-start now and again and Baxter has managed to restart my engine. I grab his leash, clip it to his collar, and we walk out the door to head to the beach. The warm sand between my toes is comforting. Baxter stops every ten feet to dig a hole, determined to find that one grain of sand only he can see. We walk to where the cold, brackish water rushes up the beach and Baxter stops. He’s afraid for the first time, which is shocking to me because the ocean has always empowered me with a sense of bravado and has been a regenerative haven. I look down at Baxter, he’s shaking and there’s a fear in his eyes. I nod to acknowledge his fear and shift my gaze out at the expansive blue mass. Without looking down at Baxter, I walk into the water and Baxter willingly follows. The wet stand sticks to my feet as if to hold me back. Impossible. This is where I’m strongest.

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Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean at sunset

I have had a crazy 18 months. I knew I would (finally) have some free time, so I planned a vacation where I could really get back to myself. I set out on a restorative trip to find some peace. I went to Santa Barbara, and stayed at Four Seasons The Biltmore.

I had been there before as a teenager, but had never experienced the place as an adult. I’ll admit, I wanted a lazy vacation where I never had to get in the car. I wanted good books, poolside drinks, and palm trees. The gorgeous views were expected, but there was no way I could predict how relaxed I’d feel only a few hours into my stay. Here are the highlights of my trip:

Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean
Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean

1. Outdoor dining. For three days, I didn’t eat a single meal indoors. Breakfast on the patio, lunch by the pool, dinner across the street on the balcony at Tydes. I never got tired of the spectacular ocean views available from the Bella Vista restaurant at the hotel. It’s quite easy to spot dolphins swimming by every day. Some of the hotel staff told me they have spotted an occasional blue whale, as well. Above, you can see our drinks the first night, over looking the ocean. The poolside lunch menu was clean and delicious, featuring an amazing chicken salad that I couldn’t help pairing with a decadent piña colada.

2. The service. Having stayed in top notch hotels all over the world, the Four Seasons Santa Barbara has some of the best service I’ve ever experienced. By the pool, the wait staff came around with complimentary smoothie shots and fresh fruit. The concierge were always happy to rework a dinner reservation, and even afforded me a luxurious late checkout, so I could squeeze a few more hours by the pool. My book was just too good to stop reading!

Lounging by the pool
Lounging by the pool

3. The incomparable atmosphere. The pueblo-style compound immediately put me in the mindset of warm-weather vacation. The sound of the ocean drifting through the windows while I got a massage was amazing. And the beautiful, colorful decor in the rooms, including some fantastic, artful tiles, made me want to stay in my room almost as much as I wanted to hit the pool.

4. The beach. Santa Barbara is not your standard SoCal destination. It’s on the cooler side (during my visit the weather stayed between 68 and 72 degrees), but the beach is perfect for surfers and taking scenic walks (with a sweater). There is even a very unique graveyard on a cliff overlooking the ocean within easy walking distance. If you want to stay out of the cold, both pools at the hotel are wind protected and it feels way warmer on a sunny day!

Morning coffee on my balcony
Morning coffee on my balcony


After such an intense year and a half, it was amazing to sink back and feel the stress melt away in only a short, three day trip! I highly recommend taking a lazy vacation. Perfect weather, perfect pool days and perfect piña coladas!

 

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I walk out of the shady, pine-scented woods, and stop, mid-stride, frozen in fear and wonder. I can feel the panic rising up my throat, threatening to choke me. Below me, in all its miniature widescreen glory stretches the Yosemite Valley. Less than twenty-four hours earlier I had stood in that valley, craning my neck to look up at this very spot.

To my right, I can see the sensuous granite mounds of the Yosemite Wilderness, and, far in the hazy distance the jagged snow-crested teeth of the High Sierra beyond. To my left, looming above the tree-line, is the bald, grey pate that is Half Dome. It is my wildest dream and my worst nightmare all rolled into one.

I have travelled thousands of miles to be in this place. I have researched, planned, and trained for months so that I am prepared for the challenge. And yet, now that I stand here, staring in horror at the part-peeled onion layers of sheer rock in front of me, it might all have been in vain.

Since yesterday, I’ve climbed an arduous seven miles, over rocks slick with rainbow-hued waterfall-mist, and through root-tangled woods, still cool with lingering snow-drifts. My aching legs have been forced up sheer slopes that from a distance seemed impossible. There have been minor demons to conquer in the shape of wild camping, composting toilets, and a hungry young bear trying to take the rucksack out of my tent. And now my courage has failed me. I am terrified.

The end of my journey is within sight. A mere mile. The trouble is, I know exactly what that last mile contains. Four hundred yards of vertical ascent and the Half Dome cables, nemesis of the vertigo-sufferer. I will myself to relax. Breathe in. Breathe out. Slowly. Stop the panic. Gradually, my pulse returns to something approaching normal, and I try to think rationally.

An iridescent flash of cobalt blue catches my attention as a Steller’s jay swoops from a nearby tree to land a few yards away on a low branch. It watches me for a while, head tilted to one side as if in question, before fluttering to a point a few yards ahead of me. Almost without conscious thought, I follow it. As I get near, he takes flight and, in a graceful arc, moves further along the trail. We continue our dance, moving closer together and further apart in an unconsciously beautiful meeting of species, before the jay, clearly bored by my pedestrian progress, glides effortlessly away from me and out of sight.

I look up, and realise that I am within a stone’s throw of the switchback – the first part of the final ascent. Nearly as steep as the cable ascent, though not as exposed. Suddenly, the decision is made for me, thanks to my feathered friend. I will go on, one step at a time, until I either reach the summit, or get so scared that I have to turn back, but there is no way I am backing out now.

The rest of the climb passes in a daze. The switchback is challenging but not too frightening. I struggle to walk over the narrow shoulder between it and the cable climb, but I surprise myself on the cables by climbing strongly and steadily for most of the way. I have to stop once to let someone pass me on their descent, and I foolishly look at the four thousand foot drop below me. Having briefly, but vividly, considered my mortality, I cling to the metal cables until my head stops swimming, and plod on upwards.

Suddenly, it is all over. I haul myself over the last step, and I am walking across a vast, flat plateau of smooth, sparkling granite. It feels as big, and as safe, as a football pitch. I still don’t care much for the drop below me, but as long as I don’t get too near the edge I can keep the fear at bay. I even manage to shoot a whole roll of film on the awe-inspiring views. I lie on a flat piece of rock and bask in the midday sunshine, along with some creature which I think, bizarrely, might be a marmot.

I let my mind wander back over the journey to here. The long trek up the Mist Trail, past, and through, the mystical beauty of the Vernal Falls, the hard slog up the side of Nevada Falls. The sleepless night, post-bear, in the Little Yosemite Valley. And now I have it all to do in reverse, including the cables.

I haul my weary limbs upright, and with a massive grin, start the descent. After all, I’ve done Half Dome – I can do anything!

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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I’ve watched the Mediterranean Sea lap onto the shore of a tiny Greek island while I swam in the surf at sunset.  And I’ve strolled along a quay on the south coast of England, gazing out across the Channel toward France.  But my favorite place to experience the coast is Atascadero Beach in Morro Bay, California.  It holds a simple magic, and I believe it can help me be brave.

Morro Bay is a mix of old-fashioned fishing village and trendy resort area, sprinkled with a pinch of funky beach town.  Today the harbor sparkles in the winter morning sunshine.  Two elderly women in silver and gold track suits, matching jewelry tinkling, walk along the wharf, paying no notice to the craggy fishermen struggling with the rigging on their boats below.

Atascadero Beach is similarly ignored.  Around the corner from the high school and down the street from a concrete plant, this beach appears to be nothing special.  I can’t even see the water, hidden by lumpy hills of sand, until I reach the path beyond the parking lot.  But then a glimpse of the waves teases me from between the dunes, and I know there is a bounty behind this unremarkable facade.

I’m here hoping to find the same kind of depth inside myself, the guts to transform a dream I have from longing to actual experience.  My feet sink in several inches as I trudge up the sandy hill.  Ice plant supporting a scattering of yellow and purple flowers lines the path, and it feels like the yellow brick road, leading to Oz.

At the top of the dunes, Morro Rock comes into full view, hardened lava rising over 500 feet on the south end of the beach.  The Rock is a dramatic local landmark and a holy place for the Chumash Indians.  It looks rough, with deep crevices and is greying on one end.  I can relate.

My thoughts are buried under the sound of the surf.  I feel the salt on my face and take a deep breath of sea-life freshness as I notice my hair slow dancing around my shoulders in the wind.  The ocean has created geometric patterns in the sand, making it look cozy like a textured blanket.  The sky looks like a blanket too, of white gauze worn through in the grey parts, and with bright streaks of blue like it was put in the wash with the wrong thing.

I watch a Long-billed Curlew hop around the water’s edge and then splay its grey-brown wings before plunging its beak deep into the sand.  A family of smaller birds rides the waves like a bunch of little surfers.  They are wiped out by a big swell, and then one by one they bob back up and float to the shore to ride again.

The waves are the essence of this place.  They collide together and then, folding in, relax.  They collide and relax, over and over.  They’re at least six feet tall now, and my eye follows them from their highest part, almost too white, to where they grey and then turn the color of an aquamarine jewel before blending with the muddy sand.  They never stop, never say “I’m not up to it today, I’m too tired, I’m going to sit this one out.”  They just roll with it, let gravity be their boss.  They work hard, but seem to enjoy it too, the way they bubble up, stretch, and hum.  And with the slight vibration coming up through my feet, I feel their music.

I realize strength and bravery aren’t always about the extraordinary.  They can be about coming back, continuing, like the waves.  Life rises and falls.  There is difficulty, but then there is relief.

This beach is known for sand dollars, and I spot one, perfect, with no holes.  I take it to keep as a symbol:  wholeness.  My hair and face are sticky from the salt, but my thoughts are clear now.  I say thank you to this blessed beach and its simple magic.  As I turn from the water and head back up the hill, the sand feels lighter than when I came.  I step with ease through the deep dunes.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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My skin shed the role of predictable, common essence of morality, and I became an energy of spontaneity. I stood, feet planted firmly in the redstone creation beneath me, I closed my eyes and was awoken. My conscious beat on heavily with every gaze swept across my new plane of unfamiliar territory. Traveling is a blessing they say, and it really is. You’re in a completely unknown environment, speculating change, developing senses, you as a whole, are personally growing. As humans, we search for the stories we haven’t yet experienced in places we haven’t yet seen. Growing up, I experienced the city and suburban life in Chicago.

My daily routines masked my eyes to a virtually unknown world. Day by day we go to the same job, same school, have the same workout routine, have that one friday night bar we “love” going to just because its all we know. I’ve been waiting all my life for an opportunity, an opportunity to embellish this world I live in, to leave my mark and be remembered for it. I always wanted to make my life a work of art.

When I was fifteen years old I found myself in the heart of Los Angeles for a conventional business meeting my parents dragged me to. Being the curious child I was- and still am today- I wandered off in the vast city of unusual faces and sunshine. Oh the sunshine, it peaked through every sliver of space, waiting to be seen through the cold metal buildings. I found the slight crescents of light so magical, they lit up my soul. They empowered me.

With every step I took on the crowded streets I noticed change. I noticed beauty. I noticed beauty in the slightest observances of not only nature but people. There were performers, business women and men, young resonating teenagers, the homeless, and me. I looked not through these people, but within them; I found a precious jewel of life hidden beneath the radical appearances and stereotypes. I was empowered. I remember being in a complete trance of mysticism. Towards the end of my city prowl, I journeyed my way to the sandy shore and felt a mist of cool and renewing salty air.

The sun was a half fading moon adjusting its subtle glow by the minute. I stood, feet planted firmly in the redstone creation beneath me, I closed my eyes and was awoken. I felt my body overlooking a spectacle much greater than a vast body of water, I was overlooking what I hoped would be an invincible future. I was brave, and I was strong. I knew I wanted to travel the world from the minute I stepped foot from the reach of authority. I knew I wanted to explore the community strengths and weaknesses of every individual. I wanted to be enlightened. Yes, my parents did almost have a heart attack when being informed of my wanderings, but I don’t think I ever came back the same from that trip. I encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone.

I encourage everyone to be brave and simply take another look. We are young, and we are alive. Reveal yourself to a world that is waiting to open itself up to you. I find beauty in every aspect of life, I am one in the world of millions to offer. I am empowered, spontaneous, and free to experience everything this life has to offer. Take that leap of faith, I promise its worth it.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

 

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A number of people called me brave when I quit my marketing career of 11 years to volunteer in India. A handful more said, “I wish I could do that!” when I set off afterwards to travel solo for a year around Southeast Asia and Latin America. Maybe in their eyes, yes, and somewhat in my own, but those weren’t the bravest places I went.

No, that was home.

At age 39 I was a bit late to the whole “quit my job to travel” thing. My career was solid, but my soul was dry. I didn’t want a mortgage, and a corporate job really didn’t suit me, but I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do as an adult. It took me longer than I would’ve liked to figure that out, but at least I eventually did. My three months of volunteering plus an additional 12 of traveling changed me as much as it would any person. You’re just not the same afterwards. I grew accustomed to poverty, resigned myself to mosquito bites, always held tight to my belongings and got used to feeling old around 20-something backpackers who talked about amazing party hostels and 2 for 1 drinks (ok, the 2 for 1 drinks I could get behind). It became my new norm, far from the conference calls and bottomless inbox of my previous life.

I knew at some point I’d have to buy that plane ticket back to LA, and the catalyst was my mom wanting me home for Christmas. No matter how old you are, mom can still pull those strings. A week before I came home I couldn’t sleep. I was anxiety-ridden about being asked, “What’s next?”  Because you see, I didn’t know.  I was returning home without a plan. Would I go back to the corporate world and get a so-called normal job? No. That much I knew. When I really thought about it, being a location-independent freelancer was what I wanted. Sipping watermelon juice while writing SEO copy or being inspired by a temple for my next travel post or riding a camel as I contemplated marketing strategies- now THAT I could get behind. But how to go about it? I picked up a few consulting gigs during my travels, but not enough to sustain me. Could I afford to search for remote-only jobs and create a patchwork of income? The outlook was unclear, and at 40 that can be a bit unsettling.

But for some strange reason I’m not afraid. I can’t for the life of me tell you why because all signs point to panic mode. My savings is dwindling and I’ve regressed to starving student status. Thankfully I have friends and family with spare rooms and stocked refrigerators. The idea of starting over is both exhilarating and debilitating. Ideas swarm through my head and I keep trying to catch one long enough to figure out what to do with it. In the meantime I housesit for friends and cook meals in exchange for a roof over my head. I sometimes meet old work colleagues for happy hour, listening to stories that begin with, “Oh, listen to the latest bright idea so-and-so had.”  I may not know what’s next, but I’m glad it’s not that.

LA can be difficult for those taking the path less traveled. It’s a place where the second question out of someone’s mouth when first meeting you (after “What’s your name?”) is “What do you do?” I don’t blame people in their knee-jerk questioning as it’s totally natural, but it makes you realize how much of a person’s identity is wrapped up in their job. Especially when yours is on hiatus.

For now I’ll keep plugging away on borrowed couches until I make enough money from freelancing to comfortably take off again. I don’t know where I’ll go or when, but I’m ok with that. I finally feel authentic to who I am and brave enough to look those corporate denizens in the eye, own my choices and say, “I don’t know what’s next.”

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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The bright green, perfectly manicured grass illuminates the giant pink and white rose petal heart, and a guitarist strumming a Beatles Love Song amplifies the cheesiness of the situation to everyone within earshot. I stand, dizzy with anticipation and sweating despite it being a comfortable 65 degrees, on the deck overlooking the 18th tee of Pebble Beach Golf Course. My mother and father are renewing their wedding vows today, on their 30th anniversary. My mother is radiating with giddy anticipation, and my father is nervous and excited in the quiet way that only those close to him can distinguish.

The whole family traveled from all corners of the US to celebrate this momentous occasion. I am proud and excited, yet at the same time want to run for the hills.

As we stand there waiting to be called down, paraded in front of hundreds of strangers, the weather begins to change. The sunny California day seems to be changing with my emotions. The Pacific ocean turning from calm to rocky, as grey clouds quickly move in casting shadows on the monstrous houses that line the coast.

Wanting to make sure this wedding happens before rain comes in, the wedding planner waves us down.

I try not to notice all of the people watching us from the deck of the Pebble Beach Restaurant. My boyfriend touches my back, comfortingly urging me forward. He knows how much I despise unwanted attention. Without that slight push, I am not sure I would have the courage to march across the green with so many eyes on me. My sister parades to the heart like she owns the place, as I slowly and self-consciously make my way across one of the most famous golf courses in the world.

The wedding planner, beaming with faux happiness, dangles a garland of flowers intended for me, and drapes it across my head. Pink, white, red and yellow roses adorn my head. The scent of freshly cut flower overwhelms my senses, yet does not do a thing to calm my nerves. Photos are snapped, I force a fake smile.

My sister, skinny, blonde, and perfect in every way, stands next to me. Chest proud, shoulders relaxed, smug. I look her up and down, trying not to compare myself to her like I do at every family gathering. I, the older sister, aspire to be like her. Thin, confident, and dripping with an “I don’t care what you think” attitude.

From the outside, no one would know the self-conscious turmoil bubbling inside me. I look put together, though on the inside I am anything but. Travel has been my escape and a key element in teaching me about myself and all that I am capable of. As I make my way around the world, my self-confidence grows with each new adventure. This trip, I tell myself, is just another stepping-stone toward positive growth.

So, I try to change my thoughts from negative to positive as the guitarist begins to play Alan Jackson’s country ballad ‘Remember When’, signaling the start of the ceremony. My mother and father stand in the center of that cheesy flower heart holding hands.

As the minister speaks his words, words about love and acceptance and happiness, I try as hard as I can to focus on my parents; my mother-beaming, and my normally stoic father-red in the face and crying.

I look around at where I am and what I am doing. One of the most beautiful golf courses, on one of the most beautiful stretches of land in the world. Even with the changing weather, the deep blue of the ocean collides with the bright green grass and brightens everything, including my attitude.

All of the distractions surrounding us; the people watching, the golfers playing, the ocean waves crashing, blur.

It is here in this blur, surrounded by love and beauty, that I am grateful. The love of my family, coupled with the beauty of the celebration and nature around us, allows me to finally throw out all of the negative thoughts that occupy my mind.

The ceremony ends and I walk with my head held high back to the deck. It is time to celebrate with a champagne toast and the sun, peaking through the clouds, just before it sets over the Pacific Ocean.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Otters, half-covered in kelp and half-asleep, are floating in the briny seawater to our left. There are also brown, glistening sea lions basking on the brown, glistening rocks nearby, braying at biscuit-munching tourists and at each-other. And sea birds, squawking loudly, thrashing their wings overhead and underfoot. The ocean itself is wailing like a fiend all around us, slapping at the white, sturdy sides of our boat. It’s no wonder all sea-dwellers seem to shriek with abandon. They’d never be heard otherwise.

We’re landsmen, the lot of us. The vacillating of the boat has got a few of us looking green already. We’re cold, too — the wind’s whipping our noses reindeer red — and it’s early enough that the last dregs of sleep are still haunting our eyes. Beyond the chill and the torpor, though, there’s something else thundering under our skin like the boat’s engines roaring under the water. It’s writhing in our very blood, this feeling; it’s swelling like the frenzied water all around us. Childlike delight. We’re feverish with it, all of us out here on the Monterey Bay.

There are a lot of other boats in the marina, bobbing like harbour seals, but they seem to melt into the morning fog as our own moves out, away from the promenade and the brightly painted kiosks advertising fish hooks and crab meat. It’s just us and the ocean, then. Its waters stretch in every direction, pushing a muted California behind a veil of mist and vapour. We are puny and insignificant, settled atop the belly of this great colossus, but how wonderful we are at the same time — our pale fingers interlocked, our glasses stippled with sea-spray, our lips curving, curving, curving.

The tour guide’s voice is punctuated by the sputtering of static and waves, but it hardly matters. She’s talking about the ocean like it’s a cantata and she’s got the libretti stamped across her heart. Believing in magic is no Herculean task, here in this moment. Look! Even the grey whorls of the waves are starting to look like porpoises. In fact, it is almost as if we have found ourselves on the canvas of a great artist’s watercolour masterpiece: the entire world looks pale and ethereal and lovely.

The younger ones are tearing into crisp packets with stubby fingers. We’re lobbing coke bottles at each other and laughing, our teeth bared at the grey sky. We’re coming undone under the canopy of that same sky, over the mattress of the same ocean. We’re so much more awake than we have ever been before. It’s terrifying and it’s thrilling and —

It’s all stifled by a staccato intake of breath crackling over the intercom.

The sea lions have returned. Like us, they seem to have left their old selves behind, back by those rocks they built their kingdom on. They’re quiet, circling a stretch of water a hundred feet off the port side of the boat. Oh: it’s all so quiet. The surf is still, the sea birds are sombre, and even the children look sober. The sea lions are waiting. Contemplating.

And, then: they are barking like mad angels heralding the advent of something incredible. (Our own hearts have turned into cyclones raging inside white bone prisons.)

They surface, one after the other. Four, eight, twelve. Sixteen. A hush has fallen over the boat. We watch as: they breathe out, they pirouette, they arch sleek tails. They leave our very bones clamouring; if the boat’s railings petered out of existence, half of us would leap into the gaping mouth of the ocean ourselves. We are — perhaps — an especially excitable audience, almost barking ourselves. They’re just so big and so beautiful. Prophets of a genus of wonder we thought we outgrew. We are wide-eyed, tongue-tied, and so very alive in front of these primordial giants.

 We’re so small, out here on the water. We know it in our typhoon hearts, we do — but we’re feeling so much and feeling it so hard, that we can’t help but think we must be pretty vast and pretty beautiful, too.

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It’s 7 o’clock and as I leave the house the dawn-lit eastern face of the Sierra Nevada mountains looms above me.  A wide path through golden browns of brittle sages leads me to my first stop, a small abandoned bungalow, and then on to a small workshop filled with barely used tools and unfinished projects—all inhabited by cats.  I check their food and water supply, and as I finish with the felines a donkey whines from the tin-roofed barn up the hill.

For the past 3 weeks I’ve lived in a passive solar cabin on a ranch in Olancha, California, farm-sitting while the owners travel by motorhome to Louisiana.  The property is a surreal 28 acres of abandoned shacks and trailers, derelict refrigerators and trucks, a red-slat barn and dry fields, all nestled within ephedra, sage, and a few pine trees that have wandered off the mountains.  I’m a Canadian city boy from Toronto; I came here looking for space, and did I ever find it.

I continue up the subtle hill, past the well-house filled with extra feed stock, and the horses whinny when they see me, hungry.  The aged gray gelding, Shetan, 30 years old, foundered, his eyesight starting to go, looks about anxiously.  As I reach the barn doors a flock of quail waits in the bushes nearby, eager for their morning seed.  I am a far cry from my past life of only two months ago, and yet my role hasn’t changed entirely.

In Toronto I’d been a case manager with a social service organization, helping adults with long-term brain injuries navigate the difficulties of their day-to-day lives.  Although I’d loved my work and my co-workers, a voice had whispered in the back of my mind for years, prodding me to write.  And to an extent I did: I took courses and wrote short stories, and had 10000 words of a corny science fiction novel, but it wasn’t enough.  That voice needed to spend full days at a time writing, if only to see, to feel that life.  Then, in July of this year, I met a girl.  An artist and photographer coming from two years of globetrotting, now preparing to move to California to pursue a Masters degree in Fine Arts.  She was realizing exactly what that voice needed: a life of travel and the pursuit of creative passions.  In those two months we spent together—rock climbing dense ravines along the Niagara River, packed into the Osheaga festival in Montreal, laying on a dock at the High Park shore of Lake Ontario—something in me was finally able to let go.

So in September of 2014, at 30 years old, I completed one journey and embarked upon a new one, leaving Canada via Sarnia to drive across America.  I listened to the blues in Chicago in company of a PhD friend suffering from tendinosis in his wrists.  I talked politics in Des Moines with a teacher who’s obsessed with Game of Thrones.  I climbed the Boulder Canyon boulder outside Boulder, hiked off trail in Arches National Park and was only slightly worried that the parking lot towards which I was hiking was a mirage.  And via a two week stint in Pasadena with the girl who brought about all of this, ended up here in Owen’s Valley.

But for all that I’ve left behind, despite the drastic locational and vocational change, I laugh, because I suppose I’m still a caregiver, only with a small zoo of cats, quail, donkeys, and horses, instead of people.  Twice a day in the foothills of the eastern Sierra I lay out their food and water, clean the horses’ stalls, and make sure that the elderly Shetan continues to eat as he enters what will likely be the last days of his life.  In the hours between feedings I walk through the desert, I drive to Bishop and climb the quartz-monzonite boulders of Buttermilk Country, and most importantly, I write.  And that is the space that I sought when I left Toronto: not any physical space, but a creative space, and the time to focus on my true passion.

And Hannah is here with me for some days, working on her own art projects while I write about traveling and writing and finding the space to be yourself.  I think I’ve finally figured out how to make space for that, and though I don’t think I owe her my ability to do it, I am grateful that she was there to push me to try.

 

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