The beginnings of evening were falling as I made my way through the traffic of So-Cal in Santa Barbara, trying to find the right exit for my turnoff. The maps that I had been given and printed seemed somewhat contradictory, but I finally found my way up onto Sheffield Drive, and up into Toro Canyon via East Valley Road, and headed towards Ladera Lane and the Campus of the Pacifica Institute.
The canyon roads twist and turn, narrow and lined with scrub trees, giant Aloe, and other plants that I can only guess at. I am enthralled and elated, and still can’t believe that I am in California. The mountains around me are a dark brownish color as their main fauna is that of chaparral, and look more desolate than they actually are. I am feeling totally unsure of myself in such a remote area of my country. It is alien and familiar at the same time.
The houses all through the canyon roads are gated with huge, metal gates, and the houses are not to be seen. Set back from the road and screened by trees for privacy, these little ranch houses are the primary type of housing in the canyons. Rarely do they seem to go over two stories, and mostly seem to be only one. The need for privacy seems to be a definite.
The turn for the campus comes upon me quickly, and I find myself climbing further up into the twists of the canyon, but not too far. I find the turn relatively soon for the Pacifica Institute, a small, unassuming sign that quietly announces that I have arrived. I turn left into the driveway, and motor slowly up the hill.
Parking is available right in the front, though there are certainly plenty of cars in evidence. And I am here. Eight months of waiting and watching, of hoping and planning, and here I am. I look up at the institute, a rather college style set of buildings, and rearing over them the Santa Ynez mountains, their colors shading tones of charcoal and sepia, alight in the slowly drooping sun.
I step out, unsure, and try to take it all in at once. I can’t. There is too much to see, too much to take in all at once. I feel awkward and unsure, not of the people I am going to meet but of the vastness of the experience I have just undergone. I am in the mountains of California. A place of dreams and a thousand movies, of history and of legend. How the hell can I encompass all of that? It is too vast.
I finally get myself together and walk up the steps that lead into the low set main building. Directly inside the door are set up tables with people, boxes of packets, and a small side nook with the makings for tea. To one side, there is a gift shop. It is busy but calm. I like what I see, and make my way over to the table, recognizing the name of the man standing behind the registration station. I had spoken to him on the phone, but of course he does not remember me, and I move on up into the rest of the building, saving the small gift shop for later.
Outside, I take refuge in the plants. I recognize camellias and jade trees, ficus and hydrangeas. They become a recurring theme over the course of the weekend, a safe refuge to something familiar in a place where even the grass does not seem real. I follow the flow of traffic towards the main dining hall, looking in wonder at the world around me, and stepping on the grass that seems almost like walking on a cloud. This is not normal. Even the grass is out to confuse me. Walking on it is like walking on moon shoes.
Dinner is amazing, and I will come to appreciate the food that I find myself eating over the weekend. I sit down with a couple of other professors who are from around the area, but one of whom had taught in Vermont. A man comes to join us, and we quickly fall into conversation like old friends. His name is Jeffery and he is also of the same path that I walk. Not only that, but he knows people I know. How odd is it that I travel over 5000 miles and find someone who knows Kirk?
After a very impressive introduction and a very good keynote speaker, the day crashed down around me. Now, at 9:00 PM (12:00 AM our time, argh!), I followed Jeffery’s car down the canyon and back to the highway. My next stop was to be Ojai, and I managed to find it and arrive at my Air B&B destination with relatively few problems. Once there, sleep didn’t take long to find me at all.