So, the end of the trip was nigh. The last day. I had a lovely morning coffee chat, bid my wonderful hostess farewell, and set off for the conference. The last day. Too soon over.
I met Jeffery for breakfast again and went to a number of seminars, including one on teaching mythology in high schools amid the growing dissolving of literature-based reading. That was pretty exciting. I was jealous. The day flew by too fast with me attending workshops, hanging out with Jeffery, and finally attending the end of the conference. As everyone broke out into their last focus groups, I drove out of the driveway, wondering if I would ever return again. I hoped so.
The drive down through Toro Canyon was now bittersweet. I had learned to drive in this foreign landscape, felt more at home with palm trees, olive trees and live oaks growing outside, and had followed Jeffery’s advice to connect with the land. You know what is odd about that land? It is so young and fresh compared to New England. Not just the people, who are really nice everywhere, but the land itself seems more vibrant and alive. It welcomed me. I felt at home there.
I returned my rental car with a full tank of gas and an empty pocketbook. I was literally down to my last few dollars, and still wanted to get stuff for the kids. I had poked around for a little while to no avail before returning my car and found a mug for my mom that said Santa Barbara, but that was all. Praying that the airport would have a better selection, I got on the bus to go back to Los Angeles with a heavy heart.
The sight of the now-familiar Santa Ynez Mountains actually made me cry. It was like saying goodbye to a new, very dear friend that you are not sure that you will ever see again. It was painful and it hurt. As we drove down the coast road and entered the Ventura Highway area, I finally got around to listening to America’s “Ventura Highway” which I had downloaded specially for this occasion. If anything, this made the whole thing worse, and I ended up with tears streaming down my cheeks. It is hard to cry quietly on a partially full bus. I did my best, though,
As we drove, I felt the land reach out and the sense that I was welcome back anytime was comforting. It reminded me very much of a line from the Muppet Movie when Gonzo sings, “There’s not a word yet, for old friends who’ve just met, part heaven, part space, or have I found my place? You can just visit, but I plan to stay, I’m going to go back there some day.” I will go back someday. I promise. And maybe it will be to stay.
The bus ride was long, and the wait at the airport lengthy. I also set off the sensor with something I was wearing and was subjected to a pat-down search, complete with ultraviolet lights to detect gunpowder residue. The line from Bell X-1’s song ‘The Great Defector’ went through my mind (I’m all about the quotes today apparently.) “I love the way your underwire bra always sets off the x-ray machine.” I found the whole thing amusing, and when I was on the plane and could finally relax, I discovered that my seat mate was from Harvard, MA, and we had a lovely chat about dogs and Boston before I finally fell into a fitful sleep. I wasn’t nervous at all.
Boston in the early morning is a nice sight. The landing was smooth, the sun slightly overcast, and the exit process less than terrible. I made it out of the airport, into the early September mugginess, and into my car with Rob very very glad to see me again. He told me about how the dogs had been freaking out for days, and how he couldn’t sleep. I thought, this is home. But the colors seemed all wrong and the land seemed so old, and the world didn’t have that youth and vitality. It felt tired. The houses in Toro Canyon and Ojai tried to blend in and work with the landscape. Civilization in New England has dominated the landscape. It is not the same.
Now that I am ending this blog series, I have been back here for a half a year. The images from California are still vibrant, still vivid, and still very real. I still check the weather in Santa Barbara, and still talk to Jeffery from time to time. I have readjusted to the snow, the cold, the dank weather, and the high heating oil prices. But I think often about California. I feel the land there, in all its vitality, and on dreary days like today when I am grading papers and preparing for a midterm, I think of how far away that word is, and wonder when I can go back. I feel like I need to go again. That world is waiting. It is waiting for me. I will return.