California and back

Some expected, unexpected experiences

I don’t travel that much, and very little by air. However, I do enjoy an occasional vacation especially in winter to escape the endless cold and snow.

Recently, I traveled to California and, in addition to the expected pleasure of getting away, I encountered many unanticipated treats — some which weren’t so welcome, like discovering that our state no longer sends notice of driver’s license expiration. When I left the rental car lot, they noticed mine was invalid. I was allowed to go, but warned that if the police stopped me they might impound the car. I drove like a priest for the next six days. And I’d had trouble enough getting into my new Prius with the “beeper” and starting it — who knew there’s no key, but a button to push?

I carefully drove to the Ojai Valley, northeast of Los Angeles. In one day I experienced the wonders of this special area — places of natural beauty, spiritual awakening and a close-knit community of friendly people. It reminded me of western Mass., other than the weather. Ironically, it was an unseasonably cold 39 degrees the first morning, which was tempered by my having just left single-digits at home. It then warmed to almost 60, and the rest of my week was mild, sunny and delightful.

Next stop was Cambria, halfway between L.A. and San Francisco. A high school buddy spends time there during the winter and summer with his wife. My pal is a professional photographer and my entire stay was one big photo op. The house they rent sits on cliffs above the Pacific. Watching the sun rise from the patio with the moon still visible was breathtaking. We also saw an enormous herd of elephant seals on a beach nearby, who come there each winter to nurse the young, breed and where the males fight over the females. What a scene of domestic tranquility and its opposite.

Another unique experience was visiting the castle where William Randolph Hearst spent the last years of his life in opulence and waste. The movie “Citizen Kane” depicts all this. The highlight of this portion of the trip, however, had to be participating in the flying and feeding of a rare Asian owl. I was enlisted to act as a second falconer, equipped with a large glove and bag of frozen mice.

I then drove to San Francisco, which is many a vistor’s favorite city. The manageable size, progressive politics and cultural melting pot make for a relaxed atmosphere amidst those hills and proximity to the ocean. Mostly walking, I covered a swath of the city in one day, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and other noteworthy structures. I spent the most time in the City Lights Bookstore and Beat Museum, both landmarks, and most significant in my own literary upbringing. I have long been a fan of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Bukowski and the other poets and writers of the 1950s who forged new, exciting paths for themselves and those who followed.

I found myself thinking that I could easily live in California, something I never expected. Not that I’ll probably leave New England, but who knows.

One more revelation, and I think the most important. I haven’t spoken much about the people I met. Almost all of them were friendly, helpful and happy to interact with a stranger. I felt I was in a “zone of comfort.” I attribute this partly to my openness with others, which seems to attract similar reactions. I also believe it reflects a special type of relationship that I’ve come to value highly. We all have relationships — for better or worse — with our parents, family and friends as we grow up and hopefully a few of these are long-lasting and special. We also relate with acquaintances we encounter in the village online, etc. And there are the fleeting relationships we have with strangers, either in our area or as we travel. It is these short-lived interactions that I find so meaningful in a deep, spiritual sense. There’s something beautiful and rare about meeting a person you’ll never see again ... sharing a few moments of chit-chat or something more personal, like smiling, with no agenda.

It’s as if two angels touched each other’s lives and changed them for the better.

David Fersh lives in Charlemont.

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