Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Enough Gas

On Sunday I went to the beach for the first time since I've been in California.

Specifically, this beach. 

I've been feeling increasingly yucky over the last few weeks, more anxious and mired in pettiness. I miss the calm humble feeling that being in Montana gave me. Granted, I basically had one primary goal during my time there, and here in my regular life things are much more diffuse. I have a lot more to make me feel insecure and off-track and incapable.

Lately I've been having vivid dreams. Some of them have been downright cold-sweat nightmares, even if the monsters in them are usually me and not external toothy beasts. Most of them have felt uneasy, dubious, as if I'm making fatal mistakes but won't find out the consequences for months or years. One of these involved a good friend who splits his time between England and Minnesota who's asked me in the past to come and visit him during the times of year he's in the U.S. I've never met him in person and am very eager to. When I woke up from the dream about him, I had the craziest itch to get to Minnesota, like, that week, to sit in his quiet house and stare out at the land he owns.

It occurred to me that maybe the big reason I'd been feeling yucky was that I was mostly looking at a screen of some kind all day every day, or potentially taking a break from such screens to look at the building across the courtyard from my own building. There's a decent amount of nature in my daily view, trees and hummingbirds and whatnot, but 90% of my day-to-day is human-made. My Montana trip reinforced to me more strongly than ever that nature matters to me, that I need to be around the earth and sky - both bigger than me - to be ultimately happy.

Well, the ocean is bigger than me. And it's a lot closer than Minnesota. And I haven't seen the Pacific since...God, 2001? Has it been that long? So I put on some sunscreen and drove down to Malibu, which is the closest piece of coastline to where I live in L.A.

It's amazing just how much nothing is loosely within the boundaries of one of the most populous cities in the world. I drove through a long, deep canyon full of scrub and rock and pretty much nothing else, thinking I could easily dehydrate to death if I was lost out there beyond the road, and then minutes later, poof, there was Pepperdine U. And the ocean.

I drove to La Piedra, which is one of a trio of beaches that comprise Robert H. Meyer State Beach. I waited for a small group of folks to give up their parking place, and they thoughtfully handed off their paid ticket for the day to me, since, they said, they weren't coming back and it'd just go to waste. I climbed down a steep trail, stopping for a few vistas into the long blue. It was a hazy day. The ocean was large. When I got down to the beach I dipped my feet in the sea and picked my way around monstrous piles of seaweed, trying to find a rock to settle on. I'd hoped there would be a stripe of unwet sand to sit on and stare out from, but there wasn't. It was a rocky stretch of shore with a close, forbidding wall where the tide came in, instead of diffident dunes like the ones in North Carolina.

I found a dry rock and sat and watched. I think I'd hoped that I'd have ideas to write down in my notebook, but I didn't. The waves turned and crashed and foamed, turned and crashed and foamed. There were atrocious little flies hopping around that infested the snarls of seaweed. Very rarely did people come to where I was; they stayed to the east, where there was a wider swath of beach and fewer rocks. I watched and watched, hoping I'd be able to tell whether the tide was coming in or going out. I could see the undertow, but the tide insisted on its own pace. Salt dried sticky on my fingers.

I kept trying to think big thoughts. The noise of the ocean had calmed the chatty crap in my brain, so I thought I'd have room for making a couple of biggish writing decisions I need to make, or for figuring out why I was having these dreams, or for determining what I need to do to get rid of the constant low-level anxiety that makes every day a wade instead of a walk. But it was like it is at my desk: just fragments, no real help. Eh maybe or well, this, but well, that or Christ, I have no idea.

I spent a little less than an hour there, on that rock, and then I gave up and went back to the trail. I climbed up, which was a hike, and got in my car.

There was a triathlon taking place in Malibu that day, and on the way in I'd passed a big traffic clusterfuck going the other direction. It looked from Google Maps as if there was a yellow squiggly line to the west of where I was that would lead me to Thousand Oaks and then back home, and I wouldn't have to go through the triathlon. It was a longer distance, but oh boy did I ever not want to sit in traffic. I got on that squiggly line, which eventually became Mulholland Highway, and scared the living bejeezus out of myself for the next hour.

I like curvy roads. I like semi-lost car-jaunts. This hour might have turned me off those things forever.

I'd definitely had enough gas to get home when I left Malibu, but I went through a ton of ups and downs and tight curves and twisty-turnys, and soon my car dinged at me to tell me I had low fuel. And I didn't look to be anywhere near civilization. No phone service. No shoulders. Private, securely gated houses that were miles apart. Largely no one else on the road but me and the occasional brave bicyclist. (Although at one point a posse of souped-up Mitsubishis and Civics and Scions passed me, going way way way way too fast for the nature of the road, their engines humming my bones.)

I'm talking >90° curves here, one and then another, graded like raceway corners. I was caught between fear that I'd crash through a rail and go sailing into Mel Gibson's weekend home and fear that if I drove too slowly my car would sputter and die and I'd be stuck there in the middle of the road for two hours waiting for Matt to find me. If my cell worked long enough for me to reach him. If he could get there without himself sailing into Jennifer Aniston's weekend home.

Sample curve. The source of this is a stunt drifter video. 

Of course none of that happened and I made it to a gas station in the weird little community of Westlake and drove home on the 101 and everything was fine. But even if I'd walked away from the sea with any kind of improved headspace, which I'm not sure I did, the harrowing drive home would have sucked all that away.

Oh, well.

Maybe I'll go to Joshua Tree next weekend.


Denise said...

I've had trips like that in LA. Sometimes the easy nature journey just doesn't happen and occasionally it turns into a terrifying fiasco that sucks away all of your equanimity in a way entirely antithetical to the intention of your journey... I also found at times that the juxtaposition of large city and emptiness/nature could be unnerving. Somehow where I live it's more integrated and therefore less shocking to transition through. But I hate the feeling of heading out for a pleasant day and feeling more stressed when I come home because of disasters that ensued. One day this summer I went for a very rare trip to the lake and as soon as I got in the water one of my favorite earrings popped off and disappeared. I spent the rest of the time diving under and looking for it, but I never found it and went home feeling miserable. It was not comforting to know that I should have taken them off before I went in the water... I hope you got more out of your trip! <3

Katharine Coldiron said...

That's terrible about your earring. We both know it's a little thing, but when you lose half of one of your favorites - even or especially if they're cheap and you like wearing them because they go with everything - there's just no feeling like it.

I kind of love the shock of city -> nature that happens here, but this was not a very reassuring example of it.

You put it just perfectly - a terrifying fiasco that sucked away all of my equanimity. There's a trip coming up for me in a few weeks that I hope will be the real thing.