There are times when links that have sustained us so recede from our lives that we note their absence only when we reclaim them. Buried in a load of work as I flew from Washington to San Francisco Saturday morning, I barely glanced out the window as the big DC-10 sliced the air. A stewardess remarked upon my intensity as I prepared for a week of hard work ahead.
But on the ground in California, friends waited, promising a day to leave the pressures and issues behind. The briefcases would be banished to the trunk of the car. No issue more compelling than California's natural beauty would have to be minutely analyzed. As I got caught up in the scenic loveliness, I found myself forgetting worries and concerns.
By the end of the day, I could think only of a line from a play by Samm-Art Williams entitled "Home": "I love the land; the land's been good to me," and I had been away from it too long.
From the airport we headed south on Hwy. 101 past the glass and steel fiefdoms of the Silicon Valley lords, where occasional artichoke fields nestled beside the curvaceous hills and brown mountains. Our destination was Big Sur; for me a replay of a trip taken nearly a decade before.
Our first stop was in Del Monte Forest, a community of astonishing natural beauty. We ate lunch at Club XIX Restaurant at the lodge at Pebble Beach, overlooking a magnificent waterfront setting that was like a beckoning blue pool of tranquility.
Leaving Del Monte Forest, with its pine forests and groves of Monterey cypress trees, we continued our journey south, snaking upward along the spectacular serpentine highway that is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the right and embraced by striking mountains to the left.
My friends, ardent devotees of California's natural beauty, have favorite points for peak enjoyment. We pulled the car off the highway at one of these. A dozen giant rocks separated us from the jagged jutting mountain that broke the drop to the sea. The air pulsed gently upward in moist mouthfuls. The sky seemed as close as a ceiling. It was a convergence of the most beautiful and vital elements of life -- air, sky, land and water.
As we continued our journey, I glanced ahead and backward. The beauty of the Pacific crashing below paired with the mountains to produce a memorable panoramic view.
At Big Sur, we headed for Pfeiffer Beach, reached by executing a hairpin turn off the highway. Unlike the long straight expanses of white sand one finds in southern California, Pfeiffer Beach consists of a series of coves along a stretch of beach that ripples and is dominated by a rock mountain rising from the ocean a few feet from the shore.
By now, my eastern restraint was fading, as with each mile the cares and pressures of Washington seemed increasingly remote. In this atmosphere, our conversation naturally drifted away from politics and budget deficits toward the joys of nature, the inner person, and our childhoods spent in places like Cincinnati and Louisville.
Our Big Sur destination was Ventana, the beautiful country lodge and inn that lured Jesse Jackson for rest and reflection after he ended his bid for president at last summer's Democratic convention.
We stopped for refreshments at the Ventana's spacious veranda overlooking the ocean. During a short visit to Nepenthe's, the restaurant and bar that became a favorite spot of the flower children in the '60s and '70s, we spent 15 minutes talking to a man about his 1951 Ford station wagon that has retained the original wood. By now, this conversation seemed as natural as the wood -- the busyness that might have made that scene a waste of precious time in the East apparently had dropped into the ocean at some point when I wasn't paying any attention.
On the return trip to San Francisco we drove the 26-mile stretch from Big Sur to Carmel at sunset. The ocean, sun and sky met and melded into a monochromatic gray that was separated only by a ribbon of red. This beautiful earth had reminded me how much I am of the land and how far away I had strayed from the land. For this issue-weary easterner, it had been a brief but welcome homecoming.