Galleon on Salt Billows

You have been interested in your shadow. Look instead directly at the sun. —Rumi

Month: August, 2015

In Media Res

My MBA program officially starts on tomorrow, but really it’s been going on for two weeks. Apparently, you can have an entire class take place in four days, 4.5 hours per day, and finish the final that weekend. Apparently, that’s a thing.

So it’s been crazy. But I’m having a lot of fun. I’m meeting new people, attending networking events (where I meet even more new people), eating copious amounts of finger foods, drinking school-provided alcohol (?!), and reading more than 100 pages of business-related material per day in my free time. Somehow, I still manage to squeeze in some Netflix in there.

The rest of my classes start tomorrow, and I’m probably just blogging in protest of the 8 chapters of finance and financial accounting I have to read within the next 15 hours. Seriously, thank goodness I can both read and do math; I never would have thought I’d have to read about so much math.

Anyway, all of this is tremendously new and exciting, but because of this, I have to take a step back and remind myself of what’s important. What do I love the most? I love writing. No matter how much else I have going on in my life, no matter where I am, no matter who I am surrounded with –

In the end, I have to listen to myself. My goal through these two years is to write consistently, daily, no matter what. (Unless I get one of those viral/bacterial colds/infections again. Then it’s okay.)

I’ve been saying that I want to write, I want to write, I want to write. That’s really stupid. If I want to write, I should just do it and stop talking about it. I’m going to decide on a time block to do this.

Ha. Look at me, adulting.

Down the Coast and Cannery Row, Again

I’m currently in Austin, the city I love the most in the world. I thought it would be difficult to say farewell to my journey, but stopping at Austin has provided me a comforting sense of closure. More on this later, but first, I’m going to attempt to catch up on some of this blogging backlog.

On the third day of my stay in Steinbeck Country, I headed to Carmel-by-the-Sea, mainly because it would have made no sense for me not to go. Since I didn’t have anything I wanted to see in Carmel, I just stopped at A. W. Shucks for lunch and walked down the street for some window shopping. I hadn’t meant to buy anything, but a store that advertised fine pens and stationery was too enticing for me to avoid. I went in, and came out a half hour later with a few letter writing sets and a pad of paper from the oldest paper mill in Europe. I did manage to resist the temptation of purchasing this ~$170 calligraphy pen that, now that I am reminded of its exquisite beauty, I almost regret not buying. After this ordeal, I hurried back to my car to protect my bank account from any more pillaging.

After Carmel, I took a trip down the 17-Mile Drive. This stretch of road lines the coast of Monterey, cutting its way through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove. One of my coworkers had told me that there is a few-years-long waiting list of really affluent people for the Pebble Beach Golf Course, and I thought it was ridiculous until I saw just how picturesque and amazing it was. I’m not into golf, but driving past that golf course made me wish that I was. On the other side of the golf course lies the Pacific Ocean, its waves lapping and kicking against the rocky shoreline. I saw sea lions, countless sea birds, and the proud Monterey Cypress trees (including the Lone Cypress). I even saw an artist who had set up her easel and colors and was painting a section of this shoreline. I only drove past, but what I saw from her canvas looked beautiful. I hope she thought the same!

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in Cannery Row. Before I visited the actual street, I walked a little bit up the hill to a bookstore I had seen the day before. The bookstore was in a tall, peach-colored building with “BOOKS” painted in bold, vertical letters down its side. I thought it was strange that the bookstore was called “Books”, but strangeness attracts me, so I went in. The moment I entered the building, I realized two things. First, I realized that I had accidentally entered through the back entrance and was therefore mistaken in my assumption that the bookstore was called “Books”; it is actually called BookBuyers Monterey. Second, I realized that this was the coolest secondhand bookstore I had ever seen in my life.

An aside: the coolest bookstore I have ever seen in my life is the BookPeople, in which I sit right now as I type this entry.

Anyway, what made this bookstore so special was that the walls were lined from end to end with books – literally. From the floor to the ceiling, books hugged each other in neat rows. Books were packed together so tightly that were was rarely any empty space in between. Every wall was filled with books. Shelves, so tall that I could not even reach the tops of them, wound through the bookstore like a labyrinth. The space between the shelves is only enough for one person to fit through at a time. I wanted to lose myself in the maze of books, to smell the aroma of old pages until I could memorize the scent. I meandered through these shelves until I reluctantly pulled myself away. I purchased two books to mark the occasion: one by Alfred Bester, the other by Fred Saberhagen.

Once I left the bookstore, I walked down to Cannery Row and found the Pacific Biological Laboratories, which was Ed Ricketts’ old science lab back in the day. He and Steinbeck had spent a great many hours here discussing science, literature, and philosophy. Ed Ricketts was Steinbeck’s best friend, and Steinbeck had based many of his fictional characters on Ed. I think it’s lovely when lifelong friendships like this can exist.

After some more time wandering the street, I squeezed between two buildings and found myself in the beach. I took off my shoes and buried my feet in the sand. The pale sand was coarse and flecked with shells and darker pebbles. I stood there for a long while, just gazing toward the coast and the rest of the bay. I wanted to capture the entire moment, but the best I could do was take out a bottle from my bag and fill it with Monterey sand.

I ate dinner at the Cannery Row Brewing Company. I sat in the corner of the outdoor patio next to the fire pit, which gave me a gorgeous view of the sunset over Cannery Row. As I sipped on my coke and ate my fish and chips, I felt content. I had a perfect seat with a perfect view, basking in the perfect sunset with the most perfectly chilled breeze dancing around me. I reread some lines from the prologue from Cannery Row, which I’ll reproduce below:

“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream… How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise– the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream– be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will on to a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book– to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves.”

Well, he did it. He captured the essence of Cannery Row in the best vessel he knew – his words. I strive to do the same. One day, I’ll be able to capture the things I love best with words of my own. Until I find the right ones, I’ll keep right on dreaming, loving, and living.

Cannery Row and Fremont’s Peak

Even though I told myself that I’d update every day, I haven’t been doing that. On the bright side, it seems that I’ve managed to survive my road trip so far…

So, Cannery Row.

I visited Cannery Row on the second day of my stay in Salinas. The street was once called Ocean Ave., but its name has since then been changed to Cannery Row after it was immortalized through Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. I actually visited this street twice, but for now I’ll only document what went on during the first day.

First, I paid a visit to the aquarium. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, once the location of a cannery, is situated at the right end of Cannery Row. What makes this aquarium stand apart from the others (mainly the one in Houston) is that fact that it is connected to Monterey Bay. The cafeteria area leads outside to a small outdoor stage that overlooks an entire slice of the bay! If you can imagine, this salted the air with just a touch of sea fragrance. Ahhh. I sat on the bleacher seats for a performance of a brief history of Monterey’s canning business. In a nutshell, Monterey was once a vastly significant source for canned sardines. Cannery Row in particular held some canning businesses that exported canned sardines to the rest of America, most significantly for our troops in the World Wars. However, all this fervent business quickly led to overfishing. When the sardine population diminished drastically, the canneries went out of business, and Cannery Row became almost a ghost town. Steinbeck’s novel took place after the boom, and before the bust.

After the aquarium, I walked around the rest of Cannery Row. Now, the canneries are gone, and Cannery Row functions mainly as a tourist attraction. A lot of the old landmarks have been preserved, some painted over, some converted into gift shops or restaurants. There’s a kind of bustling, old-town feel to the place. The spirit’s been preserved, but without the stink of sardines and the clamor of sardine ships coming in with their silvery nets.

After Cannery Row, I decided to head north to climb Fremont’s Peak. This peak is now part of Fremont’s Peak National Park. It belongs to the Gabilan Mountains, which Steinbeck describes in the opening pages to of East of Eden. He also recounts climbing Fremont’s Peak in his later novel, Travels with Charley.

The drive up the mountain was a trial in itself. The path was narrow and twisting, snaking up the mountain in the evening sunlight. The sun was setting by the time I got there, which placed it at eye level to me as I drove up. What eased the pain of this trip up was the absolute beauty of the landscape: the rolling green farmlands, the mountains emblazoned in glowing hues in the background. Even the path, despite its vicious undulations, flaunted a rare beauty; trees peppered the roadsides, and as the evening light pierced through their leaves, the path appeared sun-dappled, almost painted. Once I reached the parking lot, I looked for a way to climb up the last half-mile or so to the very top of the mountain, but I couldn’t find one. All the trails I discovered went down. When the sun was about to set, I gave up. I already had a grand view from where I parked.

As I stood atop Fremont’s Peak – not the very top, but close enough – I could see the sun sinking into an ocean of clouds soaked in pinks and reds and darker yellows. I could see the valley below: Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley, with its neat plots of land and its small, quaint houses. Though this was not my home, I viewed it with a nostalgia that Steinbeck might have felt as he looked down at the valley with his dear friend Charley. The words from his book resonate within me.

A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.

You can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory.

I have my own childhood home, and all the memories buried within it. I’ve tried going back many times, but each time found that I could not. I didn’t fit anymore. The old neighborhood and winding streets that I had once declared my own had shrunk without me in it.

So I, also, could not take the same journey twice. No one can truly ever return home.

It’s a bittersweet feeling.