Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Magic of Cambria: Woodsy Hills, Rocky Beaches and Hippies on Banjos

"Perhaps we [contemplative monks] have a deep and legitimate need to know in our entire being what the day is like, to see it and feel it, to know how the sky is grey, paler in the south, with patches of blue in the southwest, with snow on the ground, the thermometer at 18, and a cold wind making your ears ache. I have a real need to know these things because I am myself part of the weather and part of the climate and part of the place, and a day in which I have not shared truly in all this is no day at all."
~Thomas Merton, Journal 27.2.1963

After a stop in Pismo Beach to eat our weight in crabs, mussels and corn on the cob, we wound our way up the coast to Cambria, arriving in the early dark of late November.  We checked in with our new friends, staying in their guesthouse via AirBnB, and found our way to the  the overly heated and brilliantly bedazzled Cambria Lodge, decked out for Christmas in reds blues greens whites and retirees sipping hot toddies. Ignoring warnings by the locals at the lodge, we tried to find our way down the wooded hillside path to downtown Cambria, with the promise of an alehouse.  As awake and aware as strange, dark streets and cold air force you to be, we still had to ask a smart phone for help after it became clear that we had missed the route. The handy iPhone guided us to a steep slope, marked with wooden steps and often only branches, leading us down the hill into Cambria. 

We found the Cambria Ale House in the east village on Main Street packed with people.  The proprietor shifted a few people about, offering us space sharing a table with another man. We sat with our wine and beer and listened to a bearded man with a banjo call us to sing along with the words of Woody Guthrie.  So we swayed a bit and glanced around to make sure everyone else was singing too, and joined in, this land is your land, this land is my land ... and, true to the left-leaning California mind-set, the banished verse, "this land was stole from you by me." We raised our glasses in a bit of satire to the typical American Thanksgiving we'd all just celebrated. Families with visitors and grown children home for the holiday got drunk and laughed too loudly.  I may have found my Stars Hollow and the quirky characters I dream of in small-town life. (If you don't know that reference, we might as well not be friends.)

We played Scrabble with two new friends and even though we weren't keeping score, I think I won.  When we were too worn out to walk back up the path up the hill that had morphed into a mountain, we were told to call the local car service, a man named Ron who owns a van, who gave us a ride for 10 dollars. Entering "The Pub" guesthouse, we stoked the fire in the wood stove before falling asleep under a warm down comforter.  Wood-beamed and rustic with all the amenities:  tea, books, and a flat-screen TV with multiple copies of The Matrix, the guesthouse is like glamping (glamor-camping) in a quiet neighborhood. The patio is filled with succulents, potted plants, climbing vines and friendly dogs. After breakfast at Linn's and an olallieberry & cream muffin for the gluten-eater, we wandered the village, stopping in stores, declining a mid-morning glass of wine offered by a German with a thick accent who had a lovely tasting bar behind his clothing store.

We drove a few miles north to San Simeon, past zebras grazing on Hearst's hillside, and watched kayakers pull out into the bright blue ocean water.  We walked through a grove of eucalyptus trees, accidentally stumbling upon private property, cows, and what may have been a sleeping bull.  We ate over-sized salads and burgers and tasted delicious wine at the Sebastian Store, while watching a seagull train her baby to beg.  Clearly unable to leave, we found another spot to stay along the coast of Cambria, where I collected green and red and mottled rocks that the tide gurgled to shore.

Writing it, it sounds too perfect, too magical.  And maybe, if I lived my dream and moved there, it would lose some of the glow. But I think, like Merton, it makes me pay attention.  Too often I don't engage with the person making my coffee, or get a little lost in a town, or ask someone their favorite spot to visit.  Too often I'm not part of the weather.

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