Monday, December 5, 2011

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." -Albert Einstein

I got the best birthday present this year. Dave took me away for a few days for a trip up the coast. On the day of my 49th birthday, we lay barefoot on a blanket on the beach in the cool, sunny day. The waves were huge and the horizon hazy, making elusive where land ended and sky began. In one dreamy moment I was thinking, It doesn't get better than this. And suddenly it did. Because he pulled a ring out of his pocket and asked me to marry him.

Of course I said yes. I didn't have a doubt because I'm so in love with this man. I love the way he and I create together a meaningful, joyous life. The ring, a blue gem set in white gold, was perfect--one I would have picked for myself. It looks like the sky, the sea, the world from afar.

Again I was thinking, It doesn't get better than this--when he said with a smile, "Champagne?" A bottle and two glasses materialized from his backpack.

So I guess the better it gets, the better it gets!

As I've shared the news with people, I've been deeply touched by the outpouring of love. Take my friend Stacey. I told her the engagement news on the phone the other day. She squealed with happiness and said, "Aren't you glad you went through what you did a few years ago? Because you needed to in order to get where you are now. And you certainly wouldn't have wanted to miss out on this!"

And then the next day, I received a poem she sent me by email:

Restoration

How reassuring to know
passionate love
still exists. Where once blackened rubble
now sweet scented blooms
so vibrant
strong
alive
one can hardly remember
that rocky desolation
out of which they grew
old decay
now new
food
for
interminable
roots.

Talk about a friend who's a witness to your life. In this poem, she testifies to the richness of our friendship--and to the incredible resilience of humans. As Camus once said, "In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer." We can continue to thrive because change is constant, expansion is the name of life's game.

Over the years, Stacey and I have taken long beach walks, talking through our challenges, the eternal nature of the ocean reassuring us. It's been a while since we've done that. But soon we are going to have many more opportunities because next week, Dave and I are moving to Santa Cruz. I've lived in Santa Cruz before. It always felt like my home. I've enjoyed living in downtown San Jose the past few years with the easy walk to work, to restaurants, to fun events like Music in the Park and the San Jose Jazz Festival. Yet there's nothing like living near the beach and the redwoods, with all the great hiking trails, access to kayaking, and all the other outdoor adventures we love. We'll be living in a condo just two blocks from my favorite beach, and we're close to downtown and--most importantly--a few great music venues! And there's a bus that will chug me over the hill to work, dropping me right on campus my three days a week.

One of the things my birthday weekend reminded me of is that we here in the Bay Area live in an amazing place. Dave planned the whole thing to show me some of his favorite spots. I just packed and went along for the ride. The first day of our adventure, we hiked in Butano State Park, a place of towering redwoods, filtered light, and a zillion banana slugs. For the first time ever, I saw one of those bizarre, bright yellow creatures eating--happily munching on some slimy fungus. Who am I to judge?

Dave then ferried us to a little jewel of a place, Harley Farms Goat Dairy in the coastal town of Pescadero. There we tasted some of the most delicious cheeses that have ever melted in my mouth, bought a few for a picnic, and then visited with the goats who seemed to think my pink jacket would taste as good as their cheese did.

After enjoying the sunset as it cast gold light and shadow onto nature's intricate sandstone sculptures at Pescadero Beach, we ate dinner at Pescadero's renowned Duarte's Tavern. There is absolutely nothing snooty about this place. It feels like hanging out at your most fun aunt's house, the one who keeps food on the stove at all times and who hasn't bought a new piece of furniture since 1963. Should you ever find yourself there, the Cream of Chile soup is a must. We also had a generous portion of cold, steamed artichoke hearts with aioli dip for appetizer. Our fried scallop and prawn dinners were yummy in a down-home-don't-even-talk-about-quinoa-or-yoga kind of way.

That night we stayed in a tent bungalow at at Costanoa, an "eco adventure resort," as they dub themselves. It was kind of like camping but without having to deal with tent posts and blow-up mattresses. The tent bungalow had a wooden floor, canvas walls with windows, and a heated bed--a perfect place to stay toasty while we enjoyed a glass of wine. We then bundled in fat, cozy Costanoa bathrobes and trundled off to the huge communal hot tub. We enjoyed some time alone in the steaming water under the stars until a couple and their two young girls joined us. They'd been to a wedding that day at Costanoa. Little did I know that such wedding conversation was foreshadowing the next day...

... which involved our long walk on Half Moon Bay state beach and the perfect proposal described above. That night we stayed in Half Moon Bay at the home of friends who were out of town. A five-star hotel couldn't have been any better because their pad came with a sweet cat named Digit, and a great deck overlooking the town and sea. There, Dave gave me presents (as though the ring wasn't enough!) including a Kindle Fire--which has since worked as a lovely distraction from grading papers.

That night we lingered over a sushi dinner at Sushi Main Street. We enjoyed both the food and company, as we engaged in conversation at the sushi bar with a local couple who've been married for almost 40 years (they met in high school and attest to the benefits of sharing a life together). Their son used to work at the restaurant, so they plied us with recommendations of what to order next and what other restaurants to visit in the area--and then they handed us a gift certificate for ten bucks off our meal. People like sharing their expertise. And we were happy to be the recipients of their culinary and life lessons.

Because Dave is an aficionado of squeezing the most out of an adventure, even though Sunday was the next day we were not immediately headed home. First, we had breakfast at a locals place where you order at the counter and sit at a rickety table, the walls covered in year-old fliers. I don't recall the name of the place, but Dave devoured a massive and satisfying breakfast burrito, and I inhaled truly the best scramble with cheese and bacon I've ever had. After polishing it off I craved more and wondered if the secret ingredient was crack.

Fortified, we headed out for a hike in Purissima Creek Open Space Preserve. We took a 10-mile loop on a duff-soft, well-tended trail. This place is otherworldly fragrant with the dampness of creek and cathedral of redwoods. We also passed through areas of oak woodland. The hike is challenging the last few miles, which ascend from the creek back up to the ridge. Tingling with the sweet sweat of exertion, we finally got back in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (our blue Subaru) and headed home. Back to the city that will be our home for a short time until our next adventure calls: that of moving to Santa Cruz, where we will have easy access to all of these coastal riches. In a sense, the birthday and engagement adventure was a preview of coming attractions: a life among the ocean and forest. A life walking the path together--sometimes downhill, sometimes up. And always the trees, with their interminable roots.
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