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Six Months

Today marks the six month anniversary of my arrival in Ventura. I feel surprisingly settled – especially considering I’ve been here a relatively short time and certain things are still in flux. Looking back, I realize a lot has happened in six months. Aside from the new home and new job, I’ve ended up with a lot of other newness: new car necessitated by my breakdown in the desert; new bed necessitated by the fact that my old one didn’t fit in the POD; new wardrobe necessitated by a lot of the in-between weather I never bothered to prepare for when I lived someplace that was mostly either very cold or very hot; new habitual routes between home, work, and grocery store; new movie theaters and restaurants and coffee shops and libraries and park benches with new people sitting on them; new hiking trails and bike paths to explore, and new friends with whom to explore them; a whole new ocean to fall in love with (mission accomplished); and of course a new understanding of seasons to develop.

It is warmer and sunnier today than it was when I arrived in town on July 29th. Birds are chirping and trees are blooming and buds are popping while last fall’s brightly-colored leaves still resist drying up and blowing away. Meanwhile, my former home is buried under several feet of snow and my old friends are probably feeling relieved to see the mercury inch above freezing after weeks bundled against unseasonable, well-below-zero cold. I’ve had moments of envy as the news, Tweets, and Facebook statuses reported blizzards and my former colleagues reveled in yet another snow day. There’s something cozy about watching the snow accumulate while being snug inside, adventurous about venturing out into the storm, satisfying about shoveling, and lovely about coming back in & sipping something hot while everything is still hushed and slowed by snow. I love how a blizzard shrinks the world to whatever distance can be traveled by foot or skis, and makes it difficult to imagine anyplace that is not blanketed in cold and white.

But overall, I’m grateful to live someplace where I can watch the sun set over mountains or sea nearly everyday, where I can venture out in short sleeves for a January lunchtime walk and find myself squinting in the sunlight even through my sunglasses. I relish the subtle changes of season and light, the way 75 and sunny is different in January than it is in July. I’m awed by the number and size of the beautiful vistas that continue to outshine the strip malls and freeways. Every mountain range and canyon is an invitation, every tide a welcome. I don’t know how to reconcile living in a place that evokes such a strong, clear sense of connection to the earth while living in a way (crazy use of fossil fuels, water piped in from someplace else) that threatens the earth. But I do know that I feel more connected to the landscape around me, more compelled to venture out and commune with it, than I have in a long, long time.

I think that’s only partly about the weather. It also has something to do with the landscape here – a terrain that is simultaneously grand and accessible. Both the mountains and the beach are easy to get to, in spite of the unpredictable freeway traffic through the valleys. But there’s something else as well, something difficult to quantify. There’s just something about California that takes hold of you even as you find yourself complaining about the traffic and the cost of living and the shallow commercialism of much of the culture. Someone called Ventura County “seventy-five suburbs in search of a city,” and that description fits. Sometimes I think it’s nothing but strip malls, SUVs, cookie-cutter subdivisions, and factory farms spraying god knows what toxins into the air. How someplace that often seems to have no “there” there can get so deeply under my skin in six months remains a mystery to me. But I’m not putting too much energy into trying to figure it out. Because right now, as I look out my big, uninsulated window at the green grass and the lush, gorgeous cypress trees that obscure the view of the ugly 1970s condo village across the street, I have a hard time imagining being anyplace else.

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Cityscapes

Someday, I’d like to do the drive across the United States with more time – and without my two wonderful but stressed-out cats sharing the journey. Of course I’d stop at every national park, every mountain range, every trail to be biked or hiked, river to be rafted, and lake to be kayaked that caught my eye. I’d also stop at several cities along the way. It was painful to drive past my beloved New York without stopping for a visit, especially since I knew it might be a long time before I found myself there again. There were also many other cities, large and small, that I blew by at 70 mph with just a wave and a picture snapped out the window without looking. Here are few that grabbed my attention:

New York City skyline from the George Washington Bridge

New York City skyline from the George Washington Bridge

Detour through Wheeling, West Virginia

Detour off I-70 West through Wheeling, West Virginia. A really interesting town on a river with lots of character. I wanted to stick around and explore it for a while.

St. Louis and Gateway to the West in the far distance

St. Louis and the Gateway to the West in the far distance. I was tantilizingly close but didn't have time to stop, and didn't manage to get a good picture. I took the beltway instead of the direct route through the city to avoid rush hour traffic. Next time.

(The inset is by jimcchou.)

Kansas City, Kansas at dusk

Kansas City, Kansas at dusk. One of the other new faculty members I met this week just moved - reluctantly - from Kansas City. It sounds like he misses it a lot.

Ventura State Beach

Ventura State Beach

I moved into my apartment in Ventura a couple weeks ago, and started my new job last week. I’m becoming more rooted by the minute, and loving every bit of it. Those hot days in the flat states are a distant memory now. But I’m determined to revisit them (the memories, not the states!) and record the story of my trip as I’d planned. It turned out to be an incredible adventure, so I hope you’ll stay tuned even though you know the narrative ends with my arriving safe and sound at the Pacific coast. Keeping the blog going as I traveled was more difficult than I’d anticipated. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t have an internet connection along the way (some hotels offered free wifi & some didn’t, and I was able to borrow my friends’ connections where I stopped). It was more that I was exhausted by the end of each long day of driving or visiting. I managed to take some photos and videos along the way, though, so stay tuned…..

Flat

Somewhere in Illinois

Somewhere in Illinois

Hartford, CT

Hartford, CT

Near Hartford, CT

Near NYC

It took me a day and a half longer than I planned to pack up the rest of my belongings and load the car. I’d seriously overestimated what would fit. But seven big, heavy boxes worth of stuff to be shipped later, I finally hit the road on Wednesday. Aside from wondering whether the cats would fray my already move-frazzled nerves by meowing the whole time, the only part of this long, solitary roadtrip that caused me any real anxiety was the idea of being swept away by a tornado in Kansas. So there was something darkly humorous about the tornado warnings in western Mass and Connecticut that interrupted the serene music serenading me from the radio as I rolled out of town.

In the midst of everyone’s wishes for a safe journey, the warnings reminded me that none of us is ever really “safe” in the way we crave or imagine ourselves to be. The out-of-the-ordinaryness of this adventure brings into focus all the horrible things that could befall a solitary woman and two cats traveling 3,000 miles in an 18-year-old car. But really, life is as full of horrible possibilities as it is of wonderful ones. And happiness comes – as the smiling Buddha on my dashboard reminds me – from being fully present and awake for all of it.

No actual tornado encounters tested my equanimity that first day of my journey. But then again, I’m not in Kansas yet!

I didn’t want to spend the money on a moving company that loads and unloads everything for you (one such company quoted me $14,000 based on my inventory of stuff for a two-bedroom apartment!), so I decided to get a storage pod from PODS and pack it myself. In the end, my friend A.H., who is also moving to California, decided to share the pod. The whole thing worked out well, but it was a LOT of work.

The pod was scheduled to be picked up between 7:30 and 10:30 am yesterday. After staying up all night finishing packing and sorting out what would go in the pod and what I would take in my car, I was out there at 5:30 am loading the stuff that remained outside after it got too dark to work on Thursday night. A.H. joined me at 6:30, and by 7:30 we still weren’t finished. How do we have SO MUCH STUFF?!

Jason from PODS arrived promptly at 7:30 and helped us for almost an hour before we closed the door and locked it up. Every usable inch of that 16′ x 8′ x 8′ thing was crammed with stuff, and a few things had to be left behind to be shipped or abandoned. But the pod is on its way. Woo hoo! Now, if I can only fit everything I need to in my car……