I don’t normally do personal updates on this blog, but then, this hasn’t been a “normal” summer by any account! Normal summers are lemonade and beach chairs, long books, solitary hikes, brunch with teacher friends, and maybe a professional conference.
This summer was an ending, a beginning, and a LOT of car time inbetween.
In June, Tim finished seminary and I finished teaching, a season best described by Dickens’s “best of times/worst of times.” Those of you who’ve been to seminary (or have spouses who’ve attended) know that it is all-consuming. It squeezes 50 classes, 3 new languages, 110 credits, and 1,000 hours of internship into three short years.
Yet I know that Tim will always see seminary years as some of the best of his life. He flourished intellectually and spiritually and made lifelong friendships. I worked far fewer hours than he did but struggled emotionally in a work environment where I was bullied by a few of my coworkers. Nevertheless, there were always the kids, perennially surprising, fantastic, and beautiful. I was so happy to leave, and at the same time, so sad.
We had a long list of places we wanted to visit while we were in California but never got around to seeing, thanks to crazy schedules during the school year and summer internships in Colorado. So we decided to go for the whole bucket list in a single trip! There’s something cleansing as well as restorative about a road trip; it can help put you back together when you’re in pieces.
We started out with a couple of relaxing days in a tiny coastal town called Avila Beach. We spent the mornings whale watching in a tiny coffee shop and then spent the whole day on the beach, having dinner at one of the seaside restaurants in the evening. Our hotel, just a block from the ocean, had chocolate croissants in the morning, nachos and beer at noon, wine and apps at five o’clock, and pie and ice cream at night. (Apparently, they had previously sent someone to follow me around and record my eating habits.)
We then took a long drive up the Coastal Highway–perhaps the most beautiful road I’d ever traveled. Steep cliffs drop precipitously to the water, and the sharply winding road is cut into the hillside. With morning mist rolling around the hills and off the water, it’s about the most exciting, adventurous drive you could imagine. With the music turned up, the sunroof opened, and my feet on the dashboard, I was in West Coast heaven!
We arrived in San Francisco and stayed at a little Airbnb place in the city. It was a gorgeous Victorian row house built in 1888, fully restored and renovated, and the family rents out the entire ground floor. We had our very own bedroom, kitchen, and living room for a fraction of the price of a hotel room. That evening, we enjoyed our one ‘splurge’ meal at 1300 on Fillmore, a place with upscale, modernized Southern cuisine. The next day, we took a biking tour of the city, which I HIGHLY recommend. We learned a lot of the city’s historical background and got a good overview of the major sites with the help of our awesome tour guide, Earl. The tour ended at a park with about 40 food trucks, and of course, I went to the one that simply said “Bacon.”
We took the ferry to Alcatraz and toured the old prison, a haunting and eye-opening experience. Hawthorne says, at the beginning of The Scarlet Letter, that prisons and cemeteries are two of the earliest ‘black flowers’ of a civilization, the markers of human evil and human mortality, respectively. Cemeteries are rarely seen in California (they aren’t people who like to think about death), and this was my first time in a prison. I think the scariest thing about it was seeing the echoes of my own humanity and realizing that I was not as comfortably distant from these men as I would like to think I am. Joseph Conrad, blind racist though he was, captured this feeling when he wrote, “the men were–no, they were not inhuman. That was the worst of it–this suspicion of their not being inhuman…what thrilled you was the thought of their humanity–like yours–the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar.”
Also, I ate a garlicky, buttery Blue Dungeness crab by myself at Fisherman’s Wharf.
We saw the redwoods, which is an otherworldly experience. There is no picture I’ve yet seen that begins to do justice to the soaring, ethereal majesty of these trees. You just need to go see them yourself. Go in the morning, when the sun is slanting through the treetops and lighting up the dark emerald foliage on the forest floor. You’ll feel like you’re walking through an outdoor cathedral built by giants. Those trees alone were worth the trip to Northern California.
We toured the southern end of Napa Valley and tasted some delicious wines. One of my favorite moments of the whole trip was at Artesa, which sat high on a hill and was part winery, part modern art museum. Sipping wine and looking out over the vine-covered Napa hills while surrounded by beautiful artwork (Artesa keeps an artist in residence) is just about the most fabulous feeling in the world.
From there, we visited Yosemite, a first time for me. We checked into our adorable BnB (Blackberry Inn-seriously one of the best places I’ve ever stayed in my life–can’t recommend it highly enough) and did a driving tour of the valley floor. That day was hot, and ridiculously crowded. We were smooshed into the stinky shuttle, poked by selfie sticks, and run off the trail by tourist hordes that swarmed off of massive buses. I almost didn’t want to go back the next day. But we arrived in the morning and quickly took a trail that rose steeply off the valley floor, which meant we left 90% of the tourists behind. We hiked up to Upper Yosemite Falls, and gained a breathtaking view of Half Dome. Our lunch on a fallen tree branch near the top of the hike profited from having one of the most spectacular views on the planet. We drove to a magnificent overlook on Glacier Point and visited the gigantic sequoias in Mariposa Grove.
Unfortunately, we had to spend our last night at the Quality Inn in Bakersfield, where we endured roaches skittering on the walkway, the motion-detecting light in the bathroom coming on *inexplicably* in the middle of the night, and the next morning, bleary-eyed, eating what I hope will be the worst breakfast of my life. We knew it wouldn’t be stellar, so we declared “end of vacation” as we were driving out of Yosemite.
The next two weeks were a blur of cardboard, bubble wrap, and packing tape as we boxed up all our household goods and loaded them into pods for their trip across the country. After all that packing, we were ready for another vacation, so we headed to a timeshare in Vail, Colorado. Whereas our California vacation had been a packed schedule with lots of touring, Vail was pure R&R. We spent long hours by the pool, listened to our book on tape during thunderstorms, took naps, watched Food
Network shows, went for an occasional hike, and made time for wine and cheese on the balcony every single evening.
We enjoyed a visit with Tim’s family and our friends in Colorado for a few days, and then made the long drive through fields of cows and corn and skies full of billowing thunderheads to Ann Arbor, Michigan. We’re set up now in graduate student housing, and I can hardly believe it’s real. I can hardly believe that in a few short weeks, I’ll begin five years of intensive study, teaching, and research that will culminate in a Ph.D. Right now, I’m cramming for my French language test on September 4th and getting my syllabus and materials ready for the freshman composition class I’ll be teaching. I’m overawed by the campus every time I set foot on it. I’ve never attended a massive, sprawling public university before, and I’m definitely starting to feel how much bigger this pond is than the smaller ones in which I’m used to swimming. Tim will be doing web consulting for about 25 hours a week while he pursues licensure and ordination, works with our local church, keeps up his languages, and reapplies to U of M.
Already, Tim and I both love Ann Arbor. This morning as we were walking through the local botanical gardens, we were talking about how much we love every place we live. We plan to ride bikes when it’s warm and take the bus when it’s not, so our car will go largely unused. There are a ton of parks and trails and wildflowers everywhere. The grocery store is in walking distance. The university’s library is cool and cavernous and piled with mountains of books that I can check out a whole semester at a time. The local restaurants are hip and quirky, with lots of local beer and vegan options. A nearby coffee shop serves a drink called the French Vietnamese Au Lait, a chicory coffee made with sweetened condensed milk. Fall is coming. Followed by winter. And then spring.
Here’s to longed-for endings, new beginnings, and blissful summer travels. Happy July, readers!