I grew up in a lost British colony out at the edge of the world, on a particularly blessed piece of land out in the Pacific. When I come home on the Clipper, up from Seattle, the first thing I see is a row of windswept English houses, against the grass and hills and trees of south Victoria. It looks like the British Isles, it looks like land’s end. And driving south yesterday, down CA-1 was like two hundred miles of deja vu: the light, the ocean, the shape of the rocks and coastline, reminded me of what the sweep of coastline outside downtown, along Dallas Road, would look like if the city of Victoria had never been built.
To get to the Pacific Coast Highway involves twenty-two heart-stopping miles of turns through forest. I was warned by the old-timers in Eureka that it was a tedious drive, that I’d be better off driving the 101. I considered that, and went anyways. And began to reconsider my decision when it took me an hour to cover the thirty miles between where I left 101, and the first hamlet of Westport.
I didn’t regret the extra time again after that. The coastline of far Northern California is made of hills and moors against an unending ocean. Occasionally, there’s a portion of the land flat enough to farm or ranch, marked off by perfect lines of deliberately planted hundred-year old trees. But mostly, this part of the world is empty. Westport is a tiny town of four hundred people or so. There’s a few houses and stores up against the road, and a cemetery on a cliff above the sea, and that’s it. So it was with most of the towns along the ocean, as they got quainter as I went south.
I had especially wanted to see Mendocino, which I had always read was “picturesque”. It’s a town built in the English colonist style, dating to the 1850s when it was only accessible by ship. It looks more New England than California, I’m told. I took a break here for a snack and coffee, and walked around town re-caffeinating myself.
Mendocino is only a few blocks square, and it’s held to strict preservation codes. The whole town is a Historical Landmark, and there’s insane red tape to alter or rebuild anything. There are open fields of wildflowers in the middle of town, where a town commons would be if people relied on farm animals instead of herbal tea revenues for their livelihood. The gardens run rampant, the houses are all non-decorative Victorian, and it is indeed picturesque. It was peaceful, and beautiful, and everyone seemed happy to be there – and the light, houses and gardens still reminded me of Oak Bay.
After than, it was a good three hours until I got to the roads that led back to 101, past Bodega Bay. I still didn’t regret any of the extra time it took to go that last hundred-and-fifty miles. The rocks and cliffs and moors were there when Drake sailed into his bay five hundred years ago, and with luck, they will be there years from now. The road was timeless, one of those rare places where the road and towns seem part of the landscape, rather than having been built into the landscape. Everything looked right along the coast yesterday, from the gray light of the muted sunshine, to the crazy-angled picket fences that had fallen down with time.
There was a moment where I came around a curve, and saw nothing but ocean and sky, out past the curve of the road. And I thought for a moment – am I really still alive? Maybe I went off the road minutes ago, and now I’m just flying into space, out into this beauty, the light, the sea. This, to me, is what heaven should look like, this piece of California where there is that ethereal quality under the rocks that makes any human touch completely in tune with the land.