December 15, 2017

On Such a Winter’s Day

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Ever since returning from La La Land on Thanksgiving weekend I keep singing (to myself) California Dreamin’, except I’ve changed the words a little, to “I’d be stuck in traffic if I was in LA”. Of course, traffic now is probably a lot worse than it was when the song was a big hit. Can you believe that was 50 years ago! And speaking of “La La Land” -- that was a most enjoyable movie. Why can’t Hollywood turn out more movies like that, instead of their usual junk?

We took a family vacation to celebrate a special anniversary and to enjoy coastal California. Last year we explored the Northern California coast from the redwoods down to Carmel. I’m so glad we got to wine country before this year’s wildfires and so sorry to hear about what happened to Napa and Sonoma recently. California is a vast, diverse, and beautiful place but it comes with some pretty serious hazards.

This time we started in Santa Monica and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Simeon, to see the architectural extravaganza that is Hearst Castle, going over the San Marcos Pass north of Santa Barbara, a city just as beautiful as I’d always heard. There were signs of the recent wildfires to be seen in the burned trees here and there in Los Padres National Forest but all was quiet there when we passed though.

We had a great day for wildlife viewing, from tiny to huge creatures. First we visited a grove of eucalyptus in Pismo Beach where monarch butterflies rest on their migration, clustering up in the trees. Next we stopped at Morro Bay where a sea otter or two or three could be spotted out in the harbor and finally, we visited the elephant seal rookery in San Simeon where literally tons of juvenile seals were basking on the beach as a crowd of people up on the boardwalk watched.

This group of adolescent seals will clear out and head to sea when the huge adult males return later in the winter. Most of these youngsters were snoozing, though a couple of young males were play-fighting. As an added treat, we saw a small pod of whales spouting out in the middle distance, too far to determine what kind of whales they were but a thrilling sight nevertheless.

We were right in dreading our drive back to LA sprawl right before Thanksgiving and got caught in traffic that was even worse than the usual rush hour, until we got off in Santa Monica feeling frazzled. I’ve since recalled some frustrating holiday travel over the decades, both on the Mass Pike and the Connecticut turnpike, so maybe it’s not really fair to single out California. It’s easy to see why Californians drive like demons when they can; they so rarely get the chance on the congested freeways. And they are paying up to a dollar more per gallon of gasoline while sitting there in traffic.

However, on the holiday itself the freeways were as clear as they ever are and we enjoyed several scenic drives around town and down to beautiful Palos Verdes on the coast. We don’t usually spend Thanksgiving morning gawking at the Hollywood sign or driving around Griffith Park. It was a day of unusual heat, 90 broiling degrees.

We enjoyed staying in pleasant Santa Monica, including a short visit to the pier with its garish lights, whirling rides, and noisy carnival atmosphere. Speaking of Santa Monica, I couldn’t help but wonder which apartment building Whitey Bulger was living in when they finally nabbed him.

Unfortunately, no matter where you go in America in November and December, it will get dark early, even if it’s warm outside. If your favorite vacation activity is viewing beautiful scenery, this is quite a nuisance. And wouldn’t it be nice (to quote those California Beach Boys) if there were at least a few direct flights to the West Coast from Green Airport? I mean, if planes can take off from Rhode Island to fly to Ireland and even Norway, why can’t they go to California?

So now it’s back to winter in New England, which is especially dreary once the Christmas festivities are over. All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray. I can take it, as long as it isn’t like the grim winter of 2015. Winter is cold, dark, bleak, and way too long. But it builds character, right? Let’s keep telling ourselves that.

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