Some days a song will find a way into your heart, into your soul, into everything you do, so that as you choose cheeses at the grocery store in Sechelt, you are humming it, in the library a woman looks at you in surprise because you’re singing quietly in the fiction stacks, and as you watered the tomatoes, late because of leaving early for errands down the Coast, you were singing not quite as quietly, moving the hose from one plant to the next.
In 2013, my mathematician-son spent the fall term at Berkeley’s Mathematical Sciences Research Institute as part of a cohort working on optimal transport. Why not come for a few days, he asked. His wife Cristen flew down several times — they had just bought a house in Edmonton and moved into it as he was packing his bags for Berkeley — and at one point Cristen’s parents went too. And in November we drove down the Interstate 5 as far as Portland and then headed over to the Pacific Coast Highway, a route we’d taken earlier in our separate lives, remembering it slightly differently, and eager to revisit. At one point I heard one of my favourite songs on the radio, Kate and Anna McGarrigle singing “Talk to Me of Mendocino”, and I was taken back to an earlier trip, in, oh, 1976, driving that coast highway with two friends. We went to Berkeley on that trip too and camped at Big Sur and I felt I was seeing a world so filled with promise that I remember crying in my bunk at night (we’d borrowed my dad’s little camper for the trip).
We drove, in 2013, through a storm and spent our second night of travel in Coos Bay where I watched a YouTube of the McGarrigles, looking out the window at huge raindrops coursing down the glass.
And it’s on to Southbend, Indiana
Flat out on the western plain
Rise up over the Rockies and down on into California
Out to where but the rocks remain
We didn’t end up in Mendocino. Tired of driving through rain and wind on the Oregon Coast, we turned off to Ferndale instead. But the song was in my mind and I kept humming it as we drove to Berkeley.
Talk to me of Mendocino
Closing my eyes I hear the sea
Must I wait, must I follow?
Won’t you say “Come with me?”
Today, now, at home, I am remembering that trip, remembering how the woman I was then was also the girl 35 years earlier, longing and yearning, though I couldn’t have said what for exactly. When I was 21, it might have been love. When I was nearly 60, I wasn’t yearning for love but for some sense that everything I’d done with my life mattered; and I was yearning to see my son, who felt very far away, though by the time we were in Ferndale, it was only 262 miles, and we pulled into our little rented flat in time for an afternoon drink on the tiny balcony.
Brendan told us that Cristen was pregnant and the whole visit felt celebratory in the way a week can be when you know everything is changing and you are looking forward to stepping into a new world.
And let the sun set on the ocean
I will watch it from the shore
Let the sun rise over the redwoods
I’ll rise with it till I rise no more