The Western Wall

On the Day that the Great Flood began, Pacifica was in a rage because of GOD’s fickle ways, raining down on her in a cruel, choking torrent without even a “please” or a “thank you,” and she reached down with her foamy curled fingers, picked up the floor of her entire house, and threw it out, up onto the continental shelf in great blackened heaps, with all its carpets of mermaid grasses and the poor little starfish and snails who had nowhere else to go (and did not know how to get home if they did). When the fury died down and the floods ran back to their Five Mothers, the winds shifted as the angelic host set things right, and birds came to the Great Heaps of Floor, dropped seeds and planted twigs, and a lovely dewy forest sprang up along the western walls of Pacifica’s house to hide the tantrum she had had, as if it never happened.

Eventually, Noah’s children spread out over the whole earth, like a virus; then Lewis and Clark came to the northern end of Pacifica’s house, and they took word back to an brazen, arrogant man in a White House not nearly so grand as the one which Majesty had built for Pacifica and her children, and they told this wretched man of culture that everyone should see it. Then Merriweather Lewis, realising the folly of this advise, shot himself in the head for spite and justice, for he had a roiling, dark-clouded vision in which the Sons of Man did, indeed, come to see the great sunsets that crowned Pacifica’s wondrous head, and they built on her walls, spoilt the view and polluted her depths without thought or consent, and Pacifica thought to herself that maybe Majesty had not gone quite far enough in ridding the world of His mobile mistakes. She’s been cleaning up after these children ever since, without complaint but to GOD. Of course, He has very selective hearing.

The first time I ever heard of this place, it was from my Gram’s brother, Uncle Dale, who had come for a rare visit from England. Long, long ago when he was young, he turned coat on his uncivilized Nebraska farmboy roots, renounced his citizenship in the name of poor Lewis and the Holy Monarchy and, reclaiming his heritage as a Benedict, done got himself made a right proper, rabidly loyal subject of the Queen, complete with coifed pointy, sparkingly-white beard and soft, polished, saucy accent. As he sat with us children on the floor in the carpeted hallway of our home, dressed all prim and proper in his high starched collar and grey tweeded vest with its little gold pocket watch glinting under the ceiling light, teaching my brothers how to make the world’s best paper aeroplanes (with a British copper folded into the nose to weight it just right), he pointed to the messy riot of heavily annotated (in coloured crayon) National Geographic maps pinned amongst dried flowers and hair ribbons to the walls of my room behind me, and told me of a silver paved ribbon that ran all the way from Puget Sound to Mexico along Pacifica’s ramparts. He said that until you got to a place called Mallie-Boo, it was one of the most beautiful things left in the godforsaken wastes of America, and that I should endeavour to see it before the lumberjacks and developers ruined all the unspoilt parts. “The best thing left in America,” he said to me in a decidedly British tongue, “is it’s trees and wild places.” On this we ever still are mostly agreed.

The first time I drove to the head of the Pacific Coast Highway, I was seventeen. One of my illegal horses had won a race at Les Bois under Storey’s stable colours of blue and white, and when I picked up my half of the purse, I realised that I had enough money to live the entire summer as I chose. And I chose Highway 1.

This is the kind of place where magic shows itself only to those who dawdle and keep their eyes up. You need to begin your trip with a large thermos of coffee, a great chunk of very good cheese, a dense, heavy summer sausage, a tin of kippers, a jar of jam and a tin of really good crackers. Trust me on the tin…unless you like soggy crackers…which would make you odd. Make sure you bring your favourite quilt. And fill the gas tank. Stop for nothing but admiration and naps. Take full advantage of the 20 mph signage posted along the way (the very best speed to travel by).

The genius of this road is its turnouts; they give one the ability to wave high-fingered salutations to speeding imbeciles who don’t know the true value of a car horn, and the even better ability to turn around again and again, to go back and park at the places that need to be better seen. Every time I have driven this road, were you to trace it on a satellite map, it would look like a bumblebee was driving the car, circles and figure eights and pirouettes inching repeatedly up and down the coastal mountainsides and deep cravasses to the rocky shores below.

If you are a lawless renegade like me, you fill your pockets before you set out with penknives, rusty embroidery scissors, garden twine, fishing line, flower presses, blotting tissues, and jelly jars for stuffing with fragrant mosses, barks and twigs, snipped fern fronds, and the delicately extricated roots of this and that, obeying the Golden Rule of the Keepers of the Green to harvest no more than one third of any living thing, no more than one of any kind, and to say “thank you” before you depart. And if you are wise, when you see or hear a spring gurgling into the depths, you follow it to where it goes in the heavy green shade of perfumed pinnacled forest, careful not to wander into faerie rings, find a soft bed of shamrocks amongst the mossy ferns and fallen trees to lie down in, and listen for as long as possible to the most perfect peace you will ever know in this world.

The Washington head of the Highway begins on a wide, flat beach that gives way to dune marshes and rolling grassy hills dotted with seashore farms before snaking through the far western edge of a glistening rain forest. The northern half of Oregon is the same, but in reverse, and their beaches are white and dry. But the best section of this now-chopped-up route happens to be in California between Leggett (where loggers got bored the year after my grandmothers each turned a year old, and carved the heart from an innocent grandfather redwood so that they could drive a Model T through it and take a cheesy photo) and the presently not-so-jeweled, ransacked Glass Beach at Fort Bragg (at least Pacifica has a sense of humour about recycling). This is the section that Tolkien would recognize as borrowed from Middle Earth.

The craggy high cliffs fold in on themselves here like a morning tangle of blankets on a cozy bed. On a misty rainy day (when these trips are best), the green of the forests is a myriad cocophany of jeweled shades and shadows so deep one could cry at the beauty of it. The trees stand like choirs, draped in showy gowns of yellow-trimmed magic, with their arms outstretched and intertwined towards the silver-flocked skies above, their trunks dark brown-grey to black, deeply wrinkled and clothed in feathery skirts of mosses and ivys. In truth, if you are still and very quiet here, birds and chipmunks will come to take treats from your hands, if the dogs don’t snatch them first; the fish in the streams will even nibble on your fingers and let you pet them.

Every so often you will spy from the road a lone cottage or beach shack. In one favourite haunt, there is a tiny farmhouse tucked into the fold of an oceanfront mountain, painted white on top, turquoise on the bottom, with a red door flanked by narrow eight-paned windows, on which ancient climbing red roses cascade lazily up and over the front porch, and a tire swing hangs below a trio of grandfather trees in the small yard that gives way to a parched grass path, which leads into the unknown depths of the soaring forests behind it. These are places where faerie tales live. These are dreams that have really come true, where nightmares have no sting.

If you are careful, on your way back North, you can avoid the freeway and take the Avenue of the Giants through the redwoods up to Pepperwood. Slow down, find the county road to the left that crosses under the 101, and take it up through the coastal summits until it ends, looking out from a high black cliff over the deep wide waters of impossible blue, and stay here until your heart is quiet….

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. buannan
    Jun 30, 2017 @ 00:03:04

    Well, at least you are still alive. Good to know since you won’t answer my texts.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Peadar Ban
    Feb 08, 2018 @ 14:25:19

    You write dreams, or streams. I have thought about that trip for years…and made it in my mind once or twice. Bbut, never in person. I believe I must climb Kilimanjaro first, which is losing its snow, and see a polar bear in Hudson bay before they all die.

    And maybe ride a whale, like Brendan. Or did he just camp on one.

    And, meet you.

    Liked by 1 person


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