The jet took off to the west out of Los Angeles but then turned and followed the coast northward. This was a mild surprise as I hadn't given much thought to the route; my last couple of flights to Tokyo were from JFK. Soon we were passing Santa Barbara, the recent scene of my older daughter's commencement from UCSB. In the clear sky of early afternoon the ridges of the parched coastal mountains were sharp, the ravines deep and in shadow.
As we continued along the coast our altitude was low enough for me to recognize landmark after landmark. Having driven it so many times, the Pacific Coast Highway is ribbon of memories. From the big window of the 787 I looked down into the forested hills of Big Sur and recalled the pre-dawn drive back from Esalen with a Chevy Impala full of friends reeking of sulfur after hours in the hot springs. Further on, the Monterey Peninsula and the guano-covered rocks off Point Pinos. A glorious summer spent at Stanford's Marine Biology Lab in Pacific Grove. As we float past, zeppelin-like, I see the fairways of the public golf course where your putt was likely to be disrupted by the blare of the fog horn.
The big, shallow curve of Monterey Bay was next. On the northern end I see the Santa Cruz pier near the amusement park: summer after summer with the kids, the vertigo inducing rides, the corn dogs, grabbing brass rings on the merry-go-round, and of course the bumper cars. I see Highway 17 winding up and over the hills and try, in vain, to spot P----'s old place on the summit, the one with the view of the entire bay.
By now, all of southern San Francisco Bay is laid out beneath me, the abstract red sections of the salt ponds and Mount Diablo in the distance. From up here the full extent of the sheltered bay is magnificent. I see why sailors loved it, despite the dry, austere hills around it that even the Indians found unforgiving. To me, this familiar grouping of hills and water, freeways and bridges, islands and vistas, is dense with memory and emotion. The great intellectual intensity of Berkeley that exists alongside its pretensions and idiocies. I still feel the pull but now it is my younger daughter's turn; she is making her own path through Cal.
From up here, the enormous green rectangle of Golden Gate Park dominates the tip of the San Francisco peninsula; grids of neighborhood streets to the north and south of it, clusters of silver/gray buildings on the hills to the east. How many hours spent wandering the hidden glens and meadows of the park. And still vivid, the awe-struck moment in April, 1971, when the anti-war parade turned into the Polo Fields, filled with more people than I've ever seen in one place. The loud irrelevance of Big Brother and the Holding Company without Janis. And now the regret that I, and so many others, were so wrong about so many things.
On to the Marin headlands and Mount Tamalpais. There is Stinson Beach and, a couple of minutes later, two bright, irregular lines of white surf along the ruler-straight line of coast running northeast from Point Reyes. We climb and bank west but I can make out the edge of Bodega Bay under a light mist. A fluffy cloud bank adheres to the ocean's edge near Jenner and the mouth of the Russian River. The coastline here is less familiar to me and becomes indistinct in the haze. The far northern reaches, home to cold rolling waves and great piles of driftwood, are the last thing I see as we arc out over the Pacific. To starboard we are edge-on to a thick slab of murky cloudbank. Beneath us the deep blue waters are spittle-flecked with icy white caps. Soon the high slab thickens and descends. A cloud carpet slides beneath us. We are nowhere and anywhere.
On to Japan.