On the Road Back Home
by Claire Fullerton
I live in Malibu, California, and am aware that when outsiders hear the name Malibu, they envision an incessantly sunny, star-studded, ocean-front enclave one would never want to leave. Though Malibu is home and I love it, sometimes too much brightness puts a glare on the world. Every so often, I like a change of atmosphere. When seeking change and a bit of space for spiritual communion, my husband and I head for the Central Coast of California.
You wouldn’t believe the drastic change in environment, five hours by car up the 101 freeway to the Monterey Peninsula. A little Tudor village called Carmel-by-the Sea lies like the peninsula’s crowning jewel, typically shrouded in marine mist in the wee hours of morning and then again once the sun sets. You can literally feel Carmel’s history lurking in the alleyways off its cobble-stone sidewalks. There’s something historic and haunting about the mood of the town. Verdant cypress groves and pine trees grace the seaside village, which sprang up in the early 1900s as an artist’s retreat, once the railroad tracks were laid from San Francisco.
Because my husband and I were married in Carmel 18 years ago, we return five or six times a year, due to its reasonable proximity. Sometimes, I can imagine us living a simple life up there if we ever decided to change hats. We could pull up stakes in Southern California and become farmers, live on Carmel’s outskirts, keep a herd of goats and make things with goat’s milk—goat soap, goat lotion, goat cheese—as some people do in the bucolic, rolling hills of California’s Central Coast. Sometimes, my imagination opens wide and I can see us starting a whole new life up there, until I remember how much I love Malibu. I’ve made the trip up California’s coast countless times, but I always look forward to traveling back home.
The journey from the Monterey Peninsula to Malibu is breathtaking and never ceases to amaze me as I travel toward home. It’s as if God displays His creative hand with an aim toward sustaining life. The 358-mile road trip from Carmel to home begins in the agricultural basket of Salinas, where thousands of acres of produce are grown from lettuce to bell peppers to strawberries to artichokes. Then the 101 freeway sails through wine country on either side of the highway, where endless rows of flourishing grape vines are trellised as far as the eye can see. Through my passenger seat window, I see the neat rows flash by in an optical illusion; staccato puzzle pieces so close I can’t see the whole through the parts.
One hundred and twenty miles into the journey, the road dips and rises onto rolling, ochre hills, yellow and soft as a golden retriever. They lie in sun-dappled mounds like a scrum of sleeping puppies huddled together seeking warmth and safety. Through a rocky mountain pass before the town of Gaviota, the road opens, and the lanes grow wider. Railroad tracks hug the right side of the highway, beyond their mound, an unobstructed view of the crystal blue ocean.
Farther south is Santa Barbara, which rises from the coastal fog in all its Spanish splendor as if somebody flipped a switch and said let there be light. The air lightens, and the skies clear to translucency as you near its eponymous pier. It is here that my heart leaps, for I know I’m 75 miles from Malibu. We get on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Ventura County, where a monstrously looming boulder overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Its claims to fame being that it is a rock-climber’s destination and that it’s been in the background of numerous car commercials, featuring how a car handles this infamous stretch of the PCH.
On the landside is a local talisman, a half mile wide and leaning to an 80-degree angle. When I spy this alabaster sand dune, effervescent in the glistening sun, I know I’m only a mile outside Malibu, and my soul reaches longingly toward home.
A sea-side shanty called Neptune’s Net sprawls at the left with a covered porch and ocean view. Bikers gather in insular clubs in front of this combined seafood-beer joint. They preen and pose with their leather-clad girlfriends, their studied stance irreverent in case anybody misses that they’re too cool for school. Across the highway, local surfers study the waves, waiting to join in God’s gift of sea. I shift my gaze to the sign on the ocean side of the highway. A bus is parked, tourists mill about holding cameras, wanting to capture the spell-binding view.
“Welcome to Malibu—27 miles of scenic beauty,” the sign reads.
And it is. And I am in Malibu. And every beat of my heart sighs with relief because I am safely back home.
Claire Fullerton grew up in Memphis, TN, and now lives in Malibu, CA. Her third novel, Mourning Dove, is a southern family saga set in 1970s Memphis, released in June 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. Claire is the author of contemporary fiction, Dancing to an Irish Reel, set in Connemara, Ireland, where she once lived. She is the author of A Portal in Time, a paranormal mystery that unfolds in two time periods, set on California’s Monterey Peninsula. She is a contributor to the book Southern Seasons, with her novella Through an Autumn Window to be published in November 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. Claire is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Literary Agency and can be found on WordPress, Twitter (cfullerton3), Goodreads, Instagram (cffullerton) as well as the website under her name.
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