It was a picture-perfect day on the Northern Coast of California. Paul and I were so excited to experience California for the first time as a couple. We both had visited on separate occasions but never together.
While one of my very dear friends subscribes to the travel mantra “pack light, travel slow, connect deep”, Paul and I tend to always over-reach on trips. We sometimes adopt a toddler-like energy approach to travel where we go super hard, run out of steam and energy, then fall into a heap of exhaustion at the end of the day. Enthusiasm over reason.
We started our morning out a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. There was something more bucket-list worthy in biking over that iconic bridge than driving. It felt more brave and significant. Perhaps it would win me a stamp of approval by my children. “Hey, look at my mom. She rode a bike over that bridge instead of photographing it from her car in her velour sweat pants.”
After checking our rental bikes in, we began the drive from the Bay area towards our destination that night in Big Sur. The drive is just impossibly vast and beautiful. At first, we stopped at every beach. We looked for whales. Some of the whales were actually whale shaped rocks. We marveled at surfers out in the choppy water. We found a little roadside farmer’s market and I chatted with the local farmers selling just-picked carrots, tomatoes of every color and the most whimsical sunflowers. We took twice as long as we got distracted over and over again by scenery.
As we headed towards traveled through Monterey, we had miles and mile of farmland on either side of us. Suddenly it was like the zoo of produce everywhere: groves of almond trees, fields of Brussel sprouts, acres of lettuce. Back in North Carolina, lettuce lasts for just a few short spring weeks and is all but gone by May once temperatures climb. Here it was September and yet lettuce grew lush and green due to the cooling winds off the ocean water and the amazing soils that the coast allows.
Food has always fascinated me. My love affair with it must have been part baked into my DNA and part exposure from my Greek heritage. For as long as I can remember, the case of bakery, the aisles of grocery store, the bins of a candy store, the display of fish at a fish market, orchards full of apples have captured my imagination and curiosity. It’s a thread that has followed me all my life, as I find both my solace and my inspiration in cookbooks, ethnic markets, farm stands and seeing how food connects us all.
As I looked out the window I realized, we were passing through fields and fields of artichokes. While many vegetables are bi-coastal artichokes are not. They only grow on the West Coast and here they were by the acre. I started laughing and looked at Paul and said, “I think I want to pull over and take pictures.” For a moment my dysfunctional-time brain took over and thought, we have places to go. Don’t stop for artichokes. We’ll be late.” Paul looked at me and said, “It’s our time, Mary. We aren’t on anyone else’s schedule. If this makes you happy then do it.”
A second marriage gives you a chance to renegotiate everything. To de-program yourself of your relationship to things like time and self-expression as it had been dictated to you. It’s OK if you think artichokes are art. Sometimes the gift of patience especially when you’ve been previously malnourished is the softest gift.
Artichokes are hilarious creatures: all spikey and grown on top of impossible stalks. They are the aardvark of the vegetable world. And I took all the pictures I wanted, breathing in the coastal air, enjoying something rare outside of my intended destination. It’s OK for me to wonder. To delight again. To not believe the things that make me me are dumb, dull and not worth stopping for. I love that photograph because it captures so much of what I really crave: delight in little things, permission to seek joy.
We don’t really know when we will pass this way again.