Moving to California was almost like landing on a completely different planet for a young man from the East Coast. In all my prior travels up to that time, I hadn’t been further north than Boston, MA and only as far south as Washington, DC. Just about every trip that had taken me anywhere beyond the Philadelphia suburbs had been with the family or on school outings. My world had been expanded exponentially in a matter of months to include Monterey, Big Sur, and the areas surrounding some of the most amazing real estate in the world. Bashing my car into a telephone pole on a rain-slicked coastal highway was a new experience also, but as I slowly recovered from it in the weeks that followed, I recognized that I could easily have perished at that moment, and resolved to consider more carefully the events which preceded my arrival on that new planet.
Somehow, my brain had been spared any permanent damage, and my life and times continued unabated. My brain had always been something I took for granted up to that point, but it suddenly seemed important to learn more about it, and to comprehend how it figured in my awareness of my experiences. While the accident clearly opened my eyes in ways that might be hard to come by in another way, I felt certain that expanding my consciousness had to be possible in other less drastic ways.
Shortly after returning to the world of the living, and catching up on lost time in language training, I once again felt brave enough to travel, and in the summer of 1974, I began a series of explorations in and around San Francisco, visiting some new city or scenic area every few weeks during the brief breaks in between the rigorous hours in the language acquisition regimen.
Everything felt different to me this time around. My training schedule was greatly accelerated in order to keep pace with my class assignments, but even so, it didn’t seem quite as daunting as before, when I seemed always to be struggling with it. I was more relaxed about everything, and my skill level increased with each of the various learning segments in both written and verbal tasks. I spent hours in the language lab listening to and repeating recorded conversations on headphones to practice my speaking skills. It wasn’t lost on me that in Massachusetts I had been doing exactly the same thing with Morse code, and that I had plunged my arm through a window, and found myself recovering from an equally dangerous injury before returning to the training at hand. This time, while the injury was more dangerous since it involved my brain, it seemed to have an opposite effect.
Of all the places I visited during my assignment in the Golden State, the city of Sausalito in the bay area of San Francisco, captured my imagination in a way that few other cities there had done. On my very first voyage on the ferry from the City by the Bay, I encountered two lovely young ladies who volunteered to show me around and help me get acquainted. I ended up having dinner with them, and even coaxed them into meeting me at the park overlooking the Golden Gate bridge where they snapped this blurry photo of me in my 1970’s cutting edge fashion and still wearing that hat. Even with my little Kodak Slimline camera, the view was spectacular.
Having built up my confidence with these excursions along the coast, and having spent a fair amount of time investigating the many possible locations for expanding my experience in a bigger way, I found myself eventually on the road to one of the most exquisite natural regions anywhere in the world–Yosemite National Park. Driving in that little Volkswagen bug, which nearly ended my life only months before, was about to deliver me to an experiential subjective awareness of mystical proportions. Without so much as a hotel reservation, and only enough clothes to last a few days, I arrived as the sun was setting over Half Dome, and ended up asleep in the car in one of the obscure parking areas nearby.
This photo of Yosemite National Park is courtesy of TripAdvisor
My first morning at this site was nothing short of spectacular. I managed to catch up with a group of hikers embarking on what they called the “Valley Floor Loop,” which was about thirteen miles long with some of the most spectacular views you can get to on foot. I had a few basic supplies with me, but ended up spending a fair amount at the local shops to make sure I would be reasonably safe along the way. Along the trail I spent most of my time tagging along with the group, but managed to wander off a bit, walking alone, occasionally chatting with a passerby, but simply taking my time and drinking it all in. After a long day of mind-boggling natural landscapes, I once again ended up sleeping in my car. You probably can’t do that anymore.
At sunset on the second day, I found myself staring out across the horizon and feeling the fullness of life at that very moment, and captured the experience with pen and paper, as the sky slowly dimmed the surrounding area into a state of blackness, darker than any I had ever experienced before. With only the light emanating from my little car’s dome lamp, I wrote this:
“Infinitesimally brief in length, and yet powerfully durable, life constantly reasserts itself through the ages, by a profoundly mysterious process, and continues to unfold, expand, and evolve, as it seeks infinity. Somewhere back in the grand and glorious maelstrom of the past, two hearts, lost in time and distant memory, embraced. Their spirits merged only fleetingly, but life was watching, and was so moved, that it marked the moment in its vast memory with a star, to remind itself of the beauty of that moment. With each new embrace, life continued to create stars, and now, each time the darkness opens, WE are also reminded. Though the moments may never come again, they are marked forever in the heart of life.”