Contributor: Sophia Lippell
Crazy like a fox. I have vehemently resisted this family myth about me. Now I am feeling fairly foxy.
I have chosen Santa Cruz as my arrival airport, naively imagining it to be a small coastal village. I had felt challenged to drive out of San Francisco, twenty years since I had first learned to drive there and then left. Santa Cruz would be cruisy, surely?
I emerge from Hertz into a tangle of linguine laneways, soaked in a robotic ragu of benzene belching cars. A miracle of guidance from above somehow got me to Highway One. Not satellite, as the grinning rental girl said they had none, so it must have been more divine in nature. I am finally able to exhale as I start winding my way along this renowned road.
It is a journey of switchback snakes slithering along a fragile fault-line. The lack of ladders ensures it feels downhill all the way. I am driving on the wrong side of the road through equally crazy beauty. Toothy mountains crunch into cerulean skies to the left of me; to the right, the sun sprays sparkle fairy-dust over the stretched skin of the Pacific Ocean. My crimson red Mustang curls around the slinky bends like a roller-coaster. I feel dizzy on this, thankfully, not-busy bitumen.
I stop in Carmel for lunch and park abominably badly on the main street. My eyes on the look-out for Dirty Harry who calls this place home. He didn’t appear which was a shame as his caustic, squinty-eyed gaze would have provided a productive polarity. The sugared-almond pastels of the painted shopfronts made me feel a tad hyperglycemic. I have found Barbie’s birthplace. I’m grateful my salad is all-organic, all-fresh and of gargantuan proportions.
Afterwards I make a small detour to view the Lone Cypress, the most photographed tree in the world. It is an elf’s nest scribbled against a blue linen backdrop. It looks lonely, sprouting from gleaming granite, and I’m happy it has so many visitors.
Back on the bendy road. Finally, I reach Esalen, perched on the cliff’s top like an exotic, jewel-plumed parrot. Bubblegum-pink and scarlet bougainvillea crawl over dark cedar buildings. Natural, hot spring baths glisten like eyes gazing over the ocean. Hummingbirds flitter into gulping great Hibiscus blooms. I am swallowed by the honey smell of this floral display. My arms want to flap hysterically so I can hover and dip my big nose into sweetness too. The energy pulsing this land is something I have never encountered. My feet tingle as though roots are carving into its nourishing soil. My body resonates like a vibrating tuning fork.
This confined chunk of California has experienced various incarnations as a healing destination. Initially an ancient Native American tribal site, it was established as the first Human Potential Retreat in the 1960s. Many notable scholars took up residence and developed their therapies here, including Fritz Perls, Timothy Leary, Joseph Campbell, Carl Rogers and Virginia Satir. It was also the first Schizophrenia Research Centre.
I have half a mind to stay here forever.
This is the first instalment of a longer creative nonfiction piece to be completed in June. Stay tuned!