The Point: Elegy for California

Soon we will leave California.

Driving south from Oakland to Carmel Valley, where my in-laws just retired, we stop at Morgan Hill, where I see a surprising number of people weighing over 300 pounds, parking enormous cars and talking excitedly (“Last weekend, I went to a party and everyone was Trump.”) Everyone was Trump? Yes, the language, as George Carlin used to say, is a dead giveaway.

Soon we will leave California.

My wife and son return with shaved ice and we drive on, passing the farms and car dealerships of Salinas. I think about Steinbeck’s last visit to this land:

I went to the Carmel Valley where once we could shoot a thirty-thirty in any direction… I don’t mind people, you know that. But these are rich people. They plant geraniums in big pots. Swimming pools where frogs and crayfish used to wait for us… If this were my home, would I get lost in it? If this were my home could I walk the streets and hear no blessing?

And when his friends protest, he adds: Let us not fool ourselves. What we knew is dead,and maybe the greatest part of what we were is dead.

Then, standing on a mountain: I printed once more on my eyes, south, west, and north, and then we hurried away from the permanent and changeless past.

We get the tour. The picture windows take in the coast range and the valley below, dotted with dressage riding rings under a canopy of trees. But the eye returns to those majestic mountains, the same as they were two hundred years ago, and ten thousand. The stillness.

We spend a blue-sky day at a country club swimming pool where hundreds gather to eat four kinds of barbecued meat and listen to a band playing cover songs while a magician makes his way from table to table performing tricks for children. In all, I see four people of color, two on the waitstaff. Conversations
are animated by fear and disgust—voting for Trump, they tell us.

The next morning we drive into the fog of town, and walk among the shops. We see a $20,000 pen, a sculpted bronze dragon safe and key, a sign that says “Ferrari Owners Club.”

We stop for lunch. Lisa sighs and says this has become a mere “temple of money.” When our child asks what that means, she describes the town’s past as an artist colony.

We pass galleries filled with paintings of race cars and 19th century European street scenes. That unchangeable past, how different it must have been. Small paintings of giant coastal cypress in ornate frames—those golden frames I remember from when I was a boy, visiting this place with my mother. She had a few days off work, and we slept in our car in front of the white church.

Today I hold Lisa’s hand and we walk down the Scenic Road, the turquoise Pacific on our right, grand houses on our left. My son asks how much those houses cost, and I say many millions. And Lisa recalls a poem by Robinson Jeffers, “Carmel Point”:

The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses—
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupine walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads—
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve.

We walk down the stairs to the beach—Lisa holds our son’s glasses and he rolls down the sand, and when he reaches the bottom, he stands and raises his arms, yelling, “I’ve lived!” as the gentle waves wash over his small feet.

Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.—As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.

We stop by the Mission Inn to see the flock of sheep—the lone black sheep. We stayed here once when our son was younger, running across green grass strewn with red and yellow rose petals.

And we begin the drive, the long drive back to Oakland, our smart phones guiding us with some kind of artificial intelligence made powerless by the parking lot Highway 1’s become.

By E.M. Stonestreet

Bestselling author, award-winning actor, pretty good dad.