Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Taking another look

   Sometimes opening our eyes will do a world of good – or at least lets us see another world.  Here is one of my recent columns from the Claremont Courier. 


   “This is why I haven’t come here in a long time.”
   We were driving down the narrow road, getting farther and farther away, after being waved passed both of the parking lots.  Cars were parked, jammed along the side of the road, with bunches of people walking alongside in a steady stream. There was no way we were going to find a place to park, especially when I had to get out of the van in my wheelchair. After about a mile, my friend and I turned around and headed back. 
   I thought we were out of luck on this afternoon excursion during a trip to the Bay Area late last month.  As I told my friend, I was surprised but not really.  Yes, it was a Monday, but it was during the holidays, and it was Muir Woods.  Muir Woods is always crowded, right?  It was the last time I was there something like 30 years ago. 
   It turned out, once the ranger who had waved us on saw my DP license plates, that there were plenty of disabled parking spaces. Even with the 4-0-5-freeway-like crowd, it was a pretty nice outing.  It only got hairy and downright tourist-trappy in the gift shop.  
   I suspect I wouldn’t have been too disappointed and it would have been a nice excursion anyway if we had been out of luck and not able to go to Muir Woods.  It was a perfectly sunny California Winter day, and I love driving on Highway 1 and the small back roads in the Marin County and Sonoma County area north of San Francisco.  It was fascinating to drive through the laid-back yet refined neighborhoods on the way to Muir Woods, and I’m a sucker for redwoods and golden hills leading down to waves crashing into high cliffs. 
   In fact, for redwoods, I think Big Basin, not far from Santa Cruz, beats Muir Woods any day.  No doubt the reason why Muir Woods gets all the crowds – we heard a range of languages there – is that it’s compact and neat and a short drive for the tourists in San Francisco. 
   If we hadn’t gone to Muir Woods, we may have taken a walk on the Nimitz Trail, a nice, paved closed-off road, easy on my wheelchair, along the top of Tilden Park above Berkeley.  There are spectacular views of the bay, and I love the feeling of being far from the crowded cities while being not so far. 
   While these parks and trails are indeed wonderful and wonderfully nearby in the Bay Area, there are any number of places to stop and admire the view while going up that way.  As I said, Highway 1 is one of my favorite drives, and I’m often tempted to pull over and get out of the van and explore or just sit.  Heck, that road with all the cars parked outside Muir Woods was pretty gorgeous (and I noticed a sign pointing to Mt.  Tamalpais State Park – mmm, somewhere else to explore.). 
   And then there’s Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, where we went the day after going to Muir Woods as we headed back south.  I always go there when I’m in Santa Cruz – usually, it’s the first thing I hit in town.  It’s a street that follows the coast for a few miles north of the pier, with modest neighborhood houses on one side and a walk/bike path above dramatic cliffs and crashing waves on the other.  It is pretty spectacular, but there’s also an ordinariness about it, with people out on their everyday walks and jogs and rides that I love. 
   I normally would have also gone out on the pier and visited the noisy and lazy sea lions hanging out at the end, but it was unusually cold and windy that day.  I didn’t stay out on the Cliff Drive walk for that long for that reason. 
   But I did wonder, as I always do when I’m there, why can’t there be a Cliff Drive in Claremont.  Why do the people in Santa Cruz get such a lovely place to take their daily power walk? 
   Or why can’t there be a redwood forest nearby?  Why isn’t there a gorgeous, quiet coastline, with waves crashing against cliffs left in their natural state, a short drive from Claremont?  Heck, why can’t it take less than an hour to get to Topanga Canyon beach? 
   That would be so nice. 
   Well, I can only dream. 
   Just as I found myself dreaming as I sat, taking a moment from reading on a Sunday afternoon a couple weeks later in the garden next to Bridges Hall of Music on the Pomona College campus. I was on a green lawn, surrounded by noble sycamore trees and historic buildings.  Squirrels ran along the top of a wall, and birds tried out the bird bath.  The water wasn’t running that day; there’s usually a sweet gurgling. 
   Or I could have been in front of Bridges Hall, sitting in Marsden Quadrangle.  Here, there are not only the lawn and the sycamores but also a magnificent view in all directions, with Bridges Hall of Music (Little Bridges) to the south, Bridges Auditorium (Big Bridges) to the east, the Smith Campus Center to the north and the Carnegie building on the other side of College Avenue to the west.  A pretty remarkable place for a stroll or an hour or two with a book (or a screen of one’s choice).
   If I want to go a bit further, there’s Scripps College, with its enchanting garden and patios and old Mediteranean architecture. There’s also the Greek Theater on the eastern edge of Pomona College campus. It is a bit more secluded and rustic.  (It’s also next to the new Studio Arts Building, which recently got a fair review in the Los Angeles Times.)
   But these aren’t the only places.  On the colleges campuses, there are plenty of other nice spots.  There are also all the parks in town.  Shelton Park in the Village feels a bit like Berkeley, with the eucalyptus trees and the craftsman houses nearby. And I don’t need to mention the Wilderness Park – so popular that it has been a problem vexing the City for at least the past two years. 
   It may be wrong to say I forget that Claremont has all these beauty spot.  More likely, I just take them for granted.  No doubt, they’re popular, and these brilliantly clear, balmy Winter days, with snow-capped mountains in the background certainly help.  
   It’s not just the Wilderness Park.  When I go to Marsden Quadrangle, there are usually other people – and not just students.  And they are often taking pictures, often for wedding parties,  holiday cards and the like. I once saw a couple being photographed on the Pomona College campus with fallen sycamore leaves being thrown over them. 
   How’s that for picture-perfect? 

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