Cold + Green

By Michael Kew

Photo: Mike Sipos.

IT WAS CALIFORNIA'S coastal autumn, with its earthy browns and yellows, its wind and its chill, on the cusp of solitude, that had sent me away. A shirtless late-afternoon bike ride across the farm, down the leafy corridor of Rincon Creek and out to the beach afforded goose bumps from a wan sun, with glassy, head-high waves wrapping around the famed point of Rincoñada del Mar.

The air was clear, the sky big and blue. In the distance were the shadowy hills and gullies of the islands Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz; even Anacapa looked warmly near and familiar. In time, rain would fall there and here, and the beach sand would darken—the tourists were gone—but today, under the auspices of gulls and hawks, autumn had arrived. This was Rincon in late October, a polyglot pointbreak returned to itself, to the locals and the afternoon low tides, the clean swells and sunburned eyes, squinting into the glare of a setting sun.

There was rain in sight mid-week, and for this I felt lucky, because there was an envelope in my mailbox holding a ticket to paradise. To Earth, rain is life, and the ticket was to an island that annually receives 30 feet of it.

Santa Barbara was difficult to leave, especially at the start of winter, and when I had recently returned from Oceania. But Santa Barbara was also a paradise, and going home was sometimes like flying away—my life between two utopias. One static and familial, where my rent was paid, the others distant and humid, these bluey-green postcard places you saw in Islands and National Geographic. Indeed, all homecomings were jet-lagged fogs—my bank account drained, my health often poisoned by a cold or flu from long flights on germy airplanes.

I was afflicted from the last trip but again restless, uninspired, with writer's block, unable to rhapsodize about the journey I had just taken. Epiphanies of travel are rampant when one travels alone—this was a good reason for doing it, not because the epiphanies were random, but because they also were holistically metaphoric. Living on a small farm a half-mile from a famous surf spot, it was easy to become insular, filling summers with work and women and boozy barbecues, neglecting the flat sea, your mind smug knowing the best has yet to come.

And there it was, a crisp afternoon with clean swell from the northwest, coining the onset of Rincon's celebrated winter surf spell. At that moment it seemed wrong for me to leave again. Rincon Point, so sunny and serene, with its bubble of smiling folks and holiday homes and shady trees and smooth rocks, its fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles shell-hunting with Frisbees and skittish leashed dogs, all within the drowsy calm of a fading autumn day—this was a reflection of Southern California comfort. I felt happy there, and happiness had been a strain to achieve, years in the making.

But few things made me happier than travel, no matter how tiresome and inconvenient. Rincon's sea was cold and green—warm and blue was where my mind had been.