Rush hour on a Wednesday night in Humboldt County, California, consists of a flock of sheep grazing their way to the barn and a man on the side of the road, foraging. We stop to let the dogs out of the car for a stroll and I can smell the heavenly scent of chamomile flowers growing wild along a ditch. And I tell myself the worst part is over.
The drive from Los Angeles to the South Coast of Oregon is a whopping 20 hours, the worst of it being the Central Valley, that wide expanse of fields that feeds half the country. Endless plots of wheat, lettuce, kale and not a quaint farmer in sight – most of the land is now in the hands of the big and evil agribusiness. After a while, all the vegetables blur together and, by the third hour, I would be quite happy never to see another leaf of romaine lettuce again. For the rest of my life.
This is gun-toting California, the one that most likely didn’t celebrate the abrogation of the Defense of Marriage Act, made up as it is of conservative farmers and illegal south of the border labourers – every other car on the road is a pick-up truck, a refrigerated lorry or a horse trailer.
Slowly, the fields make way for the forests of redwood trees: impossibly tall, imposing and impenetrable. If anyone ever wondered why American houses are built of wood, they would only need to witness this abundance of timber to understand. Among the thickness of these forests, Mexican cartels have cleared vast swathes for the cultivation of marijuana. Legal and illegal growers vie for space and water, the soil and weather the perfect mix for the most sought-after weed. This is Humboldt county, populated by granolas and pot-heads and farmers.
The fog rolls in every night from the sea, shrouding beaches and fields and forests in an air of mystery and slight desolation. The hours relentlessly flow by and daydreaming becomes unavoidable. An underrated occupation, daydreaming; one we should indulge in every day.
Through the boredom of the kale fields, I imagine wild pursuits like dancing a fox trot with Mikhail Baryshnikov, or sitting at a piano for an impromptu Chopin sonata – when in real life, I can neither dance nor play.
The redwood forests, under their dark canopy, usher in darker dreams but also better versions of me: because who can dream of a better me if not….me? And what is daydreaming if not an opportunity, not to escape our reality, but to create a better blueprint for it and to glimpse the possibilities ahead? Letting our mind wander far and wide, tumble and somersault where it’s not trained to go, can make space for ideas to materialize or for a clearer understanding of the path ahead.
A physical journey can be an easy metaphor for an inner journey – the best trips always are – but its most precious gift is the time it gives us to let us our thoughts be, un-constricted, if for no other reason than needing to avoid looking at lettuce fields for hours at a time.
By the time the second night falls and we cross from California into Oregon, a thick mist welcomes us into a scenery of rocky coast and ghost-like villages. I can nearly pretend I am on the Welsh moors or inside my very own Wuthering Heights.
And I know that, as long as I have the power to concoct stories and to dream ahead, life will be alright.