Am I on Vacation?

If you’re lucky enough to have been able to take a vacation, you know that the whole point is to be away from regular life. You want to be physically away, in a new place, where you can forget about your usual worries, where you get out of your routine, where normal life is suspended. 

If you’re lucky to have been on a vacation, you also know that shit happens.  Travel plans go awry, or it rains the whole time, or you get sick.

But no matter how your time away went—idyllic or a bust or somewhere in between—you get that break from normal life that defines “vacation.” You return home with your slate wiped clean. You have that universal feeling of being relieved to be back in your own bed after a brief stint in an alternate universe.

Clearly, I’m both on vacation and not on vacation. I don’t go to my job anymore. I’m seeing new places. I’m engaging in vacation-like activities. This new life of mine feels like an alternate universe, and for the people around me when I’m in campgrounds it is. But—for me—it’s normal life, normal life with a lot of the perks and pitfalls of vacations.

I feel this odd juxtaposition the most when the news it terrible, like right now, after a man shot and killed a classroom of children in Texas, plus their two teachers. I’ve written about this feeling before, but really my feelings are irrelevant unless they propel me to do more than just vote. I’m on vacation, though, right? Or am I?

Our Final California State Park

Here we are, having made our way up the California coast—from the border with Tijuana north along Highway 1, hugging the coast in eight of our nine campgrounds. This is our last one, at MacKerricher State Park in the old town of Fort Bragg.

On Vacation

What’s special (to us) about this state park campground is that a bike trail runs from it, along the beautiful coast and into town. We hadn’t ridden our bikes (more than just a blip here and there) since this past summer in Missoula, Montana, maybe? Being able to ride into a town is a special treat because we spend so much time in the truck in new places, frustratingly following Google Maps, trying to get into tiny parking lots, driving past where we meant to go.

Here we can ride into town and hear sea lions roar out in the ocean. We can stop to read placards about California’s unique marine ecosystem.

We left our bikes off the trail and walked down to the famous Glass Beach, where years of the town dumping its trash to flow into the ocean has produced a surprisingly lovely section of sand scattered with smooth, multicolored beach glass. (I enhanced the color in this picture to show off the glass, but it’s still hard to see in this photo.)

The New Vacation Normal

Here, not only can we walk to the beach as we’ve been able to at each of our other campgrounds, but there’s no road between the campsite and it. Just a thin strip of pine forest, with redwoods interspersed.

We grab Banjo or chairs or just the binoculars and walk through the woods, across the bike trail, down to peer at what’s been revealed during low tide.

Huge rocks just off the shoreline make for fascinating landscapes, like this natural lazy river I found when I climbed on top of a large flat one.

A meager rope and paper signs protect groups of seals and their babies right off the beach.

We sit in chairs with binoculars and wonder about seal family life. When we loose sight of a pup, we wonder: do several seal mothers keep watch? Does it take a village to raise a seal?

When Introspection Creeps In

On the beach one evening, instead of watching the seals, I found myself thinking about the scarf on my lap. A writer sent it to me when I worked at the magazine; she was writing from Turkey at the time and sent me a box of scarves she had handpicked from the market.

This thick, wide scarf is what I covered myself with when I slept on the windowseat of some hospital my late niece Katherine was in; I can’t remember which occassion. I’d been called in as the only relative because my sister was busy with a mental health freakout, and all I had were the clothes I’d driven or flown in plus this scarf I always shove in my bag.

After days and nights in the hospital it smells like all those traumatic smells, but, like your favorite blanket or sleeping bag you never wash, I just pull it closer. Like a security blanket, it’s imbued with the vibes of all the bad times I’ve needed it, but its main vibe is still comfort.

Maybe here I’m layering ”ocean” on top of ”hospital.” Maybe that’s what I’m doing with this stage of my life, overall.

The Wheel Keeps Turning

Banjo watches the sun rise.

And Banjo watches the sun set. And it is beautiful.

4 thoughts to “Am I on Vacation?”

  1. So interesting to think of life as being working and vacation and then retirement comes along. You are still living the same life except you no longer have a specific job/jobs to be responsible for. Permanent vacation they call it but in most cases people still go on vacations when they retire. You situation seems so unique to me. At the start did you feel like you were on vacation but now it is life?

    1. At the start we were stuck in that one campground for two months when COVID-19 first began, so that was just weird. I guess still sometimes I feel liker I’m on vacation and sometimes I’m glad to get in my own bed at night!