In a San Diego coffee house, leaning over my notebook, dreadlocks splayed out across the page as I write. Maria was one of the last people I visited before disappearing up to the cabin seven months ago, and it feels only right to be back in San Diego with her now. While she works and studies during the daytime, I explore the city through coffee. Soon I know every café within a twenty block radius of her apartment: which ones have free wi-fi, which are open 24 hours, which baristas create the best latte art, what time of day to visit each café in order to have the sun in my face if I’m sitting outside. Late afternoons revolve around sunset; I’m either on the USD campus to meet up with Maria at our spot by the railing, or I head down to Sunset Cliffs near Ocean Beach. Even after 108 days at sea, the “green flash” was still only a myth to me. But one evening as I’m watching the silhouettes of surfers catching huge waves pounding in towards the sheer cliffs below me, the sky burgundy and amber, I stare as the sun slips away—I can feel the light burning into my retinas, and I catch the green.
I work diligently over foamy vanilla lattes in porcelain mugs. I send out a batch of 2011 query letters in hopes of finally snagging an agent or publisher for my writing. I meet up with Pascal one afternoon, and we share conversation with a poet who overhears our discussion. Through the café’s background chatter, he reads us one of his poems. Pascal offers to give me most of his cycling gear, and for a few days I entertain the idea of traveling across the country with a bicycle. But I don’t think now is the right time for that.
The morning I prepare to leave San Diego, I sit with Maria on the front porch of the hostel she’s working a shift at. We have no idea where we’ll be next time we see each other. Things will undoubtedly be radically different for both of us. Neither of us can imagine what the circumstances of our next encounter will be; all we know is that we will see each other again. We laugh and I walk away.
I hop into my car and pull onto the freeway. Two hours later I arrive in Woodland Hills, just north of L.A., where I now have the privilege of spending the afternoon and evening with Sara. After dinner she makes me tea, and we sit by the fireplace letting thoughts and ideas and questions cascade forth. This is the fourth time I’ve seen her since Semester at Sea, and she’s been a consistent presence in my life over these past wild months. I saw her three months ago in NY, when this journey was still young, and we’ve written each other letters, and she was one of the only people who visited me in the cabin. Something special has happened every time we’ve been able to sit down and talk. When we spend time together, she points out, the passage of time is no longer marked by hours and minutes but by logs fed into the flames. In the morning, before we part, she dyes one of my dreads purple.
And now, eastward. An hour out of Woodland Hills, over a low mountain pass, and I’m back in the desert. The road cuts north and the snowy foggy range remains to my left, but I’m back amongst Joshua Trees or their silhouettes as the falling sun dyes the sky orange. Full and empty, as often. I have so much to work on, so many things to learn and practice, and also nothing ahead of me, nothing set in place. Even now as I write this at 9PM, sitting in my car outside a venue with free wi-fi, I don’t know where I’ll be sleeping tonight. Tomorrow: into the desert; east into the not-knowing.