Friday, February 08, 2013

A Time for Myself

 Earlier this week, I put aside eight hours for myself to be in La Jolla, California. Making time for oneself is an odd notion. Who’s time do we think it is? But never mind, at least for now.

I consulted with my hosts, Will and Ann, Quaker friends who live nearby but not in La Jolla itself. Will drew a map and pointed me in the direction of Torrey Pines State Preserve, the Salk Institute and the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

The three are aligned north to south along the Pacific Coast, but you need a car to make the connections, especially if you want to end up at the San Diego Airport by day’s end. I had a 6:45 flight back to Portland.

La Jolla itself reads like the domain of the one percent. Mitt Romney himself is quadrupling the size of his ocean-front home here. At one intersection, a Ferrari dealership on one corner vies for customers against a Maserati franchise on the opposite corner.

One wonders about priorities in La Jolla.

But up north, where I strolled along the beach before climbing into the grassy scrub along dusty trails in the Torrey Pines preserve, I surrendered to spiritual priorities. This is only one of two places where these magnificent trees grow. The park is literally a protected
habitat for the pines, which feed on the ocean mists.

It preserves something in us as well.

The Torrey Pines prepared me for my next stop as I headed south. Jonas Salk, the famed developer of the polio vaccine, commissioned renowned architect Louis Kahn to conceive of a research facility whose design would inspire discovery. Completed in 1965, the concrete-cast complex with teak insert detailing is a stunner. And it still inspires.

There’s a concrete slab that begs you to sit and look west between the Institute’s twin parallel buildings. A straight-line water feature leads the eye to a distant waterfall that cascades into a rectangular pond. The ocean’s horizon and the two buildings form an broad H.

The architectural geometry, like the pines to the north, settles soul and spirit.

Headed south again...a five-minute drive delivers me to the Birch Aquarium. A life-sized sculpture of a surfacing, leaping whale awakens the visitor to a new world.

Beyond the whale, inside the building is a fragile, endangered marine world. Eels, corals, jelly fish, shrimp, lobsters, sharks, groupers, seahorses, pencil fish.... The aquarium, with its “Hall of Fishes,” shark reef and patio tide pools, is relatively small. Its size encourages visitors to linger and study. There’s no rush to “see it all.” I stood transfixed in front of a porthole window on the world of amorphous, undulating, transparent jelly fish, their long, lacy, floral tails swaying behind them.A major attraction is a two-story-high window into a watery, swaying kelp forest. There all manner of fish – from massive to minute, from subtly patterned to garishly colored — glide amid the towering kelp. As I sat on a platform, I connected to the world beyond the glass and to the intrigue of parents and children drawn to it.

With time for my airport departure creeping up on me, I broke my aquatic reverie and headed for the freeway — so called. I exited to top off the rental car’s tank before returning it. I took the shuttle to the airport and settled into a book without really comprehending it. I was lingering in a time for myself with the fish, the pines and the Pacific.

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