There is no sight more gratifying to me than the open road, for the open road allows the body to wander and the mind to wonder. It offers an escape for the imagination and a way of life governed by freedom and fueled by curiosity.
My name is Alexander, and I am a first year in Timothy Dwight College studying political science. Naturally, my day is complete with writing papers, reading research articles and attending lectures. And as much as I am a Yale student, I consider myself a student of the world with the open road as my classroom.
This travel column, On the Road, recounts several of my adventures on asphalt and all the lessons I have learned from the people, places and things I have encountered on all roads, from those well-traveled to those not taken.
Throughout my life, people have often asked me what I think love is like. I could offer philosophical ideas from the Greeks, countless songs from Frank Sinatra’s discography or the plot of “Casablanca.” I have always struggled to find the perfect response, until last summer when I stumbled upon my answer on one of my travels.
A few weeks after we graduated from high school, a group of friends and I decided to take a small road trip. June 2023 was full of energy and excitement — we had college to look forward to and a summer that offered, for once, the prospect of rest and relaxation. With that spirit, we hopped into our cars and drove south toward the Monterey Peninsula.
The Monterey Peninsula is roughly 120 miles south of San Francisco and situated on the southern end of Monterey Bay. Among its charming communities is Monterey, a coastal city of roughly 30,000 people steeped in history and culture. Perhaps its greatest claim to fame is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the finest in the nation. I could easily recall the countless moments I spent as a young child gazing in awe at the canyons of water that would tower over me, complete with jellyfish sifting in the water through the glass. Monterey is also home to Cannery Row. Christened as such by John Steinbeck, the street was previously home to sardine canneries for most of the twentieth century. Now, it is home to luxurious hotels, gift shops and restaurants. Beyond Cannery Row lies the Presidio and Old Fisherman’s Wharf, a beloved landmark where one can enjoy a hearty meal of California seafood. For our trip, we decided to pass through Monterey and take our time on the 17-Mile Drive.
The 17-Mile Drive is an auto route that takes travelers through some of the most beautiful sights of the Monterey Peninsula. Coming from the north, the drive starts in Pacific Grove, a city next to Monterey, and follows the western edge of the peninsula all the way to Pebble Beach. We began our day at Point Pinos. While climbing through a series of sea rocks, the morning sea breeze wrestling through our faces, we encountered a group of playful squirrels. Their heads would peek out of the rocks, and they would hop from rock to rock, slowly making their way to us. They took delight in the attention we gave them, while we took delight in their antics. After spending a considerable amount of time playing with them, we left and entered the 17-Mile Drive.
Making our way south, we passed by numerous beaches, with the sea audibly churning busily from the car window. The winds were fresh and strong. Taking note of this, and the fact that the car we were riding on had a sunroof, we took turns peering through it at moderate speed. I emerged through the sunroof and felt as if the wind was baptizing me. My face was buffeted into a reawakening. Before I peeked through, I sported a styled pompadour. After I peeked through, my hair sported a style akin to a Pollack masterpiece, but no matter.
Our next stop was Bird Rock. Here, we caught fair glimpses of the birds that called the California coast home. Some of them rested on rocks that extended out into the sea. Others bobbed like buoys on the water. In addition to the sight before us came nature’s symphony: waves crashing against the rocks, seafoam rolling on the beaches near us and the barking of seals in the ocean and sea lions sunbathing on Bird Rock. We tried our best to communicate with the seals and sea lions, trying our best to emulate their vocabularies. Their languages, however, were complex, and we only succeeded in attracting the gaze of confused tourists.
After our attempts at verbal communication with seafaring mammals, we continued our drive and entered Crocker Grove where the road meandered through a forest of rare Monterey cypress trees. Their white trunks towered into the sky, while their dark green leaves swayed in the wind. Soon enough, we found ourselves gazing at an iconic sight: the Lone Cypress.
Standing atop a highland extending into the Pacific and overlooking Carmel Bay is a solitary Monterey cypress tree. Its soft green foliage danced freely with the ocean breeze, in contrast to the stolid and jagged gray rocks of the granite summit it calls home. Its leaves have basked in the glow of thousands of sunrises and sunsets. For more than two centuries, the Lone Cypress has survived storms and the sprays of the sea. It has stood tall and strong through the wind and rain. Throughout its life, it has enchanted artists and photographers and has captivated writers and travelers. It stares, now, at the Pacific with an air of humility and strength.
I have seen this tree many times throughout my life, and when I was a young kid, its existence always fascinated me. Returning as a young man, at least older and arguably wiser, I looked at the tree, squinting my eyes to trace the wrinkles on its trunk from a distance. It was there where I found my answer to the age-old question, what is love?
I love the Lone Cypress not because of its charm, but because of what it stands for. It is made all the more beautiful by the way it offered me a lesson on love. In the same way that the Lone Cypress has withstood history, love itself is something enriched by the passage of time. It is natural, indeed important, for our understanding of love to evolve and mature as we navigate our lives. Life itself can be viewed as a journey made richer by pursuing the depths of love. And the only way we can try to understand a force as complicated and complex as love is to simply live our lives with a measure of patience, curiosity and determination.
Like the Lone Cypress, love is something that can be weathered by the winds of life or battered by the storms of existence, and yet remain. Falling in love or being in love is not easy. Problems are natural and challenges are inevitable. Love can be tough and rough. But love, like the cypress, is resilient and resolute and can survive even when the odds are stacked against its existence. In all, the wisdom of the Lone Cypress offers the gift of hope to those hopelessly in love.
Thus, I came from that road trip with a stronger understanding of what love is. And yet, I recognize that I have many years ahead of me and many adventures I have yet to take. It is impossible for me, and indeed anyone, to formulate a precise and encompassing definition for what love is. The wisdom of the Lone Cypress is only one of countless perspectives on the subject of love. There exist many more in the world and in our lives, and it is up to us to discover them because, in the end, love is what we make of it.