I never talked much about how UCSC impacted me. In fact, I still don’t know. It would be too reductive to definitively say, it impacted me in this and that way, I became a better person, so on and so forth. But what I know is that it was important to me in a way that makes my throat constrict when I remember moments — and I remember them as participant, not third-person observer; I remember them as experience, not separate image — ‘remember’ is perhaps a wrong word. Re-experience might more closely approximate it.
This is the walk along Mclaughlin Drive. The road is built almost as if it’s a suspension bridge, elevated as it is. Walking past the redwoods on that road felt like you were walking along a boundary, straddling tenuous membrane. I take the stretch of road right before this more often, as it is the stretch from Engineering back to where I stay at the ILC, and I have it in my mind shrouded in fog, my hands tucked into my coat pockets and the rubber soles of my boots comfortably meeting concrete.
This is what I mean by shrouded in fog. These are pictures of the Engineering buildings, and I would often approach them from the forest. It’s only just turning Fall, so that tree has rushed ahead in the race of dyeing its leaves, only to realise there is no competition — most of the trees there are evergreen.
A lot of the time I was there, it was cold and rainy, hardly a weather you would want to go out traipsing in. I can’t deny that I had my share of grouses. I was advised to get rain boots by my kind American housemates, but I thought — I was never going to use rain boots after I got back to Singapore, or maybe ever. So I endured Santa Cruz’s rainy season in my $15 boots, wherein water leaked from the moist leaf litter of the forest, tenderly soaking my socks.
Once I spent the entire night in the lab debugging code, and walked back at 6AM in the morning in a light rain along Mclaughlin drive. The sparse streetlamps were reflected off vibrating puddles of water, and as I breathed in the cold almost-dawn air, skin lightly touched by rain, it felt as though it had been worth it.
This is the forest trail I took to get to Engineering from the ILC. Once I tried taking this trail when it was only just beginning to darken at about 4pm, but I realised my error when I got progressively more terrified until I was certain I was never going to find the exit to the ILC in that darkness, I was going to be trapped in the forest for the night, who knew whether mountain lions were about (yes, we were warned against mountain lions). Along the way I spotted a very small, bright source of light, and as much as I knew it could not be anything supernatural, I could not explain what the heck it was from that distance, and it beamed on and off, on and off. When I passed by it it was a dude playing with his phone. In the middle of the forest. In almost pitch black darkness. What in the world, dude? Needless to say I learnt two things: 1) Mid-blue sky is pitch black in the forest, and 2) Never, ever, ever use the forest trail past 4pm in autumn. I guess also, 3) there exist people who are crazy enough to enjoy parking in the middle of the forest in the dark.
The photos were taken in weather where it was uncertain whether the sun would emerge thereafter; the fog is slowly rising like steam from the leaves, almost as if there’s an invisible hot spring along the length of the trunk up to the first level of leaves.
A final picture for now: a last lingering kiss of the sun as it retreats to the other side of the Earth, where I am now, typing this post.