I recently listened to Kevin Starr’s California: A Biography on audiobook. I have to be honest: I did not pay much attention to dates or details, but rather let the words roll over me like poetry, the poetry of California.
Los Angeles. San Francisco. Mojave Desert. Monterey. The Sierras. Santa Barbara. Salinas. Missions. Miners. Padres. Ranchos. Joan Didion. John Steinbeck. Jack London. Death Valley. Santa Monica. Big Sur. Palm Springs. The Grapevine. Point Reyes. Sonoma. Mt. Shasta. Pasadena. Griffith Observatory. Sacramento River. Palos Verdes. Yosemite. Half Moon Bay. The Golden Gate. Napa vineyards. Catalina Island. Laguna Niguel. San Juan Capistrano. Big Bear. Half Dome. The Hollywood Bowl. The Berkeley Hills. The Pacific Ocean.
Have you ever heard such magical words?
It is a language and a poetry that holds greater sway over me than I can ever explain.
All politics aside, when he was running for governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger called California, “a golden dream by the sea,” and that is a phrase I can’t get out of my mind. I know this is a place with problems galore. I know it has poverty and inner cities and injustice, but it continues to be a place of promise and hope as well, and I don’t know if I’ll ever wake up from the dream that is California. I just know that I wake up each morning and thank God that I live here. I just know that I’ve never been anywhere else so big, and beautiful, and bursting with life and excitement and adventure. I’ve never been anywhere else that I wanted to be as much as I want to be in California. Every time Sean suggests we move somewhere else where the cost of living is less, I reply with the adage, “I’d rather be dead in California than alive in Arizona,” and the truth is I’m only half-joking. What is it about this place?!
I like living in a place that is bigger than me. Obviously most places other than a broom closet fit that qualification, but California is so much bigger than me: I will never master it. I will never visit everywhere I want to go. I will never know it by heart or discover all its secrets. It will always be wild and mysterious and grand, and somehow just out of my reach.
There is an energy and a gladness that fill my heart living here. Most days I just can’t believe my extreme good fortune to be here. Even my long drives in endless traffic can’t seem to dampen my enthusiasm for this place, but only serve to confirm what I already knew: this is the place to be. See? Everyone else wants to be here too. And I’m here, in California! I won’t apologize for being in love with this place. I want my children to be Californians and I want my ashes scattered here too.
I don’t know if I’ve known a happier moment than driving home at night on the freeway: the L.A. skyline gleaming on the horizon, the planes lined up to land at LAX glimmering in the sky, the mountains looming like purple shadows in the distance, a fat white moon rising over the L.A. Basin, and Blink 182 playing on the radio. That I can call this home seems a privilege too great for me, but I’ll take it, and appreciate every second of it.
This summer we visited three new (to us) California landscapes that further confirmed my awe of this state:
Lassen Volcanic National Park, May 2014
Duck Lake in the Sierras, photo from SummitPost.org because I forgot my phone that day!
Santa Catalina Island, July 2014
I mean, really!!!!!!! Does it get better than this?!?!?!