O, California

Perhaps the seed was planted when my Pappaw Collins held a conch shell up to my ear when I was very young. He said, “Listen, you can hear the ocean.” Years later I would find myself leaving my life-long home of the Midwest and heading to southern California, partially on a whim but with a deeper set notion of getting away. I had grown up in white, conservative, critical, judgmental towns. Some in my own family, as well as the surrounding community, seemed highly critical of me for not being Christian enough for their kind of life. I am pretty sure that these divisive sort of judgments trickled down–but whereas I once felt like a black sheep, I now realize I am fine and people create their own truths and stories and paranoid perceptions to preserve, even if it is divisive. I have learned a lot in my life, and one big thing has been to steer clear of hurtful people, even if you love them. It has been a relief to set myself free, to refuse people who constantly hurt others (including me). I needed to get away to figure out where I might belong. I headed to California to find that long-lost dream.

I joined the corporate world before the dot.com bust, but beyond that, for seven years, wallowed with the others lost who had come here to realize something. Maybe it was just to escape harsher climates, both literal and figurative. Maybe it was to find fortune and fame. For me, my escape at one level was not different than life before: another relationship where I was abused but hung on too long, and another area where I was lost and lonely. But something happened good anyway. I discovered poets, artists, and deeper writing. I learned to surf. I began hiking on my own, in canyons or mountains, with rattlesnakes, elusive cougars, and happily romping coyotes. In my lowest moments I would head to the beach and read Philip Whalen or Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I reveled in these moments that were swathed in heartbreak but alive with discovery.

I always loved California, not its promise of fame or glitz or fashion, because I was always wary of the superficial. I loved California because you could come here and be what or who you wanted, and the scenery was rugged and spoke to my heart. It was full of vagabonds, like me, who awoke to get to the sun, check out the waves, and find another day of beauty, solace, and other lost souls. I now am here on vacation (leaving tomorrow) and got up earlier than the others to write some of my thoughts. Every day we have gone to the ocean and I stare, and long, and feel alive. It is El NiƱo around the world, which, along with climate change, is causing some freaky weather everywhere. The first day here we watched wild waves and strong winds. Even young seagulls could barely fly in the wind and were knocked back onto the pier or ledges or down to the waters below. It was so cold the first day we were not prepared for it and since then my daughter has brought over extra jackets and blankets so we can enjoy the crazy wind outside at night at this gazebo in the yard of the house we’re renting, where a turtle and koi pond is.

San Clemente beach runing

We have walked to the ocean and back twice, which is about a half hour walk each way, and the first day we were here took a long walk to the grocery to get some things. I revel in the Spanish architecture, the mountains beyond that have always been a part of me, the light (good for Plein Air artists), the palms and aspens, the lingering smell of fertilizer in the distant orange groves, the glassy ocean and breaking waves that lull us, the locals who came here like I once did, to find themselves and be a part of something out here–where you can be yourself, where you can find yourself even while alone or lost, and where it is okay. Yesterday we ran along the coast, and it was weird running on sand. The little trail was not on the actual beach but on pavement where sand had blown all over it to the point it was thick with sand in places. It was also very warm, unlike the cold day before. I was lost in that old feeling of California, as I ran with my daughter (Morgan ran ahead). I thought of my life now, how different, where my other half truly respects and loves me, something I feel so fortunate to have found with a partner for once in my life. We’ve known each other going on 14 years–our marriage coming up on its 10-year anniversary. I think of my family who is still close and the others who could not be here but were able to call or skype and be in touch. It is surely a different life than when I lived in California for seven years before–where I was struggling to find love and friendship with people and felt so lost. But there was something in that loss. A breakthrough, a lesson, a piece of my history, a maturing, a discovery…and it all was beautiful in its own way. Not sure I could have gone on like that, because it was too lonely and sad. Finally having a good job, a good marriage–these things are part of a better life. But I sure never will forget California.

I also want to mention that the owner of the home we rented while here said to be careful with water use. California is short on water, period. It’s like these huge things are happening around us, big changes and scary shortages–not to mention weather patterns changing before our eyes. There’s a rampant sort of denial or refusal to really see these things. I keep seeing people create their own narratives, refusing to see that they even might be wrong about things. Whether it be pride or ignorance, it is just so strange to think about the history of narratives that have no basis in reality, yet people just go on believing in whatever crazy theory that they want. Maybe it makes them feel comfortable to deny realities (like climate change) or to just not think about it. I just prefer to look it all in the face.

Anyway, it has been a very sweet time while here, basking in cold winds at the gazebo, running on the beach, spending time with the people who unconditionally love me the way I love them. Oh, and laughter. Our family is always about laughter and more laughter. It’s not quite over yet, as we are going out later today, but we are leaving in the morning. Back to the beautiful rainforest winter, which is usually rainy, but we might see some snow. Back to planning my garden, dreaming of spring, running more, and continuing life as it is.

I wish everyone a great new year!