13 December 2009


The following are some thoughts uncovering my sense of place of California.

I lived in Malibu four years (and also San Luis Obispo), first across the road from the beach (and Carroll O'Conner, close to Cheech Marin's), on Malibu Road, and later up the Santa Monica Mountains where my daughter Sanjina Marie was born at home and where I planted a young pepper tree over the bloody, fresh placenta (like the South Sea Islanders), at about 1,000 ft. elevation, in coastal rattler and coyote country, on Decker School Road which ends in that county park on the ridge high over the Pacific, the setting for many old Western films. I used to drive over the ridge down into Simi Valley and down coast on PCH to Pacific Palisades.

To the subject at hand, you know that northern Californians (I have a brother there) quite smugly claim that southern Californians (I have a brother there) exhibit the Hollywood-glitzy, beach-sunshine, Valley Girl, freeway-flier, superficial/artificial surfing culture. One of the French philosophers wrote of the simulacrum of reality there.

Second, there is the self-perception that California is a separate country, fenced off by the Pacific Ocean to the west and deserts and mountains and long, Death Valley distances to the east--a separate place, a separate mentality. Whenever I traveled from the West Coast to the eastern U.S. I felt I had re-entered America.

Third, there's the lack of concern or even consideration (consciously?) of earthquakes, occurring by the thousands each day and possibly sensed subliminally. Is it a gallows-humor mentality or simply a desire to banish the unpleasant and unsettling thoughts? After all, Hollywood produces facsimiles of any reality. Just pretend.

Next, Joan Didion, I believe, wrote of the dire mood changes southern Californians experience when the hot, dry Santa Anas blow over the mountains from the high deserts to the east and dessicate any civility and pretense of enlightenment--the thousand-petaled southern Cal buddha waxes cranky and the murder rate is said to spike. Times, those were, to head for the Beach Boy beaches and escape the mayhem and drive-by shootings on the 14-lane (un)freeways.

But, then, there is the facticity of the climate, such that on approximately 320 bright, glorious mornings each year I would awaken and announce to the avocado and orange trees, to the wild yuccas and anise, to the scorpions and tarantulas--yes!--to the breaching California gray whales offshore and yipping coyotes onshore--that it was "another PERFECT day in southern Cal!"

Finally, I'll remind you of the image of the autumnal, golden California hills popping out green in spring and covered with the bright, slightly greenish-yellow, wild mustard. I'm thinking also of the times I hiked behind Santa Barbara in the seasons of blooming wild flowers. And, of the deep green-gray of the cold Pacific, flowing south from Alaska and swirling with long strands of unseen green kelp, on the lookout for whales and dolphins which I saw often, even while descending tightly winding Decker Canyon (toward Whoopi's house at the bottom). Many times I strolled with the quickly sleeping, infant Sanjina in a baby sling, on the long, crashing beach at Trancas.

Superficial/artificial/simulacral and seismic or not, California has got to be one of the most exhilaratingly beautiful places on Earth.

You can see I'm California dreaming.

1 comment:

ted fulton said...

I enjoyed your blog entry on California and agree with your assessment of it's natural beauty, especially the Santa Monica Mountains. Since you were once a "local", I thought I would invite your comments on a state project planned along scenic Mulholland highway. Details of the project can be seen at: http://savethemeadow.com Project officially known as the Ronald Reagan Equestrian campground.