Thursday, January 8, 2009

California Dreaming

Over the past few years, I've realized that I don't really consider myself an American, any more than the average Scotsman considers himself British. I am an American, but foremost I'm a Californian. I understand deep in my soul the importance of water. I know how hard we need to fight to save our environment, our towns, signs of the past. I know that the soul of the land is the tough manzanita that re-sprouts after wildfires, not the redwood or the palm or the showy California poppy. I know the importance of basing one's diet on fresh fruits and vegetables. I know that the cardinal sins of human existence are social, environmental, and dietary rather than sexual.

I know that earthquakes aren't a big deal (except when they are), and that building codes are our friends. I know that snow belongs tidily in the Sierras instead of scattered willy-nilly all over the state. I know that the real seasonal variations are wet and dry, and that it never rains in the summertime. I know that farming requires irrigation. I know that every drop of water that sustains our cities comes from the snow in the mountains, and must be conserved.

I know that real trees are thousands of years old, can be 30-40 feet thick at the base, and that they can tower 400 feet in the air. I dream of climbing some of those trees like mountains and spending a night in their canopies. I know that real mountains are 10,000 or more feet tall and made of granite, while the ~5000' ones near the coast are more properly called hills.

I know that the ocean is large, wild, and cold, and that the sun sets over it. I swim in it anyway, even in January. Some places the ocean rides gently into beaches while other places it smashes into the mountains at the edge of the continent. I know what a microclimate is, and always dress accordingly.

I know the meaning of diversity: in the land, in the culture, in viewpoints, in the economy, in languages, in religion, in diet, in dress, in social mores. I know the costs and benefits of rapid growth and the struggle to create a meaningful, workable post-industrial society. I know that the state is large enough to embrace the Imperial Valley and The Land Behind the Orange Curtain as well as Berkeley, Marin, La Jolla, Garberville, and Eureka. It does not cause me the least bit of cognitive dissonance to put Spanish and English place names in the same sentence or to drive through neighborhoods where the store signs are in Cambodian or Vietnamese.

I grew up knowing how to eat an artichoke. I know that vegetables come loose in bins, not shrink-wrapped on plastic trays. I can eat a Cabo San Lucas chicken sandwich on pita bread without a second thought. I know that I can always find a recycling bin, wherever I might be, and that reusable trumps recyclable.

I know that deep-fried foods, public consumption of tobacco, single-use diapers (or single-use *anything*), SUVs, failure to take turns on the approach to the cloverleaf, incandescent light bulbs, ethnic or sexist or heterosexist jokes, transfats, and pushiness are rude and quite possibly ought to be illegal. I do not know how to send a restaurant meal back to the kitchen, but I can pass the time of day with the wait staff in basic Spanish.

I know that, even though we have 1/8 of the U.S. population, California is not taken seriously, and our concerns are routinely ridiculed and marginalized. This is one of the reasons I don't consider myself an American, really. If the rest of the country wants to stick their heads in the mud, so be it. We'll just keep on trying to invent post-industrial society and they can get there, like, whenever. No hurry, because hurrying is not, in fact, cool.

I don't hate people from other regions of the country, nor do I feel superior to them. I don't call the middle of the country the fly-over zone or make cracks about Iowa farmers. The folks I've met from the Midwest are pretty nice actually, a lot like the folks I've met from Mideast. (And I don't understand why Kansas isn't in the Mideast; American geographical terms don't make a lot of sense when viewed from this coast.) I don't get the cultures of the Northeast or the Deep South, let alone that of Texas, but hey, whatever.

I think about Asia a lot. Europe and Africa, not so much. I feel a cultural affinity with Mexico and Central and South America; we're all part of the same Spanish and Portugese colonial expansion.

It's January 8th and I noticed this morning that my roses are blooming.


Nellybliss said...

OMG, I think I'm a Californian, too! Except for the roses. Raised in Baltimore, lived in Chicago, now outside of Boston, but my parents were from L.A. and S.F. It's in the blood!


suzee said...

Hey, Heather - thanks for the comment, and for leading me to your blogs. Great reading.

Viktoria said...

Heather, great piece. Have forwarded it to two other Californians, though one is now living in NY. Keep writing!