I’m in love.
And the lady’s name is California.
For the first 32 years of my life I failed to appreciate what I had.
Sure, I had fun playing in her cities. I spent many summers with my aunt in San Francisco. I’ve rubbed shoulders with the big mouse at Disneyland in La-La Land. Explored such places as Old Sacramento on a regular basis — the restaurants and not the museums.
The list of cities I visited are endless: San Diego, Monterey, Redding, Crescent City, Truckee, Bakersfield – yes Bakersfield — San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and everywhere in between from wide spots in the road such as Firebaugh and East Nicolaus to places where Robin Leach would feel right at home such as Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Woodside, and Atherton.
I even ogled at excesses from San Simeon to the 17-Mile Drive and beyond.
It wasn’t until three decades ago that I discovered California was more than just a pretty face.
I admit I had inklings. A three-week trip to a village in the Sierra Madre south of Mexico City and excursions to Illinois, Missouri, Utah, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Indiana, Georgia and even Hawaii among other states I started to see signs of why California is quite a lady.
She’s never boring. If you doubt that, drive 210 miles east-west in Illinois. It’s flatter than a heart flat-lining. Then go the same distance from Hayward in the Bay Area to Mono Lake east of Yosemite via Highway 120. You pass through the tech rich Coastal Range valleys, the world’s richest farming region, the fabled Gold Country, across the lofty Sierra and descend from Tioga Pass at 9,943 feet down to the edge of a prehistoric lake that sits in the Long Valley Caldera that’s California’s largest and most active volcano. I’ve got nothing against 200-plus miles of corn fields. California has them as well.
I’ve walked at 10 o’clock at night 50 yards from a Piedmont Airlines jet to a terminal in Champaign, Ill. in 80-degree heat with 90 percent humidity and became soaking wet in 30 seconds. Ten hours earlier I had walked in 105 degree heat from the Sacramento International Airport’s long-term parking to the terminal without even dripping once.
The same reason California is not only the most fertile agricultural region in the nation but the world, is the same reason our weather is pleasant. It’s the Mediterranean climate. We get snow but it is where it belongs — up in the mountains. California has blizzards and heat waves but we don’t ever experience hundreds of people dying because of them.
Sure the lady has physical attributes that everyone from surfers, fishermen, hikers, rock climbers, desert rats, snow skiers, nature lovers, and poets love but California is more than that — it is a state of mind.
Perhaps it started with the Gold Rush. Maybe it is because we were at the end of the continent tamed by those with a pioneer spirit whose families across the Atlantic never venture more than 10 miles.
California may not have been the birthplace of things such as the movies, high-tech, irrigated farming, water development, and aerospace to name a few but it is within her boundaries that such ventures have soared to new heights.
Yes, California has her fruits and nuts but she doesn’t mind sharing them considering more than 60 percent of the nation’s total are grown on her farms.
The possibilities for people are as endless as the vistas from Mt. Diablo to Mt. Shasta to Mt. Whitney. All people have to be willing to do is climb the mountains needed to get there. California — just like any great lover — inspires one to do just that.
California has deserts, one of the world’s most rugged and primitive coastlines, the western hemisphere’s lowest spot, endless sandy beaches, the world’s tallest living thing, the Great Central Valley, the world’s oldest living thing, the only Delta on the Pacific Coast in the Western Hemisphere, the tallest point in the continental United States, active volcanos, a young mountain range, glaciers, thermal geysers, and more.
It also has people. There are almost 40 million of us.
If you want to travel around the world and not leave the United States, the best place to do that is in California. Los Angeles Unified alone has 92 different languages — not including different dialects — spoken by its students. California has the culture that reflects. There are restaurants, stores, nightclubs, cultural centers and festivals representing every continent save Antarctica although San Diego’s zoo has a pretty awesome penguin exhibit. Where else can you find a Mexican restaurant on a neighborhood street such as Clement Street in San Francisco where the cook is Taiwanese, the owner Filipino, and the waitress is a transplant from New York City.
California loves learning as is reflected in her embracing three higher education systems — the University of California, California State University, and the California Community Colleges.
Sure it costs to live here. But look what we get for the price: Fresh produce, great weather, inspiring vistas, a compact version of world cultures, and more.
Should you question your love for California or grow jealous if the fact she has 40 million suitors, rekindle the flame.
Head to Yosemite Valley on an early spring day and let your doubts disappear amid the roar of waterfalls. Trek to the top of Mt. Whitney and gaze upon her vastness, walk with her along Drake’s Beach at Point Reyes, gaze up at her redwoods, hug her giant sequoias, or hike to remote sand dunes in Death Valley’s Panamint Valley.
There — atop 800 feet of sand — soak in what is before you: Hundreds of square miles without a human in sight. It is so quiet you can hear a bird’s wings flapping a mile away.
And just when you’re lost in a Henry David Thoreau moment, you’ll get caught up in the wonder of Navy jets engaging in mock dog fights flying so low at times it seems you can almost reach out and touch them.
That, in essence, is the beauty of being in love with California.
You can enjoy pristine beauty one moment and be on the cutting edge of the 21st century the next.
California isn’t the love of my life.
It is why I love life.