I love the canyons here. I love the mountains that they wind through and I love the views they allow.
Today I walked along the Ocean Avenue park in Santa Monica. It's a narrow park that lies between the Ocean Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and affords beautiful views of the ocean, sunsets, and the coastline. On the PCH side of the park, there is a cliff. Erosion is the word. The cliff rises about 50 feet above the beach. I regularly take the California Incline, a road that cuts up the cliff and takes you from sea level to look out.
I met a friend for a walk and some tea. Originally intending to go for a hike, we downgraded our adventure to a leisurely stroll through the park since we were both recovering from illnesses. It didn't feel like much of a sacrifice since it was so beautiful. The sky was blue, the sunshine was warm, and the air was fresh.
From the park, you can see a few of my favorite views: the sun setting over the ocean, the coastline up to Point Dume and the green ridges of the Santa Monica Mountains. (Sometimes they're more brown than green, but thanks to recent rains, everything is green and growing here. It's like spring with less flowers.)
Home for me is on the other side of those mountains. There are a few ways to cross them, but my favorite is coming down Topanga Canyon. That's my canyon. I grew up seeing it. I used to be afraid the car would fall down the cliffs when I was a kid. I remember my brother picking me up from the airport a few years ago after I'd spent some time in Australia and was a little reluctant to come home. He drove me home through the canyon. It was June. Orange poppies and other wild flowers lined the road. It softened the homecoming. For over a year, I drove that canyon to and from work 5 days a week. I've driven it at all hours of the day and night. I've seen bad accidents. I've been held up at road works. There's a man who runs down the canyon every morning. He looks dirty: his hair in dreads, his face brown. His clothes: always a jogging suit of types, either blue or pink, covered in a layer of dirt. The cars you see time and time again. The stop light they put in. The changes to the stores in the little town of Topanga. The shimmering sign at Froggy's that lights up in neon green at night. The Hidden Treasure: a shop which seems to sell a wide variety of what someone considers to be treasures. The post office. The day laborers that line the road side in the morning. The occasional hitch hiker. The lumber yard, perched on the side of the canyon. For a while, I tried to be a hyper-miler and drive from the Top of Topanga to PCH in neutral. If the traffic was right, I could do it. If the traffic was too heavy or the person in front was new to the canyon, I had to switch into drive near the mouth of the canyon. And then there was the ocean.
I'd wait at the stop light at PCH and stare at the ocean. Most mornings there were surfers out there. Some mornings I'd see paddle boarders. On the mornings when the ocean was so still it looked more like a lake, the paddle boarders were the only people I'd see. Some mornings the fog would be thick and sitting on top of the ocean. Some mornings, it'd be so clear you could see Catalina Island. A few times there were dolphins. Sometimes there were pelicans. Always there were seagulls.
My friend and I walked up and down the park. We looked around and we felt lucky. For all of the negative aspects of LA, for the traffic, for the pollution, for the industries, for all of its weirdness, we felt lucky to be standing right there, two days after Christmas, outside, by the ocean, warmed by the sun.
We're both a bit transient. Her a bit more-so than me, especially at present. I at least have a room to pay rent on, even if it's in temporary university accommodation. She is without an address, without rent or a mortgage or a property title to her name. We're both good at making home where we are. We're capable and confident of being able to get by in any situation. But there are some things that make a place feel like home. She said, for as much as she wanted to leave LA a year or so ago, she was thrilled to be on a plane coming back to it. I feel that. Some trips more than others.
I thought about that as I drove home through the canyon. I thought about how much of this place I have yet to explore. Someone told me recently how Aimee Bender describes LA: a shy girl who you think is a bitch but the more you get to know her and she shares all of these fascinating and beautiful parts of herself with you you realize that all along she was just shy. It could be true. LA is a weird place. Hard to get to know because it's so vast and fast. But there are pieces I know and love and that I'd like to get to know better. In some ways it's like a relative: they're family, it's in your blood, it just is, whether you like it or not. But you can choose to get to know her, to befriend her. It's effort, but it's rewarding.
I was feeling grateful for friends, for sunsets, for beauty when a coyote ran across the road in front of my car. I slowed for it and watched it sleek, grey-brown figure glide across the road. How wild.
California is my home. Los Angeles is my home. Topanga is home. Mullholland Drive is home. Oak trees and eucalyptus trees and pepper trees co-habit here with me. I know their smells. The coyotes that howl on summer nights, the white tailed rabbits, the birds (all kinds), the lizards, the snakes, the rattle snakes. The dirt roads that guide me. The hills surround me. Mountains are the boundaries and the canyons cradle me. How ever far I roam, how ever long I may be gone, no matter how many street names I forget, I will always be a Californian. This will always be home.