I’m not from around here.
I find myself thinking that a lot: I’m not from around here. I didn’t come here by choice. Well, I did, but not because the place attracted me; I came to take care of my mother, who is chronically ill. I don’t regret that at all, in fact, at the time it didn’t feel like a choice, it was just what had to be done and I was just glad I was able to do it. I’ve moved around a lot, lived in three states and on two continents, so another move was really no big deal. But to tell the truth, I did not look forward to moving here.
Most of the time when people migrate three factors come into play: (1) necessity, (2) expediency, (3) opportunity. In that order. First there’s a need to move. Of all the potential destinations where one might move, the most expedient tops the list–the most affordable, the one nearest to other relatives, the best prospects for employment. Finally there is always the hope that the move will be a new beginning, a chance to achieve some long-dormant dream that has been pushed, perhaps repeatedly, to a back burner so that more pressing survival needs could be addressed.
So most of the time people don’t have the luxury of moving to their ideal place. And so it was with me. Faced with the prospect of caring for her mother, my mother relocated to be close to other family. Some 40 years before, those relatives had been transferred here by the military. When it was my mother’s own turn to be cared for, I too found myself here–in a part of southern California that…well, let’s just say it is not the part tourists visit, and climate change is not being kind to this region. To me it’s like a wasteland where other cities’ pollution and poor collect.
(That said, there are occasionally some lovely sunsets.)
Intellectually, I know that like almost all landscapes (maybe all but I’m not sure about inner Antarctica), if one takes the time to look closely one will be surprised by the diversity, resilience, and beauty of life. I am longing to find some way to integrate myself into the seasonal cycles and the animal, plant, and fungal nations of this place. I feel if I could do so I would find more meaning and wisdom in my time here and could forge relationships that would (I hope) be mutually beneficial.
But I find this landscape to be like a nut that I can’t crack. I can’t seem to find the sacred or power places. I feel like somehow whatever mana or mojo drew people to settle here has been erased or poisoned. And I can’t find comfort in the things I’m used to because, well, I’m not used to this place. Most of the things I try to grow are eaten by insects I’ve never encountered before or wither in a climate I just haven’t found a way to cope with. I befriended some local pine trees who, in the way of pines, are the very soul of gentleness and generosity but even they aren’t from here (they’re loblollies, native to the southeastern US). (Sidebar: How fun is it to say loblollies? Try it!) Even they seem to shrug their shoulders at where they’ve ended up. There is one phenomenon that sums this place up in my mind: there is a native species of sycamore (Platanus racemosa) here that is very drought-resistant, drought being a common problem here; there are many sycamores planted all over the city. But they’re not the native variety, they’re the species native to the well-watered eastern US (P. occidentalis). I mean, what genius came up with that plan?!
Meanwhile, I’ve been researching native flora in hopes of connecting that way, but as much as I love my alone-in-nature time, I admit I worry about the safety of being a young(ish) woman trekking through rattlesnake country accompanied only by my doughty but little mutt (don’t tell him he’s little though). December 26th will mark my 2nd anniversary here and I don’t feel I know it any better than when I first arrived, and still nothing resonates. I figure this is at least as much about my attitude as it is characteristic of this place. In fact, this post isn’t a complaint, but more a meditation on the situation. By telling you, I’m forced to articulate to myself things that I have been uncomfortable thinking, let alone expressing…because the truth is, my inability to connect and forge relationships with the land and its manifold life forms is a major challenge to my whole self-concept.
On some level, I know this place is a blessing. I know there is a lesson for me and if I can only learn it, I will be transformed and empowered. But I think I’m in the remedial class!