The Journey West, The Settling In
This post has two purposes, a) to announce my new city of residence. And b) to share some stories and photos of getting here.
A) I live in Los Angeles now! It is as beautiful as they say. The weather is as consistent as I had been led to believe. I received a parking ticket on my first morning and two earthquakes in my first week. It is everything I hoped it would be and more. I love it here.
B) Getting here was half the fun.
My hometown, Lincoln, Nebraska, is pretty darn near the midpoint between New York and LA. After spending a week with family there, I got myself a car and drove the rest of the way. The most direct interstate highways would get you there on around 1,500 miles of road in about 21 hours of drive time. I did in 3,500 miles. I saw five national parks, some of the biggest land animals in North America, the largest trees in the world, plenty of snow (in June), friends I haven’t seen in 20 years, and The Roots.
And me. I got a good, up close and personal look at myself. If you ever wonder what your deep preoccupations and frets are, pro tip: make sure the first day of your major life transition journey is a 13-hour drive through what is unquestionably the most repetitive, least dramatic scenery in America. I kept the radio off for the first 6 hours to let whatever was inside get loud and proud. I had resolved in advance to love it all - which is exactly the kind of resolution that is easier done in advance, before you see the nitty gritty. I hit the road two hours later in the morning than I had intended. Surely that is worthy of scorn and derision, surely I should kick my own ass for that until at least Kearney, right? Nope. That part of me gets love, too. Well if the part of me that had a leisurely morning is worthy of love, then the part of me that wanted to kick that other part’s ass must be the part that deserves cruel treatment. That part of me is a bully. No love for bullies, right? Nope - even the mean part gets love. Especially the mean part. All of it. This is the journey.
In Cody, WY, I staid in an Airbnb with a near-retirement couple and four huskies. The lady had struggled with debilitating Crohn’s disease for many years, but a few years ago after having done a lot of internet research she introduced a massive influx of probiotics into her life and her gut has been fine ever since. They now make their own kefir. The fella works for the fish and wildlife department. He talks about how important beavers are. It would cost millions of dollars to replicate the work they do creating and maintaining wetlands and it still wouldn’t be as good. He moves beavers around for a living, he says. The lady makes me a terrific breakfast before I venture into Yellowstone the next morning, complete with the best damn sourdough I’ve ever had that the fella makes himself in bread ovens he built himself in their garage.
Yellowstone was magnificent. Within my first four hours in the park, I saw bison (many), elk (a few), grizzly bears (a momma and a cub), and a even a mysterious lone wolf jogging nearish the road. I felt so special, so lucky, as if the park itself had conspired to help me understand I was in the right place at the right time.
Then I tried to camp. I should have charged admission to the clown show that was me putting up my first tent in my adult life. But the tent-pitching was successful. The fire-starting… not so much. Thank goodness there are no FDA standards against eating raw s’mores.
When the sun went down, the park turned into Hoth. I had pajamas to change into but wound up sleeping full cowboy: jeans, sweatshirt, jean jacket, wool socks, hat. I grudgingly left my boots at the tent door so as not to damage my sleeping bag. My nose, which remained uncovered, told me the temperature when I woke up: damn cold.
If there was any part of me that remained unconvinced of the rightness of my journey by the previous day’s parade of megafauna, the first night’s deep freeze stiffened those doubts. But then I awoke - alive, and invigorated by the simple resilience of having lived through a cold sleep. I went exploring.
I’ll spare you my prose descriptions of Yellowstone National Park, or my implorements to see for yourself. And I’ll substitute John Muir’s:
"Stay on this good fire-mountain and spend the night among the stars. Watch their glorious bloom until the dawn, and get one more baptism of light. Then, with fresh heart, go down to your work, and whatever your fate, under whatever ignorance or knowledge you may afterward chance to suffer, you will remember these fine, wild views, and look back with joy to your wanderings in the blessed old Yellowstone Wonderland."
Also, this was my breakfast companion.
And this was my lunch view.
After three thrilling days and two chilly nights camping in the geothermal wonderland, I drove through Grand Tetons National Park (gorgeous) and Jackson Hole (they really love their decorative antlers in Jackson) and into Idaho where I stayed in another Airbnb with big dopey dogs. This time, two black labs. Sweeties, both. The proprietor was a very industrious empty-nester. She managed a hardware store in the nearest town, and was busy in the evenings painting giant wooden slats to redo the siding on her barn/shed. The room I stayed in was affectionately named The Pink Room, although to my eyes it looked a lot more lavender.
I received a message from an old high school friend who saw my photo updates online. If I was passing through central Oregon, she said, feel free to drop by and stay for a spell. Also, The Roots were playing that weekend if that helped my decision at all. Also, she was the box office manager for the venue The Roots were playing at, so she had a strong hunch there was still a ticket available with my name on it should I happen to be in the neighborhood. I told Staci that Oregon had not been on my itinerary, but it sure was now. Thank God Staci has a big, gorgeous dog. The streak is alive.
In the 20 years since we had seen each other Staci had lived a few full lives. She had lived in several states, including Utah, Montana, South Dakota, and now Oregon. She had been a brutal yet ultimately unsuccessful Muay Thai fighter. She met the love of her life - only to lose him suddenly and tragically to heart failure while they were running a half-marathon together. She told me this story with earned grace and calm over lunch and a freshly packed bowl of (totally legal!) marijuana. I had been in town all of fifteen minutes. She lost him eight years ago. Life had carried on. Staci has become a massage therapist and Reiki practioner, helping ease pain out of bodies and spirits. The exact same contagious brightness that I wrote about in her yearbook was here, alive, bruised, and powerful.
The Roots, as you rightly assumed, were f*ing incredible.
Then down to San Francisco to visit my step-sister, Viv. She has a catalogue-cute puppy, thank God. Chooch. Viv is a genius astrologer. I don’t believe in any of that stuff, of course, but also as a Pisces sun / Gemini moon (with Aquarius rising!) I listen to every single thing she has to say on the subject because I know wisdom when I hear it. Follow her instagram account and take her advice if you know what is good for you.
Viv and her siblings lost their father, Joe, earlier this year. Joe brought many gifts into my life when he married my mother, not the least of which are my amazing step-siblings. This brief day in SF was my one chance to sneak in a little brother/sister time before his memorial service a week later in southern California. Viv and Chooch and me, some great Mexican food, some contemplative conversation, and some more (perfectly legal!) pot. A brief sleep, then off to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.
There are bears in Yellowstone, but when I asked how cautious I needed to be, like - do I need to keep the food in a bear-proof locker because if it is in my car the bears will tear the doors off to get to it? - the response was - no, that’s the bears of Yosemite. They’re much more intense.
If anyone in California wants to go hiking and borrow my bear spray, it is full. I guess I should be glad I never had to use it, but, *sigh*.
These parks are stunning. The canyons, the waterfalls, the ducks, the mule deer. All ludicrously beautiful. But the sequoias… lord almighty. The sequoias. You want to put your internal dialogue and existential issues in sharp relief? Go visit a living being that has been on the planet and growing since the Roman Empire was at its peak. I spend so much energy investing in the belief that I should be a big deal, that I need to matter more - it is surprising how comforting it is to be utterly dwarfed in time and space by a presence like The General Sherman Tree.
The memorial service in Hemet, CA, was a combination of work colleagues and families anchored by his widow and two of his ex-wives. Modern times, modern families. There had been no small stress in the bringing together of these various cohorts, but it was the right way to honor the life of the man we were there to celebrate. My mom and siblings all spoke. I gave the eulogy. It was the first time I had ever been asked to eulogize someone. I was honored, and I hope I rose to the occasion. We spent a few more days together, seeing some beaches and some Joshua Trees and enjoying ourselves and each other’s company in what we believed would be Joe-approved ways.
After a month of family, nature, dogs, and time spent investigating my industrious inner monologue, I arrived in LA. Another old friend from high school was kind enough to show me around for my first couple days in town. She is now an urban planner in the LA area, so her city tours are *particularly* in depth. Soon enough I found a place. I wanted a home that felt like I was living in LA now. It turns out pastel tiles are what feel like LA to me.
It took three more weeks for my things to arrive from New York, so I camped in my new place during that spell. Fortunately I had indulged in a folding outdoor rocking chair for camping, so I had a place to sit and comfortably read and awkwardly write.
The air in my neighborhood smells floral. I didn’t suddenly become a new person here, at least not more than any other person is from one day to the next, but when I walk outside in the morning and smell the air and let that whiff be the sum total of my thoughts for a moment, I’m not the person I was before, either. I left some things in New York, I left some things in Nebraska, and I brought some things with me in the car that I didn’t even realize I was holding onto. But with every dish I wash in my white-and-yellow sink and every bird-of-paradise that meets me eye to eye, I have the opportunity to let go of one more thing right there in the kitchen, right there on the sidewalk.