Dear California

Dear California,

I have wanted to write to you for a while, but life somehow keeps delaying my plan. You know me so well. I can hear you whispering in my ear, “Oh, you’re just procrastinating a little, my friend,” as you wink your eye. I think you are right; aging can bring all kinds of unexpected behaviors, both good and bad, which for me, the latter seems to be in the dominating position lately.

Well, here I am, finally sitting down on this late afternoon in the middle of December to talk to you. It’s quite warm during the daytime, but the cooler temperature at night reminds me that winter is knocking at the door. The chicken soup is warming on the stove, the fireplace is on, the beautiful guzmalia plant is giving the perfect splash of holiday red, my husband is working in the backyard, and I am so content in my work corner. This is a perfect space and quiet time to have an intimate conversation with you, my friend.

First, I hope you know that you are my longest friend ever. I have known you since 1982, 35 years. How does time fly so fast? Do you remember the first time we met? I was a young refugee girl from a far away land, and due to some super lucky star, I landed in San Francisco, one of the most beautiful places on earth. I did not speak English at all, but the name California was very quickly a sound of solace and hope to me.  Back at the refugee camp, when UNICEF notified me that I was approved to go to California, I immediately learned how to spell America and your name. I looked at the map in the camp’s office to make sure I could picture your location in my mind. Many people corrected me when I pronounced your name like Ca-li-for-ni-a or Ca-li-for-nha…I didn’t really care. I just had a gut feeling that you and I would have a lasting friendship.

We often hear about how chemistry between two people helps to create bonds. I first felt that chemistry when I stepped off the Pan Am flight walked down the staircase of the San Francisco airport. I was not feeling well during the flight and was completely zapped from the motion sickness, but that weak feeling evaporated as soon as my feet touched your ground. You stabilized my body, your light breeze and clean air filled my damaged lungs, and you calmed my anxiety with your warm hug. I was finally safe. I had arrived at last, and I could now start my new life in California. I felt your welcome, support, tolerance, and love immediately, but most of all, I felt protected and a sense of belonging in this mix.

As you know, my first few years were full of adventure, energy and excitement as I found my place in this new world. I learned the new language, and I continue to learn every day. I have traveled all over you, California, from small and medium towns to metropolis cities. I have also had the chance to travel to most of your 49 sibling states. Boy, it was the wonder years of the young and restless. My extensive traveling gave me a chance to see the world, and I realized just how beautiful you are. Take a look at your magnificent self. I can climb mountains in Yosemite and swim in the copious, beautiful, cold or warm lakes that dot your landscape. If I want the desert heat, I go to Palm Springs. If I want the forest and your majestic redwood giants, I hike the trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains. If I want to see how insignificant I am, I walk along the beach or stand atop any hill and look out at the Pacific Ocean and the endless horizon. Look at all the different kinds of outdoor activities that my husband enjoys year round in your territory: he skis at Squaw Valley, camps in Big Sur, sails in Santa Cruz, golfs at Pasatiempo, bikes the 17 Mile Drive, hikes at Dodge Ridge, and swims in Lake Tahoe. You magically provide the best quality for an active life.

People often talk about Paris, Barcelona, London, Venice…I agree we should all experience different parts of the world, but I also strongly believe we should visit our homeland first. A person who travels to other countries but fails to see their own is like a person who knows their neighbor’s house better than their own! It’s a syndrome that quite a few of us possess. Some people feel better saying that they travel to foreign lands than staying inside their country’s border. What those people don’t realize is that we live in the most beautiful place on earth. I agree Paris is quite pretty, Barcelona is historical, Rome is ancient, Peking is huge, Tokyo is crowded, and Nice is homy, but come on, America is magnificent, full of young energy and incredible innovation. If you start on the east coast and move to the west, you will experience the broad change of our vast landscape, from deserts, to mountains, to valleys, from ocean to ocean through the four time zones.

Oops, see, California, there I go again. You must now think, “She is still the same person, always getting lost in her thoughts.” I was writing about you, and I somehow went down the rabbit hole and am rambling on about your siblings!

Well, here I am, back to us. I have to admit, I get mad at you from time to time and even dance with the thought of moving to another state. Just like any relationship, as soon as I come to my reasonable senses, I realize that you are it for me.

The challenge living with you is the cost to be here. As you see, too many other people love you like I do. Your population is growing by leaps and bounds. Housing, gas, utilities, food, and taxes are the highest in the nation. What I’m really uptight about with you is the traffic congestion. I am afraid of traveling anywhere on a weekday or the weekend. The hours stuck on the freeway are not only annoying, but it makes me so tired and uninspired! I have to strategically plan my route every time I need to go somewhere.

Well, we both heard before, “Necessity is the mother of all invention.” This is not exactly invention, but because of the challenges living in your state, I have come up with a daily plan that has opened up a very lovely path for me. Let me tell you about it, my friend.

Instead of complaining about the housing market and cost of living, we have decided not to move.  We are taking the time to make our nest exactly how we want it. Kirk is beautifying our backyard complete with a little wine cellar. I’m working on a woman cave where I can mourn over all my failed startups and envision more successful ones! We also plan to add a workout room to keep us healthy into old age so we can continue to play with you. We have lived in this house for fifteen years, but this is the first time we can say it is really being given some tender love and care.

We have decided that we will start our day during the wee hours of the morning when people are not contributing to the traffic problem.  Don’t tell anyone, but it is the best time. When we are on the highway before dawn, we simply own the road. The lots are empty. There are no arguments for parking spots and no road rage to steal my energy. It feels like a sacred, holy time with you, a best kept secret. The air is clean and crisp, the world is wide open, quiet, and full of possibilities. I have to catch my breath each morning while the sun slowly rises up from deep inside the ocean. The vibrant colors of pink, orange, blue and grey paint a stunning picture on the canvass of your sky. Each day you and I greet the sun together, and our bond grows ever deeper. Out of 39 million people, the birds, the ocean waves, the wind, and I are the only few living things that embrace your early morning. Like I said, “shhhhh.”

You see, California, I have turned what I hate about you into something that enhances my life. I now enjoy your summer breezes, warm winter days, gentle fall afternoons, and lovely spring mornings. I have even learned to prepare for and deal with your anger from time to time. When you throw your earthquake tantrums or become enraged with fire, I understand that having a relationship with all these people might be a little frustrating. What can I say? Just like all of us, you have a flaw, and that makes you vulnerable, all the more reason to make me want to protect you with my grateful arms.

Dear California.

I can go on forever, but I will stop right here. I promise to come back and talk some more. As we both get older and hopefully wiser, I want to make sure you know that we are best friends forever.

Love always,

Sherry