Salt gritted between my teeth and the air had never felt more clear. The sun dripped into the sand and was hot beneath my feet. I let the opaque blue water flow over my toes, buried in the sand and here I could finally breathe. The January breeze nipped at the back of my neck; a light whisper reminding me of my home back on the east coast. Seagulls squawked and fluttered over toward me, resting at my feet. They are friendlier here than they are back in New Jersey. A blanket of cloud, thin and stretched across the sky like cotton covers the sun and the sand suddenly cools. The sea shimmers as bright as snow as the sun sneaks back into view, reflecting in shifting patterns across my skin. I can’t help but feel that it is welcoming me with open arms, the cool waves crashing at my feet inching closer to hold me and pulling me back in to kiss me. The air here feels familiar and I am glad to be welcomed back to my second home as the knot in my stomach finally comes undone.
It was hot and I had run out of water. My knuckles were white, wrapped around the railing above my head in the shuttle car. I wish I could have focused on the beauty but my head was spinning as we raced around the curves and bends of the street, carved into the mountainside. We were eight-thousand feet above sea level and my stomach could tell. The leaves of the redwood trees, thick and alive they cast shadows shrouding the dry dirt crushed by the tires of the shuttle car. I felt guilty being here, as if I were influencing this land. I was a criminal here, the nature before me and I divided by the crimes committed against them by those before me and this is all that they have left. What seems to be a beautiful and vast landscape is just a small portion of what was once there and all I could think was that I was sorry as the spinning in my head took over.
Clay and dirt are dry and cracked as the tires of cars kick dust up in clouds that roll down the cliffside. Angular slate and shards of limestone in their original skin, the drought has left them untouched by all rain or water for years. They remain jagged and serrated yet the dust drowns everything. Root is indistinguishable from rock which is indistinguishable from bone and all is a dull hue of a reddish brown. The drought has lasted for years yet plants thrive and roots dislocate and break open rock, sending them tumbling to the bottom of the ravine. A coyote runs across through the brush, a snake hides behind a rock and vultures circle high up in the clouds. Far above, the peak of the hills and mountains are clean cut and sharp; they seem almost artificial against the pure robin’s egg blue sky behind them. Everything here is still and the air is warm yet all is connected. Colors aren’t vibrant but the life thrives here and the bottom of the trench below remains untouched.
The land of the rich and the famous, the air reeks of piss and narcissism. The center of American capitalism, tourists and vendors drain the city of the life it is so famous for. Thousands upon thousands of terrazzo and brass stars beneath your feet you feel like one of them yourself but the thrill of it all soon fades as you notice the girl, drunk and tripping over her own heels first thing in the morning just trying to get home. You notice the dog, sick and starving wandering through the streets in absence of an owner. You notice the man injecting heroin into his veins and the blood almost seems to drain from yours as he vomits onto the same terrazzo and brass stars that you are walking on and you notice that you fell for it all.
When I was younger I used to think that my uncle’s garden must be a miracle. The desert surrounding the city of Los Angeles could not support the plants and animals that thrive within the walls of the backyard, yet with the love and care that exists here, so can life. Palm trees that reach beyond the clouds with leaves that could shield you from the sun better than the cloudless sky could ever dream of, and from the dry, desert soil of California grew millions of blades of soft, emerald grass. As I lay among them the wildlife surrounding me becomes central. Cats meow and purr, birds flutter and sing in the trees and a tortoise eats the grass he shuffles across. The wind carries the smell of golden dandelions and fresh water from the pond nearby, and the leaves shimmer and rustle in unison along with it. Everything is alive and everything is beautiful, yet I have never been able to find a place where the grass is as green as it is right here.