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. 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 toward me, resting at my feet. They are friendlier here than they are back in New Jersey. A blanket of clouds, thin and stretched across the sky like cotton, covers the sun and the sand suddenly cools. The sea shimmers when 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 inching closer to kiss me. The air here feels familiar, and I am glad to be welcomed back to my second home. The knot in my stomach finally comes undone.
It’s hot, and I am out of water. My knuckles are white, wrapped around the railing above my head in the shuttle car. I wish I could focus on the beauty, but my head is spinning as we race around the curves of the street carved into the mountainside. We are 8,000 feet above sea level, and my stomach can tell. The leaves of the redwood trees, thick and alive, cast shadows on the dry dirt being crushed beneath the shuttle car’s tires. I feel guilty being here, disrupting what purity is left in this land. I am a criminal here, the nature around me holding on to all it has left. What seems to be a beautiful and vast landscape is just a small portion of what was once here. The spinning words I’m sorry take over my head.
Clay and dirt are dry and cracked. Tires kick up clouds of dust as cars roll down the cliff side. Angular slate and shards of limestone are in their original skin; the drought has left them untouched by rain or water for years. They remain jagged and serrated. The dust drowns everything. Root is indistinguishable from rock which is indistinguishable from bone. Everything is a dull reddish brown hue. The drought has lasted for years, yet plants thrive and roots dislocate and break open rocks, sending them tumbling to the bottom of the ravine. A coyote runs through the brush, a snake hides behind a rock, and vultures circle high above. The peaks 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; all are connected. Somehow 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. It is 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 stretch along the sidewalk beneath our feet. The thrill of it all soon fades as I notice a girl, drunk and tripping over her own heels first thing in the morning, just trying to get home. I notice the dog, sick and starving, wandering through the streets without an owner. I glimpse a man injecting heroin into his veins; he vomits onto the same terrazzo and brass stars that I was just walking on.
When I was younger, I used to think my uncle’s garden was a miracle. The desert surrounding the city of Los Angeles could not support the plants and animals that thrived within the walls of the backyard. Yet with the love and care that exists here, so can life. Palm trees reach beyond the clouds. Their leaves shield us from the sun. From the dry, desert soil of California grow millions of blades of soft, emerald grass. As I lie among them, the life surrounding me becomes central. Cats meow and purr, birds flutter and sing in the trees, a tortoise eats the grass he shuffles across. The wind carries the smell of golden dandelions and fresh water from the man-made pond nearby. Everything is alive, and everything is beautiful. I have never been able to find a place where the grass is as green as it is right here.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.