When I first moved to California, nearly 40 years ago, I felt the elation of someone who has just stepped into Paradise.
The climate alone was enough to make you think you were in heaven: mild temperatures all year round. Blue sky all summer and most of the fall. Few pesky insects.
I grew up in southwest Michigan, where summer evenings were filled with giant mosquitoes (all of them thirsty) and summer days were mostly muggy. Planning outdoor activities in the summer was always risky because a storm (or tornado) could arise at any time. But not in the San Francisco Bay Area where I first lived. There, the days were reliably beautiful and the nights, equally alluring.
San Francisco wrapped itself around my heart. Morning fog, noontime sun or the twinkling lights of nighttime – whenever I was in the city, it felt like I was in a living picture postcard.
And talk about art -- everyone, it seemed, played the guitar or violin or piano. Glenn Heath was drawing and painting his beguiling owls (he’d later turn to soapstone and bronze sculpture). Neighbors wrote poetry. Friends composed songs. There were local bands producing quality records and groups of friends writing and producing plays.
I was so excited to learn about public access television that I got a grant and produced a dozen TV shows just because I could.
The possibilities for someone who loves art, music, literature, theater, photography and fun seemed endless.
And I liked the people. They were all doing interesting things, from raising funds to help the hungry to writing cookbooks to hang-gliding.
I loved the way people in California encouraged each other’s endeavors. Just mention that you’re working on a novel or that you’re launching a new business selling hand-made purses, and within minutes you’d receive names and phone numbers of people who could help. No critical, "What makes you think you could do THAT?" No disparaging remarks or sarcastic jokes about your hopes and dreams.
In that supportive spirit, I attended and contributed to more than one fund-raiser for independent filmmakers (who a year or two ago were housewives or students). In fact, I contributed to Vivienne Verdon-Roe’s film "Women – For America, For the World," which won the 1986 Academy Award for documentaries. That opportunity came during a tea held by a neighbor. None of us attending were rich. Most of us were students or young workers of modest means. But we were happy to hear Ms. Roe talked about her film and give us a chance to help. All of us there wrote her checks.
So now that I’ve lived in California longer than anywhere else, and have traveled this huge state from its wild coasts to its serene deserts, I have to admit I’m still enthralled with the place.
Yes, we’ve got our share of scoundrels in government and business. And we have earthquakes. Yes, there’s Southern California with the glamour and insecurity of Hollywood, and Northern California with the intensity and competition of Silicon Valley. There are violent gangs and miles of foreclosed homes in the Central Valley. And the schools and colleges aren’t what they used to be.
But there’s a beauty here, in both the landscape and the people that simply fills me with awe. From the coastal redwoods to the granite walls of Yosemite to the lullaby surf at Monterey Bay to the Mojave’s prickly Joshua trees to the miles of almond blossoms perfuming springtime air around Modesto, …I find this state full of sweet wonder and promise.
From the Golden Gate Bridge to Julia Morgan’s Hearst Castle to the little leftover Gold Rush towns clustered along State Highway 49…California’s past tumbles into its present.
And the people -- artists, musicians, teachers, photographers, farmers, truck drivers, shop keepers, writers, students and parents and ministers, nurses, carpenters, bakers – these creatively involved people carry the present into the future with the constant feeling that life is good.
Some call it "California Dreamin’"
I call it love.