I lay there in my sleeping bag, and listened to the distant hum of the traffic on the highway. Then I realised that it was 3am, and the sound I could hear was the roar of the Pacific ocean just over the dunes, not that of cars.
The Pacific. Far, far from home.
Roadtrips always have a hint of the surreal about them..the scenery changing so fast, days and nights passing in a blur of faces, places, smells, and randomness.. I have loved every day of the last three weeks. This trip to California has been a dream for so long that all expectations had faded by the time I made it here. In the months leading up to the trip I carried the assumption that I knew America…that it wasn’t a foreign country, but familiar territory, culture, language and mentality. About a week before leaving I realised that I didn’t know America at all: that all I had was an amalgamation of images from Hollywood, pop culture, the media, history class, and some (expatriated) American friends.
And with this realisation came a hint of nervousness…what would I find? Would I fit? How would I feel in this suddenly foreign culture? Growing up listening to the iconic sounds of the 60’s and 70’s I always felt that I should have been born in California, (preferably 30 years earlier), and being here I find that I still feel that way…
Almost as soon as I arrived, a curious thing began to happen. I found myself beginning to understand why it is that Americans can be so patriotic. I use the term ‘curious’ because the concept of patriotism has always seemed bizarre to me – and yet here I was, far away from home, starting to get it, almost to feel it.
Admittedly I am someone who loves easily..but the last few weeks have been excessive, even for me. I love the land, the people, the flora and fauna..and it’s not an overly romanticised love: I still see the darker parts: the parts that aren’t working, that are causing suffering and destruction. But I also see so much beauty, looming far greater in a way than these problems; a culture of kindness and generosity, of open-mindedness and free-thinking. A culture where individualism in the sense of expression of the individual is not only accepted but encouraged.
I wanted to find the ‘real’ America, the lives that are lived by regular people in the quiet towns of the country. What does it mean to be American, now? What is America, now? The America in my head was a blend of rock music, violence, pioneers and rednecks and Native Americans, wild beautiful expanses of nature, the origin of the cubicle, impossible polarities in everything imaginable…
And in the many conversations I’ve had with people throughout this trip I feel like I’m starting to get a feel for her, for the real America…and I love her.
And the most wonderful thing of all…somehow, the distance to ordinary life has afforded space; space that is allowing seemingly random floods of insight and inspiration into the biggest questions of my life. At bizarre moments I will suddenly feel the urge to pick up my pen, and desires, goals and decisions flood out of me onto the page. It feels something like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle slowly falling together, like an automated version of Tetris…and parts of this puzzle are beginning to be accessible to me in these quiet moments of flow.
A brief and jumbled collection of images so far…
Rivers, lakes and mountains, chipmunks, dunes, misty shorelines, homemade blueberry pie hot from the oven, a rope swing in an orchard, hawks, saloons, onion rings, dried grasses swaying in the breeze, a movie in the oldest working movie theater in the country, red sunsets over rugged mountains, crabs, stars, redwoods, surfers, bullfrogs, midnight conversations, coyote howls, outdoor showers in the morning mist, country songs, elk, pickup trucks, trail runs, bear-proof boxes, windy bluffs, raccoons, ranches, sunset over a turquoise lake, warm sunshine…
*One of the iconic songs of the trip playlist*