California is a source of endless frustration for me. I love this place as much as I hate to love this place – it renders me as neurotic as any character in a Woody Allen movie. On the one hand I love my adopted state more than any other place I’ve lived. California is a fantastically varied and beautiful outdoor playground with high mountains, deserts, plains, coastline and everything in between. One does not grow bored in the Golden State.
On the other hand, I feel a certain level of self-loathing for even saying I love this place. The southern coastal strip where I live can also be described as a Paradise Lost of infinite traffic nightmares existing in an unsustainable state of fires, floods and droughts. We have no real source of water down here other than the Colorado River and the Sierra Nevada, yet in this time of drought the golf courses are still green. When it does rain, we have mudslides. Construction continues unabated in areas that even in the best of rainfall years have trouble supporting the current population (just take a drive along Rt 395 through the High Desert communities of the Mojave to see what I’m talking about). And almost everywhere you look, take note of the trash along the roadsides. Is this the proper manner to treat such a beautiful place? I think not. Sometimes I’m ashamed to call myself a Californian.
A few weeks ago I read an essay by Noam Chomsky that contained an observation I found interesting:
One index of human impact is the extinction of species, now estimated to be at about the same rate as it was 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the Earth. That is the presumed cause for the ending of the age of the dinosaurs, which opened the way for small mammals to proliferate, and ultimately modern humans. Today, it is humans who are the asteroid, condemning much of life to extinction.
Love him or hate him, he has a point. There is no denying that human activities on this planet are causing massive changes. As much as I love to drive north and esacape to hike among Giant Sequoias through a place like Muir Grove, am I not just part of the problem? As lightly as I try to tread, do my footsteps not have repercussions be they large or small? The wisdom of a 2500 year old tree seems to agree. I think if they could they would squash us beneath their trunks.
When I drive my car through the Owens Valley and gaze in wonder at the interplay of cloud and earth in the Eastern Sierra, am I not just wasting precious resources? Or clouding the skies with my car’s exhaust?
Would it be better to just stay at home instead of driving 300 miles to go ride my bike? For that matter, would it be better to move to a more sustainable state that has a water supply, less traffic and a better quality of life? Probably so, but until that day comes I intend to enjoy views like this as often as possible. These are the places that California still makes sense to me, even if it is only for a fleeting moment while admiring the Inyo Range.
Maybe it’s the dichotomy of a 300 mile drive through hectic traffic, followed by 4 hours of riding my bike into the night and a quick, lonesome bivy that makes views like this first thing in the morning so special. It’s nice to be able to hit the snooze button a few times while watching the day unfold, the silence broken only by the ruffle of feathers from a hawk soaring overhead.
My time in the great state of California is winding down, just as my days upon this earth have been dwindling since the day I was born. It’s time for me to move on. But until I reach my destination I’ll appreciate the beautiful state of chaos that is California – and do my best to avoid being just another asteroid.