Saturday, September 08, 2007

Home is a State of Mind

I have been thinking about the idea of home for the last week. I had such a sense of homesickness as I drove the (San Francisco) Peninsula. Although I have lived in many places, I still think of myself as a mid-Peninsula girl. As I drove between San Jose and San Francisco last week, the sense of homecoming was palpable. It wasn't because I was driving to my mother's house; she moved there after I finished college. It was the familiarity of the landscape.

The sunsets of my youth haunt me. We never even saw the sun at sunset, but no matter. The fog banks poured like molten lava through gaps in the coastal range. The setting sun lit the fog up in Technicolor hues of orange, yellow, hot pink, violet, indigo and every shade in between. The mountain backdrop appeared cloaked in a dusky blue-black, deepened by the complementary colors of the sky. I used to take evening history classes at the College of San Mateo, near the top of one such gap in the mountains. I felt like Dorothy driving into the Technicolor dream world.

One summer in the middle of high school, I took Field Biology. We spent 3 days a week in the field and two days in the lab. We explored the entire bay area that summer. I can make out the rock formations and tell you how they formed. I can't remember the names of the plants any more, but I can tell you their distinguishing characteristics and how they are adapted for their home. Over there, my fellow students, hunting for wild orchids that grow by artesian springs in the coastal range, stumbled upon an ingenious pot farm, complete with a drip irrigation system. We slowly backed away and I never did get a good look at the orchids.

Behind every exit of I-280, there is another memory. I found myself pointing out every landmark for Iris. See that monolithic rock over there, that is serpentine, the state rock. She looked up from her book and said that it looked more like a mountain than a rock.

Look, the ridge above Stevens Creek is on fire! She was not impressed. She has seen a wildfire on every SoCal-NorCal trip. This was a two alarm trip because we saw a fire on the I-5 in the central valley on our return drive.

Remember that lake? We stopped to view it after my stepmother's funeral and before we interred her ashes at the top of the ridge over there. Actually, I choked up just thinking about that and didn't point it out to Iris. Her nose buried in a book, she was blissfully unaware of the sadness of that freeway exit.

Each California Mission Bell Marker triggered more memories. They mark the route of El Camino Real, "The Royal Highway", that connects the Spanish missions between San Diego (Mark's hometown), through Los Angeles (our current home) and San Francisco (my hometown), and terminates in Sonoma. Our route crosses the "El" north of Los Angeles and follows it for a short stretch along California Highway 82.

In a land where everyone is from somewhere else, that's how you can tell a native Californian. We ask each other which mission we recreated for our 4th grade California mission unit. Every student, in public or private school, would have made one. Most would have visited at least one mission with their parents as homework. Mom and I went out to visit Mission Santa Clara. I procrastinated and then turned in a shoe box turned into a "generic" mission.

However, a non-native made me feel especially Californian. She met a Californian and followed him out here. At first, whe wondered why so many people want to live in a place so crowded and so expensive. Then they settled in, bought a house and joined a church. She raved about her parish priest. As a bridesmaid, I would get to meet him at her wedding.

As we followed her directions for getting to the wedding rehearsal, we saw some mission bell markers. Mark remarked that Mission San Jose was in the vicinity. As we got closer to the church, the realization came to us at the same time. We were headed for Mission San Jose! My friend, who hailed from the other side of the country, was getting married in not just her parish church, but one of the oldest churches in the new world. I always cry at weddings, but this one was especially poignant because of the history of the place.

Perhaps home isn't San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego. All of California is our home.

Asides:
  • Iris brought 3 books along for the northbound drive which would have been exactly the right amount. However, she lost one of them and had to read one of the remaining books twice. I later found the book under the front passenger seat.
  • I drove our new (to us) Prius and only used 9 gallons of gasoline each way. The brief patches of stop and go traffic only served to increase our gas mileage.
  • What is it with Californian priests and their Birkenstocks? Mark and I have been in the wedding party for two CA weddings in which the priests (one Buddhist, one Catholic) officiated in Birkenstocks.
  • I made my bridesmaid's dress. The bride and I shopped for fabric in LA. She sent each bridesmaid (scattered across the country) some heavyweight Thai silk dupioni, china silk lining, a pattern, thread and zipper. Each of us made our own dresses or hired a seamstress.
  • Missions are like presidential libraries. If Mark and I are in the vicinity and not in a hurry, we always make a detour for a visit. It doesn't matter how we feel about the conquistadors or the individual presidents' legacies, we are history buffs.
  • I cruised the "El" once and only once with a friend from high school. I didn't see why she would want to do that every weekend. It looked as lame as American Graffiti.
  • Environmental monitoring is truly dual use. A helicopter pilot, making a routine inspection for possible wildfires, found an elaborate pot farm near Glendale, CA. Read about it here.

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