California

Photography by Nick St. Oegger

Photography by Nick St. Oegger

Photography by Nick St. Oegger

Well Dear Readers, I think I have finally had my sanity restored, I’m happy to say. I chose these three photos, taken by a good friend and professional photographer, to express exactly what visiting California feels like. One might read the news and read of California’s sad economic state, or perhaps the gang violence sweeping up the coast, or perhaps when one thinks of California they think of L.A. traffic jams or Hollywood scandals. Yes, all of these things are somewhat representative of California, but none of them are part of its soul. There are few things on earth that rival the vistas of California. Though I was only in its southern part, visiting my hometown of Santa Barbara, there is something I miss about the West Coast. Life there just tends to be more relaxed. And I don’t mean relaxed in terms of a bunch of flaxen-haired surfers who sit around all day and get stoned. People just seem happier in general. Perhaps its all the sunshine. At any time of the day you can go out on a cliff and wander endlessly along the shoreline. The silence up on top of La Cumbre peak was almost deafening. The joy of such solitude. I can’t really express in words what it’s like to drive through the windy roads that traverse the West Coast and watch the avocado orchards and vineyards as they roll on by. Yeah, the 101 has a bit of a notorious reputation for traffic jams, but it’s gotta be one of the best drives in America. There’s just nothing quite like it in the rest of the world. For all its problems, California will still, always be, California.

You can spend a whole day wandering out on the bluffs beyond UCSB and feel the wind as it tears across the cliff side and stirs up the ocean for miles. Or wander over to the Butterfly Preserve at Elwood and witness one of the  most profound and beautiful things in nature. Thousands of butterflies fluttering in and out of a canopy of eucalyptus trees.

I had a weekend rather full of random encounters. I’ve been attracting quite a bit of the written word into my life lately and have stumbled across some rather remarkable books that I will undoubtedly quote here on some point. A close friend of mine passed on Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. Its a short book and I finished it during my entire day spent in the sky and shuffling through America’s airports. It is full of such brilliance that I don’t even know where to begin to quote it. But I finally found an answer, I suppose. Or at least, an answer to the questions I had been asking, which have inevitably led to more questions.

Here’s a small morsel of the caliber of Rilke’s writing…

But please, ask yourself whether these large sadnesses haven’t rather gone right through you. Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere, someplace deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad… If it were only possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.

It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us, because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there,–is already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes.

The whole book is pretty much like this. Wisdom for the ages. It’s utterly fantastic. I’m now very interested in writing about solitude in different places. We’ll see what comes of it.

I’m just enjoying my solitude now… things seem both near and far at the same time. Perhaps I’m moving too fast in wanting to rush back to Lebanon, though I definitely have a life there full of adventure that I want to resume… part of me just wants to quit my job and buy a BMW 540i and drive across the country. I’ve been wanting to do this for years… to discover the natural beauty of America, I want to drive everywhere, especially though the South and attempt to find the most interesting people and places to take pictures of.

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