Today marks the six month anniversary of my arrival in Ventura. I feel surprisingly settled – especially considering I’ve been here a relatively short time and certain things are still in flux. Looking back, I realize a lot has happened in six months. Aside from the new home and new job, I’ve ended up with a lot of other newness: new car necessitated by my breakdown in the desert; new bed necessitated by the fact that my old one didn’t fit in the POD; new wardrobe necessitated by a lot of the in-between weather I never bothered to prepare for when I lived someplace that was mostly either very cold or very hot; new habitual routes between home, work, and grocery store; new movie theaters and restaurants and coffee shops and libraries and park benches with new people sitting on them; new hiking trails and bike paths to explore, and new friends with whom to explore them; a whole new ocean to fall in love with (mission accomplished); and of course a new understanding of seasons to develop.
It is warmer and sunnier today than it was when I arrived in town on July 29th. Birds are chirping and trees are blooming and buds are popping while last fall’s brightly-colored leaves still resist drying up and blowing away. Meanwhile, my former home is buried under several feet of snow and my old friends are probably feeling relieved to see the mercury inch above freezing after weeks bundled against unseasonable, well-below-zero cold. I’ve had moments of envy as the news, Tweets, and Facebook statuses reported blizzards and my former colleagues reveled in yet another snow day. There’s something cozy about watching the snow accumulate while being snug inside, adventurous about venturing out into the storm, satisfying about shoveling, and lovely about coming back in & sipping something hot while everything is still hushed and slowed by snow. I love how a blizzard shrinks the world to whatever distance can be traveled by foot or skis, and makes it difficult to imagine anyplace that is not blanketed in cold and white.
But overall, I’m grateful to live someplace where I can watch the sun set over mountains or sea nearly everyday, where I can venture out in short sleeves for a January lunchtime walk and find myself squinting in the sunlight even through my sunglasses. I relish the subtle changes of season and light, the way 75 and sunny is different in January than it is in July. I’m awed by the number and size of the beautiful vistas that continue to outshine the strip malls and freeways. Every mountain range and canyon is an invitation, every tide a welcome. I don’t know how to reconcile living in a place that evokes such a strong, clear sense of connection to the earth while living in a way (crazy use of fossil fuels, water piped in from someplace else) that threatens the earth. But I do know that I feel more connected to the landscape around me, more compelled to venture out and commune with it, than I have in a long, long time.
I think that’s only partly about the weather. It also has something to do with the landscape here – a terrain that is simultaneously grand and accessible. Both the mountains and the beach are easy to get to, in spite of the unpredictable freeway traffic through the valleys. But there’s something else as well, something difficult to quantify. There’s just something about California that takes hold of you even as you find yourself complaining about the traffic and the cost of living and the shallow commercialism of much of the culture. Someone called Ventura County “seventy-five suburbs in search of a city,” and that description fits. Sometimes I think it’s nothing but strip malls, SUVs, cookie-cutter subdivisions, and factory farms spraying god knows what toxins into the air. How someplace that often seems to have no “there” there can get so deeply under my skin in six months remains a mystery to me. But I’m not putting too much energy into trying to figure it out. Because right now, as I look out my big, uninsulated window at the green grass and the lush, gorgeous cypress trees that obscure the view of the ugly 1970s condo village across the street, I have a hard time imagining being anyplace else.