It’s been a long journey. 23 years to be exact. For 18 years you were the only place I knew save for a few spring and summer escapades. You were my home long before I knew what the word meant and you are the foundation of so much of what I have built since. I love you deeply with the kind of complex love that we save for our mothers and mentors... but it wasn't always that way.
I too went through my teenage phase of hating you, thinking I was better than you, and longing to escape your unconditional embrace. I told myself I didn't need your golden hills or blue skies. I told myself I would be better off anywhere else.
You never did anything wrong. I was just born with feet that longed to touch foreign cities and the steadiness of my Californian upbringing did nothing to satiate my hungry heart.
I needed adventure.
I needed the wild rush of getting lost in a country where no one speaks my language. I needed to sink my teeth into a warm Parisian baguette. I needed to scramble up the rocky mountains of Peru. I needed to feel the African sun burning the back of my neck. But I had made none of these memories yet and as one who is unhappy often does, I blamed the innocent. I blamed you.
At age 18 I ran as fast as I could into the arms of foreign lovers. I sought the embrace of the unknown by moving restlessly from South Africa to New York City to Costa Rica and everywhere in between. For years I returned to you with reluctance. A pause in California was always a bitter thing to me; a moment to fill up my bank account, a good nights sleep, and I was off again. I could not see past the image of the cold captor I had created in my mind.
But this summer, something changed. Maybe I grew up. Maybe I've seen enough of the world that I no longer fear sitting still. Or maybe I simply opened my eyes and saw you for what you have always been.
Either way you gave me a summer to remember. The months I spent with your sun shining on me will be ones I will hold close when the Scottish winters become too much. And when I worry I cannot do it any more, I will hold the rocks and bark I stole from your forests and feel the pulse of you, always protecting me wherever I roam.
Because, California, you are perfect. This summer I climbed your mountains. I swam in your oceans. I drank your wine. I ate your chocolate. I watched the sun dip beyond your horizons. I picked your poppies. I smokes your weed. I dug my toes into your dry soil. I cried over your empty water basins. I laughed with your birds and danced with your stars and finally I fell in love.
I know you want me to call you home again and maybe some day I will, but years of travel have changed the meaning of that word for me and I can make no promises as to where this winding road will lead me.
I cannot promise to build a house on your yielding soil or raise children to climb your towering trees. I cannot promise to ever call you home again.
But I can promise to love you.
Whether I am in Scotland or Australia or god knows where else, I can promise to love you. I can promise to speak of you to fellow travelers with light in my eyes and warmth in my heart. I can promise to hold your secrets close and yell of your beauty from every mountain top.
I can promise that from now one when people ask me where I am from, I will answer, "California," with the kind of pride worthy of your grace.