When I first moved to Southern California, in 1999, it was because I had to choose between Los Angeles and New York City. I couldn’t fathom living somewhere where most shadows you see are cast by buildings. I couldn’t hack it as a New Yorker*, I knew that.
Los Angeles seemed like the strangest kind of city when I first moved here. I didn’t get it, and I liked that. I lived on four continents before I settled in L.A.: Europe, Africa, North and South America. I was used to places that I didn’t understand, places that it took some time to get to know. L.A. is so not predictable if you are newcomer. I loved that. And the food ROCKED.
However. I had an attitude problem about the local “nature” when I got here. I grew up in the most beautiful (to me!) corner of the world: Western Washington state. It is, as everyone knows, rainy and wet, and therefore green, green, green. There are wild corners where you can be alone with a mountain or a river or a hundred acres of trees. If I could be anywhere, I would be there. Uh, where hikes don’t look like this:
Los Angeles County just looked thirsty. No. Not just thirsty. Parched! Dried out, scrubby trees! Nature at its most desperate! I went on hikes and I nearly wept. They were not like the hiking at home or in the African rainforest. I was not rejeuvenated by the beauty and the awesomeness of God’s creation. I was dusty and hot and could ALWAYS see buildings! After a few of these hikes, I quit. I figured I would hike and get my creation fix when I was home in the summer and at Christmas. I wrote Southern California off in the flora and fauna department. Ugly. That was all I had to say about it. Well. Ugly and DRY.
In 1999, I went out the Claremont School of Theology to meet with a professor there who had agreed to meet me because the awesome Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann (love you Rabbi Patricia! Please move to L.A.!) had set up the connection for me. While I was there, several people pointed out Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens and told me it was “beautiful” and that I should visit it. I took one look at the scrubby, brown entrance and wrote it off. Please. Spare me. The pain. Of more. Ugly Souhern California “nature.” I drove back to the westside and forgot all about it. Fast forward eight years, and I’m driving back with my husband and step-daughter.
And look what was there:
Beauty! (Albeit dry beauty.)
Sometimes it takes a long time for a person to change her mind. Especially if that person is stubborn. I was amazed when I found out the word in the Bible that gets translated “repentance” has within it the idea of “changing the mind” in Greek. Because changing your thinking can be hard! So can admitting you were wrong about something, if you don’t know about the freedom of truth, but that’s another story. For a long time, I thought people who believed in God were freaks, full stop. I wrote the whole thing off. I got my mind changed on that one (I take no credit for it, for real, it was all God). And now I can see that SoCal nature has beautiful parts to it.
And oddly enough, while I was visiting the not-ugly (if dry) Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens, would you believe that God brought something to my mind that I needed to repent about regarding my husband’s ex-wife? He’s a funny guy, God. Very into the big metaphor, I guess.
*Even though NY rocks. Love you, New York! Miss you! Come visit anytime!