I grew up in Torrance
, a suburb of Los Angeles
. Torrance was a boring place by any account. The people were boring, the weather
was boring, the traffic was boring. Basically everything interesting involved leaving the Torrance city limits. While growing up i was pretty much stuck there because you can't get around by walking or biking in the suburbs
, you get run over. When i finally got my drivers license
, though, i was free to leave when i wished and roamed all over the place. It helped a little with my endless restlessness.
My favorite place to go, when i had a weekend to leave town, was the eastern sierras, up in Inyo County by Bishop. Up in the Owens Valley, right at the base of the east escarpment of the Sierras.. the place is magical. To both sides are huge walls of mountains that glow red when the sun rises or sets. The wind pouring into the little valley creates these incredible wave clouds that look like alien spaceships. Most summer nights you can see incredible lightning. The hiking, fishing, off road driving, mountain biking, tubing, snowboarding (its right by mammoth mountain), and wandering, etc, etc, are amazing. I always wished i got a chance to grow up in Bishop.
Well, as things went, i ended up in Davis studying plant stuff and i got the opportunity to live in Bishop for a summer and do research on Bishop Creek. That summer was crazy. I ended up waking up at 3 AM to do pressure bomb tests, wandering around the desert drunk, fishing, hiking, tubing down the Owens River... I got to see so many sunrises and sunsets and thunderstorms. The place really is incredible. But it's just another place. Near the end of my time in Bishop, some high school kids walked into the station we were living in, right out of the desert. Their car was stuck in the sand, at the base of the White Mountains. Since we couldn't get the car out, I offered to give them a ride to town, 3 miles away. For that little amount of time i got to talk to one of the kids a little bit. He talked about music, his high school, girls, alcohol, all the things high school seniors talk about. He also talked about how badly he wanted to get the hell out of Bishop and live somewhere less 'boring' where he could actually do something. He said it with the same compassion i felt when i said the same to people in Torrance. He was leaving, going to college, going to the city. I am sure he made it out of Bishop, and although i only talked to him for about 10 minutes, i still wonder where he ended up.
A few days later i was up at dawn, doing more plant tests. We were inside the kitchen because it was below freezing outside in the cold fall air. The clouds were glowing orange but the sun hadnt hit the mountains yet. It was one of those perfect still mornings and outside, right across the street, about 5 coyotes were singing at the sky. The cook for the station was a bit crazy, but a cool guy, and a damn good chef. I overheard him talking to one of the people living at the station. He was talking about how he was young and living in Bishop and fell in love with a girl from the city. He was swept away in the whole thing and soon they were engaged and planning to move to San Francisco. They woke up early that morning, and as he was getting ready to leave the clouds were glowing and the mountains were pink, like so many mornings in Bishop. The coyotes were singing and the air smelled like soft sagebrush and cottonwood leaves. She left that morning but he didnt... he couldnt get himself to go. He still lives in that valley, and is as much a part of the desert as the coyotes. I'm sure he will never go.
I learned a hell of a lot in the desert that summer, but one of the biggest things i learned was that hating where you grow up is normal. Wanting to leave is normal. The thing that drove me crazy wasnt being in Torrance for 18 years but simply being the same place for 18 years. By the time i left Bishop i felt like I'd been there forever. I was ready to leave - i missed my friends, my good old punk rock music (it was all country music in Bishop), my family, the beach. I still go to Bishop for a week or two every summer - once you spend time there it never really leaves you. And someday maybe i will be in Bishop, or somewhere else as beautiful, and the coyotes will be singing at the rising sun again, and the smell of wet sage will blow in my face, and i will stop there and set down roots and never leave. It may happen some day. But i don't think it will for a long time.