Castle on a Cloud

I’ve lived in multiple countries, but in the United States, I’ve only ever been a Californian.

Today that changes. Today I’m saying goodbye (again) to California as this United flight takes me 2400 miles away from SF to DC. And although Washington DC is not a different country, it will certainly feel like a different world. Life on the East Coast will surely feel very culturally different from life in California.

For those of you not yet in the loop, the last year of my life (which mostly took place in France) was filled with the writing of personal statements, the filling out of applications, and the thoughtful consideration of schools. The goal of all this: find the right place for me to pursue a Masters in Public Health. To summarize a painful deliberation process: my head, heart, and lengthy pro vs. con lists led me to the George Washington University in Washington DC.

Yesterday was my last full day in California. And I spent a lot of that day in the car. I was in the peninsula, in San Francisco, in Marin, and Sonoma. I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge one last time. Its metal beams weren’t gleaming and golden, for there was no sun. Instead, the pervasive San Francisco fog covered the sky, reaching from the heavens to the steel gray ocean. The tall orange-red towers of that iconic bridge were rendered invisible: the tops enveloped by thick condensation.

It’s my favorite sight.

I love the fog. I love the central and northern California coasts that never seem to see clear skies. I love the beaches that aren’t sunny; those that are gray, wistful, and brooding.

I love the rolling hills, planted with grape vines, apple trees, avocado trees, lemon trees, broccoli, lettuce, or my very favorite: strawberry bushes.

I love the golden-brown hills of the central coast that only turn green for a few weeks in the spring (if there isn’t a drought).

I love the redwood forests of Northern California.

I love the long, empty stretches of land that everyone forgets about: the areas in the far north of California, or that sparsely populated stretch between San Jose and Santa Barbara.

I do so love California. Why do I keep saying goodbye? I ask myself this every time I leave. But the answer comes just as readily: I crave newness. I love adventure. And as much as I love California, I think I love dreaming about it more than I do living in it. It’s my golden place, my sparkling white castle on a hill, my paradise. My castle on a cloud. Maybe someday I’ll return and it will be for good. But for now, it remains that glorious place in the sun, that Neverland of sparkling seas; rugged, untamed rolling hills and valleys; fantastical forests; and the kindest, most liberal, and accepting people on earth.

“California is the one state that has everything: big cities, small towns, mountains, deserts, farms, factories, fishermen, surfers, all races, all religions, gay, straight, everything this country has. There’s more real America in California than anywhere else.” –The West Wing, season 7

I’m obsessed, it’s true. I adore California. My heart belongs there as much as anywhere. But my heart is also always lusting for that next journey. And after a summer spent working hard and frantically catching up with friends in California, it’s once again time for an airplane to whisk me away to a new land far away from “home.” This new undertaking of mine may not be taking me to exotic international locations (at least not yet), but it is indeed my next adventure.

Washington DC, here I come. Impress me, and enthrall me, and amaze me with all that you’ve got.

*   *   *   *   *

Want to read more?

From August 2010: So, Why Peace Corps?

From August 2011: Happy Independence Day Ukraine!

From August 2012: There and Back Again


4 thoughts on “Castle on a Cloud

  1. LOVE the way that you explain California – my sentiments exactly!! A place where some of my relatives live, a place I don’t get to see very often, a place that I always call ‘home’ and has me to always say ‘once a California girl, always a California girl’!! Good luck in DC! I know that is where your parents met and fell in love with each other…maybe that is one reason you are drawn there and your Mom went to the same school…that probably has a lot to do with it too! Anyway – enjoy your ‘new’ life and school. God bless you. (and YES – East Coast USA is much different than West Coast USA – ask your Mom, Grandpa or any of your Ulrich Aunts and Uncles – as 1964 was a West to East Coast change for us too!) Love you!

  2. Excited for you in this new season!

    Also, I spent two months in Baltimore last year for work and it is full of really adorable spots. It would probably make for a great little wknd away!

  3. I love all those things about northern California, too. Especially the fog and the redwoods. Looking forward to following your DC adventures.

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