I landed in California the summer of '97. It was the 4th of July. I was 16. I remember thinking how the night sky lit up just for me: the fireworks, the warmth. It was perfect. My dad and I had driven across the country and nearly died of heat exhaustion in Las Vegas. He drove shirtless and I wore a bikini. The wind outside burned my hand like a hair dryer, but I kept sticking it out again and again. I loved that dusty truck with a camper on the back. It's funny how vehicles become like family. They know your secrets. You trust them.
When our air conditioning broke we were so road weary we just took our clothes off and continued. Every couple of hours or so we'd stop and buy enough ice to fill our little cooler. It melted faster than we could eat the cold chunks. We rubbed water all over our dried out skin like lotion. Our leisurely cruise across America was over. The coast was close. This part felt like a hazing. We had to go through hell to get to heaven.
I was so excited to get to California. It was a beautiful land of orange trees and sandy haired surfer boys. I had read hordes of books as a kid about this sunny paradise. I'd seen rap videos with luscious brown girls in jean shorts. I fantasized about digging my toes into the sand day after day, drinking pink smoothies that left seeds in my movie star teeth. I was finally going to be cool.
I don't know when it happened exactly, but I became a California Girl. Maybe it was the first pair of flip flops I got at the mall, or the permanent tan lines on my fingers where my rings lived. It could have been the time I bleached my curls to a golden halo. It happened quickly. I suddenly felt like I was HOME after living in a dozen places throughout my life. This new landscape had my heart. After school I would drive down the coast with the windows down, hair swirling, singing along to Stevie Nicks; always on the lookout for "beach access" signs. Sunsets became my confidante and my camera--always my closest friend.
It's been 17 years since I shot one of my first coast line photographs. A simple series that seems to never end. A postcard to someone I don't know, or a lover that lives far away saying: "Wish You Were Here". The glossy color print is somewhere in my closet with a box of negatives. I remember it like it was this morning. A long limbed surfer with hair fluffed by last night's pillows and yesterday's sea salt. His stride was swift and straight holding a bright red longboard under his arm. The rarely changing blue sky overhead and sandy earth below framed him just so.
When I look in the mirror I see fine lines on my forehead. A map of aging, yes...but, also a map of adventuring exposed. I know I raise my eyebrows a thousand times in the sunshine or beneath gray clouds--in awe with the beauty of this place.
I still live to run on the beach alone with my camera laughing into the light; breathing with the ocean and finding smooth stones that ache to be held.
Yesterday I was at the beach walking and photographing for hours. My insides were bursting with joy. My soul was singing. I felt alive. I felt like a child. I walked into a coffee shop and there was a woman there with her friend. She was gorgeous. Her long shiny hair grazed her tiny hips. I turned to see her staring at me and we smiled. I said hello. She had an accent. I think French or Portuguese. She looked at me a long time and swept a dirty blonde strand from her eye and said,
"You are glowing. I think to myself when I see you, you must be the most beautiful woman I ever saw."
Her friend added,
"You are radiant."
I wanted to hold their hands and dance. I wanted to send them one of my pictures in the mail every day for a year. I wanted to kiss their cheeks and meet their babies. It was a moment of connection too deep for the few words I know. I felt what they saw. I saw what they felt. I saw it in them and in everyone. The invisible rippling thread that ties us all together.
Follow your bliss.