The best thing about Laguna is that it’s smack dab in the middle of California. Oh sure, we have our own special slice of bliss – ocean, mountains, and impossibly charming neighborhoods, but we also have the rest of this glorious state swaddling us with her embarrassment of riches. And right now, California has won the world’s beauty pageant. Not Miss America. Miss Planet Earth! It’s no coincidence that Earth Day just happened, a not-so-subtle admonishment to stop what we are doing, look around, and honor the very life force that sustains us. And right now, it’s the flowers that can save us from despair.
Oh my god, they’re every-freaking-where. Yes, we have our yellow carpets of sunflowers cascading to the sea, our purple lupine and orange poppies. We have our Portuguese non-native Pride of Madeira opening her cosmic purple cones, but what we mostly have is that pesky and invasive import from France, mustard. It’s so pervasive that, given the dearth of orchards in our namesake county, we should change our name from Orange to Mustard County. But venture beyond our confines and the rest of the state is awash in color.
I spent the last week in the high desert of the Mojave, and it’s a living, thriving Fantasia. Many people say the desert is brown and monochromatic. But they aren’t looking closely enough, and certainly not during a super bloom like we are having this year. The last time I recall a bloom this magnificent was in 2017. It was particularly poignant then because a certain orange-headed cretin hellbent on destroying our democracy had just been elected President. My circle of friends were deep in existential despair. Nobody could make sense of it, and we all felt a sense of impending doom, that the dumbing down of civilization depicted in the film Idiocracy was upon us and the end was near.
And then I met the flowers. Millions of them. Springing from down deep under a previously unforgiving, parched earth. Lighting up entire valleys. Bringing certainty that, whatever was to come, the earth would survive and spring anew. I knew at that moment we would be okay, and I admonished everyone to simply take a walk in the wilderness to be assured of the same.
The California desert offers perhaps the starkest reminder of the polarities of life, the flash cycle of death and rebirth in front of you at all times. And right now, the birth of the yellow desert sunflower is bringing so much life to the high and low desert it hurts the eyes. The Japanese say that green is the most neutral, soothing color on the planet, which is why they revere a practice called forest bathing. The late, great desert-dwelling painter and occasional crooner Frank Sinatra called orange the happiest color. But I declare yellow to be the most vibrant color, so bright in its intensity that it will lift your spirits to the heavens and make you believe that beauty is the answer to life. That if we surround ourselves with it, and pursue it with fervor, even the heaviest of burdens will melt away.
And so when I read about the weekly travails of misery in Laguna, where a cabal of residents seek to discredit or even remove the laws and people they disagree with and do it in such a pernicious, prickly, and dispiriting way, I say get to the flowers, man. There you will find the solace you so obviously need. That everything is ok just as it is. As long as we nurture and revere this marvelous planet.
Because, just like the cycle of life, this spectrum of color and light is ephemeral and fleeting. The cool desert and coastal rains will quickly give way to the hot, parched summer cycle, exacerbated by a warming planet. In a fleeting instant, these robust fellas reaching toward the sun will be gone. Returned to the earth from which they sprang, just like us. The whole system is on display in a cosmic demonstration of the impermanence of life.
We can’t slow the march of time. But we can savor the gifts within it and spread joy and beauty to those around us. And despite her many flaws, no place offers a bigger cornucopia of heavenly beauty than this place called California.
Billy is the CEO of La Vida Laguna, an outdoor adventure company, and the host of “Laguna Talks” on KXFM radio – Thursdays at 8 p.m. Email: [email protected].