I took a break from the city for a day.
We had an on location shoot in Malibu and while I associate Malibu with the beach after a particularly cold excursion in 2007, we instead headed for the hills.
I grew up surrounded by nature. Before I moved to LA my house was in the middle of a forest (sort of) and prior to that my old house had a kitchen that looked straight at the mountains. I would wake up, grab a bagel, and stare out at the sky.
I can't do that from my apartment in KTown. My view is someone else's exterior wall.
A few weekends ago I ended up at a high vantage point in Echo Park. From the hill I parked on I could see not only Downtown LA, but stars and night clouds. I forget sometimes that Los Angeles was settled at the feet of mountains and along lush forest and set the backdrop for novels and films like Ramona which romanticized Southern California as a wild, free-growing terrain. I can only imagine what that sky looked liked without the city lights.
So here I was at Malibu Creek State Park, formerly a series of movie ranches, formerly a hunting ground for rich people, originally (currently?) land belonging to the Chumash tribe. It has a rock known as the Planet Of The Apes (1968) rock, old structures from rich people lodges, and acres and acres of a weird, Seussical array of trees, flowers, grassland, hills, and boulders. I haven't found any connections between this park and the magical marsh featured in Maleficent (2014), but the diverse set of plant life and striking formation of hills make the land not only visually comparable, but eerily similar in energy.
The California State Park system started in the mid-1800s and kicked off with parts of Yosemite that would eventually end up incorporated into Yosemite National Park (interestingly, I didn't know that Yosemite was in California until just now).
Though I've made a number of Ranger Rick and Smoky the Bear jokes in my lifetimes, it's pretty impressive that this branch of the California government manages a huge portfolio that "...includes 279 parks, beaches, trails, wildlife areas, open spaces, off-highway vehicle areas, and historic sites. It consists of approximately 1.59 million acres, including over 339 miles of coastline, 974 miles of lake, reservoir and river frontage, approximately 15,000 campsites and alternative camping facilities, and 4,456 miles of non-motorized trails. "
That's nothing to take lightly.
But most interesting to me is that, like the National Park Service, they also operate and maintain a number of anthropological sites including "...houses, ghost towns, waterslides, conference centers, and off-highway vehicle park [...] culturally and environmentally sensitive structures and habitats [...] ancient Native American sites, historic structures and artifacts . . . the best of California's natural and cultural history."
I'm sitting here typing and gazing out at my neighbor's wall, wondering what drive us, as humans to preserve. What is it about nostalgia and history that holds us so captive to the point that we will pool our funds to preserve landmarks or break our backs trying to maintain certain moments in time?
The answer, I would hope, is that humans are inherently curious creatures. We want to know what came before and how we can move forward with that knowledge. We want to know what's around the next corner and how we can lay our stake in the ground for our children, their children, and so on until the planet gets roasted by the sun.
So perhaps in questioning why we are so concerned with the past, we are really asking what we're trying to do with our present. What impact do we want to make and how has it been done before?
Even after we've long ended the State and National Parks programs and developed them into condominiums, even after we've bulldozed the last cliff-dwelling for an innovative mall concept, and even after the mountains have become nothing but looming reminders of everything we once had, I truly believe that as humans we will always look to the past to figure out where we stand. Like a rookie sprinter who takes a look back to check his competition, we too are always trying to outrun the years behind us.
I looked out at this beautiful park, sun setting over the valley and illuminating a stream as if silk, and was reminded of the scars we've left on this planet just to exist and live our lives. This is not coming from a place of crunchy granola judgement, but our mark is irreversible. If we are going to pave our streets, build our buildings, and blog smog into the air, I am reminded of how necessary it is that we make the most of the moment we have. We have enough history behind us that our road is pretty much paved for us. We have shifted from survival to sustenance. Generations before us struggled so that we could live.
Now we must live so that we can say that we truly lived.
I'm going to find myself back at Malibu Creek State Park. I need some time back there, alone or with friends, to take in oxygen and clear my head. The smog of the city can be a lot to handle at times.