Eulogy for California
It’s hard not to feel a sense of pride growing up in the Golden State. The weather rendered seasons obsolete. The people and politics, progressive for the most part, set the tone for what our nation could become if we celebrated our differences instead of demonizing them. Our Central Valley became the country’s breadbasket, ensuring virtually any ingredient was always in season. We had nature that made other continents green with envy: forests, deserts, mountains, and lakes that transcended imagination and yet somehow still managed to exist. An America within America; the state of overflowing opportunity made all the more salivating by its storied mythology: the gold rush, Hollywood, the Castro, world class public universities, and (for better or for worse) technology. California came to epitomize the zenith of the American Dream. Who cared about a white picket fence when your backyard could be the beach?
I attended school across the bay from San Francisco. That shimmering Oz. A metropolis that somehow found the room to breathe surrounded by rolling hills, iconic bridges, and glimmering water. It wasn’t until my final year in college that I began to truly feel like a full-throated Californian; an organic product of my environment, with roots and experiences spanning multiple cities between the ocean and our borders. But as I rode the high that accompanies a sense of belonging, it became apparent that the California I had come to love didn’t exist. It hadn’t for some time now. It’d just taken me this long to notice. Melancholy followed.
California had become a playground for those who could still afford it. Economic tides forced artists and families from their homes, threatening them with poverty while offering their homegrown communities up to a fresh crop of young bourgeois-in-training. Our once-celebrated culture turned corporate as murals were overwritten with marketing slogans. Increased tuition rendered “public” education inaccessible to most, leaving the tenuously employed to the mercy of a market that had no use for them. Even scraping together money to move became a challenge. “All that glitters is not gold” finds new meaning as our state’s overwhelming beauty became a sinister reminder of a world you weren’t allowed to enjoy while en route towards your second job. The sea means nothing when you’re trying to survive.
Even with an audience, California’s environmental decay would be the only show in town as the climate continues its messy breakup with us. Our breadbasket stales as the Central Valley gets hit by drought after drought. On the years we do get rain, it’s too much. Farmers will either be drowned or left in the dust. The Sierra Nevada bears greater resemblance to a mass grave than a forest, with over one hundred million dead trees awaiting their inevitable cremation. The economic momentum of our great cities will be no match for Earth’s apathetic increase in temperature, forcing them to bake while fending off rising tides, too embedded in their infrastructure to relocate as fires the size of states continue to ravage our own. California, once home to a great desert, will become one.
And so the Golden State will turn to sand, its luster fading with the stability its residents once enjoyed. Its reality will cease to match the feeling one gets, the visuals inspired by pronouncing its name slowly, almost phonetically, that luxurious unfurling of those four syllables…California. You will be sorely missed as you cease to resemble what we imagine you to be (and maybe what you always were): a dream.
Then again, you were never ours to begin with.