C and I just spent a really wonderful two weeks in Southern California. I grew up in Los Angeles, so landing at LAX always feels like “home!”, even though I haven’t lived there for longer than I have lived there.
The day after we arrived we drove up the coast to Santa Barbara. The Pacific Coast Highway is a great drive. The big, dry mountains down to the pacific waves couldn’t look more different to Ireland. This stretch of road It is mostly populated and there are houses hanging over the sea and built into mountain sides. You’re never far from humanity in California.
We also spent time out in the desert, staying in Palm Springs for three nights and Joshua Tree for one. The desert landscape feels completely foreign to me. The lack of green, the dryness, the browns and beige and soft colours are the opposite to the lush jewel tones of autumn in Ireland. The harsh sunlight is also a clear difference as well.
There is something quite wonderful about waking up and knowing the sun will shine. Seeing a perfectly blue sky, palm trees, and the sun every day really does make it feel like a holiday. It was a treat to spend time in pools, lounging in the warm shade, and getting to leave all “outerwear” safely packed away.
I think it is good for the soul to get a chance to be in landscapes so completely opposite to those you live with every day. Parts of Joshua tree were almost like a joke: piles of rocks and sand and cacti. It was like being on the set of The Flinstones movie.
It was a relief to come back to turning leaves and cool autumn air. Driving on the motorway yesterday was like being inside a pumpkin; the orange and yellow glowing along the road against a dark sky.
I am certainly more suited to this Irish climate, but it is lucky to be able to get out and remember to appreciate it. That blast of heat and sun and sand and memories of all those palm trees will carry me through the dark winter that is descending.
I don’t consider myself an ocean person. I grew up in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is on the Pacific Ocean, but I never feel as though I grew up in a “sea town” or “by the ocean.” We didn’t live that close to the ocean so that is the obvious reason I feel that way, and Los Angeles is a huge city that also includes hills and canyons. Dublin is a much smaller city, but it is also right on a sea and it also has hills within its boarders. In both cities, though, I am always amazed at how different they feel when you are beside the sea. The city changes completely.
For the first time last Monday I went for a walk on the South Wall. The Wall boarders the entrance way to Dublin Port, the Liffey, the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal. It runs out beyond the famous red and white striped smoke stacks to a squat red light house at the tip. The views stretch from the Bray to Howth, including Bull Island and the Wicklow Mountains.
We walked on a foggy morning when the clouds couldn’t quite decide whether to take off or hang around. It’s always blowy on the Irish Sea. Dublin looked like it was behind a veil; for some of the walk we couldn’t even see it sitting there quietly just inland. As we got back to the smoke stacks, I could just make out the dramatic Beckett Bridge and Custom House on the quays. A few big ferries that were not in use idled in their giant slips.
The South Wall is not as busy as Dun Laoghaire pier, though the walks are similar. It is not as easy to get to; you really need a car. Happily we were invited on the walk by a friend who not only can drive but was also in possession of a car for the day. We drove out past the scrap yards and energy plants to the edge of Dublin. It is odd to be behind the giant smoke stacks; to see them from a different angle. It is wonderful to be at the lighthouse and to be facing right into Dublin, right at it’s centre.
Even though Dublin is a fraction of the size of Los Angeles, it’s face can change just as completely depending on where you see it from.
When I am walking or cycling up from town to Rathmines, I can see the Wicklow Mountains straight ahead of me. This morning they were covered in a light snow.
You can catch glimpses of the mountains from many places in town. They are right on the edge of the city, and yet I don’t get out to them that often.
This past weekend C and I were taking care of two doggies so we decided this was a perfect excuse to get out and walk around in the mountains for an afternoon.
We drove up towards Sally Gap, following signs for Powerscourt Waterfall and Avoca Handweavers. In all the time I’ve lived in Ireland, I’ve only been up there twice before. The day was Irish: grey, windy and cold. We took a trail high above Loch Dan.
The ground is wet and muddy but luckily a walking track has been built above it all to save our shoes and keep our feet dry. Our doggie wards are both of the tiny variety, and had there not been a walk-way, we might have lost them in one of the cold puddles.
I love being able to see far and wide and not be able to see Dublin or any sign of a city. There were other walkers and hikers on the path but not that many. I love that a mere forty minute drive from the centre of a major European capital I can be standing on a mountain surrounded by mountains and air and sky and nothing else.
We hiked up Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles on New Years day. LA has many great canyon and hill walks. It took us about 40 minutes to park the car, let alone to drive to the base of the walk. When we hit the trail, we were some of hundreds of people and dogs walking. Everyone looked perfectly LA stylish as well. At the top we stood above the intense sprawl of Los Angeles. The city spreads as far as the eye can see. The Hollywood sign sits in the Hollywood hills to the left, and the Pacific Ocean is down on the right. Planes take off every few seconds from the airport. You are aware, totally and completely, that you are above, in and a part of a massive American city.
The Wicklow Mountains are the opposite of that, and a welcome relief. Not that I would mind of we could steal some of that LA sunshine. I hope we won’t have to wait until our next dog’s visit to head up to the mountains again.