We’ve been in California now for a little over a year. I grew up here, moved away for 17 years, and then came back to fulfill what I see my as my filial duty: both of my parents are getting older, and I’d like to get to know them better.

The days run into one another here. The seasons are never changing, especially now that we’re in a terrible drought. (MILITARY SHOWERS, PEOPLE! Just an aside.) We’ve gotten to the point where we chart what month it was by who is visiting, since there’s no weather to provide a memory aid. But there are some days that stand out more than others.

One day, in the summer, for instance. Late in the evening, verging on night, with the sun low across the foothills behind our home. Jim and I are struggling up the hill on our mountain bikes–well, I’m struggling, he’s not–and I’m executing a military move up the hill (veering, left, right, left, right) because that seems like the best way to get ‘er done, when finally, the hill, and the false hill behind it, ends, and we’re at the ridge we’ve climbed so many times before, only this time, something is different.

The sun has just reached the edge of Johnson’s Pasture, on my right, which sweeps away in what can only be described as a textured golden-red sea of sorts, and the “city” of Claremont lies to my left, looking verdant and plush, and my legs have gone loose and free, having conveniently forgotten about the agonizing climb, and a memory triggers somewhere in the reptilian part of my brain, which is the only part that works when I’m exercising, I guess. I’m searching for it, trying to figure out why this feels so damn familiar, and I figure it out just as an overwhelming urge takes me: It’s a scene from a f***ing REI catalog.

Think about it! Frontcountry exercise; a youngish couple doing stuff outdoors together; the sun just-so and the considerably more dramatic San Gabriel mountains behind us. Boom. Instant retail gold.

I don’t think any of that excuses the aforementioned overwhelming urge, though. What happened was this. I opened my mouth to whoop with joy over the swooping downhill and the beauty of the scene and the joy of the hard part of a good ride done, and what came out of my mouth, at a most unseeming pitch, was THIS:


If I have ever been more of a nerd, I don’t remember when. Or how that could possibly be. (Actually, there is a close second for this moment of nerdiness: When I was ten or so, my family and I went on a campout with some other families; part of my brother’s Boy Scouting activities, I think. It was the mid-80s, and getting called a Chink wasn’t out of the question, but that day, bolstered by some idiotic country pride, I stood with my hands on my hips and yelled, “I’M TAIWANESE AND I’M PROUD OF IT!” Later, some kids in my brother’s troop decided it would be fun to walk back and forth in front of our tent, blasting, “Born in the U.S.A.” To this day, although I love Bruce Springsteen, I really, really hate that song.)

So there I was, swooping along the ridgeline, chasing my husband, who is white as the driven snow and as American as a good Chevy Impala, and it was at that moment, looking at the landscape below me and feeling like a page ripped out of an outdoor sports catalog, that I felt I could own it, this being-American thing.

Everyone has her own definition of what being American is. Later, in a conversation with a friend, I mentioned my loose-lipped, shrieking moment. Peter said, “Hunh. I guess I’ve just always thought of public lands as my birthright.”

What do you think of as your birthright? I don’t have the answer to that question yet, for me. But I’m curious to hear from you.

(This blog post inspired by Christina Katz’s “21 Moments” daily exercises. Thanks, C!)


  1. By all means its a birthright, and actually never gave that a second thought until now. Its a perk of being American, and although we pay taxes to live here, it is seemingly one of the last free activities there is, seeing. You may pay to BE somewhere, like a park, but then included, you get to SEE it…

  2. I loved this post!

    I tend to feel that nature owns me and can completely relate to getting swept up in it when I’m running, biking or kayaking through it. In those ‘retail gold’ moments I feel like I’ve just been given a gift and can recall on many an occasion saying to whoever happens to be near me, “I’m so lucky.”

    There is something about a mountain range that will make you feel like an old-fashioned explorer though. On a trip to King’s Canyon with my mother and grandmother, we nicknamed ourselves “Mountain Women.” For us, it was about adventure and open spaces. I spose that sounds very American:)

    1. I love this, Amanda! Thanks so much for posting and for reading. You absolutely nailed it–being outdoors just does something to anyone who’s even taking a little bit of time to bask in it.(And,secretly, I’ve always wanted to be a cowgirl. Sigh.)

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