One Year in Paradise

It's nearly almost a year since we made the move to Carmel Valley, which begs for a recapitulation of sorts, or at least a little review of the things I learned so far about small town living.  In no particular order, and always open to reexamination in another year:

  1. People here are nice.  Genuinely nice.  I've been welcomed to their homes, I've been treated neighborly, and I feel accepted and belonging.  It's a strange sensation -- I can be friendly and outgoing when I have to, but I'm a hermit by nature -- and I rather like it.  Settling in took time; I was busy making a home and helping my kids adapt to the change.  I haven't done much photography work (though I'm writing more!) and I was worried that I will lose myself again, or at least that my sense of purpose would be tested.  As it turns out, the people here don't care about labels.  It was a pleasant surprise to discover that in this community you are free to come as you are.  No pretense necessary, keeping up of appearances, or having an act (be it a self-defense mechanism, or under societal pressure). 

  After a lifetime of deep-seated resentment towards humanity (triggered by disappointment with Bulgarian culture, my identity struggles as a two-time immigrant, parenting-related isolation, and alienation from both the American big-city crowd and suburban wasteland) I have found my place in the world.  I guess it helps that the Village is small and populated by just the right number (~ 4,000) and combination (ranchers/farmers, artists, small business owners) of people, and this is a very broad generalization (blame the visual artist in me), but gosh, they all seem absolutely beautiful.  You should see the other moms at school pickups.  They all can be models!  Maybe it's the clean air and the gorgeous scenery that paints everything in a romantic light.  Or maybe it's the fact that most of CV's residents have a shared appreciation of a simple, quiet, incorrupt kind of life. 

  2.  Speaking of simple and quiet.  Country living has its trials.  Nature is as invigorating and nourishing as it is omnipotent and menacing.  Every month of every season brings a different set of challenges: the hundreds of drowned newts in the pool, the prowling mountain lions after sunset, the pungent smell of skunk in the morning.  We have to manage rat populations and trim brush against wildfire, control water use, maintain the house foundations lest the deck slides down the canyon.  It makes you tough.  You learn to drive carefully because there are steep curves on the road, tipsy tourists from wine tasting, and crossing wildlife.  A rainstorm can cut us off from the world for days on end if it's bad enough, or close down the schools.  The pantry has to be stocked up for such instances, and don't forget batteries for the flashlights! 

  And yet it's somehow worth it.  I can't put a price on having my kids safely walking down the side of the road, or running freely through the old airfield (though I can put a price of my living-room view -- it's exactly a million dollars).  The very rawness of life here emphasizes its beauty, and that same gained toughness helps me put things in perspective.  I have been utterly transformed by life near Nature.  And there's no going back.

  3.  Of course I do go back from time to time; to San Francisco or to visit the old Bay Area stomping grounds.  It's a two-hour drive for a fun day trip to see friends and to experience "civilization".  But let me tell you something.  In my heart I am so done with cities.  While I still enjoy the aesthetics of them, and readily consume intakes of their energy in small doses, I cannot deny that I am relieved I have escaped don't live there anymore.  What cities are becoming increasingly scares me.  Perhaps I'm getting old and I tend to be more critical, even cynical... It is obvious to me, however, that I simply can't -- or don't want to -- deal with certain modern-day issues. 

  Most big cities are not designed to handle overcrowding, traffic, and pollution.  We thought that by 2020 we'll have flying cars and vertical urban gardens, but the future is here and it's less self-sustained bio-domes and more tent cities and social injustice kind-of-a-reality.  The Silicon Valley changed the world, but didn't save it.  In fact, the competitive environment it created (The Rat Race™) is leading to massive burnout rates among young professionals.  That chase of productivity is turning destructive and there is evidence that, despite all the technological and scientific progress we've made, humanity might be reaching a plateau of intelligenceExcellence and greatness are revered, but overall levels of personal happiness are declining regardless of the professional success achieved

  Clinical anxiety and depression are on the rise; arguably because we talk about these more openly but also because current events appear so daunting that our pessimism starts to verge on despair.  Mass shootings, a nation divided over ideology to the point of violent conflicts, threatened human rights, gender inequality, racism, uncertain future.  These problems are hard to ignore anywhere, but in urban areas they seem even more ubiquitous and urgent because that's where they also get to be resolved (or attempted to be, by voting, marching, advocation, activism, etc.).     

      At the same time, the anonymity of the megapolis causes people to experience chronic social isolation that social media is making worse -- its effects on self-image, human connection, mental health in general, memory and attention span, and sleep habits are well documented.  Shared economy is looking more and more like servant economy, and yes, there's a tendency to support smaller, local, more ethical companies but consumerism isn't slowing down.  It doesn't help that the political climate in America (and the world) resembles a dumpster fire, and the actual world is on actual fire.  Today, the term Anthropocene is a buzzword, just like "Greed is Good" in the 80's and "The End of History" in the 90's.  Plastic is in the oceans and practically in our DNA.  It's a total madness out there! 

  All in all, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless wherever you are, and to lose focus on what's really important.  To me, it's family.  Here in the country I have everything I need (material and spiritual) to take care of my family, and also to make choices that are better for the world.  I have invested in an electric car and plan on installing solar power at home; I am voting in elections and with my wallet; I stay informed even though I have physically removed myself from the epicenter of events... and with Internet (and a medium-sized town nearby) I have access to most services I could ever need or want.  This lifestyle provides me with the perfect amount (and quality) of energy and resources to contribute in a small but meaningful way.  I'm hopeful, and I am teaching my children to be hopeful, too.

  And if it all goes to shit anyway, we'll adopt as many cats and dogs as possible, and we'll live out our days in the hills among the trees, with the baby turkeys running around, and the deer and the owls at night.

  4.  Don't fuck with rattlesnakes.


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