The Cabezon Dinosaurs are another weird tourist attraction I never took the time to appreciate when I lived in LA. Perhaps because it's more of a trap—a truck stop off the interstate jammed into a fast food junction—than an actual attraction. But it is very American. One of our great monuments built into a commercial experience and made holy by Hollywood. Plus I even managed to get some old-fashioned light-leak happening there, no iPhone app required.
It's the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere today, which means about 9 hours of daylight in Wellington. Pretty dismal. But the depressing effect of winter is offset by that fact that every day for the next 6 months will move closer to summer. When the Summer Solstice comes I will feel just the opposite. I will be enjoying the long days but will find myself suddenly sad, aware that the best moment has just passed and there is only the dwindling of heat to now look forward to. It's hard to know which emotion is preferable — happiness punctuated by an awareness that it will end, or sadness moderated by the feeling that things can only improve. I suppose regardless of the season, most of life is lived in this way.
But what does this photo of The East Cape have to do with anything? Not very much, except that it was taken late last year when the days were very long and I was already feeling somber about their inevitable end.
I have a fascination with decaying outdoor pools. It may stem from a childhood in the Southern California suburbs. Pools were everywhere — the neighbors had one, my high school had one, there were several public ones — they were everywhere except in my backyard. My family never had one. But then just as I was getting ready to leave home for college, we moved to a new house with a massive pool. It seemed a cruel change of circumstances in which my family's good fortune stood as a mockery of my own desire.
In college, I swam at the pool designed for the 1984 Olympic diving competition, and the pool famously featured in Cacoon and that episode of Buffy where the entire Sunnydale swim team turns into reptiles. These were beautiful pools and should have cured me of any pool deficiency I'd suffered as a child. But no.
I came across the above pool while driving around the East Cape in New Zealand. There aren't a lot of outdoor pools in New Zealand, and this one, sitting at the edge of Lake Whakamarino, is particularly beautiful in its decay. It may not even have been a swimming pool, more like a wading pool. Or perhaps Victorian Kiwis were just really small people?
I spent some time driving around the east cape over the holidays. The best part was by far this trail in Urewera. It was an easy out and back but it snaked through and around many beautiful caves. Caves that felt like they hadn't been touched perhaps ever, with fantastic views of the surrounding bays.
I have a special attachment to the deserts of California, in particular Yucca Valley. When I was young, my father bought a few acres of land out there and had this dream of building a house in the middle of nowhere. He would load up our family in an old Landcruiser jeep he had refurbished and drive us out there to do donuts around shrubs and dry lake beds. I'd like to say I looked forward to it and loved it for the grand adventure it was. But the truth is, my brother, sister and I were mostly sullen about it. It was a long drive, we wanted to stay home and watch TV, read our Sweet Valley High books. Sunsets were boring, and we were teenagers.
I learned much later that my father's attachment to this strange piece of land arose out of his desire to return home. He was born and raised in Karachi, and gave up his Pakistani citizenship for a new life in America. The house in the desert was both a pipe dream, and a recovering of the past. We lived in the suburbs of LA, but the desert was the place that most called to him.
On a recent trip to California, I spent the day driving out to Yucca Valley. It's changed a lot since the 90s. There are tracts of suburban style homes out there now. But the state parks and unpaved dirt roads remain as they ever were. After living abroad for many years, I find driving out to the desert reassuring. The endless stretches of road on the 60 East and State Route 62 instantly drop me back into an American state of mind. I look at the occasional tumbleweed caught in the undercarriage of speeding cars and feel a bit of regret — for those years when I would not allow myself to enjoy this place — but also deep satisfaction, knowing that like my father, I return to it because it always brings me closer to home.