Sunday, December 24, 2006

Californias Old and New

Entry for 24 December 2006, Christmas Eve (Pleasanton, California):

I wake again about 5am, from a combination of jet lag and an annoying cough, the latest stage of the first cold I’ve had in months. (It must be the lack of rain!)

As I lay there, I muse again on the similarities between Northern California and Scotland, which was the theme of the opening entry of this blog, last September, only this time from the perspective of Northern California. In what senses is Scotland a new California for me?

Like central Scotland, Northern California is green now. Actually, Scotland is a wee bit greener right now, because here in the north of California it is not as green as it sometimes is in late December. The rains have come, but total rainfall is still low for the year. The average rainfall for this part of Northern California is a total of about 19 inches/year. The comparable figure for Glasgow is 44 inches. But still it is green rather than brown as in Midwest in winter.

The traffic is also pretty bad, as the roads of Northern California, like Glasgow, get more crowded with each passing year. Partial compensation is that drivers are reasonably polite in both places.

The Scottish Borders area south of Glasgow reminds me of the California coast range south of San Francisco: It consists of small mountains and rolling hills, not much developed and primarily given to livestock herding. I spent a lot of time in this part of California as a child, and find it similar in look and feel to Scottish Borders. I think that this is the part of Scotland that my dad resonated with so strongly. And of course, it is where the Elliott clan comes from.

North of San Francisco and east up into the Sierra Nevada, Northern California becomes wilder and more rugged, like the Highlands of Scotland.

California is regarded by outsiders as “the land of fruit and nuts,” but like Scotland it is a complex culture. The Native Americans were long ago driven off the land, like the Scots Gaels and crofters of the 19th Century Highland Clearances. Their presence hangs over both places like ancient ghosts. Successive waves of migration brought many other ethnic groups: First, the Irish, then people from the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere, to Scotland; first the Mexicans, then later Northern Europeans (including many Scots) and many others, to Northern California.

However, California, especially the Central Valley where I grew up, has a deeply conservative, fundamentalist population that is remarkably Calvinist. And Scotland is famous for its Socialist politics and has no shortage of people with exotic and new age-y interests. In fact, the Person Centred counselling community in Scotland feels very familiar to me from my youth in the Human Potential movement of the 1960’s and ‘70’s. This is no accident, of course, because California is where Carl Rogers gravitated to for the last 20 years of his life.

So now we are in Old California, and in various ways it we continue to experience the parallels between our old and new lives and places. To quote T.S. Eliot, “In my end is my beginning.”

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