1. If you need to recover from something, California is a good place to be.
2. When his health failed, my uncle moved out west. He sunbathed in his front yard every day, and eventually, it became easier to breathe. We told him it was because the doctor finally got him to quit smoking, but he thought it was just California, the place itself getting inside his body. The Santa Ana winds filled his every breath with sunbaked air and blown sand, scrubbing the grit from the insides of his lungs.
3. In school, we studied the San Andreas Fault. My teacher showed us photographs of tour groups walking deep inside the caverns of the fault, the edges of the ground far above their heads. In one picture, the people placed their palms against the rock walls, like they were testing to see if something so solid could really move.
4. The Santa Ana winds do not really clean out anyone’s lungs.
5. A few things vitamin D can do: Lower cholesterol. Prevent diabetes. Increase fertility. Boost white blood cells. Even prevent cavities from forming in the contours of your teeth.
6. If you go to the coast, stand by the water and look down the beach. When you fix your eyes on the horizon, the strip of sand becomes narrow as ribbon and the ocean spreads out forever, to the far edges of what your eye can see. For a minute, you might believe that we could never run out of water.
7. It’s not just a matter of vitamin D, my uncle says. It’s something else about the sun out here. The light gets inside your chest. As if swallowing a piece of sun could burn away everything you don’t want to keep under your skin.
8. When we drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, I stared out my window and down the bluffs to the water until I was dizzy. It wasn’t the height, or the tires scrapping close to the edge. It was the color, an ocean that was actually blue. A bright blue I’d never seen in the Atlantic, and I was disoriented when I looked down the cliff and thought I saw the sky.
9. There is so much under his skin that can’t be burned away. Ashes beneath the ribs, ready to reignite.
10. Sunshine has been shown to boost serotonin, which is why my uncle is happier in California. He laughs and says happiness is more than just synapses and hormones, but I like to think that a feeling begins with nothing more than a body. That we construct happiness somewhere beneath the skin’s surface and then feel it rise, the way a breath lifts the chest.
11. In photographs taken from above, the San Andreas Fault looks like the fossilized spine of some huge, ancient beast running through the desert. More scar than open cut: the fissures in the dirt like stitches holding two pieces of an old wound together, something from long ago that no longer hurts.
12. People in California never seem to worry about earthquakes. Don’t be afraid of ‘the big one,’ my uncle tells me when I visit, and I’m not. There are so many ways for the ground to shake beneath your feet.
Kara Oakleaf's work has appeared in journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Jellyfish Review, Nimrod, Seven Hills Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and Postcard Poems and Prose. She is a graduate of the M.F.A. program at George Mason University, where she now teaches and directs the Fall for the Book literary festival.
Image:"Nature's Reflection"by Icy and Sot