John and Friend
John is an Emeritus Professor in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Studies from California State University, Northridge, and a retired Lecturer from Cal Poly. For thirty-four years he has taught classes in Commercial Recreation, Tourism Planning, Management and Leadership, and Wilderness Survival. He earned his Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University in Organizational Development and Curriculum Design in Higher Education. John also served as Lead Evaluator for the SLO Sherriff's Search & Rescue division. He is a current member of the Atascadero Writer's Club and can be contacted by calling 805-440-9529 or by email.
Who Am I?
by John Bullaro
I grew up in Chicago, Illinois during the depression and WW ll. Yet Chicago was never my "place." Oh, I had good times there in school—dating, and playing sports—but it was not my place. My place was some where else. But where?
To paraphrase Wendell Berry, the nature writer, "You don't know who you are if you don't know where you belong." Wallace Stegner reminds us that every American is several people, and one of them is identified by a single place or type of place. Chicago didn't cut it for me. I liked the Cubs and loved the Bears, but the city, no way.
Our search for personal identity has become the big obsession of modern times. Advertisements flood our consciousness with bogus messages promising to answer the question, "Who Am I?" Drive a Porsche, brush with Colgate, take Viagra and sit in an outdoor bathtub, live in a fashionable neighborhood, or simply drink Coors and become a sports fan; fast, easy, all illogical paths to self awareness. I found a better way to answer the question, "Who Am I?"
For me the question of my identity was answered the first time I visited the High Sierra Mountains. The Eureka moment came to me as I walked along the John Muir trail. The trees, the scenery, the screech of the hawk, and the crackling of the campfire spoke to me like I was a welcome guest in a great castle. The John Muir Trail framed for me what I was and wanted to become: an adventurer—brave, part of the natural world, and free. Not everyone will find what I found in the mountains. Some will find themselves in a desert, by the ocean, or in a city. But many of these places are in deep peril.
Many of the deserts in California have become off-road vehicle race tracks, canceling out the silence that was the desert's great attribute. Many mountain trails have become dangerous hiking trails because of high-speed motorcycles screaming along the trail where hikers dare to tread. Their noise shatters the quiet of a twenty square mile area. Our once pristine ocean is awash with oil blobs and sewage effluent. Every year beach closures tell the story of how we care for all our lands in general.
Hikers shoot up trail signs, dump garbage in streams, and leave smoldering campfires. Cities are littered with graffiti. What we do to our physical world—mountains, deserts, forests, and cities—can reveal what is happening to America in general. Do you like what you see? "Is this what America is?"
I don't live in the wilderness, yet my heart is there, my identity is there, and my hopes and dreams for the world are there. The mountains tell me who I am. I go there to reconnect with life's beauty and reinforce who I am.
There are people who love the city. They are movers and shakers who enjoy the pace and tempo of city life. Urban environmentalists fight to save the city from ruin. For them, the city reveals who they are. We need these folks.
Sailors take to the open ocean to find their peace and tranquility. The ocean is their story-board of life. Its beauty, danger, violence, and calm shed light on their inner most feelings about who they are.
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
First Chapter of Moby Dick
by Herman Melville
As Stegner points out, where we feel most alive is who we are. My parents became most alive and joyous in a casino in Las Vegas. They lived their life as if they lived in a casino. They found happiness there. They stayed married for 65 years.
All natural "places" require our stewardship. Cities too must be cared for with enlightened planning policies. The mountains need our love, care, and support. Deserts require rational national and state policies to bring back silence. However, if you believe environmentalism is a waste of tax payer money, you'll never find who you truly are by sitting on a couch preaching descent for tax policies. You'll likely languish in the backwater of environmental destruction (Think Gulf oil spill and the heart-broken people who live and work there.)
The Central Coast of California has become, for many of us, our "place." It's where we feel safe and secure. We are near open space, can reach a wilderness area in an hour, visit the Pacific Ocean with its radiant sunsets, and stroll across desert lands and still find silence. It baffles me when new arrivals move here, many to escapees from the urban blight from down south, or up north, or the central valley, then fight to bring their old world with them.
So, how do you find your "place," your own identity? Ask yourself, Where am I happiest? What geographical area feels right for me? Where do I garner the deepest sense of pleasure? Travel to these places. Spend time there, aware of your surroundings. Once you answer these questions, you probably have found a refuge from the craziness playing out in society. You'll have your own special retreat place. Find your "place," visit it often, care for it, and know who you are.