Guest Post: This is my California


CSPF member Klytia Nelson Dutton reached out to CSPF with this beautiful essay about her experiences growing up among state parks as the daughter of a park ranger, or “a proud park brat,” as she describes it.

This is my California

I was born with crashing waves in my backyard. Sand between my toes and the ocean in my soul. Point Reyes. Half Moon Bay. I was born as the daughter of a California State Park Ranger, and the Parks that make up our great State were my backyards.  I am a proud Park Brat. Looking at California for me, as with many  Californians, is an emotional journey through the heart of a region that embodies the heart and soul of who and why I am. I find it difficult to separate myself and the boundaries of my skin from the soil, trees, and skyline. California is innately ME, though the reflection I see is not necessarily my own.  It is like an anatomy class, where I learn of the function of the arteries – the rivers and canals – moving the sacred liquid to the organs of forest, meadows, valleys, cities, desserts, and sea shores, which, in turn, all perform their function to benefit the quaking body of the whole. Is it vain? Perhaps. But the dirt has been shoved so deeply beneath my nails that it has forgotten when the separation could be made.

This is my California.

I have crawled  with desert tortoise between the blood purple juice of prickly pears and motorcycle tracks. I have seen the snow fall in silent moments onto the cacti of the High Desert. All of this melts into a second…they oxymoron of that which we associate with cold blanketing that which has come to symbolize heat.

This is my California.

I have sucked at the air of the Sierras from childhood forts built from Ponderosa Pines and granite rocks of our backyards. My playmates have been innumerable deer, raccoon, bear, bobcat, coyote, squirrel, lizard, snake, fox, and a mountain lion. I have felt the ecstasy of life from a boulder extending over a lake, as the breeze played with my hair and damsel flies dances across the surface. The mining community of Johnsville, inside Plumas Eureka State Park, reminds me of the dreams of so many before; dreams that can be peeled away like the layers of wallpaper covering the walls of an old abandoned miners house that used to stand near ours. Time has frozen here, and the faces that speak to us stand frozen as reflections of ourselves in the bottom of the glory holes.

This is my California.

The Land of Fire, where the legends are still told, reminding us that the authority of the person who is telling the story shapes what is lift in and what is left out. Families know this, neighborhoods know this, governments know this. Our history is written accordingly. These whispers of stories, oral tradition of our past, aging photos of faces whose lives are summed up in one expression captured in the flash of a bulb.  Their paths brought us to where our steps could begin. They are our first steps. Whether we acknowledge their spirit or not, even a solitary walk is never taken alone. Past waterfalls and moonscapes. Over lakes or fields. Around campfires or on under stars. The faces of those who were and those who will be join our traditions of now.

This is my California.

I passed elementary years as a wood-nymph, running barefoot through the sorrel, hiding in goose pens and staining my hands with the juice of blackberries and huckleberries of Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  We swam with lamprey in the Eel River (which is just how it got its name) and my young mind was jarred with the concept of clear cutting as I watched hillsides beyond these boarders literally disappear before my eyes. Conservation. Preservation. Use. I learned to love a land I could throw my arms around, a sky I could spin beneath until I fell down, laughing, in sand, in the fallen leaves of oaks, in redwood duff, or on amber waves of grain. Salmon spawning and making a nest with their tails. Trout rising to a late evening hatch dancing across the water. The company of friends and the silence of our soul.

This is my California.

New tongues. Old tongues. New generations and seventh generation just breaking their teeth on a California that grows in trees and takes root just outside their doors. Peacocks and Ranches. Cotton and Cantaloupe. Missions and mining. Water. A time when there were no homes as far as the eye could see. A rumble as an ear is placed on the dirt to feel the vibration of an earthquake and the rumbling in your soul.

This is my California.

A throbbing, growing, dancing world where ears tune to the multicultural orchestra of life. A multi-faceted and versatile spirit that binds us together beyond the boundaries of skin which keep us apart. Or, it is the face of the many Californians, each with a unique history and story to tell, bound together by a love. A love of the dirt we can‘t get out from between our toes or from under our nails.   The diversity of ethnicity, lifestyle, economics, and relations to the land paint a canopy of beauty materialized, much like a mural, onto the walls of California.

This embodies the relationship between history and fiction, the line between story and teller. This is my story. This is me. And beneath your reflection, your story calls. We, as Californians,  have a beautiful story to share.  It is not a time to sit silent. It is our turn to tell the story of California. The story of us, whether welcomed generations before, or yesterday, is ours to keep.   Where we are engaged. Where we take our first steps. Where we learn. Where we remember family before us. Where we celebrate the friends around us. The system of rivers, streams, highways, and roads that connect us exteriorly perhaps attach us all interiorly, somehow, as well.  We are California.

This is our California.

And it is ours to keep.


Klytia Nelson Dutton

First written for “Writing California” class at Sonoma State University, circa 1997. My sisters and I read a similar version at the retirement of my father, David Nelson, from California State Parks circa 2003.  It was printed in the CSPRA newsletter following. This version has been altered slightly to meet the current situation. 

6 thoughts on “Guest Post: This is my California

  1. From the desert to the sea, I too am a ranger’s kid and California “park brat”. Enjoyed your poem a great deal as I am sure your dad did hearing it read at his retirement. My sisters and I sang “The Twelve Parks of our Life” (tune borrowed from the Christmas carol with lyrics to fit the park names) to my dad at his retirement in Morro Bay.

  2. From the desert to the sea, I too am a ranger’s kid and California “park brat”. Enjoyed your poem a great deal as I am sure your dad did hearing it read at his retirement. My sisters and I sang/performed “The Twelve Parks of our Life” ( tune stolen from the Christmas carol and lyrics modified to suit) to my dad at his retirement in Morro Bay many years ago.

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