Sunday, August 18, 2013


"When you read American nature writing, quite a few books could be seen as love letters to a place: Thoreau’s Walden, Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge, Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra. Some, like Walden and Refuge, are about the places the authors grew up. They’re like a hymn to the parents and their family home. Others, like My First Summer in the Sierra, or Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey, are about places the writers went to and fell in love with, the way we do with lovers or spouses. The latter is how I feel about Vermont. I’ve been lucky enough to find a “mate.”
--John Elder, author and environmentalist, in an interview in the July, 2013 issue of The Sun

A friend recently asked me where I’d want to be buried.

I thought a minute and said, “Probably in the Post Road cemetery in North Hampton, New Hampshire, where my parents are buried, on the street where we grew up, a few miles from the Atlantic. I’ve lived in LA for 23 years but our true home is maybe where we grew up.” 

She asked, “Don’t you think, wherever our deepest heart is, we should be living there?” 

It’s a good question. Maybe, but maybe not. Just because I might want to be buried there doesn't necessarily mean I'd want to live there. Plus, “Here we have no lasting city; we seek a home that is yet to come” [Hebrews 13:14]. To be a follower of Christ is to consent, out of love, to all kinds of things not being the way we would have arranged them. It's to consent to a kind of perpetual exile, or maybe more accurately, to see that we all live in exile. 

I came to LA almost on a whim with my then-husband, my new husband, in 1990. He’s gone but I stayed, in this maddening, glorious, seemingly very unpromising city that in every way is so unlike where I was raised. And yet I’ve come into myself here. I became a writer here; I became a Catholic here. I was confirmed and took my First Communion on August 18, 1996, at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood.

LA has been my "mate" with whom I've had an ongoing, ever-evolving, tumultuous relationship. LA has been my cloister. A reader recently remarked, "You sound like you're weary of LA, and like you're also in love with it," and she was exactly right. LA in many ways drives me crazy, and yet I can't get enough of it, can hardly get close enough to it, all of it: the beauty and the squalor, the wealth and the poverty, the sacred and the profane. Everywhere I've lived, stayed, worked, visited in this city, whenever I've found myself with 15 minutes to spare, I've walked. I've walked near the dermatologist, the foot doctor, the dentist, the DMV, the bank, the church, the houses of friends, the grocery store, the soup kitchen, museums, concert halls, bookstores, parking structures, convention centers, courthouses, office buildings, movie theaters, libraries, and prisons. 

On foot I can peer into people's yards, see their faces. On foot, my ear is as close to the ground as I can get to it without actually lying down. 

I sometimes think, Has anyone else ever said the Anima Christi--"Soul of Christ, sancify me, Body of Christ, save me, Blood of Christ, inebriate me..."-- going up this particular set of steps? Has anyone ever prayed for the trees and flowers and birds and people on this street, this block, this seemingly God-forsaken strip mall?

Sometimes I picture leaving invisible bits of my body and blood behind, little energy trails of calories and heat, on the streets of LA where I’ve walked. That's where my “real” life takes place: in silence, in solitude, even if I’m with people.

So thank you for welcoming me, sheltering me, embracing me, annoying me, bewildering me, and staggering me with your crazy-ass, wild-card beauty.



  1. as an immigrant and refuge, ponderings on "home" and "place" are never too far from my pilgrim heart. this post is beautiful, Heather. I especially love this line, connecting my physical body, here and now in this place, to the communion of saints, everywhere and throughout time: "We’re incarnate beings and I feel this is one way we can lay our life down, literally lay down our bodies, for our friends."

  2. Hi Heather! I watched the video of Kathryn Kuhlman in your sidebar yesterday. Wow, could she preach!

  3. Nice piece as usual - esp the reference to nature writings of folk like Muir. I have my favourites for this part of the world - the writings of Hubert Guthrey-Smith and Charlie Douglas. Funny to note how many have Scottish heritage and classical education. By the way, I may be wrong but I think your orange agave seed pods are actually a NZ native - Phormium or NZ Flax - Maori name Harakeke

  4. Stephen, thank you! As always in matters of plants and birds, I am sure you're right.

    And Fred, isn't Kathryn Kuhlman a hoot? Here's a post I did on her awhile back.

    And Maria--you're the best. Maria brought me back a totally rad bookmark from the Carmel in Lisiuex, France!

  5. I found this post to be quite remarkable for many reasons. The most remarkable to me, though, was that you had a friend who asked you where you wanted to be buried and who challenged you in a very deep way about the significance and implications of your answer. How good it must be to have that sort of relationship.


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