When I moved here two years ago from Boise, Idaho I felt isolated and out of place. In Boise, my office was in the center of a thriving, hip downtown full of art, culture, music, and a renowned literary community. I walked almost everywhere. The local indie coffee shop would have my dark hot chocolate with no whip waiting for me at 9 every morning. I had a radio show. I had an assigned parking spot. It felt like I knew everyone and they knew me. Though I would have moved to the middle of the Arctic for my husband, a long-time Huntington Beach resident, I hadn’t anticipated just how difficult living in a new city would be.
Huntington Beach seemed so dense in housing and traffic, so fast paced, so full of people who didn’t seem to see each other, and really didn’t seem to see me. In my first week here, I tried to walk from my house to the paint store and nearly got taken out by a BMW in the crosswalk. I cried a lot.
But, luckily, Huntington Beach and I stuck it out.
One day, while waiting for my sister-in-law to complete a session at the Therapeutic Riding Center, I took a walk in Central Park. I looked around at the native plants, noting there were no palm trees. The shade felt good on my skin. Ducks quacked. It was new and familiar at the same time. I suddenly felt like I was home.
After that, I started to walk there almost every morning, memorizing the lay of the trails, anticipating the changes in landscape—the way a foggy morning would ghost the expanse of field, and a sunny morning would send long shafts of golden light through the canopy of Eucalyptus. I watched a pair of Egyptian geese hatch and raise a single gosling. I learned which tree the park owl lived in. I tracked the state’s drought by watching the pond steadily dry up until I could walk right through the middle of it stepping over the tiny skeletons of fish. Sometimes, after a good long walk, I’d hike up the hill and spend an hour in the beautiful Neutra-designed library, reading Ron Carlson by the big window overlooking the fountain.
And, I got to know people, and they got to know me:
The pair of dog walkers with legs like stout tree trunks, the taxi cab driver who always walked a lap or two before starting his shift, the homeless man with a trio of little black and white dogs he spent the day teaching tricks to. We nodded, waved, said “Good Morning.” When I got a dog myself, I found a whole thriving community of longtime friends in the dog park willing to welcome me (and my dog), including a doctor, and a retired arborist who is teaching me the names of the local trees and flowers.
On a day I may have a little money to spend, I love getting pancakes at The Park Bench Café—especially accompanied by the thrill my Idaho soul gets eating outside in the middle of January without freezing. Two of my children are homeschooled, and we have passed many hours doing hands-on studies and chasing lizards at the Shipley Nature Center. I haven’t gotten to try out Central Park’s Frisbee golf course yet, but I’ve nearly been hit by a few Frisbees and it sure looks fun. I love the solitude of running the thinly populated hills behind the riding center. I love watching the milkweed my kids and I helped plant at the Urban Forest growing tall, thick with butterflies.
I have learned it’s a process, this sense of belonging. It unfolds over time and only after you choose to devote yourself to it. Huntington Beach may be known for its beaches, which I adore, but I owe my first taste of really loving this city to Central Park, the place that said, in its own sweet way, Hello. We see you. Welcome.