Apercu, epiphany or simply a realization long-past-due, the un-lived last third of my life offers up an opportunity: God willing, to continue in the process of opening up to the universe (and maybe figuring out what the hell that means); establishing my place in the tribe and preparing for a good death. This braided journey requires psychic and physical space; both can benefit from an anchoring: a sense of place.

When we were bringing up the two boys in Santa Monica Canyon, their mother and I would sometimes talk about how important it was for them to feel grounded, possess a rootedness, belong.

Very few of us get to go back to the places of our childhood and make a living in them. One such is Adam Tolmach, the local winemaker who after studying at U.C. Davis returned to his mother's Ojai estate to make wine (Where Native Meadows Come From). Many more of us fail, through frequent moves or finding ourselves in desultory environments, to even make an initial connection that might hold out the lure of return.

While I spent the ages of five to eighteen in one spot in a corner of Surrey, England my attachment was to our garden rather than the wider environment (The Scythians). The Heritage Industry had already made our local villages into death masks - preserving a hideous rictus grin on the presumed glories of their medieval past while the bodies rotted away within. Young people left. Local families were priced out of the housing market and wealthy young urban professionals, with half-an-eye on London, moved in to their 'places-in-the-country'.

A sense of place is not a given where economic opportunity rarely coincides with either birth-place or geographic predilection: gone are the days when local knowledge, learnt from family or won by dint of observation could be routinely leveraged into a livelihood. Instead, we cast around for environmental attachment wherever we can find it. Some of us, like those Londoners long ago who moved (and today still move) to quaint Surrey villages and retain economic ties to the 'big smoke' be it London or Los Angeles, cultivate hastily made traditions in their adopted 'places' - such as Upper Ojai.

Griffin, our younger son, has returned to Los Angeles to attend Otis College of Art and Design - while Will, our older boy remains in New York three and a half years after finishing college there. What we taught them, perhaps, was not attachment to a particular place, but the means to establish a relationship to both the built and natural worlds so that wherever they are there is a chance for a connection, a conversation with the physical environment along side of the media chatter that threatens to engulf us all.

We are oriented in the world in ways that depend on our lived experience of it and our imaginative conjuring of those places we have never visited. Within this constructed world of the real and the imagined, places can be transformed. They can become. Take China. I visited the other day. Or felt that I had.

While Lorrie and I walked across the parking lot in Oxnard towards the front door of Bed Bath and Beyond that hitherto I had only seen from the backside, as an illuminated sign stuck on the back of a big (stucco) box as I whizzed along the 101, she regaled me with the story of the time our friend Andy Dintenfass, erstwhile cinematographer, now art-dealer and a man of exquisite aesthetic sensitivities, had been lured into BB&B's Manhattan store by his wife Ann to buy towels. Andy was pole-axed. He consequently had to lie, like a concussion victim, in a dark room for several days while he nursed the massive hematoma to the right side of his brain - seat of his artistic sensibility - inflicted by the seemingly endless displays of razzle-dazzle end-of-days tawdriness - the chromed plastic, plush, crystal and glitter that lined the store's shelves.

I am made from coarser stuff, and I made it into the store without fainting away. I was however, transported out of my accustomed world: a stranger in a strange land (Exodus 2: 21-22 via Heinlein). Strange it may have been, but not entirely unrecognizable; I had the strongest sense that I was in a depository, a storehouse from Cathay, filled not with cultural treasures from the Orient (Wolf Oak) but with the outpourings of countless first, second and third-world, back-yard, high-tech or sweated labor shops from China, this latter-day 'land of a thousand trades'. This moniker was first appended (like a piece of the cheap jewelry that was one of its signature manufactures) to Birmingham which, in 1791, Arthur Young had described as “the first manufacturing town in the world.” By the mid-nineteenth century it was commonly known as 'the workshop to the world'.

But here and now, I was confronted with an epiphany: the Beyond in BB & B was the long sought after passage to the East. Through the plate glass curtain wall entry there was an enfilade straight into the belly of the manufacturing beast, to the treasures (or trinkets) of the orient, to the raison d'etre for this continent's subversion by Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. We left the store with half a dozen small purchases and sure enough all had been manufactured in China except for the taper candles which were made in that ancient Chinese dependency, Thailand.

Now, we see China in everything. Our imaginations have been subsumed by the Middle Kingdom. One recent Friday I spent a few hours with an old friend, Dennis Whelan, a planner for UCSB, touring the campus. Although our focus was on the many buildings created during Dennis's twenty year tenure, the subtext, for me, was provided by the walking experience along the broad paseos which reach through the campus in search of the views beyond: mountains to the north and ocean to the south. Like the fabled terminus of the central north-south axis of the Forbidden City, it is not hard to imagine in the soft Santa Barbara light and warm breezes, that Xanadu lies just beyond.

Of the fourteen thousand students, faculty and staff that bicycle to the UCSB campus everyday most, it seems, use their bikes during the day to navigate the campus. Jostling fixies, ancient ten-speeds, cruisers, mountain bikes, single speeds and sit-up-and-begs streamed by and alongside, there was the antic weaving of skateboarders who wove along on a parallel path. For decades, China was known as the 'bicycle kingdom'. There was a time when Beijing had four million bicycles - now there are four million cars and their numbers are expanding at a dizzying rate. As China adopts the car, on this campus at least, California adopts the bicycle. Cars are restricted to a ring road and the only viable way to navigate the sprawling campus is on a bike or board.

We still walk our property: the loop takes us down the drive, turning past the wood piles, along the trail to the west meadow, past the compost, past the walnuts, elderberries, oaks and laurel sumac, through the sage; skirting the oak grove at the top of the meadow we make a sharp turn up the shoulder of the spine that runs between the meadows then down the path, past the rock pond, past toyon, ceonothus and chamise then into the deerweed and down to the house. Each loop taken embeds memories of seasons, scents, of sun and shadow. Each loop taken makes surer this sense of place.

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