The Canyon Is Calling

There are twinkle lights and unruly vines of ivy running up the front of the cabin. The six stone steps to the front door are cracked and lined with potted succulents and other plants that were green once, but have dried up due to our lack of attention to them. 

The brown, wood siding is reminiscent of logs by design, and bistro lights zigzag over a long cement driveway.  There’s no reason for us to ever turn them on, but I do every night. Anything glowing has always made me smile. 

I sleep in the top bunk of a bunk bed. 
It’s a queen-sized, made especially to match the theme of the place and  much more luxurious than the one I had as a little girl or during weeks away at summer camp. But crawling up a ladder to fall asleep is something that takes you back to being eleven no matter the circumstances. 

This was not how I pictured living in Los Angeles would be. But nothing about Laurel Canyon has ever felt like L.A. to me. There are no palm trees, no Spanish-style mansions, no views of the ocean. It’s a part of the city that would never visit or pass through unless you were living there. 

Driving up loyal Canyon Boulevard, you feel a bit like you’re going back in time. You have a feeling that if you could blow really hard – a thick layer of dust would fly off the entire neighborhood.
But the catch is  – you wouldn’t want it to. That dust is what keeps it preserved; it’s what often makes you wonder is it 2020, or is it 1962 as you climb up the steep hill that is Laurel Canyon Boulevard.

I have always felt that I was born in the wrong decade;  dreamed that I could have lived in the past. I have always longed for the simplicity, the charm, and the rhythm of the era in which people said things like “gee whiz” and “oh golly.”

I want to attend sock hops, and go to drive-ins. I want to be required to dress up every day. I want it to be only proper to wear gloves to the grocery store. Lace gloves: not latex. I fantasize about intimately knowing my neighbors,  having block parties, and pot lucks. 

It’s why I love old movies. For a moment I get to escape to a time when a woman made a man so giddy that he sang in the rain. A time when you could fall in love in a week –  with the boy next door, and that love would last forever.  A time when men would ask you to dance, and open doors, and wait at train stations and people wrote hand-written letters in beautiful cursive and sent them in the mail. 

It’s why I love Europe. Men play accordions on the sides of bridges, and women dress timelessly, and cafes exists that are unchanged from the 1800s. I can suspend my disbelief there that I am in whatever era I want.
It is like magic. When I moved from New York to Paris, I swapped fresh markets for grocery stores, and classic ballet class for cardio dance, and only ate at restaurants that pre-dated the Declaration of Independence. I had created a perfect illusion, and it was shattered when I flew back to America: land of 24 hour-Rite-Aids, and sweatpants, and Apple-Pay. 

But after two months in Laurel Canyon, hidden and tucked away from the rest of L.A. and the whole world really –  I realized while it is a totally different brand of magic here – it does exist. 

This is the kind of place where warm vegan muffins are dropped at your door by a little boy wearing a cape and carrying a lightsaber. 
It’s the kind of place where hand-painted signs are displayed on people’s fences. Everything from Laurel Canyon Loves You, to Black Lives Matter,  to Wake Up Nick. 

It’s the kind of place where people come together in the street on Sunday evenings and sing, out loud, to remind each other that they’ve got a friend. It’s the kind of place where a neighbor will share the spoils of his garden – delivering a bouquet of fresh squash blossoms in the morning with a hand-written note.

Maybe it’s just because it’s the farthest cry from the lifestyle I led for the last ten years, but things like this charm me. I’ve been mostly nomadic for a third of my life. I lived in no particular place and always out of a suitcase. I had no neighbors to get to know no kitchen to cook in, no couple friends to invite over for cocktails or barbecues, and had a marriage that never really felt like one. 

I’ve been to every remote corner of the world and I lived perhaps the most atypical life that a girl from the suburbs in Ohio could live in her 20s. So maybe that’s why I clung extra hard to this idealized, 1960s life. But I can’t deny that here in canyon, everything feels simpler; lovelier.

I almost didn’t leave France in March. I had the strangest feeling that if I left it would be a very long time until I got back. My heart wrestled with that —and with this other, gut feeling I had, that I knew my family needed to be together. So I packed my cases.

Laurel Canyon is the opposite of Paris. It looks like an overgrown jungle. It lacks the precision and refinement of Baron George Haussmann. Everyone wears tie-dye – if they are wearing proper clothing at all. Hair is long no matter your gender, and shoes appear to be completely optional. The only establishment nestled between the cottages is The Canyon Store – a glorified bodega that carries a strange mix of items all of them with questionable expiration dates. 

It’s so not me, and yet I’ve started to feel I belong. 

I was here visiting last fall on the infamous annual Canyon Photo Day. It’s a day that everyone who lives in the community gathers in front of the store for a group photo. There is live music and mingling and everyone arrives in their full Canyon glory: flannels and long wavy hair and costumes and guitars. If you didn’t know – you would think you were at a Woodstock reenactment.

“If you are in Laurel Canyon on photo day you have to be in the photo” the unofficial mayor told me! 

So I stood in the middle of the group next to Nick, and my sister, and baby Elvis. They had just closed not their house the day before. They definitely belonged here. But I, as is often the case, was making a cameo. 

A chant began after the shot was snapped,
“We are Laurel Canyon! We are Laurel Canyon! We are Laurel Canyon!” 
I found myself teary-eyed. It felt like day one of my sister’s new chapter – a new community, a new house, and a new baby. I was so happy for them, and also so aware of how far away I was from ever having anywhere I belonged, or people I belonged to. 

 “It’s official: you’re in the photo. You have to live here now.
You are one of us.”
The mayor’s words.
They now seem like eery foreshadowing as I go on my second month of living in Laurel Canyon. 

I went for a short walk last night. There was so much noise, thoughts, fears, and prayers in my head I just needed to clear them, alone, at sunset.

I got back to the cabin when it was dark and found a single, pink flower, freshly cut from the neighbor’s garden resting in the door handle.

The first new bloom of the season. They wanted me to have it.

If you want to hear me reading this story live, you can watch below!

  1. Stephanie says:

    Great description. I loved reading it and makes me want to move there!

  2. Christina Grusecki says:

    I loved this! Thank you for sharing ❤️

  3. Kelly Duhs says:

    i love this ……………………………..you really are an amazing sister, auntie, daughter and writer. Your family is so lucky to have you as you are to have them. Rest well tonite ….Kelly

  4. Sharon d says:

    Brilliant read the the post box pic 👌🏻

  5. Sæunn Marín says:

    Sounds like a magical place 😊
    Love your writing! xx

  6. Carol De Lauro says:

    Anna, I remember in “Little Women” the Professor told Jo to write about what she knows and loves the best, soJowrote about her family, her sisters, Marmee, her neighbor Laurie, her Aunt March, her passion for writing, her niece and nephew, her home, and all of the people she loved the most in life. When she left home to live in the Big City and be a writer, she did not really belong there and truly missed her family. I feel like you are more at home in Laurel Canyon than you are in Paris and the people you should write about are the ones you love and those who truly love you! I even think there is someone, besides Amanda, Nick and Elvis, who would be overjoyed if you decided to stay in the Canyon, or come back to it!

  7. April says:

    The Canyon looks good on you. Buy a Jeep and stay a while! 😉

  8. Mary says:

    Good for you Anna. I wasn’t in the reading mood (tired eyes), but you drew me in. I’m 64, well traveled, am a performer..the USO in the 70’s, my own band, theatre. My ex said “Living with you is like life w/ Lucy”. I thought it was a compliment..Oops. I understand the yearning you write about. I also have experienced that “out of time” feeling (right place wrong time)
    Thank You, Mary

  9. Julie Ferriday says:

    Coming to your story late and reading this in Barry South Wales it fills me with longing to also experience the (what seemed) simpler times of the 60’s having been born in 1960.
    Your writing is lovely I was there with you . Looking forward to reading more.
    Thank you

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