My first thought was to headline this blog Have Boot, Will Travel after arriving at LA Airport to discover the waterproof bag containing my rucksack had opened and a hiking boot disappeared on its own solo adventure.
It might have seemed a calamity to a pilgrim planning to spend the next three months walking in California. Instead I saw the funny side of it and decided that maybe it was a sign that I needed to use my trainers instead, choosing to initially walk north along the coast towards San Francisco, rather than heading inland towards national parks and high Sierra Mountains that might still be in the icy grip of winter.
Hopefully I’ll get to explore the likes of Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks later when it is warmer.
Waiting to welcome me at LAX Airport was my friend and former motoring colleague Barry Winfield, he and his school teacher wife Marianne opening their hearts and Redondo Beach home to a weary traveller.
Their home is an oasis of peace although after the tranquillity of Findhorn I felt battered and shattered by the surrounding spaghetti of roads, highways and overhead power cables, the innumerable shops and malls all shouting messages of materialism and more, more, more. The system isn’t about people but consumers and conspicuous consumption. It’s exhausting.
And yet it was exhilarating to bask in warm Californian sunshine in the state that was my Utopia as a young student at Whittier College, dishing up sea, sun, fun, surfing and fast cars. Now there are many more cars and it seems to me that they’re all too big and mostly inappropriate. Do we need so many luxury 4x4s and giant pick-ups in a crowded urban area? Admittedly I also counted more Toyota Prius hybrids than I believed possible, one nearby driveway decorated with His and Hers versions in contrasting colours.
Marianne made a joke about ‘conspicuous conservation’.
This might be the epicentre of consumerism but I’m discovering that getting something as simple as a functional local SIM card for my phone can be a challenge despite swiping my credit card on a $60 a month deal – it is easier in both Britain and South Africa. But this is a temporary hiccup.
In the past 24 hours I’ve walked beaches with Barry and Marianne, picnicked in a park overlooking the ocean, worked out in a local gym and best of all I’ve visited the Wayfarers Chapel at Palos Verdes, restoring some of my faith in the church and religion.
It is the most inspiring modern church I’ve ever been in and is made almost entirely of glass, serving as a memorial to Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century mystic and theologian who celebrated the interconnectedness of all life and respected differences and other religious traditions.
Designed by Lloyd Wright, son of renowned American architectural pioneer Frank Lloyd Wright, it is inspired by the cathedral-like majesty of the redwood trees in northern California, the surrounding coastal redwood trees dominating and creating a sense of the wonder and immensity of the universe.
Outside the Hallelujah Tower soars high above the glass church and is brightly illuminated at night, prompting passing sailors to nickname it ‘God’s Candle’.
The Chapel itself is a symphony of glass, wood and stone that blends seamlessly with the beauty of the natural environment to emphasise the meeting of body, mind and spirit and the relationship between our inner and outer worlds. The glass provides protection from the elements without separating worshippers from the spectacle surrounding them.
The entreaty to visitors is: “Pause for a moment, Wayfarer, on life’s journey. Let the beauty of holiness restore your soul. May the harmony of sky and water, leaf and rock, nourish the creation and growth of your inner being as you fare through this life and on into the life beyond.”
Wayfarers Chapel is an architectural triumph that moved and uplifted me, filling me with excitement at the prospect of visiting cathedrals of nature in the state famous for the tallest, biggest and oldest trees on Earth.