I was born in Hollywood, California, exactly in the middle of the baby boom. My parents had met there after WWII ended, presumably having been starstruck while growing up during the Great Depression. We soon moved into an old farmhouse in Whittier, a peaceful 19th century Midwestern Quaker village halfway between the Hollywoodland sign and the brand new “Mickey Mouse Park.”
Before the Spanish arrived, the Tongva (or Kizh, or Gabrieleno) peoples largest village was Yaanga, near today’s Los Angeles river and where El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula was founded. The land where Hollywood, the Griffith Observatory (think “Rebel Without a Cause”), and Dodger Stadium are now, was temporarily Rancho Los Feliz in Alta California. There was another Tongva (or Kizh, or Gabrieleno) village called Shevaanga near today’s San Gabriel river, on land that was temporarily El Rancho Paso de Bartolo, where Whittier is now.
Whittier is also Richard M. Nixon’s hometown: he was the US Vice President when I was born and won the presidency two months after I started high school. My earliest memories are of playing with the neighborhood boys in the avocado grove at the end of our block, the last remnant of Whittier’s orchards and fruit packing origins. We climbed the trees, played cowboys and Indians, and ran around carefree. We were truly free-range children. I don’t know how many of those boys got drafted and sent to Vietnam.
In contrast to growing up in one of the world’s newest cities fast becoming a megalopolis, I spent at least one month a year in south western New Mexico visiting my mother’s parents and all of her cowboy/settler relatives. They all lived near the world’s first designated wilderness area and the adjacent Gila National Forest. This area is still one of the least populated in the continental US. I’ve spent many days exploring the natural landscape, native archeological sites, native pueblos and reservations, Mexican villages, and historic “Western” towns and other locations.
My father and I belonged to the YMCA “Indian Guides” (now YMCA Adventure Guides) and we learned about Native American tribes and their cultures, especially their crafts. My father’s hobby was finding and collecting American gemstone and making lapidary jewelry. We were “rock hounds” and my experience in jewelry making led directly to my becoming a scientific glassblower. But that’s another story…
My lifelong interest in geography, history, and all the cultures in North America has led me to visit nearly all the Canadian provinces and US states, and most of Mexico’s northern states. I have driven from LA to Vancouver to St Johns Newfoundland to Washington D.C. to St. Louis and home. I have also driven from LA to Key West, Florida, and from Tampa Bay, Florida, to Newport, Rhode Island. I have traveled by train to Mexico City and from Seattle to Philadelphia. Every place I visit I explore the ‘park lands’, history, and cultures that create the local landscape, especially any native cultures that survived the European conquest.