Michelle Carter wrote this article.
Kona coffee and chocolate croissant in hand, I strolled out of my favorite café and continued down Carrillo Street toward Laguna. A tan, two-story, building on the right, and salmon hued stucco structure on the left, were familiar landmarks. As I crossed the street, I readied myself for the office with a wall of glass where there always sat a man at a desk in a shirt and tie. I felt uneasy in this part of my walk because it seemed I was entering his space uninvited.
I wondered what he was thinking, if all the passersby were an interruption or a needed escape. It was a short three-block walk from the café to the place where I worked. It took me 5-7 minutes if I didn’t stop for coffee, 8 minutes if I did.
Either way, I arrived at nearly the same time each weekday focused on the work ahead of me and with a few minutes to spare. Focused — when I got there — but before that my daily routine consisted of me trekking down Carrillo with the only thought going through my head being, “Coffee today? Coffee and a Donut?” Until one day it hit me, literally, right on the top of my head. And thus began my journey to discovering and embracing the unknown and exploring new possibilities.
I never wanted to go to Santa Barbara — never, but that’s where the job was, so I went. I didn’t care about what they said about its Mediterranean climate or its Spanish inspired architecture or even that it’s supposed to resemble the French Riviera. I knew for sure that comfy resorts and sandy beaches meant one thing – snobby rich people, and I would have to try to avoid them. So the first time I stepped off my commuter bus, I knew the score.
I don’t remember if my “epiphany” was after the glass wall, or before, but I know it was in close proximity. I was traveling along, sipping my fair trade cup of caffeine, when something pinged me on top of my head. It was sort of heavy, not pigeon dropping heavy but too heavy to be shaken off and ignored. I’d like to say I didn’t panic and think it was a big gooey bug — but that would be a lie. Anyone who knows me knows I appreciate nature but I’m not a very outdoorsy person.
Any foreign matter that finds its way onto my skin, hair clothes or otherwise is dead matter. That is, if I first don’t go screaming and flying around in a circle screaming — “Get it off, get it off!” — which was my first thought. I figured the latter was not an option that day, on that particular stretch of the street, with business types and such scurrying to their corporate enclaves, so I reached up atop my head and pulled down a blossom.
It wasn’t an ordinary blossom.
The blossom was substantial and large for a bloom of any type and it was the most intriguing shade of light lavender I have ever seen in my life.
Keep in mind that I was raised in the Midwest, and many of the flowering plants and trees of the California coast don’t have a chance of survival in an eastern U.S. climate, so I’d never seen most of them; or at least not to the level of magnificence to which they thrived out west.
I’d handled the blossom roughly, but it was still intact with five rather generous sized petals attached to the piston, side by side, to form an oblong cup about 1.5” in length with scalloped edges that curled outward, like a tiny champagne flute.
Mesmerized by its beauty, I instinctively looked up to find its source. I found myself standing under an umbrella of tree branches that dripped with the same soft petals that I held in my hand. I gasped and looked down the street, across and up the street. Imagine my surprise to see that mundane Carrillo Street was lined with these beautiful arborous specimens.
The Jacaranda tree, I would later discover, is native of South America but also very plentiful in Africa, particularly South Africa where there is a city known as “The Jacaranda City.” Trying not to look like a loon, standing on the sidewalk gawking at the tree blossoms with my mouth ajar, I continued on.
As I made my way to work I stole glances of the purple powder puffs that dotted the cityscape all the way down the hill. I thought to myself, “What the heck? Where did they come from? They weren’t here yesterday, were they? Maybe the city brought them in last night, after I left on the bus.” “No, of course not.” I concluded to myself. These were mature trees, huge and sprawling, they had been there for a while, but why hadn’t I noticed them before?
Nature’s awesome power is evident in the midst of a hurricane, tornado or other inimitable shift of our earth. We notice it because we have no choice, it comes to where we are and moves things around, moves our lives around, and nature will not be ignored.
What do most people think when someone says “nature?” Some probably envision a forest thick with trees or a mountain peak with a dusting of white snow. I think of those hikers with the massive backpacks and a clear stream that runs over rugged rocks.
I am also the person who can pass through a forest without seeing the trees. A vibrant red bougainvillea vine I see — but the Jacaranda — I missed completely.
It may sound ridiculous, but when that Jacaranda blossom fell on my head it had a profound effect on my thinking. I was enamored with the beauty of this tree, but more so with my ability to be so focused on getting to where I was going, that I didn’t see it; even when I was standing right underneath it. It had to fall from heaven before I took notice.
I sometimes wonder if I would have gotten all the way to work that day without noticing a single tree, which made me wonder about other areas of my life. Was I missing something else, something beautiful and majestic, because I’m looking down the road for something else?
Was I not appreciating the blessings that were right in front of me, am I missing something wonderful because I’m looking in the wrong direction? I don’t work in Santa Barbara anymore, but over the years I discovered that the town was not full of snobs. Rich people? Yes. Snobs? I didn’t meet any. I met great people with great stories.
I experienced walks around a historic courthouse with busloads of tourists that just wanted a few pictures of what I was blessed to see everyday. So, if you — like so many others nowadays — have found yourself somewhere you didn’t want to be, try taking another look around you, and embrace what you see, and what might fall out of the sky to find you, and then search for all the new possibilities you previously never thought existed.