Bloom Where You’re Planted (Even When You’re Stuck Living in the Suburbs)

ugly suburbsThe ugliest place I’ve ever lived was in a suburb in Suisun, California. In the 1980’s, suburbs like mine sprang up from nowhere, filling the once-lovely rolling grasslands with boxy, cookie-cutter new homes. As a teenager, I lived in one of those homes, and hated every moment. I hated the buzzing of lawn mowers on Sunday mornings, hated the smells of fresh-cut grass and swimming pool chemicals, and hated the view from my bedroom window, of look-alike rooftops and trees no taller than me. I missed my childhood home in the Bay Area—the heavy blanket of morning fog, the fragrance of eucalyptus and bay laurel trees, and the view of the San Francisco Bay from our living room balcony. Bay Area Bay Laurels

While most high school girls were busy dreaming of college party towns full of pizza restaurants and hot guys, I spent my last years of adolescence dreaming of escaping the suburbs and fleeing to the mountains. And, at the age of sixteen, that is exactly what I did. My first college was a tiny community college in the mountains, with rustic wooden buildings that looked more like summer camp cabins. Most of the students lived in apartments just off campus, and we literally had to hike through the woods just to go to class. It was totally cool, except when I had night classes, and had to hike through the forest with a flashlight, keeping an eye out for bears and skunks, which roamed the same woods in abundance. Still, that year of living completely surrounded by trees, and snow-capped peaks, and fields full of wildflowers had a kind of healing effect on my spirit.

I miss that home in the mountains for its nature, just as I miss my home in the hills of the Bay Area for its nature. And where do I live now? Well, for the past two decades, I have been back in the suburbs. Different town, different suburbs, but same feeling of longing and homesickness whenever I look out of the windows at views of look-alike houses and square green lawns. No, I never pictured ending up here – I always imagined living near the seashore, or a redwood forest, or beneath the glittering stars in some vast rural plain. But instead, college and marriage and jobs led me here, where I have often felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. rose growing in concrete desert

And you know what? It is not impossible to bloom here. There are ways – so many small ways to grow, even in less-than-ideal circumstances. It just takes some work, chipping away at the concrete barriers to expose the earth the sun and rain. And while in my heart, I will never feel at home here, the way I did amongst the bay laurels and eucalyptus of my first home, I can keep trying to build a sort of oasis here in the concrete desert, and feeding my spirit small bits of nature that it may grow.

Ways to Embrace Nature (Even When You Live in the Suburbs)

  • Grow flowers 
  • Plant a vegetable garden
  • Create an outdoor living room, then eat meals and read books there
  • Find local nature trails to hike
  • Go walking, running, and bicycle riding
  • Learn the names of your local birds, then go birdwatching
  • Participate in local park and creek cleanup days
  • Fly kites
  • Hang bird feeders or squirrel feeders in your yard (or create some other wildlife habitat)
  • Cook outdoors
  • Drive away from the suburbs and go camping or hiking or stargazing
  • Bring nature indoors (plants, flowers, stones)

enjoy an outdoor room

Feel free to contribute. I am always searching for new ideas!

7 responses to “Bloom Where You’re Planted (Even When You’re Stuck Living in the Suburbs)

    • Very true. 🙂 And yet, life for a flower trying to grow in a desert or polluted city is a much greater struggle than the life of a flower growing in a mountain meadow.

  1. I have long been a fan of your writing and have had similar experiences. I now live in Ventura near the ocean and I imagine the nearby freeway traffic to be waves beating upon the shore. I inherited my aunt and uncle’s home after caring for him in their last days. I am grateful they had not decided to retire in Blythe some other sere and withered high desert location. My worst experiences have been in So California and the worst of the worst was my house in Simi Valley. Better was Hermosa Beach. Even though I’m not a surfer the neighborhood was pre-gentrification funky. The best of times were in SF and the area.

    The cartoon “Lil Abner” whose hero, Lil Abner was afraid of staying in one place too long lest his oak-soled shoes would put down roots. SoCal and the birth of a son had that effect on me.

    If I had my druthers I’d rather be spending time at GG Park listening to bands on flatbed trucks. But Ventura isn’t so bad, it has a good art scene and is close to Ojai and Sta Barbara and I’m able to take some interesting courses at the local JC. Geography is where you are, the world you make of it is where you live.

    • I am all about “pre-gentriification funky.” 🙂 I miss the culture of the Bay Area almost as much as the eucalyptus trees and view of the bay. The crunchy-granola, almost-vegetarian, tie-dye wearing side of me would love to flee to Marin County or Santa Cruz, but my children’s roots are planted rather deep in this Northern California suburb where we live.

      Hermosa Beach sounds hermosa, by the way. 😉 I could absolutely acclimate to SoCal if we could live by the beach. SoCal suburbs, not so much.

      • While reminiscing about the years I lived in Portugal, a friend reminded me that you can’t bathe in the same water twice and TS Eliot warns in Ash Wednesday that:
        Because I know that time is always time
        And place is always and only place
        And what is actual is actual only for one time
        And only for one place


      • Which reminds me, of course, of Heraclitus, who once said, “Everything changes and nothing remains still, and you cannot step twice into the same stream”

        And so, the memories that nostalgia has painted like a rainbow are only that, just memories, and not necesarily a better place or time than that which we have in the present. But for those who are dreadfully unhappy with present circumstances, be it time or place or all combined, the call of those former times and places that brought us happiness is stronger than an old favorite song blasting from a stereo.

        It is hard not to feel pulled toward happier times like gravity, even when there is nothing left but ghosts.

  2. Pingback: Out to Sea (aka: A Stranger’s Perspective) | The Girl From Jupiter

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