A strategy for breathing lighter to send you on to another week

One of the nicest comments that I receive is that something I’ve shared on this blog has changed, favorably so, an opinion of Los Angeles. Visitors have frequently maintained their previous notion of Southern California, perhaps particularly of the greater Los Angeles area, was strictly one flat note. I’ve enjoyed expanding the vision.

There is much that is really wonderful about this state. Then there are undeniable drawbacks.

Los Angeles County accounts for about 26% of California’s population estimate of 38 million people.

When it takes me 60 minutes to go 30 miles–and that’s not the worst example I could give–I will admit breathing lighter is not what comes to mind. I have my survival strategies, however. Sometimes I spend the entire “trek” thinking about pioneers who traveled across the Oregon Trail. Fantasy works.

Bottom line? I live in the center of a pressure cooker.

But rather than focus on the negative, I long ago made a choice to find the “people, places and things”  that excite my curiosity or quite literally lift me out of the congestion and provide a breathing lighter escape.

My latest adventure has been to fully immerse in the story of John Muir’s interest in Pasadena. I am enjoying Elizabeth Pomeroy’s  “John Muir: A Naturalist in Southern California,” and as so often happens, one story leads to the next.

My curiosity was first aroused at the Huntington Library when I noticed a letter from Muir to Theodore Parker Lukens.


Lukens, a two term Pasadena mayor and prominent civic leader and well-respected conservationist, traveled to Yosemite in 1895 and joined Muir in the Hetch Hetchy Valley. This initial visit set the stage for Lukens’ lifelong commitment to protecting the timberland and forest reserves above Pasadena and beyond.

A mountain peak in Southern California and a lake in Yosemite National Park, for which he urged federal control, are named after Lukens. Muir often called upon his conservation-minded friends  to assist him in his tireless effort to protect the Yosemite Valley.

I’ve driven by the Lukens house hundreds of times. It happens to be on the same street as my favorite independent book store. But I had never previously connected Lukens to Muir, so now the house takes on a whole new interest!

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Notice the hitching post and mounting stone just sitting there waiting for a horse-bound visitor!

There’s every reason for me to believe that Muir spent time in his friend’s home. Muir, often called “Professor Muir,” was a frequent speaker in the area, including lecturing at the local high school.

The independent bookstore I mentioned? Vroman’s books is a Pasadena landmark.

Vromans sign

A.C. Vroman was also a friend and supporter of Muir’s aims to protect the San Gabriel mountain area and other state-wide conservation efforts.

This is all new information to me, and I’m completely enjoying putting the pieces of a very large puzzle together, while also being pulled back to the relative “quiet” of the early 20th century.

Horse traffic would have been more my speed, I think.

I sometimes simply enjoy imagining what Muir and other early settlers in the Los Angeles area must have experienced and how they interpreted the natural beauty. I wonder what they would think if they could drop in for a visit today?

I get lost in this imagining and it somehow modifies the incessant noise that is a part of every day.

And to breathe even lighter?

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The beautiful San Gabriel Mountains are close enough for me to touch them. And if I need to escape just a little bit more intentionally? Fifteen minutes can put me at Chantry Flat, about three miles into Big Santa Anita Canyon, and home to the last pack station in Southern California.

Just sitting here in the coolness and among the trees, and I contemplate what Muir said of the San Gabriels, “I had to contend with the richest, most self-possessed and uncompromising chaparral I have ever enjoyed since first my mountaineering began.”  

I tamed the chaparral by car. But I could still imagine.

Breathing lighter? It’s all about where you put your focus.

If stress starts to build this week, replace the stress by identifying an area of interest and begin your own adventure. And if that doesn’t work fast enough for you…just find a place to rest your eyes and escape.

Let me know if it works!

55 thoughts on “A strategy for breathing lighter to send you on to another week

  1. “If stress starts to build this week, replace the stress by identifying an area of interest and begin your own adventure. And if that doesn’t work fast enough for you…just find a place to rest your eyes and escape.”
    This sounds just right, Debra. I think I’m going to follow this. 🙂

    1. I hope you find my little “technique” as beneficial as I do, Uta. I haven’t yet figured out where my curiosities may lead this week. I hope you have a restful week of breathing lighter. 🙂

  2. A place to rest my eyes and escape will most definitely be my garden this week Debra! The temperatures are in double figures (17°C yesterday!) so I shall find time to work out there AND rest my eyes for a few moments too. 😀 Have a good week!

    1. You don’t have to leave your own garden to fantasize. How wonderful Cathy! I’m very glad weather is warming and spring is “springing.” LOL! I will have a good week, and wish the same to you, my friend.

  3. My sister who lives in LA has been here on business but she flew back to LA today. She was very sad to be leaving Sydney. She does hate the traffic in LA and how spread out it is. She very much enjoys coming back to Sydney to relax and wind down (even though we’re in a bit of a pressure-cooker city ourselves!) xx

    1. There is no way I can put a “happy spin” on the traffic situation. And it isn’t going to get better. Some of the problems we encounter in the Los Angeles basin have to do with the exponential growth in a city that was never structured to accommodate the growth. Too late now. LOL! I hope your sister takes advantage of the fact that from any point in Los Angeles County you can either be at the beach or in the mountains in less than an hour. That helps keep me sane. LOL! I’m sure you’ve enjoyed your sister’s visit, too. If you ever come to visit her–you know what I’m going to say next! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Karen. Of course the craziness seems to increase so incrementally that most of us who are native Angelenos almost don’t notice. But I think we do in the way we carry unidentified stress. Being vitally interested in what’s going on around me and finding little journeys that exist right here does keep me from focusing only on the aspects I really could easily do without! Imagine the blog I could have if I just highlighted the things that are unpleasant. LOL! I somehow think it would be very successful–but I might not be too comfortable. 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful week, Karen.

    1. I love your response, Nancy, because so many of my friends don’t appear to pay any significant attention to the local mountains. They’ll travel to see “other” mountains, but I suppose because the San Gabriels are just always there…oh well! To me they have a lot of appeal. And they do offer a little escape. Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope you have a great week!

    1. I’m so glad you could feel close enough to enjoy the local landscape here on the southern west coast! 🙂 Hope you’re “thawing” and seeing some signs of spring. You’ll be ready for your own adventures soon-although, I think every day is an adventure for you. LOL!

      1. Snorts – well I *try* to make everyday an adventure. This helps in keeping mom and dad on their toes you know. I can’t wait for Spring. It was actually beautiful here this weekend. But today, shakes piggy head in disgust. It’s cold again. I really, really *need* Spring my friend. XOXO – Bacon

  4. Thanks for the history lesson and the marvelous photos. I chuckled at the last bit of advice. I’m closing my eyes often these days as I’m recovering from eye surgery. Every time I try to rest my eyes I wind up taking an unintentional nap. 🙂

    1. Oh that’s just so funny! Well, you know, a nap is a really good thing, too! I’m glad you enjoyed a little “story” from Pasadena, and I think for now I’ll simply wish you very quick healing and sweet dreams! 🙂

  5. I’m definitely going to try this adventure/fantasy trick on my drives into the city this week. I wish 30 miles only took me 60 minutes. Sadly, in the mornings it’s more like 90 to 120. I will try your technique tomorrow. 🙂

  6. The Hetch Hetchy Valley was eventually flooded. Some people say that that was a factor in John Muir’s death. Supposedly, the Hetch Hetchy Valley was as beautiful as the Yosemite Valley. And, do you know, there were plans to dam up the Grand Canyon!

  7. You definitely impacted my perception of southern California. Yogi Berra said that nobody goes to Yankee Stadium any more because it’s too crowded. It’s nice to hear a sane and calm voice in all the crazy busyness…

  8. Very sound advice, Debra… It sounds like a good plan – to just rest your eyes and escape… Your information about the “hitching post” and the mounting stone was amusing; otherwise, if I had just seen them on a walk, I would’ve thought, “Now, why would anyone want to put in things like this for us to trip over?” 🙂

  9. Brilliant Debra, it is about where we put our focus. I love how your imagination leads you from story to story, to library to house….imagining the lives lived. Soul siblings we must be. 🙂

  10. Ah, I can see why you need to breathe lighter, Debra–an hour to go 30 miles. That sounds a little too much like hell. And somehow I didn’t realize there were SO many people in LA. Peace to you, my friend. LOVE all of the photos.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

  11. dandyknife

    Wow, you have more people in your adopted state than in my entire country! Glad you’re showing such nice pictures of all those sanity-preserving mountains and parks.

    Was able to stretch Mr Muir’s letter enough to read it. He was a considerate man to have written several hundred letters on his return from his world voyage.

  12. It works, Debra; indeed, it works.
    It isn’t hard for someone like me, who is always imagining living on the midwestern prairies, to imagine Muir and Luken’s California. While I don’t admire you the congestion of LA and its vicinities, I understand it, living just on the edge of an equally large metropolitan area. On those trips into the big city of Chicago, I imagine the lake and parks and museums and the wonderful architecture and history. LIke your journeys, it helps to pass the time along the way. How I admire your words of “I long ago made a choice to find the “people, places and things” that excite my curiosity or quite literally lift me out of the congestion and provide a breathing lighter escape.” and I your determination to do so.
    Now, you and Andra have both tempted me today with independent bookstores. Sigh

    1. I have to stay away from Vroman’s books right now, Penny. If I bring one more book home I will have absolutely no place to put it! That, and the large stack by the bed that isn’t getting any smaller. LOL! I know that you enjoy your trips into Chicago. You really do kind of have what I think of as an ideal situation. It seems to me you live outside the chaos of the city, but close enough to get there any time you want to be part of the energy, or take advantage of some of the cultural offerings that are plentiful in a city with Chicago’s charm and history. I suppose the main thing is to make the best (and most) of wherever we find ourselves. 🙂

  13. Having retired to a small island, I no longer get stuck in traffic. But when I lived in a down beat area of a city, where it took twenty minutes to drive three miles to work every morning, I’d focus on the architecture of the buildings lining my route, make up little stories about the people living and working in them. Rather than being frustrated, these fantasies eased me into the working day ~ and back out of the stress, as I drove (slowly) home! Great informative post Debra and a brilliant idea to ‘breathe lighter’, wherever you can! 🙂

  14. Thank you so much for showing others all the wonderful places and things to do that are available in Southern California. I too love those mountainsand I once lived right below them. And Los Angeles, to me it is a city of gardens and single family homes, small and large. Not that typical cityscape of tall buildings, filled with small apartments. Our street was filled with flowering trees, hibiscus, bougainvilleas, and every spring, the purple flowers of the jacaranda trees. A lovely place to live.

    1. I appreciate your lovely description of life in Los Angeles, Inger. It is such a diverse region that I am sure I can never adequately describe it to those who have never been to California. If we stay off the freeways, it’s even better. Right? LOL!

  15. Amazing isn’t it? We can live in the same town, traveling the same paths, for years but unless we ask the right question or read the right article or book, we may never connect the dots. The Muir-Lukens connection is just that type of thing. It makes me wonder what else might be lurking right under our nose.
    Great advice, too, Debra, about escaping the stresses of modern day life. A well-trained imagination can be life-saving.

    1. There are so many interesting places to explore that are really right under my nose, but I could use just a little bit more time. Isn’t that true for each of us! I am so glad blogging was “invented” so that I can share my little enthusiasms. It’s sparing my local friends who are probably a little tired of hearing about some of them. LOL!

  16. You live in an area where people want to go visit because of the weather and all of the attractions. But there are so many other wonderful things about your area including the landscape and the vegetation. The volume of traffic is an issue. You seem to have some great strategies for making the time pass as you crawl along. Oregon is quite nice too!

    1. I’m glad you can see that there is more to California than over-population, Thea. It’s sometimes really hard for me to share enough context to adequately describe to those who have never been to the the state just how big it is. We have population centers that are crowded, but then again huge expanses of open land. I do try to offer a little balance. So I appreciate your “following along.” My reference to the Oregon Trail was thinking of the travelers who came from the east to the west via covered wagons. Even in my worst sitting in traffic moments, it’s still faster than that mode of transportation. LOL! 🙂

  17. I do love your perspective on your county and the historical journeys you’ve taken us on. You do make me think I might look for something similar here, there must be journals and photographs stored at the library on this! Is that where you find most of your information?

  18. I had a very pleasant stress busting day on Wednesday – I’ll have to write up about it. Your historical journey with professor Muir is really interesting and I too can picture the horse sitting outside while he chatted with Mayor Lukens. What a grand old house that is 🙂

    60 minutes to do 30 miles… you’d be lucky to do 6 through central London in that time 😉

    1. Thank you for taking the time to ready my post about my interest in John Muir’s local connections, Otto. I appreciate your comment. I really do enjoy learning more about my local environment. It lifts me out of what can sometimes be a little too routine! 🙂 And I enjoy sharing about it, so thank you for paying attention.

  19. Debra, great strategy for de-compressing from life’s stresses! This week I’m looking at the buds on trees outside my back window,feeling that spring is actually on its way here. We had snow this morning, on the first day of spring. That doesn’t happen often in the Chicago area, but this last winter was a challenging one and not quite over. I needed a little encouragement to breathe lighter this week! 🙂


    1. More snow,Karen? This is definitely a winter for the record books! I am sure that every little sign of spring is so important to you right now. A promise of warmer weather. I do place energy into focusing on the little things that lift me out of whatever might be a more immediate concern or drain on my well-being. It’s always so interesting to me to see that changing focus really does the trick. I think we have some similar strategies. 🙂

  20. I don’t regret the nine months I lived in LA. When I look back, I think of the beautiful lavender-flowered tree I used to pass on my way to wherever. I know I’ll never see a tree like that in Indy. The same goes for the beautiful flowers I saw there; the palm trees swaying in the breeze while I tried to concentrate on what my sociology professor was saying! I also experienced nature’s phenomena: wild fires that brought billowing “clouds” across the sky, Santa Ana Winds that blew my laundry all over the neighborhood, the earthquake that rattled the walls and my perfume bottles, the gas station explosion causing people to run down the street to look at 3:00 in the morning! Living in LA was an adventure I don’t regret! I came across celebrities and I enjoyed endless sunshine day after day. That nine months was packed with life and living! For a “vacation” state, I think I had to move to Indy to recover from all the excitement! But back to the present – how is the rain situation there now? Any improvement?

    1. Oh my goodness, Marcella! You really did pack a lot into one nine month period. I’m glad you have some level of fondness to your memories of time here. I love your summary of everything from the natural beauty of the palm trees and flowers, to wild fires and earthquakes. Some parts of the state have enjoyed a little more rain. Not enough to really affect the drought, but it’s all helpful. Southern California is still quite dry! I think the weather across the country is just very confused. I hope you enjoy your weekend in Indy! 🙂

      1. Gee, I didn’t even mention the LaBrea tarpits, San Francisco, and what’s the name of the place where they have whales, porpoises, etc? Sea World? I don’t know, can’t remember. I’ve got photos though.I also went bicycle riding in a park made for bicycles. This was all when I was pregnant! LOL! I’m worn out just thinking about it now! I think you’re right about the country being confused about the weather. I hope it gets un-confused soon and I hope you get some more rain! (Gee, previously that would be a mean thing to say to someone!)

  21. I began to imagine stories/experiences about those who had gone before me when I got involved in genealogy many years ago. Learning about the history of my family took me on many many imaginary trips, over mountains, down rivers and through the valley. I believe that paying attention to your surroundings, scenery, old homes, animals, enriches our lives in ways we do not even comprehend. Relieving stress is one way. I love that old house with the hitching post.

    1. I think it is definitely the “paying attention” to our surroundings that opens us up to being fully engaged and often leads to wonder. That is a stress reliever to me. Often it simply means I’ve taken a break from a problem to notice and appreciate other things. The old mayor’s house is still very beautiful to me. And you’d be impressed to see that it remains, standing in an area with many modern, large-scale buildings. I think it’s landed on the historic register or someone would surely have taken it over for the property value! A hitching post is certainly rare to see these days. 🙂

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