It’s good to be back in California, even if it’s not the one I grew up in. I spent my adolescence in Fremont, California, and I always assumed I would have a home to return to in the Bay Area. But well, things aren’t always where you left them, like family. And so here I was, up north, in mystical Mount Shasta.
As my time in Switzerland slowly eclipses the years I lived in the US, I’m beginning to see my home state with the rose-colored spectacles of a tourist. Little things put me out of my place. Is 80°F hot or cold? Do I tip a barista for a coffee to go? Is 20 percent still generous? In a land of plaid, denim, and Lululemon activewear, I was a flapping, androgynous knee-length wool overcoat.
Outside, the silver maple trees were quickly turning golden. The neighbors all agreed that it was the most vivid autumn in years. Inside, Mom and Keith’s house was a Dalí-esque burst of rustic cottage timbering and Chinese collections of dynastic proportions. There were dried herbs, terracotta teapots, an erhu and a guqin in the study, and Qing-era snuff bottles painted with celestial maidens and pandas snacking on slices of watermelon. The next few days, we made the most out of the brief pockets of sunshine October bestowed us. Keith zoomed us around in his Tesla from one town diner to another. On rainy days, we played mahjong, swished mutton, and sipped sweet osmanthus tea. We watched The Guns of Navarone and Schitt’s Creek. And Mom subjected me and my navel to her newest skill, moxibustion, the smoky ritual of burning dried mugwort over said navel. We teleported between Occident and Orient.
Since my grandmother’s passing, I’m working hard on not letting my cultural complexes get the better of me. I think that’s best way I can remember her. For a long time, I rejected parts of myself. I hid my gayness in the closet and swept my Sinicism under the carpet. Worse than failure was the prospect of validating someone’s prejudices. At the same time, I fought for other parts of me. “When I ask you where you’re from, I don’t mean your passport,” said a hookup once in Copenhagen. He made my blood boil. Was Americanness an identification that only my White compatriots could wholly claim, whereas I would forever need a backup answer to? I suppose that when you look so different, some people just can’t see beyond the slit of an eye.
But I digress. Back to Mount Shasta, mystical wooded community at the foothills of a sleeping volcano, deep in the backcountry of Northern California. A lullaby town of barely 3,000, its inhabitants are an eclectic melange of retirees and spiritually inclined, all pulled here by the chiming promise of tranquility and higher living. Similar to Stonehenge and Sedona, the mountain is regarded as the site of a powerful vortex—a portal between this and other dimensions. As such, Mount Shasta’s main street has what is most likely California’s highest concentration of crystal shops. Amethysts from Uruguay, tangerine quartz from Brazil, and just about every color of gemstone imaginable sit on display, waiting to manifest any desire through their sacred geometry and healing energies.
The native Shasta peoples of this region called the mountain Waka-nunee-Tuki-wuki. Named after their creator, it literally means “walk around and around, but never on top.” They believed that the mountain was the first place Waka visited after creating the world. Thus, the top of the mountain, draped for most of the year under sheets of snow and ice, was reserved for the gods. If a Shasta sought purification, he would walk clockwise around the mountain base, only trespassing above the tree line to find a final resting place. In recent centuries, non-Native legends have also cropped up. Some believe that higher-dimensional beings called Lemurians reside below the mountain in a crystalline city, Telos. They are the survivors of a lost continent which perished beneath the waves of the Pacific 12,000 years ago, following a thermonuclear war with the nation of Atlantis.
In a parallel dimension, this part of California might have been its own state. In 2013, Siskiyou County, of which Mount Shasta is a part, voted to withdraw from California and form a state of its own: Jefferson. The act set off a chain of declarations from twenty other rural counties in Northern California. Compared to the pulsing pace and libertine ways of Los Angeles and San Francisco, these so-called Jefferson counties are a world apart. Perhaps that’s the reason why there aren’t many Bear Flags flying in this far reach of the Golden State. Isolated and underrepresented, they are a part of California’s forgotten. In many ways, I can empathize. The feeling of not belonging is all too familiar.