Land’s End: The Overlook

Is it possible to ignore the Eden in which we live?

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I know a man who used to live on a hilltop, in a house with an expansive ocean view. He’d open his drapes and visitors would go breathless. 

“Another day in paradise!” he’d crow.

At first, he thrilled at that panorama. Over time, though, his reply took on a rote quality. Within a few years, he scarcely noticed his view unless someone else brought it to his attention. It was a surprise, he later said, how quickly he took it for granted. The house-envy of his peers, the magnificence of nature, the lesser views in all the lesser homes he’d lived in—none of those satisfactions lasted. 

“I don’t know how to say this without sounding ungrateful, but after a while, the ocean was just this big, blue thing in the window,” he told me, sitting on the patio of his canyon-view rental on a recent evening. “It just sat there doing the same thing, day after day after day.”

I’ve been thinking about that observation. Work—my husband’s and my own—recently has taken me far from the ocean for long stretches. When I’m gone, the Orange County coast haunts my memories. A summer song on the radio, or a friend’s Facebook photos of starfish in Three Arch Bay or wildflowers in Holy Jim Canyon, will fill me with nostalgia. Then I’ll come back and after that first thrilling glimpse of surf—well, it’s surprising how quickly I’ll take that view for granted again. Life overwhelms the scenery. 

No one warns you about this side of big, obvious beauty. No one tells you that, if you let it, it’ll become a screen saver in the background of your life. Maybe that’s for the best. Who would believe it? The first time I walked on Victoria Beach at sunset, it was so magical I thought I was dreaming. And yet, in a matter of months, I was able to tune it out at will. 

When my children were in school, my days a blur of deadlines and kid-centric errands, weeks sometimes passed before I noticed the sun on the water. Burdened by demands, annoyed by the car in the next lane, stressed about teenagers or money or aging parents, I slogged up and down Coast Highway like a workhorse with blinders. Sometimes I was my own burden, so sick of getting and spending and keeping up with the Joneses that I refused to look at the view, lest the Jones kids be out there, doing victory laps just to vex me. 

On those days, living here felt as if I’d gone to Vegas and come home married to a celebrity model, some amazing-looking stranger with whom I was now stuck, even though we had nothing in common. That sounds ungrateful. But no one tells you about that aspect of paradise, either—that it’s relentlessly perfect, and that its perfection might become hard to look at when you can’t measure up. 

Not long ago, though, I was driving south on Coast Highway. It was late, and I was under a tight deadline. I’d been away for a while, so when a flash of blue appeared out the passenger window, I pulled over. The sun shone on the water, and it seemed to say: Relax. Nature doesn’t care if you’re grateful. You can own whole panoramas and still miss the big picture. There’s no such thing as “another day” in Eden. There is only this day, this paradise.

Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue.

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