The first time I visited Malibu Creek State Park was the day before I moved out of California. I had just graduated high school, and, like most kids about to live away from home for the first time in their lives, I was terrified. I spent that summer holed up in my room, watching quite a lot of television and trying to soak up as much time with my family as possible.
During that summer I watched eleven seasons of the show M*A*S*H. It’s a 1970s sitcom about army doctors serving in the Korean War. I initially started watching it because it was on Netflix and it was my grandfather’s favorite show, so I figured why not.
But I continued to watch because I ended up loving the mix of comedy and sadness that the war sitcom embodied. I could relate to the characters who had been shipped off to live halfway across the world.
In the face of my own uncertainty about living away from home, that show gave me a lot of comfort. And there was another thing too. Even though the scenic footage of the mountains was supposed to be Korea, I recognized it immediately as California. The shrubbery, the trees and the mountains all felt comfortingly familiar.
I soon learned that the outdoors set of M*A*S*H was just an hour drive away from me, along with a 45-minute hike. I thought to myself, “What better way to spend the last day of my childhood in California than to go on a hike, in solitude, in this special place?”
I was nervous to go by myself. I had only just gotten my driver's license three months ago, and I knew the drive through the mountains would be filled with sharp turns and daunting cliffs. Even if that all went okay, I would be hiking alone in a place that I had never been to before. My mother didn’t like it, and I almost chickened out a couple times. I put off going until the very last day before my flight.
When I finally gathered the courage, I took my mother’s car and left the city, driving toward the towering Santa Monica Mountains. As I drove through the canyons, I couldn’t help but think about how ancient this scenery must be. These mountains must have witnessed so much. I was grateful that despite all the urbanization that had taken place in the last hundred years, this beautiful landscape was still intact.
When I hiked there, it felt serene and surreal. Surrounded by nature, it was hard to believe that the city of Los Angeles was bustling just a few miles away.
When I reached the M*A*S*H set, I sat down on one of the benches and write in my diary. I thought to myself how much I loved California and that I knew I wanted to do this hike again one day.
And the next summer, when I finally returned home, I did. It became an annual tradition of mine. On the last day of every summer, I would make the trek out to Malibu for that hike.
This Monday, my mother told me that Malibu Creek State Park had been burned down in the Woolsey wildfire, along with the set of M*A*S*H.
It has been difficult for me to make sense of all damage these wildfires have caused to my home state. My grandparents have been forced to evacuate their West Hills home and are staying with my parents in the city. My father is having a difficult time breathing because of all the ashes in the air. My grandparents still don’t know if their house will survive.
Even though I live across the country, right now I have never felt more like a Californian.