Life Lessons From That Other Valley

Marilee Ullmann lives in Thousand Oaks

Wow! I just took a trip to the San Fernando Valley. I hadn’t been there for a while. Things have really changed since my last trip.

The mountains are gone. I remember seeing them there as a kid. They were so clear, it seemed you could reach out and touch them. Now I can’t see them at all. What the heck happened to them?

It still must be a wonderful place, though, because they have millions and millions of people there. Each one of them must have a car. They are so friendly and like each other so much that they drive the freeways real close to each other. They like to touch bumpers. Every once in a while three or four of them will get out and exchange phone numbers. They can hardly wait to call each other--I know because I see lots of drivers on the phone. If they can’t talk to each other, they just wave a finger. I don’t think it’s the little one.

Something else seems to be disappearing. I can’t see any dirt. It looks as if it is just evaporating into the sky. There is no more room for it on the ground. They still have trees, though--they’re just covered with ashes and soot. Must be where Santa Claus does his laundry.


You know what else seems to be missing? Animals and birds. I didn’t see a single one. The only thing they seem to have left is dogs. They keep them in these big cages with their people watching over them. They have big cages for big dogs and little cages for the wee ones. They keep themselves occupied in there with pooper-scoopers.

A few of them play this game: If your dog bites me or my dog, let’s sue somebody and get rich. The dogs can take themselves for walks now and not get lost, because they only have a few acres left. The people wear the collars and leashes now, thanks to a new leash law. If they don’t pick up the poop, the park ranger just gives a sharp yank.


As I was leaving the Valley something weird happened to my body. At the sight of the first rolling hillside--undeveloped, with cows grazing on it--my hands unclenched from the steering wheel, my shoulders relaxed a little, my jaw loosened and my eyes stopped watering. The temperature seemed just a little cooler and I started to breathe much easier.


I looked out at our Conejo Valley and asked myself, “When are we going to grow up to be just like them?”

Then I looked up at our mountains. They seemed just a little fainter.