Cottonwood and San Francisco: What Do They Have in Common?

The city of San Francisco and small town of Cottonwood can both be found in Northern California. Though they are one three hours apart they are different worlds, both unique and charming in what they have to offer.

As I type this from daughter’s apartment in San Francisco where I am visiting, I can see out over a breathtaking Bay. In about an hour fog will billow in, dipping in and out of pine-green Cypress trees and making the ocean in the distance invisible. It’s cool—55 degrees. When I go out, I grab a scarf and jacket.

In the sleepy small, rural town of Cottonwood at the top of the Central Valley where I live, my son is practicing soccer in 110 degree heat. The weather man is talking of the sought-after cooling trend, while the Bay Area weather people report that all regions (coast, bay and inland) are below record temps. The 55 degrees difference in weather amazes me.

The differences don’t stop with the weather. The City is packed with tons of people and tons of stuff—cool stuff, and lots of it. You can find a Whole Foods on every corner. People like to talk and are helpful. Farmers Markets are a dime a dozen. You can find Power Crunch Bars. And Gloomaway. And anything you want. You can take the BART straight into Bristol Farms at the Westfield Mall and then go to Burke Williams for a massage when you are done shopping at one of the 8 million stores there. (But just try and find a comfy pair of black sweats!) You can go to the food court and get silverware and real plates and 8 different kinds of veggie burgers at one stop. Diversity of all kinds surrounds you, a kaleidoscope of choice. People from all over the world come here as evidenced by the open tour buses flagging Union Square and singing, “Honey, Ahh, Sugar, Sugar” at the top of their lungs in varying accents. You are surrounded by the most entrepreneurial homeless people I’ve ever seen. There are six billion people on the planet and each person is unique. Here, they gather.

Cottonwood, a town of around 2,000, reflects a slower pace. You never have to struggle for a parking spot or pay for one once you’ve parked. You can count on a friendly wave as you drive by another even if you don’t know them. When you go into the store, people chat with you, and are always intrigued by another area code as there is only one area code there (and you don’t have to add a one and dial it.) Neighbors bring you cookies, or pecans, or cherries when you move in, depending on the season. And the seasons are clear. Hot summers. Colorful Autumns. Freezing winters with the occasional snow dust. Fragrant, blooming spring with its unpredictable spring showers and wonderfully predictable lilacs. There are no Whole Foods here, but the Trader Joes (the first and only 25 minutes away in Redding) caused quite a stir and people are still talking about it even though it’s been open 7 months now. The land swells with Native American heritage, rivers and lakes swell with fish, and forests offer beautiful hikes. The independent movie theater uses real butter. The public schools are supported by community pride. Our yard smells like horses.

What I find these two places have in common is that each is beautifully unique. Yet most people I speak with only like one or the other because they are so different. I often wonder why it is hard to appreciate these differences.

Similarly, I wonder what kind of world we would live in if each person could appreciate the differences in each person they meet for it is the differences that add such color and interest to our world. After all, wouldn’t life be unbearably dull if all places and all people were the same?