It's the last place on Planet Earth we thought we'd ever be. Neither my wife Roberta nor myself has any particular interest in celebrities, nor in celebrity itself. Our house is situated below the Hollywood sign, and on my way to and from the subway station, I'm sure I pass by any number of famous people whose faces and names are unknown to me because I hardly watch television and seldom go to the movies. So much of the Hollywood experience is wasted on me.
But one aspect of it matters greatly to me. There's more to Hollywood than the twinkly lights of the entertainment industry down below our house. Above our house is natural Hollywood: a mountain alive with plants and animals. Coyotes howl wildly at night: I see them prowling warily on my evening walk up the hill. An owl often perches on the tree by our house and hoots softly at dusk. A mountain lion walked in front of our house a year ago. Just two days ago, starting my walk down to Hollywood and Vine, I saw a big hawk swoop down into a palm tree, snatch its prey, and whoosh away with a squirrel squirming in its talons. On my walks up the mountain, I love to gaze at the ridge-line of the wilderness of Griffith Park. Along the way, I often pinch a bit of sagebrush and enjoy its pungent aroma.
On the mountain are lots of other native plants, including toyon, also known as the California holly - the namesake of Hollywood. An acquaintance of mine at USC, an associate professor of pharmacy, Dr Jim Adams, is an expert on the pharmacology of plants used by the Chumash Indians for healing. For years he studied with a Chumash shamanic healer. He wants to do more research on toyon, which he says was used by the Chumash to treat Alzheimer's disease.
Just gazing at the green, serrated leaves of the toyon and its bright red berries is a cure for forgetting the divine presence in the natural world around me. Its colors remind me that Christmas comes every day when we remember that the God who is the Universe is incarnated in particular, individual creatures. Each toyon berry is a microcosm, a little universe packed with clues to the plot of the whole Universe's story. And so are we all.
A few days ago, our 8-year-old granddaughter Rumi and I made a nativity scene together. With scraps of wood, a coping saw, and a glue gun, we made the figurines together, and then she drew and painted on them. We spent a lot of time together forming the tiny stick-figure of the baby Jesus. She wanted his head to look just-so, so I carved and filed until she was satisfied, and then she painted a face on him. I made the manger trough, she collected little sticks and leaves to line the bottom, and then she put the baby Jesus on them.
Let the searchlights whirl their beams from the hubbub of Hollywood Boulevard. Let the film stars shine on the billboards. But under the pinprick stars in the sky above Mount Hollywood and everywhere else, let us unforget the Christmas story, which can be told in three words: little things matter.