Of Heat and Humanity

Author: Allyson Xie

Tags: California, Exploring, Los Angeles, North America, USA, Winner

The heat slipped into Los Angeles, catching us unaware. Was that the inkling of a coming heat wave, or just a warm breeze? Were those clouds in the distance? Surely, the morning fog meant a mild day? By the time we noticed it, the heat had already stomped out the lingering fog and dried up the morning dew.

That day, it crashed over the Santa Monica Mountains, heating the asphalt up, burning our faces as we stood at the foothills. My brother and I squinted up at the white glimmer in the distance—our destination, the Getty Art Museum. We looked back at the adjoining train station, which was crammed with sweating adults and crying children. No train in sight. 

“Let’s just walk,” my brother suggested. 

“Alright,” I grimaced.

The heat left us gasping and sweating as we crawled up the mountain. I fanned my face frantically with my hand; the swaying pine trees offered a few moments of shade. Other clusters of people climbing up appeared equally fazed.

Blinking, I glance down the mountain’s edge. It wasn’t brimming with lush meadows and wildflowers. Instead, clumps of chaparral and pine trees spilled over in it. Rocks jutted out everywhere, and a pathetic stream dribbled across the dirt. 

Something about the mountain sparkled, though; it rose, more than just physically, above Los Angeles. Perhaps it was the mountain’s age. Having ascended from the ocean tens of millions of years ago, the mountain endured through the Ice Age; it saw the first traces of humankind climb through its rocks; it witnessed Los Angeles itself grow from a ranch to a flourishing center of art and culture. 

The mountain changed, too. Wind ate away at its face; it grew as the ocean receded; parts of it were razed down to make way for the Getty. It stayed in sync with Los Angeles, both caught up in the wave of perpetual change, of speed. 

I thought about how speed dictated much of life in both the mountain and the city. Faster areas of flora growth are rife with insects and squirrels, while slower-growing patches remain barren. Likewise, the wealthier areas of Los Angeles—business, technology sectors—overflow with people running to and fro, talking on their phones, late to this meeting or that presentation. In contrast, the slums hardly move, quiet and dark. 

But that afternoon, caught in the summer heat, even time itself slowed down. The roar of the city dulled to a hum. A warm breeze wafted across our faces. The train rolled past us in slow motion.

As the Getty drew closer into view, I realized how heat acts as an antidote to the way we sprint through life. It forces us to commit each moment to memory—albeit, painfully—as we sweat out every last drop of water. 

The most insurmountable social barriers crumble as citizens swelter under the same sun, brothers and sisters in misery. Businessman and beggar alike gulp down bottles of water, trying to escape from the oppressive weather. Los Angeles’ heat unifies the city, equalizing us all. 

The heat still smothered us when we climbed down the mountain in the evening. But this time, I took a better look at my un-picturesque surroundings. Halfway down the mountain, I pointed at a patch of dirt. 

“Look!” 

My brother and I stopped as a doe stepped through the rocks. Another one, and then a buck, followed. We leaned over the sidewalk ledge, watching the deer nibble, letting the heat embrace us for just a little longer as we basked in the setting sun.