Huell Howser – Choosing to See the Joy

The Light of California

There was no mistaking who he was that morning of June 13, 2005, when I turned my car into the Sweetwater River overlook parking lot off Interstate 8 in the wilds of eastern San Diego County.

He had on his signature, California-style tropical shirt and sunglasses along with that classic smile that lit up the entire landscape. He grabbed my hand with his US Marine grip, looked me in the eyes, and greeted me with his unforgettable Tennessee welcome. “Good mornin’!”

Huell Howser.

And so began the filming of the chaparral episode for his popular public television show, California’s Green. I’d been bugging him to do it for months.

Huell exemplified the joy of living, the magic of life, and the beauty of California in ways that will never be matched. His optimism and honest curiosity brought out the best in people, no matter who they were. His one and only music video with his friends at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles is a testament to the infectious joy he offered so freely.

During the chaparral shoot, we visited four different locations: the Sweetwater River overlook, a stunning red shanks chaparral stand near the Sunrise Highway, a chaparral stand on the outskirts of Pine Valley, old-growth chaparral on Guatay Mountain, and chaparral recovering from the 2003 Cedar Fire in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Each time Huell would tell Cameron his camera man to roll it, he knew exactly what he wanted to ask, constructing the entire shot in-process. Within a few minutes, Huell would declare, “That’s enough,” and we’d move on to the next location. We never re-shot a scene. When each clip is perfect, there’s no need to complicate the process with more film to edit.

Afterwards, we had lunch together at the Descanso Junction Restaurant and talked about the show, the chaparral, and the importance of making meaningful connections wherever you go. When we discovered we both had Tennessee blood running through our veins (he was from there and my father’s family called it home in the 1800’s), we talked about the importance of family and how we are shaped by the people who raised us. As he did with everyone, Huell made me feel like we were long-time friends who had been apart way too long.

As he did with many of those he met while doing his show, we stayed connected by phone. We’d call each other when the mood struck or news events reminded us of what we had shared together. One conversation will forever stick in my mind.

A few months after we finished our episode, Huell called and left a message on the machine. “Rick, I just wanted to let you know that as I’ve been filming my show up and down California over the past several months, you know what I’ve seen? I”ve seen chaparral! It’s everywhere! I had no idea!”

When you were with Huell, you felt like you were the most famous person alive. Huell let you know what an incredible honor it was to be with you. That was his magic. That was why he was so loved, and will continue to be. He made people feel valuable, special, important. Always.

Huell left us ten years ago. But he will always be in our hearts.

Thank you Huell for helping us embrace the joy of life.

2 Comments on “Huell Howser – Choosing to See the Joy

  1. Agreed, Rick! These days I always get ready for a California road trip by watching an episode of Huell’s programming. Watched a great one recently of him going out to Carrizo Plains.

    Howdy from San Luis Obispo, hope things are well down there in SD. Gorgeous montane chaparral up here in Cuesta Ridge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: