She was an old lady dressed in black and moving slowly along the overlook with her walker. She had sad eyes the color of fog yet brandished a weak smile which seemed to welcome inquiries. I wanted to, at once; call her over to our picnic table and at the same time hope that someone would appear to take care of her. As she sat down across from us her eyes washed over mine several times but never stuck. She seemed lost in her own thoughts…and perhaps dreams of times past. It didn’t seem right to disturb her.
Eventually the woman’s daughter came by to retrieve her and they left together. A hundred thousand stories and ‘what if’s’ just slowly shuffled away.
Our friends and I were perched above a three-tiered cluster to multi-million dollars homes in Dana Point. The last time Sharon and I visited the overlook there was only one row of homes overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Rumor had it that Arnold Schwarzenegger has/had a home whose front was all glass and showcased his gym equipment. True or not, it made for a good story.
I’m told there was a fire sale back in 2008 during the recession. One could steal an ocean-view lot for only eight to ten million dollars; much less than their pre-recession prices of double that amount. Now those homes were packed tighter than sardines with zero lot lines and a perfectly magnificent view of their neighbor’s roofline. Welcome to the sometimes foggy always crazy coast of California.
On yet another tugout of our comfort one, Sharon’s brother and sister-in-law had corralled us into going to the coast for a weekend jaunt. It was a two and a half day meander through old Spanish ruins, crowded art-filled streets of an old Hippie hangout and washing out our minds with a sunset at Crystal Cove.
Mission San Juan Capistrano has been home to many indigenous and native peoples and now swallows for over 230 years of its storied history. The mission was initially founded in 1775 by Father Lasuen. He and his fellow padres left the mission for San Diego and it was re-founded by Father Serra on All Saint’s Day, November 1st, 1776.
The mission became the seventh of twenty-one missions to be founded in Alta California. Like the previous six missions, San Juan Capistrano was established to expand the territorial boundaries of Spain and to spread Christianity to the Native Peoples of California.
For over the next 30 years, Mission San Juan Capistrano grew in population, buildings, livestock, and prominence. By 1806, the mission had a population of over a 1000 people, over 10,000 head of cattle, and a completed architectural gen, the Great Stone Church.
Like all great monuments to the moment, the mission began to decline over the years. By 1821, Mexico had won its independence from Spain and made Alta California a territory of Mexico. There was yet another government take over when the United States won the Mexican American War in 1848.
Fast-forward a hundred years and the Catholic Church got its mission back, wealthy donors began campaigns for restoration and a clever priest decided to capitalize on a yearly phenomenon of returning swallows to highlight the mission’s fund-raising efforts.
Long before long-limbed nymphs and their male counterparts played volleyball on a Sunday afternoon, Laguna Beach has attracted sun-worshipers and visitors as well as those seeking to expand their consciousness.
In the early 1900s Laguna Beach was a magnet for 'plein air' painters, poets and artists interested in expanding their realm of consciousness. In the early sixties LSD was openly manufactured there. Café Frankenstein was a hangout for beat poets and artists. At night after the tourists left, Hare Krishna dancers and chanters came out in force. The air was thick with grass. There was a street scene alive with kaleidoscopic light shows and abstract works which referenced social and political issues of the time and environmental issues.
Some of the old artists are still around although seldom seen on the crowded tourist-lined streets. Instead they sequester themselves high in the hills overlooking the clear blue pacific and wonder what happened to their quiet little beach town of years past.
Newport Pier is a prime spot for watching the Southern California beach scene unfold. Beach Boy wannabes and weekend surfers ride the waves of imagination and salt air. Young women and old ones alike wear little for the imagination and old men with too much imagination hang over the pier railing and wonder ‘what if…a long time ago…’
Crystal Cove State Park is a wildness wonderland that includes over 2,400 acres of undeveloped woodland and three and a half miles of beaches. There are forty six old style cottages in the cove being restored to their 1930s – to – 1950s-era designs.
We rolled off the PCH and got there just in time to watch the sun dropping its pedals along the shoreline. Sunsets at Crystal Cove rival that of Malory Pier in Key West and are just as breathtaking. It was quintessential California with all of its clichés and sublime charms combined. A soul-satisfying place to share with someone else if only for those brief moments in time.
And just like the lady with eyes of fog it was a memory basin filled with the sounds of young children tempting the surf, old women wondering where their time had gone and one inquisitive writer looking for another tale to tell.