Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Eyes the Color of Fog

Sharon and I were perched above a three-tiered cluster to multi-million-dollar homes in Dana Point. The last time we had visited that lookout, there was only one row of homes facing the Pacific Ocean. Now two more tiers of timber had been added to the terrace of serious wealth perched there. Rumor had it that Arnold Schwarzenegger had a home whose front was all glass and showcased his gym equipment. True or not, it made for some interesting conversations.

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 colorful coast of California where sites and senses never disappoint. Back at the overlook, one of those came inching by.

It was an old lady dressed in black and moving slowly along with her walker. She had sad eyes the color of fog yet branded a weak smile which seemed to welcome inquiries. 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’ slowly shuffled away.

On yet another jog out of our comfort zone, we returned to old Spanish California. Back to a time and place before the first Americans populated the land. It was one of the many mission churches that dotted the coast of California long before freeways and housing erased any vestiges of their past.

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.

Now it’s 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 one’s 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…’

Further up the PCH, 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 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 breath-taking. 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.

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