To west of West
“Lands there are to west of West,
Where night is quiet and sleep is rest.
Guided by the Lonely Star,
Beyond the utmost harbour-bar,
I’ll find the heavens fair and free,
And beaches of the Starlit Sea.
Ship, my ship! I seek the West,
And fields and mountains ever blest…”
— J. R. R. Tolkien
I think I would have loved California under pretty much any circumstances, but our earliest days there were absolutely magical. When we left for the west coast in January 1990, we had just passed from one of the most difficult periods of our lives, and driving through the rocky Gaviota Pass felt like the transition from one world to another; a new world more wild, remote and unknown, full of adventure and a paradoxical serenity.
We lived on a lovely street on Vandenberg Air Force Base, in a modest little house where we would spend some of the happiest times of our lives. Down the street from our home, not even half a mile away, was a trail with expansive views of the surrounding wilderness. There was abundant pampas grass lit up by the setting sun (Matt is holding a stalk in the photo), and from one point, we could glimpse the Pacific Ocean.
That trail became a favorite place for evening walks. Though we never saw the mountain lions or coyotes others said they had seen there, it still felt like a small wilderness trek each time we went for a walk along the unpaved path. It was wonderful to have an enchanted kingdom close enough that we could go strolling there any evening we chose.
Vandenberg was a fabulous place for young boys to live; there were huge, deserted beaches with dunes and tide pools and Titan missile launches, and we saw more deer, raccoons and other wild animals there than we have seen anywhere before or since. (The terrible Painted Cave Fire just south of us that year drove huge numbers of animals to seek refuge to the north.)
The Air Force has taken us to some wonderful places we learned to call home, but no time is quite as cherished in our memory as those wonderful years of our sons’ early childhood in one of the most uniquely beautiful places on earth.
We made friends there who have stayed with us in our hearts to this day (and some of them probably will read this post and remember right along with me). Our sons’ young playmates are grown now, and many of them have children of their own. I wonder if they think of those years as fondly as we do?
When I look back on a life full of blessings for which to feel grateful, our years on the rugged central coast of California always come to mind. Those fields and mountains are indeed “ever blest” in our remembrance.
One year ago today: