To west of West

Jeff and the boys on one of our evening walks along a canyon trail near our home. Vandenberg Air Force Base, sometime in 1990.

Jeff and the boys on one of our evening walks along a canyon trail near our home.
Vandenberg Air Force Base, sometime in 1990.

“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:

Twilight and dawn




  1. What a marvellous picture! Almost like a painting. You have vividly painted those scenes through your words. It’s a blessing to be able to spend our lives in such picturesque places!

    • Thank you, Bindu! It was indeed a blessing to live there. About ten years after we moved away, while we were living in northern California, we went back there for a visit and I walked down the street to the school where I used to walk Matt to school each day. I cried the entire way. When I passed in front of the home we used to live in, a man was out in the yard working. He saw me crying and I said “we used to live here 10 years ago” and he immediately said “come on in.” Military people understand 🙂 because we all have to move frequently. The house was pretty much unchanged and some of the plants I had planted in our back yard were HUGE. When we went back to the trail in the picture above, we were walking along and Matt (now a grown high-school student) spontaneously and with no warning jumped up on Jeff’s back to be carried as Jeff used to carry him when he was little. Jeff managed to carry him on his back a few feet and we all had a good laugh. Somewhere I have a photo of it. Drew said “that’s a true Kodak moment.” 🙂

      • That made me cry (revisiting the home) and then smile (the Kodak moment) 🙂 I too am so sentimental about the past and I can relate so well to your feelings, Julia.

        • Thank you Bindu! It does help to know that others understand. I appreciate your sharing that you were touched by the post. Such bittersweet feelings about the past are hard to put into words but I think when we share such things, they are understood in a way that goes beyond words. Thanks so much for being here!

  2. Larry

    Tell Matt we are so proud to hear that is walking outside where all the nature can sing to him. The songbirds will announce he is out there, the squirrels will run up the trees and chatter to watch each step, and when you see the butterflies remember Grandmother loves you!

    • Thank you Larry! It was too sunny to walk much today (the meds Matt is on right now require that we keep him out of the sun) but we will try again this evening when it’s cooler and shadier.

  3. raynard

    Julia, when I left active duty in 1992, my family ( to include a 1 month old) flew from Hawaii to Presidio Of San Francisco ( the former Army Base). After picking up my car In Oakland, it was a cross country trip back to the East Coast. I remember all the times I did desert training in Ft Irwin. One year 1989 the year of the earthquke , we were there.( disclaimer, I will not call California”the left coast and no more ‘Christmas is run by a syndicate on the West Coast” lol be blessed

    • Raynard I just love the Presidio, surely one of the most beautiful bases ever. I’m glad they are doing such a great job of putting that land to use now that it’s not a military base anymore. Talk about prime real estate, there is no telling what all that land’s market value would have been! You probably made the same drive we did when we came to Virginia. That was our first (and only) time to see Utah and the salt desert. I confess that I often call California “the left coast” – affectionately of course — but my favorite is “the NorCal Republic” which you can actually get flags that say that.

  4. bobmielke

    I can relate to your experience about life on the West coast. I moved to Oregon 9 years ago from South Carolina. I’m originally from Illinois, a plains state. Crossing the Rocky Mountains and then the Cascade range to move here was an eye opener. The cream on top of that pie was my first trip to the coastline, just 65 miles from my new home. The ocean is wonderful!

    • The ocean really is wonderful, isn’t it? An instant and irrefutable reminder that whatever is bugging us is not a big deal in the great scheme of things. I love the ocean everywhere but nowhere that I’ve been is quite as wildly beautiful as on the Pacific Coast of the USA.

  5. Jack

    When I was a little child, we took our family vacations in coastal Georgia at what was then just a nice family vacation area and has now become a “lifestyles of the rich and famous” place. I remembered it all so idyllically, from the beach to the golf course to the tidal river where we fished that drained into the ocean at the north end of the island. A few years ago, I had business nearby and decided that a stroll down memory lane was called for so there I went. It was different, and not just because of the mansions and whatnot. I realized then and try to remember now that the memories of the place are what they are (and remain that way) because of the family that was there, the still vibrant memories of the sight, sounds, smells and other sensual delights that imprint a place in your mind and in your heart.

    And I can go back there any time I’d like, which is good, because Lord knows I couldn’t afford 12 hours in the place now!

    • Jack, I’ve been wanting our family to visit coastal Georgia, but now “maybe not.” 🙂 Seriously, when I was very young our family went to Jekyll Island where we camped out for about a week. What I remember most were the beautiful live oaks, seeing some sort of fort that was made of crushed sea shells, and getting covered with mosquito bites. That was the first time I could remember seeing the ocean, though we had lived near Miami when I was a baby. I still hope to go to St. Simon’s Island someday, and also Savannah; it’s hard for me to believe that despite growing up in the Atlanta area, I’ve never been there. I have heard that there’s a lot of serious money in that neck of the woods, but perhaps we can find some military billeting while we are there, if we do go. 🙂

  6. MaryAnn

    Simply beautiful: the photo of your men, the view, your words!

    • Thank you Mary Ann! It’s easy to take lovely photos with such a backdrop – you can’t go wrong! 😀

  7. I am sorry to have been AWOL for a bit, I haven’t been able to get on top of my RSS Feed Reader but now I am back and just in time to read this lovely post. Looking back and seeing happiness in our lives reminds us of how lucky we are just to be us. To have lived through and felt that happiness is soothing and to revisit it when you feel low is like drinking chicken soup. Hopefully I can visit regularly now that I am attempting to catch up. Hope everything is working out for you and I hope that your weather is warming up nicely 🙂

    • It really is like “chicken soup for the soul” as the book title says. In fact, as I’ve mentioned here frequently, I have read studies that say looking at photos of happy times has as great a mood enhancing effect as anything else tested, including medication. Don’t worry about getting here regularly, I am TERRIBLY behind on all the blogs I love and I’m just happy to see you here whenever you can pop in. Magical to have a visit from Tasmania as part of my day! Things are going pretty well now that we are home, and today is warm and sunny!

      • Always a good way to start the day “warm and sunny” but “frigid cold and with a lovely crackling wood stove” is a close second…although I have to get out and walk Earl so I had best rug up! 🙂 Have a wonderful day in close communion with your family and heres to the healing power of sunshine and love 🙂

        • Thank you – “cold with a lovely crackling wood stove” might be above “warm and sunny” on my list, especially if a mug of hot tea is thrown into the mix. I hope you and Earl have a lovely walk!

          • A delightful walk (drag) where I decided a few ground breaking things and got re-enthused about my life all over again, all in all a very good morning 🙂

            • WOW, that sounds exciting. I love walking – it really does cut through a lot of obstacles, doesn’t it? So glad it went well!

              • When you walk with Earl you can’t help but cut through obstacles. He goes straight through things and you stream out behind him ;). Very bracing in this 0C weather that we are having but everything gets constricted as do your thoughts :). Great to get back in to the lovely warm fire though and you are right about that cup of tea, it’s what jump starts me first thing in the morning and what keeps me civil for the rest of the day 🙂

                • I just love the name “Earl” for a dog. Sounds as if he is adventurous, my favorite canine personality. Much like Max at Julia Livsey’s blog. I’m sipping tea as I write this – anytime of day is the right time for tea, although I have to stick to herbal from late afternoon on if I want to get any sleep! Hope you will have a lovely weekend “down under.”

                  • Thanks Julia 🙂 Earl was named after the lead character in that sitcom “My name is Earl” and a more fitting name there never was for him! ;). Hope your weekend is lovely, quiet and you get some rest and relaxation after last weeks stress 🙂

                    • Thank you! Hope you too have had a nice weekend – though for you it is nearly over by now. Give Earl a hug for me – thanks for being here!

  8. Your happy memories unveil the blessings of the gift of a happy childhood for your children. These are things that no amount of troubled days can take from us. Blessings to you all!

    • Thank you, Pauline! It’s true that our happy memories are a strength to us no matter what happens. Thanks for sharing them with us!

  9. Roger

    The picture of Jeff and the boys at that age reminded me of the time when our boys were pre-teen. They were wonderful moments that Keri and I will have for our lifetime. Seeing them grown into men has been a blessing beyond words. Adam our oldest was married last weekend at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD and I had the honor to officiate the wedding. I know your boys bring you pure joy too as adult men. Have a great day Julia! Tell Matt and Jeff I said hi too.

    • Thank you Roger, and Congratulations! What a wonderful experience to officiate at your son’s wedding! Isn’t it amazing how quickly those years go by? And here we all are, hardly aged at all by the process. 😀 Matt asked about you just the other day – I will tell him you said hello.

  10. Amy

    What a great photo. Some of our FAVORITE memories come from VAFB. You know my mom and dad were there and my mother always said it was her favorite assignment. What a great photo. Were they really that little? Love to you all.

    • You might have told me your parents were there but if so, I had forgotten. Yes, Drew was in kindergarten and Matt was in preschool when we met. You and I were teenagers then, hee-hee. Or maybe we just looked that way.

      • Amy

        Yes we were quite young but we haven’t changed much. 🙂 I see it more in the children. Love ya.

        • Now we just have that delicious savoir faire, aging like fine wine. Give or take a few pounds, wrinkles and gray hairs, but whatever. 😀

  11. Wonderful photo…
    St. Simons Island is lovely…even with the “rich and famous” homes. Its been about five years since I’ve visited St Simons Island but it my choice of the place to visit.
    Hope you, Jeff and Matt is enjoying being back home.

    • Merry, we are loving every minute of being home. I thought about it, and for my whole life I have never lived anywhere that I couldn’t truthfully say my happiest times have been at home. Having said that, I do love to travel, and hope to get to St. Simon’s Island some day. As long as I can find some place to stay that doesn’t cost what the “rich and famous” pay, I enjoy seeing their homes and realizing that even here on earth, some people live on a different planet! 😀 Hope you have a lovely weekend.

      • Happy Mother’s Day! 🙂

        • Thank you! Happy Mother’s Day to you too!

  12. Sheila

    Julia, I love that photo of your guys searching the distance across the fields and mountains. You share your memories and love for the West Coast so beautifully. You are so right, that we learn to call the place we live “home”. I looked at a new “model home” this week in a neighborhood OFF the beach. It was beautiful, new, no dust, no clutter, but anything but a HOME. I came back to 428 and smiled when I pulled in the driveway. 🙂

    • Sheila, I’m happy to hear that! I’ve had so much fun picturing you in your beach home with water in front AND back that I couldn’t imagine your living anywhere else, even if it was a palace! (Except maybe part-time in an RV at Willow 😀 ). If you ever decide to move away you’ll have to give me plenty of notice, so I can come down and take photos of you at your beachfront place, just for the memories.

  13. Carlyle

    What a beautiful quote from J. R. R. Tolkien

    • Thank you Daddy! My affinity for California was a surprise to me; as you know I always thought myself an east-coast-city person and never aspired to live in California until we went there. Perhaps I have some sort of paternal genetic link to the relatives I never knew. 😀 In any case, Tolkien’s poem really had the ring of truth for me. I’m glad you liked it.

  14. In addition to the fabulous photograph, your accompanying story sets the mood and remembrances…

    • Thank you! I’m so happy you liked it. Thanks for being here tonight.

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