Editor’s note: “My heart’s desire has been to live in Cambria since my first visit,” began the letter from Elaine Horn. We suspect many of readers feel likewise, so we’ve taken Ms. Horn up on her offer to document her effort to live out her dream, which will appear biweekly for the duration. As always, we welcome your comments — especially those relating to how you discovered Cambria and came to live here.
This is the town: Cambria. The assignment: who, what, where, when and why of a Cambrian dream. The age-old question: Is it the journey or the destination? Here is my story.
I’m an East Coast — ahem — girl born in Long Island, N.Y. My family moved to a small town in South Jersey when I was 3 years old, so I consider myself a New Jerseyian. I’m not quite old enough to remember where I was when JFK was shot, but I do remember the family being crowded around the television, aware that something Very Bad Had Happened.
Mine was a pretty happy childhood until August 1974. The seminal moment wasn’t Nixon’s resignation, but my father’s sudden death of a heart attack at age 53. Suddenly the whole family structure and dynamic was shattered, and I struggled to fit in and relate to what now seemed like trivial high school concerns. It didn’t help that I was, like George Bailey, born “old.”
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Mom moved back to her hometown of Richmond, Va., in ’79 where I was attending college. Over the next three decades, between career and relationship choices, I lived in Atlanta, Houston, Baltimore and Richmond. We live, at this writing, in Richmond, and, thankfully, my mom’s still with me but Richmond is, and never will be, home to me.
My husband understood that from the outset. It seems like my entire adult life I have longed to put down roots in a place that wraps me up in a sense of warmth and security, like Linus’ blanket. Seven years ago, I found what I was looking for.
How, ask you? Well, it’s all Mike’s doing. You know, Mike the bartender at the Carlton Hotel in Atascadero. My husband and I were searching for a plot of horse-friendly land to build our dream retirement home. First criteria: weather. I’m a real Goldilocks about weather. Second, we didn’t want to be “land-locked.” Looking up and down both coasts left one choice: California.
With weather as our barometer, we limited our search to south of LA/north of San Diego, or north of Santa Barbara/south of Big Sur. We found a lovely spot in Temecula, but due diligence uncovered the fact that in summer you can fry an egg on the sidewalk pretty much every day.
Next up was to explore the Central Coast. Base camp for our search was the Carlton Hotel, where bartender Mike suggested we check out Cambria. We’d never even heard of the place.
Two days later, we walked onto the most breathtaking slice of heaven on earth. This was it. The sense of peace and, yes, spirituality, was intoxicating. It simply doesn’t get any better than the backdrop of the Santa Lucia Range, a distant ocean view and the smell of eucalyptus wafting in the air. Visits to Cambria became a twice-annual pilgrimage to meet with our architect extraordinaire. We were warned that building here is a “process.” It certainly is! Permits! Reports! Reviews! Repeat!
But so many joys in Cambria: Moonstone Beach Boardwalk; Fiscalini Ranch; Friday farmers market; Sunday jazz concerts; towering pine trees; elephant seals; Hearst Castle; Highway 46; the warm and welcoming people.
Important, too, is what there isn’t: no box stores, no chain restaurants, and no white noise.
Along the way, something heartbreaking happened. I discovered that the dream is my dream, not our dream. We don’t want it to be this way, but it is. He tried, really tried, to make it come true.
For my sake, he nearly convinced himself that he wanted it, too. But my husband’s life is, and always will be, in Richmond. He wants to stay, I need to go. Life really is too short.
So is it the journey or the destination? It’s both. I’m about to pull up stakes and move 2,700-plus miles from “home,” and the only part left of the Cambrian dream is Cambria. Call me crazy but hopefully Mick Jagger is right: “You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.” I have to try.
Next up: How to get to Cambria with 120-plus collective pounds of canines and a lifetime crammed into two suitcases!