“‘Tis spring, when a woman’s fancy turns to thoughts of gardening.”
The legions of lupine and platoons of poppies along the roadside are harbingers of what should prove to be a memorable display of wildflowers this year. The nodding poppies in the afternoon breeze take me back to a long time ago in Laguna Beach. The bright flowers are like greeters, as is our Grammy Swanson at the base of her driveway on Main Street each morning. Students and tennis players on their way to Coast Union High School honk and return her friendly wave as she reads the headlines of her morning paper.
Eiler Larsen was Laguna Beach’s greeter for decades. This aged, colorful character would stand on the curb of the Coast Highway and wave his gnarled walking stick to locals and tourists alike. His gray, shaggy mane was one of the first to be worn in that style that became so familiar in the 1960s. To have seen Eiler, and to see Grammy and the poppies, is to gladden one’s heart.
And now, dear reader, I’m going to share with you one of the most treasured secrets of the Middle Kingdom. I am motivated by one of my favorite fundamental maxims: A joy shared is a joy doubled.
There is a road. There is a beautiful enchanting road. It leads to a most tranquil and life-affirming place … and I’m going to share it with you. On a day when you have no schedule or distractions, pack a picnic lunch, bring along a pair of binoculars, include a colorful blanket, and drive east on Highway 46 to Highway 101. Proceed north to county road G-14 (24th Street) in Paso Robles. Head west and then north on G-14. The terrain is rolling hills and occasional valley oaks.
At this point, many orchards of almonds and apples blanket the hillsides; fields of lupine, poppies and vetch dazzle the eye with their bright colors. Stay on G-14 and enter the gate of the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation and proceed to Jolon (ho-lone). Near Jolon is the Mission San Antonio de Padua, founded by Father Serra in 1791. To wander through the mission is to step into a time warp when you consider the influence the string of missions had on early California. I enjoy imagining someone using the toe of his boot to make an X in the dirt and say, “We’ll build it here.”
If you have the time, drive west on Nacimiento-Fergusson Road toward Highway 1 to return home. You will have entered a fairyland of huge sycamores, stands of redwoods, meandering creeks … and unlimited serenity. Along the way is the Ponderosa Campground for those who wish to picnic or camp. As you revel in the majestic scenes of Mother Nature in all her glory, think not about building huge motels along the way; don’t imagine the green meadows as likely asphalt parking lots; be content with your picnic basket, don’t try to envision restaurants with large golden arches reaching into the pure blue sky. Simply savor the simplicity of natural beauty and drink in the loveliness until your soul can hold no more.
For 24-hour road information in California, call 1-800-427-7623.
As I have shared this with you, share your experience with someone else. Take a loved one, or perhaps somebody who has been confined at home with an illness, or an aged parent or friend who needs your company. Perhaps your best companion for the day would be a child. Introduce him or her to natural beauty. Spread the blanket on God’s green earth, lie back and read the clouds. If you are fortunate enough to share this outing with a loved one, be sure to follow the late columnist Jack Smith’s romantic byword: Spend all your kisses.
E-mail John Brannon at firstname.lastname@example.org