Cambrian: Opinion

John Brannon: It was like looking through a kaleidoscope

I try to bunch my errands in San Luis Obispo into one collective trip, rather than making numerous trips over several days. And what a delight this particular drive turned out to be!

High in the brilliant blue sky, contrails crisscrossed each other, leaving a pattern looking like the invisible airliners were playing tic-tac-toe with each other. Usually the white trails are parallel, but today they created a pattern.

As I drove past the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 46, I was reminded of the previous columns in which I had drifted into a dream-like state where I had stopped to visit with Don Julian Estrada. The undulating hills are nearly chamois in color now, but what a dramatic sight they provided a few months ago when they presented the look of Ireland.

In these fantasies, I had drifted back to 1841 when Don Julian took possession of his 13,000 acres of land he obtained from a Mexican land grant. As we sat on a bench in front of his hacienda, I tried to describe what his 20 square miles had become more than 150 years later. I told him about Cambria and the various ranches and farms that were created by early settlers to this area.

Except for some small patches of poppies, most of the wildflowers have been replaced by wild mustard. To the east, flat-bottomed clouds looked like drop-biscuits over the Santa Lucia Range. The high grass danced in the wind, looking like young Hawaiian maidens in brown hula skirts.

It was one of those rare days when the traffic is light and one is not plagued by speeding cars and tail-gaiting jerks spoiling the tranquility of the drive.

As I have done nearly every day for the 28 years I have lived in Cambria, I drove into the Moonstone Drive parking lot next to Santa Rosa Creek to have a look at the surf conditions. The color of the sea was lovely and some nice 4-footers coming ashore brought back treasured memories of surfing in Newport Beach and Huntington Beach more than 50 years ago.

I provided a copy of my final instructions for my daughter Lisa a long time ago. My ashes will in time join those of Patty Van Rhyn (and eventually Art’s) a little way off shore. I have surfed in waves more than 10 feet high, but I don’t like deep water, so Lisa knows not to cast the gray dust too far.

She also knows that if I have only 13 minutes and 50 seconds to live, she is to insert a disk from Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall concert into a player, turn the volume up all the way so I can go out to the sound of “Honeysuckle Rose.” Then give me a kiss and let me go. If I have an additional 12 minutes and 3 seconds, play “Sing, Sing, Sing” as well — then kiss me and bid me good-bye.

The north and south portions of Highways 1 and Santa Rosa Creek Road were footpaths of local Indians. When the roads were built, they mostly followed those wandering routes that had been used for thousands of years. When Hearst owned most of the land around here, the telephone company approached him for permission to install their poles next to the original “roads.” You can trace these paths because the telephone pole locations are a few feet from the old dirt roads. These poles have no cross arms. These poles/wires cross back and forth across the highway, including a half-circle of poles tracing the edge of the marsh that lies on both sides of Highway 1 near Highway 46. Just north of Cayucos, the lines are buried underground. Fascinating history.

When SRC Road was a dirt road before being paved, Bob Soto recalls his father and uncle being on cattle drives up that road and over the coastal mountains en route to the train station in Templeton.

This incredible day changed yet again when dark clouds arrived before dinner and brought a light rain. As has been said many times: If you don’t like the weather in Cambria, wait an hour and it will change.

E-mail John Brannon at