Other Worlds May Be Closer than We Think

This past President’s Day weekend, my husband, Ken and I were reminded that whole other worlds sometimes are just a short distance away. 
I was invited to speak to my sister Diana’s women’s group in Palos Verdes. I eagerly accepted, reminiscing about how special that area has been in our lives; it is where Ken and I first met when I was just a girl of 14. I was accompanying my girlfriend, Lee. We were visiting her family’s friends for a week in Rolling Hills. The husband, a leader of a group of Boy Scout Explorers, invited some of the scouts to meet us. Ken was among them. That was the start of a lifetime together.
Soon after meeting Ken, I returned to my home thirty miles away. Too shy to talk on the phone, we exchanged letters all year. When my friend Lee and I returned to Palos Verdes the next year Ken had developed more courage, arranging an outing. We were quite surprised when he and a buddy showed up with horses! The plan was to ride over the steep hills and look at the oceanarium known as Marineland of the Pacific which had opened three years earlier in 1954. It was California’s first themed amusement park. Having only heard descriptions of Marineland, we were happy about the day’s plans to actually see it, but quite hesitant about seeing it from the back of horses, sitting behind boys we were just getting to know.
Swallowing our pride, Lee and I climbed on the back of those horses behind the boys. It was an exciting few hours. When it was time to ride back up the tallest hill, I was not about to put my arms around this boy I did not know very well. As my horse started up the incline, I slid right off its rump. After that we all just walked next to the horses up the slope. These are some of our favorite memories. Many years later we married in a church near where we met and moved to Orange County where we have spent sixty years, raising a family and building a life.
When this invitation to speak arrived, Ken immediately offered, “How about if I drive you and we will make an overnight adventure out of it?” Indeed we did just that! We packed our bags, organized care for our many pets and set off, quite oblivious to the idea of entering another world.
An hour later, we arrived in Ken’s adolescent growing up neighborhood on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It warmed my heart to see horses out on this holiday weekend, and to make a stop at the site of our wedding. We delighted in discovering the many colorful peacocks, preening on corral fences and unabashedly strutting down the middle of the roads! I took many photos. 
The driving tour continued to Malaga Cove where Ken had attended middle school, and where we encountered more beautiful peacocks. We hiked a bit to enjoy the views of Ken’s old surfing spots while he regaled me with tales of his ship wreck adventures climbing aboard the crashed freight ship, the Dominator, which was beyond salvage, stuck on the rocks where it had run aground in 1961.
We drove on, admiring the extravagant views of Catalina Island sitting just to our right. We soon drove into the entrance for the glamorous Terranea Resort on the site of the earlier Marineland Park. A quick Google search taught me that eons ago this area of Southern California had once been connected to the Channel Islands. We parked and Ken pointed out the trail we had taken on that long ago horse ride. 
We continued over freshly asphalted portions of a very topsy turvy road. I learned that it is constantly moving and being repaired, as much of the soil in the Rancho Palos Verdes area is unstable. In fact, the home in which we had met in 1956 fell down the hill years ago and had to be demolished.
We drove into the legendary Wayfarer’s Chapel parking lot only to be turned away by a guard. The historic building is red tagged. It is coming down, the earth beneath it moving to the point that the glass windows are cracking, and the structure is unsafe.
Ken told me stories of the beautiful Portuguese Bend Club that had once stood at the nearby beach, and how it had been destroyed by sliding earth. Today all that remains is its memory; there’s very little sign of it; it was taken long ago by the moving earth as have many dozens upon dozens of homes.
At day’s end, we found a seaside restaurant near our hotel and settled into a candlelit dinner. We talked excitedly about the history of the area, the unfortunate movement of the earth, and about the remarkable fact of so many wild peacocks roaming about.
We learned that there are a few other areas in Southern California where early flocks of peacocks were set free to proliferate over time. Research revealed that businessman Elias J “Lucky” Baldwin (Baldwin Hills is named for him) imported a flock of peacocks from India in 1879 which was probably the start of the Southern California peacock population. It is generally believed that Baldwin’s daughter gifted 16 of the family’s peacocks to Palos Verdes developer Frank A.Vanderlip who owned a massive 1600 acre estate on the peninsula around the turn of the twentieth century. An ornithophile, he kept aviaries on the peninsula property filled with exotic birds. Upon his passing the peacocks were set free to roam the hills, and to live on over one hundred years later.
The next day, I arrived early to my meeting excited about my presentation, but also interested in what the locals thought about all those loose peacocks living side by side with humans. I asked a few of the ladies who lived close by. They smiled, sighed, and agreed that they enjoyed them. However, they were quick to point out that the birds are a point of great controversy, that about half of the area’s residents find their squawking and vast amounts of excrement to be disagreeable.
My talk was on the “Colonization of Alta California.” I came attired in the image of the historic figure of La Dona Ysidora Pico Forster, the former matriarch of a massive Alta California rancho. I wanted to grab the listeners’ attention and help them to understand that they are part of California’s astonishing story; its rise from rural outpost to a world class powerhouse economy. I was warmly welcomed by a full audience of interested, attentive listeners. It was a wonderful day.
On the journey home Ken and I got back to reminiscing, recalling our own experience with some neighboring squawking peacocks. Our neighbor across the creek had kept them, and while we heard them clearly, they were far enough away as not to be annoying. We enjoyed having a peacock link. 
As we pulled into the driveway of our home, we marveled at the idea that we had only been gone a bit more than 30 hours and had discovered a whole different environment just a short trip away. Our takeaway is that if we make the effort and get out of our comfortable routines, there’s much to discover, often very close by.
Have you enjoyed taking a new path lately or finding a new world? I would love to hear about it. My best, donna