June - Sept 2003
Published September 19th 2003.
Well, folks, this is second to last installment of Janette’s reports from, the Coastwalk and the last that will be actually sent from the field. By this time next week, she will be back in Laguna. After four months on the open road one has to wonder what it will be like to stay in one place. In the meantime, we have this week and next to enjoy Janette’s singular point of view.
“When we wove our way down the Malibu coast, we camped three nights at Leo Carrillo State Park. All of these days involved boulder hopping, wave hopping, ducking under or walking on top of mile upon mile of heavy wood, concrete (both reinforced and un-reinforced) or rusting steel structures - all are attempts to buy time from Mother Nature’s encroachment. We stepped with extra speed where the narrow sand afforded safe passage. Our feet (and foot gear!) were often wet and our minds were bristling with all the diverse claims of public versus private property rights.
I thought of the Redwoods State and National Parks, and the Lost Coast so far up north. There the ownership rights are clear and miles of glorious trails and beaches benignly await the hiker. Hour after hour the coastline unfolded in a sequence of wild places where we passed through, savored, and left nothing but our footprints. We asked little of these lands, only a narrow trail, switchbacks where the hills are steep, and an occasional sign to point the way. We silently witnessed thousands of sea lions basking on the dry sands and observed footprints of bears that had passed along the beach that morning. But this energy was far behind us on the evening when we were guests of honor at Rameriz Canyon Ranch. Barbara Streisand donated her former Canyon home to the Santa Monica Mountains conservancy when she moved to her now infamous bluff top mansion. Coastwalk’s hosts were a handful of local environmental groups. A noteworthy guest was Sara Wan, the Coastal Commissioner featured in a recent article by Ken Weiss in the Sunday LA. Times. It told the story of her sitting on a dedicated portion of Malibu beach and being asked to leave by the private security guards who roared up on their ATV’s. When confronted, she informed the guards of the law and the prior dedication. The article repeated a now infamous response. 'What do I know? I’m just a dumb security guard.'
I ambled around the box canyon that comprises the ranch, its steep hillsides and meandering bottom land resplendent with mature sycamore trees, now fully graded, retained, planted and paved in a succession of terraces with driveways between the five residential buildings. I wondered if Barbara Streisand’s move was prompted by the current fashion for oceanfront property, but to avoid being cheek by jowl with the kinds of neighbors we walked past, Barbara could, as a maxl-buck buyer, choose a larger, deeper parcel for the privilege of exclusivity, which the Rameriz Ranch had naturally provided. I will probably never know the reason she moved. I let the thought pass and made my way to the central building (formerly stucco, but re-worked as a wood-beamed and paneled hunting lodge) where elegant platters of food were laid out on a long table in the main room.
After all the introductions, accolades and reminders of the power of financial contributions to continuing the struggle of wresting open space from greedy developers, everyone, and Coastwalkers in particular, savored the food. The pewter ice bucket, holding dozens of bottles of super cold water was attended by a waitperson, clad in a stiffly starched long linen apron. I asked if there was any room temperature water available. 'No,' she said, 'it's all cold.' And as she handed me a bottle she added, ‘Put this between your legs - it'll warm up!’ I laughed, and in the jovial moment she told me of her training as a long distance runner. Forty years may have separated us in age - but not in spirit. She patted me on the shoulder, ‘Good luck,’ she said. ‘And to you, too,’ I replied.
When we stayed overnight at the Santa Monica Hostel it felt like a home coming. My friends of many decades, Miki and Cate arrived on the dot at 6pm. Miki is a longtime community activist. Quite by chance, this evening was the one where she participates in a West Hollywood public access TV program called ‘Community Point of View.’ It shows after 9pm on Friday evenings and is usually about local politics. Miki asked me if I would like to be the guest on one of the half hour segments. I liked the idea a lot, so off we drove to the Hollywood studio and arrived just in time for me to watch the first segment being taped. Public access TV programs are produced in a continuous sequence of just less than 30 minutes and aired without editing. There were five of us around the table for the Coastwalk program. The host, and three others who would ask me questions. I did request the host to signal if I spoke too long, or went into too much detail. ‘Detail is good, we like detail,’ he said. So I felt very much at ease and spoke for the whole segment, pausing for a question or a comment as I ended each train of thought. I feel so free and validated when I'm surrounded by creative people with whom I can exchange ideas. The wilderness is a place to quiet my mind. The city is a place to study man’s brain, how it works and the beliefs and choices people make - engrossingly interesting subjects.
We spent a couple of days walking around the bluff tops along the Palos Verde Peninsula. What an eerie feeling to be where residents play roulette with nature. Landslides are evident all along the peninsula. Private patches of ground, surrounding each home are manicured, but beyond that the land is barren and neglected. The roads are realigned, houses torn down, and utility lines reinstalled to lay above ground as the land moves and disappears. I saw the Palos Verde Peninsula to be the antithesis of Laguna Beach. I felt the Peninsula to be a place where individuals dwelt, in individual enclaves, with any community spirit held hostage by a force beyond their control.
The San Pedro Hostel is situated on Point Fermain, far back from the bluff, on the edge of which stands the Korean Friendship Bell. The huge bell hangs beneath an open-sided, traditional curved roof, pagoda style building. The surrounding stone courtyard, with carefully maintained gardens is the site of many weddings and family gatherings. The main kitchen window of the hostel looks directly across a wide expanse of pristine lawn to the monument, and Catalina Island beyond.
We were preparing breakfast one morning, when I noticed a young Asian man break three eggs into a frying pan, place a glass lid on top and turn on the burner. The eggs sizzled. The man came back once, observed their progress, and never returned. We finished our meal and washing-up was in progress before I finally took action. Declaring the pan to be a potential fire hazard, I turned off the burner, despite the disapproving glances of a few of our group. Hostel etiquette is don’t touch other folks’ stuff. I had been observing the contents of the pan and their culinary journey, ever since I noticed that the yolks were all grey and the whites like a watery transparent liquid. During the cooking process a couple of balloons, the size of walnuts, formed from the liquid. The yolks became flat islands of grayness; and by the time I canned the heat, the contents of the pan had shriveled and buckled from the constraining ring of burned matter with which it was encircled.
We left for the day’s hike. I never saw the young man or the pan of eggs again. But I thought of them. Maybe he came from a family where men never cooked; maybe, when he realized the eggs were bad (they were not thousand-year old eggs, as one of my companions had joked), he was embarrassed. Maybe he was ashamed and unsure what to do. Each of the five trash bins was resplendent with multiple labels to facilitate precise recycling choices. Maybe the young man had difficulty reading them. Maybe...I thought...maybe he had something in common with a woman I could scarcely imagine. Who is this woman? I know her only by inference. The lifeguard towers on the Los Angeles beaches speak to her. Their billboards proclaim: ‘Do not abandon your baby. Take it to any Hospital, Police or Fire Station. No blame; no shame; no questions.’
When the young man’s eggs turned into something he didn’t want, he seemed at a loss as to how to handle them. So is it the same with an unwanted baby? Have familial ties become so thin, social networks so compromised that unprepared mothers are even stripped of natural instincts? Will one of the legacies of our time be the 9/11 Fireman cradling the dead baby? Will the arms of a Fireman be the alternative choice for some unwanted newborns?
Saving the California coast as a glorious natural environment for all to access is compelling. But when I think of the implications of the billboard on the lifeguard towers, I wonder about humanity - what are we to leave as our legacy? What are the real values of our culture?"
Indeed . . . . .