Ranks of palm trees, beyond the baggage carousels at the San Diego airport, slender trunks curved like a scoliotic spine, confirmed that we were back in southern California. We expected rain, floods even, and landslides. We arrived to blue skies, temperatures in the high fifties and a hopeful forecast. I chose the white Camry in the lineup at Alamo; white seems so right in this place. Despite the vehicle’s lack of remote entry, I hewed to my first impulse even though I’ve gotten so used to pressing a button to lock, unlock and even start a car that I had to fumble with the key and study the array of switches before I felt prepared to drive north.
For a week we will live in a tiny apartment on Coast Lane, steps away from Prospect Street, La Jolla’s main drag, and a few flights up the hillside from the cliffs and tide pools at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. We’re in the center of the village, a couple miles from our apartments on the same block of La Jolla Hermosa Boulevard. While we were running errands, getting groceries at Vons, that kind of thing, we stopped to see if anything had changed. Not much had although the houses are more weatherbeaten, a little lower down the economic scale that was the case in 1984.
The beauty of La Jolla, the part that gets under the skin even of this confirmed New Englander, is the shoreline, the cliffs, the Cove, the whales that migrate one way and then six months later the other, the birds and flowers, the unfurling of breakers and explosion of spray. Way back then I would take my Tattooed Boy, then a sweet and unmarked two-year-old, to splash in the tide pools and dig in the sand. Today sea lions claim the shoreline, the beaches, the rocks, the territory tourists and human worshippers of the sun had claimed for decades. A faint rankness infuses the air and brown and mottled gray animals lie singly and in heaps like so many sleek and furry-soft slugs.
El Niño had brought torrential rain as 2016 broke and expanses of sand and dirt are gullied and still saturated. Signs warn of weakened ground and old paths are rutted and slippery. One day, perhaps not so long from now, those signs will collapse with the ground into which they have been pounded, into the furious surge of the Pacific.
But the sea lions and pelicans, the gulls and cormorants and whales and wildflowers will flourish in sunshine and rain.