A Gift

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.22.37 AM

Present day view of where I grew up. The foothills to the southwest were my playground as a young teen.

Given the current urban landscape that makes up southern California, I look back fondly on the days of my youth there, when things were a little less “developed” and I had ready access to “natural” settings.

My father, (who was born and raised in Long Beach, California) worked from an office that was just a short distance from Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm (when it was a farm) but he bought a home for his growing family in what was then the small quiet town of Corona. I was only three at the time, and my parents never moved after that, so it is the only home I ever knew (or at least remember) until I went out on my own.

This is what the daily commute my father made looks like today.  Back when he was doing it, it was only a two lane highway.

This is what the daily commute my father made looks like today. Back when he was doing it, it was only a two lane highway.

The move to Corona meant that my father commuted to work, and as a teenager I never really understood why he chose to do so.  In fact, there were times when I really wished I could have said I was from Laguna, Newport, or even Anaheim, and I often wondered why we didn’t live in Dana Point, since that is where our sailboat was slipped.  But looking back now, I think I understand.

We lived on the west side of town, on a small cul-de-sac of close knit neighbors. There was a very large open field directly behind our home, and a small “stream” (drainage) at the far end of this field created what was to a small boy a natural wonderland.  Growing up I caught snakes, frogs, lizards, tadpoles. gophers, mice, and minnows in and along side that small trickle of water, and it taught me a lot about nature and how to observe it.

In my pre-teen to early teen years, friends and I ventured considerably further from home than my little “stream”, and we scaled the many foothills looking for adventure, and exploring everything from old mines to radio towers along the way.  We didn’t fish much, as there wasn’t a lot of water to do so, except in the golf course ponds, and some other “private water” we had access to.  One of these private waters was a place known as Silver Lakes, and it was owned by a friend of my father’s.  It was stocked with trout, and while I had seen and fished for trout before, Silver Lakes is probably the water body most responsible for instilling my true fascination with fishing and with trout.

My Grandfather's cabin.  No power other than a generator that we used to pump water from the stream to a water tank hidden from view in this photo.  Wood burning stoves for heat and cooking, as well as a fireplace.  This one was one of my favorite places, and where I spent many days fishing for trout and exploring the lakes and streams of the area.

My Grandfather’s cabin. No power other than a generator that we used to power the pump, to get water from the stream to a water tank hidden from view in this photo. Wood burning stoves for heat and cooking, as well as a fireplace. This one was one of my favorite places, and where I spent many days fishing for trout and exploring the lakes and streams of the area.

It was during this time that my family also traveled to the mountains of New Mexico where my maternal grandfather owned a cabin we visited almost every summer.  There was a nice stream that connected a series of small lakes within a few minutes walk from the cabin, and I spent more time along the shores of these lakes and stream than I ever did at the cabin.  Even with five siblings and often more than a few cousins around, most of the time I was alone in my explorations, and I didn’t mind being so.

My father was not a hunter or big “outdoorsman”, and he really only fished a little, and probably more for “time with me” than for any desire he had to do so.  But he knew and appreciated my interest in nature, and always supported my desires to explore it.  He also deeply appreciated being out in nature himself, and we often camped as a family, and always in a tent.  Now that may seem like a perfectly normal thing to do, but when your father is the G.M. for a major travel trailer company, those who knew us wondered why we didn’t own one.  But my father apparently thought as I do, and appreciated being closer to nature rather than insulated from it, even if my mother would have preferred the opposite.

Camping at BishopThe tent I remember camping in every summer as a small boy. This is near Bishop, California, and the Eastern Sierras were a mainstay for my family’s camping adventures. To this day, the Sierras remain a favorite of mine, even if they do get considerably more “traffic” than they did when I first started entering the Golden Trout Wilderness areas.

In this season of giving, I have reflected on the many gifts that I have received over the years, and of those gifts, the ones that years later still seem to be truly significant to me.  Certainly, I still appreciate and continue to use (and love) many of the thoughtful “material” gifts I have received.  But a gift I truly cherish now, even if I didn’t recognize it then, wasn’t given to me at this time of the year.  It was given to me on May 4, 1963, when my father moved his family into a small home in a little town surrounded by orange groves and undisturbed land.  Land that he and my mother allowed me to explore, to observe some of the small wonders of nature, and to be able to do so, right out my back door.

I hope I’ve passed (and continue to pass) that gift and legacy on to my own children.

~ DFG

2 thoughts on “A Gift

  1. wacokid54
    December 22, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    What a great post, DFG! The opportunity to get out of the house and into the woods as a child and young man is not so common these days. You were blessed. Especially in So Cal. That kind of childhood leaves a mark. I had similar opportunities, and they still influence me today. We did not need X Box, we had the outdoors. Thanks for the post; it gives me a lot to reflect on and be thankful for.

    The Waco Kid

  2. JoeFriday
    January 2, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    It’s quite coincidental that I stumbled upon this just a few hours after talking to my brother about the way we were raised versus how kids are ‘managed’ today.

    We were bemoaning the fact that kids prefer to plant their butts on the couch and text each other (sometimes across the room) rather than going out and exploring. Their social network often is their entire life. And quite often the activities they partake in are heavily regulated and supervised by adults. Kids don’t get the opportunity to learn to manage themselves in a constructive manner.

    Whereas, my brothers and I, who grew up long before cell phones, the internet, or even answering machines, would be kicked out of the house just after lunch on summer days, with the stern warning to find some way to occupy ourselves, as long as we were back before the streetlights came on. Yes, those were our only timer.

    Life was all about exploring and figuring out what to do with raw materials we could scrounge up. We spent one whole summer trying to design and build go-carts with random boards and lawn mower wheels that we found. We failed miserably, but it was still one of the best summers I ever had.

    But not only that, we were allowed to have bb guns and pocket knives. We even took them to school sometimes. What kept us out of trouble was the knowledge that if we misused our toys, they would be taken away forever, and our parents (and teachers and parents’ friends) would give us hell if we stepped out of line. Respect wasn’t just a buzzword. It was a way of life.

    Kids today grow up in a completely different world. But with the guidance of parents who put in the effort to educate them through experiences that matter (unlike the superficial interaction they get from peers), generally shared activities and interests, kids can learn to discern between what matters in the long run and what does not.

Leave a Reply