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.
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.
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.
The 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.