As I drove across the California desert, singing the refrain from that old song, “California, Here I Come”, I was amazed at how much my 51-year self loved The Golden State. When I was younger living in one of the many fly-over states and in one of most overcast cities in the country, I scorned California-it’s sunshine, ocean, Hollywood and liberal politics. Oh, how I’ve changed (although not that much about Hollywood). I love the sunshine, ocean, and the liberal politics, especially the sign zoning laws that limit billboards littering the landscape. I woke up about 15+ years ago, saw that my moderate attitudes were no longer welcome in the GOP and then realized I wasn’t all that moderate but socially progressive. My political awareness translated to cultural and geographical awareness and my love affair with California began. On this trip, I will spend a week in California going from the San Diego area up the Coast to Oregon. I even looked forward to the time I’d spend stuck in traffic in the LA area as a rite of passage. It wouldn’t be LA if I drove thru without a hassle.
I spent three days in Carlsbad, north of San Diego, enjoying a respite from the road and catch up with some old friends. On my first evening, I visited with friends from New Jersey; I especially enjoyed spotting some dolphins swimming by at sunset from the bluff of their condo.
On Sunday I went to the Mission at San Juan Capistrano, a place I had longed to visit since I was a first-grader at St. Agatha School, sitting in the library reading Song of the Swallows by Leo Politi. The story of the swallows arriving each year on St. Joseph’s Feast Day, March 19th and nesting in the Mission had staying power for me. A trifecta of history, religion, and nature. Several years ago with my people we drove by the Mission but did not stop for a visit. I had been a bit heart-broken, frustrated with the priorities and have teased them about it occasionally since it happened.(They might say, the teasing has been more than occasional). There was quite a bit of cloud cover as I drove up I-5, but it began clearing as I got closer to San Juan Capistrano. I worried a little that my expectations and the reality of the Mission would have a hard meeting, the crush of a lifetime of wondering about this place. I tried to temper my expectation, but that was unnecessary as the Mission exceed all my expectations. I stepped across the threshold into fragrant gardens and a living history. When I arrived it was still somewhat quiet and I was able to wander and listen to the audio guide, learn about the ruins of the original church that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812, the bells which are still used each day to open the Mission and on special occasions such as weddings and baptisms and of course, for the swallows arrival. Several buildings display depictions of life in the Mission, as the padres, soldiers, or native people lived and worked. But what I enjoyed most on my visit, was the energy of the place. In the couple hours I was at the Mission, it filled with families exploring the buildings, running around the gardens, and enjoying the day together. The happiness of the place was palpable. Before leaving I went into the Basilica next door which was filling for the 1:00pm Spanish Mass. The Parish is large, active and keeps a protective arm around the Mission ensuring it continues to be the jewel of the California Missions.