Between a Beach and a Railroad, A Flood of Memories

Posted By Mike Padgett

April 3, 2011

CARLSBAD, Calif. – Beaches and trains are the sources of my favorite sounds. The sounds of waves, either lapping on the sand or crashing on rocks, and the horns or whistles of thundering trains represent adventure and independence.

During a long weekend in Southern California, we recently found ourselves within a short walk of a Pacific Ocean beach to the west and a railroad to the east.

We had made plans, after a business meeting in Thousand Oaks, to follow our inner compasses. For me, our adventure took us back in time. Our time.

After the meeting, we sat in our rental SUV to check the map. Our detour would take us south from Thousand Oaks through Los Angeles to San Juan Capistrano and Carlsbad. Both have access to beaches and a railroad.

I soon discovered that pelicans and surfers are the regulars on the beach at Carlsbad. The pelicans, soaring north in V-shaped squadrons of a dozen or more, bank into a steep U-turn and glide south single file inches above the waves, avoiding the surfers.

Surfers in their wetsuits join joggers and other visitors most mornings at the beach in Carlsbad, Calif. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Pacific Ocean beaches and the lifestyles they represent have been a lifelong attraction. I first wandered the beach as a kid in the 1950s, digging for razor clams. In the 1960s, beaches were the stage for the Beach Boys music, which in 1967 helped pass the time and miles when I helped a friend drive his new sports car from Indianapolis to Los Angeles.

My roots are mobile. I was born many miles from any beach, but the lure of the Pacific Ocean is visceral – Highway 101, Point Reyes north of San Francisco, Point Lobos south of Carmel, Point Loma in San Diego, the coves and inlets along the Oregon and Washington state coasts, the smell of the salt air, and waves shiny as sequins at sunset.

In California, Maui and Kauai, I’ve enjoyed walking and sitting on the beaches, alone or with my Best Friend, watching the waves, birds, dolphins and surfers at sunrise and sunset.  Years ago, on a sunny morning, we were caught in a sudden shower on a Maui beach. We laughed, rain streaming into our eyes, sharing a rainbow.

On this recent California detour, we stopped first at San Juan Capistrano. Wandering the mission reminded us of our first vacation together here on a journey we began when our paths first crossed. That trip doesn’t seem like that long ago, until a flood of memories began.

After my military discharge, we helped each other through college. My bachelor’s degree. Her master’s. My writing awards. Her doctorate. Our career achievements. We grieved during each other’s losses, and we celebrated each other’s victories.

In between our shared milestones, we visited Capistrano a few times. That first year we met, our pockets were mostly empty. The only treasure we had was our attraction for each other. Over the years, we’ve collected many priceless memories.

Hiking, camping and collecting fossils in the mountains in central Arizona.

Sitting before a fireplace and sharing s’mores in Washington state.

Browsing used bookstores in Oregon.

Spending Christmas in California, where we walked beaches and avoided malls and traffic.

Enjoying a wine tour for two east of Santa Barbara.

Cruising antique stores on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.

Joining a tour of a think tank in New Mexico.

Spending a day at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.

Standing in the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, bundled up for the 24-degree day, at the 2009 Inauguration on the Washington Mall.

Before visiting Mission San Juan Capistrano this time, we stopped for lunch two blocks away at El Adobe de Capistrano. The restaurant is on the California State Historical Landmark list because part of the building dates to 1797, according to its Website.

If only its walls and gardens could talk, imagine what Mission San Juan Capistrano could teach its visitors. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

It’s been too long since our last visit to the mission and El Adobe. Dedication to our careers has absorbed our time. For us, Capistrano is a focused calm in a world burdened with Internet pirates, road rage, high unemployment, airport inspections for terrorists, record fuel prices, workplace challenges, drive-by shootings, and freeways that often become linear parking lots.

Although we missed the swallows returning to Capistrano by a week this time, the Friday we walked the mission grounds was perfect. The midday sun was burning off the coastal clouds, exposing the blue sky. California poppies and other flowers and plants were at their peak.

Timing, as they say, is everything. We learned that in 24 hours, an annual celebration was expected to attract shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and gridlock traffic that would overpower the solitude we were enjoying. Capistrano often suffers from its own popularity.

On this day before the celebration, we wandered the mission separately. Exchanging knowing glances, my Best Friend headed for the chapel. She wanted to offer prayers and light candles. I whisper my prayers in forests, canyons and patches of flowers.

The mission offers photo ops everywhere. There is the original chapel damaged in long-ago earthquakes. The ancient arches. The flowers. The inner garden. The weathered wood cart turned into a flower garden on iron wheels. Capistrano has become our rock, our retreat.

For a short time each spring, the grounds of Mission San Juan Capistrano sparkle with California poppies and other flowers. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” the woman said repeatedly, accidentally walking into my photo of an arched doorway. “Sorry, sorry.” She and a little girl hustled across the room to the opposite door.

Capistrano, founded in 1775 in an isolated part of California, has witnessed the birth of the United States, its 44 presidencies, the formation of its 50 states, the completion of its Transcontinental Railroad, many wars, and moon landings. I can only imagine the tranquility the Native Americans enjoyed before the arrival of the Europeans.

When the Spanish explorers landed by ship, they probably saw the foothills between the Pacific’s beaches and the coastal range carpeted with chaparral and sage. I’m sure they also saw vernal pools, those shallow depressions trapping rare rainfall that sustain the short lifecycles of certain plants and animals.

Other Capistrano visitors shared the mission’s ambiance with us. They walked silently, basking in the quiet or listening to recorded presentations on rental headphones. In the history of California and westward expansion, this is a special place.

Capistrano’s presence and history offer healing powers to the tired brain, as antibiotics do to a wound.

Mission visit ends

At mid-afternoon, after wandering the mission separately, we decided to drive on to Carlsbad.  We were anxious to get to the Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort so we could continue unwinding. The weekend will go by too quickly.

We checked in, left our luggage in our room and went exploring on foot. The compact downtown encourages pedestrian traffic. Plus, Carlsbad is served by three types of rail transportation – Amtrak as well as the commuter trains Metrolink and the Coaster. The railroad goes through the downtown area.

One morning, we drove to the San Diego Botanic Garden, a 35-acre collection of gardens representing regions around the world. The garden is on rolling hills in Encinitas surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

The conical purple blossoms of the Pride of Madeira shrub add color to the San Diego Botanic Gardens in Encinitas, Calif. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

A hummingbird landed on a cable handrail a few feet from us in the garden. It watched us for less than a minute. Then it went from sitting still to full-speed gone.

For lunch, we drove on Highway 101 from Encinitas south a few miles to La Jolla. Since restaurants close to the coast would be crowded for lunch on Saturday, we drove inland a few miles. We found a terrific Mexican restaurant, Cozymels, where the food and the service were excellent.

We stayed in Carlsbad three days. Each morning at the beach, I saw a few surfers in their wetsuits. Some were in the water, straddling their surfboards. Others were on the beach, surveying the waves, which were about five or six feet.

The Pacific beyond the waves was calm. One morning, I saw two dorsal fins break the water beyond the surfers. The fins were rounded and small. Maybe they were dolphins or porpoises.

I was hoping for sunset photos, but our first two evenings were cloudy. Finally, on the third day, the evening sky was partly clear.

Sunsets along Pacific Ocean beaches usually offer a colorful palette of gold, red, blue and silver. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Other visitors began gathering on the beach, anticipating the sunset. One man sat down. Distracted by the day’s gold and crimson end, he didn’t see the waves edging closer. He tried, and failed, to crawl backward on his hands and feet. The wave soaked his shoes and the seat of his pants.

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Apr 3rd, 2011

3 Comments to 'Between a Beach and a Railroad, A Flood of Memories'

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  1. Helen said,

    It is wonderful to relive this trip through your eyes. You are a master storyteller and your photos truly enhance your narrative.

  2. Carol Romley said,

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks for another great trip! I love the photo of the poppies with the beautiful old building in the background.

  3. Peggy Hodges said,

    Really slow in commenting but I loved this piece! Made one visit to San Juan Capistrano and it was memorable. You do a wonderful job of making one feel as if they are right there with you and the pictures add so much.

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