A winter storm swept into Southern California bringing precious rain to the parched ground of Escondido’s hills and valleys. The sound of rainfall on the roof joined with the crackling and hissing of a fire burning in the fireplace. Outside of the DeVaux’s living room window, the dark, wet asphalt of their street mirrored the yellow streetlights like a glowing invitation from the earth for the heavens to descend upon it. Sycamore and Ash trees that lined the street swayed in the cold, wet wind, extending their branches upward in a solemn posture of praise into the sacred night. In a land punctuated by long, devastating droughts, even the fiercest storm is an occasion for thanksgiving.
The Brandts joined the DeVauxs for dinner that evening as they often did on Friday nights. Tina and Serafina were in the den enjoying cocktails, discussing the trials of motherhood and the latest books they were reading. Daniel and David were finishing the dishes and entertaining the children. Their near-weekly gatherings were the sort of dance conducted by countless young families trying to navigate the uncharted waters of marriage and parenthood. Naturally, the DeVaux and Brandt children were completely oblivious to the all too fragile foundation that seemed so firm beneath their feet.
Daniel suggested story time to occupy the kids. This wasn’t entirely altruistic; Daniel’s day job as a theology professor allowed him to pursue his intellectual and spiritual interests, but his passion was the artistic expression of telling stories. His professorial eccentricities were on par for a man who had spent his adult life in academia, but in his tales, he took on a persona that was both strange and wonderful. He was touched with the madness that all lore-masters possess, which makes them all inseparable from the myths they weave. Bethel Presbyterian’s resident raconteur was something of a legend among the younger members. His fantastical stories in their Sunday school classes inculcated delight, wonder, and a haunting sense of the mysteries of life under the sun. The adults also made it a point to attend Sunday School on the days when Daniel was spinning his most recent tale. Even David, known to his congregation as the kind, reserved, if not enigmatic Reverend Brandt, would make his way out of his office just to hear Daniel’s newest story .
The Brandt boys, Malachi and Jacob, were happy to dispense with their favorite pastime of annoying the DeVaux daughters, Julian and Makrina, for an evening story. The girls, having been raised on a steady stream of their father’s tales, were more reluctant to join. They preferred to watch a movie, but it was in the den where Tina and Serafina were visiting, so the TV was off limits. The well-worn Cinderella VHS cassette would have to wait for morning. The girls’ disappointment was palpable as they took a seat on their living room floor near the fireplace as Daniel began.
Daniel was a Frenchman by extraction, but his years in California had turned him full native. Over the years he had developed an elaborate mythology about his new home along the shores of the Pacific. Julian and Makrina hadn’t yet developed their father’s enthusiasm for their home. Julian, even at the age of twelve, had acquired much of Daniel’s cultured elegance, but not his eccentricities. She was more inclined to read stories her own books in dignified solitude than to enjoy her father’s latest yarn. Makrina, at the age of six, was the youngest of the kids when the Brandts and DeVauxs got together. Every bit the spitfire that her mother was, she secretly enjoyed the Brandt boys’ torments, if only for the opportunity to return them in kind.
Malachi and Jacob were true believers in Daniel’s California chronicles that ranged from tales of the first comers who made their way south from the land bridge now submerged beneath the Bering Straits to missionaries and conquistadors to the heart-wrenching sagas of God, greed, and guns in the days after the Gold Rush.
The Brandt boys grew up to the rhythm of a seasonal metronome. Winters were reserved for wrestling – the only competitive sport either of them had any inclination to pursue. When they weren’t wrestling, they were usually tramping around the Escondido hills pining for the days when grizzlies once blazed trails through the chaparral. When they weren’t in the hills, they were spending their summer days on the coast. They grew up ferreting clumps of surf wax, cigarette butts, and seashells from the sands of San Diego’s finest beaches. By the time Malachi had reached junior high, he had convinced Serafina that the best way to get him out of her hair for a while was to let him take his surfboard and ride the bus to Solona Beach or Oceanside. Jacob saw Malachi’s departure on the 308 line to Oceanside as a cruel injustice. Serafina would not allow him to venture with his older brother until the summer before his seventh-grade year. Nevertheless, Malachi made it a point to include Jacob in as many adventures as he could, and they both found Daniel’s stories as inspiration for new, more compelling boyhood exploits.
“Mak, I swear if you pinch my ear one more time, I will find your Barbies, cut off all their hair and bury them in the backyard where you’ll never find them,” said Malachi
Daniel shot a stern glance in Mak’s direction while she giggled wildly, “I couldn’t help it, your ear is so squishy.”
Malachi had recently developed cauliflower ear, and his left lobe was already tender and bruised before Mak had assaulted it.
“You know, son,” said David, “you wouldn’t have this problem if you wore your headgear.”
“Yeah, Dad, I know,” retorted Malachi, “I do now. But, my ear won’t heal as long as that little gremlin takes so much delight in messing with it.”
Daniel cleared his throat, “Are we done yet?”
Malachi sheepishly replied, “Yes, Dr. DeVaux.”
“Yes, Daddy,” said Mak, failing at her meager attempt to express remorse and glancing at Malachi with a look that indicated more mischief to come.
“It is said,” Daniel continued, “that Southern California has been stretched, pulled, and twisted to her current place along the Pacific. Tectonic forces and fires deep below the earth’s surface have fueled her journey through deep time and long geologic ages. Even now, she is in the process of being torn from the North American continent that gave birth to her to become a bride betrothed to the Pacific, soon to be an island moving north as time lurches on.
“Towering transverse ranges run from east to west like vertical towers from the Mojave Desert to the Channel Islands, demarcating her from the Central Valley. The Peninsular Range moves from north to south from Palm Springs to where the Baja peninsula plunges into the sea, serving as a backbone that separates the eastern deserts from the more populated inland valleys and coastline. Her western shores are cradled by the waters of the Pacific that gleam with sapphire and emerald and amethyst by day, giving way to gold in the last light of the setting sun, then indigo under the light of the moon.
“During the long slow dance between the Pacific and North American plates, the Pacific fell in love with the beautiful lands of America’s sprawling west. Forests and mountains, chaparral, and golden beaches, rocky cliffs, sandy bluffs, and scorching deserts But, it was a narrow strip of land that stretched from Mendocino to Cabo San Lucas, constrained by the San Andreas Fault and the western shores that the Pacific loved most. As the ages wore on, the Pacific convinced America to give her lovely daughter California as a bride adorned in resplendent sublimity to the Pacific. His longing for her only increases with time, while America hangs on to her daughter as long as the fires below and the grinding fault lines will allow; time and pressure and the relentless movement of earth’s slow waltz will one day make California the lonely bride of the Pacific.
“But, if you ask me, of all the great beauty that adorns this home of ours, it is her that are most beautiful. Since the last Ice Age the multitudes have come to California, and have not stopped even now. Nearly every tribe, nation, and tongue in this wide world has come to the shores of the Pacific and called this place home. The grand tectonic drama that has shaped the history of California is eclipsed by the human drama that plays out every day, here and now.
“You see, the slow, grand unfolding of the world God created is a wonder indeed. But, there is something far more precious to him: the people who call these lands home. From the sandstone, clay, and granite, ; treasures that will endure long after these lands have passed away. I do not know what significance California will play in human history in the final estimation, but I do believe that there is a destiny for this place and her people that will echo down through the ages.”
Malachi and Jacob sat still, all the while being transported within the dimensions of Daniel’s story to a The land and sea of their home was ancient and mysterious and full of wonders. Their adventures pulled them into their California home, and made them part of her unfolding drama. It was, for Malachi, the only home he could remember and for Jacob, the only home he had ever known.