My great-grandparents, Orange County folk, bought their first piece of Valley Center land in the 1960s. Several purchases later, they owned three separate pieces: one they sold off early, a commercial parcel that finally sold this year after decades of issue with a sewer, and  a third stretch of sixteen acres that became not only an avocado and fruit grove but also the heart of our Matics-Lambert-Horne family.

It is the place of my youth and even early adulthood where I could run wild and free with my cousins and my aunts and uncles, my parents, and my Grandpa Don. We had huge family slumber parties, ghost stories on Grandpa’s rock, New Year’s Eve celebrations, craft projects that are everywhere around the main pad, and family history spanning generations all packed into a mobile home. My dad built an awesome treehouse one summer. A garden burst with vegetables and warm strawberries—which Grandpa Don always loved over vanilla Haagen Dazs. One summer during college I went out nearly every week with Dad to visit my grandpa, who split his time between Balboa Island and Valley Center in those days. That was the summer before he had his stroke. We talked for hours on the trailer porch, wondered about the white flies on the hibiscus, made lemonade, cooled off in the misters my dad had put up, and sometimes just sat in silence. I still remember right where we both were sitting that summer when he said, “Yessir, it’s a big whole world out there and you never stop learning.” Though we had vastly different life experiences and though we were generations apart, we shared a core philosophy. This was a man who loved to see what would happen next, someone who struck up a conversation with a stranger on the Caltrain when he visited me at Stanford, someone who walked all over San Francisco with me in his best shoes, jumped onto a trolley, and heartily enjoyed the honey prawns in Chinatown.

We never stop learning.

Today I learned one thing for sure:

When time lays waste to what we have cherished most for its beauty, we have to be willing to see that beauty never really dies—it just changes forms. If we can watch that beauty evolve and stand by it, then it is never really lost, nor can it ever be lost.

In recent years, my dad and his three siblings have had to make difficult decisions about all the MLH properties. A combination of inheritance taxes, increase in water prices, and the avocado grove not producing enough anymore (water issues) to offset costs resulted in the decision to turn off water to most of the land…and to let Mother Nature take it back for awhile. For a grove that used to be highly profitable, this was hard.

I had not seen, until today, what the grove looked like. I haven’t been there for over a year.

But it was the land itself that called to me. The reddish coppery earth, the old honeysuckle, the mountain air. Katie has been a few times, but Eric only once when he was four months old. He needed to run on it like his big sister, and like their mother and grandfather, and great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather. I want my children to have memories of this land that is so much a part of all of us. A five generation legacy of deep air and dust and blue jays and hawks and rocks that sparkle in the light.

So what is beautiful now? My children playing on the land, for one. Beyond that, I saw beauty in all of the weeds—must be hundreds of species of living things out there, plant and animal—that have sprung up. I saw beauty in the life cycle. I saw beauty in knowing what California must have looked like before being settled. Some of the weeds had the most beautiful flowers, all so different. It was glory, in a different form. Somehow, some of our trees were still alive. One of the apple trees was blossoming. I picked several lemons. The pomegranate flowered. And I’ll be darned that the strawberry plants are still producing this year, when in all reality they should not be.

We turned on the old misters and sat on the porch, and I saw beauty in remembering all the times I had been there at each season of my life, in feeling this great thread through time that connected me tangibly to everything—and everyone—that had gone before. It’s all one time; it is all right now. Grandpa Don passed four years ago this month, but part of him is still here—we just have to see through the illusion of linear time.

Even though beauty changes forms, it is never gone. I don’t think beauty/love (aren’t they the same?) ever dies. We were made with eyes to see this, even when we are afraid to test those eyes. Looking at something we have loved and being asked to accept its changes is never easy.

Me, blowing bubbles on the porch…maybe 1982?

Katie on the porch today

My mom and me, when I was four-years-old, Katie’s current age. We are sitting on “Sarah’s rock,” my favorite rock in the whole place. I used to play doctor with it and give it hugs. It was eventually “moved” when we made the fuyu grove…

Katie collecting rocks to take home

Around the hearth with my brother and cousins, 2004ish (I know I was teaching by the time this was taken, I’m fairly sure)

Sister and brother, 5th gen

Eric worked at raking today. He wore his Hawaiian shirt, which was pretty much what my dad and grandpa used to do: wear their Hawaiian shirts and work the grove.

Working with Boppa… there may be weeds, but it is still magic

When I snapped this pic…

…I thought of this one. It was taken in about the same location.

Katie, at 15 months old, helping Boppa hunt for avos.

Katie (15 months) and Boppa sitting on Grandpa’s Rock. Grandpa Don used to take his mug of coffee out to Grandpa’s Rock and watch the sunrise on the mornings he was there. It made a good ghost story telling rock, too.

Boppa and Eric on Grandpa’s Rock.

Three generations on Grandpa’s Rock

Katie and Kd on Grandpa’s Rock.

Mommy and 15-month-old Baby Kate on Grandpa’s Rock, 2008.

Cousin Kd came out to play with us and to have lunch with us. Kd hadn’t been to the land for some time, either. I loved that she was here today and that we could see it together. I often refer to us as “The First and The Last” especially when we are together in a pair—we are the first born of Grandpa’s grandchildren (me) and his last born (her). We have such a special bond between the two of us for so many reasons, and one is that we bookend all the good people (our cousins) who came between us.

Oh, and we did encounter a baby rattlesnake today. Yeah. Was it newly dead or just playing dead? Boppa raked it out… It looked dead and didn’t writhe one bit, but to be sure, he did decapitate it. Then Eric and I touched it. Katie (probably wisely) wouldn’t go anywhere near it…except to pose here with it. I swear it is there on the ground, but it really was tiny.

Boppa was explaining the grove to Eric under the misters, and I caught a rainbow while taking this pic. See it? A symbol of hope for new life… Beauty changes forms, but it continues.

Eric explored Grandpa Don’s favorite chair. So many memories of him sitting there in that chair…Even after his stroke, he always joined us for New Year’s Eve and Day. I wish my children could know him.

I am thankful for this day of building our family history for my children and being able to give them a place in something greater than just themselves, but to which their very existence contributes. Beauty changes…but it lives on.